Thursday, March 13, 2008

WATER - March 20th, 2008

A recent program on BBC was concerned with the plague of bottled water, or more specifically the folly of paying more than the price of gasoline for it and the burden on the cities to dispose of the bottles. And that is with gas at nearly $8/gal. The water in question is hardly different from the tap water here, but there are clearly many thousands who think otherwise and are willing to bear the cost of the contrary delusion. In Madison, there are small problems with the water and lots of people who are buying water at scandalous prices, posing a major burden on our city for the disposal of the bottles. The difficulties with our water are minor, but real, and pure water is worth having, at a reasonable cost. And it is cheap to purify the mostly clean water that comes from our wells, but it would take an investment to create the cheapest way of delivering it, which is by a separate drinking water system. It could even pay for itself, at prices for the water far below the cost of bottled water and also saving the city large bills for nearly worthless bottles. In a real sense the realization that there is no reason why we need to flush our toilets, wash our cars & water our gardens with almost pure drinking water is nearly 50 years overdue. But we have never been willing to bear the cost of putting down a separate drinking water system. Most of that cost lies in tearing up the streets and laying the pipes. If we are willing to wait for it, then we can take advantage of the fact that we seem to be perennially tearing up the streets and repaving them. Every such project could lay pipes for pure water under the repaved street, linking them up over the course of time as the opportunity allows. Eventually the system would reach the site chosen for the purification plant. At that time we could start supplying the water to the places where the system already reached. Initially, we could charge the extortionate price of 10c/gal or so, reducing that price when more people were reached and more linked up. If that is too long to wait, we could accelerate the road repair schedule. The cost of the purification itself is trivial compared with the cost of the burden of the bottles.

UNIFORMS - March 13th, 2008

Here in Britain the commandant at an RAF base has instructed his troops that when they go into the local city they are not to wear their uniforms. He says that those who did were insulted and he does not want to subject them to that kind of treatment for “serving their country”. The story mirrors one that Reagan used about vets returning from Vietnam, and like that one no one knows what truth there is in it. The Observer newspaper sent a reporter in an RAF uniform to the most ethnically Arabic district in London and he was received more than civilly. But that is not the issue. There are certainly some people who will equate the troops with the mission on which they were sent and while many are supporters of their government’s action, that is far wide of the mark. One can feel only pity for the young people who are persuaded to entrust their lives (and the lives of others) to the adolescent fantasies of glory on the part of such seekers for sainthood as Bush and Blair, not to mention maniacs like Cheney and Wolfowitz. It is easy to take advantage of their starry-eyed devotion to fuel the imperial ambitions of their country’s rulers. In some cases, they come from families that have been doing their governments’ dirty work for generations and genuinely believe the lies by which governments create crises that will win them the leeway for other projects, using the appeal to support the troops. But these young people are being taken advantage of, not only on the battlefield but also by the callous indifference of those same leaders if their wounds are too great for them to be repaired and sent back to again kill and maybe be killed, or more thoroughly maimed the next time. On the battlefield, they have been the beneficiaries of wonderful new techniques of repair and reconstruction, but once discharged, they are treated like last week’s garbage. The GIs of WW II did not have the same surgery, but those who could come home were treated with all the benefits a grateful nation could bestow. I did my first two years of college with the veterans and it was two of the best years of my life. I was happy that our government would then do its duty by them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

KOSOVO - March 6th, 2008

As Kosovo declares independence with the encouragement of the US and most of the EU, one can well wonder whether all these people (starting with the Kosovars themselves) know what they are doing. The last 50 years have been full of countries splitting and joining, and almost always with nasty consequences that no one had anticipated. On the world-wide scale, this includes the WTO, and its junior cousin, NAFTA. Both of these are disastrous to the longer-term interests of working people, but these have stood still for having this done to them, often on the promise of cheaper goods. More visible is the fate of India since partition and of USSR since the Asian republics have been “freed” of the yoke of Moscow. Then Yugoslavia was freed of the legacy of Tito, which was 40 years of peace and relative prosperity. And we see the benefits that freedom from Britain has given places in sub Saharan Africa. Now we can expect Kosovo to seek inclusion in EU, and unthinking supporters of their independence will surely accept that, given the penury that separation from Serbia will surely bring upon them, and that will open the door to the Albanians, who will exacerbate the flood of cheap labor from E Europe. I am reminded of the saga of German unification. In the 60s and 70s, it was said that in Europe everyone was against that except the people. When it came, everyone cheered, but it has not been easily digested in Germany, even though the people are as close together in heritage as, say, the Southern and Northern Irish. And there is no doubt that while the Albanians think of themselves as one people even across that border, they will soon discover that they are uncomfortable bedfellows, not to mention they and the French, who have still not assimilated the Corsicans. The madness we know as nationalism divides more than it unites, though it keeps uniting people into units that ignore the other forces that divide their underlying interests. The little bits of Yugoslavia now have their own flags and their own parliaments, but they lack the economic strength they had 40 years ago, and that might be more important to them in the long run than any number of national anthems.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

LACKEYS - February 28th, 2008

Just last week, the British Government was “shocked, shocked”, they said, to discover that American planes had used British air bases in the process of flying prisoners to obscure places where they could be tortured without any interference from obsolete rituals like those required by the US Constitution or the Magna Carta. I saw them on BBC, the picture of offended innocence, declaring that they had not been provided by the Cheney administration with any proof that the unmarked planes landing and taking off from their bases were engaged in any such enterprises. Living here this Winter surrounded by statues and monuments attesting to the glories of the great British Empire, it was hard to remember that this was once a serious nation, not some sort of Uzbekistan. The ministers of state were happy to be taken for idiots, as they were required to do by their masters in Washington. At least an idiot can take refuge in the fact that he was born that way, but a toady is nothing but a toady. The Prime Minister here knows that as soon as he no longer imagines that he has an influence in the greatest agglomeration of coercive power the world has ever seen, he can no longer pretend to himself or his voters that he is somehow superior to inferior nations like France or Germany, to say nothing of Sweden or Denmark. Of course, we know what happens when someone knows better than the idiots in the White House, and says so. Gen Shinseki had his career terminated right away, and Attorney General Mukasey could not admit to knowing that waterboarding is torture. Meanwhile UK, a poor country, spends billions of dollars in maintaining a huge army and navy for a nation their size in order to pretend that they are still a world power, and the “Labour” Party bankrupts the working people with ruinous taxes so as not to trouble the plutocrats with the costs of playing at war and subjecting even poorer peoples to yield up their labor and their natural resources to the monopolistic power of the robber barons represented by Wall Street. Talk about the Emperor having no clothes. The Mother of Parliaments joins all the nations of EU in slavish obedience to a regime that no one could possibly accept as a superior.