Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Servant or Master

Time for another opinion piece. In this morning's paper George Will laments the return of government "interference" in the economy. In that same morning paper is an article which claims that Charles Dickens characterization of the poor diet of children in workhouses (Oliver Twist) is wrong. Recent studies has shown that the "recommended" diet was significantly more nutritious than that portrayed in Dickens' novel. Less than currently recommended but "adequate". So what do the two have in common? It is a matter of who's holding the reins.

Several years ago Dr David Suzuki, the Canadian scientist/TV host of The Nature of Things, made a TV special called Suzuki Speaks which presented his views on the interaction of the economy and the ecology. In it he makes the case for humans place in and as part of nature and contends that purpose of "the economy" is to serve the needs of people. It is, or should be the medium by which we distribute the goods and services we need to live together as a society. He argues however that "the economy" has become an end in itself, a thing which the people serve through their work and consumerism. An excerpt from his talk is avaliable on YouTube or a slightly longer excerpt at Link TV. A DVD or download of the full talk is available at Avanti Pictures. I believe that this talk is as important to the future of the world as "An Inconvenient Truth".

George Will and other free market capitalists argue that the markets, left to their own devices, are self correcting and that government interference only prolongs the existence of businesses that should go out of business. That's true if, as Dr. Suzuki contends, we are servants of the economy. If the economy is in charge and the role of humans is to feed it through their labor and consumption then market forces should be allowed to run their course unimpeded by government regulation. There are problems with that idea though.

The first problem is like the problem in saying Dickens got the diet of children in workhouses wrong because the recommended diet was actually adequate. Even the authors of the quoted study admit that maybe not all workhouses followed the recommendations. Well, DUH! History is loaded with examples of people not doing things in the recommended way. We've recently been treated to the results of people not following recommendations in the financial markets to the detriment of everyone in society.

The larger problem is, as Dr. Suzuki contends, a matter of putting the cart before the horse. We create the economy to serve us. Free market economists argue that in a free market everyone will prosper, the old "a rising tide floats all boats" idea, but putting the functioning of the economy ahead of the purpose it is meant to serve is backwards. The business world is fond of mission statements as a means of measuring success. We need to find a way to make the economic system serve us, to provide for our needs first and desires after. We need to have the mission of the economy to serve us, not itself. I highly recommend Dr. Susuki's full talk, either the download or the DVD. The download will play only on the computer it is downloaded to (unless they've changed it since I got a copy several years ago).

I will add the caveat that government can be as guilty of putting the bureaucracy or institution ahead of the mission as business. Both are human institutions. Both require some supervision by those they serve to keep them on course. Hopefully the recent election was just such a course correction. I believe it was even if Mr. Will does not. The important thing is to remember that all human institutions exist to serve us, not the reverse. Remember that the next time you are instructed to "go out and buy stuff" or told that preserving the environment will damage the economy. It isn't about the economy, it's about people.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

0ºF and Snowing... Again!

No morning paper today. It comes from 80 miles South of us and apparently the weather is so bad down that way the papers couldn't get out of town. That happens 2-3 times each winter. The title of this post is our weather this morning. Forget the White Christmas part. We already have that. I'm dreaming of a super-insulated house with a garage so I don't have to clean off the cars after every storm.

It isn't snowing hard here (yet) but the forecast is for it to continue into tomorrow morning and to total as much as a foot. The mountains South & East of here could see 14" or more.

There's frost on my windows again and I shot another round of frost pattern photos but decided instead to share a shot of Diane's bromeliad which is in full bloom right next to one of those frost covered panes.

Addendum: We watched "Sunday Morning" (recorded so we can skip the ads) and throughout the program there was a banner streaming across the bottom listing the churches that were canceling morning services. I feel sorry for all those who are trying to travel this weekend. This is shaping up to be a good Christmas to stay home.

Friday, December 19, 2008


We have several bird feeders and this year a pair of cardinals come around occasionally. They are very skittish and therefore difficult to photograph. The wreath hanging over the window on the kitchen door doesn't make it any easier nor does the fact that they seem to feed at dusk when the light is fading but today I did manage to get passable photos of each of them. Meet Mr. & Mrs. Cardinal.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Card

As I did last year I am posting my Christmas greeting here on my blog for my e-friends. Here's wishing one and all a happy holiday of whatever sort you choose. In about one week's time the days will be getting longer again and a new cycle of life begins. The photo above has been modified from an original I shot last Dec. of Sullivan's barn on the Hatch Rd.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One friend/reader has asked that I post more often. I have been somewhat lax I confess. I get preoccupied. It is nice getting responses however as it tells me there are people following my blog. One of the features missing from Blogger is a stats page. Aside from comments there is no way to tell how many readers a blog has. A blog is a bit like doing a radio program. You are talking but you don't know for sure if anyone is listening.

Our son asked if we got hit by the huge ice storm that has been on the news. We did not. All we got was a tiny amount of freezing rain mixed into about 4-5 inches of snow. There is some ice on the trees but that is left from an earlier weather system. It did not warm up enough between the two for that ice to melt and this morning it was about -13°F here so it won't be melting soon. It is up to about 0°F now. For those readers who might not know, "here" is near Potsdam, NY, North and West of the Adirondack Park.

No one asked for photos but y'all are getting one anyway :-) The photo above is the frost on one pane of our front hall window. Be sure to click on it for a larger view. There is no storm window on that one and we don't heat the hall so I got several frost pattern photos this morning. Ian, you get to enjoy looking at frost without being cold. Enjoy.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Is Coming

As usual Christmas is coming too quickly.

I washed dishes this evening. I had been letting the dishes go until Diane would wash and I'd dry because I had cut my left index finger opening a bag of pellets last week. I guess my Swiss Army knife is sharp enough. My finger is healed up but Diane wants me to open the bags with scissors now.

Our Christmas card list is drawn up. We will likely think of 2-3 more after they are done. We always do. I'll print the cards tomorrow around oil changes for both vehicles. I have at least one other print to make and I have to paint the frame it's going in plus another frame to build. I need to make up some birthday and anniversary calendars with my genealogy program but those don't have to be done until January 1st. No boredom around the holidays. Next Sunday afternoon we go to a performance of Handell's Messiah. Diane likes the idea of Christmas Eve dinner out, so it's a go. I'll have to make a reservation. A quiet Christmas Day will be welcome.