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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!