Shut Up, Already!

The actions of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford have been weird, but his effort to explain his actions really crosses the line into pathetic territory.  When politicians get caught cheating on their wives, we don’t need to hear about how the affair was not about sex but about some kind of deep, non-physical connection, or how they plan to try to repair their fatally damaged relationship with their spouse, or why they consulted a “spiritual advisor” in an effort to deal with their problems.  Those kinds of tell-all confessions may be fine for vapid Hollywood celebs in a People magazine story, but they are creepy and sad for an elected official.  Such disclosures reflect a disturbing self-centeredness and egotism, as if everyone must care about why they ran off the rails — when in reality people are just embarrassed and dismayed.

Governor Sanford, and other politicians caught in similar compromising positions, should just shut up, take their lumps, and actually concentrate on doing their jobs.  It was focusing on their “emotional needs,” and thereby losing sight of their responsibilities as a public servant, that got them into trouble in the first place.

Re-Corking The Iranian Genies

In recent days it appears that the Iranian government is quashing dissent and its current rulers are trying to consolidate their power. However, given Iran’s byzantine governmental structure, with various councils and courts and other entities with various charters and responsibilities, I am not sure that the reality of the situation is clear to anyone. What does seem clear is that, in recent weeks, many people in Iran — and the Iranian population is predominantly young — received their first true taste of free speech and free political thought. Often, it is difficult to return those genies to their bottles, and let’s hope that proves to be the case in Iran.

The Best American Band: Time To Vote!

We’ve published a number of posts with our thoughts on the Best American Band, and we’ve given everyone time to think about that extraordinarily weighty issue. Now, it’s time for you to vote. We’ll check back in a week and declare a winner. Please, vote for just one of the candidates.

The Blame Game

With the economy performing poorly, unemployment up to 9.4 percent, and the federal budget deficit ballooning, look for politicians of both parties to focus on the blame game. This article asks whether it is time to saddle President Obama and the current administration with responsibility for these conditions.

I think it is unfair to contend that President Obama is solely to blame for our current predicament; rather, there is plenty of blame to be spread among irresponsible politicians of both parties. I also think, however, that if the recovery is stalled or weakened because our economy is burdened with enormous federal debt and/or inflation, it is not unfair to hold the Obama Administration accountable. The President got what he asked for from Congress, and so far it hasn’t delivered the “stimulus” that was promised and forecast. Instead, the only apparent effect to date has been a huge amount of federal borrowing that has not had any immediate positive impact, but threatens to have negative long-term consequences.

Air Conditioning

According to Wikipedia, the concepts underlying “air conditioning” were known to the ancient Romans, to Chinese dynasties in the centuries before A.D. 1000, and to the medieval Persians and Egyptians. The first modern, electrical air conditioning device was invented in 1902. Air conditioning was common in American hotels and restaurants in the 1960s — I recall, during summer visits to Ocean City, New Jersey during that decade, going to a restaurant that marketed itself with “air conditioned” painted on the front of the building in blue letters, with icicles hanging down — and, currently, virtually every American hotel, shopping mall, fast food outlet, grocery store, and other commercial establishment features powerful air conditioning units capable of cranking the temperature down to meat locker levels. During the summer and early fall months, when the mercury rises and humidity levels are high, many Americans — myself included — have come to rely on air conditioning to allow them to sleep comfortably and live their lives without dissolving into pools of sweat.

So, why are so many establishments in non-American countries so different? During our recent trip to Quebec, when we stayed at an otherwise spectacular hotel, our room air-conditioning unit was a pathetic failure. The only “conditioning” apparently accomplished was to add moisture to the air, and then feebly exhale the still warm, now moist, air into the room. It had about the same effect as someone breathing on you, and each morning I woke up a sweaty mess. Nor do I think our Canadian experience was anomalous. During our terrific trip to Italy, we experienced a number of sleepless nights when the heat and humidity in our rooms was unbearable. This may also be why so many restaurants and cafes overseas emphasize outdoor seating, where there is at least the promise of a breeze and cool shade.

Why can’t other countries be more like America, and recognize the value of air conditioning? If, as France’s high court found, access to the internet is a basic human right, shouldn’t air conditioning also receive that designation? Of course, if something like the recent “climate change” legislation passed by the House of Representatives is enacted into law, America could end up being more like other countries, and the current days of brisk, air conditioned comfort would become a fond but distant memory. To that I say:  Please, Congress — don’t take away my air conditioning!

Massachusetts Medicine

As Congress debates national health care and health insurance concepts, it seems wise to consider the actual experience of one state that has a universal health care law and mandates that every individual have health insurance.  This article discusses the Massachusetts approach and some of the cost and revenue issues it has encountered.

Hail, Ulysses!

After 17 and a half years — more than three times its original life expectancy — the Ulysses space probe will be shut down. Ulysses, which was a joint effort of NASA and the European Space Agency, has studied the Sun, the solar wind, cosmic rays, sun spots, and other solar activity and has provided unprecedented and interesting data that scientists expect to study for years to come. Power produced by the spacecraft’s generators has declined, and it therefore will receive its shut-down command on July 1. The European Space Agency website has a number of interesting links on Ulysses and its activities.

The Ulysses Spacecraft

The Ulysses Spacecraft

I love science stories, and it is always exciting to see a scientific effort that pays great dividends and demonstrates the capabilities of our existing space program and the possibilities for future exploration. Ulysses posed huge engineering challenges during its 17-year run, and the project managers and engineers performed masterfully. Among other things, they came up with an inventive solution to a potential freeze-up problem that allowed the spacecraft to continue to provide data for another year longer than expected. The fine work on the Ulysses project hearkens back to the days when NASA, through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, was a “federal agency that could.” Its activities promoted excellence, spurred many technological advancements, and encouraged many young Americans to become excited about science, math, and space exploration. For precisely those reasons, money spent on space exploration is money well spent.

So Shines A Good Deed In a Weary World

The title to this post is a quote from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  At the end of the film, after all of the other children have been eliminated from the competition by their own appalling character flaws, only Charlie remains — but Willy Wonka refuses to give Charlie the prize because his conduct in drinking the experimental cola allegedly violated the fine print on an elaborate contract.  Grandpa Joe is outraged by this jerky behavior, but Charlie nevertheless returns to Willy Wonka a prototype everlasting gobstopper, even though Charlie has been told he could sell it to Wonka’s competitor, Slugworth, for riches untold.  When Charlie returns the candy, Willy quietly says:  “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

I was reminded of that statement by a good deed that we personally experienced this week.  Last Friday we had a graduation card for Richard (with an enclosed gift) with us when we went to the outdoor graduation ceremony, but when we returned to the hotel room afterward we couldn’t find it.  Kish was afraid we had left it on the bus in the mad scramble during the rainstorm.  Sure enough, that is exactly what happened.  Earlier this week, I received a phone call from a manager at Chicago Classic Coach, the company that operated the bus, who reported that the bus driver had found the card and its contents and turned them in.  The manager then found me on the internet, sent me an e-mail, and after verifying my identity returned the card to us by mail.

In a time when we often focus on the negatives, it is wonderful to be able to commend a company and an individual for doing a good deed.  So, I say thank you to Chicago Classic Coach and the individual bus driver who found the card.  I salute and very much appreciate your honesty and integrity!  As I said to the manager, if I ever need a private coach in Chicago in the future, Chicago Classic Coach will unquestionably get my business — and I recommend it to anyone else who may need private coach transportation in Chicago, too.

Bills Unread, Duties Undone

The House has passed a 1200-page “climate bill” focused on development of new forms of energy and reducing “greenhouse gas” emissions. The bill will impose extensive regulations on a broad range of activities and on many different parts of the economy, and could have extraordinary long-term consequences for American society.

I admit that I am skeptical about the entire “global warming consensus,” simply because I don’t believe that real scientists try to quash debate — rather, they welcome it, because the process of testing hypotheses is precisely what leads to development of scientific truths. The bill’s acceptance of global warming as a basis for massive regulation, though, is really beside the point. What I find amazing about the “climate bill” is that so many of our elected representatives are prepared to vote for far-reaching legislation that they have not read, to which hundreds of pages of amendments were added at the eleventh hour. How many times have these kinds of last-minute bills been larded with amendments that reflect fundamentally corrupt political bargains and horse-trading? How many pet projects were funded through some unread provision added by a Rules Committee member?

Is it too much to expect that Members of Congress will at least read legislation before they vote on it?   Our Founding Fathers no doubt contemplated that elected representatives would read and understand the terms of bills and their potential consequences before they approved them — and, in this case, committed the nation to abrupt and extensive changes.

Trapped In The Tunnel Of Chiming Weirdness

The tunnel of chiming weirdness

We came home from Quebec through Detroit, which has a fine, modern airport. Unfortunately, it also has one of the banes of the frequent traveler — the under-the-runway concourse connection I call the Tunnel Of Chiming Weirdness. In Detroit, it is the tunnel connecting Concourse A and Concourses B and C. The tunnel has the standard moving walkways, but then inflicts upon the weary traveller a dim changing light show and weird, chiming, otherworldly music. In O’Hare, the Tunnel of Chiming Weirdness is the neon-ceilinged monstrosity that connects the United concourse with the rest of the airport. I am sure there are others I can’t think of at the moment.

Why do these off-putting light and sound shows exist in airport tunnels? Does someone actually think they are a triumph of modern “public art,” music, and design, or are they consciously designed to be so disturbing that they will cause travellers to sprint through the tunnel? Why can’t travellers who are changing planes just have a little peace and quiet as they walk through airports?

Qualite’ en Quebec

Chateau Frontenac
Chateau Frontenac

Kish and I had a wonderful time in Quebec, where we stayed at the memorable Chateau Frontenac. It is a grand old hotel, replete with the kind of detail and polish and wood paneling and flourishes that you would expect in a grand old hotel. (We won’t speak of the air conditioning unit in our room, however.)

Prior to our visit to Quebec, the only time I have been to Canada was to visit Niagara Falls when I was a kid. I’m not sure why I haven’t been to any other locations in Canada, but I now think that we will look to our neighbor to the north for other visits in the future. The country seems to have a lot to offer, from the islands to the east, to the French-speaking enclaves, to the Canadian Rockies and Vancouver to the west.
Kish and I like to walk, and Quebec is well-suited to self-guided walking tours. It is very picturesque, with pretty street scenes, colorful buildings, and little parks wedged in between. The streets in the old town section are brick and shaded and lined with shops and bistros. It is ideal for a casual stroll, some window shopping, and a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop for a cold beverage at an outdoor cafe.
A visit to Quebec helps to demonstrate what downtown Columbus is lacking. The streets in Quebec are inviting and friendly to walkers, but the streets in Columbus really aren’t — there are too many surface parking lots, too little shade, and too few buildings that catch the eye. Unfortunately for Columbus and many other American cities, quaint older brick and stone buildings were razed during the urban renewal days, and the buildings that remain are like islands in a concrete sea. I don’t think Columbus could ever be as scenic as Quebec — it isn’t a 400-year-old walled city that with French for its main language, for one — but a few parks, and small buildings, and shade trees, and street vendors would be a good start.

Who Makes The Choice?

This article reports on President Obama’s remarks last night about saving health care costs by avoiding expensive treatments of patients who are deemed to be terminally ill or otherwise unlikely to enjoy a long-term benefit from the procedure.  The President is right, of course:  one sure way to reduce health care costs is to eliminate the kinds of treatments or procedures that are available under a health care plan, or to limit who may obtain those treatments or procedures. 

One issue with the health care debate, however, is whether the American people will want to cede decision-making about the kind of care that is available to them, or their loved ones, to a governmental agency.  I think most people view decisions about care, when dealing with diseases like cancer, to be extremely difficult, highly personal decisions.   It is one thing for a patient and his or her family to decide that the best course is to not undergo painful or expensive treatments that may have only a small chance of curing an otherwise terminal condition.  It is another thing entirely for that decision to be made by a bureaucratic agency.

Quebec, A Church, And A Choir

Kish and I are in Quebec for a conference. It’s a very interesting city, particularly in the old section where we are staying. It is as if a portion of an old and charming European walled city had been lifted out of France or Luxembourg and plopped down in Canada, complete with crooked streets, pastel colored brick and stone buildings, outdoor cafes, and street performers.

Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires

Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires

Yesterday, as we we browsing through shops, I decided to take a break from the next shop down the street and instead visit the Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which is one of the old churches in Quebec — and there I had one of those magical travel moments. The church itself is striking. There is a sharp contrast between its simple stone exterior and its extraordinary interior, which features cream and gold coloring, large paintings, an altar with a castle theme, and a wooden boat hanging from the ceiling that appears to be an exact miniature replica of a sailing ship, correct in every detail. It was a feast for the eyes.

The wooden boat hanging from the ceiling
The wooden boat hanging from the ceiling

What really made the moment special, however, was that as I entered a choir happened to be singing. It was a choir of mostly children and teenagers, with one or two adults thrown in. They sang with only an organ for accompaniment, and their voices were terrific. Kish joined me and we sat there, mesmerized by the scene and the music as they sang hymns and an Irish prayer set to music. The choir closed with a rollicking version of an old spiritual, When I Lay My Burden Down, and then everyone filed out of the church and the moment was over — but it is a moment that I will always remember.

Jury Scamming

One of my lawyer friends over in Dayton reports that the jury service scam has resurfaced.  The scam is described by the FBI here. Basically, the victim gets a call from someone who purports to be with the Jury Commissioner’s office.  The caller notifies the victim that a warrant has been issued for his or her arrest because they missed jury duty.  When the victim protests that they didn’t get the summons for duty, the caller says the victim will need to provide certain personal information — including a Social Security number and so forth — to verify their identity and clear things up.  That personal information is then used for fraudulent purposes.

The ingenuity of the criminal mind is seemingly limitless.  What is especially choice about this particular scam is that it preys upon the fact that many people don’t read their mail and feel guilty about it.