A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I saw this on a personalized license plate the day before the verdict came out from the Supreme Court regarding the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and thought it was great, but it was something I would have easily forgotten.  Then the next day, the entire state of Alaska got pissed off all at once.  Now, I have not read the decision, but I have read a summary of their explanation.  The decision limits punative damages to an amount equal to the compensatory damages ONLY in cases involving maritime law.  I never took a class in admiralty law, and have not dug out my notes from my law school classes in remedies, but this seems to be a drastic departure from current punitive damages cases, and a very narrow decision that only affects... Exxon. 
Let's talk a moment about McDonald's, specifically Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants.  A woman spilled hot McDonald's coffee on her lap.  She was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, including medical bills, pain and suffering, etc. She was then awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.  Later, the appeals court reduced her punitive damages award to $480,000, more than twice the compensatory damages.
in Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007), the Court's decision was based on the idea that more reprehensible misconduct justifies a larger punitive damage award.  Let's think about this a little bit.  So, McDonald's had to pay more than twice the compensatory damages for a woman that spilled hot coffee on her lap while trying to add cream and sugar holding the cup between her legs.  The court found that the woman was partially at fault, and she was still awarded more than twice the compensatory damages in punitive damages.  But Exxon, whose drunk boat pilot ran aground and spilled millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, effectively damaging hundreds of miles of coastline and completely trashing an ecosystem, only has to pay an amount equal to compensatory damages, even though they were clearly wholly at fault????  WTF?
Exxon argues that they paid their money, fixed the problem, cleaned up the mess. Baloney.  There are still shellfish fishermen pulling up globs of oil from the ground under Prince William Sound. The fishing has still not recovered. The mess is still there.
It amazes me that the 9 people entrusted by the citizens of the United States to DO THE RIGHT THING, all the time, can put the interests of a huge corporation, who makes the largest profits that any corporation has ever made (in case we have forgotten, $40 billion in one quarter), ahead of 600,000 people living in the State of Alaska, who would very much like to be able to swim, fish, live in and around Prince William Sound without worrying about contamination from oil.  Who can't catch enough fish anymore to even make it worth putting the boats in the water.
The entire idea of punitive damages is to PUNISH the corporation, so they think twice next time.  What are they going to think about $500 million in punitives? 1/80th of the amount of their profits in one quarter?  No biggie.  Makes me feel like the U.S. Supreme Court thinks of Alaska not as a state with many American citizens that they should be protecting, but as a pretty cheap whore. Thanks, guys.
Exxon Sucks.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


"Vacation, all I ever wanted.  Vacation, had to get away" - The Go-Go's
Last week, Ryan, my 13 year old, and I flew to Maryland to visit my mother.  We spent 3 days at the beach at Ocean City, Maryland, and a day and a half in Washington DC.  It was a week of constant motion, as Ryan seems to have an unlimited font of energy.
At Ocean City, we spent lots of time on the beach, walked the boardwalk, ate yummy boardwalk food, and let Ryan ride the amusement rides.  The only ones I do are the carousel and the ferris wheel, as I get motion sickness very easily.  Ryan seemed to especially enjoy the bumper cars.  Playing in the ocean was a lot of fun; it has been years since I played in the ocean, and I had forgotten how much fun it was, and what salt water tastes like.  I had a really hard time leaving the beach when it was time to go.  I brought 50 SPF sunblock and it was a good thing that I had it, as my pale Alaskan skin was not used to all that sun exposure.  I managed to get a little sunburn anyway, especially on the backs of my knees.
In DC, we had great Indian food in Georgetown, and I bought some Godiva chocolate.  We spent a day at the mall (no, not a shopping mall, but a large grassy space with the Washington Monument at one end and the Capitol at the other, with museums and such on the sides) and saw the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and the National Archives. Ryan wanted to climb the 555 steps to the top of the Washington Monument, but we ran out of time.  Then we had dinner in Chinatown.  My feet were sore enough after the museums that I insisted on riding the Metro 4 blocks from the mall to Chinatown instead of walking.
The flight was 9 hours in the air each way, with a layover in Dallas.  Each time, the plane leaving Dallas was delayed due to mechanical problems.  On the way to DC, the plane from Dallas to DC was delayed an hour or so due to a problem with the toilet.  The valve was broken, and I guess they didn't want to drop sewage all the way from Dallas to DC.  Eeew.  On the way back to Alaska, the plane was delayed about 3 hours because of a wiring problem.  It turned out to be absolutely ridiculous.  First we waited while they tried to fix the wiring problem.  Then we waited while they located another airplane (which by the way, was clear across the airport in a completely different terminal). Then we waited while they got that airplane ready and transferred our stuff from the broken airplane.  Then we waited because our "paperwork" had expired and they had to get new "paperwork".  Then we taxied out to the runway, and waited some more because we needed to file a new flight plan.  By the time we finally took off, we were 3 hours late, and everyone on the plane clapped when we got off the ground.  When we got to Anchorage, we waited some more because another plane was parked at our gate.
I guess I find it interesting and concerning that two of the four airplanes I was on had mechanical problems that delayed the flight.  I am not even remotely suggesting that we should have flown with mechanical problems.  No, I would much rather be confident in the plane's ability to reach our destination safely.  What I find concerning is that half of the airplanes had mechanical problems that were not discovered until just before boarding the planes.  We know that the first priority of any corporation is to make a profit.  Are the airlines cutting corners in an effort to scrape by?  Does that put the safety of air travel at risk?  We know that companies do that... look at BP and the recent pipeline leak in Alaska.  They were cutting corners to minimize maintenance costs, and a large leak was the result.  Cutting corners to minimize maintenance costs on passenger airplanes could be lethal.  I hope that is not what is happening.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"We need a dramatically different energy policy for our country"

Gas prices, as everyone knows, are up.  Way up. Out by my house, "cheap" gas is $4.26 a gallon. And drivers are struggling with the higher prices.  For the first time in recent memory, people are actually driving less (and gas prices are still going up). From reading this article, even mass transit programs are struggling.  Ridership is increasing because people are driving less and taking mass transit more, but the increase in the number of fares paid is not keeping up with the rising cost of fuel to run the trains and buses.
The airlines are having huge difficulties, and I think they are caught in a catch 22. They can't afford to fuel their planes, so they are cutting down on flights, imposing baggage fees, and so on.  In order to meet the rising cost of fuel, they need to dramatically increase fares.  However, if they do that, many fewer people will travel, and the airlines will be flying emptier planes, and still not able to pay for the fuel.
The thing is, people don't understand what is going on.  The last time gas prices climbed like this, there was an oil embargo.  Somebody saying, "No oil for you."  This time, why are gas prices climbing?  Why are oil prices at $135 a barrel? It's because there is not enough of it.  Between stagnant production, declining exports from exporting countries due to their own internal rising demand, and rapidly increasing demand from developing economies like China, which has recently discovered that they, too, should be able to live the American Dream, there simply is not enough to go around.
Then there is the other problem with our energy use... what we are doing to ourselves in the process.  We are a bunch of frogs sitting in a slowly heating pot of water, oblivious to the trouble we are getting ourselves in because it is happening relatively slowly.  At least, climate change, although accelerating, is happening more slowly than our gas prices are increasing, and we don't ever solve problems until they are PROBLEMS that have to be dealt with RIGHT NOW. And by the time it has to be dealt with right now, it will be too late to avert many of the consequences.
Can't people see that we need to do something different?
Hello???  McFly???

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


It's been a while since I posted... I had to look at my sent items on my email to figure out the last stuff I posted, and a lot has happened since then.  I took a trip to Utah, which was great, although the last two days I was there it was in the 80's and very hot. I got to see lots of family, and my best friend, Aonika.  It was my good luck that one of James's cousins had her baby while I was there, so I got to hold Eric, my new first cousin once removed, or something like that.  He is beautiful.
On Memorial Day weekend, James built a tool shed.  It is a simple 8x12 saltbox, and incredibly useful.  Our tiny cabin had tools literally every place we looked, and now there is not a single one anywhere but in the shed.  I am pleased.
Our garden is doing much better than I expected the first year, at least so far, although I must admit I have not been able to eat out of it yet.  By "much better than I expected" I mean that things are growing and not dying. Our peas are a good 3 inches tall now, both shelling peas and snow peas.  Our strawberries are doing great, except something is eating some of the leaves.  The rhubarb is growing like a weed; it's at least 3 times its original size.  Our squash, tomato, brussel sprout, cauliflower and zucchini plants that were given to us are surviving, the potatoes are starting to grow, although I haven't got any sprouts poking out of the dirt yet.  (We know this because James got curious, and dug one up.) The raspberries are doing well.  Out of about 30 canes that we transplanted, only 2 don't look like they are going to make it, and some of them are setting blossoms.  And, as an added bonus, 4 of the 6 we planted last year survived the winter! Our onion and leek starts are about an inch and a half tall... soon they will be ready to transplant into the garden.  I also planted parsnips, carrots, green beans, two kinds of lettuce, broccoli, and scallions, but they haven't come up yet.
I had one major goof up.  I have staked off each bed and written on the stakes what is planted there, mostly.  MOSTLY.  Last night, I planted 2/3 of my green beans, and then realized, only after they were planted, that I had planted them in the same bed that I had just planted the lettuce, broccoli and scallions a few days ago, as I had forgotten to write on the stakes what I had planted.  I guess we will just have to see what comes up.  Unintentional companion planting, LOL.  I think I am probably about done planting for the year.  There are plenty more seed packets in my dining room, but I have over allocated my water resources already, and my backyard is beginning to feel like the seven western states fighting over the colorado river.  I hope it rains soon.