Milwaukee Renaissance

Chrissy & I went up to North 3rd Street.  This was the German part of the city and it still has some German restaurants and Usinger is still there making the world’s best liverwurst and second best (after Clements) bratwurst.  Despite that, we had lunch as Cousins Subs, which is another of my Milwaukee favorites.

Cousins is in an old building that used to be a glove and hat shop.   They even had fireproof gloves.  I think they were made with asbestos fiber, in the days when asbestos was not known to be so dangerous.   Their slogan was something like “Gloves to burn, and some that don’t.” 

You can see the City Hall building on left

The area just north of the river is nice and clean.  I remember when the the industrial sewage stench coming off the river mixed with the yeast stink from the breweries, the pungent fragrance of the tanneries and the sweeter aroma from Ambrosia Chocolate Factory. The Cream City Brick used to be black from the coal smoke.  I actually thought the bricks were naturally black, but most of Milwaukee is built with tan colored bricks, as has now been revealed.  Everything is different now.  The area no longer stinks and it is clean & fresh because all the industry is gone.   The knowledge of what was and is now is no more drains some of the celebration.   The new and improved surroundings are sterile in a couple senses of the word.

I was surprised that the Renaissance Book Shop was still in business.  It is a three story warehouse full of used books.  This is the kind of shop I used to love, but now the Internet has largely supplanted such places. Going into it today is like a magical mystery tour, but not something I really want to do often anymore.  It is fascinating to look at the piles of knowledge.   I was looking for a specific book, “The Epic of Man,” a book I had as a kid.  It takes mankind from the Stone Age through the early civilizations.  And I found it in a pile of books on the third floor.  It is not a great book, but I liked the pictures and wanted to get it out of a sense of nostalgia.  As l looked through the book that I have not seen for at least thirty years, I realized how many of my historical impressions were triggered by the pictures.   It really is true that first impressions are important.

On the way back we stopped to look at the old man’s childhood home.  It used to be the third house from the corner and it used to be in the middle of a neighborhood of similar houses. (It is on 4th St, but my father’s dog-tags say “Port” St.  The old man evidently didn’t speak with a clear and crisp accent.)  Since his time, they widened the road at the side, knocking down two houses, and built the freeway across the street, so it is really different.  St Stanislaw, where my father went to school and his family went to church, is not just across the freeway in easy view.   The neighborhood is now dominated by a view of St Stan’s and the Allen Bradley clock.

There used to be a natatorium nearby, but they are gone, no longer needed.  In the old days, many of the houses didn’t have showers or baths.  Natatoriums were public bathhouses, with showers and a pool.   Men and women had them on alternate days, but men always got Saturdays and they were closed on Sundays.  They were still around when I was a kid.  We used to go swimming at the natatorium on 10th and Hayes.  Old guys would still come in just to use the showers.  Now it is closed down and the building is torn down.  All the houses in Milwaukee now have bathtubs and showers.

Things have changed.

On the left is St Stanislaw Church.

Another relic of old Milwaukee is the iron water spring on Pryor Ave.  Some people think it is healthier and old people come to fill gallon jugs with the water.  The funny thing is that it is always old people doing it.  It was old people doing it when I was a kid and it is old people doing it now. Presumably, the old people of yore have shuffled off this mortal coil and they must have been replaced by others.  Is there some minimum age when you start to like this kind of thing?   Or maybe the water really does work and the old folks who drink it just live forever.  The water tastes like rust and it is always icy cold.  I always take a drink when I go by, but I don’t think I would want to slook too much of it.  Below is the water.

Below is Kinnikinnick River looking from 2nd St.  In the distance is Medusa Cement where my father worked for thirty-six years and where I worked for four summers.

Indian Mounds

I first saw Indian mounds when I was in 4th grade.  We went up to Lizard Mound State Park on field trip.  It scared me for days.  They had one mound opened and inside was a skeleton mounded up.  In my childish way, I figured that skeleton would follow me since I desecrated the mound by looking at it.   A lot of movies have a plot sort of like that.   I think that is the basic premise of “Poltergeists”

Now the mounds are no longer scary, just interesting, which is why I went to visit the Hopewell Mounds near Chillicothe, Ohio.   There was a whole mound building culture about 1500 years ago.   The mounds in Ohio were loosely affiliated with those in Wisconsin in that they had a trading network. 

I won’t go into too much detail about the mounds.  You can Google them.   The mound building stopped around 1500 years ago.  Nobody is sure why.   The leading theories have to do with climate change (it got cooler around that time) and maybe just the usual exhaustion and overpopulation.

The mounds are now grass covered, but according to the notes the used to be covered with gravel, making them more like little pyramids.   Not all the mounds are burial mounds.  The whole complex has a earthen berm around it.

Besides the mounds, there is not much in the town of Chillicothe.  It has the usual chain restaurants.    The town’s big industry is a paper mill.   One of the novelties was this expressway.   It is like a drive through Seven-Eleven.    There was a woman inside who brings the stuff right to your car as you drive through.  It looks like it was originally a car wash.

Car Ferry Across Lake Michigan

I don’t save any time by crossing the Lake, but I lived all my childhood years next to Lake Michigan and was always curious about what was on the other side, so I signed up for the car ferry and I am sitting in the terminal waiting.   The Lake Express allows you to bypass Chicago and avoid driving clean around the southern tip of Lake Michigan.   That doesn’t matter as much to me, since I have to go way south anyway and going through Chicago on Sunday morning probably is not a big deal.   But as I wrote above, I want to cross the lake.

The Ferry leaves at 6 am and goes from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Michigan in about two and a half hours.   The terminal is near the Coast Guard station.  It cost me $191 for the car and me.  I drove over with my sister a couple days ago and it is lucky that I did.  Thought the terminal was on the other side of the harbor at the edge of the Kinnikinnick River.  That is where the old car ferry landed.   It is better to make your mistakes and get lost in the light of day when you have no time pressure than to be driving around like crazy in the pre-dawn darkness.

I thought it might be hard to get a good spot on the deck to watch the sunrise, but I shared the place with only one other guy.  Most people stayed below where they read the paper, played cards or slept.  I suppose it is like an airplane ride to most customers. Some seemed to have been regulars.

Metaphors from Homer came to mind as I stood on the deck, sailing the wine-dark sea and rosy fingered dawn spread across the horizon.  The sunrise was like none I had seen on land.  I waited and then suddenly there was a red band laying on the horizon.   The sun came up fast after that and it was finished. 

Muskegon looks like a vacation paradise.  There are big sand dunes, some covered with vegetation.   This side of the lake gets the prevailing winds and I suppose that over time that means much more sand is distributed on the far side.   You can see on the dunes the effects of natural succession.   Some dunes just have sand.  Grass comes in and holds them down, then after a few years if undisturbed cottonwood trees come in, then pines and finally hardwoods.   I wrote a little about natural succession in yesterday’s post. 

Fire & Ice: Always Becoming; Never Being

Climate change is not something we face only today. Warmer temperatures helped during the rise of the Roman Empire and cooler ones probably contributed to its downfall.  It was warm around the year 1000, when the Viking colonized Greenland and they were later wiped out by the advance of the Greenland ice. Interestingly, archeology in Greenland is now revealing Viking settlement patterns that were buried by ice for hundreds of years. Yes, it was as warm back then as it is now with our warmer temperatures.

North and west of Milwaukee are the kettle-moraines. This is where the last ice age stopped. The ice sheets dithered over the land here making sort of waves in the landscapes. Where glaciers stopped are moraines, long hill waves. An ancient glacial river, where sediment settled, is called an esker. These snake around like raised rivers across the farmlands. Where there was a depression in the glacier and dirt accumulated is called a drumlin. These are now round hills. Finally there are kettles, depressions carved by ice as the glacier retreated. What happened was that shards of ice got stuck in the ground, like glass in tar. When they melted they left holes. Some became lakes or marshes; others are just holes. 

Most lakes are the gift of the glaciers, which is why you find so many in Wisconsin and Minnesota and not so many farther south. Over time, all lakes fill in and unless glaciers, man or an earthquake makes a new one, there are no more little lakes. I used to really enjoy the study of this stuff. Natural succession occurs when a lake fills in and gradually, through a succession of plant communities, becomes a forest. This can take thousands of years, which is why the lakes are still here.

The ice retreated from Wisconsin only about 10,000 years ago and the last ice age is called the Wisconsin glaciation, since there is so much evidence of it in Wisconsin. Besides the kettle-moraines, the area around Lacrosse, where Chrissy is from, is called the driftless area because the glaciers did not cover it and leave glacial dirt, also called “drift.” It was like a hole in the ice, but it was much affected by the glaciers. As the glaciers melted, water raced down forming long narrow valleys called coolies. Grand Coolie in Washington State is a really big example of the phenomenon. It was formed when a giant ice dam broke and washed away pretty much everything in its path. The area of Western Wisconsin is clearly different from the East.  Rolling hill give way to a more ragged landscape.

I road my bike from Lacrosse to Milwaukee a couple of times and felt the geography. It is hard going, up and down, until you get past Reedsburg. Then you go down a long hill, which I understand is the Baraboo Ridge, and the peddling gets easier. There are hills, but they are not quite as steep or abrupt.

Anyway, talk about climate change! 10,000 years ago is not really that long in the great scheme of geologic time. The glaciers also created the Great Lakes and are formed the basis for that great fertile soil you find in the Upper Midwest. I suppose you could blame them for the poorer soils farther north, since that is where it was pushed from. All changes produce winners and losers.  Climate change is no different. All things considered, we are better off now than during the ice ages. 

Ice Age Trail

The Ice Age trail follows the edge of the glaciers throughout Wisconsin. I went to the Waukesha part, the Latham district. Latham was a naturalist of the 19th Century. He was instrumental in founding the national weather service.

I feel very at home in the Kettle-Moraines. That was my first contact with natural communities. We went out here on field trips from school and when I could ride my bike far enough I made my own visits. The landscape meshed well with my childhood love of natural history. The soil on the terminal moraines tend to be rocky and gravel and not so good. Ironically, that is one of the reasons we have ice age parks. The soil was not good for farming, so the land reverted to state ownership when the owners just walked away or else sold it cheap.

The natural cover in the Waukesha kettle-moraines is oak-savanna, locally called “oak openings.”  The trees are spread apart in a park-like setting.  The trees do not get very big because of the poverty of the soil, so a century old tree might be only thirty feet high, but they get very picturesque.   Until settlement, the oak savanna was maintained by fires, set naturally by lighting or more often set deliberately or accidentally by Native Americans. I wrote about that in a series of posts about fire in the woods.  Indians burned the land to improve hunting and once a fire started it could burn for a long time. Since there were no roads and few clearings to stop it, a fire burned until the next heavy rain. For a long time after the European settlement, we excluded fire from the landscape and a lot of brush has grown up.  According to signs I saw along the trails, the State of Wisconsin is trying to reestablish the “natural” or at least the pre-settlement ecosystems.   This means the judicial use of ecological fire.

I think I should say something about natural succession, since not everybody is as familiar with it.   Basically, there is a succession of natural communities that establish themselves on any piece of land. Each natural community creates conditions that allow the next stage to prosper while, ironically, creating conditions where its own continuation is disadvantaged. For example, pine trees fill in a field, but as they grow together they create shade where young pines cannot grow, but the sheltered forest and the improving soil is a good environment for maples, which come to replace pines. 

If you start with bare dirt, the first things that come in are weeds, then perennial grass and so on.   In a reasonably fertile piece of dirt in Eastern Wisconsin, you will get the weeds, perennial plants, box elders and ash and finally maples-beech-basswood if there is sufficient moisture and soil depth, otherwise oak-hickory.  But in some places you won’t really get forest at all.  Wisconsin has a lot of prairie ecosystems.  Of course, we really don’t know what the “natural” succession would be because no human has ever studied one. The Native Americans burned too, as above.  

You can see above a field that might be in the process of becoming an open forest. When I studied natural succession, we talked about climax forests.  That was the ecosystem that supposedly was the ultimate goal. Once established, the climax forest would remain until disturbed by nature or man.  This implied permanence unjustified by the evidence.  We now have a more subtle understanding of ecology. There really is no “goal”. Everything is just becoming something else.


As I mentioned in the previous post, I went to the museum with my sister.  I have changed a lot, but stayed the same in key aspects.  The change I don’t like it the disappearance of the “Trip Through Time.”  You used to start with earth geology and go right through to the modern age.   I recall you could look in on cavemen drawing on the cave walls, see Roman house and a medieval counting house.  When you got through all history until about 1600, when you wandered over to  America and ultimately to the streets of old Milwaukee.  Yes, the impression you got at the Milwaukee Museum was that all human history culminated in Milwaukee of around 1900. 

The “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibits are still the same.  It is kind of a “Twilight Zone” moment to see the old lady on the rocking chair, an eternal look of bemused befuddlement on her face.   She sat there when I visited with my school class in sixth grade and there is a good chance she will abide on that porch long after I am gone.

The Museum is 125 years old this year and they featured the kind of exhibit you would have seen at that time.   I kind of like the old fashioned display.  The Victorians self-confidently stood astride the world and brought back pieces of their discoveries for others to see.  Their world-view – at least those who stocked useums – included a strong idea of progress and evolution.  They saw things in linear fashion.  Privative man advanced to become modern man.   Backward peoples and cultures were just earlier stages of the European civilization, which stood at the apex of history. 

The whole idea of progress was shaken by the carnage in the trenches of World War I and then virtually destroyed by the various horrors of the 20th Century. The wars and dictatorships corrupted human virtues like courage, duty and honor.  It was a tragedy, but we should not throw out the whole system.   The idea of linear progress has many flaws, but the judgment-free multicultural relativism that has generally replaced it is not a workable outlook in the long run.   A hierarchy of progress does not exist, but the sundry random, planned and pernicious aspects of societies worldwide are not all created equal. 

Some adaptations are better than others and that means that some cultures are better than others for particular situations.   Multiculturalism is dishonest conceptually.  Cultures are constantly changing and adapting.   Presumably, we should all borrow the most appropriate aspects of any culture we encounter and abandon those of our own that are no longer working out.    In a context of cultural contact, you won’t maintain multiple cultures, salad bowl style.  Rather the cultures will mix and merge creating something richer and fuller of options than any of the ingredients.  But the original cultures will atrophy.  They will not and should not be maintained, except in the museum sense, much like the unchanging and un-living old lady endlessly rocking on the porch in the streets of old Milwaukee.

Lions & Tigers & Bears – No Way

I spent a lot of time at the Milwaukee Museum as a kid.  It was a big part of my education and many of the images have stuck with me, so I was happy to see significant continuity in the exhibits.  The familiar animals stare out of their dioramas.  I went down to the museum with my sister and saw the old friends.

The one that stuck in my mind the most was the cougar, frozen in time about to jump on a couple of mule deer. When I hike in the west, in places where there is a resurgent cougar population, I think about that image and unfortunately cast myself in the role of the deer. The cougar is a stealth hunter. He is literally digging his claws on your back before you are aware of his presence. 

Cougars were once common throughout North America.  Our ancestors wisely drove them out to the lonely places of the continent and I am unenthusiastic about their return to settled areas.  I understand that there is an established population now in the Black Hills and sooner or later some fool will reintroduce them to the Appalachians, whence they will infiltrate into place where I walk.  I know they are beautiful and graceful, but I don’t favor any animal sharing the forest with me that can easily kill me and might have incentive to try. I don’t believe, as some deep green environmentalists imply, that it would be ennobling for me to become “one with nature” by becoming big cat food and ultimately being converted to cougar sh*t. 

I am indeed a “speciesist” in this sense.  I want to stay at the apex of the food pyramid. Let big, dangerous cats stay in the North Cascades or other special ranges where we can be on the lookout for them.  It has been more than a century since any of their kind snarled their defiance in the Eastern Mountains. Good. Let’s keep it that way.

I have no similar problem with wolves, BTW.  Little Red Riding Hood notwithstanding, they may be a threat to livestock, but just don’t attack people.  At least they have not done so in North America in our 400 years of reliable record-keeping.  The wolf has suffered mightily from bad public relations.  In Europe, where they lived in intimate contact with dispersed and technologically less sophisticated human populations I suppose they may have been a threat on occasion, but not here and now.

So to sum up in simple terms, IMO, MOST carnivores – wolves, coyotes, bobcats, lynx, fishers, martens, badgers and such like are good and should be encouraged on your land unless you have livestock or small pets that might be endangered.  Large bears and – especially – cougars are bad anywhere near where you want to live, hike or take a nap.

Above is “Sambo”.  He was a gorilla in the Milwaukee Zoo. He died back in 1959 (I think of lung disease) and soon appeared in the Museum as the “lowland gorilla”. I never saw Sambo alive, but got to know him in the flesh, so to speak, later.  Below is “Sampson”.   He was Sambo’s zoo-mate (I think he might have been his brother), but lived a lot longer.  Sampson died in 1981 of a massive heart attack. He was evidently overweight.  I don’t recall if he smoked or didn’t exercise.  He was one of the most popular residents of the zoo, with a lot of mourning fans when he died.  Now he also stands in the museum. My own goal, BTW, is to become a museum exhibit someday. They can make a diorama with me as a character. 

Chicago to Milwaukee

In Chicago I stopped off to visit Bob McCarthy, the friend from Iraq, who is working with Marine reserve units in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.  Bob made my stay in Iraq a lot more comfortable and rewarding.  We had lunch at a local Lebanese restaurant in the interesting transitional neighborhood near the Marine station.  There are Hispanic immigrants mixed with more recent arrivals from the Middle East, leavened with Hassidic Jews and some recent arrivals from Eastern Europe.  I think the waitress was Russian.  Only in America.

You can see in the picture below the twin moons in Chicago.  Bald is beautiful. Bob actually could grow hair if he wanted.  Interesting shirt.  Where do you even buy something like that?

Chicago is a lot like Milwaukee, only bigger, dirtier and more crowded.   It took a long time to get out of town because of the traffic jam and a lot of construction.  I don’t think this is anything unusual for Chicago.  You have to pay toll on Chicago area highways.  It cost me more than $5 to get through.  You would think that toll roads would be better maintained than the free variety, but you would be wrong.  I guess Chicago politics needs its patronage sources.   If you look at the picture I have included, you notice the sign “Half Day Road.”  It is very descriptive, since that is about as long as it takes to get out of Chicago.   I got clean across Ohio in the time it took to creep through a few dozen miles to get out of Chicago.

I finally got to Milwaukee in early evening.  I look forward to seeing family and doing the Milwaukee things.   That means walking around the old neighborhood, running on the trails in Grant and Warnimont and eating.  I have to go to Rocky Rococo, George Webb and Cousins Subs and I need my 1960s Schlitz beer and Rippin’ Good mint cookies.

A general shortage of mint chocolate has developed.  I have been having trouble finding ordinary mint chocolate and it has always been impossible to get the Rippin’ Good mint cookies outside Wisconsin.  The mint girl scout cookies are not really an adequate substitute.  

I don’t really like the Schlitz beer that much. I drink it out of homage to the old man.  This is supposed to be the original 1960s recipe.  The old man told me that Schlitz was good until the early 1970s, when they sped up the brewing process – replaced the braumeisters with chemists, according to the Old Man – and made it inconsistent. The old man changed to Pabst and soon Schlitz went out of business, acquired by Stroh’s.   The building where for almost a century they brewed the “beer that made Milwaukee famous” is now upscale condos.

Politics + Science = Perdition + Tyranny

Back off Man; I’m a Scientist …

Should scientists be politically active? Individual scientists should participate in debates as citizens. They should bring their knowledge and expertise to every subject, just like others do. But “scientists” as a group should not be political animals because there is a big difference between “A” scientist and “THE” scientist.

… Dr Peter Venkman

What is a scientist anyway? Do you have to have a science degree? Is BS enough or do you need a PhD? Do you have to do experiments? What kind of science qualifies as science? Sociologists and psychologists sometimes call themselves scientists. Political scientists even have that name in their titles. Some historians thought they were scientists. The term is very elastic.

Western civilization is based on the scientific method

Anybody who uses the “scientific method” in his work or to draw conclusions could legitimately call himself a scientist, but that would make scientists out of a lot of business people, most engineers, many farmers and almost everybody who works with actuarial tables. There is a field called “scientific management.” For that matter, all those body builders at Gold’s Gym are scientists, given their constant experimentation with their bodies and familiarity with chemicals. Successful modern farmers, builders & business people certainly approach their work scientifically? Everybody could be included sometimes and any definition that includes everybody is not a useful definition. This is not what most people have in mind.

Science and politics are methods to address different problems

But even when we exclude sociologist, body builders, engineers etc, we still have a problem and the problem is that science and politics are almost polar opposites. Science is iterative. It never comes to final conclusions. It tends to narrow inquiry and make scientists experts on narrow fields. Science doesn’t permit extrapolation. Extrapolation is what politics is all about. Politicians are rarely troubled when they are not sure of the precise truthfulness of their statements. Scientists MUST be.

Science provides options, not decisions

Probably the most important impediment to science in politics is the very nature of decision making. You cannot “let science decide” because decisions are exactly what science does NOT do. Science provides inputs into decisions. Science can give you a probability that if you do X you will sacrifice Y, but somebody has to decide on the relative values. Maybe X just doesn’t matter to you. Science cannot make that decision.

Think of a decision about a medical procedure. The doctor can use science to tell you that there is an 80% chance the operation will be a success, but a 70% chance you will be incapacitated by the procedure. On the other hand, if you do something less invasive, you have only a 50% chance of survival, but you can make a full recovery if you survive. You could come up with a complete breakdown of the odds, but you still have to decide, based on non-science values, what you want to do. One person might choose the greater risk of death for the greater health later. Others do the opposite Science cannot help. Once it gives you the options and odds, the job of science is done unless new information comes to light.

BTW – when we reach a near certainty, we no longer have decision making. We all agree that we will apply the rule of physics when flying in an airplane. No matter what anybody says about alternative reality, he doesn’t believe it when it comes to that. Decisions are ONLY needed in areas of disagreement or uncertainty.

Science informs; it doesn’t decide

Most “scientists” understand this limitation. Those scientists who want to be political might not get it. They want to use science as a trump card, but it doesn’t work. Decisions are made based on values. Science is value neutral. Therefore science cannot decide.

20th Century tyranny was “science-based”

When science becomes political, it stops being science and starts to become tyranny. In fact, science works a lot like religion when mixed with politics. It invests too much “certainty” into a human political process. It might start off “good” but politics corrupts it, because politics is not science, but politicians – especially bad ones – like to use science, as they once used religion – as a weapon to pummel their opponents into silence.

Stalin and Hitler had scientists working for them. Marxist and Nazi systems were “science-based” in the minds of their creators. Nazi science was chillingly precise. There was “scientific racism” and the eugenics movement was firmly rooting in the science of the time. We now tend to call them “pseudo- scientists” but they were trained and passed scientific muster at the universities of their times. They were pseudo BECAUSE they were political, not because they were not trained as scientists.

I would also point to the case of Nobel Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber. W/o his work literally half the world population would probably go hungry. Some of his other inventions were less felicitous. He had the most impeccable scientific credentials, but his political judgment was perhaps not so good.

Leave the lying to the politicians

This broad political road that leads to perdition is posted and brightly blazed all the way. Scientist should stay on the steep and narrow trail to truth. Leave the lying to the politicians. That is what they are good at.

HWY 70, Holiday Inn & the Fall of World Communism

It has been almost exactly twenty-five years since I drove on I-70, going the other way to take up my new job as an FSO.  We were living in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I had a very brief job as a market researcher at a firm called Microdatabasesystems (MDBS).  They made, as the name suggests, data base software.  Since I was the only guy in the marketing research department, I suppose I was the director.  Never trust titles. 

The firm had been founded by a couple of professors from Perdue.  They knew computers, but were not so strong on marketing.  I worked there a couple of weeks and learned the software only through the indulgence and kindness of the engineers who explained it so often.  Then the owners called me in and asked my opinion about their firm.  I was flattered and they were very nice and open.   I told them the truth.  That the software was wonderful in what it could do (for the time) but that it was too hard to use, maybe they should put in some menus or something.   One of the guys, very nicely but w/o attempting humor said, “If people are too dumb to use our product, perhaps they shouldn’t buy it.”  I am not sure of the exact words, but it was something close.  

I went back to my office and called the State Department. I had taken and passed the FSO tests, but they were doing a security check.   I asked when they would be done.   There was the usual pause while they looked up my stuff and then the woman told me that the security check was done and that I had been offered a job. I never saw the job offer.   It must have gone to my old address in Minneapolis. I was supposed to have responded by “yesterday.”  I asked for and got a one-day extension.   The next day I took the FS job and told my soon-to-be former employer that I was moving on.  I felt bad, but they were not that upset.  To my surprise, they asked me to stay as long as I could.   I don’t think I earned my salary, but if they wanted me to stay, I hung on for three more weeks.

So on a Friday, I finished work at MDBS and in the predawn darkness the next day got in the Toyota Corolla diesel (the first car I had ever owned) I had recently bought and headed down HWY 65-70.  Chrissy was still in Minneapolis finishing college, so I was alone.   The car didn’t have a radio.  Well, it had a radio but no antenna (don’t ask why) but it did have a tape player.  I had three tapes: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Linda Ronstadt’s County Songs and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  Beethoven was on when the sun came up over the hills in eastern Ohio.   Michael & Linda got me through the darkness until then. 

When we think back to 1984, it all seems so easy.  But back then things were not so clear.  We were just coming out of a really bad economic time (worse & longer unemployment than today. Look at the chart.) and the pundits were telling us we would soon sink into something even worse.  Internationally it looked like the Soviet Union would last forever and they often seemed to be winning the ideological war.  I wanted to fight world communism, which I hated ever since Prof Artajani (I am spelling the name wrong) made me read Marx and I found out what a fraud the old fool was.  I think the professor thought we would be impressed, but any good and true son of the real working class can tell right quick that Marx stinks on ice.   I am pleased to say that within five years that benighted system was largely defeated.   I don’t know why it took others so long. The rest is history.

Anyway, I am staying at a Holiday Inn in Springfield Ohio and thinking about those times.   It features a “Holidome.”  I know that is so 1970s, but those are the times I became an adult and as far as I am concerned the Holidome is the ultimate in class, so I am content.  Tomorrow I will have breakfast in the Holidome before I head out to Wisconsin.

Pictures: the one on top shows turning leaves in Garrett County Maryland.  Fall comes early in the hills and seems to be coming early this year. 

Above is a rest stop in Ohio.  It is nice to have a rest stop.  Many in Virginia have been sold because of budget cuts. 

We’re Cooked

I went to a discussion of the costs of cap & trade. There were experts from Brookings, CBO, EPA, Energy Information Agency, the National Black Chamber of Commerce & Heritage Foundation, so we got the full spectrum of analysis.  Lots of the assumptions were different and the ideology was contrasting, but they all came up with the same ballpark conclusions: cap & trade as it is now formulated in the House bill will cost a lot and probably will not work very well to control climate change.

As I have written many times before, I favor a broad carbon tax, which is why I could never run for office.   I support cap & trade BECAUSE it is a type of carbon tax, albeit a less efficient and possibly corrupt way to do it, but it looks like there is enough inefficiency in corruption in the House bill to question it.

One flaw in the bill is that it includes almost nothing about nuclear power.  In the long run, we will need to go with renewable power.  In the medium run, there is no way to achieve the needed carbon reductions w/o nuclear power, which emits no greenhouse gas.  Many environmentalists stupidly reject nuclear power.    No form of power is w/o risks and costs, but if you believe that global warming is the existential threat some people say it is, doesn’t that almost certain risk of climate change trump the hypothetical risk of nuclear power?   Not one person has died in the whole history of nuclear power in the U.S.  Nobody was even seriously injured in the worst “disaster” in nuclear power history at Three Mile Island.

But a probably more serious problem is the phenomenal growth of emissions from developing countries such as China or India.  China is the world’s leading emitter of CO2 and their emissions are growing rapidly.   China adds the equivalent of two 500 megawatt coal fired plants EVERY WEEK.  In one year it adds the equivalent of the whole British power network and by 2030 China alone could emit as much CO2 as the whole world does today. In other words, if everybody else cut to zero, it wouldn’t matter.

Talk is cheap, BTW.  China has promised to cut emissions relative to GDP.  That is good.  But the U.S. has been cutting emissions relative to GDP since 1973 and in 2006, the U.S. was the only nation to cut emissions in absolute numbers during a time of economic growth. 

So my conclusion is that we are cooked.  We should think about adaptations to a warmer world.   And we should be working on alternatives AND building nuclear power stations.  Congress should go back to work and enact a true carbon tax that would get the government out of the business of picking winning and losing companies and technologies. Government has an abysmal record in doing this (consider the recent debacle re ethanol) and there is no reason to believe it has gotten any better. The current bill doesn’t inspire confidence. I like the idea of markets for environmental services in general. I was tentatively in favor of the climate bill. It has some good aspects, but it needs smarter leadership and some hard thinking.

BTW – the picture is Union Station from the window of Heritage Foundation, where the panel was held.