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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.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Tonight, WonderWife and I watched what has got to be one of the most heart-wrenching, stomach-churning CNN specials I believe I’ve ever seen. No, it’s not about the Somali killing fields, or black civil rights, or anything that the normal world, so-called, would consider important. The fact that CNN thought it was important enough to do and put up is astonishing.

If you missed it the first time, please try and find it and watch it. It will rip your heart out, especially if you’re GLBT. It’s called HER NAME WAS STEVEN, and it’s about a transsexual woman’s journey to her real self. It is NOT easy to watch, believe me.

For those of you that read my blog on a fairly regular basis, you know that WonderWife is a post-op transsexual. It’s not an easy thing, to be a transsexual. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about transsexuals, and most of them, if they are not in the GLBT community, don’t know what they’re talking about. A lot of folks that ARE GLBT folks don’t understand it, either. The first question that a transsexual, or T, is asked is, invariably, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” The second question, if the person that’s being talked at is a Male-to-Female T, or M2F, is, “What happened to your penis? Did it hurt when the doctors cut it off?”

The “burning bathroom question” is rooted in the fear that all genetic girls, or GGs for short, feel when a man walks into the bathroom. The fact that said man is no longer a man simply doesn’t apply. Secondly, most GGs or GMs look at a transsexual and think “DRAG QUEEN”, or, more commonly, “FREAK”. There are a lot of drag queens that are Ts, but not all Ts are drag queens. The penis is not removed in Sexual Reassignment Surgery, or SRS; it is used to create the new-vagina. So, yes, it’s major surgery, but no, it doesn’t hurt any worse than getting your appendix out – but the changes that SRS makes in the lives of Ts is a profound one.

What is transsexualism? Transsexualism is a condition in which an individual identifies with a physical sex that is different from their biological one. A medical diagnosis can be made if a person experiences discomfort as a result of a desire to be a member of the opposite sex, or if a person experiences impaired functioning or distress as a result of that gender identification. So, OK, now we’ve got the diagnosis, and now we come to the question: what exactly is a T? They are people just like everybody else in the world, except for this ONE little difficulty: their brains tell them that they are not living in the right body. Physiologically, they look just as normal as everybody else – but their brains and their bodies are at odds with them, and this is pretty traumatic. Most of the M2F Ts are serious overachievers because they are always aware in their backbrain that they are NOT men, they are really women, and if they don’t root this out by being SuperBoy into SuperMan, then somebody is going to look at them and know that there’s something wrong with them. Most of the F2M Ts are the same way, except that they are even more aggressive in trying to prove to themselves that they’re women, with a capital W.

Know why that is? It’s not acceptable for a woman to not be a nurturer, to not be more interested in Kinder, Kuche and Kirch than in being a successful person, even in this semi-enlightened age. Gay men are pretty generally accepted as just being part of the landscape; lesbians are getting there, thanks to a concerted, generational effort on both parties’ parts. Ts are still regarded as freaks for the most part, and treated accordingly.

Most people forget, or have never known, that it was the T community that was responsible for the beginning of GLBT rights. Look up the Stonewall Riots ( This was an era where, if you were gay, and you were out, that people were perfectly free to beat the crap out of you, with no repercussions, that most people wouldn’t rent to you, that you got actively spit on when you went anywhere that straight folks went, that you were shunned as thoroughly as a leper (in later years, AIDs was another reason for this shunning – as if you could catch AIDs from a toilet set!) and treated as such. Ts were even more marginalized. So, one night, after the folks at the Stonewall Inn were rousted by the cops, there was a riot. It was started by a T, who threw her high heels at the cops. She got the crap beaten out of her for her temerity, but she started something that hasn’t stopped yet.

Transsexualism appears in the two major diagnostic manuals used by mental health professionals worldwide, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, currently in its fourth edition) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD, currently in its tenth edition). The ICD-10 incorporates transsexualism, dual role transvestism and gender identity disorder of childhood into its gender identity disorder category, and defines transsexualism as "[a] desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one's anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one's body as congruent as possible with one's preferred sex.” The DSM does not distinguish between gender identity disorder and transsexualism, and defines transvestic fetishism as a separate phenomenon which may co-occur with transsexualism. The DSM diagnosis requires four components:

1) A desire or insistence that one is of the opposite biological sex (that is not due to a perceived advantage of being the other sex)
2) Evidence of persistent discomfort with, and perceived inappropriateness of the individual's biological sex
3) The individual is not intersex (although a diagnosis of GID Not Otherwise Specified is available, which enables intersex people who reject their sex-assignment to access transsexual treatments)
4) Evidence of clinically significant distress or impairment in work or social life.

According to the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association's Standards Of Cares, this diagnostic label is often necessary to obtain sex reassignment therapy with health insurance coverage, and states that the designation of gender identity disorders as mental disorders is not a license for stigmatization, or for the deprivation of gender patients' civil rights. The word transsexual was used by Harry Benjamin in his seminal 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon to describe transsexuals on a scale (later called the "Benjamin scale") that recognizes three levels of intensity of transsexualism:

1) "Transsexual (nonsurgical)",
2) "Transsexual (moderate intensity)"
3) "Transsexual (high intensity)".

Benjamin described "true" transsexualism in this way: "True transsexuals feel that they belong to the other sex, they want to be and function as members of the opposite sex, not only to appear as such. For them, their sex organs, the primary (testes) as well as the secondary (penis and others) are disgusting deformities that must be changed by the surgeon's knife." Transsexualism is often included within the broader term transgender, which is generally considered an umbrella term for people who do not conform to typical accepted gender roles, for example cross-dressers, drag queens, and people who identify as genderqueer. Most transsexuals really object to this inclusion. They don’t see this as a battle over sexual orientation, but rather a fight that they fight to be the person that their brain TELLS them they are to begin with. Some transsexual people even prefer transgender over transsexual, because this minority sees the issue to be about gender rather than sexuality, and that’s the term that’s most commonly used today – and oh, BOY, is it misleading.

Cross-dressing is a choice. Transsexualism is not. Therein lies all the difference.

And this brings me back to HER NAME WAS STEVEN. The description of the program: “Susan Stanton doesn't seem much different than any other woman: She struggles with her weight, she tries to balance her career with being a parent, and she worries about her teenage son who is just learning to drive.

But Stanton has been a woman for only about two years.

Stanton -- who knew very little about the transgender community -- practically became the poster child for the transgender rights movement. Like many transgender people, Stanton struggled with serious depression and suicidal thoughts during her transition. The loss of her job and her marriage were the two most difficult side effects of the process.” (continued at

Please don’t get me wrong here; I applaud Susan Stanton for her courage, and I feel her pain – literally – because I’ve lived through it myself. Unfortunately, there are a lot more s out there whose stories are just as compelling and who have suffered as much if not more than Ms. Stanton has. There’s a T lawyer here in Houston named Phyllis Randolph Frye ( who suffered just as much. There’s a T lawyer in DC name Alyson Meiselman ( or Christie Lee Littleton (, whose marriage was invalidated by the Texas Courts, the Federal courts, and whose case SCOTUS refused to hear.

Most Ts lose their families when they transition. Most Ts lose their jobs and are no longer employable. Most Ts, if they’re married, lose their marriages and their kids. Most young Ts get thrown out on the streets with the clothing on their backs, whatever change they’ve got in their pockets, and whatever shoes they can grab – and they’re left to starve on the streets. Most of the youngsters turn to prostitution and drugs when this happens. Remember BOYS DON’T CRY? How about Gwen Araho? This is normally what happens to a T.

We’ve been through that ourselves. We’re still going thorough it. That doesn’t invalidate Ms. Stanton’s story; it just shows how much more work there is to do.

Friday, March 12, 2010


One of the nicest things about belonging to social networking groups is the people that you meet there, and the ideas that you exchange. One of the best ideas that I’ve seen lately is people that are trying to set up virtual learning and virtual classrooms. It’s an interesting concept that’s been talked about and discussed for years, and, now, with all of the schools all over the country that closing their doors for lack of money, maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.

So, what is virtual learning, or virtual education? According to Wikipedia (, it’s “a term describing online education using the Internet. This term is primarily used in higher education where so-called Virtual Universities have been established. Virtual courses, which is a synonym is online courses – are courses delivered on the Internet. "Virtual" is used here to characterize the fact that the course is not taught in a classroom face-to-face but through some substitute mode that can be associated with classroom teaching. A virtual program (or a virtual course of studies) is a study program in which all courses or at least a significant portion of the courses are virtual courses.”

Historically, American students' learning opportunities have been limited and shaped by factors beyond their control. Geography has been an important factor as well; do the children live near a good school? It’s been my experience that bussing kiddos doesn’t really do much except wear them out before they ever get to a classroom, if the bus ride is longer than 20 or 30 minutes. Even some of the good charter schools fall victim to the geography of the system. Access to quality instruction has been another factor, which raises the question of whether or not the child was placed in a class with the best teacher for that particular student. Are the teacher's lessons, designed to instruct a classroom of 16 or more students, tailored to the child’s learning level, learning style, and interests? In a lot of cases, the lesson plans are pretty much one-size-fits-all, which in and of itself has raised all sorts of problems. Since most public schools are geared towards a level playing field for all students, the brightest children are very often held back both intellectually and academically to the lowest common denominator. That’s not the child’s fault, nor is it the fault of the teacher.

So, how will virtual education and virtual classrooms address this problem?

The development and proliferation of online learning and virtual learning options is beginning to break down these particular barriers, and it's a jolly good thing, too. In the very near future, students will be able to receive customized instruction from teachers anywhere in the United States, or even in the world. The best teachers will use technology to reach many more students. Virtual and blended-learning programs will enable mass customization in education, allowing students to learn at their own pace in ways that are tailored to their learning styles and interests. Now, mark that last statement well: The students will be able to learn at their OWN PACE, and they’ll be able to learn as much as they want to, as quickly as they want to. They’ll be able to go forward in the learning process as quickly as they can assimilate the knowledge, and they’ll have a much wider range of subject matter than that which is available now. This is a good thing, no?

Look at the success of the online universities, if you need another reason to cheer about this. Online universities are proliferating at a great rate, and they are cheaper than traditional land-based, classroom intensive colleges. If a student can pass the entrance examination and pay the fees, they will get as good an education as the students in more traditional, brick and mortar learning centers. They will be able to take the courses that they want to, and learn at their own pace and in their own time. As many as 1 million children (roughly 2 percent of the K-12 student population) are participating in some form of online learning. Today, 27 states offer statewide virtual schools that allow students to take a class online, and 24 states and the District of Columbia offer students the opportunity to attend a virtual school full-time. Growing numbers of school districts are offering virtual learning options that include supplemental instruction or blended-learning programs, which use online learning in combination with face-to-face instruction. Enrollment in online learning programs is not only expected to grow over the next decade, it’s projected to explode. One analysis has predicted that half of high school classes will be online within a decade. I personally think that around 75% of all high-school education will be online in 5 years or less.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education published a meta-analysis of evidence-based studies of K-12 and post-secondary online learning programs. The study reported that "students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction." In addition, online learning has the potential to improve productivity and lower the cost of education, reducing the burden on taxpayers. Think about that last statement: Online classroom have the potential to LOWER the cost of education (which would in turn lower the property taxes that fund that education), while still providing an education that is just as good and meaningful as more traditional methods of education.
There are still some concerns that have been expressed about this system, chief of which is the socialization that comes with actually being physically present in a classroom with other students. Isaac Asimov spoke to the dangers of isolation and living in a virtual world in the CAVES OF STEEL, one of his books about R. Daneel Olivaw and his human counterpart, Elijah Baley. One of the main characters kills himself before he can be taken into custody, because of a very Solarian fear of human contact. Of course, this is something that, ironically, that the opponents of home-schooling use as one of their arguments against the practice – NO SOCILIAZATION. Which, of course, is absolute bullshit.

Homeschoolers often take advantage of educational opportunities at museums, community centers, athletic clubs, after-school programs, churches, science preserves, parks, and other community resources. Secondary school level students may take classes at community colleges, which typically have open admission policies. In many communities, homeschooling parents and students participate in community theater, dance, band, symphony, and chorale opportunities. Groups of homeschooling families often join together to create homeschool co-ops. I can see virtual learning going this particular route as well, and I personally think that this is a wonderful idea.

H’mmmm . . . cheaper education, learn at your own pace, have world-wide access to learning about all sorts of things that a kiddo doesn’t usually get to learn about before adulthood, better teaching methods, better education, and possibly lower taxes.

What’s NOT to love here?

Monday, March 8, 2010


I’ve never been a big fan of illegal drugs, let me say that up front right now. I hate to even take aspirin for a headache. However, after some careful reading on the subject, aided and abetted by some of my older pot-head friends, I am changing my mind about just why legalizing pot is an idea whose time has come. There are a lot of very good reasons - moral, ethical and economical - why this should be done now and as soon as possible.

Currently, the Controlled Substances Act does not recognize the difference between medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. For a surprisingly large number of Americans, though, marijuana is just like any other prescription; it’s a way to escape from chronic pain. And, given the stupidity of the FedGov law as it is currently written regarding sale and possession of pot, even patients who obtain marijuana legally in their state can face federal prosecution.

Cannabis has been used to treat HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, cancer, chronic pain, arthritis and pains associated with aging. Something else that pot helps with is asthma prevention, and it also eases glaucoma. Especially for older Americans, cannabis can be the best prescription for their pain. Something else that people overlook with pretty appalling regularity is that being in chronic pain also robs a person of not only the will to eat, but also the will to live. “Marijuana munchies” is not just a figure of speech; using marijuana to help control chronic pain also helps to ease the truly horrific estivation that comes with being a victim of the diseases mentioned above. Using pot makes you hungry. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you eat regularly, you tend to live longer. That’s one of the best side effects that I personally can think of for a non-addictive drug. SO, you’re zoned out for a while. A person using narcotic painkillers is just as zoned, and the narcotics kill appetite.

In a study conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, doctors found that nicotine was far more serious than marijuana on many levels. So, if marijuana were objectively and fairly compared with the effects and side effects of many other prescription drugs, it would become clear just how beneficial of a substance it is. Other countries are recognizing the benefits of medicinal cannabis as well. Canada, Chile and the Netherlands have decriminalized or legalized medical marijuana, and countries such as Australia and Belgium are conducting trials on the benefits of medical marijuana. It's time for the United States to shed its stereotypical view of marijuana and recognize the many medicinal benefits.

Morally speaking, using pot is a LOT less bad for the person using it than smoking cigarettes. It’s a LOT better than drinking. Ethically speaking, anything that relieves pain and suffering without making the person taking the drugs worse in a good many ways is good. Then, too, there are the economic benefits.

I can just hear the squawking now. ECONOMIC BENEFITS?

Yuppers, gangers, ECONOMIC BENEFITS. Let me repeat that: MONEY. Lots of money.

The late, great Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate, former Reagan advisor, and esteemed scholar associated with the very conservative Hoover Institution, was among hundreds of important economists who argue that pot should be legalized and taxed, and that the income from such taxation could generate billions in new revenues and billions more in enforcement savings. If you live in California, what would you rather have? Pot smokers whose cases are tying up the legal system? Or better health care and roads thanks to a marijuana tax? The economic case for legalizing marijuana is as compelling as it has ever been and, in a time of great changes in the interaction between government and the governed, it would not be the worst thing in the world to have a serious national debate on the topic.

Currently over 100 million Americans have used or have admitted using pot. Thinking people do their own research, and, many times, have concluded that the laws against marijuana are arbitrary. It has been proven that legalizing will cost taxpayers far less than we have to pay currently in order to keep marijuana illegal. In fact, Portugal legalized marijuana in 2001 and it has since proven effective, in that crime rates and drug use among youth have significantly decreased. In fact, most who supported legalization were middle-aged citizens, rather than young adults.

So, who’s really holding up the legalization of pot? Aside, that is, from the FedGov and the National Drug Czar, that is?

Well, for one thing, cigarette companies and Big Pharma; my guess is that they’d be the ones most concerned. Big Pharma does NOT want people to have access to benign naturally occurring substances that provide much the same relief, without side-effects or breaking the bank that their reconstituted synthetics might provide. Think about it: sell a carton of 200 joints for $50.00, and throw out the narcotics. Might cost the drug companies a bit, wouldn’t you think? The FDA has recently claimed that there are no medical benefits to marijuana use. However, at the same time, the FDA has approved synthetic versions of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, for use in high-priced prescription drugs. Surprisingly, the FDA also lists marijuana to be as dangerous as heroin & PCP. If nothing else, this would convince me that the so-called experts are either stupid, blind, or, in all probability, so deep in Big Pharma’s hineys that the agency heads are actually eating breakfast, lunch and dinner out of Big Pharma’s stomach.

Why bother with a cheaper, more cost-effective REAL substance when you can make a synthetic for 5 times the price? Where’s the benefit to the general public in *THAT*?

Also, let’s not forget that the tobacco industry won’t just step aside to let a brand new business take over the market. Should marijuana become legal, who do you think will first start the mass manufacturing? My guess of Marlboro is a good one. Camel is a decent choice, too. Only problem that I can see with this is that all cigarettes have additives, including an extra jolt of nicotine to keep you puffing. What’s to stop the tobacco companies from doing the same thing with a commercially marketed joint?

“Stoned” Joe Camel, anybody?

And then, of course, there’s the FedGov’s interest in keeping the War on Drugs going. The only violence associated with pot is the extreme violence used by Mexican drug traffickers to get it into this country. Legalize pot, and one of their most lucrative markets is gone. The DEA and other agencies have grown fat over the last 30 years fighting their phony “war on drugs.” Trillions in tax payer dollars have been doled out to agencies to wage their war. The so-called “war on drugs” has become a massive government funded industry that jealously guards its funding. Any talk of legalizing pot sends the bureaucracies into an uproar as they foresee dramatic funding cuts, and fewer thermal gizmos that detect leafy green plants in someone’s backyard. We can start by playing the war on drugs game a lot smarter. We can stop the stupid, hysterical silliness and legalize pot. Then, and only then, MAYBE the DEA can focus its attention on real drugs like meth, cocaine, crack, heroine, ecstasy, and the growing prescription drug problem.

Marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and fall under the same rules as alcohol. That means 21 and up to buy it. Those under 21 found with it should be ticketed as they are for alcohol. Those found to be driving under the influence of marijuana should be given DUI’s as they would have been had they been drinking.

The horrific violence of Mexican cartels, which make perhaps as much as 75 percent of their money from marijuana (in Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard’s estimation), the budget meltdown in California, overcrowded prisons and overstretched law enforcement, all of these should be factored into legalization. In April of 2008, Representative Barney Franks co-sponsored, with Ron Paul, the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008, which would have lifted federal penalties for possessing 3.5 ounces or less. That bill never made it to committee. However, Frank and Paul introduced another bill that did reach the committee stage: the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009, which would end the ban on cultivation of non-psychoactive hemp. “I think people have gotten more skeptical of government intervention,” Frank said. “And I think people have seen the ineffectiveness of the all-out-war approach to all this.”

“Change we can believe in – and it all starts with just a TINY bit of common sense.