Saturday, May 7, 2016

Kentucky Derby Predictions

The Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown in horse racing, will be run later this afternoon. As a hockey fan I really should be pulling for the favorite, Nyquist, who is named after the current Detroit Red Wings right winger, but there's not much money to be made on a 3-1 favorite. So, for those of you who are looking for a little more bang for your buck, here's something to take a flyer on.  In this political year, there is no way to pass up Exaggerator, currently at 8-1, and box that with Destin, currently at 15-1. Now, you may say Exaggerator is easy to understand, but why Destin - well, it's only one "y" away from Destiny, of course.  With that scientific analysis, I will leave you to enjoy a few mint juleps and the Run for the Roses. The betting window is open!

Natural Weekends

Another new neighbor has been coming around over the last few days.  Red foxes are quite common here in Connecticut - this one was probably out for an early morning hunt. Although they typically do not go after cats unless they feel their den is threatened, it certainly does happen. Typically, they prefer mice, rats, and rabbits but are omnivores who will eat fruits, nuts, and other vegetation.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bridgeport Upgrades Supported by Sen. Murphy

It is good to see Senator Murphy is on-board for upgrading the transportation infrastructure in and around Bridgeport, including widening I-95, support for the new East End Metro North station, and upgrades to the Waterbury line. As all these projects will probably require significant federal funding and nicely dovetail with Governor Malloy's long-term transportation strategy, it is important to have the support of the Senator. Yes, I know these are huge projects and we really don't know how many of them will actually get completed, but the biggest part of the process is to simply get the ball rolling.

Trump Wants To Use His Bankruptcy Experience For US Debt

Apparently Donald Trump wants to bring his rather vast experience with bankruptcy restructuring to our national government. In an interview with CNBC, Trump said he would "make a deal" regarding the full payment of our national debt. The implication of that statement is that the United States would technically default on its debt. Now there may be some members of the Tea Party who would be comfortable with this, but most people recognize how important the "full faith and credit" of the United States Government is. The liquidity and stability of US Treasury securities still grease the wheels of the global economy and, as we saw in 2011, any inkling, no matter how remote, that we will not stand behind our debt can raise our borrowing costs significantly. I'm pretty sure that Wall Street will not take kindly to this kind of talk - let's just hope that they don't write it off as Trump being Trump. At some point, there has to be some accountability for the things he says.

Another Decent Employment Report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly employment data for April and the results were, for lack of a better word, OK.  The net gain of 160,000 jobs was below the consensus estimate of around 200,000 and the prior two months numbers were revised down by a total of 19,000. The good news is that average hourly income increased by 8 cents, continuing an upward trend. All in all, a decent report but one that is hopefully not good enough to convince the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in June, as there is certainly no sign of an overheating economy in these numbers.

NYC Passes Bag Bill

Yesterday, the New York City Council passed a bill that would require certain business to collect a 5 cent fee on any carry-out bag, whether plastic or paper.  Opponents of the bill point out that it is highly regressive, hitting our poorest citizens the hardest. But, in San Jose, California, plastic bag litter in the city's storm drains were reduced by 89% after passing a similar bill; in Ireland bag use fell by 94%; and, in China, plastic bag use was reduced by about 40 billion (yes, billion with a "b") bags per year.  New Yorkers discard over 9 billion bags per year and, despite labels which may say something similar to "biodegradable", most bags do not decompose or compost. And relatively few bags are ever recycled.

The driving force behind the passage of bag bills here in the United States is just one woman - Jennie Romer. After a successful effort to pass an anti-bag ordinance in Los Angeles in 2012, Ms. Romer turned her sights to New York City. She moved here four years ago with the express intent of getting New York City to do what it did yesterday - pass a bill requiring a fee for carry-out bags.  You can read this profile of Ms. Romer and her battles against the plastics industry in the May 2, 2016 edition of the New Yorker. It is a remarkable story of how a single individual truly can make a difference.

The Myth About Raising Living Standards

Jeez, I really do hate to keep on harping on Evan Thomas' piece in the NYT, but another one of his statements just needs to be expanded upon. To quote, "They expanded trade, deepened alliances and underwrote billions in foreign aid. None of this was cheap, but they understood — as Mr. Trump seems not to — that the global stability bought with such efforts is worth far more."  There is a subtle implication that the improvements in the quality of life for poorer countries around the world was worth some of the sacrifices that American workers were forced to make. This implication is made even more explicitly in Roger Cohen's opinion piece in the Times where he says, "In the developing world, the past two decades have seen hundreds of millions of people emerge from abject poverty and join the “consuming class.” Many of these new consumers now have access to education, health services and opportunity. That’s a huge gain for humanity. The problem is the rise of the rest — with its accompanying transfer of jobs, investment and optimism from places like Ohio or Alsace-Lorraine to places like Vietnam or Indonesia – has created a bitter class made up of the losers in this global shift." Thankfully, he at least goes on to say that this trend cannot continue without leading to some sort of social breakdown.

But the fact of the matter is, there did not have to be these classes of winners and losers. And the fact that the losers were working class as opposed to white collar was and is due to very deliberate policies. Dean Baker, in a stinging rebuke to Cohen's column, points out that the way things are supposed to work is that rich countries provide the capital to poorer countries at higher rates of return that they would get domestically in order to help those poorer countries develop the infrastructure to improve the livelihoods of their citizens. This, then, implies that the rich countries would be running a trade surplus with the poorer countries. As Baker points out, this was what was happening up until the East Asian financial crisis of 1997.  In response to that crisis, poorer countries decided to hoard massive amounts of reserves and, in order to accomplish that, started to run huge trade surpluses with the West, primarily through the export of cheap manufactured goods which, of course, led to increasing unemployment for those manufacturing workers in the developed world, completely reversing the traditional balance of trade. The trade deals in this period provided plenty of external competition for domestic manufacturing, but, at the same time, increased patent and copyright protections for domestic pharmaceutical and technology companies and did nothing to break the licensing requirements that protect lawyers, doctors, and other professionals from competition with qualified overseas candidates. One class was protected; the other was not.

There is a myth that it was inevitable that the working class in the developed world would have to suffer somewhat so that the living standards in the developing world could improve - what Kevin O'Rourke calls the Davos Lie. But there was nothing inevitable about that - it was a conscious choice.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cinco de Mayo - I Never Knew...

Today being May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, I thought I'd read up on the exact history of what I assumed was an important date in Mexican history. I had always thought that this was Mexican Independence Day but that day is, in fact, September 16th - the day is known as Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores) and signals only the beginning of Mexico's fight for independence starting in 1810 when a priest in Dolores, Mexico called on his congregation to rise up against Spanish rule. Actual independence from Spain only came 11 years later after a decade of war.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory over the French, not the Spanish, in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, nearly 50 years after Mexican independence. The hero of  the battle, General Ignacio Zaragosa, was actually born in what is now Texas, another indication of the shared cultural history between Mexico and the US Southwest. And this Mexican victory actually had an impact in the outcome of the US Civil War as the French were supporters of the Confederacy. In fact, Cinco de Mayo is much bigger holiday here in the US than it actually is in Mexico where it is more of a minor holiday.  It's popularity today was largely driven by the alcohol and restaurant industry in an attempt to reach the growing Hispanic market in the 1980s and 1990s. You can read more about this holiday's interesting history here.

No More Forced Arbitration

It looks like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is going to ban the use of forced arbitration clauses when signing up for financial services and finally restore the customer's right to bring class-action lawsuits. As you might remember, Wall Street fought the creation of this agency tooth and nail when it was proposed and passed as part of Dodd-Frank, spending millions on lobbying and then making sure that Elizabeth Warren, who was the brainchild of the bureau, did not become its head. It seems outrageous that you have to sign away your legal rights when you do something as basic as open a bank account or sign up for a credit card. As the article points out, since consumers are unable to pool their resources and are required to fight their case on their own, most claims are eventually abandoned. And, even when cases get to arbitration the deck is stacked against the consumer as the companies get to choose the arbitrator! In a case study in California, credit card companies won in arbitration 95% of the time. Unfortunately, the new rule will not be retroactive to existing contracts and does not include other areas where forced arbitration clauses are used, such as home builder and even employment contracts. I see that Forbes has already called this rule a give-away to lawyers and, as their article further states, the battle against the agency's existence continues until this day in court. Knowing the power and tenacity of Wall Street and big business in general, I'm sure this fight will continue in the years ahead.

Astrophotography Adventure (cont'd) - First Try at DSO

Before I begin the continuation of this series, I should mention that I have only being using the HQ JPEG option on NightCapPro.  I figure since I don't totally have a handle on what I'm doing, using TIFF would pretty much be a waste. But I do plan to use that lossless format once I've got the hang of things.

Having had some success with the Moon and Jupiter, I thought it was time to try a long exposure photo with my set-up of iPhone with NightCapPro (NCP) and Starblast 4.5 inch telescope.  So, it was time to try to image a DSO and the easiest DSO out there is probably the Orion Nebula, M42. I used the High ISO Boost on NCP and pushed it as high as it would go. And I set the interval program set to 3 individual shots of 15 seconds each with a 2 second delay between shots. I believe I used the 10MM eyepiece and tracking was on.  The results were beyond my wildest hopes - here is one of those three exposures:

I took the three exposures and stacked them in Deep Sky Stacker and then did some simple processing with GIMP:

Probably a little over processed and I'm definitely picking up some light pollution and noise - perhaps bringing down the ISO just a little bit would help with both; but, all in all, I'm extremely pleased with this, considering there were only 3 exposures and this was the first attempt.

On another note, the recent issue of Astronomy magazine has an article that discusses one of the questions I've always had when looking at these fabulous pictures of deep sky objects in particular, with their colors and contrasts. The question is "is that real?"  Since most DSO's just look like faint fuzzies to the visual observer, how can we know that these pictures are truly representative.  Adam Block does a wonderful job of explaining (you'll have to subscribe to read the whole article) how these images come from instruments much more receptive and perceptive than the human senses and, as with so much of science, bring to life things that are unseen. To quote, "(T)he quantity of light is not enough to fire our eyes' color receptors and allow us to discern the light's hues...(W)e use cameras to detect the details and colors the universe displays...The pictures are not so much enhanced as our biological constraints are diminished." To put it another way, these photos are accurate representations of details are eyes are unable to perceive.

Hillary Must Tap Into the Bern

Donald Trump's victory in Indiana and the suspension of the campaigns of Cruz and Kasich in the last day and half have overshadowed the news that Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in Indiana. Even as some pundits worry about Bernie being unsupportive or possibly critical of Clinton during and after the convention and even with the knowledge of most of the voters that Clinton has sewn up that nomination, Sanders still manages to compete and surprisingly win some primaries. Clinton needs to speak to these Sanders voters and persuade them that she understands their concerns rather than ignoring the implications of this kind of loss and "moving into the general election" as she has done.  Many of her policies overlap with Sanders and the differences are only of a degree - minimum wage, education, climate change, income inequality, jobs, Citizens United, etc. She needs to take the remaining days before the primary season ends to pound this message home to Sanders' supporters - their issues are her issues. Yes, her coziness with Wall Street is a liability but she can show she understands that the financial sector needs to be scrutinized and well regulated.  With the Republican coalition seemingly breaking apart and an apparently weak general election opponent in Trump (but don't underestimate his appeal), Hillary has a chance to galvanize and unite the Democratic party and lead it to a big win in November, retaking the Senate and possibly making significant inroads in the House.  But those two results will be harder to achieve without having a great portion of Sanders' supporters on board. There will be plenty of time to focus on Trump - now is the time to bring the Sanders' supporters fully into the fold.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Smoot-Hawley and Austerity

One other quick note on Evan Thomas' piece in the NYT today which I commented on here - in it, he mentions the Smoot-Hawley tariffs imposed by Congress as being a misguided populist policy that contributed to the Great Depression. And there is no doubt that those tariffs did contribute and extend the length of the depression.  But Smoot-Hawley was a reaction to the depression, not a cause of it.  The parallel to today's times is not Trump's talk of tariffs, but the move to austerity after the financial collapse that protected and continues to protect the asset holders over the general populace. Austerity has prolonged and, in Europe at least, deepened the recession and it is a policy that was adopted and is supported primarily by the elite establishment.

Bridgeport May Defer Pension Payments

It looks like Bridgeport might get some financial relief from the state in the form of deferred payments to the municipal pension plan. This will be a big help to Bridgeport as it struggles to get its fiscal house in order, with the town currently facing a $20 million deficit, and a win for Mayor Joe Ganim.  Sadly, the underfunding of state and local pensions is a constant problem in these days of low interest rates; and in underfunded pensions in the private sector all too often things do not end well for the pensioners.

Kasich To Drop Out?

It looks like John Kasich is about to give in to the reality show called Donald Trump with an announcement back in Ohio at 5pm today, presumably to drop out of the race. With that, the capitulation of the Republican establishment to Trump's inevitability will be total.

Elites Under Pressure

It seems that the Trump candidacy is certainly striking fear in the hearts of the elites these days. First, there was Andrew Sullivan's piece about the breakdown of elite structures that used to moderate the passions of the people - (you can read my response here). And now we have my good friend Evan Thomas writing about the need for a foreign policy elite in a New York Times op-ed today. Of course, Evan's examples of the steady hand of the elite foreign policy establishment don't exactly fill you with confidence, as he sometimes grudgingly admits. Under Eishenower, John Foster Dulles, along with his brother Allen at the CIA, architected the interference in domestic affairs in countries around the world with repercussions that still haunt us - Iran, for example. And, as Thomas notes, the responsibility for the disaster in Vietnam lies with McNamara, Rostow, and Kissinger. Kissinger, in fact, is the poster boy for the hubris and failures of the elite foreign policy establishment.

Now, don't get me wrong, Trump's candidacy and its success certainly is something we should fear. And, at the same time, we should not underestimate the potency of some of the issues he raises. Of course, it is hard to call Trump's sometimes contradictory statements an actual "foreign policy", but the twin pillars of his message is that free trade has hurt the US and that other countries that live under the umbrella of US military protection should pay their fair share. There has always been a strong streak of isolationism in the American psyche and candidates on either side of the political spectrum have run with a similar message of getting our allies to share the burden.  And, just a few pages later in the Times, we find an article describing how the global steel industry is under pressure due to alleged dumping by steel manufacturers in China, costing jobs in Britain and elsewhere. Whether this dumping is legal or not under the terms of the WTO, the jobs are lost regardless.

Elites need to make an intelligent and persuasive case against Trump's demagoguery.  We need to know why engagement with the rest of the world actually makes us safer, even if it may be more costly. And we definitely need to know how our livelihoods are going to be protected from the vagaries of globalization over which we have no control. Simply saying that "we know better" just plays into Trump's strong hand.

Equal Rights Always Sends Conservatives to the Restroom

Hat tip to Nancy LeTourneau for pointing out that, whenever there is an equal rights fight, conservatives always seem to worry about what happens in the bathroom. It seems that every group that fights for equal rights must at some point confront the apocalyptic dangers that might occur when "they" use the restroom - perhaps it is a signpost that their movement for equality is gaining traction. "Separate but equal" most definitely applied to bathrooms - and it applied to Mexican-Americans as well as African Americans under Jim Crow, although, apparently, some companies still haven't gotten the message about the passage of the Civil Rights Act. As LeTourneau also notes, back in the 1970s conservatives (falsely) complained that women would be forced to use the same bathroom as men if the Equal Rights Amendment became law. And now we have the latest wave of reactionary bathroom laws in response to the LGBT fight for equal rights. 'Twas ever thus...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trump Dominates...Ted Bails Out

Well, that didn't take long!  Indiana was immediately called for Trump as soon as the polls closed and now Ted Cruz has apparently suspended his campaign. I had originally stated that Carly would enjoy her few weeks in the limelight, but she barely got 7 days!  Now the question is how long it will take Ted to endorse the Donald...And how much longer for John Kasich?

Is Trump Really The Result of Too Much Democracy?

The blogosphere has been abuzz yesterday and today about Andrew Sullivan's article in New York magazine where he allows all his fears about Donald Trump to come to the fore, pointing to Socrates' statement in Plato's Republic that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy".  I urge you to read the piece in its entirety as I only touch on a handful of issues that he presents - it is truly grim reading.

While I reject his hypothesis that a demagogue like Trump arises from too much democracy, in the sense that the barriers that restrained the passions of the people have been torn down, and that elites are necessary to "provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself", I wholeheartedly agree with his analysis that the anger felt by the working class, as globalization destroyed their livelihoods and recent transformations in societal norms challenged their moral foundations, is the fuel that Trump's demagoguery feeds on. I'm less convinced that new media, what he calls "media democracy", is as responsible as he makes out for allowing someone like Trump to emerge - as Sullivan himself points out, we've seen these populist demagogues, such as Huey Long and George Wallace, in earlier eras as well. And I think his de-emphasis of money in politics, using as an example the failure of some well financed candidates such as Jeb Bush, misses the bigger point that the influence that is purchased with political money shapes the governing agendas of both parties, limiting action on policies that are either broadly popular or issues of concern with a vast majority of the electorate, further fueling voter anger with the system and the elites.

However, I think the most important issue that he basically ignores is that the present Republican Party has become a party that is seemingly incapable of governing, of making the compromises necessary to move forward.  They have had the same responses to virtually every issue for the last 40 years and those responses have proven to be ineffective in solving the problems they are supposed to address. And the supposed moderating influence of Senate Republicans is nowhere to be found as they are paralyzed and polarized by the fear of a primary challenge from the right. Therefore, it's not surprising that the elites in the party have been unable to stop Trump - they have lost all credibility with their own voters. And the other elite moderating institutions have also compromised their integrity with the voting public.  The anti-democratic Bush v. Gore, the seeming abandonment of principles to craft essentially political decisions, the angry tirades of the late Justice Scalia, all of these have helped erode the integrity of the Supreme Court. Additionally, the lack of any accountability by the legal system for the destruction of the American and world economies by the masters of the universe on Wall Street feeds the lack of faith in our traditional institutions. And Trump was and is only too happy to fill that void.

I do wholeheartedly agree with Sullivan that we dismiss Trump's chances in the general election at our own peril. He has avoided the continual expectation of his imminent implosion and has exceeded his pre-election polling numbers in the many of the Republican primaries. And Hillary has not shown herself to be an especially effective candidate, as her negatives seem to grow the more people see of her. Her inherent cautiousness and the fact that she is viewed as a classic symbol of the elite establishment will also be exploited by Trump. Additionally, like Sullivan, I am extremely anxious about what an external event like a terrorist attack could do to enhance the fear factor that a tyrant like Trump feeds on. I'm not sure our democracy could survive a Trump presidency - let's hope we don't have a chance to test that belief.

Uncollected Taxes Could Eliminate the Deficit

Last week, the IRS announced that their analysis of the period 2008-2010 showed there was on average an estimated $458 billion in annual uncollected taxes in that time frame, with about $400 billion coming from underreporting income.  Admittedly, this is only an estimate and there are reasons for the agency to overstate this number, in order to show more money is needed for enforcement, or understate it, in order to show they are doing a good job in collections. But it is worth noting that, if that amount of additional taxes had been collected, we would have been running an annual budget surplus in 2008 as we would have last year in 2015. Yes, I know everyone hates the IRS, but if you are interested in bringing down our national debt, (in which case I hope you have been reading my Reality Check series), you really should be supporting expanded efforts to collect all the taxes owed. After all, the individuals and corporations not paying their fair share are the real "takers" in our country.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Leicester City - A Most Improbable Champion

Leicester City has just won the English Premier League title, completing what is surely the most improbable season in sporting history - certainly in the history of English football.  Tottenham Hotspur could only draw 2-2 with their London arch rivals Chelsea, blowing a 2-0 halftime lead in one of the most thrilling, emotional, and vicious matches seen in a long time - the number of yellow cards given was somewhere in the mid-teens and the bad blood continued into the tunnel after the match. That draw meant that Leicester City clinched the EPL title.

Leicester was actually at the bottom of the league in mid-April of last year and were lucky to avoid relegation in order to remain in the Premier League this year. The London bookies put their preseason odds to win the title at 5000-1 - what a bet that would have been!! And yet, the team has been outstanding and consistent the entire season, losing only three games, even as the pundits kept on waiting for their certain collapse as the season went on.

Just an amazing victory!

Reality Check - Strategies for Reducing Our Debt-to-GDP ratio

Monday's Reality Check - a weekly presentation of facts and figures to help us all discuss important issues with some degree of understanding. Because, despite living in this post-modern, post-truth world, the fact remains that facts still remain.

Continuing our discussion of the federal debt and deficit, today we are going to look at some general strategies as to how we might reduce the annual deficit as well as the outstanding national debt.

As we noted earlier, the consensus of economists is that the level of debt compared to annual GDP should not exceed 60 or 70 percent under normal economic conditions. Currently, as of 2015, the US debt-to-GDP ratio was about 100%, although it should be noted that the economic conditions of the last 7 years have hardly been normal. And it should also be noted that this is not the first time the US debt-to-GDP ratio has been at levels like this - it was similar to current levels at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s and reached well over 120% by the end of World War II. So it is not like we haven't been here before in the wake of an enormous economic shock.

Most of us, when faced with a large debt that we are looking to reduce, would first address the issue by making sure that we stop adding to that debt, by eliminating our annual deficit.  And, for most of us who are actually spending more than we are making, the only option is to cut spending.  And that is clearly one of the options for eliminating the annual deficit, with the hope that we could get to an annual surplus that we could use to start paying down the debt. An earlier post broke down current spending, noting that 65% of spending goes to non-discretionary items such as Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. And, of the remaining 35% that is discretionary, the military budget accounts for nearly 55%. And, as we saw in the graph in the previous post, despite all the political posturing over the past 40 years, the level of spending has never fallen below 17.39% (in 2000) and hovered in the mid-18% range for the pre-recession years in the early 2000s.

So let's look at the other side of the equation  - federal revenues and their composition.  Unlike most of us who can hardly go in to the boss and demand a raise, the federal government can, in fact, increase revenue. The obvious method for doing this is to simply raise taxes and, in theory, that will raise more revenue. First, let's understand what the composition of federal tax receipts look like.  At present, almost 80% of federal tax revenue comes from the payroll and income tax. But it wasn't always this way:

Corporate income tax has shrunk substantially as a percentage of federal revenues over the last 60 years while payroll taxes have increasingly made up that difference. Somewhat surprisingly, income tax revenue of that period has remained pretty constant. But the composition of that income tax revenue has also changed enormously since the 1980s. The graph below shows the effective tax rates (this includes all revenue paid to the federal government by individuals) over the last 50 years:

As you can see, the rates for the top 1% have dropped dramatically, the rates for the bottom 40% have also come down as well, and the for mass of us in the middle, rates have pretty much remained the same.

Besides cutting spending or increasing tax rates, a third method for bringing down the debt-to-GDP ratio is to simply grow the economy. A fast-growing economy will normally result in increased revenue without any increase in tax rates. Additionally, if you could get GDP to grow at 4% and your annual deficit still amounted to 3% of GDP (near its current level), your debt-to-GDP ratio would start to decrease. And this is what happened in the late 1990s when a combination of a booming economy and tax increases lowered out debt-to-GDP ratio by about 9%.  The reverse is also true, which highlights why a prolonged downturn like that one we have just experienced for the last 8 years is so damaging to our debt situation.

And lastly, the one other method to reduce the debt that dare not mention its name - inflation. Just like the French after World War I, our economic generals seem determined to fight the last war - the one against runaway inflation in the 1970s. Inflation will tend to increase tax revenue while also reducing the real value of the prior debt. This is in fact what happened in the late 1970s - the annual deficit was running about 3% to 4% of GDP but the actual debt-to-GDP ratio decreased in that period because inflation was running far above that.  Now, no one is recommending that kind of runaway inflation, but certainly a return to the long-term average of between 3% and 4% could help improve our debt-to-GDP ratio.

So those are the general choices for cutting the debt going forward.  A combination of all of the above would certainly be effective, but getting the economy to grow at a robust rate as soon as we can is clearly the most painless solution for all. That's just a fact.

Clearcutting the Merritt Parkway

Over the past couple of years, huge swaths of trees on either side of the Merritt Parkway have been cleared and with it the beauty of a drive down that once magnificent road has been destroyed. Sure, I understand the safety issues with falling branches and the like, but there was nothing like driving through this cathedral of trees rising up and over you - very reminiscent of the roads through the plane trees in Southern France. And that's all gone now.

No more drives like this on the Merritt      (picture from