Tightening our (gun) belts

 Man standing with gun and ammunition belt

On 15 April I joined the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party movement to protest high taxes, higher federal spending, and general disrespect for the Constitution of the United States of America.  It felt good.

I also know that along with rights come responsibilities.  Times are tough all over and it is difficult to see services we use being cut.  Government provides many essential services, and many things that just make our communities nicer places to live.

I doubt many people consider the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) an “essential service”.  According to their website:

The Minnesota Historical Society is chief caretaker of Minnesota’s story—and the History Center is home to the Society’s vast collections. Within its archives reside artifacts ranging from American Indian moccasins and artwork to furniture and photographs, Civil War-era flags and a wealth of geneaological information. All of it is accessible today and for future generations.

I love history and I love the Historical Society, and I am a paid member.  However, they really are the last part of “public health, safety and welfare”;  not surprisingly among the first to be cut.  MHS announced today a planned 16% cut to their budget for next fiscal year, starting 1 July 09.

Minnesota Historical Society Announces Plans for a Potential 16-Percent Budget Reduction

All programs and facilities will remain in full operation until a final plan is adopted

The Minnesota Historical Society announced plans today for a potential 16-percent overall budget reduction, beginning July 1, 2009, which would result in layoffs and reduced services to the people of Minnesota. The plan is based on expected cuts in the Society’s funding from the state of Minnesota, as well as the effects of the current economic downturn. The reduction was developed in anticipation of serious budget shortfalls during the Society’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

A final decision on the Society’s state funding levels is expected in late May when Governor Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature announce an overall state budget for the upcoming biennium, which also begins July 1. In January, the Governor’s budget plan contained a 15-percent reduction to the Society’s operating budget. The Minnesota House recommended a reduction of nearly 10 percent earlier this month, and the Minnesota Senate recommended a seven-percent reduction this week.  

In addition, the Society is projecting a 20-percent shortfall in its non-state revenues over the next two years, due to declines in admissions, sales, charitable gifts and investments.

“We know that Minnesotans value the work of the Historical Society,” says Nina Archabal, director. “Our main objective in meeting the challenges of today’s economic downturn is to continue to preserve the state’s history and educate the state’s schoolchildren and adults.”

Since October, 2008, the Society has been engaged in a comprehensive strategic planning process. This process provided guidance in developing the proposed budget reductions.

The planned budget reductions would result in less public access to the Society’s services, programs and facilities.  It also would affect the Society’s work to preserve the state’s history.

Layoffs would occur for 94 full- and part-time employees, and an additional 223 employees would have their hours reduced.  In total, 317 individuals would be affected, or 46 percent of the Society’s staff, including individuals that work directly with the public, as well as people that support public programs and preservation statewide.

Some of my favorite MHS sites are on the chopping block.  Three sites will be mothballed 1 July 09:

More sites would see access and hours cut back, including Jeffers Petroglyphs near Comfrey, MN, which I recently wrote about on JohnScout blog.

These are great places.  I visited Historic Forestville last summer.  It’s a ghost town down in the Drifless Hills of Southeast Minnesota, south of Rochester.  Living history players act out original characters, literally bringing history to life.  I would love to participate on a regular basis if I lived closer…and dropped seven or eight other hobbies to make time.  One of those hobbies I’ve picked up of late is participating in Mountain Man Rendezvous, with their black powder rifles and tomahawk throws and leather britches over cast iron.  The Fur Post at Pine City recreates the world of 1804 and the European, American and Ojibwe fur trade.  Picture me lost and dreaming in buckskins.

I am a bit concerned about this bit at the end of the press release:

Also pending is a decision on how proceeds from the Legacy Amendment will support history education and programming. The constitutional amendment, which was passed by voters in November 2008, calls for funds to preserve Minnesota’s history as a way to supplement, rather than substitute for, current funding and programs. The Minnesota History Coalition, representing historical organizations statewide, including the Society, has recommended that 50 percent of the funding for the Arts and Cultural Heritage portion of the amendment be dedicated to statewide history education and preservation.

I could be cyncial and say it’s all posturing to get dedicated funding.  I won’t.

I could fuss and fume, and put on a big pout.  I’ve driven by the Lindbergh property several trips, each time telling myself “I’ll stop next time.”  Now there won’t be a “next time.”  These places are important to me and a big benefit to living in the state of Minnesota. 

I could get angry, pull out the big guns, and demand my rights.  But I won’t. 

When times are tough we all have to tighten our belts and do our share.  What I’m going to do is clear my calendar for the 2nd half of June after I get home from Scout camp.  I’m going to plan a drive to Pine City before the Northwest Company Fur Post closes.  Maybe I’ll go through Little Falls, or at least make a stop at Jeffers Petroglyphs on my way.  I’m going to look for a book from the MHS bookstore to buy and read after the first of July.  I’m going to save so I can renew my membership.  I’m going to put my money where my mouth is….

Right after I write a letter to my Representative, my Senator, the Governor about cutting (my) taxes and (somebody else’s) spending.

(Cross-posted at JCShepard.com).

Global Warming: The Missing Science

I have a terrible habit of going into battle underprepared. For example, somebody will be prattling on about Global Warming and I can’t resist stepping in to rip their precious environmental fundamentalism to bits. Junk science doesn’t help real people with real problems. Thing is, my thing is land use and economic development. I’m not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV.

Australian Dr. Ian Plimer, a professor of geology, has stepped boldly onto the Climate Change battleground on the side of fact-based science with a new book titled Heaven & Earth—Global Warming: The Missing Science. Monday the Sidney Morning Herald carried an op/ed review ahead of the Australian release.

Much of what we have read about climate change, [Plimer] argues, is rubbish, especially the computer modelling on which much current scientific opinion is based, which he describes as “primitive”. Errors and distortions in computer modelling will be exposed in time. (As if on cue, the United Nations’ peak scientific body on climate change was obliged to make an embarrassing admission last week that some of its computers models were wrong.)

Plimer does not dispute the dramatic flux of climate change… but he fundamentally disputes most of the assumptions and projections being made about the current causes, mostly led by atmospheric scientists, who have a different perspective on time. “It is little wonder that catastrophist views of the future of the planet fall on fertile pastures. The history of time shows us that depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times … and life blossoms and economies boom in warm times. Planet Earth is dynamic. It always changes and evolves. It is currently in an ice age.”

If we look at the last 6 million years, the Earth was warmer than it is now for 3 million years. The ice caps of the Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland are geologically unusual. Polar ice has only been present for less than 20 per cent of geological time. What follows is an intense compression of the book’s 500 pages and all their provocative arguments and conclusions:

Is dangerous warming occurring? No.

Is the temperature range observed in the 20th century outside the range of normal variability? No.

Plimer’s “thing” is the perspective of time. He deals in geologic time. The reaaaaaaly long view. Temperature goes up. Temperature goes down. Our ability to measure that change isn’t necessarily as advanced as we would like to believe.

“To reduce modern climate change to one variable, CO2, or a small proportion of one variable – human-induced CO2 – is not science. To try to predict the future based on just one variable (CO2) in extraordinarily complex natural systems is folly. Yet when astronomers have the temerity to show that climate is driven by solar activities rather than CO2 emissions, they are dismissed as dinosaurs undertaking the methods of old-fashioned science.”

Over time, the history of CO2 content in the atmosphere has been far higher than at present for most of time. Atmospheric CO2 follows temperature rise. It does not create a temperature rise. CO2 is not a pollutant. Global warming and a high CO2 content bring prosperity and longer life.

The hypothesis that human activity can create global warming is extraordinary because it is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology. “But evidence no longer matters. And any contrary work published in peer-reviewed journals is just ignored. We are told that the science on human-induced global warming is settled. Yet the claim by some scientists that the threat of human-induced global warming is 90 per cent certain (or even 99 per cent) is a figure of speech. It has no mathematical or evidential basis.”

Observations in nature differ markedly from the results generated by nearly two dozen computer-generated climate models. These climate models exaggerate the effects of human CO2 emissions into the atmosphere because few of the natural variables are considered. Natural systems are far more complex than computer models.

Garbage in, garbage out. Amazon.com lists a late May 2009 release date.

It is important to conserve natural resources and prevent harm to the environment. However, we have to use sound facts if we want to make rational choices. I know there are a number of other respected scientists who are standing up to debunk the Chicken Little crowd and their junk science. I hope they continue to give us lay climate change skeptics fact-based ammo to continue the good fight.

(Cross-posted from JCShepard.com. I’ll be cross-posting some more entries while we work out the transition. Patience. I must learn patience.)

Tricky Business

MPR reminds us that “Flood forecasting is tricky business” with a Radio-on-the-TV Youtube feature. Didn’t know Minnesota Public Radio was on Youtube. Then again I’m a dial-up guy who still remembers when MTV actually played music videos.

The Grand Forks Herald reported Thursday:

A statement from the office of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty this afternoon said President Barack Obama has approved a major disaster declaration clearing the way for federal relief and recovery assistance in Polk, Marshall, Kittson, Norman, Wilkin, Traverse and Clay counties along the Red River in northwestern Minnesota.

“I’m also renewing my request that the federal government authorize assistance to individuals and households, as many families have been severely impacted by this flood,” Pawlenty said.

One would think we would have learned our lessons ten years ago, but nobody agrees what those lessons are and what to do about it. The governors of North Dakota and Minnesota are pushing to get at least one thing done:

Pawlenty and Hoeven said they are organizing a mission to Washington, D.C. of local, state and congressional leaders to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to advance the timetable for a study now underway to address broad-based flood protection in the Fargo-Moorhead are of the Red River Valley. Officials said the study, which isn’t scheduled for completion until December 2010, is moving too slowly to address the needs of the region.

“We need the Corps to do more than just study it – we need a plan and a commitment from the Corps for federal funding and project approval so that we can move forward with construction,” said Governor Hoeven. “Our budget committed $75 million in state funding for Fargo’s Southside Flood Project, which should be incorporated into the plan, and we are willing to commit more if necessary.”

“Flooding has affected Minnesotans and North Dakotans along the Red River Valley from the river’s headwaters to the Canadian border,” Governor Pawlenty said. “A comprehensive and equitable plan is needed to protect citizens in both states from future flood events. The good work already completed in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks is proof that mitigation is not only possible, but that it works.”

Hoeven said he believes the Corps has money in its budget. “There will be no better time than the present to make a solid commitment to the people of Minnesota and North Dakota to get this job done.”

There’s politics afoot as well, with the Minnesota Legislature debating if more money should be borrowed for flood protection projects. Guess I need to do my part and get back to finishing our local all hazard mitigation plans.

(Cross-posted from JCShepard.com)

BioScience is not about the Science

VC G. Steven Burrill opened the second day of the 5th annual Bioscience Conference at Worthington Friday with a presentation on trends in Life Sciences industries.  He covered some big broad ideas:

  • Human healthcare from innovation to delivery
  • Nutraceuticals/wellness
  • Agbio/food
  • Industrial/energy
  • Bio-cleantech
  • Enabling Tech, including nanotechnology

Excellent coverage on the front page of the Worthington Daily Globe continued in this morning’s edition:

Burrill sees significant innovation within 10 years

[Steve] Burrill, a California-based venture capitalist whose company has nearly $1 billion under management, has been involved in the biosciences for 40 years — and was introduced Friday morning as “one of the original architects of the industry.”  he used a bulk of his nearly 80-minute presentation to describe what he calls a “sea change” in the biosciences.

“Worthington, and this part of the world, is not as isolated as you might think when it comes to value opportunity,” Burrill said. “This is a sea change that’s historic in the world … it will be more pervasive than the Depression was. … But we will come out of this a stronger country and a stronger industry.”

If I had a nickel for every pundit predicting “sea change” I could fill an aquarium.  Even though that’s the name of his $450 book, Mr. G. Steven Burrill seems to put his money where his mouth is, which is why I got up at 6am for a commute to hear him speak.  I even took notes.  The Daily Globe reporter took better notes.  Maybe Ryan had more coffee than I did Friday morning.

Burrill acknowledged “the economy is pretty messy, and it’s only going to get messier,” adding that “to some extent, capitalism has failed, if only temporarily.” He sees the economic downturn as lasting three to five years.

“The important thing to take from my speech is not where we are now, but where we’re going to be,” he said.

Yes, Burrill did say that he thinks capitalism has failed, along with other nice fluffy Obamaisms.  Seems like he’s done pretty well with it.  Suppose I expect some such double-talk from the Left Coast.  Actually, most of the morning speakers after him were left-of-center to extreme environmental evangelists, which is why I left early.  Anyway, other than his pimping for BHO & Nancy Pelosi, he made some good points.

Government organizations around the world, whether they have to do with patents or regulations, are barriers to the market, Burrill added, but the biggest spark for new businesses and innovation comes through capital.

Here Burrill comes back to his midwestern roots.  Many regulators, as well as existing life science practitioners, are primarily interested in preventing—avoiding risk.  Successful investors are the opposite, primarily interested in potential—seeking sensible risk. 

Changes to global financial systems have fundamentally changed the risk-reward system, in many ways he points out are unfavorable to innovation.  The largest pharmaceuticals companies have lost ~20% of their market capital over the last five years and the IPO market for biotechnology has evaporated.  Gotta work through that and it’s going to take awhile.

In examining the current marketplace, Burrill said technologies, an aging population, governments and policy makers, and economic imperatives are economic drivers. He also predicted a radical shift in how health care is delivered as a result of some of those conditions.

I don’t buy the Canadian-style single-payer healthcare system, yet I’ve become increasingly frustrated with what we do have here, so my ears perked up for this bit.  Burrill noted that what we call “healthcare” is really Sickcare—like we have for thousands of years, we go see somebody only when we get sick.  The future of health care is a Wellness Care, he says, a patient-centered delivery system:

  • Entry into the system at a Doc-in-a-Box consumer distribution center using genetic screening and intelligent diagnostic systems, staffed by nurse practitioners.
  • Specialized delivery will have Doctors concentrating on long-term risk assessment
  • Home diagnostics/monitoring systems will give constant feedback to maintain wellness

I was glad to see Burrill point out the disconnect between 3rd party payers, service providers and consumers.  I also had no idea there was such a large failure rate for many medicines.  He sees big new markets emerging to treat Alzheimer’s/memory loss, obesity/diabetes/metabolic disease, anti-aging, antibiotics to counter antibiotic resistence, and prevenative medicine.

Still, I’m not sure technological systems are going to change that much that soon.  I’m just not keen about having my genetic records stuck on a chip or some laptop that any hacker can get into as easy as my Paypal account.  There’s some trust issues there that Burrill and a state legislator dismissed flippantly in Q&A afterward.  I may blog my life away, but I am concerned with personal privacy and keeping Big Brother where he/she doesn’t belong.


In shifting today’s healthcare system into what he deemed a wellness care system, the biopharmaceutical industry will be re-invented, he added. Countries such as China, India and Brazil will likely be leading the way, but places such as Worthington shouldn’t see themselves as isolated in any way.

“We’re global from day one. … It used to be that globality happened when you got to a certain scale, but that’s not the case any longer,” he said.

About this point in the presentation, I think Burrill realized he was going to be running over his allotted hour (he should have been allotted more time).  I hope this point came through.  When I was working economic development directly, I always emphasised with entrepreneurs the importance of a well-crafted business plan.  You start simple with clear objectives and build you business over time.  Today, you can’t necessarily do that.  Disease knows no borders and markets don’t create themselves.  Entrepreneurs must be thinking about competing globally from the word Go.

For me, Burrill’s most relevant point for this audience came near the end.  I’ll summarize:

When we look at the link between human health and agbio systems: 
It’s not about the science, it’s about the political, social, economic and environmental issues

We have the technology for the most part.  We have the science and the scientists.  It’s up to us to create the political, social, economic and environmental community where entrepreneurs can bring the science and technology to life.

It took me longer to write this up than for him to give the presentation, so thanks for sticking with me to the end.  You can see an interview with Mr. Burrill about many of the same ideas on the Burrill & Company website here.  Think he’s even wearing the same pink tie.

(Cross-posted to JCShepard.com).

Goose River flooding

I remember putting on my rubber barn boots & grabbing a shovel, heading down by the banks of the Goose River between Mayville and Portland, right there on North Dakota Highway 200 by the park.

Goose River flooding homes in Mayville, ND

Several homes and businesses have taken on water in Mayville as the Goose River spills out of its banks, according to the Traill County Sheriff’s Office.
Capt. Steve Hunt said the flooding began late morning and early afternoon Tuesday along Highway 200 at the bottom of a hill in Mayville.
The flooded buildings included a city shop, three businesses and four homes, he said.
“At least two of them have a foot of water on the main floor,” he said.
The city planned to shore up sandbags around its water plant, he said. 

Mike Nowatzki, Forum report  3/25/09 Forum newsroom
Posted by: floodblogger on 3/25/2009 at 8:59 AM |

The situation in the Red River Valley this year is a flash-back to 1997, when a late ice-storm slowed down the snowmelt saving Fargo from the Flood of the Century and dooming Grand Forks.  The Forum is reporting today:

About 3 inches of snow had fallen by 7 a.m. in the metro area, and the National Weather Service predicts 5 to 8 inches total from Fargo north to Grand Forks before the storm diminishes this evening.

I’m following flood info & river levels on Twitter, too.  Not much I can do from 200 miles away, but maybe it will put those old memories in perspective.  Be prepared out there.

  • *******************************

Edit: Steve Gunderson has posted a great photo album from the Goose River flooding at Mayville-Portland on his home page.  The photo below is a greenhouse we helped get going when I worked for Traill County.  The owner is a great guy, but maybe I should have worked harder with him to find a safer location.  Shoulda, coulda, woulda….

Kost Hydroponics, Mayville, ND, Flood 2009

Kost Hydroponics, Mayville, ND, Flood 2009

How China Sees the West

Strange Maps blog has an interesting post regarding the current cover illustration on The Economist news weekly:

The Economist is concerned about the present state of affairs, as they should be:

Although in public China’s leaders eschew triumphalism, there is a sense in Beijing that the reassertion of the Middle Kingdom’s global ascendancy is at hand.

I love The Economist and really miss reading the print copy every week (budget just can’t support that habit right now).  However, I’m tending to agree with some of the comments on Strange Maps site.  Perhaps a better title for the graphic (if not the article) would have been “How China Sees the West”.  I certainly would have at least stuck a skyscraper at Vancouver, BC (Canada), but they didn’t ask me.

Already a big idea has spread far beyond China: that geopolitics is now a bipolar affair, with America and China the only two that matter. Thus in London next month the real business will not be the G20 meeting but the “G2” summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao.

There is alot about China I don’t pretend to understand.  Although I think The Economist may be oversimplifying their graphic design, their ultimate point is well to consider.

Far from oozing self-confidence, China is witnessing a fierce debate both about its economic system and the sort of great power it wants to be—and it is a debate the government does not like. This year the regime curtailed even the perfunctory annual meeting of its parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), preferring to confine discussion to back-rooms and obscure internet forums. Liberals calling for greater openness are being dealt with in the time-honoured repressive fashion. But China’s leaders also face rumblings of discontent from leftist nationalists, who see the downturn as a chance to halt market-oriented reforms at home, and for China to assert itself more stridently abroad…

Wikipedia lists about 60 cities in China with a population of over 1,000,000 people—that’s urbanized population, administrative population (similar to our metropolitan areas?) is much larger.  Can you name more than 2?

I’m not sure I can.


The National Weather Service is predicting major flooding in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota:

Flood Risk High and Flooding Imminent for the Red River of the North Basin; Above Average Risk for Upper Midwest and from the lower Great Lakes to Illinois and part of New England

I grew up in and around Fargo, and lived in the Red River Valley during the Flood of 1997. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a city of 50,000 people completely evacuated. My community had our own crisis to deal with that year, yet we opened our homes to those who had lost theirs. The guy who stayed with me had nothing left but the clothes on his back—everything in his home, his car, everything gone.

Fargo got lucky that year when Grand Forks did not. This year that luck may have run out. However, the better part of luck is preparation, as Red River Farm Network radio team report:

Prepping for the Flood — Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is taking action to prepare for flooding in the Red River Valley. The State Emergency Operations Center has been partially activated. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has also activated its internal Incident Command Team to help farmers protect themselves and their property from flood-related damage. Field staff are also contacting grain elevators, crop protection suppliers and food processing companies.

And the good people of the Red River Valley are busy preparing.

The Red Cross is partnering with the Salvation Army to provide meals to the many volunteers creating sandbags at “Sandbag Central” in Fargo. Pictured here is what’s known as a “Spider”.This photo is available for media distribution. Please credit Claire Sale/American Red Cross.  For more information on this disaster, please visit the Red Cross Disaster Online Newsroom

Here at jcshepard.com we’re busy preparing, too. A big move is coming up as I try to move from wordpress.com to a hosted wordpress.org account. This winter I’ve been testing out different features in preparation and HOPE all will go smoothly.

Be Prepared.

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