Thursday, May 29, 2008


Once I was shopping in a Borders store at about 8:30 on a Saturday evening when I realized that I hadn’t eaten yet and was hungry. I saw that there was a cafĂ© in the store. The menu board indicated that they served bagel melts, either turkey or ham on a bagel with cheese melted on top. I planned to ask for one without the meat. The price was $3.75, a little steep, I thought, for a toasted bagel with melted cheese, but it was what I wanted to eat, so what the heck; I ordered it. The counterman said, “We don’t serve hot sandwiches after 8:00 p.m.” I looked at the items in the display case, and saw a bagel with cheese on top. “I’ll have one of those”, I said. “We only have plain bagels and raisin bagels”, he said. “What about that one?” I countered. “It’s been in the case for about a year”, he said, “You wouldn’t want to eat it.” “Okay”, I said “I’ll have a plain bagel”. “Do you want it toasted?” he asked. “Sure” I said. “Would you like melted cheese on it?” I refrained from reminding him that that was exactly what I had asked for when we started this exchange. I got a toasted bagel with melted cheese for $1.50, the same price I would have paid for the plain bagel. Sometimes, just sometimes, you can get what you want.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Big or Small

Remember when the auto industry manufactured only "big" cars? Then, due to environmental and other pressures, they suggested "compact" cars touting the economics of owning such a car. About a decade (more or less) later, they recommended buying "SUV's" to use as a family vehicle. Now, with soaring fuel prices, the industry is again suggesting "smaller" or "hybrid" cars. Is it big or small - big or small - or is it a collusion between the car manufacturers and the oil companies to boost sales?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Oops - - Am I Fired?

The law firm I worked for hired and fired people contnuously -- sort of a turn-style employer. The firm's telephone directory was constantly revised. One such directory was circulated with one of the employee's name omitted. After inquiry, I learned that she was to be fired prior to distribution of the new directory; however, management did not bother to tell her - she learned she was no longer employed after reviewing the new directory. Since then, every time a new directory was published, the employees looked to see if they were still employed or whether they had been fired!


Obama, Clinton or McCain?

Who will rescue our economic crisis?
Who will stop ravaging oil prices?
Who will have a solution to aid our poor?
Who will see that our disabled and elderly are cared for?
Who will stop government corruption?
Who will stand up for America without filling their pocket?
Who will WE elect from our list of candidates?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't Blame The Dinosaurs

I didn't spend sixty dollars today filling my car's gasoline tank up with dead dinosaurs. No, that would almost seem worth the exorbitance. At least I could say that I had a remnant of the Triassic period in my tank. That, however, does not appear to be the case. What I have the remnants of in my tank -- and what has informed wars and hostile take overs and unimaginable greed -- are diatoms -- tiny sea creatures the size of a pin head. More than three hundred million years ago, it seems, oil was first formed when these unicellular folk died, fell to the bottom of oceans and lakes and were buried under sediment and rock. The unusual thing about diatoms is that even though they aren't plants, they can convert sunlight directly into stored energy. Dead and buried under water the energy inside their bodies could not escape. And to make a really long story short, the carbon eventually turned into oil under great pressure and heat. The earth changed and moved and folded and pockets of this oil collected. These pockets of oil took thousands of years and millions of dead diatoms to become even sludge. Given sufficient time and heat and continued collected sediment and we have a movie starring Daniel Day Lewis and not enough money to get us to work and a complete dependence on the long ago deaths of a life form so tiny most of us wouldn't be able to see it if it sat next to us at the kitchen table. It should come as no surprise that the birth, life and death of the diatom cannot match the world's insatiable appetite for oil. Forget that the very engines powered by the oil upon which the world depends are destroying the planet. What's important here is that I don't really have a tiger in my tank nor do I have a tyrannosaurus in my tank. I have millions of dead creatures smaller than grains of sand. It's good that Chevron posted an 18.7 billion dollar profit. It's even better that Exxon Mobil made 40.6 billion dollars in profits in 2007 because those people still have some clean up to do. And the oil companies doubtless need the obscene subsidies they receive from the federal government -- subsidies estimated to be as much as 28 billion dollars over the next five years.
Down here in the real world, though, my diatoms and I are looking forward to our two hundred dollar tax initiative go spend yourselves silly check from the federal government so we can fill up the gas tank three or four more times. Then my dead diatoms are on their own. And based on the amount of actual assistance our government seems inclined to give to us or to the environment, it looks like I'm on my own, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Gravity is the one sure thing about dropping rocks into abandoned mine shafts.
You creep up as close as you dare to the edge of the mysterious hole in the ground, smelling decades of rotting timbers wafting up from the thing. Always one big unknown is the stability of the ground around the mouth of the shaft. It might collapse under your feet, sending you plunging to a dark death.
But that won’t happen to you, right?
Then you drop the rock and experience gravity at work, 32 feet per second per second, the growing hiss of air resistance as the rock approaches terminal velocity. And then the echoing crash (or splash) as the rock hits bottom. You stand there, breath held, until silence returns to that dark world.
Mine-shaft spelunking.
Abandoned mines have been in the news in Arizona for the past year, since two girls rode an ATV into a 125-foot-deep shaft concealed by brush, near Chloride. A 13-year-old girl was killed in the fall, and her 10-year-old sister was injured, rescued after an unimaginable night in the mine. The state had identified the shaft as hazardous 10 years earlier, but did nothing about it. The girls’ mother has sued the state for $11 million.
Since then, Arizona Mine Inspector Joe Hart has been searching desperately for ways to close up abandoned mines before more people fall in them. At one point, he proposed filling them with old tires, but that idea was dropped due to environmental concerns.
However, Gov. Janet Napolitano on April 28 signed a bill into law that will let Hart accept donations of inert construction waste materials such as concrete rubble to fill abandoned mines.
Hart’s office has estimated that there are 100,000 abandoned mine openings – from deep shafts and tunnels to shallow prospect holes – in Arizona. In most cases, the people who dug those holes died long ago, leaving us with mine workings that age and decay, growing more dangerous as Arizona's population grows closer to them.
It’ll take a lot of construction rubble to fill them. And, under the the Law of Unintended Circumstances, there’s a distinct possibility that some of the trucks dumping construction rubble into mine shafts will fall in themselves, in the process.
Meanwhile, abandoned mines continue to claim lives. Earlier this year a 19-year-old man fell 300 feet to his death in a shaft near Globe.

I learned about mine-shaft spelunking on a ranch in Yavapai County, north of Wickenburg. The state lists 1,948 mines in Yavapai, more than any other Arizona county. I’m sure that most of them must have been on our ranch, scarring the desert hillsides with tailings piles and occasional head frames standing above mine shafts like gallows. There were great, mythic names for those played-out mines – the Mizpah, Slim Jim, Keystone, Bloo Nellie, Monte Cristo, and the Gold Bar, to name a few. The Gold Bar had a vertical shaft 800 feet deep, my father said. The Mizpah was 600 feet deep straight down, and the Monte Cristo’s incline shaft was 1,100 feet deep. My father somehow knew the depths of all of them.
One unusual mine on our ranch had a tailings pile jutting out on a hillside, but no mine shaft at all. Where there should have been a shaft at the top of the pile, there was just flat ground. Even my father couldn’t explain that.
Then, after some heavy rain, the shaft made a shocking reappearance – a gaping hole about 200 feet deep on the side of the tailings pile, rather than the top. It must have been covered over by rotting timbers, a death trap waiting to snare some kid doing the kind of thing kids love to do, like riding an ATV.

That’s the kind of memory that still haunts my sleep.
Mine-shaft dreams, I call them. Once or twice a month, they visit. No amount of inert construction material, I fear, will cover them up.
I’m there again, looking down into the blackness of the mine shaft, a rock in my hand. I drop the rock and watch as gravity takes over and it falls, 32 feet per second per second. But then it’s me falling, falling, falling ...
Still falling after all these years, with no hope of terminal velocity.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is that really the worst thing?

On Friday, I took part in the Baccalaureate Ceremony at the University where I work, and heard an address given by Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. He began his speech with a recollection of a recent airplane trip which had been lengthened fourfold by bad weather and delays. A woman near him was making numerous calls on her cell phone, cursing the airline, the weather, and the part of the world in which she was stuck. When, at long last, the flight attendant announced that they were finally taking off, she wished them a better day than they had had so far, at which the woman announced to all within earshot, "Well, it couldn't get any worse!". Mr. Fowler said that he then thought, "Really? Can it really not get any worse than this?" Knowing that the subject of his speech would be the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the audience laughed ruefully.

Friday was an extraordinarily hot day, and I left Baccalaureate to go home and prepare my house for guests. On the way home, I thought delightedly that I had just purchased a case of assorted sodas and was looking forward to drinking one as I got dinner ready. When I got home and opened the wrapping, I saw that the case had been mislabeled and contained only black cherry sodas. My first thoughts were of pique and annoyance, and I wondered when, during a busy weekend, I'd have time to return to the store and exchange the purchase. All at once, I heard Jerry Fowler's voice in my head saying, "Really? Is a case of black cherry soda really the worst thing that could happen?" I decided that it was not.

Jerry Fowler's words have been dwelling in my head ever since Friday, popping up at every minor inconvenience to show me just how minor my inconveniences are. I hope they take up permanent residence.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who's a Monkey's Uncle?

British scientists will be allowed to use hybrid embryos as they research cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, it was announced today. No, hybrid embryos are not fossil fuels working in partnership with charged batteries. Hybrid (or admixed) embryos mingle animal and human DNA.
An embryo, as defined by, was -- at least at one time -- on its way to becoming a fetus. Nothing suggests in that definition a viable life or a thriving soul.
This country -- our country, the country in which we live, the country we love -- has, for some time, been stuck in a Victorian era quagmire of moral misdirection. We don't allow embryonic research because enough people here believe a single cell can live on its own that they have the power to stop medical research. So while the Right To Lifers keep us trembling and forgetting, those Brits have taken this area of research to a new level.
None of today's news reports, however, dared to describe how, exactly, those admixed embryos are created. Some explanations are too much for the common mind to consider.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Justice For All

Yesterday the California Supreme Court legalized same sex marriages. Justice will prevail at least until the November election when, according to Randy Thomasson, head of Campaign for Children and Families, the ruling will be undone by an amendment to the state constitution which will define marriage at least in California as a union between a man and a woman.
Jenny Pizer, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, commented that some people will do 'their darndest to make sure that discrimination remains'.
Surely the little plaque on Christopher Street will not be lost to the glare of the Starbucks on the corner.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not Enough Life Boats

The United States Department of the Interior today announced its decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species because of the decline in Arctic sea ice. The polar bear -- hours before a court imposed ruling requiring a decision on this matter expired -- is now under the protection of the United States government. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is expected to explain this action by citing studies conducted in his own department indicating that the disappearance of Arctic sea ice off the coasts of Alaska and Canada may result in two thirds of the polar bear population disappearing by the middle of this century.
This is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been used to protect a species threatened by the impacts of global warming.
This is the first time -- just making sure we're clear on this -- that this government admits to direct culpability in the endangerment of a species. And now that the polar bear is on the list of 'to be protected' what, exactly, is this government that fails to provide sufficient and appropriate supplies to its soldiers going to do to protect polar bears?
Are we going to throw them life preservers? Are we going to fit them for water wings? We did this to the polar bears! So what are we going to do to help them?
Recycling newspapers seems like a trivial response. So does taking the bus to work and watching Al Gore's slide shows because those activities don't communicate outrage. Surely they are not the only responses we can muster. Surely there are more effective methods of saying to those who hold the power of life and death that greed and profligate living drown possibility.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Forever Is A Long Time

Two days ago I bought eight sheets of Forever Stamps anticipating today's postage increase. At the time of my purchase, the Post Office clerk asked if I wanted more of Forever. Her question stumped me. How far into Forever must a person buy to feel safe? And can eternity actually be purchased? I stuck with the eight sheets. I'm pretty sure I'll use them up within, say, a couple of years if I'm careful. If I'm not careful, I could probably squander forever in no time at all. In the meantime, it feels pretty good to own part of the future.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cinderella's Second Thoughts

In the harsh light of day, Cinderella considered the possibility of Prince Charming's having absolutely no interest in discarded glass slippers.

Helping Out

In the check out line at the super market the woman in front of me purchased a loaf of bread and two apples. "Do you need help out?" the checker asked as he handed the woman her change. For perhaps half a second the checker, the woman, and I stared at the purchases. Then the woman answered the question asked so mechanically.
"Yes. I do need help out. Thanks for asking. I need help out with raising my two kids by myself. I need help out paying my rent and my utility bills. I need help out finding a third job so I can buy an apple for each of my children. I need help out paying off my mother's funeral. I need help out finding health insurance I can afford. I need all sorts of help out. I don't need help out with what I just bought, though. But I do appreciate the offer."
She picked up her bag and as she walked away the stunned checker said, "Happy Mothers' Day." The woman turned and smiled at him. "Thank you. You be sure and wish your mother the same." And she was gone.
My items purchased and bagged, the checker asked me, "Would you like assistance carrying your purchases to your car?" In the blink of an eye, this young man learned to offer only that which is possible to provide.

Blessings As Cures

Dr. Jack M. Gwaltney is the creator of a web site called 'Welcome to Common Cold'. I'm puzzled about why anyone wants to feel welcome to the common cold but welcome or not, here I am at both the website and the common cold. I do not feel welcome at all. I feel like a stranger wandering the streets of a desolate land. I know no one and I neither speak nor understand the language. You see, I rarely get colds. They are not common to me. I am researching my situation, hoping for a guide book -- a map of some sort -- to lead me to a more comfortable place where I will want to be welcomed. Tissue or cloth handkerchief? Which does less harm to the environment and more comfort to me. I choose cloth handkerchief. Dr. Gwaltney tells of a research in which healthy people allowed some lab person to drop a virus into their noses and not too surprisingly 95% of them became infected with something. Of that group of people only -- only, it is emphasized -- 75% developed symptoms of a cold. I gotta hand it to Dr. Gwaltney. That's an impressive bit of research. What mainly astonishes me is why those healthy adult volunteers felt compelled to participate in the research project at all. Isn't riding the subway or going to the Post Office exposure enough? Statistics are their own misery, though. And here's one of my current statistics. Every time I sneeze my eyes close. That's enough for my brain to handle at the moment.
By the way, the best treatment for a cold, I believe, is the 'Bless you' given each time we sneeze. And who knows. Even if we don't know who, exactly, is sneezing perhaps if we all just said 'Bless you' every couple of minutes we might, indeed, cure the common cold.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Water Water Everywhere

And another thing. A colleague told me that if I leave the cap on my plastic water bottle it will not be considered recyclable. I didn't understand what difference cap on cap off made and she couldn't explain it but I became immediately fixated on taking the cap off the water bottles before tossing them in the recycling bin. Soon I discovered I was contributing to global warming by using too many plastic water bottles. So at work I refilled my generic plastic water bottle from the office filtration system several times a day and only allowed myself a new water bottle every other week. I was doing my part and feeling good about it. Then I discovered -- from a different colleague -- that I was steadily and not so slowing poisoning myself by not only reusing my plastic water bottle but by drinking from it to begin with. I switched to a Nalgene bottle and found out my bottle was too new to be safe. I switched to an aluminum bottle and observed my memory and most of my mind leave me because everyone except me -- and maybe I, too, before I began drinking from an aluminum 'bottle' -- knew that aluminum contributes to Alzheimer's Disease. I had no more purchasable options which was good because I had spent most of my money on containers in which to carry my water. Apparently I went several days at work without drinking any water. The toxins put into my system by aluminum and plastic lessened. Luckily just as dehydration began to break down vital and even not so important bodily functions, my mind and my memory began their return. I reached blindly across my desk. My hand fell on my long unused coffee cup. Of course, I had stopped drinking coffee some time before when I discovered that it either raised or lowered my blood pressure and healed or destroyed either my liver or my kidneys. Dusty coffee cup in hand, I staggered to the filtered, reverse infused water thing near my desk, filled my cup and drank from it. Dehydration and memory loss simultaneously vanished. I refilled my cup and drank again. My cup. It had been on my desk all along. A gift from some other long ago colleague, the cup is glass. It can be washed. It can be reused. Of course, it carries with it certain risks of its own. It has no lid. I could accidentally -- or deliberately depending on which paper work is on my desk -- tip it over and spill its contents. I could drop it. It could break. Either of those scenarios might result in my feeling stupid and clumsy and even, at the very worst, cutting my fingers picking up broken glass. Even if my fingers require stitches, no polar bears will drown, no brain cells will be destroyed, and no recycling sorter will have to decide whether cap on or cap off is better for the environment.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sorting Through Stuff

I started sorting through stuff today and in so doing became my own archaeologist. Possessions once precious now seem inexplicable. What was the purpose of those faux gold coins? Where did I get them and why did I keep them? How many paper weights does a person really need in one life? Magazines unread for twelve months beg for recycling and opportunities to become pages of yet another series of 'The Great Books'. And what about that Caribbean style straw hat given to me as a party favor at least ten years ago? Does any thrift store in the country really want it? How could I have imagined when I recorded all of those movies I'd be stuck with video cassette tapes now unplayable because my magical VCR was replaced by an even more magical DVD? My ecologically oriented self is now stuck between wanting to just put all this crap in the dumpster and knowing that the half life of a video cassette tape is probably several million years. Here's a lesson I'm beginning to consider learning. Before buying anything, perhaps I should figure out how I will get rid of it when it breaks or bores. Or at least I might consider whether or not it's something I want the planet to lug around decades after I've tossed it in the trash.