Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fair and Balanced

Okay, the candidates are back to talking about a wider range of issues. I haven't had time to pay much attention this week. Summer brings out the bicyclists every year. Fuel costs have inspired more people to dig out their old machines, even if they have no intention of actually using them to reduce any of their motor vehicle use. It's almost as if they think merely refurbishing the bike and riding it once or twice will miraculously reduce their gas bill, even if they drove to the bike path with the bikes on the back of the SUV.

Whatever. We can use the business.

In other news, the IRS informs us we made a teensy miscalculation on our tax return this year, so we owe ten times what we sent them. That's sort of the opposite of economic stimulus, don't you think? Ten times, eh? I haven't crunched those numbers yet, but it's almost like they didn't adjust our gross income at all. Could they have made a mistake?

I'm not counting on it.

We'll get on that as soon as we can. Meanwhile, we have the routine expenses of mortgage, car registration, and a couple of doctors' appointments I was foolish enough to make. They can just borrow the money from China until we can dig it out of our flesh.

If we do get an economic stimulus check, how stimulating will it be for the economy if we just make a quarterly estimated tax payment with it? What's the government buying these days? Will what goes around come around? How long will it take?

Bear in mind that what they get now is in addition to the thousands of dollars we already submitted in the form of withholding and a small payment we calculated we owed back in April. We're not Libertarian insurrectionists. But, like many creative people, we never know how steady our income will be in a given year. It's hard to estimate what you'll owe. We know the minimum. There the certainties end.

When the ship takes a torpedo, you can try whatever evasive action the crippled vessel can manage, but don't try to imagine what it would be like to take another and another. Don't think you've paid your dues and won't take another, either. Feel free to hope, and rightly so. Just don't torment yourself with worry about which of the many things could go wrong next or fool yourself that nothing can. Stay in the moment.

Whoever gets hired to fill the various vacancies for elected officials this fall, my life won't suddenly improve. Tax forms will still be laborious mazes as likely to lead to punishment as reward. Medical consultation, let alone treatment, will remain a luxury just like air travel. As the early 1960s had its Jet Set and the 21st Century is about to revive it, so will they be joined by the Med Set, who can afford to have physicals and act on the results. Next we'll be back to the time when only rich people had cars and a bicycle represented unprecedented freedom for people of lesser means. It was "the poor man's horse."

Since we're all in the grip of evolution, no one can say for sure how much we've really guided our development. We can project where our actions might take us, but seem curiously powerless to change course. Between the ignorant, the unwilling and the earnest but ineffectual, most really positive action gets canceled out. Since we seem to be the only species that even discusses things in long range terms, we can't compare methods with anyone. We just ride this rock around and let life happen to us. Some of us breed. We make ourselves as comfortable as possible. Rinse. Repeat.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's the oil, stupid

Is it accident or design that the 2008 US presidential election has suddenly become about gasoline prices?

It goes below the presidential race as well. Formerly environmentally sensitive candidate Jeb Bradley is now pledging to pillage the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as much as it takes if voters will please, just please, put him back in office in place of Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. I'm sure that's just one story among many.

Fuel price hysteria has taken over the news headlines, displacing health care, global warming and even the War on Terror.

Granted, fuel prices drive everything else in the economy. If you can't afford to get goods to market, if you can't afford the energy necessary even to produce them, you can't stay in business. You certainly can't afford a massively self-indulgent consumer economy. If you lose your home and can't afford food, your health probably suffers, but you have a more immediate concern with shelter and your next meal.

When things are good, many people tend to accept that level of prosperity and draw the curve upward to even greater good times. On the flip side, when the trend turns downward, fear sets in too late to inspire sensible behavior that would prevent the drop, but well before conditions really would require the drastic sacrifice of personal and planetary health just for one more chance at the high life.

The one thing no one advocates is boring old moderation. Our problems and our solutions have to be EXTREEEEEEME and RADICULLLLL! And mostly over-hyped bullshit that goes off with a flash and a bang and lapses into nothing.

Getting people to fixate on energy prices keeps them from focusing on more complicated issues like health care financing and well-planned, sustainable human endeavors. Give them cheap gas at the right time and you can slide by the rest of it, at least for a while. The greatest thing is, everyone can get behind it, unlike a war. You can only keep people terrorized about terrorism for so long, but you can always scare them with high gas prices.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nature Notes

I put out these special feeders filled with sugar water to attract hordes of ants, but these pesky little green birds keep showing up.

In other news, the biologist finally confirmed that the little turd I'd been keeping in a plastic bag since early last month is bobcat shit. That's good news on two fronts, because it confirms the presence of the elusive feline and it means I finally got rid of the bagged turd. It belongs to science now.

Later this summer I hope to help with electroshock fish sampling. It sounds sick and sadistic, but it has a better survival rate than net sampling and yields far more specimens. Just don't smart off at the technician holding the probe.

There should be more, but it's too hot and I have too much else to try to get done.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Pondering Wealth

The wealth of the United States is not held by all for all. It is held by a minority and the income from it is cycled through the economy based on their judgment. This situation has evolved since the days of European colonization, when the wealth of the continent was basically up for grabs and, subsequently, duly grabbed.

If the settlement of North America by European invaders had been fully planned in advance based on enlightened principles of popular government, the system might be different today. All adults might be shareholders in the national corporation, which would oversee the exploitation of resources for the good of all. It would be the ultimate merger of political and corporate leadership. There could still be plenty of hierarchy and small or medium businesses. The environment would be cared for as a national interest as important as defense.

This never happened and never will. For many reasons, human beings are incapable of running a nation on such a rational basis. For one thing, we all have different tastes, well before you get into deeper issues of character. For another, the countries of North America evolved as humans evolved, so the social mix we have today, which will breed the more advanced social mix of tomorrow, had to be born from the more primitive attitudes that preceded it. Echoes of past bigotry prove what a slow process that is.

Since wealth is distributed along a curve, and the greatest is held by a relatively small number of people, those of us with good ideas or causes to support need to convince the holders of wealth to release some of it here or there. Wealthy donors pay for land conservation, arts programs and facilities, and invest in research and entrepreneurial efforts by people with big ideas and small wallets. We little people have to figure out how to exploit the resource of wealthy people as if it were a seam of coal, a vein of gold or an oil field.

Meanwhile, what are the wealthy doing to obtain and maintain those fortunes? We use their wealth to mitigate environmental damage caused by industries owned and administered by wealthy people. We use their wealth to fund arts programs unavailable in public schools because tax revenue is considered insufficient after "more important" things are funded. The charitable donations they make are tax deductible. It gives them an added incentive to donate. It's all part of the complex web we've evolved to allow people what looks like a free pursuit of riches while we try to pry it away from them for things the citizenry as a whole wants done.

It isn't broken, so it can't be fixed. It's a fascinating ecosystem. Whether it lives or dies completely depends on how it evolves in the face of stresses both internal and external. Unquestionably it creates most of its own worst problems. So far, its solution to previous problems has been mostly serendipitous. We become -- or appear -- more purposeful as we learn more about ourselves and our world, but we can't even agree on what all the problems are. You're probably best off if you don't do nothing, but don't expect anything. Support what you think should be supported, but remember that evolution is slow and messy.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Economical Foreign Policy

A friend of mine put it well. "Instead of dropping a two million dollar bomb on some mud hut, why don't we just drop the two million dollars? It might make those people happy enough to quit making trouble."

Another idea might be two million dollars worth of manure. It would take out whatever malcontents happened to be under it, and the survivors could use it to build up the topsoil for agriculture. Ha! Talk about targeted aid. They couldn't use it to buy or develop weapons of mass destruction, or to finance a corrupt government elite.

Another non-lethal deterrent weapon would be cat urine. They'll go nuts trying to find exactly where it is and eradicate the smell.

We have options, people. We just aren't using them. Humans are too primitively fixated on damaging each other to establish winners and losers in a dispute.

Cat piss and bullshit: it's the wave of the future.