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10 December 2011

FollowUp 1: "FRAC! Baby FRAC!"

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to release otherwise inaccessible oil and natural gas sounds, at first, like a good way to get at large quantities of domestic energy expediently.  In fact, if it could be done with assurance that fresh water aquifers would not be endangered, I would be supporting fracking.  Exceptions to the Safe Water Drinking Act for fracking have me concerned.  News this week from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have increased that concern.

A 121 page draft report, Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming, links fracking to that contamination.  Both of the following two quotes are from the extended abstract.  The EPA was called in due to complaints in the area.
In response to complaints by domestic well owners regarding objectionable taste and odor problems in well water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated a ground water investigation near the town of Pavillion, Wyoming under authority of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The Wind River Formation is the principal source of domestic, municipal, and stock (ranch, agricultural) water in the area of Pavillion and meets the Agency's definition of an Underground Source of Drinking Water. Domestic wells in the area of investigation overlie the Pavillion gas field which consists of 169 production wells which extract gas from the lower Wind River Formation and underlying Fort Union Formation. Hydraulic fracturing in gas production wells occurred as shallow as 372 meters below ground surface with associated surface casing as shallow as 110 meters below ground surface. Domestic and stock wells in the area are screened as deep as 244 meters below ground surface. With the exception of two production wells, surface casing of gas production wells do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation. At least 33 surface pits previously used for the storage/disposal of drilling wastes and produced and flowback waters are present in the area. The objective of the Agency's investigation was to determine the presence, not extent, of ground water contamination in the formation and if possible to differentiate shallow source terms (pits, septic systems, agricultural and domestic practices) from deeper source terms (gas production wells).
Much of the next paragraphs detail the specific chemicals and wells in which those chemicals were found.  The likely source was fracking.  An EPA report must consider all possibilities.
Alternative explanations were carefully considered to explain individual sets of data. However, when considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing. A review of well completion reports and cement bond/variable density logs in the area around MW01 and MW02 indicates instances of sporadic bonding outside production casing directly above intervals of hydraulic fracturing. Also, there is little lateral and vertical continuity of hydraulically fractured tight sandstones and no lithologic barrier (laterally continuous shale units) to stop upward vertical migration of aqueous constituents of hydraulic fracturing in the event of excursion from fractures. In the event of excursion from sandstone units, vertical migration of fluids could also occur via nearby wellbores. For instance, at one production well, the cement bond/variable density log indicates no cement until 671 m below ground surface. Hydraulic fracturing occurred above this depth at nearby production wells.
The extended abstract continues with exploration of gas well and comes to the same conclusion.  Fracking is causing contamination of local water and local gas wells.  This is not a safe endeavor.  It needs to stop until we know how to proceed without harm to the environment and harm to people's drinking water.

The National Memo ran an article by Pro Publica reporters that included an interview with a spokesman for the company that is doing the fracking.
A spokesman for EnCana, the gas company that owns the Pavillion wells, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an email exchange after the EPA released preliminary water test data two weeks ago , the spokesman, Doug Hock, denied that the company's actions were to blame for the pollution and suggested it was naturally caused.
"Nothing EPA presented suggests anything has changed since August of last year -- the science remains inconclusive in terms of data, impact, and source," Hock wrote. "It is also important to recognize the importance of hydrology and geology with regard to the sampling results in the Pavillion Field. The field consists of gas-bearing zones in the near subsurface, poor general water quality parameters and discontinuous water-bearing zones."
Since the EPA report is a draft version, to be finalized Spring 2012, it is by definition inconclusive at this time.  The data, however, indicates that Mr. Hock is wrong.

13 November 2011, Original Pedantic Political Ponderings post.

2 January 2012, FollowUp 2.
26 May 2012, FollowUp 3.

09 December 2011

FollowUp 3: California's SB-48

Here we go again.  Social conservatives are again trying to get rid of California's SB-48, The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act.  I wrote about the details of this law which mandates inclusion and respectful teaching of various minority groups.  There was an attempt to put a repeal of SB-48 on the November 2012 California ballot which failed.

Now Stop SB-48 is trying yet again to put a repeal of SB-48 on the November 2012 California ballot.
Capitol Resource Family Impact along with other pro-family individuals and organizations remain committed to the goal of reversing SB 48, California’s so-called “gay history” bill. Today, a broad coalition of sponsors filed an initiative with the California Attorney General designed to reverse the overreaching aspects of that legislation.
When he signed SB 48 into law this past July, Governor Jerry Brown rationalized his actions with the claim that “History must be honest.” But the bill he signed specifically required an incomplete and inaccurate presentation in all social science classes in our public schools.
No.  That was not just a rationalization.  There is no requirement that history be taught in an incomplete or inaccurate way.
Senate Bill 48 required curriculum that is positive toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other minority figures. But it also prohibited curriculum that reflects adversely on the same groups. The Los Angeles Times condemned the new law by noting, “Real history is richer and more complicated than feel-good depictions.”
No, that's not what the bill says.  It says that texts and instruction shall not contain any matter reflecting adversely upon persons on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation, or because of a characteristic listed in Section 220.

By way of a parallel example, a text can be critical of a church for instigating a particular war but cannot use that example in a way that reflects adversely upon members of that religion.  In specific, a text can cite the Roman Catholic Church as causing many deaths in the Crusades, but cannot do so in a fashion that reflects adversely on Christians or Catholics.
In contrast, the initiative presented today assures that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other minority figures are not excluded from inclusion in California curriculum while requiring accurate historical portrayals of all individuals.
No.  The initiative to repeal SB-48 removes the requirement of inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender figures as well as Pacific Islanders, persons with disabilities, and other cultural minorities.
Jack Hibbs, one of the sponsors, noted SB 48 simply went too far. “We all know that the issue of homosexuality is controversial. It is unacceptable to require that our schools shine a spotlight on this lifestyle on the one hand and then demand that history books and teachers censor shortcomings on the other.”
This is one of the reasons that SB-48 is so important.  Homosexuality should not be controversial.  People are whatever sexuality they are and it is part of who a person is.  If homosexuality is the course of study, then it is reasonable to look at shortcomings, but that is not what SB-48 is about.  It is about acknowledging that great people in history, like Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde, are presented as whole people including that each was a homosexual.  There is no need to slur homosexuals when talking about individuals who are of that group.
Kevin Snider of Pacific Justice Institute Center for Public Policy believes the proposed initiative provides an appropriate balance. “We drafted an initiative that responds to the perception that some want to ignore the contributions of certain individuals. This initiative prohibits history book exclusion of anybody based on their membership in a protected class. But it requires an accurate, historical portrayal of any individual.”
Accuracy is good.  There is nothing in SB-48 that prevents accuracy.  It prevents a lecture on the supposed evils of homosexuality when discussing historic figures who were homosexual.  Mr. Hibbs and Mr. Snider are upset because they cannot use history as a launching ground for religious-based bigotry in public classrooms.

They will have twice as many times to gather signatures this time as they had in their first petition attempt.  Despite what they say, this is about repeal of a bill that brings fairness and balance into textbooks and into history and social studies curricula.

The State of California has put up an SB-48 FAQ webpage.  I'm sure those who are opposed to equality will not both to read it.  Why let a short page of facts get in the way of a bigoted rant.

12 October 2011, Original Pedantic Political Ponderings post.

23 October 2011, FollowUp 1.

28 November 2011, FollowUp 2.

28 January 2012, FollowUp 4.

08 December 2011

Praise: President Obama LGBTQ Outreach

E-mail received today:

The White House Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011
Good afternoon,
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated the first-ever U.S. Government strategy to direct all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.
These actions represent a continuation of the Obama Administration’s commitment to safety, justice, and equality for LGBT people everywhere. President Obama expressed this commitment earlier this year at the United Nations General Assembly, when he said “No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.” And since January 2009, Secretary Clinton has strongly and consistently championed a comprehensive human rights agenda — one that specifically includes the protection of LGBT people.
I hope you share my excitement about these recent developments – powerful examples of the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to human rights for all people – and encourage you to take a few moments to read the Presidential Memorandum and watch the Secretary’s speech .
Best regards,
Gautam Raghavan
Office of Public Engagement

The White House

If you have not watched Secretary Clinton's speech, please take the half hour to do so.  She gave an eloquent and powerful presentation of the need for human rights including LGBTQ rights.  The transcript is almost as good as the video delivery.  The President and his administration are praiseworthy.

Praise: Stars and Stripes on UCMJ Reform

Since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), there has been concern because the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) continued to prohibit sodomy.  The word sodomy is italicized because the definition is quite broad and inconsistent.  

Originally, Christians called homosexuality the sin of Sodom, in reference to the destruction of that city in the book of Genesis.  The actual sin of Sodom is a failure of hospitality.  Compare the treatment of the three strangers by Abraham in Genesis 18 to the treatment by Lot's neighbors in Sodom in Genesis 19.  Sexuality is a side issue, not the greater sin.

The UCMJ uses sodomy to mean any homosexual relations or any sexual relations with animals.

925. ART. 125. SODOMY

(a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration , however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.
(b) Any person found guilty of sodomy shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
unnatural carnal copulation is usually meant as anal sex.

So, with lesbians and gays being allow to serve in the United States military, the prohibition of homosexual activity seems out of place.  But, the article is the same one that prohibits bestiality.  So groups opposed to the repeal of DADT and opposed to equality have been complaining that Article 125 needs to stay in place, at least for the sake of the animals.  Here are a few examples.

CNS News quoted Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council
“It’s all about using the military to advance this administration’s radical social agenda,” Perkins told “Not only did they overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but they had another problem, and that is, under military law sodomy is illegal, just as adultery is illegal, so they had to remove that prohibition against sodomy.”
Perkins said removing the bestiality provision may have been intentional--or just “collateral damage”
As reported by MediaITE, Les Kinsolving, a World Net Daily reporter, tried to ask Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, about the repeal of prohibition of bestiality.
Kinsolving then asked Carney about the recent repeal of the UCMJ provision that bans sodomy, but which also included a ban on bestiality. There are a lot of interesting ways to approach this question. Article 125 of the UCMJ didn’t ban sodomy and bestiality, it said they were the same thing. While Article 134 does contain language specific to animal abuse, that section refers only to “public animals,” and carries a much lower penalty. There’s a legitimate question as to whether additional protections for animals are needed in the UCMJ, and whether those are in the works.
Les didn’t tackle the thing from any of those angles, though, instead asking Carney, “Does the Commander-in-Chief approve or disapprove of beastiality in our armed forces?”
Carney said, “Let’s get to something more serious,” and called on ABC News’ Jake Tapper.
The same article refers to a letter from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
In their letter to Carney, PETA said, “we were upset to note that you flippantly addressed the recently approved repeal of the military ban on bestiality. With respect, this is no laughing matter,” and concluded with, “I hope that in the future, you will address important issues with sensitivity and not dismiss them with a joke.”
The good news comes in an excellent article in today's Stars and Stripes.
WASHINGTON — Just in case you weren’t sure, bestiality is still illegal in the U.S. military.
After citing the controversy, the article includes
For their part, Pentagon officials say the deletion of bestiality is a legal technicality and does not represent any fundamental change in the military’s moral code for servicemembers (and service animals).
“The department’s position on this issue remains unchanged and that act remains illegal,” said defense spokesman Lt. Col Todd Breasseale.
The end of the Stars and Stripes article:
Breasseale said the whole controversy is off-base.
Even if Article 125 is removed, the UCMJ contains provisions under which troops can be punished. Article 134, for example, forbids “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces” and “all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Breasseale said that would cover any and all animal abuse.
In fact, past instances of bestiality in the military have been prosecuted under that statute, instead of Article 125. The legal record dates back to 1957, when Pvt. Ricardo Sanchez was convicted of “an indecent act with an animal” under Article 134, even without specific wording prohibiting sex with animals.
In addition, before the potential language changes reached Congress, the Joint Service Committee on Military Justice drafted a list of punitive offenses under the UCMJ which specifically includes animal abuse. That is set to be included in the Manual for Courts-Martial, and will give clear guidance on what to do in such cases.
Breasseale said the change pending before Congress is truly just a legal clean-up effort, and will in no way endanger animals.
“It is difficult to envision a situation where a servicemember engages in sexual conduct with an animal that would not be conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline or service-discrediting,” he said.
Many thanks to the Stars and Stripes for setting the record straight.

07 December 2011

Remembrance: 7 December 1941

The day that will live in infamy.  Seventy years ago the United States was attacked at our outpost known as Pearl Harbor.  This marked our entry into WWII in the Pacific Theater.  One of my grandfathers built ships for the war.  My other grandfather volunteered for the US Army at the age of 34.  Each was among the heroes of their generation.

I was fortunate to serve in the US Navy during peacetime.  Peace is something that the youngest generation may not remember.

11 September 2001 was the modern day that will live in infamy.  We are still at war over a decade later.

The United States of America is my home and the nation that holds my allegiance.  We are imperfect and continuing to strive toward being a more perfect union.  Pausing to remember those who fought, some of whom were killed in battle, to perpetuate our Republic is important.

Praise: Christmas in the United States

This may seem like a very strange blog post for a Jew to write.  It is the season once again for the supposed War on Christmas and I find myself getting ready to wish friends, family, students, and colleagues "Merry Christmas" as I always do.  The controversy now includes a War on Christmas website.  Really??!?  They need a website to focus just on "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays"?

There are some reasons for a Jew to not take any of this seriously.  For starters, the religious holiday is not my holiday.  Jesus was supposed to have been Jewish, but Jews do not worship fellow Jews.  Christians worship Jesus; good for them.  New 2 Torah, not a Jewish website, has a funny article and cartoon about Christmas.  Here's the cartoon: