Just Shelley

Spring Cleaning

This weekend we spent going through the house and creating four piles:

  • books to donate to the library
  • computers and electronics to recycle at the electronics recycling place
  • stuff for Goodwill
  • a recycle/toss pile.

This will be the first time I’ve recycled computers. In the past, I’ve found homes for older machines while they were still useful. However, the first generation PowerBook and the 11 year old PC laptop are too old to be useful, and have developed problems making them useless, even as Linux machines.

They still run, though, and have working hard drives. In order to prepare them for recycling, I spent yesterday writing zeros and random writes over the PowerBook, and used Darik’s Boot and Nuke over both. I’m also paying the ten bucks each to have both hard drives shredded at the recycler.

The other material I’m donating/discarding is like a microcosm of computer technology. We found that floppy drive and zip discs are plastic surrounding a thin film, which is easily cut with scissors. Old CDs make deadly frisbees; I don’t recommend using them as such. Then there’s my first, bulky external CD burner, ethernet PC cards, a wireless router that doesn’t work, a couple of external USB hard drives that hold only a little data, an old inkjet printer, and various other devices that have me scratching my head as I try to remember what the heck they are.

The last of the photographic film stuff is also going, as I’m now completely digital. The same could be said for many of the books, though I always keep my favorites. Since we eliminated all landline phones, I’m also donating phones and a mile or two of phone wire. We get all our video from the internet or over the air, so there goes the coil of cable wire.

I don’t know if life is simpler with today’s technology, but it certainly is less cluttered.


August Crude

Fix it! Fix it!

The New York Times just published an article titled Our Fix-It Faith and the Oil Spill. In it the author, Elisabeth Rosenthal, wrote:

Americans have long had an unswerving belief that technology will save us—it is the cavalry coming over the hill, just as we are about to lose the battle. And yet, as Americans watched scientists struggle to plug the undersea well over the past month, it became apparent that our great belief in technology was perhaps misplaced.

The “top kill” method failed this weekend, and most of the other options carry too much risk with little guarantee of success. We are at a point where we have to acknowledge that the oil in the Gulf is flowing until August. We sit, disillusioned, because we have had so much faith that “someone” somewhere will find a solution. It is the Apollo 13 effect: anything can be fixed with a little duct tape and good old American ingenuity.

However, rather than face the worst case scenario, BP tosses new “fixes” at the well, including those that could cause additional harm. Some people have gone so far as to suggest sending a nuclear bomb down to the oil well. “Nuke the bastard” is heard again in the streets of America, but this time the target is oil, not alien ships.

What an unbelievably foolish idea—one of many where we allow our frustration to override our common sense. More “fixes” that can make things worse than what they are. We’ve already seen this with the dispersant that BP has used. In the end, the cure can be worse than the disease, as horrible as that is to contemplate.

All that we can do now is come face to face with that, which we have created. This is no act of nature, no act of terrorism. This oil spill is as American as apple pie; it is equal parts citizen hubris, and corporate malfeasance.

Environment Political

Oil Story

I am pleased to see President Obama more engaged in the Gulf crises, but how much control the federal government has is still open for debate. As long as BP controls where resources are allocated in the region, as well as controlling information access, then the Federal government is not in control.

Yes, BP is responsible for all of the costs of the clean up, but it should never have been given the authority in the clean up effort it has been given. It would seem that the Coast Guard in the region, as well as Mineral Management Services, has too cozy a relationship with the oil companies. This also has to end.

The bright spot this week was the moratorium on new oil drilling, particularly along the Arctic. It’s obvious we don’t have a handle on offshore drilling. All we’ve had, is a bit of luck.

Consider what’s happening now: we’ve put the company that caused this disaster in charge of fixing the problem, because the government doesn’t have the expertise or equipment in order to manage the effort. So, now we’re trusting in the competence of the same company whose incompetence triggered this mess. A company that has demonstrated, time and again, that it is acting less than honorably: hiding how much oil is spilling; not allowing independent experts access to the video; preventing media access; downplaying the seriousness of the spill; continuing to use a toxic chemical despite EPA demands. At what point in time is the government going to wake up to the fact that BP is more interested in protecting its butt than the Gulf?

However, the federal government isn’t the only governmental body that needs to be slapped awake. This tragedy is just as much a Louisiana mess as it is a federal government mess. Even now that the state faces untold damage to its coast, it still hastens to assure the oil industry that the two are friends, forever. The state wants the oil jobs and oil revenue, but doesn’t want the oil. As we’re now finding, though, every silver lining has its dark, oily cloud—you can’t separate the oil from the oil wealth.

But lets not talk about this now. This kind of talk is for later, after this current crises is over. You know, when clear heads can prevail. After all, we need the oil: Apple has more iPads to sell. Gosh darn it, can’t make iPads without oil. Instead, let’s focus on good old American ingenuity and know how. There’s no disaster so bad that can’t be fixed with the right mix of technology if we all work together. All we really need, is a wiki.

Governor “never met a press conference he didn’t like” Jindal wants the Army Corps of Engineers to build sand berms to protect the coastal areas. Instead of the oil lapping along the fragile marshes, it hits the sand berms, which can be easily cleaned. Or at least, that’s what we’re told. However, many experts believe the sand berms won’t work, at best, or may push the oil towards the Mississippi state coast line, at worst. It is a politically expedient move, though, and perhaps we may learn from the effort—because goodness knows I hope we learn something, now that we’ve turned the Gulf into one great big oil spill laboratory, already equipped with test animals.


I really hope that BP has succeeded in stopping the oil.

Second update

CNN has come out with an article about how little scientists know about the long term impact of the Gulf oil spill. Sometimes scientists irritate the hell out of me. One is “hopeful that scientists will be able to figure out a way to tackle the problem”, which again puts too much reliance on science to fix the problem, rather than changing human behavior to prevent the problem. Another says hopefully we’ll learn from this event for the next time. There should not be a “next time”. If we can’t guarantee the absolute safety of offshore oil platforms, they should be closed down.

However, I do agree with the scientists who are pissed that we didn’t have the research in hand about how to handle a spill before the spill—what were we thinking, to allow all of these drill rigs to operate in the Gulf, without any kind of emergency plan in place? To allow the use of chemicals, when we don’t understand their impact?


The Princess is covered in oil and the frog is dead

Like so many others, I am watching the events in the Gulf with a mix of anger and despair, though the despair is winning out; especially after I look at the photos of the effects of the oil.

I moved to Missouri because I was attracted to the very thing that BP’s oil is killing: the wildlife, the history, the culture. Especially the wildlife, though. The marshes along the Louisiana coast are some of the most amazing areas of the country—teeming with wildlife. Now? Well, the photos tell us what to expect in the future.

I am unhappy at President Obama’s handling of this mess. He seems to be unaware that we, the people of this country, needed to feel that his hand was on the rudder; that BP wasn’t completely running the show. Instead you have a stupid dog and pony show earlier this week, with Interior Secretary Salazar saying one thing and some jackass Coast Guard Admiral contradicting him. The EPA asks BP to pretty please stop using toxins in our waters, and BP’s response is no, we don’t think so. What does the EPA do in return? Nothing. Heck, it’s only been this week that the head of the EPA actually headed to the area.

All combined, we don’t have an image that our government is even aware of what’s going on, much less on top of the situation. I may be a Democrat, but I’m not blind.

After the last few weeks, I sadly come away from this event believing that our President doesn’t “get” the environment–that he’s a Harvard educated city boy who probably never ran through a field of wild grasses, or walked a bayou path. He is not connected; he doesn’t feel the pain.

Politics aside, I’m like so many people who are frustrated because there’s nothing we can do. I volunteered with every organization I can think of, but they all say the same thing: they have folks in the area who have volunteered, and they’re only looking for people who have trained to work with oil spills. So I did the next best thing and volunteered for oil spill training when the local Audubon has classes again.

Along the bird wire, everyone is agog over a bitingly satirical Twitter account, BPGlobalPR. Among the quips is the following:

We feel terrible about spilling oil in American waters, we’ll make sure the next spill happens where the terrorists live.

The humor acts as a relief valve, when the anger and the sadness begin to overwhelm. It’s difficult to laugh, though, when you contemplate the extent of the damage to the Gulf.

What this mistake has demonstrated is that we have no business drilling wells offshore. We obviously have no way to easily fix a spill when it occurs, and the potential for long term damage is enormous.

Yes, I know the alternative. I’m not a wealthy person, but I would rather pay more at the gas pump…and for food, and plastics, and everything else dependent on oil. We can’t keep destroying everything beautiful in the interest of cheap goods. We have to think beyond ourselves.


Fascinating first person account of a Mother Jones reporter trying to get past the BP controlled machine in Louisiana.

Newsweek article on BP using local government to blockade news photographers.

Video: What BP Does not want you to see.



Every day I take a large bowl of dried corn, sunflower seeds, and peanuts in the shell, and scatter the contents in the grass in front of our place. And every day, a wide assortment of squirrels and birds flock to our yard to scavenge for the food.

We get mourning doves and finches, shy cardinals, and the occasional grackle or starling. Today, a new bird came by. It had a shiny, dark blue head with a brown body, and looked somewhat like a cowbird.

It hopped about on the grass picking up pieces of broken corn, but it didn’t eat the corn. No, it held each in its beak, until pieces started falling out. It would pick up a piece, a piece would fall out. It would pick up that piece, and another would fall out. This went on for some time until the bird suddenly stopped cold, not moving a muscle. You could see the glimmer of something in its eye. Somewhere in its little head, it discovered cause and effect. No longer trying to get every last piece of corn, it was content with what it had and flew off.

Later, I took our recycling to the bins that the town road crew maintain for resident use. At the stop light, out of habit, I glanced in my rear view mirror. Behind me, in one of those tiny little mini Coopers, or whatever they are called, was this huge man stuffed into that car—hunched over the steering wheel, his head tilted down so it wouldn’t bang into the ceiling, and filling the front seat of his car like a big ass fills a tight pair of jeans.

As I watched in fascination, he picked up this absolutely enormous sandwich in one of his hands and took a monstrous bite. I could actually see the pattern of the bite; a perfect half moon shape cut deep into the bread.

The light changed just as the hand holding the sandwich began to rise again, and I continued on my errand. As I turned down the side road to the center, a gust of wind blew thousands of feathery seed pods through the air that swirled softly white around me. I don’t know what they’ll be when they sprout, but I bet they won’t be as beautiful.