The Plan for Keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes

It’s been a few years now since we’ve witnessed the rise of the Asian carp, an invasive species brought to the US decades ago for commercial aquaculture and it’s since decimated the ecosystem of the Mississippi River.  A giant predator with a voracious appetite, it has obliterated any competitor that’s stood in its way and has established itself as the dominant species in the big Muddy from Minneapolis to New Orleans.

Thus far, we’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing, but nothing really in terms of practical plans for keeping the devil fish out.  A privately funded study was recently released, containing three options to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that all three options are expensive (the price ranges anywhere from three to ten billion dollars) and each plan would take, at a minimum, several years to a full decade to complete.

So, while we have a plan, I have some ideas to get this enacted.  The individual Great Lakes states aren’t going to be able to come up with any of the cash themselves to fund the barriers, so I would suggest spreading a larger net, so to speak.  Bring in the Canadians, along with leaders from other states such as New York, whose waterways would also eventually be infested were the carp to break through to Lake Michigan.  Bringing in as many stakeholders as possible to bring the plans to fruition is vital to getting this thing funded.  That the President is from Chicago also doesn’t hurt its chances, and we’d have a valuable ally there.

This is an expensive project in an age of austerity.  Getting it funded is going to be the hardest part.  But not to act would be far, far more expensive than declining to spend a few billion dollars now.  If the carp gets into the Great Lakes, there’s no getting them out, and they would permanently and irreparably damage one of our country’s best interests, both ecologically, and economically.


The NFL, Economics and America

In our political culture these days, we’re used to screeching at one another over philosophy, and we focus very little on outcomes.  Ideology, rather than practice, has taken center stage in our political discourse, and we’re all the worse for it.  Enter the National Football League.  Last night, Sixty Minutes ran a piece on Roger Godell and the NFL.  At first, I was less than interested, as football kind of bores me.  But the more I watched the piece, the more it drew me in, not so much for the content itself, but what I learned about how the NFL operates fascinates me.

The NFL is basically a politically sanctioned monopoly that has certain legal features that are an anathema to unfettered capitalism.  And it works beautifully, and with breathtaking profits.  For example, there are such socialistic features as revenue sharing between the teams, an alternating system that allows weaker teams to get first dibs on stronger players, coordination between the teams that in other industries would be treated as collusion, and rule by fiat by its commissioner, Godell.  These aren’t intrusive, job-killing regulations, they actually help the league function effectively and with a hefty profit.

While we think of those features of being little better than communistic, the outcome is anything but.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s immensely profitable.  Ratings for games routinely top the charts, and as we come up on the Superbowl (Go Giants, I might add), it’s something that virtually all of us plan on watching.  In short, it’s highly successful, and even though it has some socialistic principles that govern it, it truly enhances the game, and another feature that we do associate with capitalism: competition.

The organization of the NFL, though socialistic, enhances competition greatly.  The league is all the more vibrant for it.  I think that in this day and age, we would all profit by thinking about this a bit more.  When you make it so that all teams have the chance to successfully compete, everyone wins.  We should take a lesson from this, and tone done the rhetoric in our discourse.  We could do a better job of equalizing opportunity without guaranteeing equality of outcome.  Meaning, instead of subsidizing certain industries, say finance or agriculture, we would do well to levelling the playing field of our economy, ensuring a more equal starting point for, say, the middle class.  In having more people start on more or less equal footing, we’d be doing good by doing well.  It’s democratic, and, in the end, it would foster that healthiest of capitalistic hallmarks, competition.

Happy Birthday Michigan!

175 years ago today, Michigan became the 26th state of the Union.  As this article points out, we nearly had to go to war with Ohio (totally unjustified, in my view, as who wants Toledo?), but we did it despite their opposition.  In those 175 years, we’ve made some of the most vital contributions to our nation’s history, namely in the arena of manufacturing.  I think that Michigan will continue to do so in the centuries to come, and I, for one, am proud to call myself a Michigander.

Black Sheep of the Kim Family

In order to be the odd one out of a notoriously psychotic family, one has to wonder if that black sheep is actually sane.  And if the accounts from Yoji Gomi, a Japanese reporter at the Tokyo Shimbun and author of the book, My Father, Kim Jong-il and I, are to be believed, that does appear indeed to be the case.

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the reclusive dead despot of North Korea met Gomi by chance in an airport, and through a series of email exchanges and interviews, a slightly different image of the internal dynamics of the hermit kingdom emerges.  Kim claims that he lost his father’s favor not because of a diplomatic snafu he caused when he was trying to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland on forged documents (oops), but because after his years of schooling in Switzerland, he was a convert to the cause of liberalization and reform.  This didn’t sit well with dear old papa Kim, and he was shunted aside in favor of his younger half brother, Kim Jong-un, in a dynastic shuffle to preserve the stability of the country and prop up the status quo.  Since his exile, Kim Jong-nam has lived in gaming mecca of Macau in China, and basically lives the life you would expect (gambling, drinking, eating and chasing tail).

Kim Jong-nam also makes the case for his father, as any good son should, trying to paint a softer picture than the one to which we’ve become accustomed, saying that many of the bloody hardline policies that have emanated from North Korea were foisted onto his father by circumstances and competing factions.  While much of what he claims in the book appears to pass the sniff test, this part is a bit of a stretch.

Things are always different than how they appear from the outside.  I expect that this book would probably enlighten, to a certain extent, but no matter what sort of heartfelt descriptions we get of tender childhood moments, there’s no way that you’re going to get me to believe anything other than the fact that Kim Jong-il was a bloodthirsty and mentally unbalanced despot.

Never Pure and Seldom Simple

Joe Paterno died yesterday from lung cancer.  The Penn State football coach was synonymous with athletic greatness for the vast majority of his life, and at the very end, was mired in a nauseating sexual abuse scandal.  In recent months, he’s been alternately reviled and lauded, both for his feats on the gridiron, and his massive failures in overlooking heinous crimes committed on his watch.

I liked Joe Paterno.  There was something very old school about his demeanor on the sidelines, which reminded me much of my grandparents’ generation.  He was courtly, restrained and proud.  And those very traits for which I admired him were precisely the traits which led to his firing.  He’s a case study in what can happen to pretty much any one of us.

Americans these days love simplicity.  We have a binary mind when it comes to thinking.  Things either are, or they aren’t.  Black or white.  But that juvenile mentality doesn’t serve us well.  Things are rarely pure and simple.  In Joe Paterno’s case, he had a wildly successful career that was marred only at the very end by allegations that ripped his reputation apart, both on and off the field.

In his passing, I would urge those of us amongst us to be gentle.  Yes, that wasn’t a consideration that was extended to the victims of the sexual abuse that took place on his watch, but we can be better than that.  There are many highly important people in our history who have highly mixed legacies.  Take, for example, Henry Ford.  He was a visionary of the first rank, a genius that made the prospect of buying a car a reality for millions of Americans who hitherto had not been even able to dream about it.  Yet he was also a virulent anti-Semite and bigot who cavorted with the likes of Adolf Hitler, and terrorized the lives of thousands of his own workers.  Should we stop driving Fords just because of these transgressions?

Henry Ford, like Joe Paterno, was a flawed man.  As we all are.  And in dissecting both of their legacies, it’s best to take the long view of their lives, and consider them as a whole, rather than focusing on episodic traits.  Joe Paterno was an outstanding coach, and yet he failed miserably off the field.  All of us can profit by his example, in striving for the kinds of achievements he reached, and avoiding the downfalls that eventually besmirched his otherwise sterling reputation.  The world is now short one very good man, who had some glaring defects.   That’s the obituary, really, that could be written about a lot of people.  To err is human.  To forgive, divine.

Happy New Year: the Dragon Arrives

The Chinese traditional New Year operates on the lunar calendar, which means their New Year isn’t on January 1st.  Rather, the Chinese New Year begins this coming Monday, January 23rd.  Historically, this celebration was confined to the Chinese mainland, and amongst members of the Chinese diaspora, of which there are many across the world now.  My boyfriend, who is Chinese, told me that there’s a saying in Chinese: Wherever there’s water, you’ll find Chinese people.  That’s now more true than ever, with globalization marching on full steam.  As a result, more celebrations are popping up in the US of Chinese New Year, mostly in large cities, but not just.  Americans are used to exporting our own culture, and while that’s great, I’m glad that we’re getting something in from abroad.  Another holiday to celebrate, why not?  Plus, who doesn’t love Chinese food?

The Third State Is…I Forgot

Oops.  Oh wait, it’s South Carolina.  But Rick Perry didn’t forget, he was staking his campaign on it.  After making abysmal performances in the debates and the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Perry was relying on the more conservative Palmetto state and staked everything on a strong showing there.  Now, with Romney the frontrunner after winning two out of two, energy is coalescing behind Newt Gingrich, with Rick Perry having no realistic chance of winning.  So, he’s dropping out and throwing his support to Gingrich, which should put him withing striking distance of Romney.  The eventual nominee has won South Carolina’s primary since 1980, making it much more of a predictable indicator of who would eventually take the nomination than the other two states.  So, expect the fratricidal Republican nominating process to go on for just that much longer.  I, for one, will not be complaining.