Saturday, December 27, 2014

Gas at 29.9 - the sequel

Those of us who have lived through more than just a few decades fondly remember the prices of various commodities during “the good old days”.

In 1964, the average new house was priced at slightly over $20,000

In 1964, a new Rolls Royce was priced at $16.655

In 1964, the average new car for the rest of us was $2250

In 1964, a loaf of bread was 21 cents

In 1964, a first class stamp was 5 cents

In 1964, the average price of a gallon of gas was 25 cents

In 1964, the average movie ticket was $1

When I graduated from high school a year later, the average price of a gallon of gas had risen slightly, to 29.9 per gallon. Even though that price was absurdly low, a stop at the gas station meant that an attendant would (1) fill your gas tank, (2) clean your windshield, (3) check the air pressure in your tires, (4) check your windshield wipers, (5) check your battery, (6) check your oil, (7) check your fan belt, and (8) check your radiator. On top of all that, you probably also got green stamps, and maybe even a “Shell” glass.

Believe it or not, the average price of a gallon of gas in 2014 is LESS than it was in 1965, when you factor in inflation. In 1964, $100 had the same buying power as $761.78 does today.. If you do the math, you’ll discover that 29.9 cents per gallon is equivalent to $2.27 today, and almost all stations sell it for less today. We were in Phoenix on our Christmas break, and discovered that several stations were selling regular gas for $1.99 per gallon.

Early in the 2012 Presidential campaign, Michelle Bachmann promised voters that she’d bring back gasoline at $2.00 a gallon, and Newt Gingrich promised gasoline prices of $2.50 per gallon.

The highest average price that our country has had for a gallon of regular gas was $4.10, which occurred in July of 2008, when George W. Bush was in office. In December of 2003, regular gas averaged $1.44 a gallon, which meant that the price of gasoline increased 185% in roughly a 4 year period.

Barack Obama can’t take credit for our current gasoline prices, just as neither Michelle Bachmann or Newt Gingrich could have taken credit if (God forbid) either one of them got elected, since gasoline prices are governed by a worldwide petroleum market.

When gasoline prices were at their peak, so was the price of crude oil, which peaked at $146.41 per barrel in June of 2008. Today, a barrel of crude oil sells for less than $60, a level that makes drilling in the Arctic Sea or in the Alberta tar sands unprofitable.

Since Obama can’t take credit for gasoline prices, it’s worthwhile to consider the things that he CAN take credit for.

As of December 23, the U.S. Economy was growing at an annual rate of 5%, a level that hasn’t been achieved since 2003.

As of December 22, the percentage of the American population that didn’t have health insurance dropped to 11.3%, the lowest number in our country’s history.

The current Federal deficit is at the lowest level it’s been since 2008, the year before Obama took office.

In November, the unemployment rate was 5.8%, the lowest it’s been since July of 2008, also before Obama took office.

The annual inflation rate at the end of 2013 was 1.5%. With the exception of the recession year of 2009, the last time that the annual inflation rate was less than that was in 1964, when it was 1.3%.

Less than a week ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 18.100, the highest level in our country’s history.

What's truly amazing about these accomplishments is that Congress had very little to do with any of them. The 112th Congress is officially the least productive Congress in recent history and the 113th Congress is not far behind. The St. Louis Federal Reserve has estimated that the economy would be larger by $529 billion (roughly 3%) if congressional Republicans had cooperated with the President.

With all that good economic news, you’d think that the current occupant of the White House would get a few “attaboys”, or at least a few kind words.


On November 21, House Speaker John Boehner filed a lawsuit against President Obama, essentially for doing his job. Since there is no actual valid reason for a lawsuit, Boehner has been having difficulty finding a law firm to represent him.

Even though Boehner’s lawsuit isn’t going any where, a CNN survey found in July of 2014 found that 57% of the Republicans polled favored impeachment, even though a clear majority of the American public thought it was a truly crazy idea.

I’ve given up trying to understand politics, and I’ve also given up trying to understand a lot of other topics as well. For the time being, I’m simply going to enjoy our cheap gasoline.

Let’s let the good times roll.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Old King Coal

Since we’re very close to Christmas, I’d have to confess that it’s OK to wish me a Merry Christmas, since the phrase does not offend me in the least. I’ll also be quick to add that I’m not offended by the phrase “happy holidays” either, since numerous other holidays are also celebrated around December 25.

Atheists celebrate the Winter Solstice, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Nova Romans celebrate Saturnalia, Wiccans and Neopagans celebrate Yule, folks of African descent celebrate Kwanzaa, and Zoroastrians celebrate observe Zartusht-no-diso, so it’s clear that the end of December is a special time of the year for an awful lot of people.

By the time that Christmas finally arrives, we’re all a little burned out by all the Christmas music that’s been playing for the last month, and even the beloved “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” has started to get on my nerves.

One song that gets occasional play this time of the year is “Old King Cole”. Although it was first performed n 1708, the poem itself actually dates much further than that . If your memory is a bit short, the complete poem is listed below:

Old King Cole was a merry old soul

And a merry old soul was he;

He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl

And he called for his fiddlers three.

Every fiddler he had a fiddle,

And a very fine fiddle had he;

Oh there's none so rare, as can compare

With King Cole and his fiddlers three.

Although “Old King Cole” has a long history, it pales in comparison to Old King Coal, which has been around MUCH longer. The first use of coal as a fuel goes back about 3000 years ago. Like many things in common use today, it was originally discovered by the ancient Chinese people.

Coal has been in the news again lately, and for a couple of different reasons.

1) A jury in West Virginia recently charged Donald Blankenship (former chief of Massey Energy Company) with widespread safety violations and deceit of federal inspectors, and a judge in Kentucky just issued a scathing judgment in a Frasure Creek Mining settlement that involved a thousand violations of the Clean Water Act.

2) John Grisham just released his newest novel, Gray Mountain, which highlights the nefarious acts of Big Coal in Appalachia. I’m in the process of working my way through it, but also couldn’t help but notice his mention of the Martin Country coal slurry spill, which somehow managed to not get noticed by most of us.

(Like many of his books, his most recent novel relies heavily on facts and current events. His sources for this book include information that he obtained from the Appalachian Citizen's Law Center and Appalachian Voices.)

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was VERY big news when it occurred, since the ship spilled someplace between 12,000,000 and 32,000,000 gallons of oil in Price William Sound in 1989. Both Exxon and the ship’s captain, Joseph Hazelwood, escaped the incident with very little cost. An even bigger spill occurred in April of 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank. It is easily the largest accidental marine spill in the history of the oil industry, and it resulted in an estimated total discharge of 210 million gallons of sludge into the Gulf of Mexico.

In contrast, the Martin County coal slurry spill released 306,000,000 gallons of coal slurry into two tributaries of the Tug Fork River in October of 2000. Since the spill was anywhere from 10 to 30 times worse than the Exxon spill, you’d think that the general public would be outraged.


I don’t remember the spill being in the news at all, and the company responsible for the spill, Massey Energy (whose chairman is mentioned above) escaped with virtually no punishment at all. Officially, the company WAS fined, but the fine was less than the price of a well worn used car. Coincidentally, Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao was in charge of the Labor Department at the time of the spill. In her position as Labor Secretary, she also oversaw the Mine Safety and Health Administration. In 2002, she imposed a fine of $5600 against Massey for the spill.

Although Elaine Chao is a very smart lady, she didn’t do any of the rest of us any favors when she was Labor Secretary. During her first 4 years as Labor Secretary, her department did not promulgate ANY significant health standards. It has also been alleged that both she and other Bush White House officials campaigned for Republican candidates at taxpayer expense, which is a violation of the Hatch acto of 1939. No action was taken against her or any other officials by any entity responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act.

It’s hard to imagine any disaster worst than over 300,000,000 gallons of junk spilling into our navigable waters, but one DID occur (in Tennessee) 8 years later.

On December 22, 2008, the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill released an incredible 1.1 billion gallons of sludge into local waterways. Six months after the spill, only 3% of the affected area had been cleaned up, The plant responsible for the spill continues to operate today. Unlike the Martin County spill, the guilty party (the TVA) agreed to pay $27,000,000 in restitution to property owners.

In response to the Martin County and the Kingston Fossil Plant spills, Lisa P. Jackson, Barack Obama's choice to head the EPA under his administration, stated her intention to immediately review coal ash disposal sites across the country during her Senate confirmation hearing. On January 14, 2009, Nick J. Rahall, a U.S. Representative from West Virginia and the chairman of the United States House Committee on Natural Resources, introduced a bill to regulate coal ash disposal sites across the United States.

The EPA regulations finally took effect in December of 2014 nearly 6 years later, and were prompted by a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and a Native American tribe. Also spurring the regulations along were recent spills in Tennessee and elsewhere. The most recent spill occurred in February of 2014, when a coal ash pond in Eden, North Carolina ruptured, releasing between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash, and 27,000,000 gallons of contaminated water, into the Dan River. Legal liability will be a little complicated due to the fact that North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, worked for the company responsible for the spill, Duke Energy, for 28 years, and has gone on record as being reluctant to punish his former employer. Duke Energy has the distinction of being the largest electric holding company in the United States, and the company also has holdings in Canada and Latin America.

Since coal slurry spills are an obvious public safety issue, you’d probably assume that Congress would allow the EPA to have all the funds it needs to enforce the environmental laws that have been on the books for decades.


It’s no secret that the 113th Congress is one of the worst that our country has ever had. Since 2010, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has cut funding to the EPA by 21%, and that situation is unlikely to change during the 114th Congress, which will have an INCREASE of Republicans in the House, and a Republican majority in the Senate.

Incredibly, coal slurry storage has increased dramatically since the Martin Country spill in 2000. Most recently, piles of coal slurry have appeared on the Calumet River near Chicago. Not surprisingly, the company responsible for the piles is Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, which is led by David and Charles Koch.

Koch Carbon also has numerous coal slurry sites in Detroit, including one that is immediately adjacent to the Detroit River. Including the sites near Detroit that are owned by Koch Carbon, there are 29 coal slurry storage facilities in Michigan, and 19 of them are within a five mile radius of the shores of the Great Lakes. In addition, a Canadian refinery owned by Koch Industries (and directly across from Detroit) recently started to refine tar sands oil, the stuff that the Koch brothers would LOVE to start sending through the Keystone XL pipeline. So far, the results have not been pretty.

Although the Koch brothers sell a significant amount of coal slurry to China for use as fuel, they aren’t the largest petroleum coke (petcoke) dealer in the world, Their brother, William (who owns Oxbow Corporation) has that distinction.

Big Coal has a very ugly history when it comes to labor relations , including the 1969 murder of Jock Yablonski and his family in 1969, but that’s a topic that could easily be a story in itself.

In addition to the environmental hazards created by coal mining, three other areas of concern related to coal mining are:

1) Black lung disease

Black lung disease (officially, progressive massive fibrosis) was virtually eliminated 15 years ago, but has skyrocketed again in recent years. Today, roughly 1000 miners a year die from the disease. The problem is FAR worse in China, where an estimated SIX MILLION people suffer from the disease.

2) Global warming

The United States currently obtains 37% of its electric power from coal-fired power plants, which are the nation’s leading source of carbon pollution, and a significant contributor to global warming. In contrast, China gets 69% ot its electricity from coal plants. Again, the results aren’t pretty:

3) Mine collapses

Although coal companies are shifting towards strip mining to reduce labor costs, there is still a lot of coal mining done underground. In America, the worst coal mining disaster occurred in Monongah, West Virginia in 1907. An explosion and mine collapse in that town killed an estimated 367 miners, many of whom were recent immigrants from Italy.

The worst mine disaster in the entire world occurred in the Liaoning province of China in 1942. An explosion in the underground there killed a total of 1549 Chinese laborers.

China has ample coal reserves, and currently produces nearly half of the world’s coal production. However, it also has a far higher death rate from coal mining than any other country in the world.

America is the 2nd largest producer of coal in the world, but we are a net exporter of the stuff, with the vast majority of our exports going to China. The Appalachian region still contributes a lot to our total output, but Wyoming is, by far, the largest producer of coal currently.

The United States has the largest coal reserves in the world, but Russia is close behind. At current rates of consumption, the world’s coal reserves would last for another 112 years, so it will continue to be a reliable and economical fuel source for a number of decades.

There is no particular problem continuing to use coal as an energy source AS LONG AS the coal plants adhere to strict environmental standards. For some reason, some members of Congress have trouble understanding that concept, and consider the regulation of power plants to be a “war on coal”. Currently, the coal plant in Homer, Pennsylvania is one of the dirtiest in the country, but recent pollution mitigation devices will reduce pollution from the plant by 80% within a few years, with no loss of jobs, or increase in electricity rates.

For the folks in Congress who still “don’t get it”, my suggestion is to send them an appropriate Christmas gift - a lump of coal.

At this point, you’ve waded through a lot of information about Old King Coal, so it’s time for the pipe, the bowl and the fiddlers three. In closing, here’s my final message to you:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night

Sunday, December 7, 2014

You say salami, I say salame

On average, I’ll go to one (or more) grocery stores somewhere between 15 and 20 times per month, generally just to pick up a few items. I’ll rarely go to the store on a Saturday, and my work schedule allows me to go shopping mid afternoon, which helps to avoid the usual crowds.

On a recent trip to one of the stores, I happened to walk past a display of “Italian Dry Salame” , which was manufactured by a company called Galileo Foods in San Lorenzo, California. A link to their website is shown below:


The company was founded in 1910 in San Francisco by a man named Louis Gabiati, who brought a centuries-old salame recipe from his native Italy. Naturally, the stuff that I bought was delicious, and it went very well with crackers, smoked gouda cheese, and a nice red wine.

However, the experience got me to wondering what exactly IS salame, and why is it spelled with an “e” at the end instead of an “I“?.

Salami is the plural form of the Italian word salame. By definition, salami is (are?) cured sausage, fermented and air-dried meat, originating from a variety of animals. Although the most common base is pork, salami is also made with beef, veal, venison, poultry, goose, donkey or horse. There are at least 18 different variations of salami, one of which is pepperoni.

The main difference between salami and pepperoni is that pepperoni is a mixture of pork and beef, and the name itself is a corruption of the Italian word peperoni, which is used to describe bell peppers. Pepperoni is a VERY popular dish in America, since 36% of all pizzas sold in this country contain pepperoni. If you add all that pepperoni up, it would total in excess of 250,000,000 pounds.

Another version of salami is bologna, which was originally produced in the Italian town of Bologna. Like salami, it’s usually made from pork, but can also be made from chicken, beef, venison or soy.

I know for a fact that there are people who talk to their plants, and it’s probable that there are chefs who talk to their food while preparing it, but here’s an interesting twist for you. If you’d like to hear Salami sing to you, just click on the link below:

listen to your Salami sing

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nightmare on Elm Street

When Flagstaff was still a young town, the early pioneers who succumbed to disease or old age were buried in a place known simply as “City Cemetery”. One of the handful of early settlers who was buried there was a decorated Civil War veteran named Frederic James Krueger.

As the city continued to spread to the west, the leaders of the community came to the realization that the cemetery on the west side needed to be moved to another location in order to facilitate the growth of the town. As a result, the Catholic Calvary Cemetery was established in 1892, and Citizens cemetery was established a few years later.

The vast majority of the burial sites at City Cemetery were transferred to either Calvary or Citizens, but (inexplicably) the grave of Frederic James Krueger never made the journey, As a result, it’s entirely possible that his unmarked grave still lies undisturbed in the part of the town that has since become known as Thorpe Park, which is located less than a mile from the current location of Flagstaff High School.

Calvary Cemetery was built close to an area that was known as “Shantytown”, which was populated by a largely Hispanic (and pious) population. “Shantytown” incorporated a statue of the Sacred Heart at its core in order to ward off the spirit of the “weeping woman”, who is known as “La Llorano” in Hispanic communities. After the establishment of Calvary Cemetery, the statue was moved to the entranceway of the cemetery, Although Calvary has had no record of ghostly apparitions, at least 2 residence halls at Northern Arizona University continue to have numerous reports of strange sights and sounds within their walls, which would lead credence to the fact that La Llorano may actually be more than an urban legend.

One of the bodies buried at Calvary Cemetery was a young boy who died of mysterious causes a few days after being born in the early days of 1962. Due to the brevity of his life, his gravestone is simply marked “baby boy Krueger”, and the name Krueger slipped into obscurity - until Halloween of 1982.

Prior to 1924, students who wanted to attend high school attended the former Emerson school for grades 1 through 9, and attended grades 10 through 12 at the college that was then known as NANS.

In the 1960’s, Emerson School achieved more than bit of notoriety when the school janitor hung himself in the 2nd floor janitor’s office shortly after killing his wife and child at their home a few blocks away. Although Emerson School was ultimately torn down and replaced by the Flagstaff Library , visitors to the library (even to the present day) frequently report seeing visions of a shadowy figure walking up the stairs to the 2nd floor of the one story structure.

Ultimately, the town came to the realization that it needed a more permanent location for their high school, and construction of Flagstaff High School started in 1923. The first graduation class was the class of 1924.

By the 1950’s, Flag High had outgrown its original building, so construction was started on a new building that was located at the same location, 400 W. Elm Street. The first class to graduate from that location was the class of 1955. One of the young men who played on the varsity football teams of 1980 and 1981 was named Tony Cullen. After graduating from Flag High, he ultimately earned both bachelors and advanced degrees in Education before returning to Flagstaff, where he became a prominent local figure. Today, he can frequently be seen in areas in, and around, Flagstaff High School.

One of the more unusual architectural features of the new high school is a subterranean corridor that was built beneath the library. Officially, it’s called the “700 wing”, and it’s composed of a mere 11 rooms. Two of those rooms are numbered 716, but only one of them is used as a classroom. The other room, known as “the dungeon”, has NEVER been used as a classroom, and it’s not hard to imagine why.

On Halloween Day of 1982, 3 local teenagers (Tina, Rod, and Glen) were slashed to death in their homes, and one adult (Marge) later disappears under very unusual circumstances. The killer was never apprehended, and the case remains open today. Fortunately, no further deadly incidents have occurred, so it appears that the danger has passed, at least for now.

One of the teenagers lived at 218 W. Elm Street, an eerie looking (and vacant) residence that is directly east of the high school. Few people pay much attention to the structure today, but I’ve always gotten an uncomfortable feeling in my bones whenever I’ve walked past it.

When director Wes Craven heard about the slayings in Flagstaff, he wrote a movie script that incorporated the events of that evening. In order to protect the identity of the town, he created the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio. In order to give a name to the evil spirit that briefly terrorized the town, he randomly chose the name “Freddy Krueger”, and the same character re-emerged in 2010, when a remake of the original film was released.

“Nightmare on Elm Street” was a huge commercial success, and is considered to be one of the best films of 1984. Released a week after Halloween in 1984, it earned enough in the first week after its release to cover nearly 100% of its production costs.

“Nightmare on Elm Street” today is largely an historical footnote, but its legacy lives on today at Flagstaff High School, in particular for those student and faculty members who remain in the building after the close of the school day. If those students or faculty members happen to be in the area of “the dungeon", and they hear strange sounds coming from that room,

a little Halloween music

they should be very, very afraid - and leave the building as soon as possible.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Those darn immigrants

Four mornings a week, my wife and I drive through the campus of Northern Arizona University so that I can drop her off at one of the local elementary schools. One of the buildings that we pass on our journey is the Raul H. Castro College of Social and Behavioral Sciences building, which caused me to wonder why NAU would name one of their buildings for Fidel’s brother.

After a bit of research, I discovered that Raul H. Castro (who was born on June 12, 1916) was the 14th governor of Arizona, but left his post after Jimmy Carter appointed him to be ambassador to Argentina in 1977. He previously had been appointed as ambassador to El Salvador by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. He also happens to be a graduate of NAU, which was formerly known as Arizona State Teacher’s College.

He was born in Mexico, but moved with his family to Arizona when he was 10 years old. He was the first (as well as the only) Mexican-American to serve as Governor of Arizona. He is now 98 years old, and now holds the title of the oldest living former governor in the United States.

Fidel’s brother, meanwhile, has been President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba since 2008. He’s now 83 years old, but does not plan to seek re-election when his current term ends in 2018. Much to the surprise of a lot of people, it’s entirely possible that we will have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba by the time that Raul’s current term of office ends.

Our country has had a long and torturous relationship with immigrants ever since the first immigrants arrived at Jamestown in 1607, and immigrants are still a source of concern today. In fact, “securing the border” seems to be one of the main talking points for most Republican candidates for office in this election cycle, even though we currently spend $12 billion a year on border security, and the NET migration from Mexico has been ZERO since 2005. Few Republican candidates are as extreme as Ted Cruz of Texas, who wants to “secure the border and stop illegal amnesty”. Ironically, Ted was born in Canada, and his Cuban-born father did not become a United States citizen until 2005. The only reason that he technically would be eligible to run for the Presidency (oh, the horror) is that he’s an “anchor baby” (his mother was born in the United States.)

Eventually, the immigration reform program designed by “the gang of 8” may actually get passed by Congress, but the Democrats wisely chose not to pursue it too aggressively before the election in order to retain their narrow (and critical) majority in the Senate.

As a country, we desperately NEED talented immigrants to help our economy grow, and the best example of WHY is Google, which was deemed the second most valuable brand in the world (behind Apple) by Interbrand ranking in 2014. One of the founders of the company, Sergey Brin,, who was born in Moscow in 1973. He’s now worth $30 billion personally.

We’re always going to have people in America who will decry “those darn immigrants”, and we’re not going to be able to change their minds. However, we CAN prevent them from getting elected to office, and that would be an important first step towards restoring at least a little sanity to our country.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Put it where the sun don’t shine

The title page shown above is a somewhat crude phrase that can describe where you’d put ideas or concepts that you don’t agree with. However, there is also a gentler meaning for the phrase, and it was alluded to in a story in the New York Times on the morning of September 14.

In the near future, Germany will be getting 30% of its electrical power from renewable energy sources, which is twice the amount that the United States currently achieves. Some of that electric power comes from huge windmills in the North Sea, but a sizable amount also comes from solar panels. Today, Germany gets 7% of its power from solar panels, and 10% of its power from wind turbines.

Germany currently gets roughly 20% of its electrical power from nuclear sources, but after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, the country has made a determined effort to rid itself of nuclear power within the next decade. Although America gets 19% of its electrical power from nuclear (far less than France’s 75%) the fact that we consume much more electricity means that America is by far the largest nuclear producer in the world, with a total capacity of 102 gigawatts.

Both Germany and the United States currently get about 40% of their power from coal, but that percentage will decrease as renewable source energy production increases. In some circles, that would be considered a “war on coal”, but it’s also a big step towards improving the air that we breath. China currently receives 69% of its electricity from coal, and the results aren’t pretty.

The surprising part about Germany’s solar industry is that the country as a whole gets significantly less sunshine than the United States. The only places in the United States that get less sunshine than Germany are Seattle and Alaska. Naturally, you’re not going to hear that fact on FOX “news”, which has stated on air that Germany gets a lot more sunshine than the United States. The short FOX video in the link below is worth watching.

your brain is about to turn into mush

The sunniest spot in America is Yuma, Arizona, which receives 90% of available sunlight. Phoenix and Tucson are close behind, at 85%, and my home town of Flagstaff receives 78% of available sunlight. Yuma also leads the nation in the number of clear days a year, with 242 days.

In contrast, my home state of Minnesota receives only slightly more than 50% of available sunlight (Duluth receives 52%, and Minneapolis/St. Paul receives 58%). That fact, however, hasn’t prevented a large solar installation that will soon start on the Fond du Lac reservation. When completed, it will generate 1.0 megawatts of power, enough to generate 10% of the power for the Black Bear casino Resort. Somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota Power (which makes money be selling electricity), will contribute $2,000,000 towards the project.

Since Arizona receives lots of sunshine, you would assume that the state would lead the nation in solar power. It actually takes a distant second to California, which produces 2745.9 megawatts of power, and 50% of that capacity was added in 2013. Arizona produces 700.7 megawatts, which puts it far ahead of 3rd place North Carolina.

Strangely enough, sunny Arizona is the site of the largest NUCLEAR power plant in the country. Located about 45 miles west of downtown Phoenix, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station produces 3.3 getaways of power, and serves about 4,000,000 people.

As the New York Times articles points out, expanding the use of renewable energy is a complicated process, since regulators are charged with protecting the interests of the general public, while simultaneously keeping the utility companies happy. In recent years, some of the regulators on the Arizona Corporation Commission (the regulating body in Arizona) have had close ties to power producing companies, who often work AGAINST the solar and wind industries.

Sadly, we have far too many politicians who don’t want stricter environmental regulations on coal plants, or who want to use fracking to produce natural gas, or who want to allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon (uranium is used in nuclear power plants) or who want to allow mining in sensitive environmental areas. To those politicians, I have a few words of advice.

Please refer to my title.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spread the word

Rosemary Kennedy was the first sister of former President John F. Kennedy. Although physically attractive, she was considered to be psychologically unstable by her family, and she became subject to violent mood swings as she grew older. When she was 23 years old, her father (Joseph Kennedy) asked doctors to perform a new procedure on her called a frontal lobotomy in order to calm her mood swings. The surgery was not successful, but it diminished the mental capacity of Kennedy to that of a 2 year old child. She lived the rest of her life in various mental institutions, and died of natural causes at the age of 86.

Inspired, at least in part, by the experience of her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the first Special Olympics in 1968, so that individuals with mental and/or physical disabilities would have the ability to compete in athletic competitions on somewhat the same basis as “normal kids”. The organization has grown substantially since its inception, and now provides training and competitions to more than 4.2 million athletes in 170 countries.

Even though the Special Olympics helped to create a more favorable image for persons with disabilities, it wasn’t until the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1989 that formal programs for persons with disabilities were established, and a few years later, the “inclusion” of disabled students within “normal” classrooms started to become more common.

There are a variety of conditions that would be considered “disabilities”, but the most common ones are Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. Regardless of the specific malady, though, individuals with mental (and sometimes physical) disabilities were considered “retarded” in the past, and some still are today.

The word (fortunately) has become politically incorrect, but it hasn’t stopped people like extreme right wing conservatives Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh from freely using it in conversation. Their lack of compassion, unfortunately, is becoming more common in the Grand Old Party, and the recent protests of immigrant children in Murietta, California is just one example of how some members of our society are straying a bit too far from the Biblical principals of compassion and justice.

In an effort to stop the use of the term “retarded”, the Special Olympics of 2013 developed a simple phrase called “spread the word - end the word”. In order to facilitate the message, the organization also started a website to allow people to share their stories about working with disabled children:

the r-word

The “mission statement” of the r-word campaign can be summed up as follows:

“Recognizing that our choice of language frames how we think of others, we, the undersigned, pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech, and promote the acceptance and inclusion of of people with intellectual disabilities. “

Today’s treatment of persons with disabilities is significantly more humane than the practices that existed during the period of time when eugenics was more popular in our country, and other countries in the world. The core philosophy of eugenics was the promotion of higher reproduction rates of people with desired traits, and reduced reproduction of people with less-desired or undesired traits. Eventually, the philosophy resulted in the establishment of the Mother’s Cross in Germany in 1938, which honored German women who gave birth to at least 5 children, but it also led to compulsory sterilizations of those considered to be less desirable.

In its most extreme form, the practice of eugenics became the Nazi T4 program, which began as the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective”. Public outrage killed the program in Germany on August 18, 1941, but it was later revived in occupied Poland.

All of us see people with disabilities on a fairly regular basis, and my wife and I (due to the fact that we work for the local school district) have daily exposure to students with “disabilities”. As a result of that exposure, we consider ourselves to be blessed, due to the fact that we work with truly unique individuals, and (in our limited capacities) make a difference in their lives.

If you're interested in making a financial contribution to the Special Olympics, local Safeway stores allow you to make a contribution on the key pad used to pay your grocery bill. The "grand daddy" of all charitable fund raising events, though, is the Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, which Jerry Lewis hosted from 1952 through 2010. As of 2014, MDA telethons had raised $2.6 billion for the organization. Although you can make a contribution to the organization on line, local fire departments also do fund raising on Labor Day weekend.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The bridges of Madison County

Flagstaff, Arizona is a LONG way from Winterset, Iowa (the birthplace of Marion Morrison/John Wayne), so it’s always a little startling to see references to his home town in the area where I live. If you took the most direct route from Winterset, your trip would total 1336 miles, a good solid 2 day drive.

At lease half a dozen times a year, I’ll see a semi-truck/trailer combination parked in the village where I live. Emblazoned on the back door is a sign promoting the covered bridge festival in Madison Country (Winterset is the county seat) which is held the 2nd weekend in October every year.

34 of our 50 states still have some of their original covered bridges still standing, and the list of their locations can be viewed at the link below:

Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Vermont seem to have a preponderance of them, but even my home state of Minnesota still has ONE standing. If you include non-authentic (replica) bridges, then every state in the Union has at least one.

After we saw Clint Eastwood’s 1995 movie depicting the brief affair between Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) and Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) , Sharon and I decided that it would be fun to take a side trip to Winterset on our way back from Minnesota to Illinois.

Winterset is roughly 30 miles south east of Des Moines, and wasn’t difficult to find. Once we had found Roseman bridge, we then managed to find Francesca’s farmhouse, which still stands today, and is open for tours.

The kitchen still looks like it did when we took our own tour in the late 1990’s, and so does the bathtub that Francesca and Robert sat in together. If I looked hard enough, I could probably find the picture of ME sitting in the bathtub (fully clothed) but that‘s a project best saved for full retirement.

Most of the locations used in the movie are still standing, and can be viewed at the link below:

walk in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood

It’s unlikely that Sharon and I will ever get back to Madison County, or to the Covered Bridge festival, but I’ve got a feeling that some of our friends and relatives living in Minnesota might make a trip there at some point in the future.

One of the most memorable lines in the movie (involving eggs and linoleum) briefly earned the movie an “R” rating, which was later reduced to PG-13. However, another one of the lines in the movie is a good life lesson for all of us:

“The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out, but I’m glad I had them.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The green, green grass of home

The last time that I tried marijuana, Richard Nixon was still in the White House . Even though I owned a “bong”, and tried a few joints from time to time, my experience with the stuff was pretty much the same as the experience that Bill Clinton had when he was at Oxford. He tried it a few times, and found it a lot less satisfying than the occasional beer, so he gave it up.

Marijuana has had a long history in our country, and it’s absolutely true that our 1st and 3rd Presidents grew it on their farms. 11 of our Presidents (including Barack Obama) have been documented as using it at some point.

Due to the fact that the marijuana plant can be put to a wide variety of uses, its cultivation was encouraged during WWII.

During World War II, domestic hemp production became crucial when the Japanese cut off Asian supplies to the U.S. American farmers who grew hemp were even exempt from military duty. A 1942 U.S. Department of Agriculture film called "Hemp For Victory" extolled the agricultural might of hemp and called for hundreds of thousands of acres to be planted for the war effort.

Although Richard Nixon was no fan of marijuana, and was actually the President who started “the war on drugs”, it’s fun to imagine how much marijuana would have been grown by farmers during the Vietnam War if they had been exempt from military duty (as they were n WWII).

Marijuana has become decidedly more “mainstream” since my college days, and medical marijuana is now available in 18 states. 16 states have decriminalized marijuana use, and the vast majority of the rest of the states have classified possession of small quantities as a misdemeanor. Both Colorado and Washington State have gone one step further, and have made recreational use of marijuana fully legal.

Modern day restrictions on the use of marijuana can be traced back to 1930, when a man named Harry Anslinger was appointed as the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a position that he held for 32 years.

Anslinger’s laws against marijuana were firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. Without a shred of evidence, he once stated his opinion that “most marijuana users were Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians and entertainers, and marijuana use by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death - the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”.

In view of the fact that he held the title of “drug czar” for 32 years, it’s not surprising that our official policy on marijuana has been mis-guided for a lot of years. If you think that the prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans died with Anslinger in 1975, you’ve been watching entirely too much FOX “news”, since the right wing hysteria against illegal immigrants (most recently young children from Central America) and the passage of restrictive voter ID laws in a number of states are proof that his prejudices are still with us today.

On July 26, the New York Times started running what they call “High Time: and Editorial Series on Marijuana Legislation”. Most of the articles can be viewed by typing “high time” in the search bar on the New York Times online website. The New York Times board’s reason for running the series can best be summed up in their closing paragraph on July 26:

“We believe this is a big issue for the country - not because we think everyone should be smoking pot, but because while you were reading this blog post, there’s a good chance that, somewhere in this country, a young man - probably an African-American man - was arrested on a marijuana violation. Even if he is spared a prison term, that arrest is likely to severely harm, if not ruin, his life.“

This morning’s Chicago Tribune published a series of pictures that were taken during the Prohibition Era, which was another grand experiment in preventing people from getting what they want. The net result was that we spent a lot of money enforcing an unpopular law, we wasted an awful lot of beer, and the government made Al Capone a very rich man.

Not all drugs that are currently considered illegal should be legalized, of course, but the recent trends regarding marijuana indicate that commons sense regarding the drug are becoming a lot more common. As it stands now, the “was on drugs” costs our government $51 billion a year, and at least some of that money could be spent on far better uses. For starters, some of it could be used to repair our crumbling infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently awarded a rating of “D”. According to the same group of engineers, America’s highways are now ranked 19th in the world, and are actually worse than the roads found in the African country of Namibia.

If all 50 states followed the lead of Washington and Colorado, and legalized recreational use of marijuana, the tax revenue from marijuana sales (if taxed at rates similar to those imposed on alcohol and tobacco) would generate $46.7 billion a year. By coincidence, the budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2013 for all 50 states was $55 billion. In my opinion, it makes far more sense to close state budget deficits by legalizing recreational marijuana than it does to cut the pensions of policemen, firemen, and teachers.

If you listen carefully to the song made famous by Tom Jones (which describes a man awaiting execution) , you’ll realize that “Green Green Grass of Home” is not exactly what you’d call a happy song. However, if current legal trends on marijuana continue, the “green, green grass of home” CAN have a happy ending.

Tom Jones sings

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The man on the moon

The moon landing occurred 45 years ago today. Like a few other events that I’ve experienced in my lifetime (the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attack, and the airing of the last episode of M*A*S*H*) I know exactly where I was, and who I was with, when I heard the news.

If you’d like to relive a bit of the excitement from that day, you can watch the “moon walk” on You Tube - if you can spare the hour or so that it takes to watch it:

the moonwalk - before Michael Jackson

The early days of space travel were fraught with danger, and not all of the astronauts that went into space came back alive. However, for the ones who made it into space and back again, the views were pretty nice.

The musical group R.E.M. released a song titled “Man on the Moon” in 1992. Lyrically, the song is a tribute to the performer Andy Kaufman with numerous references to Kaufman's career including Elvis impersonation, wrestling, and the film My Breakfast with Blassie. The song's title and chorus refer to the moon landing conspiracy theories as an oblique allusion to rumors that Kaufman's 1984 death was faked. It’s a fun song to listen to (click on the link below) even though the lyrics themselves really don’t make sense.

if you believe they put a man on the moon

In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, roughly 20% of the American population believe that the moon landings were faked. One of the chief proponents of the moon landing “hoax” theory is a Nashville taxi driver named Bart Sibrel. He’s filmed two documentaries on the subject, and has produced two other related videos. He also participated in a FOX (but, of course) television network special titled, “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?.”

Although Neil Armstrong was the first person to land on the moon, “Buzz” Aldrin was right behind him. The photo shown below is a shot of Aldrin saluting the American flag:

Over the years, Sibrel has tried to interview the “moon landing” astronauts, but they have all refused to to meet with him. He eventually lured Buzz Aldrin to a hotel in Beverly Hills in 2002 under false pretenses, and he finally got exactly what he deserved:

a sock in the jaw

Bart Sibrel probably won’t just go away anytime soon, but the popularity of his theory, and of FOX “news” in general, proves (once again) the wisdom of the phrase that is widely attributed to P.T. Barnum:

“there’s a sucker born every minute”.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A dream come true

When we were kids, we all had fantastic dreams of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some of us wanted to be cowboys, others astronauts, others policemen, and a few wanted to be firemen. (For the record, I never wanted to be a used car salesman, but spent a good many years doing exactly that.)

This morning, Sharon and I went to the annual pancake breakfast at the local fire station. We went, in part, because it’s a great pancake breakfast, but we also decided to go to show our support for the guys who helped put out the Slide Rock fire in Sedona at the end of May.

As we were leaving, an antique fire truck looking very much looking like the one pictured below pulled up in back of the firehouse, and the fireman at the helm was giving FREE RIDES. How could we resist?

Sharon and I happened to be at the back of the line when the vehicle pulled up, which meant that the two of us got to sit up front with the driver, who let us sound the siren and pull on the ah-ooo-gah horn. I used my phone to capture a video and a few still pictures of us sitting in the cab, and I’ll probably store them on my phone for a long, long time.

Both of us agreed that it was LOT of fun, and made us feel like kids again.

One thing for sure, though, is that pancake breakfasts will never be the same again!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Peter, Paul, and Mary are still relevant today

The history of El Salvador is long and complicated, and dates back to pre-Columbian times, when the population existed on the eastern edges of the Mayan Empire. The first Europeans landed in the country in 1522, and the country remained under Spanish control until 1821, when it received independence from Spain.

Life in El Salvador in the 20th Century was marked by a series of coups and much political instability. A few years prior to the start of the (highly illegal) Iran-Contra scandal, the United States decided to get involved in the politics of El Salvador, and threw its support to one of the military juntas vying for power. Notes from the Wikipedia article about El Salvador under “the October 1979 coup d’etat” provide more details, but the reality is that our “assistance” led to the start of the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.

The human rights violations that we caused during that civil war stirred outrage in a singing trio that we’re all familiar with, and they released a song titled “El Salvador” in 1982. It turned out to be one of the most controversial songs that they had ever recorded, and caused them to be booed at some of their concerts in the mid to late 1980’s. Group member Mary Travers traveled to El Salvador in 1983, and was appalled at “the terrorism, rapes, and murders” that our country was paying for.

The song itself is a nice tune, and can be heard by clicking on the link below:

El Salvador song

If you're comfortable with working with multiple Windows at the same time, and would like to follow along with the song, the lyrics are posted below:

There's a sunny little country south of Mexico

Where the winds are gentle and the waters flow

But breezes aren't the only things that blow

in El Salvador

If you took the little lady for a moonlight drive

Odds are still good you'd come back alive

But everyone is innocent until they arrive

in El Salvador

If the rebels take a bus on the grand highway

The government destroys a village miles away

The man on the radio says 'now we'll play South of the Border'

And in the morning the natives say,

We're happy you have lived another day

Last night a thousand more passed away

in El Salvador

There's a television crew here from ABC

Filming Rio Lempa and the refugees

Calling murdered children the 'tragedy'

of El Salvador

Before the government cameras 20 feet away

Another man is asking for continued aid

Food and medicine and hand grenades

for El Salvador

There's a thump, a rumble, and the buildings sway

A soldier fires the acid spray

The public address system starts to play South of the Border

You run for cover and hide your eyes

You hear the screams from paradise

They've fallen further than you realize

in El Salvador

Just like Poland is 'protected' by her Russian friends

The junta is 'assisted' by Americans

And if 60 million dollars seems too much to spend

in El Salvador

They say for half a billion they could do it right

Bomb all day, burn all night

Until there's not a living thing upright

in El Salvador

They'll continue training troops in the USA

And watch the nuns that got away

And teach the military bands to play South of the Border

And kill the people to set them free

Who put this price on their liberty?

Don't you think it's time to leave El Salvador?

Since the civil war in El Salvador ended more than 20 years ago, most of us have forgotten all about our neighbor in Central America, but recent events have brought the country very much back in focus in recent months, and have reignited yet another “culture war” between the liberals and the conservatives in our country. In the past 8 months, 47,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed into the United States, and the vast majority of them have come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Their arrival has swamped immigration centers in Texas, which has caused a fairly large number of them to be diverted to Arizona.

Their reasons for coming here are clear, since all three countries are plagued with gang and drug violence. Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the entire world, at 90.4 homicides per 100,000 or population. El Salvador is #4, at 41.2 per 100,000, and Guatemala is #5, with 39.9 murders per 100,000.

What's less clear is the fact that the massive influx of refuges is, in large part, OUR FAULT. The Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials was ratified by 31 of the 34 nations in the Organization of American States in 1997. Although Canada, Jamaica, and the United States signed the treaty, none of them have ratified the treaty as of today's date. President Obama has asked the Senate, once again, to ratify the treaty, but no action has been taken as of yet. Since 70% of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities were made in America, and a similar percentage of the weapons in Central America come from the same source, it's fairly obvious that our ratification of the treaty would have resulted in lower crime rates in the three countries involved, which would result in far fewer refugees being forced to flee their home country.

The United States has maintained an aggressive deportation program since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and we deported 409, 849 in 2012. Although 59% of the undocumented migrants are from Mexico, the Pew Hispanic center announced in April of 2012 that net migration from Mexico to the United States is now actually negative. From 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States. In the same time period, slightly MORE than that number went the other day, due to REDUCED job opportunities in the United States, and INCREASED opportunities in Mexico.

The ultra conservative faction of our society (the group that keeps trying to impeach Barack Obama for a variety of imagined offenses) feels that the flood of children from Central America to the United States is “an invasion”.

In full recognition of the fact that simply sending the children back to their country of origin would likely be a death sentence, the Border Patrol is providing basic shelter to the children until they can be sent to juvenile detention centers around the country. Once there, efforts are made to release them to relatives in the United States, on the condition that they cooperate with deportation proceedings.

Due to the fact that the flood of children from Central America is a REGIONAL problem, and not just a United States problem, President Obama spoke with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday of this week, and Vice President Joe Biden met with Central American leaders in Guatemala on Friday to discuss ways to handle the situation. On Tuesday of this week, Congress increased funding so that the Department of Health and Human Services would be able to provide temporary food and shelter for the estimated 130,000 minors that are expected to arrive here in the next year.

As always, the issue of how to deal with illegal immigrants to our country is a thorny issue, one we’ve been plagued with for a long time. For now, immigration reform of any kind is unlikely until after the mid-term elections, but COULD happen during the last two years of Obama’s Presidency IF the right combination of people get elected in November. In the interim, Paul Stookey traveled to Dallas just last week to address that very issue.

For many years, Peter, Paul, and Mary were concerned with social issues, and essentially became a milder version of the protest songs of Pete Seeger. Although Mary Travers passed away in 2009, both Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow (both 76 years old) continue to perform today. Neither of them could possibly have imagined that the humanitarian crisis that they sang about in 1982 would still exist today. The closing line of their song was “don’t you think it’s time we leave El Salvador?“. Ultimately, we did, but now we have a new problem.

El Salvador has come to us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love on the rocks

New Mexico calls itself “the Land of Enchantment”, but it’s clear that my new home state of Arizona also has plenty of magic, and it’s not limited to the Grand Canyon, which is the 2nd most visited National Park in America (the Great Smoky Mountains are #1)

The first time that I saw Sedona, the sight of all those magnificent red rocks literally took my breath away. Since that first visit in 1998, we’ve been back to Sedona numerous times, due to the fact that the town has PLENTY of things to do and LOTS of gorgeous sights to see.

My favorite place in Sedona, though, is a local church that I’ve been to more times than I can count. Officially, it’s called the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and it’s owned by the Diocese of Phoenix. A local Catholic parish, St. John Vianney, maintains the property.

The chapel was commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who had been inspired in 1932 by the newly constructed Empire State Building to build a church that incorporated a cross in its design. After an attempt to do so in Europe (with the help of the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright), was aborted due to the outbreak of World War II, she decided to build the church in her native region.

It literally took an act of Congress (thanks to the late Senator Barry Goldwater) to get a special use permit to build the chapel on land of the Coconino National Forest. The chapel first opened its doors in 1956, and won an Award of Honor from the American Institute of Architects the following year. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior, and is landmark #19 of the City of Sedona.

The chapel gets thousands of visitors each month. If you page through the guest book just inside the front door, you’ll notice that visitors come here from all over the world, and it’s not unusual to see visitors from China mixed in with visitors from virtually every state in America. On our most recent visit, on June 7, we met 2 couples from Canada, but we also learned something about the chapel that I previously had been unaware of, and it’s related to love.

Marguerite Staude had the chapel build as a memorial to her parents, who were devout Catholics. As a result, it makes it one of the most dramatic show of love of parents that you’ll see anywhere.

Rather than limit the beauty of the place just to Catholics, Marguerite Staude declared that no services could be held at the chapel. It was, and is, still a place for people of all faiths to pray and reflect and find God through the beauty of art. Marguerite created a Madonna sculpture for the Chapel, and she created the Stations of the Cross of rough antique nails, Another stone carved sculpture, of the head of Jesus, sits to the rear of the Chapel. Until her death in 1988, Marguerite received letters from all over the world from visitors who had marveled at the beauty of the Chapel and the surrounding area, proof that she had achieved her goal to build a place that would "send the spirit onward."

As we were leaving the chapel last Saturday, a group of people standing near the entrance started clapping. We quickly learned that a couple standing outside the entrance, on the right side, had just become engaged. We congratulated Thomas and Ashley as we left, and I suddenly realized that their story needed to be told. According to one of the on site volunteers, there have been LOTS of couples that have become engaged on the grounds of the chapel. Although I have no way of proving it, I suspect that an awful lot of marriages that started out as “love on the rocks” are still going strong today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A D-Day tribute

Even though it’s been 70 years since the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, there are still 1.7 million Americans living today who served in World War II. Of the more than 16,000,000 people who served in that conflict, over 400,000 were killed, and nearly 700,000 were wounded. By the year 2036, the VA estimates that all of the World War II veterans will be gone.

Most of us have seen “Saving Private Ryan” , one of the six movies produced that were devoted either entirely or largely to the D-Day invasion. All of them pay tribute to the brave guys who participated in “Operation Overlord”, but it’s already been 13 years since the most recent production, Band of Brothers, was released.

Although the vets who served in World War II deserve our respect, so do the men and women who have donned the uniform since that time. One of the best tributes to our servicemen and women that I've seen doesn‘t need any words to convey our gratitude, and is worth watching:

a tribute to our soldiers

If you’d like to thank Food City for producing this ad (I used one of the 2 stores in Tucson as a reference point), their contact information is listed below:

contact Food City

Saturday, May 24, 2014

There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight

The song posted at the link below came to mind the other day due to an event that has been occurring in our area this week:

the 1958 version of an OLD song

The first clue that I had that something was amiss came at a little after noon on Wednesday, when Sharon stopped by the high school where I was working in order to bring me home. As it turns out, a small campfire had grown out of control near Slide Rock State Park north of Sedona on the afternoon of the 20th, and by noon the next day, fire department officials had declared a “pre-evacuation order” for the subdivision that we live in. After attending an informational meeting at the local fire station, we rushed home and packed up our important papers, some pictures, some clothing, our cat, and my trusty computer, and by 4:00, we were heading east to spend the night at a friend’s house in Doney Park.

Due to the rugged terrain near Sedona, (see picture below) putting firemen on the ground to fight the fire was difficult, which led to a rapid escalation in the size of the fire. At the break of dawn on the 21st, the fire had consumed 450 acres. By the time the sun set later on in the day, the fire had spread to 4500 acres, and by the morning of the 24th, it had consumed 10,000 acres. Fire officials estimate that by the time the fire is finally extinguished, 25,000 acres will have been burned.

To date, 20 separate fire departments from around the state have rushed to the area in order to fight the fire. If you looked hard enough, you could probably find the guy pictured below among the 900 firemen on the ground.

Due to the fact that the fire suppression techniques on the north end of the blaze had largely eliminated the possibility that the fire would reach our house, we moved back home again on the afternoon of the 22nd.

As is true with most fires, the mess that we now have in Sedona was caused by humans. Last week’s fires in San Diego were caused by an arsonist, who has since been arrested. By the time the 10 separate blazes had been extinguished, 10,000 acres had been burned, causing more than $20,000,000 in damage and at least one death.

Arizona and California, incidentally, are 2 of the 7 states in America that are literally running out of water.

Even without direct involvement in the fires, though, the human race is INDIRECTLY responsible for the increasing severity of the fires that occur every year in our country. Not everyone is a believer in global warming (more on that later) but the 40 years of data from the link below strongly suggest that it’s the reason that fires have been getting more dangerous every year.

fun fire facts

For nearly all of the last 30 years, the NUMBER of fires has been remarkably consistent, ranging from 50,000 to roughly 80,000 in most years. What HAS changed is the average size of the fires, in terms of acres burned.

In 1973, the average fire consumed 16 areas.

In 1983, the average fire size was 72 acres.

In 1993, the average fire had dropped to 30 acres, but increased to an average of 51 acres the following year.

In 2003, average fire size had increased to 62 acres, but by 2012 (the most recent year available) the average fire size was 137 acres.

Whether you believe in global warming or not is (obviously) dependent on the news sources that you rely on for your information. Most people would regard NASA to be a credible source of information about climate change due to the fact that the organizations has “eyes in the sky” at all times. According to NASA, the main cause of the current global warming trend is the human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”, and their opinion is shared by the United Nations, whose Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (comprised of 1300 independent experts from countries around the world) has concluded that there’s more than a 90% probability that human activities over the last 250 years have warmed the planet.

Unfortunately, the leading cable channel in America is FOX “news”, whose viewers are subjected to a constant stream of climate change denial, and a recent headline helps to explain why. On April 9, FOX published an article with the headline “UN finding on climate change is just a bunch of hot air, new report claims”. Even though the article pointed out that the report had been published by the conservative (and unreliable) Heartland Institute, and actually referenced the UN report in the article, a large percentage of the audience is likely to simply stop at the headline, and read no further.

Believe it or not, there ARE news sources that are even goofier than FOX. The ultra conservative Personal Liberty Digest believes that "the theory of man made global warming is based on spurious science, phony statistics, and outright lies".

Sadly, the remedy for improving our climate is a political one, and it’s going to be very difficult to achieve, largely due to the fact that the 113th Congress is officially the worst Congress in the last 40 years.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has spent more time holding hearings (15) on the existence of extraterrestrial life than on the repercussions of climate change (2 hearings). The chairman of the committee, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, has a long track record of climate change denial, and several committee members have similar attitudes. Committee member James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin has called climate change “a massive international scientific fraud” and committee member Paul Broun of Georgia, a young Earth creationist, believes that the world was created in six days as we know them.

Other House committees that are responsible for addressing U.S energy and environmental issues have been equally negligent. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held only one hearing on climate change, and the House Natural Resources Committee has yet to take up the issue in the 113th Congress.

On top of all that, on Thursday of this week, 227 Republicans (and 4 Democrats) in the House of Representatives voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prevent the Pentagon from spending money to carry out the policy recommendations from the National Climate Assessment report that was released by the Obama administration earlier this month, or from several United Nations reports on climate change and sustainability. Although the amendment is unlikely to survive, it’s a clear indication of the mindset of an awful lot of people in Congress.

In case you’re wondering, the United States Department of Defense is one of the largest single consumers of energy in the entire world, and it’s responsible for 93% of all U.S. Government fuel consumption. The new solar panels that were installed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base earlier this year are a step in the right direction (they’ll save an estimated $500,000 a year in energy costs) , but the Defense Department still has a long ways to go. Fortunately, the military is smarter than the members of Congress. According to retired Air Force General Donald Hoffman, "it is not possible to discuss the future of national and international security without addressing climate change". As further proof of the intelligence of our Armed Services, our Navy has actually figured out a way to turn seawater into fuel.

I’m normally not one to tell people how to vote, but it’s pretty clear (to me, at least) that we need to elect as many Democrats as possible in both 2014 and 2016 in order to protect our country’s interests.

The President had tried, without success, to move a climate change bill through Congress in his first term, and such legislation would now stand no chance of getting past the resistance of Republican lawmakers who question the science of climate change. As a result, Mr. Obama is taking a controversial step - he is using his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to issue an E.P.A. regulation taking aim at coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. Ironically, the "cap and trade" program that would pay for the costs of the new pollution controls were put into place at the state level at least 5 years ago by two Republican governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarznegger of California.

Despite predictions that the new regulations will kill the coal industry, the coal plant in Homer City, Pennsylvania, is proof that pollutants can be reduced substantially without causing the loss of jobs or the closure of coal plants. Currently one of the dirtiest coal plants in the country, within a few years the plant will have reduced sulfur dioxide pollution to a level 80% below its current production, with no loss of jobs or increases in electrical bills.

The United States currently gets 37% of its electricity from coal, the leading source of electrical generation. In contrast, China gets 69% of its electricity from coal, which leads to air quality like that in the picture below.

Not all Republicans are bad (unless you’re talking about the Tea Party), but there simply aren’t enough of them that are concerned about climate change. Of the 107 Republicans currently running for Senate, only one of them (Jim Rubens of New Hampshire) has declared that global warming exists, and that it is caused by human activity. The vast majority of the other 106 either ignored the issue entirely, or listed the reasons that they oppose environmental regulations more broadly.

The fight to stop the wildfire just south of our house is likely to continue for another 2 to 3 weeks, but the fight to save our planet is gong to be a never ending story, and it’s up to all of us to make sure that it has a happy ending.

Be sure to vote in November.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The ghost of Father Karras

Earlier this week, I was a substitute teacher for one of the teachers at Flagstaff High School, and provided assistance for three of her classes the day that I was there.

The most interesting class of the day was the first hour class, which was working on a budget plan related to their choice of careers. Future career choices included auto mechanic, fire fighter, Navy SWAT team, animal care, carpenter, and psychiatrist. The most intriguing career choice, however, was one that you don’t run across very often.


As it turns out, there is a school in Denver, Colorado called the International School of Exorcism, and it was founded by noted cult and occult expert Bob Larson in 2012. In the last 30 years, Mr. Larson has performed more than 20,000 exorcisms, which would likely make him the number one exorcism expert in the world. In a nod to the electronic world, Mr. Larson recently has been offering exorcisms by Skype, and the suggested cost of a one hour exorcism is $295.

For most of us, our exposure to exorcism is due to the 1973 movie, The Exorcist, which was actually based on a true story, the 1949 exorcism case of a boy in Maryland named Roland Doe. Roland Doe, as you might suspect, was the pseudonym assigned by the Catholic church in order to protect the privacy of the family involved. The movie was extremely successful commercially, and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, It eventually became one of the highest grossing films of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide.

In the movie, the team of Father Lankester Merrin and Father Damien Karras are assigned to perform an exorcism on young Regan Burstyn (Linda Blair) , who looks more than a little scary in the movie.

Ultimately, Father Karras is forced to perform the exorcism alone, after the demon possessing the young girl manages to kill the elderly Father Merrin (played by Max von Sydow). Many people consider The Exodus to be the scariest movie off all time, and if you view the 5 minute clip posted below, I think that you’ll agree with that assessment:

how does she get her head to move like that?

The ritual of exorcism has been practiced for more than 2000 years, and it’s not limited to the ritual performed by members of the Catholic Church. Exorcisms have also been performed by Hindus, Muslims, and Jews, and the act of exorcism is mentioned in the Dead Sea scrolls, which go back as far as 400 B.C..

In general, the scientific community does not recognize possession as a valid psychiatric or medical condition, but there ARE those in the scientific community (notably Psychiatrist . M. Scott Peck) who believe otherwise. During the early years of the 20th Century, lobotomies (including surgery with an ice pick) were performed to rid the patient of what was considered to be a mental illness, but the practice of performing lobotomies has largely disappeared throughout most of the world.

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the occult, which caused the Vatican to offer a course in Satanism and exorcism starting in 2005. Dan Brown may be partially to blame, since The DaVinci Code has sold more than 80,000,000 copies since its release in 2003.

Satanism has become mainstream enough that a Harvard University student club recently announced plans to host a Satanic Black Mass on May 12th. Due to public outrage, and condemnation by the Archdiocese of Boston and the University’s President, the event was cancelled before it could occur.

I’m not a believer in giving people advice on their career choice, especially in view of the fact that most people will have more than one career in their lifetime (I’ve had 5, so far), but I’d likely recommend something other than being an exorcist.

For those who are still considering the career, they may wish to follow in the footsteps of Washington Post columnist Anthony Faiola, who recently traveled to the Vatican to witness an exorcism being performed by the Catholic Church’s best known exorcist, an 89 year old priest named Father Gabriele Amorth.

If they are still interested after that, my advice would be to feel free to move forward.