Monday, January 30, 2012

Words of Wisdom from Bart Simpson


If we could somehow blend real life with cartoons (as Robert Zemeckis did in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Bart Simpson would probably say something like this if he were introduced to George W. Buckley:

“I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?”

Come to think of it, MOST of us would have to admit an unfamiliarity with Mr. Buckley, so I’ll give you a little background information about his company.

Since I was born in Minnesota (don’t you know?), as was everyone else in both my immediate family and my wife’s immediate family, all of us know at least a few people who worked for a company named 3M at some point in their lives. A few of them managed to retire from the company after long and successful careers.

If you’ve ever used Scotch tape, sandpaper, or Post-It notes, you’re already familiar with some of the major product lines of the company. In total, though, the company’s 80,000 employees (in 60 countries) actually produce roughly 55,000 products, which are sold in more than 200 countries around the world.

3M was formed as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing in the tiny town of Illgen City, Minnesota, which is still unincorporated even today. Shortly after its founding, the company moved to Two Harbors (where it was incorporated in 1902), followed by Duluth, and then to St. Paul, where the headquarters remained for 52 years. 3M moved to its current headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota in the 1960’s.

3M was originally formed as a MINING company, and it was formed to sell a mineral called corundum to manufacturers in the East, who used it for making grinding wheels. The conundrum that the company soon found itself in was that the mineral deposits that the “founding fathers” started to sell as corundum turned out to be a worthless mineral called anorthosite. Although anorthosite has little commercial value, its claim to fame is that it is the most common element found in lunar rock samples.

Since anorthosite could not be used in grinding wheels, the company tried to make lemonade out of lemons by using it to make sandpaper, a product that’s been in use since the 13th century.

(The odds are pretty good that you've never heard of anorthosite before, but more than likely that you are VERY FAMILIAR with the lighthouse pictured below, which sits on an outcropping of rock that is almost entirely made up of anorthosite.

Like large parts of my old home state of Minnesota, the area where the lighthouse is located is in an area that was the site of volcanic activity thousands (and perhaps millions) of years ago.)

The anorthosite didn’t work as a component in sandpaper, so the company switched to the use of imported Spanish garnet in 1914. When the garnet started falling off the sandpaper, the company set up its first research and development department, which ultimately solved the problem, and helped the company become what it is today. Today, 3M spends over $1 billion a year on research and development. As a percentage of sales, that’s roughly double what the rest of the companies in America spend on research and development.

One of the most creative innovations of the company was “the 15 percent program”, which the company started in 1948, a year after I was born. Although the link below provides more information, the purpose of the program is to allow employees to use as much as 15 percent of their paid working time to pursue ideas that they had discovered through their usual course of work, but didn’t have time to follow up on. Although there have been numerous products (and most of the company's 22,800 patents) that came into being because of the program, the best known one is Post-It notes, which were first produced in 1980:

what is the 15 percent program?

(Annual sales of Post-It notes, by the way, now exceed $1 billion a year.)

By now, you’re a lot more familiar with 3M, but you’re still not sure who George Buckley is, so I’ll answer the question for you. He is a British businessman who became Chairman, President, and Chief Executive of 3M in 2005. Although he is VERY well paid for his work (he earned a total compensation of over $13,000,000 in 2009), it’s worthwhile to read what he had to say in 3M’s most recent annual report:

a message from the Chairman

The strengths of 3M, as enumerated by Chairman Buckley, can be easily applied to our country as a whole. If you listened to last week’s State of the Union address, it’s fairly clear which political party best represents the innovative philosophy of 3M, and which one is still tied to old ideas and old technology.

In spite of his many failings, Bart Simpson had an opinion on a lot of topics. In closing, though, I’ll leave you with a quote that’s particularly relevant to people that live in border states, like Arizona:

“If something goes wrong at the plant, blame the guy who can’t speak English”.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

the freaking fracking fiasco

On December 17, 2011, the Senate approved a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut and a $1 trillion bill to fund the government, resolving the latest in a year-long series of tense political stand-offs, but setting up fresh battles for 2012.

Republicans used the tax bill to push for quick U.S. approval of TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline project, which is backed by labor unions but opposed by environmental groups. Surprisingly, even Fox News (which tends to favor the Republican point of view) thinks the pipeline is a "bad deal".

The legislation requires President Obama to approve construction of the pipeline from Canada to U.S. Gulf of Mexico facilities within 60 days or declare it is not in the national interest. Obama wanted to take a year, beyond November's elections, to review the project. Republicans argued the pipeline would create jobs at a time the nation is suffering from an 8.6 percent unemployment rate.

By now, we’ve all become weary of the bickering that has paralyzed Congress for most of last year, so let’s take a step back in time to gain a little perspective on the whole issue.

The modern oil industry was born almost exactly 111 years ago today.

Crude oil was first discovered in America in August of 1859 in Titusville,Pennsylvania, and led to a “spike” of prosperity. For a brief period of time, Titusville had more millionaires per 1,000 population than anyplace in the world, but oil production peaked in 1891, and other industries (primarily iron and steel production) become the engines of industry for the area.

The TRUE start of the modern oil industry was in Beaumont, Texas on January 10, 1901, when an enormous gusher of oil on Spindletop Hill erupted, resulting in an initial flow of oil at the rate of 100,000 barrels a day. It took nine days to cap the well, and the excitement generated by the gusher created a boomtown literally overnight. Oil production continued in the area for the next fifty years, but today only a few wells continue to operate in the area.

Until WWII, most homes in America were heated by coal. By 1950, fuel oil had replaced coal as the main source of home heating, and the explosion of auto sales after the end of the war increased the use of oil (as gasoline). Eventually, oil consumption expanded to the point that America needed to import oil from the Middle East and other sources. By the year 2000, we were importing roughly 60% of the oil that we consume. By 2005, that percentage had increased to 66%. Surprisingly, Canada is now the largest source of our imported oil, and Saudi Arabia is a distant second.

For a number of years, we’ve been trying to reduce our “dependence on foreign oil”. As a result, you may wonder why the top export of the United States in 2011 is …. fuel.

The one word answer to that question is "Bakken", which I'll explain to you in a few minutes (make sure that you read the hyperlink titled "North Dakota"). However, another reason that we can afford to export fuel is that the increased fuel efficiency of our cars, trucks, and planes has led to a decrease in demand for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. In 2008, overall demand for those fuels fell more than 7%, the largest drop in demand since 1950.

Eventually, all the goop from those old dinosaurs is going to run out, which is why forward thinking countries in the Middle East (like Qatar) have been concentrating on diversifying their economies. Although America has long had a very diversified economy, we’ve needed to find alternative ways to find oil due to the fact that our demand for oil far outstrips our domestic supply. One way to do that is through the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”,

Since this site is similar to a family newspaper, the question that you’re probably wondering at this point in this:

“What the heck is fracking?”

The petroleum industry first started using fracking in the 1940’s. The quick answer to the question is that fracking is the introduction of water, sand, and other chemicals into known areas of oil and gas deposits at high pressure in order to force the oil and gas to the surface. Is it safe? As always, it depends on who you ask.

According to the American Petroleum Institute (the folks who brought us the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon) the process is a proven and well-regulated technology.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention feels that additional study on the topic is needed, and the EPA (which is preparing regulations to govern fracking) is continuing to study the issue. Some of the areas that will come under additional scrutiny are
groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania, and increased earthquake activity in Ohio.

Environmental groups, such as The Wilderness Society, are adamantly opposed to fracking, and the 1700 mile long Keystone pipeline, for a number of reasons.

With so much conflicting information, how do you figure out which viewpoint makes the most sense? Fortunately, the answer is pretty easy: Wikipedia. The advantage of this site is that it presents an impartial view of the topics it examines, and it takes a world (rather than a local) perspective.

Besides the United States, eight other countries have used fracturing. All of them currently have moratoriums on the practice including (most significantly) four provinces in Canada. The United States does not currently have a moratorium, in large part due to some “dirty tricks” by a guy named Dick Cheney in 2005, when he was Vice President of the United States. In case you‘ve forgotten, Cheney‘s prior job was CEO of an oil company called Halliburton, which recently had a bit of bad luck in the Gulf of Mexico. Halliburton, incidentally, was the first company to use hydraulic fracturing. In 1947, the company used the process to extract natural gas from the Hugoton field in Kansas.

As to whether fracking is really safe, the jury is no longer out. In April of 2014, a jury in Texas awarded a couple named Bob and Lisa Parr nearly $3,000,000 over damage to health and property caused by fracking operations.

For a variety of reasons (which I’ll explain later) Congress is unlikely to approve the Keystone XL pipeline at any time soon. However, if all the planets lined up wrong, and the thing actually got built, we’d have another “bridge to nowhere” if Canada put a permanent moratorium on the process.

(Sara Palin spent $26,000,000 of the taxpayer’s money to build a road to the non-existent Gravina Island Bridge when she was Governor, and there was still discussion in Congress about continuing to fund the project in 2011.If completed, the bridge would cost $398 million, and would provide service to an island with exactly 50 residents).

The most relevant reference point for the Keystone pipeline is the Trans-Alaska pipeline, which started construction in 1974, a full five years after the first permit was issued. Oddly enough, there weren’t any domestic bidders for the pipeline, so the Trans-Alaska pipeline was eventually built using the infrastructure provided by the three JAPANESE firms that bid on the project. Although there were definitely some environmental concerns about the project, the Arab oil embargo of 1973 forced the issue, even though only 7% of our oil came from those countries at that point in time. As of 2010, the 800 mile long pipeline has delivered 16 BILLION barrels of oil. Although there have been a few leaks in the pipeline itself, the most significant spill was from the Exxon Valdez, which had taken on a full load at Prince William Sound,on the southern coast of Alaska.

Crude oil from Alaska is much different than crude oil from tar sands, in large part because pipelines carrying tar sands oil are much more prone to spills. In July of 2010, a spill from an Enbridge Energy pipeline near Marshall, Michigan (close to Battle Creek) dumped 843,000 gallons of crude, making Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River unsuitable for human contact for nearly a year. It took until March 1, 20112 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to announce restoration planning for the areas affected by the spill.

The REASON that pipelines carrying tar sands oil are more likely to rupture than conventional pipelines is that the "heavy crude" oil from tar sands is much more corrosive than the "light crude" that is produced domestically. It also has a higher sulfur content, requires a higher pipeline temperature, and a higher pipeline pressure. If you'd like even more information, the link below will provide it to you:

just the facts, ma'am, just the facts

The Republicans contend that the construction of the pipeline will create tens of thousands of jobs. Some estimates have placed the total number of jobs that would be created to be as high as 100,000. As you might expect, those numbers are absolute fantasies. The most accurate estimate, which TransCanada (the pipeline company) agrees with, is a maximum of 6500 temporary jobs over a two year time period.

If the Republicans were REALLY serious about job creation, they would vote FOR investments in green energy technology, for starters,which would create a conservative 45,000 construction jobs over a five year period just to upgrade our power plants to current environmental standards. In addition, the Energy Departments loan guarantee program would create an ADDITIONAL 60,000 jobs in the solar and wind departments. In case you’ve forgotten, the Energy Department (which safeguards our nuclear weapons) is one of the three departments that Governor Bonehead would eliminate if he were elected President (God forbid). Fortunately, he couldn’t remember the department’s name at one of the Republican debates, so I think that the department is safe for now.

During 2011, House Republicans voted 191 times to either undermine existing environmental laws or reject Democratic efforts to strengthen them. In November, the same group of people voted against a bill that would have freed up $60 billion to repair our crumbling infrastructure and created MILLIONS of jobs. That estimate, incidentally, is from a REPUBLICAN Senator from Texas named Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

In view of the time that it took to approve the Trans-Alaska pipeline , it’s unreasonable to assume that 60 days is enough time to determine the fate of the Keystone XL project. More than likely, President Obama will determine that the pipeline “does not serve the national interest”, and will reject it. However, even if he DID approve the project, U.S. law clearly states that environmental impact statements have to be fully completed before a project can be determined to be in the national interest, and that’s definitely NOT going to happen in 60 days.

(Since a portion of the pipeline would cross the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest fresh water aquifers in the world, an environmental impact statement on that portion of the route WAS completed in August of 2011.)

Even if the Keystone project goes away, fracking projects will still exist in our country.

Except for Sara Palin, and the oil industry, most people would agree that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should remain off limits for drilling. That leaves North Dakota (of all places) as the last remaining untapped oil reserve in the country. Unfortunately, the fracking procedure is the only viable method to get the goop out of the ground. Although estimates on the amount of oil below ground range as high as 503,000,000,000 barrels, the U.S. Geological survey estimates the true total is closer to 3.65 billion barrels. Although that is STILL a lot of oil, it represents about a one year supply of imported oil. In my opinion, it makes no sense to make thousands of acres of land in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan Province unusable for decades in order to gain one year’s relief from imported oil. In addition, folks in Minnesota and Wisconsin aren't happy about the fact that their silica sand has suddenly become a hot commodity.

Who’s REALLY the main force in favor of fracking and the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline?

The Koch brothers, but they won’t admit it. They're also getting a lot of help from Representative Cliff Stearns of Florida, who happens to be the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Not surprisingly, he's also a Republican.

Their father (Fred) was one of the founding members of the John Birch Society, so it’s not surprising that they want as little government as possible. From 1999 to 2003, their company (Koch Industries) was fined $400,000,000 in fines, penalties, and judgments for environmental violations, which explains why all of their political benefactors (Governor Perry being one) are in favor of “rebuilding the EPA”.

Koch Industries is the second largest private company in America. Although the company earned an estimated $100 billion in 2009, it paid NO income tax. The company has spent more than $50,000,000 to lobby Congress since 2006, and its support of the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity(which David Koch founded in 2003) are directly responsible for the stalemate in Congress that we all endured throughout 2011. The Supreme Court decision of January 21, 2010 will inevitably make lobbying efforts even more egrarious than they already are. A guy named Newt recently received a $5,000,000 check from a casino owner named Sheldon Adelson.

Fracking isn’t going to go away any time soon in the United States, but
starting February 1, drilling operators are going to be required to disclose what chemicals they use during the drilling process, as well as how much water they use. For the record, most wells use about 1,000,000 gallons of water a day, which is tough to justify in Texas, which just went through its worst drought since 1948.

To borrow a phrase form the “war on drugs” we should all just say “NO” to the Keystone XL pipeline. More importantly, we all need to write to our congressman, and demand that the discussion of the pipeline should be “uncoupled” from any other legislation, including the proposed extension of the payroll tax cut bill.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

the moon landing was faked !


Most of us remember where we were when Neil Armstrong gave his famous speech from the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. Despite evidence to the contrary, it is estimated that between 6 and 20% of the American population believe that the moon landing was faked. In Russia, that figure rises to 28%.

There are no shortage of people who most of us would consider to be “conspiracy theorists” (or conspiracists). In addition to the moon landing, there are a number of other facts that this group simply doesn’t believe:

1) Many of them don’t believe the Warren Commission’s report on the JFK assassination.

2) There are STILL people who believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and many of them also believe that his parents are alive today, and living in a refuge camp somewhere in Africa.

3) There are also a LOT of ideas about the TRUE cause of the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11, and there is still some confusion about who REALLY shot J.R.

Before I was born, a man named John Robert Fish built a simple carburetor that could produce phenomenal gas mileage. Strangely, the Fish carburetor never went into widespread use. Even when Michael Brown revived the idea in 1982, it continued to remain a footnote in automotive history.

Through the magic of Facebook , I recently learned about ANOTHER individual who was able to achieve tremendous fuel economy in a motor vehicle, but was unable to put his invention to greater use.

In 1978, a Texas high school dropout named Tom Ogle developed a “black box” that allowed him to achieve fuel economy of 100 miles per gallon on a 1970 Ford Galaxie, a vehicle that normally got about 13 miles per gallon. He was issued a patent (#4,177,779) by the United States government, and for a very short period of time, he received a nice income from some investors. Unfortunately, the money was short-lived. As a matter of fact, so was he.

On April 14, 1981, he was shot on the street by an assailant who “got away”, but he survived the attack. On August 18th of the same year, he died from a combination of Darvon (a prescribed pain killer) and alcohol. His death was ruled accidental, but there are many people who believe it was a cover-up for murder.

Mr. Ogle was not the first to achieve remarkable fuel economy and then disappear from the scene, nor was he the last. However, if you ask the general public if they have ever heard of Charles Nelson Pogue or Stanley Allen Meyer, you’re likely to get a blank stare.

I’ve never been much of a believer in conspiracy theories, but if a smart detective was able to find out what REALLY happened to Tom Ogle, that would be one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.

Once THAT mystery is solved, we can then move on to other important issues, like (1) does Bigfoot really exist and (2) what REALLY happened at Roswell?


Take a tour of the UFO Museum

Sunday, January 1, 2012

guns on campus in Arizona?

I'd be remiss if I didn't start out this memo with best wishes to you for a happy, healthy, prosperous and (most importantly) SAFE New year, which leads to the topic of the day.

One of the Arizona state legislators plans to re-introduce a bill to allow guns on campus in the State of Arizona. Although I have friends who are gun owners, and I support their right to recreational shooting and hunting, allowing guns on college campuses simply doesn't make any sense to me.

(Incidentally, the Kent State tragedy of 1970 (pictured above), which was caused by TRAINED members of the Ohio National Guard, resulted in a monetary settlement against the state of Ohio in the amount of $675,000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equal to $3,792,257 in 2010 dollars. Arizona's 2010 concealed weapons law requires neither permits NOR TRAINING in order to carry a concealed weapon.)

For that reason, I sent the letter below this morning to Tom Horne, Attorney General of the State of Arizona, and asked him to bring felony charges if the Senator in question introduces the bill again when the legislature reconvenes. As a courtesy, I also sent a copy of the letter to the Senator involved.

Attached below is my letter (with minor adjustments for electronic publication purposes):


Mr. Horne:

Our daughter, Kelly, graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in May of this year, but will be back on campus again (in Flagstaff, Arizona) in less than a month.

When I read in the Arizona Republic the other day that Arizona Senator Ron Gould planned to re-introduce legislation in January to allow guns on campus in the State of Arizona, I was appalled. For a lot of reasons, I feel that allowing guns on college campuses is the height of stupidity. Although he is a business owner, and may actually be a decent individual, I would like to ask you, as an Arizona tax payer, to bring felony charges against him if he introduces the proposal again.

The specific statute that is applicable to the proposed legislation is alluded to on the website of the law firm of Beresky & Fish. The key words on this page are these: “Under Arizona law, any reckless act that causes another person to be put in danger of injury or death may result in a misdemeanor or felony charge of endangerment."

In my opinion, allowing guns on campus falls under the category of “causing another person to be put in danger of injury or death”.

There are a handful of states currently that allow guns on campus. The Texas Senate passed a bill in May of 2009 to allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus, and the Texas House of Representatives is currently considering approving the bill. The most compelling statement in the link listed in this paragraph is this one, by Senator Rodney Ellis:

“When there is an alcohol-related tragedy on campus, you don’t hear claims that giving students a 12 pack is a solution.” he said. “Yet, when it comes to gun-related incidents, we seem to think that putting more guns in the mix will lead to a good, rather than bloody, outcome”.

As of June of 2011, 275 colleges in 36 states have signed a resolution to keep guns off campus. Included in the list of colleges who signed the resolution are Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and The University of Arizona.

According to a recent UPI article, Mr. Gould has been working with the National Rifle Association to “tweak the wording" of the bill, which is another reason that it should NOT be passed.

The NRA no longer has the interests of its members at heart, or society as a whole. The article below provides additional information about the organization, which is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in America:

it's time to pry the rifle from your cold, dead, hands

Arizona has already received worldwide ridicule for the decision of the Scottsdale Gun Club to have kids take their picture with Santa - and an AK-47:

why Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is nervous

On top of that, the Republican Party in Tucson (where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot last January 8 with a Glock 19) held a fund raiser in September. First prize was a Glock 23, and second prize was a deer rifle.

how dumb can you get?

The argument by gun advocates that having more guns on campus would make kids safer is absurd. For further proof, listen to Archie Bunker’s ideas about how to eliminate hijackers on airplanes:

I miss Archie Bunker

State Representative Steve Farley, and Hildy Saizow (President of Arizonans for Gun Safety) are both quoted in the video below:

the voices of reason

America has the fourth highest rate of deaths by firearms in the entire world. The only countries that have higher death rates from firearms are Guatemala, Columbia, and South Africa.

South Africa, which leads the world in firearms deaths by a wide margin, has firearms laws similar to the United States. It also is home to an organization, the South African Gunowners’ Association, that has views similar to, and the support of, the National Rifle Association. To say the least, the information about the organization in the link in this paragraph should dispel any doubts about the idiocy of expanding gun ownership in America.

Additional information about my thoughts on gun control can be found at the link posted below:

bang, you're dead

There’s an old adage that guns don’t kill people. People do.

It’s also true that guns don’t pass irresponsible laws. People do.

Let’s start out the New Year on the right foot. Please do your best to prevent Arizona from making another mistake.


As you should know by now, I'm not afraid to "stir the pot" on occasion.

It will be interesting to see how the State of Arizona reacts to my letter.