Monday, July 28, 2008

Observation on a Lunch Break

Sometimes you see people that just make you wonder about their life's story.

I frequently carry my lunch to work and eat it in one of the parks in town. Occasionally it affords the opportunity to observe some interesting scenes and people. Today, there was a pickup parked in the shade of one of the trees which stands adjacent to a parking area. Inside that pickup slept an older Caucasian male that appeared to have experienced a life predominately in the outdoors if one can judge properly from the depth of lines and deep tan of his complexion. In the middle of the seat sat an old woman that appeared to be of native American decent. She was one of those deeply creased, timelessly aged individuals that might have been 60 or 120 years old. She appeared to be patiently waiting for a continued journey. On the passenger side of the seat sat 2 young black-skinned children -- one boy and one girl. I would guess them to be in the 8 to 10 year-old range. They were alert, quiet and apparently bored. They fidgeted, but silently.

I suspect they were travelers passing through. The license plate on the recent model Ford pickup was from Texas, but it's a big state. They could be a mile from home or 1,000 miles from home. There was no identifier of an automobile dealership that I could see. You can often at least tell in what city a vehicle has been purchased by such labels.

He rested. She waited. They fidgeted.

My lunch break ended and I returned to work. They were still there when I left.

It just makes you wonder who, what and why. Am I overly curious?

Friday, July 25, 2008

We Can Do Better

We frequently see the debate between “environmentalists” and the rest of us as framed in an “us” vs. “them” manner. Business people feel that the environmental movement is nothing but a roadblock to progress. People in developing countries see environmental groups preventing them from experiencing the luxuries of the west because they hinder the utilization of the natural resources at hand.

Environmental groups often carry names like “Friends of the Earth” or “Save the Wildlife.” Those types of names carry with them a stigma that immediately sets on edge the typical businessman.

What if the debate became a completely economic one?

There is within the economic community the idea that when external costs are internalized into the price of a good or service, the decision to allocate resources to that good or service often changes. An example of internalizing these externalities would be the impact of a uranium mine on the Navajo Reservation. In order to avoid the potential complexities of the decision, let’s limit it to one possible issue – or, external cost -- the impact of the mining activity on the water supply of a community.

Suppose that the mine is located within the watershed of a Navajo community. To fully understand the cost to develop the mine, the potential pollution of the community’s water supply must be examined. Such examination would need to include preventative measures and possible remediation in the event of contamination. It also would need to look at long-term effects to wildlife residing in the watershed. Wildlife might provide hunting lease income to the reservation. It might also be of significant cultural value that would be difficult to price. It might affect tourist income from photography or viewing. It might impact local artisans who utilize specific clays located within the watershed.

With the exception of preventing and remediating potential contamination, none of the impacts mentioned are direct costs to the mine owner/operator. They are however, external costs to the community of locating the mine in their watershed.

How does one determine the value of natural resources? We can estimate the value of mineral deposits. We can value land based on the transactional market for similar properties. But, how do we value the less obvious things such as: filtering the water supply, tourism, hunting and fishing, recreation, moderating effects on climate, flood protection, erosion control and other items about which we don’t currently understand?

Hopefully in the near future, we will see attention paid to such values. Such things must be part of an overall land use plan before disruptive activities are begun. We need oil, natural gas, wind energy, solar energy, coal and we need minerals that can only be obtained through extractive activities. Surely we have learned enough of the complex interactions of the environment to begin to make sound evaluations of our activities in a broader sense. We must learn to utilize our resources without destroying our surroundings. Let’s drill – but let’s do so in an environmentally informed manner. Let’s build windmills for electrical generation – but let’s situate them in a manner that retains the benefits of our wild lands. Let’s learn from the unintended consequences of our past mistakes – such as ruined lakes and streams from coal mining or oil and gas extraction. We can do better.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Family Reunion After-thoughts

We survived the family reunion! It was great. Some started arriving as early as Monday evening of last week -- and they kept arriving throughout the week. We had 68 members of my mother's family at my house. All of her brothers and sisters were there (8 siblings total) along with some of their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces nephews and cousins. We hope that in the future, more of the second and third generation will be able to attend. Only a handful of the first-cousins were there.

The memories of course were stimulated. The stories of growing up on the farm was a common thread. My mother and her siblings told of milking cows, feeding chickens, hoeing cotton, rattlesnakes, tornadoes, family and neighbors. It seemed that most of the memories were good. A common theme was that they seemed to be happy growing up as they did. More than once I heard something along the lines of "we didn't have much but there was always plenty." Kids today don't usually see things that way. They feel abused if they don't have the latest computer game. My aunts and uncles were referring to food on the table and clothes to wear -- for the older sisters (the 4 girls came first) it might be dresses made from chicken feed sacks.

Today the kids want $100 tennis shoes (or higher) and my aunts were thrilled to have new dresses made from feed sacks. Hmmm -- do you think we might ever go back to that? There are parts of the world that would love to have feed sacks from which to make dresses. You never know.

It is a good reminder that we need to cherish the moments that we have. We especially need to be thankful for family. It is important to keep the connections alive.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Family Reunion Week

This week is family reunion week at our house. My mother's family is coming in from all over the country. Since my parents live in the same community as we do, we are both pitching in to provide accommodations for everyone. The events will culminate on Saturday with a big cookout and get together in our back yard. Let's hope it isn't raining. We are expecting 50 to 60 or possibly more for Saturday.

Family. I am privileged to be part of both an immediate family and an extended family that believes in the importance of family. Family is a place of safety and nurture. It is a network of support. It is a tie to values that run more deeply than the history of our country. I am thankful to have family. My heart and prayers go out to those who do not.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Energy Independence Days

U.S. Senator John Cornyn has declared war on our dependence on foreign oil. He has created a special emphasis on his website called “Energy Independence Days” in which there will be a series of posts including videos from Senator Cornyn on the subject of how we might achieve our Energy Independence.

I am thankful that the Senator has taken the best interests of the American people to heart and created this opportunity for the people of this state and nation to have input, as he helps through his leadership, to set our lawmakers on course to address this critical issue. I pray that solutions can be developed through the private and public initiatives that are a hallmark of this great nation. I am humbled to have the opportunity to provide a guest post to the Senator’s website. Thank you Senator Cornyn for all that you do for our state and our country.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

TEXAS: Y'all Come!

Sunday evening we went out to Palo Duro Canyon to the amphitheater to view "TEXAS." It was great. It has been several years since I was out to the canyon for the play. The last time it was a different script. This year, they are back to the original.

The performance is about the earliest settlers in the Texas Panhandle. It is a musical that portrays the end of the "cattle empire" era and the beginning of the influx of farmers. "TEXAS" is in its 43rd Anniversary season.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

An Independence Day of Prayer and Reflection

The day after tomorrow is the 4th of July. Where has the summer gone?

The 4th is honored in celebration of our independence from England. It has been so long ago that we don't truly understand what that independence means. Today, it is a rare individual that even stops to think that the liberties we enjoy arose from that period in the 1770's when previously loyal subjects finally had a belly-full of the capricious actions of the British Parliament designed to extract payment from the colonies for their many wars. It wasn't so much that the colonists didn't want to pay their fair share of the defense of their country (England) it was that they were being taxed without the opportunity of representation in making the decisions. They were treated as less than full citizens of their country.

That desire to have the opportunity to have a voice in the decisions of government is one that in many ways has died among a large portion of our citizenry. Voter apathy is high. Dissatisfaction with the government and leading political figures is extremely low. It is as though a large percentage of the American people have allowed themselves to become less than true citizens. They have been lulled by the relative prosperity that they enjoy and by their feelings of impotence, to merely endure the burdens of the government that they allow to continue on its merry way by their apathy.

It is much like the frog in the kettle illustration with which we are all familiar. If you try to put a frog into hot water he will jump out. If you put him in cold water and slowly add heat, he will boil to death. I believe that a large number of people in this country are allowing themselves to be boiled to death through the gradual creep of economic subjugation through the policies of our government.

This 4th of July is one that I believe should be spent in reflection on where we have been, what we have become and where we are going as a country. It is a time to examine the burden of government on our lives and our livelihood. It is a time to consider the role of each and every elected official and the part that they have played in adding to that burden. Are our lives truly better than they were ten or twenty or even longer years ago? If not, what has changed?

We must get out of the pot and get active. If the heat is building we need to put out the fire. It is time to get involve -- get energized. The election this fall could be a turning point if we will let our voices be heard. I believe in our system of government and I believe there are good men and women both in office and seeking office. I also know that there are those in office and seeking office that have nothing on their mind but their own self aggrandizement, power and wealth. We must seek wisdom in our choices. The only true source of wisdom that I know of is the God that created us. We all should hit our knees in prayer for the future of this great nation. The 4th of July is a great time to start.