Friday, October 24, 2014

The Real Great Satan

The fundamental reason for nonstop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world is not United States meddling, the existence of Israel, or clerics fanning the fires of ancient tribal rivalries. It is simply an over-supply of young men in over-populated countries.

Many admirable practices are included in the principles followed by 1.6 billion Muslims, including sharing wealth with the poor, striving to reduce economic inequality, and refraining from violence. A minority of fanatics and those who exploit their zeal continue to give the religion a bad name in other cultures. Islam, generally, is not "the mother lode of bad ideas" as neuroscientist Sam Harris recently labeled it on national television.

But Islam includes one very bad idea. With a few exceptions, all forms of contraception and birth control are forbidden. That is the real "Great Satan."

It's a short step for dissatisfied young men from peaceful protest to violence.

Far too many people compete for scarce resources in lands where Muslims predominate. The great source of wealth in several of them, oil, is not labor intensive in its extraction or processing. In what once were rich farming lands, constant warfare has so disrupted the landscape that jobs in agriculture have declined. Some areas that once exported food now are forced to import it. Arid lands do not support vast populations anywhere in the world, but in Muslim desert and semi-desert areas excess human reproduction continues despite the lack of suitable environments to sustain more people.

The result of all this in the Middle East, plus a shortage of advanced educational facilities in a world where technical jobs are becoming more important, is an entire region with the highest unemployment rates in the world. A dramatic component of that is in the youngest segment of the population up to the age of 25, where unemployment is estimated to be 40 percent.  What happens when idle young men see no hope for their futures through peaceful endeavors? They become eager to sign up to fight for any leaders who provide a pay check and promise fame and glory.

Until rank and file Muslims in great numbers ignore medieval bans on birth control, as many Roman Catholics now do in Christian cultures, we can expect warfare and devastation in Islamic lands for a very long time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lions Without Mountains

The news was terrible for wildlife when a recent report on the world situation showed numbers down about 40 percent in just the past several decades. Expanding human populations and activities are causing the declines, the study compilers said. But, as in all broad trends, there are exceptions. Mountain lions, missing from the landscape for a century, are returning to the American Midwest.

Mountain lions (cougars) are secretive animals seldom seen by humans even in western areas where numbers can be high. Eastern cougars once were native to Wisconsin and Michigan, but they  were eliminated by uncontrolled hunting and trapping and forest devastation by the early 1900s.

A camera set up to photograph trail users filmed this cougar near Merrill, Wisconsin. Other cougar sightings have been confirmed in the state in recent years. (photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Since 1910, numerous farmers, hikers, and hunters have reported sighting cougars in both states. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources so far has been unable to find physical evidence to confirm a sighting. Not so in Wisconsin. There, on July 30, a trail camera photographed a cougar on private property about 20 miles from my hometown. It was the third confirmed sighting this year, and there were several in previous years.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, the animals known to be roaming the state's north woods probably are western cougars, somewhat different from the type that originally inhabited the area. Wildlife biologists think the newcomers journeyed from the large populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They probably were lured by excess numbers of deer, a favorite cougar prey, in northern Wisconsin. Only the presence of males has been confirmed so far, so it is unknown if permanent populations are being established.

If you live in Wisconsin or Michigan, don't start panicking about the possibility of being confronted by a cougar. In the unlikely event you encounter one,  DNR advice is to face it squarely, open your coat or jacket to make yourself appear bigger, make noise, and throw sticks or stones at it. Chances are high the cougar will run. It probably won't run all the way back to South Dakota, though.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Please, Let Us Stand Prosperity

Yesterday, I filled up the family car for $2.95 per gallon, the first time gasoline has dropped below $3.00 around here since November 2010. Today, I noticed the futures price of petroleum in the New York Stock Exchange had fallen to $85.00 per gallon; it has not been that low for a long, long time.

The futures price is of interest because it tends to confirm the opinion of some experts that prices at the pump in the U.S. will stay relatively low or continue to fall in the near future. Why have we arrived in this happy position?

1. Federal rules requiring auto producers to build machines that get more miles per gallon are paying off. The builders complied by designing vehicles in all categories that are more fuel efficient. And the American public is buying more small cars and more electric and hybrid vehicles in all sizes.

2. Fracking and improvements in more conventional extraction methods have combined to glut the American market with gas and crude oil. No matter what economic theories you subscribe to, that tends to keep prices down. But fracking needs firm controls to prevent environmental disasters, and we would be wise not to change policies to encourage more use of the technique.

3. For a variety of reasons, Americans generally have been driving fewer miles in recent years, which contributes to the favorable supply situation.

Low oil and gas prices reverberate positively through our economy. Consumers have more cash to buy goods of all kinds. That demand then can be met through lower manufacturing and transportation costs. That kind of demand also creates jobs in many sectors. It is the sort of prosperity we should embrace.

But some people are just too greedy to allow us to stand prosperity. Those are the guys who control the big oil companies.

We have been protected to some extent from their avarice for 40 years. In 1973, several Arab nations put an embargo on oil exports, sending prices soaring world-wide and creating shortages in the U.S. Our government responded in several ways, one of which was a ban (with some exceptions) on exporting crude oil produced here.

The idea was to break our dependence on foreign crude oil and stabilize the domestic market for refined products. It has been a long haul, but success seems imminent. It should be pointed out that the ban does not include export of gas, which can be liquefied and shipped overseas, or products from oil refineries.

Surprise: the American Petroleum Institute is leading a lobbying campaign asking the Administration to circumvent the ban by introducing more exceptions and the Congress to revoke it entirely with legislation. Some refineries that profit from the ban are mounting  a counter campaign.

Genius is not necessary to know that no matter how technology advances oil and gas are nonrenewable resources. We eventually will run out of them. We are working to replace oil and gas with solar and wind power, but the conversion will take a long time. It makes no sense not to conserve our nonrenewable resources as much as possible.

Please, Mr. President and Members of Congress, let us stand prosperity. Resist the petroleum lobby, and act in the national interest. Keep the ban on crude oil exports in place, and delete some exceptions from it as well. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Shhh! I'm with the Secret Service

The Secret Service, after 150 years of exemplary work, is much in the news of late for several poor performances. Reading about the gaffes and the resulting resignation of the service's director, reminded me of an encounter with one of the agents.

The Director of the Intermountain Research Station, where I was working for the U.S. Forest Service, decided to check out the latest management fad being promoted throughout the federal establishment. He sent me, our biometrician, and an administrative services specialist to Washington, DC for a one-week training session with orders to report back with recommendations.

It turned out to be a pretty high-level gathering. Among our group of about 40 trainees was the Postmaster General and a two-star Marine Corps general. We met daily just down the street from the Russian Embassy.

Because Forest Service lodging reimbursements didn't cover the cost of  rooms in fancy places, our trio stayed in a modest hotel and we had to walk a fair distance every morning to the meeting place. We made the trek early, because free coffee and donuts were available for about a half-hour before the training sessions started.

Keach would have been believable as a Secret Service agent.
One fellow trainee was present every day when we arrived. Often he was the only one there, so we chatted with him and became acquainted. The man bore a startling resemblance to actor Stacey Keach. We learned that he had been a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy before his present employment. There was no doubt about his current work. Where our workshop name tags said U.S.Forest Service, his said Secret Service!

Obviously, our new friend was there guarding somebody, but in numerous conversations he never told us who it was. The cold war hadn't thawed at that time, and we mentioned our proximity to the Russians and wondered if he wasn't concerned about identifying himself so openly.

The agent said, "Oh, they know who all of us are. And we know who all the KGB guys are."

 Apparently, some things aren't so secret in secret service work. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

NFL Off-Field Violence

News reports and comments by many who fancy themselves qualified to advance an opinion have painted the National Football League as a haven for thugs and criminals. I started crunching some numbers seeking to learn whether that image is deserved.

The first thing I learned is that a whole lot of people, from  media pundits to social scholars, have been busy recording and  playing with NFL crime statistics for a long time. There was no need for me to do much original work.  A simple computer search for "NFL arrest records" produced all sorts of numbers and analyses. Following are what I believe to be the more significant items:

*Precisely 687 NFL players have been arrested (not convicted, mind you) since January 1, 2000, most for assaults. The annual number has been declining since 2006, an indication that the league has made some progress in efforts to improve its image, primarily through educational programs for players.

*Including all players under contract, about 1,800 are available each year to be arrested. Considering the typical pro football career lasts a bit less than three years and doing the math with the 13-year arrest total, I get an arrest rate slightly higher than 1 percent.

*Some number crunchers, probably more skilled than the geezer, say the arrest rate for assaults in the NFL is two percent. Assuming that to be close to the actual rate, it is less than half the national rate (based on FBI statistics). It also is far less than the National Basketball Association rate (5.1 percent). Basketball supposedly is a "non-contact sport." That's a laugher. However, the NFL rate is slightly below the 2.1 percent rate for major league baseball; baseball actually is basically a non-contact sport, and thus we might mistakenly think players are less violent types than the gridiron heroes.

*Considering the analyses that appear most legitimate and trying to mix in some common sense, it seems fair to conclude that criminal activity by NFL players is well below that for comparable groups in the general population--young males, including a large number of blacks.
Far more good guys than bad.
Obviously, media attention magnifies the NFL situation. We are not treated to national television reports whenever a factory worker or shoe salesman hits his wife or "whoops" his kids. Nevertheless,  it is true that professional athletes in America long have been held up as role models for our youth. Therefore it seems proper that they should be held to a higher standard of conduct. They are employees of their team owners, and in many U.S. states employers concerned with the firm's image are legally able to fire employees for any conduct they consider detrimental, except in situations where a union agreement exists.

The NFL players have a strong union, and agreements are in place covering all the teams. Therefore, it is not possible for owners acting individually or through the league office to summarily fire a player for misbehaving. I believe the NFL owners in concert with the union should move quickly to establish clear policy pertaining to domestic violence. Much of the problem in pro football is the helter-skelter nature of the discipline. Badly needed is a well-defined action plan that is easily understood and applied without a whole lot of exceptions.

After some poor moves, what the Minnesota Vikings finally did in the case of star player Adrian Peterson, who admitted to doing violence to his four-year-old son after being arrested, should serve as a model. Suspend the player with pay from all team participation until the criminal justice system has run its course. If the player is found not guilty, reinstate him. If he is found guilty, suspend him for a year without pay added to any jail time he serves, which should be a sufficient penalty, but one that gives the player some opportunity to resurrect his career.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Outsmarted by a Phone

About eight years ago as a daylight savings time change approached,  a fellow Forest Service retiree told me of his tactic to remove any doubts about which way to reset his clocks. He bought two cheapo watches--one set on standard time, the other on daylight savings time. He merely switched them on change days and used his wristwatch as a guide to reset all other timing devices in his household.

I already owned a cheap wristwatch. I found a duplicate at Walmart on sale for $5.00 (sometimes that place is worth visiting). Ever since, I have kept one on standby in a dresser drawer until it was
So they're two minutes off. Who cares now that they're obsolete?
restored to service when we gained or lost an hour moving from standard to daylight time, or vice versa.

The switcheroo worked equally well moving between eastern time at our Michigan home and central time in often-visited Wisconsin. My son and I took that trip this summer. I decided to brag a little and made a show of trading watches as we were about half way across Lake Michigan on a ferry.  Lee said, "Oh, but time changes aren't any problem."

"How so?" I asked.

"My smart phone automatically makes the adjustment. I just tap the time ap."

Time and technology once again have marched on. One of my favorite schemes has been rendered obsolete.  Anybody want to buy two watches used only about half a year each throughout their lifetimes?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

It's That Time Again

'Tis the season when footballs and banners of avid team followers fill the air.

Some who pass our home wonder why my Packers flag flies only intermittently. That's because ancient family tradition dictates the flag is unfurled only after a victory. The first game of the season is tonight. At dawn's early light tomorrow my flag may, or may not, be there.

At the moment, a very few leaves in our Lake Doster area have begun to turn color. Mom Nature is more consistent than the Packers--all the  leaves will change and fall to the ground in a few weeks. You can depend on it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Absence Makes the Heart . . .

The geezer never has been much of a fan of poetry, and a few attempts to write in that format have ended in dismal failure. Over the past year of so, however, I've been delighted almost daily by the creations of Marc Leavitt, who posts his work at

Marc occasionally puts together a lengthy work. I enjoy those, but prefer his briefer offerings. He has a gift for conveying a big message in a little poem.

My beautiful wife Sandy has been away for several weeks visiting friends and relatives in Wisconsin. These trips have been an annual event for a long time. Lake Michigan waters permitting, she'll be back in our Michigan home in two days, just in time to celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. 

Inspired by Mr. Leavitt and the impending occasion and despite my numerous previous failures, I've decided to go for it. I hereby publish my first (and perhaps only) poem:

            Your trip was barely under way
            When life here ceased to be OK
            How many times must I learn
            When you are gone
            I soon yearn for your return

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Don't Do Stupid" Ain't Stupid

The usual chorus of President Obama detractors got a boost from an unusual source recently. Fellow Democratic Party leader and presidential candidate in waiting, Hillary Rodham Clinton, attacked Mr. Obama's foreign policy on the grounds it is a non-policy.

The president's policy earlier got a strange name. Staffers leaked the news that inner circles have taken to defining it as, "Don't do stupid shit." For the more sensitive masses, the policy is being redefined as, "Don't do stupid stuff."

Ms. Clinton said "Don't do stupid" is not an organizing principle, and great nations need organizing principles worthy of their leadership role. I beg to differ. Ms. Clinton, in my opinion, did an acceptable job as secretary of state, but she got this one wrong.
If you win, please don't do stupid stuff, Ms. Clinton (Wikipedia)

It's about time a U.S. president decided to set aside lofty rhetoric smacking of egotistical American "exceptionalism" and adopted a realistic foreign policy standard. Remember how we fought  to "Make the world safe for democracy" and not may years later to establish the "Four Freedoms" on the planet? How are those types of policy statements working for us lately?  

We could make "Don't do stupid" prettier, of course. Something like, "Carefully analyze every foreign conflict and intervene only when it is clearly in our national interest" says the same thing, and obviously states what President Obama tries to do, but certainly there's nothing catchy about it. In this case, I like the negative "don't do" better than the positive "do." For one thing, it's more fun.

Mr. Obama, with Ms. Clinton as a top foreign policy advisor, has made some boo boos, as all presidents have. A recent one was prematurely declaring, "It's time for Assad to go." He forgot that Goldilocks could be leading Syria and it would have little effect on American interests. He also forgot that displacing strong dictators in the Muslim world often creates chaos. Is that part of the world more tranquil now than it was when Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron fist? Hardly. How's the serenity index looking in Libya nowadays?

We did what was in our interest in Syria. With Russian cooperation and good work by our more usual allies Assad's weapons of mass destruction--lethal poison gases--a true threat to the world and thus us, have been destroyed. We finally did what was in our interest in Iraq--we got out. We're back now in a limited way, a far cry from the days when we invaded the place with massive force over a pretext. 

Soon we'll be out of Afghanistan, leaving the kids to fight it out in their sandbox as they always have. In a strange turn of events, Assad may become part of a new coalition including the U.S. to help stabilize the Middle East. Things might actually work out well for a change now that the horrifically bad guys have come out of their closets and staked out some territory where the good people can shoot and bomb the crap out of them.

"Don't do stupid stuff" has saved a lot of American lives, and quite a bit of cash we can use to better advantage elsewhere. The policy isn't a return to isolationism. It's simply a venture into reality.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Golf for the Footloose

Our Lake Doster Golf Course has come up with a new ploy to increase play. Every Sunday afternoon, half the layout is available for a different kind of game. Players need only bring a soccer ball and their feet. They kick their ball around the course much as normal golfers move their small ball around with clubs.

We've lived in homes adjacent to fairways for 35 years, a long time to observe golfers in action. A few of them should be great Footgolf players. They've had lots of practice kicking their ball into an improved position when they thought no one was watching.

Beautiful wife Sandy for several years got special chuckles observing an older man who played the course by himself very early in the morning. He would look around to ensure he was alone, and then drop a ball down the inside of his pants leg into a good spot for his next shot. If it wasn't just right, he improved the lie with a foot nudge or two.

Of course, Footgolf hadn't been invented when the old duffer entertained Sandy by practicing cheating. He would have to wear extremely baggy trousers to be able to drop a soccer ball down one leg. But he might be a champion foot nudger.