Monday, December 27, 2004

Cold comfort

They're rioting in Africa.
There's strife in Iran.
What nature doesn't do to us will be done by our fellow man.

... from THE MERRY MINUET by Sheldon Harnick

A popular song in the 1950s.

They're rioting in Africa...
There's strife in Iran...
What nature doesn't do to us...
Will be done by our fellow man.

It's comforting to know that there are things on which we can rely.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve

'Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the house,
The surround sound was blaring
much louder than a mouse.
The stockings were hung
by the chimney with care,
But everyone knew that
the real presents weren't there....

By the time the youngest in the family is 21... almost 22... Christmas becomes a lot more relaxed. There is collaboration on the big presents... the surprises are all a lot smaller. There is less disappointment... "Oh, an electric onion peeler and CD cleaner... all in one!"

My 25-year old son made the Christmas pastries with me this afternoon. He really seems to look forward to doing that... not your traditional male bonding, but we have fun. He also works with the youngest to program the universal remote that has more functions than my computer. Now, after a two-day training session, my wife and I will be able to handle most of the operation of the DVD player, the TV and the satellite TV system on the one remote. That's down from 4 so that's an improvement... as long as our "tech support" is around when we get hopelessly lost.

My oldest got in from Chicago around 1 a.m. with my daughter-in-law. They said "Hi," and immediately walked into the dining room to wrap the presents they would be taking to her parents today. They'll probably come back very late tonight, so we'll see them on Christmas.

My wife is beginning to feel better. I can tell because she is actively giving me directions on everything again. We went to one store this morning to buy some gifts that I had in mind. In and out in 1/2 hour. That was about all she could take in her still weakened condition. That's all I can ever take.

Tomorrow, my brother and his family will join us to exchange gifts and have a huge dinner together. It will all go well... so there will be no posting tomorrow.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Excessive Spending - Spiraling... which way?

What happens as a result of decisions which result in importing goods at a significantly higher rate than exporting them?

On the positive side:

  • jobs related to importing goods are created
  • lower cost goods are available to U.S. consumers
  • U.S. companies are able to assemble products made from lower-cost components
  • U.S. companies are able to significantly reduce costs associated with labor, including benefits
  • higher cost producers are driven from the marketplace as competition escalates
  • individuals are pressured to become more productive and competitive
On the negative side:
  • core production capabilities are moved out of the U.S. reducing U.S. strategic capabilities
  • U.S. dollars are used to compete against the U.S. in obtaining critical resources
  • U.S. dollars are reinvested in the U.S. by foreign companies increasing their control of the U.S. economy and political influence
  • well-paid production jobs are replaced by low-paid service jobs
Right now, it is believe by many that the trade deficit of $0.5 trillion per year is not a significant issue. They do not make a connection between a manufacturing economy and wealth creation; rather they see the U.S. moving away from an "old style" economy into one based on "intellectual capital."

Well, that's a nice theory, but reality sometime gets in the way:
  • Those high school graduates who hold down manufacturing jobs will get college degrees and work in the intellectual sector... or maybe not.
  • The U.S. will become the supplier of ideas and know-how to the rest of the world... or maybe not.
  • The U.S. can continue to use the current model of importing goods and services to remain economically strong and avoid inflation... or maybe not... indeed!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas Shopping - Not exactly Currier and Ives

3 nights... 2 days... 1 inconvenience....

My wife's been ill this week so I have picked up the bulk of the work around here... including shopping, which I really hate. I tried to do a bunch of it online and was reasonably successful, but now there are some gifts yet to be purchased and that means... shopping around other people!

Even though I have a pretty good idea of what I want to buy, the notion of getting into those Christmas crowds makes me feel as if I'm about to enter a slaughter house... moving along in lines of stunned shoppers toward the eventual demise... of my bank account. Okay, it's not that bad... but it's not what I call fun, either. Actually, I'm looking forward to everyone getting their gifts from me. I'm just not much into the process of the getting to do the giving.

But I'll get two of my sons involved to help out and we'll make sure everything is ready for Christmas morning. Naturally, my wife will question my choices, but I can guarantee that nowhere among the gifts that I buy will be a sweater or a pair of socks... as needed as they may be. If it doesn't use electricity and a circuit board, it can't be a real Christmas present.

Of course, I still reserve part of the remaining time before Christmas to make some pastries my Armenian grandmother taught me how to do almost 40 years ago. I used to roll out the dough by hand, but now I get the Greek dough. I think about doing it the old way, but I know that only leads to confrontations with my wife. Too hard, too long, too messy. Oh, well.

The good thing is that the inconveniences we have getting ready for Christmas are magically forgotten the moment we begin unwrapping presents. Really. At least until the next December.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Government - Chicken or Egg

Detroit has many of the problems that large cities face including below average schools, high taxes, high crime and shoddy infrastructure. Unlike most large cities, however, Detroit has lost a large part of its population.

Oh, the downtown area may be gaining some renewal, but the rest of the city is dying slowly. A map of southeastern Michigan's vacant properties shows Detroit with an extraordinarily high number of vacant properties... somewhere between 40,000 to 70,000. Exact counts seem to be unavailable... even close counts.

What is available are the census data that show since 1950 that Detroit has gone from 1,850,000 to 950,000 people in 2000... almost 50% population loss. The 2004 Detroit population estimate is just over 910,000. This while the region total has increased from 3.3 to 4.7 million.

One can debate all day about reasons... bad economy, racial intimidation of whites, cheaper land elsewhere, better schools and government elsewhere. The point is that Detroit is dying. It is becoming a downtown without a city. And the effect is not being reversed by the current Detroit administration.

The reality is that Coleman Young set the tone for the city during his 20 years as mayor during the 1970s and 80s. Today, he is revered by most remaining Detroiters for his "leadership", but the reality is that instead of addressing the city's problems when he took office... he exacerbated them with his "race card" politics.

So, today Detroit is a "city of minorities". It is also a city from which better-educated minorities have departed. It is a city of crumbling, vacant houses and streets without lights. It is a city too big for its present dynamics. It is a city in need of radical surgery to save its life.

Take a look at the map if you haven't done so... click on the blue link above. If we presume 50,000 vacant properties is a good number, then that property represents enough housing or business opportunities for at least 200,000 people... maybe more. That's 20-25% of the present Detroit population. Then let's presume that 10-20% of the inhabited property is substandard by any standard.

So now we have 1/3 of the city that is rotten. That's equivalent to an arm and a leg. The city is crippled. And the state is hobbling along so it lets Detroit do what is has been doing and getting what it has been getting.

What's the answer... the solution? The answer is that Detroit has been in decline for 1/2 a century and any turnaround must either be based on a total change in government... or a turnaround will take at least 1/2 century given current government processes. The solutions are myriad... and painful.

  • confiscation of vacant and abandoned property
  • rezoning from residential to public and forced buyouts - creation of green zones
  • closing of 20% of schools, renovation of the rest, and a takeover by the state
  • reduction by 30% of government employees and state supervised restructuring of departments and processes
  • creation of tax-free "enterprise parks"
  • establishing a tax structure that is "competitive" with suburbs
Among others...

To accomplish this, U.S. senators and representatives from Michigan need to push for return of Michigan dollars back from the federal government. The enormous drain of money from this region to be given to others is preventing Michigan from addressing its very real problems. Southeastern Michigan, particularly Detroit, cannot rely on the automobile industry to make up the tax outflow.

It is unlikely that the federal government will give up its power to collect taxes; therefore, it is time for Michigan to become more assertive in its demands for the return of those revenues to this state to be used to address problems the state and Detroit are not capable of addressing. Money is needed to accomplish the changes necessary to restore the dying city of Detroit... money, not rhetoric.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Education Failure - Basketball News

I was going through the websites of our local papers looking for articles about academic excellence. There were some pleasant articles about student of the week and teacher of the week that told how they were helpful and courteous and did their work well. Some nice individual recognition.

But there were so many more articles about basketball games... boys and girls... and hockey and swimming and wrestling [which I personally like because I did that for 10 years]. And that's just high school....

I really didn't read about the competition between the high schools for academic excellence and number of college scholarships... couldn't find those articles... but they must be there, right? As the Yoopers say, "Yah, eh?"

We express concern when school districts have bad MEAP scores or SAT scores are just not high enough. That's news for about a couple of days. But, hey, what's to get excited about academic excellence? Basketball is what gets the blood moving! Or football... or hockey.

I like sports as much as the next guy, but I have to tell you that those awards for being National Merit Scholars and marching band letters for my older sons meant at least as much to me as the football letters my youngest son got... because they were part of achieving academic excellence. I don't mean to imply that participating in sports is less worthy than marching band or debate club. What I do mean to say is that the attention given to sports versus academic activities (marching band is part of music education which is part of the academic curriculum in my mind), is lopsided. And the effect is lopsided.

The children that need to focus most on academic excellence are the ones drawn to the spotlight of sports. The high school to NBA stars are the role models for those who need Condoleeza Rice as one (political leanings aside).

Oh, that's just hyperbole!

Really? Then just go to the next graduation ceremony at U. M. or M.S.U. or E.M.U. or Wayne State and look at who is getting the Ph.Ds. And then explain again how the U.S. will be moving to a new, non-manufacturing, intellectual-capital economy... and those who would have taken those manufacturing jobs will now be researchers.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Seems like winter

Got up this morning.

Wife was sick... around too many people with something nasty.

Went out to get the paper... 5 degrees F.

Went to the drug store to get some mucous noxious or some such medicine for her stuffiness.

Car engine protested with squeals there and back... too cold for man or machine.

Came back and cleaned off the driveway and walk of snow that eventually becomes compacted ice.

Took a walk... on the treadmill... not crazy, you know.

Watched the Lions find one more way to lose a game... bad snap on an extra point.

Son called from E. Lansing wanting to know if his tires were flat... told him he had the car so I couldn't tell, but it was probably a cold transmission.

Fixed dinner... wife too sick to do anything except give commands.

Cleaned the dishes.

Son is watching re-runs, so I decided to finish this.

7 p.m. and it's been dark for 2 hours... feels like bedtime.

2 more days... then it's winter.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Relationships - Family

Tonight is the second night of concerts the Farmington Community Chorus performs. My wife is the Chorus manager, so the family gets involved. My two younger sons are the stage crew and I usher and take photos of the performance.

It's small town stuff, but the show draws hundreds of people... pretty much fills a 1,000-seat auditorium. There is a lot of talent in the chorus of 85 or so. A lot of people who would have liked to have a singing career, but life got in the way. For a couple of nights, they are the stars. They sing and dance and the audience loves it. $10 tickets are a bargain for 3 hours.

For our family, it's a tradition. Oh, there is always some grumbling about having to do this or that, but we all have fun in the end. After the first night's concert, we all went out to Green's Hamburgers... noted for their tasty and greasy fare. One is enough for me... no fries, please. The boys have 3 doubles each... and fries. Ah, tradition.

After the second show, my wife and I will head to the Chorus party where everyone will rehash the performance and eat too many sweets. She will give her speech and gifts will be given out. And we'll all have another year of memories.

25 years of memories so far. Not bad.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Politics - The best government money can buy

I watched a movie last night that was a couple of years old... Gangs of New York. Usually, I don't go for gory films, but this was historically fascinating... even if fictional. The workings of William M. "Boss" Tweed and Tammany Hall seems to have become the archetype for the City of Detroit politics... you know... "He may be a crook, but he's our crook."

Admittedly, there isn't as much violence today as during Boss Tweed's time... but the principle still stands: power is the primary goal of a politician and money paid to the politician ensures that power will be used to deliver what the payer seeks.

Last night one of my sons came home agitated about how Detroit's mayor, Coleman Young... I mean Kwame Kilpatrick... and Kwame's dear mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, have actively blocked the development of a new tunnel that would link Michigan and Ontario. The Detroit Free Press reported how

"Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who collects an estimated $60 million a year from the 10 million vehicles that cross his Ambassador Bridge, has urged the city not to sell [city property that would allow completion of the tunnel]."
Moroun has a virtual monopoly on commerce that has to pass the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada. But his monopoly is costing the region dearly, according to the Free Press:
"Delays at the bridge -- the top commercial crossing between the United States and Canada -- have been compounded by extra security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Idled trucks and production lines cost the U.S. and Canadian economies about $10 billion a year, according to a study cited by Detroit Renaissance, a group of local business leaders who support building a new tunnel."
Money... what money?
"The Morouns and their employees have contributed more than $350,000 to politicians, political action committees and both political parties since 1995.

But the $33,000 they have given Cheeks Kilpatrick over the years is more than they gave any other member of Congress from Michigan.

The Morouns also contributed $15,000 last year to help the congresswoman start the 21st Leaders political action committee. The Morouns and the congresswoman were the only donors to the PAC."

The problem is that this is not an isolated instance of political abuse of power by Kilpatrick or his staff.

But in much the same way as good Muslims around the world do not voice their opposition to so-called "Islamic" terrorists, the good black majority of Detroit do not seem concerned about their mayor... "he's our crook." You see, this is not about morality or ethics... it's all about power and the territorial imperative. It's just another example of a modern Boss Tweed flexing his political muscles to show who is really in charge. And for those who are powerless, it really feels good to have a leader who is powerful.

Coleman Young, the man who dismantled the Detroit economy with his racist policies but consolidated black power in Detroit, now lives on in a new edition... Kwame Kilpatrick, who simply has to demonstrate that he is capable of doing whatever it takes to maintain his power... and he does.

Perhaps he is not a "crook," but as Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said:

"In short, while a number of decisions made were arguably shortsighted and the indications of bad judgment or inexperience, there is not any evidence of an obstruction of justice or other criminal wrongdoing."
Shortsighted, bad judgment, inexperienced... but a good guy and a great leader.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Environmental Extremism: More thoughts on the Hydrogen economy

I've written several times in the last month about what it will take to move toward a hydrogen-based economy. There is a fine article in the January, 2005 issue of Popular Science that summarizes well the problems and hype around moving toward a new energy infrastructure. It leaves the distinct impression that talking and doing are separated by vast distances.

Nevertheless, this article should be required reading for all those who wish to get on the hydrogen bandwagon... not because a hydrogen-based economy is a bad idea, but because there needs to be a better understanding that there is a sequence of development that must take place to get to the hydrogen-based economy (time estimates below are mine):

  1. increased numbers of non-fossil fuel electricity generating plants [see my November 7 and November 22 posts]...
    probably timeframe: 2010 - 2050
  2. major improvements to hydrogen fuel system technology [not just fuel cells]...
    probable timeframe: 2010 - 2030
  3. full-scale development of a hydrogen fuel distribution system...
    probable timeframe: 2015 - 2035
These are expensive with a long timeframe for any return on investment. Right now, the major focus should be on 1 above. By quickly moving away from oil, coal and natural gas powered electic plants, both pollution and dependence on imported energy sources would be vastly reduced. Additionally, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources proposed projects like the Alaskan natural gas pipeline might be avoided altogether... or limited... because the demand for natural gas could be reduced significantly.

Let's face it... energy costs are going to increase over the next few decades... faster than other costs... unless we change the basic approach to energy now. As the commercial says... "you can pay me now or you can pay me later." Unfortunately, Americans seem to need an existing crisis to take action... pending crises do not concern us.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Technology: Virtual Libraries

All over newspapers and the internet...

Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database.
The entire University of Michigan library will be available online... 7 million books!

No more trudging through bad weather and searching through musty card catalogs. Just curl up in bed with your warm laptop and click buttons until your screen is filled with the information you want. Then read at your own pace while you sip your latte from your Thermos cup.

Well, that's one possibility. But I watch my wife happily gather up her to-do list and fill her tote bag with paperbacks... mostly romance novels about people in lust... and then she is out of the house for several hours. When she returns, the tote bag is re-filled with a new supply of romance paperbacks and the car is waiting to be emptied of plastic bags filled with food and other treasures gleaned during her travels.

Once she has settled back into her in-home routine, one of her new paperbacks is with her as she moves from family room to kitchen to living room to bedroom. She isn't necessarily reading it all of the time, but it is there just in case the mood strikes. Usually, around nine at night, she takes her shower and curls up in bed with her pillows and book. If I'm engrossed with TV or the computer, I suddenly may realize that the evening is gone and, by the time I turn off everything and sneak upstairs, she is already asleep... light on, book in hand, off to some romantic adventure.

As long as there are people like my wife, real books and real libraries are not in danger of disappearing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Environment Extremism - Hydrogen Fusion

A comment received on my 12/13/04 post:

Well, the French and the Japanese are fighting over who gets to build the next experimental fusion reactor.

The thing only costs $5 billion. I say we build one right now while they squabble. Hell, we'd just have to put some useless military program on hold for a few weeks to pay for that. I can think of a couple programs that are significantly less likely to ever work than a fusion reactor - missile interceptors & "bunker busting" nukes.

I agree. If fusion reactors can actually work, be safe, and be economical [produce more power than required to sustain the fusion reaction]... we would be poised to phase out all other types of large-scale electricity generating plants... and have a non-OPEC, non-polluting source of power to create hydrogen fuel.

Only remaining question is what we'd do with all of that helium. Maybe fill bladders in automobiles to make them lighter and improve our "hydrogen gas mileage."

Relationships - Sisters

My wife got an email today which I absolutely cannot top with anything else that I might write... so here it is with the names blocked out to protect the... innocent? I couldn't make this stuff up.


My recent experience reveals secret knowledge that I am now privileged to share with you:
Big Hair no longer holds the record for BIGNESS in Texas ~
White Carbs are now the leading BIGNESS in the Lone Star State.

Here's the facts:
1. I arrived, fortunately well-fed on a low-carb lunch and dinner, at 9 p.m. at DFW. M*** and R***** picked me up and we stopped by a supermarket on the way home to pick up some non-fat half and half for my constant consumption of chai. R***** sacrificed her bed for me as she always does, and I passed the night very nicely.

2. Friday morning T*** took the children to school and returned to inform me that she'd eaten breakfast already ~ a piece of toast! AND that I was to hurry up and eat because we had work to do!! namely:
  • chocolate-covered eclairs
  • key lime cake
  • pralines
  • truffles
  • bread pudding.
I ate a couple eggs and survived the carb-infested day eating only one-half a truffle and one-half praline amid my salads, which were slim picking because The T***Master does not like salad ~ whoever thunk it??

3. We were to go out to dinner. There was discussion of Mexican, but we couldn't think of something that was not suffused with beans and tortillas, so we went to the delightful neighborhood grill and I had steak with 2 veggies, carefully avoiding eye contact with the mashed potatoes, deep-fried catfish, hushpuppies and skinny curly freedom fries on the surrounding plates.

4. Saturday, about 2 hours after I've awakened and eaten half the remaining lettuce in the fridge, M*** arrives with a breakfast burrito which he offers to third with me and R*****. Starving, I succumb. The T***Master, exhausted from sugar, I'm sure, slept till 1030 when M*** sicced S**** on her.

5. Several hours and some cleaning and yard work later, The T***Master eats a corn dog. I eat a piece of kielbasa and the remaining lettuce.

6. Hoping that my very skinny sister-in-law will do better, I arrive late afternoon in Denton famished. S***** serves chips for a snack, with no cheese or dip or garnish (they're fattening!). We have dinner: spaghetti, bread and butter, and two pieces of lettuce with one-half cherry tomato on individual plates so one cannot scarf up an extra share. Feeling weak from hunger, I eat it all except the bread.

7. Sunday I take M******* to Mass and we go to L'Madeleine for brunch. I manage to convince them that 11 a.m. is in good time for a grilled chicken caesar, which the lunch crew agrees to wrestle up for me "even though it's Sunday "~ something about Texas, perhaps?

8. Arriving back in Fort Worth in time for the ten-yearly M******** Christmas gathering (she said it'd be ten years and she doesn't know how J****** and L**** do it annually!) I face trays of:
  • pralines
  • truffles
  • key lime cake
  • bread pudding
  • chocolate-covered eclairs
  • and sugared punch.
9. I eat bread pudding with bourbon sauce, one praline, and drink tons of fat-free chai to tide me over. Having the foresight to realize that dinner might not be on The T***Master's agenda, on Saturday I'd suggested thawing the pork roast, which she did. When I realize about 5 p.m. that she's perfectly content with
  • pralines
  • key lime cake
  • bread pudding
  • truffles
  • chocolate-covered eclairs
I repair to the kitchen and put the pork on to roast. Later, much later, The T***Master focuses on the fact that no one named M******** has had any FOOD this day, she checks the roast and announces that we need rice, and a vegetable for S****** ~ you know, a vegetable, like real low-carb lima beans. I eat.

10. M*** and I share a bottle of wine and I hit the sack again.

11. On Monday I leave for the airport with somewhat more than I arrived with, so they give me a paper bag with handles to carry the overflow. Fine. I get into the airport and a man says, "Oh, Papasito's! It's the best isn't it?" I realize he's referring to the bag and say I didn't get there, just have the bag. Four, do you hear? FOUR more people notice the bag and remark on how wonderful Papasito's is. I wearily explain again and again and again and again. Finally, I'm hauling into the plane cabin and the DC-based! flight attendant says, "Papasito's! My absolute absolute favorite! Don't you just love it?" explanations ~ and advice about my next trip to Forth Worth and I take a seat.

12. Tuesday morning I get on the scale and wonder why I didn't go to Papasito's? what possible difference could it have made?

In short, K****, you have no worry about my overtaking you anytime in the near future: I arrived home 4 pounds heavier than I left 5 days ago. But I have till Friday to get one or two of them off!

However, I most highly recommend visiting this last American refuge of total-carb eating habits. Aside from that BIG fact, the house is marvelously wonderful in varied ways ~ photos to follow as soon as K**** J***** gets over here to help me out on the Adobe Photoshop. In my very expert judgment I have pronounced the neighborhood the very most wonderful in the entire family! The company is excellent. R*****'s bed is comfy. The kids are fun and interesting. The dog is silly. And the conversation challenging.

But I'm fasting till Friday ~



Monday, December 13, 2004

Environmental Extremism - Spencer Abraham

Yesterday, The Detroit News ran an article about Spencer Abraham stepping down as head of the Energy Department. He is quoted in the article as saying:

"But if we continue to see a lack of growth in the nuclear power sector, if we continue to see regulations make it more difficult to produce natural gas or oil domestically, then, that will have the opposite effect on prices," he says. "That's the issue people are going to have to come to grips with."

"If you are going to address the global climate issues, as well as the growth in energy and electricity demand, you have to make nuclear energy part of the equation," Abraham adds. "Those countries that are Kyoto signatories are going to have a difficult time meeting their Kyoto targets (of pollution reductions) if they don't have nuclear at least as part of the mix."

On October 23, I wrote:
It is not about resources... it is about fear. There are plenty of energy sources. It is all about using our resources in the most constructive way possible. We have a world full of coal, but we fear it because we remember the soot scattered over the white snow 50 years ago and refuse to accept that it can be burned cleanly today. We have a world full of nuclear materials and safe designs for power plants, but we fear it because we remember the shoddy way it was handled in Chernobyl. We have an abundance of oil in North America, but we are slow to develop it because importing it is politically easier (but may not be cheaper very soon).
Nevertheless, I continue to have the concern that the wrong-headed thinking is being used in planning for alternative fuels to oil and coal:
Abraham says the international consensus among countries he's worked with, including Japan, the European Union and China, is to invest substantially in hydrogen research.

"We foresee an evolution to a hydrogen economy where hydrogen is a much more frequently used fuel for motor vehicles, but also to power stationary electricity production," he says, adding, "it's still down the road."

In a climate of worries about gas-guzzling vehicles, he says one of the attractions of hydrogen is that it allows people to continue to choose whatever operating system they want.

"You can put it in the kinds of vehicles people want," Abraham says. "The efficiency will exist whether it's in a compact or an SUV. It has the potential to really maintain people's market choices while still dramatically reducing consumption of petroleum products. It has the other great benefit of having minimal emission issues, because only really water vapor emerges when you use these kinds of fuel-cell vehicles."

I have a major concern when the head of the Department of Energy says that hydrogen can be used to power stationary electric production... since the opposite is what happens... stationary electric power is used to produce hydrogen. From my November 4 post:

False science, such as the "hydrogen energy" efforts divert us from real, responsible approaches to protecting the environment while providing for the needs and growth of society [hint: hydrogen is a "storage medium" for energy... but to create hydrogen gas, large amounts of energy in the form of electricity... from oil, coal, nuclear material... must be expended].
I agree that using hydrogen fuel, produced from electricity, produced from either nuclear or geothermal energy, is a desirable alternative to continued expansion of oil or coal power generation. It is important to get the stories straight so that people don't think that we can avoid the use of nuclear power because they believe that we can have a hydrogen energy economy rather than a hydrogen fuel economy... unless he is talking about hydrogen fusion technology for generating power... and that is a very long way off, indeed.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

South America - Territorial intrusion

On November 13, I wrote a slightly offbeat article about South America. Now the New York Times is trying to take credit for all of my great insights. Obviously, I will have to have my people talk with their people about this territorial intrusion. I'm sure they think that just because they are a big organization, they can have their way and publish anything they want to about my South America.


Well, I checked and I guess they can publish anything they want. But I guess it's okay this time because they reinforce the fact that I was right!

Geez, first there was Japan, then Korea, then China, then India, and now there's South America... all replacing what we do here. Pretty soon there won't be much left for the U.S. to do except bring over students from those countries... until they build better universities than ours... and charge less for tuition. Now that's territorial intrusion!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Environmental Extremism - Another look at nuclear energy

From the viewpoint of Greenpeace, nuclear power generation is environmental terrorism... read my post of November 7.

I like to think that generating electricity from nuclear power is environmental extremism... an extremely expensive way to generate our energy needs, but necessary to safeguard the environment from the pollution caused by coal and oil power generating plants. It is an extemely emotional subject for those who believe that what the Russians experienced at Chernobyl is the unavoidable destiny for all of us who live near nuclear power plants.

The reality is that nuclear power generation is quietly progressing in the manner that most technologies do... from simple, risk-laden designs to sophisticated, safer designs.

  • November 4 - Secretary of Energy Announces New Nuclear Plant Licensing Demonstration Project Awards
  • November 9 - DOE Awards Battelle Energy Alliance Contract to Establish World-Class Nuclear Energy and Technology Lab in Idaho
Nuclear power generates 20% of the U.S. total electricity. The government's Nuclear Power 2010 program is designed to realistically and reasonably address the reality that we cannot continue to rely on coal and oil powered electricity generating plants, not can we realistically expect wind and solar energy to replace coal and oil generated power on any large scale.

While I stated on November 22, that geothermal energy might be a future technology that will provide clean, reliable, limitless energy... that possiblity is a long way off and, unfortunately, not a serious contender for significant government funding.

Therefore, it is heartening to see that the government is not buckling under pressure from groups who believe that mankind should co-exist with the rest of nature... that is, mankind should run naked through the wild and take shelter in caves... a longing for the "good old days" before fire.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ethnic Divisiveness: We'll go together... separately

Guten Morgen! Wir haben... es tut mir leid! Verstehen sie nicht...?

The Detroit Free Press trumpeted:

HOLIDAY MARKETING: Ads go multicultural to diversify appeals

And this is a good thing?

The article went on to say:
Advertising in different languages on what is traditionally considered an English-speaking medium is becoming part of marketing campaigns that already consist of ads on foreign language stations and feature diverse faces.

"As the Hispanic market grows, marketers are trying very hard to appeal to them," said Laurel Wentz, international and multicultural editor at Advertising Age. "They're realizing that they're not reaching Hispanics just on Hispanic TV."

...and to the Republic for which it stands... one nation... nah.

While all of this may make smart business marketing, it reinforces the concept that sharing geography is merely an inconvenience that we can all "work around." Why make the effort to become part of the American mainstream when you can bring your own river?

The Canadians have tried this for a couple hundred years, eh? They find that the bi-lingual approach engenders great unity and feelings of mutual trust, eh? It brings all sorts of economic benefits, eh?

The ability to speak multiple languages certainly expands one's personal horizons. I'm not so certain that communicating in multiple languages provides similar benefits within one nation.

Guten Tag!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Religion: Believe what we say... not what we do

Headline from The Detroit News, December 9, 2004: U.N. hosts Islamophobia parley

"Muslims themselves, especially, should speak out, as so many did following the September 11 attacks on the United States, and show a commitment to isolate those who preach or practice violence, and to make it clear that these are unacceptable distortions of Islam."
Headline; same paper, same date: $156M awarded to slain teen's parents
Three Islamic charities and an alleged fund-raiser for the Palestinian militant group Hamas were ordered Wednesday to pay $156 million to the parents of an American teenager killed by terrorists outside Jerusalem.
Makes you kind of wonder if anyone finds the U.N. or Islamic leaders credible for anything these days.

Actions do speak louder than words.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Education Failure: We're no worse than...


In a Program for International Student Assessment survey comparing math skills, the U.S. proudly outshone such stellar educational competition as Uruguay, Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Tunisia! That's the good news.

The bad news is that the richest country in the world was no better than mediocre, being outclassed by Hong Kong, Finland, South Korea, Netherlands, and Liechtenstein... big time!

Remember all of those high-paying, outsourced manufacturing jobs that are going to be replaced by intellectual-capital jobs? Well, apparently, that is not going to happen in the U.S. At least, not significantly more than it will happen in Uruguay or Latvia.

The problem with big-picture economics is that ideas are not always related to reality. There is a sequence that must be followed in order to go from A to C after B... A being manufacturing jobs, B being jobs outsourced, and C being new intellectual-capital jobs. I ask this (rhetorical) question: with the intellectual skills being displayed by today's U.S. students, what is the likelihood that they will take us from B to C?

Oh, there will always be the top-performers who will do well... even better relative to the general population. But what happens to the millions of Uruguay-level workers when the manufacturing sector has been shipped off to China or India or Vietnam because intellectual capital is not a factor for those jobs?

If you haven't read it, go back and read this.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Relationships: Lest we forget

December 7, 1941

Forgive... but never forget.

Americans are a forgiving people. But too often with forgiveness comes forgetting. Forgetting the sacrifices. Forgetting the lives lost or changed forever. Forgetting the lessons learned. Forgetting what our parents or grandparents did for us. Forgetting what we owe our children... and what they owe their children. Forgetting that liberty is dear and not cheap.

We are Americans first and foremost... not Irish-Ameicans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans... Americans. When we forget that, we will not be forgiven by the rest of the world.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Excessive Spending: Miscellaneous Thoughts

I have previously posted concerns about the budget deficit and negative trade balance. Here are some things to consider. You draw your own conclusions, if you can.

  • U.S. dollar continues to fall versus foreign currencies as a result of less confidence in the U.S. dollar... which will:
    • make imported goods more expensive... including oil
    • make U.S. travel more attractive to foreigners
    • increase foreign ownership of U.S. real estate and corporations [I said previously that the trade deficit was a concern, ultimately, about who controls the U.S. assets]
    • increase the risk of inflation
    • increase U.S. corporate earnings (in U.S. dollars) from overseas operations
  • China accounted for more than 1/2 of the total non-oil trade deficit which is a result of both importing lower-cost Chinese products and outsourcing production and support of U.S. made products
  • Jobs are leaving the U.S. for the lowest cost source and there are serious disagreements about the impact of this trend for the U.S.
  • U.S. miltary expenditures are more than these combined:

    Russia* 65.0
    China* 47.0
    Japan 42.6
    United Kingdom 38.4
    France 29.5
    Germany 24.9
    Saudi Arabia 21.3
    Italy 19.4
    India 15.6
    South Korea 14.1
    Brazil* 10.7
    Taiwan* 10.7
    Israel 10.6
    Spain 8.4
    Australia 7.6
    Canada 7.6
    Netherlands 6.6
    Turkey 5.8
    Mexico 5.9
    Kuwait* 3.9
    Ukraine 5.0
    * 2001 Funding

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Politics: Democracy is not natural

Territorial Imperative.

I've written quite a bit about how the instinct of territorial imperative drives human behavior.

Some recent examples:

  • Ukraine - democratic elections overturned because of fraud
  • Afghanistan - 15 candidates for president claim voting irregularities... 15???!
  • Canadians believe U.S. CIA will "steal" Romanian elections???!
Of course, in Iraq, there is concern about the minority Sunni population, who have been responsible for a lot of the recent fighting, not having a legitimate chance to vote because there is fighting going on.

Children do not share instinctively. Infant democracies or democracies in waiting have difficulties because the children... er, factions... do not want to share power. It is better to be Lord of the Manor than have manners.

So, should the U.S. give up trying to influence or force countries into democracies? Not necessarily. But perhaps it is time to quit talking about democracies and use the term "representational government". The U.S. is, in fact, not a true democracy and does not promote true democracy. We directly vote in representatives (but not the president who is voted in by representatives in the "electoral college") who then vote their conscience or lack thereof in running the country... and that may not reflect the will of the people who elected them.

Then why the big concern about voting fraud if the guy who is elected can do what he wants anyway? Well, why go to the doctor when you're sick if you're going to die someday anyway? If the voters don't have a chance to fairly elect someone who may actually represent them instead of oppress them, then we have a good old dictatorship. Not too many dictators do a good job of representing the will of the people.

The representative form of government is the only chance for ordinary people to have a chance that their government will be for them instead of against them. So, even if voting is dangerous, even if voting is not perfect, the chance to vote and change the policies of the government is important... and it is the first step for the children to learn to really share. People who already have that privelege should help others gain that same privelege.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Excessive Spending: Guilty

I've gone off on the government for excessive spending and trade imbalance. Now I'm guilty of contributing.

Well, it's Christmas, dammit!

We finally replaced our 15-year-old TV with a new big screen digital light projection (DLP) monster. It is way too expensive for anything smaller than a pickup truck. In fact, now that I think about it, my first new car cost $500 less than this TV. Of course, that was 1968. My first house cost less than the pickup truck I bought two years ago. Of course, that was 1972. I still think that White Castles should be 10 for a buck.

I have a sore back from helping the truck driver get it into the house. But, surprisingly, this monster was pretty much plug and play.

We had so many choices that it only took about 9 months to finally decide. Naturally, none of the available choices were Made In USA. We settled on a futuristic looking set from Samsung, affectionally called the "Kirk" model by people who spend too much time on this stuff. Of course, now we have to get other things to work with the set. That's another matter.

Fortunately, I have three sons who are all experts in their own minds about anything technical. Well, they are pretty good at it... better than me, anyway. So, I'm going to let them figure out the S-Video and Componenet Video set-ups. Meanwhile, I did manage to get my 35-year-old, partially inoperative, speaker cabinets hooked up and working with it. Every once in awhile, the system controller goes into protect mode with those speakers shaking the wall. Then I shut down and restart the system and continue listening.

Now one of my sons and his girlfriend have pretty much taken over the TV. They assure me it's for a school project. So that gives me plenty of time to write this.

I guess that spread over 15 or 20 years the new TV isn't that big of an expense. It'll be obsolete by then... but so will I. Then I'll just go visit one of my sons and watch his whole-wall 3-D system or whatever technical magic he spends too much on.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Relationships: What friends are for

Yesterday, I wrote about my life-long friend; a good man who did a bad thing.

I don't use the word "friend" freely. I have many "associates" whose company I enjoy, but few people who I care to call a friend. I reserve the term friend for people who have shared emotional bonds of support and trust over a period of time.

Some of those people are like the friend who is now in trouble. Some are people with whom I have worked and shared experiences both good and bad. What is constant is that we continue to care about each other, even though the circumstances that brought us together have long since disappeared.

My friend who is in trouble is like a brother to me... one that I have chosen (I dearly love my blood-related brothers, too). So, I could not simply hear the news of his trouble and just feel sorry for him. I telephoned him... a very difficult call to make. He was home alone and said he would be for a week or so. We talked frankly about his situation without castigation. I'm certain it was difficult for him... a strong mixture of regret and humiliation. But he didn't try to make excuses... he didn't have to with me and he knew that. What he knew was that I called because I cared about him and was concerned for him. He knew that, too.

We talked for about an hour. I told him that I would come to be in court for him... either to provide a testament to his good character or just to be there and let him know that his bad judgment didn't lessen my belief that he was a good man. When you choose to be a friend to someone, you don't walk away because they failed themselves. While you don't have to condone what they did to fail themselves, you can let them know that you care. If you don't or can't, perhaps you were not really friends afterall.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Relationships: Disappointment

Sometimes we find out things about people who are close to us that cause us to feel shock, bewilderment, disbelief... but most of all disappointment.

I learned yesterday that a friend of mine... someone I've known since the 5th grade... someone who was like a brother to me... was arrested for embezzlement. This is not some sleazy, drinking, drug-abusing, wife-beating guy. This is a guy who loves his wife and children, a guy who takes care of his elderly mother, a guy who attends church regularly, a guy who gives up expensive vacations so that his family needs are met.

But somewhere along the line he got lost. He couldn't say "no" to all of the requests for his time and money. He got buried by others' wants and needs. He equated love with giving things... being the perfect husband and father and son... instead of being what he could be and saying "no" when he had to.

Now his life is ruined and he can't help anyone... even himself. That knot in my gut is disappointment... that a good man got lost and no one was there to help him.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)