Editorial – Notes on the Passing Scene

–Revelations on global warming are coming fast and furious, such as an announcement the other day that atmospheric temperatures in Alaska have risen 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past five decades, and another announcement that the Arctic ice cap is shrinking rapidly. It appears even our “leaders,” who generally prefer to ignore the environment in an apparent hope that it will go away, are being forced to admit the reality of industrial society’s contribution to the greenhouse effect. If only we could get them to admit that it’s time to do something about it.

–As we watched in horror, Katrina raged, people suffered and the government–all of it–failed utterly in its primary task to protect and assist its citizens. However, we were provided, and continue to enjoy, a spirited, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-it display of “the Washington blame game.” So we can take heart that at least one function of government remains operational in times of peril.

–Think of all the speeches we heard, all the programs we financed, all the money that flowed to state agencies, all the training, all the equipment, all the “mock attacks”–all the budget-busting resources poured into the post-9/11 push for better local disaster preparations and greater national security. On second thought, don’t think of it. It’s too depressing.

–Say what you want about Cindy Sheehan–and if you’re a pundit, you have–the woman is doing exactly what this country and its laws were set up to accommodate: a citizen speaking out against actions of government with which she disagrees. Now, this may make her a hero to you, or a traitor, but really she’s neither. She’s just an American with something to say. And yes, you have the right to disagree with her or not listen to her. No one said you didn’t.

–A recent study suggested that gasoline prices would have to remain in the five dollar a gallon range for five years in order to create the kind of behavioral change–combined trips, carpooling, purchasing of more fuel-efficient vehicles–needed to reduce dependency on foreign oil. Even then, they say, demand will continue to rise because of new drivers. Back in the forties we conserved in order to win the war. Now, it looks like we’ll have to win a war–or maybe several–in order to avoid conserving. Do I have that right?

–Speaking of war and Cindy Sheehan, a writer in Slate recently pointed out that president Bush’s thesis–that we have to “complete the mission” in Iraq in order to honor the sacrifice of the fallen, which includes Sheehan’s son–is a textbook example of the “sunk cost” fallacy. Applied to economics, those in thrall to the sunk cost fallacy attempt to justify future spending on an investment by citing the “loss” of past spending if more is not spent to achieve success. An everyday example is finishing that expensive meal even though doing so is likely to make you ill. The money is spent either way, and if you stop eating now you’ll probably feel better, but you cram in those last bites in order to justify the cost. With respect to Iraq, it may be logical to stay and incur future losses if there is a good chance of achieving the objective. But without a clear accounting of what the long-term objective is, along with its value to the nation and world and its likely cost in future American and Iraqi lives, it’s difficult to see how we as a nation can make a rational decision one way or the other.

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