Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Updates and Sequels

Updates (in reverse chronological order of when I first wrote about the story):

My story: “Earthquakes in Ohio: Thank Your Friendly Neighborhood Fracker,” dated January 2, 2012.
Update: I wrote then about the area where my wife grew up. This week, there was a Mw4.8 earthquake here in East Texas. Oh, so coincidentally, there’s a fracking operation going not far away. OK, this could have been chance. There were minor tremors measured in the area before there was such a thing as fracking. But the report by the local television station does little to allay my suspicions: wow, there was a small quake as recently as 31 years ago (!), and the mouthpiece for the people responsible for fracking says it’s not a problem.

That would be one Ragan Dickens of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. Suffice it to say that Mr. Dickens is better at parroting Republican talking points than he is at geology, in which he has no apparent background. Here’s his smirking commentary, “If earthquakes are caused by fracking, then were those earthquakes in the 1800’s preemptive earthquakes because they knew fracking was coming? It's a silly comparison.” This argument, and I use the term loosely, is trotting out the old tobacco industry subterfuge. Today version: “Donna Summer just died of lung cancer, and she didn’t smoke. Therefore, cigarettes aren’t bad for you.” Only an idiot would buy such an argument. Only a sleazebag would make it.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes has slightly better credentials, and his argument at least makes sense: “there is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing itself is the cause of the increased rate of earthquakes.” Keyword: “itself.” No, it’s the injection of waste-water from fracking operations that causes the quakes. From the same DOI report as the single sentence that gets quoted by fracking proponents (and lazy reporters from local television stations): “USGS’s scientists have found, however, that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.” See, not fracking. Dealing with the inevitable results of fracking. Am I crazy, or is this a distinction without a difference?

Hence, the commentary of Ben McGee of the U.S. Geological Survey (you know, an actual expert): “Of course you have to have a fault present to have movement along a fault, but water or fluid injected into the earth in the vicinity of faults of in faults increase the likelihood that those faults will move.” Makes sense to me. It also makes sense to me to take a time-out before we go too far down this fracking road.

My story: “Stupidest Legislative “Money-Saving” Plan of the Month: The First Three Nominees,” dated October 15, 2011.
Update: Camden County, Georgia, has apparently abandoned the profoundly silly idea of employing prisoners as firefighters in a money-saving stratagem. A couple other Georgia counties have also considered but scrapped the idea. As Carroll County Commissioner Kevin Jackson puts it, “It’s not a good idea at all. We don’t need prisoners inside the homes of our citizens.”

Of course, there’s a dissenting voice: Bill Twomey of Sumter County, who thinks his county’s plan, underway for a couple of years already, is “a model program” despite objections from, say, the Department of Corrections. Remind me not to move to Sumter County.

My story: “Celebrating the Continued Health of a Mass Murderer,” dated August 20, 2011.
Update: Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi died this week in Tripoli. As might be expected, there’s a fresh round of indignation from the politicians, the pundits, and the populace. Families of the victims were especially outpsoken. Eileen Walsh, for example, lost three family members in the bombing. Her reaction to al-Megrahi’s death?
Good riddance to him and I hope he rots in hell.

I have no feelings apart from anger and disgust for this man. The fact that he was allowed to be with his family while he took two-and-a-half years to die makes me ill.

Because of him my mother died of cancer without most of her family around to comfort her.

I feel so betrayed by the Scottish government for what they did, and the British government played its part too. He should have died in jail.
Still, one father of a victim expressed his belief that al-Megrahi’s protestations of innocence were genuine. Jim Swire said, “'I've been satisfied for some years that this man had nothing to do with the murder of my daughter and I grit my teeth every time I hear newscasters say 'Lockerbie bomber has died. This is a sad day.”

It is unclear whether al-Megrahi’s death will help or hurt efforts to get to the truth. Some, like Eileen Monetti, who lost a son in the Lockerbie bombing, says that “Megrahi was a distraction that stopped us from finding out the truth. Now that Megrahi has died hopefully the Libyan government will give more information to the US and the UK about the bombing.” Of course, as Senator Charles Schumer points out, al-Megrahi’s death may have the opposite effect, allowing the American and British governments to continue to be, in Schumer’s words, “not forthcoming.” As far as I’m concerned , if there’s a little closure in this for the families, amen to that.

There is, by the way, an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. Karol Sikora, in which he outlines his reasons for giving al-Megrahi only three months to live at the time of his compassionate release nearly three years ago. (It turns out by the way, that his report was not received by the authorities to factor into their decision; the doctor in charge, Andrew Fraser, clearly came to the same conclusions independently.) Dr. Sikora makes it clear that such predictions are guesswork—educated guesswork, perhaps, but guesswork nonetheless. He also makes the same point I made last August. In his words:
there have been significant advances since 2009 in the treatment of prostate cancer that has spread. These include drugs such as abiraterone, cabazitaxel, alpharadin and medivation, which Megrahi probably received and are still not widely available in the U.K. We judged his prognosis based on his treatment as an NHS patient in Glasgow at the time, when not even standard docetaxel chemotherapy was offered.
Whether one or more of these drugs extended al-Megrahi’s life, or whether it was simply luck, we’ll never know. But I’d like to think that this sorry piece of excrement contributed to prolonging the lives of, ultimately, as many people as he callously murdered. He didn’t do it on purpose, of course, but he was almost certainly a guinea pig for cancer treatments. All those chemicals will probably reduce his value as fertilizer, however. Pity, that.

My story: “A little respect, please, for our canine heroes,” dated May 26, 2011.
Update: Sadly, one of the few pieces of absolutely slam-dunk legislation, to list military working dogs as personnel rather than equipment, thereby facilitating their adoption subsequent to their service, continues to be tied up in committee. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was another television piece on the subject, this one on a local news show in Atlanta. The problem is that since these dogs are considered equipment, they’re routinely euthanized rather than even having the chance to be adopted. There are plenty of ex-servicemen and –women who’d gladly adopt their “best friend,” but not at the cost of thousands of dollars (the dogs are officially abandoned equipment, no longer the property of the government, so they can’t simply be loaded onto to plane that’s heading stateside, anyway) and mountains of red tape.

The article talks about dogs too aggressive or too sick to be adopted. Fine. That makes sense. But many dogs are perfectly adoptable but are put down, anyway, because Congress can’t get their collective heads out of their collective asses long enough to fix an obviously fixable situation. Have the military ship the dogs back to the States. Allow charitable organizations to help the dogs and prospective owners find each other. How hard is that?

Look, I get it that this isn’t the highest imaginable priority right now. But maybe, just maybe, it could be the kind of bill that would allow those on the left and on the right to see that the other guy isn’t really so bad; he just thinks we ought to have a different economic strategy than the one I like. And since this seems an intractable problem (this issue has been around since the ‘90s), maybe solving it would give us all a little confidence.

Senator Schumer took up the cause of one ex-marine and the dog she worked with in Iraq. That’s nice, but it isn’t enough. Fix the damned law, sir. (There is, by the way, a petition at change.org, but I can’t tell how old it is; there’s another at forcechange.com that looks recent.)

My story: “Antiphon Is Always Welcome at Our Tea Party,” dated October 28, 2010.
Update: Well, not an update on content, per se, but a note that I will in fact be presenting a paper at this summer’s Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference on using Antiphon’s Second Tetralogy as a teaching tool for discussions of Greek tragedy.

My story: “Two Cinco de Mayo stories (and a coda),” dated May 10, 2010.
Update: Three of the students sent home for wearing American flags on their clothing on the Mexican-American pseudo-holiday two years ago filed suit against the school. They lost last November, but announced in February that they intended to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. As might be expected, the case has attracted the attention of the First Amendment Center and of the American Freedom Law Center; the latter has in fact filed briefs (an opening brief and a reply brief) on the boys’ behalf. It should be noted that the FAC is primarily interested in education; they do not participate directly in litigation. The AFLC, on the other hand, is an advocacy group which purports to be about Constitutional rights and is in fact about advancing a right-wing and indeed anti-Constitutional agenda, as indicated by their support (for example) for the heinous “Islamic Law in America” conference, organized by batshit crazy Pamela Geller and dedicated to anti-Islamic propaganda under the guise of a fight against a completely non-existent attempt to impose Sharia law.

That doesn’t mean they’re always wrong, though, and I confess their argument in the case makes a lot more sense than the lower court ruling does. The plaintiffs in this case are increasingly acting like the “little jerk-offs” I described them as being two years ago (not least by suing over something so minor), but it strikes me that any reasonable reading of the Constitution supports them in this instance. This case will be interesting to follow as the 9th circuit weighs in. I wouldn't be surprised to see this end up at the SCOTUS, either way.

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