Did Monkeys Put A Pox On Us?–Monkeypox Cases Spread Outside Africa

Just when you thought it was safe to take off the face mask, another virus swoops in to terrorize us. The latest health scare is the appearance of monkeypox cases in the United States. I kid you not; there really is a sickness called monkey pox, and its emergence in our country is no joking matter.

Originally found in monkeys, monkeypox suggests monkeys may have put a pox on us. That’ll teach us to use them for research subjects, the monkeys are no doubt thinking. The sickness was discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept by researchers in Copenhagen.

Interestingly, the type of monkeys who first became ill were crab-eating macaque monkeys. Crab-eating? Maybe I’m stereotyping monkeys, but aren’t they the cute critters who eat bananas? When did they start eating crabs? And isn’t that crab-eating macaque pictured above eating a banana? Well, perhaps bananas are the dessert course following the seafood.

Apparently monkeys kept monkeypox to themselves for a few years. They didn’t share it with humans until 1970 when a case was reported in Congo. Sometimes sharing isn’t the polite thing to do, so man could’ve lived (literally) without a new medical issue to face courtesy of monkeys.

Monkeypox is normally reported in people living in the tropical rainforest regions of Central and West African with the majority of cases seen in Congo. In fact, thousands of cases are reported in Congo annually, Nevertheless, cases of this virus have occurred outside Africa (specifically Israel, Singapore, and the U.K.) which were linked to international travel or imported animals.

Fortunately for Americans, monkeypox does NOT occur naturally in the United States. Nevertheless, a monkeypox outbreak took place here in in the U.S. back in 2003. Forty-seven confirmed and probably cases were identified then in six states, but thankfully no one died.

During the 2003 outbreak, humans (Americans) contracted the illness from pet prairie dogs (people have pet prairie dogs??). These pets had come into contact with imported small mammals (read RODENTS) from the African country of Ghana offered for sale in a pet store. So you have bigger things to fear from going into a pet store than your child convincing you to bring home a cute puppy. You may bring home MONKEYPOX.

But monkeypox has reared its ugly head here in 2022. A U.S. resident tested positive for it in Boston on May 18th after returning from a trip to Canada, and a New York City resident was hospitalized at Bellevue as another possible case. According to the World Health Organization,131 confirmed cases and 106 suspected cases have been identified in nineteen countries outside of Africa, where the virus is endemic. Health experts are baffled by the illness’ spread in developed countries.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to monkeypox. Good news? It is a rare disease which is difficult to spread. The virus typically enters the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). Of the two strains of monkeypox existing, West African and Congo Basin, the one currently being seen in patients, West African, is the milder of the two. That strain doesn’t spread as easily and has caused less deaths. The death rate in Africa is not high; only 1 in 10 people who contract monkeypox there die from it. That’s comforting unless you’re in that 10% who perish.

And, in news that could be deemed good or bad depending on your perspective, a CDC infectious disease specialist assures us that there is no need to be particularly worried about the outbreak. Why common household disinfectants can kill the monkeypox virus. (Cue the hoarding of Lysol and bleach again.) Somehow, government statements that all will be well (pun intended) don’t make me feel all that confident.

So, what’s the bad news about monkeypox? If you contract monkeypox, you may not die, but there is currently no proven safe treatment for it. (Translate that you just have to endure it.) The symptoms aren’t pleasant to suffer or even to see. The illness begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. The lymph nodes swell. Then comes the “fun” part.

One to three days after the fever begins, a rash appears, usually on the face, similar to chickenpox. It starts as flat red marks that become raised blisters filled with pus. Yuk! These can spread all over your body, including in your eyes and on your private parts. Three-quarters of patients with monkeypox have lesions on their palms and the soles of their feet. The illness lasts 2-4 weeks.

A test already exists for detecting the virus. It is a PCR test of samples from skin lesions. So, nothing is stuck up your nose, but you have to have pus-filled lesions on you from which samples can be taken.

So, the illness isn’t pleasant. (That’s an understatement.) What can be done to prevent it? A preventative does exist–the smallpox vaccine. Monkeypox has symptoms similar to smallpox which was eradicated in humans in 1980. Since smallpox vaccinations are no longer given, the general public no longer has immunity to poxviruses. While they may not be immune, the public could receive smallpox vaccines if necessary since the U.S. has stockpiled millions of doses of smallpox vaccine in case of an outbreak.

Regardless of what the illness du jour is, our health is never anything to monkey around with. While it’s important to be in the know about new outbreaks, knowledge must be tempered with common sense. Health officials should be aware of and prepared to deal with illnesses whether common or rare. But we don’t need to panic just because an outbreak is highlighted in the media. Use common sense to protect yourself–keep your distance from someone who is ill, regularly wash your hands, and, for heaven’s sake, don’t buy a prairie dog for a pet.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are you numb to new health scares after the COVID-19 pandemic? How worried are you about contracting monkeypox? Is the fact that illnesses once confined to specific locations on the globe are spreading across it a sign that it really is a “small world after all?”

Paper Paucity Poses Political Predicament

Can’t find baby formula on the grocery store shelves? That’s not the only commodity currently in great demand but short supply–printing paper is also scarce. And with that paper paucity comes political peril. The fate of the upcoming November mid-term elections depends on paper supplies.

Let’s start with the big picture. Paper, paper everywhere, but just a few pages on which to print. Don’t think paper is everywhere? Think again. It is the single largest component of landfills in the United States. Nevertheless, an ongoing scarcity of printing grade paper exists, and that problem is compounded by the skyrocketing price for the paper which is available. Paper producers simply cannot keep up with industry demand for it.

Several factors combine to result in declining paper production here in the United States. No new printing paper mills have begun operation in decades while multiple paper mills have closed. Those mills still in business have converted to production of more profitable packaging and corrugated grades of paper and consumer paper products. The almighty bottom line rules, of course.

So, how does this industry shift affect the consumer? Let’s say you love to read books. (Raising my hand.) Boosted by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, books sales jumped 13% in 2021. More reading means more demand for books means more paper is needed to print them. But printers can’t get the paper they need, at least not from here in the U.S.

While blaming the pandemic for paper supply woes might be tempting, lockdowns aren’t the only reason for the current deficit of printing paper. In fact, about a year before COVID, U.S. paper mills shifted to producing paperboard used in packaging over freesheet paper. Why the shift? The dramatic increase in online shopping resulted in a dramatic increase in the need for packaging to ship orders in. But, of course, COVID exacerbated the problem since being stuck at home necessitated (or at least led to) a great deal of online shopping.

An additional complication is the inability to obtain the components needed for making paper. Some of them come from overseas. Lockdowns in foreign countries and supply chain logistics add to the difficulty. Labor shortages in the U.S. heighten the difficulty of transporting the components to the mills once they land here.

Why not just obtain the needed paper itself, rather than just the components, from overseas then? Although that sounds like a simple solution, in reality it isn’t. Numerous factors have combined to make that option less and less viable.

One finger of blame can be pointed at Vladimir Putin. Not only is Ukraine shell shocked by his invasion, but the war (no, it’s NOT a “military operation”) has done the same to the paper industry. Russia and Ukraine, both heavily forested areas, are big pulp-producing areas. But the countries’ focuses are now on things other than tree-cutting; Russia’s cutting down civilians and destroying the Ukrainian landscape while Ukraine is laser-focused on survival and defense of the country.

European paper mills are also affected by the ongoing war. Production is reduced because their primary energy source is natural gas which is purchased from Russia. Current events have dried up that energy source.

And then there are labor woes in Europe. UPM, the largest paper company in the world, had several paper mills shut down due to striking workers. On January 1, 2022 (Happy New Year or Onnellista uutta vuotta! as Finns would say), the Finnish Paperworkers’ Union called for a strike. On top of that, the transport workers’ union also struck shutting down the ports from which the paper the mills produced was shipped. What difference did these strikes make? Well, in October 2021, UPM made 306 sea shipments; that dropped to 53 in January 2022. Fortunately, after a 16-week strike, an accord was reached between the paper workers’ union and UPM.

With huge demand, paper production (a $188 billion industry) should be increasing, right? Wrong. The global paper output for 2022 is an estimated 416 million TONS. Nevertheless, that figure is 4 million TONS short of what was produced in 2018. And short leads to shortage.

OK, but how does all of this paper industry drama affect 2022 mid-term elections in the U.S.? Quite significantly. NINETY-TWO percent of Americans live in jurisdictions that rely on paper ballots for voting. (I’m in one of those jurisdictions.) In 2020, some 90 million mail in ballots were utilized requiring approximately 270 million envelopes. Yes, those were paper ballots and paper envelopes.

But it isn’t simply paper ballots and envelopes election officials need. Voter registration forms, “I Voted” stickers, and voter guides are also paper. Bottom line. LOTS of paper is needed for election officials to put on an election. Not just any paper will do either. Election officials must purchase ballot paper which meets specific requirements.

Even if election officials find the type of paper required, they face another challenge. Can they afford it? Inland Press in Detroit provides ~25% of the ballots for the State of Michigan. That business has seen a 40% increase in paper costs. Election officials, of course, are restricted to a budget which may not allow for drastic price increases. Even if they can handle a big increase, guess who is ultimately going to foot the bill? The taxpayers, i.e., you and me.

So concerning is the prospect of the inability to obtain the paper needed for elections that Congressional attention has spotlighted it. Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL), who is involved with oversight of federal elections, held a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C. on March 18th to discuss the implications for upcoming elections with restricted paper supplies. The CEO of PRINTING United Alliance, Fred Bowers, summed up the concerns with this paper shortage in the election sphere when he said, “Printing is an essential industry, and nothing highlights its essential feature more than, the fact that, without printing, faith in our democratic process and elections are at risk.”

What will happen in November remains to be seen. And I mean not only who will win the elections but whether elections can even be held if sufficient paper supplies are not obtained. Stay tuned for the results.

WONDER-ing Woman:

What should election officials do if sufficient paper supplies aren’t available? Would you feel comfortable voting online as opposed to using a paper ballot? Are you shocked that paper items are the #1 component of landfills?

Offshore Accounts Not Off The IRS’ Radar

Money can be deposited in an offshore account, but stashing it outside the country won’t get it off the IRS’ radar. Out of sight is NOT out of Uncle Sam’s mind. In fact, the IRS has intensified its efforts targeting offshore issues in recent years because hiding money and assets in unreported offshore accounts is now a top tax scam.

A high profile case involving such enforcement activities is currently in the news. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Paul Manafort, President Trump’s one-time campaign chairman, for approximately $3 million dollars. What did Manafort do? Well, actually, it’s what Manafort DIDN’T do that got him in hot water with the IRS. So the DOJ complaint alleges, Mr. Manafort failed to report interest received on money he deposited in foreign back accounts.

Interestingly, Ukraine is the source of the money Manafort deposited overseas. His income from consulting work with that country was placed in bank accounts in Cyprus, the U.K., and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Oops! That sounds like a pretty big oversight. Forgetting to list one foreign bank account might possibly be believable, but twenty accounts in three different countries? The DOJ isn’t buying that story, and neither am I.

So what is an “offshore account?” It’s an account held with a bank existing in a foreign country. Offshore locations are generally, but not always, island nations. Nevertheless, landlocked countries are also popular offshore financial centers. Think Switzerland–it’s neutral and eager to receive your foreign money.

Financial institutions which are “offshore” provide financial services to non-residents. But why would an individual go to the trouble of depositing money in a foreign location? Three reasons can be offered for doing so. First, offshoring provides privacy and confidentiality. The Swiss, in particular, are known for their strict privacy laws which date back 300 years. Going offshore is common for high net worth individuals (HNWI’s) who are likely to be high profile and don’t want their local paparazzi snapping photos of them filling out a bank deposit slip with an outrageous number of zeroes on it.

Taxes are a second reason for opening a foreign bank account. Offshore accounts (“OA’s”) exist in known tax havens. Countries which are tax haven offers foreigners very low tax liability in a politically and economically stable setting. Depositors there seek to avoid or evade taxes in their home country which has different, and more taxing (pun intended), tax regulations. While OA’s can be used for illicit purposes such as money laundering, fraud, and tax evasion, such as account is not itself illegal.

Another plus for utilizing these accounts is their foreign location. This situation makes it more difficult for depositors’ assets to be seized by their home country. But difficult does not equate with impossible.

Uncle Sam is on to tax avoidance/evasion schemes using foreign bank accounts. To counteract them, the U.S. took the most logical step–it passed a law. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, familiarly known as FATCA, was signed into law by President Obama in 2010 and requires U.S. citizens to report foreign income and assets to the IRS. Failure to do so can result in civil penalties of up to $10,000 and possible criminal prosecution. Problem solved, right? Well, it didn’t prompt Manafort to disclose his offshore holdings…

The U.S. government is also attacking the problem from another direction. It has focused on getting offshore financial centers to report the information on OA’s. This strategy seems to have been a bit more successful than relying on the honesty of account holders who are U.S. citizens. According to OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 100 countries automatically shared information on OA’s with taxing authorities in 2019.

Use of foreign bank accounts for tax avoidance is a worldwide problem. Most countries now require foreign holdings to be reported. Increasing calls have been made for offshore financial centers to become more transparent with global tax authorities. Accordingly, Swiss bankers no longer have sealed lips on their account holders’ behalf. James Bond is, no doubt, heartbroken at this change in banking practice. He famously remarked in 1999’s “The World Is Not Enough,” “If you can’t trust a Swiss banker, what’s the world come to?”

Back in what 007 would consider the good old days, Swiss bank accounts were identified by a number rather than the account holder’s name, thus keeping his identity anonymous. Today, however, Swiss banks must identify the ultimate account owner and automatically send client information to the foreign tax authorities in compliance with FATCA.

Not being a HNWI, I’ve never needed to open an OA. But, if I were going to open one, where would I go? The Caribbean offers some of the most popular tax havens. That’s a win-win situation. You can take care of financial business and then lounge on the beach with a fruity adult beverage.

The Cayman Islands is a top choice for opening an OA. Why? This tiny (only 102 square miles total) British Overseas Territory with a population of around 60,000 holds approximately 75% of the world’s offshore funds. Around $674 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) of those holding are U.S. funds. International financial and banking services make up 55% of the country’s economy. While small in size, the Caymans Islands is the sixth largest financial center in the world. Why is it so popular? It imposes NO direct taxation. There’s no capital gains, no payroll tax, no income tax, etc.

Originally, an OA was beneficial to HNWI’s. But with “progress,” all countries are now basically linked. So money deposited in foreign accounts will likely eventually be discovered. Swiss bankers have looser lips under current law, and global taxing authorities are aggressively searching for money outside their country. With only a domestic account here where I live, I don’t worry about being on the IRS’ radar for hidden assets. Paul Manafort though? He should be very worried.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Does an offshore account have a negative connotation? How do you feel about the IRS reaching out to foreign countries to check on U.S. citizens’ financial activities? Where would you open an OA if you were going to do so?

Ready, Aim, Fire! — Execution By Firing Squad Given A Shot

Asked to name current execution methods in the U.S., most citizens will cite either the electric chair or lethal injection. But a few states have turned to Door C–death by firing squad. And to no one’s surprise, death penalty opponents characterize this third method as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. Should the old-time execution method of a firing squad be given a shot?

The question has come to a head in South Carolina where a death warrant for 57-year-old Richard Moore was issued. The set execution date of April 29th is on hold with the South Carolina Supreme Court approving a temporary stay of execution. Should the execution go forward in the intended manner, Moore would become the first inmate to be put to death by firing squad in that state. The proposed manner of his execution has become the target (pun intended) of death penalty protestors who’ve labeled this method as unconstitutional.

What does the Constitution have to do with executions, you ask? Six words in the Eighth Amendment, a part of the Bill of Rights which was ratified in 1791, come into play: “nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.” Firing squad opponents hang their arguments on these words to shoot down this execution method.

Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers didn’t provide a glossary behind the Constitution and its amendments, so it’s impossible to know exactly what they meant by either “cruel” or “unusual.” But whipping, stocks, and branding with a hot iron were in use during their time. The drafters of the Eight Amendment wanting to avoid the public shame and pain such punishments brought is a reasonable assumption with their use of the terms “cruel” and “unusual.”

Death by firing squad has been an accepted method for executions for quite some time, particularly for the military. It was deemed a fitting punishment for the offenses of treason, desertion, and mutiny, among others. Numerous soldiers were executed in this way during the Civil War. According to historians, 433 of the 573 soldiers executed in that time faced a firing squad. (Would this historical evidence be characterized as a “smoking gun?”)

The term “squad” is appropriate because more than one shooter is utilized, and all shooters fire simultaneously. Traditionally, not all the shooters are given live rounds, allowing them to preserve deniability for the death. In South Carolina, three shooters are used to execute the condemned, but all are provided weapons having live ammo. Squad members are volunteers from the Department of Corrections trained in the use of weapons. (Translate: Trained marksmen = less chance of botched execution.)

Forget the dramatic scenes from movies where the condemned stands in a field, is shot, and falls to the ground or in a pit or grave behind him which has already been dug. In South Carolina, the condemned is strapped into a metal firing squad chair in the “death chamber.” A metal chair sounds stark, but comfort really isn’t a concern at that point. A hood is placed over the condemned’s head, and a small “aim point” (perhaps an “X?”) is placed over his heart. The firing squad stands 15′ away behind a wall of the chamber and fire rifles through an aperture in that wall. Bulletproof glass in the chamber protects those witnessing the execution in an adjoining area.

Using a firing squad is cheaper than maintaining an electric chair or purchasing lethal drugs, but is this method “cruel?” Legal debates rage, but one U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer seems favorable to the method. She wrote in a 2017 opinion that “In addition to being more instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless.” Using “Old Sparky,” the nickname given most electric chairs, in contrast might be more painful with electricity surging through the condemned’s body.

Undoubtedly, the firing squad method reduces the time for suffering, assuming any occurs. The gunshot is delivered to a vital organ, i.e., the heart, bringing quick death. A doctor’s experiment during an execution of a Utah inmate in the 1930’s supports this conclusion. The prisoner allowed the doctor to hook him up to an electrocardiogram as he faced the firing squad. The device registered 15.6 seconds before his heart stopped after being shot. (NOTE: This is a fine example of multitasking–execution and science experiment rolled into one.)

A lethal injection, in contrast, takes several minutes for death to occur, and instances of botched executions in that manner have been reported. In 2014, an Oklahoma prisoner writhed, groaned, and convulsed for over forty minutes. While the man surely wanted to live longer, he certainly didn’t want to do so under excruciatingly painful circumstances.

Why a return to execution by firing now? One driving factor is the lack of availability of the drugs needed for a lethal injection. Typically, a three-drug cocktail is utilized for executions, and South Carolina hasn’t possessed a usable dose of lethal injection drugs since 2013. Lack of these drugs is attributable to drug companies’ reluctance to have their products used to kill people, leading to a shortage.

Because of this drug shortage, in May of 2021 South Carolina’s governor signed a bill into law which allowed inmates to choose their method of execution–firing squad or electric chair. Talk about picking your poison….South Carolina is one of a handful of states authorizing this execution method; the others are Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah.

But just because the method is authorized doesn’t mean that it’s being used. According to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, only three executions in the U.S. have been carried out by firing squad since reinstatement of the death penalty nationally in 1976. And all three of those executions were conducted in Utah. Nevertheless, no firing squad executions have occurred in over a decade.

While the acceptability of using a firing squad in general may not be resolved immediately, the life of at least one condemned S. C. prisoner hangs in the balance now. Hopefully a quick resolution of his case will take place. To me, it is cruel and unusual to have the condemned remain in limbo for an extended time as to whether he will live or be executed no matter by what method.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Is it the method itself or simply the fact someone is being put to death that’s the crux of death penalty opponents’ objections? If you were to be executed, what method would you select–injection, electrocution, or shooting? Should all shooters in a firing squad be given live ammo or should one receive a non-lethal bullet?

Printing Progress–Books, Guns, And Now Buildings

3D printed home produced by ICON

Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 1400’s revolutionized the world by allowing the production of books and newspapers. In 2022, printing has leapt beyond mere written material–guns and even buildings now come hot off the press. It’s not just any press though; it’s a 3D printer. Additive manufacturing is providing stunning, and scary, results.

What’s additive manufacturing (“AM”)? This term is the industrial production name for 3D printing. AM is a computer-controlled process in which three dimensional objects are created from the depositing of materials, typically in layers. While the term itself sounds innocuous, the 3D results can be quite threatening. Think, “Stick ’em up!”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware of an alarming rise in gun violence in the United States. Contributing to this weapon-fueled mayhem are “ghost guns.” These are not guns wielded by spirits, but they do contribute to death and destruction. Such guns are brought to us courtesy of AM. You can print your own weapon right at home. (But please don’t do it!)

Ghost guns are unregistered and untraceable homemade weapons produced by a 3D printer or assembled from a kit. News reports indicate that less that $200 allows John Q. Public to produce his own ghost gun. You too could build an illegal plastic weapon that’s untraceable and can pass undetected through a metal detector. Printing a Bible is great progress, but printing a deadly weapon? Yikes!

AM stretches beyond production of weapons. Guns are generally small, but 3D printing can create huge things such as buildings too. Yes, BUILDINGS. Think houses, military barracks, schools, and apartment buildings. Dubai, for example, boasts a 6,900 square foot office complex courtesy of AM. And to show the country is on the leading edge of technology, Dubai has set a goal of having 25% of its new buildings 3D printed by 2030.

Americans are also getting in on the action of AM to produce buildings. The Texas Military Department partnered with ICON, an Austin-based construction technology company, to design and build the biggest 3D printed military barracks in North America. This 3,800 square foot facility at Camp Swift Training Center in Bastrop, Texas is able to house 72 National Guard soldiers. Printed in concrete, the barracks were produced at one-third the cost of traditional construction methods and can last for decades. While 3D printed barracks may not sound luxurious, it sure beats roughing it in tents in the great outdoors.

Non-profits are also embracing AM as they seek to provide affordable housing and educational facilities. One such non-profit, Colorado-based Thinking Huts, has a mission to increase global access to education through 3D printing. Don’t have a school? Let’s print one out for you! With AM, a school can be built in less than a week as opposed to months via traditional construction.

Because 3D printing has comparatively low cost and a quick turnaround time, this method may be a tool in dealing with disaster relief and housing shortages. In fact, AM offers the ability to build houses faster, cheaper, and more accurately than ever. Why is the process cheaper? It is machine led, so skilled labor is not required. A house 3D printer only takes one person to monitor it, so the labor cost is lessened. Hmm. Are the machines headed for a take over?

In addition to reduced production costs, 3D printing’s also more environmentally friendly. It only uses the exact amount of material required to build a house. The technique also allows environmental concessions in a house’s design. In July 2018, a French family moved into a four bedroom AM home, becoming the first family to live in a 3D-printed house. This structure was built to curve around environmentally protected trees.

How quickly can a house be 3D printed? Rome may not have been built in a day, but a house, or at least the structure of one, can be printed in one. Full completion takes a few weeks as contractors are needed to put in windows and doors and to add a roof.

And why stop at just one house when you could build a whole neighborhood? Plans have been drawn for an entire luxury community in Southern California. Rancho Mirage, located in Coachella Valley, is set to become the location for the country’s first 3D printing produced community. The project’s plans call for 15 eco-friendly homes on 5-acres with completion expected sometime in 2022.

Apparently 3D printers can produce large structures, then, but how? I’m no engineer, but I’d guess some LARGE printers are required. And, of course, I’m right. An office complex in Dubai was produced by a 20′ (that’s FOOT not inches) tall concrete 3D printer with a robotic arm to deposit cement.

Austin-based ICON’s initial 3D printer was 11.5′ tall by 33′ wide (again that’s FEET). The printer’s “ink” is a concrete mix put down in stacked layers from the ground up. ICON’s newest printer is even bigger and also faster. It is 1.5 times the size of the original and can work two times faster. Let’s hope the big printers don’t experience the issues smaller ones do; a concrete jam is likely to be more serious and harder to fix than a paper jam.

Like any development, AM has brought progress which comes at a cost. Having the technology to produce buildings faster, cheaper, and more efficiently is a plus, but drawbacks exist. 3D printing reduces the need for human labor thereby depriving some humans of a job. It also offers the ability to do things such as construct illegal, untraceable ghost guns.

While it would be great to take only the positive aspects of advancement, picking and choosing its consequences is never really is an option. The good and the bad results of progress are a package deal. You may be asked to stick ’em up by a ghost gun wielding robber as you walk towards your quickly produced 3D printed office downtown. But don’t expect to read about the robbery in the paper. Producing newspapers from a printing press is a declining, perhaps even dying, industry.

Just WONDER-ing:

Would you live or work in a 3D printed structure if given the chance? Which is more important, providing housing and schools or preserving construction jobs? How should the accessibility of homemade ghost guns be countered?

Release of Barrels of Oil More Exciting Than A Barrel of Monkeys

A barrel of oil doesn’t sound that exciting; a barrel of monkeys would be more fun. But with today’s sky-high gasoline prices, consumers may literally be doing cartwheels over the announced release of barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. President Biden isn’t monkeying around in attempting to reduce the cost of gas for Americans. What’s happening and why would a flood of barrels of oil help?

In case you’ve been living under a rock, it now costs an arm and a leg to fill up your gas tank. Gas prices hovered around $4.23/gallon as of March 30th, up from $3.61/gallon in February. Contrast these figures with the cost of gas in March 2021 when, according to the American Automobile Association, gas sold for about $2.86/gallon. Putting gas in your tank lately is not a gas.

The bottom line? Buying gas takes a bigger and bigger bite out of the consumer wallet. In particular, lower-income Americans are likely to spend a larger percentage of their money on gasoline than higher earning Americans. And with higher gas prices come higher food and consumer goods prices transported to their sales point.

The White House blames sticker shock on oil companies. While money bleeds from consumers’ pockets for gas, American oil companies are pocketing their largest profits in years. If oil production was expanded, it would alleviate the higher gas prices. But over 9,000 permits approving drilling on millions of acres of federal land remain unused. No drilling means less oil to make gasoline for filling gas tanks resulting in higher gas prices.

The Biden Administration wants to add huge amounts of oil to the global market to lessen gas price rises. The president will allow to be tapped from our nation’s strategic reserves to mitigate dramatic rises in gas prices across the country. A diplomatic push has also been undertaken to convince other countries to make releases from their oil reserves.

On March 31st, President Biden announced plans to release approximately 1 million barrels of oil per day from U.S. reserves to combat surging gas prices. This draw, which could last up to six months, would be the largest one in our nation’s history. Desperate times call for desperate measures, apparently.

The source for this voluminous draw is the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (“SPR”), a crude petroleum reserve. This reserve is not one single source but rather a federal government complex of four sites in Texas and Louisiana with deep underground storage caverns in salt domes. Bryan Hill Mound in Freeport, TX has 20 caverns; Big Hill in Winnie, TX offers 14 caverns; West Hackberry in Lake Charles, LA contains 22 caverns; and Bayou Choctaw in Baton Rouge, LA has 5 caverns. Each of these locations is near a major center of refining and processing.

Those of us who aren’t geologists (raising my hand in confession) may wonder why petroleum would be stored in salt domes rather than manmade containers such as tanks or barrels. Salt domes are a good storage option because salt is impermeable and has low solubility in crude oil.

The SPR’s current authorized storage capacity is 714 million barrels, making it the largest one in the world. Nevertheless, the SPR isn’t currently full. It held only 568 million barrels as of March 25, 2022 according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In lay terms, let’s just say that there’s a whopping amount of oil in them there salt domes. If all of what Pres. Biden announced for release (some 1 million barrels) is indeed released, approximately one-third of the SPR’s current volume would be tapped.

To envision this vast quantity of crude petroleum, it’s helpful to understand the standard measure–the barrel. One barrel of crude oil equals 42 gallons. This 42 gallon standard for a barrel of oil was officially adopted in 1866 when that was the volume of a standard wooden barrel. But 42 gallons of crude oil does NOT equal 42 gallons of gasoline. With processing, the crude oil in one barrel produces 19 gallons of gasoline.

While it’s great to have a strategic reserve, how is the stored petroleum removed from the salt caverns? Water is pumped into the salt caverns. Since oil and water don’t mix (I at least know that!), the crude floats to the top where it is collected and sent to refineries.

Enquiring minds may also want to know why our country even has this strategic reserve. (I did.) The SPR’s creation resulted from the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The U.S. government felt it prudent to have such a supply to access in the case of an emergency. And we’ve experienced several “emergencies” recently. The latest SPR release announced by Pres. Biden is the third one he’s authorized in just over four months. In November, it was announced 50 million barrels would be drawn, and an additional 30+ barrels were authorized after the invasion of Ukraine.

While the current plan to release a million barrels a day from the SPR seems like a huge infusion of oil, it pales in comparison to the daily usage of oil in this country. In 2021, the United States consumed around 20 million barrels of oil PER DAY. And while the U.S. is a net petroleum exporter, it still imports up to 8.2 million barrels of crude oil DAILY.

With the planned tapping of the SPR, people will be able “fill ‘er up” at a lesser cost if we “draw it down” in the salt caverns. While easing the pain in our pocketbooks is admirable, turning to the SPR isn’t an ultimate solution to energy issues. The petroleum in that reserve, while a huge quantity, is not unlimited. The drawdown merely treats an unpleasant symptom of reliance on fossil fuels. Perhaps the best solution is not to monkey around with barrels no matter what they are full of; greater usage of alternative forms of energy may be the best strategic plan moving forward.

WONDER-ing Woman:

How have soaring gasoline prices affected your budget and activities? Are periodic releases of barrels of oil from the SPR merely a temporary fix to energy issues? Did you have a good understanding of the SPR prior to reading this post?

The Sky May Not Be Falling, But Things In It Are

Watching the evening news lately is enough to convince more than just Chicken Little that the sky is falling. In reality, though, it’s not the sky itself that’s falling but things in it–hypersonic missiles, commercial airplanes, and even a teenager on a towering amusement park ride. Let’s take a closer look at what is coming down from above.

Hypersonic Missiles. While the war in Ukraine continues with innocent civilians in the crosshairs, Ukrainians have a well-founded fear of things falling from the sky to kill them, not to mention destroying any building standing. What a better time than a war not going your way to try out a new destructive weapon, right? Well, President Putin thought so. Russia now has the dubious distinction of having been the first country to use a hypersonic missile in combat. How proud Vladimir must be that his weapon has destroyed lives and landmarks alike.

So, what’s a hypersonic missile anyway? This type of missile travels at least five times faster than the speed of sound, or Mach 5, meaning it can travel a mile per second. Such ultra high speed makes these missiles, which can also change direction midflight, almost impossible to intercept. Exactly what humans need. A way to kill each other faster without a viable defense. What progress we’ve made, eh?

Russia’s defense minister stated his country had deployed a “Kinzhal” (Russian for “dagger”) hypersonic aeroballistic missile to destroy a Ukrainian ammunition depot and to destroy a Ukrainian fuel base. On the bright side, in these instances no people or civilian buildings were targeted. But use of a new and highly advanced weapon is unsettling. This air to surface missile in the Russian army’s arsenal, which is carried by a MiG fighter, is claimed to have a range of 1,200 miles and can achieve a speed of Mach 10.

With these speeds and great manuevering capability, the Russians’ “dagger” can strike before people on the ground are even able to spot it in the sky. So missiles may be falling from the sky in Ukraine, but only the survivors will know what hit them.

Commercial Airplanes. Reports indicate there’s never been a safer time to fly on a commercial airplane. Be that as it may, a China East Boeing 737-800 plowed into the side of a mountain on March 21st. The 132 lives lost–123 passengers and 9 crew–can take little comfort in the aviation industry’s generally good safety record.

No matter how technologically advanced we become, accidents still happen. And what an accident this recent one was. The plane plummeted from 29,000 feet, nosediving into a remote area in southern China. The impact of the crash created a 65 foot pit in the side of a mountain. Its flight data recorder (FDR, but not to be confused with America’s 32nd president) was found 130 feet from the point of impact and 5 feet underground. While a search was conducted for survivors, to no one’s surprise no one survived this massive impact.

What caused this horrendous crash? Only the black box knows for sure. What’s a black box? It’s a device in an airplane that records flight audio and data and is compulsory on all commercial flights.

Usually a black box is placed in the plane’s tail where it is more likely to survive a crash. [NOTE TO SELF: Be sure to book a seat at the back of the plane next time you fly.] These boxes are encased in strong, corrosion-resistant titanium or stainless steel and wrapped in insulation which can withstand high temperatures. They are equipped with an underwater locator beacon that emits an ultrasonic ping to aid in its location. Although called a BLACK box, the box is actually painted a bright color called international orange which makes the device easier to spot.

An investigation into the recent crash will require a review of the two black boxes that were on board the now smashed Chinese plane. The FDR kept detailed track of flight information such as speed, altitude, and position, and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) memorialized cockpit conversation. This information will help investigators piece together what went awry with the plane, whose scattered pieces can never be put together again.

Lesson to be learned? It doesn’t matter how many flights DON’T crash if the one you’re on does. Be aware that a crash is always a possibility; the plane and all those aboard it, including you, could fall out of the sky before reaching the desired destination. And watch out below if you have planes flying above you; sometimes they don’t stay up.

Amusement Ride Passengers.

The “happiest place on earth,” Orlando, wasn’t so happy after the events of the evening of March 24th. The sky was certainly lit up that night by the lights from Icon Park on International Drive. Unfortunately, looking up at it may have allowed those on the ground at the attraction see a teen fall to his death from an amusement park ride.

Rising up into the night sky at Icon Park was the towering Orlando FreeFall drop ride. Its height of 430′ makes it taller than the Statue of Liberty; in fact, it is the tallest drop tower in the world. Unfortunately, the liberty experienced on the ride that night was an unwanted one. A fourteen year old honor student slipped loose from his safety harness and fell to the ground as the ride plummeted downward at a speed over 75 mph. Although he initially survived the impact, he later died at the hospital.

How could such a fun experience at an amusement park turn into such a tragedy? An investigation is underway to determine exactly what happened, but in the meantime, the ride is closed until further notice. That’s, of course, just as well as I doubt there are people brave (or perhaps stupid) enough to get on it now.

Initial suspicion has focused on failure to adhere to the safety guidelines for the ride’s use. The deceased teen was in town from St. Louis for a football program. Unsurprisingly, he was a big boy. Although only 14, he weighed in at around 340 pounds and stood 6’5′ tall. BUT, the operations manual stated that the maximum weight for a rider was about 286 pounds. Oops! Methinks a scale should have been placed nearby to ascertain weight of would be riders much as a height measurement is often required for young riders. It’ll all be hashed out in detail though, as attorneys have been hired and negligence has been alleged.

No one expects to see a body falling from a high ride. Along with the tragic loss of a young life, there are certainly tourists who have been traumatized from witnessing this accident. My advice is to stay away from these types of rides and “don’t look up!”

WONDER-ing Woman:

Do you consider it a technological “advance” when humans can kill each other faster and with less defensive capability? Do you worry about crashing when you take a commercial flight? Have you ever ridden a drop ride at an amusement park? If so, did you feel safe?

Russian-U.S. Tensions So High They’ve Reached The International Space Station

Physical combat is ongoing in Eastern Europe due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With the U.S. backing Ukraine financially and materially, tensions between the superpowers have skyrocketed. How high are these tensions? They are so high they reach all the way to the International Space Station (“ISS”) in low earth orbit and offer a potential battlefield in the heavens.

The International Space Station is just what its name implies; it’s a multinational collaborative project and the joint effort of five space agencies: NASA (U.S.); JAXA (Japan); ESA (Europe); CSA (Canada); and Roscosmos (Russia). The space station itself is modular and consists of two sections–the Russian Orbital Segment operated by the Russians (obviously) and the U.S. Orbital Segment operated by the U.S. These two segments are mutually dependent upon each other; the Russian module provides orbital control while power comes from the U.S. segment. The two modules must work together to achieve a successful operation.

In November 2000, one American and two Russians became the first full-time crew aboard ISS. Their cooperation was viewed as the beginning of a new post-Cold War era. But the current agreement for the joint operation of ISIS ends in 2024. Given current events, serious concerns exist as to whether Russia will abandon ISS because of them. Russia might decide to take its red marbles and go home; so much for playing nice in space.

The drama spiked with the recent arrival of three Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov, at ISS. Their appearance caused a stir due to the color of their flight suits. These suits were flashier than the typical pale blue flight suits cosmonauts wore in the past. In fact, they were–gasp!–yellow with blue trim. Why, yes–they colors of the Ukrainian flag. Coincidence or political statement?

Observant reporters noticed the color scheme and jumped on it during a press conference with the cosmonauts. Artemyev told them, “A color is simply a color.” Yeah, well, maybe, but when Russian cosmonauts diverge from the usual flight suit color and are wearing the colors of the Ukrainian flag during a high-profile war, people conclude a subtle (or not) political statement is being made.

Artemyev attempted to provide reasonable explanations for the color selection. A lot of yellow material sat in storage, so they had to use yellow. OK, but WHY did Roscosmos purchase a bunch of yellow material when flight suits are typically blue? Not buying that one. Oh wait, the crew picked out the material six months in advance (translate before the war began) because the flight suits had to be individually sewn. Six months to sew a suit? Were they using Russian sloths transferred from the DMV to Roscosmos to do the sewing? And while we are asking questions, aren’t these explanations contradictory? Did they “HAVE” to use yellow because a bunch was in storage or did they “CHOOSE” yellow for a reason?

The buzz from the cosmonauts’ attire resulted in a statement by Artemyev being disseminated on Roscosmos’ Telegram channel. He noted, “There is no need to look for any signs or symbols in our uniforms.” And to make things crystal clear, he then said that, although the cosmonauts were in space, they were “together with our president and our people.” No confirmation yet on whether that statement was followed by a recorded message saying, “This is Vladimir Putin and I approved this message.”

But Russians, as well as Americans, can talk out of both sides of their mouths. The color scheme of the flight suits, so Artemyev indicated, was not a statement. However, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, then Tweeted a picture of the blue and gold coat of arms of the prestigious university which all three cosmonauts attended–Bauman Moscow State Technical University, Russia’s oldest and largest technical university The cosmonauts were giving their alma mater a shout out . (Couldn’t find what the school’s mascot is–perhaps they are the Moscow Mules?) So the color IS a sign supporting higher education at BMSTU but not of support of Ukraine.

While speculating as to why the Russians wore blue and yellow flight suits seems pretty tame, the situation plummets precipitously from there. Rogozin and retired U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly have engaged in a war of words on Twitter. During their exchanges, the Russian hinted an end to his country’s participation in the space venture if Americans continue “to be hostile.”

Kelly felt so strongly about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that he wrote: “I am returning to you the Russian medal for ‘Merit in Space Exploration’ which you presented to me. Please give it to a Russian mother whose son died in this unjust war.” American condemnation didn’t sit well with Rogozin who issued a thinly veiled threat on Twitter: “If you block cooperation with us, who will save ISS from an unguided impact on the territory of the U.S. or Europe?…The ISS doesn’t fly over Russia, so all the risk is yours. Are you ready for it?” Sounds like Rogozin is ready for a rumble.

Space X CEO Elon Musk has also gotten into it with Rogozin. (NOTE: Shouldn’t the Roscosmos chief be checking his agency’s yellow material inventory rather than playing on Twitter?) Musk angered Rogozin by providing Ukrainians Starlink equipment so they could access the internet via Space X’s Starlink system of internet satellites. Accordingly, Rogozin said Russia would stop selling Americans rocket engines. In fact, while appearing on Russian TV he remarked, “Let them fly on something else like their broomsticks.” Think Rogozin is getting swept up in negative emotions?

Isn’t it bad enough thousands have been killed in the invasion of Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians are displaced, and billions of dollars are going to weapons and military expenses? Must we now lose the ability to work together as inhabitants of Earth to explore space and develop technology? If Twitter is any indication, space isn’t “the final frontier,” it’s merely the next frontier to conduct squabbles and wars.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Was it genius for the ISS designers to make the station’s operation depend on mutual cooperation? Should what’s going on down on Earth affect what’s going on above Earth? What do you make of the attire worn by the cosmonauts–coincidence of color or conscious choice based on convictions?

A Hello To Arms — Mercenaries Flock to Fight in Ukraine

People around the globe watch in concern and horror as the war in Ukraine continues. Some fear it will become a World War. But, in actuality, the world is already involved in the conflict. Various countries are sending arms, financial aid, and/or humanitarian relief. And, mercy, a stream of volunteers is traveling to the hot spot to join in the fray one one side or the other. Who’s willfully heading TO a war zone? Can you say “mercenaries?”

Most have a general idea of what a “mercenary” is. But the definition of the term depends on the resource. Since my go to resource for word meanings is the dictionary, I started there. It defines a mercenary as someone hired for service in a foreign country’s military. Mercenaries are also commonly known as soldiers of fortune or hired guns. The key here is the military service is offered for pay, i.e., I’ll shoot bullets for you if you shoot compensation to me.

Think mercenaries are a new concept devised by our modern world? Think again. They’ve been around pretty much as long as wars have been fought. If you paid attention in your world history class, you’d have learned mercenaries were used in B.C. times. For example, King Xerxes I, a Persian king, hired mercenaries to assist with his invasion of Greece in 484 B.C. Only back then, bullets weren’t shot and electronic pay deposits weren’t available.

What has changed in the modern world is how mercenaries are viewed and treated. For one, they are seen more negatively and with less concern. The Geneva Conventions (that’s conventions with an “s” on the end) have embraced the idea that mercenaries aren’t entitled to protection by the rules of war in the way non-mercenaries are. Of course, that requires differentiating between the two categories. So, Protocol Additional Geneva Conventions 1977 (PPGC77) expressly defines a mercenary in Article 47.

Those deemed mercenaries per the GC (using the acronym for Geneva Conventions since the military is obsessed with acronyms), aren’t recognized as legitimate combatants and don’t have to be granted the same legal protections as captured military members of a regular army. Yes, and prisoners of war (POW, yet another acronym!) are always treated so humanely–not!

With the recent invasion of Ukraine, mercenaries are high profile and in demand. Both Russia and Ukraine are utilizing them.

When they aren’t figuring out how to get gas to their tanks whose tanks are on empty in Ukraine, the Russians are hiring Middle Eastern mercenaries. In particular, Putin has launched a recruiting operation in Syria. The Russian Defense Minister, recently announced that as many as 16,000 recruits will enter the war in Ukraine on Russia’s side. Each “recruit” will be paid around $3,000/month. So, let’s just call the “recruits” what they are–MERCENARIES.

Concerned about unemployment in Syria (NOTE: Sarcasm font in use), Russia reportedly has opened fourteen “recruitment centers” in Syria in areas controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The men targeted for hire have plenty of experience from fighting in their own country’s lengthy civil war. These “recruits” are trained and then provided transportation to Russia for deployment to Ukraine. According to military experts (of which I am certainly not one), Russian intends to use mercenaries there to do the dirty work of storming the cities which the Russian Army has surrounded.

While Putin has no issue with using mercenaries for his purposes, he’s trying to discourage Ukraine from doing likewise. (The old “do as I say and not as I do” situation.) The Russian Defense Ministry has stated mercenaries fighting on Ukraine’s behalf will not be treated as POW’s and will be prosecuted as criminals. And we all know from the movies how well those in Russian jails are treated. (Anyone heard from Brittney Griner there lately? But I digress.) Further, the Russian military has stated its intention to target attacks on mercenaries who will not be shown “pity” or “forgiveness.”

So, what is Ukrainian President Zelensky doing to supplement his fighting forces? Things are a tad different than what the Russians are doing. Those wanting to join the war effort to defend Ukraine have to sign a contract BUT THEY ARE NOT PAID. The eager volunteers must find their own way to Poland and provide their own gear with the exception of a weapon which is issued to them upon arrival at a specified point.

While Ukraine has not opened designated “recruitment centers,” it’s utilized its embassy in Washington, D.C., a townhouse in the Georgetown area, to process offers from Americans wanting to join the fight. Thousands of offers have poured in for those desiring to fight for Ukraine because they feel the war is unfair and unprovoked. Their aim is NOT to be paid for their services but to fight against aggression. So, are they really properly classified as mercenaries?

Since February 24th when the invasion began, over 6,000 offers to volunteer have been received by the Ukrainian Embassy in the U.S.. A desire to serve alone isn’t enough to be allowed to do so though. A vetting process is undertaken; volunteers may be rejected for lack of military service, for a history of criminal behavior, or for lack of being a suitable age. Half of the volunteers were rejected prior to the interview stage, including a 16 year old and a 73 year old. Of the 100+ Americans who’ve been approved so far, most are veterans with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The disturbing events in Ukraine show how connected the world is today. No country is an island, and conflicts between two countries are bound to come to involve citizens of other countries and perhaps other nations as well. How the Ukrainian situation will end, I have no idea. But I’m praying for world peace rather than another world war–a world where there is no need to employ mercenaries.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Does the term “mercenary” have a negative connotation to you? Is someone who volunteers to fight based on principles and not for money a “mercenary?” Will other countries join in the war in addition to the mercenaries/recruits/volunteers who have stepped up?

“Under The Sea” — Where Luxury Cars On Sunken Vehicle Transport Ship Be

Marine creatures, sea vegetation, and sunken ships are expected be found on the ocean floor, but Porsches, Bentleys, and other luxury vehicles are not. Nevertheless, thanks to the recent sinking of a massive car-transport vessel, a posh car dealership could be opened under the sea off of the Azores. Unfortunately, a titanic disaster has occurred in a time of supply chain issues and vehicle inventory shortages. Let’s dive in a bit deeper about what happened.

March 1st was a day like all days for most of us. Not so for the shipping industry. It was a terrible Tuesday as the 656 foot, 60,000 ton Felicity Ace went under taking its pricey cargo of luxury vehicles down to the ocean floor. And not only was the cargo pricey, but there was a lot of it. The ship could hold up to 18,700 TONS of cargo. Car transport ships, such as this one, typically fit thousands of vehicles on multiple decks in their hold, and the multi-level Felicity Ace was capable of carrying 5,000+ autos.

The ill-fated voyage began on February 10th when the Felicity Ace left Emden, Germany bound for Rhode Island. While the exact number of vehicles it was transporting is not known, some 1,582 vehicles were to be delivered to Davisville, Rhode Island alone. Everything was going swimmingly (figuratively of course) until February 16th when a fire of unknown origin broke out. The gigantic ship carried both electric and non-electric vehicles, and one suspicion is that lithium batteries used in the electric cars could be to blame.

At the time the blaze began on board, the Felicity Ace was in the North Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles southwest of the Azores. Yes, that’s a great spot to be in trouble–in the middle of the ocean near an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands. Since the Azores are an autonomous region of the Portuguese Republic, assistance was sought from the Portuguese Navy, who sailed to the vehicle transporter and found large clouds of white smoke billowing out of it. Yup! There’s a fire, they concluded.

The 22-member crew was subsequently rescued from the crippled ship by the Portuguese Air Force who used helicopters to hoist them to safety. Thankfully no one was hurt, and the sailors were taken to Faial Island on the archipelago about 100 miles away. Unexpected shore excursion–yea!

Meanwhile, back at the burning vessel, the Portuguese Navy monitored the situation. Would the ship sink? Ocean pollution was a major concern as the Felicity Ace carried 2,000 tons of fuel and 2,200 tons of oil, not substances that needed to end up in the sea.

A Dutch salvage company, SMIT Salvage was contracted to, wait for it, salvage the ship. (Who would have guessed?) The vessel drifted while salvage vessels worked to put out the fire so that they could tow the ship to port. After a week ablaze the fire finally subsided having been put out by the salvage team. BUT…on February 26th, the Felicity Ace began listing to starboard. For non-mariners (raising my hand), listing is a nautical term meaning that a vessel is taking on water and tilting to one side, in this case it was the right hand side as it appears to one on board facing the front of the ship.

Yikes! That can’t be good. And it wasn’t. After thirteen days afloat and as it was being towed, the car-transport ship sank in a location outside Portugal’s territorial waters which was over two miles deep. Glub. Glub. The Portuguese Navy, which had continued to monitor the situation, reported only a small patch of oil and a few pieces of wreckage were visible when the Felicity Ace sank. Tugboats on the scene were able to broke up the patch of oil with hoses.

The cars that went down with the ship were from the Volkswagen Group in Germany. VW confirmed insurance covered the loss of the cargo on board which was valued at $438 million. Methinks someone’s insurance premiums are bound to rise after this event.

Customers in the U.S. who had eagerly been awaiting the delivery of their expensive cars will have to keep waiting for their new wheels. American Porsche customers were contacted by their dealers and advised that replacements would be received in “the near future.” Of course, “near” is a relative term. One buyer notified about the situation posted on social media he’d already been waiting since August for his ~$123,000 vehicle. (Life is rough, isn’t it?) Other customers posted their orders were going to be rescheduled for production. And let’s not forget that, after production, another trip across the sea will be required for their delivery.

While Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” may paint life in the deep as pretty and clean, this shipping accident belies that scenario. We’ve got shipping wreckage, oil, and fuel floating and perhaps sinking. And the ocean floor is now littered with a massive ship and fancy, but unusable, luxury cars. After this shipping debacle, a different response may be elicited from the lyrics to “Under The Sea,” which says, “Right here on the ocean floor such wonderful things surround you.” Nope, physical evidence of the sad fate of the Felicity Ace is not wonderful.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Can you wrap your mind around the size of a ship that can carry 5,000+ vehicles? What’s the environmental toll from shipping accidents such as this one? What can be done to prevent them?