Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene 2011

Irene from my front porch, during the storm, then the morning after.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hunkering Down

As hurricane Irene lumbers its way towards landfall on the US Eastern seaboard, it seems the news media has created its own perfect storm event.  The media, in all their glory, likes nothing better than an impending disaster.  At this point, they can indulge in all the "worst case scenario" hypothetical animations they want, with none of the actual damage having taken place.  All the shrill fear-mongering, with none of the price of actual damage and bodies.  These major storm events are a bonanza for the news/entertainment industry, because, if everything goes as they predict, they get to double-dip: they have material to report now, in the run-up, but they can also report on the disaster -- should it happen -- for a good long time.

All the screenwriters out there should also take note of the coverage, because one of the keys to making all thins non-stop storm coverage work is the ability to track the storm in real time and give you "landfall" estimates.  That's what we call a ticking clock, and every media outlet makes use of them in this type of event, despite the notorious inaccuracy of meteorologic forecasting.  That ticking clock gives you a built-in window, a race against time to get prepared for the storm.  That creates tension and makes for good viewing.

I know this sounds cynical, but...

I caught a rumor on the net this morning that the township adjacent to mine is recommending residents re-locate during the storm.  That seems more like panic to me than prudent storm preparedness.  In our Philadelphia Western Suburbs, we're a good 40-50 miles from the coast, it's unlikely that the storm will be hurricane strength by the time it gets here, and it's 36 hours away (at least).  This kind of hysteria is generated by a 24/7 media looking to fill the endless hours of broadcasting, and a public with unlimited access to information feeds that do little more than churn the same statistics for hours on end.  As imminent as the threat is, there's been plenty of warning, and the storm is only moving at 14 MPH.  We know it's coming and events aren't developing that quickly.

Now, pay attention here: I AM NOT advocating you don't evacuate when you're told to, nor am I saying you shouldn't take the storm threat seriously.  You may, however, want to take the media a little less seriously.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Business of China

One of the prevalent dichotomies of our current society seems to be our hypocritical relationship with  China and in the past few weeks, in the aftermath of the debt-limit debacle and credit rating crisis,  someone should highlight the true weirdness of our relationship with the largest remaining communist country.

In the wake of the market upheaval, there were at least two major public rebukes from China about America's debt, one of which was directed to the Vice President.  Let's ignore for a second how America's largest note-holder, China, rebuking us while holding almost a quarter of our foreign debt, is a bit like shooting the golden goose.  You notice they didn't offer to forego debt service in our time of troubles, as a way to help us get through the crisis.  Let's ignore for a second China's repellant human rights record.  And while we're at it, let's just totally ignore the whole communist/totalitarian ideology.

That sounds like a whole lot of willful ignorance to me.  Why do we do it?  Because we import more from China than from any other country in the world.  They buy very little from us; the trade balance is tipped so far in their favor it's ridiculous if you stop and think about it.  What's really funny though, is that they're essentially loaning us money to buy products from them, then collecting interest on the loan, then publicly rebuking us for borrowing money.  And we, as a country say, thank you, sir, may we have another?

Why?  Because the stuff's cheap, and we don't care where it came from.  We'll look the other way on all the issues I mentioned above, just so we can pad our dens with stuff we don't need.

This hydra-headed approach to life is not particularly new to Americans, though.  The very same people who lionize the greatest generation and their efforts during WWII, never see it as ironic that they hustle on down to the Wal-Mart to buy lots of cheaply-made products from a totalitarian regime that undercuts American industry via its industrial practices.  While at the Wal-Mart, they also lament the fact of the disappearance of "main street America", ignoring the fact that their shopping habit is what actually killed the main street.

What is most remarkable about China rebuking us, though, is that they would be economically up shit creek if we took a pause from our delight with their exports.  In 2010, we imported approximately 365 Billion dollars worth of "stuff" from China.  Hmm, that looks a lot like a billion dollars a day we buy from them.  Imagine if you went five days without buying anything from China (granted, it would be hard to do), that's 5 billion dollars.  People would notice that.  Policies could change.

Maybe we wouldn't have to look the other way quite so much.