Archive for December, 2011

Ring out the Old, ring in the New

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Dec. 26, 2011

Last week was poetry. This week it’s fun.

I am always impressed at how little people read (present reader excepted) …

Like at the health club where my wife and I go swimming regularly. The staff put a large sign on the door to the locker room last week that due to repairs there would be no water in the showers that afternoon. Wouldn’t you know, a fellow member comes out of the shower stalls that afternoon, naked and dry, shouting to anyone and everyone, “Help! The water’s not working!”

A New Yorker cartoon has four panels. Three of them show a couple driving down a rural road past three signs, all of them promising “Fresh Corn Ahead.” The final panel has the woman getting out of the car and asking the farmer, “Is the corn fresh?”

A woman bought a new laptop computer and couldn’t figure out how to install the batteries. When she called the company hot line for help the technician told her that the instructions for putting the batteries were on the first page of the instruction manual. She growled, “I just paid $2000 for this damn thing, and I’m not going to read a book.”

The poetry of the day is often found in one-liners on bumper stickers. For would-be scientists we have …

Astronomy is looking up

Biologists Do It Better

Eat/Die

Stop Continental Drift!

For political junkies in Madison …

Recall Walker

For political junkies outside Madison …

I Stand With Scott Walker

For assorted cranks and wise-guys …

Visualize whirled peas

Happiness is seeing your boss’s picture on the back of a milk carton

My karma ran over my dogma

Support bacteria—they’re the only culture some people have

Nudist families have more fun

We are the 99%

A protester in Great Britain claimed, “We’re fed up with being broke. … There are people here with nothing.”

“Nothing, that is,” said the psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple, “except an education that has cost $80,000, a roof over their head, clothes on their back and shoes on their feet, food in their stomachs, a cellphone, a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, an electric stove, heating and lighting, hot and cold running water, a guaranteed income, free medical care, and all of the same for any of the children they might care to propagate.”

So far my new book has not sold many copies. I take heart from the Beatles …

In 1962 Dick Rowe, head of Decca Records, said, “Guitar groups are on the way out … the Beatles have no future in show business.”

Two years later a Newsweek music reviewer wrote, “Musically they are a near disaster; guitars slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of ‘yeah, yeah, yeah!’) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.”

Country western has always been popular with simpler sentiments …

I Got You on My Conscience but at Least You’re Off My Back

Did I Shave My Legs for This?

Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone

My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, and I Sure Do Miss Him

I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling

You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too

The Darwin Awards are given each year to the least evolved of us. Here are a few of the lucky devils from last year …

“When his 38-caliber revolver failed to fire at the intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, the would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

“The Chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat-cutting machine and submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company, suspecting negligence, sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine and he lost a finger too. The chef’s claim was approved.

“The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at 5 A.M., flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast. Frustrated, the man walked away.”

Did you get holiday letters reporting on how wonderful life was in 2011? Here is a classic from the late Ann Landers column a few years ago …

“Budget cuts at Ed’s company resulted in many layoffs, and he has been unemployed for 10 months. The mortgage company calls on a weekly basis to threaten foreclosure, but I am not worried because I was offered a part-time job at Burger King for $4 an hour. Our son Billy’s new business was doing well until his partner and best friend embezzled $25,000 and left with their secretary for the South Seas. Jimmy has many friends. Unfortunately, they are members of the Deadly Snakes motorcycle gang and wanted by the police. Suzy had her nose pierced for Christmas and looks like a freak. We had to replace the roof on the house after that hurricane destroyed it. When we called the contractor, we found out he went out of business due to many lawsuits. Our family vacation this year consisted of visiting the Christmas display on Main Street.”

“Cool” is one of the more durable adjectives. Not all of us oldsters get it right though. An older woman came up to Yogi Berra after a spring training game in Florida and said, “My, you look mighty cool Yogi.” He answered, “You don’t look so hot yourself.”

Final word of advice for the New Year from F. P. Jones, “Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.”

Please have a Happy Healthy and Prosperous New Year.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you got a Kindle for Christmas your best post-Christmas bargain could be my new book, TWILIGHT OR DAWN? a Traveler’s Guide to Free Market Liberal Democracy. You can get it in e-book form now on www.amazon.com for 99 cents!

P.P.S. For anyone who is home-schooling their children, or works in a school with a limited budget for media and would like to purchase great up-to-date DVDs at bargain prices—check out our selection on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com now. We have a bloated inventory of super-good DVD programs that regularly sell for $54.50 to $98.50. All DVDs are new copies with 21st century copyrights. I would like to see them get a wider circulation before I close down the company and pass on to the great unknown. In the meantime I could use the cash. To help this process along I have reduced the price to $9.50 a program. This sale price will be in effect through January and February of 2012.

P.P.P.S. All of our DVDs are also good entertainment and education for adult learners in science, history and politics. Especially many of the new and updated DVDs on Democracy, Biotechnology, Capitalism, Religion, Ecology, Environment, Radiation, and Nuclear Power. Wisconsin studies too. If you go to amazon.com just type in Hawkhill or Bill Stonebarger to see the rich selection available. On our hawkhill.com website you can see all of our DVDs at $9.50 apiece. Give them a try. You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it.

Dust and the Light of a Star

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Dec. 19, 2011

Recent blogs have been pretty heavy going. It’s time for some holiday cheer.

See below for some worthy quotes on science and civics from sources far and near …

Christians are reminded of their earthy connections on another astronomically significant day when the priest on Ash Wednesday rubs ashes onto your forehead and says, “from dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.” Astronomers and biochemists know that we are made of chemicals held together and powered by radiation. The late anthropologist, Loren Eisley, translated science into poetry when he wrote his version. We are made “of dust and the light of a star.”

Being an idea man I love big ideas like this one. I also recognize that important and interesting as ideas can be, they don’t hold a candle to individuals, to the concrete reality of the here and now. As some wise person said, “Education is fine but don’t forget to feed the dog.” Then there is Winnie-the-Pooh who argued, “You can’t help respecting somebody who can spell Tuesday, even if they don’t spell it right.”

For the here and now you have to turn to religion, to the arts, to literature—especially poetry. When I was a young man I drove a cab one summer in Colorado. I drove the night shift and when things got slow around three in the morning I would buy a cup of coffee and take out my copy of A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry. I memorized quite a few poems that way. Some lines from Conrad Aiken were among the favorites I still remember and recite to myself today …

“It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning

When the light drips through the shutters like the dew

I arise, I face the sunrise,

And do the things my fathers learned to do.

Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops

Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,

And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet

Stand before a glass and tie my tie.”

A little later I wrote some poetry and had published my first book, A Little While Aware. It was not a best-seller, but I did get a rave review from a newspaper critic who compared me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet I had long admired. Here is one of his poems

“Glory be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.”

And here is one of mine that connects big ideas with the here and now …

When I return will the fish still swim,

Glide, dive and slowly turn in the far-off dark-down sea?

Will life still explode in seed and spore

And decay in time?

Will questions of great moment

Still be settled by childhood dreams and luck?

I think I shall return as rock.

My rhythm shall be paced slow

To the grand tread of the century’s boot.

I will be soil, and trees,

Sparrow and snakes,

Blue-bottomed whales, oak-ribbed barns,

skyscrapers too—

but not too soon.

Then when autumn returns again

I will have learned my piece.

I shall stand by my seat

And Yes I’ll answer,

Yes.

Just as there is a geosphere (inanimate matter) and a biosphere (living matter), so there is a “noosphere” (world of thought) that complements, interacts with, and sometimes dominates the geosphere and the biosphere. In the 21st century, the Internet version of this noosphere is supplementing, expanding, and in cloud-like ways revolutionizing all of our lives. Perhaps that is why Facebook is so popular. Everyone wants to get in the act. Everyone wants to be more than dust and starlight. They want to, as I once put it in another early poem …

Add our increment of honest meaning

To the not-quite-finished universe.

Thanks to a loyal reader of my blogs, Andrea Battern, for two stories to grace this holiday season …

“During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the classroom?’

“Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?

“I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

“’Absolutely,’ said the professor.‘ In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello.’”

“I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned that her name was Dorothy.”

Finally, a tale of blood and sacrifice to touch your heart on the days when dust and starlight (of our sun at least) are in shortest supply …

“Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously recovered from the same disease and had developed the antibodies to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.

“I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.’ As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.

“He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die right away?’

“The little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood.”

Please have a Very Merry Christmas.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. No commercials today.

The Second Cold War

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Dec. 12, 2011

The First Cold War lasted half a century. The West, led by the United States, won. The Communists, led by the Soviet Union, lost. During that Cold War we had many fellow travelers, sometimes called controllable Marxists. People like Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Charlie Chaplin, Walter Duranty, Saul Alinsky, Pete Seeger, Henry Wallace and hundreds of thousands of other entertainers, scientists, media stars, CEOs and union leaders, politicians and academics. Including me. New left heroes like Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Noam Chomsky, John Lennon, and Allen Ginsberg joined the ranks in the Vietnam War days. Not including me.

Most fellow travelers were sincere, intelligent, and had the best of intentions. They supported, and in many cases led, progressive movements that brought genuine progress in the West, including women’s liberation and civil rights. They were not communists but were sympathetic to socialist ideas. And they did their best to blunt efforts to combat the international movement that wanted to remake the world into a socialist utopia where Marxist-inspired command economics was supposed to bring freedom and prosperity to all.

The socialist utopia never arrived and the price for pursuing it was high. Over one hundred million people lost their lives. The price was paid in massacres, slave labor camps and government-caused famines. It added up to more misery and death than all the wars of the 20th century combined.  As one French fellow traveler, Paul Noirot, wrote in honest despair after the Cold War ended, “At the end of the day we built nothing that lasted: no political system, no economic system, no communities, no ethic, no aesthetic. We wanted to realize the highest human aspirations and we ended up birthing monsters.”

Today in the West there is what I call a Second Cold War. This one unites followers of an environmental near-religion with at times uncomfortable bedfellows—left-wing descendants of Cold War fellow travelers. This potent combination makes claim number four—that most of our troubles today can be traced to corporate greed and globalization theft. It’s a not-so-new twist on an old Marxist theme—class warfare.

There is no question that there is inequality of wealth in the world. In past ages the inequality was much greater but it is true that the one percent at the top today have more net worth than forty percent at the bottom.

In the West, however, the 99% are pretty rich too. They are much richer than they were in the 1950s when income tax rates for the wealthy were much higher but the government got a much smaller percentage of its revenue from the rich than they do today. Even the bottom one percent today are richer than the top one percent of all previous ages. They have better food, less violence, longer life, better health, less pain, more travel, better shelter, more life, liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness.

In the socialist bloc countries of the Cold War there was less inequality, but 99% of the people were not pretty rich, they were very poor. As they are today in the two countries still committed to a radically socialist economy, Cuba and North Korea. In countries today with a watered-down version of socialism like Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Russia, Syria, Iran, Egypt and much of Africa, most people are also mostly poor.

On the other hand, major countries like China, India, Brazil and Mexico that in past decades relied heavily on socialist-leaning solutions are now helping the 99% to a better life by changing gears and moving strongly toward free-market capitalist ideas.

In Europe today most countries are still relatively free and relatively rich. But many are in increasing distress. After a strong recovery from WW2, countries in Europe fell for the siren song of command economy solutions: increase social services at the expense of the private sector; promote cradle-to-grave support for all; generously subsidize agriculture and desirable industries and heavily regulate them; don’t worry about deficits and debt. If obstacles—private property, greedy corporations or free trade—get in the way, pass laws to bypass or cripple them. For a while it worked pretty well. Today countries from Greece, Italy and Spain to Ireland, France and the UK are facing bankruptcy. Like people who have run up too much credit card debt they can’t pay the bills coming due.

I can already hear the critics howl: “So are you saying we should not have social security, Medicare, National Health Insurance, the EPA, public schools, and the thousand and one other benefits our government is now providing?”

No, I’m not. We are wealthy enough in this country to afford a modest safety net for all citizens. We are wealthy and smart enough to know we need to have reasonable regulations to protect our environment. We need the government to provide infrastructure and services it would be difficult or impossible to provide otherwise.  We need good public schools. We need a strong police and military to protect us from foreign and domestic thieves and murderers, and to enforce laws, guard the borders, protect private property, encourage free trade and foster justice.

But we are also wealthy and smart enough to know we should practice moderation in all things and be careful that in providing generous benefits we do not kill the geese that are laying the golden eggs. These golden eggs are the things that have made the 99% of us so rich, free, environmentally clean, and able to provide justice for all.

Who lays the golden eggs?

Creative entrepreneurs; productive managers in small and large companies; efficient workers in mines, factories, farms, hospitals, stores and offices; researchers in productive laboratories; good teachers in great schools; effective government employees; merchants and sales people; plumbers, electricians, truck-drivers, construction workers, fast-food cooks, janitors, etc., etc. In short, all the hard-working people who give a little more than they get and whose collective win-win transactions in an environment of freedom have made the rich world most of us enjoy today.

Globalization too creates more wealth for all. When we import goods and services from China, India, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America—China, India, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America escape from poverty and we get richer too. When we try to substitute subsidies, grants and fair trade, we get losers instead. Win-win trades are the very heart of what has made us such a rich country.

What makes for poverty? I choose my words carefully—a surplus of non-workers and a shortage of the freedom that leads to productive work and win-win trades.

Fellow travelers today, as in decades past, are right to want the poor and oppressed to have a voice, a vote, and a chance to get rich. They are right in supporting industrial and trade unions in their fight to get a fair share of the profits. They are right in fighting discrimination and injustice wherever found. Environmentalists are right to want to protect our air, soil and water. But both environmentalists and fellow travelers are wrong to want to expand the ranks of non-workers and to curtail the freedom needed to get productive work and win-win trades.

In practice fellow travelers and environmentalists are also wrong to demonize the rich; to bad mouth oil, gas and coal companies; to pit Main Street against Wall Street; to promote consumption while handicapping production; to demand regulations that give questionable benefits at enormous costs; to promote dependency on the government and condemn as racists those who seek to encourage self-help and independence; to claim that demand is more important than supply. (On this last issue the sustainable greens are uncomfortable bedfellows with their Marxist colleagues. Greens want to reduce both demand and supply to save the planet.)

It may be an exaggeration to call it a Second Cold War. Or maybe not. The stakes are high. Let’s hope it is decided by education and elections and not by street protests and violence.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. For more evidence and detail on the Second Cold War, see my new book, TWILIGHT OR DAWN? a Traveler’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy. (Part Four, pp. 218-280.) It can be found on www.hawkhill.com or on www.amazon.com. Also available now in e-book form.

Population

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Dec. 5, 2011

The green sustainable movement is built on the three claims, all of them false: (1) resources are rapidly dwindling; (2) our industrial system is destroying the planet with pollution; and (3) there are too many people. I addressed the first two over the last three weeks. Now comes the third—population.

Like everyone I worry about overpopulation when I get into a horrible traffic jam; when I have to wait in a long line at the checkout counter; when I drive around Chicago or up the eastern seaboard from Washington to Boston; when I see riots, famines, oil spills and OWS protests on my TV screen. What are these people doing for heaven’s sakes? Why aren’t they working … or … well … whatever?

On the other hand when I drive through the plains of Nebraska, Kansas or North Dakota; the forests of Michigan, Wisconsin or Maine; the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico or California; the mountains of Colorado, Utah or Wyoming—I wonder, where are all the people?

Jane and I have also been fortunate to visit the rainforests of Brazil, Thailand and Puerto Rico; see the wildlife in South Africa, Kenya and Ecuador; trek in the mountainous and the agricultural regions of China, Morocco and Turkey; and explore the surprising wild spots of Germany, Italy and France. Beautiful. Where are all the people?

Personal experiences are on thing, serious data another. Here the story is clearer. The wealthiest, healthiest, best fed, best educated and most creative parts of earth are also the most densely populated. The poorest, least educated, most disease and famine-ridden parts of earth are the least densely populated.

How many people can the resources of planet earth support with a decent life style? According to some ecological gurus like Howard Odum, John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich, only one billion at best. An anonymous writer in The New Yorker wrote in 1992, “Almost everyone now agrees that if people in the South [the Southern Hemisphere] tried to live as we do in the North, the result would be ecological disaster.”

Almost everyone does not include me, or an increasing majority of scientific and economic experts. We already have seven billion neighbors and more than half of that seven billion do have a decent life style. A smaller number are still poor but moving rapidly in the decent direction.

Is there a theoretical limit? Of course. The earth is finite and can’t support an infinite number of anything. But that useless exercise in logic is itself the basic fault in the doomsday whine. It is based on Malthus’s claim that people multiply geometrically and resources can only increase arithmetically. The facts show that historically we have not multiplied geometrically (today populations in developed countries are decreasing, not multiplying) and resources have not grown arithmetically (today resources are multiplying geometrically). All this error came because Malthus (and his followers today) left out the most important part of populations and of resources—the creativity of the human mind.

Populations in the wealthy countries of Europe, Japan and North America have plateaued and in most cases are decreasing today. In poorer countries in the tropics, the Southern Hemisphere and parts of Asia and the Middle East populations are still increasing, but at a much diminished rate. It is as near certain as anything can be in history that as these countries get richer and move into the modern scientific-industrial-democratic era their populations will do the same, plateau out. We are in no danger, and never were, of having to cope with infinity of people.

We are still living at the dawn of the scientific-industrial-democratic age of earth. Populations have exploded in the past two hundred years just as they did when humans moved from a hunting/gathering life style to an agricultural one. And they are leveling off now, just as they did in the early centuries of the agricultural age.

In our case not only has the number of people increased dramatically in the past two hundred years, so too life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has improved even more dramatically for billions of people. This progress, both in numbers and in quality of life is unprecedented.

Unless you are an incurable misanthrope how can you want to return to the one billion level? Do you want to deny the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to six out of seven of your family and neighbors? That’s what it amount to unless you are also an incurable racist and just want to get rid of six out of seven Africans, Asians and Latin Americans.

The earth now has more intelligence and creativity than it had in all of its past ages combined. And most people everywhere—even the ones with limited intelligence and creativity— are better off now than they have ever been before in human history. Less violence, less poverty, better environments, better health, more food, more years of life, more pleasure, more leisure, more travel, less pain, more possibilities for … anything and everything. Instead of bemoaning the dramatic increase in populations we should shout hoorah and halleluiah. It is the greatest story of progress ever told!

It is true that more people means more demand for food and other resources. As the late economist and pioneer researcher on population issues, Julian Simon, wrote, “a human mind seldom comes unaccompanied by a human body.” Recent history has clearly shown how powerful creative minds have been in expanding the supply of food and other life needed resources. As a result, seven billion people are better off than one billion were two hundred years ago.

“Resources,” claimed Simon, “come out of people’s minds more than out of the ground or air. Minds matter economically as much as or more than hands or mouths. Human beings create more than they use, on average. It had to be so, or we would be an extinct species. These [Malthusian] models simply do not comprehend key elements of people—the imaginative and creative.

“This is my long-run forecast in brief, the material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today’s Western living standards.

“I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse.”

Which, dear reader, are you?

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. My recent DVD program, Resources, Populations and Climate Change gives more detail on all these subjects. You can read and download the complete script free of charge. See also my new book, TWILIGHT OR DAWN? a Traveler’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy. (Chapter 18 is on populations.) Both can be found on our web site: www.hawkhill.com.

P.P.S. If you want to read an excellent summary of the contrast between doomster and boomster versions of resources, pollution and population, I also recommend an article from Wired, “The Doomslayer,” by Ed Regis.