Untitled (Giants) #poetry

Giants there were in the earth in those days
Striding across the hills, walking the land
Giants roamed along all the world-ways
Monsters, phantasms vanished from their approach
They warmed their cold hands with enormous fires
Giants there were in the earth in those days
Flying across the sky, fast as a blink
The whole world was to them their back garden
Giants roamed along all the world-ways
On land, animals trembled and sea animals grew deaf
In the age of the thundering giants.
Giants there were in the earth in those days.
Much was lost and forgotten — a butterfly’s kiss,
The wind’s buffet, and snow softly falling
Giants roamed along all the world-ways
Rising ever higher yet forgetting
Their roots — who they were and where they came from.
Giants there were in the earth in those days,
Giants roamed along all the world-ways.
We are the giants.

This is an unfinished poem — a draft. Comments welcome.

Smoke in the air

The smoke in the air from nearby/regional wildfires is so bad that it hangs in the air between the houses. There is a visible haze in the air looking even a block away. It is like a post-apocalyptic vision.

Thankfully, there is no ash falling from the sky (yet) and the air filter seems to be doing its job and keeping our indoor air relatively fresh (we cannot close the windows unless we absolutely must — we have no AC and the orientation of the house and windows means it heats up quickly).

This smoke is so bad without even having wildfires threatening town or even very close. The closest fire is in the desert west of town, at least 20-30 miles away and the big fire is closer to 100 miles away, to the west. I hope the forests northeast of town don’t catch fire.

Beautiful Waterfalls

This picture of waterfalls in Iceland is amazing. It’s from the May 2012 issue of National Geographic.

Photography - Desktop Wallpaper - National Geographic Magazine

Photography – Desktop Wallpaper – National Geographic Magazine.

Book Review: Dolphin Diaries

I absolutely loved Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas by Dr. Denise L. Herzing. Dr. Herzing has spent every summer since 1985 swimming with and researching spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. Her work with the same groups of dolphins every year has allowed her to gain the dolphins’ trust and be allowed to see the intimate details of their lives.

Dr. Herzing writes with love and affection for the beautiful, intelligent animals. Before reading this book, I knew that dolphins were intelligent, but I had no idea just how smart they are.

Unfortunately, the dolphin communities Dr. Herzing works with were decimated by the hurricanes of 2008 (a devastating season that included Hurricane Katrina). She is still working and studying in the Bahamas, but some of her work has changed since 2008 in light of the terrible losses the dolphin communities sustained.

In the final chapter of the book, Dr. Herzing draws the reader’s attention to the many dangers faced by dolphins worldwide, almost all at the hands of humans. Did you know that almost all dolphins in captivity, especially those in shows, were captured in the wild — ripped away from their families for the pleasure of humans? Dr. Herzing’s words are biting on the topic of captive dolphins, particularly those for shows and human therapy.

If you read only one chapter in the Dolphin Diaries, read the last one.

Four out of five stars.

Newspaper Column: Smart Meters and Wiretapping

Older US residential electric meter location, ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Central Committee of the Bonneville Republican Party has lately become concerned with, and passed a resolution against, smart meter installation by Idaho Falls Power. Their concerns have been dismissed both by this newspaper and by Jackie Flowers, head of Idaho Falls Power.

I believe that their concerns about privacy and wiretapping are not overblown. It is possible to tell what someone is doing in their house, even down to which television show they are watching (according to a study by the Münster University of Applied Sciences http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-tv or http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-german for the original German), with smart meters.

I do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is deliberately installing smart meters in people’s homes to spy on them. However, I also do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is doing enough to reassure customers that the smart meter data will not be misused.

When I spoke to an Idaho Falls Power employee, Mark Reed, in 2009, about smart meters, he was quite reassuring that the utility would never misuse the data from the smart meters. However, one aspect that we did not discuss, because I had not thought about it enough, was that the smart meter data is radio-transmitted and can theoretically be read by anyone with a receiver to receive that frequency. I have since learned that smart meters usually have little or no security for their data transmissions, so it’s easy for others to obtain.

Many people dismiss concerns about smart meter privacy by saying there is no conspiracy among utilities and city government or police to find out what citizens are doing in their homes. I would agree, but without proper security for the radio transmissions, anyone with the proper (easily obtainable) equipment can read them. Do you want your neighbor to know which TV shows you watch? I start seedlings for my garden with a heat mat – what if a busybody concluded the spike in my electrical consumption combined with purchases of potting soil meant I was growing marijuana?

Smart meters are probably the wave of the future, but we do not have to blindly accept them without safeguards. Why is Idaho Falls Power so secretive about the security levels of the smart meters? Until they can clearly explain why my personal data is not at risk with a smart meter, I for one don’t want a smart meter.

This column originally appeared in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 14, 2011.


Since I wrote this column, it has come to my attention that some people have serious concerns about the health risks of smart meters. In California, they have organized a group called Stop Smart Meters. Here is an article about them in the San Francisco Chronicle: PG&E SmartMeter draws customer rebellion.


We are changing the Earth … but should we?

English: Ice age Earth at glacial maximum. Bas...

Image by alpoma via Flickr

We have entered the Anthropocene, the age of humans manipulating the Earth so much that we are altering its very geology and nutrient cycles, such as the nitrogen and carbon dioxide cycles.

But just because we can manipulate it, doesn’t mean we should. Stop mountaintop coal mining today. The human and environmental toll is simply too high. From entire towns relocated, to valleys filled with coal slurry, to dead children killed by dislodged boulders, to  disappearing mountains and men dead of cancer at 22, the toll is simply too high. What right do we have to demand people’s lives to answer our greed for energy to fuel our lifestyles?

Will You Turn Out Your Lights?

Earth Hour 2008 - Sydney, Australia cc-by- Eri...

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In half an hour (my local time), Earth Hour begins. All across the world today, at 8:30 pm local time, the lights are going out to draw attention to human resource use and the impact it has on our planet.

Some people think it is a useless demonstration, others think that it makes a real point and a real difference?

What do you think?

Book Review: $20 Per Gallon

Cover of "$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevita...

Cover via Amazon

I just finished reading $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, by Christopher Steiner. It is about all the changes that will happen in our society as the price of gasoline rises, as it inevitably will, since we’ve hit peak oil.

Many of these changes will benefit the environment, but they will be made for their economic benefits, not the environmental ones.

I like the way the book is organized, with each chapter named after a price, not just a number. So the Prologue is $4, Chapter $6 is Society Change and the Dead SUV, Chapter $8 is The Skies Will Empty, and so on.

The book is packed with useful trivia. Did you know that the furnace at a silicon plant in West Virginia burns so hot that plant visitors on a walking tour are told not to wear polyester because of its low melting point?

More seriously,

The breadth of products that come directly from petroleum is massive. Everything from milk jugs to laundry detergent to masking tape to perfume to mascara to hand lotion to sunscreen to the insulation in a sleeping bag to the cushions in your couch to the case of your computer to the eraser on your pencil to the ink in your pen.

New presentation of data in figure 20 of http:...

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He lucidly explains the various changes we will see in our lives as the price of oil, and therefore gasoline, climbs. Airplane travel will still exist, but only for the very rich or in emergencies. Suburbs, particularly the farthest flung from the cities, will disappear, replaced with farms for perishable produce as the oil price climbs. Urban cores will be revitalized as everyone moves into the city, although small towns will also undergo a renaissance as the downtown comes back and the commuters come home as telecommuters.

Detroit is already doing something like this, destroying outlying suburbs in favor of agriculture and helping the citizens move into the urban core, although Mr. Steiner ignores this.

SUVs will be the first to go, at a price of $6 per gallon, but as the price continues to rise, personal cars, particularly those with gasoline engines, will be almost unknown. Rail travel will return, and high speed rail will link one coast of the United States with the other.

Mr. Steiner makes many good points, but he is a little over-optimistic. While he acknowledges the difficulty and pain of many of these changes (hundreds of thousands laid off as airlines succumb to high oil prices, for example), he fails to point out that many of these changes depend on the price rising slowly.

Eggs Recalled

228 million eggs across the United States have been recalled because of salmonella. An Iowa producer, Wright County Egg, has announced the recall.

On one hand, my husband tells me it is impossible to feed the population of today with only local foods, that large-scale farming and distribution is a must. On the other hand, news like this makes me want to run to my nearest local egg producer and the farmers market, and buy all my food there. (Of course, thinking about the biggest local farmers market in my area proves my husband’s point, since most of the vendors there are either larger farms, or from the farming areas of the neighboring state, or both.)

I don’t think small-scale farmers are automatically immune to disease outbreaks, but there is something reassuring about knowing that the operation is small enough for the farmer to be hands-on with most, if not all, the crops growing there or animals being raised there.

I know vegan activists will make hay with this outbreak, insisting this is yet another sign that humans should give up eating all animal products. I am on the fence with veganism, and I haven’t given up all animal products yet. I think there is a way to raise animals humanely, although almost all animal raising nowadays does not meet that standard. I think also that humans need protein, and that it is too easy to get too much of the vegetable sources of protein.

But I did not start this post to write about veganism, or its perils and pitfalls. I started this post to let people know about the egg recall and to write a little bit about the perils of mass raising of animals for human consumption. People cannot expect to cram thousands or millions of living animals into tiny little spaces and have them be healthy.

Large-scale farming may be necessary to feed the world’s population, and animal protein may be necessary for human health, but there are better ways to do both than are currently practiced. I am also not convinced that we cannot farm a lot more on local scales, particularly for fruits and vegetables, than we do now.

I want to hear your thoughts on local food production and small-scale farming. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

It never ends

If it’s not one thing, it’s another, for humanity. Wheat rust, the former fungal scourge of wheat, is back. Defeated by the discovery of a gene that conferred immunity to the wheat carrying it (that also increased yields and ushered in the Green Revolution), wheat rust survived in a remote corner of Africa. It has spent the past forty years evolving the ability to infect wheat with the immunity gene.

Eleven years ago, researchers confirmed the existence of the new strain of wheat rust. It has now spread across eastern Africa, to South Africa and Yemen with seven different varieties. It spreads via the air, and is poised to enter Punjab and Australia, both huge wheat growing areas.

Scientists from several countries and organizations have now found several genes that, working together, will again confer immunity. But unlike last time, when the new seeds were also higher-yielding, the new seeds this time will reduce yields slightly. It is unlikely farmers will want to plant them. If they wait until their harvest is destroyed by rust, it will be too late.

There are places where famine has never gone away. But for most of the world, famine is a distant memory, carried away on an over-abundance of food. If the new varieties of seeds don’t work, or aren’t planted, famine will stalk the land again.

I read about this in the July 3rd edition of The Economist. I highly encourage you to read the entire article.

I am very discouraged by this article. Every time I think there might be news that means humanity just might survive the next century or so without reverting to Stone Age technology, then here comes more news that says, no, we’re out of luck (wheat rust, Asia urbanizing in a way that maximizes energy use and carbon dioxide emissions).

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