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.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Have you ever wondered about Wonder bread ?

Like most of the folks who were growing up when The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was still on prime time television (ABC network), I ate a lot of Wonder Bread, a brand that has been in existence since 1921, when it was created by a small Indiana bakery named Taggart Baking Company.

In 1925, the bakery was sold to Continental Baking, who retained ownership of the company until 1995, when Continental Baking was purchased by Interstate Baking Corporation, which later became Hostess Brands.

Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy protection in November of 2012, and the United States portion of the company was purchased by Flowers Foods in January of 2013 (Weston Bakeries produces Wonder bread in Canada, and Grupo Bimbo produces Wonder bread in Mexico.)

Continental Baking was responsible for two major innovations during the company’s years of ownership. The first major innovation was that it was one of the very first bakeries to sell pre-sliced bread (in 1930). Its second major innovation came in the 1940’s, when the company began adding vitamins and minerals to its breads as part of a government-sponsored program to enrich white bread, Ultimately, the company was adding 12 vitamins and minerals to Wonder bread, which led to the creation of the slogan “helps build strong bodies 12 ways”. A 1956 ad from Life magazine will bring back a lot of memories for most of us:

I haven’t purchased Wonder bread for years, and probably for decades. My memory of the stuff was that it usually got stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I graduated to more substantial breads a long time ago.

Surprisingly, Wonder bread actually DOES offer good nutritional value, and a significant number of the wide variety of breads sold as Wonder Bread have nutritional values of either A or B:

is that stuff really good for you?

Wonder Bread was in the news recently, but not for reasons that you might expect. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the new owner of Wonder Bread, Flowers Foods, was rated as the most Republican-leaning company in the country. Since 1979, the company has given 99% of its political contributions to the Republican Party, a full 11% higher than the amount contributed by the ultra conservative Koch Industries.

If you’re a died-in-the-wool Democrat (like me) that kind of news is hard to swallow, but you actually wouldn’t accomplish much if you stopped buying the products sold by Flowers Foods. Sharon and I stopped buying Papa John’s pizzas a while back due to John Schnattner’s political affiliations and abysmal employee compensation, but the guy has a net worth of $600 million, so he obviously won’t miss our money very much.

Regardless of your political affiliation, however, there’s one thing that all of us can agree on, and that is that there’s simply too much dough in politics. It’s actually a wonder that our democracy works as well as it does.