Cynthia Oi
Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

What? Me worry?
Don’t. Just be happy

Thanks to Smithsonian magazine, I have one more thing to worry about.

There I was, ready to thumb blithely through the May edition to the article on the art of Toulouse-Lautrec colorfully featured on the cover when the tease for a secondary piece caught my eye.

"The Fire that Ate a Pennsylvania Town." Hmm, I thought. Maybe it's about wildfires for which I have developed an admittedly peculiar interest since reading Norman Maclean's "Young Men and Fire," a study of a 1949 tragedy in Montana. But unlike Maclean's haunting and restorative narrative, the article was stark and very scary.

It reported on the thousands of coal fires burning underground across the globe, focusing on Pennsylvania, which harbors at least 38 of the hundreds of these infernos in the United states. One has been going for 43 years, its sulfurous fumes forcing residents from a town, causing the earth to buckle and collapse, melting snow and raising temperatures so much that tomatoes grew through normally harsh winter months. Experts believe it will continue to burn for another 250 years.

That's not the worst of them. In China, an estimated 56 coal fires churn tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, devouring 20 million to 30 million tons of coal a year.

Against the immensity and proliferation of these fires, dirt, chemicals and even water are virtually useless. Though some experts say they have the know-how to extinguish them, the government says that would cost too much money. It's futile to worry.

Before the fires, I was distressed about bees. It seems that parasites have killed more than half of all the honey bees in the United States. No bees equals no honey, and I love honey. But that's minor when you realize that no bees also means no pollination and no pollination means no fruits and no vegetables. But Hawaii won't likely see the infestation, so no need to worry.

In Sudan, more than two million people have been left homeless and hungry as government militias have responded to a rebellion in Darfur by destroying homes, raping women and slaughtering nearly 200,000 people. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the killing campaign as genocide. Though Powell's gone from Washington, his words ought to be enough to show clearly how the U.S. government views the annihilation. No worries.

Amnesty International reports of human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners say they were beaten, sexually abused and otherwise mistreated. But the Pentagon says these prisoners have been trained to lie and that "U.S. policy condemns and prohibits torture." President Bush himself says the prisoners making the allegations are people "who hate America." He has also said that tormenting of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, regardless of events captured in scores of sickening photographs, were "isolated incidents." Explanation satisfactory; don't worry about abuse claims.

Last week, when the U.S. Senate engaged in a psycho-drama over filibustering appointments of activist judges, I worried that Republicans would succeed in dismantling the vehicle that allows the minority to say no. However, members managed to reach a compromise so that only three of the unqualified nominees would likely win lifetime jobs in judicial circuits that don't directly cover Hawaii. Their decisions could come to affect the nation as they are brought to the Supreme Court in challenges, but that's speculative and would take years to wind through the courts. Why worry now?

There are other issues large and small that cause anxiety. There's the elimination of rules that protect national forests and rare species habitats from extractive industries, the voracious maw of war that continues to consume lives in Iraq, the inability of governments to halt nuclear weapons development -- I could go on. But be patient, says the president. Things will work out. Don't worry. Be happy.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.

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