Is Environmental Regulation Good?

How you answer that question most likely has a lot to do with whether you live in a red state or a blue state in America. Conservatives, in general, feel that governmental regulations are bad, and that industries should be allowed to self-regulate. They feel that federal regulations impede industry’s ability to be profitable, and therefore they have a negative impact on jobs and the economy.

This is one of the many ways that conservatives and I part company. I have never seen industries act in the best interest of the common man, so I feel they need to be watched over very closely. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, and subsequently their vote. That’s how democracy works.

I only hope that when people vote, they cast educated votes. I certainly try to. In an attempt to educate myself about the vast gulf in my opinions as compared to the average conservative, I decided to read a fascinating book entitled Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. I highly recommend that you read this well thought out book, regardless of your location on the political spectrum. The author is a sociologist who spends a year in conservative Louisiana to get to know the people, and learn how they have drawn the conclusions that they have on a variety of subjects, including the environment.

Louisiana has been ground zero for an unbelievable number of environmental disasters. (See also, my post entitled, “A Forgotten Catastrophe.”) According to page 79 of this book, “residents of red states suffer higher rates of industrial pollution than do residents of blue states. Voters in the twenty-two states that voted Republican in the five presidential elections between 1992 and 2008—and who generally call for less government regulation in business—lived in more polluted environments.”

But she also discovered that it isn’t just a state by state issue. She looked at data on the EPA website, which breaks down risk of exposure to pollution into counties, and she compared that to people’s answers on the General Social Survey, that linked what people believed about the environment and politics county by county.

What she found was very interesting. “If, in 2010, you lived in a county with a higher exposure to toxic pollution, we discovered, you are more likely to believe that Americans ‘worry too much’ about the environment and to believe that the United States is doing ‘more than enough’ about it. You are also more likely to describe yourself as a strong Republican.”

I find this paradox both fascinating and heartbreaking. Just because I disagree with you politically does not mean I want you to suffer. And, of course, I feel that your children should suffer even less. Unfortunately, your stance on the environment effects the planet as a whole, as well.

You don’t have to agree with me. But can you at least understand why I would find this contradiction in thinking confusing? Therein lies the crux of our extreme divide. By voting the way that they do on environmental issues, conservatives are hurting themselves and the rest of us. And that hurts to watch.

Like this Escher box below, I struggle to understand this logic.


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The Creepy Concept of Covenant Marriage

Recently, I came across a disturbing little factoid. In 1997, the state of Louisiana passed Covenant Marriage into law. Arkansas and Arizona later jumped on the bandwagon. Thank goodness no other states have taken the bait.

These policies, if you opt into them, make marriage more difficult to get into, and a lot more difficult to get out of. For starters, according to Wikipedia, you have to attend premarital counseling sessions, which “emphasize the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage”, and you must sign a statement saying that the marriage is for life.

While I think premarital counseling is a great idea, I wonder who exactly is conducting these sessions. And I really would have a problem with having someone other than me and my spouse dictate what the nature, purpose and responsibilities of our marriage are to be. Marriage is what you make it. No two are alike.

And as for signing one’s life away, if you aren’t confident that the other person is going to try for a lifelong commitment unless they put it in writing, then you might want to reexamine how much you trust this person in the first place. Trust is the bedrock of any relationship. If you don’t have that, you’re building a castle on sand.

This is starting to sound like the equivalent of a homeowners’ association for relationships. I chafe at rules and regulations. I’ll pass.

Even worse are the restrictions placed on getting out of the marriage. In a covenant marriage, you are waiving your rights to a no-fault divorce. Before you can even consider divorce, you have to first go to counseling. You must also be able to prove that your spouse has committed adultery, a felony, is a drug addict or a sexual predator, or that you’ve been living apart for at least a year (perhaps two, depending on the state.)

First of all, why bother with counseling if your spouse is involved in such heinous acts? Those things, as far as I’m concerned, are deal breakers.

And you notice there’s no provision for your husband punching you in the face and not being prosecuted for it, nor is there an option if your wife suddenly joins a cult. Your only recourse in those situations would be a long painful separation, and there’s no guarantee that the nut job in question would agree to being apart.

Life is messy. It can go south in many ways that are outside the bounds of these few legislative dicta. No one should have the right to define what you deem to be unsupportable.

Is it just me, or is it creepy and strange that these three super red states, full to the brim with conservatives who claim to want less government, not more, are all for these highly regulated covenant marriages? But then, this legislates religion and “family values”, and restricts the freedom of women even further, so yeah, I guess it makes sense.

Fortunately, these three states have not made covenant marriage mandatory, and less than 1 percent of the couples getting married each year in these places opt in to this foolishness. But still, it seems like a disturbing, backward trend, and it gives me the willies.

I love holding my husband’s hand, but I wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to it.

Business people handcuffed together

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

A Forgotten Catastrophe

Once upon a time, in the state of Louisiana, there was a beautiful freshwater lake called Lake Peigneur. It was about 10 feet deep, and covered about 10 square miles. It was a popular place to go fishing, and there was a botanical garden called Live Oak on its shores.

Unfortunately, humans, being what they are, couldn’t leave well enough alone. There was also a salt dome beneath the lake, and therefore the Diamond Crystal Salt Company created a salt mine there in 1919. Well, there’s no question that we all need salt to survive. But we’ve gotten it into our heads that we need oil to survive as well. That mistaken idea is what caused the Lake Peigneur disaster in 1980.

You see, Texaco had decided that drilling for oil on Lake Peigneur would be a financial boon to that company, because, you know, “drill, baby, drill.” And so they did. But due to a foolish miscalculation, they accidentally drilled right into the salt dome itself.

It’s really rather astonishing what happens when you drill a 14 inch wide hole through the floor of a lake and into a huge empty cavern below. Check out this history channel video that tells you all about it. The first thing that happened was that the drilling platform tilted, and the Texaco employees barely escaped with their lives. Then the salt mine began to fill with water, but thanks to an excellent evacuation plan, all 55 miners managed to escape as well.

Soon, that hole had turned into a whirlpool, and the entire drilling platform disappeared into what had been just 10 feet of water only moments before. Soon to follow were 11 barges and a tugboat that had been floating nearby. With them went trees, and 65 acres of land, including the botanical garden.

A fisherman who had been enjoying a tranquil day on the water only managed to survive because one of the barges temporarily blocked the hole and gave him just enough time to motor away and scramble to shore, only to watch his boat disappear along with, one assumes, the catch of the day.

Oh, but it gets worse. This maelstrom caused the Delcambre Canal, which usually drains out of the lake, to reverse course and empty brackish water into the void. For about a day, the lake was the site of Louisiana’s highest waterfall, measuring 164 feet. In addition, 400 foot geysers erupted, as the trapped air from the salt mine escaped.

It took two days for the water to stop rushing into the void. Once the pressure was equalized, 9 of the barges popped back up to the surface. The rest of what had been sucked in was never seen again.

Today, Lake Peigneur, once a 10 foot deep, fresh water lake, is now a 200 foot deep saltwater lake, with all the resulting ecological changes that that implies. You can still see a chimney sticking up from what remains of a house that sank below the waves, but other than that, you might never know there once was an environmental catastrophe here.

Oh, but it gets better. Texaco had to pay 32 million dollars to Diamond Crystal, and 12.8 million to Live Oak Gardens, which is a mere hand slap to such a large company. In exchange, they got to wait patiently for the news cycle to churn on so that their little oops would be forgotten and they could continue to rape mother nature in other locations. Because humans suck.

The salt mine, oddly enough, was able to continue operating until 1986, creating yet another cavern. There are several oil drilling operations nearby. And now, guess what? That cavern is being used as a storage facility for pressurized natural gas.

What could possibly go wrong?

Rip Van Winkle Gardens
Lake Peigneur

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The Mysterious Melungeons

There is a group of people in Eastern Tennessee whose ancestry is said to date back in this country to the late 1700’s. At the time there was talk of people who lived in the forests as Indians, but who looked European and spoke a broken form of Elizabethan English. Their descendants are called the Melungeons, and based on a DNA project that has been going on since 2005, they are a mixture of European, sub-Saharan African, and some Native American.

They tend to have the last names Bunch, Goins, Gibson, Minor, Collins, Williams, Goodman, Denham, Bowlin, Mullins, Moore, Shumake, Boltons, Perkins, Mornings, Menleys, Breedlove, Hopkins and Mallett, but it is believed that both Elvis Presley and Abraham Lincoln were of Melungeon descent as well.

No one knows where they originated exactly, but one theory is that they started with the unions of white and black indentured servants, and then as laws were put into place to penalize mixed race marriages, they only married amongst themselves and also with area Indians. Another is that shipwrecked sailors moved inland and were taken in by the Native Tribes. Whatever the case, I think this makes for a fascinating family tree.

I had never heard of this group until this month, but I’ve since discovered that there are lots of little pockets of people throughout the US who can’t be considered distinct races, but they are groups of people who share unique bloodlines. These include the Dead Lake People of Florida, the Ben-Ishmael tribe of Indiana, the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware, the Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Redbones of Louisiana and Texas.

I don’t think of America as a melting pot, because to me that implies that we all mix together and become this substance that is consistent throughout. No, I think of America as more of a hearty stew with very unique and varied ingredients, and we are all the more deliciously interesting for being so.

abraham elvis

In retrospect, they DO bear a resemblance, don’t they?


For those of you who have never been to New Orleans, allow me to introduce you to the world’s most delightful custom: Lagniappe. This word came to the English language via the Louisiana French by way of the Spanish Creoles from the Quechua word yapay. Whew! The fact that it managed to survive so many cultures to arrive at our door tells you what a wonderful tradition it is.

Basically it means “a little something extra”, like the 13th doughnut in a baker’s dozen. It sort of reminds me of the obligatory encore that musicians will do at the end of a concert. Everybody knows it’s going to happen, but we’re still delighted when it does. Vendors in New Orleans will throw in a little something extra with your purchase if you ask. This, to me, indicates what astute businessmen these people are, because when I walk away feeling I’ve gotten a little more for my money, it makes me want to go back.

Oddly enough, my first experience with Lagniappe occurred in Asheville, North Carolina at the Open Door Boutique. I bought a dress there 30 years ago, and they included a stick of incense in my bag. I was confused, then delighted by this little extra thing. It made me feel appreciated. So appreciated, in fact, that I have remembered the experience for decades. And it probably didn’t cost them more than a few pennies. I’m sure I’ve bought things from small boutiques a hundred times in my life, but this is the only shop whose name I remember. (They’re still open by the way, but I have no idea if they still practice Lagniappe. I hope they do.)

So, for all you shop owners out there, take heed: this tiny little investment in your customers will bring you a lifetime of loyalty, and that’s worth its weight in gold.

Open Door

The Open Door Boutique. Photo credit:

So here is my lagniappe for you, dear reader: something to think about.

               “Calm seas do not an expert sailor make.”     –Unknown