Archive for December, 2007

Each According to their Needs…

This story may be apocryphal, but I found it amusing and plausible anyway and whenever I hear Karl Marx’s famous dictum “Each according to his needs” I am reminded of it. 

My good friend told me he was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, FL in the mid-1980s during the final death throes of the Cold War.  The Base Housing held one of those “Create Our Motto” contests with some meaningless honor bestowed upon the winner (such as free tickets to the base bowling alley). 

My friend submitted the entry of “Each According to their Needs” and nearly won the contest but for one small thing.  Some base officer noticed its origin and called him to sternly remind him that it was in fact the central tenet of communism.

Well, central tenet or not, it is still an admirable goal of any organization that professes to care for anyone in need.  Something we as Americans once prided ourselves in.

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Lead Causes Violence, Lack of Pirates Causes Global Warming

I have seen so many theories for the cause of the significant reduction in violent crime in the US since 1993 that I am starting to lose track, let me try to recall just a few from memory:

  • 3 Strikes, Mandatory Minimums, and other “Tough on Crime” Measures  enacted in the 1980’s
  • Stricter federal enforcement of gun control initiatives including the Brady Law 
  • Long-term results of social programs started in the mid-1960s
  • Improved overall economic conditions that began in the early 1990s

But the cause reported on the NewsHour tonight (in a story on leaded toys or “Toxic Toys” from China) is perhaps the most ludicrous: environmental lead (in particular in the form of leaded gasoline).  I am not making this up, a study release from what I now formally considered a prestigious source, the University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Lead In The Environment Causes, 2005) directly attributes this drop to efforts in the US to reduce exposure to lead.  These efforts were primarily through: phasing out leaded gasoline, lead paint, and lead plumbing.  Now this meme has apparently wriggled its way out of the crackpot journals of UPMC and into the mainstream news thanks to the NewsHour. 

Lead Paint and Violence?This theory is just slightly more specious than the farcical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Pro-Pirate argument (that the rise of global temperatures, hurricanes, and tornadoes is inversely proportional to the number of pirates).  Hmmmm, I guess these geniuses at UPMC couldn’t imagine that poorer and less educated people, i.e. those already at a significantly higher risk of becoming violent offenders to begin with, are more likely to live in older houses in which lead is still a problem.  Or they also couldn’t somehow wrap their heads around the fact that countries with lead levels significantly higher than the US (many countries still sell leaded gas in fact) still have much lower levels of violent crime than the US.    

Viva La Pasta y Los PiratesSo unless the PBS NewsHour wants to start reporting on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its pro-Pirate initiatives, they should not give credence to such equally meretricious arguments.

Gary Sellers – Nader’s Raider, Eccentric, and All-Around Good Person

2 Degrees of Freedom from Ralph Nader

Last night I was half-watching a PBS Independent Lens program on Ralph Nader (“An Unreasonable Man“), when the program showed one of his first aides, or Nader’s Raiders as they were called, Gary Sellers.  I thought to myself, that man looks remarkably like a Gary Sellers I once knew 25 or so years ago. 

That Gary Sellers, though I had heard tales that he was a Washington Lawyer (which I frankly didn’t believe), lived in a tiny trailer up on Knobley Mountain in Short Gap, WV.  The trailer was in the middle of a cherry and apple orchard on the top of a hillside of a beautiful piece of property that overlooked the farms and rivers of the northern Potomac Highlands near Fort Ashby, WV.  On a clear day from up there, you could see for 40 miles.  It really was a lovely piece of land except that you had to drive by some sort of deep gravel pit on the way in and an oft-used coal mining road ran through the middle of the orchard (probably some of the reasons why he left in the late 1980s – and like many such places of beauty, this orchard is now a McMansion farm). 

Gary used to make friends by bartering his cherries for goods and services in town.  Which is how my family met him, when my step-father traded some car work for a “day pass” to the orchard.  This barter-system became a way of life for our family for many years and Gary became a family friend.  And if Gary didn’t need to barter in order to obtain life’s essentials, I knew no different.  For indeed, he seemed to live simply enough to me.   As far as I knew, his only possessions were whatever old, deteriorating car he happened to own at any given point and a small camper that sat among the overgrown weeds and fruit trees of his hillside orchard. 

In fact, had I not just potentially learned that he was once a lead assistant to Ralph Nader during Nader’s most productive period and afterward was indeed an active and diligent Washington lawyer as was always rumored, I would have continued to think of him as basically an aging hippie – perhaps a Timothy Leary who happened to like black cherries instead of LSD.  Furthering this belief, was the fact that Gary did not seem to be bothered by the basic concerns of life, such as money and transportation.  He drove what might once have been considered cars but had become broken-down wrecks.  And the fact they he could not be bothered by such mundane details as obtaining reliable transportation led to many misadventures (and sometimes even the need to borrow cash). 

In Memorium  

Pre-Google, I might have never been able to confirm who this televised Washington lawyer Gary Sellers was and probably would have chalked it all up to coincidence.  But I did look up this Gary Sellers, the Washington Lawyer, the one-time Nader ally and later Nader critic, champion of worker safety and openness in government, and indeed he was that Gary Sellers, the aging hippie and jalopy-driving cherry-monger living off the land.  Sadly, I learned this fact by reading his obituary in the Washington Post.  I was saddened to learn that he died last March, as way too many Americans still do (even with Nader’s safety efforts), in a car accident.  

Though I was only in my early teens, Gary always treated me well and in a way that teens respect and appreciate – like we were peers or friends.  He had a genuineness that kids are very keen at detecting (but are forced to turn off this filter later in life so we can later cope with the generally phoniness of the world).  To be sure, he was definitely an eccentric (as evidenced by the many light-hearted stories that are associated with him), but he was also exceedingly friendly and giving – in a word, the perfect aging hippie (albeit one with a secret alter-ego as a Washington lawyer).  

What better testament to a man is there than to be fondly remembered by all who knew him and to know that he left the world a better place (as he most certainly did through both orchard planting and safety regulations)?  With his work here now done, may he now be able to spend eternity tending to his black cherry trees on a beautiful hillside on the other side of heaven. 

Gary Sellers among the Cherry Blossums

On Incremental Improvements

Color Coded LocksI went to buy a lock the other day and was pleasantly surprised to see that they are selling locks and keys with matching color coding. 

Like any such idea, looking at it after the fact it seems like an obvious solution and improvement.  But I still couldn’t help but admire whoever thought of the idea.  To take some common place object that no one can even imagine being any different and improve upon it, that is true creativity.

I notice the same thing whenever I see the latest in child gadgets such as play pens and car seats, the ones I bought a decade ago seem positively medieval compared to the newer models.   

So, these incremental improvements work with pad locks and car seats, I wonder if they’ll work with bigger problems like energy depletion and global warming.  I suspect they might – perhaps at least one reason we are not utterly doomed as a species and have some hope yet.  Now, would you like your personal cold fusion reactor in red or blue?