Friday, December 08, 2006

One Iraqi Scenario on Which There is Total Agreement

Although there is disagreement about the US being in Iraq for the “war on terror” there is total agreement on sectarian warfare. Everyone is adamant that under no conditions should we sacrifice a single American to prevent the radical Islamic Shiites and the radical Islamic Sunnis in Iraq from killing each other. In fact we should encourage it. [Based upon an unscientific but exhaustive survey of everyone sitting at the bar on Monday night]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Virginia Marriage Amendment-What Have We Done?

Because of the media attention to the national election the shocking overwhelming approval of a Virginia constitutional amendment has not received the attention it deserves.

This is not your standard marriage amendment that defines marriage but leaves the door open to marriage-like contractual relationships. It not only bans similar contracts but also extends the ban to anyone having a relationship outside of marriage.

The first sentence of the amendment reads:

"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions."

Now read the rest of it:

"This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."

Yes, that is right. If you are not married in a manner approved by the state, you cannot have a legal agreement that even intends to give you the effects of marriage.

Well, if it applies to gays it should apply to everyone. However, did those 57% who voted for it understand the level of this invasion on personal life by the Virginia government. A state that was at the forefront of the formation of the United States? Thomas Jefferson-please come back!

The approval was widespread. The only counties that voted against it were Albemarle, Arlington, and Fairfax. Loudoun supported it at the 54.6 % level. Where were all those people who moved to Loudoun from Fairfax to escape the “communist government” that had taken over?

I was at a tavern where the amendment was discussed in detail on election night eve. Every person participating understood both parts and disapproved. The conversation centered on what legislative body had the nerve to put such an amendment forward. I went home looking forward to seeing it go down by a large margin-at least in Loudoun.

I faced an even bigger surprise than seeing Allen go down.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Time for Reflection

Remember all the learned lectures oil experts gave us that $75 per barrel crude oil was due to natural laws of supply and demand over which we had no control-except to stop driving SUV’s. A BusinessWeek analysis based upon actual data reaches a quite different conclusion. Surprise! A large portion of the increase was due to overheated speculation by hedge funds. Now that the speculators are off for other waters to muddy, we have drastic reductions in the price of gasoline. You can read the analysis here

Speculation certainly has both a dark and bright side but this last little foray into speculation on transportation fuels was extremely costly to the country. Not only did it put a hardship on millions of working Americans and force our two automakers into major layoffs, it also pumped billions of dollars to our enemies.

The one bright spot would be if we do not forget. Please America, whichever political party; do not ever again turn our energy policy over to the oil companies. Please realize that the solution lies in the American spirit that has brought, or is bringing diverse renewable energy sources to practicality. If incentives are required to make this happen -provide them.

We really cannot afford another repeat of the last few years.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Right Decision

Weeks ago, S stated that she needed a job that would add more interest to the daily grind. Therefore, she had made the decision to leave a career in retail sales to take a position in child daycare. Because she was new to the field, she would be starting as an assistant-although she was herself a grandmother.

When she stopped in after her first day, you could immediately tell that she had made the right decision. Everyone within listening distance stopped his or her discussions to absorb her enthusiasm.

“Yes, there were two of us with fifteen 3 year olds-- all day. And just transitioning into being potty trained. But they were very well behaved-For many of them this was the first time they were away from their parents. In fact, they were adorable”

On and on she went. Everyone agreed they had never seen her is so uplifted a state.

What happened to S confirms a theory I have held for quite some time. The closer you are to working in cooperation with a basic force of nature the happier you will be in your job. The love and protection of children is one of the strongest elements of human nature. By changing jobs, S had made the jump from a derivative activity set by civilization to riding a basic force.

Oh yes there was one negative of the new job. Apparently it is a basic rule of childcare that you always address the children at their height by kneeling or bending over. S did say “My back is killing me from all the leaning over-I definitely will have to get in better shape.”

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We're Back

We are back. A lot has changed in the last five months.

The real estate boom is over for now. All of the “For Sale” signs are staying up and many have had “price reduced” added. The inflow of people with cash from selling their city house has dropped to a trickle

Admitting that moderation of the market was necessary, the opinion of almost everyone in the business is that the hard landing is due to the self-fulfilling prophecies that the media has been selling for years. The image of an impending housing bubble collapse finally became burned into every potential buyer’s mind.

However, there is still enthusiasm for the future. The experienced agents have seen these cycles many times in the past. Being close to the Washington DC has conditioned everyone to expect never-ending growth.

The lawn care business was hit with a double whammy this summer-high gasoline prices and the August drought. Although the drought is over, the grass is really growing in the cool weather, and gas prices are falling, the summer is now over. A winter with lots of snow removal requirements would be helpful.

The summer cost of gasoline has been bad for everyone. The real cost is being borne by workers who need heavy trucks to carry their tools to their work sites-which are never close to home. This was made worse by the knowledge that the pumped up costs were going to companies who are splitting the profits into channels that end up funding many of our enemies.

As for all that “oil is a free market” talk. Notice where the prices have dropped most drastically? The mid-west.- the only area where there is the wide availability of a competing fuel-ethanol.

Lots more to discuss in the next post

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Don't Blame the Solution!


The newspapers and local television stations in Virginia are reporting stories of stations running out of gasoline in the Hampton Roads area. There are predictions of very high prices because “the government is making oil companies add ethanol to their gasoline.” The complexity and disarray in the countries supply of transportation fuels has allowed some outrageous lies and misleading spin but this is one that reaches the ceiling

Because I am a chemical engineer who spent 15 years in the industry and known to favor ethanol as a contributor to our transportation fuels supply I have been besieged by friends asking for a explanation of this situation. To save my failing voice and to spare those who are tired of hearing it repeated I have decided to post the facts where anyone interested can read them.

The Truth
The current situation was born in the 60’s when the world finally became fully aware that the tetraethyl lead the oil industry had been adding to gasoline as an octane booster for fifty years was a first order environmental and health disaster. The lead containing exhaust fumes were contaminating the air and lead oxide was coating everything along the highways. Once washed off by rain it entered the streams and groundwater. It was showing up in blood samples of children living near traffic areas. I remember warnings against picking any berries growing along the roadside.

Forget current worries about CO2 emissions -this was real poison! Tetraethyl lead in gasoline is considered one of the major environmental disasters of the 20th century . Leaded gasoline was phased out in the US from 1975 - 1986. Europe banned it in the 1990s. It is still used in the developing world where it is a major health hazard. For the dismal history of tetraethyl lead in gasoline you can click HERE

The industry needed another additive. This time the additive would not just be for octane enhancement. It also had to improve the burning characteristics of gasoline to meet new air pollution requirements.

There were two options: MTBE and Ethanol

MTBE is a manufactured petrochemical, of unknown toxicity to humans at low concentrations, but a carcinogen on inhalation and very persistent when spilled into nature. It is very soluble in water and once in is hard to get out. At concentrations greater that 40 parts per billion-it creates a turpentine taste in the water.

Ethanol as we all know is so non-toxic we sometime drink it. It is created in nature when sugars and the right yeasts are present.

Because I have pledged to include no speculation in my discussion, I will only report that MTBE was chosen by the industry as the favored additive . The effect of the decision was to push ethanol out of a large potential market and provide one for MTBE.

As could be expected MTBE began working its way into water supplies-presumably by overfilling at the pump and gasoline tank leakage. In 1995, major contamination was discovered in water supplies in Santa Monica, CA. This triggered extensive further monitoring and the discovery of additional contamination across the country.

This time it was the states taking action. By September 2005 twenty five states had legislation to end the use of MTBE. In 2002, a California lawsuit came down against the oil companies. California started a four-year replacement program with ethanol in 2003.

With lawsuits multiplying the oil industry made a major push for federal legislation which would shield them against legal action. The last chance effort was for inclusion in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The protection was in the House version but eliminated in the Senate. The political winds were blowing hard against the oil companies. The Act as passed had no MTBE lawsuit protection for the industry.

With no shield from lawsuits, the industry announced the removal of MTBE from all fuels by May 2006. It would reformulate with ethanol. This sudden decision placed a short-term strain on ethanol capacity and created tight timetables for conversion of the blending facilities. There are now 99 operating ethanol plants with 33 more expected to start up in 2006. The Renewable Fuels Association has testified to congress that these facilities will meet the capacity requirements for ethanol. Any short term problems can be resolved by temporally importing ethanol from Brazil and the Caribbean.

However, ethanol prices have gone up. At the current price of ethanol, the cost of adding it to the 10% level in gasoline should go up by a few cents, and then drop as ethanol becomes readily available.

This industry chosen rapid reformulation away from MTBE may cause a small disruption. It has nothing to do with the Energy Act of 2005 mandate for the long-term use of more bio-fuels by 2010. That requirement is easily met.

To their credit, many of the oil companies and distributors have professionally rounded up the ethanol they need and say they will meet their goals. They promise to be a reliable supplier of environmentally sound transportation fuels. Buy your gasoline from them!

Do not listen to those who are putting out the disgraceful spin that this problem is somehow due to ethanol and not past bad choices for additives. Do not buy anything from them!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Growing Houses Instead of Corn, Northern Virginia is No Longer a Player in the Ethanol Boom

During the first national push to replace a portion of the nation’s gasoline with ethanol derived from homegrown corn Virginia was one of the most active states. Because it was located close to the fuel consuming Washington area, grew lots of corn, and had a large dairy industry to consume the byproduct distillers grains Northern Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia were very attractive locations. The state legislature passed some tax incentives to get the industry moving and a number of ethanol plants were planned for the area.

This all ended in the early 80's when the Middle East suppliers dropped the price of crude oil to $15 per barrel and the nation was convinced that the problem was solved.

Twenty-five years later high quality crude oil is now approaching $70 per barrel and mostly available from unstable and unfriendly countries. The ethanol- for-fuel boom is back. There are 97 plants now operating and another 42 new plants going on line or expanding this year. Four billion gallons of fuel ethanol were produced in 2005. This amount will surely double within a few years. With all of the cash staying in the US instead of leaving the country, we appear to have finally learned our lesson. The industry is definitely here to stay.

But this time Northern Virginia will be a consumer, not a producer. The cornfields and dairy farms are replaced with housing developments and shopping centers. It is now more profitable to grow houses than corn. The excitement and energy of combining our agricultural strength with our process engineering skills to solve a national problem has all moved to the mid-west. That area deserves tremendous credit for keeping the vision alive until now, when the country desperately needs it.

On behalf of all those who were active in the early Virginia initiatives we are sorry our state can't be a larger part of the excitement.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rural/metro Interface Brings New Experiences to Animals

The recent snow brought many children to a local pasture that had a rolling hill that was ideal for sledding. When they quit for the day most left their sleds for later riding. Thus, the hill was dotted with brightly colored plastic sleds. These bright colors attracted a number of cattle. K happened to be watching and reports this funny event.

One large cow approached a bright red sled and began pawing it. After a few minutes she grew bored and started to walk away, but tread directly on the sled. The sled slide out and the cow fell in a perfect sitting position on the sled that began to slide down the hill. After several feet of travel, the cow wiggled and kicked to a standing position and returned to stare at the sled. With one strong stroke she sent the sled flying and walked away.

K said that if she had a video camera that scene would have been a sure winner on “Funniest Animal Videos”

Friday, February 10, 2006

Meet on Monday-Marry on Wednesday – A 3 ½ Month Update

A previous post told how C first met her husband in the tavern on Monday and they were married in Vegas on Wednesday. It was her first marriage. We promised updates as “time goes by.”

She was in last night and reported that everything is fine. He is helping her with her dog care business and they are settled in. She admitted to “a few small tiffs over the period that did not amount to anything.” Her report to everyone is that it is “still very good-and we are still determined to keep it that way “.

?????? Can it be? When will the post marriage chemical changes in their brains kick in??????

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rahzel’s Unrequited Love

A few nights ago, K told a strange story about her dog and a wild deer.

After caring for the horses in the morning, K usually takes her dog Rahzel (a 50lb mix) for a walk through the fields and along a 15 acre lake which is on the property where she works.One morning, she heard a commotion behind the lake bank, a little distance away.A deer’s head appeared momentarily above the bank level and then disappeared.Rahzel immediately took off toward the lake.K ran behind.She heard a splash and saw several geese fly.When she reached the bank,the deer was swimming in the lake.Rahzel had jumped in and was swimming toward it.

The deer reached a point where several trees had fallen into the lake and scrambled to a position where she was standing on the trees. Rahzel joined her in the same position and the two began to touch noses. After a short time, Rahzel wanted to further the acquaintance by sniffing at her rear end. The deer did not like this and moved her backside away from him. They formed a rotating pinwheel with Rahzel continually trying to approach her backside and the deer moving it away in a circular motion. This went on for some time.

The deer finally broke off and began to swim across the lake,with Rahzel swimming right along with her. K finally succeeded in calling him and he returned to her. They watched the deer swim completely across the lake and climb ashore. She was wobbly and could hardly stand up—apparently exhausted. Finally, she regained her strength and walked into the woods.

Since that day, Rahzel gets very excited when they come within view of the lake. He breaks off and runs to it-- his tail wagging in anticipation of seeing the deer. Sadly, she has not appeared again,

But perhaps it is for the best. They came from such different backgrounds that it probably would not have worked out.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Moving to the Country? Some Advice.

Almost all of the newcomers fit in well with their new small town or country environment and find that their expectations are exceeded. If you are moving to recapture the lifestyle in which you were raised you will be overjoyed to find it still exists.

However, there are a few people that just start wrong. In a small town, you will be dealing with the same people repeatedly, so initial impressions are important. After several years of watching newcomers integrate with those who have lived there all their lives, I can offer the following advice.

1. Most important of all, realize that your standing in the community will be based upon your kindness, courtesy and respect for others.No amount of wealth or status will get you a bye on this rock hard standard. Wealthy, arrogant people are in the country and small towns but they go through life missing its most important component-the warm fellowship of others.
2. Always remember that you are here to enjoy the country not to bring the city to the country.
3. Realize that Virginia is a distinguished state and far superior to NY and CA.
4. To avoid the appearance of arrogance or pretentiousness never forget the following
--There is no class system in any social environment.
--Assume that the natives know more than you and want to help.
--Service staffs at restaurants are not servants-they are friends.
--Leave political correctness behind you.
5. Do not even think of proposing new gun control legislation.
6. Never be in such a hurry that you can’t have a short conversation.
7. If a merchant or service person asks about where you live they are getting to know you and will not sell this information to internet companies.
8. Do not complain about
--Power failures as a unique feature of country life.
--ATV’s and dirt bikes as long as they are handled responsibly.
--People hunting deer in the hills behind your development.
--People starting meetings with a prayer or the pledge of allegiance.
--Things you miss from the city.
9. You can complain about
--The price of gasoline.
--The traffic.
--Irresponsible kids on ATV’s and dirt bikes.
--Tradesmen who do not call you back.
--Grouchy merchants-everyone will know who they are.
--Eastern Loudoun and Fairfax Counties.
--The federal and state governments.
--The county and local government after you have been here a year.

You can be of any political party, religion,ethnic background, or race. As long as you heed these rules, you will make friends with both the long timers and the other newcomers

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Differences Between Men and Women (1)

The discussion was about the difference between the ways women and men punish others when the person displeases them. For women the most punishing and effective action is to stop speaking to the offender-and to tell others that is what you are doing. Men never use this tool on each other.

K confirmed that if she finds another woman is not speaking to her it is crushing -- and she immediately begins to worry about what she has done to trigger the action.

J tells about the time that she was angry with her boyfriend and after a long session of verbal abuse ended it with the statement that she was just not going to speak to him anymore.

The difference between the sexes is shown by his reply
"And that is supposed to be punishment?"

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Recycled Old Movie Scenes

The discussion was on certain scenes in the old movies that were used over and over until they are burned into the moviegoer's mind. Here are a few:

1. The villian who appears to be dead after a long battle with the hero suddenly revives at the last moment for one last try.
2. The herione in high heels who is being chased through the woods,jungle,or field breaks a heel and falls.
3. The herione sleeping in a spooky mansion hears a strange noise and gets up to investigate in very revealing nightwear.
4. After being chased by a mad killer,alien,or monster the people finally reach their car-but it won't start.
5. The picture on the wall has real eyes and spies on the people in the room.
6. Two competing gangs in westerns go behind the same rocks (located just outside LA) and blast away at each other for minutes-doing no harm.
7. The bookcase swivels revealing a passageway to a secret lab.
8. The pin which ties the horse gear to the racing stage coach is shown bouncing around and finally falls out-causing the stagecoach to go over a nearby cliff.

Readers are encouraged to add their favorites to the list

Monday, January 16, 2006

Overheard II

After hearing the bartender tell of the virtues of the young man she was dating an experienced customer advised:
"Love is just a socially acceptable form of bi-polar disorder.I suggest you immediately take a lithium pill."
The relative difficulty of raising sons versus daughters is a never ending discussion. One woman said she asked her father who was the most difficult to raise-her or her brother-and received the following answer:
"With a son you only have to worry about one person's testosterone getting him into trouble. With a daughter you have to worry about all the testosterone in the world."
(Note: Language slightly changed)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Only Absolute Perfection Accepted

L___ announced that he had his new Harley outside and a crowd moved to the parking lot to see it. It was beautiful, shining in the afternoon sunlight, and impeccably maintained. He was accepting a flood of compliments from the crowd when he noticed a very small water spot on the mirror-like exhaust manifold. He quickly wiped it off--- but it was too late! A voice from the second row called out,

“Damn, it L__, If you weren’t going to take care of it you shouldn’t of bought it.”

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Horse Industry Grows While Dairy Farms Disappear

In spite of the onrushing development, horses still are a major part of Loudoun County business and culture. The number of horses may be actually increasing because the new population is also participating in horse ownership. It is hard to find a native of Loudoun County who did not grow up with horses.

The Rural Economy Task Force reports
Loudoun County is home to over 19,800 horses, more than any other county inVirginia. Loudon’s horses generate on average $89 million per year in sales, $78 million in operating expenses and provide employment for 2,480. The capital investment per horse is estimated to be $14,251 and the land supporting each horse is valued at $46,445. Horse owners in Loudoun spend almost 50 percent more per year per horse ($3,930) than all other Virginia horse owners
G. .recently moved his horse shoeing business from Lancaster County,PA to Loudoun because of the larger concentration of horse owners here.. He says that you can run a very busy shoeing business all within a radius of 20 miles of Middleburg

The decline of dairy farms has provided the developers with the land. In 1965, there were approximately 300 dairy farms, now there is only one.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Surprising Response

Almost all of the old-timers (like myself) can’t help comparing the current male-female relationships of the modern young with those we experienced growing up in more restrictive times and places.

Two young men who work as waiters always seemed to come in on their off hours with beautiful young women hanging on them-and the women seemed to change on a regular basis. One night when they were working, it happened that both were waiting at the end of the bar while the bartender prepared the drinks for their tables. The following conversation took place

Old Timer #1 “You young guys don’t appreciate how good you have it. In our day we had to work for months to get a girl to the point where I know you guys are getting them almost right away.”
Old Timer #2 “Yes and some of us had to actually marry them!”
After the laughter ended, it was obvious that the two young men had given the matter some thought.
Young Man #1 “We wish it was that way now. At least you had something lasting. "
Young Man #2 “Yeah, there was loyalty”.

The drink orders filled , they left for their customers table—leaving behind several newly respectful people.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Senator Byrds Mach 1 Hairdo

B. was a pilot in the Air Force and now has a commercial aviation career. He tells of a scene he witnessed as a pilot of Air Force 2 flying a congressional congregation to northern Russia.

"We landed during a major blizzard and wind storm. The plane was severely rocked and buffeted while on the landing strip. As the congressional passengers were disembarked each endured a tremendous struggle with the wind, resulting in all types of severe dishevelment. But when Senator Byrd of WVa left the plane and walked into the howling wind not a single hair on his groomed head was disturbed. His hair remained as perfect as it is when he delivers a speech in the senate. The crew and other passangers were astounded. It was thereafter referred to as Senator Byrd’s Mach 1 Hairdo. "