Monthly Archives: March 2016




Time is relative.  It is all a matter of perspective.  It is said that realized beings like Jesus or the Buddha lived entirely in the moment, which connects them with the timelessness of being.  For mortals such as I, it is sometimes difficult to have a perspective greater than the next few hours.  Carol and I do a weekly plan, setting our schedule for that span of time.  For people in the corporate world, time usually means the bottom line for the quarter.  Children see summer vacation as lasting a long time; for us old people, it’s over in a flash. 

I seem to have several time perspectives.  In my spiritual life, I attempt to be in the moment and in the eternal.  In meditation, however, I find myself planning the next day or reviewing childhood events, not in some exalted state.  My everyday life tends to be day by day, checking the weekly plan if I remember to.  Often I can’t remember which evening I am supposed to cook. 

I have developed something of a longer perspective on life as I age.  I am shocked to realize that a lot of people were born in this century, which for me is a relatively short time.  Y2K wasn’t that long ago. I can remember Senator Joe McCarthy and the Army-McCarthy hearings when the country was experiencing  a right wing resurgence a lot like now.  That time ended, as will this one, probably in November.  I was in the Army when Kennedy was shot.  Obama is in year eight of his presidency; we have watched his daughters grow up.  As teenagers, I wonder if they think their dad is hopelessly clueless, even if he is The Man. 

Newspaper Rock, Utah

Newspaper Rock, Utah

My history professors talked about developing a historical perspective, to take a long view about human events.  To some degree I succeeded.  I can connect the pagan deities of Mesopotamia with elements of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Four thousand year old Greek myths influence our current thinking.  Because of the American Civil War, I dislike grits, sweet ice tea, deep fried fish,  y’all, and that strange flag.  Most southerners are wonderful people, but I am not one of them.  But, I feel a connection with the people who illustrated their world on the sandstone canyon walls of Western Colorado and Utah. Parents with children born in 2009

2009So, where are we?  From “Do I have to go to the bathroom?”, to what’s to cook tonight, to the doctor’s appointment Thursday.  From there, it’s my lifetime and all that has gone on, even to those kids born in 2009, when my pickup was built (with a faulty airbag).from there it is the span of human history as recorded by symbols such as writing, the digital cloud, or rock paintings.  Then I  go to archeology and the origins of humankind. 

Next is yours and my favorite subject, geology and the universe.  Time changes, from hours to days to weeks, years, lifetimes, and all of human history, all mere blinks in the span of geologic time.  Four billion years ago our planet was a ball of very hot rock.  2.7 billion years ago what is now Denver was part of an island arc similar to Indonesia headed for a collision with Wyoming.  Lots of things crash in Wyoming. 

65 million years ago this place was a sea bottom, with shale accumulating that runs from South Dakota to central Utah.  Denver has gone from a hunk of hot rock to an island, a sea floor, a place being buried in the stuff washing out of the Rockies as the glaciers melted, to a place with a lot of people and their accumulated toxic waste and a lot of used plastic.   

The planet and the universe will go on, with humankind gone, mostly as a result of their own folly.  What does it all mean?  Maybe what is important is the time I took this morning to watch a big hawk fly over the DU campus looking for a little critter to eat.


Follow the Money

Lots of corporations and individuals complain about government regulation of their businesses and lives.  The complaints come with much complaining about high taxes.  Other than the paperwork involved with regulation, regulation is good for individuals and business.  Making regulation a political issue is just that, politics.  In some cases profits are affected, but in most cases, not so.   

Let’s use ozone as an example.  Ozone is toxic to us if we are exposed directly.  It is beneficial in the stratosphere as it absorbs ultraviolet light, which is harmful to living things.  UV light increases sunburns, contributes to skin cancers, and is an immunosuppressant.  Worldwide, governments banned chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals used in refrigeration (Freon).  The refrigeration industry fought the regulation, citing increased costs, lower profits, and job loss.  Guess what?  The Freon had to be replaced, and who had to do it?  The refrigeration business.  The increased regulation actually helped the industry and the ozone holes in the atmosphere began shrinking.  The controversy continues, however. 

Refrigeration prices increased, but were more than offset by the economic gains brought about by the change-over to safe refrigerants.  More jobs, bigger refrigeration companies, more profits, all money going into the economy.  The benefits more than offset the cost of eliminating chlorofluorocarbons.  Public health gained from the reduction in sunburns and skin cancers worldwide.  Everybody gained. 

The same applies to the auto industry with all the safety and emission requirements.  Car prices increased, but accident deaths and air pollution decreased.  Everyone gained, and governments will profit from the fines Takata and Volkswagen will pay. My Toyota dealer profited from replacing dangerous airbags. 

In economics the win-win effect of regulation can be explained by the multiplier effect.  If money is spent, the recipient spends those dollars in payroll, capital investment, taxes, and a host of other things.  Those dollars get spent, and the economy grows.  This even applies to digging holes.  People move to Denver and need a place to live.  A developer decides to build an apartment building.  He borrows money from the bank and hires architects, engineers, and contractors.  The contractor needs to put in the basements and foundations.  Thus, a need for a hole.  He hires an excavation contractor who digs the hole.  He is getting lots of business, so he hires equipment operators and laborer.  He buys a new trackhoe from Caterpillar.   The dirt has to be hauled away, so he hires a trucking company, and so it goes.  Government benefits from tax revenue and the fees for all those permits.  The revenue pays for more cops.  On and on it goes. 

The next time you hear someone say. “Get government out of the way.”, ask them if they know about the multiplier.

More On Flint Water

Flint Water

Flint Water

The tragedy of Flint, Michigan water continues.  Most people in our country take water for granted.  Turn the handle and clean, safe water comes out.  There is a bill to pay every quarter or month, but it is not very expensive.  If you are having paying, the water provider will work with you. 

When a Flint resident turns the handle, red, turbid water high in lead comes out.  It is not safe to drink and is dangerous for bathing and dishwashing.  When it is water bill time, Flint has the highest water rates in the country.  People are paying a lot of money to damage their brains. 

There was a Legionnaires Disease outbreak which killed nine people and sickened many others.   Legionnaires Disease is waterborne, usually from the aerosol from showers in buildings  using a recirculating warm water system using cooling towers or rooftop storage tanks.  The bacterium is often present in drinking water along with other bacteria and viruses in low numbers.  

Disinfection in water treatment is intended to kill pathogenic organisms in the water.  It does not sterilize the water.  Given proper conditions, those organisms can multiply enough to pose a public health problem.     The big ones are the cooling towers and storage tanks.  Another potential source are the rusty accumulations called tubercles in old cast iron pipes.  This is usually not a big problem because the bacteria are contained in the tubercles.   

Water Main Tubercles

Water Main Tubercles

When the water chemistry changes, making the water more corrosive, the tubercles break down, making red water and releasing the accumulated pathogens.  The water leaving the treatment plant is safe, but corrosive conditions in the distribution system release lead from old lead service lines running to houses that have lost their protective coating;  and pathogens are released from tubercules breaking down in the water mains. 

The potable water industry is highly regulated.  The utility itself is mandated to treat and test the water to insure its safety.  This includes testing water from individual taps in the distribution system.  County health departments also regularly test drinking water.  State Health Departments are also equipped to monitor water quality, although normally they rely on reports from the providers.  All this is overseen by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The Centers For Disease Control also respond when unusual outbreaks occur. 

This is a lot of regulation and a lot of bureaucracy.  Usually the agencies work well together, as they share the same mission, assuring the water is safe.  The system broke down in Michigan when the state government assumed control of local cities facing a budget crisis.  The emphasis shifted from providing safe water to saving money.  The money savers were not water people and tended to ignore those reporting the unsafe water.  Instead of interagency cooperation, distrust arose.   

Flint is a city in crisis.  It once was a General Motors town, with lots of good paying jobs.  Many of those jobs are gone, the people who could afford to moved away.  Those left are poor and mostly black, with little political influence.  A toxic governmental situation created a toxic water situation.   

A main role of government is to protect the health and safety of the people.  It seems the Michigan state government avoided responsibility in order to save money.  There seems to be a large movement in our country to reduce the size of government.  This cost saving often comes at the expense of infrastructure.  As the roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, schools, police and fire departments decay, the quality of life of the citizens also decays.  All this did not seem to matter in Flint or the rest of Michigan, because the citizens affected tended to be poor and black.

Was It Cancer?



Recently I wrote about a family member who was diagnosed with stage four cancer.  After two surgeries, chemotherapy, and some, ahem, alternative treatment, she is apparently cancer free.  The most recent surgery involved removing a large number of mucinous tumors from her abdomen.  After examining about forty tumors by the pathologists, they found no cancer. 

What went on?  This process started several years ago when she had her gallbladder out.  As they lifted it out, it ruptured and bile sprayed throughout her abdomen.  Our bodies protect themselves from nasty stuff like bile by producing mucus. Mucus protects the cell walls from digestive fluids like bile, whose purpose is breaking cell walls down.  My guess is that her body created new mucus producing cells to protect tissues from bile. Those were the mucinous tumors.  The initial surgeons ruled the tumors cancerous, this latest surgery, non-cancerous.   

What changed?  Did the initial surgery, chemo, and the alternative stuff do the job along with her own immune system?  Was the initial diagnosis wrong and she did not have stage four cancer?  Stage four cancer is bad news.  Some people survive, but the prognosis is usually grave.  Is cancer still lurking somewhere?  Should she stay scared?   

What a bizarre situation.  My experiences with the health care system have been mostly positive.  It has not been fun, but I am alive and most everything still works.  Without modern medicine I would be dead.  Did modern medicine save my relative’s life or is the whole ordeal just a succession of errors?  We will know more in a few months when she goes back for more imaging.  Will it be inconclusive and they will have to get core samples of tissue to test?  What is sure is the fear and suspense is not over.   

The scary thing for me with the health care system is the loss of control.  I like to think of myself as having some degree of control of my life.  I have watched parents, in-laws, friends, and now my relative fall into the medical abyss.  Doctors, hospitals, health care professionals, drug companies, insurance companies, and others we are not aware of make their money.  We endure pain, suspense, uncertainty, and loss.  The system continues to grow.   

John Maynard Keynes said that economic growth can happen simply by digging holes and filling them in.  People get paid, money gets spent, the hole digging industry grows, and everybody is happy.  It sometimes seems to me that the health care system is much the same.  Right now the health care holes being dug are patient portals.  The intent is to give patients access to their medical records and facilitate the exchange of information between medical entities.  The VA does it (sort of) Kaiser does it if you can work the system, so now everyone is trying it.  

The result? Missing records, inability to access records, many hours consumed inputting data, and careers for a new generation of IT people writing software and trying to fix the software.  What will it be like if a giant magnetic pulse from the sun converts all those zeros and ones documenting our lives turn into nothing?  Maybe we will be back to pen, ink, and the abacus.