Grief

Image

This is Doggie. Her real name was Princess Allie and she belonged to my daughter and my heart. Someone ran over her Friday morning. I was driving back from Ohio (work) when I got the call from my daughter. I cannot begin to explain what a miserable, long drive that became in just a matter of seconds. I still don’t know how someone could have run over her. Maybe she ran in front of them, I don’t know. What I do know is that the grief runs deep and it hasn’t let up much. I am grateful that I don’t know who killed her. It would not bode well for them if I knew.

I work from home a lot so doggie and I knew each other pretty good. We had rituals. She made me laugh more than I have in a long time. She was nothing but lovable.

She could not be disciplined in the conventional sense. If we tried she would end up in our lap.

Her food bowl always had to be full. She laid down with her paws on either side of the bowl and ate a hole all the way to the bottom and would come get me to at least shake it and level it out… but most times it was just that she wanted the bowl to be full. For that she had the nickname of Miss Piggy.

She would come stick her nose under the armrest of my desk chair and work her way under my desk if I tried to ignore her when she wanted something. Sometimes she wanted to go outside. Sometimes it was just the food bowl. Many times I have walked to the back door only to turn around and see her laying down looking at me.

When I came home from a trip I could just about always count on finding a chew bone buried in my pillows. This time it had fallen to the floor. If she was outside she always greeted me with her happy dance when I parked. She would stick her nose on the door knob and lick my hand as I tried to unlock the door. I gave up on trying to teach her not to do that. If she was too muddy to let inside I would tell her no. She eventually learned that no meant no but in true Allie fashion she would lay down in front of the door so that you had to step over her to get into the house. All things were on her terms…

She was my daughters constant companion when she was off of work and mine when she wasn’t with my daughter.

My first night home I heard her bark and I went to the door to let her in. She never came. Eventually I realized that she wouldn’t. I still go to the door… just in case. But she’s buried under a cedar and she won’t come to the door anymore. I know that. But I look anyway because I don’t know what else to do.

I’ve researched cloning but it’s $100k and it won’t bring her back. I’ve exhausted all hope and even science. All that is left is grief.

This is as much about Doggie as it is about the grief process. I’ve come to believe that grief is the result of how much influence the loved one had on your life. The length and depth of the grieving cycle is an indicator of how deeply they got into your soul in life. This has and will be a long, long grief cycle. They deserve the grief that we suffer with because of the joy that they brought to us in life. Doggie is loved and always will be.

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Raising the bar in your photography by shooting film

Digital photography has not yet reached the point of being able to emulate the feeling of a print created in the wet darkroom. It gets closer every year. But it’s not there yet.

There is a big difference between data being squeezed through a processor and sent to a spray nozzle designed to spray ink on to a sheet of paper designed for having ink sprayed onto it’s surface and capturing light onto a light sensitive substrate (film), processing the sheet of film to recover the image, and using light to project the recovered image onto light sensitive paper that is then processed, in chemicals, to record the image. Neither method is bad or good. They are just methods.

I have returned to creating images on film. I still use digital. I embrace both technologies but it is my hope that by studying the images that I create with film, good and bad, that I can improve both the technical aspects, as well as the artistic aspects, of my photography.

I don’t have a wet darkroom and I may never have one. I process my black and white negatives in my kitchen, then I scan them. then I process them in Photoshop CC and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, then I print them through Lightroom 5 to an Epson printer. You read that right, I send my scanned black and white file to SEP2. I also scan them as a color positive.

The digital medium has opened the doors to photography for almost everyone but I’m afraid that the bulk of the flood of images that have been created, thanks to the relatively easy access to digital technology, are predominantly crap. I know that I have contributed to the plethora of crappy images in my 7-1/2 years as a digital photographer. However, digital has also greatly increased access to image excellence. We as photographers also have access to a wide variety of training. Photographers will advance the craft and picture takers will continue to take pictures. Neither are good or bad, it’s just how it is.

In the end, for me, it’s about raising the bar for my photography by using and enjoying whatever method I choose to use to do so.

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Musings of a would be Zoner

First a little intro. I’m 55 and I’ve been a photographer (I did not say good photographer) since I was about 8 and shooting a Brownie Hawkeye (that I still own). In my 20′s I owned a Yashica FR2. I think that was my favorite film camera ever. I “upgraded” to a Canon AE-1 Program. That was not an upgrade IMHO. That was the beginning of the end of my learning experience because the new camera had the nifty “auto” feature and I got lazy and used it way too much. Later I progressed to the F1 (loved that camera) and then the EOS1N. By then the responsibilities of family and work had taken their toll on my free time and my photography skills declined even further. I was still shooting but not with intent. Fast forward to 2005. I was not doing any photography but I was riding my motorcycle (Honda VTX 1800R… awesome bike). I took long road trips (TX to CO many times and TX to CA once) and I loved riding. Then, not far from home, on a rough country road, I had a little crash. Nothing spectacular. I exited the bike before it hit a tree. I was going 20 mph maybe. It’s a long story but lets just say you can crash at under 20 mph and still do significant harm to your body. I’m all healed up but I had about of year of physical therapy to get full use of my left arm back. The insurance check for the bike came and I had to make a decision, get another bike (the old one was paid for) or ? I don’t recall why I even checked into the state of digital photography at that time (by then it was 2006) but I did and I found the EOS1DsMKII. It cost a ton of money but well under the insurance check amount so I dove in. I still had my other EOS film bodies (still have the 1N) and lenses including my favorite, the 70-200 f2.8L. Side note: Both of these items went to other photographers. The 70-200 f2.8L to a young man who was serving in the military and had some awesome skills. The lens had a slight amount of fungus on it. He was going to give me payments. I just gave the lens to him and he later passed it on to someone else. The camera just recently went to another aspiring photographer on a budget (I’m a member of a small photo club and he attends there as well). I hadn’t touched it in years (due to upgrades) and street value is in the hundreds for it so he got it for nothing too. He’s already found a converter to be able to use FD lenses and have focus confirmation and has a pretty nice stock of FD lenses now. It’s fun to see him with the camera in his hands and the look on his face.

Back on topic, I think that, to date, I have shot close to 100,000 digital images. Again, not necessarily all great images. I shoot primarily in manual with an occasional switch to Av (sports and some wildlife). The two most recent lens purchases were NOT Canon lenses and NOT auto focus. Both are Zeiss lenses for the Canon EOS body. Manual focus. And unbelievable awesome lenses.

About 5 years ago I got on a retro kick and bought a CM500 and a couple of lenses (for not much I’m sad to say) and I found a Linhoff Master Technika and a bunch of lenses on eBay for a nice price. The seller was “upgrading” to digital. I bought film and developing supplies… and there it sat. The EOS1N has a roll of B&W in it. The CM500 has a roll of color film in it. Until last week the new 4×5 holders had never even been taken out of the box. It’s all been sitting there. Waiting. Fast forward to today and now I can get to the point

I don’t recall when I heard the term “Zone System” but it was a while back. I have Ansel Adams 3 book set. I’ve read about the Zone System more times than I can remember. But I just didn’t get it. Recently I came across a video clip by a young man (to me) named Gavin Seim . His explanation of the Zone System resonated with me. His video (Exposed) is the reason that I dragged my Linhoff out of hiding and made myself, with the help of some people o the Large Format forum, load film holders and go expose some film for the first time in 25 years. Using film, even if it’s only 6 sheets, has caused a shift in the way that I see and photograph.

Yesterday afternoon I decided that I needed to practice the Zone System and get live feedback so I went out with my digital camera and took some images of my barn a little before sunset. I set the in camera meter to spot metering mode. I set my Sekonic L758DR to EV and used the Sekonic spot meter to figure out what to set my camera on. Admittedly the barn made middle gray easy for me but the white and dark gray storm clouds on the horizon and dark areas under and in the barn gave me some challenges. I came away from the experience a bit humbled and a lot energized. I could’ve run out there and snapped off a few shots in manual and gotten an image in about 1/3 of the time if I had just shot as usual. Whatever I missed I could’ve fixed in post (not really but that is the illusion of digital photography isn’t it). I didn’t even realize what had happened until this morning. I spent a bit of time walking around the barn, paying attention to how the light fell on it, how the sunlight was playing on the clouds, the temperature of the light, and all the little things that were in the image that I would’ve normally missed and cloned out in post. I came away with a pretty decent image that I didn’t spend much time on in post. Actually… the black and white conversion is what took the most time. I also came away with some questions (directed to no one in particular):

(1) I can get away with about 4 to 6 stops of exposure latitude in my digital camera if I protect the highlights and work hard on the dark areas in post. HDR techniques, if done “correctly”, will yield even greater dynamic range. What is the exposure range of film (in stops)? If I remember right Black and White has greater range than color but I’m a Black and White nerd that will only occasionally shoot color (and probably convert it to Black and White :D ). At least that’s what I say now.

(2) My experiment yesterday evening taught me, at least I think that it did, that the Zone System is a great predictor of whether you can capture a scene properly. Is that a fair statement? I had to wait for a while before the scene came down enough to allow me to photograph it and have everything exposed “properly”. I had to give a little on the blacks but that was fine. There was nothing there to see anyway and the Zone 0 areas were very, very small. Most of the darks were in Zone 3. The conversion to 72ppi jpg for posting pushed the whites and blacks into the under /over range but the print will be made from a large TIF and it will be fine. I could’ve bracketed and blended and shot earlier since I was shooting a digital camera but the point of the exercise was to come away with something that I didn’t need to fix.

(3) I’ll say this again, the process, even if it was simulated film work, made me pay much closer attention to what I was doing. Has anyone here tried shooting their digital camera as if it were a film camera?

Just a heads up, I am not the most well-connected social media person but I am on FB and G+ nearly every day. Especially G+. I can’t really stand FB. My G+ account is nearly all photographers. There is an undercurrent of dissatisfied photographers out there in the “collective consciousness”. Some are moving away from high-end DSLR bodies to small mirrorless cameras. Some, more than I think that I realize, are picking up their film bodies and starting to shoot film again. Digital is here to stay but film is making a quiet come back. You absolutely cannot beat the look of a wet print and people know that. The process of using film makes you think and even more importantly, it causes the photographer to immerse him or herself into the experience of the scene.

My Barn

Barn B&W IMG_3144_July 12, 2013

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Immigration

If you wind the historical clock back 20 or 30 years, before high fences and the army of Border Patrol agents and check stations that have sprung up all along the border, you will find the cause of the immigration problem. It’s not due to the lack of fences or lack of Border Patrol agents. It’s due to the lack of common sense that was used to implement social reform. At one time the flow of illegal traffic in this country was quietly welcomed and it was bi-directional.

Not so long ago, the illegals that came to this country performed the jobs that we wouldn’t do, paid “their” taxes, and returned home to their families once the work season was over or when they had accumulated enough money to live well in Mexico. So what changed?

Slowly but surely we have improved the quality of “the bait” so that they come here to stay. They bring their entire family with them, risking the lives of their children and even grand children for their chance at the American dream. “We the People” have created this mess. I am a slightly right leaning Republican with a strong Libertarian component. How is it that I could have contributed to the rise in social programs that has led to the so-called immigration crisis? I can answer that in two words. Political malaise. I have always voted Republican because the party used to best represent my views. I didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the large-scale political arena because “the party” had my back. Or so I thought. The rise in social programs that has led to the anchoring of illegal immigrants in this country went unnoticed by me and many, many others. The more socially liberal among us did what they thought was the right thing to do. Their misguided efforts and our inattention has created a mess.

Border fences are a huge waste of money, time, and effort. They don’t and won’t stop illegal traffic. Increasing the number of Border Patrol agents (whom I respect immensely by the way) has not solved the problem. The so-called solutions that have been offered up so far are akin to running a shredder through a field that has an infestation of mesquite. The mesquite disappears from view for a little while but it comes back in greater numbers. The solutions don’t address the real problem.

The solution to the illegal immigration problem begins with social reform. If there was no free housing, no anchor babies, no free food, no free medical, etc for an illegal immigrant there would be no reason for them to stay here. No reason to risk the lives of their families to bring them here. In addition to removing the social bait, we need to create a new kind of doorway into this country. One that allows for the ebb and flow of people who are coming here to work and then returning to their home. The cycle is as old as this country and we have disrupted it by changing the goal of the illegal immigrant from making money and going home to coming here with no intent to leave. The reality is that the illegal population does a lot of work in this country. If we remove them completely our already struggling economy would be negatively affected. The restaurant industry would be hurt immensely. Farming would be hurt. The truth is, we need them to come here. We just don’t need them to stay.

Once an intelligent solution to our failed social policies is implemented, the Border Patrol could get back the business of protecting our borders from real threats and not maintaining a merry-go-round that has a line of people waiting to get on it that stretches to infinity.

It’s not fair to bait someone to come work and live here illegally and then turn around and build a huge military force that is tasked with returning the invitees to the back of the merry-go-round line. It’s absolutely not fair to the Border Patrol agents to task them with this duty. They have more important things to attend to.

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Reflections

The travel bug is biting hard these days. I have lots of plans and a strong want to find the time that I need to follow through on the plans.

I have two “mantras”when it comes to travel. Not so much mantra’s really. Mantra’s are something that are memorized. I haven’t “memorized” these… they are just there… like a low drumbeat that you aren’t sure if it’s really there or something in your subconscious.

The first “mantra” is:

There are two kinds of people. One comes to a crossing in the road and thinks “I don’t know what’s down there so I’m going the other way. The other comes to the crossing in the road and thinks “I wonder what’s down there” as he/she is turning towards the unknown. Be the other person…

the other is nestled in the following poem. If you understand this… then you understand me…

Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Fences and in state tuition

Before I start- I am not a fan of Governor Perry… nor am I a Perry hater. Some (a few) things about the man I like… some make me cringe (like the fact that he’s a lifer politician). Up until recently I didn’t think that Herman Cain had a chance in hell but who knows. We may actually get one right this go around. We sure as hell missed the last time and I for one couldn’t believe this country could be so collectively stupid.

In my opinion… with absolutely no humility… illegal aliens are here for one reason. Entitlements. Bait. Whatever you want to call it. The standard of living in their country is pitiful for most and we offer, por nada, a pretty substantial uptick in their quality of living. I don’t think that the feds have even the slightest bit of intention to lessen the tastiness of the bait. I think that the situation has grown to the point that it’s a monster that cannot be killed. Our entitlements provide the bait, the standard of living in Mexico provides the impetus to come here, and we have I.C.E. (used to be INS) to round them up and send them back home. Each feeds on the other. We have shiny new detainment centers and border crossings to help curb the illegal problem (the crossings somewhat curb the drug problem but that’s another rant). I can’t drive anywhere in TX, within 100 miles of the border, without having to go through a border check station and affirm that I am an American Citizen. How is that stopping an illegal alien from making his or her way across hundreds of miles of cactus and snake infested desert to come work at some mediocre job that nobody here wants? If you stop the illegal immigrant problem you have to dismantle the giant government organization that has been created to “solve” the problem and that’s not going to happen. In the real world they would just double the size of it and call it something else…

The illegal immigrants have been coming here for more years than any of us has been alive. They work in our fields, our kitchens, and in other places that NOBODY wants to work anymore. Kids ( and the unemployed) today don’t want to work at McDonalds, they want to live off of unemployment or go to college (though some humans just aren’t college material), drink like fish (do fish really drink?), fornicate like mice (I’m good with that. I wish I was in college), graduate, and get an executive position at some internet marketing firm. So guess what… the speakers at Mickey D’s now say Hola. Como Esta. Puede I tomar su orden.

Now why is that? Why are they taking low paying jobs at McDonalds? Because there are so many here that all of the “good” jobs are taken but the bait is too good to pass up. They used to go home when the farm season was over. Now they stay, make an anchor baby or two or three or more, and generally take up non-residence in our wonderful country. They do so because we give them everything that they need to improve their quality of life from what it was in their country by orders of magnitude. In short, we bait them and they come. Their country is a sh*t hole so they come here. Thank God the Canadians have their economy turned around or our politicians would be trying to build a stupid fence on the northern border too.

  • In state tuition for the kids of illegal aliens.

Rick Perry got slammed for backing this. I initially misunderstood his proposal as low or no tuition so I was one of the people that criticized it. But… all that OUR LEGISLATURE did was to make it possible for the anchor babies, that our federal policies create, to go to college. We don’t need anymore McDonalds employees. If some kid whose parents came across the border can pony up for the tuition and make good enough grades to get into UT, why is that bad? Would you rather he or she was a member of La Razza or pushing drugs somewhere? If the kid is smart enough and works hard enough why in the hell is it a bad thing to make it possible for a kid that went to school in Texas to further his or her education and become a more productive member of society? We are the ones that made it possible for the kids parents to come here and work. Compared to all of the other freebies that get doled out, I’m not getting why this one is so bad. Enlighten me.

  • The fence.

Are people really that stupid (don’t answer that, I don’t want to know)? Do most Americans really think a fence is the answer to the illegal immigration mess? A fence along the entire border? Really? Are they going to put it on Mexican property or are they going to rip off the landowner and make him or her put it on their property? Are we going to fence out those damned Canadians too? What happens if someone comes by boat (Vietnamese, Cubans)? Shouldn’t we fence off the coast lines? Jesus Christos people, at what point do we surround ourselves with a force field and let nothing come in?

I’ve got a barbed wire fence around my little 13 acre universe. The neighbors cows, deer, and even seismic crews have traversed my property without my permission in spite of the fence. Since I don’t have 24/7 surveillance I have no doubt that I have missed other trespassers. If we aren’t going to take away the bait, 24/7 surveillance is the key to getting more for our money (notice that I didn’t say solving the problem). If we feel that we have to put on an appearance of solving this problem (and we really don’t want to solve it), put some resources in the air and monitor the border. Put the existing (don’t double down on an already over bloated governmental entity) human assets on the ground to work chasing credible and confirmed sitings of illegal traffic not driving along some ill conceived fence.

The fences that exist now barely slows them down. They go under, over, or through them. The detection of breaches and repair of the breaches eats up valuable manpower and resources. I don’t mind the fences in El Paso or other large border towns that have hiding places in proximity to the border but even those don’t and won’t solve the problem. The problem is their poor standard of living and our bait. Our political system has created and expanded a government entity known as I.C.E. to “solve” an unsolvable problem. If we solve the problem we will have to dismantle or re-task I.C.E. to some other manufactured crisis and that will result in even more spending.

Make no mistake, if the government creates it and runs it, then it’s a cost center. In the business world a cost center is represented by a negative number on the balance sheet.

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Legal and Illegal Immigration

Personally I don’t mind legal immigrants and I kind of understand the mindset of the illegal immigrants. I blame us, the US citizen and the US government, for them wanting to come here. Take a trip to Mexico and see how they live, then look at what we offer them and you may begin to understand what drives them to our country in such huge numbers. That’s right

    WE OFFER IT TO THEM

Intentional or not we offer everything that they can’t get at home free for the taking. All they have to do is cross hundreds of miles of desert, if not more, and their standard of living will increase orders of magnitude if they survive and find employment. We offer free healthcare, free education, a job (because nobody wants the jobs, that they take, for the money that they will work for), and a free ride home if caught. It’s what programmers call an infinite loop. We, America, bait them, use them, educate them, and heal them. Then we spend billions of dollars a year on a huge quasi-military organization, called the U.S. Border Patrol, who by the way are hard-working upstanding Americans that I am proud of, to round them up and send them home, at no cost (free to illegal immigrants, not us). It’s a great deal if they live through the trip.

If you want to get a feel, albeit a minimal feel, for what they have to go through to get here, take a trip to Big Bend and take a hike in the desert. Even a short hike on one of the maintained trails in the middle of July should give you a sense for what they go through to get here. In my opinion, they are extremely desperate to come here. When I hike in the desert I make sure that I have ample water and food. I hike solo most of the time so it’s critical that I plan each hike carefully. I plan such that when I return I have water to spare. My vehicle is no more than a few miles from me and there are liters of water in the vehicle if I or someone else needs it. If I over nite I have my creature comforts with me. In the desert that means a way to stay hydrated and warm. They don’t have these things when they come across. They have some water and a few possessions. I’m not taking up for them. I’m telling you that they want to be here a lot worse than some of the people who live here do. They want it because we offer them so much more than they have in their home country and we subsidize their existence here including their return if caught. Until the entitlements get reduced the flood will continue. I am skeptical that the US government really wants the flood to stop. There is a tremendous amount of infrastructure in place that is propped up by the flood of illegal immigrants and stopping the flood could bring it all down. Be careful what you wish for.

I’m no bleeding heart liberal. I believe that everyone should work for what they have and that entitlements are screwing this country up but I also know that the illegal immigrants, for the most part, are here because we (the US government) want them here. They do work that nobody else wants to do. The kinds of jobs that the illegal immigrants fill aren’t pursued by the average American. If we didn’t make it possible and lucrative they wouldn’t be here. If not for the cost of entitlements nobody would notice or care. It’s that simple.

I have taken some photographs that might help a person to see what I mean by how bad they want to be here. The desert is very unforgiving. If you plan poorly or have the misfortune to cross paths with the wrong person or wild animal, you could very likely die. In the case of dehydration, death can occur within hours. Illegal immigrants go through a lot just to get a job in this country. Again, I’m not making excuses for them. My goal is to contrast how much we offer with how badly they want it.

The desert, away from the national park roads and trails, is even more unforgiving than the photos that follow show.

Mule Ears Trail in Big Bend

Mule Ears Spring Trail Big Bend National Park

The River Road in Big Bend not far from the Rio Grande

The River Road Big Bend National Park

The Old Maverick Road in Big Bend looking toward Mexico

Old Maverick Road Big Bend National Park

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Another month is gone

Another month is gone. Time flies when you’re having life.

I don’t know if I’m cut out for this blogging stuff. It’s kind of like talking to yourself but someone you don’t know is listening. I guess if I don’t answer my own blogs it’ll be ok.

After many years of not having a garden I finally began the process of turning dirt into food this weekend. I’m going to start small but in the back of my mind I see a small organic farm in the making. We’ll see. Time is always an issue but with all the trappings of modern society I can probably keep it watered and weeded long enough to get some sort of food out of it. Once that’s accomplished I have to refresh my canning skills, if you can call “that” skills.

If anyone actually reads this some of you will probably wonder “why organic?”. Simple, organic practices are sustainable. I’m not a doomsday believer but I like the idea (or illusion) of self-sufficiency. I work in the oil industry. I don’t think that we are anywhere near “peak oil” and I think that the higher prices that we see are market driven and not demand / supply driven. However, my increasing understanding of  how poor the quality of the food in stores is, how tenuous the supply chain is, and how utterly dependent we are on petroleum and petrochemical products drives me to become more self-sufficient. Our vehicles, the packaging we throw away every day, literally everything you see in front of you or that touches you is associated with petroleum or petrochemical products.

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Supermoon

I couldn’t tell if it was “really” that much bigger but the full moon sure was easy to photograph last night. Of course Wikipedia has some decent information on the Super moon.

Super Moon 2011

Super Moon 2011

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History and Irony

Isn’t it kind of ironic that radiation has (supposedly) arrived on US soil from a broken reactor in Japan? Not just any reactor. A reactor designed in America. I suppose that their first time delivery method is better than what ours was.

That said, I think that the design of the reactor must be pretty good to withstand not only a magnitude 9 earthquake but survive (sort of) multiple aftershocks and a tsunami.

It’s too bad that the disaster in Japan will likely kill any future nuclear power plans. Over priced, over-subsidized, big fans and over-subsidized “corn-a-hol” isn’t going to dent the energy needs of this country. Besides that… Energy is not just about lighting a bulb. Petrochemicals rule our lives. From the pixels on our monitor to the plastic in our cars, to the packaging of our food, to the TP we use, we are surrounded by products derived from petrochemicals and we aren’t going to wean off of them anytime soon, if at all.

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