Saturday, September 29, 2012


The setting was anything but ghostly and I’m a major skeptic, anyway. Calaveras County’s old courthouse and jail in San Andreas was a temporary home to wild and dangerous characters during the gold fevered 1800′s. Here, members of the historical society gathered sociably for wine and beer before dinner in what was once the jail yard.

The walled yard is made of native stone, mortarless, and is called dry wall; now over-grown with vines, and beautiful. I spent a lot of time here when I wrote historical features in the 1980′s. Black Bart, the  infamous poet bandit was kept in the jail.  And judge Gotttschalk committed suicide inside the courthouse. Tour guides point to blood spattered books in the law library from his suicide. The building has  been declared haunted by people who have worked here over the years.
Records indicate several inmates were buried “behind” the jail. No one knows whether there was a body under a broken headstone left from 1882. The top of the stone was missing and then rebuilt from pictures. The first court house was a tent. The second one, made of wood, burned. The fine old brick building is too small for a modern court and has been turned into a showplace museum by the Calaveras County Historical Society.

The Historical Society removed an unused public oven from the gold rush town of Calaveritas in 1994 and rebuilt it in the courtyard. Community ovens were made from native stone and held together with mud from heavy clay soil. Ovens like this one hold up well if covered over by a roof. The oven has drawn members to meet in warm months outdoors for pizza, home-baked bread with a salad pot luck, or chicken bargeques. It takes about three minutes to cook a pizza in this oven and they are delicious.

I sat with Sylvia and Cliff Edson, a local restaurant owner who just bought an old Victorian and is restoring it while living in it. They are dealing with ghosts, or several spirits in their house. Sylvia gets frightened by them. Cliff has had the house blessed several times, and is a believer. They don’t upset him. They were stunned to find out the subject of the meeting was The Paranormal. They hadn’t read the notice about who the speaker would be.

I have no idea how many pizzas Clyde Weddell made that night. He made three types, sausage, pepperoni and pesto with sun-dried tomato.  Absolutely delcious.

When Clyde makes pizza, he tosses it into the air. I was never quite able to catch the pizza in the air, but it was fascinating to watch him work. As it got dark, he donned a headlight.

After dinner, we listened to Rick Panzarina talk about debunking and validating ghosts, or paranormal presences in old buildings, businesses and private homes. He turns most of the seekers away, after determining they are only interested in sensationalizing their claims. He says, a good ghostbuster doesn’t  ask for money to investigate your ghost because then, they would always find a ghost.  He uses lasers, 11 cameras, video equipment, and high tech sound equipment. He gave results of having investigated the ghosts in the Court House and other places where he has found evidence of paranormal activity. The blood on the books, if it is blood, did not belong to Judge Gottschalk.  All he had to do was look at the date Gottschalk killed himself, and the date the books were published to know the “spatters” couldn’t have been from his death. He could find no para-normal activity in the Courthouse. He explained in detail how wooden floors make popping sounds that closely resemble footsteps. He and his team of seven people do not allow whispering. They address any presence in a loud voice and ask it to declare itself. They got one very clear “Hi!” Once, out of about 50 buildings. They do not play to sensationalism. Some people would rather have their “fun” reputation than have a ghostbuster disprove any paranormal activity. And, for tourism in the Motherlode, that is quite all right with the locals. Almost every old hotel in the area claims to have a ghost. It is soooo fun!  I’d love to have a ghost in my house. Wouldn’t you?

Friday, September 28, 2012


On  November 6th, 2012,  California voters will be presented with Proposition 34, which would end the state’s death penalty and instead require mandatory life sentences, without parole, for condemned inmates.
Specifically, Proposition 34 will:
  • Repeal the death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • Apply retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. (725)
  • Require persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.
  • Create a $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.
I have a friend who is dead set against this bill. He espouses the idea that death by injection as cruel and unusual punishment is “bull”. And, I agree. However, the people required to kill 725 people are civil servants who work for the system. The find it difficult to participate in killing another human being. Physicians find it difficult to administer death to a healthy person. Life in prison is by some estimates a harsher punishment than death. Over the years, I was  a supporter of the death penalty. The recent spate of people released from prison, and death row, across the country, found innocent of their crimes after yeas in prison, made me change my mind. Most of them were exonerated by DNA testing. The expense of the death penalty alone gives me pause. It costs more to follow the “safeguards” with appeals and extra legal maneuvering before a man is executed, a process that often takes years, than it is to keep him for life.  I think voters should approve Prop. 34, for all the reasons below:
The death penalty doesn’t work. It has been proven that it does not deter heinous crime, especially in the drug crazed world we now live in.
A crime carrying the death penalty isn’t qualified equally in communities around the state. It depends on a seated judge’s interpretation.  Juries are harder to seat when they are faced with the power to condemn a person to death which greatly adds to the cost of trials subject to the death penalty.
Proponents have spent years trying to speed up executions, including creating a Habeas Corpus Resource Center in 1998. And yet,  California has only executed 13 condemned murderers since 1992. More condemned men have died while waiting on death row than have been executed.
Supporters say California could institute laws for speedy executions as they do in Texas. But we’d do so risking the same kind of legal errors and unequal application that has tarnished Texas’ judicial system. Killing innocent people, does not go down well, nor should it happen.
Ending the death penalty would save California courts $50 million annually for appellate litigation according to Legislative Annalists.  My friend claims that is because attorneys  pad their fees and take advantage of the governments deep pockets. If that is true, more the reason to do without the death penalty. There is no doubt that money would be saved because in all respects, death penalty cases are much more expensive to put to trial.
And, in California, looming is an expensive upgrade to the death row at San Quentin.
Altogether, ending the death penalty would save California about $100 million in the first few years, and about $130 million in subsequent years, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Under Proposition 34, the same prisoners  would be given jobs in prison, unless they posed too great a risk to be with the general population. Like other murderers, these inmates would have their pay deducted for any debts they owe to victims of crime.
Supporters of the death penalty say it is an affront to the families of victims to see these murderer’s live while their loved one died by those same hands. But how long must they wait when the system is not working? And, what guilt would they feel if the convicted man were executed and another inmate confessed to that crime sometime down the line, which has happened? Or, if DNA evidence proved him innocent after the execution?
How can we as humans, claim we abhor violence and then engage in it?
Manson, a heinous killer, is still in prison and routinely comes before a parole board and repeatedly, and endlessly (he complains) will be turned down. Prop. 34 would do away with those expensive hearings that come up every so many years, and the attorneys who represent them in these hearings. There are monsters in society and living with no hope of parole can allow the prisoner to accept his situation and engage in work that provides some small restitution to victims. It is simply more humane.
The Sacramento Bee made this point: If California were to implement life sentences with no possibility of parole, high-profile murderers such as Ramirez and Rhoades would no longer get the attention they crave and often receive on San Quentin’s death row.They’d live out their lonely days behind bars and die in relative obscurity. That would be a just end, and one that we all could count on.
I would add to that. No murderer should be allowed to make money on the sensationalism of his crime by publishing a book. He can write it, but he cannot publish it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I finally got a date for my stress test before surgery. It looks like I’ll be hanging out in Murphys until after Thanksgiving.  Not a negative; there are always tasks to complete. I always figure it is better to be busy than bored.
I’ve seen video snippets about driver-less cars in action, parking themselves, and wowing crowds. It’s for real. And, I was wowed by progressive Governor, Jerry Brown who has asserted California’s place in the future of technology by approving the licensing of driver-less cars. Hey, way to go, Jerry.
Have a look:

Technology never ceases to amaze me. A real gauge of innovation in American business is available in Logistics Magazine. It deals with innovative ways of moving goods around this country; By barge, shuttle, overhead rail, different from anything you are used to seeing. I was impressed with huge multinational corporations cost saving green technologies, as well.  It is economical to use alternative power and helps their bottom line.
I have a hard time finding much good to say about corporations these days. But, behind all the political mess created by Citizens United, there are regular companies, just doing their job, keeping goods moving, employing people, trying innovative ideas and working to keep America and other countries moving forward.  We have a lot to be thankful for.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Fall is in the air, there is no mistaking it, the cooler nights; waking up in the dark instead of those sunny mornings. Brrr! There is something else in the air as well, politics. It’s become so ugly I know people who refuse to listen or to vote. I’m tired of the two-party system where you often have to hold your nose to vote. And, now the mega-bucks with attack ads on both sides filling the airwaves. Money that could so easily be spent on positive change. There are good things about politics, though. A local man, Tom Pratt, wholesome, positive, experienced and dedicated to excellence in education is running for School Board. He meets voters at a neighbors house. Now, that’s democracy you can identify with and get behind.

And, Alex Milward, a young high school student who put on a fundraising dinner for Obama as his senior project.  I attended the dinner, and I find my values more in line with the Democratic Party. But, this was such a wholesome event because this young man did it to encourage discourse in our local community. He learned skills like project management, financial tracking, sales and marketing, and public speaking to name a few. Hard work, too.

It was nice to meet neighbors at the event. The local caterer, I have no idea what Jenny Baxter’s political affiliation is, because it doesn’t matter in small town Murphys. Likewise the local musicians who played for the event.

We are all citizens in this soup together.  All morning, I emailed to friends and acquaintances something we can all get behind, Public Citizen, if you haven’t heard. Public Citizen is a non-partisan group attempting to return our campaign laws to the sanity of former years. They are working hard to overturn Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission.  Here is an excerpt from their letter:

A recent survey by the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center shows that 83% of Americans think there should be limits on how much money corporations can give to the outside groups that run so many of the dirty campaign ads polluting our airwaves.
It’s not about political parties: 85% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans and 78% of Independents support limiting corporate influence in elections.
And it’s not about income groups: Among people with household incomes over $100,000, the number actually goes up to 90%.
Overwhelmingly, We the People — across political and income spectrums — want corporations out of politics.
Yet a staggering amount of money is being spent by corporations (on behalf of candidates from both major parties, it must be said) seemingly bent on taking us back to the age of the Robber Barons.
With the problem so stark, with people so unified, Public Citizen has an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on all the momentum we’ve built together to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Please contribute $5, $50 or even $500 — whatever you can — right now to help Public Citizen seize the day in our shared fight against the corporate takeover.
This election is one of the most impactful and divisive of our time. I’m guessing you’re getting, and responding to, emails from candidates soliciting your support.
Public Citizen is proudly nonpartisan. We won’t tell you which candidates to support with your vote or your dollars.
But we’re doing critical work that we can’t just put on hold until after Election Day.
We have to prepare now so that we’re at maximum strength to make the most of the opportunities — and respond to the challenges — we’re going to face once the election results are in.
We simply can’t afford to ease off. Not for a month. Not for a day. Not for one moment.

I know not everyone can or will contribute to any of these political groups. But, just be aware they are out there and can use your financial help if you are so minded.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I’ve been kind of ho-hum about genetically modified foods, except, I believe we have the right to know what we are eating and whether it is genetically modified or not. The right to know is important. We’ve had genetically modified products for ages. Just hand pollinating or cross pollinating is genetically modifying a plant. Or, grafting a scion from a different fruit tree onto another, is an example. But, adding chemicals to seed is an whole other step. My feeling is that the company who modifies it should know the end result if the seedlings spread to the wild or cause unwanted changes.
One negative about genetically modified seed comes from a farmer who bought seed at his supplier and the supplier said he had some of this “new” seed from Monsanto that someone had ordered, then failed to pick up. The farmer bought it, planted it and was crucified when the company found out he had it. He was put through a horrible rigamarole because he hadn’t permission to use it from the company, nor paid the full price. They harassed him through two growing seasons for fear of patent infringement. The hapless farmer was pretty unhappy with the way he was treated by this mega corporation.
But, now comes information from a study that is disturbing. However, I don’t know the size of the study and who conducted it. I read about it on

Rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn or exposed to the company’s popular Roundup herbicide, in amounts considered “safe” in drinking water and GM crops in the U.S., developed tumors and suffered severe kidney and liver damage, according to a study released this week.

We may not develop the same problems as rats, but even rats are part of the environmental balance we need. What else will it affect?  Birds? Or raptors that eat rats and gophers?

And this from the editors of On Earth Magazine, a publication that deals with environmental issues:

Carbon-fueled climate change is responsible for many terrifying things, but some normal-seeming rice plants in one recent study is a warning. Scientists from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture grew a feral, weedy from of rice alongside a cultivated form in controlled environments that reflected carbon dioxide levels of a century ago. As C0-2 levels went up, the weedy rice was better able to synchronize its flowering period to that of the cultivate rice, leading to cross pollination and resulting in a zombie-like hybrid with alarming characteristics. From the feral parent, came a diminished nutritional content and a weaker hull. But, the cultivated parent gave it a genetic resistance to weed killers. The weedy rice that always pops up in fields has been traditionally controlled by herbicides.

Now, add in climate change with genetically modified seeds with resistant chemicals in them?  Could be a horror movie.
We don’t have corporate soil and private soil. It’s everyone’s soil. So, when we put something in the soil, it should first be proved harmless. Back off, Monsanto. Prove your safety. But, that isn’t likely to happen now, is it?
Isn’t it wonderful to know that corporations and conglomerates always have our best interests at heart?

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Some days are fast-moving and adventurous. My daughter, Kris and Son Ken share a family plan for their phones since they live in the same city. While driving to work, Kris got a phone call meant for her brother’s family. The caller was asking her if she could take on an exchange student from Italy. She stopped the car and said, Yes!  Her brother had done it the year before. Why not? The woman asking explained that she had to place two boys in 24 hours or they would lose their right to exchange. Zoom, Kris had a mountain of paperwork to fill out, proof of employment. She had to take pictures of her house and family and the dogs. Fax it to Italy. They approved her and asked if she knew anyone who would take the other boy.
“My brother and his wife,” of course.   Ken said yes before he could consult with Laurie. And, just as fast, they were approved.
For Kris, as it turned out, it was her son’s birthday and they would be celebrating his birthday that day and picking up their student that night at midnight. When I get pictures, I’ll give an update.
We had an exchange student from Indonesia in 1986, that turned into a wonderful learning and exciting experience for all of us. We still keep in touch with Linda and her family. I visited them for the first time in 2004.

This is Linda with her daughter and son.
My youngest daughter was an exchange student to France in 1987. The son of one of her French sisters visited us last year.  Now she is hosting a graduate student from Brazil. I will get to meet him at Thanksgiving.
Hosting students from all over the world is such an enriching experience. Understanding other cultures is an advance toward peace between nations, which is what got the initial public exchange program going after WWII. It was named AFS, which stands for American Field Service,  an idea from soldiers who, like today, find people wonderful and endearing in  an “enemy” country. I’m sorry to say, it hasn’t stopped wars. But, I’m pleased to say, there are many, many student exchange organizations still making inroads to peace.
I’m glad my kids are spreading the tradition to their families. If you ever feel you have time to have a temporary addition to your family, having an exchange student is a wonderfully rewarding experience. In fact students report that their exchanges have been life changing events when they learn how others live.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The best foods in the world are herbs, as it turns out. If you are interested they are turmeric, sage, marjoram,cinnamon, oregano, pepper,cloves and then a mixture of Jamaican spices and a mixture of Italian spices, under what name and brand, I’ve promptly forgotten. Then following the herbs are ginger root, and honey. Maybe they should be the best foods in the world for your health. I’m not sure who decided these things but they make for a god-awful breakfast.
I shouldn’t complain, since I’ve  eaten grubs, ants, grasshoppers, snake, rat and other weird fare. The difference is, I don’t eat them as a steady diet.
The foods on this best foods list are purported to have healing qualities, and are  therefore recommended as a preventive. Despite my upcoming carotid surgery, even my surgeon agrees I have a healthy diet and have exceptionally good health. But, it isn’t the grasshoppers, or grubs. I do faithfully eat five to seven fruits and vegetables each day. I enjoy unsalted brown rice with sea weed and whole grain breads and cereals.
And, according to some of my friends, I have bizarre taste. I happen to love parsley in my unsweetened, whole grain cereal every morning. I clip it with a scissors and I l\enjoy the texture and the taste. I know, everyone thinks it is strange.
My sister and I were discussing bizarre eating habits in our family. She claims she loves pickle relish with potatoes and gravy. She also likes sliced cooked potatoes with raw onion and baloney in a sandwich with plenty of  mayo.  We normally don’t tell anyone what strange stuff we eat. One of my brothers eats pickled pigs feet every day and happily devours the cartilage around the ends of chicken bones. Whose to say what foods are right or wrong? A friend of mine eats sweet pickle and peanut butter sandwiches. And, my brother who lived many years in Alaska, developed a taste for whale blubber.

But, this guy, Andrew Zimmern, roams the earth to taste things like dung beetles, tarantulas, scorpions, and rooster testicle soup. He is the host of the travel channels Bizarre Foods.

Here he is shown with withered frogs. He reminds people that most of his programs are devoted to all the wonderful foods you see only in other cultures, many of them poor countries, where absolutely nothing goes to waste. Like in Bolivia where an old women with nothing but an oil can for a kiosk, serves thinly sliced calves liver that barely touches a hot grill. She adds a homemade sauce with peanuts, chili, garlic and vinegar. People stand in line for it because it is ridiculously good. He thinks Americans are squeamish and afraid to eat little fish with the heads on them, and chickens feet. It bugs him that the hot dog and hamburger are king. (Information and pictures taken from Sierra Magazine.)

We are so fortunate to have great food, wholesome and clean. And, we can enjoy the health benefits of herbs and spices as well and make lovely dishes if we just step up to diversity.

I’m appreciative that my parents never introduced us to fast food nor soft drinks. We ate close to the garden, what was in season, whatever was available. I cringe when I see a cooking show and the participants leave half the tomato sauce in the can, they don’t scrape or rinse every bit out. We didn’t waste.  My father was a survivalist and I like to think I’m a survivor, no matter what happens in this economy. I could live off what I can find in my yard. Thinly, but I could do it with a couple of chickens and a goat.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


While I wait on medical appointments and continue therapy at home, I’m never idle or bored. I like to have an art fix now and then but instead I’ve been busy with neglected chores around the house. Karen complained that plants were dying because they aren’t getting enough water. Each morning now for several weeks, we have ferreted out the tiny drip heads that get buried under leaves and caught under branches and get plugged and need cleaning or replacing. Karen has been hand watering in the heat.  A contributing culprit was the failure of an electronic clock I paid $40 for, two years ago. It’s a Toro. Don’t buy one. You can no longer buy a reliable mechanical clock. I still have two that work that are over twenty years old. It is maddening. They never completely fail, they just partly fail so you don’t know they aren’t working properly until you have dead plants.  Hopefully, the Rainbird at $65 will last longer than two years. I’ve got several units to  replace between home and the rental.

There is always art to soothe the soul. I pulled this abstract from the garden as I know I’m missing the great art in Taos, deliciously full of art galleries in a town famous for its artists.

If you were unable to tell, the abstract was part of this mottled pear, which tasted just fine for all of its skin problems.
Jim counsels me to “Give it up, let your kids have it and then they can worry about that stuff.”  I understand the philosophy and freedom of owning nothing but the necessities under your feet, but I’m too deeply rooted. And, while he didn’t care much for Taos, I thoroughly enjoyed the art fix I got from his pictures. And, he took care to photograph things he knew I’d like, as in the bench with the  abstract cover, and paintings and old buildings and flowers taken with his watercolor feature on his camera.  I enjoyed the bold quotes of Kit Carson and his house. So, today, back to the garden and a manuscript I’m finally finishing up from August 15th for the archive.

Monday, September 17, 2012


A doe with twin fawns showed up at my watering hole and introduced her kids to my yard. Its been fun watching them over the last three or four weeks grow from wobbly, trembling, skittish babies to confident munchers and jumpers.

They show up twice a day, in the morning and at dusk. I noticed them sleeping, nestled safely,  in the talll grassy slope behind my outbuildings. Karen from her upstairs balcony has a better view of them and one day she mentioned how thin the mother was. Earlier in the month, her ribs were prominently showing. I told her it is never a good idea to feed wild life. She picked some apples off my trees and placed them where they normally walk.  “It’s no different than if they found them under the trees,” she claimed.

Mama’s fattened up considerably since then and looks quite healthy. She cruises confidently around the yard pruning everything and stands looking at us as she munches, strawberry plants, flowers in their pots and the fallen apples under the trees. My apples are close enough to pick from my deck. Now that all the good salad stuff is gone, she has shown them how to eat the tiny branches and leaves of my young trees, ignoring the native oaks, except to take a long leisurely nap in their shade. They graduated to bigger ornamentals. They ate all the lower parts of the honeysuckle and a big azalea. Enough is enough with the yard salad, Karen decided. She began chasing them away from the buffet. Now, they are more careful and keep a bit of distance. They munch on the native plants and take a quick turn around the yard. I had to fence my favorite Russian elm. We are none the worse for providing then with yard salad. Like goats, they prune, they don’t yank plants out of the pots. But, it is time for them to spend more time in their native habitat.

They are just so darn cute. Karen is already worried about hunting season coming up. These fawns were born late and will be vulnerable. But, nobody can hunt in the neighborhood and they seem to stick pretty close. We have to remind ourselves they are wild life and just appreciate having a temporary window to watch them grow up.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Whenever I reach for a power cord, I’m faced with this mess.  A tangle of 3 or 4 different  power cords in the bottom of a bucket. With the huge “yard” I have, the one-hundred foot cords are the worst. It takes half your work time to untangle the dang things. I had a temporary worker fold one of my long cords into neat little loops. I hated to use it because I knew I’d never get it back that way.

I have a new guy doing yard work for me and I knew he would need one of the long cords. I went on-line and found a video showing how its done. The hardest part was untangling the mess and laying my light weight cord out on the driveway into thirds.

The next step was marking the cord with black electrical tape to mark the thirds for the next time I folded it.

Then you grab the cord at one end, make a loose knot and begin to loop and insert cord into loops all the way to the end. I couldn’t have done it without seeing the video, so here is the link. And, my loops are not as small and even as the demonstater on the video made his.
Now, I have a problem. When I went back on-line to find the link I used, I couldn’t locate it. There were many, many sites that give directions on folding cords. The  video  above is even simpler. You don’t have to fold your cord into thirds and mark it. The beauty of folding it in thirds is that you have your plugs at opposite ends and can partially unfold your cord, use it half unfolded, and reloop it without starting over from scratch. This video makes the same claim, but the one I watched explained why folding it from thirds is best. Either way, you can simplify your life by learning how to properly store a cord.

Once I got into the swing of things, I did three fifty foot cords, another 100- foot multiple plug end cord, and my black heavy-duty 100-foot cord.

My loops got better as I worked but the satisfaction from having accomplished a job long gone wanting was terrific.
I know men do this all the time, but you women out there on your own, this is a valuable skill in reducing annoyance. Go for it.

Next, I’m going to tackle this tangle of rope.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I bought the first Hybrid Toyota in 2000 imported into California, a 2001 model I had waited, and waited for. My son loves it when I’m on the road and he gets to save money on gas by driving my Prius.
When I first bought it, I let everyone drive it, even strangers on the street who would stop and ask me about it. All were surprised by its power. For some reason most people assumed it would be slow to pick up speed and get up and go.
Others have asked me about savings vs. the heavier price tag and I couldn’t answer that, except to say, a hybrid puts less carbon in the air, and that benefit alone is worth it to me. Today, I borrow from GAS 2.0 blog to report these figures.
Industry analysts at Vincentric recently tested 25 popular, US-market hybrid models and compared them to equivalent ICE versions in an attempt to find out which hybrids (if any) deliver real savings over the life of the vehicle.
Surprisingly, 11 of the 25 hybrid models tested actually did save their owners money! Check out the top 10, below.

1. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (-$7,001)
2. Mercedes-Benz S Class Hybrid (-$4,242)
3. Lexus HS 250h (-$3,747)
4. Toyota Prius V (-$1,804)
5. Toyota Prius C (-$1,469)
6. Ford Fusion Hybrid (-$1,202)
7. Kia Optima Hybrid (-$779)
8. Porsche Cayenne Hybrid (-$672)
9. Honda Insight (-$656)
10. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (-$319)

Overall, Vincentric noted that the average cost to own and operate one of these hybrid vehicles was $1,223 more than their all-gasoline powered counterparts over 5 years. That figure was calculated assuming 15,000 miles of driving per year. Fuel prices used in this report were calculated using a weighted average over the previous five months. Vincentric’s own summary of their findings notes that “the range between the best and worst savings was significant, with the 2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid saving buyers $7,001 while the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid cost buyers over $8,065 more to own (than comparably equipped conventional vehicles).”
So there you have it. And no one questions the power of hybrids after many years on the road of so many countries. Auto makers around the world have produced all-electric vehicles that manage over 100 miles in range per charge and hybrids that can get over 280 eMPG.
The electric vehicle is here to stay unless they come up with something better and cheaper.  And, car companies  are already working on it.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Jim chides me that whenever I get back to Murphys, I get political and suffer from political outrages. He is right! We taxpayers foot the bills when billion dollar corporations don't have to pay much for their environmental impacts. Look at the mess in Louisiana and Alaska. The payouts were miniscule compared to the lasting damage.

Fracking a single well may require a million gallons of water. It has been known to dry up nearby creeks and deplete ground water supplies in the area of the well.

 The wastewater from fracking has high levels of radioactivity, and secret chemicals that are a trade secret. We don't get to know what they pump into the ground. The Halliburton Loophole, (thank you Dick Cheny) makes Big Oil exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act.. Isn't that just too cozy?

In some places, the drinking water from private wells got so contaminated from fracking practices, tap water could be lit on fire. Gee, you don't even have to heat your coffee. 

Do you think it could be a rule that people who work for Big Oil don't have children or grandchildren?  Maybe it is on the application. No children allowed.

Clean water should be a human right, like clean air to breathe. Clean air should be a human right, like clean drinking water. It is a real time nightmare for some people in the United States. The corporations have it both ways And, we better get re-united before it comes to a local well near YOU.

I'm not against the wonderful benefits of natural gas wells, of which there are many. But, fracking to get it is like blowing up cars on the freeway to clear the way for repaving. (That isn't as farfetched as it sounds. Fracking can kill you.)

Well, back to the grind- pulling blackberry vines, fixing sprinkling systems and preparing for surgery. I have a new worker but he can only come two to three hours on some days after his regular job. My former helper doesn't show up or call if he can't make it. So, I changed to this new guy. Hope it all works out.  



Thursday, September 13, 2012


This year, the Obama administration moved to streamline the development of large-scale solar projects on public lands by approving vast tracts across the West  identified as the highest generating potential with the fewest environmental impacts. These sites were identified after the results of an environmental impact report.  An area of 285,000 acres, with sites in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, California, Arizona and New Mexico are in the works.  Jim and I saw one of those massive solar plants  being built in New Mexico earlier in the year.  We wondered why it was out in the middle of no-where. We didn’t know about the way the sites were chosen. Anyway, net result is clean power and jobs, jobs, jobs.
When I had my solar installed, there was a handful of people installing under rigid inspections and rules to make sure there was no space for failure during the process. Now I could choose from 600 different solar producers and as many installers. The rigid inspection process is still that way. I’m investigating solar for a rental because costs have come down so far.
And, we get enough electricity from wind power for 13 million homes. The energy department predicts  that by 2030, we could get 20 percent of our energy from the wind, about as much as we now get from nuclear power plants.
But progress on wind power is in jeopardy because Congress  has yet to renew an important incentive set to expire at the end of this year. It is called the production tax credit, or PTC,  Without it orders for wind turbines are likely to stall, impeding our transition away from coal. The wind industry employs over 37,000 Americans, and we need to keep those jobs, jobs, jobs.
The PTC was instituted by the George H.W. Bush administration, a sensible policy where anyone who operates a wind turbine or solar biomass, or other type of renewable power plant that produces a significant level of electricity to the commercial grid, receives a federal tax credit of 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power it produces for the first ten years of its life. It got renewed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package of 2009.
Two Republicans, Representative David Reichert, and Senator Chuck Grassley have sponsored versions to renew it through 2016 in the house, and 2014 in the senate. Neither measure  has come up for a vote but it is already being heavily lobbied against by the fossil fuel industries.
As a political pessimist, I fear the worst, and hope I’m wrong.  Wind generation is actually competitive in price with the energy produced by NEW coal plants and in my opinion no NEW coal plants should  be issued permits until they can reduce industrial pollution to an acceptable level. Coal plants actually cause deaths from their mercury, soot and carbon emissions, not to mention death to fish in streams.  Wind and solar save our planet from tons and tons of carbon emissions, a clean air benefit for everybody.
Security lapses at nuclear site found before break-in
Security problems at Y-12 nuclear complex were identified in classified reports nearly two years before three activists broke into the facility where weapons-grade uranium is stored.
( by Dana Priest , The Washington Post)
After the Japanese disaster, and the huge up front government subsidies to build nuclear power plants (way over the small PTC tax credits), and proven vulnerability of nuclear power plants,  why would we as a responsible nation even consider building more nuclear power plants? The cost to run them  per watt exceeds that of wind and solar. The volatile nature of Uranium, its storage and no ability to render it harmless, are an ever-present danger. In a nuclear plant disaster, the cost to bring it back on-line, if it could be repaired at all, is billions.
If you add into the equation the affects of climate change on hydro power,  wind and solar seem like an even better bet. Check the link below.
And, don’t get me started on fracking. What a dismal proposal that is. I hope you are listening Obama and Canada.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I like to think I keep myself well informed about health choices, but I was surprised when I found I had cholesterol clogged carotid arteries. I exercise, I'm limber, I'm active, I eat a healthy diet...what gives?
Well, first of all, I started adding up the things I eat here and there along the way that are not exactly healthy. I avoid fatty cheddar cheese, stick to mozzarella mostly.  But then, I really didn't think too much about that feta I liberally sprinkle on my salad almost every night. Or the Parmesan I like on soups and spaghetti. Yikes, it is almost all fat! Even low fat cottage cheese has 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
And, so what if I have a hot dog or a hamburger once in awhile. Then, you know, some corn chips with my favorite Mexican food and artichoke dip and crackers when friends come over, and so it goes. It is a pretty steady part of my diet to eat off the consciousness table. Yes, I eat my whole grains and five fruits and vegetables every day. I rarely eat pork or beef.  Yes, I eat an ounce of dark chocolate twice a week, but otherwise,  no sweets and heavily processed foods. Maybe ice cream two or three time per year.  I exercise. So, why did this happen to me?  A whole lot of it is genes.
Jim has never taken a prescription drug in his life, he eats bacon or sausage and lunch meat 6 or 7 days a week and he has low cholesterol. He eats eggs when I cook them, otherwise he eats egg beaters because they are easier to use.
Karen, my skinny friend, fits that category. Sour cream, fried foods, cheese and ice cream with nary a rise in her cholesterol. I can easily conclude that some people eat relatively healthy diets and still have vascular disease while others can chow down sausage and bacon and chocolate cream pies and never have a negative health affect. It may be unfair, but it is reality.
So, now do I take statin drugs the rest of my life? Probably.
Here is a website that talks about statin studies, statin benefits, statin side effects and statin controversy.  It is enough to make you quit eating.  Or, go on a diet of unsalted brown rice and seaweed. I actually love brown rice and seaweed. So, I guess doomsday isn't exactly hovering.
Needless to say, I won't be making it back to the motorhome as scheduled. I canceled my flight and will be hanging around Murphys a while longer. Health is a formidable kind of wealth. And, I'm still wealthy, despite the need for a fix.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Yesterday, I wrote disparaging comments about our elected officials claiming they get retirement for life and free medical care. And, I bought into that same email information that they do not pay into social security like the rest of us do. A reader, Jim, pointed out to me in a message following yesterday’s blog, that my information was wrong. He pointed me to an article by Phil Scott published in the respected AARP Newsletter about congressional salaries and benefits. Like so many of you, when money rules over good sense, I get cynical and hastily toss off bad news like a righteous knight bent on correcting wrongs.
To correct this error, Scott’s article follows. It just isn’t as bad as I believed it to be, and I should have checked.
And, yesterday, I couldn’t remember granddaddy Bush’s name, and the website from which the information came seemed to have disappeared or I couldn’t find it. The Bush’s and Nixon’s were distant cousins and I got this message on Facebook from William:
William wrote: “Prescott Bush was vice president of Brown Brothers Harriman bank when it was siezed under the “Trading With The Enemy” act. That is why Bush hated Roosevelt so thoroughly. That is a large part of why the Republicans are still trying to undo the Roosevelt legacy. Following World War II, the Republicans established a “Committee of 400″ to start seeking candidates to run against New Deal Democrats. Prescott Bush was the chairman of the committee that selected Richard Nixon to run against Jerry Voorhis in 1946. The Dulles brothers law firm represented Brown Brothers Harriman bank in their case against the government to retrieve their siezed assets. I served in an intelligence division of Strategic Air Command under the Eisenhower/Nixon administration. Nixon was Ike’s vice president. John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State. Allen Dulles was director of the CIA. Prescott Bush was Ike’s golfing partner, all around political advisor, and ‘handler.’ That gang had Ike surrounded on duty and off duty.”
I thank you both, Jim and William for refreshing my information.
Read Phil Scotts article below:
Tales of extravagant congressional pensions abound on websites and in e-mail chains.
Not exactly true. Congressional retirement and health care benefits are far less lavish than critics claim.
For the most part, benefits for Congress are similar to those of any federal employee, although there are differences.
Nearly all Congress members are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System. The FERS retirement plan has three parts:
Social Security. Members of Congress have Social Security taxes withheld from their pay like other workers, and are eligible for retirement benefits beginning at age 62.

Before 1984, members of Congress were covered by the old Civil Service Retirement System and were not required to pay into Social Security — nor could they get a Social Security benefit. But at present, all members of Congress must pay into Social Security, including nearly 50 currently serving members who were first elected before 1984.
A pension benefit. People on the federal payroll, including members of Congress, receive a traditional “defined benefit” pension, something that is available to only a small percentage of private-sector workers.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in October 2006 the average annual pension for a retired member of Congress who served under FERS was $35,952, compared with the current $174,000 salary for active members.
(Members of Congress won’t be affected by President Obama’s proposal for a pay freeze for federal employees — Congress sets its own pay scales separately, and in 2009 and 2010 voted to forgo its usually automatic annual pay increases.)
A member who leaves office before serving five years because of an election defeat or resignation is not eligible for a pension. And any member who is convicted of a crime such as bribery, fraud, racketeering or perjury for acts committed after September 2007 is ineligible.
But, on grounds that working in Congress means uncertain job security, elected members and their staffs receive a larger retirement benefit from FERS for each year of service than other federal employees. They also become eligible for a retirement annuity at a younger age and with fewer years of service.
In return, they contribute a higher percentage of their pay to participate in FERS — 1.3 percent instead of 0.8 percent for most workers. As in the private sector, the bulk of the retirement benefit’s cost is picked up by the employer, in this case, the U.S. government.
Members of Congress can begin drawing their full pension at age 62 if they have completed five years of service, at age 50 with 20 years’ service, or at any age with 25 years’ service. They can collect a reduced pension with 10 years of service at ages 55 to 57, depending on their birth year.
The Thrift Savings Plan. This is a “defined contribution” plan available to all federal employees and similar to the 401(k) plans common in the private sector. There’s a difference: Whether or not the employee chooses to save anything, the government contributes 1 percent of base pay to the savings plan.
Members of Congress participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program along with about 8 million federal workers, retirees and their dependents. They are subject to the same rules and receive the same coverage. Compared with health plans offered by private employers, the FEHBP offers more choices — in fact, “the widest selection of health plans in the country,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Congress members are also eligible for Medicare, and pay the same 1.45 percent tax on their salary as do other workers.
A few extras
Congress members do receive some medical benefits beyond those available to regular federal workers.
For an annual payment of $503, members can receive routine care from the Office of the Attending Physician, which has facilities in the Capitol. ABC News reported last year that these services include physicals and other examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists.
In addition, current members (but not their dependents) can receive medical and emergency dental care at military hospitals and clinics. Inpatient care is covered by FEHBP insurance, but outpatient care is free if it’s performed at facilities in the national capital region, such as Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia.
This benefit is likely the source of persistent online rumors that all medical care is free for Congress members.

Phil Scott is a New York-based journalist.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


The conventions are over, and Bill Clinton talked about arithmetic, my weakest subject throughout school, but we can never evade arithmetic.

Did you know:
…that Vice President Cheney said, “Deficits don’t matter”? He didn’t do his arithmetic.
…That Bill Clinton left office with a balanced budget and a surplus? He did his arithmetic.

Salary of retired US Presidents .. ………….$180,000 FOR LIFE Plus the cost of lifetime protection.
Salary of House/Senate ……………………$174,000 FOR LIFE-Plus the cost of lifetime health care for all.
Salary of Speaker of the House …………..$223,500 FOR LIFE
Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders …… $193,400 FOR LIFE
They do well on their arithmetic when it affects their lifestyle and comfort.

Obama made the banks pay back all of their bailout funds because he did his arithmetic.

But look at this arithmetic:
Average Salary of a teacher …………….. $40,065
Average Salary of Soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN…………… $38,000
Average Salary of an NFL Football Player…..$770,000

In the last 10 years High School Sports have become recruiting grounds for professional sports. Maybe we should tie teacher salaries to Sports Salaries? Our schools are expected to pay for sporting programs that are paid for by our taxes, to benefit the pros. But, shoot, what do I know? Arithmetic is my worst subject.

The Securities and Exchange Commission received 300,000 comments asking it to require corporations to disclose their political spending-100,000 more comments than they’ve ever had on any subject. I wonder if the Arithmetic gave them a strong clue?

And, did you know that President Richard Nixon, Averill Harriman and Great Grandaddy Bush are related? They pledged years ago, after Grandaddy Bush lost his bank to the New Deal, to dismantle Roosevelts new society. Well, its taken them awhile but they’ve almost got the job accomplished. Romney and Ryan plan to finish it off for them. They have some interesting arithmetic that changes depending on what speech you listen to.

I wonder why our problems seem so unsolvable? After all, we were the most prosperous society in the world just 35 years ago. What changes turned us into a society on the brink of collapse in just 35 short years? Do the arithmetic.

Count 545 congressional men and women. Taking the entire congress, their average personal wealth is very conservatively estimated, (because they only have to report investments broadly, not exact profits) is 1.4 million, that’s average, and counts new incoming representatives from supposedly a “normal” walk of life.
Some are very wealthy. One percent of Americans are Millionaires. But, in congress, the rate hovers between 40 and 50 percent.
Yup! It is all about arithmetic.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Things are far more complicated than they seem, certainly more complicated than I’m capable of imagining.
I try to buy whatever I need made in America and  avoid buying stuff made in China, nearly impossible in my community. We don’t have the variety of shopping options that city people do. And, I’m a solar nut. I love it, I’m delighted that California leads the nation in solar installations and even without taking the subsidies away from big oil, solar is booming. Now, listen to this:
Solar is booming because cheap panels are coming from China. That leads to competition. Solar panels made in the USA, Germany and Japan are still available and China has forced prices down everywhere.  Since we have a trade deficit with China, it is nice to see it benefit us in such a big way.  American installers are doing a brisk business and we are moving toward sustainable energy because  clean technology is almost as cheap as dirty fossil fuels. The US and the European Union are threatening to stifle this breakthrough. So, how?
Both the US and EU give billions in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil and Coal. Do they turn those subsidies to clean energy?  No, they are about to drive solar prices back up by putting tariffs on China and China is threatening to retaliate?  Oh, let’s have a trade war. Who would benefit by hurting the burgeoning, green solar industry?  The oil and coal industry, of course. I’m not saying we don’t need oil, I’m just saying we shouldn’t subsidize it anymore. Why not turn those subsidies into clean energy. The oil companies rake in billions in profits and we still subsidize them?  Enough is enough.
I’d rather see them rescind the whole trade agreement than tariff solar. China has a poor human rights record and they supply us with our own stuff at cheaper prices. I read in Smithsonian Magazine where one expert claims that “Every major company in the United States has already been penetrated by China.”  He also fears they have implanted logic bombs , trapdoors and Trojan horses in our electronics, l that can be activated on command like a cyber-Pearl Harbor attack. That may be fear mongering, but we certainly stand to lose our competitive edge. Our F-35 Bomber technology- important and our early American quilt patterns- irritating.
The farm industry in the U.S. has been facing declining beef and pork consumption in the U.S.  Now, land grabs for grazing land are being taken over to keep beef flowing to Asian countries. Yup!  They take our electronics, steal or buy our technology, and now we export our food to them.
China has a poor human rights and environmental record, and its strategy of flooding the global market with subsidised goods is annoying and costly to jobs. The best thing is not to blame China, but to aggressively entreat our leaders to subsidize US solar manufacturers with cheap loans just like China does. We should learn from their practices.
Experts predict that tariffs could cost 60,0000 US jobs. So, cheaper panels provide more work for people. Forget the tariff. It only sounds like a good answer.
More information:

NYT — “U.S. Slaps High Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels”
Bloomberg – “U.S. Solar Tariffs On Chinese Cells May Boost Prices”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


To be a kid again has great appeal. When I first moved to Murphys I swam in the creek until I discovered Murphys had a swimming pool. But, any kid who picks the pool over the creek is missing a great deal of adventure. When my niece from Colorado visited the kids thoroughly enjoyed the creek almost every afternoon.

We’d throw the inner tubes in the back of the truck and head for town. The kids would swim and cool off and make friends with other kids, as kids do so naturally.

Mom was waiting on the bank with a blanket and snacks and drinks.

You can’t pick up pretty rocks, build a dam or a waterfall in the pool.

If you walk far enough upstream, you get a great ride back. Amanda decided to see if she could float under the bridge.

Then younger sister Alyssa got brave enough to try it.

The kids were well entertained by the creek and cheerfully spent hours there.

They even made friends with someone’s dog. You don’t get to throw a ball and swim with a dog in the pool.
I’ll be glad to see the rains come. The weather though still in the 90′s is cooler during the day because the nights are cooler. It stays dark longer. Fall is pushing its way into summer and it is pleasant to reflect on the last days of summer.

Monday, September 3, 2012


When I visited the Logging Museum, the annual Logging Jamboree was going on.

The driveway up to the museum was lined with big honkin’ pick-up trucks with guys tenderly cleaning and priming their chainsaws. But, lest you think this is all about manly competition, think again.

When I arrived the women’s sawing competition was in full swing.

From start…

…to finish with a guy and a stop-watch standing by.  These gals can cut a mean log. Straight, too. I’ve used a small chain saw for small branches, but never could handle a huge saw like these women do.

The mens elimination rounds were held before I arrived.

The next task was the light-weight axe throwing contest. The competitor tosses the axe at the target. It must stick within a marked zone around the bulls eye, though this is not about accuracy. It is about speed and strength.

Then the competitor races to the target, removes the axe, races back to the starting point and throws again. He races to see how many hits he can make in one minute. The scores were all in the 30′s.

A gray-haired competitor beat some of the  younger loggers.

Speed and agility matter.

The axe doesn’t look light-weight. Axe work is not much in demand for today’s logger, but the thrill of competition is. I’ve attended  the Jamboree other years and a heavier axe is used for accuracy throwing which is done slowly and precisely. All of the events are fun to watch, so if you ever have a chance to view them, the event is held every Labor Day Weekend.

On the way back to Murphys, the Arnold Library was holding its annual book sale. Several thousand  paperbacks and hard covers to choose from, all organized by genre. A great sale to pick-up a “find.”

The Cedar Center in Arnold hosts a crafts fair with about 70 booths. All manner of food, gifts, artwork and what-nots available for sale. The best thing is meeting people you haven’t seen for years.

If your feet get tired, you can take a load off and sit a spell and listen to the music or the comedian crack jokes. Or simply rest and eat your lunch. Hey! Its like one big party wherever you go, something to do and see.

This booth made me wish I had a cute little granddaughter. I had planned  to attend a Mexican Rodeo in Burson on Sunday-there are events all over the county-but I opted to work on my ancient sprinkling system instead. Maybe next year.