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After a long trip to West Texas I am well rested and back in Houston. We spent six days driving around in the vast expanse that is Big Bend Country and checking out the small towns along the way.

Over the next few days I will be posting pictures from the trip and some different thoughts on dying towns and what happens when pretentious ideas overcome an area.

  • It Was 20 Years Ago Today: The Web – It has already been 20 years since Tim Berners-Lee authored his paper on Information Management for CERN and started the ball rolling developing what is now the internet.
  • Michelle Obama’s Message – Eat Fresh Food – I mentioned this idea in a post about grocery shopping and while it is not a new idea, I am glad that the First Lady is making it a publicly visible issue.
  • Skeptics Dispute Climate Worries and Each Other – Just because the climate change crowd appears to be on the same page does not make them right. It seems that dissension is only welcome when it is dissension that matches up with the beliefs of the other guy. Since the disagreements here are among the climate change skeptics, they must be wrong. Give me a break.
  • The President Lays Out His Education Ideas – He calls for merit pay, longer school years and hours, and getting kids into better schools. At the same time, his budget bill has all but completely killed the Washington Scholarship Fund. “The earmarks can stay, but what’s this scholarship thing for underprivileged kids? Get rid of that”
  • Naughty and Not So Nice: Celebrity Chefs in Firing Line (from Jessica) – Celebrity chefs are getting into hot water because their recipes contain high amounts of fat.
  • Google Voice is Launched – Google has launched Google Voice, their follow-up to GrandCentral. It allows you to use a single number for your land line, cell phone, and work and get voicemail online.
  • Geithner, With Few Aides, Is Scrambling – The Treasury Secretary and the aides as a whole are having trouble keeping up with all of the things they a promising and trying to deliver.

This week’s links are a real hodgepodge of different stories.

  • Marine F/A-18 Pilot Had Chance to Land Before Crash – A disturbing article on the F/A-18 that crashed near San Diego, California and killed four members of a family. The investigation has revealed that the pilot had a chance to land the aircraft before the crash but continued on to Miramar. There is no reason he should not have landed.
  • Hot Doug’s in Chicago, IL – I bookmarked this so I would remember to visit when we are there in April. The Duck Fat Fries sound amazing.
  • Why the Kiddie Food Movement has got to go – I think it is great that kids are involved in cooking and reviewing food but the author is spot on in noting that children do not have refined palettes. The appreciation of food flavors can take place when one is young but the body has not fully developed taste buds or the brain power to understand depth in food.
  • Let’s Get Real About Renewable Energy – Robert Bryce takes a closer look at hydrocarbons and energy consumption in the U.S. He comes to the conclusion that simply moving to renewable energy is not something that is attainable in the short term.
  • Burying Power Lines Proves Costly as Hurricane Protection – This has been a heavily debated topic in Houston and other Gulf Coast areas. I knew that burying power lines was expensive but I did not realize it was this expensive. To bury the lines in Houston, it would cost $28 billion. The damage caused to the grid in the last ten years by tropical weather has only been $1.8 billion. Sure, they should bury some lines that are necessary to keep large portions of the city with power, but overall, leave them overhead, I’ve dealt with no power for two weeks, I can do it again.

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Wal-Mart in Dallas, originally uploaded by Stephan Segraves.

I believe I have asked this question before but the point needs to be raised again. The economy is in the toilet and people and businesses are suffering, but does the fact that some of these companies were created out of bad habits mean that they deserve to fail? If a company is losing money is it not the company’s responsibility to change that fact? Sure, there are arguments out there that claim the government should step in, which it has in some cases, but my thesis is more focused on companies that have come to fruition out of our seemingly incessant need for “stuff”.

Looking at some examples is probably the best way to make the issue clear. Wal-Mart is a great example. They have built a business out of a false need for all kinds of, what some people would call, junk, and not just any old junk, cheap junk. Sure, they stock produce, meat, electronics, and other useful items but there are whole rows of consumer demanded garbage. If Wal-Mart is concerned with surviving through the economy, would not the smart thing to do be getting rid of waste? It seems obvious but for some reason it is not a priority.

Part of this is consumer habits, we are a nation of junk consumers. I’m guilty and I am pretty sure you are too. The difference between now and 20 years ago is that now we want our junk at a lower price, even if it means cutting jobs here. Maybe our culture needs to think back to 1950s lifestyle and look at pictures from era Life and Time magazines, home and work life were simpler. And what is wrong with that? The struggle is digging ourselves out of hole when the mentality is, “why get out, we’re already here”.

What if U.S. culture moved back from the mega-store to the local store, from the Lowe’s to the local hardware store? What if Target and Wal-Mart downsized and stopped carrying junk? For one thing, the green movement would rejoice in the street for weeks, but there would also be some semblance of simplicity. Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting a stop in consumption, I am advocating consuming differently, focusing on what’s important, and reversing a trend that has been ingrained in our minds by culture. I think it will help the economy in the long run and I think people will flourish from it. The flip side is that companies who cannot adjust to the change in consumption behavior can and will fail, and maybe they should.

The notion of quantity over quality has been a growing phenomena, with pockets of resistance everywhere, but for the everyday Joe, it’s life. It is time to focus a little more on quality, even if it means cutting consumption somewhere else, because such behavior would stimulate growth in small businesses that specialize in quality products. Simplicity and quality, I do not see the negative. Do you?