Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What Is This World Coming To With These Kids Coming Up

NPR has been doing a climate change series on its Morning Edition. They recently featured two young women. The first is a future policy wonk college student. She goes at the whole climate change strictly from a socio-economic standpoint. The other is a 16 year old whiz kid who has set the scientific community on fire with her pedantic fine tooth combing of all the global warming research that is out there. Apparently her scientific method is impeccable.

On the one hand it was tremendously encouraging to see the drive and ambition and natural curiousity of these young people. Nice to know there are motivated people out there. On the other hand, the contrasts between the arguments these two make are discouraging in the sense that they are metaphorical as to how the public debate takes place regarding important public issues. The contrast also demonstrates that there are a lot of reasons why we have such a huge number of crappy public policies.

Go to the first link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89567328&sc=emafA Climate Policy Wonk in the Making.
Notice how the subject arrives a substantive conclusions, ie because the percentage of CO2 released from animals is higher than that of cars we should become vegetarians but keep driving.

Then go to:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89619306&sc=emaf
Teenage Skeptic Takes on Climate Scientists.
Notice that even with the accurate scientific approach there are still scientists who disagree.

The peer reviewed science is not unquestionable, yet we will take a nebulous statistic and lobby against meat, despite the fact that I can think of about ten reasons why that makes no sense right off the top of my head (the foremost being that this position is tantamount to "Lets kill all the animals"--wait until PETA gets a hold of her-but that is another matter).

Maybe we just try to do too much with too little data. Ya think?

Monday, April 21, 2008

The River Ran Past Me

Here I am with my prize catch. All credit goes to my guideDave Foster, who practically talked the fish into jumping on the boat.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 11, 2008

It is Hell to be a Consumer

Today's headline reads consumer confidence is down! Way down!

No kidding? I wonder why?

Could it be that for years the consumer was merely the toy of the commercial world's affections? Yes, they drool all over us with promises of flash and delight in advertisements whose budgets rival those of most indy films. They lure us in, trade our piles of cash for their latest gleaming object and nanoseconds later, when the wonder gadget goes kerput the seller is far too busy moving on to the next great design and finding places to stuff their mounds of money to give you the time of day, unless of course you paid for the magic maintenance agreement!

I waited and waited for my dream kitchen. Just 5 years ago I went for and did the major remodel. I spared no expense, figuring this is a once in a lifetime thing, and went for top of the line stuff. Plus I was so jealous (yes, I admit to this sin) of the many, many museum kitchens I had encountered over the years: state of the art in the home of a person who never cooks. This irony was nearly too much to bear.

Almost immediately things started going wrong. The glass in the microwave/convection oven shattered; the $4,000 refrigerator went on the blink; the water chiller reservoir failed to fill. These were all annoyances during the warranty period that you chalk up to chance. Then the pop up mixer shelf sprung. Then the steamer blew a fuse. (Oh my god, that is a Kafka novel in itself-it is a Gagennau appliance--and it has been 9 months and I am still waiting.) Now the garbage disposal is on its last legs and the microwave has a new problem.

In 2002 I bought a pocket PC. Great machine; works fine. Then I upgraded my desktop computer only to learn that it is no longer compatible with the pocket PC and good lord 5 years have passed so why in the world would the company support the software on the thing any longer--it has reached antique status! This, despite the fact that it worked perfectly. Well, no bother, I had to get a new phone anyway in order to get my work email on the run and now the features of the pocket PC are all in one machine. But there is nothing wrong with my old phone either. In fact I still have it and can still use it.

And now the airlines. Have you ever seen a bigger group of dopes just begging to be regulated? They have effectively stripped all the customer service out of the entire flying adventure, including checking to see if the plane can even fly!!!!

Why have we devolved into a bunch of spend happy replacement consumers of low quality high priced crap? The answer is volume. Sheer volume.

Now that we have reached an economic bump in the road suddenly everyone is edgy and not buying. Well, personally, I see this as an opportunity. Consumers need to take back the night as it were. We need to stop replacing things because it is easy and force the manufacturers to stand behind their products without making us pay extra for it. They should jump when we complain but more importantly they should build things to last in the first place.

This all devolved when we started shipping manufacturing processes to low cost labor markets. This never really helped lower prices for consumers. What it did was enable several layers of middle persons to add cost to the price in exchange for no actual value added other than the logistics of matching up distant labor with distant markets. Now the price reflects the commissions of all these interim sales people (who make a bundle and spend lots of time at resort golf courses all around the country schmoozing one another just to make a sale). And with the increasing cost of fuel there goes another jump in price.

How do we respond? Well, first of all most people stop buying, which is not such a bad thing. How much of the junk stacking up in your house do you really need anyway? Does it really matter how stylish your flatware is that you have to change it every season?

A corollary to stopping buying is that when something breaks we need to get it fixed. This gives rise to employment opportunities for the repair sector. If only you could find a way to solve the problem of spare parts. I seem to recall lots and lots of machinists losing manufacturing jobs, maybe they need to get back in the game. Cottage industries may be seeing a resurgence.

And think of what you can do with all the time you save not shopping. Too bad this downturn didn't coincide with the TV writer's strike; we might have seen a return to the long lost art of visiting. You remember; when you were a kid and people would pop in for 45 minutes or so for a chat and a cup of coffee?

Come on by, we have a french press-no electrical parts, nothing to break, I promise it will be working; but I can't make any promises about the instant hot water tap, but as long as we have natural gas and the stove works we can get hot water and if that breaks there is always the gas grill and if that goes on the blink we can light a fire-oh, wait, we never bought one of those backyard fire pits like everyone else. Well, we can drink tap water if you don't mind a few pharmacueticals.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Grand Gusher

I am still trying to sort out how I feel about all of it. I am talking about the river.

The first weekend in April I was fortunate enough to find myself on just about the finest weather days you could imagine fly fishing on the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry. Located 15 miles below the Glen Canyon Dam. Named for the fellow who lived at the Lonely Dell Ranch and schlepped his fellow Mormon pioneers, wagons and all across the wild and muddy river at the only spot in 400 miles that could be crossed, it is now the site of a dock and boat ramp. If you are coming to fish this is where you meet your guide. If you are coming to ride the pontoon boats down from the dam this is where you get out. If you are rafting through the Grand Canyon, this is where you start.

So, here we are, literally in the middle of no where. There are peregrine falcons dive--bombing ducks and red tail hawks coasting on the wind thermals and trout spawning on thousands of redds and boats racing up and down.

Outside of the river gorge there is nothing. Not a tree, not a bush; just the most vibrant and well-aged rock formations you could ever imagine. The condors are hanging just below the edge of the cliff where the front yard of the lone house we are lodging in culminates.

I found myself wondering about the people who live there (there are not too many of them-most commute back and forth to Page, Arizona) and if they somehow over time forget how incredible the scenery is much the same way we slowly forget that $1.30 per gallon gas was once expensive.

A couple of weeks prior there was a huge big release from the dam. They started this a few years back to see if it would mimic the river in its wild state, creating sand bars and beaches. One big impetus for this was the humpback chub, an endangered species with a human public relations machine behind it that rivals that of any major movie star. The thought is that maybe the release would help augment the chub’s habitat thereby increasing its chance to survive extinction.

But the chub is not the only stakeholder in this barren place. In order to make this happen a confluence of dozens of stakeholders -- the power company/operator of the dam; the drain the Lake Powell folk, the river runners and local guides, the EPA, US Fish and Wildlife, AZ Game and Fish, a gaggle of interested scientists-- was needed to get the open the dike. Well, they did it, but not before they put in place a whole bunch of funding to run lots of scientific tests.

So among the wildlife on the tiny bits of shore lining this 15 mile stretch, you will see, if you look carefully, some metal equipment that is “tracking” those fish with electronic finder devices attached to them. Not the chubs, but the trout. According to the data, even with this gusher of water, the trout pretty much stay put.

Incidentally, the trout are plentiful but not indigenous. Even so we are on a catch and release program with this fly fishing endeavor.

And every day, all day, there is a boat in the water staffed by a couple of college age looking gals tasked with taking water samples. Seems they really are guessing about the impact of these gusher flows. Impact on what, you might ask. The fish? The shore plants? The rocks? The water itself? If we know more will we be in any better shape than now in terms of manipulating it? To what end? To save the chub? To save the guide industry? To save the pleasure of trout fishing? To keep water in the Grand Canyon? To keep water in the zillion mile long ditch that flows to our urban doorstep?

I can’t figure out if this headache is from thinking about all that or just from the unavoidable after effects of the sunburn on my lips.