Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I see the aftermath of Baltimore violence on the ground today; small protests in DC this evening

Today, I took a “day trip” on the MARC train to Baltimore and visited the Sandtown-Winchester area of Baltimore, including the intersection of North and Penn, where the CVS store was burned by rioters.

It was about a mile walk from Penn Station.  I had already seen some of West Baltimore from the upper level of the Marc Train, which has a local stop in the area. I walked along North Ave (Rt 1).  I stopped for coffee in a McDonalds and was the only white person there.  As I walked, I noticed nothing for a while, except for one high rise apartment with a "Black Lives Matter" sign in the window.

After I walked into the Sandtown neighborhood, I quickly encountered run-down and abandoned row houses and stores, as well as bars and even stage theaters and art exhibits.  

I walked along Presstman until I got to Pennsylvania Ave.  I walked north, and talked to one African-American male, who affirmed that most of the blight had been there before the riots, and that few young men seemed to have jobs.  I got to the intersection, where there was a Billy Graham representative preaching, and various other voices, and many media outlets.  There were some white people, working as reporters or interns from news organizations, and a few young white men who probably came from the LGBT community.  There was also an older white man wearing Washington Nationals baseball cap and shirt wanting to volunteer with the cleanup.  (That makes the Nats look good.)  It was very orderly.  The transit station, which would have taken one to the Mondawmin Mall in about a mile going north, was closed.
There was a large peaceful demonstration in Baltimore at Penn Station just after I left.
The Baltimore Orioles defeated the Chicago White Sox in a game played before an intentionally empty stadium (although people watched the game in bars). The Orioles will be the “home team” against Tampa Bay and bat last as the weekend games are moved to Florida for security.

There has been controversy in the media about calling the rioters "thugs". 

This evening, there was a small demonstration in Washington DC, which I reached near the White House.  Some of the signs were very interesting, saying that white silence actually amounts to aggression.  The group (which had started in Chinatown) went up 16th Street, and then to the U Street Corridor, around 14th St. 

There was also a substantial demonstration in New York City, at Union Square, a few blocks north of where I lived in the 1970s (in the Cast Iron Building). 

Update:  May 5

Former Baltimore deputy state's attorney Page Croyder makes a strong case critical of Mariyln Mosby's quick action to indict six police officers, here.  There are legitimate and factually unresolved questions as to whether Freddie Gray's knife was in violation of Maryland law. The knife may have been in violation of a Baltimore ordinance without violating state law. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Man-made climate change is going critical fast, but it won't cause more tornadoes

Dahr Jamail has a stinging report on climate change on TruthOut (on Facebook), here
The article hits the issue of drought and fire and loss of animal and plant species especially hard. 
Does climate change increase the size and damage of severe weather events?  USA Today has a big story on that now.
It’s interesting to note, however, the storms in the mid-Atlantic area.  There were F4 tornadoes in Maryland or Viginia in 1998, 2001 and 2002 (2001 included the College Park tornado, an F3 which did severe damage at the University of Maryland and up to Laurel, and it was in the fall).  I don’t think there have been any since (north of the NC line).  Very small tornadoes are commonly reported, even last week, but this may be the result of better reporting technology.
The size of the tornadoes in Oklahoma, in Joplin and in Tuscaloosa seem shocking but tornadoes like these have always occurred in the nation’s midsection.  Curiously, when I was at the University of Kansas in the 60s, severe thunderstorms were common, but we didn’t have any close calls with tornadoes and rarely had power outages. There were no trees near power lines.  Similarly, when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, I had only one close call with a tornado where I lived (and that was in December). 
The relationship between climate change and tornadoes is complex, as indicated in this National Geographic article from 2013   You need some cold air from the north to get tornadoes, and the air up north is now often warmer than it used to be.   

Monday, April 27, 2015

After Freddie Gray's funeral, protests break out Monday afternoon; AU reporter on scene

First, I wanted to mention that my gumshoeing online after hearing about the violence in Baltimore Monday after the funeral for Freddie Gray led me to discover that independent journalist Trey Yingst, whom I met at a WJLA “Your Voice Your Future” airing in February, was arrested in Ferguson MO in November, for not dispersing when ordered, as he planned to film.  The story is in the Los Angeles Times, link here. There may be litigation in progress, as it appears that the arrest was constitutionally suspect, to say the least.  Yingst also works with American University’s paper and site “News2share”. 
And that site has a breaking story about the rioting in Baltimore right now, here. 
I had contemplated visited Baltimore to observe Saturday – but in Washington there was FilmfestDC and an important event on marriage equality at the festival.  Today I had another event (tonight, to cover soon).  It sounds like it’s a good thing that I did. 
I applaud Trey’s work covering this. 
Picture: Harbor, Feb. 2014  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Protests in Baltimore over Freddie Gray turn ugly

The Baltimore Sun has a running tally on the latest developments in the Freddie Gray case, link hereNumerous incidents of vandalism or local violence were reported in the protests Saturday.  Fans at the Baltimore Orioles’s game were told to stay at Camden Yards, but the game went into extra innings.  The Orioles (who, like the Washington Nationals, have been stumbling) won in ten innings.  The fans were allowed to leave but told to avoid certain areas.
In the meantime, the police have been making press releases which seem to take some responsibility, for the fact that Gray was not properly handled.  At this point, indictment and prosecution, even for involuntary manslaughter, would appear likely.

As soon as I have time, I try to get my own feet on the ground as to the areas affected and report. 
The most affected area appears to be Gilmor Homes off Pressman Street, north of US 40 west of downtown, map 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Breast cancer researcher points to new evidence of viral cause of some tumors, and likelihood of vaccine prevention

Today, ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington reported a study indicating that some breast cancers are causd by retroviruses distantly related to HIV, and could be preventable with a vaccine. The report quotes Dr. Kathleen Ruddy of the Breast Health and Healing Foundation (link ).  Dr. Ruddy has a book, “Of Mice and Women”.
The news story with video is here.
But in 2014, other articles, like this one in Science Daily, had reported studies of breast (and brain) tumors not showing viral cause evidence, link here. Yet the article admits that up to 20% of cancers may be virus-related.  This may include some lymphomas.

One question would be, if an anti-retroviral vaccine could be made for some breast cancer, does this help with making one for HIV .  I was screened for an early vaccine in 1988 but did not participate.
Another question would be whether virus-induced cancers could yield to mesothelin dip tests, like the kind developed for pancreatic cancer by Jack Andraka.
One of the cancers associated with AIDS, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, has been found to be closely connected to an unusual herpes virus, which probably causes it directly in an immune-compromised person.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fort Bragg, NC offers some of the best military history museums to the general public, and recalls for me the old issues over conscription

Back from a trip, and more details may come forth as time goes by (as in “Casablanca”), to UNC and then to Fort Bragg (a drive-through) and Fayetteville, NC with the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, which is off-base and free, but dependent on donations (and does have a private shop), here., as long as a Veterans Park Museum next door.

The museums (both) are among the most complete military history museums I have seen. 

There were pictures of troops in Washington DC during the 1968 riots. 

There was a huge variety of murals. 

And there is detailed history of how Special Forces worked in almost every conflict in US history.
  I remember riding through Fayetteville NC on the bus late at night Feb. 8, 1968 on the way from Richmond to Army Basic and the Reception Station in Fort Jackson, SC.  At that moment, I probably had four more hours to "live".  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Census reports show African-American men of working-age men "missing"; another police incident, in Baltimore

A story in the New York Times “Upshot” column by Justin Wolfers, Kevin Quearly, and David Leonhardt, “1.5 Million Black Men, Missing from Daily Life”, link here certainly seems fitting on the same day as demonstrations in Baltimore over another police incident (wabc2 AP video news story here).
A lot of the material in the NYT piece comes from Census surveys, one of which I worked on in 2011.  Black men of working and fathering age are disappearing, to both premature death and prison, when compared to non-black men and women.  Prison is increasing.  (It would be interesting to do the same study for non-European Latinos.)  There are not enough black men available to marry black women and form families, so there are more single mothers.  Of course, this raises an existential moral question on openness (or lack thereof) to interracial relationships.  The stance the article takes on family formation is interesting.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Department of Energy releases report "warning" about power grid

The Department of Energy has published a :”Quadrennial Review” (link) , as discussed by Chris Mooney in an Economy and Business report in the Washington Post, p A12, Tuesday April 21, 2015, link here
While the US grid is said the be the largest and most robust in the world, major changes are needed to buttress it against solar storms and a variety of possible terror attacks, as well as to make it more adaptable to decentralized power from solar and wind.
In 2012 and 2013, I wrote several book reviews about the vulnerability of the power grid and visited Oak Ridge in July 2013.  In 2012, we may have missed being in the path of a Carrington-sized solar storm by about a week.
However, insurance companies report that utilities are making quick progress in protecting transformer circuits.  Yet, there was a recent serious incident in southern Maryland.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Is Rand Paul calling for my old "Bill of Rights 2"?

Rand Paul is calling on the GOP and on Congress to “defend the whole Bill of Rights” and not just the Second Amendment.  He’s placing particular emphasis on the Fourth and Fifth (as if the amendments were like numbered symphonies from a composer).

The Daily Signal has a story by Ken McIntyre here. Breitbart has a similar story by Sarah Rumpf, here
Chapter 3 of my second “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (“When Liberty Is Stressed”, 2002) is a 1999 essay “White Paper: Launching a Bill of Rights 2”.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tax Day, and the Fight-for-15 protest: a walk through unshared sacrifice

Early evening on Tax Day (and one day after I had rushed an amended return, as I discovered a major omission on my 2014 taxes, although the mathematical effect turned out to be small) I took a walk down from GWU, with a nice salmon dinner at Quigley’s and seeing the end of the Nats holding onto one game in Fenway – on Boston Marathon Day.  And, going toward the Lincoln Memorial and then the Martin Luther King site near the Tidal Basin (most of the cherry blossoms down), I took a hike (with an aching hip) through unfairness.

I note a man, a decade younger than me, had been arrested for landing his gyrocopter on the White House lawn, having flown from Pennsylvania, wanting to protest corrupt government and crony capitalism, I guess.  Let me add, I don’t have a problem with income tax rates – I come all right on those – but I do with the complexity and the time doing the returns takes. Steve Forbes and his flat tax comes to mind.

I passed the Vietnam War Memorial, a period marked by a military draft with deferments for the “Erudite” – “me” of sorts, where I had “served without serving”.  The over to the Korean War memorial, with a much more conspicuous display of battlefield soldiers in sculpture.  But both memorials emphasized African American exposure to the risks of war.

I then hobbled (past a softball game) to the MLK memorial and the “Fight for 15” rally (site)  covers rallies around the nation).  It was small, and there was some song-singing.  The overwhelming culture was labor solidarity and collective.  Sure, people will have babies they can’t afford.  People need to make $15 an hour. 

What I didn’t see was the old Maoist idea that we should all take our turn at hard labor  That won’t happen.  But that used to be the call in the past. My own father used to preach that manual labor provides virtue.  

There was a "join up" table with souvenirs. 
I did pass by a McDonald's last night, did not stop or eat there, but there seemed to be no strike and people were working -- for minimum wage, like Barbara Ehrenreich in "Nickel and Dimed". 

Update: April 25

CNN and WJLA report a story of a homeless man working in the Senate cafeteria but living in the streets of Washington DC, link here.  He makes $11 an hour but reportedly gives money to relatives and grandchildren anyway. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wealth inequality and the obligations of "trust fund babies" to man the soup kitchens

Dana Milbank has a column about the “evils” of inherited wealth on p A13 of the Washington Post, today, Wednesday, April 15, 2015 (Income Tax Day), link here .  The print title is “So much for so few”.  The online title is more blunt, “Republicans push for a permanent aristocracy”, rather like a House of Lords.
The detailed history of the “5 Million” is in Wikipedia, here
Yes, it was helpful to me in the years following Mother’s passing, although it was much less than “5 million”.
Milbank uses the term “trust fund babies”, as if they were suitable targets for forceful expropriation (like by the People’s Party in the early 1970s). 

Vox Media has a series of articles and videos (produced largely by Ezra Klein) on why wealth inequality (as opposed to income inequality) is bad for America, here ,
Of course, some conservative ideas about social morality (like sex and marriage, and unelected family obligations) are supposed to level the individual playing field. And social conservatives in the past used to support military conscription, as a way to spread the risk – before all the deferments came along.  Conservatives would "privatize" the moral inequality risk. 
Ponder both Thomas Piketty and Matthew Rognile. 
Think about all this the next time you visit a fast food restaurant.  Today is “Fight for 15” day.

Update: April 17

The GOP gloats over repeal of the "death tax". 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Would the GOP support reinsurance for pre-existing condition coverage if Obamacare dies in SCOTUS?

Ron Johnson does have a constructive op-ed “A make or break Obama-care moment”, p A15, in the Wall Street Journal.  Johnson imagines what would happen if Obama loses the current case before the Supreme Court.  First, he’ll ask Congress for a one-sentence chance in the law, and he’ll bait (and maybe switch) all the red state governors without the exchanges.
He says the GOP must pass a common-sense health care reform plan of its own.  Yes, include portability.  Include a provision you can keep a legacy plan.  Repeal the mandatory coverage penalty (which Mitt Romney once favored.) Repeal mandatory coverages.  You know where that goes.  (Should a gay male have to pay for a female’s pregnancy benefits?  Should someone lucky or industrious enough to have Clark Kent’s body pay for obesity or drug treatment?)  That leaves us with the problem of getting insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.
So then why not show some more conservative compassion and include a provision where the government sets up a quasi-agency to reinsure private insurance carriers against the anti-selection that could result for, say, juvenile diabetes or pediatric cancer.  I can imagine the moral policy debates when the “pre-existing” conditions are related to “behaviors” (tobacco or drug use, alcohol abuse, or even STD’s including usually HIV).  Or I can imagine an intersection with the vaccine debate on public health and herd immunity.
But the idea of government propping up private business for low income consumers has precedence even among libertarians, like vouchers so that the poor can attend private schools and colleges.  Could the same idea apply to health insurance?  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Oklahoma earthquakes from fracking are probably man-made, and who will pay for it?

Rivka Galchen has an interesting New Yorker article April 13, 2015, “Weather Underground: The Arrival of Man-Made Earthquakes”, with attention to Oklahoma, here. A lot of the problem seems to come from management of water that comes out with extraction and is put back into the earth.
But who is responsible for damage to homeowners is surely a big political issue. 
Dutchsinse has a lot of videos on this issue.
I lived in Texas in the 1980s, when no one thought about earthquakes.  And a lot of my portfolio was often oil and gas. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Change the World" Sunday at an Arlington VA church aims to build social capital; pastor gives sermon on intentional communities; origin of Habitat for Humanity

Today, I did participate in the “Change the World” Sunday (link at the Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA.  With a bad hip, I did something simple – assembling disaster relief kits.  Althought I wonder, don’t people who live in tornado alley buy homeowner’s insurance?

OK, it can happen to anyone.  Nobody is above experiencing a shelter.  So volunteering is part of your karma.  So is the idea of belonging to a group and fitting in, “right sized”, even if the group’s goals are not exactly one’s own or can be called into question.

The church offered a continental breakfast, a blue jeans service at 8:30 AM, and then a morning of service.  There was gardening, stream cleanup (sounds like police call in Army Basic in 1968), and selling lemonade (which, after all, Donald Trump had made his first activity on “The Apprentice” back in 2004).  In fact, I was the first customer for the lemonade stand. The day saw me actually visiting a doggie or puppy playpen near the Arlington Food Assistance Center in Shirlington, before adjourning for brunch (at Freddie’s Beach Bar).

In the meantime, my iPhone happened to update itself to the next operating system during breakfast.

The projects may not seem that ambitious, but the point is more about building social capital than efficiency.  In turn, disadvantaged people see that inequality is being addressed on a personal level and have more reason to play by the rules.  This fits my theory that "inequality" is necessary for innovation, but if not "given back" or "paid forward" somehow, tends to lead to instability, and to losses that can't be recovered from regardless of blame. 

The pastor (Ed Walker) told the story of an intentional community in the 19th Century between Americus and Plains, GA (home of Jimmy Carter), called Koinoia.  At one time, it had practice complete income sharing (along the lines of Twin Oaks, discussed here in April 2012), and along the teachings in the Book of Acts 4:32-35.  David Ensign of the Clarendon Presbyterian Church has often discussed this.  But at some point, the group adopted a more capitalist model and evolved into the modern Habitat for Humanity.  Is having volunteers help build incomes for those with low or moderate incomes the best solution after a disaster (like Katrina, or tornadoes)?  Why not use manufactured housing, which corporate America is very good at.
It’s also worth noting that the LDS Church was one of the most effective religious groups in providing reconstruction after Katrina.
Efficiency isn’t the only goal of service. The Amish know that all too well.  
By the way, this morning (very early by West Coast time), actor Richard Harmon (“The Greatest of All Time”) tweeted info about “The 100 Charities” sponsored by the show “The 100” that he is in.  May be related to this.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Millennials" lose interest in the "idea" of "heterosexual" marriage

Carol Costello has an interesting perspective on CNN, that “marriage apocalypse” is coming for millennials, and not because of gay marriage.

Indeed, one African-American man on the Today show (heterosexual) said that he sees marriage as "being married to an idea" rather than a person, and sees that as crippling.
Self-fulfillment and individual accomplishment and accolades have taken over from the more “participatory” satisfaction of marriage.  People are asking, why spend $20000 on a wedding when you could go around the world for that? (Maybe not to Syria, though, and that’s part of the problem.)

What’s good for a particular individual is not good for the whole if everybody decides to do it.

So many issues are like this, from vaccines today to the military draft of the past. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Is Rand Paul a libertarian? Or "libertarianish?"

James Hohmann has a Politco article “Rand Paul’s kinder, gentler libertarianism”, link here.  Is that just an echo of George H. W. Bush and his “kindler, gentler America” back in 1989?
The Washington Post talks about Rand Paul’s “libertarianish revolution” calling his ideological heritage his biggest asset and challenge simultaneously, by Joel Achenbach, here. Another friend of mine would use the term "libertarianesque". 
Pragmatism and compassion might suggest, for example, that if you don’t like Obamacare, maybe you set up a “reinsurance” company (analogous to the FDIC) so that the private health insurance industry can cover people with preexisting conditions, analogous to private school vouchers.  
Pragmatism says you do need some financial regulation, to contain unstainable financial games like substandard mortgages (supporting otherwise overpriced homes) and instruments like some of the credit default swaps.  Soros is right about that. 
While I chose to embed a video favorable to Paul, note that YouTube has another video “Rand Paul is not a libertarian”. 
Do Republicans and libertarians belong together in practice? 
It does seem that a significant portion of the GOP will come around to marriage equality. Donald Trump wouldn’t before, but I do wonder about now. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Media reports on Washington DC area power failure seem to lack detail; incident is not reassuring

There were a lot of discrepancies in media-reported details on exactly what the damage was to the SMECO facility, near a transition point where power is transferred to PEPCO, near Mechancisville MD (in Charles County, about 25 miles south of the Beltway, and maybe about 30 miles north of historic St. Mary’s City, a bit west of MD route 5), leading to rather startling power outages in Washington DC and some eastern Maryland suburbs, all the way up to the University of Maryland in College Park and all the way down to Point Lookout.  Some reports indicate that some hardware fell from a transmission tower, some say there was a transformer explosion, and some say there was just a brush fire.  Two reports are in the Washington Post (with a vague map) and (with video) WJLA.

Ironically, the immediate area has Amish farmers. 
There were some small thunderstorms in the area Tuesday morning, and perhaps there was an isolated lightning strike, leading to structural damage and a failure hours later.  Lightning damage can happen unexpectedly with relatively minor systems, when there are no severe weather warnings. 
The resulting power surge resulted in many system breakers tripping.  That it caused so much disruption is again a warning on the vulnerability of the power grid, to both natural and hostile events.  Yet, this time (compared to a much larger 2003 event in the NE) the power industry is claiming the system worked.  It’s not reassuring.
I was in the St. Mary’s area recently, and later I’ll try to look at the area where this happened. I want to get to nearby St. Clement’s Island sometime soon. 

Update: April 10, 2015

Lexus reports that a piece of insulator fell from a tower, story here. Lightning probably could cause this to happen, even in a minor T-storm.  

Update: April 12, 2015

Visited the area yesterday.  Could see the transmission towers in the area, so this happened on one of them.  May be near Mechanicsville Road, on a side road.

Smeco also has a solar generating station. 

and HQ a few miles north in Hughesville.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

"Success Academies" are demand that teachers hound underperforming students constantly; another prodigiy

A front page story in the New York Times on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 about charter schools in NYC (like Success Academy Harlem 4), by Kate Taylor, certainly points out the energy demanded of teachers in these schools, link here. The title is “At Charters, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics”.

The demands on constant performance by every student do sound extreme.  I recall, when working as a substitute teacher, I was sometimes criticized for not being assertive enough or intervening enough.  But they weren’t “my kids” and I was paid like $13 an hour. 

Also, while noting the accomplishments of now high school student Jack Andraka, we should note New York City senior Harold Ekeh, born in Nigeria, was accepted to all eight ivy league schools to which he applied, story here.  He chose Yale. He (like Jack, I presume, headed for Stanford) will be pre-med and aspires to surgery (rather than research, perhaps).

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Asymmetric "pinko" revolutionary violence was a bigger threat a few decades ago than we realize today

I don’t know when I’ll get around to reading the new book by Bryan Burrough, “Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Era of Revolutionary Violence”, from Penguin, but it is reviewed by David J. Garrow in the Washington Post under “Society” in “Book World” today on p. B8, link here

Garrow focuses on an explosion that destroyed a row house in the West Village in NYC in 1970, not too far from where I would live from 1974-1978. 
In December 1972, I “spied” on a planning meeting of the People’s Party of New Jersey in a drafty rowhouse a frigid Saturday night in Newark, NJ.  They did talk of force, expropriation.  I was probably an enemy because I was a “salaried professional”.  The attendees, especially the women, said they didn’t get why we “need” capitalism.
In the 1980s, the government had a low profile “civilian reservists” program that could handle not only nuclear attack, but asymmetric warfare, which was considered more likely that we realize now (but which was rarely discussed in the pre-public-Internet days).  Plans were drawn up for more decentralized government, much as in the NBC series “Revolution”.   In fact, near the end of a 1981 novel draft that I have, much of NYC is evacuated (by the “plan”), some people without clothing, after a radiation dispersal in parts of the city.  

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Winter storms didn't leave California Sierras a snowpack, and draconian water rules seem to be coming

California Governor Jerry Brown has ordered mandatory water conservation measures, seriously affecting residents, small business, and particularly the agricultural industry in the flat central valley, as in this LA Times story by Matt Stevens and Shelby Grad, link here
What sounds so shocking is that the snowpack at around 9000 feet in the Sierra Nevada is zero, when it should be around five feet.  And this is the case despite several major Pacific storms earlier this winter. 
Farmers say they have about another year in aquifers to produce vegetables at current levels. 

It sounds like conditions even in urban California (including Silicon Valley -- Google, Apple and Facebook, all with new campuses -- and LA both) could get much worse quickly.  
Picture: Mine, near Tioga Pass, 9000 feet, May 2012.