Friday, November 30, 2007

Corn Dump Hours

When I was between the ages of 8-11 or so, I lived in Maine, on 17 acres of land. I have been thinking about that time a lot lately -- about the ghost in the woods, the small old family cemetery near the brook, and the snakes that lived in the wood pile.

My mother designed the house we lived in and built it together with a carpenter whose name I can't remember, but he had a great laugh. The house was heated by a Russian fireplace, fueled with trees cleared for the building. We used water from a well in the front yard.

My mother also gardened. Down by the road, about a quarter mile from the house, she had a whole acre garden. I hated it -- though there's nothing like the taste of corn picked, then eaten immediately, raw for breakfast. Corn is hard on the earth though, and you have to rotate where you plant it each year because it sucks all the nutrients out of the earth.

The sugar in corn is what makes it such a good fuel.

Lynn L. Walters for The New York Times

Today I strayed a bit, to begin to learn about ethanol. Ethanol is not oil. Ethanol is seen as the leading replacement contender to oil. Ethanol production -- energy made primarily from corn -- is on the rise. It's so on the rise that there's been a bit of a glut on the market this fall.

The Times reported in September:

About 1,000 pumps at the nation’s 179,000 gasoline stations offer gasoline blended with ethanol...Congress essentially legislated the industry’s expansion by requiring steadily higher quantities of ethanol as a gasoline blend, a kick-start that was further spurred by the proliferation of bans on a competing fuel additive used to help curb air pollution.

Nate Hagens, a PhD student at the UVM Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, reported on The Oil Drum this morning:

Recent increases in oil prices in conjunction with subsidy policies have led to a dramatic expansion in corn ethanol production and high interest in further expansion over the next decade. President Bush has called for production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2017, which, if achieved, would comprise about 15 percent of U.S. liquid transportation fuels. This goal is almost certain to result in a major increase in corn production, at least until marketable future alternatives are developed.

Recently, a book was published by the National Academy of Sciences about the implications on the environment of the growth of these programs. It's not good. Both water use and degradation will be huge -- fertilizer and pesticide use. The taxing of the land.

I think it's time to invest in a tandem bike for commuting with the kids.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Credit Card

The lede on the front page of the Times yesterday read:
Flush with petrodollars, oil-producing countries have embarked on a global shopping spree.

Just in time for shopping sprees here at home -- 'tis the season.

Yesterday, Wednesday, Nov. 28, The Abu Dhabi Investment Corp. firmed plans to spend $7.5 billion and become the largest single share holder in Citigroup.

The issue of stockholder percentage has to do with who has control over the company; as in, who makes the decisions for a company -- who are company decision makers responsible to. Stockholders. While the ADI will still only own 4.9 percent of Citigroup at the end of the deal, it still seems to me to bring globalization home.

The "What's in your wallet" slogan comes to mind... Citigroup is in my wallet.

Reuters reports this morning:
The sale to the $650 billion Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, may also signal the freefall in U.S financial stocks is close to ending, analysts said.

I don't know, the shoring up of a huge American financial institution seems like a good thing to me. But there's something extremely uncomfortable in the connections between oil prices soaring, stocks plummeting and the situation in the Middle East.

My credit card. My debt. My heating oil. My needs.
Again, do we kill -- as in drain the life force from -- that which we define, own, desire to control.
Oil wealth.
Somehow I can't figure a way to put that into a "my" sentence. And yet, there seems to be a lot of killing going on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Prize Ultimately Lies

A fact a day… for the past few they’ve been feeling more like lessons than facts. Today I learned a fact from an NPR broadcast just a few weeks old:

The American military is the single-largest purchaser and consumer of oil in the world,
guzzling about 340,000 barrels of oil a day.

Now I remember that $100 marker.
Now I remember the doubling of oil prices.
Now I remember that yesterday I was wondering if I should give up driving out to the organic farm in Concord.

“If the Defense Department were a country it would rank about 38’th in the world for oil consumption, right behind the Philippines.” (Morning Edition, November 14, 2007)

One plane they talked about runs on 3 gallons per mile. No, I didn’t type that wrong. 3 gallons per mile. The military is not concerned about having their budget cut – obviously, we are in the middle of a war, and it needs to be continued...

The bigger challenge for the military, O'Hanlon (a former Defense Department budget analyst who is now with the Brookings Institution) said, is what the price hikes represent — a narrowing of the gap between supply and demand that could cause problems for the military down the road. What happens when such an oil hungry institution can't get oil?

This seems like an amazing little knot we have ourselves in in the middle east, then, no? I am pulling both the quote above and below from larger articles, and isolating them to make my point, but I am taking neither out of context... I have been reading and rereading an article from The Independent from last January entitled, “The Spoils of War.” The article has lots of information about the future of Iraqi oil I'm trying to get my mind around, but in terms of our history there:

Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said in 1999, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. "So where is the oil going to come from?... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies," he said.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Emissions

Today a very simple sentence came to me via a very convoluted route.
In college, taking a break from the candlelight dinners of Smith College, I lived for a few months with 3 brilliant scientists, all getting their PhDs from Harvard.
Yesterday I heard one of them on NPR talking about ... it all.
Dr. Andrew Dessler -- I loved when he first put that title on his answering machine - it was new then, bold, and all he had worked for -- I still think it sounds sexy.
He's from Texas -- works in climate. He's back there now, with his beautiful family and said when I reported
"it's a warm fall here,"
"get used to it."
I wrote him -- "where should I look?" He sent me a tip. A website it will take me some time to get the hang of.
But this morning, their first post was by an actuary who was recently solicited by the American Petroleum Institute to spend some time on an oil rig. She's written extensively on oil and consumption -- one article I saw was for the Wall Street Journal -- a pillar of reporting not known for it's liberal nature.

Gail the Actuary has this to say of solutions in her handout, "Another Inconvenient Truth:"

Is there an easy solution?
-- No, not really.
-- Conservation is a partial solution.
-- Alternative fuels (solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal) are likely to provide some help.
-- New technology like battery-operated cars are likely to be too little, too late.
-- We may need to unwind globalization; go back to simpler life styles, technologies that worked before.

It made me think -- it's so easy to get caught up in what we don't like about what's going on -- overwhelmed by an oil spill a day.
But there are things I simply can't imagine life without...
I would mourn my kids not meeting their grandfather.
I would mourn saffron.
I just loved hearing Andy's voice, sounding exactly the same 20 years later.
I would mourn beaches I've felt on my skin -- Elat, Big Sur, Capri.
My beaches.
Cixous says, when we own a thing we begin to kill it off... if this is true, is there power there, too? My oil spill, my emissions, my hole in the ozone.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Moment Of Silence

oil coated dead seal -- Sat. Nov. 10, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Defining Moment

I used to hate it when my mother would say, "look it up." As if she were keeping knowledge from me -- passing on the responsibility of explanation. Refusing to participate.

And anyway, defining always leads to more questions.

From the OED:


1. A substance having the following characters (or most of them): viz. those of being liquid at ordinary temperatures, of a vivid consistence and characteristic smooth and sticky (unctuous) feel, lighter than water and insoluble in it, soluble in alcohol and ether, inflammable, chemically neutral.

3. In figurative and allusive uses.
a. In allusion to the use of oil for anointing (ceremonial or medicinal) or for maintaining light or heat, esp. in reference to smooth i.e. soothing or flattering words.
to hold or bear up oil: to use flattering words.
to pour oil upon the waters: to appease strife or disturbance

As in, when did what appeased and healed become that which blanketed, smothered. When did that which we turned to become that which we distrust. Oily -- slick -- not flattery, but false flattery. Grease a palm -- to lubricate based on money, not fairness or earned advantage.

But now, for me, a dictionary is a place to retreat to -- to get lost in -- to look for grounding on days when I can feel the slightly lifting sense of dissociation setting in behind my forehead. A few years ago, a poet friend of mine was living at McClains Hospital -- not dying there, as the case was. I brought her a book of poems and photographs by Sally Mann -- but realized immediately these things were too volatile for her life just then. So I took back the art and brought her a dictionary instead. It was a better gift.

"Not everyone carries out the act of reading in the same way, but there is a manner of reading comparable to the act of writing -- it's an act that supresses the world. We annihilate the world with a book." Hélén Cixous.

So too, in defining we break down into history and elements -- into sound and allusion that which represents what we are looking at -- that which seems to stand between ourselves and understanding.

Molly, if you are still somewhere, I send you healing and fuel and boundless reserves.

1. Any of numerous mineral, vegetable, and synthetic substances and animal and vegetable fats that are generally slippery, combustible, viscous, liquid or liquefiable at room temperatures, soluble in various organic solvents such as ether but not in water, and used in a great variety of products, especially lubricants and fuels.
a. Petroleum.
b. A petroleum derivative, such as a machine oil or lubricant.
3. A substance with an oily consistency.
4. Oil paint.
5. A painting done in oil paint.
6. Insincere flattery.
tr.v. oiled, oil·ing, oils
To lubricate, supply, cover, or polish with oil.
oil (someone's) hand/palm Informal
1. To bribe: an attorney who tried to oil the judge's hand to obtain a favorable verdict.
2. To give a tip to: oiled the porter's palm.

[Middle English, from Old French oile, from Latin oleum, olive oil, from Greek *elaiwon, elaion, from *elaiw, elai, olive.]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

We Didn't Start The Fire

I'm still amazed -- almost everyday I've come across a new spill. Thursday there was a spill on Jones Beach. It human, right, that it makes more of a shudder closer to home. My dad grew up in Brooklyn, and his brother moved to Long Island and raised a family there. So the sound of Jones Beach immediately recalls for me my first cup of coffee -- my introduction to Billy Joel -- White Castle hamburgers -- and memory (or a photographically manufactured one) of Doug and Diane running around as little kids on Jones Beach.

Determined to get out of the spills, I started digging around for clean up.

For a few decades, researchers have been cultivating bacteria that literally eats up oil. It all started with Professor Eugene Rosenberg, a scientist at Tel Aviv University. Reportedly, the good professor went on a family vacation to a popular Mediterranean beach, only to find it dotted with globs of crude oil. "It's a disgrace," he said. "Let's clean up those beaches." Rosenberg said in a Time Magazine story in 1973. (Time -- link to follow)

This is a big deal in part, because in other clean up methods, oil is only extracted from sand and water, but isn't taken out of existence. The bacteria, on the other hand, eat it up, release carbon dioxides and water, die and become fish food. In 2006, Israel-based BioPetroClean, secured $3 million in funding from a ventures capitol firm in NY for just such operations -- hoping to lead the globe in this revolutionary clean up gorge.

"BioPetroClean built a two by two meter cement tank near its oil storage facilities in Ashkelon. Inside it, the company added the bacteria, suspended in a liquid medium, to hundreds of gallons of contaminated water. Within a few days, the murky water came out of the tank crystal clear." By Karin Kloosterman (an Israeli freelance journalist) April 08, 2007.

According to the Time story, the bacteria "conveniently die" after they've finished their oil feast.

It's a pretty amazing story -- but always isn't there a little fear -- breeding bacteria to do our bidding...

"We Didn't Start The Fire"
Billy Joel

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, "The King and I" and "The Catcher in the Rye"

Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser aand Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy hn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, "Rock Around the Clock"

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez


Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai"

Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U-2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo


Hemingway, Eichmann, "Stranger in a Strange Land"
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say


Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodsto/ck/, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

"Wheel of Fortune", Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore


We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on...,9171,907290-2,00.html

Friday, November 23, 2007

Please Release Me, Let Me Go

35,274 "incidents" were reported to the National Response Center (NRC) In 2007. That's 35,274 reports of "oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment anywhere in the United States and its territories."

What's the NRC?
They're the federal organization anyone calls when they have a spill of any kind. Manned 24/7 by the Coast Guard, they notify clean up departments, they keep statistics, they have a mediocre website.

I started randomly clicking on the incidents for last year -- they are mostly listed as "major" or "unknown" in severity.

A barge exploded in the Mississippi River in February, that created a 30ft X 30ft crude oil burning slick surrounding it. On September 11, 465,034 gallons of petroleum released from a pipeline in Kansas at 1:34 in the morning.

465,034 gallons of petroleum.

Released is a nice word, isn't it? The gas is contained in there, against it's will -- it longs to be free, into the air, the water, the atmosphere... liberate the gas!

The last one was reported on October 30, and I have been lightened for the last 3 days waiting for a new one to come up -- until I realized that these statistics were for the fiscal year which ended on Oct 30. It actually seems to have taken place on Nov.2 -- but for some reason they put it into Oct. Maybe they assumed it happened in October. Maybe they are hoping for a spill-free year...

In this "incident," 210,000-420,000 gallons of diesel oil were "released."

What the site didn't have was a tally of gallons of different substances released. I was so relieved! Now, this is, of course, the absolute impossible worst case scenario, but what if we multiplied 35,274 by the average of our two incidents -- (420,000 plus 465,000 divided by 2)

gallons of hazardous spills.

Unlikely --

But then, these are only the incidents reported to the government.

Here's the description of the last case of the year:

Occurrence Date:

30 October


Bakersfield, CA
NRC Report Number: 853453


Facility Pipeline


Diesel Oil



Quantity Discharged:

210,000-420,000 gallons

Quantity in Water:

Unknown Amount

Body of Water Affected:

Ground Water

Federal On-Scene Coordinator:

EPA Region IX

On November 2, 2007 at 5:05 p.m. EDT the National Response Center received a report of a 210,000 to 420,000 gallon discharge of Diesel oil from a pipeline due to a pinhole leak on the pipeline. The incident was discovered on October 30 at 9:00 a.m. PDT in Bakersfield, California. The material was released below ground which then reached the ground water and then migrated to a monitoring well. A contractor has been hired by the company to clean up the material. The Federal On-Scene Coordinator is Environmental Protection Agency Region Nine.

The causes are varied -- but good to know we have not yet fallen victim to cyber attack.

Incident Cause
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Unknown 10,552 11,800 10,266 10,314 10,078 9,956 10,209 10,849
Equipment Failure 8,383 8,429 8,341 9,132 10,895 11,533 11,463 8,806
Other 6,428 7,204 7,457 6,531 3,907 3,865 3,858 3,860
Operator Error 3,459 2,885 2,305 2,889 2,997 2,684 2,908 2,885
Transport Accident 609 713 563 631 1,050 1,152 1,103 1,361
Dumping 1,523 1,494 1,265 960 806 757 863 1,004
Security Breach 0 0 0 6 264 761 924 952
Suspicious Activity 0 0 0 25 726 945 833 948
Vessel Sinking 0 0 0 0 366 655 802 835
Natural Phenomenon 472 716 497 711 685 575 804 708
Derailment 0 0 0 0 222 342 461 518
Hurricane 0 0 0 0 107 580 430 322
Criminal Intent 207 170 141 148 224 151 154 147
Over Pressuring 0 0 0 0 260 209 149 119
Explosion 21 68 46 48 47 66 91 110
Suicide 66 34 34 47 82 118 127 98
Bomb Threat 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 72
Flood 0 0 0 0 35 28 9 45
Terrorism 46 54 358 44 72 95 91 25
Tornado 0 0 0 0 5 6 17 16
Earthquake 0 4 4 2 2 9 6 7
Aircraft Diversion 0 0 0 0 4 4 0 2
Disorderly Passenger 0 0 0 3 1 0 1 1
Cyber Attack 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Hijacking 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Arsenic and Blankets...

Now, I haven't said this before, but I meant to. The only way for me to do this is to be shameless -- as in, admit what I don't know even if it might be completely mundane.

Native American Indians used to spread blankets on top of water where natural leaks occurred to collect oil.

Today I learned that the current methods of oil production cause the release of arsenic, mercury, hydrogen sulfide and polysyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the air, water and earth. It's not a surprise, I guess -- I just didn't know.

I spent some time trying to figure out what polysyclic aromatic hydrocarbon was, but couldn't find a definition in the limited time allowed before my five-year-old gets sick of playing solitaire next to me. I was always intrigued by arsenic as a weapon for poison because I'm a big fan of almonds, and arsenic is supposed to taste and or smell like almonds. Mercury is so prevalent in our oceans that pregnant women are constantly advised and readvised about the dangers of eating too much big fish -- salmon, tuna etc... The information is mixed. Looking around this morning it seems that some advisories are being reversed, because there is research showing that the OIL in fish is invaluable to brain development -- no one is saying that fish aren't contaminated, though. How much mercury must we be dumping in order to significantly impact one fish that lives so far out in the ocean that fisherpeople risk their lives just to find them?

Incidentally, I learned a few years ago that tuna mate for life.

I can't stop thinking about the blankets. About smallpox. Disease and mercury. Indians and tuna.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Follow The Money

Yesterday, the price of a barrel of oil set a record, briefly, and in the middle of the trading day reached about $99.50 -- fueling frenzy about this $100 mark, which we seem destined to reach, and soon.

$100/ barrel?! Not THAT!
Stock people do this a lot -- there are these numbers that are doom numbers, at which point all hell breaks loose.

It's silly in a way -- on the other hand, my friends grandfather quit smoking the day cigarette prices rose to $1 -- said that was simply unreasonable. So, there is something to be said for single numbers that epitomize a trend we are uneasy with. I've never been a line in the sand girl, but try to be all the time.

I also read that estimates suggest that the price of a gallon of gas will reach $4.50 soon.
So, according to another site for kids -- this one put on by the department of energy -- one barrel of oil yields just under 20 gallons of gas -- but that is less than half of the product yield of the barrel. 4 gallons of jet fuel come out of the barrel.

I wanted to understand better what the relationship between the price of gas and the price of the oil barrel were. They have a relationship, but not as much as you'd think, and a lot of the relationship is psychological. We use more oil than we can pump out of the earth, is the problem -- but I would imagine the gas companies in this country make sure that is not a problem around these parts...

OPEC met to try to keep the price under $100. There are rumblings -- but the price of oil has risen %50 since September -- I'm pretty sure that's the number I read.

But I've been looking all morning to understand what this means for citizens -- the price of gas is going up -- the price of heating oil is going up. I don't need to learn what that means to me -- it's going to cost $10 to drive to Thanksgiving dinner and back. It's going to mean I save more money if I don't procrastinate pulling the air-conditioners out of the windows. Some people won't be able to afford the drive to work. Some people will die of cold in the middle of this warm, rich country this winter. People in homes -- to add to the others.

I imagine it also means that the pressure on the middle east -- the temperature that keeps that region boiling -- will find no respite in the coming year.

My friend, Seth, was talking four years ago about the US setting its next war sites on Iran -- in what seemed at the time to be fringe extremest talk on the internet. He also talked then about how little is covered by the established news papers. I am always very defensive of our journalists -- but he was right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Misplaced Modifiers

Today I typed the words "oil, Nov. 20, 2007" into the New York Times home page. There were 21 hits -- 21 stories today contained the word oil.

A few of them were cooking oil -- I'll look into that at some point. I was amazed at how often the word oil is used as a modifier -- as in
"a 5.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Iran's oil-rich southwest "
"ties have strengthened between the two oil-producing states since 2003"
"which has made a legal claim for millions from the oil fortune of the model's late husband"

so these are places where oil is brought into conversations that have nothing to do with oil... implying that oil is inherent somehow in the conversation. As when a woman's clothes are brought in to a news article, or a man's earnings. Things that are valuable in one context become what a thing is talked about in all contexts, giving it the appearance that money should make it more important to us (the reader). This has implications in the realm of how much attention we pay to disasters, politics and war -- as well as relief -- Katrina v. San Diego ...

But in chosing my one thing I learned today -- I chose the following article. The oil is buried as it is in the adjectival clauses above -- but here's the story:
Cuba is having trouble keeping great doctors because they don't have enough money to pay them. They figured out this amazing win-win situation -- where by they pay their own doctors a lot of money to treat Venezuelan patients. They do this in exchange for -- OIL.

In recent years, the program has allowed Cuba to use its doctors as barter for subsidized Venezuelan oil...


A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs

Jose Goitia for The New York Times

Patients at the Ramón Pando Ferrer eye hospital in Havana.

Published: November 20, 2007

HAVANA, Nov. 16 — A shiny new tour bus pulled up to the top eye hospital in Cuba on a sunny day this month and disgorged 47 working-class people from El Salvador, many of whom could barely see because they had thick cataracts in their eyes.

Skip to next paragraph
Jose Goitia for The New York Times

Dr. Eric Montero with Reina López, of El Salvador.

Among them were Francisca Antonia Guevara, 74, a homemaker from Ciudad Delgado whose world was a blur. She said she had visited an eye doctor in her home country but could not pay the $200 needed for artificial lens implants, much less pay for the surgery.

“As someone of few resources, I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “With the bad economic situation we have there, how are we going to afford this?”

Cuba’s economy is not exactly booming either, yet within two hours Ms. Guevara’s cataracts were excised and the lenses implanted, with the Cuban government paying for everything — including air transportation, housing, food and even the follow-up care.

The government has dubbed the program Operation Miracle, and for the hundreds of thousands of people from Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean who have benefited from it since it was started in July 2004, it is aptly named.

Yet the program is no simple humanitarian effort, and it has not come without a cost. The campaign against vision loss serves as a poignant advertisement for the benefits of Cuban socialism, as well as an ingenious way to export one of the few things the Cuban state-run economy produces in abundance — doctors.

Cuban doctors abroad receive much better pay than in Cuba, along with other benefits from the state, like the right to buy a car and get a relatively luxurious house when they return. As a result, many of the finest physicians have taken posts abroad.

The doctors and nurses left in Cuba are stretched thin and overworked, resulting in a decline in the quality of care for Cubans, some doctors and patients said.

The Cuban authorities say they have treated more than 750,000 people for eye conditions like cataracts and glaucoma since the program started.

At the same time, Cuban doctors have set up 37 small eye hospitals in Latin America, the Caribbean and Mali. Twenty-five of the centers are in Venezuela and Bolivia, whose leaders have close ties to the Castros. The hospitals are staffed with more than 70 top-notch eye surgeons from Cuba and hundreds of other nurses and ophthalmologists.

Dr. Sergio M. Vidal Casali, 84, has worked at the Ramón Pando Ferrer Cuban Institute of Ophthalmology for more than 50 years, specializing in diseases of the retina. He said the heavy flow of foreign patients through the hospital, combined with the exodus of several physicians to other countries, had hurt his department. “I don’t like it, really,” he said. “It’s wonderful for the people, but not for us. It disturbs our work.”

Dr. Reynaldo Rios Casas, the director of the institute, said the first days of the program were hectic. Eye surgeons worked in three shifts, keeping the hospital’s operating rooms going all day and all night. It was not uncommon for a single surgeon to perform 40 operations in a shift.

“It was really heroic,” he said. “We were operating day, afternoon and night.”

Since then, Dr. Rios says his hospital has been training new eye doctors at an astounding rate of 2,100 this year, half of them surgeons. The hospital’s budget has been increased tenfold and its equipment upgraded. It now has 34 operating theaters with state-of-the-art equipment, including two outfitted for advanced laser surgery techniques.

One advantage of the program is that it has given young surgeons a steady flow of patients on whom to hone their skills. Just this year, they have performed 394 cornea transplants at the hospital, he noted. “Our specialists have an incredible amount of experience,” he said. “What specialist in the world can do dozens of cornea transplants a year?”

In recent years, the program has allowed Cuba to use its doctors as barter for subsidized Venezuelan oil and to forge closer relations with other countries in the region, including those, like El Salvador, that have not been historically close to the Communist regime here.

Of course, the people who have their sight restored could not care less about the political and economic repercussions of the program. For them, the offer of free surgery was a dream come true.

Mrs. Guevara, whose husband is a retired construction worker from San Salvador, said she had given up hope of seeing again. She heard about the Cuban project on a Mayan radio station. “I never imagined anyone would help me the way they have helped me,” she said as she waited for surgery. “I thought I was going to end up blind.”

Near her in the waiting room was Reina López, 58, of San Vicente, El Salvador, who has not been able to see for 13 years because of cataracts. Her daughter, Adilia Reyes, 33, said she had cared for her mother since she lost her sight. The family, including four children, survives on her father’s salary of $3 a day, plus whatever fruit can be sold at a market on Saturdays.

“For the poor, this is a tremendous benefit,” she said, as she guided her mother to a presurgery test. “If it works, we’ll be so grateful.”

Downstairs in the cafeteria, Manuel Agustín Isasi, 33, a professional fencing coach from Islas Margaritas in Venezuela, was eating a lunch of pork, rice and beans, able for the first time in years to see his food with both eyes. Three years ago, he had been whitewashing his home when he accidentally burned both corneas with a bucket of quicklime. The accident ended his fencing career.

He had been one of the first to receive a cornea transplant in his left eye when the program started, he said. Then, in early November, doctors in Havana replaced the cornea in his right eye. He was unabashed in his praise for the Cuban government and for President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

“I would have remained completely blind,” he said, fixing a reporter with a swordsman’s gaze. “Vision is half of one’s life.”

Monday, November 19, 2007


Okay -- I needed to backtrack a bit. This is California Gov't site. It's obviously written with some slightly younger researchers in mind -- but it's been a long day -- I was glad for simplicity.

Here's what I learned today that I find interesting, though: oil was used for medicine. Both by the ancient Egyptians and by the Native Americans -- who taught (see below) George Washington's troops how to cure frost bite with the stuff. I just imagine all of that oil up in Alaska... I'd like to know what the properties are that are healing -- probably similar to putting butter on a burn, I suppose. Sealing. Hydrating.

And also thinking about the idea of death and decay becoming fuel.
Wondering what happens to the holes in the earth where the oil was.

Also not valid sources are any pink websites.

Oil or Petroleum

Picture of oil formation

Oil is another fossil fuel. It was also formed more than 300 million years ago. Some scientists say that tiny diatoms are the source of oil. Diatoms are sea creatures the size of a pin head. They do one thing just like plants; they can convert sunlight directly into stored energy.

In the graphic on the left, as the diatoms died they fell to the sea floor (1). Here they were buried under sediment and other rock (2). The rock squeezed the diatoms and the energy in their bodies could not escape. The carbon eventually turned into oil under great pressure and heat. As the earth changed and moved and folded, pockets where oil and natural gas can be found were formed (3).

Oil has been used for more than 5,000-6,000 years. The ancient Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians used crude oil and asphalt ("pitch") collected from large seeps at Tuttul (modern-day Hit) on the Euphrates River. A seep is a place on the ground where the oil leaks up from below ground. The ancient Egyptians, used liquid oil as a medicine for wounds, and oil has been used in lamps to provide light.

The Dead Sea, near the modern Country of Israel, used to be called Lake Asphaltites. The word asphalt was derived is from that term because of the lumps of gooey petroleum that were washed up on the lake shores from underwater seeps.

In North America, Native Americans used blankets to skim oil off the surface of streams and lakes. They used oil as medicine and to make canoes water-proof. During the Revolutionary War, Native Americans taught George Washington's troops how to treat frostbite with oil.

As our country grew, the demand for oil continued to increase as a fuel for lamps. Petroleum oil began to replace whale oil in lamps because the price for whale oil was very high. During this time, most petroleum oil came from distilling coal into a liquid or by skimming it off of lakes - just as the Native Americans did.

Picture of Edwin Drake and well.

Then on August 27, 1859, Edwin L. Drake (the man standing on the right in the black and white picture to the right), struck liquid oil at his well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. He found oil under ground and a way that could pump it to the surface. The well pumped the oil into barrels made out of wood. This method of drilling for oil is still being used today all over the world in areas where oil can be found below the surface.

Oil and natural gas are found under ground between folds of rock and in areas of rock that are porous and contain the oils within the rock itself. The folds of rock were formed as the earth shifts and moves. It's similar to how a small, throw carpet will bunch up in places on the floor.

To find oil and natural gas, companies drill through the earth to the deposits deep below the surface. The oil and natural gas are then pumped from below the ground by oil rigs (like in the picture). They then usually travel through pipelines or by ship.

Picture of oil rigs circa 1900, Santa Barbara.

Picture of oil rigs.

Oil is found in 18 of the 58 counties in California. Kern County, the County where Bakersfield is found, is one of the largest oil production places in the country. But we only get one-half of our oil from California wells. The rest comes from Alaska, and an increasing amount comes from other countries. In the entire U.S., more than 50 percent of all the oil we use comes from outside the country...most of it from the Middle East.

Oil is brought to California by large tanker ships. The petroleum or crude oil must be changed or refined into other products before it can be used.

This from the NYTimes this morning.

Now this is just silly -- and doesn't really teach me anything about oil -- but does underscore two of my enormous pet peeves just now. WIKIPEDIA IS NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE! Tell your students, tell your children -- tell your publishers -- tell your dog! Furthermore -- the reason that they kick people out of college for cheating is IT'S CHEATING. Ugh.
We will now return to our regularly scheduled programing.

Part of an Oil Book Relied on Wikipedia

Published: November 19, 2007

The publisher John Wiley & Sons confirmed last week that its book “Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors” by George Orwel had lifted almost word for word about five paragraphs from a Wikipedia article on the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

The book discusses the 1996 terrorist bombing, which killed 19 United States servicemen, as part of an overview of the situation in the Middle East as it affects the oil supply. Mr. Orwel, who lives in Brooklyn, has written about the industry for a variety of specialized publications; reached at home, he said his publisher’s statement spoke for him.

True to the ever-changing nature of Wikipedia, a comparison of Mr. Orwel’s book, which was published in 2006, and the current article on the bombing would show significant differences. But when compared with a 2005 version — available on a discussion page there about the incident — the text is virtually identical. A typo or two has been fixed, a phrase or two added, and the word “saw” had been changed to “witnessed,” for example.

The principal author of the Wikipedia article, reached via his user page there, wrote in an e-mail message that he considered the damages “insignificant,” and had “made no effort to contact the author or publisher.” He described himself as follows: “I’m male, in my 40s, have a Ph.D. in physics, and work as a professor at a university in California. I view my Wikipedia writings as a form of procrastination from real work, so I’d prefer to remain anonymous and not reveal the extent of my procrastination to colleagues.”

Copying from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia produced by tens of thousands of contributors, does not raise the same legal complications as copying from a copyrighted book. According to Mike Godwin, the lead lawyer at the Wikimedia Foundation, under Wikipedia’s license anyone can reprint material found there as long as Wikipedia is given credit and the license itself is reprinted, assuring that the material continues to roam free.

“Wiley’s concern is not over copyright trouble,” Mr. Godwin said. “They want to represent their work as scholarly work. Their name is on the line in terms of scholarly ethics, more than the copyright issue.”

A Wiley spokeswoman said in a statement that the publisher would “provide corrections to all future reprints of this book.” In its statement, Wiley, which is based in Hoboken, N.J., said the passages were “inadvertently added by our author to the text without attribution.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The quantity of oil released, however, is not the only factor in determining the severity of an oil spill; proximity to a coastline is also important, and the November 11, 2007, accident occurred close to land.

I will look for an answer to what this means tomorrow...

Deana says, are you going to look beyond oil and water? Because if not, you may run out of material quickly... I am going to look at all sorts of things, but I'm afraid her assumption might not be true.

November 18, 2007 - Storm over the Sea of Azov
Storm over the Sea of Azov Image used for Spacing Purposes
Satellite: Aqua
Date Acquired: 11/11/2007
Resolutions: 1km (546.2 KB)
500m (1.6 MB)
250m (4.8 MB)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Credit: Jesse Allen
A fierce storm struck both the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov on November 11, 2007. According to news reports, as many as 10 ships either sank or ran aground, one of them an oil tanker. The Russian tanker Volganeft-139 was anchored to the sea floor in the Kerch Strait linking the Black and Azov Seas when 108-kilometer- (67-mile-) per-hour winds tore the ship apart. As of November 12, up to 2,000 metric tons of fuel oil had leaked from the ship.

On November 11, 2007, the day the storm struck, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of the region. Thick clouds obscure the view of much of the land area, including Ukraine, Belarus, western Russia, and Georgia. Clouds also obscure the Sea of Azov, although skies over the Black Sea are somewhat clearer. Over the Sea of Azov and immediately to the north, the clouds form a vague swirling pattern, suggestive of a low-pressure cyclonic system.

As reported by the BBC, all 13 sailors on the Volganeft-139 were rescued, part of a total of 35 sailors rescued from the region. Some 20 crewmembers of other ships remained missing, however, and three bodies had been recovered as of November 12. Two other ships in the region were carrying potentially hazardous loads, including several tons of sulfur. According to the Associated Press, the sulfur cargo emptied into the area, but an official with southern Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry branch stated that sulfur was not dangerous to the local habitat.

By November 13, an oil slick coated local beaches, and dead and dying seabirds littered the beaches, according to Reuters. The Russian Prime Minister had flown to the Black Sea coast to oversee cleanup efforts. Despite the hazards this spill posed to local wildlife, it was dwarfed by the oil spill from the Prestige tanker off the coast of Spain in 2002. That oil spill released over 60,000 tons of oil. The quantity of oil released, however, is not the only factor in determining the severity of an oil spill; proximity to a coastline is also important, and the November 11, 2007, accident occurred close to land.