Archive for February, 2010

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Killing Us All – The Dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide

February 17, 2010

As we go through life, we come in contact with many compounds.  Few, if any, have as great an effect on every living creature as dihydrogen monoxide.  It is even found in the food we eat, including infant formula and baby food.  Recent studies show that as a vapor, it is a greenhouse gas and a factor in global warming.  Sadly, little is being done to remove this danger from our lives.  In fact, we have intertwined it to the point where doing something about it may be impossible.  Some people ask why even try.

Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is known by several names within the various industries that use it; they include dihydrogen oxide and hydroxyl acid.  That’s part of the problem with the compound, given that different organizations use it by different names and in different physical states, understanding the total impact of the compound proves frustrating for the average citizen.  In an attempt to clarify, here is a partial list of DMHO’s qualities:

  • Contributes to the “greenhouse effect.”
  • One of the major components of acid rain.
  • May cause severe burns.
  • Can be fatal if inhaled.
  • Contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • Accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • Promotes bacterial growth in food.
  • May cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • Has been found in tumors of cancer patients.

Here is a partial list of some common uses of DHMO:

  • Producing industrial solvents
  • Aids in cooling power plants, including nuclear ones.
  • Used in the production of Styrofoam.
  • Used as a component in fire retardants.
  • Animal research.
  • Pesticides.  Even after washing at home, it remains on fruit.
  • Additive in certain “junk-foods” and other food products.

Many industries have developed a “love-hate” relationship with DHMO, electrical power generation for one.  While DHMO is a critical component in some forms of power generation, it is also a major contributor to the failure of power lines, in general, each year adding millions of dollars to our electric bills.

In fairness, there have been several well-organized petition drives and even governments have shown interests in some form of regulation.  DHMO is so engrained, the appetite for taking it on is soon lost when faced with the mountains of data various industries and organizations produce each year.

There is no question DHMO sounds like a really bad compound to have in our lives, but that is just it – it sounds bad.  While nothing presented above is false, it leaves out pertinent data required to make a proper judgment on the compound.  Perhaps by looking at the chemical formula for DHMO, you will begin to understand -H2O.  That’s right; dihydrogen monoxide is simply a chemist’s way of labeling water.

By no means do I claim to be the creator of this hoax, it has been around for years.  Many have used it as an example to illustrate people’s willingness to sign a petition, join a group, or even donate money to a cause they know nothing about.  The comedy team of Penn & Teller even held a petition drive at an environmental awareness rally and gathered pages of signatures.  That fact only reinforces the original purpose of the hoax, to show the ignorance of the general population on scientific matters and their willingness to go along with nearly anything that sounds good.  Before the right-leaning folks out there laugh too loud at the liberal environmentalists being fooled, conservatives also have been as guilty; just ask the town council of Aliso Viejo, California, a Republican stronghold.  In 2004, they tried to ban the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events because dihydrogen monoxide is part of their production.

The point is it is easy to mislead people that refuse to ask questions.  Most anything can be presented in a way that makes it seem harmful or have some other undesirable trait.  That is what we face today with all sorts of movements.  We accept things at face value without understanding what is truly going on.  You only need to look at the debate on global warming for a great example.  On the one side, data is used to show we can pollute the world to no end and nothing will happen.  The other side takes the same data and shows the devil himself created CO2 and we should banish it from the planet.  The problem is neither side shows the whole story and people don’t ask.

The same is true in politics, the Democrats seem to have taken a “trust us, we know what we are doing” approach and movements like the Tea Party give only slanted views on every idea out their while having no ideas of their own.  Meanwhile, the Republicans are still wondering just how they dropped the ball in the first place and ask for another bite at the apple.  What they all have in common is none of them dares tell the whole truth.  They pick and choose specific points rather than form complete ideas that are in everyone’s best interest.

In the end, the story of dihydrogen monoxide is a cautionary tale of what truly will kill us, our lack of understanding.  The truth should never fear a question; it should never require blind support.  You’ve now been fooled once, so from this point on, it’s shame on you if you’re fooled again.

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What’s The Name Of This Block?

February 16, 2010

I was watching some of the speeches given at TED this year. Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, gave a very short and interesting speech where he illustrates how different perceptions are just that, different (Click Here to watch the speech).  How we see the world is influenced by our own perception.  It serves us well to open our minds to the perceptions of others.

In case you don’t know, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  The purpose of the organization is to provide a platform for ideas, or as they put it “Ideas worth spreading.”  I always enjoy watching the speeches.  At the very least, you hear unique perspectives on a wide-range of topics.  A visit to their website (http://www.ted.com/) is well worth the time.

Mr. Sivers’ speech was based around something as simple as how we move around neighborhoods and cities.  His speech covered how in Japan, addresses are related to blocks and not streets, watch the clip to understand further.  While it is easy to understand that cultures without a common root develop different systems for doing things, it is not as easy to grasp when we look at our own culture and the differences within; they are there nonetheless.

We, as humans, have a preoccupation with grouping the world.  We even group ourselves.  We look at obvious traits like skin color and sex as well as less obvious traits like political beliefs and education.  Even within a group, we make subgroups, so much so that the word subgroup lost its hyphenation and became its own word.  We are obsessed with groups.

While grouping our lives and ourselves has its good points, it also closes our minds to new ways of seeing things.  In other words, it limits our ability to understand points of view from outside the group.  I think that is the point Derek makes in his speech. It is a plea to keep an open mind and try to understand the world from differing points of view.  Nothing in understanding a different way of seeing the world demands you compromise morals.  In truth, the opposite is true, the more your own beliefs stand up to differing views, the stronger the foundation of the belief.  Look at it like this, if you believe the right answer is four, two plus two will get you there.  Of course, five minus one works just as well, only in a different way.  Knowing that both are correct only adds to the validity of four being a number in the first place.

In the end, we tend to look at how we address problems as the only way to address them.  We fail to understand others can solve a particular problem in ways we do not even see possible and achieve the same result.  It reminds me of a story told during a seminar on waste control I attended while in the Navy.  The story goes NASA needed a pen that would write in the zero gravity of space.  They spent all sorts of money developing the pen and it performed very well.  Alternatively, the old Soviet Union addressed the problem in an entirely different way – they gave their cosmonauts a pencil.  I really don’t know if the story is true or not but it does illustrate the point, regardless.

When we go through life, we are better served understanding the views of others than assuming we always know best.  No one of us is as smart as all of us, keeping an open mind allows for the inclusion of ideas and outcomes that are more efficient in the end.

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One Cold Day And They Want You To Drink The Kool-Aid

February 14, 2010

Recent points made by doubters of global warming show just how out of touch they truly are.  At best, they are out of touch, more likely they are simply cherry picking situations to suit their own point of view.  In other words, they are deliberately trying to mislead.  With the winter storms that hit most of the nation in the last two weeks, it is an easy segue to make; the problem is it is not a factual and has nothing to do with the issues that drive global warming.

For the most part, global warming deniers count on a lack of understanding by the general population of global warming as a phenomenon.  While, as the name implies, during global warming the world sees an increase in average temperature, it is by no means the only trait of it.  Nor is a rise in temperature the most devastating effect, the shift in worldwide weather patterns will drastically change life on a planetary scale.  The name has created much of the confusion; while temperature increase does have a role, it does not mean all the earth will have weather like Miami Beach.

I think the real hang-up people has to do with the blame game, whether or not people are the cause of global warming.  In the end, the cause does not matter.  It is how to best deal with it, if we can at all, that needs to be studied.  The question of humanity polluting the earth is one of good stewardship and does not require study at all.  We simply should not destroy the only home we have.  We owe it to our children to take care of the earth while we are here.  Moreover, no one can deny damage has occurred due to mankind, it would be a nice gesture on our part to leave the place better than we found it for a while and give future generations a better home.

Back to the recent events, it is simply amazing that news organizations put up a photo or video clip of a winter storm and claim it disproves global warming.  In fairness, they don’t claim it as much as imply it.  Truth is it supports the theory as unstable weather is part of it.  While some places have snow for the first time in years, like the Deep South, other places that normally have snow are without.  Vancouver, for instance, they are trucking in show for the Winter Olympics’ skiing events.  All it really proves is weather patterns are changing.  Only through the lens of history is this change understandable.

Hemispheric temperatures have not been constant over the earth’s history.  We only need to look back to the 1300s for a great example.  This was the start of a centuries long weather pattern know as the Little Ice Age (about 1300 – 1700AD).  During this period, it is thought the Northern hemisphere cooled rather than warmed, sort of the opposite of what is going on now.  What is less well know is before the Little Ice Age, there was a different weather event known as the Medieval Warm Period, during this period (about 800 – 1300AD), it is believed the hemisphere was warmer.  In both events, the average change was only about 1°C but still had dramatic results, everything from growing crops in Iceland and Greenland to crop failures in Europe due to extreme cold.  The weather patterns changed, then changed again.   It is possible we are seeing a similar event now.

Regardless of who is right this time, there is no doubt something is changing with the current long-term weather cycle, the question is what to do about it if anything.  Global warming has turned into a referendum on pollution.   Supporters of the theory were quick to determine human generated pollution was the cause.  As big business is a primary source of pollution, they obviously disagree.  Do humans cause global warming?  The answer is it does not matter and the question is stupid to ask.  Better questions are, can we change global warming and should we try to change it.  The question of pollution is much easier to deal with; we simply should not pollute the earth we live on.  Look at it at the household level, do you trash your home or clean it up now and then?

Don’t be fooled by news organizations that have an agenda.  The weather is changing.  It always has and it always will.  It is how the earth functions.  We are bound to see weather in extremes while this change takes place.  Some places will get hotter and some colder.  That does not prove or disprove the trend; it is simply part of it.  People with political agendas use the smallest of opportunities to gain advantage.  The current weather is just such an opportunity.  Don’t fall for the hysteria; don’t drink their Kool-Aid.

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The Cost The Public Unwittingly Pays

February 13, 2010

Back in when I was in the military, I learned a saying, “there is no need to defuse a bomb that has already gone off.”  For the most part, the current healthcare debate is a bomb that has gone off.  The U.S. government currently controls the majority of the healthcare dollars the nation pays.  The problem we have is understanding this fact due to its complexity.  This complexity allows pundits to twist and mold data to fit any argument the wish to make, resulting in frustration, confusion, and a lack of trust for all concerned.

If you want to upset a group of people, you only need to bring up the subject of healthcare reform.  No matter the group, opposing opinions are bound to exist, opinions, for the most part, based on hysterical news coverage that has little to do with reality.  We become embroiled with arguing over topics as single payer, mandated insurance, and the dreaded “S” word – socialism.  When people are confused, the best choice seems to do nothing at all, maybe this is the true objective of the pundits, to confuse us and maintain the status quo.

In reality, the government directly controls programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and various other more limited plans.  According to the government’s Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, these programs, and health department budgets account for approximately 53% of our National Health Expenditure (NHE).  The NHE is the total amount of money spent in the United States per year from all sources on healthcare; the 2009 estimate is around $2.3 trillion.

In addition, there is another cost we indirectly pay that adds to the percentage paid with tax dollars and it is hidden from view – healthcare subsidies to businesses.  Businesses in the U.S. enjoy a $200 billion a year tax write-off on the cost of healthcare.  In other words, the U.S. government took in $200 billion less last year than it could have giving big business a break.  Taking this money into account, our government controls about 62% of the total cost paid for healthcare each year.

The problem is not the tax break, it comes from who benefits for the $200 billion – only businesses that provide healthcare.  This means the rest of America subsidizes the healthcare of businesses like General Motors and A.I.G. and the little guy goes without.  This subsidy, in effect, is a Medicaid-style payout.  It is a quasi-tax all Americans pay to the benefit of a few.    The $200 billion loss affects the general revenue, requiring a higher debt level to make up the difference; it adds to our national debt every year.  It is a bad deal for all involved, except big business of course.

In the end, it is not a question of should we have government paid healthcare, we have it now.  The only real debate is in how to create a system that makes sense and benefits all Americans rather than select groups.

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Always Know What Game You’re Playing

February 11, 2010

Around 1985 I stopped in the city of New Orleans as I drove across country.  The French Quarter has always been an interesting  place to spend a few days.  It offers many wonderful distractions and provides great fun and excitement.  Like any town that has a vibrant tourist industry, the Quarter has street vendors; they add local color to say the least.  You really have to watch your step with the various vendors that earn a living off  naïve visitors, visitors like me.  A lesson I learned on that trip that still serves me well today.

I was in the Navy back then and very much a man of the world.  After all, I had been all over and dealt with all sorts of people.  I walked around with a self-assured confidence that I could handle anything the city could throw at me, bravado if you will.  One evening, as I walked down Bourbon Street, a teen-aged young man asked me if I wanted a shoeshine.  I did not agree to the shine but the young man seemed interested in my boots asked if I would put my foot on his box and let him look – to that, I agreed.

Smiling at me, the young man said, “I know where you got those boots at!”  Of course, there was no way he knew, I purchased them at a shop in Naples, Italy the year before.  I told him he must be mistaken, he could not possibly know.  Then it came, the hook.  He said, “I bet your $20.00 against a free shine that I know.”  I made the bet.  Of course, by now there was a small crowd standing around watching this interaction between us.  Taking his time, he studied my footwear, looking over every detail.  Suddenly, he stood up, board straight and said with a big smile, “you got those shoes on your feet and you at Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana.”  Perhaps the bravado I spoke of earlier was simply arrogance.  Having learned my lesson, having provided the onlookers with a hearty laugh, I gave him the $20.00.

There are many axioms that come to mind when I think about that evening.  In the end, I was playing a man at his own game and did not even know it.  What’s worse, we played in his backyard.  Game, set, match to my young friend.  Somehow, he knew out of that whole crowd, I was the one that simply would not walk away.  My own arrogance was the weakness he sensed.  I thought we were playing one game – he knew we were playing another!

This sort of interaction happens everyday on many different levels.  We hardly ever understand the true motives behind people we come in contact with.  Whether that contact is at a personal level or in the form of a speech we hear.  With that in mind, think about the recent Tea Party excitement, do we really understand the motives behind the controlling elements?  The words they say are easy enough to understand, their true meaning is another matter.  These are the same people that rallied behind conservatives over the last twenty years and now, after they made the mess, cast their own actions aside and accept no culpability at all.

The current course is not the best one to be on, at least it avoids the rocks the conservatives headed our country toward.  Now, they simply repackaged the same old rhetoric, added a few new twists, threw in patriotism for good measure, and want another chance.  Just because I don’t like what is going on now does not mean I want the silly idiots that created the mess back.  This time, let’s not get their shoeshine, more importantly; let’s not place a foot on the shoebox at all and walk on past.  What’s at stake is a lot more than $20.00; it’s the nation as a whole.  Let’s make sure we know what game they’re truly playing.

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Living Life

February 10, 2010

Life requires of us living.  Albeit a simple truism, it is harder to do than first thought.  Living beyond simply breathing requires engagement in the world around, not so much in the mess covered in the nightly news but in the world itself.  The quick little news snippets given us lack depth.  In turn, we lack understanding and miss much of what the world has to offer.  We become accustomed to knowing only headlines and believe we have the whole of a story.  Soon, our attention span is limited to only headlines.  We become stones skipping across the water, knowing only the spot of surface we touch.  So skip we do, going from one thing to the next.  Not until we stop and settle to the bottom do we understand the true depth of the pond.  Our world has depth, depth that requires time and engagement to understand.

Often we here someone famous, when at the end of life, wish to have done things differently.  Famous people tend to live lives full of activity, but to what end?   Quantity never replaces quality.  Think about your own life, do you fill it with hollow bits of nothing?  When life is more behind you than before you, will this be satisfying?  Don’t wait, think about that now, and do things differently.  As Emerson said, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”  What Uncle Ralph was talking about is using the mind to study life, and then follow the path it shows, putting your unique thoughts into unique actions, only you can do.  In this way, you will gain a depth of understanding and enrich the lives around you.  There can be no better epitaph etched upon the stone.

To live a full and rich life does not mean a hectic life, to the contrary.  It means giving even the simplest of things their full measure.  Even a insignificant blade of grass holds wonders requiring more than a lifetime to understand.


A Clipping on the Ground

T’was nothing much,
that blade of grass,
a clipping on the ground.

Not worth time to pick it up,
to do so I was bound,
then set my mind to ponder,
this treasure I had found.

It looked to me to be the same,
as millions, maybe more,
unchanging like the grains of sand,
which fill the ocean’s shore.
To dismiss it would be easy,
and return it to the mor.

I passed it between my fingers,
and saw that I was wrong,
to judge it in that simple way,
missing its beauty all along.
With a newfound will I studied,
and heard my subject’s song.

As it sang to me of heaven,
and things I’ll someday see,
it was not a prayer or sermon –
but a song of what will be.
I saw the grass with special eyes,
and newfound majesty.

‘Tis a complex world made simple,
in this gift I have found.
My gift of time is all it took
to know this world around,
from a blade of grass this morning,
a clipping on the ground.

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The Sound of Snow

February 8, 2010

Whether or not you enjoyed the recent snowfall, El Niño is responsible.  El Niño is a quasi-periodic weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which occurs every few years, holding great influence over a large portion of the world.  Here in the LowCountry of South Carolina, it brings mostly rain when the event takes place in the winter months.  It would have been nice to have a bit of snow, just a bit.  When it’s measured in feet rather than inches, I simply don’t know what to do.

Still, I must admit I enjoy the snow, even large amounts, for a change of pace.  There is something magical about it.  I realize the adjective selection is somewhat different for the guy stuck outside in sub-zero temperatures, trying to shovel his car free.  Nonetheless, most people enjoy the anticipation of the year’s first snow as it seems to slow the world down a bit.

That’s the part I like best, the slow tempo of things with snowfall.  We rush around today and have little time to take in the world around us.  We live fast, hectic, and gritty lives in our modern society.  Snowfall reminds us we are part of something more – it connects us in a way.  It brings out the kid in all of us who wonders at the simple things in life.

I was in mountains of North Carolina one winter shortly after my father passed away.  It was not a particularly happy time and I was keeping to myself more than I normally do.  If you know me, you understand that is really saying something.  One morning, I woke up to the most magnificent view I have ever seen.  It was a seemingly endless carpet of snow that covered everything.  I had to be part of it.  Walking some distance, I could see nothing but white in every direction and the snow was falling even faster.  I stopped to enjoy the silence of the moment – silent but for the sound of snow.

The Sound of Snow

The sound of snow takes on many a form
molds itself to all and soon surrounds it
But when it floats and falls – leaves the swarm
’tis the soft “shhhhh…” the soul cannot forget

It calms as the sound slowly covers me
and makes me part of the world around
Still, the white veil does not change leaf or tree
but gently covers all and peace is found

A monochrome world that moment exists
for all I hear and see become as one
But if we’d keep it so, we’d be remiss
accepting the lie of such beauty spun

This sound of snow gives just a moment’s peace
but for that moment… pain and hatred cease

I think about that time often.  It has inspired many of my poems but none are more dear to me than this one.  I am a Southern boy who grew up on the coast.  Meaning, snow is not something I see regularly.  When I do, I have the privilege of its newness and take it in with awe.   It reminds me to live each moment for they are all precious. Each of us only has so many in life to enjoy.

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