" /> I write: February 2008
Curmudgeonalia
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February 20, 2008

Assessing current politics and Obama-bots

Observing the electioneering on the tube last night I was struck, listening to Barak Obama, at the similarities of the scene to those described in The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer over 50 years ago (a book I'd strongly recommend being re-read . . . or read, if you haven't.)

"People in the atmosphere of a mass movement are fashioned into incomplete and dependent human beings . . . The blindness of the fanatic is a source of strength. He sees no obstacles(!) yet is the author of intellectual sterility and emotional monotony. At root it is his conviction that life and the universe must conform to a simple formula--HIS !"

Do I hear change, anyone? Change to what? From what? Where are the "sheepul" being led?

"Mass movements substitute for individual hope. Folks who see their lives as spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement, and look at self-interest as something tainted. Unless someone sufficient talent to make something of himself, freedom is a burden."

So he's selling hope, but hope for what? Prescribed by whom? To what purpose? Seems I rremember a time not long ago when the man from Hope was selling some of the same stuff. Now it's his wife competing with Barak to see who can offer most.

It is frustrating to witness what is most easily compared to the "Beatle-mania"of the 60's, Elvis in the 50's, or the fainting for Sinatra in the 40's, becoming the political activity of the new century. Politicians always promise more than they can deliver, but one senses that Barak doesn't even recognize that what he promises cannot be delivered. It is politically, economically, socially, and philosophically (not to mention rationally) impossible.

He really believes that what he says is the truth, the whole truth, etc. True believers, as was noted long ago by Hoffer, believe that everyone does--or ought to--believe as they do. Anyone who doesn't is wrong . . . at least!

Our government is not responsible for the people--at least that was not the intention of the founders of our republic. Our problem today is that people too willingly give over to government the responsibility for making life worthwhile. It cannot be done by government, and the sacrifice of the freedom to be in control of one's own destiny is frightful, at least to me. Barak is promising a government solution to everything: safety from the terrorists to security in your mortgage payments. He presumes to take responsibility for all of life's activities in our name. Do we want that? Should we? And if so, can it really be done?

The answer is NO! So, let's try a little analysis and reality, shall we? It's especially important before November's election.

“When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lay low until the wrath has passed. There is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse. . . . .”

Posted by respeto at 8:53 AM

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

A Memoir
Bill Bryson – ISBN 9780767919371

Bryson writes well in so many genres that “his best” would be misstatement, sort of. Nonetheless, I must note that this one hits the mark. A memoir of growing up in the best country in the world . . . when it was at its peak! For me it was an exhilarating trip down memory lane.

People of later generations will read his comic genius-laced anecdotal hyperbole with glee and admiration. Those of us who grew up during the period of the 40’s and 50’s will be regaled as well, but sadly recall the lost times and our long gone country, while being reminded of the sheer joy of being young during that time. The book is boundless in its production of rollicking laughter. Between guffaws, causes one is caused to fondly “remember when.” You’ll laugh till your belly hurts! Do not read this while drinking! It’ll jettison from your nose at the least expected moment.

He captures youth in general, and that period in particular, as he revisits everything from childhood fantasies (he was the “thunderbolt kid”), to Saturday morning cowboy flicks, elegant tea rooms in downtown department stores (back when there was a downtown), Bishop’s cafeterias with their “atomic” toilet seats, boys fixation on girls bodies, sneaking into “strip shows” at carnivals, blowing things up, sneaking beer and cigarettes, and being able to disappear—safely—for the entire day. As well; nutty toys from hula hoops and Mr. Potato Heads to silly putty and slinkys, Lincoln Logs to Erector Sets. His discussion of making models, and getting stuck to everything by the glues of the day, is hilarious.

He delves into the appearance of convenience foods in Supermarkets by noting that they usually contained some of the 2,000 available additives, including “nine emulsifiers, thirty-one stabilizers and thickeners, eighty-five surfactants, seven anti-caking agents, twenty-eight anti-oxidants and forty-four sequestrants.” Sometimes they even contained food.

It is impossible for subsequent generations to understand how enormous the world was then. Even nearby places seemed distant. Few privately owned vehicles meant that you traveled by trolley, bus or train to wherever they went, and no further; no freeways, even for those with cars, made drives infinitely longer. Most anything more than a couple of hundred miles away seemed alien. T.V. was new and seldom showed anything foreign. The occasional commercial aircraft had propellers. Air Mail was a big deal. The size of the universe, while incomprehensible, was likewise just another unknown to which we gave little thought until Sputnik, and “going to the moon.” Forty percent of people believed thought the world would end in global war, yet they were busy buying homes, digging swimming pools, starting pension plans, and investing in the future. Bryson observes: “I grew up in possibly the scariest period in American history and had no idea of it.”

By 1960 most people had “pretty much everything;” far more than expected. There wasn’t much to do with their wealth but buy more and larger versions of things they didn’t require: second homes, lawn tractors, double-wide refrigerators, intercoms, gas grills, extra phones or cars, bigger TV’s, etc. “Soon millions of people were caught in a spiral in which they worked harder and harder [graduating to two income families] in order to buy labor-saving devices they wouldn’t have needed if they hadn’t been working so hard in the first place.” Productivity was enormous, and in theory people could make more in two days than they had in five, but instead of opting for more leisure time they decided to work instead—to buy more stuff!

“The best I can say is that I saw the last of something really special; something I seem to say a lot these days.” That’s how it goes. Stuff gets thrown out. Life goes on. But: “Imagine those palatial downtown movie theaters with their vast screens and Egyptian décor, but thrillingly enlivened with Dolby sound and slick computer graphics. Now that would be magic. Imagine having all of public life—offices, stores, restaurants, entertainments—conveniently clustered in the heart of the city and experiencing fresh air and daylight each time you moved from one to another.”

“What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again.”

He misses it. I miss it. As I write this I find myself a little melancholic. An ever diminishing few in the world miss it, but you can’t if you weren’t there. No one born after 1960 will ever experience it. That is unfortunate . . . 2,500 sq. ft. starter homes, 700 series Beemers, home-brewed lattes, gimongous flat-screen HDTV’s with surround sound, I-Pods and online gambling notwithstanding.

Read and enjoy this splendid memoir and tribute to America when it was the envy of the world. I consider myself exceedingly blessed to have been there, and wish I could share it with the kids—and theirs. But then, sadly, they hardly want to hear about it.

Posted by respeto at 8:47 AM

February 3, 2008

Cool It !

The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming
Bjorn Lomborg - ISBN – 9780307266927

A decade ago Lomborg authored his first “attack” on environmentalism gone amok. Inasmuch as he was one of the founders of Green Peace it carried considerable weight. Predictably, the environmental wackos savaged him mercilessly.

Amongst other things, as I recall, he observed that he had himself been preaching for several decades that the rainforests were being diminished by 5-10% annually. In flying over them at the time he was struck by the fact that despite the alleged 100-200% destruction, 95% remained. How, he posited, could this possibly be correct? How could “they” have been so wrong? This began his quest, and I recommend reading the end result: his treatise on the subject, published as The Skeptical Environmentalist.

He returns now with a similarly bold and brilliant dissection of the recommendations of the wackos. Again, he is being attacked by establishment figures including, but by no means limited to Al Gore; no great surprise there.

While he is an acolyte of the man made global warming hypothesis—with which I vigorously disagree, as is advised by the vast majority of experts who are real climatologists, not just PhD’s, JD’s, MD’s, BA’s and even musicians and academic dropouts—he makes numerous incisive observations and recommendations which deserve serious consideration. Amongst them, addressing the economics of such insane notions as Kyoto and Carbon Credits, he observes that if we are indeed concerned with the earth’s population, instead of just making political points, there are myriad undertakings which would be immediately, as well as ultimately more beneficial at vastly lower costs.

He demonstrates that:

• more people die from cold than heat - so is warming really so bad?

• past centuries have already accommodated temperature increases which exceed those (realistically) predicted for the next.

• planting vegetation, increasing reflectivity, and creating “water features” in urban environments would dramatically decrease temperatures in cities; e.g., Los Angeles would experience a reduction of mean temperature of five degrees F. by planting 11 million trees, re-roofing and repaving in lighter colors, for a one time cost of $1 billion. L.A. would then reap annual savings of $170 million in air-conditioning expenditures and $360 million in smog-reduction costs, not to mention the aesthetic benefits. Oh, yea . . . the temperature in the city of angels is predicted to increase just five degrees over the next century without Kyoto and Carbon Credits, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Another oh, yea . . . it’ll happen anyway in spite of those programs!

• speaking of Kyoto, even the signatories haven’t even tried to accomplish what they promised. Rather, they pile up on the U.S. for not signing. It has “become the symbol of opposition to the United States!” The U.S. isn’t trying (nya-na-nya-na-nya-na.) I submit that the whole program is “trying,” a term my mother used to use when I was behaving like a snot.

• the poor die from floods in hugely disproportionate numbers because they are too poor to protect themselves - so why not encourage global economic growth so there is money enough to manage the problems? Kyoto and Carbon Credits will destroy the world’s economies.

• we have dealt with the addition of 12 inches of ocean water in the past century. Even the worst (and demonstrably overstated) rise now predicted is less than that.

• the Arctic is melting a little, but has done so in the recent past and rebounded. Meanwhile the Antarctic is adding considerably more ice, more than balancing the Arctic losses.

• polar bears are not becoming extinct. In one small, easily accessible Canadian colony the numbers have been reduced by 300 in the past 20 years, but 40 years ago the colony was half the size it is now. If the suggested programs work, there will be an increase in population by 0.06 bears per annum . . . extraordinary when one considers that 49 bears are killed annually by legal hunters. Everywhere else the colonies have doubled, or more!

• storms and flooding are not becoming worse; just more destructive because of what we have built in the way. In Florida’s Dade and Broward counties alone, the population now exceeds the coastal population from Brownsville, TX to Washington, D.C. 75 years ago. More and more expensive stuff, more people, more damage. Imagine that!

• after Katrina an insurance company found that where loss prevention methods had been properly implemented the losses were remarkably few. No surprise there either, but the numbers are flabbergasting: In one area, at a cost of $2.5 million, $500 million in damages was prevented! The costs of Kyoto, to reduce damage by 0.5 %, would run into the trillions “whereas the protective measures would be multiple orders of magnitude lower.” The real lesson of Katrina is that New Orleans wasn’t ready. Whodathunkit? Ya mean it wasn’t Bush’s fault? Nah!

• by reducing the farm subsidies in rich countries we could massively increase farming in poor ones, not to mention saving “rich countries” billions annually . . . the better to afford to help the poor, maybe?

• while true that in sub-Saharan Africa the predicted warming will desertify additional land, increased rain in other areas will considerably increase crop yields by producing more productive land in other places. The problem is getting people to go move to where it rains.

• if Kyoto were implemented—estimated cost, $180 billion annually--it would reduce malnutrition by 2 million persons by 2080. By investing in improved soil health, water management and technological research, coupled with school meals and nutrient fortification that number could be increased to 229 million by 2015. The cost? $10 billion a year. Lunch Money !!

• Kyoto is anticipated to reduce death from malaria by 140,000 by 2110. At 1/60th the cost we can tackle malaria directly and avoid 85,000,000 million deaths . . . a lot sooner.

I could go on . . . but I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that he totally annihilates the wacko/Gore scenarios, one and all, showing that they are exaggerations on stilts . . . and steroids too.

As I have for years, he emphasizes that the wackos are bent on feeling good, not doing good. They may be well intentioned, but they put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. For many it “lifts them out of the tedious bickering of distributional politics and instead allows them to position themselves as humanitarians and statesmen concerned with the grandest issue of the planet’s survival.” (that’s Lomborg’s quote, not mine.)

Fortunately, climate change is not an imminent planetary emergency that will bring down civilization. It is but one of many problems, and not even the most important. There are no short term solutions to this problem. We need support “across parties, continents and generations.” We must cease with “debilitating scares and create a sensible and unbiased dialogue” over goals, means, costs and benefits to this and other of the world’s challenges.

“A world without fossil fuels [even in the midterm] is a world gone medieval.”

SO . . . COOL IT !

Posted by respeto at 11:26 AM