Monday, September 15, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Property Rights, Treehouse Edition

An anonymous neighbor, unhappy with the presence of a treehouse next door, began the process of its removal with a complaint to Minneapolis zoning officials and now the unregulated structure has to go, according to this story in the Star-Tribune. An earlier story contained more details.

  As usual in these cases, the offended party, the complainer, the imposed-upon individual, remains anonymous. The city is probably correct in demanding the destruction of this hold-over from another era. As it's not as regulated as even a playhouse there's always the possibility that some unscrupulously clever social misfit or an organization along the same lines could build a tree manufacturing facility unhampered by city codes and zoning restrictions. Or arboreal housing units that could be inhabited by undocumented aliens. In fact, if treehouse owners allowed Honduran children to move in they could probably get city funding for carpets and electricity.

Monday, September 8, 2014

More Death Penalty, This Time For A Cougar

News erupted through the media yesterday of the unprovoked attack on a six year-old boy hiking with family members by a mountain lion near the wilderness village of Cupertino, CA, also the home of Apple, Inc., a company that makes popular electronic devices, not a grower of fruit, as this article explains. Fortunately the toddler was saved by his quick-thinking father and has since been released from the hospital after treatment for bites.

Once again, an animal is being judged in human terms and will be, as they say, "euthanized" for showing the temerity to consider a small human as food. When and if a cougar is found and killed its DNA will be matched to samples found on the victim to determine if, indeed, this particular individual is the bad guy. If not, no doubt the search will continue. What the status of a dead but innocent cat will be isn't mentioned.

There's something of a Darwinian selection process being invoked here. If proven aggressive and dangerous animals of a given species are killed and not allowed to reproduce, over time the remainder will be more and more friendly toward man, the peaceable kingdom will have arrived. On the other hand, it might be assumed that all large carnivores are a danger to humans and when they prove this on an individual basis must be done away with. Both thoughts have a certain validity.

In any event, people prefer their animals on the Discovery Channel, not in their backyard.

A cougar. This isn't the cougar that attacked the little boy. Nobody got a photo of that one. This is a picture of some other cougar but it's probably just as dangerous as the one stalking hikers near the Apple, Inc. headquarters. Hopefully, it's been dispatched as well, sent to a taxidermist, and its preserved form displayed at some popular sporting goods store.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Women's Cycling Europe, It Ain't Easy


Optum Pro Cycling sent its varsity girls team to France to compete in the Tour de l'Ardeche stage race with high hopes that the move would prepare the ladies for the upcoming world championships in Ponferrada, Spain, Sept. 21-28. Maybe it did but the results weren't encouraging. The best the orange and black could do in the GC was a 17th place finish by Janel Holcomb, 2011 NRC champion. Lauren Hall came in 40th, followed by US national champion Jade Wilcoxson at 42 and triple Canadian champ Leah Kirchmann in the 51st spot. Star-to-be Brianna Walle finished 60th and Annie Ewart 75.

Rochelle Gilmore's Wiggle Honda team impressed with a GC victory by time trial grinder Linda Melanie Villumsen and stage sprint wins by world champion Giorgia Bronzini. 

One of Optum's biggest rivals, the Specialized-Lululemon ladies, took their squad to the Holland Ladies Tour where they placed four riders in the top 20, with Evelyn Stevens winning the GC and team mate Lisa Brennauer finishing second. It's hard to predict the results of future bike races on the basis of one event but the Optum ladies might have a problem extending their huge success in North America to the tougher European environment. We wish them luck.

Edward E. Baptist, the Economist, and US Slavery

Edward E. Baptist

A teapot tempest blew up when The Economist reviewed Cornell University professor Edward E. Baptist's new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. After the predictable negative response to their review, the editors of the British magazine apologized for their critique. The author himself followed with a response to the apology here.

Baptist's book is meant to bring to our attention the importance of the peculiar institution to the development of the vibrant American economy and its origin in the plantation production of cotton for the textile industry, one of the first beneficiaries of the industrial revolution. Ergo, Americans sitting in front of their televisions watching the Vikings play the Redskins while nibbling on taco chips and guacamole owe this pleasantry to enslaved Africans who were freed 150 years ago.

We believe today that involuntary servitude is morally wrong. Yet that never stopped the use of conscription, many thousands of men being involuntarily drafted into the military over the years until the practice was discontinued in 1973. In fact, the Select Service System still exists and all men between 18 and 26 are required to register for a possible draft. Failure to do so is a felony. Evidently, some kinds of involuntary servitude are OK, since we never hear  about the children that weren't born because their father was conscripted and used for cannon fodder in a foreign country. Our buddies in China, South and North Korea, Kuwait, Egypt, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries and most South American countries, among others, still conscript draftees into military service. We don't see any news coverage of protests in front of the Kuwaiti embassy over their mandatory military service. There are no books being published about the economic cost of jerking thousands of young men out of their families and communities, training them for jobs that don't exist in the civilian world, and then sending them to foreign  lands where they can be targets for the unhappy locals.

You're saying, "Gee, conscription doesn't justify slavery, even though its the same thing. Bringing up other wrongs doesn't diminish the terrible tragedy of slavery. And it was based on race." Fair enough. That brings us to the people the Washington NFL team is named after.  In spite of the fact that they were victims of a racial genocide quite similar to that imposed by the Mongols on the 13th century Persians and that their land and property was literally stolen from them, they are not a political cause celebre. Even the liberals with the nicest limousines don't complain much about the fact that practically all of the US was taken away from its New Stone Age owners at the point of a gun. Unlike African slaves in the south, who were regarded as valuable property, the native Americans were considered as hostile vermin to be eradicated in the name of "manifest destiny". Historians need to get their priorities in order.

One could make the case that the biggest problem with American slavery wasn't lack of freedom as such but was instead the various wrongs inflicted on the slaves by callous or evil owners. Just as there was in 1850 no EPA, no Department of Education, no OSHA, there was no Department of Slave Administration to prevent or punish lashings (flogging was outlawed in the US Navy in 1850) and other mistreatment. Perhaps if there had been a DSA prior to the War Between the States, an agency that could define and regulate human bondage, it would exist even today, despite any conclusion reached by the conflict. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1824, as part of the War Department, and continues to exist today, administering over 55 million acres of land held "in trust" by the US government, among other duties. There are federal agencies that appear to be designed to advance the cause of the descendents of slaves, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a division of the Justice Dept., for instance, but it didn't come into existence until 1965.

The central tenet of Baptist's book is that all Americans, and even citizens of other countries, owe much of their current affluence to the exploitation of black slaves during the roughly 250 years that they were a factor in the US economy. The reality is that the foundation of US economic success was the millions of acres of virtually free land confiscated from the native Americans, some of which was used for the production of cotton by slaves.

There isn't any possible rectification for the native Americans, or the descendents of slaves, for that matter. The state of Wisconsin isn't going to be  returned to the Winnebagos and Ojibwa that once called it home. The issue is the continuing hypocrisy displayed by the US government and its patriotic apologists that keep singing the national anthem before hockey games and pretending that the US is unique in its embrace of freedom. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

FAA Gets Half Million Dollars For Alaska Airlines Electrical Fire In 2010

alaska.JPG In a tactic that seems to be becoming more and more common, as well as remunerative, for various government agencies the one that runs the show in aviation, the FAA has fined Seattle-based Alaska Airlines $500,000 for an incident that occurred in 2010 while a Boeing 737-400 was being serviced at a gate at the Anchorage airport. A misplaced clamp caused a short circuit in the cockpit electrical system that caused a fire of undisclosed size. Evidently the aircraft was not destroyed. Details of the affair are sketchy.

 While nobody wants an airplane to catch fire ever, what's really going on here? Four years ago there's some kind of an accident on a commercial passenger jet undergoing maintenance at an airport. Steps were taken to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Case closed? No. The FAA, as an untouchable federal agency with literally the power of life or death over the businesses under its control, can exact what amounts to a half-million dollar addition to its budget by supposedly punishing Alaska Airlines four years after the fact. As a government-licensed corporation, no management figure has been fined or sent to the hoosegow over this but the fine has been deducted from a dividend to the common stock holders, in the unlikely event that one is ever paid. The last payment was 12 1/2 cents a share on Aug. 15.

Not all the news is bad for Alaska Airlines. The Defense Dept. has awarded the company a $203.37 million transportation contract.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 National Sports Center Velodrome All-Star Team

As summer turns to autumn and the competition at the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine, MN comes to its annual conclusion it's time to recognize the riders that made the biggest impressions on the track in 2014. Here they are:

Linsey Hamilton, not just a 2014 all-star but a permanent all-star, she's headed to Manchester, UK for the World's Masters Track Championships after winning the Minnesota State Points Race championship, among others.

Brandon Krawczyk is always a threat to win any Category 1-2 race he starts.

Matt Montesano has developed into one of the most aggressive and exciting riders in the track peloton.

Local lady Margeaux Claude moved her athletic talents from the ski slopes to the velodrome with continuing success.

Cyclocrosser Josh Roeser has been tough to beat in the Category 3 arena.

Junior teen-ager Anya Malarski has been an inspiration for years with her competitive fire.

Adam Weitzner is generally on the front end of any Cat 3 tussle.

Jacob Okamoto has moved rapidly up the ladder to become one of strongest Cat 1-2 riders.

Minneapolis firefighter and track demon Dan Casper heads to Manchester, UK to defend his masters world championship in the individual pursuit after winning the Minnesota Cat 1-2 80 lap points race.