Monday, December 24, 2007

Cerebrating the Holidaze

Call me a Grinch, if you will, but I don’t celebrate Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or any other religion-based holiday); I do, however celebrate—cerebrate would be more precise—the winter solstice, the New Year, the Spring Equinox, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, the Summer Solstice, Independence Day, Labor Day, and the Autumn Equinox, in that order.

How, you ask, can I not celebrate Christmas? That’s an easy question to answer; I’m not a believer. Jesus was the Prototypical Hippie, and he died not for my sins but because he was an enemy of the State. Get over it.

Why I came to be a non-believer requires a longer answer. For brevity’s sake, suffice to say that observation and experience led me to my current belief system (if it can be called that), the influences of Christ, Marx, Woods, and Wei notwithstanding.

Still, for most people it’s the holiday season, so I’d like to take this opportunity to express my love and deep appreciation for the family and friends who have enriched my life. These include parents and grandparents, siblings, children and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, in-laws and outlaws, cousins, friends, mentors and teachers, associates and coworkers (damn that word, can anyone tell me what a “cow orker” is?) and others who touched my life in ways that contributed to the Phil Hanson persona. This space is dedicated to you.

Frank & Pearl
Roy & Sally
Linda & Dan, Tom, and Patti & Bob
Tanya & Jim, Mike & Terra, and Jackie & Steve
Joe & Amber, Destiny, Mariah, and Levi
Ariel, Naomi, and Michaela
Lucas and Kanen
Doug, Mo & Paula, and Jake
Marge, Bud, and Bruce
Tom & Donna
Richard & Linda
Daryl & Tori
Jim, Jim, Jim, and James



Dennis and Dennis

Bill and Bill
Clark, Alan, and Dan

Ron & Irma

. . . and many others too numerous to add to this short list.

Some of these have slipped off the edge of my radar screen, and some have slipped over the edge into the Great Beyond. Regardless of their whereabouts or present state of being, I want them all to know that they are remembered. I wish them all (and you) a Harry Kwanukkahmas.

And for George DUHbya (that’s right, it’s spelled with a capital DUH) Bush supporters, global warming deniers, and oil-addicted pro-war fanatics, I wish you all a . . .

Bah! Humbug!

Now, it’s time to cerebrate. See you all next year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Many Choices, Few of Them Desirable

Okay, okay! I’ll cop to having flip-flopped a few times regarding my preference as to who should be the next POTUS, but, hey, it’s not like numerous people far more influential than I haven’t flip-flopped on numerous issues far less important than that of electing a national CEO. In fact, one could rightfully (and righteously) argue that flip-flopping is a sign of maturity and wisdom in that it’s indicative of the flip-flopper possessing a flexible mind and a willingness to process new information as it comes to light and act—or react—accordingly.

At the beginning of this campaign I was all for Al Gore, but then I realized I was a couple of election cycles out of date. Once I got on the right page, Barak Obama looked pretty good, but only until John Edwards started looking even better. Of course, as soon as Bill Richardson’s star began to shine, Edward’s star lost its luster. But, as fate would have it, Richardson’s star went super-nova, and Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul each got a turn as my number one choice and last best hope for the presidency.

Then, a few days ago, a strange thing happened. I looked outside the circle of usual suspects candidates and found one that’s truly worthy of ascending to the office of POTUS. A former six-term Georgia House of Representatives member and former Democrat who now waves the Green Party banner, Cynthia Ann McKinney is an outspoken critic of the war on Iraq—and of the Bush administration. The few negatives on her record are relatively minor and vastly outweighed by the positives.

These, then, are the top 6 reasons why I’ll vote for Cynthia McKinney (providing she gets the Green Party presidential nomination):

1. She’s not a republican

2. She’s not a democrat

3. She’s a woman, but she’s not Hillary Clinton

4. She’s black, but she’s not Barak Obama

5. As a six-term Congressperson, she has the requisite experience

6. She opposes the war on Iraq, and has from the beginning

If Cynthia holds true to the Green Party ideals of a healthy environment, renewable energy resources, and sustainability, Americans couldn’t ask for a better candidate.

And that, my friends, is why I’m lending my support to Cynthia McKinney’s campaign for POTUS.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Government Goofiness

Not to be outshone by the Department of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon Department of Human Services lobbed a stupid government trick of its own into the limelight. Consider the case of the Brandt family vs. the State of Oregon, in the matter of Gabriel Allred.

Steve and Angela Brandt, of Toledo, Oregon, are the foster parents that young Gabriel has lived with since he was four months old. They are the only family Gabriel has ever known, and the family that wants to adopt him. Gabe is the two year-old US citizen the State of Oregon wants to deport to Mexico to live with a grandmother he’s never met.

DHS argues that children generally fare better when they’re raised by relatives—this from an agency that regularly separates children from their parents and places them into foster care. The agency further argues that Gabriel’s grandmother is well qualified to act as his legal parent and guardian. But if one looks at the results of the grandmother’s previous parenting attempt (Gabriel’s father is a convicted drug offender and child rapist), it becomes rather easy to challenge DHS’ broad assumption and condemn the agency for its specious argument.

Local network television crews have interviewed the Brandts and filmed Gabriel interacting with the family. Gabe’s situation is well documented; by all appearances and accounts Gabe is happy, secure, well adjusted and, most importantly, loved. There is no good reason to uproot him from this environment and thrust him into one that’s far less certain.

Nor does it seem particularly fair to remove a child who’s only begun to acquire English language skills from a household that speaks only English and place him in a household that speaks only Spanish. This immediate communications gap would only heap trauma on top of trauma, putting Gabe at an even greater disadvantage.

The State’s position that Gabe would fare better raised in his own culture is disingenuous, another specious argument. Culture is learned, not inherited, and you’d think that people who are charged with making life-changing decisions for those unable to make such decisions for themselves would be smart enough to know the difference.

But the most egregious aspect of this whole debacle is that deporting a US citizen sets a dangerous precedent. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snowball in Hell

Infinite wisdom is not something I’m inclined to accuse governments, government agencies, or government agents of having, even in best-case scenarios. In worst-case scenarios, the best I can say about them is that they’re afflicted with gross incompetence and terminal stupidity, two character traits that always seem to tag along hand-in-hand with government, going wherever it is governments go and doing whatever it is governments do. You don’t want to know what the worst thing I can say about them is. Trust me.

To make my point, let me cite a case that graced The Oregonian’s front page on several occasions over the last few weeks: Jim Filipetti vs. the State of Oregon, in the matter of “Snowball,” the deer.

A few years back, Jim found a fawn in dire need of a champion lying near the road. The fawn’s hind legs were deformed in a way that prevented it from walking. Without Jim’s intervention, the fawn surely would have died in a matter of hours, meeting its end as coyote chow (or whatever fate befalls defenseless critters that lack a means of self-preservation). Being a compassionate person, Jim did what any rational, compassionate person would do; he took the hapless animal home with him and began a long process of nurturing and rehabilitation. Eventually, Snowball became the family pet and everyone lived happily ever after—at least until the State of Oregon, in a desperate bid to retain its stranglehold on power over all creatures great and small, thrust itself into the mix.

Someone—probably a disgruntled relative—ratted Jim out to the authorities (it’s against Oregon law for private citizens to capture wild animals and hold them in captivity), and the bullshit commenced. To make a fairly long story fairly short, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife confiscated Snowball and her two-year old offspring, Bucky, although neither was a fish nor wild.

Before the situation ever progressed to this point, wildlife officials should have asked these essential questions: Were the animals well cared for? Were their needs being met? Were they healthy? In each case the answer was a resounding yes, and authorities didn’t need to take the animals into custody to make these determinations. This is precisely the time when Fish & Wildlife authorities should have exercised a little restraint and lots of fiscal responsibility and simply butted out. Instead, they persisted in their efforts to maintain total control, regardless of the cost to Oregon taxpayers.

Some of the options under discussion by the State regarding disposition of Snowball and Bucky included putting the animals down, returning them to the wild (although neither animal was experienced at being wild), releasing them to the custody of a licensed wildlife caretaker, and returning them to Filipetti.

For a time, putting down the deer seemed to be the State-preferred option, but cooler (and presumably smarter) heads prevailed. Unfortunately, all the heads put together weren’t smart enough to do the right thing.

After much wrangling in the courts, Bucky was subsequently relieved of his antlers, given a vasectomy, and released into the wild, just in time for rutting season. It remains to be seen whether this act served the animal’s best interests, or whether it only served to demonstrate the State’s power of authority and to puff up the egos of a few bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, amid an outpouring of public sentiment, Snowball took up residence in a licensed elk preserve as Filepetti continued his fight to get her back. Finally, a judge ruled that Snowball should be returned to the Filipetti family; Fish & Wildlife immediately appealed the decision, retaining custody of the once-again hapless deer until the matter is settled in the courts.

To date, the matter is unresolved. To date, Oregon has spent more than $38,000 of the taxpayers’ money to exercise control over an animal that’s ultimately worth less than $1,000 cut and wrapped. Of course, Filipetti has invested far more than a thousand dollars in caring for Snowball and Bucky. Snowball’s vet bills alone must be astronomical, and then there are Jim’s out-of-pocket expenses for feed, and the cost of building a safe enclosure—a respectable amount of money, I’m sure, when all the sums are lumped together.

Bucky is pretty much history, but Snowball is still a ward of the State. If, as State officials claim, all Oregon wildlife belongs to the citizens of Oregon, then—barring Snowball’s return to Filipetti and family—the State should reimburse Jim Filipetti for providing, out of his own pocket, for the animals’ welfare on behalf of the people.

And in the future, Fish & Wildlife officials would do well to consider worms worthy of State protection, too—before they open another can of them.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

False Assumptions

In the wake of several fatal or serious injury bicycle accidents in the Portland area during the past few weeks, bicycle safety has been a hot topic in the local media. Jonathan Maus’ BikePortland blog, in particular, not only features numerous articles regarding these unfortunate incidents, but regular readers of the blog continue to carry on lively debates about rights-of-way, who is at fault, better (and safer) bicycle infrastructure, and bicycle safety in general.

Following the two fatalities involving right-turning trucks, a preponderance of readers leaped aboard the law-is-always-right-so-let’s-blame-the-truck-driver bandwagon without giving the matter much critical thought. The notion that laws can protect us gives us warm, fuzzy feelings of safety and security, but in reality laws do nothing of the kind. It’s a dangerous mindset, and to embrace it is to guarantee future fatalities.

To demonstrate how seriously flawed this “law as protector” mindset is, let me point out that laws do nothing to prevent murderers, rapists, and armed robbers from perpetrating crimes against law-abiding citizens. Nor do they prevent motorists from making grievous errors of judgment. At best, laws provide added incentive for people who are not inclined to break the law to not break the law. They also provide employment opportunities for cops, lawyers, judges, and others who work within the legal system. In practice, laws are more effective at punishing offenders after the fact of the offense than they are in preventing the offense in the first place.

Conventional wisdom says that because bicyclists always have the right-of-way when riding in a designated bike lane, the law should be enough to protect them. Yeah, right! We’ve all seen how well that works. Conventional wisdom is seldom wise and, too often, it’s flat-out wrong. Just because the law says that motorists must yield to bikes when making a right turn across a bike lane doesn’t mean that cyclists should automatically assume that that’s going to happen all of the time—or even most of the time—particularly when trucks are involved.

Yeah, I know it’s fashionable for cyclists to condemn any truck driver involved in a collision with a bicycle, especially when said collision results from a right hook. Unfortunately, reality looks different from a truck driver’s perspective than it does from a cyclist’s perspective (neither of which squares with the law’s perspective). At best, the law offers a “one size fits all” solution that serves no one (except lawyers) particularly well.

This short rant is not intended to advocate for doing away with laws, or even doing away with lawyers, for that matter (although the latter wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing). Rather, it’s meant to advocate for improved bicycle safety, which begins—but in no way ends—with cyclists.

Cyclists who believe otherwise are living on borrowed time.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Missing in Action

The Rev. David Schwartz, and his companion, Cheryl Gibbs, died minutes after impact when their Toyota Corolla left the road near milepost 26, on Highway 26, on June 8th. A state trooper out of Astoria, responding to a 9-1-1 dispatch that bounced back-and-forth between jurisdictions (and left out some critical information in the process), checked both sides of the highway between mileposts 25 and 27 in multiple passes that failed to yield any trace of Schwartz’s car. Elsie-Vinemaple Fire Department members also checked both sides of the highway between the 25 and 27 mile markers, producing exactly the same results.

It’s no surprise that searchers failed to locate the car. In the absence of skid marks or other indicators to pinpoint exactly where Schwartz’s Corolla left the road, searchers hadn’t a clue where to look. That the wrecked car was obscured by heavy brush 20 feet down an embankment and couldn’t be seen from the road further complicated the task. A Civil Air Patrol pilot finally spotted the car from the air on Sunday, July 1st.

Family members of the deceased victims were quick to criticize the Oregon State Police, the 9-1-1 dispatchers who, admittedly, screwed up (but the screw-up had no bearing on whether Schwartz and Gibbs lived or died), the State of Oregon, and even the Portland Police Department for its (non) role in the sorry chain of events.

While I can understand their pain, I don’t understand their anger or their rush to place the blame for this senseless tragedy anywhere except for where the blame rightfully belongs. By that I mean squarely on the victims themselves.

I can hear the howls of outrage: What? Blame the victims (hey, it works in rape cases)? That’s preposterous! Yada, yada, yada . . .!

Damned right, blame the victims. At the time of this particular incident, Schwartz was in violation of at least two Oregon laws; he failed to maintain control of his vehicle, and his seat belt wasn’t fastened. He may have been in violation of others. For certain, had Schwartz been operating within the law none of this would have happened. Untold numbers of people wouldn’t have wasted untold numbers of hours conducting a fruitless search, and Schwartz’s family would have had no excuse to blindly unleash their self-righteous indignation against various Oregon agencies that—regardless of their degree of competence or total lack thereof—tried to help.

Before idiot Californians come to Oregon and do stupid things, the consequences of which they then attribute to Oregonians and the State of Oregon, they should take a hard look at their own incompetence and make the necessary adjustments. They could start by checking their stupidity at the border. If they must hold on to their stupidity, they can always pick it up on the way back.

People like Rev. Schwartz, James Kim, and the mountain climbers that died on Mt. Hood last winter put Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest to the test, and prove it every time. Evolution takes care of its own.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Stupid Publicity Stunts

A few days ago, local news reported on a publicity stunt conducted by a Chicago-area radio or TV station—I’m not sure which it was—in which they dropped a piece-of-crap car 500 feet onto a grid. Whoever “owned” the square on the grid where the car landed became the instant winner of a new Hummer.

Does anyone else see the problems inherent in this deeply flawed concept? What problems, you say? Well, let’s start with the obvious. First, how difficult can it be to hit a stationary target at 500 feet from a hovering helicopter? Seems like it’s too easy to rig the outcome, to me. Wouldn’t it have been fairer to make the drop, from 35,000 feet, from the underbelly of a 747 cargo plane (sans bombsight) as it passes over the city? You could declare whomever the car landed on the winner, and the whole event would have more of a random flavor to it.

A less obvious problem—albeit a more egregious one—concerns the prize that was awarded. A Hummer? Leave it to the media in a city that prides itself on its “green” initiatives to come up with that one. I guess because Hummers aren’t selling well due to high gas prices, GM dealers clear out showrooms by offering bargain-basement prices for Hummers to various media outlets, who then give them away to participants in stupid publicity stunts.

It just goes to show you how misguided and shortsighted American society really is, how egocentric, how selfish, how gluttonous our people are. We behave as if it’s our birthright to overproduce, overconsume, and overspend, and we live in a permanent state of denial while our arrogant greed drives most animal species to the brink of extinction.

The Great American Dream is a global nightmare, people. We’ve got our priorities all wrong and, until we get them right, we’ll continue to be the primary destroyers of the planet we live on. Instead of leading the way in forging solutions to critical national and global issues, U.S. business and political leaders bumble along in hopes that business as usual will save the day, and that all of the problems will just go away if only we ignore them a little while longer.

Has our thinking become so stilted and our vision so narrow that we can’t embrace the idea of multiple winners? Must there always be but one winner and many losers? Whatever happened to win/win?

If the Chicago-area broadcast medium mentioned at the beginning of this rant had its collective head on straight, it would have dropped the Hummer instead of the clunker, then used the combined weight of both vehicles to determine how many Trek bicycles (of equal combined weight) could be given away as prizes.

There would literally be several hundreds of bicycle winners, hundreds of thousands in the Chicago area benefiting from less traffic congestion and decreased energy consumption, millions benefiting from fewer local greenhouse gas emissions, and billions upon billions of life forms around the planet able to breathe a little easier—perhaps even enjoy a few seconds or a few minutes of extended life expectancy—because of this visionary environmental approach to media publicity.

If you want the biggest bang for your publicity buck, you’ve got to impact as many lives as possible, not just one. Think win/win/win/win!

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Crossover SUVs

Panel trucks and station wagons were the precursors to the modern-day SUV. Almost every business that made regular pick-ups and/or deliveries in LTL quantities had at least one. Somewhere along the line, panel truck married station wagon, and not long after, SUV was born.

SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle, although I’ve never understood where “Sports” enters the equation (unless it has something to do with “soccer mom”). These ungainly contraptions are about as sporty as a comatose quadriplegic, and every bit as exciting.

Some people claim that SUV stands for Stupid Ugly Van, or Shortsighted Utopian Vision, or Silly Urban Vanity, or Supremely Unnecessary Vulgarity. My personal favorite is Seriously Unstable Vehicle, although all of the above designations seem to be equally applicable.

Now there’s something called a “crossover” SUV. Judging from the recent spate of fatal accidents involving SUVs, it’s not hard to figure out how they might have come by that label (which, I might add, is entirely appropriate).

If you’re carrying a tad too much speed on right-hand turns, they tend to cross over the centerline, where they risk smashing head-on into oncoming traffic. Again, carrying a tad too much speed on left-hand turns, they tend to cross over the fog line, where they risk smashing into a tree or running over a cliff.

Crossover, indeed!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Make a Commitment to Environmental Sanity

Now that Earth Day #38 is upon us, it’s time that we, as concerned citizens of good conscience with a penchant for sustainable living, reflect on local, national, and global events of the past year and ask ourselves some really tough questions. Are we, as global stewards, doing enough, both collectively and individually, to spare Earth—and ourselves—the ravages of global climate change? Are we demanding that our civic, corporate, and government leaders advocate for sustainable practices in all segments of our society? Do we hold polluters accountable for the damage they cause to the environment? Have we, as individuals, managed to get our own rapacious consumerism under control? In all cases the answer is no, and that means we have a lot of work to do.

The collective insanity of consumer culture panders to economic greed at the expense of cultural, socioeconomic and environmental sustainability. No society that devours its resources faster than those resources can be renewed can long endure. What we desperately need are visionaries—inventors, planners, designers, engineers, financiers, educators, and entrepreneurs—all working together to create a sane, rational socioeconomic model for sustainable living that the rest of the world not only will want to emulate but can emulate without putting the entire planet in peril.

Capitalism, in its current form, is a fatally flawed economic concept in desperate need of a social conscience. Any economy that systematically consumes all of its resources while simultaneously polluting the environment is headed for certain destruction. Change is still possible, but the time for change is now. Every day of procrastination brings us one day closer to the day of reckoning, and the day of reckoning is not as far away as we think.

Earth Day is a good thing, but Earth Day once a year is not nearly enough. Only when we make every day Earth Day will we begin to show the level of commitment necessary to make, and keep, our world habitable for the next seven generations, and for seven generations beyond that, ad infinitum.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Law of Unintended Consequences

One of physic’s basic tenets states that every action produces a reaction. It’s a natural law that applies to politics, economics, and many other endeavors, as well; it does not adhere exclusively to physics.

When an action is a known quantity, the reaction it produces is predictable. However, when actions are unknown quantities (as in things that have never been tried before), the reactions often manifest as unintended consequences. Sometimes, actions are so intense that they touch off a chain-reaction of events in which each event produces its own set of unintended consequences. Like a handful of stones cast into a pond, major events cause overlapping ripples that radiate outward, seemingly forever.

Take the invention of the steam engine, for instance. When James Watt patented his design for the first practical steam engine in 1769, he ushered in the Industrial Age, which led to the Machine Age, which in turn gave rise to the Automobile Age. I’m not sure if there’s enough room on the entire Internet to list all of the adverse reactions (unintended consequences) attributable to the automobile’s invention; they are legion.

From the way we build our communities and structure our lifestyles to global warming and war in the Middle East, cars play a pivotal role in shaping and defining our society. Cars brought us more freedom, greater independence, unprecedented prestige, and never-before-known convenience in quantities that guaranteed their ubiquity. Cars brought us closer to everything, even as they made everything unsustainable.

Because of the automobile, people left family farms in droves to begin new lives in cities and suburbs. The popular abandonment of the nation’s farms fueled the proliferation of factory farms and the ongoing expansion of suburban sprawl.

Suburban sprawl gobbles up prime farmland, and the monocrop agriculture practiced by factory farms destroys the environment in numerous ways, not the least of which is widespread pollution caused by farm chemicals—insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, growth hormones, and antibiotics.

Are these end results? Not hardly! They’re only early results that paved the way for more serious consequences that have already befallen us and for others that lie in wait for us in the not-too-distant future.

Our attachment to cars made us lazy and fat and dependent on foreign oil. Cars gave us easier access to medical care, even as they increased our need for medical care. They gave us strip malls and parking lots, rush hours and traffic jams, fast food and drive-in everything.

Despite the rising costs of owning, driving and maintaining automobiles, despite worsening pollution and global warming, despite rising gasoline prices and exorbitant insurance rates, and despite the frustrations of traffic congestion, people are reluctant to give up their cars. Their obsession with cars blinds them to reality while allowing them to maintain an illusion of well being.

Car-addicted people aren’t about to change their ways. At a time when car addicts should be thinking about curbing their addiction and looking at sustainable options, they are, in fact, demanding bigger, heavier, more powerful and less fuel efficient cars in greater numbers than ever before.

Of course, more cars need bigger, better streets and highways, which always seem to invite more cars. Maybe we should just pave America, paint some lines, and call it a day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Military Responds to Emergencies—Sometimes

On October 25th, 1999, the day that golfer Payne Stewart died, the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard were ready. When air traffic controllers lost radio contact with Stewart’s Learjet 35 only 25 minutes after take-off from Orlando, a pair of F-16s—flying a routine training mission out of Tyndall AFB—gave chase, but didn’t catch it. An F-15 fighter, flying out of Eglin AFB, took up pursuit of the wayward Lear, keeping it in sight for 25 minutes before diverting to St. Louis for fuel.

A few minutes later, four Air National Guard F-16s and a KC-135 refueling tanker, out of Tulsa, took over the chase, but barely got within 100 miles of the ill-fated Learjet before handing off to two Air National Guard F-16’s from Fargo, N.D., which kept the doomed aircraft in sight until it ran out of fuel and hit the ground.

The point I’m trying to make here is that when a single small commuter aircraft carrying six people goes off-track, the military responds (appropriately) by deploying no less than 10 aircraft of its own, but when four commercial passenger aircraft carrying scores of people are hijacked by terrorists, the military can’t seem to find its ass with both hands.

It just seems terribly convenient that on the day that terrorists decide to strike, military jets and fighter pilots on the eastern seaboard are engaged in training exercises. But, then, I guess training for an emergency is easier than actually dealing with one.

Does this lack of military response on 9/11 prove conspiracy theory? Naw, it only hints at one. It’s just another piece of the puzzle.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Multitasking Madness

Over the last 10 or 15 years, multitasking has become the darling buzzword of the corporate hire-archy (I know, but it’s an intentional misspelling). Don’t even think about applying for a job in a corporate setting unless you have excellent multitasking skills.

What are multitasking skills? Essentially, they’re the abilities to do several things at the same time while maintaining the illusion of competence.

Employers that hire on the basis of multitasking skills are delusional. While they imagine they’re getting an employee that can churn out a project in 1/3 of the time, or work on three projects at once, what they’re really getting is someone who can turn a relatively easy project into total chaos or screw up three projects simultaneously.

To be an effective multitasker, one must be able to focus on two or more thoughts at the same time. Also, the left hand must know what the right hand is doing at all times. That’s why I never became a juggler or a pianist; both of these activities require advanced multitasking skills. Picture me as a juggler: Apple, bowling ball, chain saw; apple, bowling ball, chain saw; apple, chain saw, bowl . . . oops! There goes my arm. As a concert pianist, I’d be equally inept, what with my left hand playing Swan Lake and my right hand playing Chopsticks.

Do I multitask? Of course I do. I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can smoke a joint and watch TV at the same time. I can drink coffee and think about what to write next at the same time.

And that, my friends, pretty much defines the limits of my multitasking skills. Any additional effort on my part requires additional pay.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lou Dobbs Demonizes Marijuana—Again!

On Lou Dobbs Tonight (CNN) a couple of nights ago, a segment on marijuana proves once again that neither the government nor mainstream media can be trusted to report factually accurate information about marijuana.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, a government nuclear physics research facility in New York, conducted research into how long-term marijuana use might affect the human brain. Consistent with US policy over the past 30 years, BNL looked for only the negative effects of marijuana. Where their findings weren’t negative enough, a little help from Lou Dobbs, CNN correspondent Bill Tucker, anti-drug warrior Steven Steiner, and Dr. Stephen Dewey, of BNL, skewed the facts to make them conform to the desired results.

What follows are excerpts from the original transcript of CNN’s marijuana segment. I’ve added my own comments regarding each quote, and linked them to relevant articles where appropriate.

"Researchers now say marijuana may cause long-term brain damage and cancer.” —Lou Dobbs, CNN

Now say? Actually, marijuana foes have said essentially the same things for 30 years, and repetition hasn’t made them any more credible.

Last year’s UCLA study, which contradicts Dobbs’ statement, showed that smoking cannabis does not cause lung cancer but may, in fact, prevent it.

“Political maneuvering has intensified the debate over medical marijuana and the growing evidence about its detrimental and dangerous effects.” —Lou Dobbs, CNN

Yeah, yeah, yeah! Now get the rest of the story.

“And it's becoming an increasingly familiar ballot initiative. Minnesota, New Mexico, Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Connecticut are all considering some form of legislation to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. It is a drive that opponents say has no merit.” —Bill Tucker, CNN Correspondent

The opponents are wrong. A recent study proved that cannabis has medical value, even when smoked.

“You've got to remember something. This whole legalization movement isn't just about marijuana. These people want to legalize heroin, meth, cocaine for recreational use. Make no mistake about it.” —Steven Steiner, Americans For Drug Free Youth

Not specifically for recreational drug use. Read the real reasons.

“Not only does it alter the structure, the brain's chemistry, but you run the risk that the alterations that you produce today will manifest themselves in ten years or 20 years.” —Stephen Dewey, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Must all changes to the brain be automatically presumed to be negative in effect? And if no changes manifest in 10 or 20 years, then the only risks were imaginary. Why not do the research before jumping to conclusions?

“Impaired memory and feelings of anxiety are more than just jokes. They are reality. So, too, are frequent respiratory infections and there is concern that the cancer risk of marijuana users is higher, which is why the American Cancer Society does not endorse, smoke marijuana, nor its legalization.” —Bill Tucker, CNN Correspondent

Higher cancer risk in marijuana users is not supported by facts.

“Well, marijuana, thought to be harmless by many, particularly baby boomers, who have been associated with drug for decades. It's now known to be a dangerously addictive drug and it's long-term effects are still being studied.” —Lou Dobbs, CNN

Dangerously addictive? The facts (and personal experience) say otherwise. But why not get some research from unbiased sources?

“We don't fully understand the potential ramifications of using the drug today and what it can do 20 years down the road.” —Dr. Stephen Dewey, Brookhaven National Laboratory

It’s possible that marijuana killed my father-in-law. He died, cancer free and of sound mind, at age 82 after 50 years of heavy marijuana use.

“The research on marijuana for 30 years has been -- I think the research has been — I think the best way to say it is mixed. Why is there such an ambiguity? And I'm not talking about in terms of weight, but an ambiguity among all the research conclusions on marijuana in the country over the last 30 years?” —Lou Dobbs

The only ambiguity comes from Lou Dobbs, BNL, DEA, FDA, ONDCP, and other anti-marijuana groups. See what other researchers have to say.

“ . . . it's very difficult to find people who just use marijuana. You know, you have to tease apart marijuana use with alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD. You have situations where it's not straight forward looking at just a marijuana user because they're poly-drug-abusers.” —Dr. Stephen Dewey, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Another disingenuous statement that’s pure bullshit! Most of the people I know who use marijuana use marijuana exclusively. They don’t mess with other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Don’t construe this to mean that all marijuana users abstain from other drugs; obviously, they don’t. I’m only saying it’s not at all difficult to find people who just use marijuana.

Read the entire transcript of Dobbs’ marijuana segment. (Scroll down the page slightly more than halfway.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Energy Innovations

For the April 17, 2006, issue (#29) of Petey’s Pipeline E-zine, I wrote a short article titled “Innovative Ideas Lead to Energy Independence.” In it, I suggested that converting human fat into biodiesel is one of several practical ways for America to achieve energy independence by reducing our need for imported fossil fuels.

Apparently, I’m not the only one to reach that conclusion. One of the story lines on last night’s episode of Boston Legal featured an unrepentant Denny Crane (William Shatner) going to trial for—you guessed it—trafficking in human fat. Although the prosecuting attorney makes a plausible argument on behalf of the plaintiff, defense attorney Alan Shore (James Spader) delivers a brilliant summation to the jury that gets his client off the hook. At the same time, Shore’s case provides some additional insights into the subject, thus substantiating my own logic and lending a degree of vindication to it.

Boston Legal proved once again that it’s not only one of the funniest shows on television, it’s also one of the smartest.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Carbon Sequestration Problem Solved

Richard Branson, a British tycoon, is offering a $25 million prize to anyone who can develop cost-effective technology for capturing and containing atmospheric carbon dioxide. So, while the rest of you envision elaborate energy-sucking machines to capture carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it, I’ll make my own modest proposal.

Plant hemp. Okay, okay! Legalize it first, then plant it. Plant it everywhere. In yards and gardens, in fallow fields and freeway medians, on clear-cut hillsides, beside rivers and streams. Plant it across America and around the world.

Why hemp? Because hemp is carbon-capturing-and-sequestering technology that already works. When it comes to photosynthesis and carbon dioxide absorption, hemp is one of the most efficient plants known to man. Hemp produces more than four times as much biomass per acre, over a score of years, than do trees. Few plants outside of a South American rain forest grow faster than hemp. And few plants are as useful.

By integrating hemp into our agricultural model, we can create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, improve human health and nutrition, grow our own clothes, preserve old-growth forests, build more energy-efficient houses, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and develop a sustainable economy while saving the environment.

So, Mr. Branson, now that I’ve accepted your challenge and proposed a viable method for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, will you be sending me a cashier’s check for $25 million, or should I bill you via PayPal?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Farewell to a Friend

Last week, I lost a beloved friend to cancer.

Although I never met Molly Ivins in person—she was ranked near the top of my “friends I haven’t met yet” list—I was familiar with her work. She was the quintessential political pundit who understood, better than most, the malevolent machinations of government; she was one of the brightest lights shining into the dark corners of American politics to expose the corruption that festers there.

Each week I looked forward to Molly’s column in The Oregonian, and many weeks, during the past couple of years, I read those same columns, again, on AlterNet. Always, Molly informed, enlightened, and entertained. Hers was one of the few voices linking sanity and reason to a world that’s increasingly devoid of both. Now, that voice is silent.

It’s true that Molly wrote with style and humor and wit and wisdom about things that matter, but the thing I most admired about her was her courage to speak truth to power. It was her courage that best defined her character. Her audacious temerity in calling Bush “Shrub” may have rankled the President, but it made the rest of us laugh.

Molly’s gone, but not forgotten. Her brief stay on Earth made the world a better place; her passing made it poorer. Like other great humorists (Mark Twain and Will Rogers come to mind), Molly will be long remembered for her many contributions to society, not the least of which was her wish that her many readers " . . . keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it.”

Good golly, Ms. Molly, I’m truly going to miss you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bailing Out the Speculators

Not long ago there was talk about convening the Oregon Legislature every year, instead of every other year. This, of course, requires a change to the Oregon Constitution. As one might expect, most of the people weighing in on the subject objected to the proposal, ostensibly because more-frequent legislative sessions would give legislators more opportunities to commit legislative mayhem by giving more bad ideas the force of law.

Now that I’ve had ample opportunity to grok the idea (as Heinlein’s Martians were wont to do when a vexing problem asserted itself), I’d like to weigh in on the subject, too. I think it’s a helluva good idea—with one stipulation. Instead of meeting every year to enact new legislation, why not use the newfound time to review legislation passed in prior years? Why not use that time to rectify past mistakes?

Not all laws are good laws, and most laws are subject to the law of unintended consequences. When laws prove burdensome to the people, there should be a relatively quick and easy process to strike those laws from the books. Laws that benefit a few at the expense of many must not be allowed to stand. Measure 37 is such a law.

Voters passed Measure 37 by a substantial margin, giving some property owners a way to get around zoning restrictions that were imposed after they bought the property. Property owners would either be allowed to develop the property in ways that were legal at the time of purchase or receive compensation for the loss of value if the waiver was denied, at the government’s discretion. Oh, what a great idea that turned out to be.

With some 6,000 Measure 37 claims now on the books, various government entities find themselves on the hook for millions of dollars, or at risk of making policy decisions that make a mockery of zoning laws. Oops! The taxpayers just shot themselves in the foot—again.

Buying property is about more than just making an investment; it’s also about speculation. When you buy real property, you hope that its value goes up. That doesn’t mean that taxpayers should bail you out if it doesn’t, or that you should be compensated whenever property zoning laws change. You gamble. You win, or you lose. Place your next bet, or cut your losses.

If we treated other investors/speculators the same way that Measure 37 treats a certain class of property owners, we’d quickly find that there’s not enough money in the entire world to cover all the claims for compensation or dispensation. Anyone and everyone could speculate without fear of loss.

While measure 37 is a testament to the power of democracy, it also attests to the reason why democracy can’t endure. Most people aren’t smart enough to live in one.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Does Bush Have a Hidden Agenda?

The Neocon Fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party keeps insisting that President Bush (or Duhbya, as he’s sometimes called in certain other circles) was right to invade Iraq. They also think that Bush is doing a good job of executing the war in Iraq, proving once again that Neocon Fundamentalists are willfully ignorant and terminally, if not criminally, stupid.

What is Bush’s agenda in Iraq? We already know that it wasn’t to destroy Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction; he had none, and Bush was aware of that fact prior to the invasion. It seems unlikely that Bush intended to bring democracy to Iraq because he’s systematically destroying democracy at home. What, then?

Could it be that Bush wants to exert control over Iraqi oil? At the onset of the war, that seemed as plausible an explanation as any. But, now, as new theories come to light, I’ve been given cause to change my mind.

After reading, today, an AlterNet article and the many responses to it, it seems just as likely that the Iraq war is but a subterfuge, a catalyst to initiate a US attack against Iran. Maybe what Bush is really after is total dominance, by the US and its Israeli ally, of the Middle East.

There’s another theory that’s been circulating for awhile (although its received scant attention and thus avoided much serious debate) that paints a scarier and more chilling picture of what might actually be the true Bush agenda. What if Bush is not quite as inept as most people think he is? What if Bush’s real goal is to bring down the US to fulfill his father’s vision of a New World Order?

With the nation running on credit and the nation’s credit running on empty; with the nation’s treasury depleted and it’s social and political infrastructures in disarray; with the military overextended and the nation losing face in the court of global opinion, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that that’s been Bush’s objective from the beginning.

If, indeed, that’s the case, and Bush continues to follow the course he’s set for himself and for the nation, then I’ll give him credit for being closer to success than he’s ever been. In fact, I’d say his success is imminent.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lynch Mob Justice

One thing I noticed about Saddam Hussein’s execution was that Saddam, faced with imminent death, maintained a higher degree of poise and dignity than did his executioners. While Saddam, like all tyrants, deserved his fate, I couldn’t help but feel that his hanging was more like a lynching than it was an administration of justice.

And did anyone else notice that Saddam looked so alone as he stood on the gallows platform, awaiting his plunge through the trapdoor? If killing Iraqi civilians was the crime for which he was hanged, then I can think of at least three others, who were complicit in the deaths of far greater numbers of Iraqis, that should have been hanged at the same time. Saddam probably would have appreciated the company.