Seven Months

It’s been seven months since my last blog post, and the situation of humanity on this earth has only worsened. In March, an 8.9 earthquake followed by a huge tsunami hit Japan, caused complete destruction of many areas on the east coast of the country.  The video that came from the scene was astonishing. The tsunami came as far as 6 miles inland, pushing cars and buildings out of its way as if they were styrofoam cups.

The tsunami also damaged a nuclear power complex and three reactors suffered partial meltdowns, producing large regions of dangerous radiation. This is a problem still affecting the country, because the area was partially agricultural, and all their food products are radioactive to some degree. One of the worst contaminated products is milk.

The Missouri, Mississippi, and other rivers had passed far beyond flood stage this year. In a controversial move, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway in Louisiana that allowed waters to flood areas of Central LA all the way to the coast. This decision was made because the central areas are much less populated, and if the spillway had not been opened, flooding in the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans would have been worse, affecting a large number of people.

Forest fires have been raging, due to extreme drought in the southwest. The drought is worst, in magnitude and in area affected, in Texas. A heat wave has been breaking records since May, not just in the South but also in the Midwest and Northeast. Currently DFW stands at 36 consecutive days at 100 or above and is approaching the all time record of 42 consecutive days which occurred in 1980. Given the forecast for the upcoming week, we should have no problem topping that record.

Fortunately (as far as comfort is concerned), it is a very dry heat. That also makes it easier for fires to occur. I receive e-mails from FEMA about disaster areas and have frequently seen Texas counties on the list because of fires.

Notice the fire between Longview and Marshall!

Tornadoes rampaged in the spring, with the most famous one destroying parts of Joplin, Missouri.

Most recently there has been difficulty with Congress, i.e. the stubbornness of the Republicans, especially the Tea Party, with regard to raising the debt ceiling. They spent at least a month arguing, digging in their heels, threatening each other (Democrats too!) and engaging in other non-productive activities, while citizens worried more and more (and felt disgusted), and who knows what the rest of the world was thinking.

Earlier this week, on the last day (8-2), a compromise was finally reached and signed into law. Not a good compromise, of course. I don’t even want to think about it right now. Tomorrow I’ll post an op-ed I did for Associated Content.

And in spite of the compromise, Standard & Poor’s lowered the U.S. from its triple-A credit rating to double-A.

At the moment, I’m too depressed about all this to write anything more.

Another number trick

As reported at American Prospect blog, the Republicans have found a new way to massage the numbers concerning health care reform: simply choose another source, specifically, themselves. The apparent reason for this choice is the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the health care bill (ACA) will produce a surplus, rather than increased debt. Naturally they can’t allow that, because it doesn’t fit into their viewpoint. Thus they have decided to select the answer that they want, even though it isn’t connected to reality.

Meanwhile, the world keeps turning and people get poorer and the environment becomes poisoned and we may all die next year. Well, c’est la vie.

Hazardous Waste — again

The number of deaths from cancer near the town of Frederick, MD, are reminiscent of the movie “Erin Brokovich,” and in fact, the law office where the famous lawyer works has been tapped to manage a class action lawsuit brought by Frederick residents against the nearby Army post, Fort Detrick.

Agent Orange, a well known defoliant and carcinogen, was researched and developed by the military at Fort Detrick (and other locations) during the ’70s.  Testing of groundwater near the fort has shown contamination by Agent Orange and other related chemicals.

Fort Detrick has just recently finished capping its hazardous waste dumps to prevent them from entering the groundwater — a task it began back in 1992.

This is another example of technology rushing ahead with no thought of the possible consequences.  Technology typically develops much faster than safe practices and morals; thus humanity is forever cleaning up messes that could have been prevented. The BP oil spill is another good example.

Right now there is a great debate on who should be responsible for making sure that safety rules are followed: should it be the company itself (or similar entity), or should a governmental agency set standards and provide accountability through inspections?

The question isn’t easy to answer. Government can get out of control, particularly if a gung-ho over the top employee is head of the agency. On the other hand, companies look out for their shareholders interests first. They have to. A conflict develops between doing things safely and doing them cheaply. Typically the scale tips towards cheaply, and the company just prays that nothing will ever happen….

Until it does, at which time they begin chasing their tails, trying to find someone to blame, and maybe spending a bit of time and money on fixing the actual problem.

I know that Stockholders Are People Too. I don’t disparage their right to make money in the stock market — that’s what it’s there for. However, companies and agencies (like Fort Detrick) cannot, must not forget that there is a larger world beyond their stockholders. And this larger world deserves consideration.

The Ghost of Groceries Past

Did you know that, according to a study by the USDA in 1997, the average American wastes 26% of food purchased every year?

In 2004, the University of Arizona estimated this value to be even higher, around 40-50%.

What is the importance of this?

1. Even considering the fact that some of that food is inedible, the rest could serve to feed people in the U.S. or outside that do not have enough to eat, especially children in poverty.

2. A valuable resource is lost when the percentage of the discarded food that could be composted, isn’t.

3. Wasted food in landfills decomposes and negatively effects the atmosphere.

Eric Steinman on Care2.com writes,

Once all of this decomposing food hits the landfill (whether it is contained in plastic bags or not) it continues breaking down and creating large amounts of methane gas, which is well known for contributing to the long dreaded greenhouse effect.

When food is wasted, the delicate balance of the food chain is disrupted. Earth’s ecology demands that every participant remain in the food chain through one means or another. In the case of food we do eat, this is done by processing sewage. But if uneaten food goes into a landfill — especially if it’s in a plastic bag — the food is less accessible to other organisms such as insects and bacteria that would normally return it to the food chain.

We’ve known for a long time that, like the Fellowship of the Ring, “the Quest (ecology) stands at the edge of a knife; stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.” We hope that it has not already failed.

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