Friday, October 28, 2005

Tales From the Northeast

The following was snipped out of a LTTE in a recent edition of the Times Union, the newspaper of record in Albany, the capitol city of New York State:

This past May, I totaled up our first year's home heating oil usage. Between September 2004 and May, we purchased 2,400 gallons of home heating oil at a total cost of almost $5,800. We saw the price of our heating oil go up from $1.549 to $1.959 at our last fill-up.

The woman goes on to write that she kept her thermostat between 60 and 68 degrees all winter, and she "bundled up" a lot. Double socks and fleece on all the time.

Fleece. How romantic. Like... winter camping trips.

During the really hot summer months here in the Valley our cooling bills, as reflected in our electricity usage, top out at about $180 monthly. We bought a more efficient refridgerator so this past summer our usage was actually down a little from the summer before. But even at that maximal rate (the cost of which is sure to increase, perhaps dramatically, per kilowatt-hours,) our total energy bills would "only" be $2160 for the year, and in reality it's probably a good bit under $2000.

We are both frugal and lucky, I know. I do the laundry at night.

And if we had to cut back on energy use even more, we wouldn't freeze. Sweat some, yes, hypothermia, no.

Comparisons can be interesting.

Thursday, ExxonMobil became the most stark example yet of how much big oil companies benefited from the huge run-up in oil prices during the third quarter even as two major hurricanes ripped through the industry's Gulf Coast infrastructure. Exxon reported:

Net income up 75 percent to $9.92 billion. That is the most a U.S. company has earned from operations in a three-month period and greater than the annual gross domestic product of entire nations including Cameroon and Zimbabwe.

Snipped from the Free Press from Burlington, Vermont, another pretty cold place in the winter.

They'll be doing some complaining about their heating bills too, as soon as their electricity is restored after their recent big storm. No electricity, no whining e-mails to editors.

When we lived up that aways we heated our home mostly with wood, with electricity back-up. Of course, if we were away for a few days and the woodstove smoldered out, and the electricity had failed, I suppose in that kind of situation the parakeets would not have done well.

Five cords of wood cost $165 then, ($33 per cord) and we went through about twice that in a typical winter, which begins in late August there. Sheesh. No kidding, though.

Some years, in the spring before the thaw, I'd stack up 15 cords if we had scant little left over. A friend of mine who still gets wood from the same guy up there now pays $55 per cord, or $275 for a 5-cord truckload. That's still a lot cheaper than what the Albany letter-writer will pay to stay warm this year.

Small communities tucked deeply away in thick forests will somehow manage to stay warm. I guess. But there's a tipping point to the number of trees a community can sacrifice to the Great Buddha of Being Warm in The House. Call that theory the "Peak Cordwood" effect curve.

The Albany woman concludes with:

This year, we are cutting back our estimated heating oil usage by 400 gallons and will be keeping our thermostats set at a base of 50 degrees. We are buying three cords of wood and will be using our fireplace to heat the first floor, and electric space heaters to warm our bedrooms at night.

Fireplaces are notoriously wasteful of good heat. I would recommend that they buy a fireplace woodstove insert with all the money they are going to save by freezing their butts off this winter.

Yeah. Right on.

We will start to see the stories trickle out soon. Homes demolished by chimney fires. Frozen old maids dead alone in their rural farmhouses. Children sick from the cold. Unhappy chilly homeowners like the woman above.

But hey, profits are up.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Harriet Who?

Such a beautiful and mild sunny morning, the coffee's good, the child and spouse are with me, Sunday Baroque is on the radio, and I'm doing a little light reading.

Buried well into the Supreme Court nomination questionaire that Harriet Miers filled out for the Senate judicial committee was this:

I was lead counsel for Interstate Fire & Casualty Company (an excess insurance carrier) in this suit that the Catholic Church in Dallas filed seeking to obtain indemnification from liability and defense costs from its insurers. The Catholic Church was seeking coverage after a jury returned a $101.6 million verdict against the Church based upon eleven separate incidents of sexual abuse and child molestation by Father Kos, who had been an active member of the Diocese of Dallas. (Father Kos was also indicted and convicted for his acts). The jury had found that Father Kos committed his acts while acting in the course and scope of his employment. The jury also found, among other things, the Diocese committed fraud and intentionally concealed facts relating to Father Kos. Interstate Fire & Casualty, as well as the other insurers, denied coverage because Father Kos's actions were intentional acts that were not covered by the Catholic Church's insurance policies.

There were numerous issues raised in this litigation, including whether sexual abuse and child molestation are intentional acts that are not covered by insurance and whether the insurance companies had a duty to defend the Diocese in the lawsuits filed against it. The case also involved questions of whether Texas public policy precluded insurance coverage for acts of sexual abuse and child molestation. The case settled prior to trial.

Well, isn't that special.

I supppose somebody has to protect large insurance carriers from the predations of the Catholic Church, so that payouts to molested children will have to come from somewhere else. Lawyers do that.

But if Miers is being sold on her "character," then why didn't she work on behalf of the victims themselves, rather than a corporation? That, I suppose, is just what she does. So now, that settles that. We all have our own values, now don't we?

Maybe I've read too many Alice Miller books. If a person or policy does not support children (and we all carry childhood in ourselves throughout our lives,) then I do not assign value to them or that.

Of course I do not support Harriet Miers. I'm not a total "moran." She's no Erin Brockovich. And no, I do not much like what I've heard about one of Miers' real estate deals, either.

Since Miers really has no judicial experience, the White House is playing up her religious conviction and her character. So much for her character, so that leaves us with... what?

A vote against Roe, and a vote against any and all future rulings that may affect Bush himself. Rulings that may involve, say just for example, treason.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

342 Bras in Greenwich

I'll bet this guy has a lot of very interesting friends.

The story itself is just begging for a punchline.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Another Four Hundred Dollars

About two-thirds of homes in the Midwest use natural gas for heating, and the price of that resource has gone up quite a bit. The Energy Information Administration estimates that it will cost the average household another $146 over last years' heating season prices, and this is $408 more than the average cost of the 2002-2003 cold months.

So what's another $400? Just skip a few dinners out, maybe miss an opera or a couple ball games.

Don't worry, be happy.

Well, I'm a worrier. My spouse says I should be on something. And she's probably not incorrect.

I could stop worrying. But worrisome issues would not go away. I just wouldn't care as much. I'd put the opera tickets on a charge card.

Weak production - although production increased by 0.5 percent in 2003, it was not sufficient to offset the 3 percent decline in production during 2002. The industry in 2003 drilled the second highest number of gas wells in a single year, however production has not increased proportionally.

(Snipped from the EIA report linked above.)

So they drilled more natural gas wells, but production has not increased proportionally. That is to say, production for each well is not the same. It is declining for some wells.

This is the time of year in which our home energy bills decline, because we don't need the air-conditioner during the cooler months. We are lucky, in that respect. But if you own a natural-gas-heated home in the Midwest, your luck is slowly running out. Sell and move to the Valley of the Sun. Everybody else is doing it.

Then I won't worry about you all so much.

Instead, I will worry about inflation. When the price of fuel goes up, so does the price of everything else.

Eventually this effect will make everything change. We ain't seen nuthin yet.

I should repeat that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Anatomy of a Non Sequitur

It was shift change time when I went to the kitchenette to get a cup of water (we are allowed to do that,) and I was just standing there zoning out when "Annie" came in. She's one of the night shift aides, and she was going to load up a cart full of fresh water-pitcher containers for the patients, and I was in her way.

"Oh," I said, "I'm just spaced out a little," as I stepped out of the narrow area.

"Flashing back to the sixties?" she asked, jokingly, and I said "well, more like the seventies, really."

I've passed shifts with Annie a hundred times but I've never really chatted with her much, so I don't know what she's all about, but I think punk happened for her, despite her relatively young age.

A moment later I was just standing by the door leaning on the kitchenette counter, still processing my fatigue and spacing out, when Annie asked "Do you ever see blue cars?"

Do I ever see blue cars?

I smiled wide while I considered the question for a bit.

"Why yes," I eventually replied, as if I were proud or something, "Yes I do."

She chuckled with satisfaction a little and continued at the ice machine. I then had to go out and give report to the oncoming nurses. I related the story to them, and I told my spouse about it when I got home.

I saw her again the next night at shift change and I asked her about it, and she said it was just a non sequitur and I wasn't supposed to "get it." You could really just hang out with a person like that.

She said "Blue Volkswagen beetles," and I said that was actually the image that had come to my mind the night before when she originally tossed out that weird question about blue cars. Then she asked me sincerely if I ever did "see blue cars" and I said that I wasn't seeing them right then and there but that I did see them sometimes, out and about.

"Like when you're driving around," she acknowledged.

I was glad to have that clarified.

Then she asked "You know Jimmy Eat World?," and I had to begrudgingly admit that I don't know their music all that well except one of their more wildly popular songs. She said the "blue cars" thing was from one of their songs, but I could only hazily recollect "Counting Blue Cars" by Dishwalla and then I started to space out again.

Too much at the end of a shift. I needed to conserve my energies for finishing up and getting home, and I felt that by trying to remember bands and songs and such and then straighten up somebody else on the subject, well, that was just too much for me to expect from myself at the end of a long day. Now opera, if that had been the subject, I would have merrily refreshed her memory right then and there, but not rock music, about which I have scant expertise.

Anyways, I suppose now that Annie had been suffering from an ear worm. I figure she had been replaying "Counting Blue Cars " in her head the night before when she came out with the non sequitur, but she had incorrectly attributed this song to Jimmy Eat World instead of Dishwalla.

Easy mistake to make, I guess.

So the next time I see her at shift change, I will just say "Dishwalla," preferably completely out of context, and that should keep things deep enough in the flow for awhile.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why Bother?

This was snipped from the Letters section of Newsday, and you have to admit, the guy has a point:

True lies

When the Bush administration was selling us the Iraq war, we were told that Iraq was a major terrorist base. It wasn't then; it is now. They told us that attacking Iraq was the same thing as attacking Islamic fundamentalists. It wasn't true under Saddam Hussein, but the most powerful political force in post-Hussein Iraq seems to be - you guessed it - Islamic fundamentalism.

Of course, they also told us that Iraq was threatening to attack Americans with weapons of mass destruction, and that wasn't true either. So what's happening now? A month or two ago there was a report that American soldiers had discovered a secret lab where the insurgents were trying to manufacture chemical weapons, presumably for use against American soldiers. Memo to the Bush administration: Be careful what you lie about. It just might come true.

Wayne Karol

But for every letter-to-the-editor like the one above, there are those of opposing views. I suppose this has to do with newspapers attempting to justify the presentation of "balance" of opinion.

For example, a couple key paragraphs from a letter in the renowned Arizona Republic:

We can't stop fighting

Oct. 15, 2005 12:00 AM
So many letters "sing" the same sour note, tune varies, lyrics don't. "Bush lied, bring the troops home, stop sacrificing our soldiers, Iraq war is based on lies, let Iraq heal, let us live in peace." Distinctions without a difference. Quit, surrender, give up, peace.

Terrorists tested us with bombs and several attacks during Clinton's years in office with no response. The Twin Towers destruction would prove to them our lack of resolve prior to their totally wiping us out.


Thomas Ward

Gee, think much? Iraq was never involved in any attacks against us. That is, until we sent our own youth there to serve as target practice for their resistance to our war of aggression.

That letter writer concludes with an unfounded assertion that the terrorists have not attacked us again but they will as soon as we stop the Iraq fiasco (my words.) The old "we are fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here" fallacy.

Right. That'll work.

I have an immigration corollary for that: Let's send all of our Border Patrol agents to Acapulco so we can fight illegal immigration there instead of here.

Propaganda works... on stupid people, of which there are a great many, in my humble opinion. So many still believe the lies, probably because it is just too uncomfortable to face the god-awful truth.

We cannot continue to force our children to pay for the mistakes made by our generation. We must stop insisting that they die for Halliburton profits in a war initiated on lies.

We cannot continue to run up debt so vast that it will roll back the lifestyle advances made during the progressive years, causing our children to live with far less comfort than ourselves.

Well, we could, but that would be stupid.

Friday, October 14, 2005

We Fish and See

It's called an automated medication dispensing system, and on rare occasions it actually does dispense meds. Most of the time, however, it just keeps the medications quixotically locked up so that nobody can get them.

That can be a real time-waster. Suppose you have a patient who complains of a mild headache and requests some tylenol, which they sometimes take at home for fever or mild ailments. Easy, that. I can just go get some out of a medicine cabinet, right?

Not exactly.

If it had not already been specified as an as-needed med by the doctors, then technically I would be required to call a doctor or resident and get an order for acetaminophen. Then I would fax the order to the pharmacy, where some poor drone would copy it into the computer database that controls the automatic medication dispenser, which of course hasn't yet dispensed a freaking thing.

After all that I would then give the patient the med, assuming that I did not have to wait in line while other nurses removed items from the automatic dispensing machine. Ten nurses, two machines.

In many cases I feel I could simply leave The Great Southwestern Muffin Factory and walk to a local pharmacy, buy the stuff over-the-counter myself, walk back and give it to the patient in less time.

But ironically, that would be inefficient.

It's probably a lot safer than leaving things in cabinets, though.

Once in a great while you hear or see some kind of "angel of death" story involving an errant (completely bat-crap wacko) nurse who kills their patients. Charles Cullen was probably one of the recent worst cases, but history is full of them.

Generally speaking, hospitals are very meticulous about record-keeping and statistics, and it is through such that these killers are found out and prosecuted. I cannot help but think that someday such a person will be apprehended because they get caught trying to fake out a Pyxis machine.

Actually this is the first time I have considered this possibility, because usually I am just plain annoyed at the machine for slowing me down. But I saw an interesting movie after I came home from work last night and everyone else was in bed.

Charming Billy, an independent 1999 film, was on one of those groovy three-digit cable stations. It was a rather disturbing but excellently acted and scripted story about a twenty-something man who climbs a rural water-tower and starts shooting people and cars. The movie unfolds in poetic flashbacks.

While watching it I thought that it is amazingly sad how much devastation and ire can be manifested by just one person.

I was going through my blogroll while watching this film, and among the links I read about the trouble Head Nurse has recently had with some likely dangerous student nurses.

There are only a very few bad nurses, but they come from somewhere, now don't they? And thanks to at least Head Nurse and others like her, they now come from one less place.

Myself, I have never had the pleasure of canning a nurse or student who I deemed dangerous, but someday that kind of luck could run out, and I will.

I have known three nurses who lost their jobs for either diverting drugs (a nurse supervisor who took demerol for himself) or for using on the job, like coming out of the bathroom sniffling and giggling. That was back before freebase and crack became prevalent . I suppose crystal meth would be more suspect these days.

Nurses need all the help we can get from one another, and killers and drug addicts do not make dependable coworkers. We tend to shove out personalities we do not like on the team. These people go from job to job, or they get promoted out to specialty ICU jobs with exposure to more critical and therefore more vulnerable patients.

I like the team of nurses I currently work with, and I openly brag about them in non-anonymous situations. I know that if difficulty arises they "have my back," and I in return pledge, sometimes outloud, that I too have their backs covered.

Literally, sometimes, like while waiting in line at the Pyxis machine to get some tylenol for a warmish head-achy patient.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Hard-to-See Crazy Hand

Paraphrasing and elaborating on something I recently heard on NPR while pushing the station wagon back from the grocery store:

The best way to get rid of weapons-grade nuclear material is to dilute it down to reactor grade and then burn it up in a power-plant. We had a program in which we bought old Russian warheads and used the good stuff in American reactors, and the program paid for itself. Thousands of warheads were thusly destroyed. Electricity was produced.

I do not like nuclear waste any more than the next guy but seems to me that was not an all-bad program.

The radio talkers implied that the program was no longer in use.

Also, I heard two local guys on this area's Air America AM station (1010 KXXT Phoenix) discussing the way things would probably have turned out had we been wise enough to follow the energy plan laid out by Jimmy Carter way back when.

Interesting in itself, that.

Of course, because his brain was covered with aluminum plaque, Reagan rolled back development of all of Carter's progressive ideas that would have saved us, well, probably a war or two, and several trillions of dollars.

But the real point the M & M radio guys were making was that the market is just plain stupid. After we've wasted half of the petroleum on the planet, after we have soiled the enviroment, after we have enriched Madrassas full of religiously insane future suicide-bombers, after we have initiated a war of aggression to secure a distant oilfield, after, after, after all that... the market responds.

Voila! A few people are buying smaller cars.

The invisible hand of free market capitalism is guided by madness.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Layers of love

Roast a duck and then strip the meat from the bones. Usually I stick a skinned orange and an onion in the carcass while it cooks. Afterwards I remove these and puree them in a processor or blender along with the drippings to start a sauce.

We almost never settle for just a gravy or bechamel of some sort. Because really, it's just too easy to knock things up to a simple veloute. But that is quite beside the point. A jar of salsa will do as well as a nifty duck l'orange veloute here.

Stuff the shreds of succulent oily duck meat between various tortillas: green spinach flour tortillas, bright orange tomato tortillas, and plain white flour ones. Layer in some spinach leaves or other young greens, some sauce, shredded Jack or cheddar of choice (the sharper the better, as I like my cheese the way I like my women, that is to say SHARP) and whatever you like for color and spice.

Roasted red peppers are so nice. Or artichokes. You can stack the layers too. More layers, more love. Warm to melt the cheese.

Divide. Cut each as you would a pie or pizza, after having been chilled, and serve as finger foods. Arranged in their different tortilla colors around a festive plate, with a bowl for the sauce, makes a stunner.

Duck quesadillas. When Vincent's on Camelback started serving things like this here, the French-Southwest fusion movement was born. Things happened then. Those were the days. It has since gotten only better.

Phoenix is the best food town on the entire planet. We even have the best pizza. No kidding.

Dip the quesadillas in the veloute or other sauce you have fashioned from the lovely pan drippings. Or save the drippings for your dog, who will then love you beyond forever.

It works with enchiladas, too, so well it will scare you. You can soak the corn tortillas in a white sauce or duck gravy instead of the traditional red/salsa type and go way fusion with it.

When you think of "American" food, what comes to mind? Burgers? Pizza? Obvious European derivatives.

But alas, the tortilla was here before Eric the Red. When you think "American," you had better be thinking tortilla or good old-fashioned mammoth-meat. And you can't get that anymore, not even at Vincent's.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

An Observacation

Surfing is a bit like skiing or snowboarding on a large moving mogul. But you start out in a lying position. And the weather's nicer.

Seems to me that Delay and this modern crop of Republicans in general would be very good at anything that begins with one in a lying position. Just sayin'.