To Sail On Distant Seas

Artist's depiction of the surface of Titan

Here’s a pretty cool space exploration idea:  land a craft on one of the seas on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.  Because Titan is so cold, the seas aren’t filled with water, but with liquid hydrocarbons, including methane, ethane, and propane.  (Hank Hill no doubt would support the idea.)  NASA thinks Titan may have more hydrocarbons than Earth has oil and natural gas.

The Titan exploration proposal would be pretty cheap by modern standards, costing only a few hundred million dollars — about the price of a Senator’s vote for the health care bill.  And it has the advantage of being creative and evocative, drawing on the rich history of Earth exploration by sailing ships.

The Economy At Christmas — The View From Central Ohio

The tree at Easton

Yesterday Kish and I went Christmas shopping for a few things.  It was a mistake.   The roads to Easton, our nearby shopping megaplex, were jammed, and when we got there we could not find a parking place.  As we drove through the Easton complex, we saw lots of shoppers, although not many seemed to be carrying multiple bags with their purchases.  We eventually went to a store called World Market, where a fair amount of the goods seemed to be on sale but there were lines at the cash registers.  As I waited for Kish to make her selections I saw a number of shoppers pick up items and consider them, but ultimately put them back on the shelves and move on.  We also visited the nearby wine and liquor shop, which was doing land-office business.  We contributed to their sales, I must admit.

I’m not sure what inferences can be drawn from this one-shot exposure to the Christmas shopping season in central Ohio, but based on that limited experience my guess is that people are out shopping but are being selective and cautious in their purchases and are largely resisting “impulse purchases.”  I also think that buying wine, beer, and liquor for the holidays probably is pretty much immune to economic downturns.

I also think that businesses are pulling in their horns for this holiday season.  At work, I seem to be getting fewer Christmas cards — even of the electronic variety — and there clearly are fewer holiday parties and business gifts being given.  In the past, there were many business-related holiday parties to attend, and service vendors like court reporters and copying services typically gave bottles of wine, tins of holiday sweets and snacks, and holiday-themed presents to their valued customers.  This year, no one seems to be doing so.  That suggests to me that businesses are still being careful with their spending because of concerns about where the economy is heading.

From all of this, I suspect that the results of the Christmas shopping season will be decent, but no record — and perhaps not the consumer-driven boost to the economy that some observers are hoping for.

The Nebraska “Compromise”

According to news reports, Senate Majority Harry Reid apparently has secured the 60th vote necessary to pass a “health care reform” measure — whatever that measure may be.  It is difficult to know exactly what the bill ultimately will include because, as the full Senate has debated one bill, Reid evidently has been cobbling together the real bill in the form of a “manager’s amendment.”   As I understand the procedure, once Reid is certain that he has the necessary 60 votes he will offer his amendment to substitute for the bill then being debated, seek a cloture vote to end all debate, and then have a vote on the just-introduced amendment.

The 60th vote evidently is Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson.  The price for his vote, among other items, is a provision stating that the federal government will pick up Nebraska’s share of the cost of expanding Medicaid, which is one of the other provisions of the sprawling bill.  In short, thanks to Nelson’s coy game of hard-to-get, Nebraska taxpayers will get a free ride and taxpayers in Ohio, and Tennessee, and New Mexico, and other states will pick up Nebraska’s share of the tab.

I don’t care which side of the “health care reform” debate you are on:  this kind of crass political bargaining should disgust everyone.  The polling results show that a majority of Americans are opposed to the hash-house “health care reform” legislation — and now we learn that the price for having this unwanted bill crammed down our throats is that we also get saddled with subsidizing Nebraska (and, according to the article linked above, a few other states as well).  As of November, the unemployment rate in Ohio was 10.6 percent; in Nebraska it was 4.5 percent.  Why in the world, then, are Ohio taxpayers paying a portion of Nebraska’s share of costs?

This latest development just shows that there is no barter too crude, no back-room deal too base, and no “compromise” too appalling for Majority Leader Reid to entertain in his headlong rush to gain passage of his “manager’s amendment” by Christmas.   The end result of the legislative payoffs to individual Senators and their states is a rank, costly disaster that is slowly emerging from Congress like waste product emerges from the butt-end of the digestive tract.