Thursday, July 19, 2007

on compensating ranchers

I was looking at the poll numbers on the Gazette web-site and became amazed at the number of people who don't believe ranchers whose herds are "depopulated" because of brucellosis should be compensated. They obviously don't understand the cause of the depopulation in the first place. This was not a rancher-friendly activity. Back in the days when it started, ranchers were not happy with it. They could take the loss of a heifer's first calf better than eliminating an entire herd. That's probably true today. The whole battle over brucellosis began as a public health measure, not a cattle health measure. The disease in cattle is that same as undulant fever in humans which is one of the milk fevers that used to prevent so many infants from making it to their first birthday. It also carried off a few of us older folks. And it cost the meatpackers a bundle so that those workers on the killing floor of the packing plants were compensated against their chances of getting the disease. It is an intra-cellular disease, as I understand it, that acts somewhat like malaria in that it hides for quite a while and periodically recurs. Modern medicines can treat the outbreaks to some extent, but they can't prevent the recurrences. It seems to me that we pay for modern public health services, such as the outbreaks of tb that occur, but don't give a thought to diseases that are "old" fashioned because we have dealt with them to some extent (pasteurization of milk prevents limits most of the occurrences of the disease to vets and others who deal with the reproductive systems of cattle.) It's as if there was still some wild smallpox out there, but it was so limited that we didn't get vaccinated until an outbreak had already killed a number of people. Brucellosis (undulant fever) is still out there; it still has the possibility of killing babies who come in contact with brucella bacteria; it is still a public health menace, although not as great as it once was. The effort to eliminate it is a public health effort, so cattlemen should be compensated for losing their herds. And the Park Service should make an effort to control it in bison and the forest service should make the effort to get a handle on it in elk.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

on the "war on terror"

Scary news on television tonight. The intelligence community (one of the spokesman shown on the screen was from the CIA) issued a report saying that Al Qu'aida (that's how they spelled it) is stronger now than it has been since 9/11 and that it really wishes to pull off a major attack on us. I thought the idea of the Afghanistan invasion was to go after the Al Qu'aida bunch and destroy them. Wasn't what our baby president told us? So what has happened? Oh, yeah, efforts to destroy the terrorists got side tracked into Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11.

on global warming arguments

I've been looking at the comments on the Gazette website following the Bill Ballard anti-global warming guest editorial the other day. It seems to me that the arguments over there are mostly the same old conspiracy and paranoid theories. The Gazette has a rating system in and some of the most reasoned and calm comments get the worst ratings.

I have a lot of objections to the Gazette comments. The biggest one is that they let people attack other people rather than talk about the issues. The regulars get on and bloviate on their particular political pet horse and when someone posts something rational, they do their best to attack the person, not the issue. On global warming, it is pretty obvious that those who have read the least on it have the strongest opinions for some conspiracy bringing it on. They cite "a lot of scientists" without giving who they are, their qualifications or saying where they've published.

They attack the number of years of knowledge we have on climate without realizing that the ice core samples from Greenland, Antarctica and Siberia all seem to agree that this is the worst warming problem in thousands of years. Some posters there even state that it's a big government conspiracy without realizing that the biggest government we've ever had, this administration, has fought curtailing greenhouse gases from day 1. They also argue about the big gun right now on global warming, Al Gore, and claim he's making tons of money and advantage out of it. If Al Gore is a hypocrite, and I don't believe for one minute that he is, that has nothing to say about about whether his facts are straight on warming.

I also think that people need to follow the money. Who benefits if we refuse to take any efforts and let the warming get away from us? First, if no one acts to stop the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then the big oil companies, auto companies, and their ilk benefit and continue to rack up super profits. If the effects of global warming occur as scientists think they will, but we don't take any steps to prepare for it and limit it, then the big corporations will also benefit because they will be the ones who will be receiving aid from governments to help people who have to move away from rising seas, like the natives in Alaska. We know how our money is being spent in Iraq and in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I urge people, if they have doubts about who's doing things on global warming out of altruism or out of greed, follow the money.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

on species

I've been wondering as I look at the world if species, like individuals, go through the stages of growth sort of like the seven roles of man that Shakespeare listed? We know, for instance, that although the dinosaurs lasted for millions of years as a group, the individual species changed and developed and died out. Are the present species of this earth of ours doing the same thing? We've seen species that have died out for one reason or another: climate changes, they begin to decline and humans killed them off (mammoths and giant sloths), they were superseded by environmental conditions such as the increase in forests in Ireland that destroyed the huge antlered red deer of that island. I wonder, however, if species don't start out young and lively, become more sedate in a kind of middle age and then slowly fade out into the sunset like the sabre toothed tiger and the dire wolf. If that does happen, what does it mean for us? I sometimes think that we humans as a species are in either late childhood or early adolescence with not fully developed inhibiting centers in our brains. It would explain our need for gods (parents) and our inability to get along on the playground.

Monday, July 09, 2007

on the 7 wonders of the world

In case you missed it, the new list of seven architectural wonders of the world was announced in Sunday's Gazette and, I imagine, in other news sources that I missed. They included Rome's Colosseum; the Great Wall of China; India's Taj Majal: Peru's Machu Picchu, the long hidden last city of the Incas; Brazil's Statue of Christ the Redeemer that reigns above Rio; Jordan's ancient stone city of Petra; and Mexico's Chitchen Itza pyramid. It seems to me that most of this list is invalid. Although it was voted on by over 100,000 people there seems to have been little concern for how the items are now used and how old they are. The only ones on the list that have anything but tourist use today are the Rio statue. When the Egyptian pyramids, Babylon's Hanging Gardens, the Colossus of Rhodes, Alexandria's lighthouse, the great Mausoleum, and the others (two of which I can't remember off hand) were listed as ancient wonders, they were still in business. The ones reported yesterday are mostly non-functional. So I suggest a really modern list, leaving in the Rio statue, but including the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney, Australia, opera house, perhaps the J Paul Getty Museum, the magnificent tower that's currently the world's tallest in Bangkok(?), maybe the Sears tower in Chicago, perhaps the Space Needle in Seattle, Westminster Cathedral, New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine or St. Patricks, or Notre Dame. In other words, make a list of the seven great architectural wonders still in active use and relatively new today, not something that was built 1,000+ years ago and is now a ruin. (And then this evening I stumbled on the full list of the original seven and the two I had forgotten where the temple of Diana at Ephesus and the great statute of Zeus which was recently in the science news with an article on the temple itself and where he sat.)

Friday, July 06, 2007

on Iraq...again

I think I keep repeating myself on this subject time and again, but here I go still again. We are not fighting a "war" in Iraq. A war is between two uniformed armies facing each other on a battlefield or in the air. We had that kind of war when we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein and closed out his army. Since then it has been an insurgency that has turned into a civil war fought by terrorists. However, the definition of terrorists does not seem to fit some of the people we see on television who do wear a form of uniform and thus are soldiers by definition. But they do not seem to be fighting us as much as they are fighting each other. I think our involvement in a war is over. We are basically trying to keep peace between warring factions, some of whom we basically seem to support (with exceptions) and some we don't. Thus Al Sadr keeps his army except when it sticks its head out a little too far in our direction and so do some of the Shias in the government and some of the Sunni sheiks who are on our side. In Vietnam we kept dealing with people who knew that the U.S. and ROK troops owned the day and the VC and the North owned the night. So there was a real day and night difference. In Iraq it seems to be that we own the time we spend in the various neighborhoods when we're there and the other side owns them after we're gone. So I don't think this is a war on our part, although it seems to be a mixture of covert civil war and terrorist activities (defined as actions done by those who are not part of a uniformed army).

The other thing I don't think that we realize is a nation is that we are essentially dealing with the 93rd year of a 100 Years War. We admit that we have few people in the military in Iraq who know the history of the country and, more importantly, speak the language. We here at home are even more ignorant. A year or so ago, I read for the first time (somehow I missed it when it came out), Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August, a history of August, 1914, the first month of WWI. In hindsight, it is possible to read into what she relates the international history of the world for the remainder of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. In that month of August 1914, the Russians broke up the Balkan empire of Austria-Hungary; the Germans defeated and stymied the Russian advances leading to a stagnation that brought down the Tsar and led to the rise of Soviet Union and the Cold War; the French and English stopped the German drive to capture France and thus led to the treaty of Versailles and resultant depression in Germany that led to the rise of Hitler; and brought the Ottoman Turks into the war on Germany's side and led to the rigid control that empire exerted on the Middle East and led to today's mishmash of tribal and religious unhappiness.

What does that bode for the future? In her other most famous book, A Distant Mirror, Tuchman actually wrote a history of the 100 years war and she pointed out that it led to the breakdown of the feudal system and the beginnings of mercantilism, the rise of the middle class and the beginning of capitalism as well as the Enlightenment that brought new demands for the rights of individuals in a society in which rigid castes evolved and most people lived in slavery or near slavery. I would suggest at this point that the current many-years war has brought us to another transition point in the history of the world. Even in the less than a century that I have been alive, the world has gone from simple radio and no computers or television to a place where a popular writer claims the world is flat and to where I carry more computing power in my pocket daily than existed in the entire world the day I was born. My father in law was born in 1900. The year he was four, bank robbers fleeing his home town put a bullet through the door of his family home as they went out of town on their buckboard. If we go back farther in time, it was only about 200 years ago that manufacturing began and the nuclear family became the cornerstone of society. Today we are facing a variety of computer driven choices. I carried my first computer of 24 years ago out of the basement the other day. It was so heavy I damn near dropped it. I'm typing this on a computer that I can carry under my arm. We have seen a tremendous number of changes. A few years ago the cell phone came on line so we could talk to each other without having a solid, cable connection. Now we have the Iphone that seems to be combining photography, calculating, teletype, voice and I don't know what else. What's next. The point of this whole paragraph is that the last 100 years have changed earth and its societies so the our founding fathers would not recognize the United States that they put together. Nor would our great-great grandfathers recognize our homes as the same types of shelter as theirs. Our lives have gone topsy turvy in the last century particularly. Taking them back will, I suspect, require new arrangments of society, new forms of thought and new aspects of living (even the prospect of extending an individual's life span). We must talk about the future, not the past and come to a new agreement so that we may continue to meet the changes that we have lived through and that we will see ahead.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

on anger in the country

As I read the comments on the Gazette stories and on other web sites, I am struck by the anger shown in this country toward those of opposite points of view, most strikingly by those on the right, but also, though less so, by those on the issues on the right. It seems to me dangerous. It isn't the firm positions, but rather the way in which people attack others and hurl names and other perjoratives at those who disagree with them. It isn't over issues as much as it is distrust. And I wonder what the situation is that creates such anger; surely those who call others names must realize that they have indicated they have lost the argument so they resort to personal attacks.

More importantly, where does all the anger come from? People seem to hate many things: social changes, people different than they are, caring about the welfare of the society in which they live, paying for the society in which they live, believing in the things this nation was built upon and numerous other things. It mystifies me, yet I can see the source of some of it, I think. One thing strikes me first: a lot of the anger is a politicians and is based, I think, on the idea that you vote for the person not the party. What people don't seem to realize is that there is strength in community, weakness in going solo. This lack of understanding on the part of people in the strength of community efforts is what has led directly to the passage of good jobs out of this country to minimum wage workers in other parts of the world. The unions may have overreached themselves, but they also got this country the highest wages in the world.

In the current political arena, there are constant calls for a new party because the two parties we now have are so closely related. This, I think, is a false conclusion. Yes, they have similar goals in certain areas such as free trade and borders open to goods from other countries. But on the issue of human rights and humanity, they are far apart. I think most people see the ties to the corporations that both parties have and look at that rather than the human issues. When people vote the party, they mostly vote for their own pocketbook and their own survival. When they vote the nominee, they don't know what they are getting. In this world of political double speak, I may use the same words on education, or war in Iraq, or economic health as the politician coming to my front door. But because we use the same words does not mean we are saying the same thing. How do we plan to reach those goals? I told Roy Brown a few elections ago that I wanted education fully funded. As an incumbent he said they had done so. I knew better. The kindest thing I can think of is that we were saying the same thing but meaning something entirely different.

A new party won't change anything. In Great Britain, at one time in the 20th Century, they had three parties: Tory (Conservative), Liberal, and a very weak Labour party. The Liberals had some of the early prime ministers of the century. But it began to fade and the Labour party to grow, particularly after WWII and the Liberal party has virtually disappeared in the interplay of that nation's politics. No matter how often people claim there are many choices we can make, most of us come in a bi-lateral form and that carries over to our choices. We don't see the third choice as viable. More than two parties may be good in a parliamentary system, although Great Britain's example may negate that. But in this country, we have almost always (except at the beginning) had two strong parties. In some cases, the Independent, the Free Silver, the Know Nothings, the Anti-Masons, the Progressives may have had an effect on elections, but they haven't lasted beyond one or two votes.

Is there an answer to what we feel about our political system? I think so. It is to get involved. If we are to make changes in the political parties each of us must get involved in making changes within them. Right now we have conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. Maybe the liberals should be in one party and the Conservatives in the other. And the religious wrong shouldn't be in any of them.

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