Friday, April 30, 2010

A cautionary tale

The disaster in Louisiana should send red flags up for all who want to "drill here, drill now" off the coast of Virginia and other east coast states. The well is blowing out 5 times more oil than originally reported - some 200,000 gallons a day. BP, which is already receiving assistance from the Coast Guard, now wants specialized help from the Defense Department. Hope Secretary Gates is keeping tab of all the costs and will send a bill for the full cost.
Attempts to put out the fire were futile.
The rig eventually collapsed into the Gulf, but the well keeps spewing crude.
The slick is big and keeps growing as the well is pumps out 200,000 gallons per day.
The Exxon Valdez held a limited amount of crude, but since this deep well keeps on pumping and has far more oil than a tanker, the environmental and economic consequences will likely surpass, by a wide a margin, that disaster. The folks along the Gulf coast will pay the highest price, but much will get passed on to all of us. Although the White House says BP will pay all the cleanup costs... yeah, right... you can expect to pay more for that shrimp cocktail or seafood dinner. The costs will ripple through the national economy.
"Drill here, drill now." Anybody that wants oil wells off the east coast should at least agree that those doing the drilling should proffer billions up front, to be held in trust as long as the rigs are there, to cover the cleanup costs if disaster strikes again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stupid question

This evening (April 26) on WHSV/TV3, anchor Bob Corso interviewed retired Bridgewater College political science professor David McQuilkin on how the Louisiana oil rig explosion and pending environmental disaster might affect drilling off the Virginia coast. Boiled down to the essentials, McQuilkin said the current situation would would give environmentalists some talking points, but that over time it wouldn't have much effect on plans to drill 50 miles off Virginia Beach. While I opposed the drilling, I tend to agree with the analysis - it will be years before we are weaned from the ample tits of big oil.
The interview continued and Corso then showed his bias for crude when he commented that the last oil-related environmental disaster was Exxon Valdez in 1989 To his credit, McQuilken disputed that assertion, although without offering specifics. Corso then asked a completely moronic question (I'm paraphrasing somewhat)... Isn't off-shore drilling basically foolproof?
Huh? How completely stupid is Corso's question? We just had an oil rig explode and sink into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven lives were lost. Over 1,800 square miles of the Gulf are covered with oil that crews are desperately trying to contain. Some 5,000 feet down, 42,000 gallons of crude oil continue spewing into the water each and every day as special submarines try to plug the leak. The vital Louisiana seafood and tourism industry is in peril. With all that, Bob Corso asks if off-shore oil drilling is foolproof. The word "fool" applies to this interview... just as the the word "foolish" applies to "drill here, drill now" of the Virginia coast. But, off-shore oil drilling, like all human ventures, is far from "foolproof."

The big sneeze

We love spring and the warming days, greening trees, and bright flowers. But for many, spring brings misery in the form of a running or stuffy nose, watery eyes, and sneeze after sneeze after sneeze. The weatherman begins reporting daily pollen counts. That shiny just-washed car quickly turns a greenish off-yellow. Opening windows for fresh air brings that same coating to furniture and floors.
There are, of course, over-the-counter and prescription remedies to make you (and the pharmaceutical industry) feel better until the heightened pollen counts decline over the next few of months. Practical solutions like keeping windows closed and washing one's hair help some folks. But, for those with severe allergies nothing brings complete relief. Luckily, I suffer less than many and even then, only for a week or so, but I can see and hear the misery of others.
If you think spring allergy season is getting worse in recent years, you are probably right. No, people are not more susceptible to pollen, but because of climate change the impact of pollen is greater and being felt for a longer period of time. According to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation, Extreme Allergies and Global Warming, an earlier spring means a longer allergy season, allows some of the more allergenic tree varieties to thrive farther north, and as heat and drought stress trees many produce more pollen to help guarantee survival of the species.
In addition to short-term things you can do to relieve your symptoms, city dwellers can encourage planners to plant female trees which don't produce pollen or plant less allergenic varieties. In your garden feature bright flowers which are usually pollinated by insects. More ideas may be found at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In the long run, cutting greenhouse gases and slowing/stopping global warming is the only way to deal with the growing length and severity of allergy season.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicken stimulus?

"Before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say I'll paint your house." ~Sue Lowden, Nevada GOP candidate for Senate.
Now, just about everybody is pecking fun at Ms. Lowden because of her barter plan to solve the health financing crisis facing many American families. For her part, Ms. Lowden doesn't think it is a yoke and is standing by her alternative plan for health care reform. A plan that is both creative and old-timey.
Now as even a dumb cluck can figure out, this is great news for Shenandoah Valley poultry farmers... health care solved for them! They can visit the doctor every day! Those farmers who are entrepreneurs (and don't need all their extra birds) will raise chickens for city folks' bartering needs. There will be new markets for chicken coops, for cages for transporting chickens, and for pluckers. Which breed is worth more more... a White Leghorn, a Rhode Island Red, or a Delaware Blue Hen?
But wait, there are opportunities for suburbanites and apartment dwellers alike to raise chickens and, in effect, print their own money to pay for health care. Always light years ahead of national politics, the debate about backyard chickens hit Harrisonburg one year ago. I'm sure Sue Lowden can expect out-of-state donations from the big birds of both commercial poultry as well as those with backyard coops. Does she take barter instead of cash for campaign donations? I've got some cracked corn and extra poultry litter that makes great fertilizer.
Where does all this chicken in every pot talk leave turkeys? Pigs? Goats? Can they cash in on the new health care for barter craze? Only time will tell. And that's no bull.
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To take flight... doctor visits are the last time any bird will cross the road.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beyond Party

Political parties, once an essential link in elections and governing, find themselves struggling to maintain their role in our political process. True, parties at the local, state, and nation levels still control the nominating processes, recruit candidates, raise money, and (try to) energize voters. Increasingly candidates, while jumping through various party hoops, raise their own money and run their campaigns largely separate from party direction. Sure, a prudent candidate will nurture a relationship with party activists, but it is often the candidate, not the party, who determines the nature of that relationship. What will the future hold for political parties? Hard to read the crystal ball, but current national trends may foretell further disconnect from voters, more independent candidates, and perhaps the rise of a viable third party.
Like elsewhere, Shenandoah Valley political activists seem to be turning to extra-party groups and interest groups as the best way to impact government, policy, their community, and the parties. For example, the SWAC Conservative Roundtable Breakfast attracts right wingers that find much of the Republican Party establishment too liberal for their tastes. Some of the breakfast leaders were booted during intra-party battles over the past several years. Perhaps the breakfast is a first step mounting a coup of the local GOP or maybe they'll nurture potential conservative candidates to run as independents. Time will tell.
On the progressive side there are a couple of groups that get together on a regular basis to talk politics, issues, and books. Progress Augusta attracts folks from Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro. A local chapter of the national organization, Drinking Liberally, this informal progressive social group is passionate about politics, building friendships, and having fun in the political process. Most meetings attract 15 to 20 people who enjoy the fellowship and good food while tipping a glass. Progress Augusta meets the first Tuesday of each month from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Irish Alley Pub in Staunton. A related group, Reading Liberally - Staunton, is a progressive book group that held its first meeting on April 15. They meet next on May 27 at 6:30 PM at Darjeeling Cafe, for a discussion on Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization.
It is premature to assess the exact impact these groups will have on campaigns, elections, and the parties themselves. Once thing seems sure... political parties will be shaped by these informal groups. How the parties react - pushing these groups out, welcoming them in, absorbing the group, or being taken over by it - will likely chart the future of the local Republican and Democratic committees themselves.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lost Fortune

Gotta say... I'm worn out on and throughly tired of Jimmy Fortune's ads on local TV. In place of a real career, he's been selling cars and (now) building supplies. I'm a rock and roller... but like a little country from time to time. When Jimmy's ads come on I hit either the "mute" or the "off" button (or head over to the satellite). Enough is enough. The Crazy Heart circuit would be a step up for Jimmy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Weak Tea

The tea party types... well, let's just say they must like it weak. Weak arguments + weak facts + weak reality = weak tea. For all their mindless rhetoric, Americans are actually paying less taxes this year. Cumulatively, some $173 billion less in federal taxes (state taxes went up by $28.6 billion). True, if the debt continues to increase we'll have to cut spending and/or raise taxes... probably some combination of the two. But, for these economic times the combination of tax cuts and spending in the stimulus was the right prescription... although more infrastructure spending putting people to work would have improved the dosage.
Tea party folks have only a weak grasp of reality - for example, they conveniently forget about the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan. To date the wars have cost $983,268,475,000 and counting as I type... up, up, and away. The teabaggers seemingly have no problem with that. That figure doesn't include the costs of keeping troops in Europe, or Japan, or Korea a half century after those conflicts ended. How long will we have troops in Iraq? Afghanistan? Beyond that, defense accounts for over 20% of the federal budget.
About 45% of the federal budget goes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Now, a fair number of the teabaggers I saw on TV are probably collecting at least two of those three. Do they want to give up their benefits? Or have them reduced? Doubtful... after all, they paid in and expect what they were promised. We do have to make adjustments... for example raising the SS age and the amount of income on which the payroll tax is collected. Even so, their protests are hypocritical. Nothing more, nothing less. Like most Americans, they like government spending when it benefits them and hate it when it benefits you.
If the tea parties are nonpartisan, how come most speakers and many organizers are Republican (not to mention some being racist or threatening violence)? Me thinks they doth protest too much. If ya gotta keep saying you are nonpartisan or bipartisan... you probably aren't.
Well, I've been very busy in the yard and garden, with family things, and counting Americans. No time for tea parties. But, I do enjoy and must have my morning coffee.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Rites (Rights?) of Spring

After a long winter, the recent unseasonable warmth is a welcomed opportunity to repair damage of the past months and to clean up the yard and garden. First on my list were fixing damaged gutters and a leaking porch roof. Both problems showed up during the second snow storm - ice dams and heavy accumulation caused real problems and a mess. Over the past couple weeks the gutters (which were fairly new) have been straightened and reinforced. Snow breaks (snow birds) installed on the upper roof will hopefully prevent a repeat. Yeah, I know, we probably won't have another winter like this for years, but it is fairly cheap insurance. Have a few more breaks to install on a couple porch roofs... then that job is done.
Also repaired and sealed flashing that the sliding ice had peeled up allowing seepage into one wall. Some stains on an exterior wall, but the big damage was inside... again in a recently remodeled half bath. A few water stains, a bit of bubbled plaster, and a couple floor tiles were damaged. These warm days with little chance of rain allowed me to put waterproofing rubber-coat on a flat porch roof that had leaked under the heavy snow causing damage to the tongue and groove ceiling below. After curing, I'll put on a second coat... the five gallons would probably allow even a third.
Saturday was a day of plowing, cleaning up the yard, and readying all the equipment (toys?) of modern yard maintenance. Tiller, mower, and tractor all got oil changes and a general cleaning and lube job. Then my daughter got home with a request to change the oil in her car... glad to oblige as I was already a grease monkey. In between there was the first breaking of the garden soil, some mulching, and mowing of those high, lush areas that always get a jump start on the rest of the yard. I burned small limbs and sticks in our campfire ring, but as always, please be careful whenever burning. Remember state law forbids burning of brush piles, etc. before 4:00 PM. All this yard work is good stuff and good for you!
In between all that, I fixed eastern Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ since the kids would be home for dinner. I have a fine vinegar-based recipe and I've got the process down pat. Smoked on a plank on the grill and finished off in the crock pot so it has that smoke flavor but stays very moist... and doesn't need too much attention in between. With slaw, more sauce, all the sides it was some good eatin'. Only downer were the gnats that attacked at the picnic table. The winds had dropped, plus there are predictions that the wet weather of the past couple months will mean an abundance of mosquitos and other bugs. The little devils were certainly robust on Saturday night.
Sunday was a top down sort of day, so we headed out for a cruise on back roads and a bit of geocaching. Absolutely beautiful... blossoms, first hints of leaves popping out, and folks in their yards working on projects or hanging with friends.
Okay, all those activities aren't so unique... something similar was probably repeated in many Shenandoah Valley homes with weather this nice. But, among the rights of spring is a rebirth of political activity in the area. Staunton and some other cities have May elections. So far not much news coverage, but that should change over the next couple of weeks. I guess separating local elections from state/national elections makes some sense, but at the cost of less attention and low turnout.
At JMU and other colleges, April 5-9 will witness an empty holster protest to highlight their opposition to policies that ban concealed weapons on campuses. That is a singularly bad idea - a combustible mixture of youth, guns, and alcohol in a setting where weapons could more easily fall in the wrong hands. I admire your peaceful protest, but college policies banning guns on campus should not be changed. To do so would endanger more people than it would protect. All this at the same time that budget cuts mean longer waits for the background check required to buy a firearm.
And a thoughtful counterweight to the Tea Parties has emerged and seems to be gaining strength - The Coffee Party USA. With a motto of "Wake Up and Stand Up" the organization is pushing civil conversation and consensus building to address community and national problems. Annabel Park, a founder of the movement, is visiting UVA to assist students who are starting a chapter. Quite a contrast to the yelling, screaming, and racism of many tea party types. We'll have to see if calm and reason can trump shouting and fear.