“I would have fired me if I was him”

BuffettWarren.jpg
Warren Buffett. Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited below.
A couple of years ago, I think, in the mid-afternoon we went into a nearly deserted Dairy Queen near Dodge and 115th and walked by an old guy eating ice cream with a couple of others (I’m guessing his daughter and grandchild). I said to Jeanette and Jenny something like: if that guy wasn’t dressed so weirdly, I’d say he might be Warren Buffett. He was wearing some kind of overalls with the word WOODS printed in capitals on the back. Suddenly I remembered that I had seen in the paper that Buffett had caddied for Tiger Woods in some sort of celebrity tournament a few weeks earlier. We were tempted to ask for his autograph, but we let him eat his ice cream in peace.

(p. A1) He spends most of his day alone in an office with no computer. He makes swift investment decisions, steers clear of meetings and advisers, eschews set procedures and doesn’t require frequent reports from managers.
. . .
(p. A5A (sic)) Mr. Buffett tends to stick to investments for the long haul, even when the going gets bumpy. Mr. Sokol recalls bracing for an August 2004 meeting at which he planned to break the news to Mr. Buffett that the Iowa utility needed to write off about $360 million for a soured zinc project. Mr. Sokol says he was stunned by Mr. Buffett’s response: “David, we all make mistakes.” Their meeting lasted only 10 minutes.
“I would have fired me if I was him,” Mr. Sokol says.
“If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t make decisions,” Mr. Buffett says. “You can’t dwell on them.” Mr. Buffett notes that he has made “a lot bigger mistakes” himself than Mr. Sokol did.

For the full article, see:
SUSAN PULLIAM and KAREN RICHARDSON. “Warren Buffett, Unplugged; The hands-off billionaire shuns computers, leaves his managers alone, yet has notched huge returns. He just turned 75. Can anyone fill his shoes?” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Sat., November 12, 2005): A1 & A5A.

Source of graph: online version of WSJ article cited above.

“Growing Recognition of Economic Costs” of Koyoto Protocol

Commentary on the Kyoto Protocol:

(p. 3) . . . the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world’s ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases.

Then, too, there is a growing recognition of the economic costs incurred by signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.

As Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a proponent of emissions targets, said in a statement on Nov. 1: ”The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.”

This is as true, in different ways, in developed nations with high unemployment, like Germany and France, as it is in Russia, which said last week that it may have spot energy shortages this winter.
. . .
The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

Enormous investments in basic research have to be made promptly, even with the knowledge that most of the research is likely to fail, if there is to be any chance of creating options for the world’s vastly increased energy thirst in a few decades, said Richard G. Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit center for energy and environment research.

”The train is not leaving the station, and it needs to leave the station,” Mr. Richels said. ”If we don’t have the technologies available at that time, it’s going to be a mess.”

For the full commentary, see:
ANDREW C. REVKIN. “THE WORLD; On Climate Change, a Change of Thinking.” The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., December 4, 2005): 3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Open Road

A strong argument could be made that the automobile is one of the two most liberating inventions of the past century, ranking only behind the microchip. The car allowed even the common working man total freedom of mobility — the means to go anywhere, anytime, for any reason. In many ways, the automobile is the most egalitarian invention in history, dramatically bridging the quality-of-life gap between rich and poor. The car stands for individualism; mass transit for collectivism. Philosopher Waldemar Hanasz, who grew up in communist Poland, noted in his 1999 essay “Engines of Liberty” that Soviet leaders in the 1940s showed the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” all over the country as propaganda against the evils of U.S. capitalism and the oppression of farmers. The scheme backfired because “far from being appalled, the Soviet viewers were envious; in America, it seemed, even the poorest had cars and trucks.”
. . .
The simplistic notion taught to our second-graders, that the car is an environmental doomsday machine, reveals an ignorance of history. When Henry Ford first started rolling his Black Model Ts off the assembly line at the start of the 20th century, the auto was hailed as one of the greatest environmental inventions of all time. That’s because the horse, which it replaced, was a prodigious polluter, dropping 40 pounds of waste a day. Imagine what a city like St. Louis smelled like on a steamy summer afternoon when the streets were congested with horses and piled with manure.
. . .
There’s a perfectly good reason that the roads are crammed with tens of millions of cars and that Americans drive eight billion miles a year while spurning buses, trains, bicycles and subways. Americans are rugged individualists who don’t want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there.

For the full commentary, see:
Moore, Stephen. “Supply Side; The War Against the Car.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., November 11, 2005): A10.

Land Next to Proposed Ethanol Plant Suddenly Declared “Blighted”

(p. 1A) ORD, Neb. – Carl and Charlene Schauer were upset and more than a little offended when the City Council declared their 50-acre cornfield “blighted and substandard.”
Nothing is wrong with the cornfield, located almost five miles outside of town.
Nothing – except its proximity to the site of a proposed $75 million ethanol plant that local officials say will bring 34 jobs to the community of 2,300.
Invented to give cities the power to enlist private development in clearing slums, the “blighted and substandard” designation has become a critical tool for economic development projects across Nebraska.
It allows cities to use property taxes to help pay development costs on behalf of private enterprise, under a mechanism called tax increment financing. That allows increased property taxes generated by improvements of blighted property to be used to help fund the redevelopment.
Blighted land even can be condemned through eminent domain, then turned over to private developers. That practice was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
Stunned by that ruling, several Nebraska lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent local governments from using eminent domain to acquire private property that would be turned over to another private (p. 2A) owner for economic development.
Three bills (Legislative Bills 924, 910 and 799) specifically protect agricultural land, forbidding governments to declare it blighted. A fourth bill (LB 1252) would limit eminent domain to public projects like parks and roads.
And State Sen. Matt Connealy of Decatur proposes a constitutional amendment (LR 272 CA) to remove the requirement that land be designated as substandard and blighted before cities can use property taxes to help private developers pay project costs.
Connealy said it appears some smaller cities are pushing the boundaries of the blight definition.
The Ord ethanol project has been touted by Gov. Dave Heineman, the New York Times and others as an example of small-town hustle and progress.
Carl Schauer’s son, Curt, and his wife, Susan, however, have gone to court to try to stop it.
They live directly across Nebraska Highway 11 from Carl Schauer’s cornfield. Although not included in the proposed ethanol site, their home is less than 1,000 feet from where the plant would be built. They are worried about noise, smell, traffic and health hazards from the around-the-clock operation.
“I guess we’re the sacrificial lambs in the name of economic development,” said Susan Schauer, a licensed practical nurse.
A local official said the city does not want to take even the smallest part of Curt Schauer’s property if he doesn’t want to sell it.
“I don’t think anybody in this community would ever do that,” said Bethanne Kunz of the Valley County Economic Development Board.
After Schauer rejected an offer to buy a strip of his land for a railcar loading area, Kunz said, the ethanol site was reconfigured to leave out Schauer’s property. The field was annexed by the city as part of a redevelopment zone under a Nebraska law that allows small towns and villages to acquire outlying land through “remote annexation.”
The Schauer family still doesn’t know why the field was declared blighted – and it’s worried that the designation could spell trouble. Could their land be taken if another new factory wanted to locate in the area?
“I think it’s wrong that government can take private property and turn it over to private enterprise,” said State Sen. Tom Baker of Trenton.
Government already offers plenty of help – including grants and tax breaks – to business to encourage development, said State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine. “Does government have to give away the farm, too?”

Read the full story at:
REED, LESLIE. “‘Blight’ label raises concerns.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Saturday, January 21, 2006): A1 & A2.

Rockefeller’s Money Conserved Land

The limestone buttes, granite steppes and near-permanent icecap that make up the urban expanse known as Rockefeller Center constitute the best-known landscape connected to the famous family’s name.
But those 12 acres in Midtown Manhattan are far from the only vista that owes its existence to Rockefeller philanthropy.
Over the last century, five generations of Rockefellers have used the family wealth to reshape the American horizon, creating a magnificent panorama of open spaces and more than 20 national parks from the rocky coast of Maine to the icecapped mountains of Wyoming.
These natural oases are not always linked to the Rockefeller name, but tonight they will be. As part of the yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, the National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s largest and oldest conservation organizations, is honoring the family for a record of conservation that matches the society’s century-long existence.
”Cumulatively, no other family in America has made the contribution to conservation that the Rockefeller family has made,” said John Flicker, the society’s president.
The towering Palisades that guard the west bank of the Hudson River were preserved with Rockefeller money. So was Colonial Williamsburg. The family created exquisite miniatures like Greenacre Park, tucked between two buildings on East 51st Street in Manhattan, and it donated 35,000 acres to help form Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Part of the family’s Pocantico estate in Westchester County has become a beloved forest preserve, and an educational center known as the Stone Barns.
The Cloisters, Acadia National Park, Forest Hill Park, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy — the list of the family’s efforts to conserve and protect the environment goes on and on.
. . .
Many of the family’s most spectacular conservation efforts began with a family camping trip. ”As Father traveled, if he saw things that needed to be done, he took steps and did something about them,” David Rockefeller said.
He recalls accompanying his father to California in the 1920’s to see the giant redwood trees. When the elder Rockefeller found out that the trees were in danger of being clear-cut by a timber company, he helped buy 9,400 acres that he then donated to the state. That grove of ancient redwoods, including one that is more than 2,000 years old, is considered the largest old-growth redwood forest in the world.
. . .
More than 30 members of the Rockefeller family — ranging in age from 17 to 90 — will be honored by the Audubon Society at tonight’s ceremony, each one involved with the environment. Most times, though, the support is low key and the family tries to shun the spotlight.
”The important part for us is not having our name on it,” said Gail O’Neill Caulkins, 52, a fifth-generation Rockefeller who is president of the Greenacre Foundation, which assists in the maintenance of city parks and supports dozens of community gardens, ”it’s seeing that something gets done.”

For the full story, see:
ANTHONY DEPALMA. “Praising Rockefellers for Land They Saved.” The New York Times (Tues., November 15, 2005): A25.
(The online version has a somewhat different title.)

Thanks to DDT Ban and Recycling: Bedbugs Are Back

Bedbug.jpg Image source: http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews/top/4_1_JO02_BEDBUGS_S1.htm

(p. 1) . . . bedbugs, stealthy and fast-moving nocturnal creatures that were all but eradicated by DDT after World War II, have recently been found in hospital maternity wards, private schools and even a plastic surgeon’s waiting room.
Bedbugs are back and spreading through New York City like a swarm of locusts on a lush field of wheat.
. . .
In the bedbug resurgence, entomologists and exterminators blame increased immigration from the developing world, the advent of cheap international travel and the recent banning of powerful pesticides. Other culprits include the recycled mattress industry and those thrifty New Yorkers who revel in the discovery of a free sofa on the sidewalk.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW JACOBS . “Just Try to Sleep Tight. The Bedbugs Are Back.” The New York Times Section 1 (Sun., November 27, 2005): 1 & 31.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Not All Foolish Laws Remain on the Books Forever

 

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – A mythical monster with a snake’s body and a dog’s head, believed by some to have lived for hundreds of years in the murky depths of Lake Storsjon, is now fair game for hunters, if they can find it. Authorities lifted a 19-year-old endangered species protection, saying that was hardly necessary for a creature whose existence is unproven.

 

Source: 

"Hunting of Snake-dog Permitted." The Omaha World-Herald (Saturday, November 12, 2005):