On the question of Helium and the United States Congress

Helium Monument – Amarillo, Texas

We have not been paying nearly enough attention to helium legislation.

Seriously. We’ve been complaining about the way Congress fails at everything except scheduling vacations. So it seems only fair to salute the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act. The way things are going, it could be the most significant piece of legislation to make it into law this year.

The issue is our helium stockpile, which is scheduled to go out of business. The House approved a bipartisan bill to save the program just before the members — yes! — left town for vacation. The Senate seems inclined to go along, unless, of course, Ted Cruz decides it’s a United Nations plot.

The House debate took two days, which some people felt was way more than enough time, given the fact that the final vote was 394 to 1. The lone “nay” came from Representative Linda Sanchez of California, who accidentally pressed the wrong button…

Actually, if you’d heard the entire debate you would have been so impressed with helium that you would be wondering whether it should be wasted on balloons at all. It’s used in M.R.I. machines, scientific research, fiber optics, aerospace technology. And it’s not all that easy to come by, being the product of slow radioactive decay deep in the earth…

The United States began stockpiling helium after World War I because Congress was worried about catching up with the Germans in the race to build a fleet of dirigibles. Miraculously, despite the Pentagon’s affection for continuing to build things that have no earthly use in modern warfare, the government eventually cut back on the blimp program. But it kept the stockpile going at a helium reserve near Amarillo, Texas…

…Former Representative Barney Frank…said in 1996 that if Congress could not manage to get rid of the helium reserve “then we cannot undo anything,” hasn’t changed his mind. “Everybody is against waste, but strongly defends this or that particular piece,” Frank said in a phone interview.

He’s right. I have fond memories of listening to protests after Congress managed, with great effort, to end a totally useless subsidy on mohair. Most of the howls came from lawmakers from Texas, land of many mohair goats. “I have a mohair sweater! It’s my favorite one!” cried Republican Lamar Smith. The subsidy came creeping back a few years later…

The helium reserve, by the way, is still going to run dry in five or 10 years

If the medical-industrial complex screams loud enough, surely all the Congress-flunkies on their payroll will introduce special legislation making the disappearance of profitable quantities of helium a national emergency. The NY TIMES will editorialize against buying helium from China. Rand Paul will filibuster the lack of individual freedom for helium atoms to disperse into the atmosphere.

All’s right with the world.

What if the guy who freaks out on a flight — is the pilot?

A JetBlue captain who ranted about Iraq and Afghanistan and claimed that a bomb was on a Las Vegas-bound flight was locked out of the cockpit, tackled and restrained by passengers Tuesday, passengers said.

The captain of Flight 191 from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport had a “medical situation,” and the co-pilot, who subsequently took command of the aircraft, diverted the plane to land in Amarillo, Texas, around 10 a.m., JetBlue Airways said in a statement…

Tony Antolino, a 40-year-old executive for a security firm, said the captain walked to the back of the plane, that he seemed disoriented and agitated, then began yelling about an unspecified threat linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“They’re going to take us down, they’re taking us down, they’re going to take us down. Say the Lord’s prayer, say the Lord’s prayer,” the captain screamed, according to Antolino…

Gabriel Schonzeit, who was sitting in the third row, said the captain said there could be a bomb on board the flight.

“He started screaming about al-Qaida and possibly a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and about how we were all going down,” Schonzeit told the Amarillo Globe-News…

Antolino, who said he sat in the 10th row, said he and three others tackled the captain as he ran for the cockpit door, pinned him and held him down while the plane landed at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

That’s how we landed,” he said. “There were four of us on top of him… Everybody else kind of took a seat and that’s how we landed…”

JetBlue said the ill captain was taken to a medical facility in Amarillo. As a result of the incident, the FAA will review the captain’s medical certificate — essentially a good housekeeping seal of approval that the pilot is healthy. All pilots working for scheduled airlines must have a first class medical certificate. The certificates are required to be renewed every year if the pilot is under 40, every six months if 40 or over.

Woo-hoo! How’s that for an exciting flight?

I won’t even make any jokes about spending the day in Amarillo.

Amarillo Fundies 0 – 1 Skateboarder

I used to be Amarillo on business every other week. Last stop on the way home from West Texas. Amarillo is Culture Wars 101.

Between the John Birch Society and warring fundamentalist Protestant sects – everyone hates someone. That some gnat’s ass little clot of Christians got together a dozen acolytes to burn someone else’s holy book probably wouldn’t garner local TV coverage.

They’d have to video record it themselves and give the coaster to a TV station.

This dude who broke up their book burning probably made it on camera because someone was there to watch him and the other skateboarders.


Feed yard greenhouse gas study begins

That steaming pile ain’t topsoil

U.S. scientists say they are starting a study to determine greenhouse gas emissions from feed yard operations.

Texas A&M University scientists at AgriLife Research in Amarillo, Texas, said they will measure three greenhouse gases: nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane.

Assistant Professor Ken Casey and research chemist Al Caramanica said they will use a Varian gas chromatograph with three detectors set up for automatic injection of gas samples from gas-tight vials. That, they said, will allow simultaneous detection of all three gases from samples taken at feed yards.

“This work will focus primarily on nitrous oxide,” Casey said, noting the gas has approximately 310 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

“We are part of a larger effort to quantify what emissions of greenhouse gas are from feed yards,” he said. “We want to understand the variability and circumstances that create the greatest emissions and determine methodologies that identify the right numbers. Then we want to help identify management practices that can keep them at the lowest possible levels.”

Sorry, I can’t help it. I don’t go out of my way to offend Texas readers of this blog – unless they’re some kind of reactionary git – which can happen anywhere. BUT –

Amarillo is the ultimo place on Earth to run these tests. If you’ve ever overnighted in Amarillo, say, during a nice hot July – you know the odors wafting from the feed lots scattered strategically in and around Amarillo can match any stench on the planet. My clients there used to joke that their biggest fear during a line storm wasn’t tornados; but, a lightning strike setting fire to the atmosphere!

Goose hunters provoke nuclear weapons plant lockdown

You can even get imitation goslings

A pair of goose hunters trigged a security alert at a nuclear weapons assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas.

Officials locked the plant after getting reports of individuals in camouflage gear stalking across the road from the factory.

They turned out to be two plant employees who had decided to spend their day off hunting fowl. The plant was briefly shut as a “precautionary measure,” a plant official said.

The pair, who sparked the alert when spotted early in the morning carrying arms and dressed in camouflage gear, were later found in a nearby field setting up goose decoys.

No charges will be filed against the men who both had permission to hunt from the local landowner.

Sounds like Amarillo to me. 🙂