Sunday, December 24, 2006

More Thoughts on Iraq

In response to

Folks in our society have an expectation of immediate results in general. The first Gulf War fit very well in that regard -- over in 100 hours (if you don't count the months of logistics build up and the air prep). The problem is that lots of people, including our President, thought invading Iraq was the same kind of engagement as driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. We watched it on the news with live feeds, and thought it was over when the statues of Saddam Hussein were toppled.

Wrong. That was just the beginning.

Our military is not designed for engagements like Vietnam and Iraq. We train and equip our armed forces to engage uniformed forces who are holding territory. We believe victory occurs when the enemy government surrenders and ceases hostilies. Then we come in and help rebuild the country as a democracy. At least that's the WWII model.

This is a revolutionary war, where the good guys and the bad guys are both citizens of the same country. If one takes a close look at our own War of Independence through the eyes of the British, we never really defeated the British, we just fought on until the British nobility lost its will to continue. They went home (returning for the War of 1812), but we did not pursue them in an attempt to conquer the British homeland. We didn't even try to take Canada. Our victory was their loss of will. The Vietnamese communists had to feel very much the same way when we pulled out.

In Iraq, like Vietnam, we're letting the fighting drag on because we're letting the enemy keep their supply lines open. The fighting will never be over until we put a stop to that.

Here's the real shame: We are once again putting our young people in a position of deciding whether the person in their gunsight is a friendly or an enemy, knowing that a wrong decision will cause himself, his buddies, or an innocent person to die. How we can scar another generation this way?

Are we not fighting hard enough? Are we not bringing enough force to bear on the situation? We pretty much bombed Germany and Japan to rubble in WWII. Is that what we have to do to Iraq? I don't think the shooting will stop even if that happens.

Do we have to put a fence around Iraq so that the enemy can no longer be supplied? I think we must, or we have to get out before we sacrifice another wall full of our children.

We went into Iraq for trumped-up reasons, a half-assed plan and an ill-defined mission objective. How did we let that happen again?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Finding Lucho

I was building a PhotoStory from some old pictures my Mom had, and was struggling to find some music to accompany the video. Mom was born in the Panama Canal Zone and lived there most of her young years. When we were kids, Mom loved to play records by a Panamanian organist named Lucho Azcarraga, and the sound of his music is deeply rooted in my psyche.

Sadly, Mom's old records are pretty much shot, and I don't have an operational turntable anymore besides. But you gotta love the web -- Lucho's granddaughter has a
website where she sells CDs of his recordings, and I ordered one last night. Here is a sampling of his sound.

Can't wait for the CD to arrive.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 12

We rolled into our driveway last night at 6pm EST. Mission accomplished, and it's good to be home.

The day started out with a futile search to find a place on the Illinois side of the Mississippi to take a picture of downtown St Louis and the Gateway Arch. After a few minutes of wandering through industrial streets and poor neighborhoods, we came across a ramp back onto the freeway and decided to just get underway towards home.

Nothing special about today's drive: 428 miles in 7:48 of drive time at an average of 62.8mph. Familiar vistas to those of us who live in this part of the country: farm fields and orange barrels.

TOTAL FOR THE TRIP: 5,413 miles and just short of 100 hours of drive time.

The inventory of states we visited:

South Dakota
North Dakota
New Mexico

The high point of the trip for me was the visit into
Yellowstone National Park, but I enjoyed all of it. A map of the whole route we took is attached below.

As we entered into western Ohio, Terry commented that she never would think of the farms around here as 'big fields.' Once you've seen the vast open farmland of Texas, most of the farms in this part of the country look quaint.

We enjoy this kind of traveling. There were times when I thought that buying a motorhome and touring the country would be a grand thing. But I don't think the economics make sense. You start with the purchase price of the motorhome itself, and it's not unusual to spend $100,000 or more for that (I worked with a guy who had a $300,000 motorhome!). Then you have the maintenance and upkeep, which is a mixture of owning another vehicle and another house. During all those days when you aren't using your motorhome, you need to have a place to store it. Once you get on the road, you've got this big beast that consumes large amounts of increasingly expensive fuel. And it would seem that you are a bit limited as to the roads you can take.

Compare that with traveling in our Suburban: it's my everyday vehicle, so no additional capital cost. Admittedly, it gets pretty poor mileage (maybe 15mpg in typical driving), but I don't put that many miles on it around town -- especially in the summer when the Harley is the prefered mode of transportation. I really like having a vehicle that is reliable, big enough to haul stuff, 4WD so we can get around in snow or to places off the beaten path, and frankly old enough that I don't get wound up about a few dings and scratches.

Beyond the capital costs, when you are on the road with a motorhome, you still need to find a place to park and hook up to utilities. I don't have a sense what this costs, but it certainly isn't free. The notion that you can just pull off the road anywhere you please and set up camp is not quite true. Although most motorhomes have holding tanks for potable water and wastewater, onboard generators for electricity, and LP gas storage for heating and cooking, the fuel for the generator and the LP gas aren't free.

So we stayed 11 nights in hotels at a total costs of under $1,000. Breakfast was free every morning, and many times we made our own picnic lunch from items we bought at supermarkets and kept in the cooler (ice obtained free from the hotel). We had a nice dinner every night, making our total food costs under $400.

When we crossed the high passes in the snow around Yellowstone, we had the security of 4WD whenever we needed it, and could pull off anywhere to admire the scenery and take pictures.

The nice thing is that when got home, we just pulled the Suburban into the garage and our vacation expenses ended. Would we buy another Suburban if this one wears out (nearly 200,000 miles now!)? Probably not -- the Suburban is a little larger than we need. But we might consider a Yukon or a TrailBlazer or something of that ilk.

So we've made our trip to New England, and a grand tour of the Great Plains and the Rockies. We've been around a good deal of the Southeast, including last year's trip to south Florida. We've driven the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego. Next July, we'll be taking a cruise to Alaska with several friends (and I'll complete my quest to visit all 50 states). And yes, we've seen the Grand Canyon.

I'm not saying that we've seen everything in America, but we've seen a lot. At the moment, I have no compelling need to go anyplace except places to hang out with the family (see my
rant about touristy places). I'm looking forward to our planned trip to the Myrtle Beach area with the extended family next June.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 11

This was a day of hard driving, as we covered the 501 miles from Oklahoma City to St Louis in a little over 7 hours. It was 100% interstate driving through country that felt familiar -- hardwood forests, green fields, rolling hills. We've gotten spoiled by the 75mph interstate speed limits in the western states (heck, the speed limit on their 2 lane roads is 65mph!), so we know the 65mph interstate limit in Ohio is going to make those last miles home really drag out.

We ended the day visiting with Terry, Christina and Zack Shields, including dinner at a great little Italian place they took us to in their neighborhood (The Hill). The Shields are great folks, and we pray that the burden of Zack's illness is lifted from all of them soon.

Home tomorrow....

Monday, October 30, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 10

Today was a long day on the road as we made our way from Santa Fe to Oklahoma City. By the time we checked in to our hotel, we had traveled 539 miles in 8.5 hours of seat time.

The oldest church in the United States is in Santa Fe, and Terry suggested that we make it our first stop. It is a beautiful and historic building in the central plaza of the city, and well worth the visit. In the eastern part of the United States, the American history we learn in school is very much focused on the relationship between the English colonists and the English government, with some mention of the French and Spanish. When you travel the western part of the country, we are reminded that while the English and French settlers were struggling to survive in New England, the Spaniards had already established colonial capitals in the west. This church in Santa Fe was built nearly 400 years ago when Santa Fe was first settled.

The capitol building for the State of New Mexico is the furthest thing from the domed Greek themed building found in many of the eastern states. The New Mexico capitol is an adobe two story building constructed in the shape of the sun symbol on the New Mexico flag. The old narrow streets around the capitol are remarkably free of traffic, as is the whole plaza area. There are no tall buildings in Santa Fe, and most are in keeping with the pueblo style. All in all, Santa Fe seems like a very laid back city. It might be a great place to live.

From Santa Fe, we took US285 due south to catch I-40 eastbound, on which we traveled for the rest the day. In New Mexico, I-40 cuts through ranch country and small canyons. Soon after crossing into Texas, the terrain completely flattened out and it seemed like we could see 20 miles in all directions. While there are plenty of ranches in the area, we began seeing some row crops, notably cotton. I know Montana is called Big Sky Country, but we've never been anywhere where you have a largely unobscured level horizon for 360 degrees around you. Somewhere soon after entering Texas, we stopped at what must be one of the nicest public rest areas in America. At Groom TX, we saw the giant 190ft tall Cross as well as the Leaning Water Tower.

Crossing into Oklahoma, the terrain became a little more rolling. We came across yet another collection of maybe fifty wind generators spread across a hilltop west of Oklahoma City. We have been impressed at the amount of wind power farms we've seen in practically every state on this trip.

Now that we're back on standard time, sundown is at 5:45pm, and we were treated to a great sunset, albeit in the rear view mirrors. We had a nice Italian dinner and are relaxing in our room for the evening.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 9

This was another driving day. We headed due east out of Durango on US160, enjoying the classic Colorado vistas of snowcapped peaks and evergreen forests. At Pagosa Springs, we turned south on US84 crossing into New Mexico in the backcountry where we watched some ranch hands load cattle onto trucks.

We were suprised at the altitude of the pass we crossed, which reached over 10,000 ft for a stretch. We weren't up there for long, but the effects of the altitude were definitely felt.
In New Mexico, we broke out into the broad Rio Grande valley. At the center of the valley the river runs through a very scenic gorge. We crossed the gorge once, then soon afterward the highway dropped into the gorge for some great views.

On US64, east of US285, we noticed a number of little houses -- shacks really -- that I thought must be the homes of some truly independent people. None of them seem to have any outside utilities. Then just before reaching Taos, we came across a wild set of houses. They had the kind of whimsy in their design that I enjoy about French movies (e.g. Fifth Element). It turns out that they were homes designed and built by an outfit called
Earthship Biotecture. You can even rent some of them for a night.

We didn't stop in Taos as it was Sunday and there were lots of folks there enjoying the bright warm day. On the way from Taos to Santa Fe, the access road to Los Alamos branches off to the west. The
Los Alamos National Laboratory is where the Manhattan Project got started, and I felt compelled to make the drive over the to see what we could see. To my delight, the Bradbury (not Ray) Museum was open, and we stopped for a few minutes to check out the exhibits. Neither of us realized that LANL is involved in biomedical research in additional to their primary mission of managing the health of our nuclear stockpile.

We completed the day with an easy cruise into Santa Fe. After a fine Mexican dinner, we retired to our room at the Hampton Inn and crashed. Mileage today was 444, trip total now 3,817.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 8

No stops were planned for today -- our objective was simply to drive from Provo UT to Durango CO and take in the countryside.

After restocking our provisions and taking on gas, we headed east from Provo on US6, which follows the pass also taken by the railroad. I took a wrong turn at the US191 intersection, and we ended up enjoying a side trip to Duchesne UT over a very scenic route through the Ashley National Forest. It has always been interesting to us how the colors change as you move about this part of the country. As soon as we got on the east side of the Wasatch mountains, the colors turned from the browns of the Salt Lake Valley to the reds of much of Utah. But once we got into this high country, things became gray and green.

After backtracking back to US191 south, we came to the town of Helper. Railroad enthusiasts know that 'helpers' are one or more locomotives added to the end of a train to help push the train up a mountain. The helpers usually stay at the base of the mountain, hooking up to the train before it begins the climb. Once the train reaches the top, the helpers disconnect and return to the bottom to assist the next train. I wonder if Helper UT got its name because it was the place the helpers stood by while waiting for trains.

After a short blast eastbound on I-70, we jumped back onto US191 to south. The intersection of I-70 and US-191 is a high point with a rest stop where we took most of the pictures attached. I found myself humming 'I can see for miles and miles, I can see for miles and miles' by The Who.

We retraced (in the opposite direction) the route of a trip we took with the kids about fifteen years ago, passing Arches National Park, Monticello UT and Mesa Verde in Colorado. We settled into the Hampton Inn at Durango CO and had a great meal in a little place almost across the street.

Mileage today was 444 in 8 hours of drive time. Tomorrow we're off to Taos and Santa Fe New Mexico.

By the way, we have now officially started the return leg of our trip...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 7

The AmeriTel hotel in Pocatello Idaho was a great place to stay, and we woke to a clear cool morning. After a quick breakfast, we jumped on I-15 and headed south with great views of the Wasatch mountains to on both sides.

Our only planned stop was Promontory Summit UT at the site of the driving of the
Golden Spike marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad. While the short movie was informative, if you really want to know about the great endevour, I recommend Nothing Like it in the World by Stephen Ambrose.

On the way back to the freeway, we encountered the
ATK Rocket Motors complex. Like the Idaho National Laboratory we passed through yesterday, this is one of those places where very advanced research and engineering takes place -- stuff that would seem like science fiction to most of us. Like INL, what goes on in there is just a bit dangerous, hence the remote location.

After several days in the backcountry, running into a Salt Lake City traffic jam was shocking return to the urban world, including smog (we assume that's what the haze is). We jumped off the Interstate at Temple Square and spent a few minutes admiring the beautiful grounds of the Mormon Temple and the Tabernacle. I have been to Salt Lake City a number of times on business, but have never really seen the Great Salt Lake. If you drive through the city on I-15, you never see the lake. So we found a street that headed west, and kept going until we reached the lake shore.

From there, we fought the Friday evening rush hour traffic all the way from Salt Lake City to Provo, and checked into our hotel. I was happy to find an email from my cousin Diane Hirsh Pennington, who was in Salt Lake City with her husband Gene. Diane's daughter Julie recently gave birth to her fourth child, and Diane and Gene came out to help. We connected up at our hotel, and had a great visit.

Tomorrow we head across eastern Utah, with our planned destination being Durango CO.

Trip odometer: 290 miles in 5.5 hours of drive time. Total mileage now 3,057

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Westward Ho: Day 6

We woke to a beautiful clear and cold morning (14F) morning in West Yellowstone, MT. Our first stop was to head back into the park to watch Old Faithful. There were very few folks around, so we got to drive the Suburban right up to the entry way of the Old Faithful Inn and wait for the next eruption. The geyser came through in only 30 mins or so, and it was a good show.

For anyone who wants to visit Yellowstone, we whole-heartedly recommend coming in the Fall, near the end of the season. Kids are in school and it seems that few folks make the trek to the park once all the main facilities close. I abhor the crowds at popular tourist destinations, especially something like Yellowstone where the remoteness and solitude is a big part of the attraction (to me at least). We could just imagine the park in mid-July, teeming with people all getting in each other's way at every scenic view and every encounter with the animals. Most of the time, we couldn't tell there was any other humans in the park.

After the 30min drive back out of the park, we gassed up and headed for the
Craters of the Moon National Monument in Arco Idaho. This is a beautiful drive on mostly level high plain (about 5,000ft) with a great view of the Grand Tetons to the east. Along the way, we passed through Idaho Falls.

On US20 to Arco, we passed through the vast (900 square mile)
Idaho National Laboratory, operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy. The first reactor used to demonstrate the generation of electricity for residential power, the EBR-1, is now open for tours, but closes after Labor Day. I would have enjoyed seeing this site. INL is still a big part of America's nuclear energy program, employing 8,000 people. Their public mission is to do research on reactor designs and fuels. I have no doubt that there's a fair amount of classified military stuff going on in there too.

I hate to say it, but the Craters monument was interesting, yet not worth the drive. We expected something we had never seen before, but it was really much like the lava fields on the Big Island of Hawaii. After we left, I realized that I hadn't even taken any pictures.

We've settled for the night in a very nice hotel called the AmeriTel in Pocatello ID after 381 miles and 7 hours of driving time. Tomorrow we'll head into Utah for what we expect is a short day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Westward Ho, Day 5: Yellowstone

Today started off at the crack of dawn in Miles City, MT with the goal of reaching Yellowstone. We knew it was supposed to snow in the mountains, but hoped that we could get through the park on the main roads. We made the 250 miles to Cody WY by late morning, only to find out that the east entrance to Yellowstone was closed due to the morning snowfall. So we backtracked 80 miles to a scenic route through the Crandall Ranch and over the Beartooth Highway to the Northeast entrance. While the fog obscured most of the view, we could tell that this drive would have spectacular vistas. I'd like to ride it on a motorcycle sometime.

We spent the rest of the afternoon traversing the nearly 100 miles across the northern part of the park. We saw multitudes of buffalo, many elk, and even had a pair of wolves cross the road in front of us. At most times, it seemed like we had the whole park to ourselves, as we only occasionally ran into other people. One of those enounters was very odd however.

On Monday morning, two days ago, as we were getting ready to leave our hotel in Ladoka SD, we ran into a couple from Lancaster OH who was also traveling west on a sightseeing vacation. Lancaster is a town about an hour southeast of Columbus, so they were practically next door neighbors. We bid each other safe journeys and went on our way.

Today, as we were just about leave Yellowstone, we decided at the spur of the moment to follow a sign directing us a quarter mile off the road to a geyser field. As we circled the parking lot, I saw a red pickup with Ohio plates -- it was the same couple we had talked to in Ladoka!! I'm sure we both made dozens of little choices along the way, including the fact that they entered Yellowstone from the west portal and we entered from the northeast. How we ended up in exactly the same obscure location in a park covering 3,500 square miles, at the same instant after two days of travel is one of the great mysteries of the universe...

Total distance covered today was 459 miles in 9 hours of seat time. Total miles now are 2,386.

We had dinner tonight in a place in West Yellowstone MT called Bullwinkles. It's probably been here for decades. I had an elk burger and a local beer called Moose Drool. Terry tried a beer called Trout Slayer. We've crashed for the night at the Yellowstone Lodge Motel, and plan to head into Yellowstone in the morning to see Old Faithful. From there, we'll head into Idaho and see how far we get...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Westward Ho, Day 4: North Dakota & Montana

Today was another LONG day in the saddle: 496 miles in 8 hours. So far our journey has covered 1,927 miles, and we're just getting started.

We begain today in Custer SD, driving west to Newcastle WY on Route 16. There was still much evidence of the forest fire that was ignited by a severe thunderstorm just as we entered Rapid City on our motorcycle trip in 2001. In fact, the area was mostly obscured by smoke in 2001, so this was the first view I've had of the devastation.

From Newcastle, we ran up to Devil's Tower (you know, from Close Encounters?). We stopped and visited a little while with the prarie dogs at the base of the mountain.

By way of Hulett and Belle Fourche, we got back on US85 and headed toward North Dakota. Neither of us anticipated the miles and miles of open range all around us for most of the day. While western South Dakota is heavily forested, North Dakota and Eastern Montana is barren and mostly treeless.

Our stop tonight is in Miles City MT, right on I-90. The hotel shares a parking lot with a Chinese place, and the food was good.

We went back to the hotel to map out tomorrow, and I thought I would take one more look at what we might do around Yellowstone. Before we left Columbus, I checked out the Yellowstone website, and it said the roads would be closed to wheeled vehicles on Oct 15. Too bad, I thought, we'd be there a week late to get in. Well, tonight the website said the roads would be closing on Nov 5th. Great news! We've made reservations at a hotel right outside the west entrance, and tomorrow will be hustling down as quickly as possible.

A personal note: with today's journey, I have passed through two of the remain three states (North Dakota and Montana) on my goal of visiting all 50 states. The only one remaining is Alaska!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Westward Ho, Day 3: Badlands and Custer

We traversed 256 miles today, most of it was inside Custer State Park, south of Rapid City SD. I had been in this part of the country in August 2001 with the Motorsports Harley Owners Group, but it was brutally hot, and for much of trip through the area, I was following a leader (and as the saying goes, if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes). We saw much more today.

We left our 1950s motel in Ladoka and stopped in a 1950s diner just up the street for breakfast (great meal). It was short drive to the
Badlands National Park, which alone was worth the trip. We were virtually alone in the park, and could stop pretty much any place we wanted to just gawk at the beauty of this place.

Then we highballed into Rapid City and made the short drive to
Mt Rushmore. Terry had long talked about wanting to visit there, and said it more than met her expectations.

Next was a drive over Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park. Lots of curves and great scenery. Since it was getting to be mid-afternoon, we decided to run into Custer to reserve our room, and make the run up to the
Crazy Horse Memorial.

With an hour or so left until sundown, we decided to go back into Custer State Park and drive down the Needles Highway. We still had some daylight left, so we drove around the Wildlife Loop, where we ran into multitudes of deer, turkeys, donkeys, and of course, buffalo.

Dinner was in a great little steak and ale house in Custer called The Bank, which was located into a building that was constructed in 1820 as the First National Bank of Dakota Territory. I had buffalo -- what else.

Our hotel is the Super 8 in Custer, a clean modern place, and one of the few open this time of the year.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Westward Ho, Day 2: Cedar Rapids to Badlands

With the time zone change and our tendency to wake pretty early, we were up in our hotel in Cedar Rapids IA by 6am, and out the door by eight. It's a good thing because today was all about miles. We pulled into our hotel about 7pm local time (MDT) after running 621 miles in 9.5 hours, for an average speed of 66mph (the speed limit on South Dakota interstate highways is 75mph).

When building the route (in Microsoft Streets & Trips 2006), I hadn't realized that we would be spending so much time in southwestern Minnesota. Until we crossed into South Dakota, the landscape remained vast vistas of cornfields, most which were being harvested in the bright cool sunlight. We were surprised with the number of large-scale wind generators, including a complex of approximately 100 units.

We stopped for lunch at a Subway in Blue Earth, MN, and were treated with a statue of the
Jolly Green Giant.

As soon as we crossed into South Dakota the terrain shifted to rolling hills and more grassland than row crops. Dinner was in the GTO Diner in Murdo just as the sun was setting. There was a dusting of snow in the grass, and the news reported several inches on snow in Black Hills. Tomorrow is supposed to be around 50, although we're expecting lower temperatures in the higher elevations.

In Mitchell SD, we took a brief side trip to see the
Corn Palace.

Our hotel, the Best Western in Kadoka SD is a throwback to the 1950s. It's a long one-story building with parking spots right in front of each room. The rooms have screen doors and a porch complete with lawn furniture so you can visit with the neighbors. I don't think anyone had stayed in this room for a while judging by the musty smell. Thankfully it cleared when we got the heater fired up. However, whenever the fan comes on, it blows the curtains open. Fortunately I had three vice-grip pliers in my toolbag which I clamped onto the curtains to weigh them down and hold them together. Anyone ever watch "My Name is Earl"? ....

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Westward Ho, Day 1: Columbus to Cedar Rapids

We packed up the truck and got underway about 11am, about two hours later than plan (my fault). Today's route was simple: I-70 to Indianapolis (we drove by the Speedway), then I-74 to Davenport IA. From there we traveled I-80 to Iowa City, and I-380 to Cedar Rapids.

Lunch was a quick stop at McDonald's near Dayton, and dinner was at a Crackerbarrel in Morton IL, on the outskirts of Peoria. It started raining right after we got back in the truck after dinner (about 6pm), and rained all the way to Cedar Rapids, where it is 33degF. It's supposed to snow a little here tonight, but warm up to the 40s or 50s tomorrow.

We crashed for the night at a Hampton Inn in Cedar Rapids, arriving about 8pm local (CDT). No pictures to post. Imagine cornfields. We crossed the Mississippi in the dark unfortunately. We'll cross it again on the return.

Total travel distance today 554 miles in 10hr 11min at an average speed of 54mph. The truck consumed about 34 gals, yielding about 16mpg. I didn't get an accurate measurement because the gas station had their pumps set to shut off at $75.00, which is annoying when you're paying with a credit card (i.e. I can't run off without paying).

At least gas prices are "reasonable" out here -- about $2.15 for 87 octane at a Phillips 66 station in Cedar Rapids. Oddly, the 89 was cheaper, about $2.05, but it was an ethanol blend, and I wasn't going to experiment.

The plan for tomorrow is another long haul, from Cedar Rapids to Murdo SD.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Evolution: Superbugs

Superbugs a growing threat to hospital patients News Staff Updated: Wed. Sep. 13 2006 11:32 PM ET

Superbugs are a growing threat in Canadian hospitals, and better medication and infection controls are needed, a new study suggests.

The number of one powerful bacteria strain's resistance to antibiotics has jumped dramatically: From five-to-15 per cent to 20-to-50 per cent. That's a significant increase from previous estimates, according to the report by the Canadian National Intensive Care Unit.

Researchers examined 4,180 specimens from patients in 19 intensive care units across Canada. The resistance figures pertain to the most common virulent strain of bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is a major cause of hospital-acquired wound and skin infections. Scientists also found an increase in the resistance of vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and E. coli, with levels at 6.8 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively.
"The stark reality in this country today is the MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria are posing a serious threat to our ICUs," primary investigator Dr. George Zhanel, a professor at the University of Manitoba, said in a news release. "People infected with these superbugs are more likely to have longer hospital stays and require multiple drug treatments to fight them off.
And even then, it's often too little, too late.” About 8,500 Canadians die each year from complications arising from infections acquired in hospitals, according to the Community and Hospital Infection Control Association. Zhanel says stronger infection control measures are needed to limit the impact of the superbugs. Strict compliance from patients for less complicated infections is also vital, he said.

Another disturbing trend found by researchers is the increase of MRSA acquired in the community, not in the hospital setting. The strains were found among athletes, soldiers and intravenous drug users, the study showed. At least seven cases of the community-acquired strains, usually found in drug users and First Nations communities, are currently being treated across the country, the report said. "In Canada, sporadic cases (of the strains) have started to appear over the last decade," said Dr. Tony Mazzulli, a University of Toronto professor and medical microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist. "They tend to involve different strains and different antibiotic resistance profiles than hospital-acquired infections."

© Copyright 2006 CTV Inc.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Above all, Gospels tell of God’s love

I really liked this article, and hope the Dispatch doesn't mind that I've saved it...

Above all, Gospels tell of God’s love
Friday, September 08, 2006

I remember once asking a parishioner about his vision of God. "Who or what do you envision God to be?" I asked.
He replied by telling me that he thought of God as the one who keeps track of our rights and wrongs. We are punished for our wrongs by the consequences of our actions, and rewarded for our goodness. And God is always trying to steer us toward the good.
I agreed with his last statement but challenged the rest, saying: "You make God sound like a giant traffic cop in the sky. Where’s the good news in that? "
What happened to the Gospel, which is literally translated "Good News?" I always thought Christianity was meant to be defined by the Gospel. And what is that good news? That God loved the world so much he sent his only Son so that all who trust in him may have eternal life (John 3:16).
I do not remember the New Testament telling me that God sent his Son in order to be sure we always did right, or to keep track of all our deeds. In fact, much of Christian theology assumes that God sent his message of love through his Son because we humans were so often incapable of doing the right and the good.
In recent years, Christianity seems obsessed with right and wrong. As the religion injects itself into the public debate, it does so around hot-button issues like abortion and sexuality, and around party politics.
Increasingly, Christianity seems to be identified with being "right" on the issues or voting for the "right" party. As Christian leaders join the political discourse, they often sound just like politicians: attacking the other side (rather than loving our enemies as Jesus commanded) and giving the spin to a position (rather than speaking the truth in love).
Such public discourse divides people into groups of those who are right and those who are wrong. It also influences the way we envision God, turning the Deity into a bean counter. Where’s the Good News in that?
Early Christianity grew because of its strong message of love. In the dehumanizing world of the Roman Empire, the outcasts heard good news. Slaves heard that God loved them, even if they had no power or standing in society. In the church, slaves became brothers and sisters with those who were not slaves, and were called children of the God of the universe. A woman, living in a maledominated culture, where a husband or boyfriend could legally demand that she have an abortion, found herself treated as an equal to a man. The poor found dignity because they realized they were loved by God just as much as the rich. It was good news.
Christianity was not obsessed in those days with being "right." Rather, it was obsessed with sharing the love of God with all who needed it. And then, the church watched in awe and wonder as that love transformed lives. It was good news.
We live in a modern, dehumanizing world, where we allow ourselves to be defined more and more by our productivity, consumerism and accomplishments. I have found very few people who get up each morning fully aware of Christianity’s great proclamation that God loves them and each and every one us very much. And now the Christian Church fails to proclaim this, its own, most basic message, and instead joins in political bickering. Where’s the love? Whatever happened to the Gospel?
The Rev. Stephen Smith is rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Dublin, and a member of We Believe Ohio, a group that unites diverse religious voices for social justice.
Copyright © 2006, The Columbus Dispatch

Monday, September 4, 2006

New Orleans: Who is to Blame?

For purposes of this discussion, I'm going to divide the people of New Orleans into these groups:

Group A: You heard the warnings to get out, and got out. Good for you. You may have lost property, but you exercised good judgement and consequently are not part of the current problem. Thank you.

Group B: You heard the warning, and chose to stay either out of stubborness, or to protect your property, which was lost anyway. Your stubborness has needlessly added to the rescue effort. You're at the end of the help line as far as I'm concerned.

Group C: You wanted to get out, and had the means to get out, but felt you needed to stay to protect loved ones who were unable to get out. Your willingness to sacrifice yourself was noble. Some folks will say that you just added to the number of victims (one of the arguments for NOT jumping into save a drowning victim unless you are trained). I won't be that harsh, because I'm sure I couldn't leave an invalid parent behind if I couldn't get them out.

Group D: You wanted to get out, but didn't have the means. These are the people we failed.

So the specific question: Who should have been taking care of Group D?

US Army Corps of Engineers: I hope the Corps of Engineers gave an adequate appraisal of the risk of the levies failing. It seemed to me that the civilian authorities were most worried about a storm surge coming over the levies. That would have been bad, flooding a great deal of the city. But the presumption would be that once new water stopped coming into the city, the pumps could begin getting it back out immediately. By now (a week later), the water level would be much lower.A complete failure of the levies is clearly much worse. Not only does the water rise to the highest possible level, it's going to stay there until the levies are repaired and a great deal of water is pumped out. It just doesn't seem like anyone considered this possibility...

The Mayor of New Orleans: The Mayor has been making a lot of noise, emphasizing his words with profanity presumably to show the people how mad he is. However, it seems to me that no government official should have been more acutely aware of the potential risks and therefore have taken precautionary steps. It seems like it would have been entirely within his power to commandeer the Superdome before the storm and get it stocked with all the supplies needed to handle a worst-case-scenario, which is pretty much what happened. New Orleans has been threatened with this kind of catastrophic flooding for decades. Why didn't this mayor or any of his predecessors take the initiative to get a disaster plan put together? He could have been on the news a year ago saying: "I want to prepare for a total flood out that traps tens of thousands of people in the city. I can't do it alone -- the state government and FEMA needs to help." I would rather hear him bitch about not getting help in making a plan than point fingers after the disaster takes place.

The Governor of Louisiana: Like the Mayor, she could taken some initiative to prepare for a disaster of this magniture. She has lots more resources than the Mayor, including the Louisiana National Guard. The plan should have been drawn up years ago, and activated in stages as the probability of the storm hitting went up. She could have helped provide resources for the evacuation of the folks in Group D. She could have had Louisiana National Guard bases prepared to be temporary shelters for evacuees. She could have worked deals with governors of other states to lend resources (e.g. National Guard and police units) and evacuation sites.

The Federal Government: Gee, back in the Cold War days, these guys drew up a zillion plans for going to war with the Soviets, and ran enormously expensive war games to try out elements of those plans. Someone, the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Pentagon -- someone could have drawn up those plans and mobilized thousands of troops to be ready.

Hopefully we learned some lessons with this disaster. New Orleans is not the only city which can be impacted this way. What about the Big Earthquake on the west coast? Can't say we don't have warning. How about a tornado that finally rips through a big city, like Columbus OH where I live? What if the terrorists had loaded the airliners with nuclear waste before crashing into to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

When I was a kid, the entire country had made preparations for a nuclear war with the Soviets. The military had its bunkers in Cheyenne Mountain (and maybe deep under the Pentagon). The Congress was going to bail out to the Greenbriar (those guys are no fools). The President and Cabinet would go to Mount Weather. The rest of us were told to build fallout shelters in our basement and stock them. In the cities, every building had signs posted directing people to the public fallout shelters.

Seems like it is worth it to apply similar effort to preparing for city sized disasters. We know what is needed. Let's not get lazy again.

Mr Mayor: If you want to be a real leader, be a man and admit that you could have done more to prepare your city. Then volunteer to run a federal commission that oversees the development of a plan in cooperation with the state and local governments of our largest cities.

Mayors of other major cities: Use this as a lesson and TAKE RESPONSIBILTY FOR MAKING A PLAN.

FEMA: This is your job, and you blew it. Heads should roll.

Mr President: Put LtGen Honore in charge of FEMA. Make it a 4 star CINC command under the DoD. They're the only guys with the resources, leadership and organization to run something of this magnitude.

Citizens: When the man says "Get Out!" - LISTEN!!

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Funerals and Connections

My Dad, Ted Lambert, passed away on August 20, 2006. He was 83 years old, living independently in his own home (Mom died in 1991), and in full control of his intellect. While he had suffered many years with chronic health problems, and was in the hospital for treatment of an acute episode, his death came suddenly and unexpectedly. You are invited to visit our family website to learn more about Dad and our family.

Certainly there are tragedies in our lives, such as when death comes at a young age. But death is inevitable, and I find that while I mourn the ending of an earthly relationship, I am also able to find joy in the 'gathering of the clan' which happens around a funeral.

Our family has always been a little far-flung. Terry and I have lived in Columbus our entire adult lives, and have raised our kids here, a four hour's drive from our parents. My brother Jeff and Terry's sister Elaine also came to Columbus many years ago. Other siblings are in Charleston WV, Huntington WV, Ripley WV, and Virginia Beach VA. Our collective children are now beginning to spread out: Colorado, North Carolina, Indiana, and Iraq. We have first cousins in Florida, New Jersey, Kentucky, and California.

As our individual families grow, it seems that the horizontal connections in the family tree get a lot less attention than the vertical ones. Our primary focus is on our children, and in time, on their children. We also retain that strong bond to our parents, but the frequency of contact diminishes, especially if they aren't close by. And as we have now experienced, there comes an end to their time on earth, and you never feel you spend enough time with them.

The bond to siblings never diminishes, but again, the frequency of contact goes down as we deal with all the demands on our own time. The contacts beyond that -- with aunts, uncles, and cousins -- become quite rare. Some families are better than others at getting everyone together. Our family, driven by Mom and sister Pat, had some great family gatherings in the 1980s. But after about three of those, we just never got one together again. I really think it's about the logistics. A family gathering is a big deal, and it's simply hard to find a time when everyone can attend, and not be excluded simply because of scheduling conflicts.

When a close family member dies, that trumps everything. The time from death to funeral is a matter of days, and you simply have to drop other commitments and get yourself there.

Terry's Dad died completely unexpectedly, at age 63, when he still had a lot of life to live. His death was tragic because he might well have survived had they lived closer to a emergency medical center. It was a sad time.

Our mothers both died of cancer, with a lot of time to come to grips with the fact that we were experiencing the end of their days. Terry's mom had a beautiful traditional service, and it was an opportunity for me to meet a number of members of Terry's family that I didn't know. For my Mom, we held a gravesite service in the morning, then a memorial service and visitation that evening. People got up and told funny stories about times with Mom, which we all knew she would have loved. The gathering time afterward was wonderful, getting to see many of our family and friends.

A few months ago, Jay White, the younger brother of a very good friend Jim White, passed away suddenly. When Jim and I both worked at CompuServe in the 1970s, we became very close and took part in many activities together. I got to know Jim's family well, including Jay. When Jim married Karen and moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to raise their family, our contact became limited to the annual exchange of Christmas newsletters. When Karen called to say Jay had died, there was no question that I would head to Pittsburgh to honor Jay and support Jim. We had the chance to spend the whole following day together, and found that we still shared common interests and enjoyed spending time together. It was a funeral that created the priority to connect once again.

Dad's death was not expected, but then it was. He was in the poorest health of our four parents, but ended up outliving them all. His funeral created that excuse for the gather of the clan, beginning with a wonderful dinner by Rita Shaffer, the granddaughter-in-law who had been taking care of Dad's housekeeping and being his weekly companion (along with her daughter Sarah). For the visitation and funeral, we saw many friends and family, including the last two members of my parents' generation: Dad's sister Betty and Mom's brother Don. Aunt Betty was accompanied by cousin Jane, while Uncle Don came with cousin Donna and her husband Mike. We got to see old neighbors such as Jim and Marg Hively, Chester Flick, and Sada Douglas. Denver Rucker, one of Dad's dearest friends came with his wife. Mrs Whitman, and two of her daughter, Alice and Rebecca were there. While together for dinner at a local restaurant, we ran into Rose Marie, a high school classmate of ours and childhood friend of Terry's. And friend Jim White came down from Pittsburgh to spend the day with us as well.

The following day was one for me and my sibs to get together and begin the tasks of getting Dad's stuff in order. I got to spend a fair amount of time with Sammie and Josh Lambert (Joe and Becky's kids, Ted Lee's grandchildren) and Kristen Casanave (Vikki's daughter, Pat's granddaughter), grand-nieces and nephews that I didn't know very well beforehand. New connections.

I hope that when the day comes, my funeral is a time when lots of people gather to reconnect and celebrate our interwined lives. I wish I could be there!

Monday, August 28, 2006

The ACLU goes too far

I am really annoyed by the ACLU on this one -- this is stepping over the line:

This ceremony was held on Sunday, when the school was not in session.
No student or member of the faculty was required to attend
No religious object was left at the building

While the ACLU states that its mission is to monitor the separation of church and state, it seems to me that what it really wants is to prohibit religion entirely...

... or at least it wants to prohibit Christianity. I very much doubt that we would have seen a protest from the ACLU if there had been dancing and chants by a Native American tribe instead. How about if an African-American Muslim community had held a similar ceremony?
Our Bill of Rights does not prohibit religion -- it prohibits the government from mandating religion.
Don't let the ACLU prevail in this one!!

Blessing of school draws protest
Ceremony violated separation of church and state, ACLU says
Monday, August 28, 2006
Matt Zapotosky

Pat Miller, right, and Carol Fry, center, of Karl Road Christian Church, lead about 180 people from four different North Side churches in a verse of Kumbaya outside Woodward Park Middle School. The group gathered yesterday to read a prayer and bless the school before the start of the school year.
About 180 members of four local churches surrounded a public middle school yesterday to bless the building and those who use it, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union about the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
Led by a minister from Epworth United Methodist Church, members of Epworth, Karl Road Christian Church, Karl Road Baptist Church and Ascension Lutheran Church joined hands and circled halfway around Woodward Park Middle School at 5151 Karl Rd. In unison, they asked the "great divine one, creator of us all" to bless each "student … teacher, staff and administrator" entering the building.
"Rain or shine, ACLU or not, nobody can stop those who have spirit-filled hearts," said Patricia Miller, who led the ceremony.
The nearby churches have an ongoing relationship with Woodward Park, providing supplies and other support. Miller said the ceremony at first was planned for inside the building and had the approval of the school’s principal, Jill Spanheimer.
Last week, Spanheimer said she didn’t remember that conversation and that the ceremony would have to be outside. Yesterday, she watched the ceremony from her yard, which borders the school grounds. She would not comment afterward.
The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to Spanheimer and Superintendent Gene Harris last week, saying that permitting the event would violate the constitutional requirement that public schools remain neutral on religious matters. District officials responded with a letter stating the event was constitutional according to a U.S. Supreme Court case from New York state. In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the court ruled that any group is permitted to rent and use public-school facilities.
"Anyone can walk onto the school grounds during the weekend," said Columbus Public Schools spokesman Greg Viebranz.
Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the ACLU of Ohio, said this event differed from the renting of school buildings, even those rented for a religious use.
"There’s not that appearance of endorsement by the school," he said. "There are worse scenarios that can be presented as far as being problematic from a church-state perspective, but this by no means is something that in my mind would pass constitutional muster."
Several participants said yesterday they did not think the ceremony, which lasted less than a half-hour, violated the separation of church and state, and some said they didn’t think church and state should be separated anyway.
Residents near the school who were interviewed by The Dispatch said they were not upset. In fact, they thought the event was a positive way to kick off the school year and benefited the neighborhood.
Copyright © 2006, The Columbus Dispatch

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In Favor of Nuclear Power

With gasoline at $3.00/gallon and climbing, we’ve got to think seriously about building some new nuclear-powered electricity generating stations.

I suspect that there are millions of us Americans who would drive electric vehicles to work if the economics make sense. The vehicle needs to have the necessary features, of course. It needs to be comfortable for at least two people, have a little room for cargo, be able to operate at freeway speeds, can be recharged in six hours or less, have air conditioning and a decent sound system, and be available at a price point that makes sense.

A good deal of the freight in our country could be hauled between cities on the railroads, using trains powered by electric locomotives.

All the public transportation in our cities could be electric trolleys and buses.

If the electricity for all those applications comes from nuclear power plants, then we will make a huge dent in our demand for oil. The objective is not to lower the price of oil by reducing our demand, it’s to substantially eliminate the need for oil in our economy all together. Instead of being dependent on good relations with the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, we can tell them to keep their oil and find someone else to terrorize.

It is possible to have a safe nuclear powered infrastructure. The French have been doing it for years. One of the keys is their standardized reactor/generator design which can be replicated over and over. You get continuous improvement in both safety and efficiency only when you can apply your learning across the whole installed base of technology. In fact, I would be in favor of licensing France’s reactor design so that we get a head start with a known model.

What about the waste? We have to stop letting a few folks dictate the strategic energy policy of the whole country. We seem to have built a safe storage facility in
Yucca Mountain, and we have safe mechanisms for transport. If we put the power plants in the right places, we don’t have to run the shipping casks through populated areas to get to the storage facility. What about the potential for bad guys high jacking a shipment? Why don’t we deploy troops to guard the power plants and the shipment trains instead of protecting our oil interests in the Middle East?

The alternative is to keep competing with the Chinese for oil until we both suck the world dry and end up going to war over what’s left.

Yes, keep working on all the other alternative fuel sources: wind, hydro, fusion, solar, etc. And let’s get serious about conservation. Tell my neighbors, commercial and residential, to turn off all the damn lights that create light pollution and waste energy. Let’s figure out how to store energy on a massive scale so don’t have to match generator capacity to the peak demand. The guys who designed the
Niagara Power Project figured out a neat way to do this.

In the mix, there is still a need for an electrical power source which functions when there is no wind, or it’s cloudy, yet doesn’t rely on oil as an energy source. Nuclear power fits that bill.

Opponents of nuclear power – cut back your electrical energy consumption by 80% and your fossil fuel consumption by 100% for a month or two. That’s what life would be like when the oil runs out. Then let’s talk about the best way to make lots more power.

Friday, August 4, 2006

The Price of Gas, Part II -- Gouging & Inflation

Gouging – most people don’t understand what this term means, or at least when it is a bad thing. Folks see Exxon/Mobil posting $10B earnings in a quarter and say we’re being gouged at the pump for gas. Meanwhile they pay a higher price/gal for bottled water without blinking an eye. If the oil companies are operating substantially without government subsidy, then I think they should be able to keep raising the price until they feel they’ve maximized profits. Of course, they do get government subsidy in the form of tax incentives, so that makes things a little messier. But we won’t wean ourselves off petroleum until we are individually driven to change our behavior and seek alternatives. Classic economic theory would argue that the best thing for our country would be for the oil companies to raise the price, generate huge profits, and pay out a substantial fraction of those profits as dividends. That releases capital to be invested into other enterprises, some of which are likely to seek what comes after oil (which might not be limited to energy – it might be about further upgrades to the telecom system so that telecommuting is even more practical).

To me, gouging happens only in the face of a disaster, when an absolutely essential commodity is in the hands of a few, and those few raise the price to exorbitant levels, taking advantage of the situation. This happens rarely, and almost never in this country. What would you say if a cabbie in Manhattan on 9/11 said he would give you a ride, but for 10x the meter? If you a pregnant woman who needed to get to a hospital, I’d call that gouging. If you were a snotty upper East sider, I might say it’s just capitalism.

Inflation is another concept most people don’t understand. Properly defined, inflation occurs when the government adds currency to the economy faster than the growth in GNP. Having gas prices go up is not inflation. A key component of capitalism is the process where a producer raises prices to the point that consumers seek alternative answers to their needs and desires. If increasing gas prices causes me to lack the disposable income to buy other stuff I would like to have, then I am motivated to solve the problem of higher gas prices. I might buy more efficient car, or use more mass transit, or move close enough to my job and food source that I don’t need a car anymore (which is why poor people across the globe flock to cities).

Things are somewhat neutralized if my employer feels some obligation to raise my pay enough to offset the increase in gas price. But this still isn’t inflation. Presumably the employer must divert some resources away from other things to raise my pay. The employer might try to raise the price of their product to pass the cost on down the food chain. That still isn’t inflation, because the buyers of those products have the opportunity to pay the higher price or find another supplier. The rise in oil prices definitely has a ripple effect through the economy, but it’s exactly what needs to happen. Everyone feels a little piece of motivation to solve the macro problem.
Inflation happens when the government comes to the conclusion that the economy is slowing down, and that a way to stimulate it is to make money cheaper. They do this by massively increasing the amount of debt instruments they offer at the primary auction, in which the primary bond traders bid on the instruments by offering how much interest they are willing to pay. When government bonds are plentiful, they bid lower rates, which causes that influx of money to get passed on to the economy at a lower rate. When debt is cheaper for employers, they might be able to restructure their debt at a lower rate and free up some cash flow to pay higher salaries and higher prices for their other purchases. At the end of the day, nothing has changed as far as relative price (e.g. everything except money costs 1% more), and there is no motivation to change behavior.

But these money supply infusions are an addictive drug. The underlying dynamics aren’t changed, and the free market forces which would flow from the behavior changes driven by individual purchasing choices get squelched and perverted. As the new money is absorbed into the economy, it can seem like things are okay, but they're really not. Lenders begin to take note that long term debt is getting risky because the buying power of a dollar is being diluted, and so they increase lending rates. That wave works its way through the economy as higher borrowing costs for everything from houses to credit card debt to school loans.

The Fed is doing exactly the right thing by keeping the money supply under control (they don't control interest rates, they control the money supply -- notice that they talk about interest rate 'targets' they hope to achieve by controlling the amount of Treasury debt that place on the market -- see above). The last thing in the world we want is for them to dump a bunch of money into the economy to lower interest rates in the short term, because it starts a dangerous cycle and ultimately causes interest rates to go up.

So the let the gas companies charge all they can get away with. It's good for all of us.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Slave Reparation

I'm honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Black Programming Consortium. This organization does important work bringing the story of the African-American community to a broad audience, primarily through films which are aired on PBS. I have learned much, and expect to learn much more.

One topic about which I have much to learn: the movement for paying reparation to the descendents of slaves in America. Here's some of my questions (I'll fill in answers as I learn them). The first set of questions are an attempt to understand why reparations are appropriate. These would seem to be the assertions:
Americans who are not the descendents of individuals held as slaves in America have benefited from the contributions made by the former slaves while they were in slavery. The time of such benefit would start at the moment the first slave landed in America and end when the reparation payment were made. For example, if slaves were used to clear a section of land later used to plant crops, every year that land has been in use, someone benefitted.

The fact that these people were, captured, deprived of their freedom, and made slaves is in of itself an injury, and should be compensated.

In the time after the emancipation of the slaves, discrimination continued, causing economic injury to the former slaves and their descendents. In general, the level of discrimination has diminished over time, but it is not yet been eliminated from our society.

What are others?

I don't think anyone would question that all of the above statements are true. But that's the easy part. The BIG problem is to assign a monetary value to these injuries. Some of the issues in this regard:
What is the fair value of a slave's labor? What were hired workers paid to do the same kind of work?
Many slaves were commanded to perform unspeakable acts in addition to their work duties. How is that compensated?

Slaves were treated like livestock in many cases. Men and women were forced to sire offspring, regardless of their relationship (men were loaned out like stud horses) and those children would be taken from them and sold like a calves.

The master could take the life of a slave without consequence.

I once read an essay by Thomas Sewell where he warned the African-American community that accepting reparations was not a good thing for the African American community. His logic was that with the payment of reparations, the rest of the American society might say "okay, that's settled." Then any perceived obligation to continue the effort to wipe out the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination would end. This could mean the termination of many programs which are targeted to bring the poor kids of the inner cities, which tend to be African-American, into the mainstream of opportunities in America. I think he has a point, but I don't treat it as the conclusive argument.

My education continues...

Articles I've found so far:

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Iraq and Vietnam

There are some who call World War II the last 'good war.' I don't know who those people are, nor do I believe that any war can be judged to be 'good.' But I think I understand the comment.

In WWII, the enemy troops wore uniforms, used well-labeled equipment, and held defined positions of geography. There was 'friendly territory' and 'enemy territory.' The war ended when the leaders of the enemy government surrendered, after which their troops laid down their arms and ceased hostility.

Then came the wars in Korea and Vietnam. While the American troops were in uniform, the enemy might be a uniformed soldier, or he might be the teenager who stops by the post every day to mooch a cold soda. The definition of 'friendly territory' became a little more transient as the fighting moved from the battlefield to the village. An American Army or Marine unit could sweep through a village and drive out all the bad guys, but the Americans didn't stay to occupy and defend the village, and the bad guys just moved back in. In fact, the villagers might not have been good guys in the first place.

Or they might be folks who are just trying to survive. While some of the civilians might be fervent followers of whatever revolutionary movement is seeking control, most are just trying to get along without getting killed. The trouble is, it's hard to tell the revolutionaries from those who just want the fighting to stop. American policy has alway been to give the benefit of the doubt to the people, assuming them to be good guys unless they are actually observed trying to do harm. And so, American soldiers and Marines got regularly killed by bad guys hiding in plain sight.

Eventually, our guys get tired of getting picked off this way. After seeing a few of their buddies turned into goo by people they thought they were helping, the fuse finally blows and our guys kill everyone and everything not in an American uniform. And then they get called murderers.

The crime is in putting our troops in this position in the first place. If we can't tell who the enemy is by looking at them, then our troops don't belong there. If the mission isn't to drive invaders from our soil or that of our allies, we shouldn't go. Anything else is a pre-emptive invasion on our part -- and few Americans feel good about being invaders.

WWII wasn't the last 'good war,' if you accept my definition that a 'good war' is one in which our troops can have confidence who is a good guy and who is a bad guy, and that their objective is to get the enemy to surrender by taking away their battlefield positions and destroying their logistics capability.

That distinction goes to Desert Storm -- the operation to kick the Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait. We got to do all the stuff we're good at -- bring all of our technology and organization to bear on a uniformed enemy in defined positions. It was over when the bad guys were driven off our ally's land, and we could declare the mission to truly be accomplished. Admittedly, fighting Iraq isn't like fighting the Soviet Union or China, so it doesn't carry the magnitude of accomplishment of winning WWII. But it was the real deal.

In any war, we ask the young men of our country to point deadly weapons at other human beings and, with little analysis, take the lives of those they have been trained to identify as our enemy. Once they pull the trigger, they will have committed an act that otherwise in our society would been considered one of the worst crimes, punishable by a life in prison or even execution. If we are going to ask them to violate that standard of morality, we need to be sure the identity of the enemy is unambiguous and the mission is just. Otherwise we risk putting them in a situation where they have to quickly evaluate whether the 'civilians' around them are good guys or bad guys, and then act decisively. We doom them to live forever with those decisions.

Iraq is Vietnam all over again. Our mission can't be to drive the invaders out, because the revolutionaries are citizens of that same country. We can't take territory because we are already in the country we're trying to 'free.' Note that I'm not saying that this is a bad thing to do. Helping a country move from dictatorship to democracy is a good thing. But it's not a mission our military forces are built to carry out.

Big wars are won with strategy, tactics, training, leadership and execution. To that you add heroism and a little luck. But it also takes massive manufacturing and logistics capability. To fight a sustained battle, and to win a war, an army needs a constant and massive supply of weapons, ammunition, food and medical supplies. We're pretty good at that, and it's one of the reasons we did so well in Desert Storm.

But when the winning move for the revolutionaries is simply to get the outside power to tire of the pain and leave, you don't need to have, or even want to have, big engagements on the battlefield. This is how the American revolutionaries drove the British from the American colonies. Think about the American Revolution from the perspective of the British sometime. The first battle of the American Revolution took place because the British sent a company of soldiers from Boston to Concord to destroy a weapons cache (I suppose it was the 18th century version of the search for WMDs). The colonists drove the British out of Concord not by lining up and fighting in the civilized manner, but rather by picking them off from the woods. There were a couple of big battles in the Revolutionary War, but we never really defeated the British -- we just made it more painful (and expensive) than they cared to endure. After all, the outcome of the American Revolution was not to have the Americans gain control of the British Isles. We just got them to leave here.

Taking sides in a civil war, or a revolutionary war, is not something we Americans have the stomach to do. Our own Civil War remains the bloodiest conflict we ever engaged in. That's just the way civil wars go -- fighting between brothers always gets nasty. If you want to take sides and win in a civil war, you have to be willing to fight nasty, and we don't like our soldiers and Marines to do that.

It's immoral to send our troops to fight in a nasty war but not let them fight nasty. Let's bring them home before we destroy the minds and attitudes of another generation of our young people.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Price of Gas

The price of gas has gone up 100% in the last year. Whose fault is it?

You know, it's the question which is the problem, and the symptom of the state of affairs in the United States today. Our country has become so huge and so complex that it is all but impossible to manage. Even at the township level, where I am most directly involved, the rhetoric is not about what is good for our community, but rather what is good for particular individuals.

Maybe things have always been this way in politics, and I'm just finally getting old enough to recognize the reality. That reality is that we have a shadow government which is "owned" by a small set of greedy and ambitious individuals, and the elected officials are pretty much their hand-picked pawns. As I commented in another blog entry, the difference between Democrats and Repblicans is negligible, and the struggle over who is in control of the White House and Congress isn't about ideology, but rather which set of puppetmasters get the keys to the kingdom for the next term. Of course, many of the puppetmasters play both sides.

So gas prices might be where they are because the puppetmasters have decided that this is the price the economy can withstand, in the same way drug pushers have to figure out how much their addict-customers can afford to pay. The pushers don't care whether the addicts thrive, only that they survive to buy drugs another day. Maybe that's exactly what the puppetmasters are thinking, and they'll keep pushing up the gas prices a little at a time, forever.

But it could be that gas prices are what they because of purely market-driven supply-and-demand microeconomic forces. Why is it not okay for the oil companies to push up gas prices until they see demand soften?

We have to be assured that the oil companies aren't engaging in price fixing -- where they get together and conspire to raise prices. But let's for a moment believe that they aren't. Why isn't it okay for them to keep raising prices until they see a decrease in demand? It's not like there is some law that says gas has to be cheap. Gasoline is not the easiest stuff in the world to make and distribute after all. First you have to find the crude oil (expensive), then you have to get it out of the ground (expensive), then you have to transport it (expensive), then you need to refine it into gasoline (expensive), then you have to transport it to market (expensive), and then you have to sell it at carefully engineered and operated gas stations (expensive). And we get to buy it for less than $3.00 gallon.

Compare that to the cost of soft drinks. Those are made from water (available pretty much everywhere), corn syrup (the grain elevators are stuffed and there's another crop on the way), and a few chemicals for color and taste. The manufacturing step is pretty straightforward compared to gasoline, and the logistics chain is much simpler. Nonetheless, we consider $4.50 for eight 20oz bottles of Gatorade to be a good price (per the current Kroger ad). That works out to $3.60 per gallon by the way.

Many folks note that the oil companies are making record profits with the gas prices so high, and think it is immoral. But don't we, the buyers, make the choice whether or not to pay that price? Our memories are so short. Back in the 1970s, we were all driving those big gas-guzzling Detroit battleships when gas was 50cents/gallon. Then the oil crisis hit, and Americans flocked to little American cars like the Ford Pinto and the Chevy Vega -- and to Hondas, Datsuns and Toyotas.

But then the oil prices stuck around $1 per gallon for the 90s, and we bought SUVs by the millions and continued moving further and further into the suburbs. It only took us a decade to forget the pain of high gas prices and go right back to gas gluttony. So now we start another changeover, with the early adopters buying up all the hybrid vehicles while SUVs are sitting unsold at the dealerships.

From a pure economic standpoint, it's entirely understandable that the oil companies should test the price elasticity of their product. Elasticity is the relationship between changes in price and changes in demand. The price/demand relationship is said to be elastic if raising prices lowers demand (and lowering prices increases demand), and inelastic if changes in the price don't have much effect on demand. The price/demand relationship for gasoline seems to be completely inelastic right now: regardless of the change in price, our demand stays the same. If I were the oil companies, I would keep pushing up the price until some weakness in demand is created, and then would try to figure out which combination of price and demand yield the maximum profit. That's what every other enterprise tries to do -- why is it inappropriate for the oil companies to do the same?

But you really have to be sure the oil companies are actually competing with each other. Many industries will have a 'price leader' who is big enough to set a price point for their product. Everyone else can be expected to cluster around whatever price that leader set. But some will sell for less and try to snag a little bit of the market on price alone. Others might try to charge more than the price leader by adding features or services to the product. Sometimes the little corner vendor grows up to be Wal-Mart, taking the market away from the leaders (when is the last time you shopped at Montgomery Ward?).

I guess I believe the big oil companies are still competing with each other, in the same way Coca-Cola competes with Pepsi. Coke and Pepsi spend millions on advertising to convince us that there is a really difference in between two products which are about 99% the same (water, sugar, food coloring), and they do so because taking away one point of market share from the other is worth a great deal of money. The gas companies also spend a vast amount of money on advertising? If they aren't competing with each other, why advertise at all?

I also think it's appropriate for the oil companies to make decent profits because it will give them capital to find more oil, and maybe even develop new energy sources. I heard it once said that if the railroads understood themselves to be in the transportation business, we would now be flying New York Central Airlines. But they viewed the airplane as a fad and not the future of transportation (Western Union made the same mistake with the telephone). I hope the railroads are figuring out that passenger rail travel may come back in vogue, and are investing in appropriate equipment, personnel and facilities to catch an increase in demand.

In the same way, I hope the oil companies are viewing themselves as energy companies, and are using a lot of that profit to develop better ways of making and distributing ethanol and hydrogen. They should also be the largest researchers in areas such as batteries and fuel cells. Otherwise, they should pay out some huge dividends to release capital to investors who can put it back into companies who are investing for the future. Either way, they should not be ashamed about making a profit. It's those profits which fund growth and innovation. Even if you tend to left-wing politics, you need profitable businesses to pay corporate taxes to fund your programs. Robin Hood is unemployed if there aren't any rich folks...

Bottom line, if you don't like the gas prices, get a cheaper car, use public transportation, ride your bike to work, or find some other solution. The oil companies don't owe you a cheaper price. Isn't our economy healthier in the long run if we let these high prices be the impetus to lessen our addiction to oil?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Illegal Aliens

Here's what I believe:

  • If you are inside the borders of the United States of America, you had better be a citizen or a registered guest. You can't just sneak through the back door and think we don't care. The first time you get caught, we'll ship you home. The second time we'll throw you in jail for a while, then ship you home anyway. The third time, we'll throw you in jail for life.
  • We don't owe illegal aliens free healthcare, or free schooling, or free anything else. It shouldn't even be a question. See the first point.
  • I don't believe we need immigrant workers in the US because they will do jobs Americans refuse to do. We Americans do some pretty crappy jobs (just watch "Dirty Jobs" on TV). How about the guy who squishes cow manure in his bare hands to figure out if the feed mix needs to be adjusted? Or how about the guy who sucks the stuff out of the Port-A-Johns?The truth of the matter is that employers can hire illegal aliens to do these kinds of jobs for a fraction of the pay that most Americans would demand. If you offered me $200,000/yr to clean out Port-A-Johns with a toothbrush, I might consider it. The point is that if we cut off the supply of illegal aliens to employers, the employers would have to bid up the pay scale until workers accept the jobs.However, there are also many cases of jobs that had been filled by Americans who get replaced by illegal alients who will do the job for less. Around where I live, most every American framing carpenter and drywaller has been replaced by a Mexican crew. Those aren't crappy jobs that Americans won't do! Some will argue that if we have to pay more for labor, the prices of goods and services will go up. Yes, that's probably true. But we're paying for it anyway through our taxes, to pay for free healthcare, and free schools, and all that stuff. Reread the prior two points. I'd rather let the free market forces figure out what labor is worth, and what products and services are worth, than have a system based on government subsidy -- which is what we have now.
  • If you come in legally to work for a little while, then go back home, you are a welcome guest. It enrichens both of us to have that kind of cultural interaction. I hope I am as welcome to be a guest worker in your country as you are here.
  • If you are here as our guest, and don't intend to ever go home, then in some ways, you are insulting us. You want all the benefits of citizenship without the obligations. Maybe your spouse is American, and you both decided that you wanted to live here. I guess I understand loyalty to the home country. But it seems like you are saying "I want to live in America, I just don't want to be one." That's the insult.
  • If you have have come to America as a legal guest, with the dream of becoming an American citizen, then I look forward to the day you take the oath of citizenship. Welcome to your new country!

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said one of my favorite things recently when he was getting pummeled by his countrymen for his support of the US: He said it still seemed like more people were trying to get in than to get out...


Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I was thinking about the concept of trust the other day.

There's a version of trust that has to do with whether I think you will do me any harm. I like to be able to walk around in a mall or a park any time of the day without worrying that someone will mug me. I certainly feel that way in my little town, even if I don't really know all the folks around me. But if I drive into the city, my level of trust towards strangers drops a little because I'm not quite so confident that there isn't a 'bad guy' in the crowd, or in the shadows.

There are places in the city where I'm quite sure my chances of walking around unscathed late at night are about nil. I would feel that no one automatically gets my trust in that situation - everyone is a potential threat. So this kind of 'trust' is about perceived risk of danger. Fortunately, I can almost always control this risk by making the choice whether or not to be someplace.

There's a non-violent form of this trust as well. For example, one wants to be able to trust friends and co-workers not cause unsolicited harm. It would be horrible to work in an environment where you felt at risk from malicious co-workers who could make life miserable, or even get you fired. But it happens. A lot.

Then there is the kind of trust that comes from what you could call Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). I first heard this phrase in connection with the Cold War when I was a kid. The theory is that neither the US nor the USSR would start a war because the other side had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world thousands of times over. It turns out that it worked. Some even feel the world is less stable today than it was during the Cold War because it was clear who the 'enemy' was, and you could feel fairly confident that no one was going to start anything, despite a lot of posturing and even a little pushing and shoving.

This is the same kind of trust you have when cops are patrolling a tough urban neighborhood. The bad guys have guns, and the cops have guns. In general it's better for everyone to not elevate a situation to gunfire.
Siblings often engage in MAD when they are young. "You tell on me and I'll tell on you" or something similar signifies an agreement to not engage their common enemy -- the parents.

Then there is the trust that one can nuture though what I call the Trust Spiral. It starts when one person make a commitment to another, then follows through on the commitment, and finally, ensures that both parties know the commitment was fulfilled. It usually starts off with something small, and each time a trust cycle is completed, the more risk the parties are willing to take (hence the spiral imagery, or even better, an ascending helix).

This is a very positive kind of trust. Parents figure out how much they can trust their kids with responsibility and kids figure out if the parents really do what they say. I think the depth and quality of the relationship between parents and kids is a function of how often they go around the Trust Spiral. Some kids and parents get alienated from each other because they quit making commitments and doing what it takes to follow through. Kids who don't develop that kind of relationship with their parents often find someone else to trust. Or they just 'drop out' and disconnect from society. These are the kids who go into a school with a gun and blow their classmates away.

The best kind of trust of all is when you know you have a friend who will protect you from harm. You grow up counting on your parents to behave this way. In the military, bonds often become so strong that one soldier will sacrifice himself to save his buddies. This goes way beyond the first case -- the "don't worry, I won't hurt you" kind of trust. This is "don't worry, I will protect you with my life." Even when you screw up. Over and over.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Intelligent Design -- Liberal Style

I've finally figured it out...

... The Liberals actually believe in Intelligent Design while Conservatives believe in evolution. Sounds backwards, right? But hear me out:

A key characteristic of Conservative thought is that there should be minimal interference from government, allowing individuals to seek their own potential, with the opportunity to both excel and fail. This is exactly the way natural selection, or evolution if your prefer, works.

On the other hand, Liberals feel that the economic system needs to be managed and controlled. In their opinion, a purely market-driven, free-choice economy will fail to invest in the "right" things, therefore the government has a responsibility to substitute its will upon the public. In other words, Liberals don't really believe in allowing natural selection to take place without outside influence. They believe in Intelligent Design alright, and furthermore believe they play the role of the Designer.

I entered into this line of thinking while shaking my head at our Governor's announcement that starting with the high school Class of 2011, students in Ohio would have to show proficiency in Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physics in addition to all the current standards.

The public education system in this country is one of the greatest examples of liberal thinking -- the government knows what's best for everyone. The government mandates the existence of public schools, requires taxes to be paid to support them, and sets standards for student proficiency.

Meanwhile our economy is a train wreck in progress. The Governor's pronouncement is a bad idea because it will take resources away from the brightest students and redirect it to students who have neither the aptitude or desire to learn about math, chemistry, and physics.

He cites the increasing global competition for labor, and says that by having better trained high school graduates in Ohio, our state will be able to compete for new jobs more successfully. He forgets that the problem isn't that our workers are undereducated compared to other countries. In fact, the probability is that the skills of our workers versus those in other regions of the US and other countries compare favorably. The issue is that our cost of labor is much higher than the rest of the world. That is the legacy of 100 years of unions and government expansion, not a problem with how much education our residents acquire in high school. If you are going to add any subject matter to the high school curriculum, how about Economics?

The governor's plan will be expensive. It will cause either an incremental funding load to pay for the additional teachers required to teach everyone these subjects, or it will take away resources from "optional" programs in the school systems (e.g. programs for gifted students). He may be a Republican, but he's thinking like a Democrat in this case. I'm glad he's out of office this year.

If we want to fix our schools, we need to allow the kids and parents to have a choice where they go to school. I'm okay with a national policy which says every kid should have a chance to go to school, and would support vouchers as a way to make sure every kid has the money to do so. Schools that deliver the results the customer wants (ie - the parents & students) will attract kids and money, and those who fail to deliver will starve and die. Kids who have aptitude and desire will seek out the schools that will actually give them an education in their chosen field. The rest can be trained in a trade, or join the military, or be free to starve to death. America is the land of opportunity, not the land of guarantees.

Liberals: you support evolution -- this is how it works. Quit playing Intelligent Designer.