Archive for May, 2010

Not sure who won, but it seems to have disappeared.  Completely.  The dog is leaving the spot alone.  No more pawing at the wall or barking at it, either.  Old Sparky, having been moved to the back yard, near the bird feeders, is still empty.  The last of the sticky traps simply disappeared.  Spouse had put it by a small gap in the wall between the front and back yards, and it’s as if it evaporated.  Along with the critter.  So, the carpet repair in the living room where the dog tried to get at the critter is all that remains.


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The more we learn about the BP/Transocean/Halliburton failures at the Deep Horizons oil rig, the worse it seems.  The oil, conservatively some 210,000 gallons each day, keeps spewing from the well into the Gulf of Mexico.  That the environmental toll still remains relatively small — at least onshore — is attributable more to luck than anything else.  Hurricane season is rapidly approaching.  Fisheries remain closed.  Birds, fish, sea turtles, and dolphins are turning up dead. Tourist dollars that would normally go to the states on the Gulf will tend to go elsewhere as the released oil inevitably moves onshore.  The chemicals being used to disperse the oil, both on the surface and below, have unknown long-term effects but are banned in Europe as toxic.  So, even if the oil is kept from the shoreline, the effects of the spill are likely to be catastrophic for the Gulf.  As it is, the sealife escaping the large hypoxic or dead zone is moving directly into the area contaminated by the spill.

Not surprisingly, the Congressional hearing shed little light on responsibility/blame/liability for the spill.  Each of the major players pointed the finger at someone else.  But we’re learning that multiple redundancies in the blowout prevent (BOP) system all failed.  We’re also learning that the BOP suffered from a leak in a crucial hydraulic system and, according to a whistleblower, that the system on the Deepwater Horizon well had failed a pressure test just hours before the explosion and resulting fire and that BP routinely cheated on testing.  Is it any wonder that BP tried to prevent the release of ongoing video footage of the leak.

It’s too soon to know for certain whether the questionable testing was either implicitly or explicitly approved by management.  But it is fair to say that it calls into question whether there was a corporate culture that

This new information makes the finger pointing all the more understandable.  Will the people whose livelihoods in the Gulf region have to endure the same degree of delay and obfuscation that those of Prince William Sound did after the Exxon Valdez spill?  If you’ll recall, that legal battle dragged on for over 15 years, finally ending when the Supreme Court cut the final award to a pittance of the losses endured.  And by then, the additional cost to the Alaskan fishermen had led to further bankruptcies and the deaths of many of the claimants.  And let us not forget that the death toll of the Gulf spill is already 11 human beings.

The usual folk are downplaying the event, mostly because the Gulf coast has experienced minimal impact so far.  Yet the slick covers an area the size of Los Angeles County — nearly 5000 square miles!  And there is some evidence that there are vast quantities, vast columns of oil that simply have not yet reached the surface.  It’s virtually impossible to estimate the ultimate toll, even if the leak were stopped immediately.  What is known is that petroleum in seawater is toxic.  Period.

While I strongly support the development of alternative fuels, I’m realistic enough to understand that we will continue to use petroleum for many purposes, including transportation, for some years to come.  Yet, I cannot support increased exploration, especially in environmentally sensitive areas — the outer continental shelf in particular — until we know all the causes of the current spill.  Was it truly an accident or was it the end result of corporate interests cutting corners wherever possible?  Even if it was a combination of those two major factors, it seems that once again we’ve allowed technology to plow ahead without fully understanding the implications — in this case how to stop a gusher a mile below the surface.

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The RNC either relishes the taste of its own foot, or they’ve once again demonstrated how bereft they are of integrity.  This morning, President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to fill the position of retiring Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.  That announcement had barely been made when the RNC slammed Kagen for her support of … wait … are you ready? … Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American member of the Court.

Just a few weeks ago, RNC Chair Michael Steele acknowledged that the GOP hadn’t exactly done a very good job of appealing to African-Americans.  So today they criticized Justice Marshall.  Why the criticism?  Well, it seems that Marshall had the audacity (dare I say uppityness) to note that in its original form, the Constitution had a few defects.  Defects that were almost immediately addressed by 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights.  Defects that completely ignored the indigenous population (Native Americans, First Americans, American Indians), considered African-Americans as counting as 60% of a person, and restricted the vote to land-owning white males.  Given that the first three words of the Constitution are “We the People,” it’s hard to argue Marshall’s point on any reasonable, rational or logical grounds.

For the RNC not to see the direct connection between their statement slamming Ms. Kagan and their lack of appeal to most African-Americans is stunning.

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The Dow Jones has had a rough week, and we’re only halfway through.  Several things have contributed to an increase in the “fear index.”  But today was an especially rough ride.  Weighing on the market has been a sense that it was overheated — that the gains in the market this year don’t correlate to the overall health of the US economy — and due for a correction, perhaps a significant one of up to 30%.  Adding to the unease is the debt situation in parts of Europe — specifically Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain.

Greece is essentially broke.  It cannot make bond payments due without assistance from the rest of the EU, and many Germans oppose bailing the Greeks out.  Their objections mirror those of many Americans who oppose having to cover for the irresponsible behavior of the major investment banks.  Yet, not unlike the situation here in the US, Greece’s fortunes (or lack of them) are tied in with those of the rest of Europe.  They share a common currency.  Europe is Greece’s biggest trading partner.   A Greek default would send the rest of Europe into a financial tailspin.  Greece has been looking for help, not just from the rest of Europe, but also from the IMF, but the IMF had insisted on significant efforts by the Greek government that included raising taxes, raising the retirement age, and lowering pensions.

Today,  suddenly, the Dow Jones average lost just shy of 1000 points.  It had been drifting lower throughout the trading day until WHAM, the bottom fell out.

At about the same time, a major US consumer products corporation and major Dow component saw the price of its shares take a similar dive — 50% in just 15 minutes.  The electronic controls that are supposed to keep panic from happening didn’t work as anticipated.  Instead, they seemed to make things worse.  Then, almost as suddenly, the market righted itself and surged back, recovering 700 points in less than an hour.

The precipitating cause seems to have been human error.  Simple human error, and an irrational panic ensued.  To be sure, the market ended its day down significantly, but no where near as far down as during that wild 30 minute or so ride.  However, what would have been the effect had that human error occurred in the last 15 minutes or so of the trading day?  The Dow would have ended down over 900 points.  The Asian markets would certainly have reacted, and then the European markets.  Something to think about.

I simply don’t buy into the idea that markets are rational.

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We are currently engaged in a battle of wits with a rodent who has taken up residence either under our house or, very possibly, in an exterior wall.  And where there is one, there may well be others, an entire family even.

We feed birds and enjoy watching the parade of feathered creatures.  But feeding birds entails having a supply of seed of various types — thistle for the goldfinches; millet for the redwing blackbirds and their yellow-headed cousins, along with the sparrows.  The house finches prefer black oil sunflower seeds, and the doves (and the neighborhood pigeons) clean up the seed that drops from the feeders.  The hawk and kestrel are around from late fall through early spring, and they’re low maintenance, feeding on the visitors to the feeders. The goldfinches are generally winter visitors, but a few stick around long after the others have left. In spring come the quail, and in time their little walnut-sized wee ones.  Warmer weather also brings the hummingbirds.

But the plentiful supply of seed also brings other hungry creatures.  On occasion we’ve seen ground squirrels and been amused at their antics as they shinny up the wrought iron shepherd’s crook that holds the feeders and work their way out to the food source, dangling precariously and then maneuvering around the top of the feeder and down to the tray or ports.  There was a series of field mice who discovered the larder — a large rectangular plastic bin, probably designed for storing cushions, that we keep in that back yard.  They launched a stealth attack.  We first noticed their presence because our dog seemed intently interested in the bin, and upon closer inspection, discovered their calling cards, including a couple of very small holes gnawed through the bottom of the bin…  A small trap, baited with peanut butter took care of that problem.  But it was not the end of the contest.

This is not the first encounter with the larger rodent we’re currently dealing with.  After a couple of glances when the critter beat a hasty retreat from her pursuit, we realized that it was larger than a field mouse but smaller than a packrat or kangaroo rat.  The dog provided the early warning system the last time around, about six months ago.  After some discussion, we decided against using poisoned bait in case a neighborhood cat might discover it, to say nothing of the quail.  So we settled on Old Sparky.  We baited the trap with peanut butter, put it under a cart in the back yard by the feeder and flipped the switch.  DH worried that perhaps a small bird might enter the chamber, but within several days we were successful.

This time it has been much more challenging.  Again, the dog alerted us to its presence.  In the evenings, she would nearly charge through the sliding glass door in her rush to get outside to give chase.  And then we found the hole…  It’s near the bottom of the slab, on the side of the house, just over from one of our living room windows.  It’s a small hole, but plenty big enough for a large mouse.  And the dog knows the critter is in there.  She spends hours inside watching intently right where that hole is.  Does she hear it/them?  Does she smell it/them?  We’re not certain.  We just know that sometimes, mostly in the evenings, she barks at something and paws furiously at the bottom of the baseboard.  Paws and snuffles — to the point where a small spot of nose jam is developing on the carpet, along with a small place where she’s actually pulling it away from the edge!

We’ve tried using Old Sparky again, baited with both peanut butter and kibble.  The trail of kibble between the hole and the entrance to the trap disappeared.  But the trap remained empty.  We tried putting the trap right hear the hole this time, but a late spring rain killed the trap.  Forty bucks and a new trap later, we relocated it to the front porch and replaced the kibble trail.  No luck.  The wily creature seemed to sense the danger.  The pest control guy who comes and sprays the yard every other month checked out the hole and announced that it was a dead end, that whatever it is uses it only as a pantry.  We’re not convinced, based mostly on the dog’s certainty that SOMETHING is in there.

Since Old Sparky wasn’t doing the job, we considered other alternatives.  Initially, we considered drilling a small hole into the wall from the inside and funneling some ammonia into the wall in hopes the fumes would chase the critter out.  But we’re not certain it’s in the wall.  So spouse bought a different kind of trap — one of those sticky paper ones — and put it right outside the hole.  Certainly the critter would step on it coming out to explore and that would be that.  Not so.  Somehow it managed to move the trap without getting stuck, sending it sliding down the embankment and getting it covered with dirt — enough to render it ineffective.  I mean, just how smart can this rodent be?!  Very reluctantly, spouse also bought a block of poisoned bait, hoping that the size will make it unappealing to the quail or to neighborhood cats.  We shall see.  We’ll let you know.  I just hope that the pest control guy is right, that the hole doesn’t go up into the wall, and that if it/they die there, we won’t know.  I’m not relishing having to tear up the wall to remove one or more dead critters.  Once we know we’ve solved the problem, a wad of steel wool will seal the hole, and we have extra carpet to patch the worn spot.

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