Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Debt Ceiling Analysis (Apologies To Sistine Chapel)

Here is a link to an article in GQ magazine with illustrations of the major players in the debt ceiling controversy.  Take a look. How many can you identify?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Debt Ceiling Update

Not long ago headlines were screaming about our supposed debt crisis - we had to fix it by taking away benefits for Americans with modest incomes or we are all doomed.

We may be doomed, but not because of the federal debt. Not in the short or medium term, at least.

It is amazing, after all the hype, how little uproar there has been at the failure of the "super committee."

In my view, it would be good to get the debt level down, but by putting people back to work so federal expenditures decline and revenues increase. We need greater aggregate demand and an effective industrial policy as well.

A bigger debt problem is the overhang of private indebtedness. As the most recent data shows, Nonfinancial private sector debt is about 170% of GDP, but is declining. The last time private sector debt exceeded 170% of GDP was at the height of the depression, when it exceeded 230%. At that time, GDP plunged but existing debts retained their nominal values.

The recent decline in debt to GDP ratio is good for individual debtors, but not good for the economy. If everyone tries to pay off their debts at once, the economy will contract.

Unless the Europeans do something different than they have been doing, this seems likely to happen in the Euro Zone. Both economists and investors seem to believe the US economy will follow Europe into contraction.

Monday, November 28, 2011

OECD Joins Critics Of Economic Dithering

Today the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) joined the chorus of economic observers and major players calling for urgent action to put "weakening global [economic] activity back on track."

The OECD calls for action both by Europe and the United States. OECD's latest Economic Outlook report foresees serious risks to the global economy.

OECD Chief Economist Carlo Padoan observes that “Prospects only improve if decisive action is taken quickly.” 

The Outlook’s baseline scenario assumes that policy-makers take sufficient action to avoid disorderly sovereign defaults, a sharp credit contraction, systemic bank failures and excessive fiscal tightening. It sees GDP across the OECD countries slowing from 1.9% this year to 1.6% in 2012, before recovering to 2.3% in 2013. Unemployment in the OECD area is also projected to remain high for an extended period, with the jobless rate staying at around 8% through the next two years.

“We are concerned that policy-makers fail to see the urgency of taking decisive action to tackle the real and growing risks to the global economy,” Mr Padoan said during the launch of the report in Paris. “We see the US  growth recovering only slowly, the euro area entering into mild recession and Japan growing faster because of reconstruction, but this boost is temporary and will fade away.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Japanese Carrier Force Gets Underway

Exactly seventy years ago, November 26, 1941, a Japanese carrier force, the Kido Butai, under command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, got underway from Hitokappu Wan in the Kurile Islands, under strict and effective radio silence. The force of six aircraft carriers, with 359 airplanes embarked, was the most powerful carrier force with the greatest concentration of naval air power ever assembled up to that time.

Accompanying the force were two fast battleships, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, nine destroyers and three fleet (long-range) submarines. An advanced expeditionary force including twenty fleet submarines and five midget submarines, had already departed Japan enroute to the objective area. The force also was accompanied by eight oilers for refueling along the way.

The day the Kido Butai left the Kuriles, Japanese negotiators in Washington received a note from US Secretary of State Cordell Hull proposing a solution to the crisis in the Far East. Japanese leaders dismissed the Hull note as the same old proposal they had rejected before.

Japan had not yet made an irrevocable decision for war. Nagumo got underway with the understanding that if "negotiations with the United States reach a successful conclusion, the task force will immediately put about and return to the homeland." The final decision was to be made early in December.

November 26th was a particularly active day on the diplomatic front in Washington as Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu frantically sought agreement with Secretary of State Hull. Messages to them from Tokyo (intercepted, decoded and translated by US Army and Navy intelligence) emphasized the importance of oil. Tokyo wanted agreement for the US to supply 4 million tons of oil per year.

Nomura and Kurusu reported diminishing hopes for agreement, and dutifully reported that Hull was meeting with the Chinese ambassador as well as with them. Nomura and Kurusu knew nothing about the Kido Butai's movements.

The clock was ticking.

Spelling Assistance

Those of you who are "spelling challenged" may wish to know that even the venerable New York Times occasionally gets a word wrong. But the "gray lady" knows how to fix it without making a fuss.

Two minutes ago, I was reading the front page of the on-line edition of NYT, adorned with a photo of Governor Rick Perry in his uniform as a Texas A&M cadet. The caption explained that he was in his "core of cadets uniform." I began reading the caption to my wife, to point out the error, and as I was reading it, the spelling changed to "corps of cadets uniform."

No fuss, no muss, just quietly change it. There was not even a strike-through as in "core corps of cadets uniform."

I'm waiting to see if they acknowledge the error.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Euro - The First Decade

Next year will be the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the Euro into circulation.

We were living in Europe (though not in the Euro Zone) at the time. As I recall, the Euro was worth about 85 cents when it was introduced. It was a great convenience to travelers, who over much of Europe no longer had to convert dollars into a dozen different currencies.

But I always wondered how the common currency would work in practice. We now know the answer - not very well.

Unless the Europeans get their act together, the first decade of the Euro may well be the last.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Greece, Italy And Now...Germany?

News from Europe isn't improving. Today, Germany attempted a bond auction and couldn't find buyers for about a third of the bonds. Looks like investors are casting a jaundiced eye even on Germany as a safe haven.

In truth, by some measures (primary deficit), Italy is performing better than Germany.

Austerity doesn't seem to be working for anyone. Investors, both in Europe and in the US, seem to be less concerned about deficits and sovereign debt and more concerned about the possibility of further deflation, recession and economic contraction. Americans should worry about what is happening in Europe, because a breakup of the Euro could drag the US economy down with it.

Keep your fingers crossed.

By the way, the US Treasury is having no trouble marketing securities at historically low rates.

So much for Standard and Poor's.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oriental Election Recount

At the request of Mr. Hugh Grady, candidate for Oriental town commissioner, the Pamlico County Board of Elections met today to conduct a complete recount of votes for the commissioner race.  The recount confirmed the count reported after the official canvass held November 15. The bottom line: write-in candidate Warren Johnson defeated ballot candidate Hugh Grady by three votes, to win the fifth seat on the board.


1 of 1 Precincts Reporting
Percent       Votes
Michele Bessette
13.29%        211
Hugh Grady
10.01%        159
Sherrill Styron
20.34%        323
Larry Summers
17.76%        282
Barbara Venturi
16.62%        264
Candy Bohmert (Write-in)
0.63%          10
Pat Herlands (Write-in)
8.63%        137
Warren Johnson (Write-in)
10.20%        162
Jennifer Roe (Write-in)
0.44%           7
Write-in (miscellaneous)
2.08%          33

Monday, November 21, 2011

Have We Put The Fools In Charge?

I keep trying to disprove the working hypothesis that the world is run by fools. I have so far not succeeded.

The Swedish diplomat Axel Oxenstierna formulated the concept some 360 years ago in a letter to his son: "Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" (in a letter to his offspring written in 1648, in the original Latin An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur?).

The lament seems to apply most especially to the field of economics. Just this past weekend we have seen the European Central Bank pursuing policies likely to destroy the Euro, after first destroying the individual economies of the Euro Zone. In the US, we have had the failure of the "Super Committee."

The latter failure is just as well. Republicans on the committee seemed bent on destroying the US economy. Whether this is from ignorance, ideology, erroneous concepts, or just to make sure Obama's efforts to put people back to work are obstructed, I can't say. Probably all of the above.

No wonder the powers that be have resorted to violence against the Occupy Wall Street movement. OWS was beginning to figure out how the system works.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

American Exceptionalism?

Were the police on the campus of the University of California, Davis, exceptionally annoyed? Perhaps they were exceptionally incompetent.

One of the mysteries of the Occupy movement is how, from coast to coast, authorities have acted with disproportionate force to a petty annoyance. A justified petty annoyance, at that, but it hardly matters.

Just more evidence of how little wisdom informs the world's governance.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Today we attended the 16th Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration in Raleigh.

It was a lovely day for a beautiful event.

We usually think of Indian country as being out west. But North Carolina is Indian country, too. Our state is home to some 122,000 Indians, by US census count - more than any other state east of the Mississippi.

The two largest tribes in NC are the Lumbee and the Cherokee. The NC Cherokees, known as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, have a particularly sad but heroic history. The Eastern Band are descended from those Cherokees who evaded US and state militia troops bent on rounding them up in the late 1830's and forcing them along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

Resisting a century and a half of efforts to take away not only their lands and possessions, but also their customs, religion and culture, the Cherokee have survived. But today's observance was not a lament - it was a celebration of the strength and beauty of a culture that survived.

At one point in the celebration, young girls from each of the tribes in North Carolina, each dressed in elaborate and lovely native dresses, introduced themselves to the audience. The four Cherokee girls introduced themselves in fluent Cherokee before translating what they had said into English. An impressive accomplishment for a people whose language they had been forced by authorities to forget.

But the language hasn't been forgotten. So long as members of the tribe speak the language, so long as they keep their the tribal customs, so long as they pass down the traditional stories and share the life of the tribe, the nation will survive.

Friday, November 18, 2011

But Officer, I wasn't Much Over The Speed Limit

Two months ago, scientists reported that a packet of neutrinos (don't ask) traveled 450 miles from the high energy physics laboratory (CERN) near Geneva to the Italian laboratory at Gran Sasso, faster than the speed of light.

The experiment has been somewhat improved and tried again, with the same results. The packet of neutrinos traveled the 450 miles and arrived 62 nanoseconds before a beam of light would have arrived. How fast is that?

Admiral Grace Hopper, a pioneer computer scientist, used a visual aid in her lectures to show students how long a nanosecond is - that is, how far would a pulse of light travel in a nanosecond. She would hold up a length of copper wire 11.8 inches long. That's a nanosecond.

So the neutrinos exceeded the speed limit by about 62 feet.

Not much, but enough to shake up the world of high energy physics.

CERN is using their new Large Hadron Collider, completed in 2008 - 2009, for high energy experiments. The LHC is about a third of the energy level of the United States' Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) near Waxahatchie, Texas, which was cancelled by Congress in 1993 as it neared completion. Had SSC been completed, it seems likely that the new discovery might have occurred a decade earlier in the United States rather than in Switzerland.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vegetable Patch Diversity

I'm planning to put in a garden this spring. All the usual vegetables: corn, beans, cabbage, broccoli, beets, carrots, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, pizza.

Anyone able to recommend a good seed catalog?

Seventy Years Ago Japan Underway

Seventy years ago yesterday, the first Japanese naval units scheduled to join the attack on Pearl Harbor, slipped out of their home ports. These were the fleet submarines assigned to patrol around Pearl Harbor in advance of the air attack. Some of the submarines carried midget submarines to be used in the final hours before the attack.

The Kido Butai, the Japanese navy's main battle force of six aircraft carriers, remained in the Kurile Islands, undetected by the US Navy's communications intelligence specialists.

Negotiations continued in Washington.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Elections - Not Over Yet

Late last summer the County Board of Elections attended two days of training in Raleigh. Among the things we learned: the General Counsel of the State Board of Elections informed us that historically, there are more election protests and challenges in odd year elections (municipal election years) than in even year elections, when more eminent officeholders and aspirants seek election.

The explanation: perhaps familiarity breeds intensity.

So far in Pamlico County, elections protests are proceeding quietly and politely. Next Monday, we meet for a preliminary hearing on a protest of the Grantsboro election. On Tuesday, we meet to commence a recount of the election of Oriental town commissioners. The margin between commissioner Johnson's vote for another term and candidate Grady's vote is three votes. That is less than 1% and therefore qualifies for a recount. This is the third election in a row that the fifth seat in Oriental has been within three or fewer votes, including one tie.

The next time someone says to you, "oh, my vote won't count," let them know that sometimes it counts for a great deal.

And never forget: in a democracy, there are no unimportant elections!

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Understanding Herman Cain

Never mind.

Super Committee Discussions

If you want to know what's really going on inside the Super Committee working on the nation's budget, here's an insight:

Raising Cain

I didn't watch last weekend's republican debate, and no new polls are out yet. Still, one of the surprising results of polling to date is the continued strong showing for Herman Cain.

I just came across a blog post from a couple of weeks ago by Bruce Bartlett, an experienced republican operative, titled "The Secret of Herman Cain's Success." It is worth reading, for the view it gives of the post-civil war history of partisan leanings by African Americans.

His post includes useful reminders of the history of the Democratic Party as a pro slavery party and a racist party for a century after the Civil War. I think he gives insufficient recognition to support of some white southern democrats during this period for economically progressive and populist measures. I totally reject Bartlett's view that republican policies at the present time are at all beneficial for racial minorities or anyone else not in the top one percent economically. Herman Cain, of course, is in the top one percent.

If you read Bartlett's post, be sure to read the comments. They contribute a lot to understanding the context.

I'm working on my own detailed critique of Bartlett's views.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mario Monti, Technocrat, To The Fore

So now, at the insistence of Brussels technocrats, economist Mario Monti has become Prime Minister of Italy.

This completes the process begun in the 1980's and 90's when Italian technocrats, briefly in control of Italy's government, sought to exchange Italian economic independence for German central bankers.

There were many economists who warned that a plan where countries had to borrow money in someone else's currency would eventually not work.

Eventually may be this year, next year or the year after, but looks like sooner rather than later.

Many Italians cheered the departure of Berlusconi and the arrival of the technocrats. Lat's see what they say a year from now.

Businessmen In Government

For those pining to turn government over to a businessman to run, I have a one-word response: Berlusconi!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

So How's The Football Team Doing?

I confess. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching college sports. When I was a student at Ole Miss, I even watched some of the games from the sidelines, wearing a press pass and carrying a 4x5 Speed Graphic press camera. I can still, fifty odd years later, give a rousing "Hotty-Totty," the Ole Miss cheer.

But I never understood what big time college sports have to do with education. Lately, I have to conclude that college sports interfere with education.

Last September, I received a weird e-mail from the Chancellor of the University of Mississippi complaining about "anonymous, malicious and public attacks" on the athletics director, including threats on the chancellor that it "will get real ugly" if the director isn't removed. A month later I received an e-mail from an organization seeking my support in their effort to get rid of the athletic director. Earlier this month I received a letter informing me that both the football coach and the athletic director have resigned.

All of this came to mind as I heard the news about Joe Paterno and the Penn State football team. Plainly in both cases, the tail is wagging the dog.

I imagine few members of the public in either Pennsylvania or Mississippi know the name of a single college professor or the head of the institution, but they know the name of the coach. And to most of them, the most important fact about a public university is the football team's won-loss record.

In the face of this set of priorities, any talk by our political leaders of a need to improve higher education is whistling in the wind.

The distortion of priorities starts well before college. This morning I read that a group of high school parents has filed a suit in New Mexico seeking to insert their high school into the state playoffs. The issue? Game officials started the clock too soon at the end of the game (by three seconds), depriving the team of the chance to kick a forty-one yard field goal and possibly get three additional points in a game they won, that would have improved their ranking enough to make the playoffs.

Does anybody really care about education?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pamlico County Election Results

For those who want to look at the complete unofficial election results for Pamlico County, here is a link to the State Board of Elections web site. There are still a few provisional ballots to be counted. They will be counted at the official canvass at the Pamlico County Board of Elections office Tuesday, November 15 at 11:00. The count announced at that time will be certified as the official count unless there has been a protest or challenge filed before the canvass.


At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, along the trench line from the English Channel to the Swiss Border, the guns that had first sounded in August, 1914, fell silent. The greatest human conflict up to that time, that set in motion the fall of empires and the creation of new nations, had come to a pause.

The silence of the guns was not because one side or the other had won or lost. There was no surrender. It was only an armistice - a temporary agreement to stop fighting. It was a truce, not a surrender.

Even that truce almost didn't happen. In late October, the German Naval Command, without authority to do so,  organized a final great sea battle with the Royal Navy. They were only prevented when sailor's mutinies broke out in Wilhelmshavn and Kiel. The mutiny grew into a revolution that overthrew the Kaiser and established a republic.

During subsequent peace negotiations, the Western allies treated Germany as a defeated power. John Maynard Keynes, who viewed the punitive provisions of the Versailles treaties as disastrous, wrote a short book, The Economic Consequences Of The Peace, that foretold many of the events that led to the renewal of conflict in 1939.

Still, we continued to celebrate Armistice Day as a day of hope that war would be no more. The custom began of wearing a poppy on Armistice Day, a custom visible at yesterday's session of the British Parliament during the interrogation of James Murdoch.

The wearing of poppies was inspired by the poem, "In Flanders Field:"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

If You Wish Upon A Star

Just came across some amusing observations about libertarians, anarchists and other utopian visionaries in a blog post by Belle Waring. A quote that conveys the main idea:

"Now, everyone close your eyes and try to imagine a private, profit-making rights-enforcement organization which does not resemble the mafia, a street gang, those pesky fire-fighters/arsonists/looters who used to provide such "services" in old New York and Tokyo, medieval tax-farmers, or a Lendu militia. (In general, if thoughts of the Eastern Congo intrude, I suggest waving them away with the invisible hand and repeating "that's anarcho-capitalism" several times.) Nothing's happening but a buzzing noise, right?

"Now try it the wishful thinking way. Just wish that we might all live in a state of perfect liberty, free of taxation and intrusive government, and that we should all be wealthier as well as freer. Now wish that people should, despite that lack of any restraint on their actions such as might be formed by policemen, functioning law courts, the SEC, and so on, not spend all their time screwing each other in predictable ways ranging from ordinary rape, through the selling of fraudulent stocks in non-existent ventures, up to the wholesale dumping of mercury in the public water supplies. (I mean, the general stock of water from which people privately draw.) Awesome huh? But it gets better. Now wish that everyone had a pony."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Europe - Is Anybody Watching?

Europe doesn't seem to be getting its act together. The new head of the ECB does look more willing to take action, but the pressure for austerity in the peripheral countries is strong. This seems likely to drag those countries further into debt and economic distress.

I believe this is economic foolishness on a grand scale. These are contractionary policies and European countries aren't going to be able to reduce their debt burden without expanding their economies. The big question is whether they have already entered a death spiral. The Euro zone is looking more and more shaky.

Last month I mentioned that the discussion blaming Greek and Italian debt entirely on improvident actions by Greece and Italy reminded me of discussions in the sixties and seventies about balance of payments issues.

British economist Gavyn Davies makes the connection explicit and clear in a recent blog post "The Eurozone Decouples From the World."

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"It is normal to discuss the sovereign debt problem," Davies explains,  "by focusing on the sustainability of public debt in the peripheral economies. But it can be more informative to view it as a balance of payments problem." I think that analysis is exactly right. He goes on to provide statistics: "Taken together, the four most troubled nations (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece) have a combined current account deficit of $183 billion. Most of this deficit is accounted for by the public sector deficits of these countries, since their private sectors are now roughly in financial balance. Offsetting these deficits, Germany has a current account surplus of $182 billion, or about 5 per cent of its GDP."

So what should be done?  If it is a balance of payments problem, Davies explains, "it is clear that there needs to be a capital account transfer each year amounting to about 5 per cent of German GDP from the core to the periphery. Without that, the euro will break up. Until 2008, this transfer happened voluntarily, by private sector flows, mainly in the form of bank purchases of higher yielding sovereign bonds in the peripheries, and to a lesser extent via asset purchases (notably housing in Spain). Since 2008, these private flows have dried up, and in fact reversed, so the public sector has had to step in. It has done so in the form of direct sovereign loans, and more importantly by international transfers which have been heavily disguised within the balance sheet of the ECB. Although disguised, these transfers are very real." What Davies fails to explain as clearly as he might, is that the reason the current account balance is a problem is that: a) the periphery countries don't have their own currency, but are forced to borrow in a currency over which they lack control; b) they are precluded from achieving balance by devaluation (that is, they have a very fixed exchange rate); and c) they still have all of the burdens of sovereignty with respect to things like funding armies, police forces, social programs, etc.

Davies goes on: "The eurozone’s proposed solution to this problem – budget contraction plus economic reform in the debtor nations, with no change in policy in the creditor nations – is very familiar to students of balance of payments crises in fixed exchange rate systems such as the Gold Standard or the Bretton Woods system in the past. It is not impossible for these solutions to work, but they are very contractionary for economic activity, and very frequently they fail. When they fail, they lead to devaluations by the debtor economies, normally because the required degree of contraction proves politically impossible to undertake. That is where Greece probably finds itself today. Others may be in the same position before too long."

Now Davies reaches the crux of the matter. The EU has decreed a punishing regime for Greece and soon will for Italy. It isn't clear how long Greek and Italian voters will stand for the solution. Leaving the Euro zone will not be painless, but it may turn out to be the best solution.

"The reason why the eurozone strategy is so difficult to implement is that both of its required actions are likely to make the European recession worse in the immediate future. This has already become clearly apparent in the negative feedback loops which have developed as budgetary policy has been tightened. None of the austere budgetary plans which have been announced during 2011 will achieve their fiscal targets in 2012 in the context of the recessions which will probably be encountered by many countries, and that includes France. There is no such thing as “expansionary austerity”, certainly not in countries which cannot devalue or reduce their long term interest rates. These countries are now chasing their own tails."

"Less widely appreciated," Gavyn explains,  "is the fact that structural economic reform will also make the recession worse in the next couple of years. This reform is absolutely essential in countries like Italy, which are otherwise facing a future of indefinite stagnation, but IMF research shows that in previous similar examples, labour market reform has initially led to higher unemployment and lower GDP as workers are shaken out of unproductive employment. The IMF warns that these reform programmes work best when economies are beginning to recover from recessions, and when there is scope in government budgets to compensate the losers through tax cuts or other measures of support. Neither of these conditions apply today."

"Is there," Gavyn asks,  "any way of improving the chances of success for the eurozone’s chosen strategy? Theoretically, yes. Germany, as the main creditor nation could choose to grow faster, and accept higher domestic inflation for a while, in order to ease the process of adjustment. In practice, Germany shows no sign of accepting this, but it is the best solution available, not only for the debtor economies, but also for Germany itself."

So the logical conclusion is, if the Euro zone collapses, it should not be Greece or Italy which shoulders the blame, but Germany.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pamlico County Elections Today

I've been busy the past couple of days working with our election officials to make sure we have smooth municipal elections. We succeeded. Our use of plain paper ballots for low-turnout municipal elections worked well.

At first glance, it appears that turnout in the Town of Oriental was almost fifty percent. That's pretty good. But for the county as a whole, it was only about eighteen percent.

We had a lot of new poll workers, and I was very pleased at how well they did their jobs. It looks like we will continue the Pamlico County tradition of well-run elections.

Results? Tonight's count was only preliminary. In Oriental, it appears that the incumbent mayor and every commissioner candidate on the ballot has won. But that's far from certain. There are some issues with write-in votes that will require a determination by the Board of Elections. We plan to meet as soon as possible to address those issues. Even after that, we won't know for sure until we meet for the official canvass. There are a number of provisional ballots that can't be opened until canvass, which is scheduled for 11:00 am Tuesday, November 15.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


It's time for my annual rant observations about time. We have returned to Eastern "standard" time.  If it's standard, why not keep it all the time?

Have you noticed that "daylight savings time" doesn't actually save any daylight? In fact, the actual length of a day varies with the declension of the sun (don't ask) and the position of the earth in its annual orbit around the sun.

In an earlier (simpler?) time in the history of man, human activity was governed by the position of the sun relative to the particular place people lived. Before clocks, that position was measured by sundials. Before sundials, prehistoric man built vast public works (e.g. Stonehenge) to keep track of the seasons by solar and sometimes by lunar observations. Our time scale was slower, but no less inexorable.

Peasants went out to till the fields based on sunrise and sunset and when the sun was overhead. Before the sun crossed the local meridian was ante meridian (a.m.) and after it crossed was post meridian (p.m.). It bothered no one if the local time by sundial in Prague was different from that in Vienna.

Even at sea, where ships have no fixed location, time was reset every day at local apparent noon (when the sun crossed the meridian) and the officer of the deck received permission from the captain to "strike eight bells on time."

This perfectly satisfactory arrangement was destroyed by the railroad. Railroads wanted to run according to a fixed, printed schedule. They couldn't handle differences in local time between Prague and Vienna and every little train stop in between. Time must be made to conform to the mechanical age and become standardized.

But now we have computers. Computers can't actually think, but they can keep track of vast amounts of data, including the longitude of every town, city and metropolis on earth. It is longitude that determines local time. We could all set our timepieces to global standard time (that is, Greenwich Mean Time) and refer every time-based activity to that standard. That would satisfy the need for a time standard for any scheduled operation. It would make trains and airplanes happy. For local activities, just subtract or add a longitude-based time correction to derive local standard time. It would no longer matter to the railroads that Prague, Budweis and Vienna are on slightly different local times. Or Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Oriental could have its own standard time.

Now synchronize your sundials.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Greece And The Euro

Looks like Prime Minister Papandreou has backed off of his plan to hold a referendum on the EU "rescue" [read: punishment] plan for Greece. Lots of pressure from EU members, especially France and Germany, and also from the US.

I could be wrong, but in the end I think it will make no difference. The Euro zone was a jerry-built house that is likely to collapse sooner or later, what ever happens with Greece. The Greek people could still trigger a fall of the Papandreou government and cause early elections. Even if that doesn't happen, the mood of the electorate is not likely to be any better when elections are scheduled next year. That is, I don't think another year of pain and austerity, recession, lost jobs and poverty in order to avoid displeasing German bankers who dominate the European Central Bank will improve their willingness to passively accept their fate.

What might alleviate the displeasure in Greece as well as in Italy, Spain and Portugal would be an ECB program to expand the economy. That doesn't seem to be in the cards. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

It can't help the situation that the European Commission agent in Athens to "help" the Greeks is Horst Reichenbach, a German former official of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Not surprisingly, older Greeks remember the last time that Germans came to run the affairs of Athens. They aren't fond memories.

The late historian Tony Judt, in his seminal history, Post War, revealed the extent to which young Europeans of the World War II generation received their first experiences of government planning during German occupation. They learned the techniques and were exposed to a vision of the possibilities. The European project has been, to a greater extent than most Americans realize, an outgrowth of that experience. One legacy has been a tension between a generation who view themselves as European and an overlapping generation who take a more nationalist view of self-determination as an ideal.

It isn't yet clear how the tension will be resolved in Greece. I wouldn't bet against a return of nationalism.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Ninety-Nine Percent

The issue isn't just jobs. Even slaves had jobs. The issue is wages.

Jim Hightower

Oriental Board of Commissioners Pot-Pourri

Last night's board of commissioners meeting was the last regular meeting before residents elect a new board. The board addressed a number of loose ends, most of which will be up to the newly-elected board to unravel or to knit up, as the case may be.

I have attended town board meetings fairly regularly since January of 2006, as an interested citizen, as a member of the planning board, as a commissioner, and as a member of the Pamlico County board of elections. I also attend meetings of the Pamlico County board of commissioners fairly regularly. It's the sort of thing policy wonks do.

Some things I've noticed:
1.  Meetings take too long and are too chaotic;
2.  The board spends too much time on minutes - suggestions: add minutes to the consent agenda; confine minutes to recording what was done, not what was said; keep audio recordings as a record of the meetings in case a member of the public or press wants to listen (that's what we do at the County board of elections);
3.  Rather than having a representative of each town board present a report at every meeting, add reports to the consent agenda. If something the board does or wants to do requires Town Board action, put it on the correspondence agenda. Otherwise, don't waste time on it;
4.  If a member of the public or a commissioner wants his or her comments in the record, encourage that person to submit a written comment to be appended to the minutes;
5.  Be meticulous about following requirements for closed sessions - it generally isn't good enough to mumble the relevant paragraph of North Carolina General Statutes. Western Carolina University has prepared a very good model resolution for going into closed session. I recommend the new board consider adopting it. Here is the model resolution:

North Carolina Open Meetings Law-Model Motion For Closed Session
I move that we go into closed session to:
[Specify one or more of the following permitted reasons for closed sessions]
+prevent the disclosure of privileged information
    +under ___________________of the North Carolina General Statutes or regulations.
    +under ___________________of the regulations or laws of United States.
        {You must identify the specific law}
+prevent the premature disclosure of honorary award or scholarship.
+consult with our attorney
    +to protect the attorney-client privilege.
    + to consider and give instructions concerning a potential or actual claim, administrative procedure, or judicial action.
    + to consider and give instructions concerning a judicial action titled
    _______________ v.____________________________________.
+discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of business in the area served by this body.
+ establish or instruct the staff or agent concerning the negotiation of the price and terms of a contract concerning the acquisition of real property.
+ establish or instruct the staff or agent concerning the negotiations of the amount of compensation or other terms of an employment contract.
+ consider the qualifications, competence, performance, condition of appointment of a public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee.
+ hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against a public officer or employee.
+ plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations or alleged criminal conduct.

6.  It has been a frequent practice for the board to take up substantive initiatives, hold a cursory discussion and adopt resolutions during the "non-agenda" period at the end of meetings. Such actions may relate to matters of interest to citizens who attended the meeting, but when nothing came up, they left. Then the board acted. I think this is a bad practice. The Pamlico County Board of Commissioners follows a different procedure. At the beginning of each meeting, the chair asks if any member wants to add anything to the agenda. If all members agree, the item is added. If any member objects, the item is not added. No action is taken on any matter not thus added to the agenda. I have adopted a similar procedure for the county board of elections. I recommend the Oriental Town Board adopt a similar procedure;
7.  The board holds a so-called "agenda" meeting the Thursday before each regular meeting - the purpose is supposedly to agree on the agenda for the meeting (additions to the agenda should thus be very rare). In practice, the board often uses the "agenda" meeting to conduct regular business. Suggestion: If a single regular meeting each month is not sufficient to do the town's business, the board should schedule two meetings a month.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Town of Oriental Absentee and Early Voting

The Pamlico County Board of Elections met today at 2:00 pm to review and approve absentee votes cast by mail and in person at our one-stop location. As of that time, county residents had cast sixty-seven votes. Sixty of the votes were for the Oriental municipal election.

One-stop early voting will continue at the Board of Elections office in Bayboro for municipal elections in Alliance, Bayboro and Oriental until 1:00 pm Saturday, November 5. Election day at the normal municipal polling place will be held from 6:30 am until the polls close at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, November 8. Preliminary informal election result will be posted that evening.