Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Democrat Voted with Democrats. Duh.

I intended to comment on the proliferation of lies and misrepresentations in television ads leading up to Tuesday's election. However, so many unsupportable statements were advanced  that I simply couldn't muster the energy to do the topic justice.

Although selecting the biggest lie, or biggest liars, would have been a daunting task, picking the dumbest statement is no problem at all.

Early in Michigan's seemingly endless campaign for governor, an ad blared over and over, "Schauer voted with Obama and Democrats 95 percent of the time."

Mark Schauer is a Democrat. Which party might we expect him to vote with? The Libertarians?

Perhaps recognizing that at least a few Michigan voters have an iota of intelligence, someone in the Republican campaign finally realized how stupid this message is. The ad disappeared from the airways. That was perhaps the most positive thing that has happened during the campaign.

But to prove stupidity dies hard, the same message just arrived in my mailbox. Only the pamphlet says the Democrat voted with Democrats 96 percent of the time. Wonder who came up with that added 1 percent? I was thinking about voting for the Republican. Now I wonder.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Real Great Satan

 Although meddling by the United States, the existence of Israel, and clerics fanning the fires of ancient tribal rivalries are factors in nonstop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world, they are not the fundamental cause of the chaos. The cause is simply an over-supply of young men in over-populated countries.

Many admirable practices are included in the principles followed by most of the 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. Peace may be a very long time coming.

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.

Forest Service lodging reimbursements didn't cover the cost of  rooms in fancy places, so 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.