Friday, April 23, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) I hope President Obama considered this when he approved more off-shore drilling. Wait, of course he did! That's why he only approved it off the shores of red states!
2) It looks like England has mimicked us once again: Find a charismatic young candidate, then let the old conservatives make up shit about him.
3) Good luck with that, Blago!
4) I have neither seen nor read about Obama's speech to bankers yesterday, but he must have promised he'd let them use Vaseline  the next time they want to screw us.
5) Those were NOT the deposits and assets you were supposed to keep an eye on, you idiots!
6) You might not be aware of the latest YouTube kerfuffle which centers around spoofs using a clip of a film about Hitler called "Downfall". Some of them are really very clever. Here's the last one (h/t Sean Paul Kelley)
7) Grow your own solar panels! Note: You'll need Silicon Tetrachloride gas, a laser, a taco converter, and a steady hand.
8) If you have friends in Bolivia, I'll take a million cases, please.
10) Toys you probably won't want to buy for your children (but may want for yourself, you dirty little minx!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Green Was My Alley?

If you've been comatose for the past few weeks and this is the first thing you read upon awakening, you might not be aware that today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. Otherwise, I should suspect at some point you've been reminded.
As a born, bred and raised New Yorker, environmental issues are second nature to me. You don't live five people in a four room apartment without developing a sense of how quickly trash can build up, how even the tiniest pollutant in one room can affect the entire apartment, and how hard it is to balance supplies with available space to put things in.
I am proud that I was among the many who participated in environmental issues from the get-go. My Boy Scout troop helped developed and run one of the first recycling programs in America, for which we were designated what would now be called "Green Troop". I still have my green ecology flag patch with green and white stripes and the Greek letter theta in place of the stars. We wore those proudly to Jamborees.
The lessons of those days as a Scout-- see, it's not all about barring homosexuals and promoting Christianity. Most of my troop was Jewish and about half of the patrol I led ended up being gay-- are not lost on me to this day: it's still annoys me when I see litter, and I still advocate for the environment, ecology and on a limited basis, for animal rights. We are all part of a bigger picture, and we cannot afford to think small.
I say all that as background to this post: It's important to remember that we can all do more. 
But, it's also important to remember that we can only do so much. As with many things in life, it's a delicate balance. We have choices to make, even the most militant tree-huggers among us. 
In tough economic times, it becomes even harder to make those choices, but it also becomes more critical. We have to remain acutely aware that there are many well-intentioned people out there who will take the easy way out because they can justify it. They'll drop that wrapper because someone else can get a job picking it up, for example. They'll buy a dollar menu meal at McDonald's because for 99 cents, they can't afford a head of broccoli much less a salad. 
Even the easiest choices, like buying CFC bulbs instead of incandescent because they're more economical, become convulted as those savings come over time, and I have to pay out money right now for the hall light. It's hard, I know, and we who can have to forgive those who cannot make the "right" choice, and try somehow to make up for it until those folks can get their feet back under them.
There's a real simple rule of thumb to help you decide if you're living your life more or less green: physical effort. The more of you that you put into a process or product, the greener it likely is. 
Think about it: you buy a salad at the local grocer, or you can buy the salad makings and toss them yourself after washing and peeling and cutting them up. Which is greener? Likely, the home made salad. 
Or you need to go to the corner store: you hop in the car or you ride a bike. Greener? The bike, of course. The balance between what you can do and what you cannot do becomes clearer. If by putting a little bit of you into it you can help make things a little better in your environment, then it's a good thing. And if getting involved means doing more than is practicable and sensible, then you're trying too hard to do too much. 
You call the pizzeria: should you walk over and pick it up or have them drive it over? Walk, of course. Not only is the car going to pump out more carbon, but the driver is focused on getting your pizza to you as fast as possible for the bigger tip and to get to the next delivery. Hell, even if you drive to pick it up, you'll have done an incremental good if you watch your speed and take the shortest possible route.
In other words, flying cross-country to enter a bike race is not a good thing for Mother Earth. But picking up that wrapper that you're standing over is. 
The little bits add up, as New Yorkers are painfully aware. When you have eight to ten million people wandering your streets, if everyone picked up one piece of garbage, the streets would practically police themselves. 
And if eight to ten million people each littered, we'd need five times as many sanitation workers. The cumulative effect of many people doing one thing is staggeringly large.
Also, the benefits of paying it forward are quite high. If one other person sees you care enough to pick up a piece of paper, they may not pick one up too, but they might think twice about not carrying their wrapper to the trash can. That can make a difference. Leading by example does not have to mean imitation, but emulation.      

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Related Stories?

The timing of these two stories is suspect, but either story certainly merits attention:
Item 1 - New York State Senator Pedro Espada, a Democrat, is under investigation by the FBI and IRS for siphoning $14 million from a government-funded health clinic.
Item 2 - Florida Republicans have had their party American Express records seized by the FBI and the IRS (there they are again!) for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unrelated personal charges.
Hmmmm. Included in that Florida investigation is Marco Rubio, who is challenging Governor Charlie Crist (who has not been named in the probe) for the Senate.
You may remember that it was Crist who angered Florida voters by literally embracing the Obama stimulus package, so much so that the state Republicans have begun to try to force Crist out. Those efforts have not been effective, but Crist has acknowledged the pressure and said he would run as an independent if need be.
The sense I get is that the Espada story provides a certain immunity to the Federal Government and to Obama in particular as its chief executive from charges that Obama's entire administrative plan is to embarass Republicans at each and every turn, where possible.
This of course differs from the Bush program of, um, "selectively investigating" Democrats using the full weight of the Department of Justice, in that Obama has not demanded a loyalty oath from the Justice and Treasury Department employees involved in the investigations.
One is forced to wonder, however, at the timing of the Florida investigation: the revelations about Rubio et al certainly could have waited until a more opportune time (even allowing for the obvious politicization charges). The primary election isn't until August 24. The nearest administrative date to this day's story is the June 14 qualifying date.
Unless Crist figures Rubio might be in a Federal penitentiary by then, of course.
All of this occurs in front of a backdrop of GOP backpedalling on opposition to the financial reform regulations that are currently under discussion in Congress.
Still, the timing, while possibly coincidental, is intriguing. Espada is a leader-by-armtwisting in the New York State Senate, having first brought that body to its knees by defecting from the Democratic caucus along with one other Senator, then returning when it became obvious he was in serious trouble either way he sliced the issue.
It should be noted that Espada is only slightly the lesser sleaze of the two defectors. Hiriam Monserrate was recently expelled from the Senate after being convicted for beating his girlfriend up.
Too, Espada's counsel, Steve Pigeon, has a colorful history in Erie County, to put it politely.
The scalp of Espada would be a big coup for the FBI and the IRS. Espada has ducked several nasty controversies in his career, from non-residence in his district to campaign violations in 2008 that racked up $60,000 in fines. And it certainly is big enough to throw a shadow on the Florida investigation and buy the Feds some breathing room.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cuba Goes Capitalist

Private profits in communist Cuba? This is no joke. It's Havana's latest, limited experiment with the free market. The government is divesting itself of hundreds of state-run barbershops and beauty shops with three workstations or less, turning people who have been wage-earners for decades into small-time entrepreneurs. Like some Cuban growers who are allowed to rent stalls from the government in farmers markets, and some cooks who run modest restaurants out of their homes, these hairstylists and manicurists will be entering the world of free-market competition.
Admittedly, it's small-scale stuff, the stuff of experiments, but considering the Great Satan to the north, this is practically like, I don't know, the state of Texas electing a Socialist congressperson.
There's not much to admire about Cuba at this point in its existence. It truly is the lone wolf of the communist experiment, having outlasted the Soviet Union, its satellites and even China.
The embargo the US has effected for half a century now is strongly in force, altho you can start to see daylight around the edges. Likewise, Cuba has started to see the wisdom of inviting the west to visit its shores, at least as tourists, and as partners in some limited ventures. 
We can marvel at their stick-to-it-tiveness, for sure. And their ability to cope under what must be enormously stressful conditions, taxing even the hardiest souls at times. 
But this development is one that should be applauded. China has shown that capitalism is not completely inconsistent in a socialist/communist culture, and has set an example that we can imagine Cuba will follow. I for one am hoping they can work it all out. Cuba has a lot to offer the world, and its a shame its been burdened by an embargo decades beyond its effective purpose.  


Monday, April 19, 2010

Making An Ash Of Ourselves

There's a Ludditic element to this whole problem of the volcanic ash spewing from Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland: that God or nature or random chance could so cripple the movement of people across and to and from an entire continent is somewhat poetic. Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
It's estimated that the volcano has cost New York City $250 million in lost tourism alone. That's in less than one week. Worldwide, 63,000 flights have been cancelled, meaning something on the order of 1 million people have been forced to either sit and wait or make very roundabout travel arrangements. The British navy is being pressed into action to shuttle people across the Channel from the mainland, where some airports remain unaffected for now. The crippled tourism industry into Europe has Greece nervously pacing the floor.
I'm a bit surprised that there wasn't a better backup plan in place earlier on. After all, Iceland is responsible for 1/3 of the lava flow on the earth's surface over the past five hundred years, and Iceland has in recent years shown more and more seismic activity and instability. And Iceland is near routes from the New World to most major northern European cities.
And Eyjafjallajökull wasn't even considered the main problem on Iceland. That honor belongs to Upptyppingar, which is farther north and much bigger. However, Eyjafjallajökull in the past has been a bellwether, a precursor eruption to at least three bigger eruptions, the last in 1823, of the subglacial volcano, Katla.
In other words, to periphrase Donald Rumsfeld, this was an unknown problem we knew about.
The moment the April 14th eruption was confirmed, there should have been plans put into effect to bring European travellers home safely and quickly. Cruise ships could have been commandeered-- it's early in the North Atlantic season anyway-- safe harbor airports could have been identified and re-direction of flights initiated (air traffic controllers could have been shifted around: remember, all pilots and ATCs are required to be fluent in English, so it's a matter of logistics, not translation), and a joint private-public effort could have been kicked into gear to try to find housing for the temporarily displaced.
Of course, the airlines are already playing the "CYA" game, claiming that it's Europe's fault.
Based on previous experience with Iceland's volcanoes, this cloud of ash is likely to spew for months, and some of it has already drifted over Canadian airspace. It's going to be a horrible summer for Europe if that holds true.