Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Jefferson was at heart an explorer and scientist. In early 1803, he wrote to three prominent Philadelphia scientists, including Dr. Benjamin Rush, asking each to send him their thoughts "in the lines of botany, zoology, or of Indian history which you think most worthy of inquiry and observation." Rush prepared a long list for Jefferson with questions aimed at many aspects of Indian culture, health, diet and habits. Among these, Rush included questions about Indian languages and ceremonies that might prove or disprove an old, persistent academic theory about the origins of native people in the American west, that they might be one of the lost tribes of the children of Israel.
We now know that Lewis and Clark did not find any direct evidence linking Native Americans with early Israelites; however, there are some interesting possibilities. Let's start with the anchovy. Lewis and Clark described and wrote about the "anchovy" in the lower Columbia River. They found this to be the most delicious fish they had encountered during their travels. They learned that these small fish migrated into the river from the sea every year, and were harvested by the native people. They also learned that these are very oily fish, and that the Indians rendered them for their oil, which they used and traded.
In fact, this fish is not an anchovy but is a smelt that is usually called the eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus). It also goes by numerous local names, including hooligan and candlefish. The fish is so oily that, when dried, it can actually be ignited.
And so we get (finally) to the point. If Native Americans had been one of the lost tribes of the Israelites, how would they have celebrated Chanukah? If we combine the materials available to these people before European/Russian contact, and add a bit of over-active imagination, we might come up with something like the illustration below.
Postscript: the eulachon is now listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. They still migrate into the lower Columbia River where they spawn in some of the larger tributaries.
Monday, November 21, 2011
You have one hour to clean out your desks before you are escorted off the premises by Capitol Security. We suggest that you try to find meaningful and gainful employment elsewhere. And by the way, you will need to shop for your own health insurance and retirement plan, we will not be funding those for you anymore.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
OK, so you're now thinking that I digress, but I'm not. All of this is to set the stage for my following remarks about the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWSM). Everything I have to say has certainly already been said by pundits, bloggers and various talking heads, but you're reading my opinion (and you're entitled to it).
I'll start with the conclusion (this is a method used by many public speakers/presenters - I always thought it was just insurance in case they ran out of time and got yanked off stage). OWSM, what is the message? We the NNPers need to know what to do that will change things. And please don't tell us that sleeping in the park is the message.
I'm really not being harsh; in fact, I support what the park-sleepers and other activists have been doing because I have seen that it has made a difference. After a few weeks of those dirty not-just-going-away hippies being in many parks around the country, suddenly politicians - both Democrats and (gasp!) Republicans - started talking about how the OWSM was an important expression of public concern about the state of the economy and the excesses of the financial sector. Large, legitimate institutions like labor unions, as well as prominent politicos and others of the famous around us expressed their support (and sought photo ops). This thing is real, and looks like it's serious. Uh oh! Now whadda we do?
Look, the main messages of the Civil Rights, Anti-War, and now Gay Rights Movements were that very specific societal changes had to happen, and the changes had to be rooted in law. The right to vote for all citizens, the ending of hostilities in a war, the end to discrimination because of sexual orientation - these were the concrete actions. What doesn't work is trying to get the Wall Street One Percenters to change their behavior by taking over a city park for weeks or months and spending tens or hundreds of thousands of local tax dollars to deal with it. Wall Street doesn't give a shit about that, it's not THEIR money!
So I'll lay out a couple or so ideas of specific messages and actions that I think the OWSM can use.
Occupy Congress - with meaningful work that promotes the general welfare (this last part is the job description for Congress found in our Constitution). Enough already with no new taxes on the wealthy. Enough already of enabling the Wall Street financiers, the health insurance companies, and the drug manufacturers to make obscene profits at the expense of the 99%. Enough already of cutting funding for education, police and fire departments, public infrastructure while maintaining or increasing the subsidies to big industry. Enough already of gutting the laws that regulate the financial industry and letting the "free market prevail." And enough already of partisan politics and gang warfare between elected officials to win the next election. Congress: do meaningful work for the people of this country; that is your job!
Occupy the Courts - with legal actions against the corporate greedmeisters who engineered this global economic meltdown. Go after them, take away their money (give it back to us, by the way), and put them in jail - the regular jails, not the country club ones. Make the message very clear that if you commit fraud, if you game the system, if you cheat your customers, you will go directly to jail. Period.
Occupy Businesses - with meaningful work that will employ working people in living-wage and meaningful jobs. The business community needs to step up and help make this happen (and by the way, more and more businesses are stepping up). Government stimulus money is a good thing if it is wisely used for public infrastructure, education, health and safety projects. We haven't forgotten how to be a great nation of ideas and manufacturing; we've just let those get moved elsewhere to boost shareholders' and corporate executives' massive profits. Is the future in America really one in which the average worker is either making lattes or selling Made-in-China chatchkes at a department store? I hope not.
Finally, a few words about who the NNP - the 99% - really are. The 99% are not just people whose income is not in the top 1% category. No. The 99% are people who think a certain way. We are people who think that society should be equitable and just. We are people who think that everyone should have (actually, has a right to have) good, affordable health care, an excellent education, a good-paying and meaningful job. There are people in our society who are in the top 1% based on their income, but in the 99% based on the way they think. I recently read an article about Jerry, of Ben and Jerry Ice Cream. He said that corporations and the people who run them can be socially and environmentally progressive and still make a profit. His company is and does, and there are many more who follow that business philosophy. So let us not get into class warfare along the simple lines of 99 vs. 1, us vs. them. That won't work. People of like minds need to work together, no matter what their income or position in society.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement is a beginning, not an end. We need to find our common voice and together articulate a clear message. We can do it. History tells us that it has been done, and can be done again. As we used to say in the day: Right ON brothers and sisters!
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Well here we are back at OSF for the closing weekend, and we attended the last performance of the season of the production "The African Company Presents Richard III." As we entered the theater, the ticket taker was telling people that there would be a short delay due to an electrical problem. After a delay of some minutes, the doors opened, the audience filed in, and we sat in anticipation of another fine OSF production. An OSF staff member came out on stage to announce that there was a problem with the sound system, and they were trying to reboot it; however, in true theatrical tradition, the show would go on. And it did, without what we imagine are the various sound effects for the production.
The show was wonderful. The acting, directing, costuming, sets and props and lighting were highest quality - this is, after all, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival! The original music and sound design by Todd Barton was, well... we'll never know.
We hope that OSF doesn't banish us or bar us from ever entering the Bowmer again. I don't think we could bear that. After all, despite what some people and politicians think, art is not a luxury, it is the true essence of being human. Thank you OSF for keeping us alive.
And, um, we're sorry.
- posted from the fisheyepad
Location:4th St,Ashland,United States
Friday, October 21, 2011
A cover story in the Oregonian newspaper today reports that several Oregon forestry companies hired foreign workers for contracts won under the federal stimulus program. The story tells how these companies used loopholes in federal regulations and deceptive practices to avoid hiring local workers and instead obtained temporary visas for foreign workers.
This story is easy pickings for Republican politicians to rail about wasteful Obama administration programs and the stimulus program. But I have a different take: this is yet another story about corporate greed and the widespread lack of corporate responsibility for the condition of our economy and the well being of Americans.
Here's the list of the Oregon companies implicated in this unforgivable episode: Medford Cutting Edge Forestry, Summit Forestry, Ponderosa Reforestations, and G. E. Forestry. All I can say to these companies, if the allegations are true, is shame on you!
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Everyone there is interested in EVs. Many brought their EV to display and talk about. The vehicles ranged from mass-produced Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, and Toyota plug-in electric models to home-made conversions (converting a brand name gasoline vehicle to electric) and everything in between. The common denominator is a conviction that the gasoline-centric transportation in the USA is not sustainable, and EVs offer kind of a no-brainer solution.
Here are a few examples of the EVs at the event today.
Of course I'll start with a picture of my Zap Xebra PK truck next to a TWIKE pedal-assist EV (http://www.evalbum.com/1886). There was another Zap PK at the event, and a zebra-striped Zap 4-door sedan. The TWIKE brand, now being built in Germany, gets about 40 miles to a charge, configured like this one at 336 volts, compared to the 18 miles I get on the 72 volt Zap PK.
http://www.arcimoto.com/products). Range will vary from 40 to 80 miles, depending on the type of battery pack, and the cost will be under $20,000. These EVs seat two people in tandem position. Cool machines!
Something that impressed me at the event was talking with people who are very knowledgeable about EVs and their technoology. I have a lot to learn from these folks!
And if you get the bug for EVs, how about an EV Beetle? There were two conversion companies represented at the event who were showing converted 1970s VeeDubs. These are really sweet. I talked with Ernest from Voltwagen EPC (Electric People Car http://voltwagenepc.com/ ) who converted the red one, and found out that it has a decent range (40-100 miles per charge, depending on battery pack), and you can even shift gears if needed. I didn't see the owner of the green Bug, but it's by Green Scene in Milwaukie, Oregon (http://www.thegreensceneev.com/contact.html).
There's a paradigm shift starting to build in this country. More and more people are looking for alternatives to petroleum-fueled vehicles, and electric vehicle technology has made tremendous strides in the past few years. I'm a proponent of small, medium-range EVs for urban use - commuting to work, going shopping, taking the kids to soccer practice, etc. A vehicle with a range of 30-40 mpc (miles per charge) would work for most folks. I'm encouraged by what I saw today. Thanks EV community!
Monday, September 05, 2011
But that's not what this post is about. This post is about the fact that, according to a recent report released by Feeding America, the national food bank organization, the State of Oregon leads the nation in the percentage of children who are food insecure. In my state, 29.2 percent of people under the age of 18 years don't get enough to eat, and don't always know where their next meal will come from (based on 2009 data). This is not a "being number one" that we are proud of.
Food insecure kids don't do well in school, and this can harm them for life. It also harms our society and our economy. A number of organizations are helping get food to kids at school that they can eat there, and also take home for the weekend. School staff will tell you (and my wife saw this when she was working in schools) that some kids come to school because they know they'll get a meal there (some parents do, too).
Let's work together to put an end to this problem. Donate money and/or time to organizations that help feed kids. Let your congresspersons know that this isn't right and needs to be fixed.
And when you are cheering for the Ducks, or whatever team you like, as they run onto the field or court, in their shiny new uniforms and shoes and gear, show your team spirit by putting a little more cash in that envelope to the Food Bank.
Where is the voice of American businesses in this discussion? I don't mean the quiet voice of lobbyists whispering in the ears of elected representatives. I don't mean the voice of corporate money slipping into the campaign pockets of politicians. I mean the public voice of businesses, a load voice that is talking about how they are or can help solve this mess we're in. After all, it is in the best interest of corporate America that consumers have the money needed to consume.
We hear a lot about corporations, but not much from them. We hear about how many people they are laying off, and sometimes how many they are hiring. We also hear about the record profits some of the largest firms are racking up, and some analyses that they are hoarding profits by not hiring workers. But what are corporations saying?
I had a discussion with my brother recently about the responsibilities of corporations. Corporations are considered to be "persons" by our legal system; so do these persons have responsibilities to be moral and to be good citizens? My brother says no, the only responsibility a corporation has is to maximize profits for it's shareholders. I spent a bit of time on the internet looking at what legal and economic experts have to say on this topic, and they don't all agree. Some agree with my brother; others say that corporate entities have the same responsibilities as other persons in our society.
This morning, as I read through yesterday's (Sunday) New York Times, I found a full page letter from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, to "fellow concerned Americans." His letter talks about the failure of our government to provide leadership instead of partisan politics. He and 100 other business leaders sent a letter urging the President and members of Congress to provide the leadership needed to end the downward spiral we're in as a nation, and these business people signed two pledges. The first is "to withhold political campaign contributions until a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached that honestly, and fairly, sets America on a path to long-term financial health and security." The second is "to do all we can to break the cycle of economic uncertainty that grips our country by committing to accelerate investment in jobs and hiring."
Now that's the voice of business I've been listening for!! And I hope to hear this voice loader and more clearly as American business people stand up to take this mess head on.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
In a response, the White House indicated that they would seek a compromise with the Republican leadership that would allow public workers to sweep up any broken glass, without ending the Bush tax cuts or increasing any spending. The White House also signaled that the President might be willing to discuss cuts in Medicaide and Social Security to offset the costs of glass sweeping.
- posted from the fisheyepad
Saturday, July 23, 2011
It can be argued the the general welfare is not being promoted in the year 2011. Instead, the members of the House and Senate spend most of their time promoting their political parties and political agendas. We the People are nowhere to be found. Oh yes, we "elect" the members of the House and Senate, but the reality is that big money decides these elections. We the People have been replaced by powerful corporations, unions, political action committees and individuals of the wealthy class. The general welfare of the powerful is being promoted at the expense of We the People.
The present battle over the debt ceiling being waged by the two political parties is really the continuation of a war of political philosophies that has raged for decades. The Democrats generally agree that "promoting the general welfare" includes providing for those who can't provide for themselves, using entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. This side also sees that education and health care are the responsibilities of government. The Republicans generally agree that government should be lean and mean, with controlled spending funded by low taxes. The various social services should be either eliminated or scaled way back, and to hell with They the People who can't make it on their own. And, by the way, leave corporations and wealthy people alone so they can do business as usual (their good work will trickle down and help everyone).
The reality of 2011 is that the Congress of the United States of America is a dysfunctional entity that is not fulfilling it's sole purpose for being: carrying out the duties assigned to it by the Constitution of the United States of America. The other reality of 2011 is that We the People are not of a unified mind or opinion regarding what the general welfare should be. And so we drift out of control with inept and bickering politicians at the helm of the ship of state. We are basically out of control.
I don't know what we the people can or should do. Perhaps we need our own Tahrir Square, but I don't think there is a single, unifying cause that will bring us there. I hate the feeling of being adrift, and I hate the feeling of helplessness. I'm comfortable enough in my middle class-ness that I could simply ignore the conditions around me and enjoy my remaining years; but I can't accept that so many other people in this country (I'll save the rest of the world for another post) are truly suffering unnecessarily. I want a "more perfect Union" that truly "promotes the general Welfare." I just don't know how we the People can make it happen.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Every time my wife and I discuss Afghanistan we agree that the U.S. should leave; however, my wife always brings up the fate of women there when the Taliban regain control, which they probably will. It's not a pretty thought. So I have a new strategy to propose to the U.S. government: help all Afghani women leave Afghanistan. Let's look at the numbers.
The population of Afghanistan in 2011 is estimated to be 29,835,392 people. Of these, 6,149,468 are girls age 0 to 14 years, 8,031,968 are women age 15 to 64, and 380,051 are women 65 and older (that's correct, women don't live as long in Afghanistan as in the U.S. and many other developed nations). The total number of female Afghanis is 14,561,487.
The U.S. budget for operation in Afghanistan for 2012 is $107,000,000,000. That's 107 billion dollars if you got tired of reading zeros. This sum divided by the number of female Afghanis equals $7,348.15 per person. My new strategy is to take this budget and use it to transport and resettle all female Afghanis somewhere other than Afghanistan, in places where they will be safe and will have opportunities to rebuild their lives and have a positive future for their children.
As for the men left behind, well, let's let them figure it out themselves. And good luck to them!
- posted from the fisheyepad
Thursday, June 23, 2011
The situation in Greece is "clouded" by derivatives and credit-default swaps, whatever they are. It sounds like institutions buy insurance against loan defaults of others, and somehow make money from those.
Let's start where I often start: definitions.
Derivatives: according to Wikipedia, a derivative is "a financial instrument whose value depends on underlying variables." Um, not very helpful, but let's read on...a derivative "is essentially a contract whose payoff depends on the behavior of a benchmark." O...K....maybe we can find another definition.
Let's try Investopedia - that sounds pretty wonkish.
A security whose price is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is merely a contract between two or more parties. Its value is determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates and market indexes. Most derivatives are characterized by high leverage. (I remember studying leverage in high school physics.)
Hmmm, let's read on:
Futures contracts, forward contracts, options and swaps are the most common types of derivatives. Derivatives are contracts and can be used as an underlying asset. There are even derivatives based on weather
Oh great, now were into forecasting the weather! , such as the amount of rain or the number of sunny days in a particular region.
Maybe "credit default swap" will be easier to understand, and I'm liking Investopedia, so let's stay with them.
Credit default swaps (CDS) are the most widely used type of credit derivative and a powerful force in the world markets. The first CDS contract was introduced by JP Morgan in 1997 and by mid-2007, the value of the market had ballooned to an estimated $45 trillion, according to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association - over twice the size of the
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Tonight we were among a few hundred people gathered in the 1913 Historic Ashland Armory for a "concert performance" of the play "To Kill a Mockingbird" by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The regular staged performance had to be cancelled because of structural damage to the Bowmer Theater building discovered earlier in the day. Numerous people and institutions of Ashland rallied around OSF to make the Armory available and ready for the performance.
Nineteen chairs were lined up across the stage. The actors filed in, sat down, and after an explaination of how this had come together so quickly, each actor introduced her/himself, told what characters they play, and the play began. No set. No props. Each actor standing to play their role, with limited stage movement. And it was wonderful!
The audience sat enthralled on folding chairs borrowed from local schools, hanging on every word and phrase. I can't imagine a better performance, even with a full set, props and blocking. The cast, to a person, brought this compelling play to life using only their acting skills, the words of a great script, and the cohesion of a fine acting company.
Thank you, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for a once in a lifetime experience.
- posted from the fisheyepad
Location:Ashland, Oregon. USA
Sunday, June 12, 2011
This is Dr. Assad, an ophthalmologist who trained in Damascus and London. He is 46 years old, his wife was born in London to Syrian parents and is an investment banker. They have three children. In addition to his native language, Dr. Assad speaks fluent English and French, and has traveled widely in the world. He is a very modern man.
And did I mention that Dr. Assad is the brutal Syrian dictator whose security forces torture and murder civilians? He's the kind of guy who, in addition to giving you a thorough eye examination, would also probably enjoy pulling your eye out of it's socket with his fingers (probably not a technique he learned in medical school)!
How do educated people like Assad become monsters? And why does the rest of the world put up with guys like him? The answers are, as usual, politics. Answer 1: Assad wants to stay in power; answer 2: world governments have made the usual choice of political expediency over human rights.
I watched a portion of an Anderson Cooper (CNN) report about the situation In Syria, a report that held nothing back. The violence captured on cell phone videos was shocking and disturbing. Assad's forces are seemingly beating and killing everyone in their sight. Children are being "arrested" and their tortured, mutilated bodies returned to the parents weeks later. The Syrian forces are operating under a scorched earth policy - leave nothing standing, leave no one alive.
And what is the response by the rest of the world? Elected leaders have harsh words and a few economic sanctions. But world leaders are being extremely cautious, because a Syria without Assad could be a bad geopolitical situation that could make matters in the Middle East worse than they have been under Assad's tight control.
What we are witnessing, yet again, is the critical failure of humanity to live up to it's potential. Instead of progress and improvement for everyone, we see brutal repression for the benefit of the few, and world indifference for political reasons. The same old same old, endlessly repeated.
Dr. Assad, how do you live with your actions? How do you hug your children knowing that your storm troopers are torturing and murdering other people's children? How do you justify the extreme violence being committed in your name? Are you a human or a monster?
I recently attended my niece's graduation from medical school. Part of the ceremony was the recitation of the Declaration of Geneva physician's oath. This declaration includes the following statements:
"I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;"
"I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even under threat...."
Maybe Dr. Assad had his fingers crossed under his gown.
I truly wish I could do something to help the Syrian people. I'll contact my elected representatives and implore them to act, but the reality is that the Syrian people are on their own. The rest of us can only sit and watch the horror on CNN.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
I don't get it.
I just returned from a walk to my local Fred Meyers store, where in addition to shopping, I returned some deposit bottles. This recently remodeled store has a separate small building, across the parking lot from the store, that has four bottle and can return machines. One of the three can and bottle machines was out of order, and the fourth machine is only for aluminum cans. A woman and her two kids were feeding bottles and cans into one machine; they had a half-dozen very large plastic trash bags full. A man was feeding bottles and cans into another machine; he had a shopping cart mounded high with bottles and cans. Another woman was standing and waiting; she had a shopping cart full plus a trash bag of cans and bottles. The can only machine was unused - I had bottles. The two working machines are the type that accept one bottle or can at a time, so I knew I had to be patient. Did I mention that I had three six-pack carriers of glass bottles and two liter-size plastic seltzer bottles? I waited, fed my few bottles into the machine, and got a receipt worth one dollar. Oh joy!
So the future is that I'll need to get in my car and drive to a redemption center, so I'll probably save bottles until I have a truck load (where the hell I'll keep them I have no idea), and then I'll spend a bunch-o-time standing around a smelly, sticky-floored crap hole to have my turn at a machine. Hmmm....get in car, use gas, spew emissions, stand around waiting for the professionals to be finished.....great plan.
We have curbside recycling in Portland. The blue rolling cart is for paper, cardboard, certain plastics, and metals. The green rolling cart is for yard debris. The yellow bin is for glass. The pickup is once a week. So why can't they also give me a bin for deposit bottles and cans, scan in some code that records the credit to my account, and dump it into a machine like the ones at the redemption center that counts them and breaks the glass bottles and shreds the plastic bottles and aluminum cans?
Is this too logical, or what? Someone please help me out here.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
And now, in a readmyopinion exclusive, I report on a visit to a secret training camp of the Sea Lion Liberation Front. I was taken, blindfolded, to this remote location, where I was allowed to take exclusive video of the training camp, and interview the Commander in charge. Here it is:
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
I am writing to you today as a concerned citizen of the United States of America about a serious foreign policy topic, womens' rights in Saudi Arabia. I heard a report today, May 4, 2011, on National Public Radio about a group of Saudi women who went to register for an upcoming election, even though the government had announced that women could not vote in this election. They went as a protest against this policy, even though they know what kinds of punishments they could get from the government for this action.
Secretary Clinton, how can we let one of our allies treat women this way? We know, especially now in the midst of tremendous change in the Arab countries, that people in those countries clearly recognize the role of the United States in supporting governments that have or now oppress them. And, although women in Saudi Arabia have some measure of "freedom," such as the right to be employed, they are oppressed in many ways. One example was given in the NPR report today. It told of women who were arrested by the Religious Police for driving automobiles. These women were mistreated while being held, and then flyers were distributed about them saying, among other things, that they are whores. They were subsequently shunned by family members, neighbors and co-workers.
It is no longer acceptable (and really never was) for the United States to turn a blind eye to these kinds of human rights abuses. We are either on the bus or off the bus when it comes to democratization of Arab countries, even those with which we have close economic and security arrangements.
Mrs. Clinton, please work on this issue. Please have serious discussions with the Saudi leaders about how this must end. And please make a public policy statement that the United States supports the rights of all people, including and especially women and girls, in Saudi Arabia and all other countries who count the United States as a friend and ally.
Thank you, Madame Secretary, for taking action on this important topic.
Portland, Oregon USA
President Barak Obama
- posted from the fisheyepad
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Every analyst and pundit and armchair commentator (yes, including me) has a point of view, a theory, a list of facts. One can find support in the Blahblahosphere (I just invented that term, and I think I like it) for just about every point of view. And, being no exception, I'll try below to state my point of view.
History is irreversible. There are enmities in the Middle East too numerous to count; clan-based, tribal, religious, political and national. Most of this is based on the historic "wrongs" of one group visited upon another. To this I can only say: forget the past and look to the future. A certain political party killed your relatives and you want revenge? Another religious group insulted yours and you need retribution? Your ancestors lived in a certain area 2,000 years ago and you want it back? Forget about it! There are no do-overs in history. The important thing is what the future will be for your children and their children and all the generations to follow.
Do people in the Middle East share common dreams for the future? I would hope that the majority of people in the region would say yes, and that these dreams are for a free, tolerant and secure society, education for their children, good jobs and a comfortable standard of living, and peace. Yes, there are those who think differently, but I have to believe that, given the choice between peace and war, wealth and poverty, education and ignorance, the majority would choose the first of each of these.
Each of the countries presently experiencing public unrest will have it's own path to the future. Egypt and Tunisia, for example, already had in place many of the institutions needed to move towards democracy. (Note: by "democracy" I don't mean United States style democracy; I mean some form of public rule.) Libya, on the other hand, had much less. There are no guarantees that any of the many countries experiencing the "Arab Awakening" will end up better places for their citizens than they were, but the chance is there.
The role of my country, the United States, has always been one of political expediency. The U.S. has made numerous choices to support dictators for political reasons - national security, fighting terrorism - and economic reasons - keep the oil and gas flowing - while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by these "allies." While I understand this intellectually, I am ashamed by it morally. In Libya, Qaddafi was our enemy, then Qadaffi was our friend, and now Qaddifi is again our enemy. The political winds blow. Mubarak was our ally and recipient of huge infusions of cash and military tools, in exchange for peace with Israel, open trade, and a semblance of solidity in the face of extremism. But when the Egyptian people stood up and roared, it was more expedient to tell Mubarak his time was up. More changing political winds.
I hope the Obama administration gets it right. There is a political tightrope to walk, and any slip could be the fatal one - politically speaking. The U. S. needs to support the legitimate right of people to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The U. S. also needs to protect it's national interests. I have to think, however, that protecting the rights of people is the way to protect our national interests.
I have a number of hopes for the outcomes of this present political upheaval. I hope that the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria and Iraq find forms of peace and freedom that improve their lives and their futures. I hope that secular, democratic governments emerge from the chaos of change. I hope that extremists of all kinds find infertile ground wherever they go, and that the fruits of hatred wither on the vines of tolerance and friendship.
And finally, there is the hope that an independent Israel and an independent Palestine live side-by-side in peace with each other and all their neighbors. The Israel-Palestine conflict has gone on too long, and the world has grown weary of it. The leaders of the Palestinian and Israeli governments need to seize upon the geopolitical upheavals in their part of the world and quickly find a path towards coexistence. Anything short of that will be catastrophic for everyone. Netanyahu and Abbas need to put down all pre-conditions for resumed talks and get to the table, no matter who is at the table for each side.
Part of this final hope of mine is that the people fighting and dying for freedom in the Arab world will recognize that part of their own liberation is a liberation of thought and understanding concerning the world around them. To these good people I say: don't judge my country, the U. S., too harshly for supporting those who oppressed you. The people in my country will do all we can to get our government to hold out hands of help and friendship for a better future. And don't fan flames of hatred for Israel and the Jewish people; instead, use your newly found freedoms to move the world forward, not backward. We can all work together to write a better future history of the world!
Friday, March 25, 2011
I just left France, where 58 nuclear reactors generate almost all of the country's electricity (we did see a few wind turbines outside of St. Remy du Provence), and overall, about 30 percent of electricity in the European Union countries is generated this way. France and other countries are solid or semi-solid supporters of nuclear power, while others, like Austria, Greece and Ireland (which, according to the airplane digital map we are now flying over) ban the use of nuclear for power generation. German Chancellor Merkel is pushing for nuclear "stress tests" of all existing commercial reactors (source: International Herald Tribune March 24, 2011).
In Japan, the earthquake and tsunami resulted in extensive damage to some nuclear power plants, resulting in unconfined explosions, partial meltdowns, and releases of radioactivity. Facility operators are struggling to gain control of runaway reactors after suffering failures of critical systems as well as backup systems, including backup electrical generators. The magnitude of the earthquake and resulting tsunamis exceeded the design and safety standards of the nuclear power plants (see Footnote 1).
As my friend Bob recently said, the recent experience in Japan is not a wakeup call for us in the Pacific Northwest, it's a final warning. And the rest of the world also needs to heed this final warning.
Here's why I think nuclear power generation is wrong:
1. It is an inherently dangerous technology that requires many more complicated controls to avoid a disastrous accident, compared to any other energy generating facility;
2. The results of an accident at a nuclear power plant have much more serious and long-term consequences, in terms of human health and environmental impacts, than any other type of facility. (To be clear, other types of generation facilities, such as coal and oil burners, emit pollutants, and a major explosion would release much more, some of which are persistent in the environment. However, I think these pale in the face of radioactive particles.)
3. Nuclear waste has always been problematic, and as yet, after many decades of generation, there is not a long-term storage solution. "This is not a problem" the industry tells us; "a solution will be found soon." And so, most spent fuel rods are kept in pools of water - temporary storage - at the nuclear power plants. This is one of the major problems at at least one of the Japanese nuclear facilities affected by the recent earthquake events, the temporary storage facilities have been damaged, and the operators are still desperately pouring sea water on them to try to keep them from exploding.
Put all of the above together, and the rationale for building nuclear power plants defies simple logic. Quite simply, nuclear power is simply too complicated and too dangerous. It's not that the risk is too high, it's that the consequences of an accident are too high. And we can't ever forgetas my friend Scott always said, "Nature is a hangin' judge."
There are those, including many of our leaders, who have recently come around to a position of considering the nuclear energy option as part of our energy mix. A large part of this discussion is fueled by the politics of reducing our import, here in the U.S., of foreign oil (see footnote 1). This is clearly, in my opinion, a wrong conclusion and not really the issue. The issue is not the source of our electrical energy, but our unquenchable demand for it. We expect to be able to suck as much electricity out of the wall outlets as we want, all the time, to fuel our ever-increasing pile of electronic machines and gadgets.
It's way beyond time for us as a society to think about how much we consume, and what the consequences of that consumption are. I'm sitting on an airplane writing on an iPad, and when my power is low, I want - no, I demand as if it is a Constitutional right - that there is an electrical outlet I can plug into. When I've completed this post, I'll send it off into the cloud of the Internet, where it will exist for the rest of time (or perhaps as long as there are humans) on a multitude of computer servers sitting in huge, power-sucking server facilities so that all of you readers can open it when ever and where ever you want.
Guess what folks? As long as we have this attitude, we'll have to continue to develop more electricity generating facilities, and this will include nukes. Face it, nuclear power is big business, and big business always comes out on top.
1. In the engineering world, things are designed based on certain design criteria. For example, a storm water facility might be designed for what is known as a 20-year, 24-hour storm event, and any event larger than that simply overflows or bypasses the facility. There are design criteria for buildings and bridges based on a specific size of seismic event, and the structure is not expected to withstand an event larger than the design event.
2. What few people realize, and as I've discussed in previous posts, most of our "foreign" oil comes to us from Canada.
- posted from the fisheyepad
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
But now, in spite of the ESA and the conservation measures it imposed, the spotted owls are still not doing as well as hoped, and the finger is pointing at the barred owls. The question being asked: should humans intervene in the struggles of nature by killing one species to save another? Some experts and conservationists think that the barred owls are expanding into spotted owl habitat because of human-induced changes in forest habitat. Their conclusion is that further manipulation of nature is therefore justified.
This is not an easy question resolve, and it is not the only situation in which killing one kind of animal to save another is accepted. In the lower Columbia River (the border between Oregon and Washington), federal and state authorities have justified killing California sea lions because they eat too many salmon and sturgeon (see my previous posts - you can search this blog - in which I interviewed Sammy C. Lyon).
So where does this end? I mean, there are a lot of situations where some species of wildlife are killing other, protected species of wildlife. Take a look at the nesting colonies of double-crested cormorants and Caspian terns in the Columbia River estuary, for example. Last year, the estimated 23,000 adult birds and their chicks in these two nesting colonies are estimated to have eaten about 25 million juvenile salmon, including those listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA (http://www.cbbulletin.com/402325.aspx). Holy cow - break out the machine guns!
Maybe it's a good thing humans are the top of the food webs on this planet. Imagine, if you can, some higher form of life in the galaxy that has an inter-galactic Endangered Species Act, administered by the IEPA (Inter-galactic Environmental Protection Agency). And imagine, again if you can, IEPA staff stops by Earth for an inspection, and finds that the activities of Homo sapiens are causing the extinction of many, many other species. You know, things like over fishing; over cutting forests; building roads, dams, and cities; polluting the air, land and water; changing the climate; and etc., etc. Uh oh, open season on human beings!
But seriously, this is a tough one. One of the basic laws of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else, meaning that everything we humans do has some consequence. Are the actions of humans unnatural because they have negative effects on what we have labeled "natural?" Or is everything we humans do part of the natural order of things because we are, after all, a species of wildlife on planet Earth? (This means, of course, that nuclear weapons are natural!)
It's a conundrum.
- posted from the fisheyepad
Saturday, January 29, 2011
But all of that is another story. The very important story here, one that I didn't know, is about the people of Tunisia and their government. I didn't know anything about the Tunisian dictator until the people chased him out. I didn't know that Tunisia has a constitution that prescribes how a President is succeeded and how and when elections are held. I'm beginning to understand this now, but more importantly, I also understand that a successful democratic movement - a mostly peaceful revolution, if you will - will be a major event in history because of the precedent it will set among the Arab countries.
And so I try to follow the unfolding events in Tunisia. I look for news articles in the NY Times and other sources, and I've found a Facebook page "Support Tunisia" to which people are posting their experiences, analyses and opinions.