Friday Change of Pace

Let’s talk about something completely different this Friday. There’s plenty of bad news out there, but it’s Friday, and I’m not in the mood.  Cheryl Magness wrote an article for The Federalist the other day, that tickled my fancy. Let’s have a look…

Robert Herrick, in his classic carpe diem poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” called upon youth to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” because “having lost but once your prime / You may forever tarry.” With all due respect to the poet, I am not convinced “That age is best which is the first.” In fact, I have argued one’s fifties may well be the best, bringing with it an increase of wisdom, time, respect, and self-awareness that can lead to great contentment.

I realize I am painting with a broad brush and there are certainly exceptions. No age is immune to life’s crud. There is also undoubtedly at mid-life a certain sense of urgency, of time running short, that can lead to that phenomenon known as a “mid-life crisis.” It is often stereotypically depicted as the normally staid, dignified businessman who suddenly shows up on a motorcycle, freshly tattooed, with a much younger woman on his arm. But real mid-life crises, as opposed to those of the cartoon variety, are way more complicated.

Not a Mid-Life Crisis But a Mid-Life Launch

Looking at the many 50-somethings (and beyond) I know, I am not seeing mid-life crises as much as mid-to-late-life launches, manifested in renewed levels of personal energy, interest, and excitement. I know multiple people my age who are moving across the country, buying their dream homes, taking on new jobs, and immersing themselves in fresh (or long-delayed) interests, passions, and goals.

That’s not to say there aren’t struggles, some of them devastating and life-altering. But amid the struggles, there is a level of carpe diem I can’t say I’ve seen in my peers since my twenties. It is thrilling, and I love it.

Strikes me that there is a lot of truth in that. If I look back at my own 50s, that was when I started to not worry so much about the future but to again have outside interests. I must say though, it has accelerated in my 60s. I have my projects, that need doing on schedule, I have the blog, and have several things going on, but increasingly, if I don’t enjoy doing it, I don’t do it.

With exceptions, of course. I’m a better cook than I ever was, but mostly I grill a piece of meat – why? Because I can’t be bothered for one person. Things that must get done, get done, but there is also time to visit, and increasingly work (such as I choose to do) more resembles design and.or consulting. Part of it is the old eyes, that don’t see well in a box a foot off the floor, but more of it is a disinclination to do it.

It’s also fun that finally, I can buy some of the things I lusted after as a kid, not so much the Lotus, I could barely get in one when I was in college, no chance now, I’ve outgrown it. But I have scrounged around and put together an engineering drawing set that would have cost multiple thousands, in the 60s, and that I drooled over then in catalogs – now I have it, and yes, I enjoy drawing. Even if, as an artist, I’m a good engineer. But it is fun to draw with the drawing machine, especially with the engineering pens (yes, they are a bit of a pain as well). More fun, I think, than on the computer, although I enjoy both, I think better on paper.

There are other things I want to do, I’d like to travel some, especially to historic sites, and yet, I’m not very fond of travelling alone, so we’ll see. I’ve always wanted to live well out on a ranch or farm, increasingly I think neighbors should be kept a proper distance away, preferably at least couple of miles (Get off my lawn!) 🙂 I’m working on that, don’t know if it’ll happen, but keeps me occupied.

So, I think Cheryl is right. From the fifties on it just gets better. We no longer have to prove anything to anyone, more than ever before (since we were kids, anyway) we can follow our interests without thought of how they’ll affect our career, we’ve been there and done that, and bought the suits to prove it, jeans and t-shirts are more comfortable, aren’t they? And the suits are in the closet for when they are appropriate.

Don’t know about you, but I’m grateful to be in my 60s, can’t think of anything that would even tempt me to be in my 20s or 30s again, it’s better now than it’s ever been.

Have a good day!

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Eclipse Day

Yep, today is the big day. For me, it’s the second time in my life that I get to see (if it’s not cloudy) a total solar eclipse. I’m not overwhelmingly excited, but it is very interesting, and yes, I do have my glasses ready! 🙂

Here’s a bit about the legends surrounding the events from around the world, from National Geographic. Enjoy – And don’t forget your glasses, how will you read NEO if you’re blind, after all!

video.nationalgeographic.com/video/101-videos/solar-eclipse-101

Viking sky wolves, Korean fire dogs, and African versions of celestial reconciliation—these are only some of the many ways people around the world, and through the ages, have sought to explain solar eclipses.

People in equatorial Africa will be treated to a rare view of a total solar eclipse this Sunday, November 3. Those living on the eastern North American coast, northern South America, southern Europe, or the Middle East, will get to see a partial solar eclipse.

“If you do a worldwide survey of eclipse lore, the theme that constantly appears, with few exceptions, is it’s always a disruption of the established order,” said E. C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California. That’s true of both solar and lunar eclipses.

Join Nat Geo and Airbnb #LiveFrom a geodesic dome on August 20 to talk to astrophysicist Jedidah Isler and photographer Babak Tafreshi about the science behind the upcoming total solar eclipse.

“People depend on the sun’s movement,” Krupp said. “[It’s] regular, dependable, you can’t tamper with it. And then, all of a sudden, Shakespearean tragedy arrives and time is out of joint. The sun and moon do something that they shouldn’t be doing.”

What that disruption means depends on the culture, and not everyone views an eclipse as a bad thing, said Jarita Holbrook, a cultural astronomer at the University of the Western Cape in Bellville, South Africa.

Some see it as a time of terror, while others look at a solar eclipse as part of the natural order that deserves respect, or as a time of reflection and reconciliation. (Related: “Pictures: Solar Eclipse Creates Ring of Fire.”)

SWALLOWING FIRE

Many cultures explain eclipses, both solar and lunar, as a time when demons or animals consume the sun or the moon, said Krupp.

“The Vikings saw a pair of sky wolves chasing the sun or the moon,” said the Griffith Observatory astronomer. When one of the wolves caught either of the shining orbs, an eclipse would result. (Read “Vikings and Native Americans” in National Geographic magazine.)

“In Vietnam, a frog or a toad [eats] the moon or the sun,” Krupp added, while people of the Kwakiutl tribe on the western coast of Canada believe that the mouth of heaven consumes the sun or the moon during an eclipse.

In fact, the earliest word for eclipse in Chinese, shih, means “to eat,” he said.

Keep reading at Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World

Amazon – Whole Foods

So Amazon has agreed to buy Whole Foods. It’s an interesting agreement. Amazon is for the early 21st century rather what Sears and/or Montgomery Ward was to the old west. The purveyor of everything that you can’t find in the old general store. If you remember the old ‘wish book’ (the Christmas catalog) you’ll know what I mean. Man, when I was a kid, there were things in that catalog that I never knew they made, and that was the toy section! 🙂

You and I know that Amazon is like that too. They got stuff there that I never dreamed of, and it may be the best bookstore short of robbing the British Library. Yes, my friends who write books are not fond of them, but for me, sitting out here on the prairie, they are a boon.

Strangely enough, even in food. A few months ago my local grocery store was bought. That saddened me, I’ve liked it for years, pretty good quality and not bad pricing. A dream for a small town. Anyway, since the new owner took over the quality is reducing (in fact, a couple weeks ago, I had one of the worst steaks I ever had, from there for $10/pound. Not worth it was an understatement. Canned goods are another example, established, OK quality brands gone, replaced by cheap stuff, at high prices.

Anyway, there is a Wal-Mart about 15 miles away, that can solve the canned goods, without too much hassle, but I don’t much care for their meat. Well, as always planning helps. 60 miles away are other stores, good ones. There are also the friends of mine that raise cattle, a quarter or half of a cow custom-packed is always an option. And there is Amazon.

Funny thing is that for what I pay for a steak here, if I watch the sales I can buy from Omaha Steaks, either their website or Amazon. Yeah, surprised the dickens out of me too. Not on Amazon but there is a site I stumbled across where I can get English bacon for the same money I pay for (not very good, too much fat) American bacon.

Stuff, I haven’t seen in years, like B&M Beans (and Boston brown bread). Didn’t know they were still made. In my cart, hope they’re as good as I remember. Branson Pickle from the UK, same with Mincemeat tarts, hardly buyable in the US anymore. In some ways, I’m spending the same to a bit more money, but buying much higher quality.

Prices are basically from 15% below what I pay here to 20% or so higher, and the UPS guy puts them on my front porch. Doesn’t get much more convenient than that.

So, how does Whole Foods fit into that? Well, we’ve all heard the jokes about Whole Paycheck stores. My closest one is about 300 miles, so I’ve never been. Who knows? Kristin Wong has some thoughts.

It’s too soon to say what Amazon officially plans to do with Whole Foods, but rumors have been circling and experts have a few predictions. For one, it’s likely that Whole Foods will actually drop its notoriously high prices. Believe it or not, Whole Foods has already been testing price reductions on certain products due to competition from Walmart and Trader Joe’s. This could be good news even if you don’t shop at Whole Foods. Analysts say other grocery stores will probably lower their prices and improve their loyalty programs to keep up with the acquisition. CNBC reported:

“This transaction is going to change the landscape of how you buy food,” Mickey Chadha, Moody’s vice president and senior credit officer who covers Whole Foods, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday morning. He expects Amazon to put pressure on grocery stores to lower prices.

They add that the merger is probably even better news for Amazon Prime and Fresh customers, who usually get Amazon’s best deals. Moneyish reported:

“Coincidentally, Whole Foods is slated to roll out a loyalty program of its own later this year and those enrolled will likely get direct discounts on select products. “They will push pretty heavily to integrate Whole Foods with Amazon, I’m sure there’ll be Prime rewards for shopping at Whole Foods,” Barnett says.”

Guess we’ll see. Given a rational price structure, it might be a godsend for people like me. Several Whole Foods are well within overnight delivery range. And if there is one thing Amazon (especially Prime) is good at, it’s delivery logistics.

Interesting world, ain’t it?

Video Saturday

Welp, folks, unexpectedly (yes, it really was) I ended up out of here shortly after lunch and not back till midnight, when my stiff old body fell into bed. So instead of my wittering this morning, how about a few videos,  heck they’re even fairly current. 🙂

 

Hopefully do better tomorrow.

 

Feeding the World, Disrupting the Markets, That’s America, Too

Norman Borlaug should be one of the American heroes of the world. Instead, many revile him. Why?

Borlaug’s life was one of extraordinary paradoxes: A child of the Iowa prairie during the Great Depression who grew up on a dirt-poor farm, attended a one-room school and flunked the university entrance exam but went on to become one of most renowned plant breeders in history – and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for averting malnutrition, famine and the premature death of hundreds of millions.  (That was at a time when the award meant more than political correctness.)

Borlaug introduced several revolutionary innovations.  First, he and his colleagues laboriously crossbred thousands of wheat varieties from around the world to produce some new ones with resistance to rust, a destructive plant pest; this raised yields 20% to 40%.

Second, he crafted so-called dwarf wheat varieties, which were smaller than the old shoulder-high varieties that bent in the wind and touched the ground (thereby becoming unharvestable); the new waist or knee-high dwarfs stayed erect and held up huge loads of grain.  The yields were boosted even further.

Third, he devised an ingenious technique called “shuttle breeding”– growing two successive plantings each year, instead of the usual one, in different regions of Mexico.  The availability of two test generations of wheat each year cut by half the years required for breeding new varieties.  Moreover, because the two regions possessed distinctly different climatic conditions, the resulting new early-maturing, rust-resistant varieties were broadly adapted to many latitudes, altitudes and soil types.  This wide adaptability, which flew in the face of agricultural orthodoxy, proved invaluable, and Mexican wheat yields skyrocketed.

Similar successes followed when the Mexican wheat varieties were planted in Pakistan and India, but only after Borlaug convinced politicians in those countries to change national policies in order to provide both improved seeds and the large amounts of fertilizer needed for wheat cultivation.

In his professional life, Borlaug, who died in 2009 at the age of 95, struggled against prodigious obstacles, including what he called the “constant pessimism and scare-mongering” of critics and skeptics who predicted that in spite of his efforts, mass starvation was inevitable and hundreds of millions would perish in Africa and Asia.  His work resulted not only in the construction of high-yielding varieties of wheat but also in new agronomic and management practices that transformed the ability of Mexico, India, Pakistan, China, and parts of South America to feed their populations.

How successful were Borlaug’s efforts?  From 1950 to 1992, the world’s grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland — an extraordinary increase in yield per acre of more than 150 percent.   India is an excellent case in point.  In pre-Borlaug 1963, wheat grew there in sparse, irregular strands, was harvested by hand, and was susceptible to rust disease.  The maximum yield was 800 lb per acre.  By 1968, thanks to Borlaug’s varieties, the wheat grew densely packed, was resistant to rust, and the maximum yield had risen to 6000 lb per acre.

via Norman Borlaug: The Genius Behind The Green Revolution

Think about that for a while, Borlaug efforts saved the lives of nobody knows how many millions, who otherwise would have starved to death. The doomsayers who wrote about the population explosion in the sixties were (perhaps) correctly reading the trend lines. We were producing people we couldn’t feed. Until an Iowa farm boy came along.

And while they themselves don’t realize it, many in Europe, in those elites (for lack of a better term) and many who desire power for its own sake, would have rather those millions starved to death, than that a humble guy, and especially an American should find a way to feed them.

Yes it still goes on, Out here on the fruited plan, which 150 years ago was the Great Ameican Desert you used to be lucky to get 30-40 bushels of corn/acre, now 200 is average, using less water, less pesticide, less fuel, and not working the farmer to an early death.

The Biotechnology or BT, as it is referred to is exactly the same thing that plant breeders have always done, cross-pollinating plants, it’s just a much more elegant method, producing faster results.

And those results, are feeding the world, except where they are banned by narrow political interests, there poor people still starve.

Such is the way of man.

Obama’s Legacy Of Deceit

obama-fail4It’s been quite a while since we featured Victor Davis Hanson, no good reason for it, it simply hasn’t happened. But he wrote one of the best articles on why Obama’s legacy is so tainted with most of us. Here’s some

In its remaining days in power, the Obama administration suddenly punished Vladimir Putin’s Russia for allegedly interfering in the U.S. presidential election. It claimed that Russian or Russian-hired hackers tapped into the records of the Democratic National Committee as well as the correspondence of John Podesta, a Clinton advisor.

But what the Obama administration did not say was that such cyber-crimes are by now old hat. Both the Russian and Chinese governments have been hacking into far more important U.S. records and government archives for years without earning retaliation

The administration also did not mention that the election hacking occurred largely because of Podesta’s own carelessness in using his security password. Moreover, it failed to acknowledge that the Republican National Committee was likewise targeted, but apparently had enough safeguards to prevent successful entry into its records. Finally, the administration refused to mention that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange went on the record saying that he did not receive the email trove from the Russians.

The truth is that Obama, throughout his presidency, has appeased Putin. As president, Obama ended the previously agreed-on Eastern European missile defense; he made open-mic promises to be more flexible with Putin after his reelection; he barely responded to Russia’s aggression toward Crimea and Ukraine; and he constantly criticized both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney for being inordinately tough on Russia.

Until now, he saw no reason to stop enabling Russia. Had Hillary Clinton won the election, Putin’s alleged hacking would not have earned any administration attention. But this time around, an emboldened Putin allegedly went too far and crossed the only red line that Obama might have enforced by supposedly enabling the release of information that might have turned off some voters on Clinton. Blaming Putin for Clinton’s loss was a more convenient narrative than admitting that Obama’s own policies have turned off even traditional Democratic constituencies and for now reduced the Democratic Party to a minority coastal party.

All administrations play fast and loose with the truth. It is the nature of high politics to fib, cover up, and fudge in order to ensure the success of a so-called noble agenda for the greater good. But not since the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations have we seen a president so institutionalize misrepresentation.

There are ample examples. It was clear from Clinton’s own leaked emails and from real-time memos from intelligence agencies that the September 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was nota spontaneous riot over an insensitive video produced by a reactionary Coptic zealot residing in the United States, as the administration claimed. But such a concoction fit Obama’s 2012 reelection narrative: the recklessness of right-wing Islamophobes endangers national security abroad. In contrast, the reality—a preplanned al-Qaeda-affiliated attack on an unprepared and semi-covert American consulate—challenged Obama’s reelection myth that Al Qaeda was “on the run” and that the administration was vigilant in ensuring security for our diplomatic personnel in the Middle East.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. at the time, Susan Rice, went on five Sunday morning talk shows to insist, quite wrongly, that the deaths of four Americans in the attack were the tragic result of ad hoc furor over intolerance. The video-maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was abruptly jailed on probation violation charges, in a display of swift American justice never matched by a commensurately prompt arrest and prosecution of real terrorists.

One question that I have had for months is this. Why exactly would Putin favor Trump, a man who believes in, if not perhaps, the American Dream, some version of it, and not Hillary Clinton, an experienced and proven appeaser? Huh? Why? Just doesn’t make sense, does it? Continuing.

More recently we learned that Iran got the sanctions lifted before it met all its obligations outlined in the deal. Ben Rhodes, an architect of the swap and deputy national security advisor, boasted about the administration’s affinity for deceit. Rhodes, described by a New York Times interviewer as “a storyteller who uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal,” explained the methods of concocting an Iran narrative to a guidable media: “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” Rhodes intoned. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. . . The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

Rhodes’s cynicism was reminiscent of the boasts of another administration advisor, the MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who bragged of the administration’s ability to get passed the Patient Protection and affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), largely through deliberate deceit about the inevitable consequences of higher premiums and deductibles, the dropping of existing coverage and doctors, and increases in federal outlays. Some of the bill’s more obvious and unpopular elements—such as the employer mandate—were not enforced until after Obama’s 2012 reelection bid. Gruber admitted that the law was composed “in a tortured way” to delude people into accepting that “healthy people pay in and sick people get money”—a subterfuge that was both necessary and worked because of “the stupidity of the American voter,” a fact confirming that the “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage”

via Obama’s Legacy Of Deceit | Hoover Institution

You know I live out here with average Americans, and yes, I’m one myself. What’s our common characteristic? We’re uh, average. Neither rich nor desperately poor, brilliantly smart nor imbecilic, completely informed nor apathetic. Something else, which doesn’t apply as much to me anymore, we’re quite busy trying to make a living, and so don’t spend all that much time watching the swamp circus in Washington. We care, we always have, but we have mortgages, families, and all that stuff to do, so… But we can easily tell when the bullshit meter pegs, and it’s been going off almost constantly lately.

In many ways, the last administration reminded us of a stroppy teenager, who won’t shut up, and won’t go away. These are the kids that a sensible policeman arrests for disturbing the peace or some such. That this was our government became an embarrassment to us. And so we’ll try Trump. Sure he’s a noisy self-promoter, but we all saw The Music Man long ago, and kind of like town bands, in any case.

Is this the cure? We really ain’t got a clue but are convinced that it’s an improvement, and we’ll think about it for next time. Kicking the can down the road? Sure. But that’s better than scoring an own goal, after all.

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