Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Good morning, dear readers. Today our nation honors those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to the rest of us, and the country as a whole.
It was formerly observed on May 30th, but in 1968 Congress moved it along with what is now President's Day, and Veteran's Day (in 1978 Veteran's Day was changed back to it's traditional date, November 11th) to specified Mondays in order for the public to get a nice three day weekend. The Veteran's of Foreign Wars, as well as a few other groups weren't too pleased by Washington's felicity, stating, "Changing the date merely to create three day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant attitude observance of Memorial Day."
Indeed, many of my young friends don't even know why we celebrate Memorial Day, other than to have a three day weekend which unofficially marks the beginning of summer (Labor Day unofficially marking the end), and a traditional day to barbecue chicken, franks, hamburgers, and ribs, or anything else you care to throw on the grill. And of course shark wrangling.
In a few hours I myself will spend some time preparing about six pounds of that A&W Coney Island Sauce we made in Cooking Club a few weeks ago. This will be added to some hot dogs, links, and buffalo wings, cucumber and potato salad, and banana splits our lovely resident manager, Tianna is preparing, with the help of other volunteer residents. All we need then would be some karaoke and we'd have quite a party going (no beer or case mangers though. We don't want to make a spectacle of ourselves like the SRHT employees at Christmas!)
But I have not forgotten the solemn nature of this day that we remember all of those who have died in the name of service to their country.
This is what the President said last Saturday in his weekly address about Memorial Day:
"On this day, we honor not just those who've worn this country's uniform, but the men and women who've died in its service; who've laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who've given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America," Obama said. "These are the men and women I will be honoring this weekend." Obama said fallen troops should be honored not just with words but with deeds, including ensuring that combat troops have the support they need in the field and that veterans get the assistance they need when they return home. "In short, by serving all those who have ever worn the uniform of this country — and their families — as well as they have served us."
President Obama is getting flak from many veteran's groups, and the ever loud right wing noise machine, because he will be observing Memorial Day at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, rather than at Arlington Cemetery. Some, like Glenn Beck lie out right stating he "has decided not to honor our troops on Memorial Day."
Can you not see the ignorance in making a statement like that, but also the blatant attempt to promulgate hate and resentment?
I can.
Our fallen heros are buried throughout the nation. There is no reason why those interned at Arlington National Cemetery should constantly receive preference over any others. Even the right's beloved Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush missed Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington (George stayed in Texas (his daddy didn't attend Arlington as President... ever!), and Ronny was at a G-7 Summit meeting in nearby Williamsburg, Virginia. Oh, how disrespectful!), but pundnuts like Beck suffer instant selective amnesia facing these facts. "Maybe this has happened before. I don't recall it," he said.
Try this new thing called the Internet for doing a little research genius.
I'm not a fan of war. I'm also not a fan of dying in them, or dying for no good purpose. There are very few military actions our country has involved itself in that I deem absolutely necessary. The Revolutionary War should be counted on that list. The Civil War, which Memorial Day evolved out of Decoration Day, first to honor Union Soldiers by former slaves, then all of the soldiers, both Confederate and Union, then all of the soldiers in all future wars (despite the worthy goal of ending slavery in the United States, the Civil War was fought mainly to protect an economic system, an issue that would repeat itself in future engagements. These days I would not be so quick to try a keep rouge states within the nation, letting, hoping, that all neo-cons, fundamentalist Christians, pro lifers, tea baggers, and most Republicans move to Texas and Arizona, and let them fend for themselves while leaving the rest of us sane people alone), WWI, (which we entered as a direct result of Americans being killed due to German submarine warfare, and the threat of Mexico declaring war on us as a diversionary tactic) and WWII. That's about it.
Wars are begun by old people at the end of their lives and fought by the young who don't know any better.
And those who create war, and those who profit from war, are the greatest criminals the world has ever known.
I served in the military from 1978 to 1982, a time when the nation was not at war. I have to tell you, although I was young and very dumb at the time, I doubt that I would have enlisted if the country was at war. I wasn't then, nor am I now all that ready to die. That time will come soon enough, thank you.
And I certainly am not willing to die to fulfill some politician's ambitions. Nor would I allow my children to do so.
If I had any.
I am fortunate not to know anyone who perished in direct service in war (I've known a few friends who died as a result of other factors while in the service. I know more friends who have died because of their use of alcohol and drugs). But I have known friends, dear friends, whose lives have been ruined by their involvement in war, most notably Vietnam.
But I didn't wish to get all morbid on this day. Our fallen soldiers, sailors, air men and women, even those freaking jar head marines wouldn't have wanted that. They would have wanted us to carry on, and try to end the wars that continue, and stop new ones from beginning.
And besides, I have to get ready to make some chile sauce, reset my computer to it's original factory conditions as for some reason my monitor is showing everything as pink and orange, and then of course, off to Malibu to find that shark (picture below... from last year).
Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Update on the post Lilly, first presented 7-28-09

Unbeknownst to me, and unknown to me until Monday morning, approximately and hour and forty five minutes before I secured my 7 donuts, the body of Lily Belle Burk, age 17, was found near the intersection of Fifth St. and Alameda, about a block from my box. She was discovered by an employee of a nearby business, presumably the same gas station where Paul and I had inflated his dolly's tires a few days previously (see, Puzzles & Bricks). She was found in her own black Volvo, in the passenger seat, apparently having been bludgeoned to death and her neck slashed. There were signs of a struggle.
She had left her home in Los Feliz the day before at about 2:30 to pick up some papers for her mother from the Southwestern University School of Law, where her mother worked as an adjunct professor. About an hour later she made calls to both of her parents asking them how she might get cash from an ATM machine using her credit card, something her card was not set up to do. Her parents state that she did not sound distressed.
She did not return Friday night and her parents contacted police and filed a missing persons report.
The next morning her body was discovered. Police estimate she had been dead from 5:00PM the day before.
That Friday at 5:30PM, Charlie Samuel, aged 50, was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia on 3rd Street. His fingerprints were discovered in Lily's Volvo and he is now being held on suspicion of murder without bail. Sources said Samuel had a previous history of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and kidnaping, and if he did indeed kill that lovely young girl I am ashamed that I am against the death penalty.
From the LA Times: "The thing we want people to know about Lily is that she was a beautiful person and that she was looking forward to her life. She was funny, warm, kind and empathetic. She was deeply and widely loved," read the statement from her parents, Deborah Drooz and Gregory Burk, a Times freelancer who writes about pop music.
Burk was supposed to begin her senior year at Oakwood School in North Hollywood in the fall.
She was set to star in her high school's production of a David Mamet play and planned to volunteer helping the homeless this summer."
Dear Erin, I hope your heaven is real, and Lily now resides there.
My sincere condolences go to her parents, family, and friends.
May she rest in peace.

Update from NBC Los Angeles, May 28th 2010:

Charlie Samuel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the July 24, 2009, slaying of Lily Belle Burk. During the sentencing hearing, he apologized to the girl's family.

He pleaded guilty first-degree murder, kidnapping to commit robbery, second-degree robbery, attempted first-degree ATM robbery, carjacking and kidnapping for carjacking. He admitted special circumstance allegations of murder during a carjacking, kidnapping and robbery.

The plea deal saved him from a possible death sentence

Happy Birthday Lynda!

The enigmatic star of Evil Town, and Touch and Go, happy birthday wishes go out to one of my very favorite actresses, the lovely Lynda Weismeier. Best wishes and Happy Birthday!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


All of here at Joyce's Take are saddened at the passing today of Dennis Hopper, actor, director, writer, art collector, photographer, painter, and sculptor. He died at 8:15AM this morning in his home in nearby Venice California, surrounded by family and friends, the victim of prostrate cancer. He was 74.
Born in Dodge City, Kansas, he was a student of the Actor's Studio in New York, and acted with James Dean in two of the three movies Dean made before his death. In 1969 Dennis teamed with Peter Fonda, Terry Southern, and a young guy by the name of Jack Nicholson, to co-write and direct, "Easy Rider," which has been called a landmark counterculture film, which explored the social conflicts and turmoil of the 1960s, the Hippie Movement, drugs, prejudicial hate and unwarranted violence. He was married five times (with 4 children, and 2 granddaughters), and faced many personal demons such as drugs and alcohol use, getting sober in 1983.
Dennis Hopper began his acting career in the 1950s and 60s in television, which he would come back to throughout his life. Some of the notable feature films he appeared in include Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, Cool Hand Luke, True Grit, Apocalypse Now, and Blue Velvet. He had a talent for playing interesting, iconoclastic characters, especially villains, making them his own. Some of my favorite rolls were in, Waterworld, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2, Flashback, Super Mario Brothers, True Romance, Space Truckers, and Carried Away. But all of the movies, television shows, even commercials (I recall a recent TV spot for life insurance, I believe, through AARP possibly, with him standing out in the middle of an empty road giving advice to seniors), were good, or at least interesting. He was one of the few actors, like Michael Caine and Gene Hackman, who make any project better just because they were in it.
A Republican, who voted for Obama, because of Palin.
He will be missed, and may he rest in peace.

Janis Joplin, The Bike Clinic, And The Rescue Of The Prince Of Sparrows

Last Wednesday morning, at exactly 10:15AM I sauntered (sauntered) down to the case mangers office and discovered the case managers in there feverishly at work. Their door was chocked open so I took it upon myself to walk in and make myself at home, taking a seat in the chair next to Erin's desk.
I had been invited there the day before by case manager Paul who had asked me if I wanted to go shopping with him to buy snacks for the Bike (bicycle) Clinic he was sponsoring at noon.
Paul, much like my lovely case manager, Erin, is never ready to do whenever it is they plan on doing when they say they're going to do it. Accordingly Paul was finishing up some nice strawberries he had brought for his breakfast, and then needed to leave the office for something, leaving me and Erin alone.
Erin was busy working on her computer while I sat patiently across from her. We would chat a little, back and forth, as she continued typing. She and I share this in common. We both use the two finger method of typing, utilizing our respective index fingers to input the letters and punctuation marks associated with the English language. She is a much better typer than I am, much faster at least, and I am used now to her working away on her keyboard as I try to converse with her. Every once and a while she will divert her eyes from her monitor to look at me as if she were actually listening to what I was saying. I certainly appreciate the effort on her part.
At one point she asked me if I wanted to listen to some music (she can hook up her Iphone to a music amplifying device of some sort which allows her to listen to her songs. Oh, the marvels of technology).
"No," I said.
"Well, we're going to anyway," she said. We certainly know who's the boss around here, don't we dear readers.
She put on a lovely song, sung apparently by a friend of hers, a Jessie Thomas.
"Sounds a little like Janis Joplin, doesn't she?" Erin asked.
"You really know her?"
"Yes. I just texted her telling her I was listening to her music," she said.
"Wow," I replied. "How do you know Janis Joplin?"
"Well, I don't know a lot of her songs, but I know what she sounds like..."
"Have you ever heard, Me and Bobby McGee?" I asked.
"Look it up," I invited. "You might like it."
Erin is a very adventurous girl... she's told me so. She was adventurous enough to stop her friend's song, and through the marvels of the Internet came across a site which allowed her to play the Kris Kristofferson/Fred Foster tune, sung by Janis shortly before her tragic death here in Los Angeles.
It's a lively song! It starts out rather slow and then begins jamming. I started humming along, soon so did Erin. Then I began singing, and pretty soon Erin and I were out of our seats and dancing to the beat. At this Paul returned, and being the musician extraordinaire that he is, was familiar with the rift, and joined us in spirited dance. Erin did a variation of her "The Chicken Dance," high stepping like crazy. We were hopping up and down, bopping about like crazy people.
Dance therapy.
Janis abruptly stopped singing and the three of us returned to normal, well, normal for us.
Paul was ready now, and he and I bid Erin adieu.
"I'll miss you guys," she said as we departed. Indeed, we would miss her as well.
Paul and I drove in his car west on 7th Street toward downtown, headed to the Food For Less/Home Depot complex, near Wilshire and Alvarado. There was noting unusual in this as it would take quite a bit longer to have walked.
We discussed various issues while on the way. What we were reading at the time, Paul's upcoming vacation week, the exact numerical equivalent of Pi, etc. It would be a good day for Paul. He had already decided to accept a scholarship from USC next year, and he would learn in about an hour or two the his fiance, the lovely Farida, had just been awarded a dissertation fellowship that would fund her entire last year of graduate school. This meant they would be able to move up their wedding to next summer!
Very good, and congratulations to them both.
And I better get invited to the wedding or I'm going on strike!
Anyway, we made it to Home Depot safely, picked up some of those plastic ties the police use to handcuff people when they run out of handcuffs. I guess he was expecting trouble at the Bike Clinic.
We bought some liquid soap as well, to wash off all of the prospective bike dirt.
The Food For Less store actually sits on top of the northern portion of Home Depot, and Paul and I took an elevator up to the large supermarket, where we purchased some tasty mini chocolate chip muffins, a "Bold, (ie., spicy)" variety pack of chips, some bananas, and a case of bottled water.
Then we drove back, stopping on the way at Quiznos, the famous sandwich shop, arch enemy of Subway.
Bike people were waiting for the Bike Clinic at the entrance to the Las Americas. Paul and I hurriedly set up a table in the back garden area. It was a bright sunny day, perfect for repairing bicycles of various shapes and sizes, which was the purpose of the clinic. Residents from the nearby hotels who needed a part, or an adjustment of some sort, could come to the clinic and get some work done for free, with the help of some very nice professional bike people from the Bicycle Kitchen, who Paul conned... asked to volunteer their valuable services.
I don't own a bike and have little interest in procuring one, so I had no vested interest in the clinic other than to help out Paul. I did this by hanging around as the garden area quickly became crowded with bike owners wanting their bikes repaired. I also helped out by eating chocolate chip muffins, Bold chips, and a banana. Paul was soon enthralled with bicycle repairing, oblivious of everything else. This allowed many residents to come out and get snacks who had nothing to do with the clinic, including young Erin who tried a small bag of "Flammin Hot Limon Crunchy Cheetos," before determining they were too spicy for her and handing them over to me.
She had a nice banana too.
And took some pictures using her magic Iphone.
David from the Bicycle Kitchen ( ) showed up on his bicycle towing a little cart filled with spare bike tires and other parts, and was quickly inundated with requests for help repairing bikes of many sorts. I was given the opportunity of presenting him with the veggie Quiznos sandwich Paul and I had purchased earlier as a token of our gratitude for his help. David would soon be joined by several of his peers.
The clinic was scheduled from noon until 3:00, but didn't wind down until 4:00. Paul was so exhausted by the end I had to wheel him out on a dolly to his car so he could leave for the day.
One of the residents made a wonderful video using another magic camera (I'm going to have to get one of these!) featuring the goings on of the Bike Clinic, including an interview with Paul as he was trying to duck into a restroom. You can see it right here:
But before that happened, while I was standing around waiting for bike repairing activity to settle down so we could begin the clean up process, I noticed a small movement on the ground below me.
A sparrow was sitting in the dirt about a foot from where I was standing. I didn't think much about it at first as our garden area is flush with the small, lively birds scurrying and flying about. But it soon became clear that this little bird was having some difficulties moving. It stayed in in the same spot for one thing. Sparrows are normally very energetic, fidgety birds, always moving about, and not staying in the same place for very long. I've also noticed that they tend to shy away from humans when they get too close, which I can't say I blame them as they're hunted for food in parts of the Mediterranean.
The bird reminded me of something, I couldn't remember what though.
I knelt down to check out the situation. The sparrow stayed exactly where he was which further alerted me to the possibility that it was having problems. It's little legs looked a bit bent, which may have hampered its ability to hop about. It looked wildly around, and turned around in a full circle. I reached out and actually petted the little guy on the head, which it allowed me to do. Sparrows don't do that! I was now sure he was having trouble, and scoped him up in the palm of my left hand and stood up. He sat there for a good minute, looking around. Some of the guys from the Bike Kitchen watched as I did this, and applauded as it finally leaped off of my hand and flew to a nearby tree, then to a pice of brick near the basketball hoop, where it sat precariously on the edge. It still looked like it was having difficulty holding on, but was too high for me to be of further assistance.
I kept an eye on the little fellow. After about five minutes it took off, glided in the breeze a moment before setting down on the cement closed off walkway which serves as the rear exit of the hotel, where I couldn't get to it as it is kept locked.
On the ground again, just sitting around for over ten minutes, I felt sure he would expire there, and I would find his little bird body the next day right in that spot. If I could have gotten to him I would have placed him in the garden at least where he might have a chance to get something to eat, or I might even have taken him up to my house and try to nurse him back to health, but...
But then a miracle happened.
Another little sparrow alighted nearby in the walkway close to its protege, fluttering about, checking out the situation. The injured bird continued to look about nervously. Then the new comer did something weird. It hopped right on top of its brother or sister, flapped it's wings a few times, then hopped off. The other bird looked, I don't know, either exasperated or excited, I don't know which. The second sparrow hopped on top again, and the injured bird had had enough, and both birds flew up above the roofs, and haven't been seen since.
A few of us who had been watching clapped our hands in approval of the sparrows reprieve and ultimate rescue by it's fellow bird (or it's molestation, we'll never know).
And then I remembered, the little injured sparrow who had looked decidedly familiar, could it be...
Was it indeed Prince Aka de Tagogilein of the family Passeridae, heir to the sparrow throne (see, Friend of the Sparrows)?
Possibly. We shall see.
In any case it was a happy ending for a busy day.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Tuesday Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn) submitted an amendment to the House Rules Committee, with the tentative approval of the White House, to repeal the 16 year old Federal law prohibiting openly gay personnel from serving in the Armed Forces, Defense Directive 1304.26, the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," (DADT) directive. The amendment will be attached to the House's version of the huge $760 billion National Defense Authorization Act, an annual Federal law which specifies the budget for the Department of Defense.
An Identical bill, sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday in a 16 to 12 vote.
Later last night the House passed The Murphy Amendment in a 234 to 194 vote.
These actions are in accordance with the President's stated desire to end DADT by the end of the year, and is acceptable to the Defense Department... with some provisions.
If these reconciled amendments pass the full Senate, DADT will remain in effect until a review by the Pentagon is completed (due in December), which ensures the repeal is "consistent with the military's standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruitment and retention," and is approved by the President, Secretary of Defense, and and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Fair enough.
But why does Congress have anything to do with this policy which is primarily a military concern?
Good question, dear readers, I'm glad you asked.
Number 1: It's because Congress has essential control over everything military (through the power of the purse, i.e., appropriations, its ability to legislate laws, and it's Constitutional mandate to regulate the land and navel forces of this nation).
And Number 2: It created DADT in 1993 (just as it created the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the foundation the military services use for law, in and apart from normal Federal and State laws and statutes), in response to a stricter measure directly banning gays from serving... period. The Directive was signed into law by President Clinton, and considered a compromise measure designed to forbid the military from openly investigating it's own personnel for their sexual activities and preferences, while still barring homosexuals from serving if their proclivities became apparent, public knowledge, or if service members admit to being gay.
The point being if you're gay, bisexual, or a quadruplsexual... whatever, and you wish to serve in the Armed Forces, well, just don't tell anybody about that particular aspect of your life, and you'll be allowed to. That's the Don't Tell part. The Don't Ask part refers to the fact the military is not allowed to inquire into that particular aspect of a prospective enlistee's life when considering them for recruitment.
There are obvious problems with this policy, as there are with a direct ban on gays in the Armed Services. DADT requires that gay service members, or prospective service members, lie. Also it forces the military to discharge valuable and skilled soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, all of them, once they know they are gay, no matter how important their continued service is to the security of the United States. The current estimate of the number of service members discharged due to DADT lies between 10,000 to 14,000.
DADT costs a lot of money to! The cost associated with recruitment, training, separation expenses, etc., not to mention the costs related to loss of skill sets (for example our inability to monitor activities in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan because we've discharged gay translators), has been estimated to be between 363 million to 1.3 billion dollars (American dollars, not those things they use in Hong Kong), since 1994 when the policy was enacted.
And why would a ban, or DADT policy be put into place to begin with? Another good question. The answer appears to be, and I'm going way out on a limb here; ignorance, prejudice, and hatred against homosexuals.
For there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that a person's sexual orientation has any affect on their ability to serve in the military, or to work in any other job for that matter. Back in 1993, Dr. Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D., associate research psychologist at the University of California at Davis, testified before the House Armed Services Committee: "My written testimony to the Committee summarizes the results of an extensive review of the relevant published research from the social and behavioral sciences. That review is lengthy. However, I can summarize its conclusions in a few words: The research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters."
I served in the U.S. Navy for four years and worked alongside many gay men, and thought nothing of it, except at times, not very often, I felt a bit of their pain, or anxiety in living and working in an environment where their sexual orientation was an issue. Other than that I was glad to have them aboard, many being very good friends, most being highly intelligent and fun to be around. They worked hard, knew their jobs, and were as dedicated as anyone else. Of course they were! A person's sexual orientation has no other affect on their lives except for their choice of sexual and life partners. Why would it affect anything else? Why would my choice to mate with a female have any affect on my job performance? It wouldn't. Why would another's choice to mate with a willing person of the same sex affect their job performance. Again, it wouldn't.
Now you know how much I hate polls, dear readers, except when they help to prove my point. A February 2010 Quinnipiac University national poll showed 57% of American voters favor gays serving openly, compared to 36% opposed, and 66% say the current policy of not allowing openly gay personnel to serve is discrimination, opposed to 31% who see no discrimination.
That was February. Currently 78% of the public wants to repeal DADT. (CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey), with 20% opposed. "Nearly six in ten Republicans favor allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "There is a gender gap, with 85 percent of women and 71 percent of men favoring the change, but support remains high among both groups."
As far as military personnel are concerned, recent polls indicate almost three quarters of military state they would welcome the repeal of DADT, renaming the policy for as much as they're concerned, Don't Ask, Don't Care.
The Republicans in Congress will vote against it, of course. That's what they do. Even though the repeal shows some signs of bipartisan support, the Republican leadership is basically opposed to any policy put forth by the Obama Administration, stating they will filibuster the entire Defense Authorization Bill if the DADT repeal amendment is attached, thereby de-funding our soldiers in order to carry out their own narrow political agenda.
Other opposition includes the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines:
"I also believe that repealing the law before the completion of the review will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward," Gen. George Casey, Army, echoing similar sentiments from the other three service commanders, and some Republicans, like Senator John McCain of Arizona, who also has looked into his crystal ball foretelling the future with an astounding certitude, claiming the repeal will hurt moral. He doesn't provide a lick of evidence for this position, which seems to be in opposition to the polling data provided. And as we've already indicated... the repeal would not take effect until the Pentagon's review was completed, therefore the chiefs of the four armed services departments, and Senator McCain are complaining about something that has already been provided to them.
For myself I'm certainly in favor of the repeal, the sooner the better. It, like any other form of baseless discrimination in the workplace is unwarranted in this day and age. The repeal will make the Armed Services more efficient, more cost effective, more ethical, and better able to carry out it's mission, the defense of this nation.
That should be Congress's only concern, not to advance their political ideology, and certainly not what others do in the privacy of their own lives.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Myrka!

Happy Birthday wishes go out this morning to one of my favorite television news program hosts, Myrka Dellanos, who I've spent hours upon hours being enlightened by while watching Univision's Primer Impacto. I've never understood a word she said, but I was certainly enlightened. Born in Cuba like our friend Odalys, she has spent a great deal of her time working with orphan's living in poverty. Happy Birthday Myrka!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


My alarm clock went off the other day, some time last week, just before 4:00AM. I didn't think much of it as I had set it to do exactly that, but am always amazed that it actually works.
As is my custom at such times, I leaped (leaped) out of my comfy bed, rushed out of the master bedroom, down the hall, through the den and living room, jumped over the Jacuzzi, through the playroom and into the pantry to turn it off, least it disturb my neighbors.
Why you ask? Well if I don't put the alarm out of reach I'm likely to turn it off, roll over and go back to sleep. Making myself get up to switch off my alarm clock is a pretty common tactic, I know a lot of people who do it. After I accomplish this I usually go back to my bedroom and fall back onto my bed anyway, and close my eyes for a few moments. However, before I do that, to ensure I don't return to a gentle slumber, I turn on the lights, and my radio. This usually works to keep my consciousness somewhere near the surface, above the deep waters of sleep, and I usually get up in two or three minutes to begin my day. Usually.
My radio has been tuned onto the same local Los Angeles station since 2004, KTLK, 11.50 on your los Angeles AM dial. This is the only Progressive talk radio station in L.A., and at that time in the morning The Bill Press Program is entering it's second hour, which starts at about 4:06, a brief newscast preceding it.
As I got my self up, made coffee, deactivated the burglar alarm and minefield, folded the clothes I had washed the night before, etc., I couldn't help but notice that packed in the six or seven minutes between the end of Bill's first hour and the beginning of his second, and framing the news, were three separate commercials for the National Guard, three of them! Each lasting for about 45 seconds, or so.
These were recruitment commercials of course. That's the only reason the military ever advertises, to get new members. All three of these ads spotlighted two voice actors pretending to be hip young people, college age, with one telling the other about the benefits of joining the National Guard, those being primarily, money for college, and highlighting the idea that this is a part time job, the enlistees will be able to attend college and still hang out with their buddies, family, and significant others, as if they were speaking about getting a job as a morning newspaper delivery person. These ads focus primarily on being deployed in domestic emergencies, such as firefighting, or hurricane relief efforts, etc. They also highlight the "Patriotic" factor. How easy it is to serve your country at the same time you're getting money for school, and only working one weekend per month, and two full weeks out of the year.
Well I'm all for being patriotic. I'm a veteran myself, and the offer sounds really good frankly. Sounds really good... if the country weren't involved in two unnecessary wars.
These ads invite you to go to the National Guard's website to learn more. Well by golly, I did just that. I looked over the sight pretty good. It explained all the benefits you can get if you join, eligibility requirements, the types of jobs available in the Guard and the training you will receive for those jobs (eight weeks of Boot Camp! Always a charming experience), on and on. I could not find, however, any reference to the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not one.
There was this though in the FAQ section, the question being is there a possibility I may be assigned to combat, or something like that, and this was the answer: "Yes. Guard members can be mobilized to protect and defend America in battle domestically or overseas (emphasis mine)." Well I don't know who the National Guard would likely be battling at home... illegal immigrants? (the Obama Administration announced yesterday it is sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the boarder region, kowtowing to Republican demands, and despite evidence that these people entering the country actually stimulate the economy, and help it grow, but why let reality get in the way of a good argument). But I am concerned that they are using deceptive advertising (by ommission) in keeping up their enlistment quotas (numbers are hard to come by for some reason, at least for me. However since the end of February 11% of the casualties in Iraq were suffered by elements of the National Guard, approximately 484 soldiers. 3,500 members of the Iowa National Guard will be, or are deployed in Afghanistan this year).
And before I hear all this crap about how unpatriotic I am, and not supporting our troops, I say balderdash! And I never use that word lightly.
These wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are and were absolutely unnecessary. The stated reason the Bush Administration gave for attacking Afghanistan in 2001 was to bring the instigators of the 9/11 attack in New York to justice (or to kill them), specifically Osama bin Laden and the members of Al Qaeda, which were thought to be harbored by the Taliban, the regime that was governing the country at the time. A week before we began bombing that country the Taliban offered to try bin Laden in their own court, under Islamic Law, and asked the United States to present it's evidence linking him to 9/11. Bush wouldn't accept this, opting for war instead, and in October we will have been there nine years, the second longest military engagement in our nation's history.
Maybe the Taliban would have found bin Laden guilty and executed him, maybe not. Maybe during that time period other options could have been developed and explored. We'll never know. I do know that war should always be the very last option that the United States should utilize. So I say the Afghan War was and is unnecessary.
As for Iraq, hell, I don't even think that those who lied us into that war know why they did it. Hopes of controlling that countries huge oil supply probably. But they screwed that up as well as everything else.
Two unnecessary wars. Almost five and a half thousand American soldiers killed. Probably a million innocent Iraqis have died since we invaded in 2003, and the war in Afghanistan "has caused the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians directly from insurgent and foreign military action, as well as the deaths of possibly tens of thousands of Afghan civilians indirectly as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war" (Wikipedia).
But ours is a "constant war economy." Washington politicians keep funneling money to the war contractors, who in turn funnel money into election campaign coffers. Congress wants to keep funding vastly expensive weapons systems to combat enemies that no longer exist, and that the Pentagon says it doesn't want or need. Private contractors outnumber soldiers.
And the War Machine wants America's children as cannon fodder to keep it all going.
In 1935 U.S. Marine Major General Smedley Butler, twice awarded the Medal of Honor, wrote, "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."
Here's how it seems to work. The ultra rich and Corpocracy game the economic and political system to work in their favor since the Reagan era, bribing Congress to do their biding in the form of campaign contributions, thus creating the greatest disparity between the rich and the Middle and Lower Classes in history. The Middle Class is effectively destroyed. De-regulation runs rampant championed by Congress, but especially the Republican Party. Accordingly the economy buckles due to Wall Street malfeasance and greed, sending the country into the largest recession and economic downturn since the 1930s. Unemployment rages, while a select few make billions as hedge fund managers. The military industrial complex requires us to constantly be at war in order to sell it's goods and services. Our nation's children look to the military as a way to cope with the economic realities they find themselves in, therefore they see it as an opportunity to counter the huge cost of a college education, fostered with the hope that they can advance in life, in a system that is geared to keeping them in servitude.
Last Sunday I traveled to the pier in Santa Monica once again (see, The Ocean At Santa Monica) to attend a Save the Whales rally held at the end of the pier (Yes, I'm a whale lover. Love them whales... Love em!).
As I walked west on th pier toward the ocean, there is an exit that leads off the pier onto the beach. As I passed I noticed hundreds of small white crosses that had been planted in rows in the soft white sand. Over a thousand actually, each representing a dead American soldier who had served in Afghanistan. I know it was over a thousand because we had moved past that tragic milestone the week before, on the 18th, to be exact. The site was labeled "Arlington West." A lone woman stood in the midst of the crosses playing "Taps," on a flute like instrument. A sign proclaimed that if a cross were placed for all of innocent civilians who had died due to the war the entire beach would be covered.
I got fairly misty as I walked away.
I once told my lovely case manager, Erin, that if she were my daughter, and she spoke about enlisting in the military, I would kidnap her, chain her up, and hide her in the basement, rather than have her risk her life in either of Bush's wars.
I couldn't bear another cross down there on that beach with my loved one's name on it.
Not for these wars. Not for the reasons provided by the recruiters and the government.
Not for the War Machine.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Karen!

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish Karen Valentine, one of my favorite actresses, a very Happy Birthday today. Happy Birthday Karen!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Salvation Diary 32

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

I zipped (zipped) out of bed at 5:30, shaved showered, and dressed for work. My eyes looked as if I'd been on a three week bender. The thought of my next 17 hours on duty did not thrill me. My bed screamed (screamed) for me to return and fill it up. I told it that I would be back later, then made my way to the desk.
Wolf Pandolfi's smiling face greeting me. I again felt an intense desire to disappear back into the cool sanctuary of my room.
I endured.
I got some writing done while everyone was at breakfast. After I made the morning run to the front office I told Kevin I would be in the sample room for a while, and to call me if anything came up.
There were no samples to run. I stretched out on the bed they have in there and slept for two hours.
I got up at 9:40, just as Ed Reitz walked in with some samples for the ADx machine.
We said hi to each other.
We also discussed various things (various). Drug testing, and why it seemed that half of the center was absent from last night's mid-week chapel service. We went down to my office and I showed him who exactly was absent, and why. He told me that the Major had inquired.
He left, I got myself a nice cup of coffee with a little powdered cream in it, sat back in the chair behind my desk, opened up the Business Section (everything you ever need to know about anything can be found in the Business Section) of the L.A. Times, took a deep breath, when I noticed that Ed had returned.
I hurriedly put the paper away, hid the coffee, sat up straight, and said, "Hi Ed," just as he entered my office.
"Rick, you got a minute?" he asked.
"Anything for you, Ed. You know that." What an ass kissy kind of guy I am.
I hate it when they do that. I've been fired, threatened, cajoled, given good advice, given bad advice, been praised and condemned, when someone has said those words to me. I registered a sharp rise in my anxiety and stress levels.
"The Major and I have been talking," Ed told me as we sat facing each other. He went on to offer me a job, of all things. As Robert's assistant. I would start out at minimum wage, but would continue to live here free of charge.
This is exactly what I'd been waiting for, I guess. I wouldn't need to wait for Robert to retire. I could save almost all of my pay, and wouldn't have to worry about pesky little things like paying rent, or bills. I could in fact pay back my numerous creditors, and have my front tooth fixed. All for doing what I'm already doing for free.
Ed even mentioned the possibility of taking over from Robert, when and if he retires.
Patience! Patience my dear friends. All we need is a little patience in the world and things will come to us.
I get a nice bonus in this deal. I get to stay in the sober atmosphere of the residence for a while, and everyday I stay here adds another brick in the foundation of the rest of my life, whatever the hell that means.
And I get to continue to help others live without drugs and alcohol... live well.
I get to work in my chosen field. Or a field that chose me, whatever. Take that Maggie Harbottle!
I told Ed that I might be interested.
He told me that it might be a little while before I was actually on the payroll, budget being what it is. He would discuss it with the Major though, then he went back across the street.
Well, all of a sudden I felt really good. The work that I had done here had been recognized. I know, with all of my Zen training, that should be a petty consideration, but it felt good just the same. So good in fact, that I felt like chucking everything and going out to belt down a few to celebrate.
I decided that that course of action may prove to be counterproductive.
I floated (floated) through the rest of the day. There were some hassles, yes. I had to write up one guy for sitting on the toilet for the entire half hour the Substance Abuse Seminar was held, and I threatened to write up Wilford Maze, yet again, for ditching the A.A. panel. But these were minor irritations.
Reuben Perez came in to pick up his insulin. He now says he's sorry that he left. There was nothing I could do for him except give him permission to get something to eat from the canteen. I felt bad for him.
Dennis Smith came back alive from a court appearance.
Scott Feeney told me that he hated this place.
And Russell Burke said "Hi," to me... several times.
Everything's normal.

May 24 Friday Day 255

I woke promptly at 9:00AM. I don't know why, but I did it promptly.
After lunch (baked fish), I wrote until 1:00, and then went to the park to lay out in the sun. I met Ray Valverde there, a former resident, one I had kicked out for using drugs. He had just returned from Las Vegas, and was on his way to Santa Barbara simply because he had never been there. He hadn't had a chance to wear out the local population yet, he told me. He asked me for a smoke, I gave him one, shook his hand, and wished him well.
When I returned to the residence, I showered off the sweat from my rugged body, dressed, then went to work.
After I did all of the stuff I normally do on Friday nights, I copied down some information concerning the hallucinogen, LSD, a drug I first used as a teenager, and intermittently up till about three years ago. Back in grade school I used to save the lunch money my mother gave to me so I could buy a tab (tablet, or dose) of Orange Sunshine, in anticipation of dropping it (consuming it) on Friday nights while watching horror movies on late night T.V. (is it any surprise that I've turned out the way I have?). At the time it was quite popular among young people, especially the ones I hung out with. Mescaline as well. They both gave me a strange taste in the back of my mouth, as if my saliva glands were stuck in the "on" position, but not producing any saliva. At times it gave me a feeling of pending excitement, paranoia, elation, and at times fright, due to a sense of loss of control. I used to drink a lot of beer while tripping on acid. Alcohol seemed to moderate, or mellow the overall effect.
After an extensive introduction to LSD, I tapered off its use very quickly, to maybe once or twice a year. While in Boot Camp, I dropped some blotter acid (the liquid drug permeated in a piece of paper), but the surroundings were not conducive to enjoying the experience, although it allowed me to run very fast for a long period of time, which was helpful.
Because of the sense of control loss (once you've swallowed the drug you're on it for the next 4 or 5 hours whether you like it or not), I have never liked to use it while around a whole bunch of people. Another reason for this is that while on it one tends to giggle incessantly, which can be rather annoying (not to say notable) within a crowd.
The last time I used the drug was with Jan. She took some too. We watched the movie "Space Camp," while giggling at each other all night. That time was actually very enjoyable. I felt a little closer to her afterwards, as if we had shared a secret experience only the two of us would ever appreciate.
The drug is not addictive. It's too unpredictable to be a good addictive drug. I do not crave it, or miss its effects. It was a diversion for me, nothing more. I never had what is known as a "bad trip" (horrifying hallucinatory experience), but do on occasion see herds of 9 foot tall, purple and yellow, Woody Allens on the horizon.

May 26 Sunday Day 257

Someone stole the V.C.R.!
Last night at V.C.R. movie time (7:00PM), I entered the small T.V. room and opened the box that housed our beloved V.C.R. machine, and low and behold, it had vanished. Someone had simply pulled it out of the open back end of the locked box and absconded with it. It must have happened the night before after my shift, while Arthur Svensk was on the night watch. Nothing against poor Art, but that's really the only time someone could have taken it without being seen. What they did with it after they took it is anybody's guess. Mr. Vasquez, upon being informed of the theft, wanted to do a locker search of the whole building, and then thought better of it. It probably wasn't here anymore.
Fortunately we have an unending supply of V.C.R.s.
I don't believe Robert even mentioned it to the Major this morning. He had other problems. Red Shield 21's engine had died, and the large truck was stuck outside of the residence in the middle of the street. And our elevator was acting silly. It wouldn't go up or down.
The Major had to hobble up the two flights of stairs to chapel.
Mr. Vasquez had calmed down by the time chapel had ended. He gave me and Ron Collins a ride into South Pasadena, to the American Legion A.A. meeting, after dropping Dennis Smith off the Corps service. We even drove by Jill's house, and were hoping to stop in for tea and biscuits, but we didn't have her exact address and couldn't find her car.
Maybe some other time.
The A.A. meeting was very nice. Ron had brought a brass bell he found in the warehouse which he gave to the meeting's secretary, to replace the little tinkler they had been using to bring the meeting to order. The bell Ron gave them could actually be heard above the noisy din. I won't say the Ron had pilfered the bell. I won't say that. Let's just say it was an unofficial gift from the Salvation Army to the folks of Alcoholics Anonymous in South Pasadena. A gift that the Army would have been proud and pleased to have given, I'm sure, if it had known anything about it.
The lady speaking today, though she had fifteen years of sobriety, was obviously very nervous, and spoke in an halting, disjointed manner. I was amazed she made it through the whole 45 minutes of speaking time. The house listened politely, and gave her a good round of applause when she finished.
It must be very hard to speak like that, telling your life story to a room filled with people, most of us alcoholics and drug addicts not being very proud of our past. However, this divulgence helps us, cleanses us, lets us shed our pretenses for a while, reminds us of how bad it was when we drank and used, reminds us of where we came from.
It being very easy to forget.
And it helps those who listen. It shows newcomers that they are not alone. That they are not the only ones whose lives have been mucked up by drugs and booze. It shows them that it is possible to end the compulsive madness. That one can live a somewhat normal and fulfilling life without having to take anything to ease the pain, or accentuate the joy.
For those who've been around a while it reminds them of why they quit, that they still face many problems and obstacles, that they can get through them, for better or worse, without relying on chemicals, for it has been said, "There is no problem that drugs and alcohol will not make worse."
Skip, Ron, and I walked north on Fair Oaks after the meeting. Skip is now working part time as a telemarketing person. He tries to sell newspapers and magazines over the phone to helpless, unsuspecting individuals.
I went to the park and sat out in the sun for an hour (30 minutes on each side), while listening to classic rock and roll. As I laid on my stomach the shade from a nearby palm tree crept over my back, unbeknownst to me. Now the back of my legs are a shade darker than the rest of me. I looked like a half painted fence post.
I relaxed in my room for the rest of the evening. I read while watching a "Star Trek, the Next Generation," rerun. And a movie. "Plymouth," about a town that migrates to the moon after their home was overrun by toxic gases.
That people actually get paid for thinking up and writing these stories amazes me.
TV amazes me.
I'm amazed.
It lets me know in no uncertain terms that immaturity, greed, and poor judgment, is rampant throughout the world (foreign television being even sillier than our own). Which is good for me. It lets me know that I'm in tune with society.
Of course television is only one of many indications of America's immaturity. Our sense of values, materialism, beer commercials, take our political process... please.
I finished the King book, "The Eyes of the Dragon." A simple tale of delayed justice. I then went to sleep. I had to rest up for my big day of doing absolutely nothing tomorrow.

May 27 Monday Day 258

Memorial Day! Or at least the day we're celebrating it. The real Memorial Day is next Thursday, the 30th.
I celebrated by sleeping in until 1:00. I had gotten up earlier, at about 9:00, and used the restroom. I won't go into it, except to say it soon got too crowded in there with all of the janitors and all, so I went back to bed.
When I did get out of bed, and dressed, I went downstairs and partook of the holiday buffet. The buffet was set out from noon until 4:00, and the guys could come at their leisure to help themselves. Hardly anyone was around though. We had about twenty guys out on pass. The place looked empty. I helped myself to a hefty ham and turkey sandwich, with some barbecue chicken to round out the meal. I enjoyed the food and the quiet atmosphere. I sat around, talking to some of the cooks, and Ed McNicols and Clarence Bliss.
I wrote in the lobby until holiday bingo time.
I lost horribly.
I wrote some afterward. I also had a nice grilled cheese sandwich from the canteen. Then up to my lonely room to watch a movie, "Dawn's Early Light." Another World War III scenario, this time telling how a nuclear conflict could occur even after the apparent progress that's been made thawing our relationship with the Soviet Union.
Tell me, with all the political and economic upheaval in the U.S.S.R. today, do you feel the threat of nuclear war has lessened?
I don't feel very reassured myself. The thought of the Soviets losing control of their own weapons scares the hell out of me, I don't mind saying.
I talked to Robert after the movie, to find out if anything special was up for tomorrow. There wasn't.
I returned to my room, read some, then went to bed. It had been a no stress, relaxing day. I had enjoyed it.
I dreamt that I was in Hong Kong, looking at all of the laundry fluttering from the windows of skyscrapers, and noticing in the distance, Chinese I.C.B.M.s being launched from the mainland, their destination unknown.

May 28 Tuesday Day 259

A rather murky day here in Pasadena.
I started out with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, waffles, milk and coffee (heart attack express). After which I ran about eight million urine samples, from all of the guys who had been out on pass over the weekend.
One fellow had a cocaine metabolite level about 100 times higher than it should have been had he been abstinent as long as he should have been for as long as he's been here. That lead me to strongly suspect... strongly suspect, that this individual may have indulged while away on pass. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) for him- I have no real way to prove it as he appears to be one of the few who got by us, not giving an initial urine sample when he entered the center, so I have no reference from which to kick his ass out of here.
Oh well, he's not hurting me if he's using, and he's earned my special attention for the near future.
I wrote after lunch. It was more difficult than usual to do so today, as Robert annoyingly kept popping up every now and then, and he is not the type of person who would appreciate my taking company time for personal endeavors (the whole idea of me writing this book seems to make him a bit skittish. On one hand he'll tell me I can use his real name, while in the same breath stating he'll sue me for every penny I've got). He doesn't like it too much when us desk people read, smoke, or drink beverages while on duty. If he were totally serious though, we'd stop doing those things. But he's not, and we don't. Anytime a parrot, or a V.C.R. is stolen though-- boy do we hear it. "I don't want to see anymore newspapers, books, crossword puzzles, or anything behind the desk! We are here to observe, gentlemen, not keep up with current events!"
Every time I forget, and leave an empty coffee cup behind in the office, he'll confront me.
"Why sir," I tell him, "I have no idea how that got there!" I'll look at Kevin, and ask, "Who keeps putting these half empty, lukewarm, cups of coffee in here Rockoff?" It goes on and on.
Today he got me good. I had placed a full cup of steaming hot coffee on top of the file cabinet in the office, behind the briefcase we use to take the paperwork across the street. This is a tried and true hiding place. The cup is difficult to see unless one is consciously looking for it. Unfortunately, Robert has found many of my cups there before.
Two minutes after I placed the cup there, Robert came waltzing into the office, looked around nervously (not appearing to focus on anything in particular), and using his right hand gave a single little push to the briefcase, a very slight, jerky movement- he looked at me, then blazed out, disappearing into the building's confines. Hot coffee ran down the sides of the cabinet.
Did he in fact know that the full cup of coffee was there? Was he instinctively (and unconsciously) making a statement defending the house rules?
We probably will never know.
At 5:30 I came down to the lobby to write some more. To write, as it happens, the very words you're reading right now. By some strange coincidence, Jill was soon scheduled to arrive. It had been two weeks now since we had seen each other, so I thought I'd give her a mild break.
She arrived promptly 12 minutes late, in her usual Jill fashion. Her cool, almost regal beauty permeated the lobby as she glided in the front entrance. The air rushed out of my lungs as my gaze fell upon her. The blood rushed to my head. I felt faint.
I have to hand it to her. She did a smash up job of acting as is she were totally ignorant of my presence and my adoring existence. She made not noticing me seem like the easiest thing in the world. I knew though that she was seething inside with pent up, frustration and turmoil. I could tell this from the indistinct color of her eyes.
I said nothing. No mere words could express my feelings. I resigned myself to a grilled egg and cheese sandwich in the canteen. Jill went to her group, and that is the last we'll see of each other for another week. Each of us not daring to let our external facade slip for an instant, fearing the shear magnitude of our mutual desire.
I went upstairs and strove for sleep. It did not come however. My heart was beating too wildly. Four hours later it returned to its normal rhythm, and I was allowed once more to escape into dreams.

Happy Birthday Priscella, Lois, and Tommy!




Happy Birthday wishes go out to Priscella Presley, the Chong half of Cheech and Chong & roll model, Tommy, and one of my favorite actresses, Miss Lois Ayers. Happy Birthday!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spill 3

The Atlantis Rig

British Petroleum blames Transocean, stating that of the 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig at the time of the April 20th blowout and explosion, only 7 were BP employees. Transocean, in turn, says "Offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP." Halliburton claims it had capped the well with a cement plug according to BP's instructions and within industry standards. This is what was presented to two Senate panels investigating the spill earlier in the month. It would seem no one wants to be at fault for possibly the greatest ecological disaster this country has ever known.
The news program "60 Minutes," reports witnesses claiming a BP foreman hurried Transocean workers through the capping process in order to save time and money, against Transocean's objections, thereby creating the circumstances responsible for the blowout, which claimed the lives of 11 people.
It is apparent that all of the safety measures: cement blockage, a blowout preventer and a Deadman that were in place to prevent such an accident, failed.
It is also apparent that the Mineral Management Service, tasked with the duel responsibility of inspecting rigs such as the Deepwater, and collecting royalties and fees from the oil companies that own rigs like the Deepwater, has been somewhat lax in it's duties, allowing drilling to proceed without authenticating all safety precautions were in place and normal procedures were practiced and equipment maintained. As a matter of fact the MMS, a division of the Department of the Interior, has been rocked in scandals involving its own employees accepting drugs and sex from oil company representatives.
The explosion of the Deepwater rig and resulting spill may have prompted the resignation of one of MMS's top offshore drilling officials, a Chris Oynes, and of course calls for more oversight and regulation of the oil industry, especially it's offshore drilling activities. A shake up of the MMS, splitting the bureau into separate, non-conflicting agencies, has been called for by President Obama.
Besides the MMS, British Petroleum and the oil industry in general have other friends in high places, notably Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who have blocked new legislation that would increase the cap on damage liability oil companies would have to pay resulting from spills like the Deepwater, from the current 75 million to 10 billion dollars. Their stated reasons for doing so quite frankly, make no sense whatsoever, which clearly indicates that they are in the pocket, bought and paid for by big oil, as campaign contribution records would indicate. Not all Republicans feel that way at the present time. In a stunning display of self interest, Gulf State Republicans such as David Vitter (La.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and George LeMieux (Fla.) wish to raise the cap even further, to 17 billion.
For my part, I don't see why there is any cap at all on liability caused by the incompetence of huge multinational corporations for the damage they cause the environment, other industries, the health of the general populace and wildlife. Despite assurances from BP that they will settle all "legitimate claims," the history of such events point in another direction, i.e., protracted, decade long court battles with the guilty party shelling out a fraction of the actual costs of clean up and restitution.
And who gets to decide what is "legitimate?" British Petroleum apparently. Up until now, with the mile deep leak spewing out an uncertain and undisclosed amount of oil and methane gas (the sudden release of large amounts of natural gas deposits has been hypothesized as a cause of past climate change events) for over a month, BP has attempted to low ball, or obscure the volume being dispersed into the open Gulf, stating that it is primarily concerned with getting control and stopping the leak, rather than measuring how much is actually leaking.
This strategy, if you can call it that, is in direct opposition to BP's own June 2009, internal Spill Response memo, which states in part: "In the event of a significant release of oil," the 583-page plan says on Page 2, "an accurate estimation of the spill's total volume . . . is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations."
British Petroleum has remembered that juries tend to award punitive damages based on the amount of oil spilled.
Which brings us to the use of dispersants. Since the spill BP has released hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic oil dispersants, chemicals that act to break up oil slicks at the surface. Dispersants do nothing to remove the oil from the water. They break it up in the hope that the slick can be dealt with more effectively, they tend to allow the oil to sink below the surface, and they allow the oil to mix more widely with the environment. Their use would further obscure the total amount of spilled oil, and the deleterious effects the oil will still have beneath the ocean's surface (indeed, independent observers have detected 10 mile long and 3 mile wide plumes of subsurface oil. Imagine you're a fish swimming along minding your own business, and you swim into that crap).
"Out of sight, out of mind," seems to be the philosophy of British Petroleum (I do not wish for this post to be solely dedicated to villainizing BP. Approximately 3 million gallons of oil are spilled in American waters and lands each year. That's 1 Exxon Valdez every 3 1/2 years, so there are plenty of polluters to go around).
Did I mention the dispersants are toxic, especially the stuff BP has been using. As of this writing, BP has refused to follow the EPA's mandate to use a less toxic dispersant (Corexit contains an ingrediant, butoxyethanol, a nurotoxin that has been banned in Europe for decades) stating Corexit 9500 is the best chemical to keep the oil off the surface (it must be noted the Corexit 9500 is manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon.).
BP is also attempting to control the spill sites that have already reached the shores of the Louisiana wetlands. Patrolling the affected areas BP employees and members of the Coast Guard are telling qualified authorities attempting to help rescue wild life and clean up efforts to back off under threat of arrest... only BP workers are allowed to work the spill.
Since when does our Coast Guard take orders from British Petroleum? A foreign company at that!
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that crude oil, “...may contain various portions of straight and branched chain paraffins, cycloparaffins, and naphthenic, aromatic, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. In addition, crude oil contains trace amounts of sulfur containing chemicals such as sulfides, mercaptans, thiophenes, and other more complex sulfur compounds. Although the chemical composition of crude oil varies by source, crude oils and petroleum products share certain toxic characteristics.” And let's not forget the dispersents.
How will the Deepwater Horizon spill affect tourism, fishing, restaurants, etc., in the Gulf States, Cuba, the Eastern Seaboard, and beyond? How will it indirectly and directly affect the rest of the nation, and the world?
Not well, you can be sure of that.
Right wing pundit morons like Britt Hume and Rush Limbaugh keep insisting that nothing needs to be done... that the ocean will absorb the oil given enough time. Well sorry to break it to you fellows, but just like a sponge, it may absorb it, but it doesn't go away.
Even after the spill, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 6 in 10 Americans support more offshore drilling.
Those polled must live in Kansas or Wyoming, some state far away from water.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill may prove to be the costliest, and most damaging in this country's history... and yet...
Despite President Obama's moratorium on allowing new drilling projects to begin and halting environmental waivers, federal regulators have granted at least 19 of those waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits since the Deepwater explosion. And...
A huge, 2 billion dollar oil and natural gas production rig, located 190 miles south of New Orleans, southwest of the Deepwater site, called Atlantis, operated by BP which also owns a 56% share in it, is producing 8 million gallons of oil a day.
In March of 2009, a whistle blower told the Department of the Interior that the Atlantis was operating without engineer approved, current drawings of its sub-sea components. A review of the BP database shows that more than 90 percent of the documents and drawings were never approved by a professional engineer. That's in violation of Mineral Management Service's regulations and required industry minimum standards.
Atlantis is currently producing approximately 40 times what is estimated to be leaking into the Gulf from the Deepwater spill. If a similar event occurred on the Atlantis rig, well...
Congressional Democrats have called upon the Secretary of the Interior to cease production on the Atlantis, until the cause of the Deepwater explosion is thoroughly investigated, and it meets the necessary safety and operating requirements.
We shall see.

Addendum: 4-20-15: 5 years later

Friday, May 21, 2010

Erin's Birthday Party 2

Freaking clowns!

The preparations had been made. I'm not going to go into it, but Paul and I had been planning for months (don't worry, Farida, I forced him) the events leading up to yesterday's birthday party for my lovely case manger, Erin, who turned all of 26 years old.
Yes, I know what you're thinking, dear readers... doddering over the hill, seasoned old bag, past her prime senile incontinent matriarch, superannuated, antediluvian, prehistoric, antique broken down geriatric cougar... her best years behind her, and with one foot in the grave. Well you may be right, but as long as she doesn't know it, well I guess she can continue to live under the illusion that she has things in life to look forward to, but we know better, don't we?
Yep, it's pretty much down hill form here on out... that's why we gave her the party... cheer her up a little before the sober reality settles in.
Well here's how the day went:
Having gone to bed early Wednesday night at 10:00PM (I usually pass out around 11:00), I woke at 2:30AM and got busy. There was baking to be done.
After showering I began preparing Erin's birthday cake. There's nothing like a good home made birthday cake to show the recipient, in this case, Erin, that you care. I was determined to pull out all of the stops, and accordingly found a delightful recipe for a old fashioned Chocolate Cake, at the website, Besides needing all purpose flour, superfine sugar, baking powder and soda, cocoa, and sour cream, the recipe called for three eyes of newt, and unsalted butter, one and a half sticks of the stuff. Well, the newts were easy enough. I had laid out newt traps the day before, and found six of the slippery creatures in the garden.
The real problem came when trying to get the salt out of the butter. I was at a loss on how exactly to go about this. It took me three hours frantically searching the Internet for a suitable process, which I eventually discovered. Electrodialysis was involved, which took another four hours, and I thought to myself that this was a decidedly complicated procedure for a simple cake, but what can one do?
After an hour of mixing, two hours of baking, one for cooling off, I was ready to frost and decorate, writing the words "Happy Birthday Erin," with delicious red icing, which I felt to be exceedingly appropriate, it being her birthday and all.
At 4:00AM I posted a happy birthday wish for my dear case manager on this website. You may see it yourself dear readers if you simply take the time and trouble to scroll down a twidge. I found a lovely picture of Erin in my Erin Picture Collection. She later told me that this particular photo was taken while she had been visiting India a few years ago. You can hardly tell that she had been attacked by a rampaging mongoose shortly before the picture was taken, the unnaturally curly hair being the only clue.
Case manager Paul came in to work shortly after 8:30, and helped me place the finishing touches on the cake, 6 Oreo cookies placed strategically on top. Alas the cake was done.
It being Thursday, Erin spent her birthday morning goofing off over at the Olympia Hotel, so Paul and I were free to make any preparations we desired without fear of tipping her off to our nefarious plans.
It would have worked too, if I hadn't learned that Paul had been humming the song we had been practicing for two months, which we planned to perform for Erin, whenever he freaking felt like it, probably alerting my bright case manager to the fact that something was afoot.
Anyway, I arrived at the Olympia for the Cooking Club shortly before 11:30. Charlotte and Earl were in the kitchen waiting, and I alerted them to the fact that it was Erin's birthday.
When Erin and Paul did walk in we all broke out into the "Happy Birthday Song," for her, which seemed to please her, and she thanked us. That done we proceeded to make some nice Eggplant Parmesan. I got to make the tomato sauce, and with Earl, pan fried the breaded sliced eggplants.
We had the pleasure of meeting Erin's friend Ivey, who came to visit and partake of our bountiful meal after it was finished cooking. Lovely lady.
It turned out well, and there was enough left over for all of us to take some home. I have some in my refrigerator right now as a matter of fact. I'm going to eat it in a little while for my dinner, it being the night before I post this. It will be good.
Anyway, I had cleverly made an appointment for a case management session with Erin in her office for 2:30, to ensure she would be where she needed to be to celebrate her birthday. Accordingly, I made my way down there at that time with the nice birthday cake and a bag of birthday goodies. I had inserted a single candle (red) on top of the cake, and lit it just outside her office door. I knocked, and upon hearing her say, "Come in," I entered.
Paul was already there, and we both sang the "Happy Birthday Song," again, while presenting her with the cake. She blew out her candle.
"Paul and I made it ourselves," I told her.
"Sure you... why thank you, Rick... Paul. It's beautiful. It means so much to me that you guys made it yourselves."
"I made the candle too Erin!"
At this point I opened up the bag of birthday goodies. There were birthday hats in there, and we each donned one. Then I presented her with her first present, a V.C.R. tape of the movie, "Go," starring the lovely Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes. I gave her this because Erin had told me she owns a V.C.R. viewing machine which is located in her bedroom. She seemed appreciative.
"Wow! Thanks Rick," she said.
Next came a devious ploy on my part I must admit. I had loaned Erin a copy of James Clavell's masterpiece, the historical adventure novel, "Shōgun," because she had expressed an interest in learning about Japanese culture. Upon giving her the book, she promptly placed it on her office storage shelf where it has sat collecting dust for like decades.
I had taken the book from the shelf the day before and put it in a manilla envelope with her name on it.
I presented Erin with this envelope, telling her, "Now Erin, this is a present from all of us clients from both the Las Americas and the Olympia..."
"Yes. Now they wanted me to tell you that you have to take what's inside home with you, to your room, and place it where it will be the first thing you see in the morning, and the last thing you see before going to sleep each night."
She opened it, saw the book and laughed.
I don't think there's anything particularly funny about this, dear readers. It's a wonderful book, and I'm sure you all share my desire that she experience the wonderfulness of it.
Erin asked if she should cut the cake next.
"Not yet Erin. Paul and I are going to sing you a song."
As you may recall, last year Paul and I sang the Beatles tune, "Hide Your Love Away," for Erin. This year we choose George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," which we had been practicing for weeks.
Erin recorded it on her little digital camera, and I invite you to watch it right here:
Erin seemed to enjoy her song which made it all worthwhile.
Before I let Erin cut her birthday cake I presented her with a birthday card with round trip tickets to the Bahamas inside. This seemed to please her greatly, and I got a nice birthday hug for my efforts.
That made it all worthwhile too.
We finally got around to the cake, then the freaking clowns arrived. I don't know why. We didn't invite the bastards considering what happened last year.
Eight of them. They began various clown activities, blowing up balloons, pantomime, acrobatics. Speaking of balloons, I flipped the switch, and two hundred balloons and streamers fell from the ceiling (odd that Erin hadn't noticed them) and landed about us. Erin cried out in delight! The circus animals came next. One of the elephants made a mess on Paul's desk, but they were otherwise well behaved. The dancing girls arrived. I began singing "Livin' la Vida Loca," with a lamp shade on my head. Men swallowed swords and breathed fire. The bears and tigers scared Paul a bit, as he cowered to one side. The trapeze took up an entire corner. A man was shot out of a giant cannon. The fireworks began. Erin took a ride on one of the many horses. It was definitely getting crowded, and a little smokey in there. Other nearby residents heard what was going on and joined us. A Conga line started. The cake was consumed. Punch was procured. Erin was lifted on her chair by the clowns 26 times in honer of her new age. While I was distracted with an angry pygmy jerboa, the clowns made off with Erin... again! (see picture above) She hasn't been heard from since.
F- - king clowns! They're always doing stuff like that.

Happy Birthday Beth!

Happy Birthday wishes go out this morning to my lovely and esteemed yoga teacher, and dear friend, Beth. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spill 2

Deepwater Horizon

Built in South Korea, by Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., in 1998 - 2000, the 32,688 ton Deepwater Horizon, ultra-deepwater, dynamically positioned (computer controlled), semi-submersible offshore drilling rig, was delivered to Transocean Ltd., the world's largest offshore drilling contractor, in February of 2001. It was one of approximately two hundred deepwater offshore rigs that are capable of drilling in more than 5000 feet of water (1 mile equals 5280 feet), and it held the record for drilling the deepest oil well in history at a vertical depth of 35,050. feet (6.63 miles). Its Port of registry was Majuro, in the Marshall Islands.
Since arriving in the Gulf of Mexico, Deepwater Horizon was under contract to BP Exploration, a division of the giant multi-national British Petroleum plc, the third largest energy company, and the fourth largest company, period, in the world. It cost BP $496,800 per day to lease the rig.
In April of this year, Deepwater Horizon was working BP's Mississippi Canyon Block 252, referred to as the Macondo Prospect, located approximately 51 miles off the coast of Louisiana, at a depth of 5000 feet.
On the night of April 20th a group of British Petroleum executives were aboard celebrating the project's safety record. Workers were busy attempting to convert the well from an exploration well to a working, production well, setting and testing a cement seal previously put in place by workers of the oil services company, Halliburton. Apparently what is known as a "blow out" occurred creating a methane gas bubble that shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers. Sea water shot back through the column hundreds of feet into the air. Methane gas followed the sea water, then oil, which ignited, causing a massive explosion that cost the lives of nine rig crew members and two engineers. Seventeen others were injured.
The blow out created a huge oil and methane gas leak on the seabed floor dumping anywhere from 210,000 gallons (BP's worst case estimate), to much as 2,900,000 gallons of oil a day, or more (these figures of course represent estimates from different sources. The responsible party and vested interest, BP uses the lower figure, independent analysts higher figures).
The Deepwater Horizon never recovered and sank two days later, on April 22, and is now resting on the seafloor almost a mile down and a quarter of a mile northwest of the spewing well.
As we've seen earlier, the Exxon Valdez was responsible for dumping approximately 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound, with a total estimated cost upward of 7 billion dollars, and counting. In comparing the two incidents one needs to keep in mind that oil spills of this type occur on a regular basis around the world, but receive little or no public scrutiny (in the U.S. at least) due to the fact that they take place in third world countries where environmental regulations are not as strict, and where they are actively obscured by the perpetrators of the spills themselves.
Amy Westervelt in The Faster Times writes: "In Nigeria, for example, every year since 1969, oil operations in the Niger Delta have spilled as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez. Let that sink in for a minute … an Exxon Valdez spill every year. There are 2,000 ongoing spills in the country. The AP reported earlier this month that last year Royal Dutch Shell alone spilled a record 14,000 tons (over 4 million gallons) of crude oil in the Niger Delta... The Niger Delta is the largest wetland in Africa, spanning 20,000 square miles and inhabited by some 150 species, all now endangered thanks to oil spills."
Even closer to home here in the Gulf of Mexico, despite the many claims of proponents of offshore drilling and Republican law makers, drilling is not completely safe, and there have been hundreds of recorded spills before, during, and since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
The main difference between the Valdez spill and Deepwater is that the Alaskan spill was finite in volume, meaning 11 million gallons escaped into the sound while the remainder (and majority) of the ship's cargo was transfered safely to other vessels and storage facilities.
By contrast, the Deepwater spill is infinite in nature, that is until the spill sources are closed permanently (there are 3 of them), which may not be for several months as new relief wells are drilled, the oil continues to spill into the Gulf. If those who estimate the higher volume is escaping into open water are correct, that would be equal to one Exxon Valdez spill occurring every three and a half days, and the spill is nearly a month old at this point (BP has been successful in inserting a six inch in diameter tube into the leaking 21 inch pipe, and has begun siphoning approximately 2,000 to 3,000 gallons a day into a tanker, which is just a small fraction of what is leaking into open water (picture a mile long bendy straw positioned into the mouth of a running garden hose). To date, about 6.6 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered. More than 1.3 million feet of containment boom and 400,000 feet of sorbent boom (absorbs oil) have been deployed to contain the spill, according to the Deepwater Horizon Response website).
In Part 3 of this post we will discuss the economic and environmental consequences of this tragedy, and who should be held responsible for the accident. For now we must keep in mind that the spill is ongoing and not limiting itself to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Last Wednesday morning the European Space Agency released photographs indicating the oil has entered a powerful current, known as the Loop Current, that will carry the oil into the Florida Keys, home to the third largest coral reef in the world, Cuba, and the Eastern Seaboard.
As far back as May 4th, David Fleshler and William E. Ginson wrote in the Sun Sentinel that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has "extended a state of emergency south to Sarasota County. Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Dry Tortugas National Park and Biscayne National Park began disaster preparations, establishing a response team comparable to that set up for hurricanes... Florida faces the risk of oil washing up on beaches, smothering sea turtle hatchlings, ruining shorebird nests, and killing a wide range of coastal wildlife."
Tuesday the 18th, 50 or so, 3 to 8 inch in diameter tar balls were found on the beaches of the Florida Keys. The next day the Coast Guard stated conclusively that they were not from the Deepwater Spill, and their source remained unknown.
Their showing up at the same time a giant oil spill has been generated nearby, well, that's just a coincidence I guess.
We shall see.
This morning, while posting my wishes for a happy birthday to my lovely case manager, my television tuned to CNN was displaying a video of heavy oil from the BP spill fouling the sensitive marshes of Louisiana.
"The heavy oil is here," Governor Jindal said. "This was the day everybody was worried about, everybody was concerned about. That day is here, that heavy oil is in the marshes."
It has been an entire month now since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the oil still gushes.

To be continued.