The Pope calls the kettle black.

Nancy Gibbs wrote
in Time Magazine about the Vatican's new sins. Yes, the Seven Deadly have grown stale; confession attendance, not to mention church attendance, is way off. In a sad attempt to remain relevant, Pope Benedict is out with sins to watch out for in the modern age. I won't give them any help in this matter by listing the new sins, but you can read them in Nancy's column which is very good.

Hypocrisy has hit an historic low with this new list. On the list is "becoming obscenely wealthy." A sin of the highest order apparently. This coming from one of the world's largest holder of real estate; this from a church of ostentatious cathedrals on every continent, save the Antarctic. The picture I've used today is a cathedral in Cartegena, Columbia that is embellished with gold. The Pope visited this place and blessed it and the crown that is the central feature of the altar. It will take years for the Catholic Church to become irrelevant, but I think we've just seen the lurch of off balance above a slippery incline.

Friends that knew me when I was a geek will be amazed by this but who is a greater positive force in the world? I think Bill and Melinda Gates far eclipse the Catholic Church of today.

Furthermore, do you remember the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church? The leader of the "Moonies" who competed with the Hare Krishna to sell flowers in Airports in the 1970's? Do you realize that he is a powerful figure in CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN POLITICS in our nation's capital?

The Rev. Moon believes that he is the Messiah. He is here to unify all religions under him; hence the church's name. Rev. Moon tried many ways to become powerful in this country. His success: The Washington Times, a newspaper more partisan than any other in the country. A trumpet for conservative beliefs and schemes that makes Fox News jealous.

I listened to a radio program today with the author of a new book,
Bad Moon Rising.
Apparently, Moon founded this newspaper that reports outrageous stories about conservative opponents that then get carried by conservative commentators and other rags as "it has been reported . . . " Moon gives a lot of money to Republicans and apparently some to Democrats as well. He has tremendous influence in Washington. There was a ceremony, attended by Washington elites, to celebrate and declare Rev. Moon as the Messiah. Two congressman were on had to present a crown to Moon's wife and a huge, flowing robe to Moon.

There are tales of corruption, drugs, and business empires, like a monopoly on s
ushi in America of all things. Check out www.consortiumnews.com/archive/moon.html and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Myung_Moon.


Road Sketch 2008/03/20

Driving around in the end of winter, the grey, brown, half green carpet left after the snow has receded, is depressing. It's 50 degrees but my truck is covered with road salt. Winter is gone but the freshness of Spring has not yet begun. It leaves an undead, worn out middle time.

Let alone we have Investment Banks who, in their greed, have forgotten what it means to “invest;” an International Community more concerned with being “fair” to the athletes of the world than to the Tibetans literally running for their lives. These relatively pampered athletes from relatively free countries are allowed to pursue their dreams. All the while, we mindlessly consume all manner of goods from China without giving a thought to their brutality that barely hides below the surface. World News is as dreary as the season.

And then I stop in a Rest Area in South Carolina. The sun is not quite up, but it is already warm enough for shirt sleeves . . . and I hear birds! Down by the parking lot, a staccato tweeting call; up near the building, a sing-songy throaty call. I have no skill identifying bird calls, but I know the call of Spring. The songs of birds reclaim the air from the chill of Winter.

Later in Ohio, I see the scamper of a squirrel on the shoulder. And then Butlerville, OH, I've built a shed almost as big as their Post Office. There is a roadhouse biker bar, the Kingpin, across the highway from a trailer park. They're advertising live music out here in the boondocks. I could live there. There is a carryout pizza joint in a garage next to a mobile home advertising they match competitors coupons. There may be a glimmer of hope. Some of us just keep grinding along making a good life; even out here in the sticks.


Burning The Future

It has been such a long, hard fall from radical capitalist, but my ears and eyes are open more often than my mouth lately. There are things that make me angry today that I wouldn't have listened to just a year ago. I am humble.

I listened to another radio program about a documentary film. "Burning the Future" will be on the Sundance Channel later this month. The film "is director David Novack's searing expose about how the coal mining industry in West Virginia has transformed the naturally lush mountain landscape into a wasteland, destroyed the region's fresh water supply and caused widespread health issues for area residents." [1]

Setting aside Global Warming, I think that we can agree that burning coal is not good for the environment. Or, if you must, not a net positive. See me after the meeting. The U.S. Industry has been cleaning up since the 1960's, we thought [more on that in a moment]. The drab, grey-snowed Dickensian cliche of Soviet Era Eastern Europe or 1950's England got its cheery patina from coal smoke.

The preview I got of the film, and reading their website, made me angry. The two examples I am about to give you, will make you angry. To make it worse, I'm going insist, first, that its your fault. Make no mistake, this is on us. Our insatiable appetite for inexpensive electricity is causing this to happen. From the garish lights of Times Square and Las Vegas, to your local shopping district, to the fools with their houses covered in Christmas lights, to simply that light that is on in the empty room; it is our fault. Here is the trailer for the film:

You've heard of scrubbers probably; the units installed on smokestacks to clean the smoke before it leaves. Or at least you are aware of the latest oxymoron; Green Coal is all the rage. The cousin of Lancelot Link in D.C. even spoke of Green Coal in his State of the Union Address.

What I didn't know was of a process by which coal is "washed" before it is shipped to power plants. Impurities, thus removed, allow for cleaner burning coal. Good, right?!? WRONG!!! This washing process leaves behind a toxic, greasy, black pudding called coal slurry. Much worse than my black mayonnaise. In West Virginia, where coal is king, there are retention ponds, euphemistically called impoundments, filled with this poison. There are billions of gallons, yeah, 'B' billion, of this toxic pudding behind dikes in the mountains there.

These impoundments are not lined. The stuff just sits there leaching into the ground water! Moreover, there have been dike failures, flooded hollers, and deaths already. Why are we hearing about Britney and Lindsay and not this! Google News has 473 related articles about Britney's Custody Costs; 209 about Mountain Top Removal, see below.

The people of Appalachia have always been close to the land. There are still people there who forage wild plants for food and medicinal herbs. Ginseng is a high dollar cash crop. The families of hard working coal men supplimented their income and their diets from the mountains. Now this is not just being taken away, it is being destroyed.

The latest method to extract coal is called Mountain Top Removal. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than the tiresome and expensive digging of coal, the coal companies literally blow off the top of the mountain and scoop the coal out like a cantaloupe. How could someone ever have thought this was a good idea?!?? Rather than by expensive mining equipment, when the dust settles, the coal can be sifted and rounded up using off-the-shelf construction and earth-moving equipment. The industry argues that this practice should be expanded. It's about jobs they say. Yet, coal mining employment is down to less than 10% what it was 20 years ago. New "modern" mining practices use much less labor.

The good people of West Virginia, many of them with current and former family connections to the coal business, have their homes shaken and their dreams, literally, shattered by the massive explosions of Mountain Top Removal. One small boy was killed when an explosion threw a rock through the roof of his room. As much as 750 feet of mountaintop can be lost to one of these operations. Further, the forests and meadows that occupied the mountain top are lost. With nothing left but rock, rain washes off the mountains in torrents. Families that used to get flooded from below when the creek backed up, now get flooded from above too. The chemical residue of the mining operations sweeps down and soaks into lower soil. Homes and land have been swept away. One woman lost about 5 acres. Land that she used to grow vegetables on.

Ironically, I have felt a connection to West Virginia. I spent a weekend there a few months ago and have driven through many times. The hardwood covered Appalachians with ubiquitous rock outcroppings poking through here and there, have a special rugged beauty. The people are wonderfully nice. I rode a City Bus into Charleston from Nitro; at least a half hour ride. I had pleasant conversations in both directions. There is an active music and arts community. Just recently, I mentioned "Mountain Stage" a fabulous PRI radio show, it comes from West Virginia. [Hi, Adam] The thought occurred to me that WV would be a beautiful place to live for a while [after the boat, after the boat, after the boat. . . ] Now, I find it is being poisoned, blown up, and defaced on an almost biblical scale.

John Prine sang of missing Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Literally, missing it because "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away." In WV, hauled away might even be preferred to stewing in a toxic, black, greasy pudding. There is an elementary school downhill from one of those dikes. Next time, you walk by an empty room with a light burning inside, think of West Virginia and step in there to turn it out. If you can, speak out against this.

Check out John singing "Paradise" with some friends:


Fun with Highway Signs.

I delivered in Danvers, MA, a suburb of Boston, and didn't need to pick up until the next day. Lucky for me, my brother and his family live in Quincy on the southside. I haven't seen them in quite a while. My nephew is only 2 yro, so he is a whole different human than the infant I knew. My niece is 4 and cute as a button. I got to spend an afternoon with Tim and the kids and then an evening with everyone when Kathy got home. It was wonderful to see them all.

Tim and I even snuck out to catch some blues that night.

In Massachusetts, I saw one of my favorite signs. "CAUTION: Reduced Salt Area, Next Two Miles." I'm sure that it is for some watershed or other environmental reason, but I hear it is good for your heart too.

I have been trying to remember where my favorite highway sign was. Thursday morning I drove by it again. It is somewhere around the 185 mile marker on I-80, heading east. The sign has had a few iterations, but it's final version is the greatest; the best sign I've seen all year.

Hanging from cables run across the highway is a diamond shaped sign that says "Bridge May Be Icy." Some time later, PA DOT added a small rectangle bolted to the bottom tip of the diamond. It says "3/4 Mile." The last modification was to accessorize the sign with lights. There are two yellow lights on each side tip of the diamond and a small rectangle was bolted to the bottom of the first small addition. The new says "When Flashing." Taken together it says

"Bridge May Be Icy"

"3/4 Mile"

"When Flashing."

I wonder how far away it is when it is NOT flashing.


Yeah, Me and the LDS

I think it is the Church of the Latter Day Saints that runs a TV commercial I'm thinking of. A young woman helps an older lady to cross the street. The camera pans to a guy in a work truck noticing significantly. Cut To: The guy from the truck helping a woman who has dropped her groceries. The camera pans to a man noticing significantly. Cut To: The second man helping someone who . . . You get the idea. And you've probably seen the commercial. I think it is the Mormons. Regardless, it is some church suggesting that we ought to be nice to each other; help each other; care about each other.

Many people think that Buddhism is simply "living in the moment." That is almost it but what it really is is doing the right thing at this very moment. Knowing yourself well enough, dropping your trivial likes and dislikes, getting to the heart of you. Then making good choices. However, since we are all one, doing the right thing for you at this very moment is, actually, doing the right thing for the universe at this very moment. This is where I find myself agreeing with the LDS or whomever airs the ad.

It wouldn't be that hard to be a little nicer to people. Maybe its the election cycle, but I think we've lost our way. People are just being nasty. We've lost our sense of community and our honor. We need to care about and take care of each other.

Most often I am driving down the highway with the CB off. I turn it on when I need it; in a traffic jam, in bad weather or at a big warehouse facility. On a daily basis, people are just stupid and ugly on the CB. There are plenty of exceptions but MAN! Take it easy, people!

Ohio is a bad place for racist crap on the CB. Today, the discussion was how long Obama would last in office, because someone was just going to shoot him. There were volunteers. It made me sick. Finally, before turning it off, I told them I hoped Barack would make Jesse Jackson Vice President. "None of you stupid MFers could shoot him then, could ya?!??." I felt better. Actually, I felt better when it was off. Damn traffic jam got me all worked up. Then a couple guys suggested they needed some practice and might start by hunting me down. Yeah, time to go.

I pulled into a truckstop tonight. In line at the fuel desk to get a shower, the girl behind the counter is Generation "Why Me." She has the thingy in her nose, a tat on the inside of her wrist. She is having trouble and bristling with attitude. Come to find out, they have updated the computer system and some of the items aren't entered yet. One driver gave up when a case of bottled water just wouldn't ring up. He actually put it back on the shelf. The managers are gone, the girl is alone in the store. It isn't all generational. She isn't getting the support she needs. My buddy Jim and I were always pushing for training and support during system changes where I used to work. We often wrote instructions and did training. I could feel for her.

The showers are being remodeled as well, so I have to go out to a trailer in the parking lot to clean up. I had a great idea on the way back in.

It really is more work to be a complainer. And, it comes back on you eventually when you don't help others. It is so simple to be cheerful and helpful. And it really isn't that much extra work. Like Willie Nelson sang "It's the little things that mean a lot."

Let me tell you about an Ol' Trucker Trick I know, to show you how easy it is.

Back in the store, the poor girl is snarling in frustration. She might have an attitude, but tonight, she deserves to. I'm sure she doesn't get paid nearly enough to deal with a bunch of cantankerous truckers who have to shower out in the parking lot, and can't even buy water. A couple guys walk by with duffel bags, not believing that the showers are outside. I told them it was the hose around the corner. "You just hold it over your head." :o)

Back to my fuel desk girl. She snarls because some older trucker brought his wife in who also needs a shower. Now they have to reconnoiter the trailer to get her in there.

"Man, I need some chocolate. What do you recommend?" I ask up at the counter.

She pauses, almost not understanding, but recovers to suggest a Take Five bar.

"What are they like?" faking I've never had one.

"Oh, it's peanuts and caramel and a pretzel or something crunchy like that." She is just glad to be able to empty her mind of the store issues; she's getting into it now. "I really like them," she adds at the end.

Bingo, I've got her right where I want her.

"Back in the middle aisle," she shouts as I wander toward the junk food.

I bring two King Size Take Five bars back. There are five people, counting the old couple, hanging around waiting for a shower. The unease just kind of hangs around the place. I drop the bars on the counter and start shuffling through my wallet.

"Two Ninety Eight."

I hand her three ones and then push one of the bars across the counter. "This ones for you. Maybe your night will get better," I say.

"Oh, WOW! Thanks!" She smiles wide and chuckles. It's like a whole different person showed up. Now that's magic. And I didn't have to saw anyone in half.

As I walk out the door, I hear my two pennies drop in the "Need a Penny?" dish. The old trucker's wife is smiling at me as I pass. And just as I push the door open, I can hear the rustle of a Take Five wrapper.

Try it you'll like it. The candy bar's not bad either.