Monday, February 23, 2015

The fountain of youth

For thousands of years (going back as far as the 5th Century B.C.) people have been looking for ways to either restore their youth, or at least live longer. Believe it or not, there IS a place in America that has a “fountain of youth”, and it’s been a popular place to visit for almost 500 years.

It was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who was the first governor of Puerto Rico. He traveled to southern Florida in the early part of the 16th Century, in order to find “the fountain of youth”, and landed in St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in North America.

Although the site has had numerous visitors over the years, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that a more formal structure was erected. “Diamond Lil” McConnell created the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in 1904, and the pictures below will give you an idea what it looks like:

We stopped at the park on our way back from Disney World more than 20 years ago, and we currently have some friends from Minnesota who are visiting the town (and somehow managed to climb all 212 steps in the St. Augustine lighthouse).

I don’t think that I actually drank any water from the fountain when we were there, but have aged pretty well in spite of it. As you’re aware, red wine contains resveratrol, a preservative, so my long life span is undoubtedly due to my fondness for red wine, even though there is no scientific evidence that the stuff actually works that way.

The world’s oldest human (unless you happen to believe that some of the ages listed in the Bible are actually accurate) was a French woman named Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122. She smoked from the time that she was 21 until she was 117, she ate an average of 2 pounds of chocolate every week, and she frequently consumed port wine.

The vast majority of the people who have lived a long time actually lived very hard lives. Many of the word’s oldest humans were either slaves or descendants of slaves. Louis Zamperini, the former Olympic athlete who was horribly abused while being held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, lived to be 97 years old. He died in the summer of 2014, and his life story recently was made into a movie titled “Unbroken”.

If you don’t drink the water in the Fountain of Youth in Florida, it appears that the other ways to live a long time are:

1) be poor

2) eat, drink, and smoke

3) pick parents who have good genes

Monday, February 16, 2015

Oh poop !

As expletives go, “oh poop” is a pretty mild utterance, roughly on the same scandal level as “oh darn” or “dagnabit“. Expletives, of course, are necessary to relieve our temporary frustrations, but there’s another side of “poop” that most of us aren’t aware of.

Yesterday’s Arizona Republic contained an article titled “Double Duty”, which described how 2 Arizona dairy farms (Triple G Dairy and Stotz dairy) were converting methane gas produced by their cows into renewable energy. Between them, the 2 dairies have 20,000 head of cattle, which means that they have a lot of (um) poop to deal with.

The power generated by the converted methane gas is sold to Arizona Public Service Company, which produces revenue for the companies. The systems used by the companies to produce power also reduce the odor from their manure lagoons, and they help in other ways as well. Water from the lagoons is treated, and is used for irrigation, and the less liquid components from the lagoon are made into fertilizer, which is spread onto food crops. Any methane that is left over after all the other conversions is burned, which renders it harmless.

Farms in other states have also realized the economic value of recycling manure. The Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, Vermont, installed a generator roughly six years ago to convert manure to electricity. The installation generates $250,000 a year in income for the farm, and produces enough electricity to power 400 homes.

Believe it or not, global warming IS real, and it’s exacerbated by human activity, despite what people like Jim Inhofe might believe. If you’re not familiar with him, he is the senior senator from Oklahoma, and is a member of the Republican Party. Inhofe is considered to be one of the most conservative members of either chamber of Congress, and has been the foremost Republican promoting arguments for climate change denial in the global warming controversy. He famously said in the Senate that global warming is a hoax, and has invited contrarians to testify in Committee hearings.

Naturally, he is now the ranking member of the United States Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight. His position is, of course, roughly equivalent to putting Michele Bachmann in charge of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which meant that while she was the chair of the committee, she oversaw the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the rest of the U.S. intelligence committee.

Methane gas is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas (after carbon dioxide) but its impact on climate change is 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100 period. Although it IS a naturally occurring gas, it is also produced by human activities like the raising of cattle or leakage from natural gas systems. In the United States, cattle produce 6 million tons of methane every year, which is roughly 20% of all methane gas emissions.

For their efforts in being “environmentally friendly businesses” , both dairies were recently awarded an Environmental Stewardship Award by the Arizona Farm Bureau.

There’s an old saying that if you have lemons, you make lemonade. The logical extension of that saying, of course, is that if you have poop, you make power. Another old saying that can now be laid to rest, though, is, “that shit don’t fly around here”, since all of us can even learn lessons from bird poop - but that’s all that I’ll say about that.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


“Selma” is one of the 8 motion pictures nominated for 2015 Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. It is one of the 3 remaining nominees (along with “American Sniper” and “The Imitation Game“) that is still playing at our local theater.

One of those films, “American Sniper“, is still being shown 5 times a day. “The Imitation Game” is still being shown 4 times a day.


When Sharon and I saw it last weekend, the only 2 showings were 9:30 a.m. and 10:15 p.m.. As of yesterday, the ONLY showing of the film is at 10:15 p.m., which tells me that somebody does not want this film to be watched by a lot of people. Our experience in Flagstaff isn’t unique, since other theaters around the country have very limited show times.

Since its release, “American Sniper” has taken in $250,000,000.

During the same time period, “Selma’s” box office receipts were $44,000,000. That’s still a respectable number, even though it pales in comparison to “American Sniper“. At least some writers consider “Selma” to be the BEST picture still playing in movie theaters.

It took roughly 8 years for “Selma” to get produced, and it was largely due to the efforts of Oprah Winfrey (one of the film’s producers), who had complete faith in the black female director, Ava DeVernay.

It’s a very powerful film, and virtually the entire audience that saw the show with us sat through the entire movie AND all of the credits at the end of the movie. Five minutes into the show, Sharon started to cry, and the picture below will give you a glimpse of what caused her to be upset:

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Although the law, which outlawed discrimination in a lot of areas, but did not fully protect voting rights for African-Americans., which is the reason that Dr. King felt it necessary to march from Selma to Montgomery in order to protect voting rights. Eventually, of course, he succeeded, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law on August 6, 1965.

We all know that the marchers walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge, but few people actually know the significance of that particular bridge. Construction on the bridge was started in 1939. It was the site of “bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, and it was named a National Historic Landmark on March 11, 2013.

The man who the bridge was named for was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, and later became a U.S. Senator in the state of Alabama. Significantly, he was also the first Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, in 1877, so marching across his bridge took an enormous amount of courage.

Now that we’re more than 50 years past the signing of the Civil Rights Act, and close to 50 years past the signing of the Voting Rights Act, you’d think that voting rights were now guaranteed for all Americans, wouldn’t you?

It’s a widely known fact that minority voters tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans. In the 2012 Presidential election, Mitt Romney captured only 17% of the non-white vote, and in some precincts, he got no votes at all. The most lopsided results were in Philadelphia, where Romney got no votes at all in 59 precincts.

Since non-whites includes African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, it’s fairly obvious that the Republican Party is out of touch with a lot of people. Since Latinos are the fastest growing segment of our society, and Caucasians will be the minority by 2042, it’s clear that the Republican Party can’t remain in power unless they cheat, which they have done in 2 area:

1) Redistricting

During the 2014 mid-term auctions/elections, Senate Democrats got 20,000,000 more votes than the Republicans did, but gerrymandering of voting districts, as well as low voter turnout, helped the Republicans to achieve a 54/46 advantage in the Senate.

2) Voter ID laws

Although voter ID laws date back to 1950, they have exploded in recent years. Today, 34 states have voter ID laws on the books. Although their proponents claim that their purpose is to prevent voter fraud (which is virtually non-existent in our country), their true purpose is to make it more difficult for minorities to vote. That second point became very obvious after June of 2013, when the Supreme Court invalidated a key part (prior notification, also known as Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, legislators in 14 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia) made changes in their laws to make it more difficult to vote for at least a portion of their population. Texas made the changes in its laws the SAME DAY of the Supreme Court ruling.

Martin Luther King made significant strides in protecting the rights of African Americans, which is why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964. You can listen to his acceptance speech by clicking on the link below:

Martin Luther King in Oslo

He was well aware of the fact that the achievement of racial justice can take an awfully long time, which is why it wasn’t until February 5, 1994 that Byron Beckwith was finally convicted of the 1957 murder of Medgar Evers.

One of the key phrases in Martin Luther King’s speech was that violence and civilization cannot exist together. If you put that in the context of Ferguson, Missouri, the 74 school shootings that have taken place since the slaughter in Sandy Hook, and even the popularity of “American Sniper” itself, his words are still very much true today,

Even if “Selma” doesn’t win the Best Picture award, it will still be a success, due to the fact that it will rekindle interest in racial equality, which is a never ending story.

See it while you can.

You’ll be glad that you did.