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Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan seems to be more dire as time goes on.  Not only does the news about the extent of damage and the potential for further radiation releases continue to escalate, but now we’re hearing that TEPCO, the utility company, vastly underestimated the potential for the very sort of devastating tsunami that caused the cascade of events.

It’s no wonder that the utility doesn’t seem to know how to solve the cooling problem.  I’m not certain that it is “solvable” in the conventional sense of the term.  Four reactors in trouble, along with several spent fuel cooling ponds.  There is concern of breaches to the ponds, meaning that water will need to be added continually — possibly for years until the spent fuel has cooled enough to be transferred to dry cask storage or eventual reprocessing or permanent storage.  And there is concern that at least one of the reactor containment vessels may have cracked.  Both problems make it almost impossible to contain the radiation, and we’ve seen levels up to 100,000 times normal in parts of the plant.  Elevated radiation levels, while still too low to cause immediate risk to human health, have been detected thousands of miles from the crippled plant.

It’s not surprising that people are wrestling with the advisability of increased use of nuclear energy here at home, in addition to the fact that most of our nuclear power stations are nearing or even beyond their design life.

No form of energy production is without risk.  That goes without saying.  But what is needed is an open and honest conversation  about risks, and about life cycle costs of the various forms of energy we currently use, including renewable sources.  We need to know the per megawatt cost of the entire life cycle — licensing, construction, operation, maintenance, fuel costs, decommissioning/dismantlement of the plants.  We also need to know and to understand the costs of rendering safe any  waste products of each energy source.  And we need that information for all types of electric generation — hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, natural gas, coal, petroleum and nuclear.  And finally, we need to know all the ways in which government subsidizes various forms of energy generation and the ways in which government guarantees against losses that might be incurred by investors or insurers in the event of a failure somewhere in the generating process.

It is only in knowing all of the above information and being able to compare one energy source’s costs and risks against the others that we truly can understand what is at stake.  We know that petroleum is a finite resource.  When it will run out can be open to debate, but it will eventually run out.  Having an informed conversation about the uses of petroleum products (beyond burning them to generate electricity and power our vehicles) is essential.  And it is equally essential to expand that conversation to the point that we recognize that not all petroleum was created equal.  The oil that comes from some locations burns cleaner than that from other locations.  And it’s not equal in terms of the cost of extraction.

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I see where Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) opted out of riding his horse in the annual Tulsa holiday parade.  The reason?  Seems the parade organizers thought it a good idea to expand the purpose of the parade to include Jewish Tulsans and the current Hanukkah celebration as well.  Inhofe huffed that it was just one more example of “them” picking on Christians.  Not only his response smack of childish pique, but it denigrates the real horrors of people of any faith being targeted for their beliefs, be they Christians in Baghdad or Muslims in Manhattan.

Each year we hear people decrying the commercialism of holiday shopping, of how that takes the Christ out of Christmas.  And I join them in wishing that stores would wait until after Halloween to put up the Christmas decorations.  I recognize that a tree doesn’t need to be knee-deep in presents to make for a joyous celebration.  And that’s true regardless of  how you see the balance between the religious and secular aspects of the holiday.

But it strikes me as especially ironic each time I drive by a house near mine during the holiday season.  It is a riot of lights and lawn displays.  Prominently displayed on its corner lot is one that says “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  But surrounding that sign are snowmen, Santas, sleighs, and other secular symbols of the season — symbols that are intimately connected with the commercialization of the holiday.  I often wonder if the homeowner is even aware of the disconnect.

 

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Yesterday, we got an indication of what a la carte government could look like when we learned of the fire department that sat and watched a family’s home burn to the ground because they hadn’t paid their annual fee for fire services.  The actions of that fire department touched a chord with many people.  It just seemed so very wrong that fire fighters would do such a thing — as wrong as if a hospital turned a seriously ill or injured patient away if they lacked health insurance.  Last night the same Tennessee county voted to expand subscription-only fire service, thus putting increasing numbers of families at risk of delay at best and refusal to provide service at worst.

The local mayor compared fire-service to auto insurance, a comparison that may sound correct at first glance.  However, closer consideration demonstrates just how crazy that analogy is.  Does anyone really think that first responders are like insurance?  Yes, we’re required to have insurance on our vehicles — at least liability insurance — should we be involved in a wreck.  And if we have a mortgage on our home, we’re required by the lender to have insurance so that the lender is compensated should the property be destroyed.  And even if we stay in that home long enough to pay off the mortgage, no sane, rational person would do without fire insurance.  Our hospitals are prohibited from turning emergency patients away based on whether they have health insurance.

The irony of the situation in Obion County, Tennessee, is that the county did a study a couple years ago that addressed the best way to provide fire service to all its residents.  Section 4 of the report details possible funding options and concludes that the simplest way would have been to raise property taxes by a mere thirteen cents.  That solution was deemed the most inflation proof, because as costs and values rose, the revenue would rise accordingly.  The subscription-only option was estimated to cost $113 per home, excluding commercial properties.  Landlords would have passed the cost onto renters, as with any tax.  But the county fathers, largely conservatives who despise taxes, opted for the subscription approach.

Turns out that at least three homes and a barn had previously been allowed to burn, killing household pets, plus a number of horses in the barn fire.  And in the most recent incident, the fire actually started as a trash fire in a corn field, a fire that spread to the house.  Would the fire department also stand by if people were trapped in a fire at an address that “wasn’t on the list” of people who’d paid their subscription fee?

Have we become so selfish as a society that we are willing to let people’s houses burn to the ground in order to avoid a small tax hike to ensure that everyone has access to basic governmental services?  This is insanity.  We’re seeing libraries close, fire stations shuttered, governmental offices so short-staffed that they epitomize lousy customer service, teachers laid off, school buildings deteriorating, out-of-date textbooks in overcrowded classrooms.  Our roads are crumbling, as are our bridges, water pipes, sewers, and even our electrical grid.  We’re been engaged in a “starve the beast” exercise for several decades with a seemingly endless push to cut taxes.  Is it any surprise that services are suffering?  Except it’s the services that most people depend on that have been starved.  Meanwhile conservatives decry the “nanny state” while offering all sorts of perks, tax breaks and regulations filled with enough loopholes you could drive a truck through them to their cronies.

Simply raising taxes won’t solve our problems.  But our physical and intellectual infrastructure won’t cure itself without attention and investment.  It’s not going to be easy, and it won’t happen over night.  We need to educate ourselves about what government can and should do.  And we need to fund it so that it can do those things  We need to insist that government serve all the people, not just those at the top of the economic ladder.  And we need to demand that those at the top contribute to the common good in proportion to their wealth.

I’d like to see each and every person in this country have to pay something in income taxes, even if it’s only $1.  That gives everyone some skin in the game.

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Several news stories today caught my attention.  The first concerned a house fire in rural Obion County, Tennessee.  Fire services there are “by subscription.”  That means that instead of the fire department funding coming from property taxes, homeowners pay a fee to the local fire department.  A house caught fire.  The owner hadn’t paid the annual subscription fee.  So, the fire department arrived but watched the house burn to the ground and only responded when the flames ignited the neighboring house, whose owner had paid the fee.  When questioned, the local officials were unsympathetic.  One can only imagine the consequences had someone been trapped inside the burning building.  The unfortunate thing is that this is the future if we are so opposed to taxes of any sort.  Those who can afford the services that are part of the common good will receive them.  The rest will have to fend for themselves.  In this instance, the people living in the burning home struggled to put the fire out with a garden hose, only to have it burn to the ground, along with all of their possessions.  Ah, you say, the owners should have paid the fee.  But, what about renters?  If you rent your home and the landlord doesn’t pay the fee and doesn’t bother to tell you, or if the system required the owner alone to pay, and the house catches fire, what happens then?  Now, raise that situation to an apartment house.  One unit catches fire, and the entire building burns to the ground.   Certainly there is moral responsibility to the renters, but is there legal liability?

The second story concerned the “near record” profits of US corporations this past quarter.  That might explain why the stock market has rebounded, but given that the profits came at the expense of jobs, it also explains why most Americans are skeptical that the recession has actually ended.   A related story appeared in the L.A. Times today, relating how California almond growers are increasingly turning to mechanical picking.  Increased automation can add greatly to productivity in many businesses.  But there is a point beyond which it is counter productive.  Consumers cannot consume if they don’t have jobs.  And consumer spending is the life blood of the US economy.  If you follow the concept of increasing automation to its logical conclusion, you have a world where there are corporate executives, along with a few relatively low-wage individuals to serve as “administrative assistants” to make travel reservations, make coffee and clean the executive suites, plus a few technicians to maintain the automation equipment.  The actual manufacturing is all done robotically.  And robots don’t demand higher wages or benefits or workplace safety.  It’s an executive’s dream. But robots don’t make many purchases.  I recently saw a video clip of an amazing piece of machinery that is being used to replace worn railroad ties.  Instead of an entire crew of workers wielding shovels, picks and sledge hammers, this machine gets by with one person to “drive” the machine down the track and two additional people on each side, reattaching the rail to the new ties.  Yes, of course, manufacturing the piece of machinery took engineers to design it, and a factory in which to build it.  But where is that factory?  And is it automated so that robots do most of the manufacturing?

And the third story is actually a recurring one.  Despite all of the air time, newsprint, and bandwidth devoted to conservatives talking about the need to cut government spending, when pressed, few can name significant programs they’d cut.  Sure, there’s the talk about eliminating the Department of Education — but we also want good schools and most of us understand that there is a direct connection between education and employability in most areas of the economy.  Low wage workers have been hit the hardest in this recession, and the jobs that have been lost to automation represent permanent job losses.  Those workers will need to be retrained for new jobs.  But while millions remain unemployed, who will provide the funding to retrain those whose jobs have disappeared permanently?  Especially if tax increases are off the table politically?

The future does indeed look grim if the no-tax, no spending folks take over.  If you thought the country suffered under the trickle down policies of the Reagan-Bush-Bush years, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  During economic hard times, the government has been the employer of last resort.  During the Depression of the 1930s, FDR’s New Deal policies included things like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that provided jobs and the accompanying restoration of dignity while constructing infrastructure projects like the Hoover Dam, electricity to Appalachia, and the construction of facilities at our national parks so the wonders of this country’s beauty could be enjoyed by us all.

What’s missing today?  It seems that the biggest lack is the recognition that there is a common good.  Despite what conservatives and libertarians would have us believe, history shows us that when the middle class does well, when overall poverty rates are reduced, everyone benefits — even those at the top.  And surprisingly, the top benefits even more than when the goodies accrue largely to the top 2%.  Something to think about.

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by reading at least one book from the list below.  It is a compilation of the 100 most challenged books during the years 1990 – 2009, as compiled by the American Librarian’s Association.

Some of these books have adult themes, and parents are well within their rights and responsibilities to guide their children to wait to read them “until they are older.”  Others are standard entries on middle and high school reading lists.  Still others can serve as jumping off points for discussions within families of values, stereotypes, and aspects of our history. But the act of banning them from libraries, especially public libraries, removes them from access by adults as well as children.  And many of these books are considered classics, required reading for educated people.

The irony is that the very act of banning them actually increases their appeal.  How many times did you or your kids sneak into a movie theater to see an “R” rated movie before you or they were old enough?  How many times did you or they read a book that your clergy person said you shouldn’t?  The mere act of banning a book makes it seem like forbidden fruit, and therefore all the more tantalizing.  A friend of mine has remarked that having a Kindle or other e-reader makes it possible to read those books anywhere without anyone knowing.  She recently downloaded Lady Chatterly’s Lover, simply to see what all the fuss was about.  Isn’t there something of that sort of rebel in all of us?

So, be a rebel.  Celebrate banned books week.  Read a banned book.

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway.

A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles.

A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren.

Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez

America: A Novel, by Frank, E.R.

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis.

An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser.

Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison

Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden.

Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Arizona Kid, by Ron Koertge.

Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.

Asking About Sex and Growing Up, by Joanna Cole.

Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Black Boy, by Richard Wright

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

Blubber, by Judy Blume

Boys and Sex, by Wardell Pomeroy.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard

Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey

Carrie, by Stephen King.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut.

Christine, by Stephen King.

Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly

Crazy:  A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert

Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat, by Alvin Schwartz.

Cujo, by Stephen King.

Curses, Hexes and Spells, by Daniel Cohen.

Cut, by Patricia McCormick

Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite.

Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan

Deal With It!, by Esther Drill

Deenie, by Judy Blume.

Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds

Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle

Earth’s Children (series), by Jean M. Auel.

Fade, by Robert Cormier.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers

Family Secrets, by Norma Klein.

Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going

Final Exit, by Derek Humphry.

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway.

Forever, by Judy Blume

Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger

Girls and Sex, by Wardell Pomeroy.

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

Go Tell It on the Mountain, byJ ames Baldwin.

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.

Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine

Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

Grendel, by John Gardner

Guess What?, by Mem Fox.

Halloween ABC, by Eve Merriam.

Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen

Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.

Heather Has Two Mommies, by Lesléa Newman.

His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman

How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.

In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison.

It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris

Jack, by A. M. Homes.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl.

Jay’s Journal, by Anonymous.

Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George

Jump Ship to Freedom, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier.

Jumper, by Steven Gould.

Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park

Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane

Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan

King and King, by Linda de Haan

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence.

Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank

Little Black Sambo, byHelen Bannerman.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park

Mommy Laid An Egg, by Babette Cole.

My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier

Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs.

Native Son, by Richard Wright.

Nineteen Eighty-four (1984), by George Orwell

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes

On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

Ordinary People, by Judith Guest.

Private Parts, by Howard Stern.

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike.

Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor

Running Loose, by Chris Crutcher.

Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

Sex, by Madonna.

Sex Education, by Jenny Davis.

Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, by A. N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice).

Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson

So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher

Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green

That Was Then, This Is Now, by S. E. Hinton.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, byMark Twain.

The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard

The Anarchist Cookbook, by William Powell.

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar

The Call of the Wild, by J ack London.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

The Dead Zone, by Stephen King.

The Drowning of Stephan Jones, by Bette Greene.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty.

The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney

The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole

The Fighting Ground, by Avi

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Goats, by Brock Cole.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer.

The New Joy of Gay Sex, by Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano.

The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

The Pigman, by Paul Zindel.

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.

The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams.

The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie.

The Sledding Hill, by Chris Crutcher.

The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway.

The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss

The Wish Giver, by Bill Brittain.

The Witches, by Roald Dahl.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.

Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller.

TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren

Ulysses, by James Joyce.

View from the Cherry Tree, by Willo Davis Roberts.

We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier

Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher

What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons, by Lynda Madaras.

What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters, by Lynda Madaras.

When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester

Where Did I Come From?, by Peter Mayle.

Women in Love, by D. H. Lawrence.

Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies, by Nancy Friday.

You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco

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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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As we rush through the last few days before Christmas, it’s time to take stock.  Gifts purchased?  Check.  Wrapped? Check.  Shipped? Check.  Annual holiday letter written?  Check.  Cards mailed?  Check.  So far so good.

Tree decorated?  Check.  Outside lights up?  Check.  Lookin’ good.

But here’s where we hit a log jam.  There are no cookies baked, yet.  For me, that’s a big one.  My role model was my mother.  And she started baking the day after Thanksgiving.  A batch a day, and a different kind each day.  Whew!  That one went out the window long ago, although there are a few kinds that I really miss.  I did make a couple of batches of chocolate truffles.  And I did the grocery store run.  So in some ways, I’m in good shape.  A stitching day Tuesday while hubby runs errands and takes the dog to get her Christmas bath so she’ll be sweet smelling.

The rest of the indoor decorating remains to be done — garlands hung over the archways, wreaths, and the traditional do-dads placed about.  And then there are the ongoing picking up, dusting and vacuuming tasks that never seem to end, sort of like laundry.  If we get all that done on Wednesday, I’ll still have time on Thursday to make a few batches of cookies.

But those are the frills in the final analysis.  The important part of the holiday is to take time to appreciate (and hopefully spend time with) friends and family, relaxing and enjoying each others’ company.  There will be time next week to consider 2010 and the changes I want to make — personal goals as well as continuing to push for the kind of change I voted for in November 2008.  There will be time to bemoan the extent to which our government is broken on so many levels.  But not this week.  I read an article on Huffington Post that I commend to you all.  It is food for thought both this week when we celebrate the longed for peace on earth and as we set goals for next year.

For my Jewish and Muslim friends, I wish you Happy Holidays.  For those who celebrate Christmas, may it be merry.  And to all, the happiest of new years.

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