Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Key To Reducing Our Dependence Upon Foreign Oil...

...is to reduce our consumption of oil. This is such an obvious thing that every American should be up in arms over what Congress and the President are doing with the energy bill that is expected to pass soon. Instead, what we are getting is a bill that pushes more exploration of American reserves by giving huge handouts to oil companies that are already quite profitable without our tax money. I don't need to mention where Bush/Cheney's bread is buttered, do I? It's funny how these guys support free trade and open markets except when they have a chance to assist their oil cronies. We need to reduce consumption, and we need to find alternatives. There is some mention of alternatives, but reducing consumption is off the radar. The only consumption-oriented solution offered by the bill is to extend daylight saving time, but that will mostly affect electricity (I suppose oil-powered electrical plants would use less oil with DST, but that's not where our main oil usage is anyway).

The United States can never produce as much oil as it now buys from other countries. To give out federal money with the idea that more domestic development can really make a dent in our demand for foreign oil is folly at best. Every year Americans put more cars on the road, using more oil. Every year Americans spend more time in traffic, using more oil. Every year Americans move further from city centers, expanding into exurbia in vain pursuit of the "American dream" and lengthening their commutes to where the jobs are, using more oil. If we can't produce enough oil now, how will we ever produce enough to meet future demand? This is clearly unsustainable. (This leads to the debate about whether capitalism as an economic system dependent on constant growth is sustainable, but let's not get into that right now.)

What can we do? It seems that the least we can do is raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements. Surely that is part of this energy bill, right? Of course not. Maybe we can encourage mass transit, make it more difficult to develop the outer limits of metropolitan areas, provide incentives to people or companies to reduce consumption, increase taxes on SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles (and channel that money directly into research and development of renewable energy sources)... There are so many possibilities, and we aren't even exploring them. Bush's only "bold, new idea" is to start building more nuclear power plants. In a time when we are supposedly fighting a global war against terrorists, that just seems to invite disaster by creating more targets. And of course there is the problem of nuclear waste, which we have not effectively resolved for existing plants, much less a new generation of them.

Of course, drilling in such areas as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a part of Bush's plan, too. Somehow he has convinced Joe Sixpack (eg, my brother) that this is a great idea because we need to develop as much domestic oil as we can rather than buy foreign oil. He makes it sound as if the ANWR is sitting on a hundred years' worth of oil deposits. But the problem is that there just isn't enough oil there to make a noticeable difference. One way or another, we are going to run out of oil, or at least we will reach a point when production lags so far behind demand that market prices cannot bring supply and demand into balance. How will we get to work? How will we ship goods across America and around the world? How will people who live many miles from stores get food? How will trucks deliver food to those stores anyway? If the best that Bush and Congress can do is to put off our impending misery for months or even a year or two, do they deserve our votes? We need to put our money into finding real solutions, not into exploiting the limited resources we have.

And then there is the war we are waging to supposedly stabilize a region whose sole value to us is its black gold. Whether you believe that oil is the primary, secondary, terciary, or whatever reason for our involvement in Iraq, you cannot deny that without oil, the Middle East would just be an appendix attached to Africa, a continent that gets little attention from those who dictate our foreign policy. "Cheap oil" is already one of the biggest myths in America. The true costs of cheap oil are borne by all of us whether we drive or not. Our tax money is dedicated to fighting wars, maintaining military bases, and propping up despotic but US-friendly regimes in order to keep the cheap oil flowing. Suddenly it isn't so cheap anymore, is it? The Bush administration and Congress are only perpetuating this myth rather than taking a hard look at reality.


UPDATE 08/01/2005: Today I found a recent article at AlterNet called "Oil Companies Discover 'Sustainability'" by Charles I. Burch that discusses the ridiculousness of oil companies talking about sustainability with regard to a non-renewable resource.

UPDATE 08/29/2005: A Chicago Tribune editorial today chastized the Bush administration for proposing to modify the CAFE standards. They argued that it wouldn't solve our problems right now, and this is true. They also argued in favor of higher taxes on gas to encourage people to drive less. I agree with what they are saying because ultimately, that would have the same effect as CAFE because consumers would demand fuel efficiency. However, that doesn't mean that CAFE couldn't be part of a long-term strategy. The gas crisis of the 1970s taught us that once gas prices dip, people won't care about fuel economy anymore. Then it would be nice to have more stringent CAFE requirements to keep the automakers' feet to the fire. Then again, it is increasingly unlikely that prices will go down again. Of course, the joke of all this is that there is no way any politician will get elected or re-elected if he/she supports high gas taxes.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Teddy Update

Teddy's red blood cell count appears to be stable around 20, so they let us take him home yesterday. Although he struggled a bit climbing the stairs to the front door, he is still able to jump up on our bed. He is mostly sleeping, but he did that before he got sick--after all, he is a dog, and an elderly one at that. For the most part, he's the same old Teddy. We are giving him half a dozen pills a day, some of which he'll have to take for the rest of his life. Tomorrow we'll go to his regular vet to get his blood tested again. If he's around 25, then we're on track for recovery. If not, we may have to increase his medication.

I have long resisted the Internet cliche of posting dog photos, but since Blogger recently incorporated images, here you go...

UPDATE 08/02/2005: So far, so good. Teddy's color is better, and he is acting more and more like his usual self. He's also enjoying the treats bestowed on him by his concerned fan club. The vet added antibiotics and a nutritional supplement (SAMe, B-complex, antioxidants), so now he's taking a dozen pills a day. Fortunately, thanks to Merkts cheese he is none the wiser.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Crunch Time / Teddy

As some of you know, I am working on a book right now. My manuscript is due September 1, so I have five weeks to get it done. I should be able to finish, but I am a bit behind at the moment. I wanted to have all the riding done by August 1, but it looks like I'll still have at least half a dozen rides to do. I've been on the road most of the month working on it, so I've had little time for blogging. I may not get to blog much until September.

On top of that, our older dog, Teddy, is very sick. He has auto-immune disease (white blood cells attacking red blood cells), and he has been hospitalized since Monday. He is acutely anemic; his red blood cell count was 42 in April, but this week it is between 10 and 15. My wife called from the emergency vet Sunday night, and I abandoned a paid-for motel room (ouch) to drive home. From her description, I was afraid I wouldn't get to see him alive. Fortunately, by the time we went to visit at 3 AM, he had recovered somewhat after getting fluids and steroids (which suppress the immune system). They let us walk him outside a bit, and he was strong enough to tug at the leash when he wanted to sniff something.

The emergency vet closes at 8 AM, so we had to take him to his regular vet in the morning. They said he would need to be watched for at least 24 hours. Since they close at 7 PM, we would have to take him back to the emergency vet in the evening. Instead, they recommended that we take him to the same place we took our other dog, Rosco, for knee surgery in March. On the 45-minute drive up to Buffalo Grove, Teddy seemed okay. He sat up in the back seat, the wind blowing his floppy ears. We checked him in and came home. They performed many tests and gave us some good news: they couldn't find any underlying problem like cancer that was causing his condition. It's a mystery how he got auto-immune disease, but at least we know we are dealing with the primary illness rather than a symptom of something else.

The vet called at 2 AM yesterday and said Teddy would need a blood transfusion. With auto-immune disease, the risk is high that the white blood cells will immediately devour the new blood, but when his red blood cell count dropped to 10, there was no other option. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. By the time we went to visit him around noon, his count wasn't any better, and he was very weak. He walked in to see us, licked a little gravy off the food we brought for him, and laid down. We spent the next half-hour petting him, leaving a huge pile of hair on the floor. The nurse had to use a sling to hold up his back legs to walk him out. They called us as we were driving home and said they needed to do another transfusion, this time of two units.

As of this morning he is holding steady, which is good news. His first transfusion only boosted his red blood cell count for 8 hours, but it's been 18 hours since the second transfusion finished. They say his color and vital signs are better, and he isn't in any pain. Now all we can do is wait and hope that he can make enough of his own red blood cells to start improving.

The vet said Teddy was very agitated after we left yesterday, so we will probably stay away for a while. He's always had some separation anxiety--he doesn't misbehave like some dogs, but he gets nervous and upset. My wife doesn't want him to feel abandoned, but the vet and I agree that Teddy can't really afford to expend the extra energy to handle the stress of leaving us again. We'll have to wait until his condition changes dramatically. We're hoping for the better, of course, but we've been steeling ourselves in case he gets worse.

My wife calls Teddy our "child substitute." Although I don't like the term, I must admit that it is pretty accurate. We always knew a time like this would be tough for us, but it has been much harder than we imagined. The roller-coaster nature of Teddy's condition has made it especially difficult. I think it's like watching a basketball game that goes on for days. The score keeps changing and the lead goes back and forth, but it will all come down to the last few minutes of the game.

Hang in there, big guy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Computer Troubles

It's been a strange week computer-wise. I finally figured out why my old laptop has been running so slowly for the past few months. It came with 64MB of RAM three years ago, and I added 128MB immediately. Somehow the laptop stopped recognizing the 128MB stick, so it was using 64MB instead of 192MB. No wonder it kept grinding the hard drive! The weird thing is that when I opened up the laptop, the memory appeared to be seated properly. In desperation, I popped it out and put it back in just for the heck of it. Sure enough, it now runs like a Swiss watch, or at least as close to that as a 366Mhz Pentium II can get.

My new laptop arrived today. It shipped from China yesterday and got to Chicago by way of Anchorage and Louisville (where it cleared customs) by 6:00 this morning. Best of all, shipping was free from IBM/Lenovo. I can't imagine what UPS express shipping from China would have cost me. I was downstate working on my book this week, but I came home when I found out my laptop had arrived (it was a week later than promised when I ordered but a week earlier than I was told recently by customer service).

I was looking forward to loading all my software and hitting the road again. Unfortunately, I came home to find my desktop PC was a mess. When I rebooted, it said it couldn't find a required Windows file ("SYSTEM") and recommended using recovery disks. I went through this several months ago, and the recovery disk didn't do anything. I finally reinstalled Windows 2000 to fix it. I was lucky then--the reinstall only messed up two programs. I tried a bunch of things this time, including every recovery option, then I tried to reinstall Windows 2000 again. Well, this time I must have done something different because I ended up with a fresh, vanilla installation and lost all of my settings, drivers, programs, etc.--it must have reset the registry. I could reinstall and reconfigure all of my software on the four-year-old PC, or I could just buy a new one. After two hard drive failures in the first two years and two Windows failures in the past six months, I don't see the point in trying to resurrect the thing. At least I have good back-ups, and most of my data is on a second internal drive that I can install in a new PC.

Now instead of taking my new laptop when I go on the road, I'll probably have to leave it at home to serve as my desktop PC (I already connected the DSL). Oh well, at least I fixed my other laptop so it's a little more bearable to use. Now I need to find a good deal on a desktop that doesn't require me to buy a bundle with a monitor (and usually a printer) that I don't need. I probably won't have time to set it up until September when my book manuscript is finished anyway.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Livng In The Past

I try not to talk about family much in my blog, partly because some family members read it, but mostly because I figure you all have your own family problems to deal with and don't care about mine. So if you fall into that category, feel free to skip this post.

A relative came to visit recently. To protect her privacy, let's just call her... Ann, short for Annoying. Ann irritated me the last time I saw her, so I had little desire to see her again. Somehow my mom cajoled me into it the way mothers do, although I think (hope) now she realizes she shouldn't have. Ann knows me mostly from my youth; apparently she hasn't paid much attention to the past quarter century or so of my life. All night she poked at me with stories I don't remember or don't want to remember. She even said something like, "So, are we going to tell stories about David now?" I shot her a look that my mom recognized as one I reserve for special loathing, such as when somebody aims a video camera my way. Ann didn't seem to care. She bulldozed ahead with the conversation she wanted to have (there were other things, but I won't go into them here).

After too many hours of poking, Ann finally got what she asked for around midnight. She dredged up a topic that she had really angered me with several years ago (basically, she had butted into an argument I had with another family member). She knew damn well she was pushing my buttons. I was tired of biting my tongue. I chastised her and announced that I was leaving. My dad, lousy peacemaker that he is, said, "Come on, that was in the past." Damn it, the whole evening was "in the past" and I was sick of it. So then he said I was being childish. Of course, when he's pissed off (which is pretty often), no one tells him he's being childish. And where do you think I got my temper from anyway? Not my mother, who knew better than to say anything as I grew more enraged at my father than I have been since I was a teenager. Thanks, Ann, for getting me into a fight with him. Come again soon.

I gave Ann a painfully insincere hug, excused myself by saying that I was just really tired, and left. I guess she'll have to read my blog to find out what I really think. The truth is, if the only way Ann can relate to me is through the ancient past, then I don't care to see her ever again. My brother said that later Ann joked that she was going to call me and mention the topic that set me off, which only goes to show how clueless she is. The next time she wants to bait me, I don't plan on being there. Life is too short to deal with people like that, related or not.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Tired, Old Lance Armstrong Question

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Rick Morrissey today addresses the question people have been asking about Lance Armstrong since he won his first Tour de France in 1999: is he using performance-enhancing drugs?

Let me start by saying that I am not the world's biggest Lance Armstrong fan. I admire his talent and particularly his dedication, but I have a feeling that I wouldn't like him in person (the embattled Tyler Hamilton is more my type). This drug question really irritates me, though. As Morrissey acknowledges, Armstrong has taken a lot of drug tests and has never tested positive. In fact, he has been targeted for testing. On Friday, the day after all Tour de France competitors were tested, a "random" drug test was performed on one cyclist: Armstrong. It was his sixth "out-of-competition" drug test this year. Still, people think he must be taking something to be so good. Morrissey admits that his own cynicism about doping in all professional sports is the main reason he can't seem to trust Armstrong, but that doesn't make it fair. It's as stupid as when a jaded woman says, "Well, of course he's going to sleep around. He's a man, and that's what men do."

Here's another thing to consider about Armstrong's alleged doping that Morrissey didn't mention. Armstrong doesn't win all the time, and if you think that's deliberate manipulation on his part, then you don't know his competitive nature. In yesterday's 11-mile time trial, Armstrong finished 51 seconds ahead of everyone else... except Dave Zabriskie, who won the race by two seconds. But does anyone accuse Zabriskie of taking drugs? When Armstrong finished third on Brasstown Bald in the Tour de Georgia, did anyone say that Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer beat him because they had better drugs? When Ivan Basso finished with Armstrong ahead of everyone else on two tough mountain stages at last year's Tour, did anyone question Basso's purity? Naysayers are always attacking Armstrong, but they don't question others (that said, there is a small group of critics who swear that everyone in pro cycling uses drugs, regardless of their race results or test results).

Other people say that Armstrong must be using some kind of incredible new drugs that no one else knows about, drugs that they can't find through testing. While I am skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry, I find it hard to believe that someone would create an undetectable superdrug just for Armstrong. Besides, after what Armstrong has been through, I couldn't imagine why he would put such an untested substance in his body. And even if he did, there would be no point in doing it now. His future was secure financially after a few Tour victories, so if he had been cheating, why would he continue to do so and keep racing? If I had used drugs to achieve what Armstrong did, I would have concocted some sort of accident or medical condition that "made" me retire young, legend intact.

Armstrong's story of cancer recovery and total Tour de France domination does sound "too good to be true," and I suppose that is reason enough for people to try to knock it down and find out "the real story." Several writers have tried to do that, often relying on hearsay or questionable sources (i.e., former employees with an axe to grind). Armstrong has responded with lawsuits that draw criticism from people who think he is trying to keep the "truth" from getting out. I see it for what it is: a man worth millions is simply protecting his "brand." If someone wrote a book claiming Coca-Cola causes brain cancer, I would expect the Coca-Cola Company to react the same way.

Ultimately, idle conjecture by writers like Morrissey is pointless and perhaps even mean-spirited. It adds nothing to the body of evidence on either side of the question. It is a sad reflection on sports and sportswriters that this column appears at the top of the Sports page while an article about something that actually happened (yesterday's time trial) is relegated to page 20. I am not swearing that Armstrong is 100% clean (I wouldn't pretend to know that for anyone but myself), but in the absence of damning evidence, navel-gazing benefits no one.