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Monday, April 19, 2010


I’ve never particularly been a student of history. Not that I didn’t think that history was interesting, just that I wasn’t too terribly concerned with it. Everybody, of course, has heard the Toynbean quote that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Usually, folks hear that and it goes in one ear and out the other, because, after all and especially in this country, it couldn’t happen here. Why, we’re the best country in the world. We’re the freest and most open society that’s ever been. We are the richest and the most prosperous society; we are the most transparent society as far as government goes. Sure, there are groups within that society that are marginalized, a BIT, but gosh, at least they’ve got a voice. So, what’s to worry about here? Plenty, folks.

I’m starting to become a student of history now. I don’t see that I’ve got any choice in the matter and, for that matter, we all need to stop and take a look around us, because we are, right now, on the verge of another bloody civil war.

According to Aristotle, revolutions arise from inequalities, numerical or qualitative, IE a numerical mass claiming an equality denied them, or from a minority claiming a superiority denied them. He further states “In all revolutions, the conditions which leads up to them is the desire of the many for equality, and the desire of the minority for effective superiority. The purposes with which they are set on foot are profit, honour, or avoidance of loss or dishonour. The inciting occasions are many: jealousy of those who have wealth and honour, official arrogance, fear of the law or of its abuse, personal rivalries, failure of the middle class to maintain a balance, race antagonisms, antagonism of localities, and others.”

So, where are we on this bell curve? We’re currently living in a titular republic which is actually an oligarchy. At least 75% of the folks here now are living pretty unhappy lives. Of that 75%, at least 90% are living under the poverty level, are unemployed and in a lot of cases unemployable due to health, age or educational levels. The rest of us are living on unemployment because the government is not doing its job of keeping us out of wars, regulating the multimegacorps so that they don’t steal us all blind, and generally following the Constitutional mandate of providing for the common good. The conditions that favour revolutions usually come from the jealousy of those excluded from power, personal ambitions, and great inequality of wealth - and the fear that, no matter what, they are disposable. In a constitutional government, the main cause of discontent and revolutionary fervour is the incomplete fusion of the these three criteria: wealth, numbers and merit. The comparative stability of constitutions comes from the greater relative weight of numbers. They are, however, more liable to be revolutionized by external pressure, which is pretty much what's happening here. Equality in proportion to merit and security of rights are the true conditions of permanence.

In other words, the many are ruled by the few. There is a disproportionate amount of wealth and power concentrated in very few hands, the elected officials are owned by those folks/corporations, and everybody else, basically, is fucked.

What caused the French Revolution? Once again, inequality. France in 1789, while it was facing some economic (especially taxation) difficulties and simplicities, was one of the richest and most powerful nations in Europe. The Ancien RĂ©gime in France was brought down partly by its own rigidity in the face of a changing world and partly by the ambitions of a rising bourgeoisie, allied with aggrieved peasants, wage-earners and various individuals of all classes influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. As the revolution proceeded and power devolved from the monarchy to legislative bodies, the conflicting interests of these initially allied groups would become the source of conflict and bloodshed.

France needed to raise most of its government's revenues internally rather than from external tariffs, since France was not one of the major trading nations. Sound familiar? We’re in that position now. We import more than we export, because we can’t compete with the slave labour nations like China, India and Pakistan. These problems were all compounded by a great scarcity of food in the 1780s. A series of crop failures caused a shortage of grain, consequently raising the price of bread. Because bread was the main source of nutrition for poor peasants, this led to starvation. The two years previous to the revolution (1788–89) saw bad harvests and harsh winters. Again, does this sound familiar? The only difference is that, while our own harvests haven’t been all that bad, about 70% of our corn crop has gone into peoples’ gas tanks.

The disparity between the haves and have-nots, once again, is the biggest factor in a pre-revolutionary condition. When the gap between rich and poor becomes so great that the poor can no longer survive under these conditions, they revolt and establish a system of wealth redistribution. Once the wealth has been redistributed, the poor are happy again and eventually grow apathetic, then the rich begin their quiet revolution of taking the wealth back and continue to do so until the disparity between the have's and the have not's becomes so great that the poor can no longer survive under those conditions, which leads to another revolution, etc.
Majorities in the Pew Research Center survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it's interfering too much in state and local matters. The public is split over whether the government should be responsible for dealing with critical problems or scaled back to reduce its power, presumably in favor of personal responsibility. About half say they want a smaller government with fewer services, compared with roughly 40 percent who want a bigger government providing more. The public was evenly divided on those questions long before Obama was elected. Still, a majority supported the Obama administration exerting greater control over the economy during the recession. This is one of the rare cases where more intervention can and already has had a positive influence.
"Trust in government rarely gets this low," said Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan center that conducted the survey. "Some of it's backlash against President Obama. But there are a lot of other things going on." And, he added: "Politics has poisoned the well."

The split in ideologies has gotten worse and worse. More and more people are living on less and less, more and more people are not just afraid, they’re terrified – and more and more of us think that the government needs to get OUT of our lives, and do less. I’m all for this, believe me!
Revolution involves a radical change in government, usually accomplished through violence, that usually results in changes to the economic system, social structure, and cultural values. We’re on the verge of this right here, RIGHT NOW. Take a look at the Tea Party if you don’t believe me.

Do not say that “it can’t happen here”. It can, and it’s going to. I am hoping that it’s going to be a bloodless revolution – vote the rascals out, put some new ones in place – but I’m not sanguine about the prospects.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Like everybody else in the country this week, I’ve been following the West Virginia mine tragedy, hoping against hope that the miners – some of them, any of them – would be found alive. That hope was finally dashed this evening when the bodies of the 4 missing miners were found about an hour ago. The death toll is 29 people, who should not have died, if the mine’s owner had taken even the most rudimentary of safety precautions.

"We did not receive the miracle that we prayed for," Gov. Joe Manchin said. "So this journey has ended and now the healing will start." What a chuckle-headed remark for a supposedly smart man to make. There won’t be any healing from this tragedy. Yes, there will be funerals, and there will be markers, and Massey Energy will collect another big bunch of violations, and won’t pay just an awful lot in fines – and some cosmetic improvements will be made, and people will go back to work in those mines. There will be no healing, just scarring. This kind of completely preventable disaster doesn’t allow for that sort of healing. The families will be financially taken care of, but the anger that is only now beginning to surface does not heal.

Until late Friday, officials had held out a slim chance that four missing miners might have made it to an underground refuge chamber which held enough oxygen and water to survive for four days. “None of the chambers had been deployed and none of our miners suffered," Governor Manchin said. The death toll makes it the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since a 1970 explosion killed 38 in Hyden, Ky. Earlier, federal mine safety administrator Kevin Stricklin had said there was no way anyone in the mine could have survived after the blast unless they were in a refuge shelter. "There's no way that life could be sustained in that type of atmosphere, even for a short period of time," Mr. Stricklin said. Rescuers had hoped the miners might have made it to the chamber stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for several days.

That means, of course, that the atmosphere was so toxic that one deep breath and the person would die. Period. If, that is, he hadn’t already been pulped in a blast that was so severe that the heavy-gauge steel railroad tracks were bent and twisted like pretzels.

The mine's owner, Massey Energy Co., has been repeatedly cited both for problems with the system that vents methane as well as allowing combustible dust to build up to dangerous levels. On the day of the blast, MSHA cited the mine with two fairly serious safety violations, one involving inadequate maps of escape routes, and the other concerning an improper splice of electrical cable. However, Mr. Stricklin said these particular violations had nothing to do with the blast.

Yeah. Right. The Federally-mandated ventilation system was inadequate, and didn’t work about half the time, according to some miners that talked to reporters anonymously, the dust extractors weren’t working even as well as the ventilation system – and the violations had nothing to do with the blast.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship has strongly defended the company's record and disputed accusations from miners that he puts coal profits ahead of safety. He has said in the past of the Federal regulations: “They're very difficult to comply with. There's so many of the laws that are, if you will, nonsensical from an engineering or a coal mining viewpoint. A lot of the politicians, they get emotional, as does the public, about the most recent accident, and it's easy to get laws on the books that are not truly helping the health or safety of coal miners. I think we need to be very pragmatic and very careful when we're passing laws of that nature to make sure that we create as much safety and as much health as can be created for each of the resources we expend”.

Or, in other words, if the laws and regulations are inconvenient for you, just ignore them.

Of course, saying that the rules are "difficult to comply with" actually means: "On the other hand, we're perfectly OK racking up tons of violations, and we don’t give a damn about the safety, health and well-being of our workers if it looks like it’s going to cost us money." After all, who’s going to force him and his company to do anything? The West Virginia miners? The UMW? The AFL-CIO? Governor Manchin? How about – NOBODY?

The most recent statistics gathered by the US Government shows West Virginia to have 48,899 employers offering 713,805 jobs. The average weekly wage for these West Virginia jobs is $623 per week ($32,396 annually). Overall, the private sector has more jobs in West Virginia than any other with 575,016 jobs and 44,951 employers. The average weekly wage for the Private sector is $626 per week ($32,552 annually). The next highest sector is local government jobs with 73,992 positions and 1,895 employers. The average weekly wage for local government jobs is $395 per week ($20,540 annually). Rounding out the jobs in West Virginia is the State Government sector which has 934 firms and agencies that employ 42,288 people in West Virginia. The average weekly wage for state government jobs is $687 per week ($35,724 annually). So, take a good look at these statistics about the specific industries that offer jobs in West Virginia. Trade, transportation, and utilities jobs in the service sector make up the majority of West Virginia jobs. Trade, transportation, and utilities jobs account for 11,796 employers in West Virginia which hire 139,971 people. Their average weekly salary is $562 per week ($29,224 annually). Education and health services jobs are created by 5,004 employers in West Virginia which employ 108,585 people. The average weekly salary for an employee who works in the education and health services industry is $663 per week ($34,476 annually).

So, while coal mining is still pretty important, there are other employers that are bigger in terms of people employed, but nothing and nobody in these other industries has anything like the political clout, the stature and the power that the coal companies had then and still have today. I did some research on the industry and its influence, and what I found both frightened and enraged me. It frightened me because there it is, out in public for the world to see: The inescapable fact that a huge company literally doesn't give a damn about its employees or for their safety. It enraged me for the same reason. In southern West Virginia, coal has been king for more than a century. The politicians in these hardscrabble mining towns tread a very fine line, trying to balance support for an industry worth billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, while also trying to protect workers from its lapses and excesses.

Coal occupies a dominant position in the politics and culture of West Virginia, even as mechanization and less labor-intensive types of mining have reduced the number of workers to roughly a tenth of what there were in the 1950s. Back then, company towns were common and the United Mine Workers of America's annual Labor Day picnic at Racine was a must-attend event for any politician that had any hope of being elected. A statue of a coal miner adorns the grounds of the state Capitol, and last year the Legislature voted unanimously to name bituminous coal the official rock of West Virginia, saying the "industry remains essential to economic growth and progress in West Virginia and the United States." Incurring the wrath of the industry is a risk few politicians are either willing or eager to take. Support for a severance tax on coal, for example, helped doom the career of Democrat Bill Marland, governor in the early 1950s who was ruined and who ended up driving a cab in Chicago.

In 1972, the state's current junior senator, Jay Rockefeller, made ending strip mining part of his campaign for governor. He lost and famously switched his position. He has supported surface mining ever since, which, while it might have been politically expedient, still is an act of cowardice in my opinion. I can understand that he didn’t want to wind up like Bill Marland, but I can’t condone his behaviour. "There is extreme pressure from the industry," said Ken Hechler, a former West Virginia congressman who was the lead sponsor of federal legislation that created what is now the Mine Safety and Health Administration after a 1968 explosion in the town of Farmington that killed 78 miners, including the uncle of current Gov. Joe Manchin.

Mr. Hechler said the knot tying coal and politics can only be cut by extraordinary events, including disasters like Farmington and the Upper Big Branch blast. He said the explosion this week will likely mean a new toughness from public officials toward the industry.

What are the responsibilities of lawmakers and government regulators who devise and enforce rules to protect those who, as an old union song put it, dig the coal so the world can run? We Americans sat through almost exactly this same scenario after the Sago Mine catastrophe that took 12 lives in January 2006. Later that year, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act ( The MINER Act is "the most significant mine safety legislation in 30 years," according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration's Web site. The law strengthened the agency's staff, increased penalties for violations and, as The Post reported, "led to a higher number of citations and penalties - and more challenges by companies."

It’s only after horrific and horrendous disasters such as this one that anybody remembers – or even cares - that regulations exist for a reason, and that enforcing them, even if it’s inconvenient for the mining companies can, literally, be a matter of life and death. I’m sure that, eventually, we’ll find out exactly what went wrong at Upper Big Branch and whether the safety violations were part of the problem.

And what will we do then? That’s the question that keeps me up at night.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I wish that I could say that I’m enjoying watching CNN and its “reporter” Kyra Phillips twist in the wind with her ill-advised and, well, stupid comments about homosexuality being a “curable” disease. Just in case y’all haven’t been following the story, here’s the gist: In a CNN segment called “Finding a "cure" for Homosexuality?” done for the morning show by anchor Kyra Phillips, the network has given the pseudo-scientific topic of "ex-gay" therapy and its proponents a national platform to advocate for their harmful and unsound work.

The reason given (actually, it wasn’t a reason, just an excuse) for airing the segment was because California lawmaker Bonnie Lowenthal has introduced legislation to repeal a 1960 law that encourages the government to study cures for homosexuality. Instead of discussing the merits of the proposed bill and why "finding cures" for being gay don't work, Ms. Phillips and CNN gave credence to this bogus and proven fraudulent “therapy” by allowing "ex-gay activist" Richard Cohen to spew his lies and promote new research (old studies that have been thoroughly discredited and completely debunked). I’m reasonably sure that everybody that watches Rachel Maddow’s show is aware that Mr. Cohen condemned himself out of his own mouth when he was a guest on her show several weeks ago.

According to Mr. Cohen, he works under the auspices of the International Healing Foundation, a nonprofit and tax-exempt organization founded by him in 1990 to treat same-sex attraction. He is not licensed as a therapist, because he said he "didn't want to jump through the hoops and deal with the heterophobia and anti-ex-gay attitudes." Mr. Cohen avoids State licensing requirements by asking for donations to his foundations instead of payment. In other words, and out of his own mouth, he is an unlicensed fraud and a phony. In 2002, Mr. Cohen was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association, after it accused him of six violations of its ethics code, which bars members from actions which "seek to meet their personal needs at the expense of clients, those that exploit the trust and dependency of clients, and for soliciting testimonials or promoting products in a deceptive manner." Mr. Cohen has said that he believes the expulsion was for his efforts in the ex-gay movement, specifically for the book Coming Out Straight, and for one complaint. He did not appeal, however, calling the ACA "a biased organization" and "gay-affirming club".

Please don’t get me wrong, here; I’m a firm believer in Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy of keeping your mouth shut. “Reparative therapy” does not work. Let me repeat this: “REPARATIVE THERAPY” DOES NOT WORK. Neither does “abstinence only” education for the prevention of teen pregnancies – but that’s a subject for another column.

Homosexuality was removed from the DSM as a psychological disease in 1973, and neither the American Psychiatric Association (1973) nor the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives (1975)consider any sort of same-sex attraction to be a disease of any sort. The long-standing consensus of the behavioral and social sciences, as well as the health and mental health professions,is that homosexuality per se is a normal variation of human sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association states that conversion therapy is a type of psychiatric treatment "based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient SHOULD change his/her sexual/homosexual orientation."

Let me repeat this: Homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexual orientation. Oooops.

Mainstream American medical and scientific organizations have expressed concern over conversion therapy and consider it potentially harmful. I’ll go a long step beyond that, and state categorically that “reparative therapy” is not just potentially harmful, it is very harmful. Real-life harmful. Most of the truly homosexual victims of this torture (not,I will hasten to say here, the bisexual participants in this horrific and abominable relict of the Inquisition) – and believe me, that’s what it is – suffer both during the therapy and after it, when they cannot live up to what they were taught was good, right and “normal”. When they fail at being heterosexual, and fail at suppressing their normal – for them – sexuality, they suffer guilt the likes of which Fred Phelps, detestable as he is, would wallow in. I have counseled many victims of reparative therapy. Some of them have been made to feel so guilty about NOT being able to "convert" to a "normal" sexuality that they have killed themselves.

The ethics guidelines of major mental health organizations in the United States vary from cautionary statements about the safety, effectiveness, and dangers of prejudice associated with conversion therapy (American Psychological Association), to recommendations that ethical practitioners refrain from practicing conversion therapy (American Psychiatric Association) or from referring patients to those who do (American Counseling Association).

So, why is this abomination not only being allowed to continue, but encouraged to flourish? There’s a very simple reason: it has its successes. Of course, if you ask these successes, and they have a spasm of honesty, most of them will say that they are actually bisexual and made a choice to be “normal”, for whatever reason. A truly homosexual man or woman can pretend to be heterosexual, but eventually their true sexuality will overcome whatever barriers they try to put into place to hide or suppress it. I won’t mention any names here but there are a number of famous “ex-gays” that have re-outed themselves and have been driven from the ex-gay movement and shunned as being traitors. You can look them up if you’ve got a strong enough stomach.

Something else that I highly recommend is reading up on the "experts" that tout this "therapy”. Mr. Cohen's counterpart, Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., author of "Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality", which has been repudiated by the majority of Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and other medical professionals, has been proven to be a complete fraud. Nicolosi has invented the term "homosexual condition" to use in place of sexual orientation. His incredibly prejudiced and judgmental attitudes against gay men become very evident in the first few lines of his writing, and just get worse the farther that a person reads. His brief but pompous analysis of why John Paulk was homosexual would be ludicrous, if it were not being set forth as though it were scientific and medical fact. Instead, it is dangerous, misleading, and false - fraudulent, and blatantly so. Nicolosi's logic is like saying that "gay equals crazy, and therefore all gays are crazy".

We are neither crazy, nor are we diseased. We are, simply, people. We are your daughters, your sons, your cousins, nieces, nephews, and your next-door neighbors. We are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for our humanity to be acknowledged, and we are asking that our civil rights be equal to everybody else’s. Above all, we are asking to be left alone. NOT made to feel guilty because we are sexually different, not treated as lepers and pariahs because we don’t fall into that stupid category that says that heterosexuality is good, and right and everything else that isn’t heterosexual is diseased, and sinful and wrong.

Thanks to Ms. Phillips, Mr. Cohen and Bonnie Lowenthal, this whole tragic conversation is going to be revived – and once again, we GLBT folks face being classified as diseased and unclean because we’re hard-wired differently. Maybe I should be carrying a sign and ringing a bell. According to those three, that’s about all I’m good for.

Shame on you, CNN – and shame on you too, Ms. Phillips.


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Tuesday, April 6, 2010


On Good Friday – and what an appropriate day for it, to be sure - Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order expanding the city's anti-discrimination policy. The policy already protected people based on race, religion, gender and sexual preference – but not gender expression. The existing policy of non-discrimination was first issued by Mayor Bill White, 6 years ago when he took office, and now Mayor Parker has expanded that to include transgendered individuals. That policy was just implemented in the last week.

Mayor Annise Parker downplayed the significance of her latest executive order, a wide-ranging non-discrimination order that expands what already in place at the city. She said, "Our belief has always been the city's non-discrimination policy protected gay and lesbian employees, as well as transgendered employees. This executive order now explicitly states that." Kris Banks, head of the Houston Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) Caucus, welcomes the move. "This also protects people against discrimination in use of city facilities, in restrooms and other facilities," Banks said. "They say that the city cannot tell anyone that they are not allowed to use any city facility based on their sexual orientation or gender identity."

The sweeping policy would affect every city employee from park workers to police officers, and not everyone thinks it's a good idea. Conservative activist Eric Story said, "It doesn't surprise me but it does trouble me." Story says it's just more government involvement in people's lives. "We're taking and expanding the role of the government in business even further by saying who you can and who you can't hire," he said. Mayor Parker, however, says she's simply putting in writing what's already in practice. "Any city employee ought to feel safe in the work place being who they are in daily life," she said.

So, to celebrate this momentous occasion, I’m reprising a column that I revisit every so often, that I wrote about my wife. THANK YOU, Mayor Parker, for making the smallest, most discriminated against and most misunderstood part of the GLBT equation a major part of the discourse.


My wife, who is normally a rational and intelligent woman, decided the other night that she wanted to make some chocolate chip cookies for herself. I need to explain to you all that she is a wonderful engineer, a terrific electrician, a designer and constructor of structures par excellence – and a not-so-great cook. Not that she’s afraid of the kitchen, oh, NO – but, by mutual decision, we split up the household chores a long time ago, and cooking is not something that she normally does (although, I must say, she makes the best chicken-fried steak in the world - but I digress). I do all of the easy and mundane stuff, like housework, cooking, balancing the checkbook, formulating plans for world peace – y'all know, the inconsequential stuff – and she does all the hard stuff, like designing and building machines that are 50% more energy-efficient and 40% less polluting, holding down an engineering job in a male-dominated profession, starting and successfully running an engineering consultancy that builds factories all over the world - and changing light bulbs.

So, on this eventful evening, we went into the kitchen, took down 60 or so cookbooks (out of the 3 bajillion or so that I've collected over the years), and set out to find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe that we could find. She finally decided on the one that’s on the back of the chocolate chip package (what a surprize), and we got the ingredients all gathered together (I thought!), and I left her to her own devices. I went into the living room for some quiet, philosophical time alone (read serious Nintendo playing), and, about 20 minutes later, she came into the living room in tears. Something wasn’t working right and her cookie dough was not turning into cookie “dough”, and she wanted my help.

I went into the kitchen, and looked at the gooey, sticky mess in the bowl, and said ECH, YUCK, and various other wifely sounds of absolute disgust, and asked her how on earth she had managed to concoct such a mess (and a very gooey, slick, oily, nasty-looking mess it was, too). She told me that she had used cooking oil, like the recipe said to do, and that this was the result. I just looked at her, completely dumbfounded, and asked her if she’d read the recipe. She said that, yes, she had, and since she couldn’t find the solid shortening (or the butter, which was sitting smugly in plain sight in the butter compartment of the 'fridge), she’d used what she could find, which was the liquid cooking oil, and that she did not understand why it had turned out so badly. I didn’t laugh in her face – which, believe me, took a lot of doing – and pointed out that solid shortening or butter was required, found the solid shortening for her, and beat a very hasty retreat from the kitchen while she was dealing with the mess and starting over.

So, I can hear you asking, what on earth was the problem? After all, don’t all little girls learn how to cook when they’re very small? Well, yes, under normal circumstances, they do – but there’s a joker in this deck that y’all aren’t aware of. Let me explain:

My wonderful, feminine wife, you see, didn’t start life out as a girl. She is a male-to-female transsexual and started life out as a male – and everyone “knows” that “boys don’t cook”, unless, of course, they’re one of those fags on the Food Channel. Everything that a GG (genetic girl) learns practically from birth, she’s had to learn in her later life, and, if you think that’s easy, think again. It’s not. The difficulties range from easy (like learning how to cook simple meals and iron, sew on buttons, etc) to hard (learning how to be a second-class citizen whose brains are less valuable than your tit size) to heartbreaking (losing your entire family when you “come out” as a transsexual). That she has managed to overcome all these difficulties with style, grace and joy, while remaining sane is a miracle. That she has also managed to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude while doing so is also a miracle. That she is a kind, loving and giving person as well is a major miracle – and I am truly blessed to be her wife and lifemate. It’s a joy, a privilege – and it’s been fun as well.

Oh, and those cookies? The second batch that she made? Best damned cookies that I ever ate.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I’ve been struck lately by the media’s sudden interest in clean water, especially clean ocean water. So, what’s up with that? Well, for one thing, the EPA has gotten involved with the subject, and that’s news, any time. Of course, the EPA has about as much power to do anything these days as any other basically toothless agency – but I digress.

This was published, fittingly enough, on April Fool’s day, 2010, in Les Blumenthal’s column: “The Environmental Protection Agency is exploring whether to use the Clean Water Act to control greenhouse gas emissions, which are turning the oceans acidic at a rate that's alarmed some scientists. With climate change legislation stalled in Congress, the Clean Water Act would serve as a second front, as the Obama administration has sought to use the Clean Air Act to rein in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases administratively. Since the dawn of the industrial age, acid levels in the oceans have increased 30 percent. Currently, the oceans are absorbing 22 million tons of carbon dioxide a day. Among other things, scientists worry that the increase in acidity could interrupt the delicate marine food chain, which ranges from microscopic plankton to whales.”

Gee, and here we’re all being told that this isn’t happening, right?

"There are all sorts of evils associated with this," said Robert Paine, an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Washington. The situation is especially acute along the West Coast, where scientists suspect that acidic water connected with upwelling killed several billion oyster, clam and mussel larvae that were being raised at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery near Tillamook on the Oregon coast in the summer of 2008. The hatchery provides baby shellfish to growers up and down the West Coast. Shellfish growers in Washington State, who supply one-sixth of the nation's oysters, are getting more and more concerned that corrosive ocean water entering coastal bays could threaten their $111 million industry.

Some of the deepest Pacific waters haven’t been to the surface in a millennium or more, gangers, and, what with the water in the deep Pacific Ocean already being far more acidic because it's absorbed the carbon dioxide that's produced as animals and plants decompose, this phenomena should be a cause for real concern. No upwelling at the deepest parts of the oceans means that this garbage stays down there instead of making the natural upswing.

Y’see, the CO2 that’s discharged into the ocean makes the deeper waters more and more toxic. Northwest winds during the summer cause upwelling, which brings deep water to the surface along the continental shelf from Queen Charlotte Sound in British Columbia to Baja California. Upwelling, by the way, is the same thing as pond turnover, also known as a regular yearly process called thermal stratification. Winds blowing across the pond's surface cause the water to pile up on the downwind side. The water moves downward, across the pond bottom, to the upwind side. The entire pond begins to circulate from top to bottom, maintaining a uniform temperature. As long as winds are strong enough, the pond temperature will remain uniform, even as the pond begins to warm during spring. This is a period known as "spring overturn."

Upwelling is the same process repeated on a global scale, and it’s important because it brings all the decomposing junk to the surface to provide nutrients to the mid-level and shallow-level species, while reoxygenating the lower levels. So, why has the EPA suddenly gotten interested in this particular aspect of oceanography? And why start trying to use the Clean Water Act to force compliance from the states?

The Clean Water Act considers high acidity a pollutant, but the standard hasn't been updated since it was written in 1976. The act has been used previously to help combat acid rain and mercury emissions, but very little else. Originally, the Center for Biological Diversity, a San Francisco-based environmental group, asked Washington State to use the Clean Water Act to regulate emissions that add to the ocean's acidity. Under the act, states have to update their lists of "imperiled waters" every two years and come up with cleanup plans. No big surprize here, the state of Washington said “no”, citing the costs in beginning the implementation as well as continuing the program to force compliance. In rejecting the request, officials at the state's Department of Ecology said that while they understood the concern about ocean acidification, there wasn't enough data about specific bodies of water in the state to justify any listings.

When the EPA agreed with Washington State, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal agency to start using the Clean Water Act to control the oceans' rising acidity. In late March of 2010, the EPA published a Federal Register notice seeking public comment on whether the Clean Water Act could be used. "It's not 100 percent clear where we go here," Suzanne Schwartz, the deputy director of the EPA's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, said in an interview. "This is not an easy issue. We are trying to figure out how to proceed." Ms. Schwartz said the agency was looking to see whether there were more efficient ways to deal with ocean acidification than using the Clean Water Act. She also said the cleanup mechanism used in the act — controlling total daily maximum loads of pollutants — was aimed more at single sources of pollution than at a broader swath.

"There are questions about how effective the Clean Water Act will be," she said. "Honestly, we don't know what we are going to do." Environmentalists said the Clean Water Act would be a "good fit" with the effort to control carbon dioxide emissions.

"Our overall goal is to get regulation of carbon dioxide under the act," said Miyoko Sakashita, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity. "I am encouraged by the step EPA has taken. I would like to see them step up before we see some of the worst consequences of ocean acidification."

So, what are some of the consequences of doing nothing? According to the European Project on Oceanic Acidification, changes in ocean chemistry can have extensive (and not always beneficial) direct and indirect effects on organisms and the habitats in which they live. One of the most important repercussions of increasing ocean acidity relates to the production of shells and plates out of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). This process is called calcification and is important to the biology and survival of a wide range of marine organisms. Coral reef organisms and the structures that they build will be increasingly exposed in the coming decades to progressive decreases in seawater pH, associated with the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel burning, deforestation, cement production, and other human activities. These changes in seawater chemistry, popularly termed “ocean acidification”, have been correlated wit h decreased production of calcium carbonate by organisms, along wit h increased calcium carbonate dissolution rates. The evidence that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have such direct effects on marine ecosystems is compelling but recent. While the calcification 1 response of some calcifying organisms is well characterized, the overall effects of reduced calcification rates on coral reef ecosystems have been barely investigated. However, the potential negative consequences of ocean acidification on coral reefs argue strongly for measures to mitigate further increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

So, in an oyster, or a clam, or a mussel, or basically any shellfish or bivalve, the shells are going to be a lot softer, a lot thinner, and are not going to become more rigid or thick because there’s not enough calcium in the water for you to absorb. There’s an excellent abstract on the subject that can be read here: It’s actually written in ENGLISH, not Science-ese, and it points out the danger of seafood decline as nothing else I’ve seen has done.

So, can the EPA do anything about this? I personally don’t think so, but at least the agency is trying. It’s going to be interesting to watch, at any rate.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Let me say this up front and loudly: I’m a queer. Specifically, I’m a lesbian. I spent most of my life being ashamed of this, and hiding this, and making people around me miserable because I was living a lie. I’ve been physically attacked a number of times, and I’ve also been raped. My wife and I both have had bags of urine and feces thrown at us, and we’ve been spit on. All because, well, we’re queers.

I’m the sort of person that the “good christians” of Westboro Baptist Church targets. I’m sure you all know who those folks are: they’re the wonderful people that bring you the website, and they’re the ones that picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral after he was beaten and hung on a fence in Wyoming and left there to die. Because, well, he was a queer. According to the good folks at Westboro Baptist Church, no deviates have the right to exist. Period.

They’ve also been doing their hateful and hate-filled hard-shell routine at the funerals of soldiers that have died in defense of this country, and incidentally and peripherally, in defense of their constitutional rights to free speech. These people are so awful that, in response to Phelps' protests at military funerals, President George W. Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act into law in May 2006, and, in April 2007, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill establishing a 150-foot no-picketing buffer zone around funerals. It’s pretty ironic, too, considering what Fred Phelps used to do.

Brief history here: Fred Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm in 1964. The first notable cases were related to civil rights. That’s right, you read that sentence correctly: his first notable cases were civil rights cases. "I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town," he says. Phelps' daughter was quoted as saying, "We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were n****r lovers," and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil rights cases. Phelps took cases on behalf of African American clients alleging racial discrimination by school systems, and a predominantly black American Legion post which had been raided by police, alleging racially-based police abuse. Phelps' law firm, staffed by himself and family members also represented non-white Kansans in discrimination actions against Kansas Power and Light, Southwestern Bell, and the Topeka City Attorney, and represented two female professors alleging discrimination in Kansas universities. In the 1980s, he received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his work on behalf of black clients.

I find that all very hard to believe. This is a professional hater. However, I digress:

Unfortunately, or perhaps not so unfortunately, he was disbarred for perjury. A formal complaint was filed against Phelps on November 8, 1977, by the Kansas State Board of Law Examiners for his conduct during a lawsuit against a court reporter named Carolene Brady. Phelps lost the case; according to the Kansas Supreme Court, because the trial became “a shameful exhibition of a personal vendetta waged by Phelps against Carolene Brady. His examination was replete with repetition, badgering, innuendo, and belligerence, irrelevant and immaterial matter, evidencing only a desire to hurt and destroy the defendant.” The jury verdict didn't stop his onslaught, though. In an appeal, Phelps prepared affidavits swearing to the court that he had eight witnesses whose testimony would convince the court to rule in his favor.

Brady, in turn, obtained sworn, signed affidavits from the eight people in question, all of whom said that Phelps had never contacted them and that they had no reason to testify against Brady. In other words, Phelps committed perjury. In public. And, on July 20, 1979, he was permanently disbarred from practicing law in the state of Kansas. Unfortunately, he was allowed to continue to practice in the Federal courts for another 6 years. In 1985, nine Federal judges filed a disciplinary complaint against Phelps and five of his children, alleging false accusations against the judges. In 1989, the complaint was settled, with Phelps agreeing to stop practicing in Federal court permanently. He’s been pissed off about that every since.

As I said, this man and his family (who are the only members of Westboro Baptist Church) are professional haters. While the GLBT community is the special focus of their ire, they are perfectly willing to picket anything that reminds them of their hatred for this country, which actually allows openly GLBT folks to live in relative peace, safety and public acceptance. Phelps' stated political views and activities are primarily driven by his view that the United States is "a sodomite nation of flag-worshiping idolaters." In other words, he’s a Calvinist of the old school, and the rest of us, regardless of who and what we are, are all going to burn in his version of hell.

This, of course, leads us directly to Albert Snyder and his son, who was a casualty of war in Iraq. The group rallied at Matthew Snyder’s funeral in March 2006 in Westminster, Md., chanting antigay slogans and carrying signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” says Albert Snyder’s attorney, Sean Summers. The group was protesting about 30 feet from the church’s main entrance, and Mr. Snyder had to enter through a separate entrance, Mr. Summers says.

Snyder subsequently sued the Westboro group for emotional distress and won a $5 million judgment. But on appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding in favor of protecting the protesters' free-speech rights. About three weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case and is expected to hear it in the fall (last year, SCOTUS had declined to take up the issue.) Meanwhile, the circuit court has ordered Snyder, a salesman, to pay the church’s court expenses. The protests have nothing to do with the fallen service members' sexual orientation.

“Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool,” states a press release posted on the church’s website, announcing the rally at a memorial service for Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson. At the bottom of the press release are printed the words “Thank God for IEDs,” referring to the roadside bombs that have killed thousands of troops in both wars.

So, what’s going to happen to Mr. Snyder? He’s refusing to pay the legal expenses of the “church”, and I personally don’t blame him in the slightest. This is, after all, one of the worst things that can happen to a family and it is a parent’s worst nightmare. Your son/daughter is dead. He/she was killed defending their country, and you aren’t even allowed to bury them in peace because of these hateful people. The church's members are infamous for their protests and pickets at the funerals of soldiers who died in the line of duty, where they take the opportunity to denounce what they consider to be America's acceptance of homosexuality. The name of their website reflects this. Their antics are denounced across almost all spectra of political and religious thought.

Their hatred, and their publicity-seeking, goes beyond their hatred of homosexuality. So, what can be done about them? In a word: nothing. There’s free speech in this country, gangers, whether we personally like it or not, and these “people” – and I use that word advisedly – are entitled to express their views in whatever way they wish. There are a lot of us that were hurt, and who have died, to insure this right; just because most decent folks find their actions repulsive doesn’t mean that we have the right to stop them.

I can’t even say that this is unfortunate, either; if we deny these folks their right to say what they want, when they want to, and where they choose, then we ourselves have no right to vocally oppose them. If we as a country do away with this right for this particular group, then that says things about the state of ethical and moral behaviour in this country that I personally don’t care to contemplate.

‘Course, that doesn’t mean that a big ugly thing shouldn’t come out of the woods and eat them all, either – and if that happens, I really would love to have the popcorn concession for that event!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Have any of y’all ever heard of Congressman Joe Baca of California? No? Me, neither, until I got busy researching the $500 million that was supposed to be available to the Native American Health Care System. From his website:
“As a Member of the Natural Resource Committee that has jurisdiction regarding Native American issues, I am given the responsibility to protect the Native American community. As a member of the Native American Caucus, I have additional resources to make me fully aware of the important issues facing the Native American community. In Congress, I vote on and sponsor legislation that will help, encourage and support the Native American community. As a friend, I have dedicated much of my life to serve as an advocate for Native Americans, and will continue to champion for what is best for the community.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which became law this February, includes a number of key provisions and funding initiatives to benefit the Native American community. In total, the Recovery Act included $2.5 billion in direct funding to Indian Tribes and, $2.4 billion in tax bonding authority for tribal economic development and Indian school construction. Significant areas include:

$500 Million for Indian Health Services
$500 Million in funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs
$510 Million for Indian Housing Block Grants
$327 Million for the construction and upkeep of roads on Reservations
$5 Million for Reservation Food Distribution Programs
$10 Billion for grants to school districts serving low-income children, including tribal schools
$1 Billion in Head Start program funding, including Indian Head Start Programs
$100 Million for Tribal school facilities under the Impact Aid program.”

This is terrific, but I’ve just got ONE tiny question here: where is the money, and why isn’t it being used?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Indian Health Service will release $500 million for improvements in Indian health in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “These Recovery Act funds will provide critical assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” said IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux. “These funds will help improve health care, create jobs and make our Native communities stronger. The Recovery Act funds are to be expended as follows: $227 million for health facilities construction (2 hospitals, one in Alaska), $100 million for maintenance and improvements, $85 million for health information technology, $68 million for sanitation facilities construction, and $20 million for health equipment that will improve health care in Indian country.”

I realize that I’m being a bit pesky here, but those funds were authorized released as of May 2009 – so, where are they?

Native Americans die of illnesses like tuberculosis, alcoholism, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza at substantially higher rates than the rest of the so-called civilized country that we all live in. In the vast, varied territory called Indian Country, healthcare is being defeated with the struggle. Native Americans struggle with too few doctors, too little equipment, most of which was old before I was born in 1950, and hospitals and clinics miles of hardscrabble and mostly unpaved roads away from the reservations that they are supposed to serve. In cities, where over half of the country's roughly three million Indians now live (and nearly five million including part-Indians), only 34 programs get Indian Health Service funding, providing mostly basic care and arranging more advanced care and coverage elsewhere – at the patient’s expense. While some Indians have private insurance, mostly through employers or tribal businesses like casinos, at least a third are uninsured and most of them live in poverty – abject, grinding poverty - that makes Haiti’s poverty-stricken citizens look affluent. By all accounts, the Indian Health Service is substantially underfunded. Despite the Indian healthcare system improving nationally (I guess that a marginal improvement is better than none) and Indians living JUST a bit longer, there are still massive improvements that need to be made which would be extremely beneficial to them. Even if more Indians can become insured, it will not end the problems, especially if providers and insurers continue avoiding Indian Country.

Very few people have remembered throughout the course of the debate on health care reform in this country that the U. S. government already has a single-payer styled healthcare program, of a kind, already (NOT Medicare, this is a different program) for Native Americans only. Unfortunately, as has been the case with every single, solitary program that deals with the Native American population, starting with the BIA, this health program has not done a very good job of serving the Native American peoples very well. As an example, it has recently been shown that the HIS “lost” over $20 million in high-tech healthcare equipment bought by the government and intended to be placed in clinics on the reservation to care for the indigenous population. Property “continues to be lost or stolen at IHS at an alarming rate,” the GAO reported back in January of 2009.

YOOOO HOOOO,Congressman Baca? What are you doing about this?

From October 2007 through January 2009, IHS identified about 1,400 items with an acquisition value of about $3.5 million that were lost or stolen agency-wide. These property losses are in addition to what we identified in our June 2008 report.” Apparently, fraud, waste and corruption on such a grand scale is rewarded in a government-controlled healthcare system. See, gangers, when you work for the government, there’s really no incentive to be honest – especially when you, said government employee, are stealing from “the least of these” folks that you’re actually supposed to be helping. There is no punishment for fraud and stupidity, if you work for the BIA. Instead, the worse you treat the Native Americans, the bigger your budget is. There’s very little oversight, either.

Fraud, waste and corruption? Sound familiar? Perhaps Pelosi and company should read the 2004 study, "Broken Promises: Evaluating The Native American Health Care System ( Read it at your own risk – and make sure your stomach is empty before you start.

For those who might be tempted to dismiss this since it pertains only to the Native American tribes and population, and all the accompanying baggage of U.S./Indian history, I ask, do you honestly believe that the Feds will provide better coverage for your family?

And where’s Congressman Baca in this debate? H’mmm?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Something silly to make you all laugh - Once u-PUN a time and other silliness. . .

Hi, all:

Since this has been a week of gloom, doom, social unrest, physical attacks on our elected representatives, and the return of Caribou Barbie to the public consciousness, I thought that some humour was in order.

THANKS to Sandy Day, a dear friend, who sent me these puns. Hope that this makes your week at least start out friendlier!

What happened when the cow tried to jump over a barbed wire fence? Udder destruction.

When I was in the supermarket I saw a man and a woman wrapped in a barcode. I asked, "Are you two an item?"

What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

A guy walks into the psychiatrist's office wearing only Glad Wrap shorts. The shrink says, "Well, I can clearly see you're nuts."

What did the toy store sign say? Don't feed the animals. They are already stuffed.

What musical is about a train conductor? "My Fare, Lady"

What do you call a baby monkey? A chimp off the old block

What did the chimpanzee say when his sister had a baby? Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle.

A termite walks into a bar and says, "Is the bar tender here?"

This duck walks into a bar and orders a beer. "Four bucks," says the bartender. "Put it on my bill."

What is the difference between a frog and a cat? A frog croaks all the time, a cat only nine times.

What would you get if you crossed a parrot with a centipede? A walkie-talkie.

There is no conclusive evidence about what happens to old skeptics, but their future is doubtful.

Shakespeare walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a beer. "I can't serve you." says the bartender. "You're Bard!"

My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned because I couldn't concentrate.

A piece of string walked into a bar and said "Gimme a beer!" but the bartender said "Get outta here! We don't serve your kind here!" So the string left, but he was thirsty, and he really wanted a beer, so he messed up his hair real badly and looped himself around until he had tied himself into a knot. When the string went back into the bar, the bartender looked at him suspiciously and said "Aren't you that worthless piece of string I just threw outta here?" No, the string replied, "I'm a frayed knot!"

They arrested a man for passing himself off as the comedian named Seinfeld....the charge was playjerism.

What Disney movie is about a stupid boyfriend? Dumb Beau

What is the purpose of reindeer? It makes the grass grow, sweetie.

Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says "dam"

What would you get if you crossed an electric eel with a sponge? A shock absorber.

A skeleton walks into a bar and says, "Gimme a beer, and a mop."

What is the difference between one yard and two yards? A fence

What is the difference between a miser and a canary? One's a little cheap and the other is a little cheeper.

What did the religious owner of a pest control company tell his workers he sent them off to their assignments each day? "Brothers and sisters, let us spray."

Why was the tired knight's butt like a mythical beast? His Ass was Dragon
They arrested the monkey for throwing Rhesus feces at zoo attendants.His charge? Turd debris assault (sounds like Karl Rove, no?)

Did you hear about the butcher who backed into his meat grinder & got a little behind in his work?

This mushroom walks into a bar and starts hitting on this woman. She, of course, turns him down. Not willing, to give up, he pleads with her, "C'mon lady, I'm a fun guy."

They arrested the bartender for taking liquor home. I believe the official charge was "emboozlement."

They arrested the former chewing gum manufacturer for unlicensed ex-spearmints.

Why couldn't the chicken find her eggs? Because she mislaid them.

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

They arrested the Chrysler salesman and he couldn't a-Ford bail.

They arrested a woman for causing an accident while on her cellphone....she was charged with driving while intalksicated.

What happened to the woman with ten children? She went stork raving mad.

What do you get if you cross a bullet and a tree with no leaves? A cartridge in a bare tree.

What is a mouse's favorite game? Hide and Squeak

A neutron walks into a bar. "I'd like a beer" he says. The bartender promptly serves up a beer. "How much will that be?" asks the neutron. "For you?" replies the bartender, "no charge."

What would you get if you crossed a mole with a porcupine? A tunnel that leaks.

What is the difference between a well dressed man and a dog? The man wears a suit, the dog just pants.

Four fonts walk into a bar. The barman says "Oi - get out! We don't want your type in here!"

What would you get if you crossed a donkey with an owl? A smart ass that knows it all.

Where do you find giant snails? On the ends of giant's fingers.

What is the difference between a crazy rabbit and a counterfeit coin? One is bad money, and the other is a mad bunny.

What did the mother say to her kids when she came home to find the sink piled high? Dishes a real mess!

What would you get if you crossed a bat with a lonely hearts club? Lots of blind dates.

Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One says, "I've lost my electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive."

What is the breed of canine that easily forgets his place on the trail? Wherewolf

Without geometry, life is pointless.

Corduroy pillows are making headlines.

What would you get if you crossed a pigeon and a general? A military coo.

A man walked into a bar and sat down next to a man with a dog at his feet. "Does your dog bite?" he asked. "No." A few minutes later the dog took a huge chunk out of the man's leg. "I thought you said your dog doesn't bite!" he said indignantly. The other guy replied, "That's not my dog."

A bear walked into a bar and says, "I'll have a beer ... and some of those peanuts." The bartender says, "Why the big pause?"

What is the difference between a unicorn and lettuce? One is a funny beast and the other is a bunny feast.

A polar bear, a giraffe and a penguin walk into a bar. The bartender says, "What is this? Some kind of joke?"

They arrested the hock shop owner for indecency--he was selling pawnographic materials.

What is the difference between a knight and Santa's reindeer? One slays the dragon and the other is draggin' the sleigh.

A man walks into a bar and says, "Give me a beer before problems start!" Again, the man orders a beer again saying, "Give me a beer before problems start!" The bartender looks confused. This goes on for a while, and after the fifth beer the bartender is totally confused and asks the man "When are you going to pay for these beers?" The man answers, "Now the problems start!"


There were two ships. One had red paint, one had blue paint. They collided. At last report, the survivors were marooned.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I’ve been saying, ever since the Tea Party Movement started, that it was a racist organization. I’ve been to several Tea Party functions, and I have seen NO people of any colour other than white at any of them. Look at the photographs of their “convention”, for example. WHERE are the people of colour? And echo answers. I’ve also been saying that the Tea Party Movement is homophobic – and it is. If nothing else, the events of this Saturday and Sunday past prove that beyond any doubt, reasonable or otherwise. I'll add that I've also been told that A) I was lying; B) I was wrong; C) I was a conspiracy theorist and D) Well, you're a liberal, and you don't understand what's going on.

Wrong on all counts, folks. I understand what's going on, and believe me, I wish that I didn't.

You've probably heard about Tea Party members shouting "N-WORD" at Black Congressmen during a protest in Washington, D.C. last weekend. One of the protesters spat on Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, while another called openly gay Representative Barney Frank a "faggot" as the laughing crowd imitated his lisp. Saturday was just the most recent example of the intolerance and hate coming from right-wing extremists this past year. At times, it's been instigated by Republican leaders. When it wasn't, it was condoned and seen as part of a strategy to score politically. Either way, this crap is completely unacceptable and has to stop.

Republican leaders publicly denounced Sunday's ugly scene, but they failed to acknowledge that this is only the latest incident in a pattern of violent rhetoric, racially charged imagery, and paranoid conspiracy theories at Tea Party rallies. Many Tea Partiers aren't simply about dissent, believe me; they use fear and hatred to assault the very legitimacy of our elected leaders. It's the worst – the very worst - America has to offer.

Despite this, Republican leaders court the Tea Party movement while methodically supporting, exacerbating and exploiting their fear and anger for cynical, self-serving political ends. The Tea Party movement has been marked by racially inflammatory and violent outbursts since its inception a year ago. GOP leaders are trying to pass off this weekend's assaults on Congressmen Lewis, Cleaver, Clyburn and Frank as isolated incidents. But when so-called "isolated incidents" crop up again and again, a pattern starts to emerge. The examples are numerous, and all the more egregious because of the self-righteous, hands-in-the-air, “We don’t condone this!” wink wink nudge nudge crap that the rest of the Republican Party uses in dismissing the entire subject.

Would that we COULD dismiss the entire subject – but that’s just not possible. Not now, not next week, not next century. NEVER. This is something that’s gotten so far out of hand that it’s both sickening and disgusting, not to mention frightening. And it’s all inspired – and mark this well, gangers – by fear. Scratch a Tea Partier and you will find that they are all, without exception, pissed off that there’s a black man – and an UPPITY black man who actually thinks that he's at least as smart as they are – leading the country. They’re scared that they will have to confront their own racism and find out that they are wrong. Wrong about the President in particular, and wrong about the African-American population in general.

Now, for some examples: At rallies held to protest tax day last year (2009), Tea Partiers carried signs that announced "Obama's Plan: White Slavery," "The American Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's Oven," and "Guns Tomorrow!" The Republican National Committee endorsed the rallies, and RNC Chairman Michael Steele encouraged Tea Partiers to send a "virtual tea bag" to President Obama and Democratic Congressional leadership. The Tea Party's vicious, venomous rhetoric picked up steam over the summer, when angry mobs flooded town hall meetings legislators had organized as sites for rational, civil debate on health care reform. After one meeting in Atlanta, a swastika was painted on the office of Congressman David Scott (D-GA), who had also received a flier addressed to "n***a David Scott." Some protesters showed up at town hall meetings carrying guns, including at least one man who was armed at an event where the President was speaking. Again, Republicans responded to these tactics with silence, doing nothing to denounce them.

Even worse, there was no public outcry from Republican leadership when Mark Williams, a leader of the Tea Party movement, was exposed for having described the President as "an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief" on his blog. Instead, members of the GOP continued to show up to and endorse Tea Party rallies. And as recently as Sunday, the day that the historic health care bill passed the House, Republican members of the House riled up the same Tea Party crowd that had earlier harassed their fellow members with hate and bigotry. This, incidentally, is why I say "ReThugs". Only thugs indulge themselves in this sort of vile behaviour.

I guess that Michael Steele is used to being called “Uncle Tom” and “Oreo”, and that those highly-charged racial epithets don’t bother him. Tokenism – and that’s all that Michael Steele is, or ever has been. He’s a token. He’s the public face that the ReThugs (NOT the RePUBS, mind you) have put into place, to put the President in an inferior position to the rest of the racists. After reports of the fear-mongering signs surfaced, Steele did nothing to distance his party from the lunatic fringe. He has even gone so far as to say that if he didn't have his current position, he'd be "out there with the tea partiers”. As if they’d allow that.

David Frum – remember him? Here’s a link to an article that he wrote on Sunday, March 21, 2010, after his party suffered the worst defeat that it’s had for a very long time: It’s a excellent article, and it points out what everybody has known for a long time, and nobody wanted to address; after all the hysteria, the “anger”, the whipping up of the ReThug base, and the baseless, racist crap that was then and still is being shouted out against a sitting President – they still lost. THEY STILL LOST. Lawsuits and everything else aside, THEY STILL LOST and they are going to continue to lose. Hatred and fear are not a valid or a responsible means to an end. They are just the end.

Our country deserves better than this. No matter what party one supports, we should all take strong action to support civil, honest, and respectful public debate.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


The House of Representatives just passed the Health-Care bill 219 – 212. Now, I’m waiting to hear if the latest ReThug and RePub nonsense stops it (The voice vote on the motion to recommit just failed). I did live long enough to see it – again. I’d have given long odds against that happening during the rest of my lifetime, too. This has led me to do some serious soul-searching, both about my country and myself.

Right before our sitting President was sworn in, I wrote a column about the changing climate of our political discourse entitled “I DID LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO SEE IT, AFTER ALL”. I’m a child of the civil-right era, was deeply involved in the struggle, and am deeply idealistic as well. Matter of fact, I’ve still got the scars that I got from being bitten by Bull Connors’ dogs. I’ll carry them to my dying day. My ideals, well . . . until lately, not so much.

We all are, at one time or another, so completely overwhelmed by the sheer scope of most of the problems that we face in our daily lives that we lose sight of other, equally important considerations. We get so involved in earning a living and raising a family that most social injustices tend to get pushed from the front burner to the back burner and then completely off the stove of our consciousness. We forget that there are people out there that, while they might not count on us specifically to help them, ARE counting on us collectively to help make their lives better, or at least more bearable, than they are able to do. We don’t look at the panhandlers on the street corner, for example, in any way except to be exasperated by them, or silently congratulate ourselves that we are not them, that we are not as they are – and to take for granted the “fact” that, in our lives, such a thing could never, ever happen to us.

We let our idealism be blunted by the minutiae of our daily lives. Sad, but true. I’m guilty of that myself, or I used to be, at any rate. I’m not, any longer. Indifference to the problems that folks face, and ignoring their plight, is something that none of us can afford to indulge ourselves with, any longer. The best example of this is what’s being debated right now in the House of Representatives. I’m referring, of course, to the health care bill, about which there has been so much debate and so many lies – and so much passion on both sides.

The passage of President Obama’s health care reform will make a huge difference in the live of tens of millions of people, myself included. The subsidies will make insurance affordable to millions of families who could not pay the unsubsidized rate. More importantly, by prohibiting insurers from discriminating against people with serious health conditions (again, including me), those who are currently covered will have real insurance for the first time. People will no longer have to worry that a serious illness will cause them to lose their job and then their insurance. This is real progress; unfortunately, the bill does little to change the fact that health care in the United States is ridiculously expensive and, while –not if - current trends continue, health care costs can only grow more unaffordable through time, and probably a very short time at best. While a lot of the issues on controlling costs are complicated, some are very simple. What is needed most is to bring the price of drugs, medical equipment, and medical supplies down to their competitive market price.

Under the current system, patent monopolies allow drug companies and the manufacturing of medical equipment and supplies to charge prices that are often several thousand percent above the free market price. In the case of prescription drugs, the vast majority of drugs could be sold profitably as generics for just a few dollars per prescription, if there were no patent protection. Instead, these drugs can and DO sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars per prescription. This is something that needs addressing, first and foremost. We are also, for the foreseeable future, going to be stuck with an insurance industry that will likely be more profitable and powerful than ever. The multi-millionaire wimps who run the insurance companies were terrified by the prospect of having to compete with a government-run plan. I mean, goodness – COMPETITION! They’d have to CUT COSTS (the administrative waste in the private sector plans alone is equivalent to a tax of around $100 billion a year on our health). They’d have to take SMALLER BONUSES (or maybe – GASP – NO bonuses), and actually be COMPETITIVE in the open marketplace, and not count on their protected, monopolistic status to, basically and actually, get away with murder. So, people will not be able to buy into a Medicare-type public plan – or at least, not yet. That will come, believe me.

And this, gangers, is where we have to reactive our idealism and get out and fight for expansion of this bill. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s only a baby step. We’ve got to be willing to be just as vocal and just as loud. We’ve got to be willing to step up and speak out – a lot. We’ve got to get beyond our own short-sightedness and our absorptions with our own lives, and we’ve got to be willing to do this on our own time, and without first thinking “and I’m going to be paid for this, how?” or, “What’s in it for me?”

There are a number of things that I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see. The biggest one, of course, has been the election of a black man to the highest office in the land. This health-care debate and the winning of it has been the second-biggest thing. It’s wonderful for me to rediscover my idealism, in the person of a man that’s never wavered from his stated goal. It’s wonderful, too, that Ted Kennedy’s final wish has been granted.

I DID live long enough to see it, after all. What a blessing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Rainbow at the Recycling Pot of Gold . . . er, Steel

The Rainbow at the Recycling Pot of Gold . . . er, Steel – and NORM removal will make it a larger one!

Steel recycling is big business, and it's only going to get bigger over time. One of the easiest materials to obtain and recycle is steel pipe, and the petroleum industry buys and uses the majority of the steel that is produced and imported into the United States. It's cheap, it's convenient - and, occasionally, it's deadly.

Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) sometimes accumulate both inside and outside pieces of equipment associated with oil and gas production and processing activities. Typically, the NORM accumulates when radium that is present in solution in produced water precipitates out in scale and sludge deposits. Scrap equipment containing residual quantities of these NORM-bearing scales and sludges can present a waste management problem if the radium concentrations exceed regulatory limits or activate the alarms on radiation screening devices installed at most scrap metal recycling facilities. Although NORM-contaminated scrap metal currently is not disposed of by re-melting, this form of recycling could present a viable disposition option for this waste stream.

Scrap metal recycling is an important industry in the United States, providing a significant portion of supply of all types of metal. While domestic steel consumption has declined over the last two decades, the scrap metal share of the iron and steel market has increased. In 1997, scrap metal processors handled about 66 million to 70 million metric tons of scrap iron and steel, of which approximately 46% was comprised of obsolete scrap (i.e., worn out, broken and discarded objects). Recycled ferrous scrap made up approximately 72°/0 of the country's raw steel production in 1997, up from around 33% in 1980. The international market for scrap metal recycling also is significant, with industrialized nations exporting scrap metal to developing nations as demand and business conditions dictate. In 1997, the U.S. exported approximately 8.9 million metric tons of ferrous scrap, having an estimated value of about $1.3 billion.

These statistics reflect the fact that iron and steel scrap are vital raw materials for the production of new steel and cast iron products. Scrap metal recycling has become more and more important for several reasons. From an environmental perspective, recycling of scrap metal has become important because re-melting scrap a) requires much less energy than the production of iron or steel products from iron ore; b) significantly reduces the burden on landfill disposal facilities; c) prevents the accumulation of abandoned steel products in the environment (which is a good thing), and d) avoids environmental damage resulting from replacement of the scrap metal through raw material production. Because recycling scrap reduces the need to mine and process raw iron ore, health risks associated with mining and refining the metal (i.e., occupational injuries) are also significantly reduced. From a technological perspective, recycling of scrap metal has become more significant with the proliferation of electric arc furnaces (EAFs), particularly through growth of the "mini-mills" that target specific markets, such as the exotic metals market. EAFs use nearly 100% scrap iron and steel for the furnace charge, as opposed to the basic oxygen furnaces, which use approximately 30% scrap, and open-hearth furnaces, which use around 50% scrap. In the first half of 1998, EAFs consumed almost 70% of all recycled ferrous scrap up from only 37% in 1990.

Since then, the industry has only grown larger and more important to the United States. Overall, the scrap industry processes more than 145,000,000 short tons (129,464,286 long tons; 131,541,787 tons) of recyclable material each year into raw material feedstock for industrial manufacturing around the world. The industry contributed $65 billion in 2006 and is one of the few contributing positively to the U.S. balance of trade, exporting $15.7 billion in scrap commodities in 2006. This imbalance of trade has resulted in rising scrap prices during 2007 and 2008 within the United States. Scrap recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserves energy and natural resources.

For example, scrap recycling diverts 145,000,000 short tons (129,464,286 long tons; 131,541,787 t) of materials away from landfills. Recycled scrap is a raw material feedstock for 2 out of 3 pounds of steel made in the U.S., for 60% of the metals and alloys produced in the U.S., for more than 50% of the U.S. paper industry's needs, and for 33% of U.S. aluminum. Recycled scrap helps keep air and water cleaner by removing potentially hazardous materials and keeping them out of landfills.

Total value of domestic purchases (receipts of ferrous scrap by all domestic consumers from brokers, dealers, and other outside sources) and exports was estimated to be $32.8 billion in 2008, up by about 60% from that of 2007. U.S. apparent steel consumption, an indicator of economic growth, decreased to about 106 million metric tons in 2008. Manufacturers of pig iron, raw steel, and steel castings accounted for about 86% of scrap consumption by the domestic steel industry, using scrap together with pig iron and direct-reduced iron to produce steel products for the appliance, construction, container, machinery, oil and gas, transportation, and various other consumer industries.

Studies indicate that re-melting NORM-contaminated scrap metal is a viable recycling option from a risk-based perspective. Unfortunately, there are lots of economic, regulatory, and policy issues that have caused the recyclers to turn away virtually all radioactive scrap metal. Until these issues can be resolved, re-melting of the petroleum industry's NORM-impacted scrap metal is unlikely to be a widespread practice.

So, how do they get resolved? There are a few technologies out there that are being used at this time, and none of them are very efficient. These techniques also produce additional wastes in the forms of NORM-contaminated water, if the NORM removal is done by hydroblasting, NORM-contaminated sand if the NORM removal is done by sandblasting, or NORM-contaminated ball bearings if that is the method used for removal. Regardless of what method is used, there is going to be some sort of secondary contamination that will have to be remediated. So, is there a good cost-effective solution? And, more importantly, is it a green solution?

The answer to both of those questions, in the state of the removal/remediation industry technology, is, unfortunately, no, not at this time. That's a shame, too, because there is a recycling pot of gold out there in the form of steel drill stem, steel down hole pipe and coiled steel tubing, all of which are unusable in the petroleum and exploration industry due to NORM contamination, and none of which most recyclers can or will touch due to regulatory issues. That's the petroleum industry's dirty little secret: unusable pipe that nobody can or will touch because of the NORM contamination, pipe that could be re-melted and re-used for other purposes, and both the potential and the probability for long-term environmental problems that won't benefit anybody because the NORM-contaminated pipe has to be stored somewhere, and it's usually not stored where the NORM won't just flake off and contaminate the soil underneath it.

Figures for steel production/use/costs from Wikipedia at
Recycling of NORM contaminated tubing and pipe from DOE Document at

{ED NOTE: I wrote this some time ago for a scrap metal recycling magazine, and it's even more true now than it was then! 20K lawsuits already filed, and counting}

Wilma Howe-Bennett is the President/CEO of Ghost Ryder Technologies, Inc., and is learning the scrap metal recycling business from the ground up. She can be reached at

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Hello, all:

This is a column from a couple of months ago, long before Glenn Beck started on his latest crusade of hatred and denigration. I re-read this after I posted my last column on his general insanity, and he STILL scares me! Unfortunately, as my research turned up, the Mormon Church stands right behind him in his views. THAT is scarier, believe me.



I don’t know about the rest of you all out there in ReaderLand, but Glenn Beck scares the crap out of me. He was a bit on the lunatic side to begin with, which is why CNN declined to renew his contract – but since he’s been on Fox News, he’s turned into a real loon. Since he’s now a mainstay in the national debate, we’re all getting a good, long, hard look at a peculiar strain of religious political conservatism rooted in Mormon culture. Trust me that it’s NOT a pretty sight.

Whether or not you believe that God rewards baptism with fortune, it’s clear as a bell that Glenn Beck’s conversion to, and education in, the Mormon faith after 1999 corresponds precisely with his rise as a media force. His story is pretty pathetic, and it’s a mainstay of LDS conversions as well:

"I was friendless, working in the smallest radio market I had ever worked in... a hopeless alcoholic, abusing drugs every day," Beck said inan interviewtaped last fall. "I was trying to find a job and nobody would hire me... couldn’t get an agent to represent me."

That’s when Beck’s wife-to-be Tania suggested that the family go on a "church tour," which finally led (after some prodding from Beck’s longtime on-air partner Pat Gray, a Mormon) to his local Mormon wardhouse. Six months later, the Beck family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

"I was baptized on a Sunday, and on Monday" - Beck’s throat tightens again; he wipes tears from his eyes with his index fingers - "an agent called me out of the blue." Three days later, Beck was offered his own political talk radio show at WFLA-AM in Tampa , Florida , the job that put him on the road from "morning zoo" radio prankster to conservative media heavyweight. Spiritual narratives of the I-once-was-lost-now-I-am-financially-sound variety are commonplace within Mormonism, which, like most of American Protestantism, has never been allergic to wealth.

Oh, BOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOO . . . somebody hand that boy at least 10 boxes of tissues. He NEEDS them to deal with his issues.

Please don’t get me wrong here; I have relatives that are Mormons, and they are the happiest, most mentally balanced and physically healthiest folks that I know. I’ve been to LDS services, and I’ve fed missionaries on their rounds. I have a great deal of respect for what LDS does in the world. For one thing, they don’t take welfare – NONE of them. The church does that for them. Everybody tithes 10% of everything that they have, be it money, time, food, clothing – you name it, they tithe it. The food and clothing all go into a warehouse where the less fortunate Mormons can get them when they need that sort of help. None of them smoke, none of them drink anything with caffeine in it – and all of them hold outside jobs. There are NO paid clergy positions except the Council of 70 and the Quorum of 12. That’s all.

NOW, having said that, I’ll say this: The Mormon Church is a corporation. Period. Look at the way that the men dress, for example: dark suits, white shirts, and red or blue ties that all church leaders wear instead of vestments. Their most powerful public figures? Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman Jr., and Bill Marriott Jr., all of whom come from the business world. Many key elements of Beck’s on-the-fly messaging derive from a Mormon lexicon, such as his Twitter-issued September 19 call: "Sept 28. Lets make it a day of Fast and Prayer for the Republic. Spread the word. Let us walk in the founders steps." This call to fasting and prayer may indeed have been an appropriationof the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, but it is also rooted in the traditional Mormon practice of holding individual, familial, and collective fasts to address spiritual challenges. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Well, for one thing: It’s overtly religious. For another, it’s a very narrow strip of religious thought. For still another, it’s NOT appropriate for a prime-time “news” show on a network whose slogan is “FAIR AND BALANCED.” Mr. Beck is about as UNfair and UNbalanced as a person can be and still be considered sane. His tears are real; that’s all part of the Mormon cult of masculinity. The LDS praises the man who is able to shed tears as a manifestation of spirituality. Crying and choking up are understood by Mormons as manifestations of the Holy Spirit. For men at every rank of Mormon culture and visibility, appropriately-timed displays of tender emotion are displays of power. Real, raw, masculine power.

Unfortunately for us all, his bombastic crap is still largely intact as well as sanctioned BY the LDS Church . If he’d been raised as a Mormon, he wouldn’t be saying the things that he says in the way that he says them. THAT would have been trained right out of him at an early age. Just as all little girls in the LDS Church – like Stephanie Meyers, for example – are raised to be good little wives and mothers in that order, all little boys in the LDS Church are raised to be good little followers. The testosterone-driven crap that most men learn at an early age simply is NOT part of Mormon culture. The boys start at age 12 learning how to be GOOD men, and not “regular” men. I think that this is one reason that Beck is so popular with born-Mormons; he’s NOT a born-Mormon, he can say outrageous things and get away with them because of it, and his male Mormon followers LOVE him precisely because it’s what they themselves would love to be able to do – and can’t.

Think that the Mormon Church isn’t a potent political force? Take a good, long, hard look at the Prop 8 fiasco in California . 2% of the population put up MORE than 50% of the volunteers and money to get a Constitutional amendment in California over turned.


I’ve never been much of a Glenn Beck fan, since I don’t particularly care for red-faced screaming one-note commentators (regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal), but oh, MY – this is beyond the pale for anybody. I think that I’m like a lot of other Americans in this, that this particular campaign of Glenn Beck’s is . . . well, so out there that I cannot believe that anybody with even a smidgeon of common sense or conscience would think that it compares to anything other than an American-style jihad.

Yes, you read me right: JIHAD. Holy war – against decency and social conscience.

Glenn Beck says things that a lot of people disagree with, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone As I said, he’s a political commentator and an entertainer, and has made a career out of speaking his mind, even when his views may be unpopular – which I will guarantee that this one most certainly is. Glenn Beck represents himself as a Mormon, but how could one person be an “accurate representative” of a religion that has rich and poor, conservative and liberal, young and old from essentially every country, language and culture in the world, particularly when he is inveighing against everything that his own faith believes in and practices?

I don’t know if y’all are conversant with the scandal and the controversy, so let me give y’all a brief overview:

Mr. Beck decided to warn his listeners and viewers to beware churches that preach about the need for social justice. He pleaded, "I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words." To ensure that no one misinterpreted Beck's call to action, he followed that immediately by saying, "Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!" Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right, but they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner, but on each banner, read the words, here in America: "social justice." They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy."

Isn’t this a wonderful philosophy for a supposed “Christian” to have? What about Jesus’ Teachings?

It should not surprise Mr. Beck that social justice, the term coined by Jesuit priest Luigi Taparelli D'Azeglio to promote compassion and humanitarian efforts for fellow individuals, would include calls for stronger democracy – which, of course, Mr. Beck finds personally abhorrent. It began as an effort to help others in a practical manner, such as promotion of democracy or clothing the naked and caring for the sick. In fact, social justice has become so ingrained within the Catholic faith that it bears mentioning in the Catholic Catechism. Being raised Catholic, Mr. Beck surely understood the gravity of simultaneously conflating the Catholic Church with both Nazism and Communism, regardless of the R/C Church’s actions during WWII. Still, he may not have recognized how wide a swathe of Christians that his egregious attacks also opposed, including members of the Mormon faith with whom he supposedly agrees. After all, you can’t be a member of a faith, and not embrace its tenets, right? And yet, Mr. Beck doesn’t seem to have a problem doing so, loudly and persistently. And rudely, and, within the context of his own lexicon, crudely.

Mr. Beck's crusade against humanitarianism, or "social justice" as it sometimes is called, proves how little he cares about others, even his unfortunate viewers and listeners. In his zeal to fear monger about movements of Nazis or Communists, he successfully alienated Christian churches around the world, though he claims to be a Christian himself. Some “Christian”, huh? And yet, why are we all so surprized? His views on anything that might give comfort or succor to anybody that isn't rich, white, male or Republican are fairly well-known, after all.

I personally think that it also illustrates that Mr. Beck has a better understanding of social justice than he lets on. The movement began as a worldly way for Christians to fulfill their spiritual compulsion to help others. Mr. Beck simply inverted and corrupted the equation, letting his worldly desire for infamy and money lead him to vilify any spiritual compulsion or actions intended to help anyone but him and his preconceived message. If this sounds cynical, perhaps it is – but it’s what he’s all about, after all. He honestly (and how sorry that is and sounds, to be sure) believes that he’s right up there on the level of John The Baptist, except that he's howling in the wilderness of secular social responsibility.

Glenn Beck just can't stop hating. He has now gone after the heart of all major religious traditions, with this idiotic rant against people who seek social justice. The prophet Isaiah said: "Woe to you legislators of infamous laws ... who refuse justice to the unfortunate, who cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan."

Woe, indeed.


As everybody that reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I’m all for sustainability and the green revolution, especially in the agricultural and agronomical fields, and, on the face of this, the following sounds pretty reasonable. I found this article on, which is a group of newsletters from the UK that I subscribe to. I highly recommend them.

Anyhow, here’s the article:

“A supermarket chain is claiming a UK first by announcing plans for several hundred bees in land around its new eco-store.

Sainsbury's said today (March 16, 2010) it will be the first supermarket chain to have eight hives, made from sustainably sourced timber and recycled materials, on land around a new eco store in Dursley, Gloucestershire. The area is one of the UK's main fruit and vegetable growing areas and farmers depend upon effective pollination to create a harvestable crop.

The store hopes by providing the bees and the hives it will help reverse recent declines in bee numbers. Sainsbury's environment manager, Jack Cunningham, said: "The rapid decline in bee population has had a severe impact upon the productivity of British crops, so we have decided to take practical steps to help. Sainsbury's already has a loyalty scheme where customers can collect Nectar points, so enabling bees to collect the real thing makes perfect sense."

Landscaping surrounding the store has also been 'carefully crafted' to supply a rich and varied diet of pollen and nectar for these industrious little workers, as a lack of forage is considered to be one of the main drivers of bee decline, and bee hives are just one of the ecological initiatives included at the new store, the building has been designed to collect rain water for use in toilets and to irrigate plants. Special reflective pipes in the roof of the building make the best use of natural daylight, while cold air from food chillers is recycled to keep the store cool in summer.”

Doesn’t this sound wonderful? Set up the hives, hire some beekeepers, hire some entomologists to study them and keep them healthy, and VOILA! You’ve helped the farmers with colony die-off, you’ve now got raw honey that you can harvest and sell, you’re giving employment to scientific endeavours, and everything should be rosy, happy – and profitable, right?


There is, to begin with, the spectre of legal problems. What happens when – NOT if – somebody that’s allergic to bee stings gets stung? These hives are going to be close enough to the store that there are a number of other factors that are going to come into play as well. Bees swarm, for example; so what happens when they swarm at one of the store’s entrances? Again, somebody will get stung, and then the bees will have to be removed, which can take anywhere from an hour to a couple of days, depending on how aggressive the bee swarm is. If the bees decide to swarm close to a trash can with soda residue and other sweet foods that’s close to the door, the store’s going to have to shut and lock all the doors on the side where the swarm is, and open up others so that the store can keep operating.

From 1972 to 2006, there was a very dramatic reduction in the number of feral honeybees in the U.S., and a significant, though somewhat more gradual decline in the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers. This decline includes the cumulative losses from all factors such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites, and commercial beekeepers retiring and going out of business. However, late in the year 2006 and in early 2007 the rate of attrition was alleged to have reached new proportions, and the term "colony collapse disorder" was proposed to describe this sudden rash of disappearances. Most bee colonies in the U.S. are trucked up and down the country, going to fruit and vegetable growing areas that don’t have bees, to pollinate the fruit trees.

I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t think that I’d like that very much. Do insects have hysterics? One of the patterns reported by the group at Penn State was that all producers in a preliminary survey noted a period of "extraordinary stress" affecting the colonies in question prior to their die-off, most commonly involving poor nutrition and/or drought. This is the only factor that all of the cases of CCD had in common in this report; accordingly, there is at least some significant possibility that the phenomenon is correlated to nutritional stress, and may not manifest in healthy, well-nourished colonies. This is similar to the findings of a later independent survey, in which small-scale beekeeping operations (up to 500 colonies) in several states reported their belief that malnutrition and/or weak colonies was the factor responsible for their bees dying, in over 50% of the cases, whether the losses were believed to be due to CCD or not.

Here in Houston, there have been bee colonies found and removed. University of Houston, in 2007, removed tens of thousands of bees that took up residence behind a 40-foot high section of exterior wall at the University of Houston's engineering building. Nobody even noticed that they were there until somebody noticed honey dripping down the walls. The colony was estimated at 100,000 +. A hive of bees was removed from what wasn’t an old oak with honey dripping from a knot. No, it was a towering metal pole, holding up Holiday Inn Express The Woodland’s sign at 24888 Interstate 45 North in Spring, in 2009. Last spring, there was a stinging death when a colony estimated to be 300,000 + strong was removed from a residence in Orchard, Texas. Two months ago, a house that had partially burned was discovered to be home to a thriving bee colony at least 150,000 + strong.

The only colonies that seem to be suffering die-off are the commercial colonies. Which, of course, brings us back to the Sainsbury’s store in England. I applaud their efforts, while I question their good sense. Bees, even if they are not aggressive, can and will become aggressive when they’re disturbed. I just hope that this little experiment in bee-keeping is a happy one both for the store and the bees.

I'll keep an eye on this, and let y'all know how it works out.