Losing the thread

The ancient Greek legends surrounding Prince Theseus have lessons for today.  Periodically, the king of Athens had agreed to send seven boys and seven girls to Crete to be fed to the Minotaur to appease King Minos.  The Athenian king’s son Theseus volunteered to be one of them, but said he would slay the creature to end the sacrifices.  The Princess Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, fell in love with Theseus and betrayed to him the secret of killing the Minotaur, a fearsome monster, which was half man with the head of a bull.  She smuggled Theseus a sword and a ball of twisted threads.  The Minotaur lived deep in an impossible labyrinth; the challenge for Theseus was to find his way out should he prevail over the monster.  He needed both a sword and then the twine to leave a trail back.

We have labyrinths today and seem to be losing the thread to find our way back.  A few anecdotes portray some of the twists in the maze.  Some of these seem trivial, but illustrate that we are becoming lost in some fundamental way and are confused about our priorities.    These are mostly unrelated, but seem somehow of a piece.

  •  In Belmont, Massachusetts recently, the animal control officer found a badly injured coyote.  Coyotes have become increasing vexing to suburban Boston communities, and Belmont is among the most affluent.  Twice in the last year, they have attacked children in Massachusetts, and routinely pet cats and small dogs disappear to coyote packs.  The town official didn’t dispatch the coyote to end its suffering.  No, she brought it to an animal rescue hospital in Grafton, MA, which at a cost to the taxpayers in excess of $2,000 nursed it back to health over three months.  The coyote was a fertile, young female, which they did not spay.  Then, of course, they brought it out to release in a remote part of Western Massachusetts, right?  No, it was released with great celebration to the “wilds” of Belmont to reunite with its pack mates.  Does this seem misguided to anyone else?
  • The Federal government has initiated a suit to set prices on e books because they are too high.  The Federal government apparently has solved all the problems of deficit spending, foreign wars, health care, poverty, education, religious freedom, Social Security and contraception, and has the time to turn their eye and insinuate their considerable power into the market place to “correct” the alleged malfeasance of publishers and book sellers.  What happened to a consumer shopping for a book, whether print or electronic, and if they could afford the price, buying it?
  • The Federal government subsidizes with tax credits the manufacture, construction and operating costs of windmill power.  Recently, the Bonneville Power Authority in the Pacific Northwest, another Federal agency, asked the local wind power producers to shut down their windmills seasonally.  Since the existing hydroelectric plants on the rivers produce all the power needed when the rivers are flowing strongly, the windmills were redundant, and their power had no place to flow.  The rivers flowing and the wind blowing tend to peak at the same time of the year. The dams, which are far less expensive per kilowatt hour to run, don’t kill birds and are equally renewable.  Dam generators need to run when the rivers are high because, if they don’t, the salmon run to spawn will be endangered.  The windmills have to stop and lie fallow, not unlike farm subsidies.  The BPA will pay the windmill owners up to $50 million per year to do nothing, and the wind will only howl.
  • The Justice Department has embarked on yet another crusade, most recently in Texas and South Carolina, to stop states from requiring identification of voters.  According to the department filing, voter photo IDs, even if provided free by the state to all who don’t have driver’s licenses, will have a disparate impact on the poor and minorities.  Voter fraud is a problem in many of the large cities where the dead cast their ballots early and often.  Since inner city votes favor almost entirely Democrat candidates, one might suspect an ulterior motive from Eric Holder, the current Attorney General.  Not so, says he.  His enthusiasm even with Fast and Furious, Supreme Court challenges to the health care mandate and myriad other pressing issues extends well above and beyond duty.  He has the time to decide how each state should determine who votes and how voter’s citizenship, right to vote and even their existence above the ground are verified.  Such dedication should not go unrecognized.
  • Finally, we drop all the way through the looking glass into Wonderland.  And the looking glass is a wavy fun mirror that distorts all reality.  The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) petitioned the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to stop the same voter photo ID laws in the U.S., even though Indiana’s ID laws were upheld by our Supreme Court in 2008.  It seems that the U.N. should have more authority over U.S. laws than our courts.  Among the member nations on the U.N. Human Rights Council are such human rights luminaries as Cuba, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, where women can’t vote at all.

We wander through the labyrinth running the thread through sweaty palms, just hoping to find our way back to the light.  Just a few of these cited twists and turns expose how tricky the journey is.

Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie, and one to listen.  Homer Simpson

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Losing the thread

  1. Martin P

    Jack are you channeling Andy Rooney ? I don’t have time to respond to all, but there are three sides to every story.

    I’m glad the coyotes are making a comeback after being pushed to near extinction in the North East. As of yet I’ve not seen one child in my neighborhood has been dragged off. Though I can think of a couple of contenders. 🙂 If you leave your cats and dogs outside… come what may. In the natural world critters get eaten.

    As far as E Books are concerned the suit involves anti trust issues or lack of competition due to price fixing. The suit contends that Apple, Harper Collins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster are fixing E Book prices & reducing competition. A free market requires a level playing field that price fixing doesn’t allow.
    The Renewable Energy Tax Credit Extension applies to Wind, Geothermal, landfill gas, trash, marine, hydrokinetic, and of course Hydropower. It was introduced by a group led by Republican Sen.. Grassley of Iowa. Hydro dams are a clean renewable source of energy but they also have devastating effects on not only the salmon runs but also on the downstream and upstream ecosystems. The birds can fly around the windmills but them fish can’t walk. Every form of freedom has it’s price, energy is no exception.

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  2. Martin, Perhaps I am turning into an Andy Rooney curmudgeon. Or just an interested observer.
    Coyotes can and do kill small and medium size pets in Massachusetts and New England. Attacks are recorded when dogs are walking with their owners, not just when they are let out into the back yard. As recently as August of 2011, a two year old walking with her grandmother in Weymouth, MA was knocked to the ground in a sudden attack and viciously bitten in the back of the head with her grandmother unable to do a thing. Too many hungry predators too close to human populations are naturally going to have unfortunate consequences. Yes, in the natural world, critters get eaten. Lots of predators in a suburban neighborhood isn’t the natural world. I don’t want to see coyotes become extinct, but I would prefer their survival to occur in the wilderness of Aroostook County or the Adirondacks, not Weymouth or Belmont. And hey, sometimes species run out of time or adaptability. I would prefer not to see Dilophosaurus reintroduced to the suburbs, where they once roamed and hunted. To see the government in the person of this well meaning, but deluded, animal control officer reintroduce a fertile female into the neighborhood woods seems folly to me.

    As to the publishers, they decided they were losing money on e books and negotiated with Apple and other e book sellers a minimum price because it was undermining their profits. There was no collusion as far as can be determined, merely a commonsense agreement. If Apple didn’t want to agree to it, Barnes and Noble or Amazon would. And the buyer willing to pay more would get the books to sell. And the buyer in the store could choose a paper copy or to download to their e reader or to not buy it at all. That’s how free enterprise works. When the government insinuates itself into the market, it is ham handed and disrupts free trade. Let them do something they are good at, like borrowing money to fund pork barrel deficit spending.

    Yes, all energy has its costs, environmental and otherwise. No free lunches anywhere, as Milton Friedman pointed out. Birds and bats don’t fly around blades spinning at better than 100 MPH, and the ground is littered with their corpses. However, that wasn’t my point. That government would fund with tax credits the construction of wind powered generators, then turn around and pay subsidies to keep them from operating was the point. And that frequently the developers of these subsidized boondoggles are heavy contributors to Democrat political campaigns is another previously unmentioned one.

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  3. Gabriel Parquette

    I’ll chime in on the discussion of government subsidies. In short, I feel they never really work out.. whether for Oil Companies or “Green Energy” companies. The federal government are not experts on choosing.. anything. They were not granted the power to subsidize private business by the Constitution so they should stay out of it. Period. Furthermore, subsidies attract the wrong kind of business.. those looking for handouts. Here is a nice 4 minute video summarizing this Libertarian viewpoint: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_FncAQsAJg&feature=share

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    • When the government, especially the Federal government involves itself in picking winners and losers in a supposedly free enterprise marketplace with subsidies, tax credits, loan guarantees and grants, the criteria used in their judgments are all too often cronyism for contributors (if not outright corruption), sweeping social engineering and self interest. Even when they are applying these pressures on the market as well intentioned prods to direct the economy, they can’t possibly have all the information and real time data necessary to overcome their own predispositions and biases. It simply doesn’t work to effect positive long term change, except occasionally by accident. We’d be better off with a Ouija board or scattering forecasting bones on the table.

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