April 27th, 2006

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From one of my "reporters in the field"

I feel like Herb Caen, with people providing me with material.
How's this for appropriate? Whoever knew there was a TV show "Dog Whisperer?

The Dog Whisperer - The New York Times Book Review offered a capsule
review of a new book by TV dog trainer Cesar Millan (host of the show
Dog Whisperer):

Millan likes to talk about the importance of being a pack leader and
projecting what he calls "calm-assertive" energy around your dog. The
thing to avoid, he writes, is being "angry-aggressive," a trait he
identifies in Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. This type of person "would
not make a good pack leader," Millan writes, "because the other dogs
would perceive him as unstable." (Our presidents are often unable to
control their dogs, Millan said in a recent lecture. He added, "We are
the only species that follows unstable pack leaders.")
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What a day!!!

What a difference the sunshine makes. I bought pink candles and Iris, and am planting springtime all about. Somebody brought donuts to radiation today. Yum!!

I noticed today the five watercolors that line the wall I usually have my back to as I wait. I like to look out on the garden, which I now know is the Wellness Garden, maintained by former patients. The fish tank is a gift, also, and maintenance is provided. People really have worked to make this a home. One man donated a bowl with stones you are welcome to take as a memory to his wife, and there are Angel cards to choose each day.

So, I examined the paintings today, and they are of five healing plants, and each one has dried plants from the Wellness garden. The plants celebrated are the one for Taxol, then, Foxglove, Anemone Japonica, which is also known as Beauty Heals the Spirit, Echinecea and Madagascar Periwinkle. Patients have written little notes placed inside the glass. One is "You can make art come out the way you want but not life." I think about that. For me, art evolves, just like life.

Someone just sent me a video of the Easter Egg hunt at the White House. Dick Cheney shoots the Easter Bunny. It is very funny!!
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Ah, politics -

There are so many things I could post today, so many debacles, but I choose this one, an Editorial from the NY Times, on
The Iraqi Oil Pipeline Fiasco.

Published: April 27, 2006

The Bush administration's promise that Iraq's reconstruction could be paid for with the country's own oil revenues was one of the many false assertions and assurances that ushered in the invasion. But unlike the predictions of weapons of mass destruction and streets filled with cheering Iraqis, this claim might have been at least partly true — if the administration had more carefully supervised the lucrative no-bid oil industry repair contract it awarded to a subsidiary of Halliburton, the firm formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Part of that contract involved repairing a crucial pipeline link that American bombing had severed in the course of the invasion. Had the repair been done right the first time, Iraq would have been able to export much more oil from its northern oil fields in the past few years, making it far less dependent on American reconstruction aid, which has amounted to about $30 billion so far.

How this costly and unnecessary failure came about was spelled out by James Glanz in a compelling investigative report in Tuesday's Times. He described the easily avoidable engineering errors that delayed the reopening of the crucial Fatah pipeline link while the contracted funds ran out and the security situation for reconstruction workers deteriorated drastically. It is instructive to recall the circumstances in which Halliburton was awarded this contract just prior to the Iraq invasion — with no competitive bidding. Later, when Democrats in Congress began raising questions, the Pentagon pointed to Halliburton's special expertise in oil-field management and its long experience working under Army Corps of Engineers' supervision.

But neither the expertise nor the supervision were much in evidence on the Fatah repair job. The Halliburton subsidiary managing the project ignored the clear warnings of its own consultants and let the drilling begin without any rigorous testing of the ground it needed to work in, which turned out to be a geological fault zone. As a result, drill bits repeatedly snapped and drill holes kept collapsing. It took an unconscionably long time for the corps to find out about the problems. By then, months had passed and almost all of the roughly $75 million allocated for the project had been spent.

There are crucial lessons to be learned here about the rarely justified practice of awarding no-bid contracts based on presumed special expertise. There are lessons as well for the Corps of Engineers, which is also supervising much of the Katrina rebuilding effort — some of the reconstruction work there is also being done by Halliburton.

On the Fatah pipeline crossing project, American taxpayers got a particularly raw deal. The repair work they originally paid for wasn't done. The government agency that was supposed to supervise the work did not do an effective job. And the oil exports that could have helped pay Iraq's reconstruction bills never made it through the pipeline.
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Goldilocks without the locks -

Today, I feel balanced. The sky is just the right color of blue, not too blue, not Robin's egg blue, just softly blue.

When I first felt a little more energy than the minimum, I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't want to waste it, and I couldn't decide how to use it, so while I was considering, it was gone. Then, I went into an every other day pattern, where one day I could do something new, and, the next was for rest. Today, I walk past a long aisle full of meat at Mollie Stone's and I don't feel sick. I do some things, and I can do some more. I am calm in my spreading of energy today. I have just enough for what I want to do.

The sky lifts me up in arms of the gentlest blue. I feel kissed.
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Jon Carroll on Pollution and Corruption!!

I note that Google has ads for lawnmowers at the end of Jon Carroll's column today. Pretty funny. Not!


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Here's a fun fact: According to the California Air Resources Board, lawn mower engines produce, gallon for gallon, 93 times the amount of air pollution of automobile engines. There are several reasons for this, but the big one is: Lawn mower engines don't have catalytic converters. And why not? Briggs & Stratton, the dominant manufacturer in the motorized vegetable grooming industry, opposes the idea.

Lawn mower manufacturers sort of flew under the radar during the old dying-of-emphysema air pollution scare. They'd like to stay under the radar because they don't want to take any money currently invested in profit and put it back into public health. You'll recall we went through this with automobiles. Now it's the same old, same old, part deux. Why should they be part of the solution? They're part of the problem; that's their corporate culture.

One of the arguments that B&S made was that catalytic converters would cause the engines to overheat, burst into flame and injure blameless homeowners. We'll get back to that.

Briggs & Stratton has two plants in Missouri and, guess what, a senator from Missouri has taken up its case. Christopher Bond, a Republican, has been fighting against regulations for lawn mower engines since the century began. He has had a particular problem with California because our air pollution standards are higher than the national standards. He cut a deal with Dianne Feinstein (yes, that one) to hold off implementation of the California standards until studies could be done.

One of these studies was conducted by the National Research Council, and it focused on the policy implications of having California's pollution regulations be tougher than the national ones. Another was by the EPA itself, studying whether catalytic converters did in fact cause lawn mower engines to burst into flame.

Those studies are now complete. In the words of Felicity Barringer of the New York Times, "the research council report was a paean to California's regulatory leadership. And the EPA said the new standards for lawn and garden equipment could be met safely."

So Bond had the two reports that he asked for. Unfortunately, they did not reach the conclusions Bond wanted them to reach. So what did he do? In the grand tradition of American politics, he denounced the reports. Through a spokesman, he complained that writing the reports "was not a public process. There was no input or comment by members of the public or stakeholders." This is why politics and science are so frequently at odds. Science is not a matter of public input; it does not work according to democratic principles. Science is an autocracy of the facts. Either the motors catch fire or they don't -- it's not a liberal or conservative issue. It's not "on the one hand, this" and "on the other hand, that" sort of deal. (Although, to be fair, I suspect it would be correct to say that the panel did not hear from members of the public who thought engines catching fire was a good thing. A definite anti-fire bias. I don't think that's what Bond is worried about, though.)

Free-market capitalism grew up doing certain things in certain ways. These ways were focused on short-term effects. That's not a bad thing by itself, but the modern system has been in place for more than a century, and long-term effects are becoming important -- long-term effects like dirty air, dirty water, ozone depletion, climate change, like that. Unfortunately, our political institutions are controlled by corporations, and corporations continue to see only the short term -- a situation aggravated by the demands of stockholders for higher profits.

In a perfect world, the elected representatives would be on the side of the people they represent, but this is not a perfect world. Christopher Bond is apparently indifferent to the quality of the air his constituents breathe, but he is definitely interested in protecting Briggs & Stratton. He will introduce amendments, propose studies, work to get bills killed in committee, do anything other than tell his corporate bosses: "Look, save us all some trouble, install the damn catalytic converters."

While they're temporizing back there in D.C., you might consider this -- small engines (not just lawn mowers -- leaf blowers, chain saws, stuff like that) put in excess of 22 tons of smog-forming chemicals into the air each day in California. That's equivalent to the gunk produced by 800,000 cars a day. That's the day I'm writing this and the day you're reading it and the next day too. That's May and June and July. Christopher Bond has a lot to answer for, although not in this lifetime.
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Sweet Dreams!

Today, I was in Sloat nursery looking for plants and finding them. Tiny new impatiens, with buds like fairy lanterns, are planted. A brother and sister were skipping about. She showed everyone her new shoes, shiny with blinking lights. He was proud of his Tevas and little socks. These two children are with me tonight, as I feel so clearly why we must work so hard to save this earth, for the beautiful children who are here in their fragility and trust. How can we let them down?

Maureen Dowd today again brings up Lee Raymond, who according to a New York Times story, received more than $686 million from 1993 to 2005. "That is $144,573 for each day he spent leading Exxon's "God pod" as the executive suite at the company's headquarters in Irving, Texas, is known."

Dowd concludes: "The United States could have begun developing alternative fuels 30 years ago if Dick Cheney hadn't helped scuttle an ambitious plan in the Ford administration. By the time these guys get gas from cooking grease, global warming will have us cooked."

Hmmm! I began with sweet dreams, and I still believe in them. Let us all dream sweetly tonight, and maybe we can make our homes from cookies and trans fats, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Let's leave our arteries, all of them, both in and out, clean and clear for flow.