Monday, July 30, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Serious

According to the National Plan for Research and Development in Support of Critical Infrastructure Protection report of the President’s Executive and the U.S. Homeland Security Department, we need to plan to make our infrastructure more secure. Important, but vulnerable, areas include the Internet, our food and water supple, military establishments, energy systems, financial systems, dams, nuclear plants, national monuments, etc. Developing and implementing reaction plans will prevent, and provide rapid responses, to a variety of possible disasters, from accidents, natural disasters, and terrorism. Planning and actions need to be taken now to keep systems operable if a disaster of any type occurs.

Actions that have been taken or that have begun implementation include improved monitoring of our agriculture systems, increased and improved aerial surveillance, updating fire analysis responses, improving the ability of emergency responders to communicate with each other, and producing decontamination foam that can suppress biological and chemical threats. There is a need for great research and development in means to better protect our various important infrastructures that remain at risk to disasters.

There is a need to improve food testing facilities. As more food comes from different parts of the world, the testing facilities require a greater library of possible agents to test any suspected contaminant against in order to identity what has entered our food system. It is a little known fact that it is hard to protect our food system prior to any contamination. What happens is the symptoms of those that are sickened are used by laboratories to determine which possible contaminants to look for. In times of a serious threat, the need for time and accuracy is essential. It is usually only after the contaminant has been identified that health providers will know how to counteract the ill effects. Our food testing systems require updating to be able to handle these challenges.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Review of "Everything for Sale" by Robert Kuttner

The marketplace has it advantages, yet it is unable to be perfect. It is foolhardy to believe that all economic solutions will eventually emerge from the marketplace and with just market corrections. Robert Kuttner explains where market imperfections exist and how to correct them.

Unions are presented as a positive economic force, as the organization of employees and prevention of employer abuses is shown to raise productivity. Often these productivity increases surpass their bargained wage increases. Employers resist unions, even with they are advantageous to them, because they don’t wish to share concede managerial powers. Plus, increased wages are sometimes paid by with reduced profits. Yet, the overall effect of unionization has created a better wage distribution that helps the overall economy.

The growing service economy is less unionized. In part, this is the fault of unions who expelled their more radical members, who were in fact their best organizers. The resulting lower wages of service employment in general is contributing to an increase in national wage disparity that is creating economic imperfections.

Robert Kuttner calls for greater civil vitality and government actions designed to work as allies with the market in strengthening the economy. Failing to do so, we will continue to experience such market imperfections as in wage and wealth disparities and a poor allocation of health care services. The health care system lacks free market competition, fails to provide perfect information to consumer, and consumers have little mobility to choose their health care providers even if they had better information.

The economy is one where people do not always act rationally or with stable economic optimization strategies, as a free market requires. There are forces in financial markets and businesses that often seek to take unfair advantage of market systems, which further diminishes the ability of the market to operate efficiently. There is a need for government regulation of the market, unions, fair trade with common international standards, and policies such as strong education systems and social support systems to keep the economic system operating as well as it can. The book is an excellent explanation of the true workings of our economic system.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

19th Century Republican Neglect of Capital Projects

Review of “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough

In ten minutes time, a flood hit the Johnstown area in 1889, killing over 2,000 people, making it the most devastating flood in our history. This is an excellent book of the history, not only the flood itself, but of the events leading to this tragedy, and how Johnstown rebounded.

The water that would ultimately create the flood was from a reservoir the state legislature funded in 1836 to support a canal system idea that ultimately was abandoned. Thus, the dam no longer had its original purpose soon after it was built.

The dam fell to neglect. The dam would found to be defective and did break on a few occasions. Yet, there was little water collected behind the dam on those occasions and any damage was minor. The state legislature faced financial difficulties and approved only intermittent construction on the bridge through 1850. The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the dam at a discounted price for its right of way. This new owner neglected the bridge.

A group of wealthy people from the Pittsburgh formed the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and bought the dam to turn the dam’s lake into a recreational area. Members of this club included Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Fricke. The club began renovating the dam, yet a huge rain destroyed all the previous repairs.

Lumbering operations had removed much timber that would have retained much water from a flood. The water behind the dam pushed the dam away in one big motion. The riverbed was mostly rock. The first large community hit was Woodvale, who lost 314 of its approximate 1,000 population in five minutes. When the flood hit Johnstown, the flood reached at least 34 feet in height (and some estimates are that it may have reached as high as 44 feet).

The book aptly describes of the aftermath of the flood. The press stirred paranoia that ethnic groups were looting the bodies. This later proved to be false. Yet they did not stop mob beatings of members of the accused group. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was found responsible for the not properly repairing the dam in court, yet the club never paid any damages. Daniel Hastings, who achieved acclaim for his efforts in helping Johnstown rebound, would later be elected Governor. Three babies were born in Johnstown on the day of the flood, and they were given the names Flood Rhodes, Flood Raymond, and Moses Williams.

This is an excellent history of a horrible Pennsylvania disaster. It is written clearly and thoroughly describes the events of that time. This is a fantastic book for people interested in how people handle disasters, how such a flood could ever occur, and in Johnstown area history.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Review of "The Making of a Teacher" by Martin G. Brumbaugh

This book was a leading influence in religion education (i.e. Sunday Schools) from around a century ago. It continues to provide insights on how moral education may be implemented. Noting that “Jesus declared that the end of the education of the human soul is to live in harmony with the will of man”, this book prescribes the virtues of politeness, morality, and humility as the goals of all civilization. The author sees teaching as a creative process that transforms a student into a new being. He urges that instruction reach the will of students and leads them towards proper living. “Character is God’s currency” is what this book declares.

The author was a leading figure in forming education policies as well as religious instruction. He served a term as Pennsylvania’s Governor where his pacifist sentiments were tested by the necessity that he serve as Commander in Chief of the Pennsylvania National Guard (in his role as Governor) during World War I. This book is informative to both students of religious instruction as well as understanding the thoughts of a man prior to being called to handle his conflicting views of resisting violence versus his duty to administer public functions.