It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!

Oh Best Beloved, I have a tale of “Customer Service” gone astray that has left me, three days later, still feeling a trifle distraught that I could be such a bad customer…

“What happened?” you ask.

Ah, it was indeed a trial. How burdensome, how difficult it must be for a mega-telecommunications conglomerate to have such a woefully inadequate customer as I.

I wish I had a recording of my call to AT&T to share with you, so you could hear it yourself, and weep for my inadequacies.

Did you know that it is my fault, according to customer service representative “Vic” – I think that was his name – I gave up after 5 times of asking him to repeat his name and twice asking him to spell it, marveling all the while that three little letters could become so badly garbled and wondering precisely where our “Vic” had learned his version of what I think was English and…

Oh. Sorry. Wandered off the topic there.

Anyways, did you know that it is my fault according to “Vic” and his supervisor, “Spencer,” that I don’t know my 4-digit customer ID for AT&T?

This is the 4-digit customer ID that is supposedly printed right next to my phone number on my bills.

It isn’t.

In fact, it does not appear anywhere on my AT&T on-line bills, and never has.


It turns out that I am such a bad customer, so naughty, so troublesome for not having this information that AT&T has not given to me, that I was finally told, after many many minutes were wasted of my life, that I’d have to call back when I had My ID in hand, even after I explained repeatedly that I couldn’t have said ID in hand as their online bill doesn’t have and has never had that information.

Well, Oh Best Beloved, what do you think happened then?

Vic told me I should look at my paper bill and give them the ID number that was clearly printed there, right on every paper bill.

Oh? And where was I supposed to get this paper bill? The point of on-line billing is to eliminate paper bills and I’d told Vic and Spencer repeatedly and repeatedly (and repeatedly) that I didn’t get paper bills as I was an on-line customer!

I never got my request to buy a new service handled through “Vic” and “Spencer” because:

(You’ll never guess why, Oh Best Beloved!)

I didn’t have my 4-digit customer ID.

Is this a great way to do business, or what?

AT&T has complained to our public service commission that their land-lines ‘can’t compete’ with the alternatives that are now available to their customers, and that their customer base is rapidly falling off.

What a surprise.

I can tell them why.

Have I told you, Oh Best Beloved, about my new cellphone?


Every now and then I see an article that makes me feel a tad less like Sisyphus rolling his rock up that hill. This one, in the January 20, 2007 issue of Science News, made my day.

“For decades, researchers largely assumed that a poison’s effects increase as the dose rises and diminish as it falls. However, scientists are increasingly documenting unexpected effects ‘sometimes disproportionately adverse, sometimes beneficial’ at extremely low doses of radiation and toxic chemicals.”

For too many decades, the mantra of toxicologists, especially from within certain industries, has been that “the dose makes the poison.”

Indeed, it does not.

The peer-reviewed research on low-dose toxicological effects of chemicals has finally reached such a critical mass that an unbelieving and often — sadly — closed-minded scientific community has to rethink this erroneous assumption.

We know the truth: the dose does not make the poison. So let’s start afresh, and, instead of assuming we understand how things work, study them and see!

To all the scientists who have fought for this day, and especially for Dr. Warren Porter, a most principled and brilliant friend who has sacrificed much to ensure that the truth is heard: this one’s for you.

Mine, All Mine!

Backlit Iris

I’ve been asked several times already if the photos on Butter Side Down are ones that I took.

Yes, so far they are, with the exception of this one, which was snapped by Michael back when I was a sidesaddle rider in the “Great Circus Parade.” I’ve always liked that photo, perhaps because it reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s the sort of “slice of now by-gone American life” that Rockwell captured so wonderfully, in this case freezing a moment in which the horses and riders are responding to activities going on around them that the onlooker can’t see.

My photos are mostly of little critters, flowers, various and sundry bugs and spiders that catch my eye. There’s something about the incredible complexity and beauty within these ordinary miracles that fascinates me, and a camera’s lenses captures some of it for me to study–and marvel at–in leisure.

How does something as delicate as an iris’ bloom – so delicate that it becomes translucent in sunshine – survive and thrive? How does the corm that it grows from keep from freezing during the winter in our below zero weather? I take it for granted that it will – but how? Where do spiders go during hail storms? Why, when I am surrounded by millions of birds, is the discovery of a dead bird such a rare event?

I am surrounded by mysteries.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow…

Whitetail Deer after Snowfall

We had a little bitty snowstorm here yesterday night that the local forecasters were frothing over prior to it hitting. We had predictions of 8″ of snow, strong winds, and everything scary from angry rhinos trampling down the highways to ice that the White Witch would have loved.

OK. They didn’t say that bit about the rhinos. But still…

What we got was a mere smidgen of snow, just 2.5″ with very ordinary winds.

When did weather turn into a media ‘event’ that has to be hyped instead of just predicted and forecast?

We live in an area where cold, snow and ice can easily kill you. We don’t take winter lightly. Snow storms that dump 2″ of snow per hour with 40 mph winds and twenty below (-20F) actual temperature – those are the killer storms truly worthy of the media excitement we saw.

But 2.5″ of snow in the third week of January? Pah! Anything under 10″ is just traction!

It’s the Cows?

Have you heard that cows produce more greenhouse gases than cars, and are the cause of 18% of the greenhouse-gas emissions?

I’ve heard that too, on talk radio, and reported all over in the media. I couldn’t keep myself from sneaking a look at the actual report to eyeball the data for myself. I wanted to see if it matched what I’ve been hearing. And yes, doing that sort of thing is one of those quirks that originally led me to become a researcher. My family has learned to live with it.

Guess what?

It isn’t true.

Cows don’t produce more greenhouse gases than cars. And they sure as heck aren’t the cause of 18% of the greenhouse-gas emissions.

First, the report itself claims that livestock production – animal farming – not livestock itself, accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Ah. Animal farming. Not the livestock.

But, says I, it was the cows! I’ve heard that everywhere!

Um, well, not unless cows are running around with flamethrowers and burning down forests to make pastures.

You see, half of the ‘emissions’ the report claims are due to cows/livestock are “carbon dioxide releases associated with human activities, mostly as woodlands are burned around the globe for pastures or to create fields.”

*thoughtful scratching of chin*

Huh. I see. Those emissions come about because farmers burn down woodlands to make pastures, and when they do that it releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

That seems to me to be a problem with land management, not cows or livestock per se.

Well, then, surely the other 9% of all greenhouse-gas emissions that are claimed to come from cows really are due to cows, right?

Well… no.

There are some methane emissions from cows, and those should be studied to see if we have a feasible way to reduce them. But what racks up most of that other 9%, when you dig into the report, are “carbon emissions from feed production,” “carbon emissions from livestock processing,” “carbon emissions from refrigerated transport,” “nitrogen emissions from feed-related fertilizer,” “emissions from aquatic sources following chemical fertilizer use…” and a few more – all in this vein.

aHA! Now it’s clear! If those danged cows would just quit driving their tractors to plow, seed and harvest crops, stop motoring around in big ol’ cattle trucks, refuse to deliver hamburgers to MacDonalds and supermarkets in those large refrigerated trucks that we’ve all seen cows drive around, quit producing, buying and using synthetic fertilizers on the crops those industrious heifers are growing to eat, and shake a hoof towards preventing runoff into rivers and lakes from those same fertilizers, why we’d stop global warming!


It ain’t the cows.