#6 Open Blog Friday: Japan earthquake, solar flares, gas boycott and more

Are solar flares responsible for epilepsy seizures and earthquakes?

NASA has just an amazing image of the March 9  powerful solar flare, an X1.5-class explosion from the behemoth sunspot 1166 around 2323 UT, that would be 5:23pm Central time two days ago. The movie taken from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a bright flash of UV radiation plus some material hurled from the blast site. (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News031011-xclass.html)

NASA also says that yesterday, March 10, around 0630 UT, which would be 12:30 am Central time here at ShadeyHill Ranch, a coronal mass ejection, or CME struck a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field. This was a result of an M3 flare belched out from the sun late on Monday, March 7.  NASA says that flare headed toward us at 2,200 km/sec.

The London Daily Mail has an extraordinary image of a smoke ring created by the aftermath of a March 3 solar eruption, the photo by amateur astronomer using a small telescope, and that sunspot is the size of Planet Earth. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1364818/A-smoke-ring-emitted-sun-captured-amateur-astronomer.html)

But, let me get back to that CME, or solar flare, that hit Earth yesterday morning around 12:30.  Do solar flares and other electromagnetic or geomagnetic activity adversely affect people with epilepsy? To tell you the truth, I don’t know.  All I can go on right now is through personal accounts on various epilepsy forums and by observing what happens with my wife Sharon who has temporal lobe epilepsy.  Sharon was our guest on our first two shows this week.

She’s has continuous pain associated with seizures and with her withdrawal from Valium, which in itself is pretty nasty, even though she didn’t take enough of the stuff to knock out a fly.  So, it’s not unusual for her to wake up in the middle of the night and go to another room to walk off the pain so she can get back to sleep.

Well, about 12:30 yesterday morning, which is the same time as the solar flare hit the planet, she bolted awake and wanted to know why I had slapped her in the head.  Not only had I not slapped her, it would have been physically impossible to touch her, given that my arms were wrapped up in the covers because she has to have the thermostat set at 65 during the night.

Did the seizure she had later in the day yesterday have anything to do with the solar flare? Who knows?  I’d also like to know if there is a correlation between seismic activity and seizure activity.  I mean, we know animals, fish, and birds seem to predict earthquakes, so why would it be strange to consider the possibility that people who suffer from seizure disorders can also sense impending earthquakes?

I’m looking at an Aaron’s Reality blog posting right now from January written by someone who says his worst seizures come when we get hit by massive solar flares. I have a link to it on our blog.  He also suggests that these solar eruptions play a role in earthquakes, which I’ll get to in a moment. (http://aaronsreality.blogspot.com/2011/01/certain-types-of-epilepsy-and-solar.html)

Someone responded to this blog by saying that he, also, experiences an increase in seizures when we get hit by solar flares.

Here’s another blog on the Coping with Epilepsy site (http://www.coping-with-epilepsy.com/forums/f23/seizures-solar-geomagnetic-activity-11768/) The poster says people who keep seizure diaries should go back and take a look to see if solar or geomagnetic events trigger seizures. This person has checked space weather sites for several years and has noticed that solar and geomagnetic events either improve or worsen her seizure related symptoms.

Now, I’m also looking a Harvard University site that has an abstract presented to the American Geophysical Union at its Spring 2007 meeting about research into the question of whether solar flares can trigger earthquakes. The study of 682 earthquakes and observed solar flares between 1991 and 2007 didn’t find any conclusive correlation.  But, there seems to be enough data to warrant further study into what happens to tectonic plates when Earth gets rocked by solar flares. (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007AGUSMIN33A..03J)

And, if you believe the moon plays a big part in our physical, emotional, and mental states, then be prepared for later in the month.  Apparently, on March 19, the moon will be the closest to the Earth than it’s been since 1992. (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-03/biggest-full-moon-20-years-almost-certainly-wont-cause-huge-natural-disaster)

Boycotting the gasoline boycott

Well, we knew it was going to happen.  As soon as gasoline prices topped $3-a-gallon, people started talking about a renewal of the idea of a gasoline boycott pitched back in 2007 and 2008 when the price for a gallon of unleaded regular hit $4.  A call went out on social networks, such as Facebook, for boycott today and then again on May 15. (http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-fueling-gas-boycotts-2011-03)

The idea sounds good, but the reality says something different because, even if millions of motorists didn’t buy gasoline today, that would have zero effect on the price. One big reason is that if you take part in the boycott, you are not using less gasoline, you are just delaying by one day your gasoline purchase.

If you are really serious about a boycott and striking a blow at the big, bad oil companies, then you’d park your vehicle and ride a bicycle or walk.  Carpooling and mass transit still consume fuel, so either walk or bike, my friend.

Snopes and MSNBC are a couple of sites you might want to read before you park the car in the driveway today. (http://www.snopes.com/politics/gasoline/nogas.asp) (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18492185/ns/business-answer_desk/)

Back in 2008 I wrote a column called So you think you know oil? Probably not, carried by the usual online news sites and picked up by a host of other online and print publications, probably making it one of my most widely distributed columns over the past 13 years.  A university professor even asked to use it in his classes.  Not sure why, but who am I to argue?

Let me share some of that original column.

At the time, I worked at a research university, which meant I hung around with people who had at least one university degree.  Most read, watched, or listened to more than one news source every day.  They spanned generations with ages ranging from the 20s to the 70s.

Yet, not a single person among them knew the answers to some basic questions pertinent to the growing discourse regarding the rising price of oil.  A few knew some of the answers, and some knew a few of the answers.  To be fair, I had to look up the answers.

For instance, how big is a barrel?  Answer: 42 gallons.  So, now you know that when the price for a barrel of crude oil hits $140, that’s the same as $3.33 a gallon.

What nation supplies the most crude oil and petroleum products to the United States?  Answer: The United States.  According to the Energy Information Agency (www.eia.doe.gov), our country supplied 41 percent of the oil we consumed in March of this year.

What nation, other than the U.S., supplies the most crude oil and petroleum products to our country?  Answer:  Canada.  Our northern neighbor accounts for 12 percent of our nation’s oil and 20 percent of all the oil we import.  The rest of the top five include Saudi Arabia (7 percent and 13 percent); Venezuela (6 percent and 11 percent); Nigeria (6 percent and 10 percent); and Mexico (5 percent and 8 percent).

How much oil do we import from Persian Gulf countries?  I’m glad you asked.  Persian Gulf countries accounted for only 16 percent of our foreign oil imports each year from 2005 to 2007.  In fact, our Persian Gulf imports declined most of this decade, from a 15-year high of a little more than 1 billion barrels in 2001 to 791.9 million barrels in 2007.

What’s the difference between crude oil and petroleum products?  Answer: Crude oil provides, among other products, gasoline, diesel and jet fuels, heating oil, liquefied petroleum gas, lubricants, asphalt, plastics, synthetic fibers, detergents, fertilizers, ink, crayons, bubble gum, deodorant, tires, and heart valves.

One barrel of crude oil (which is 42 gallons, remember?), yields about 19.6 gallons of gasoline.  The other 22.4 gallons go into the products just mentioned.

How much of the cost of oil goes into the price of gasoline.  Answer:  A bunch.  We consumed about 390 million gallons of gas a day last year in our cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, farm implements, and construction and landscaping equipment.  Back when crude was $68 a barrel (that was just last year), it accounted for about 58 percent of the price of a gallon of gasoline.  The rest of the price came from refining costs (17 percent), federal and state taxes (15 percent), and distribution and marketing (10 percent).

By the way, the price of crude accounts for about 77 percent of the cost of gas at $4 a gallon.

The folks in California pay 63.9 cents a gallon in state and federal fuel taxes, the most in the nation.  That’s just the base, though.  Motorists there also pay an additional 6-percent state sales tax, with some paying another 1.25-percent county sales tax plus applicable local sales taxes.  Same in Illinois, where Chicago motorists pay 12.75 cents per gallon on top of the 57.9 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes.  Some Illinois motorists also pay a 6.25-percent sales tax.

Politicians, pundits, and other TV talking heads don’t like to provide these answers, because facts get in the way of positions that pander to the mob.  We don’t point fingers at Canada, because it’s de rigueur to paint the Saudis with the broad brush of blame.  Folks float the idea of a moratorium on state and federal gasoline taxes without explaining its minimal impact on gas prices, or without mentioning the $3 sales tax some motorists pay on top of a $50 fill up.  Policymakers don’t explain that oil trades in the dollar, which is weak vis-à-vis the Euro, because that would require solutions for strengthening the greenback.

Human rights is a foreign phrase to the Cuban government

Cuba is another example of an international subject with a Texas tie-in, and particularly the Houston/Galveston area, which includes ShadeyHill Ranch, which has a sizeable Cuban population.  In fact, the guy who makes my hand-rolled cigars is Cuban.  And a former colleague came to the United States with his parents in the early 60s after watching the Bay of Pigs fiasco from his apartment window.

Well, this week the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12658025) reported on the death of Alberto Granado, the guy who tooled around Latin America on a motorcyle in the 1950s with Che Guevara.  That eight-month road trip, and the diaries the two kept, became the basis for the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, which was another attempt by the individuals of a certain political persuasion to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.  Or more appropriately, a spineless murderer of women and children into a folk hero.

The film supposedly shows how these two ideological medical students discovered deep poverty and social injustice throughout Latin America, an eye-opening that led to Guevara’s revolutionary convictions, also known as self-aggrandizement attained through corruption, betrayal, torture, and murder.

After Castro’s gang overthrew the Batista regime and sent Michael Corleone fleeing for his safety, Guevara convinced his childhood buddy to join him in Cuba where he got a job for life teaching biochemistry at Havana University.

The Cuban government says Granado died in Havana of natural causes, which is more than can be said for his buddy Che who died in 1967 begging for his life in Bolivia where he was stirring up another revolution and continuing his murdering ways.

So why bring this up?  Here’s why: both well-meaning individuals and the ill-informed intelligentsia of the political left continue to hold the cowardly murderer Guevara as the symbol of idealism and revolution, a Latin American Robin Hood.  Well, yes, he robbed, from both the rich and the poor, and he was a hood. Of course, there would be a lot of people alive today if Guevara had simply been a mafia hood.  Another Godfather reference.

The next story shows the sad state of human rights in Castro’s Cuba.  And, once again we have to rely on the BCC to tell us what’s happening, in this case, to an American. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12657855)

After two days, a Cuban court this week ended the trial of Alan Gross, described as an aid worker, charged with crimes against the state. No verdict yet, but if convicted, Gross, who is now 61 years old, could spend the next 20 years in a Cuban prison.

So, what did he do? Threaten to kill one of the Castro brothers, Fidel or Raul? Rob the Bank of Castro? Paint graffiti over one of those stupid Che Guevara posters?

No.  In Cuba, setting up Internet connections so the people there can find out what’s really going on in their island nation and around the world is a crime against the state.

But of course it is.  No two-bit dictator, ruler, or king wants to see the Tunisia Tsunami roll over his country and sweep him into exile, or worse.

Here’s what happened, according to the report.  Gross went to Cuba under a program funded by the US Agency for International Development, also known as USAID, to distribute Internet and satellite communication equipment to Jewish communities in Havana.

Yep. You heard me right. Our country funds a program that sets up Internet connections in Cuba, and other countries.

OK, all of you Castro lovers. Do I have your attention yet?

It appears the commies running the country into the ground consider the free flow of information, in this case to Jews, a subversive activity that must be crushed whenever found.

Cuba wasn’t his first job.  Mr. Gross reportedly worked on development projects in the Palestinian territories, Kenya, Gambia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  But it seems he had limited experience in Cuba except for travelling there five times in nine months, which caught the attention of Castro’s goons.

His wife Judy says he has gout, ulcers, and has developed arthritis in prison, where she says he’s also lost 90 pounds since his imprisonment in December 2009.

She’s been allowed to see him in prison once.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Cuba needs to let him go, or else it will hurt relations between the two countries.  That, my friends, is a topic for another day.

Does National Public Radio have such a low regard for the public?

Here’s another interesting story to come out of this week, but you may not have heard about it if you don’t frequent so-called conservative news sites.

James O’Keefe runs out outfit called The Project Veritas (http:..www.theprojectveritas.org).  Back in 2009, the guy made a name for himself when he and a Project Veritas female staff member disguised themselves as a pimp and a prostitute and  visited eight ACORN offices to get advice on how to obtain a home loan so they could open a brothel. Videos of the sting (http://www.theprojectveritas.org/node/6) seemed to show ACORN staffers giving advice on tax evasion, child prostitution, and human smuggling.

One video purportedly showed an ACORN staff member in Maryland suggesting that the supposed prostitute hide her occupation from the IRS by calling herself a performance artist.

Well, he surfaced again this week when he caught on camera a guy named Ron Schiller, a top executive at National Public Radio (http://www.npr.org) talking out of school.  Schiller, who at the time was president of NPR’s fundraising efforts and a senior vice president for development, was caught calling Tea Party movement members facists and xenophobes, and saying that NPR would be better off without federal funding, a perennial debate in Congress, and more so now.

The heavily edited video (http://www.theprojectveritas.org/node/36) appears to show Schiller and another NPR executive, Betsy Liley, meeting at a ritzy  restaurant in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood with two men from Project Veritas who claimed to be members of a fake group called the Muslim Action Education Center, a group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and whose goal is to “spread the acceptance of Sharia across the world.”

The phony Muslims offered to give  NPR a $5 million donation, which NPR said this week it repeatedly refused to take even though the fake Muslims kept insisting.

What really seems to have brought the roof down on Schiller was an apparent statement he made on tape that the Republican Party today is not really the Republican Party, but a political group of the Tea Party, which is not just Islamophobic, but xenophobic.

He went on to describe Tea Party followers as people who believe in gun-toting, white, middle-America who are seriously racist individuals.

Schiller continued by opining that NPR would be better off in the long-run without federal funding.  Right now, NPR gets about two-percent of its funding from federal grants while member stations get about ten-percent of their funding from state and federal sources.

Getting off of the public dole, according to Schiller, would let NPR become an independent voice and shed the baggage that it gets most of its money from the US taxpayers.

NPR was just as swift in distancing itself from Schiller as it was in firing commentator Juan Williams last year after Williams said on Fox News, where he also was a commentator, that it really disturbed him to see people wearing Muslim garb on airplanes.

The video, by the way, shows Schiller agreeing with the Williams firing, in what has to be one of the year’s best examples of irony, by saying that NPR stands for non-racist and non-bigoted journalism.

NPR said it was “appalled”, to use its word, by Schiller’s comments and just as quickly pointed out that Schiller supposedly turned in his resignation before he got caught on camera.  Schiller was expected to stay on until May, but NPR placed him on immediate administrative leave.

Schiller will become a director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program (http://www.aspeninstitute.org) and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program.  By the way, don’t bother looking at the appointment announcement on the Aspen Web site. They require registration to view their content, but you can view the announcement here (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:w9nsGNub45wJ:www.aspeninstitute.org/news/2011/03/03/aspen-institute-taps-ronald-schiller-new-head-arts-program+aspen+institute+arts+program&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&source=www.google.com).

Schiller is not related to NPR’s chief executive officer Vivian Schiller. Or, more correctly, former CEO.  Vivian Schiller, who was the one to show Juan Williams the door, resigned shortly after the story broke about the other Schiller. In fact, her apparent resignation happened so quickly and unexpectedly that NPR had to break into its Morning Edition program to make the announcement.

OK, let me add my personal take on all of this.

I worked at two public broadcasting stations in Indiana, a radio station that was an NPR station and a TV station that was with PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service.  Later, I did commentaries for a public radio network with stations in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

And, in the early 80s, I was one of three finalists for the job as associate director of news for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which comprises NPR and PBS.

The Indiana jobs were in the 1970s when cable was sort of gaining ground on over-the-air broadcasting, and long before satellite TV and the Internet.

So, these were times when public broadcasting performed a real, and in my opinion, essential service to the American public by providing news, entertainment, and arts programming you couldn’t find anywhere else.

But today, I challenge you to find a PBS or NPR genre that isn’t available on your television from cable or satellite, on your regular or satellite radio, or on the vast number of sites from around the world on the Internet.  This show on Blog Talk Radio is just one small example.

The question today is this: regardless of good or bad economic times, should the American taxpayers expect to shell out nearly $450 million, as we did last year, for public broadcasting?  It’s all part of the basic economic theory of supply and demand: if PBS and NPR provide unique news, information, and entertainment programming, then there should be businesses, corporations, and foundations willing to take up the slack.

After all, $450 million is a drop in the bucket when you consider NASA this week had its own drop in the bucket, the ocean bucket, that is, when it lost a $424-million communication satellite.

About John David Powell

John David Powell - Gone To Texas is on extended hiatus as a daily blogcast from ShadeyHill Ranch carried exclusively on Blog Talk Radio at www.blogtalkradio.com/johndavidpowell. We featured discussion of events in Texas and the world.
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