Showing posts from June, 2006

Ethanol, Shmethanol

Darn it!Ethanol, whether from corn, switchgrass or sugar beets/cane, really isn’t the magic bullet that will slay the dragon of our petroleum addiction.Neither is biomass fuel the magic wand that will poof! away our dependence on fossil and atomic fuels electrical generation.(Check out the wonderful dialogue of the learned in the “Letters” section of the 23 June ’06 Science [subscription’]) Of course there are no magic bullets/wands lying around these days anyway, except among Harry Potter and his ilk.The thing is, we shouldn’t get discouraged when our latest magic gets debunked. Ethanol, biomass, wind power, photovoltaics, geothermal, wave power, etc. have all had their moments in the “magic” circle. The genuine wizards recognize that the potent magic will come from the agglomerated minor miracles of the various “alternative” energy techniques.We (my learned wife and I) are on the verge of trying one of these minor alternative miracles, a solar water heat…

Is that m-m-billions or b-b-millions?

Many British journalists still say “2000 millions” rather than “two billion.”Something about the first way really sticks it to you that a billion is a lot more than a million.Yet one of the most common mistakes I hear from broadcast journalists is (mumble)-illions.My suspicion is that they are just not sure.My certainty is that the listener can’t possibly be sure from what they hear.I asked a bright young employee once “how many millions are there in a billion?”Answer?“Ten… NO, a hundred million in billion.”When I stated that there is a thousand million in a billion, the employee was incredulous, clearly thinking I had slipped a cog.Back to newscasters, you can frequently hear that sometimes they are more impressed with “87 million” than with “3.2 billion.”Perhaps if every newscaster reported that we are spending “$3192 millions” every week in Iraq*, the actual dollar cost might be more widely appreciated. *more or less

March of the Ignoramuses

On the Monday, June 26th Rush Limbaugh program, guest host Paul W. Smith was interviewing someone (name escapes me) on how foolish the “Libs” are to worry about global warming.If there are any real problems they are a half a millennium away.In last week’s Science Magazine (June 16, 2006) there is a modestarticle titled “Permafrost and the Global Carbon Budget.”The sub-head is “ Climate warming will thaw permafrost, releasing trapped carbon from this high-latitude reservoir and further exacerbating global warming.”This is new information, best I can tell.Check it out at (subscription; or at the library) It seems that most of the global warming models haven’t included much about the CO2 and methane that will be released by thawing permafrost.There are such vast quantities of permafrost that it can contribute big time to a sudden acceleration of climate warming.The current warming trend driven by human-generated greenhouse gasses has already started melting the perma…

MAX is back!

The “net neutrality” debate is a big deal.It probably affects all of our lives, especially if we are shareholders in certain companies, either telecom, cable or net companies. And maybe if we are just every day users of the Net. Since it’s clearly a GIANT vs. GIANT debate, I have some trouble taking it too seriously.So stand by for a completely trivial observation.Tonight on The News Hour, PBS’s big nameplate, the spokesman for the Google, Yahoo, “big net” side was PAUL MISENER, Vice President for Global Public Policy,,Here’s the news.Mr. Misener is a dead ringer for Max Headroom!He’s a good talker and a smart guy, holding up his side’s side really well.But he looks like MAX HEADROOM. What can I say?Is this perfect?Based on this and this alone, I am on the side of the mega-web sites in this argument.

Max Headroom

Am I right?Is this Kismet? How can anyone still be on the side of the telcos and cablecos?

Misener can be seen at:…

Warming; Alarming, but NOT OUR FAULT

In the last couple of years the folks who denied global warming was even happening have come around and are saying, “Oh, OK, so maybe it’s happening.”Grudgingly, but at long darn last they are acknowledging the data.Many of the same folks have assumed a new position, one just as protective of the fossil fuel industry and the right to gush vast quantities of greenhouse gasses into the air.This position is, simply: “Not Our Fault.”We puny humans can’t possibly be influencing such a vast system as the Earth’s atmosphere.Humankind is clearly capable of having some humongous impacts on our planet.It’s obvious we can:Denude the Amazon Basin; Over-fish the oceans; Dredge channels in mighty rivers and create dead zones where they drain into the oceans; Dam those rivers and make huge lakes; Hole the ozone, Drain the swamps; Cut down and replant whole forests; Pave over farmland; Empty ancient aquifers; Kill off creatures large and small to the point of extinction… we can do all that and more.S…

Creeping Drought

[I've been on the road, visiting an extraordinarily large number of relatives. Perhaps I'll philosophize on that and them in the context of "we are all getting older." But west Texas and Oklahoma just scream drought, so this first.]
There is a great drought settling on the land. “We are looking at conditions that rival the dust bowl … earlier this year we were even drier than during the Dust Bowl.” That said by Jack Carson, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department. Oklahoma. Okies, get it? Leaving their lifeless farms for California during the greatest drought in recent U.S. history. Oklahomans should know a drought when they see one.

This quote was from a front-page story on the front page of the June 15, 2006 “The Oklahoman.” Even with such important placement, something about the headline just didn’t have the feel the sort of “big” story we have grown used to. It was, “Residents told to cut water use.”

So is this really a big…

Thinking Huge

I admit it. I entered a contest. So did another 20,000 or so folks, it turns out. Now Hillary Clinton has taken one of the entries and fashioned a bill based on it and put it to the Senate for consideration. What?

Never mind. Just go to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) web site and check it out. It’s a big “wow!” believe me.

Since I didn’t win the $100,000 grand prize or one of the $50,000 runner-up prizes, the least you can do is read my entry. The contest was for ideas that might pep up our economy and be good for us “common folk.” Here was my over-the-top idea.

- - - - - - - - - - -

The problem: our damaging cycle of droughts and floods. The issue: the opportunity this presents. Face it, it’s a government project.

This idea is for a huge national endeavor – the size of the Interstate Highway System. Flood-prone rivers would be equipped with controllable water diversion structures. Before a river floods, these are opened and the excess water is s…

Editors in Cheat

Journalism – the J word – comes under a lot of fire these days. I’d argue “not deservedly so” if I thought everyone who criticizes it was talking about real journalism. Of course they are not. The critics of J (big or little) are mostly critical of “news” they disagree with. To dangle a … oh, never mind.

That brings me to this, here on my cruise-control across the South - Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Today I read a neat column in the Sunday 6.11.06 Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Little Rock’s mighty daily, in Section J, of all places.

The left-hand column on the front page of the “Perspective” section is written by a fellow named Paul Greenberg. The headline “Unedited” drew me in. I figgered (Southern talk) it must be about journalism.

Mr. Greenberg is a good writer as one would hope considering his placement in the paper. His subject was news editing, and he writes with both clarity and passion, two of my favorite writing virtues. The column was a riff on another journalist’s…

The Cynical Reflex

The Cynical Reflex
Upon hearing of the three self-hangings at Guantanamo Bay (with ropes made of bedsheets and clothing strips) and our government's first spin on the story, I had these thoughts in this sequence: -Poor devils. Incarcerated without charges or counsel for nearly four years... just gave up the ghost.

- Oh, the "official" response is that they were really, really bad guys. Terrorists, of course, and one of them a "high Al Quaida operative." - How will we or the world ever know if that's so? No official charges, no public trials with evidence, no proof for anyone to look at. They could have been wrong-place-wrong-time guys who were pruning fig trees when captured for all we will ever know (the first of the "cynical reflexes" I experienced. Big PR problem for the government).

- Then "These were not acts of desperation, but acts of war against the U.S." sayeth the government. Hmmm. The second cynical reflex kicks in. Strange way…
Ok, call me slow to catch on.

What's happening on the right wing side of the great American divide is scary. There is something going on that is so much like rabid racism that I am at a loss to give it a proper name. This name needs to be one with the emotional impact of "racism," or perhaps worse. More on that later.

Let's harken back to "all Irish have lice." Or "lazy, shiftless Nigras." Or "Theivin,' scheming Kikes." You get my drift. Gross generalizations about some ethnic group or another that demonized them. Sort of humankind at its worst, whipping up hatred and mindless prejudice toward them among the unthinking mob. That unthinking mob might include any of us. You, maybe, unless you are really determined to be a thinking person. Which of course you are. Of course.

What's happening in certain quarters of the Right has a direct bloodline relationship to this kind of repugnant activity. I've been hearing it and r…

Decider, Incidental Polarizer

Something about GWBush's pronunciation elicits a confounded response from some of his constituents. For instance, in his speech yesterday supporting a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, the phrase "institution of marriage" was repeated several times. In Bushspeak it came out "the inshitushun of mairge." I've heard from several Bush supporters that this sets their teeth on edge. The anti-GWB folks get all giddy about how dumb it sounds. It distracts from his message - whether you agree or disagree with that message.

A decent speech coach could fix that. A simple run through with GW reading and the coach taking a few notes would result in a gentle admonition for the Prez to be just a shade less mush mouthed.

Hey, it's not even a Texas accent. I know; I'm from Texas.

An Airedale Rescue Story

The Trials of Toby

On an oppressive afternoon in Bay City, Texas, the shadow of a thunderstorm cloud slides across an older, very modest neighborhood, eclipsing the glaring sun but having no effect on the temperature. In an airless backyard a bone-thin Airedale starts pacing nervously in his six-by-four foot cage. Thunder rumbles and the dog trembles. Thunderstorms have been frightening and uncomfortable experiences for his whole life. And there are a lot of thunderstorms in Bay City.

The dog is almost seven years old. His whole life has been in cages, mostly the one he is in as the storm approaches. His lower teeth between his fangs are worn away from gnawing at his cage out of boredom and frustration. His coat is matted and filthy from living with his own excrement. His owner cleans the cage once a week, and feeds him once a day.

Airedales are very affectionate creatures, and the occasional visits by the backyard puppy mill owner are the highlights of this one’s life. When he hears the…

Get The Big Money Boys' Attention

OK, I have to admit that I have been worked up about this for a while. Here is a suggestion: If every one of us wrote something like this to all the credit card companies and banks we do business with (with copies to your Congress Person, The Prez and the local cops), it might shape them up a bit.


This is to put you on notice that it is your responsibility to prevent “identity theft.”

If you decide to give some criminal a credit card in my name that means you didn’t check to see if you were giving credit to the right person. Or perhaps you actually sent a credit card with my name on it to the wrong person. I had nothing to do with either of these stupid decisions, and I am not in any way responsible for them.

If you allow someone other than me to tap into my bank account, it means you didn’t fulfill your business responsibility of monitoring withdrawals. It’s my money in your trust, and any theft from my account is your responsibili…

Another Slap on Your Insecure Posterior

Checking Your Credit Card Bills Diligently?

I'm sure you've read about the 243,000 names, e-mail addresses and credit card numbers gone missing on the stolen Ernst & Young laptop? (Check the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site.)

Of course there was another delay in notifying us that our IDs were floating around crimesville.

Ernst & Young "deeply regrets..." etc. and if you get proactive - call a toll free number, etc. - Ernst & Young will let you "enroll" in a free credit monitoring service to be aware of when you start getting ripped off.

MAIN ISSUE: If some ID thief spends some of your credit, will E & Y "regret" enough to assume responsibility?Or how about the credit entity that lets some scuzzbag falsely use your credentials by not carefully checking to see if it's really you? Will they eat the loss?

Hello, Washington.... hello state governments... it's time to write legislation that makes the banks and credit card co…