Archive for August, 2015

Are We Going Up or Down?

The stock market gets the most publicity as an indicator of what is happening in the economy. Newspapers and television programs give us constant reports on what is happening to the price of stocks, corporation mergers, corporation profits, etc. The Feds report on number of jobs gained or lost monthly in the general economy. However, there is another set of indicators that are not often tied into economic reports.

This is in the work that is done to produce the products we use in our daily life; automobiles, dishwashers, farm equipment, etc. The little operations that used to repair such equipment, gas stations, small equipment repair shops, etc. are diminishing in number too as these new machines become more complex and designed to be replaced, not repaired. As the need for workers in manufacturing and repair has declined, what has replaced them as a job market? workers have been laid off in manufacturing, what has replaced them?

Blomberg, the compiler of business news has the economy going up and down each day. Some companies are improving and some seem to have stalled or begun to slide down. In a few days the same companies may have reversed course. Business and economics professors are steadily releasing books that go up or down, or up and down. And, recently world financial markets have been out of control.

If large investors have trouble keeping up with what is happening in the economy, there is no way small investors can. At least that is my excuse for throwing up my hands.

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End of the national state?

One of the things that stays on the back of my mind is the change in the relationship between business organizations and government at the national level. What we have witnessed in this country in recent years has been business in the form of financial institutions and (super) large corporations attempting to move beyond the control of our national government. Financial institutions particularly have moved into international associations that the Federal government has only partially brought under control. Productive institutions, Apple being a prime example, have become international organization in both production and sales. Almost all major producers have moved overseas to avoid U S labor laws and to get cheaper production costs. In the process they also increased sales. Recently, some major corporations have moved their headquarters to foreign countries to avoid paying U S taxes.

In Europe, we note the pressure to break up national states. Scotland has had one vote on leaving the United Kingdom and will probably have another. Several Spanish states are trying the same thing. The national government of Greece is struggling to pay debts that its previous governments had cheerfully acquired. And, Africa shows no signs of developing national states along the lines of previous colonial boundaries. In our own country newly elected Republican state governments are not meeting obligations the Constitution leaves to them by reducing the amount of money spent on schools and universities, letting roads and bridges decay, refusing to participate in Federal medical programs for their citizens, etc.

In Congress, a bloc of Republican members is working hard to prevent previous levels of funding for a variety of Federal administrative departments. Included is the Internal Revenue Service which no longer has the number of people available to respond to citizens questions about their taxes. Not even the Defense Department, previously untouchable, is free from the cutting mania.

The list goes on, but I hope these examples make my point Are we in a process of moving beyond the national state that has held sway for the previous several centuries? We slid into our present organization of human behavior without any particular plan. If we are shifting the way humans organize to live together, is there any hint of what is on the horizon?

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There’s Lots Going On Out There

Recently my wife and I took an all day tour of the District of Columbia area to look at buildings that were taking steps to meet the city’s requirements to reduce storm water runoff from building roofs. Every year it is estimated that more than 2 1/2 million gallons of untreated storm water runs off buildings into the Anacostia River which in turn empties into the Potomac River which in turn flows into the lower Chesapeake Bay. We looked at a diverse collection of sites from a new hotel to the University of the District of Columbia to the row house that serves as headquarters of the Society of Landscape Architects.

The first thing to know is that congressional legislation is driving this effort to reduce rain water runoff. This legislation is broken down into the rules and regulations that control this effort. Since there is little concrete knowledge about what works, experience constantly calls for rules to be changed.

The Landscape Architects have converted the roof of their row house to a garden by raising hollow mounds on either end. They used substitutes for earth since the roof could not take the weight of earth. The imagination used in selecting plants for this project was considerable, running across plants they had never heard of before, but which were perennial and required little care.

The space on the hotel roof was cut up and the staff had used a variety of plants in smaller areas that got different amounts of sunlight and rain. Since the height of buildings in the District of Columbia is limited to 140 feet, we could look around at other buildings and see how they had managed. Every building we could see had been imaginative in using their space.

The private school we went to was phenomenal. Their project had been in operation for several years and was brought about by their science faculty. One entire building was heated and cooled by recycled waste water from several buildings. That was just part of what they did with their recycled water.

UDC has been putting their work into a small project off campus which, in the process, has provided them with research knowledge. On the roof of a new building they are planting 4000 square feet with all sorts of vegetable and other plants to see how they fare in an environment designed to stop rain water run off.

Once again I enjoyed and learned a lot about a topic about which I knew nothing from a trip I was not particularly looking forward to. Keeping up with what is going on in the world requires getting out of my chair and putting in effort.

PS About the bus! A major factor in making the trip so successful was the bus. In addition to the usual features of busses, this one had a couple that made it special. One of the first things I noticed was the leg room. I could stretch my legs out and barely reach the foot rest. I could cross my legs and touch nothing. It was super comfortable. And, it had electronic outlets out the wazoo. Unfortunately, my wife and I didn’t bring along anything to plug in. When I mentioned these features to the driver, he told me this was the bus leased by a Baltimore basketball team. Later, it turned out that it was available for any basketball team that could rent it. Would that all busses could be made with this much leg room.

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Are We The End?

Everyone has times when what is happening in the world causes them to feel lost in time. This is one of them for me. Today’s newspapers have several articles dealing with the deep past. One describes the finding of a mastodon fossil found on the shore of one of Virginia’s waterways. The story is about the man who happened on the site and got a college professor involved in the attempt to excavate the site. The people who owned the land had to die 31 years later before it could be excavated. This, however, is nothing in time. This species died out about 12,000 years ago after living in that area for approximately four million years. For me, 90 is in sight and I work hard to put all those life memories together.

Another article tells about a relatively small piece of land in Utah that has been designated a national monument because of the vast array of “well preserved and unique dinosaur fossils”. More than 75 million years ago a seemingly unending array of dinosaurs and plants that fed them lived here in a semi swamp. College professors and their students regularly recover fossils unrelated to any previous ones. This environment and its life existed for approximately 20 million years. Trying to put this period of life in some perspective defeated me

Moving on to another part of the paper I came to the new story about another Republican presidential contestant (16?). As part of his introductory campaign he is bashing one of his party’s senators. The new contestant spent the Vietnam War avoiding military service, eventually getting a medical deferment. Thanks to his father’s money, he can pay for his campaign. The Senator was a naval pilot who was shot down and severely abused by his North Vietnamese captors. I was considerably exercised. How could a draft dodger say that someone not even in the campaign had done nothing for veterans?

Later, in thinking about the far distant past and yesterday, I wondered what my opinion mattered. What real difference does what I think and do in my tiny life span affect anything? How can the millions of years that there has been life on earth be seen as leading to human beings?

Well, I’m sitting in my sunroom on a summer afternoon with my drink, looking down through a block of gardens and those questions are fading from my consciousness.

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