Thursday, December 30, 2010

We had to kill him to save him

The St. Cloud Times reports that an unfortunate individual with suicidal tendencies and a shotgun did not survive an encounter with 4 officers.

December 30, 2010

Officers shoot, kill man holding shotgun in Little Falls

By Kari Petrie

LITTLE FALLS — Officers shot and killed a man early this morning who they say was suicidal.

The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office was called at 12:22 a.m. about a man who was suicidal and in possession of a gun, Sheriff Michel Wetzel said.

Morrison County deputies and Little Falls police located the man as he was leaving the home of an acquaintance in northeast Little Falls. When officers tried to stop the vehicle, the driver pulled into a nearby driveway and stopped, Wetzel said.

The 37-year-old man got out of the vehicle with a shotgun, Wetzel said. After repeated attempts to order the man to put the gun down, two Little Falls officers and two Morrison County deputies fired their weapons.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene. His name has not been released.

The names of the officers involved have not been released.

The investigation has been turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

We will never know the details of this incident but we do know that this person, for whatever reason, was given the death penalty by firing squad by 4 highly-trained peace officers without the benefit of any judicial process. We're all much safer now.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The End of Innocence

Roosevelt listening to Daniels.

After Woodrow Wilson won the US Presidency in 1912 he appointed Josephus Daniels, the editor and publisher of the Raleigh News-Observer, Secretary of the Navy. A dedicated Democrat, Daniels had previously served in the Interior Department under Grover Cleveland. After assuming his Naval duties, he chose a tall, lanky New York patrician as his first assistant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "The End of Innocence" is meant to be an account of the relationship of these two men as interpreted by Daniels' son, Jonathon, an eyewitness to many of the events of the era and later an editor of the News-Observer himself. In addition to his own personal recollections, the younger Daniels gleaned material from the diaries and journals of prominent figures from that era and even the local scandal sheet, Town Topics.

Fortunately, "The End of Innocence" is much more than the story of the two public figures and their connection. It is a vivid portrait of Washington society, a national but still provincial capital with a permanent population of wealthy, influential residents surrounded by transient officeseekers and lobbyists, all concerned with the maintenance and acquisition of wealth and prestige through proximity to government. His chatty gossip gives us an inside look at not only important figures like William Jennings Bryan, Henry Adams, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson himself, but also lesser known and remembered personalities like Wilson's closest advisor, Colonel House, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the amazing Col. Charles L. McCawley and his wife and many others.

Josephus Daniels had a blustery cruise as Secretary of the Navy. A committed prohibitionist, alchohol was banned on ships during his tenure. In charge of the expansion and moderization of the fleet, his ideas of nationalizing shipyards and insulating sailors from immoral influences met with fierce opposition. Eventually his ambitious second became the vice-presidential candidate to James M. Cox on the Democratic ticket in the 1920. Their loss meant that Daniels temporarily returned to his editor's chair in North Carolina. When FDR won the Presidency Daniels was made the ambassador to Mexico.

"The End of Innocence" doesn't tell us much about how government is supposed to function or if it even does. But it tells us a lot about people, the people that make up the political class and how they function. It's not altogether a flattering tale but it's very entertaining.

"The End of Innocence", Jonathon Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1954.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bad News for the Welfare State

The Nov.-Dec. issue of Foreign Affairs, a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, contains the article "American Profligacy and American Power: The Consequences of Fiscal Irresponsibility" by Richard Haas and Roger Altman, two very high-powered establishment guys. It's worth your time to pedal down to the local library and read this essay rather than put down $12.95+tax at Barnes & Noble for the whole magazine. However, if the tires on your bike are flat, I can give you a synopsis of what they're trying to get across. It's over. The US congressional strategy of purchasing votes with the future production of the country has resulted in a state rapidly descending into irreversible financial disaster. US commitments to virtually unlimited defence spending and geometrically expanding entitlement programs financed by treasury bonds are unsustainable. The country is rapidly approaching a situation where a huge percentage of the GDP will be required just pay the interest on these bonds. It is inevitable that government services will be curtailed and that taxes will be increased. This isn't the raving of a radio talk show host. The first is the president of the CFR and a Phd. from Oxford and the second is a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, an adviser to presidents and presidential candidates, and a fixture in the world of finance and its academic auxiliaries. So what does that mean for you and me?

First of all, the celebrated US standard of living is going to take a slide. We are seeing evidence of this already. Discretionary spending will shrink in predictable ways. Luxury items like sophisticated fishing boats, high-buck motorcycles, expensive furniture, etc. will no longer be options for middle class consumers. Home buyers will be forced to look at smaller houses. Food choices for many will be less exotic.

Second, and most important, the relatively new social safety net will be re-configured because there will be no money to pay for it. It's always seemed strange that while the state could require that parents are responsible for their children, there's never been a push by the government to make these children responsible for the later welfare of their parents. You could say that the parents SHOULD HAVE made provisions for their declining years and if they did so, great. But if they didn't, why does society as a whole assume that responsibility? Sure, social security was supposed to provide some help in that line but the payroll deductions have been dwarfed by the escalating benefits and inflation. Realistically, those deductions were just another tax, they've been poured into the general tax receipts. There won't be any security provided by social security.

Defined benefit public employee pension plans, the black hole that states like California, Illinois and New York stare into now along with many profligate municipalities, will become a thing of the past. And those states and communities faced with the impossible task of guaranteeing these pensions will need some creative thinking to escape their financial responsibility. Escape they must, as dunning the general population into penury to accomodate retired firemen and cops will open the gates to political demagoguery unique in our history.

The US operates under a paradigm of education borrowed from 19th century Germany and relatively unchanged since that time. The educational bureaucracy, from the small local level to the federal pinnacle, exists not to further student knowledge but to perpetuate itself and produce docile citizens with prescribed beliefs. The country can no longer afford an expensive but ineffective system that half-heartedly embraces technological advances that should make it cheaper and better.

How long will the population be able to afford a law enforcement, judicial and penal structure that dominates society? The "war on drugs" for instance, devours tax payer funds in a losing battle with black market entrepeneurs that supply a product to willing customers while encouraging disregard of important laws throughout society. Can we really afford to spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate those convicted of supplying common vegetable matter to happy consumers?

The US military establishment, larger than that of the rest of the entire world, must be shrunk dramatically. The 2011 US Navy budget request is for $160.6 billion.

"The FY 2011 budget supports a deployable battle force of 284 ships including 11 aircraft carriers and 29 large amphibious ships. It also reflects a shift to support irregular warfare and includes funds for the littoral combat ship (LCS), expeditionary E/A-18G aircraft supporting national electronic warfare requirements, P-8 Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance aircraft supporting increased emphasis on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles."

No other country has more than one carrier. The US has over seven hundred overseas bases. Those in Afghanistan and Iraq are often in the news but we hear less about installations in Bulgaria, Italy, Serbia, Israel, and Greece. In the very near future American military presence will be reduced both at home and overseas, purely for financial reasons. The concept that the US should be an increasingly ineffective policeman for the world will no longer be valid, if indeed it ever was. Other countries, especially the Europeans, will be forced to finance their own military protection in reduced form or forego it entirely.

The days of federally-financed earmark projects, the John J. Murtha Airport in Pennsylvania, anything in West Virginia with Robert Byrd's name on it and obscenely expensive rail and highway projects are numbered, even as "stimulus" efforts.

In the decades to come, the gigantic statist experiment will fail. And that's a good thing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tool or Weapon? Who Cares?

The New York Times brings up a topic of marginal interest to many but of great importance to us 19th century fellas. I really can't remember ever leaving the house without a knife, even as a youngster. In fact, a jack knife was a common Christmas present or birthday gift for a boy when and where I grew up. A quality knife was a prized possession and the ability to keep one razor sharp was a talent envied by those who never acquired it. Try butchering a moose with a bad knife. Or doing a good job of sharpening a pencil.

The knife was probably the second tool developed by man, after a primitive stone bludgeon or handle-less hammer. It's only logical that the first knives were chipped from flint many thousands of years ago, before even arrow heads or spear points. Through the centuries improvements in metallurgy were generally initially put to use in edged weapons and tools. Swords evolved over time from the short broad swords of the Greek phalanx to French epees to cavalry sabers. Every advanced culture around the world developed some form of edged weapon. When the victorious continental rebels decided to augment their new constitution with a Bill of Rights, they didn't specify in the second amendment that the right to keep and bear arms was limited to FIREARMS. Firearms in that era were expensive, fragile, unreliable luxuries while edged weapons were arms that were common and available to everyone. Restricting their possession or use would have been considered nonsense then and until the post-war emergence of the nanny state and the spineless acquiescence of the citizenry to futile government efforts to create a risk-free society. Put out that cigarette. Buckle your seat belt.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cutting the Deficit

The Washington Post today advises us that our president has proposed a two-year wage freeze on the nearly 2 million strong federal work force. Of course, it's only a proposal. Action by the Congress would be required to implement such a policy. Estimates indicate that roughly $5 billion each year would be saved so the amount is a miniature segment of the vast federal budget. One federal worker gave her opinion of the idea:

"You could always count on your increase," said Danielle Swain of Manassas, an analyst for the foreign export service of the Agriculture Department who is nervous about the cut to her commuter-rail subsidy. "If you don't get a bonus, this is all you get. They're picking on the government because they assume we sit around and don't do anything. Well, it's not true."

There's no doubt that Ms. Swain is exhausted every evening when she's finished her analyst duties at the USDA, wobbled home on the commuter rail and lurched into her kitchen to prepare a bowl of gruel. But that's not the point. The real issue is the role of the federal government in providing a "foreign export service" through the USDA. Presumably, this office of the agency assists US farmers and agribusiness in exporting their products. Why should that be a function of the federal government at all? If exports are an important part of the agricultural complex, as they obviously are, wouldn't it be in the interest of farmers and agribusiness to set up their own organization and hire their own Danielle Swains to promote US agricultural exports? Why should a person in another line of work, a circus clown, for instance, be expected, through his tax payments, to subsidize the marketing efforts of pickle purveyors and pumpkin producers?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Thanksgiving Thought from "The Unbroken Window"

The Thanksgiving Gift

Nov 25th, 2010 by wintercow20

I wrote this for Thanksgiving last year. Didn’t get around to a new article for this year, but I hope you can enjoy this “reprint.”

Four centuries after the celebration of the first Thanksgiving, there is still widespread disagreement about the reason for the Pilgrims’ feast. But whether it was a harvest festival, a strictly religious observance, or a thank you to the local Wampanoag Indians, such a feast would not even have been possible were it not for the abandonment of the utopian ideas the Pilgrims laid out in the original Mayflower Compact.

Imagine a world where the earnings you generate from teaching, or nursing, or tending your orchard, from working the cash register, or mowing some lawns – all of the fruits of your efforts went into a common pool. Imagine further that each of your friends and neighbors, and every stranger in Monroe County was entitled to an equal share of what was placed into the kitty. It didn’t matter whether you mowed 20 lawns per day or one, whether you treated 30 patients per day or none, whether you taught 50 students per day or none – you received the same “income” as everyone else in the community. Imagine further that your home was owned in common by all in your community and that rearing your neighbor’s children was as much your responsibility as anyone else’s.

Such was the intention of the Compact – by eliminating any semblance of private property and personal accountability, which were declared to be the foundation for avarice and selfishness – prosperity and brotherly love would result. How did it work out?

You need only look at the cleanliness of your office fridge or the condition of a public bathroom for a glimpse into the horrors of such collectivism. People suffered, starved and perished. Governor Bradford wrote in his diary, “For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense … that was thought injustice.”

Most shocking perhaps is that this injustice generated penury, jealousy and sloth in a society comprised entirely of (self-professed) holy people, each with a common cause, each from a similar background, and in a community with less than 200 settlers. The lessons for a society comprised of people of varying degrees of “saintliness”, with differing interests and backgrounds, and hundreds of millions in size should be obvious.

Confronting the disaster of collectivism, Plymouth’s elders wisely “resorted” to a system of private property and free exchange. Bradford wrote of the reforms, “… it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression…By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the faces of things were changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

I doubt many Pilgrims themselves properly understood the nature of their original problem, nor its solution – which is why I doubt that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of liberty and private property. While they might have thanked Providence and luck for the bounties that followed the change in property institutions in 1623, it was only their industry, thrift and discipline in response to the formation of private property institutions that such a feast was even possible.

Fast forward to 2008, where the most productive among us are made to feel like criminals, and the non-productive (those who are able) are portrayed as innocent victims of a tyrannical system of capitalism. That Thanksgiving is a “national” holiday is ironic – for it is was a celebration enabled by an explicit movement away from “nationalistic” ideals – a celebration made possible by the unleashing of the individual productive efforts of all in the Plymouth colony.

I am blessed to have a healthy family, the ability to have completed my formal education, and the discipline to work hard with the lot I was given in life. Providence and luck has been kind to me. I give thanks to that every single day of my life. But on this day, this 385th renewal of Thanksgiving Day, as many in our nation clamor to gallop anew down a 21st century style collectivist path (health care for everyone, financial bailouts, auto bailouts, fairer taxes, public schools, managed trade, green-collar subsidies, farm subsidies, licensing restrictions, “living wages” and more) littered with the tragedies of hundreds of failed experiments before us, let us remember what made the first Thanksgiving possible, and what has made our modern prosperity possible.

The productive efforts of billions of individuals past and present who unknowingly cooperate each and every day in an effort to improve their own lots, have bestowed upon us a gift even greater than the yams, apples, turkeys, wheat, and other resources that we were naturally endowed with. Just how large a gift have they given to each of us? Imagine yourself alone in the New England wilderness on a cold and wet November day 500 years ago. The difference between the “fire roasted” yam you might conjure up with days of immiserating work in 1508 and the majestic spread set out before you today in 2008 is but a glimpse of the bounty that liberty and property have bestowed upon us. Let us hope that the light of liberty remains lit, so that we may see our way through harsh and brutal winters that might lie ahead.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

That Obscure Object of Desire

The last film directed by Luis Bunuel, "That Obscure Object of Desire", was released in 1977, the same year as David Lynch's first film, "Eraserhead". There can't be any doubt that Bunuel's picture had a major influence on the ideas of Lynch.

TOOD is the story of Mathieu, played by Bunuel regular Fernando Rey, an affluent widower, and his tortured relationship with a younger girl, as related by him during a Canterbury Tales-like train trip across Spain and France. He explains to the odd assortment of travellers sharing his compartment why he poured a bucket of water over the girl's head as she attempted to join him on the train. We see their initial meeting after she has been hired as his new chambermaid and their subsequent difficulties. The most notable aspect of this film is that the role of the girl, Conchita, is played by two different actresses with dissimilar appearances and temperaments, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. The two exchange places in adjacent scenes and even in the same scene, but Mateo doesn't seem to notice the difference. Set in the late 1960's, there is a backdrop of urban terrorism running through the movie, car bombs and armed robberies are frequent occurrences. The contrast between the lavish surroundings and lifestyle of the wealthy businessman Mathieu and the impoverished squalor of Conchita is tempered by curious incidents such as a mouse being caught in a trap in Mathieu's study and a fly landing in his water glass in an exclusive restaurant. A burlap bag carried by Mathieu at occasional moments is never explained.

The focus of the film is Mathieu's lustful obsession for Conchita, which she foils at every turn. But there is much more to the story than that. TOOD is an enjoyable and engrossing romp with a cinematic master. Professional bullriding score: 93

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Re-cycling a Strategy

Perhaps they deserve credit for tenacity, even though their premise is doubtful and their tactics are loathsome. It appears that it will take the sight of a mile-high glacier sliding down the Hudson River and wiping out Yonkers before the climate alarmists will turn their disaster scenario in a different direction. This from the NYT:

"The treaty, the Montreal Protocol, was adopted in 1987 for a completely different purpose, to eliminate aerosols and other chemicals that were blowing a hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

But as the signers of the protocol convened the 22nd annual meeting in Bangkok on Monday, negotiators are considering a proposed expansion in the ozone treaty to phase out the production and use of the industrial chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs The chemicals have thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

HFCs are used as refrigerants in air-conditioners and cooling systems. They are manufactured mostly in China and India, but appliances containing the substance are in use in every corner of the world. HFCs replaced even more dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals known as HCFCs, themselves a substitute for the chlorofluorocarbons that were the first big target of the Montreal process.

“Eliminating HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the single biggest chunk of climate protection we can get in the next few years,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a nongovernment organization based in Washington. He noted that the ozone protection effort had begun under former President Ronald Reagan and continues to enjoy bipartisan support.

The United States has thrown its support behind the proposal and negotiators said there was a strong current of support for the move at the meeting on Monday. All the signatories to the Montreal Protocol would have to agree to the expansion, but no further approval from Congress would be needed. So far, there has been no Congressional or industry opposition to the idea.

But the plan is not expected to be adopted this year. Large developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, object that the timetable is too rapid and that payments for eliminating the refrigerant are not high enough.

One advantage to using the Montreal protocol as a vehicle, supporters say, is that negotiations over the treaty have been utterly unlike the contentious United Nations climate talks that foundered in Copenhagen last year. Negotiators say that without legislative action on curbing greenhouse gases by the United States, little progress will be made when countries gather in CancĂșn, Mexico, late this month for another round of climate talks.

In a post-election news conference, President Obama noted that it was doubtful that Congress would do anything to address global warming “this year or next year or the year after.”

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal treaty has been signed by all nations. They conduct their business with little drama and with broad scientific and technical input from governments and industry. The financing mechanisms, while occasionally contentious, are generally quickly resolved and seen as equitable.

The ozone treaty was unanimously ratified in 1988 by the United States Senate, which a decade later unanimously voted against adopting the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change. Montreal’s pollution reduction targets are mandatory, universally accepted and readily measurable. None of that is true of the climate process.

The Montreal Protocol has phased out nearly 97 percent of 100 ozone-depleting chemicals, some of which are also potent climate-altering gases. The net effect has been the elimination of the equivalent of more than 200 billion metric tons of global-warming gases, five years’ worth of total global emissions, far more than has been accomplished by the Kyoto process.

It has been, according to the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, “perhaps the most successful international agreement to date.”

The proposal to eliminate HFCs was advanced several years ago by the tiny island nation of Micronesia, one of the places on Earth most vulnerable to sea-level rise and other global warming effects.

The United States quickly signed on. Along with Mexico and Canada, the Obama administration has proposed a rapid series of steps to reduce HFC production, with rich countries meeting a faster timetable than developing nations and helping to pay the poorer countries to find substitutes. But the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that adopting the HFC proposal could eliminate the equivalent of 88 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, and slow global warming by a decade.

Daniel A. Reifsnyder, the deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and the nation’s chief Montreal Protocol negotiator, said that it might take several years to persuade the ozone treaty countries to back the plan.

In addition to pace and cost issues, some countries say that HFCs have little impact on the ozone layer and thus should be handled under the United Nations climate change talks. Mr. Reifsnyder dismissed that as a legalistic argument and said that the ozone treaty could and should be used to achieve broader environmental objectives.

“What we’ve found is that the Montreal Protocol has been a very effective instrument for addressing global environmental problems,” Mr. Reifsnyder said in an interview. “It was created to deal with the ozone layer, but it also has tremendous ability to solve the climate problem if people are willing to use it that way.”

Mario Molina, the Mexican scientist who shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking work in identifying the role of chlorofluorocarbon gases in the breach of the stratospheric ozone layer, said that it might take two or three years for other countries to see the virtues of the HFC reduction.

“My hope is that everybody will agree with this proposal from the United States and Mexico and a few other countries because the Montreal Protocol has been so successful at controlling these industrial chemicals,” he said in an interview from his institute in Mexico City.

Dr. Molina said that extending the protocol to include HFCs could reduce the threat of climate change by several times what the Kyoto Protocol proposes. He noted that the climate treaty had fallen far short of its goals, and that there was no agreement on what should replace it when its major provisions expired in 2012.

“We understand it’s a stretch to use an international agreement designed for another purpose,” he said. “But dealing with these chemicals and using this treaty to protect the planet makes a lot of sense.”

In 1973 Sherwood Rowland, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, and a graduate student there, Mario Molina, were studying atmospheric aerosols. At that time geophysical research seemed to indicate that there were annual fluctuations in the stratospheric ozone content over the poles, especially over the Antarctic. The media became obsessed with the possible ramifications of this, a supposed increase in ultra-violet radiation reaching the earth's surface that would cause increases in skin cancer and blindness in humans and animals. Television news stories gave ultimately fictional accounts of blind sheep wandering around in Patagonia and Chilean children unable to attend school due to poisonous sunlight. At just this moment, Molina ran a computer simulation of what would occur if molecules of popular and effective refrigerants, HCFCs, compounds of chlorine, were to enter the atmosphere, as they invariably would, due to leaks in refrigeration equipment. Aside from the fact that the chloroflourocarbon molecules are much heavier than air, Molina's experiment indicated that over time they would migrate to the highest reaches of the atmosphere where ultraviolet rays would break these incredibly stable molecules down, releasing chlorine atoms that would unite with the O1 ozone atoms and allow ultra-violet rays to penetrate to the earth. There was never any physical evidence that this process was actually taking place and none has been found to this day.
Nevertheless, portions of the scientific community and the media embraced the theory. Much like climate change today, opinions were polarized. However, the businesses most affected by proposed bans on HCFCs, the refrigeration and air conditioning industry, chemicals, building materials and aerosol cans didn't put up much of a fight. They saw opportunities to increase profits with newer, more expensive products and more expensive service techniques and were happy to consign R-12, R-502, and, eventually R-22, to the scrap heap. The Montreal Protocol forbids the use of these products in industrialized nations but they are still legal in the developing world. Keep in mind that all the HCFCs ever produced, and being produced to this day, will eventually end up in the atmosphere. While a certain proportion of them are recycled for further use, even that quantity will eventually escape. These compounds are not broken down into some other substance.
One would expect, if the Rowland-Molina theory had any validity, that after the adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, there would be a continuing fall in polar ozone levels for an extended period of time followed by a slow rise. This has not happened. And, as soon as the signatures on the paperwork had been signed, the media and parts of the scientific community moved on to something else, climate change. We haven't heard about the ozone hole in years. Researchers with an ideological and financial interest in climate change hoped that a direct assault on what remains of free market civilization would find success with visions of world-wide calamity. Not enough people fell for it. The antidote was just too extreme. The Montreal Protocol, the most expensive and needless attempt to shape human life on a world-wide basis ever attempted, had succeeded. But Kyoto had not. Thus they will attempt to change our lives on the basis of an international treaty restricting refrigerants.

Update: They haven't given up at all. Now it's the whales that are in trouble.

Sunburnt whales: Rising UV radiation could be damaging whales' skin

November 10th, 2010 in Biology / Plants & Animals
A  blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town  of Mirissa


A blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town of Mirissa. A closely-studied community of whales, including the threatened blue whale, showed worrying signs of sunburn, possibly because of ozone depletion in the atmosphere, biologists reported on Wednesday.

Whales exhibit skin damage consistent with acute sunburn in humans, and it seems to be getting worse over time, reveals research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Queen Mary, University of London and CICIMAR, studied blue , fin whales and in the Gulf of California to determine the effect of rising levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) on their health.

For a number of years scientists have observed blisters on the skin of whales. Now, using high-quality photos to give accurate counts of the blisters and analysing areas of damage in skin samples, this research has found that the three species of whale exhibit that is commonly associated with acute sunburn in humans.

Notably, the scientists also found that signs of sun damage were more severe in the paler-skinned blue whales, compared with the darker-skinned fin whales, and that in blue whales the symptoms of sunburn seem to be getting worse during the three years the study took place.

The UV index for the Gulf of California fluctuates between high and extremely high throughout the year. Lead author, Laura Martinez–Levasseur from ZSL and Queen Mary, says, "Whales need to come to the surface to breathe air, to socialise and to feed their young, meaning that they are frequently exposed to the full force of the sun.

"The increase in skin damage seen in is a matter of concern, but at this stage it is not clear what is causing this increase. A likely candidate is rising UVR as a result of either ozone depletion, or a change in the level of cloud cover."

Co-author Professor Edel O'Toole, from Queen Mary, says, "As we would expect to see in humans, the whale species that spent more 'time in the sun' suffered greater sun damage. We predict that whales will experience more severe sun damage if continues to increase."

The next phase of the research will look at the expression of genes involved in the production of skin pigmentation and DNA damage repair and try to gain a greater understanding of the consequences of sun damage in whales.

Lead author Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, from ZSL says, "We have shown that exposure to strong sun is damaging to whales' skin. We now need to understand the knock-on effects and whether whales are able to respond quickly to increasing radiation by enhancing their natural sun-protection mechanisms."

More information: The paper 'Acute sun damage and photoprotective responses in whales' ( DOI:10.1098/rspb.20101903 ) will be published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday 10 November.

Provided by Zoological Society of London

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bison and Bureaucracy

There are two ecotypes of bison in North America, the plains bison that roamed the inter-mountain area of the continent in millions before European settlement, or bison bison, and the wood buffalo, bison athapascae, a larger animal with some differing features, whose range has shrunk from a large swath of present-day Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta to a small area of northern Alberta. These animals are not different species, they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. The average person could not distinguish one from another. Beginning in 1957, when the wood buffalo were recognized as such, the Canadian government has made an effort to increase their numbers and provide a buffer between these wild animals and the pressure of surrounding agricultural interests.

The American bison of the great plains, whose migrations by the many thousands once extended from the Llano Estacado of western Texas to northern Saskatchewan, are familiar to everyone, found in reduced numbers in the wild and semi-domesticated on ranches and in images ranging from one side of a nickel coin to the mascot of the University of Colorado athletic teams. Buffalo meat is available at many supermarkets. The state of Alaska has established three different bison herds in locations in the central part of the state that are apparently thriving. A percentage of the herds are thinned by sport hunting each year.

Now comes this piece of news:

State ready to release wood bison, waiting on federal protection
by Tim Mowry /
FAIRBANKS — The state Department of Fish and Game says it is ready to release at least 40 wood bison on the lower Innoko River country in the western Interior and is just waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create protection from the Endangered Species Act for future resource development.

“There’s nothing else that can hold us back at this point,” wildlife planner Randy Rogers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks said this week.

The ADF&G announced a target release date of spring 2012, but that hinges on the federal government creating a special rule that will designate wood bison in Alaska as a “nonessential experimental population” under section 10j of the Endangered Species Act.

“I’m optimistic,” the state’s endangered species coordinator, Doug Vincent-Lang, said on Friday. “That’s not to say there won’t be surprise here and there but I’m confident once we get the nonessential population rule put in place and get the allowed take we would like to have associated with that rule put in place that we will be able to go ahead with the release.”

The state has been holding wood bison it imported from Canada in captivity for more than two years in anticipation of restoring the animals to Alaska, where it’s believed they roamed hundreds of years ago. The state has a herd of 89 wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood south of Anchorage.

“We cannot maintain this captive herd of bison indefinitely,” Rogers said.

It’s costing the state about $100,000 per year to house, feed and care for the bison, the state’s wood bison biologist, Bob Stephenson at ADF&G in Fairbanks, said.

Waiting on feds

The animals have been tested for diseases such as tuberculosis and brucellosis three times and have been given a clean bill of health by state veterinarians, Rogers said. All that remains is coming up with a management plan that addresses the future harvest of wood bison in Alaska and the regulations to deal with the Endangered Species Act.

Officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service say they are still reviewing the special rule that would designate wood bison as a nonessential population and pave the way for their release in Alaska.

“The law says you have to have a rule in place before you can release these animals,” Stephenson said.

Once the regional office in Alaska comes up with a draft rule, it must be sent to the national office in Washington, D.C. for final approval before it is published in the Federal Register, said Steve Klosiewski, deputy regional manager for the USFWS in Anchorage.

“It’s easy for us to do our work here, but the Washington office has all these various Endangered Species Act rules they have to deal with,” Klosiewski said.

Once the proposed rule is written, it must be published in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period, after which it could be amended before it is finalized.

“Assuming the endangered species regulations come out the way we proposed them, we should be OK to do the release in the Innoko,” Rogers said. “It’s not 100 percent guaranteed by any means. There’s still a lot of things that have to fall in place.”

The state has met several times with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Alaska and Vincent-Lang said the two agencies “fundamentally came into agreement on what the (10j) rule should look like.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has told the state it hopes to have the final rule in place by the end of July.

“We’re working with the state to help them meet their timeline,” Klosiewski said.

Release plans

The department recently received a $152,350 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society for the restoration effort. The department will use the money to help develop a cooperative management plan, set up a temporary corral and move hay and supplies to the release site, and transport bison to the site.

The state settled on the lower Innoko River area, which is about 400 miles southwest of Fairbanks, after efforts to release the animals in the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats were met with resistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Yukon Flats) and Fairbanks Native corporation Doyon Ltd. (Minto Flats).

“That’s the way things lined up politically,” Rogers said of why the lower Innoko River was chosen as a release site.

The department’s plan calls for releasing a minimum of 40 bison. More animals could be released depending on what the prospects are for releasing animals in the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats by then, Rogers said.

“If we think we can release bison in the other sites in a two- to four-year time frame we will hold some back,” he said. “If we’re uncertain whether we’re going to be able to proceed in the other areas, we’re going to have to take more out to the Innoko so we don’t end up with crowding at the AWCC.”

While the wood bison habitat in the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats is considered better than the lower Innoko River, there is ample habitat to support a herd of at least 400 animals, according to department studies.

Doyon, which opposed the Minto Flats as a potential release site because the corporation is actively drilling for natural gas in the region, owns several hundred thousand acres in the lower Innoko River area, too, but Jim Mery, the corporation’s vice president for lands, said Doyon does not have any pending oil, gas or mineral exploration projects in the area and releasing animals there “is something we can live with.” Doyon has some done some mineral exploration in the area, primarily for gold, but not in the last five or six years, Mery said.

“The lower Innoko country would be fine with us assuming the communities want the animals down there,” he said.

Residents in local communities have been very supportive of releasing wood bison in the area, Rogers said.

The department’s tentative plan is to fly the bison to an airstrip near Shageluk, a village on the Innoko River, in March 2012. They will be held in a temporary corral and fed for about a month before being released just prior to greenup and calving. Stephenson referred to it as a “soft release.”

“The idea behind that is so they don’t just start walking when they are released,” he said. “If you hold them quietly in a new area for awhile and release them when good, green forage is not far away and they’re about to calve, then they’re kind of stuck.”

Still wild

Even after being kept in a captive environment for what will be almost four years by the time they are released, Stephenson said the bison shouldn’t have any problems adjusting to life in the wild.

“Bison are hardwired,” the biologist said. “You’d have to select them genetically for generations to change them into something more like cattle.”

Even in their captive setting at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the bison display wild behavior. Competition for feed is intense and fights between the bison are not uncommon. Eleven bison have died in the last year and a half, Rogers said. Once an animal is injured in a fight, other bison “gang up on” the weakened animal and kill it, he said.

“Overall this is a pretty natural occurrence within a bison herd,” Rogers said. “We’ve tried to get necropsies (animal autopsies) of all of these mortalities. Several have shown there have been some wounds that only can be goring from other bison. Sometimes some of the dominant bulls are pushing younger animals away and getting mean at times.”

Most of the deaths have involved young bison, he said.

The breeding season recently concluded and the department is hopeful of having a crop of about 30 new calves next spring, Roger said.

Currently there are about 10,000 wood bison in the wild in Canada and another 4,000 disease-free animals being held in captivity in Canada.

What can be the possible impetus for all this activity? Is there some group of citizens lobbying for an expanded population of wood buffalo? Four thousand miles away from the permanently frozen ground of the lower Innoko River, the Wildlife Conservation Society, an expansion of the New York Zoological Society and proprietor of the Bronx Zoo, among others, was instrumental in the recovery of the plains bison in the early years of the 20th century. They have now provided financing for the initial stages of this project. However, they are not paying all the bills. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State of Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game are now heavily invested in it. We're talking large amounts of public money. Wildlife planner Randy Rogers, endangered species coordinator Doug Vincent-Lang and wood bison biologist Bob Stephenson are all full-time employees of the state of Alaska. Their very livelihoods are dependent on just this sort of undertaking. As are those of their federal counterparts in the regulatory maze that the unwitting bison must navigate along with their human advocates. The entire boondoggle is a monument to the state gone mad. From the feel-good thinking of some environmental faddists ensconced in the most densely populated city in the country, a project has been adopted by public bureaucrats that can never be arrested, that will furnish them with a lifetime income and retirement benefits, and whose accomplishments can never be measured in terms of return on investment or anything else. In fact, chances are nobody but the bureaucrats involved and a few interested locals will ever lay eyes on these animals, helpless pawns in a bizarre game played out across an immense continent and nearly as large a bureaucratic landscape.

This is not the only example of government bureaucrats hitching their wagons to an animal star. The re-introduction of the Mexican gray wolf to eastern Arizona and western New Mexico has followed a similar path, from the bright idea of a retired Honeywell employee in Phoenix to nearly open warfare on the range land of the White Mountains over cattle depredations by transplanted wolves wearing blaze orange radio collars.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Grover Cleveland

Having no concept that somehow there has been a world, and a USA, before the present moment, modern politicians of every stripe, and in particular Democrats, are loathe to resurrect or even mention the ideas of their predecessors. Legendary figures like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are honored by a kind of Hellenistic deification divorced from their actual policies. The 22nd and also 24th President, the first Democrat to hold that office after the Civil War, and perhaps the American President most admirable for his own personal qualities, Grover Cleveland has astonishingly been ignored and forgotten by a party that has repudiated almost everything for which he stood.

Cleveland's ascent to the White House in 1885 began with his being elected as sheriff of Erie County, New York, in 1871, mayor of Buffalo in 1882, and governor of New York in that same year. Then, as now, Democrats were a far from unified party. Cleveland, a strict interpreter of the US Constitution and an advocate for the free market, became the nucleus of the "Bourbon" branch of the Democrats. This wing of the party was anti-imperialist, anti-tariff and pro-business; advocates of the gold standard and civil service reform and opponents of municipal corruption and government subsidies. These positions put them at odds with urban organizations like the "Tweed Ring" in New York City and with some populists, notably William Jennings Bryan. Throughout his political career Cleveland fought to limit the expansion of the federal government, keep its budget within bounds, and restrict the tax obligation of the citizenry. During much of his administration, the federal government ran a budget surplus, which he felt indicated that taxes, at that time mostly tariffs, should be lowered as much as possible.

President from 1885-1888, he lost the following election to Benjamin Harrison despite winning the national popular vote but came back to win again in 1892, the only chief executive to serve non-consecutive terms. He was the first and only president to be married in the White House.

Cleveland was also one of the best extemporaneous speakers to ever hold the nation's highest office. Here is a transcript of an interview he gave to the Daily Continent, New York, April 12, 1891:

"I believe a large majority of reporters are decent and honorable men, who would prefer to do clean and respectable work. Of course there are some among them who are mentally and morally cracked, and who never ought to be trusted to report for the public anything they claim to have seen or heard. Eliminate these, and I do not think any of the remainder would deliberately indulge in downright barefaced falsehood; but there is something connected with their work that they appear to think is necessary to its complete finish, which, for want of a better word, may be called embellishing. This proceeds so far, sometimes, that, almost unknown to himself, the reporter falls into mischievous and exasperating falsehood--sometimes lacking the intent to annoy and injure and sometimes not. There ought to be much less of this. The reporter who sends in these extravagant embellishments can never know when they may constitute the most outrageous injury to the feelings of the innocent and defenseless.
But, as a general rule, the responsibility for all that is objectionable in the reportorial occupation should be laid at the doors of the managers and owners of newspapers. If they wanted fair and truthful reports, they would be furnished them with more alacrity than they are now supplied with the trash so often demanded as a test of the reporter's skill and ability.
Good, clean journalism and a proper sense of newspaper responsibility , prevailing at headquarters, would so raise the standard of the duties of those remaining that they would not only be gladly welcomed by all who have information interesting to the public to impart, but would be received, without the suspicion of intrusion, at any place where legitimate news would be collected."

In 1885, President Cleveland wrote this letter to someone who inquired as to the possibility of a position in his administration:

"My Dear Young Friend:

I cannot attempt to answer all the letters addressed to me by those, both old and young, who ask for places. But, if you are the boy I think you are, your letter is based upon a claim to help your mother and others who are partly dependent upon your exertions. I judge from what you write that you now have a situation in a reputable business house. I cannot urge you too strongly to give up all idea of employment in a public office, and to determine to win advancement and promotion where you are.
There are no persons so forlorn and so much to be pitied as those who have learned, in early life, to look to public positions for a livelihood. It unfits a man or boy for any other business, and is apt to make a kind of respectable vagrant of him. If you do well in other occupations, and thus become valuable to the people, they will find you out when they want a good man for public service.
You may be sure that I am, as you say, the friend of every boy willing to help himself; but my experience teaches me that I cannot do you a better service than to advise you not to join the great army of office-seekers.
I never sought an office of any kind in my life; and, if you live and follow my advice, I am certain that you will thank me for it some day.

Yours truly,

Grover Cleveland"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arthur Penn Moves On

Motion picture and stage director Arthur Penn has died in NY a day after his 88th birthday. Penn came to national prominence with the release of "Bonnie & Clyde" in 1967. The movie's radical departure from typical Hollywood fare in its embrace of romanticized social misfits and stylized graphic violence struck gold in the anti-establishment youth consciousness of the late '60s and set the pattern for a generation of films in a similar vein; "The Wild Bunch", "Taxi Driver", "Apocalypse Now", "A Clockwork Orange", "The Godfather" and "Dirty Harry" among others. Their success was the death knell for the previous era of pictures and the people that made them. Super stars like Doris Day, Charlton Heston, Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra, along with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Blake Edwards and Douglas Sirk no longer satisfied audiences that had acquired a cynical worldview. Many of the mainstays of older cinema drifted into television and a new group took their place in the movie industry. Penn was among the vanguard of this trend that included Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Sam Peckinpah, and others.
I was an extra on Penn's next big project, the screen adaptation of Thomas Berger's novel, "Little Big Man", starring Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Richard Mulligan and, once again, Faye Dunaway. The reminiscenses of 121 year old Jack Crabb, captured by the Indians as a child and raised among them, eyewitness and participant in the battles of the Washita River and Little Big Horn, friend of Wild Bill Hickock and acquaintance of Custer, are used as an allegory of the US presence in Southeast Asia. As a cavalryman, generally involved in battle scenes that were directed by Hal Needham, I was involved personally with Penn only occasionally. He seemed to be the kind of director that took a lot of shots, hoping that at least one would survive the editing process. While many of the cast and crew circulated about the set and engaged in the kind of social interactions you might expect in that kind of a situation, Penn himself didn't associate much with the proletariat of the cinema industry.
"Little Big Man" was a popular and critical success, more so than "Bonnie & Clyde", and while it wasn't the ground-breaking effort of its predecessor, it may better stand the test of time.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Art with Meaning

The American Swedish Institute, a fabulous castle, sits on the corner of 26th and Park in south Minneapolis, MN and, on the south wall of this unique building, is the "Visby Window". This stained glass window is copied from an oil painting by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist that memorializes an incident that occurred in 1361 in the small city of Visby, Gotha, Sweden. King Valdemar Atterdag and his Danish troops had surrounded the town. The king sits in the square on his throne with hogsheads before him that the citizens are filling with their portable wealth, coins, jewelry and gold and silver plate. Danish troops in the background wait for orders from the king to sack and fire the town. In the foreground the mayor and his wife and children cross the square in humiliation, sorrow and rage.

Valdemar inherited a kingdom that had been bankrupted by his father and previous Danish monarchs. Upon accession his goal was to pay off the kingdom's obligations and restore it to its former glory. One of his methods was to do just as he did with Visby. The threat of violence was used to extort wealth from its owners, to be used by the extortionist for his own purposes. Valdemar is, at that point, the effective government of Visby and the residents are in no position to resist his demands. No doubt later he sent his men from house to house to search for hidden assets and probably offered rewards for information on those assets that may have set one neighbor against another. The Visbyians saved wealth was now gone forever. Valdemar didn't have the option of investing his confiscations in common stock or mutual funds. What wasn't spent in soldiers' pay and armour was kept in a locked room and doled out to buy the things he couldn't steal.

This work of art encapsulates the relationship between the individual and the state. Valdemar is the state, an entity that requires no cooperation from the individual to rearrange or negate that individual's private property. In the ensuing 650 years it has become easier for the state to accomplish the same things. Armed government agents in the US enforce tax laws; confiscate cars, real estate and currency; arrest and incarcerate those that they determine to have failed to forfeit what the state demands. There's really no difference between Valdemar Atterdag demanding the silverware of a Visby fisherman and the US government demanding its share of a truck driver's paycheck.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lewis Thomas talks about Health Care circa 1976

The Health-Care System

The health-care system of this country is a staggering enterprise, in any sense of the adjective. Whatever the failures of distribution and lack of coordination, it is the gigantic scale and scope of the total collective effort that first catches the breath, and its cost. The dollar figures are almost beyond grasping. They vary from year to year, always upward, ranging from something like $10 billion in 1950 to an estimated $140 billion in 1978, with much more to come in the years just ahead, whenever a national health-insurance program is installed. The official guess is that we are now investing a round 8 percent of the GNP in health; it could soon rise to 10 or 12 percent.
Those are the official numbers, and only for the dollars that flow in an authorized way--for hospital charges, physician's fees, prescribed drugs, insurance premiums, the construction of facilities, research, and the like.
But these dollars are only part of it. Why limit the estimates to the strictly professional costs? There is another huge marketplace, in which vast sums are exchanged for items designed for the improvement of Health.
The television and radio industry, no small part of the national economy, feeds on Health, or, more precisely, on disease, for a large part of its sustenance. Not just the primarily medical dramas and the illness or surgical episodes threaded through many of the nonmedical stories, in which the central human dilemma is illness; almost all the commercial announcements, in an average evening, are pitches for items to restore failed health: things for stomach gas, constipation, headaches, nervousness, sleeplessness or sleepiness, arthritis, anemia, disquiet, and the despair of malodorousness, sweat, yellowed teeth, dandruff, furuncles, piles. The food industry plays the role of surrogate physician, advertising breakfast cereals as though they were tonics, vitamins, resoratives; they are now out-hawked by the specialized Health-food industry itself, with its nonpolluted, organic, "naturally" vitalizing products. Chewing gum is sold as a tooth cleanser. Vitamins have taken the place of prayer.
The publishing industry, hardcover, paperbacks, magazines, and all, seems to be kept alive by Health, new techniques for achieving mental health, cures for arthritis, and diets mostly for the improvement of everything.
The transformation of our environment has itself become an immense industry, costing rather more than the moon, in aid of Health. Pollution is supposed to be primarily a medical problem; when the television weatherman tells whether New York's air is "acceptable" or not that day, he is talking about human lungs, he believes. Pollutants which may be impairing photosynthesis by algae in the world's oceans, or destroying all the life in topsoil, or killing all the birds are being worried about lest they cause cancer in us, for heaven's sake.
Tennis has become more than the national sport; it is a rigorous discipline, a form of collective physiotherapy. Jogging is done by swarms of people, out onto the streets each day in underpants, moving in a stolid sort of rapid trudge, hoping by this to stay alive. Bicycles are cures. Meditation may be good for the soul but is even better for the blood pressure.
As a people, we have become obsessed with Health.
There is something fundamentally, radically unhealthy about all this. We do not seem to be seeking more exuberance in living as much as staving off failure, putting off dying. We have lost all confidence in the human body.
The new consensus is that we are badly designed, intrinsically fallible, vulnerable to a host of hostile influences inside and around us, and only precariously alive. We live in danger of falling apart any moment, and are therefore always in need of surveillance and propping up. Without the professional attention of a health-care system, we would fall in our tracks.
This is a new way of looking at things, and perhaps it can only be accounted for as a manifestation of spontaneous, undirected, societal propaganda. We keep telling each other this sort of thing, and back it comes on television or in the weekly newsmagazines, confirming all the fears, instructing us, as in the usual final paragraph of the personal-advice columns in the daily paper, to "seek professional help." Get a checkup. Go on a diet. Meditate. Jog. Have some surgery. Take two tablets, with water. Spring water. If pain persists, if anomie persists, if boredom persists, see your doctor.
It is extraordinary that we have just now become convinced of our bad health, our constant jeopardy of disease and death, at the very time when the facts should be telling us the opposite. In a more rational world, you'd think we would be staging bicentennial ceremonies for the celebration of our general good shape. In the year 1976, out of a population of around 220 million, only 1.9 million died, or just under 1 percent, not at all a discouraging record once you accept the fact of mortality itself. The life expectancy for the whole population rose to seventy-two years, the longest stretch ever achieved in this country. Despite the persisting roster of still-unsolved major diseases--cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and the rest--most of us have a clear, unimpeded run at a longer and healthier lifetime than could have been foreseen by any earlier generation. The illnesses that plague us the most, when you count up the numbers in the U.S. Vital Statistics reports, are respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, which are, by and large, transient, reversible affairs needing not much more than Grandmother's advice for getting through safely. Thanks in great part to the improved sanitary engineering, nutrition, and housing of the past century, and in real but less part to contemporary immunization and antibiotics, we are free of the great infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis and lobar pneumonia, which used to cut us down long before our time. We are even beginning to make progress in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the chronic illnesses still with us, and sooner or later, depending on the quality and energy of biomedical research, we will learn to cope effectively with most of these, maybe all. We will still age away and die, but the aging, and even the dying, can become a healthy process. On balance, we ought to be more pleased with ourselves than we are, and more optimistic for the future.
The trouble is, we are being taken by the propaganda, and it is bad not only for the spirit of society; it will make any health-care system, no matter how large and efficient, unworkable. If people are educated to believe that they are fundamentally fragile, always on the verge of mortal disease, perpetually in need of support by lealth-professionals at every side, always dependent on an imagined discipline of "preventive" medicine, there can be no limit to the numbers of doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals required to meet the demand. In the end, we would all become doctors, spending our days screening each other for disease.
We are, in real life, a reasonably healthy people. Far from being ineptly put together, we are amazingly tough, durable organisms, full of health, ready for most contingencies. The new danger to our well-being, if we continue to listen to all the talk, is in becoming a nation of healthy hypochondriacs, living gingerly, worrying ourselves half to death.
And we do not have time for this sort of thing anymore, nor can we afford such a distraction from our other, considerably more urgent problems. Indeed, we should be worrying that our preoccupation with personal health may be a symptom of copping out, an excuse for running upstairs to recline on a couch, sniffing the air for contaminants, spraying the room with deodorants, while just outside, the whole of society is coming undone.

Lewis Thomas, A Long Line of Cells, 1990

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spent One Whole Frigid Winter Here

Deep in Alaska's Interior, a deserted hot springs lodge fades into history
by Tom Moran/ For the News-Miner
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The steaming hot springs waterfall cascades down from the source  of Melozi  Hot Springs into Hot Springs Creek below. Jay Cable stands atop the  falls near the springs’ hot tub. Photos by Amy Marsh
The steaming hot springs waterfall cascades down from the source of Melozi Hot Springs into Hot Springs Creek below. Jay Cable stands atop the falls near the springs’ hot tub. Photos by Amy Marsh
A photo of the now-derelict indoor pool, taken from a Melozi Hot  Springs brochure. Photos by Amy Marsh
A photo of the now-derelict indoor pool, taken from a Melozi Hot Springs brochure. Photos by Amy Marsh
Tom Moran enjoys the hot tub at Melozi Hot Springs after a brief  rain shower. Photo by Amy Marsh
Tom Moran enjoys the hot tub at Melozi Hot Springs after a brief rain shower. Photo by Amy Marsh
Jay Cable pauses in front of the “Reindeer Cabin” at Melozi Hot  Springs. According to BLM records, the cabin was built almost a century  ago to accommodate servicemen stationed at Kokrines. Photo by Amy Marsh
Jay Cable pauses in front of the “Reindeer Cabin” at Melozi Hot Springs. According to BLM records, the cabin was built almost a century ago to accommodate servicemen stationed at Kokrines. Photo by Amy Marsh
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Time had stopped at Melozi Hot Springs.

In the resort’s handsome main lodge, we found bookshelves displaying copies of “People” and “Cosmopolitan” from the early 1980s. Disused fishing poles crouched in the foyer of the handsome log building, next to board games and frisbees that hadn’t known the touch of children in at least a decade and a half. Manila folders full of tax records and visitor inquiries from 1985 yellowed in file cabinets. Jars of spices and dry beans lined kitchen shelves, waiting to be served to guests who checked out for good in the last millennium. After 20-odd years as a working resort, Melozi Hot Springs had been given over to dust and echoes.

Hearing tales of the place, my friends Jay and Amy and I journeyed to Melozi in July to see it for ourselves. Reaching the resort — located about 30 miles northeast of the Yukon River village of Ruby — had once been a simple matter of landing a bush plane on the Melozi airstrip. But the strip today is washed-out, overgrown and unusable, so it took us a flight from Fairbanks to the village of Ruby, a 30-mile ferry up the Yukon River, and two days of hiking over the rainy, windswept spine of the Kokrines Hills before the resort came into view in the distance.

Long though it was, the trek was not without its rewards. Melozi’s appeal a s a bush getaway was apparent as soon as we spied its idyllic outdoor hot tub, perched on a bluff above Hot Springs Creek and affording sweeping views of the bald Kokrines peaks in the distance. More remarkable is where the hot water goes from there: it cascades down the 20-foot bluff in a scalding waterfall, emptying into the creek and fostering a muted rainbow of algal stalactites along the way.

Though isolated, Melozi is no secret. The roughly 130-degree springs were first found by Alaska Natives, and were later enjoyed by servicemen working a telegraph station in the now-deserted Yukon River village of Kokrines. In 1911 the Army built a two-room building at the springs, a sturdy log structure known as the “Reindeer Cabin” after reindeer herders who relaxed at the springs in later years.

The modern life of the resort began in 1966, when Leonard and Pat Veerhusen, a middle-aged couple living in Galena, took out a 20-year Bureau of Land Management lease on Melozi and moved in. A skilled carpenter, Len Veerhusen spent a decade fashioning a comfortable getaway out of a mosquito-ridden patch of spruce. He built the sizable main lodge, four guest cabins, the outdoor tub, and an indoor thermal pool, along with a garage, smokehouse and other maintenance buildings. Water from the springs supplied hot baths in some of the cabins and even a couple of flush toilets.

Veerhusen died in 1976, and the resort continued to operate under a series of owners and proprietors; according to BLM records, Melozi drew anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred guests each year and never turned much of a profit. In 1996, dissatisfied with the ownership group’s fulfillment of lease terms, the BLM let the lease run out and didn’t offer it for renewal. Since then Melozi has gone unused, quietly but definitively reverting to ghost town status.

What is startling about Melozi is how little the years have weighed upon it. Only a few buildings seem beyond repair: A huge hole has pierced one wall of the Reindeer Cabin, the garage is caving in, and the roof over the pool has collapsed. Otherwise, Veerhusen’s sturdy log construction has stood the test of time. Roofs are intact and strong shutters and thick walls have kept the bears out. Though there have clearly been multiple visitors in the days since the place shut down — we found evidence of a number of people passing through, including a large group from Switzerland that moved in for most of a month — Melozi’s isolated location has mostly saved it from vandalism and litter.

And it’s also largely kept souvenir hunters at bay. A mostly intact ATV still waits in a garage, an out-of-tune piano in the main lodge. Pots, pans, dishes and cutlery fill the kitchen. Ancient snowmachines, their engines stripped, fade into the forest.

More memorable are the lingering personal touches: in the Reindeer Cabin, guests’ business cards are pinned up, illuminated now by light streaming through the hole in the wall. Dozens of sketches of children are tacked inside a doorway. In the main lodge, a bulletin board exhibits fading snapshots: a man astride a cut log; two men examining a bush plane in the snow; a toddler naked save for cowboy boots. A couple of personal journals rested on the bookshelves; written by a former owner, they catapulted us back to 1981, when summer guests were a regular occurrence, meals included fresh vegetables from the on-site greenhouse, and the psychological toll of a lonely Melozi winter evoked shades of “The Shining.” The sense of piled-on years, of wild stories lost to memory, was palpable throughout, creating an atmosphere equal parts sad and inviting. Everything we touched was both a memento of the place’s livelier days and a reminder of its decay.

The three of us stayed in Melozi for two days, soaking endlessly below the hot waterfall and sitting in the outdoor tub until the heat overcame us. We wandered the weedy grounds, took photos of the buildings, poked through dusty shelves and boxes, and raised countless questions about the people who had come before us. In the old papers of the main cabin, we found some of our answers. What we could not know, though, was whether Len Veerhusen’s dream might ever live again.

Despite the tremendous hardships involved in operating a place like Melozi, the thought doesn’t seem impossible. The final ownership group (which disputes the BLM’s actions on the lease) maintains a claim on the physical property, while a list the BLM keeps of people interested in Melozi’s fate is 23 names long. The BLM field manager for the area says a new lease on Melozi would require someone willing to take stock of the place, to clean it up, and to somehow make it into a profitable proposition. So far no one has stepped up to the plate.

As we reluctantly loaded up our packrafts to depart, the future was on our minds: a three-day packraft float down Hot Springs Creek and the Melozitna and Yukon rivers to Ruby, the flight back to Fairbanks, the resumption of our lives. We left behind a spot that, for the time being and perhaps forever, is trapped inextricably in days gone by.

As the waterfall receded behind us, a quote came to mind, one I had seen on a business card pinned up in the Reindeer Cabin and which seemed to sum up the mixture of solemnity and exuberance that permeates Melozi Hot Springs.

“We live in the present,” reads the card, “And dream of the future. But we learn eternal truth."

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Deep in Alaska s Interior a deserted hot springs lodge fades into history

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dead Heat

We've had some primary elections and soon we'll have real elections. In the run-up to these elections we'll hear the results of little phony elections that candidates, parties and news organizations like to hold so they can pretend to predict the future. These phony elections are called polls and their results cause millions to be spent or withheld in individual races and provide endless fodder for commentators and pundits that analyze the supposed preferences of likely (maybe) voters and provide reasons why one candidate is sizzling and another flaming out. However, if the polls reveal that two candidates for a post have nearly the same potential support at the polls, those two are said to be in a "dead heat".
A dead heat is a term from horse racing. It describes a race result where two or more horses have reached the finish wire at exactly the same instant. It doesn't have to be for first place. There are dead heats for second or third or other placings as well. In modern racing cameras are used to determine the placing of runners and the occurrence of a dead heat. The term is never used to describe the placing of the runners at any time during the race. While the race is being run, the horses could be neck and neck, or side by side or together but there is no dead heat until the race is completed. For this reason the use of the term "dead heat" in the typical political context is erroneous and stupid.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Keep them away from D.C.

It would require a constitutional amendment but it's long past time for the US Congress to join the rest of us in the twenty-first century. The constitution requires that both houses of the Congress meet every year in the same place. It doesn't say what place. Of course, communication in 1787 was a little different than it is now. It was either done by face to face conversation, the verbal delivery of messages, or written notes and letters. For legislative business to be transacted with any degree of efficiency it was a necessity that the members of Congress be in the same place. This is no longer true. Even while our elected representatives and their immense, unelected staffs, are sequestered along the Potomac during the legislative season, they now communicate just as the general public does, on the telephone, with email and by fax. Today there is no justifiable reason, from the point of view of the citizenry, for these 535 solons and their assistants to gather together to accomplish their ends. Indeed, there are many reasons why they should not. Foremost is that once elected these people literally make their home in the D.C. area. They are no longer easily available to their constituents and are physically removed from the obvious and subtle day-to-day concerns and conditions of the people they represent. Secondly, instead of being exposed to a daily stream of local voters with their own requests, the legislator in Washington is preened, petted, cajoled and flattered by a legion of paid lobbyists that move from one office to the next, one table at a gourmet dining spot to another. The members of the two legislative houses are a willing and happy captive audience for a huge lobbying industry made up of friends, relatives and former legislators that are able to congregate in this unlikely spot to concentrate their efforts. Far better it would be if the lobbying effort were forced to diffuse across the country, its effects diluted by target dispersal.

This is a proposed constitutional amendment that needs to be inserted into the congressional agenda regularly until the population is able to recognize its worth and act accordingly.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Try and imagine this:

Updated: Thu., Sep. 2, 2010, 12:58 PM home

Madoff investors oppose payments to bankruptcy trustee

Last Updated: 12:58 PM, September 2, 2010

Posted: 12:58 PM, September 2, 2010

Hundreds of Ponzi king Bernard Madoff's victims today challenged the latest bill from his bankruptcy trustee, which seeks more than $34 million for 120 days of work.

The Aug. 20 bill, for services rendered between Feb. 1 and May 31, works out to more than $5,000 a day for court-appointed trustee Irving Picard and more than $283,000 a day for his firm, Baker & Hostetler, court papers say.

"On an annualized basis, this would be $104,900,950," according to the objection filed by Diane and Roger Peskin, Maureen Ebel and "several hundred" other unnamed Madoff investors.

Their Manhattan Bankruptcy Court filing says that "investors have no ability to evaluate the efficiency or professionalism of the work covered by these applications" because Judge Burton Lifland ruled that Picard and his firm "do not have to file their detailed billing reports."

But they say that "despite the expenditure of more than $2.3 million per week in professional fees and expenses, the trustee has still not determined 2,995 customer claims constituting $14 billion of the $20 billion of claims the trustee has said he will recognize."

The filing also alleges that while Picard has claimed to have recovered $1.5 billion in assets to distribute to Madoff's burned investors, nearly $100 billion was "simply sitting in bank accounts in Madoff's name when the trustee was appointed."

Picard spokesman Kevin McCue declined to comment on the filing, but noted that "any fees paid to Irving Picard and Baker Hostetler are not paid out of the funds recovered for the victims," but by the industry-funded Securities Investor Protection Corporation.

"Therefore, everything recovered for the victims will go to the victims, not to Mr. Picard or the law firm," McCue said.


Absolutely amazing. No wonder there's so much love for the legal profession in the hearts of normal America. Itemization of the bill? Fuggedabowdid. Best of all, the fees, as Mr. McCue said, don't come out of the recovered funds, but from some other mysterious pot of money, so everythings really just O.K.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One big argument, coming right up!

What do the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Association of Avian Veterinarians, and Project Gutpile have in common? They are the groups that have petitioned the EPA to forbid the manufacture of firearms ammunition containing lead.You can read the petition here . This is the result of "special interest groups" having access to regulatory bureaucracies that must justify their existence by the production of regulations. Historian Forrest Mcdonald talks about it here and Thomas J. DiLorenzo describes bureaucracy here. If a body is created to perform a function, that is what it will do. The personnel in that body will always be looking for opportunities to expand their scope of operations because to do so will increase their funding and staffing and raise the rating and salary of the present staff and make the body itself more powerful and important.

The EPA is a classic example of this phenomenon. Richard Nixon established the EPA by executive order in 1970, it has since grown to over 17,000 employees and a 2010 budget of $10.5 billion, a 34% increase over the previous year. And it's not enough that these busybody government appartachiks arbitrarily determine the parameters of water and air quality, automobile fuel efficiency and emissions, pesticides allowed in the steadily growing battle against bedbugs, laundry detergents, and just about everything else that physically enters our lives. Now, on the basis of concern for birds, they are considering a ban on lead ammunition which will basically be gun control through environmental regulation. Public comment on this subject will be accepted until late October. While these bureaucrats are in no way under the control of Congress, it can't hurt to make your opinion on this matter known to your senator or representative. This is another example of the nanny state attempting to regulate our lives without the inconvenience of republican process.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Here we go again.

Another innocent savage runs afoul of anthropomorphism and pays the ultimate price. A captive Ohio black bear has mauled one of his keepers to death and has now been euthanized. The family wished it so.

Monday, August 23, 2010


If you've recently read Thomas Hardy's classic tragedy, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", watching the movie will be very much like reading the book over again. The 1979 Roman Polanski film follows the book nearly word for word, except for the very end. The book, like all Hardy's fiction, not only explores the complicated and tortured relationships between men and women in the Victorian age, but also preserves forever a picture of life in bucolic rural England in the nineteenth century that was swiftly disappearing even as he described it. And while the scenery of south England is gorgeous, the day to day existence of those on the bottom rungs of society was drab, dirty, tiresome and mundane. In this era, steam was beginning to provide the motive force in transportation and agriculture but it still required many hands and hooves to bring in the crop. The daughter of uneducated and unskilled parents, Tess is forced to leave home in her youth to earn her keep first as a chicken herder and later as a milkmaid. Her continuing encounters with two men are the focus of the novel. As compelling as it is, there's a problem with the story both in its literary and cinematic form. What is it that makes Tess, an introverted, taciturn, moody girl, so attractive to men? Even played by the captivating Natassia Kinsky, the natural reserve of Tess and her response to male advances doesn't seem to make her the most believable object for male conquest. There's a similar situation in the recently popular TV series, "Deadwood". The vicious, amoral saloon keeper, Al Swearingen, is hardly the type to actually be successful in a kind of business that requires at least an imitation of bon homie and likeability. As the narrative continues Tess becomes less and less able to successfully adapt to her tragic circumstances. Ultimately, our sympathy for her is tempered by the realization that our heroine is just as flawed as the two men in her life. Pro bullriding score-78.