Friday, December 14, 2007

A Battle Won

This Associated Press article reports that seven western states have reached agreement on how to divvy up the scarce water resources of the arid region. California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are the states in question.
The plan specifies how and when agencies in each state will face reductions during drought.... The agreements also establish rules for handling surplus water in times of plentiful runoff, and they encourage water conservation.

This story isn't sexy, but reflects an issue that will be of increasing importance in the future: scarcity of fresh, potable water. This agreement is good news in a time when good news isn't terribly common. It shows that - contrary to current practice in Washington - governments can reach agreement and accomplish things for the common good.

Travel Blogging Alert

Over the next 3-4 weeks I will be travel blogging from some exotic places, most of which will be in the southern hemisphere. Political commentary will be light as my news access will be fragmentary at best. I do hope to learn the results of the Iowa caucuses, and to comment thereupon in a timely fashion.

Faithful readers, I wish you all the most Happy Holidays and the fortitude to live up to your New Years resolutions. In return, I'd ask you to wish for me and the other DrC the historic mariner's hope:
Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Immigration Is Issue One

Reporters Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, writing in The Politico, indicate that the need to stop illegal immigration is the number one issue on voters' minds as we head into the primary season. They cite an example of a Republican who recently won in a special election in Ohio using immigration as his main platform.
(Bob) Latta, running in a special election for a suburban Toledo-based House district, crafted a message — echoed by party officials — that bashed illegal immigrants who live here, drive here or get government-funded health care. He won by 14 points. Democrats and Republicans alike credit the immigration message for the big margin. It’s already clear this result is no anomaly.

Interestingly, they find that only Republicans are talking about it. If illegal immigration is really the key issue, and Democrats "won't go there," that seems to be a big advantage for the Republican candidate in November, so long as their nominee is not John "Mr. Amnesty" McCain.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Military Humor Alert

Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard posts the following on his website:

I was depressed last night so I rang Lifeline.
I was transferred to a call center in Pakistan.
I told them I was suicidal.
They got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.

Either you find that funny or you don't. I do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let's Invent a Disease

From the happy folks who discovered "restless leg syndrome" in order to have a diagnosis for which a drug already existed, we now get a new syndrome: "River Nose." This is a loosely defined cluster of symptoms experienced by those who windsurf or kiteboard on the Columbia River. Here is the article.

Sounds to me like people getting chilled in the frigid water and catching cold. I doubt that the Columbia River is more polluted than San Diego Bay.

First Person Account of Ship Sinking in Antarctica

I received the attached letter from a friend (hat tip to Miss Phyllis). I have no idea about the source or veracity but most of it sounds believable. Who knew toilets could sink a ship?

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday (Tuesday) when we went through immigration in San Francisco, the immigration agent asked us the usual question: occupation, what did you likebest/least about your trip? To the former we replied retired/dietitian. To the latter we replied: the ship sank/we're alive. Suddenly this lethargic civil servant woke up. He wanted to hear all about what happened.

Before I go on, you must understand one thing. While we went through the same experience, shoulder to shoulder and often hand in hand, we have different feelings about it. Indeed, everyone who went through it with us has their own unique and personal feelings. While I was cold, wet, shivering, and throwing up, it never occurred to me that I could die. Lynne however was thinking about: what if the weather suddenly changed, if we hit ice or took a big wave and were swamped, if we would capsize. Therefore, in writing this I can only write for myself. Whatever I write is filtered through my perceptions which could be quite different for Lynne.

Thursday night we were tired. Instead of watching the 9:15 movie we showered and were in bed by 10:00. I fitfully tried to go to sleep. We were going through brash ice - little pieces of ice. Since we were on the third deck, as low as you could go, half our cabin was below the waterline. I could hear the pieces of brash ice scraping against the hull, which was only a single hull. Once and a while a more sold piece would strike. I finally fell asleep.

About 12:30 I was roused by what sounded like the gang plank slapping against the hull. Then I heard what sounded like water pouring down a drain. In my sleep I was thinking to wake Lynne and ask her about the sound. I didn't remember hearing it before. I touched the bulkhead. It was dry. I put my hand on the floor.

From half asleep I went to full awake. I bolted up and pushed the emergency button and woke Lynne. I threw on some clothes. We pulled the suitcases out from under the bed; I took my laptop out from the low drawer it was in. The water continued coming in. I decided I should move things up to the second deck. I started with my laptop.

The people in the next cabin had also notified the ship. By the time I stuck my head out of the cabin a crew man was coming down. A few minutes later he was followed by the captain. The captain was a solidly built, forty-ish Swede. When he came down the stairs his comment (in English) was: "My god; We're sinking." The alarm sounded.

When I returned to the cabin I quickly opened up the drawers of the nightstand between our two beds. I scooped out my wallet, the recently filled 2 gigabyte memory from my camera, the backup flash drive with my journal on it and Lynne's hand cream. I tossed clothes and camera into the suitcase and took them up to the second deck.

By the time I returned to the cabin, the boat was listing and the water was ankle deep in one end of the cabin. I picked up one of my tennis shoes and put it on a stool. I watched the other float under the bed. It floated back out and I grabbed it. The word came down: "get warm clothes." I grabbed some of our clothes that were on the bed. Lynne had gone up to our muster station in her night gown carrying our Wellington's (high rubber boots) and some clothes. I also grabbed our Gore-Tex jackets and fleece liners and made my way to our muster station in the lecture hall.

When everyone was assembled in the lecture hall they took roll. Periodically the captain would come on the intercom and tell us what was happening. We knew that a mayday had been sent, and that there were two ship coming but they were 10 and 6 hours away. At first there was hope the leak could be fixed. Then the mood in the lecture hall became somber and quiet. At the end of hour one the captain lowered the lifeboats into position. At the end of hour two the captain said that we were coming into ice. The lifeboats could not be lowered in the ice. Therefore, he decided to abandon ship. Then we heard those words that no one on a ship ever wants to hear the captain utter: "abandon ship; abandon ship; abandon ship."

At 2:30 in the morning we quietly filed out of the lecture hall. There was no crying; there was no pushing; there was no panic. One of the staff members directed us to the port (left) or starboard (right) side to go the life boats. Initially we went to the port side. When the word went out that they needed 8 people on the starboard side we went there. I didn't appreciate how much the ship was listing, perhaps 30 degrees, until I had to walk down across the fantail.

I was the last one into number one life boat. It was at this point that I was most anxious. I felt that once I was in the lifeboat I would be safe. However, there was only enough room for my feet! I stepped in, sat on the gunwale for a moment, and then wiggled my bottom onto the seat, my back against the hull. There was a problem with the engine, but it got started.

They lowered us away. Once in the water we pushed away from the ship. Our boat was overloaded! Fortunately the seas were relatively calm and there was no wind. We were very far south where it gets dark very late and light very early. It was not dark out, but twilight. Fortunately we had zodiacs - rubber boats with outboard motors. While the electric generators had stopped working we had emergency power so they were able to use it to run the winches to lower the zodiacs. After a while they off loaded people from our lifeboat to a zodiac.

Once in the lifeboat Lynne and I sat huddled together. While the Gore-Tex jackets kept our topsides dry, our bottoms were wet and there was water in our Wellingtons. There was little talking in the boat. People were somber and cold. The only sound was from the two cylinder engine and an occasional order from the first mate, who was in charge of our boat.

At 3:41 I watched the sun rise. It was a small, round, golden orb that came out of a gray sea and disappeared into a gray sky.

Several times I threw up as the result of the fumes from the engine that I was sitting next to and the motion of the lifeboat. At times I started to shiver, sometimes violently. The though of hyperthermia crossed my mind, but I knew from my Boy Scout training that as long as my upper body was dry and warm I was okay. Through out this my mind was a blank, thinking on the cold, listening to the engine, always concerned that it would stall.

After about two hours in the boat the first mate told us that the rescue ship was about 2 hours away. (The first mate had a radio.) About an hour after that a helicopter flew over head and circled us. Even thought we knew that people around the world knew exactly where we were, our spirits were greatly lifted. Somewhere between hour four and five someone spotted a
glint of light in the distance. Soon after that we could see it was a ship bearing down on us.

We got not one, but two rescue ships: the National Geographic's Endeavor, and the Nordnorge. The former ship was small, the size of the Explorer; the latter ship could hold 600 passengers though there were only 229 on board. ( DrC's note: You can see a picture of the Nordnorge at, the other DrC's blog.)

What a wonderful sight it was when the Nordnorge removed the covers from its gigantic lifeboat and lowered their lifeboat down to us. After four or five hours we were stiff. Hands reached out to us and help us into Nordnorge lifeboat. When everyone was transferred we were raised up to the forth deck. When we went into the ship we were greeted by a crew member giving each of us a blanket. We were sent up to the seventh deck were we were given a hot drink and then pointed in the direction of the lounges. The call went out over the ship's intercom for clothes. Soon the couches and chairs in the lounge were covered with wet clothes that we exchanged for dry ones donated to us. Both the ship and the passengers of the Nordnorse were unbelievably generous. From large deck to ceiling windows of the seventh deck lounge we could watch our ship as it listed. (Unlike the pictures you have probably seen, there was no ice surrounding the ship - that happened later.)

We were served breakfast and lunch on the Nordnorse. The Nordnorse tried to offload us at the Chilean Frei Base. Due to the weather, blowing snow and high seas, it couldn't. We had to wait offshore several hours before we could finally be landed.

Why did the boat sink? While it is true that there was a hole in the hull, the water tight doors were shut. The compartment where our cabin was should have filled up with water, but the boat should have continued to float. My understanding was that the problem was with the toilets. The water went into the toilets and then into the holding tank. When the holding tank
filled up the water backed up into the other cabins thus bypassing the watertight doors.

Why was this not another Titanic? Relatively speaking we had good weather and a calm sea. The captain launched the lifeboats at the right time. We had the zodiacs. We were all fit people: there were no children or infirmed. We were used to being out on the sea in the cold. We had good leadership. We were dressed for the cold. And, above all, we were lucky.

This had been a truly amazing week. I could go on and on. How wonderful the Chilean government was. What it was like flying in a C130 (a military cargo plane) where our knees were intertwined with the knees of the person opposite us. How helpful Debbie, the US Consul from Santiago was. How well we were treated by GAP, the company that ran the tour. What it was like to give interviews to the world press. How basically everything we brought with us is now 1500 meters under the sea. Above all we are thankful to have the most important thing of all, our lives. We appreciate all the e-mails you have sent as they have brought us comfort and support.

Your friend

New Word Alert

I love new words. Here is a great one, most recently from the United Kingdom: pseudocide. It means appearing to have died, while actually continuing to live, probably in hiding or under a false identity.

Obviously, it is the bane of life insurance companies. I wonder how many examples came out of Hurricane Katrina; how many people decided to disappear - walk out on their credit card debt and start anew?

Timing Is Everything

Timing is everything, just ask Al Gore. He recently accepted his Nobel Prize, and it cannot be taken away. A few days too late, here is a summary of a peer-reviewed study in a scientific journal of climatology that says the climate change we are experiencing is natural, not man-made, and that limiting carbon dioxide emissions won't stop it. In other words, Al was right about the problem but wrong about its cause. The article finishes with this pithy quote:
We must conclude, therefore, that attempts to control CO2 emissions are ineffective and pointless. – but very costly.

This is bad news for the mea culpa crowd who want us to take responsibility for global warming and bad news for the Nobel Prize Selection Committee. It also may be bad news for developing countries.

Naturally occurring warming may cause catastrophic crop failures and starvation. If we humans aren't causing the warming, we probably won't be able to stop it.

Quote of the Day

Baltimore humorist H. L. Mencken said the following:
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

If you don't believe it, just listen to Ron Paul for 10 minutes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Putin Does Yul B.

Check out this picture of Russian Federation President Putin, looking much like Yul Brynner in several of his macho roles like The Magnificent Seven or Westworld. The picture comes from the Drudge Report, on Dec. 3, 2007.

Taxes Are Job-Killers

Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore have an excellent OpEd article in The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 10, 2007) in which they summarize the results of a study they did looking at U.S. internal migration patterns and state tax rates. You may be able to access the article here.

Guess what they found? People are moving from high tax states (e. g., CA, NY) to low tax states (e. g., TX, FL). They quote the Atlanta Federal Reserve Board as follows: "Relative marginal tax rates have a statistically significant negative relationship with relative state growth." That is academic-speak for higher taxes mean slower growth.

The other key variable they found was right-to-work laws. Companies locate new plants in states where there are right-to-work laws. State right-to-work laws prohibit union contracts requiring workers to belong to unions.

To summarize their findings: Jobs and therefore people are moving away from states with high income tax rates and no right-to-work laws. Jobs and the people they employ are moving to states with no income taxes and right-to-work laws. This isn't rocket science.

Laffer and Moore draw this parallel in their summary:
The states losing population are in effect suffering from a slow-motion version of the economic sclerosis that paralyzed much of Europe in the 1980s and '90s, particularly France and Germany with their massive welfare systems.

Their entire article is worth your time if you can gain access.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Here Comes the Nanny State

Recent talk about the Federal Government bailing out folks with Adjustable Rate Mortgages or ARMs, particularly those who got very low "teaser"rates for a couple of years after which the payments reset to reflect the somewhat-higher-than-prime interest rate. Republicans are proposing to do this, Democrats want to do even more. It is a mistake, in which both parties are collaborating.

The Government should not exist to protect you from being stupid. People who do stupid things should experience the downside of those acts. Lenders who make loans people will never repay should experience default. Borrowers who take out loans they cannot repay should experience repossession. If there is no penalty for being stupid, then implicitly there is a penalty for being smart because the smart end up paying for the bailout of the stupid, the careful end up paying to rescue the careless. This is wrong.

As a society we need less stupidity. If we subsidize stupidity we will get more of it. If we allow it to be its own punishment, we just might get less.

The Anti-Insurgency Dilemma

See this Associated Press article concerning former President Fujimori of Peru. Without becoming tedious, it lays out the dilemma of anti-insurgency in its look at Fujimori's successes and shortcomings as President. He saved the country from a brutal home-grown Maoist terrorist movement, the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso in Spanish).

To summarize, he violated the human rights of some Peruvians in the process of largely eradicating the Shining Path. It is likely that some people died who didn't deserve to die. In spite of this, if the article is to be believed, he is today more popular in Peru than the current President.

I would suppose you could find the same sort of support for former dictator Pinochet in Chile, who likewise accomplished good things for the Chilean economy and people while being less than scrupulous about observing human rights. In this behavior we hear the echos of U.S. President Roosevelt imprisoning ethnic Japanese during World War II, or Abraham Lincoln suspending the right of habeus corpus during the American Civil War.

Extreme times demand extreme measures. And yet, none of us want our civil rights infringed. That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma of anti-insurgency. I predict we will continue to grapple with this issue.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Remember Pearl Harbor

Sixty-six years ago today Japanese carrier planes attacked sleeping Hawaii on a Sunday morning. They sank many ships, killed thousands of Americans and pulled the United States into World War II.

It behooves us to remember this act of savagery and butchery, to remember that the Japanese perpetrated a war-long string of atrocities.

Remember Pearl Harbor.

Quote of the Day

Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal, comes up with the quote of the day. Talking about the opposition to Romney based on religion, and his speech on the subject, she says:

I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family.

My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote.

My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else.

Unfortunately, the idiots' votes count the same as our non-idiot votes. There are days when I am sure they've got us outnumbered. If we can't beat them with brains, maybe we can baffle them with B.S.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quote of the Day

Former Bush advisor Karl Rove, writing in the Financial Times, describes Hillary Clinton thus:
Hillary comes across as cold, distant and conspiracy-minded, more like Richard Nixon than her sunny, charming husband.

Well...I suppose somebody in the Clinton family needs to be suspicious and on-guard.

A Tale of Two Elections

Two elections of note happened while I was traveling. First, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez put on the ballot socialist "reforms" and a constitutional change that would have ended Presidential term limits. By a respectable margin, his power grab failed. "Bravo" to the Venezuelan people.

To be fair to Chavez, he did the smart thing in response. Having been handed a lemon, he made lemonade. He claimed that his acceptance (for now at least) of the public will in this matter demonstrates that he is a democrat, not a dictator. He is, perhaps, smarter and therefore more dangerous than we had estimated in the past. Clearly his power is not yet absolute.

The second election was a parliamentary election in Russia where Putin's party won by a large margin. The Western press takes a very dim view of the fairness of this election. I daresay it was no more corrupt than many Chicago mayoral elections.

What the Western press does not report is Putin's popularity with many Russians. The other DrC and I were in Russia earlier this year. We chatted with a number of young and not-so-young Russians about Putin. They were uniformly impressed with his energy, fitness, and relative youth. They see an enormous contrast between his vigorous style and the boring, cautious style of the elderly Soviet leaders.

The Western press takes a dim view of Putin's willingness to drag down the "oligarchs" as the hyper-wealthy in Russia are called. On the other hand, Russians think this is great stuff. Russian oligarchs are no more popular at home than the robber barons were in the U.S. of an earlier day. Enthusiasm for Putin is similar to American enthusiasm for President Teddy Roosevelt, an energetic and feisty trust-buster. Does that mean he is actually a good guy? History will make that judgment. In the meantime, he could easily win honest elections with his very real popularity.

Apology to My Readers

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays. I've been at sea for the past two weeks and haven't had a good Internet connection. Now I am back and ready to comment on our world.