Wingtips On The Beach

The picture of President Obama, wearing dress slacks, a white shirt, and dark shoes as he “checked for tar balls” on a Louisiana beach, gave me an unexpected chuckle. 

I suppose the White House wanted to have a photo op that conveyed in some visible way the President’s concern about the oil spill, but why would the Leader of the Free World use a few minutes of his three-hour visit to beachcomb for a few tar balls?  Surely he could have used his precious time more productively.  And didn’t he feel a bit silly looking profoundly at a tiny tar ball, as if it held some meaningful secret on how to stop, or at least minimize, one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever experienced?  I bet he was thinking: “This is ridiculous.  What kind of look am I supposed to have on my face right now, anyway?  Concerned?  Scientifically curious?  Angry?  Sad?  Why did I let Gibbs talk me into this idiocy?”

The photo of the white-shirted, dark-shoe-wearing President on the beach also reminded me of the classic shot of Dick Nixon relaxing on the beach, as he strode purposefully by, leaving wingtip prints in the sand.  Why do most Presidents look like nerds when they are on the beach?

Electronic Christmas Cards

Every year I choose from among the firm’s holiday cards and then individually write, address, and mail the cards to clients. I send the cards as a personal expression of appreciation and good will, with a handwritten note and signature. I occasionally get Christmas cards where the “sender’s” name is embossed on the card and there is no sign that the card has even been seen, much less touched, by a human being. What is the point of such cards? If you can’t take a few moments to write a message expressing your thanks or extending your good wishes for the holiday season and the coming year, what is the point of sending a card in the first place?

This year the firm is strongly encouraging all attorneys to send electronic cards, because they are “greener.” I want to support the firm’s efforts to be environmentally sensitive, so for the first time I will be sending out electronic cards this year. I have to admit, though, that I am having some doubts. Although you apparently can type a personal message with your card, I am not sure it conveys the same degree of holiday cheer as a paper card. Greetings that you can send out with a few keystrokes and a tap of the “send” button don’t seem as meaningful as holiday wishes that are handwritten, hand-addressed, licked, stamped, and put in the mailbox. Will the people who get the electronic cards feel like they have gotten short shrift?

Readers: What do you think?

What If India Won’t Play Ball?

India not only is balking at agreeing to limitations on carbon emissions, it also apparently is challenging the science underlying global warming theories. This development is noteworthy, because if India and the other growing economic powers — China, Brazil, and Indonesia — refuse to participate in some kind of binding worldwide effort to reduce our carbon footprint, it puts the United States in a terrible predicament.

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions involve both a scientific component and a geopolitical one. As I have written before, I am skeptical of the science underlying global warming and its heavy reliance on computer modeling. In any case, the geopolitical component is at least as important as the scientic. I do not mean to downplay the significance of getting agreement from countries like Germany and Japan on capping and eventually reducing their emissions, but at least part of that reduction will be achieved by the ongoing general population decline in those countries. Japan’s population, for example, is projected to decline from 128 million in 2008 to 95 million in 2050. Germany’s population is forecast to fall from 82 million in 2008 to 71 million in 2050. If a country is going to experience significant reductions in the number of people who drive cars, it is necessarily going to reduce its carbon emissions, without making any lifestyle sacrifices or handicapping its industry with regulations that raise costs and therefore prices.

What about China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those four countries and the United States are the five most populous countries in the world. And, unlike Japan and Germany, the populations in those countries are growing rapidly. India, which had about 1.1 billion people in 2008, is expected to become the most populous country in the world by 2050, with 1.7 billion carbon-consuming and carbon-emitting individuals. During that same time period, China’s population is projected to grow from 1.3 billion to 1.4 billion, Indonesia’s population is expected to grow from 240 million to 343 million, and Brazil’s population is forecast to grow from 195 million to 259 million. The population of the United States, on the other hand, is projected to grow from 304 million in 2008 to 438 million in 2050.

If countries like India and China refuse to agree to reducing greenhouse gases because they don’t want to saddle their growing economies with the costs that would accompany that effort, the impact of those decisions would obliterate any carbon emissions reductions achieved in Germany and Japan. Obviously, if any significant percentage of the 600 million new Indian citizens uses electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, wears clothing produced in smoke-belching factories, or drives a car powered by fossil fuels, the impact on India’s carbon footprint will be tremendous.

What does this mean for America? Perhaps it means that we should not charge blindly ahead with legislation designed to force our industry to comply with difficult regulations that can only increase the costs of the goods they produce and try to sell in the global marketplace. Our businesses already have to comply with significant wage and hour, safety, and environmental regulations that are not found in other countries. If we add carbon emission regulations that are rejected by other economies, the only immediate impact will be to make our companies even less competitive with those in India, China, and elsewhere. In an era of significant global economic challenges, taking unilateral action that cripples our industries and makes them less capable of employing Americans seems ill-advised — indeed, almost suicidal.

A Gooey Ocean Mystery

I enjoy stories about unexplained natural phenomena, so I very much like this story about miles of a thick gooey substance floating in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.  Apparently the tests have ruled out any kind of oil or hazardous substance and have indicated that the material is “biological.”  What, then, could it be?  Could some kind of heretofore unknown plant or aquatic life form from the deep crevices of the ocean have floated to the surface, for example?

It is always exciting to realize that there are still things that we do not know, and still discoveries to be made on planet Earth.

Burn On, Big River

The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire

The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire

On June 22, 1969 — 40 years ago — the Cuyahoga River caught fire.  It was, I think, the third time that had happened over the years.  People will say, in retrospect, that the fire helped to increase environmental awareness, led to the passage of the Clean Water Act and various environmental regulations, and therefore ultimately was a positive thing.  As a kid growing up in Akron at the time, I didn’t think about any of that stuff.  It was just another black eye for Cleveland and northern Ohio, and it hurt to hear comedians make jokes about the city.  But, who could blame them?  What could be more outlandish than a river catching fire?

I knew that the river was a mess, because I had visited it with my Akron City Schools grade school class for a cruise on the Good Time II.   The river smelled horrible and looked horrible; it was a black, oily mess that flowed sluggishly and was chock full of debris.  At one point on our cruise we passed a police boat that we suddenly realized was fishing a dead body from the river.  The teacher made us all go to the other side of the boat so we wouldn’t see it.

The PD has a good story today about the fire and its aftermath.  The picture of the man’s oily hand reminds me of the Good Time II cruise.  Interestingly, the river story has a happy ending; the regulations have worked, the river is clean again, and is the home to fish and the site of pleasant recreational activity.  But, when many people think of the Cuyahoga River, they will think of Randy Newman’s Burn On, which provided the title for this posting.  The facts have changed, but the city’s embarrassment still lingers.

Where Have All The Lightning Bugs Gone?

Lightning bugs, doing their thing

Lightning bugs, doing their thing

Has anyone else noticed an apparent drop in the population of lightning bugs on sultry evenings? When I was a kid, catching lightning bugs was one of the fun things to do on a summer night. When they came out, you’d go inside, get a glass jar, punch some holes in the tops with scissors or a screwdriver, and toss some grass into the bottom of the jar. Then, you would go out, catch as many lightning bugs as you could, and then drop them into the jar and screw the top back on.  After a while, the lights from the bugs in the jar helped you hunt.  The bugs were perfect prey, being oblivious to the shouts of children and willing to light up again and again even after narrowly escaping a capture attempt. They were easy to catch once you got the hang of seeing them, and the best conditions occurred about 45 minutes before the sun went down, when there were deep shadows but enough light to see the bugs after their lights went out. Once it became dark, you could see the bugs when they were lit, but once they deilluminated you would quickly lose track of them. Kish and I took a walk tonight at prime time for lightning bug viewing, and the showing was pretty weak. We saw one or two of them in the low-lying, shaded areas where you would expect to see a dozen. What has happened?

Lightning bugs are actually nocturnal beetles, members of the family Lampyridae. They love moisture and thrive in wet, humid areas. According to National Geographic, their blinking pattern is designed to help them attract mates, and each species has a unique flashing pattern. The males apparently are the ones who fly around blinking, while the females hang out on leaves, and only flash when they see a male who catches their fancy. The pair then exchange signals until the guy finally knows he’s got a legitimate shot. (This explains, I suppose, why flying lightning bugs are single-minded in their flashing and uncaring about noise.)A lightning bug

Internet research indicates that scientists are concerned that there is a worldwide decline in the population of lightning bugs. A conference of entomologists and biologists last year in Thailand addressed the problem and concluded that the reasons for the population drop is destruction of natural habitat and light pollution. The moist areas where lightning bugs used to thrive have fallen prey to urban sprawl, and I believe that many people also have consciously tried to get rid of the wetter areas because they attract not only lightning bugs, but also pesky and often disease-carrying mosquitoes. Some scientists hypothesize that artificial lights may be interfering with the mating patterns of the beetles. And, as someone who fancied himself a skilled lightning bug hunter, I like to think that their population may have been thinned somewhat, even if only a bit, by the rigorous backyard hunting efforts of 10-year-olds.

There are still some damp lowlands areas of our corner of New Albany, in the area around Rose Run Creek. Let’s hope there are still lightning bugs down there, waiting for the next hardy hunter. It would be tragic if such an innocent element of summertime fun were to disappear.

A lightning bug