Weekly odds & ends for October 22

Why neither Republicans nor Democrats can win permanent majorities – both parties coalitions are unstable, writes Michael Barone, the smartest independent political analyst in the U.S.. It is a good history lesson.

Unhappy Americans – Gallup finds only 21% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that does not improve in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking.Wal-Mart goes even greener – People like or dislike Wal-Mart for lots of reasons, but nobody can doubt that when it sets its policy toward a goal, things happen. That is why it is very good that Wal-Mart is making a commitment to sustainable agriculture. I have no doubt that Wal-Mart will accomplish more than many hundreds of those earnest conferences held around the world for the chattering classes and big-name celebrities. I suppose the goal of “raising awareness” is to get firms like Wal-Mart to make the right decisions.

Environmentalism is becoming mainstream and a routine part of doing business. I understand that having the big capitalistic firms on their side makes the lefty-wing of environmentalists a bit uncomfortable, but for everybody else it is a great development. It makes sustainable progress more likely.

Most Americans think we are too politically correct – And 74% considered political correctness a problem. In an earlier, but related poll 63% believe that PC thinking contributed to overlooking warning signs that might have prevented the Fort Hood massacre. Most of us have avoiding saying things we believe true for fear of crossing the PC lines.

IMO – PC has led to a decline of humor, which often depends on making fun of odd behaviors and characteristics. The only group it is safe to ridicule anymore is bald white males, and there is only so much you can humorously say about them. Ironically, PC has made humor more nasty & coarse. What gets laughs is often crude and rude, but it doesn’t step on any PC protected toes. And crude leads to cruder as shock wears off and requires more.

Why European productivity lags the U.S. – No matter how you slice or distribute wealth, prosperity ultimately depends on productivity. Europe was catching up with the U.S. in terms of productivity until the middle of the 1990s, when they U.S. again pushed ahead. US productivity grew by 22 percent between 1995 and 2005; in Europe, productivity grew by 15 percent, of which only one-quarter came from these service industries. The fact that Europeans tend work less than Americans doesn’t explain the gap. This Mckinsey Report explains some of the causes.

Atlantic wind connection – I was happy to hear that a group led by Google was planning a $5 billion transmission backbone cable 15-20 miles out in Atlantic to connect future wind power generation to the Eastern U.S. grid. It would have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts. The biggest challenge to wind power is transmission. This would address that. There is some gnashing of teeth that it is not worth it, but the beauty of the free market it that investors get to make that call, risk their own funds and make profits if they are right. There is some Luddite opposition, of course. Interesting for me is that it is also viewed with tepid enthusiasm by environmental groups, who fear it might weaken political support for more wind.

I wonder sometimes if they believe more in politics than in the environment.

I have never seen a mature American chestnut tree and never will. The blight that was first discovered in 1904 destroyed the giant trees that had dominated Appalachian forests before I was born. They were not annihilated, however. Even a century later, they still sprout from roots and grow until the blight takes them down.
It was a true ecological & economic disaster when they were laid low by the blight, but people did not give up on them and generations of cross breeding may be about to bear fruit, literally, in the form of chestnuts that will grow into blight resistant trees. I will be getting my two seeds for next growing season from the American Chestnut Foundation. My land is a bit outside the native range of the chestnut, but still within the acceptable climatic zones. I have already identified a spot for them among the oaks, beech and tulip-poplars in the stream management zones. Maybe they will grow blight free, but even if they do, I will never see them at their former glory size. But my kids can show their kids.