January 21,2023

Presidents, Trains, Insurrection,  and Talking to the Animals

President Carter

As this is being written, it has been announced that President Jimmy Carter is going home for hospice care. It appears we will lose him in the near term. Always sad to note a death, even for a long life of contributing and living values, but at 98 all indications are that he has decided it is time leave this realm.

Carter is a most interesting person. I voted for him, and glad that I did, but his administration had a good dose of errors, in my view.

The deregulation of transportation that began in his term had led to much monopolization and not enough oversight for this critical sector. His decision, in the middle of the changeover, to abandon America’s movement to the metric system remains a frustrating mystery. We were so close! His cabinet and White House team was uneven. His own time management/prioritization was easily sidetracked. He did little to build his political party.

But this was as decent a person that has ever occupied that high position, and that counts for something. Our foreign policy emphasized democracy and human rights, as it should whenever possible. The return of the Panama Canal to Panama was correct, and long overdue. Those who predicted ruination from that transfer have been proven wrong.

Against long odds, he gambled in trying to rescue our Iranian hostages. That the mission failed was not his fault, and out of that disaster, the US miliary developed an awesome capability to do such missions successfully.

While earning a mixed score as president, Carter has been perhaps our best former president ever. His Carter Center has been a model of promoting democracy and fair elections all around the world. His hands-on contributions to Habitat for Humanity (which continued until very recently) was inspiring and did much to bring good attention to a wonderful program (I am proud to have followed his example and join a crew for some years now).

A deeply religious man, he broke with the Southern Baptist church over its treatment of women and its politicization. That could not have been easy for him, but he did what was right, for the right reasons. He continued to teach Sunday School in his local community as long as he could. He and Roslyn have lived modestly, as model citizens in every sense of the word.

May his transition from this life go well and may we reflect on the good lessons and examples he leaves us.

The Train Wreck in Ohio

The train wreck in Ohio that has led to such a health and chemical disaster leads to a number of things to note. First, moving such materials by train makes sense, especially compared to pipelines and trucks, but we have serious oversights in the system that lead to this kind of disaster. Oversight and safety requirements are thin – the railroads continuously lobby against any such safety measures.

Perhaps most importantly, there really are no restrictions on running highly dangerous loads right through the middle of communities, nor is there any way for communities to know what passes through them at any time. I once lived in a place where we found, quite by chance, that highly dangerous loads rolled through a densely populated community on a regular basis.

This is, of course, not just a US problem. I remember Canada had an incident not unlike this recently, with a runaway train. It is not just our problem, but it is certainly our problem – we should do better.

The cost would be substantial, but additional tracks and requirements for safety could make most if not all such loads bypass major population centers. At the very least, communities deserve to know what passes in their midst.

The people in the Ohio community don’t trust the assurances that they are OK, and I don’t blame them. There is at least anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I think pretty highly of the Biden administration and of Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg, but they have not led on this one nearly as much as I would have hoped they would, working with the Ohio governor. Not the finest moment for either level of government.

 January 6: The Hearings and the Calendar

We have now passed the two year anniversary of the assault on the US capital. Almost 1,000 people have been charged, over 500 of which pleaded guilty and many of which have been convicted. But no serious leader of this insurrection, no high official has even been charged. This sticks in my craw, badly.

It appears the new Special Prosecutor is moving out briskly on these matters, but he was, in my view, appointed about two years too late, if he needed to be appointed at all (not sure he really is a justified appointment, but likely this was a wise move. Just too damn slow in getting it done).

I worry that the closer we get to the 2024 elections, the more political the process could seem. Let’s get on with it. Charge and prosecute the folks we already know are guilty and do it now, please.

How do we “know” who is guilty? Because the House Special Committee on the January 6 attack did such a superb job. Looking back, their approach and results look even better now than they did while the work was underway. This is exactly how such committees should work.

If you have not done so, read at least the executive summary (available free from the government and at modest cost from others that provide commentary and context). Take a minute and send a few thank you notes to those who did the work.

This was an exemplary effort, and woe be us if we let what they illustrated go unpunished.

Talk to the Animals

Let’s end today on a happy note. Long time readers know I am really keen on communication with animals. I think attention to the effort can be rewarding, and I am convinced someday we will be astounded (and perhaps ashamed) when we realize how intelligent and complex many creatures are, in so many ways.

That day of better communications may be coming sooner rather than later. A research team is applying the much vaunted and discussed of late Artificial Intelligence to study animal sounds and behavior patterns. They are convinced that sooner rather than later this process may give us two way communication previously unimaginable.

Hey, we might find that our pets think less of us than we thought, but it’s a risk worth taking. I suspect they have much to teach us. Enjoy the read: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-scientists-are-using-ai-to-talk-to-animals/?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

See you next week.

        Bill Clontz

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