Why I Love Montana…

…in a few words and some pictures. It’s hard to describe the hold the country has on us, and how the beauty and majesty of the Rocky Mountains overwhelms a couple of Easterners.

From a local flyshop near Bozeman comes the April water update:

Gallatin River Fishing Report

Gallatin River Fishing Report River Photo

Fishing Conditions & Comments:
The Gallatin is starting to turn a little off color. Recent warm temperatures has caused come snow to melt. Even with the dirty water, the fishing has been productive. Stonefly nymphs trailed with a San Juan Worm or Pheasant Tail has worked well.

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Water:
Gallatin River Fishing Report
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Updated:
4/22/09

Stream Flow:
723 cfs @ Gallatin Gateway; 1,650 cfs @ Logan

River Conditions:
Starting to see signs of runoff

Hatches:
Midges, Baetis, Skwala

Dries:
Parachute Adams #16-#20, Adams Midge Cluster #16-#20, Harrop CDC Hanging Midge #18-#22, Harrop CDC Spent Midge #18-#22,Baetis CDC Emerger #16-#20, Hi-Vis Parachute BWO #14-#18, Para-Wulff BWO #16-#18, Baetis Quill Body Parachute #16-#20, Harrop BWO Last Chance Cripple #14-#18,

Nymphs:
Bubbleback BWO #14-#18, Mighty Mite Baetis #16-#18, BH Baetis Nymph #16-#20, Beerhead Baetis #14-#18, Black or Red Copper Johns #16-#20, Pink Lightning Bug #14-#16, Pink Squirrel #14-#16, Brown & Tan Rubber Legs #8, Olive, Golden and Black Double Bead Stones #6-#10, Poxy Biot Golden Stone #8-#12, Mega Prince #10, B.H. Black Beauty #18, Red Zebra Midge #16-#18, Pink or Red San Juan Worms #12.

 

Ethics in the Age of Narcissism

Something’s not right in the affairs of Men. Something has gone wrong. The stirrings of unease, doubt, and uncertainty pinch painfully at the edge of my consciousness. We don’t seem to be the kind of people we once were. Something is missing.

Today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription, alas, required) contains a piece written by John Bogle of the Vanguard Group of Mutual Funds, titled "A Crisis of Ethic Proportions".  Known as a man of honor and character, he reports his concern:

I recently received a letter from a Vanguard shareholder who described the global financial crisis as "a crisis of ethic proportions." Substituting "ethic" for "epic" is a fine turn of phrase, and it accurately places a heavy responsibility for the meltdown on a broad deterioration in traditional ethical standards.

Commerce, business and finance have hardly been exempt from this trend. Relying on Adam Smith’s "invisible hand," through which our self-interest advances the interests of society, we have depended on the marketplace and competition to create prosperity and well-being.

But self-interest got out of hand. It created a bottom-line society in which success is measured in monetary terms. Dollars became the coin of the new realm. Unchecked market forces overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries.

The result is a shift from moral absolutism to moral relativism. We’ve moved from a society in which "there are some things that one simply does not do" to one in which "if everyone else is doing it, I can too." Business ethics and professional standards were lost in the shuffle.

The driving force of any profession includes not only the special knowledge, skills and standards that it demands, but the duty to serve responsibly, selflessly and wisely, and to establish an inherently ethical relationship between professionals and society. The old notion of trusting and being trusted — which once was not only the accepted standard of business conduct but the key to success — came to be seen as a quaint relic of an era long gone…

Adam Smith presciently described the characteristics of today’s corporate and institutional managers (many of whom are themselves controlled by giant financial conglomerates) with these words: "[M]anagers of other people’s money [rarely] watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which . . . [they] watch over their own . . . they . . . very easily give themselves a dispensation. Negligence and profusion must always prevail."

The malfeasance and misjudgments by our corporate, financial and government leaders, declining ethical standards, and the failure of our new agency society reflect a failure of capitalism. Free-market champion and former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan shares my view. That failure, he said in testimony to Congress last October, "was a flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works." As one journalist observed, "that’s a hell of a big thing to find a flaw in."

Even more disturbing than the breakdown in the standards of ethical behavior is the nearly total unwillingness on the part of the actors to respond to their malfeasance in an honorable way. By that, I mean to say that these folks, having failed in their fiduciary and agency responsibilities, have not found it necessary to resign, apologize, or otherwise leave the scene of their crimes. This suggests that they either will not accept that their actions have been irresponsible, unethical, harmful to others or that the decisions they made while in positions of responsibility were wrong.

Which brings up the second part of this cri de coeur.

We have become a nation, maybe even a world, of narcissists. Here is a working definition from Psychology Today:

An individual with narcissistic personality disorder exhibits extreme self-importance, inability to empathize with others and heightened sensitivity to criticism. Self-involvement and lack of empathy characterize this personality disorder.

People with narcissistic personality disorder are frequently perfectionists and need to be the center of attention, receiving affection and admiration, and controlling the situation. To get the attention he craves, he may try to create crises that return the focus to him. Like patients with antisocial personality disorder, this person places entitlement issues at the fore. He feels that the world owes him, regardless of whether he makes a contribution.

There are too many examples of narcissism experienced in our daily lives, from rude customers to selfish parking to needless, specious litigation to expectations of special treatment. This sad state of affairs is so pervasive that common acts of decency or kindness are now deemed worthy or reportage, as if their occurrence is so unusual as to be newsworthy. No wonder that narcissism is the subject of best selling books. From a review of  "The Narcissism Epidemic", currently available from Amazon and other bookstores,

Narcissism — a very positive and inflated view of the self — is everywhere. It’s what you have if you’re a politician and you’ve strayed from your wife, and it’s why five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures today than did just ten years ago. It’s the value that parents teach their children with song lyrics like "I am special. Look at me," the skill teenagers and young adults obsessively hone on Facebook and MySpace, and the reason high school students physically beat classmates and then broadcast their violence on YouTube for all to see. It’s the message preached by prosperity gospel and the vacuous ethos spread by celebrity newsmakers. And it’s what’s making people depressed, lonely, and buried under piles of debt.

The big question is whether or not the awareness of our ethical/moral crisis is enough to defeat this behavior. Because it is our own awareness that will motivate self-behavior; the institutions that formerly provided such guidance have, for the most part, disappeared. There aren’t any more guardrails. Or will we, like great civilizations of the past, simply slowly disappear into an ever increasing fog of self-absorbed, selfish self-delusion?

 Perhaps an organic revival of moral and ethical behavior is the only thing standing between us and the disappearance of our culture. It is obvious that looking for leadership from our politicians, business leaders, celebrities, and sports "heroes" will not get this train back on track. There is, in essence, no standard of leadership.

Let me suggest that we start with ourselves, and that we let these words inform the principles by which we ought to live:

You are bound by what you think he thinks you mean. In that simple but searching formula, there is not hiding place for deceit or dissimulation

Know what I mean?

The Fork in the Road

"Life is all about choices" – Wise Old Man

"When you get to a fork in the road, take it" – Wise Old Baseball Manager

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

But What If The Pirates Don’t Respect Our Legal System?

Multi-cultural. Nuanced. Consensus. In consultation with other countries. Searching for diplomatic solutions.

None of these high minded concepts have slowed the pirates of East Africa from continuing to board ships and hold crews for ransom. I think of it in the same way as the English privateers of the 16th century must have considered the heavily laden Spanish galleons; as a never-ending stream of opportunites to acquire wealth beyond the pale.

I mean, at the very basic human level, what motivates decision-making? Fear, greed? If the greed urge overcomes the fear urge, greed occurs; not until the fear urge assumes a greater role will decisions change.

Does the thought of spending 5 years in a federal prison in the United States, with shelter, television, regular meals, and great health care scare an East African pirate? Is any one of them willing to do a little hard time knowing that they will, soon enough, return to the beaches of Somalia and loll about with their share of the millions of dollars earned from ransom payments?

But don’t worry, folks. The FBI and the Department of Justice (late of the Stevens case) are ready to investigate and prosecute. I’m sure those East African pirates are shaking in their dashikis.

PowerLine lends a little perspective…..

The FBI is preparing criminal charges against the Somalian pirates. This is reassuring too: "[O]ur Justice Department has said that it would favorably consider prosecuting such apprehended pirates." That’s kind of them.

Of course, there is ample precedent for such criminal prosecutions. When Jefferson dispatched the Navy to the Mediterranean to stop Muslim pirates from enslaving Americans and others, he told them to make sure to bring the pirates back alive so they could stand trial. And above all, he instructed the Navy not to step foot on the Shores of Tripoli without a search warrant.

This is what happens, I suppose, when you have lawyers running everything. National defense becomes just another type of litigation. Let’s hope this isn’t a harbinger of the Obama administration’s approach to the problem of piracy.

UPDATE: Negotiations with the pirates reportedly have broken down, and the FBI is treating the hijacked ship, the Maersk Alabama, as a "crime scene." That’s what they did with the Arizona, right?

This is getting ridiculous…….

UPDATE: Well done, Navy SEALs!!!

Further Update: This Somalian gentlemen does NOT seem to be suggesting that there might be a discovery process, depositions, indictments, negotiations, and the possibility of indictments should another US citizen fall into their hands.

One pirate named Ali, in Galkaiyo, Somalia, said the American Navy rescue won’t discourage other Somali pirate groups at all.

“As long as there is no just government in Somalia, we will still be the coast guard,” he said, adding: “If we get an American, we will take revenge.”

We’ve been warned.

Repaving the Information Highway (My Lane, Anyway)

This blog has been around since February, 2006. It happened that the local paper wrote an article about some local folks that had started to blog. Providentially, the bloggers mentioned happened to be writing about topics that caught our attention; the links opened the door to the blogosphere. Fumbling with bookmarks, and laboriously working through the sites, a whole new experience unfolded. It looked like this was SOMETHING WE COULD DO!

And so it began. Xarker was the guru and community organizer that encouraged us to begin to blog. And we did.

Typepad provided the infrastructure, and showed how easy it was to create (with a lot of help in the background) a smart-looking site to serve as the binding for the words that would spring from our fertile minds and agile fingers.

For a time that was enough. But after a few years, and visits to lots of other sites, we developed an eye for certain things, and like an amateur painter, longed for the site to share some resemblance to our role models. And then came classes in XHTML and CSS, and the knowledge of FTP, and hosting. Then we understood: for the same, small monthly fee paid to Typepad for the infrastructure, we could find a hosting service that would provide us with our own outlet to the blogosphere. And, even better, WordPress would let us have, for free, any one of their thousands of templates. Which we could tinker with, or break, to our heart’s content, using our recently acquired HTML/CSS skills.

So we moved the site and changed its appearance. And we have tinkered a little bit every day (or night) ever since. Some changes lasted for only as long as it took to update and then remove. Others created catastrophic metamorphoses reversed with the help of experts. Others were good, but invisible to our loyal reader(s).

But the march continues. We’ve tried to include artful images with our posts; learning to find, manage, and insert images would be the subject of a post by itself. YouTube, on the other hand, makes it ridiculously easy to insert their material. A recent post had a bit of flash that renders a dynamic image…..who knew?

A new addition to the sidebar is the link to Calais.com. If you believe the future of the web is the semantic web, as we do, then you should know about people like Calais. Every post on this site is scanned by Calais and used to help them develop the next step:

We want to make all the world’s content more accessible, interoperable and valuable. Some call it Web 2.0, Web 3.0, the Semantic Web or the Giant Global Graph – we call our piece of it Calais.

The Calais Web Service automatically creates rich semantic metadata for the content you submit – in well under a second. Using natural language processing, machine learning and other methods, Calais analyzes your document and finds the entities within it. But, Calais goes well beyond classic entity identification and returns the facts and events hidden within your text as well.

If you’re a blogger, do your bit and consider letting Calais use your posts to build the foundation of the semantic web.

And today, the latest modification. But first, some background. One of the greatest Christmas presents ever was the iPod Nano we received a few years ago. Then XMRadio found its way into our cars. All of a sudden, we could listen to music anywhere. And we could buy songs! I know, the kids (and plenty of boomers) have been on this train for a long time. Call us a convert. But once converted, it wasn’t long before Pandora and RadioParadise were staples of the desktop and muted companions for the long evenings of study. Long dormant senses were revived, and music has become a larger presence in our life. The question became one of finding a way to extend the pleasure of our musical adventure to our visitors. The solution was……

LastFM provides a wonderful widget for WordPress. If we give LastFM a list of our favorite artists, they will create a library of songs. Even better, they will provide the code so that we can provide a connection for our reader(s) to the kind of music that we like. At no cost!

So, please notice the LastFM logo in the sidebar. Take a minute to listen to a song or two, and if you like the music, or have a suggestion, pass it on to us. And stay tuned for the next iteration of the never-finished and always-under-construction website of the Agricoli.

 

#bridgerun

Arose Saturday morning prepared to participate in the annual running of the Charleston Bridgerun via television and internet. To our dismay, the live, televised version of the race was not to be found on our local channels. In a way, that’s understandable given the cost of producing a live tv event in the current harsh economic climate.

But what’s not understandable is the lack of live race action via the internet. Where is the live site, with individual racer’s positions, webcams, and course updates?

Fortunately for we sofa-bound many, there’s twitter. With the hashtag #bridgerun, at least we can get updates from those amazing souls who can run and tweet and capture twitpics at the same time. In fact, the great photo above comes from @tracep, who graciously uploaded the shot to twitter.

But really, in this time of unparalleled web-based communication, why isn’t the race more technologically savvy?

Sodium and Potassium

Sensation is an abstraction, not a replication of reality – Santiago Ramon y Cajal

"Every thought, every feeling, every sensation ever experienced by any animal on this planet is the result of sodium entering a cell and potassium leaving the cell…" paraphrased from my notes as spoken by our Biology professor.

Above (Na+/K+-ATPase – aka the Sodium-Potassium Pump)

The path of learning, as we move deeper into the study of biology, has taken us from molecules and the electro-chemical gradient, to cells, tissue, and organs, to plants, and now to animals. The single most important major evolutionary event, for us,  has been the development of the nervous system and the brain. Even at the most fundamental level, understanding how the brain works requires grasping the relationship between electrical and chemical signals. Which, at the end of a long, complicated journey, means understanding the relationship between sodium and potassium.

And, since the development of life is the result of evolution over billions of years, it is not surprising to learn that our dear friends and key chemicals sodium and potassium are found in every process that defines life.

Along the way, it’s become increasingly clear that the same model used to design and operate the most minute molecule has also been used to design and operate every other component of our being, from cells to the higher level organisms of plants and animals. We are simple things, made complex by evolution and size, until the complexity conceals the simple nature of the thing. The fractal (shown below, courtesy of wikipedia) is a good metaphor for this model.

 

If I may grossly over-simplify the concept, every aspect of life requires energy and the ability to communicate. Nature has provided the sodium potassium pump as the agent for both needs. Once again, wikipedia explains:

Membrane potential (or transmembrane potential), is the voltage difference (or electrical potential difference) between the interior and exterior of a cell. Because the fluid inside and outside a cell is highly conductive, whereas a cell’s plasma membrane is highly resistive, the voltage change in moving from a point outside to a point inside occurs largely within the narrow width of the membrane itself. Therefore, it is common to speak of the membrane potential as the voltage across the membrane.

The plasma membrane surrounds the cell to provide a stable environment for biological processes. The membrane potential arises from the action of ion channels, ion pumps, and ion transporters embedded in the membrane which maintain different ion concentrations inside and outside the cell. The term "membrane potential" is sometimes used interchangeably with cell potential but is applicable to any lipid bilayer or membrane.

And how are the differences on either side of the membrane managed? By the sodium-potassium pump, of course…..

Active transport is responsible for the well-established observation that cells contain relatively high concentrations of potassium ions but low concentrations of sodium ions. The mechanism responsible for this is the sodium-potassium pump which moves these two ions in opposite directions across the plasma membrane. This was investigated by following the passage of radioactively labeled ions across the plasma membrane of certain ones. It was found that the concentrations of sodium and potassium ions on the two other sides of the membrane are interdependent, suggesting that the same carrier transports both ions. It is now known that the carrier is an ATP-ase and that it pumps three sodium ions out of the cell for every two potassium ions pumped in.

The sodium-potassium pump was discovered in the 1950’s by a Danish scientist, Jens Skou, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1997. It marked an important step forward in our understanding of how ions get into and out of cells, and it has a particular significance for excitable cells such as nervous cells, which depend on it for responding to stimuli and transmitting impulses.

Of course it’s much more complex than my simple phrases, mixed with some pseudo-authority from wikipedia, can possibly explain. But this new student of biology cannot help but read and learn with gobsmacked awe as the (and there’s no other word for it) miracle of evolution and life are explained to him. Simplicity, a successful pattern replicated again and again over time and frequency to build from the atomic to the human level.

All because of sodium and potassium.

Using the Constitution When It Suits

It’s safe to say that Jim Clyburn is not very happy with Governor Sanford and those that support the governor’s position on the stimulus funds. In fact, sometimes, it sounds like Mr. Clyburn is pretty damn mad that he cannot reach down into his carefully drawn district and make things happen the way he would like for them to happen. In that respect, to be fair, he’s not really much different from most of the elected-for-life politicians that inhabit Washington. Sometimes, it seems that personal relationships are more important that principal principle. And sometimes, politicians get a bit confused on which principles they stand on.

Here’s Rep. Clyburn, discussing the governor’s position, as quoted in a post from the Palmetto Scoop:

Whether or not you agree with Gov. Mark Sanford’s staunch opposition to accepting $700 million in federal stimulus money, this one thing is for certain: It has a lot of people on both sides of the issue angry.

Congressman James Clyburn — who has a propensity to “Hulk out” — was chief among those who has recently expressed outrage. Clyburn’s anger stemmed from the belief that Sanford’s rejecting the stimulus funds would result in up to 4,000 public school teachers losing their jobs.

Only, Clyburn’s directed the bulk of his rage at Attorney General Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Over the last several weeks and without even going to court—the proper venue to determine constitutionality of federal laws—[McMaster, Sanford and Graham] have gone out of their way to ensure that South Carolina continues its long history of providing a minimally adequate education,” Clyburn said, referring to measures by McMaster and Graham to clarify who, exactly, controls the discretionary money.

Got that? The federal courts are the proper place to determine the constitutionality of federal laws. Very reasonable position, in my humble opinion.

But then there is the issue of the legislation proposing statehood for the District of Columbia.  Rep. Clyburn has long been a supporter of statehood for the District despite the fact that the constituionality (there’s that word again) of the legislation is extremely doubtful. The Justice Department, over the past 40 years and several presidents, has cautioned that the proposed legislation will not pass muster in the courts. No matter. Observe in this report from PowerLine the willful disregard of the Constituion:

The Washington Post reported this morning that Attorney General Holder has rejected the legal opinion of the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that the D.C. voting rights bill pending in Congress is unconstitutional. As Ed Whelan explains, the new OLC–led by deputies selected and appointed by the Obama Administration–reached the same conclusion that the OLC has since the early 1960s (according to Ed), namely that the bill is unconstitutional.

Unhappy with that answer, Holder turned to the Solicitor General’s office to ask whether it "could defend the legislation if it were challenged after its enactment." Holder wasn’t asking the SG’s office whether the bill was constitutional, but rather whether a non-frivolous argument could be made in defense of its constitutionality. The SG’s office said one could be made.

But Holder is sworn to uphold the Constitution. One might have hoped that he would interpret this duty to mean taking positions consistent with office charged with making that determination for the Department (the OLC), an office that he testified "has probably the best lawyers in the Department." Alternatively, one might have hoped that, if Holder rejected the view of that office, he would do so based on sound advice that the bill in question is constitutional. Instead, as noted, he reversed the OLC based only on advice that a contrary view of the Constitution is not frivolous.

A lawyer representing an ordinary client is free, and may in some cases be obligated, to take weak but non-frivolous legal positions to promote a client’s interests. But the United States is not an ordinary client. And the Department of Justice should be what its name says, not the Department of Promoting the Political Goals of the President. As Andy McCarthy puts it, " the Justice Department is supposed to take the most legally sound position, not any position preferred by the president that may pass the laugh-test."

One does not expect to hear Rep. Clyburn demand, in the context of DC statehood, and with the words he used so powerfully when attacking Gov. Sanford and the state Attorney General, to wit: "… without even going to court—the proper venue to determine constitutionality of federal laws…" that the Congress of the United States follow the law of the land when acting in pursuit of their political goals.

Sadly, the pursuit of power trumps principle every time……