Monday, October 14, 2013

Are Genetically Engineered Foods Safe?

More personally, do I, as a non-scientist, intend to eat genetically engineered foods?  I would like to make this decision based upon current scientific thinking.  Unfortunately, as is the case with Climate Change, there are websites claiming scientific credentials with contradictory claims.  Given the confusion over the scientific rigor of the claims, it is easy, falling into conformational bias, to simply believe those claims that are most aligned with preexisting beliefs or values.   I am resisting the urge to do just that and have been trying to sort out this politicized scientific debate.  I have tried to avoid sites uploaded by either agricultural concerns with a stake in potential profits or anti-GMA sites that appeared to be presenting an argument rather than the science of it all.

A preliminary question might inquire into identifying genetically engineered foods already on the shelves.  There are claims that 80% of the packaged food on grocery shelves is genetically engineered.  These claims are misleading.  Most processed food contains some sugar and most sugar beets and field corn from which high fructose corn syrup are derived from genetically engineered sugar beets and corn.  Source and Source.  The “80%” claim may be misleading because the sources I have cited report that in the case of sugar, the sequence with the artificially engineered nucleotides is broken down or eliminated in the refinement process (or perhaps the digestive process, which is more problematic for me).  The actual components of natural and genetically engineered DNA are the same.  If the sequences are broken down into their component parts, nothing novel is ingested.

There are some genetically engineered whole foods, including varieties of papaya, sweet corn and some squashes.  Furthermore, I presume that as the agriculture industry becomes more experienced with genetic engineering, the selection of genetically engineered foods will increase accordingly.

Preparing for the new agriscape, I try to not to let my Liberal Aversion to New Technology control my choices.   On the other hand I am skeptical of “progress” promoted by industry.  Industry has historically disregarded the public commons.  Capitalism has no mechanism to prevent pollution, exploitation of resources or otherwise consider  long-term negative consequences of industrial action.  And even if we imagine a fully responsible industrial decision there is the problem of unintended consequences.

Genes are composed of DNA strands. DNA informs the production of proteins. When DNA is genetically engineered, the DNA of an organism will make new or different proteins and/or suspend production of other proteins previously manufactured by the non-engineered organism. Proteins, in turn, play critical roles in biologic function. Proteins have required roles in the creating and maintaining structures and regulating the function of tissues and organs. When you change the DNA, the proteins are changed and the organism is modified.

The promise of genetically engineered agriculture is that crops can be modified so that plants are more disease resistant, more pest resistant, more drought resistant, more resistant to rot after harvest and can produce a higher crop yield. The benefits might include a more abundant and more stable more food supply. These benefits could be more apparent in less developed areas which tend to have more marginal nutrition.

The concerns about genetically engineered organisms include the introduction of toxicity or allergens in the food supply, vertical contamination of the artificial DNA into the naturally occurring populations of the same species and horizontal contamination of the artificial DNA into the other species.

It is beyond the province of science to confirm that genetically engineered foods are safe. Scientific testing is limited to looking for problems, but the absence of an identified problem is not a conclusive finding of safety. It is always possible that the problems have just not been identified. The limits of the scientific method suggest two conclusions. First, it is unreasonable to demand that science prove GMOs are safe. Secondly, the fact that problems have not been identified does not mean they do not exist.

A complicating factor in this discussion is the fact that genes do not necessarily have a one-to-one correspondence with a specific biologic feature.  A single gene may affect more than one characteristic of an organism and often genes work in combination with each other.  This means that even when a gene is isolated as affecting pest resistance, there may be other functions of that gene acting alone or in concert with other genes that remain unknown.

Every genetic manipulation creates a novel set of biologic questions.  This means that every genetic change must be studied independently.  The fact that a genetic manipulation may have unintended consequences beyond the specific objective and that some of these unintended consequences may only surface as a result of long-term studies means that even those Genetically Modified Foods deemed safe after short-term studies need to be followed looking for clues as to more subtle and long-term differences.

In Washington State there is an initiative on the ballot that would require labeling.  If the people of Washington vote to include genetic information on some food packaging because the information is material to their consuming decisions because of a host of factors including safety, nutrition and market centralization, then the food industry will have to adapt and make those disclosures.  I am concerned, however, about the inconsistencies in the global market.  I believe it would be in the best interest of Washington, as a stakeholder in international trade, to push for labeling uniformity in global trade.  It seems onerous for our agri-business, if they must adjust the labeling based on every destination market.  I would be a louder voice for labeling, if the genetic engineering was taking place in Uzbekistan rather than Creve Coeur, Missouri.

There are environmental concerns independent of human consumption.  Vertical Contamination has already occurred in Oregon wheat and caused severe economic problems. The consequences of Horizontal Contamination are difficult to assess.  However, birds, rodents, insects and bacteria are all regularly interacting with genetically modified organisms.  It may be that the chances of horizontal contamination with animals or even insects are miniscule.  However, the risk seems higher with regard to bacteria or even a virus.  In the non-food sector genetically modified bacteria could help with Climate Change.  It doesn’t stretch the facts much to imagine that a bacteria with some artificial protein could worsen Climate Change.  I believe that it is difficult to assess the risks.  Some have blamed the Bee Colony Collapse on genetically modified organisms, although the cause of that problem may be a different unintended consequence of agri-business pesticide development. 

In a situation such as this I believe the Precautionary Principle is an appropriate standard for setting policy.  Unfortunately, given the difficulty of risk assessment, application of the principle leads to widely divergent results.  A reasonable policy response would require  that environmental as well as human consumption studies are required for each and every genetically modified organism taken outside the laboratory.

A requirement that all genetically modified organisms are sterile and cannot replicate is sensible, but leads to a concern about market control.  Sterile crops require farmers to purchase new seeds every year from the patent holder.  The ultimate result of the requirement of sterility is that the food supply of the consuming nations becomes dependent upon a limited number of agri-businesses, such as Monsanto, holding patents on genetically engineered crops.  A balancing policy would be to require patent-holders to pay for the pre-release studies and the necessary follow-up studies as well as any remedial action in the event of a problem in the same way that industries are responsible for chemical pollution in the event of a spill.  This policy may result in higher prices for genetically modified foods, but the higher price may be closer to the public cost of the technology.

One argument used by some is that genetic engineering is the same as selective breeding which is publically accepted.  First, selective breeding has led to toxic crops, so the argument cannot reassure us of the safety of genetic engineering.  Secondly, selective breeding can only enhance the inherent capability of the organism in question, while genetic engineering is capable of creating entirely new characteristics.  There is a difference in kind between selective breeding and genetic engineering.

To conclude, I believe that there is no scientific reason to assume that currently available genetically modified food products are not safe.  I have been and will continue to consume foods that are genetically engineered.  That being said, I also believe that long-term studies should be carried out to screen for more subtle or delayed problems.  Each new instance of genetic engineering must be independently studied.  Costs and responsibility for precautions should be borne by patent holders.  Studies should monitor environmental contamination as well as human health concerns.  The issue of labeling is best addressed with a global standard.

The scientific voice I find most compelling in this politicized debate is the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Another UCS page).  The UCS has been accused of being unscientifically cautious, but given the uncertain risk-assessment I find their voice responsible rather than reactionary.

Mike Mallory

Further reading:

Sites claiming GMOs are safe enough-






Sites claiming GMOs are not safe enough –






Thursday, May 30, 2013

Activating Language

a review of Fingerprints of Fire....Footprints of Peace: a Spiritual Manifesto from a Jesus Perspective by Noel Moules (Circle Books, 2012), by Mike Mallory

Noel Moules, a founding member of the Anabaptist Network UK, writes from a liberal Christian perspective.  He is inclusive in his theology, conveys a reassuring sense of knowledge about the subject and is a gentle yet persistent story-teller.  The text is well footnoted and the author concludes with a glossary that includes Hebrew, Greek and Sanskrit terms.  The glossary is helpful because Moules pressures his language to submit to his views that scripture is social gospel.

The book focuses on the teachings of Jesus rather than Christology or the worship of His divinity.  The readership likely to gain the most out of this work is activists looking for a deeper religious or spiritual grounding for their work.  This book conveys both a passion for taking up the call of social justice and a reading of the New Testament that becomes a manifesto for peace.

"Hope" and "Shalom" are two of the central notions of this book.  Like other terms examined by Moules, he rejects a sentimental reading in favour of a description of behaviors constituting an active quest for peace.  "Shalom," he claims is a verb masquerading as a noun.  While usually translated as "peace," this book asks us to understand the term as though it is a call from Jesus, the Justice-Maker, to join Him in the struggle for a world built on the harmonious wholeness implied by values such as compassion, respect and even love.  Similarly he gives depth to the word "hope."  "Hope" becomes more than wishful thinking, it is the unshakable vision in the ultimate triumph of the salvation of Shalom and our role in creating the City upon the Hill.  With his persistent language shifting, Moules' New Testament becomes not just a manifesto for peace, but for peace-making.

This book is more than one Christian writing for another.  The book is replete with quotations from most religious traditions.  I am not a Christian, not even a theist in any conventional sense.  But I am concerned about social and economic justice and I found the book both inspiring and informative about the message of Jesus as it relates to these important issues.  While I do not share a religious theology I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation and felt a included by his addition of the Unitarian Universalist symbol, the Flaming Chalice in his diagram on page 186.

And while the features of the book discussed above are worthy and justify publication, there is more.  What I liked most about this book was the patient retelling of the parables and sayings of Jesus.  To be honest, I have never felt the Bible was all that interesting, but the New Testament in Moules' telling is fresh, exciting and relevant.  I have never heard his interpretation of turning the other cheek before.  Moules turns the parable from stoic pacifism into a lesson on the psychological subversion of power. 

At the end of the book I was left wishing for more.  What I wanted was a complete Noel Moules compendium of the Bible.  A book that would rest the Bible from those who would use it as an excuse for an oppressive status quo and allow it be become a testament of speaking truth to power.

Mike Mallory

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Colonial Self

A.  The Subjective.

The official line holds that I am an individual, a one, a singularity, that which is incapable of division.  The official line is so ingrained and taken for granted that any other perspective is marginalized.  The promise of the official line is that no matter how fractured or self-contradictory I am, there is path or therapeutic response leading toward wholeness, integrity, a unity that synthesizes all inconsistencies into a coherent wholeness.

I have at long last come to doubt the official line.  I have abandoned hope that some "true self" will arise within me, as though I should suddenly be endowed with a skill like juggling, tight-rope walking or solving for f(x) I did not heretofore possess.  Without the promise of resolution, I am resigned to accept a condition of multiplicity, of tension unresolved, of simultaneously saving and losing my cake.  At one and the same time I feel obliged to work late and “catch-up" and also to leave early and relax at home, to find a buck or two to give the panhandler at the freeway exit and also to selfishly horde and preserve every dollar for my own use, to answer truthfully as questions arise and also to hide behind polite prevarication.

And it is not as though I was of two minds; it is as though I am cluster-minded, as though I am crowd-sourced, poll-driven, building an inner consensus, forming parliamentary coalitions, an insecurity council sometimes as random as a sample of YouTube comments.

B. The Objective.

The two prevailing theories that seek to explain the development of multi-celled organisms uses the symbiosis model or colony model 1.  In symbiosis two or more different organisms each helping and feeding off the other in some way develop an ever closer relationship until at some point they are treated as one organism.   Under the colony theory, clusters of identical cells combine into a single mass for some benefit such as protection or grazing.  Given enough time the different cells within the cluster develop or evolve specialization, differentiation and division of labor so that some cells become feet and some become hands and one day the cluster of cells can climb a tree.

At our biologic foundation we are not a single cell that grew up to be a complex humanoid.  We are formed from a mob, a collection, a committee, a conglomeration of identical and symbiotic cells.

There are nine times as many microbial organisms in and on the human body as there are human cells.2   Bacteria and fungus are much smaller than human cells and our human microbiome amounts to only 1-3% of a human body by weight.  The vast majority of the alien organisms inhabiting the human body are beneficial. Some are needed for digestion; they perform functions such as breaking down carbohydrates that would be otherwise indigestible.  Farts are not of our making.  They are the gaseous by-product of bacterial metabolism.

The human body has evolved to be inhabited, always was inhabited, infested, populated and colonized by the non-human.  Encapsulated within almost every human cell are one or more mitochondria: bladder shaped entities suspended in perfect symbiosis.3  From the human perspective mitochondria serve us by creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), molecular chemical energy,  usable by the cell.  Humans depend upon mitochondria.  From the mitochondrion point-of-view, they are served by humans who provide the oxygen and glucose upon which the mitochondria feed.  Humans have developed lungs, guts, hunger and a bacterial environment just so that the mitochondria can be supplied with nutrients.

That mitochondria, though co-dependent, are in the end different from humans seems clear when we consider:

1)         Mitochondria act as cells within cells dividing in self-replication;
2)         Mitochondria have their own genome;
3)         Mitochondria DNA resembles bacterial DNA, not human DNA; and
4)         Mitochondria are evolving independently from humans;

We are not infected with mitochondria as infants playing on a dirty floor.  Mitochondria are there at the beginning, providing the female egg with the energy necessary for reproduction.

C.  The Emergent.

Molecules are formed by combining atoms in a new relationship.  Molecular relationships are a level of complexity that emerge out of the lower level atomic complexity.  Just so, life emerges, arises, animates from the lower level molecular complexity.

Where does consciousness come from?  It emerges out of biologic complexity, but what biology.  Descartes put the seat of consciousness in the pineal gland, a small trans-hemispheric, endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain.  Some traditions seat consciousness in the gut or bowels.

Today most assume that consciousness is a transcendent pattern emerging out the neural activity in the brain.  Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging maps or correlates certain kinds of cognition with specific areas of the brain.   But beware the Post Hoc Egro Propter Hoc; correlation does not imply causation.

Does consciousness cause the brain to fire as it does, or does the brain cause experience as it is?  Some experiments suggest that brain is as much as seven seconds ahead of consciousness, 4 that consciousness is just awareness of activity, that consciousness records but is not the creative force we imagine.  According to these experiments we are simply along for the ride.

D.        The Communal.

I approach the synthesis of this reverie with reluctance, both because I find it to be a shock to my own self-importance and because I know the weight of my conclusion will alight as a feather on balance with the ponderous assumptions about our own existence.  The explanation for a reality that includes:

1.    A biological foundation rooted in a colony of members working with dissimilar life forms in a symbiotic relationship,
2.    A mental experience which presents more as a plurality than a unity, and
3.    A correlation between nerve cell activity and consciousness,

is, I am forced to conclude, that I do not experience human consciousness, I experience mitochondrial consciousness.  I am agnostic about whether humans are conscious or not. 

I suggest that -

1.    The multi-perspectival nature of consciousness is explained by the fact that there are trillions of mitochondria participating in the collective consciousness.5
2.    The source of the energy mapped by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging is the activity of the neuronal mitochondria.
3.    Mitochondria are captive passengers in the human organism and it would make sense than their consciousness would lag seven seconds behind host-made decision making.
4.    While we cannot help but to identify with the human host, we are essentially witnesses to the primary action and lack the agency to express much more than the Existential Response made central in the work of Viktor Frankl.6

The world we inhabit is a secondary world of the passive witnesses to the unfolding history of humanity.  The identification with the bi-pedal humanoid is an illusion.  We may scream and shout about absurdities and misdirection of human existence, but there is little evidence that our human hosts are listening.

Mike Mallory

5. (There are about 100,000,000 neurons in the brain.) (Neurons may contain thousands of mitochondria.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grandpa Moments

Visiting my son and his family I have had a few "Grandpa Moments."  At one point I was watching Louisville beat Duke.  My daughter-in-law's mother is a professor at Duke so we had some loyalty there.  During the game my eight year old granddaughter came into the living room with a stuffed animal and a baby bottle.  She said the little dog needed to be fed.  I dutifully cradled the toy dog and put the bottle to his mouth as I watched the game.  A few trips back and forth across the court passed and I realized I was only one in the living room and I still had this stuffed animal in my arms and was holding a baby bottle to it's mouth.......

Despite my best efforts I ended up with my two and a half year old grandson when he had a messy diaper.  I took responsibility for changing him.  Sometimes fortune smiles on the oblivious and, much to the amusement of everyone else,  when I put another diaper on him, I apparently put it on inside out.  This simple, but unintentional act, should excuse me from diaper duty the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Trapper's Journal (Fiction - Historical)

May 15, 1834.   My name is Richard Gaulin,   I come from Burlington, Vermont.   I am  28 years old and on my way to the Great Rocky Mountains where I hope to make a respectable living selling pelts to furriers.   I make this first entry on a train bound for Chicago.  I boarded the train in Syracuse, New York where I bought this journal on a lark.  I grew up on a farm, but my father insisted I attend school and I finished the sixth grade so I figure I can write fair enough to keep a journal.  From Chicago I shall travel by river to the Mississippi and then up the Missouri past Omaha, Nebraska.  Eventually I will be forced to give up the boat for a coach on the last leg of the trip to Butte, Montana.  I hear there are entire mountains teaming with beaver, mink and ermine waiting for someone like me    My baggage includes a Springfield rifle, traps, snares, knives, an axe and other assorted tools. I have enough money saved to buy a horse when I get to Butte.

Oct 18, 1834 - My cabin is near enough finished to protect me from the elements.  It may only have one room and a dirt floor, but I have built a fireplace out of rock from a near-by creek to provide warmth this coming winter. 

June 14, 1835 - Since my arrival on this mountain I have done well in my estimation, bringing many pelts into Butte.  I was able to purchase a Hall Breech loading carbine and a mule.   The winter was more severe than I had contemplated.  I might have starved to death if I had not shot a bear, early out of hibernation, the first week of March.

Sept. 9, 1836 - A band of Blackfoot Indians camped nearby.  We got to trading and I have come away with a wife.  I traded her father my Remington, two knives and several pelts.  Her name to my ears sounds like Con'ney-aghtal; I call her Connie.  She does not understand English and I do not know her language.   She is good with a knife and can skin any animal, but she hasn't really taken to becoming my wife.  I hope she doesn't kill me in my sleep.

April 7, 1837 - Connie is Pregnant.

Sept. 4, 1837 - Connie gave birth in the cabin to a son.  I named him Noble.

Feb. 20, 1839 -
Connie is pregnant again.

Aug. 4, 1839 - Connie died in childbirth.  The unborn child died with her.  They are buried behind the cabin.    I have sent Noble to stay with my sister in Vermont.

June 8, 1840 - I am told that the market for beaver pelts has collapsed.  People prefer hats made of silk.  It will be hard to buy enough provisions with the money I earned for the pelts.

Feb. 1841 - Leg broke.  Firewood gone.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ado's Grief (Flash Fiction - Biblical Series)

Ado‘s husband was a good and righteous man.  She was obedient, not only out of duty, but respect, as well.  She kept his house and bore him children.  They were daughters, not sons, but had brought worthy husbands into the family.  They enjoyed a rewarding life and a comfortable status in the community.

Now, as she walked through the desert by the Dead Sea with all the valuables she could carry, she feared the loss of that happiness.  Yesterday, Lot, sometimes given to religious excess had invited two strangers into their home.  Ado had made them comfortable and provided both food and drink. Curiously, Lot had been deferential to the pair and went so far as to prostrate himself before their feet.

Trouble started in the night when a pack of drunken young men staggered up to the front of the house and begin to taunt the strangers.  Their bawdy shouts demanded that the strangers come out and provide the kind of pleasure that men give to each other.

The strangers were very offended and agitated by the ruckus and went to the front of the house.  A flash of light filled the street.  The brightness was so intense that the crowd stumbled around unable to see.

Ado sensed something frightening about the strangers.  They had eyes as deep as the infinite sky.  The strangers bade Lot join them in a sitting room.  Ado could not make out the words but occasionally heard Lot’s raised and pleading voice. 

Lot finally emerged with the strangers and told Ado to gather up their coin, best fabric and other valuables as they were fleeing Sodom for the nearby town of Bela.  “Fleeing?”  “Why would we leave, husband?” Ado cried.  She wailed and she screamed, but Lot was steadfast in his demand saying only that there was a prophecy of doom.  She went upstairs to pack, while Lot went to find their daughters.

When Lot returned, he was followed his tearful daughters, but not their husbands.  Ado protested that it was wrong for Lot to tear apart the households of their daughters.  Lot listened only to the strangers.  Ado was confused and frustrated, but bent to gather up the family wealth.

The burden was heavy and the ground was already hot when she looked up ahead to see Lot entering the gates to Bela.  The strangers remained outside the town and both turned back toward Sodom raising their arms heavenward and started to pray.  They were speaking in a tongue unfamiliar to Ado and looked to her as foreign as any person could possibly be.  One of them barked at her, “Don’t look back!”

Then she saw the reflected lights of explosions illuminate the city-walls of Bela.  The lights were followed immediately by rolling concussions that caused dust to fly from the earth.  She was afraid.  She was worried about her family and friends left behind.  She turned to face Sodom.  She was bombarded with a vision of fire raining from the sky, explosions in the city, death and destruction.  The valuables fell from her arms which  she raised in a protective stance.  She was horrified, but could not turn away.  Her heart was filled with the pain and misery of the Sodomites she loved.  She thought of the shopkeepers, the children and the women with whom she would gossip beside the well and she started to cry.  Tears streamed down her face and she could taste their salty outrage.  The salty grief sank deeper and deeper into her soul until, in the end, it totally consumed her.


Mike Mallory

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Recess (Flash Fiction - Legal)

The Recess

The sound waves from the bailiff’s, “All rise!” were still reverberating against the wood-paneled courtroom when Judge Gilly’s black robe disappeared behind the door to his chambers.  The jury was safely tucked into the jury room where it could deliberately not talk about the case.  Both the clerk and court reporter filed back into their offices.  Judge Gilly was meticulous and deliberate.  You could set your clock by the length of his afternoon recess.  We had fifteen minutes: not fourteen and not sixteen.

The plaintiff sits back down with his attorney at their table and they start talking.  Clients often give their attorney suggestions during trial.  They would be better off just sitting silently while the attorney reviews trial notes. 

I am defending this case for the Retail Insurance Co. of America, which sent a risk management supervisor to sit in on the trial.  The RICA rep and I strategized over lunch and she wants me to settle this case for $15,000.00.  The case is worth more than that and she knows it. 

RIA insures Global Grocer, an upscale grocery outlet in a suburb off the interstate.  The plaintiff, a forty-two year old surveyor, on an errand for his wife stopped at the store to pick up some salad dressing.  Walking by the olive bar he slipped on some oily brine that had been spilled on the floor.  Hitting his head on the floor, the plaintiff fractured one of his cervical vertebras and damaged an adjoining disc.  He claims to have debilitating pain and restricted mobility.  He hasn’t worked since the fall.

I walk over to the plaintiff’s table and wait to be acknowledged by his attorney.  Finally recognized I say, “Can we talk?”  The attorney gives me a long look as if asking whether there is an anything I have to say that is worth getting up out of the chair to hear.  We walk out together.

Once out in the hall I start pressing, “Judge Gilly has already ruled that you can’t introduce evidence that the store upgraded to a safer bar.  I don’t see how you can fault the grocery store.”

“That oily mess was on their floor.  My client was entitled to a reasonable expectation of safety.”

Not letting up I continue, “The store has a regular inspection and maintenance schedule.  What more can they do?  You may have persuaded Judge Gilly not to dismiss this case before trial, but he came close to throwing this suit out.  I think Gilly is going to dump this thing.”

The attorney, working on a contingency fee and getting nervous about leaving without a paycheck, has invested heavily in this case.  “I’m more interested in what the jury is going to say than the judge.”

I was ready to get to the money.  “The insurance carrier for Global Grocer would like to finish this case here and now and they are increasing their settlement offer to $12,500.00.”

I could see it wouldn’t be enough.  The attorney was almost contemptuous.  “This case is worth at least $75,000.00.”

“I can never get you $75,000.00.  Gilly is going to tell the jury that Global had to have notice of the spill before there is a duty to clean it up.  You have no evidence that Global knew there was a problem before your client fell.  After the judge is through instructing the jury, they are going to end up dismissing the case and your client gets nothing.”  I didn’t have to add that the client’s attorney would also get nothing.  “Give your client something.  Take the offer.”

The attorney gives a disappointed head shake and says, “I’ll convey your offer to my client, but I will be advising him not to accept.”  We walk back into the courtroom.  I sit down next to the RICA rep.  She gives me a deadpan look I knew to be a request for a report.  I shrug.

I glance at the clock. It’s 3:08 p.m.  It dawns on me that I don’t know when the recess started.  Plaintiff’s counsel hands me a piece of folded paper.  Unfolding the paper I see a single figure: $35,000.00.  I slide it over to the rep.  She shakes her head, “No.”  I take a sheet of scratch paper and write “$25.000.00?”

She crosses out my number and writes “22,500.00.”  I take the plaintiff’s note, cross out his number and write in ours.  I hand it back and say, “This offer expires as soon as Judge Gilly takes the bench.”  The plaintiff and his attorney begin to boil in animated conversation.

The bailiff opens the door to chambers and calls out, “All Rise!”  I take to my feet and glance over at plaintiff’s table trying to determine upon which side they will alight.

Mike Mallory

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Graveyard Watch (Historical Flash Fiction)

Twas less than a fortnight ago when Pell, one of the Duke’s lads, interrupted the mid-day meal with a fierce banging against the front door.  His hands were covered in heavy leather gloves against the cold and he came close to punching through the brittle wooden gate that serves as the entryway into the hut.  With an air of deferential politeness he was ushered inside the dirt-floor hovel.  Looking around the premises, as if overcome by gratitude that his station is superior, he comes to attention and remembers his errand.

In a booming voice, fit for a report to King Phillip, himself, Pell announces that I have been summoned, without so much as a prithee, by the Duke of Northumberland to stand the graveyard watch for three days in the churchyard behind the abbey.  They are burying Lady Francis Bandon, one o’ the Duke’s cousins and someone has to watch over her. This is an opportunity to serve the Duke and maybe to gain some bit ‘o favor. 

This is a new practice: the graveyard watch.  Digging up some old coffins so as to make room for the more recently departed, there was a lot of coffins from the time of yore what have scratch marks.  And the scratch marks was on the inside ‘o the coffins.  Only one thought comes to mind: people have been buried alive.

Now, the important people who die get a string tied ‘round their wrist and the string comes up outta the ground and is tied to a bell. If they wake up from the dead, why they can just wiggle around to ring the bell and them that buried ‘em just digs ‘em up again.  The graveyard watchman is charged with keepin’ his eyes and ears on that bell and go a running to the vicar’s house if it starts ringing.

With the wind a howlin’ and the rain beatin’ down it would have nice to have an oilskin or a greatcoat.  The woolen shawl is soggy wet and heavy cold.  Curled all up in a ball, half inside the old tree trunk like a fox, offers a little protection from the elements, but makes it hard to keep an eye on the bell.  Then again if it rings, keeping “an ear out” ought to be enough.

It is bootblack dark with a disturbing wind.  Leaves and sometimes even whole braches scuttle by.  That little bell, hanging from a little piece o’ wood is getting buffeted by gusts just like everything else.  Sure, it rings from time to time but that’s probably just the wind.  Still, it is a bad night to lay here wondering if her Ladyship has been buried alive.  God bless her Ladyship.

It’s best to let the wind die down and then see if the bell is still ringin’.  If the vicar is woken in the dead ‘o night to an alarm by the graveyard watchman and the Duke’s people get all busy in the middle of a storm and dig up her Ladyship only to find she is still dead as a piece ‘o firewood, why, then some mighty disaster would surely befall that graveyard watchman.  I durst not wake the vicar. 

If by chance that bell be ringin’ on account of her Ladyship pullin’ on the string, she will no doubt stop before long.  Bless her Ladyship’s soul.

 /Mike Mallory

( - it may just be an urban myth.  Then again, it’s on the World Wide Web! )

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hometown Public Art

In 1962 the Space Needle was build for the World’s Fair in Seattle.  Specific architecture will fall somewhere in the continuum between functionality and the aesthetic.  The Space Needle is more sculptural than functional.   The Space Needle was privately financed, although it sits in the Denny Regrade which was a colossal public works project at the turn of the 20th Century. 

In the mid-60s, my parent’s generation spent almost one-half a trillion (in 2006 dollars) to create the Interstate Highway System.  The Interstate Highway System has allowed a national market to develop between the many manufacturing and agricultural locations and the consuming public.  It is hard to imagine that the Puget Sound public, now reluctant to approve mass transit would favor that kind of authorization today.

Historically, public art was found most in nationalistic monuments and statues and portraits of famous people.  New Deal legislation in the 1930s included the Public Works of Art Project which increased public subsidies for the arts as never before.  The PWAP employed almost 50 artists in Washington State and contributed to a fresh cultural awareness.  A common theme of public art in that era is “progress,” which is cultural as well as political.

The linkage between public works and public art was perpetuated in Washington Statutes. “Pursuant to RCW 43.46.090 through 43.46.095, onehalf of one percent of the state’s capital appropriation for the original construction of specific public buildings is set aside for the administration, acquisition, and conservation of works of art for the state art collection.”  WAC 30-40-050.  Most, if not all, cities and counties have similar set-asides for art funding. 

It is unquestioned that public funds may be expended in order to develop markets or make commerce more efficient.  On the other hand public expenditure for art, in the age of the mega-deficit, has come under the cross-hairs of budget cutters.  NPR and PBS were targets during the 2012 elections although Big Bird came out it with just a few ruffled feathers. 

Nick Gillespie argues that public funds should not be used for art in part because there is sufficient support in the private sector.  But if one examines the differences between NPR and commercial radio or PBS and commercial television broadcast the question that emerges is not whether radio and television would continue to exist, but whether the American public would lose an irreplaceable cultural resource.  Similarly, the National Endowment for the Arts offers grants for exhibitions, installations and permanent works which provide an important cultural contribution regardless of their commercial feasibility. 

There are private foundations and non-profit organizations that contribute to art funding and even public art.  One of the more interesting is the Billboard Project which puts up billboard displays of art in public places.  Locally we are fortunate to have KSER, a community radio station.  Yet I can’t help but imagine an increasing sterility in public places, if not for Public Art funding.

Much of the criticism directed at public funding for the arts hovers around the most shocking exemplars, but a better gage of public art funding is the collection of local government.  The City of Everett and Snohomish County both have collections. Some of the art is outdoors and some confined to meeting rooms and interior space.  A map identifying some of the Everett collection is located here.  The Everett Public Library has a downloadable audio tour of some of the collection.  Seattle has a similar tour. 

One of the reasons the funding that public art seems expendable is that the collection is taken for granted because it is freely observable or people are unaware of the pieces hanging in some meeting room.  There are wonderful works of sculptural and two-dimensional art in the collection of the City of Everett and Snohomish County.  There is a lovely Bernie Weber watercolor in the Everett Treasurer’s office.  Colby Avenue is marked with mysterious and compelling sculptures.  The next time you are walking past a public building, take the time to seek out the art, your art, within.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting Even (Sports - Flash Fiction)

I inch up to the mid-line keeping their forward about five yards in front of me.  Three strides.  I need three strides in an open field for acceleration, adjustment and positioning.  Their keeper sets the ball down at the corner of his box and backs up to run into his goal kick. 

I glance up at the clock.  Eight-six minutes.  Four minutes left.  Four long minutes.  Most goals in a match come in the last ten minutes of the half.  We are up by one, but don't become complacent.  Tighten up.  I am an impassable barrier.  Impassable barrier.  I am impassable.

The keeper's kick sends the ball in a powerful parabolic curve dropping to their mid-fielder on the left side, my side.  Our midfielder challenges the player with the ball.  Their right wing, my primary responsibility, tenses and bobbles on his feet, waiting for a clue or inspiration about how to position himself for a pass.  I give him three strides and wait for his move. 

The ball handler starts an aggressive dribble out toward the side-line.  The forward, my man, anticipates a chip and sprints down-field.  I stay with him.  I stay goal-side.  I am close.  I am making him an unattractive target.  I am in control of my space.  I own the field. 

My midfielder, fifteen yards up field, overcommits when the ball handler feints to the outside.  The opposing ball handler comes away clean with the ball, gliding toward our goal.  I am the only defender capable of challenging the ball carrier, but I will have to give up my man and let him lag behind me.  I check for offside but my mates cross-field have sagged back and given the attackers too much maneuvering room. 

I can't let the ball handler continue unaccosted, I leave my man and strike out toward the ball hoping the center-back will pull the defensive line up and hobble the forward with the threat of an offside call.

The ball carrier has me at a disadvantage.  He has the center-field and I will have to come at him from the outside.  Our vectors converge and we start running shoulder to shoulder.  I hear a roar from the crowd and my opponent begins to pick up speed as though surfing the sound waves.  I dig, pull and stretch, lengthening my stride.  I will myself into flight.

He will be in range of a credible shot within five strides.  I can see the outline of the penalty box in my peripheral vision.  I don't want to foul unless absolutely necessary.  To make a clean tackle I cannot slide from behind.  I must be even with the ball handler.  I am a hair behind.  I must gain.  I must fly. 

He redirects the ball, but the move costs him a fraction of a second.  Our shoulders buffet one another back and forth in an attempt to unbalance the other.  My shoulder comes up in front of his.  I am more than even.  I am clear to slide.  One more touch and he will shoot with his left foot: the far side of my challenge.  I will have to cross in front of him.  I must deflect the ball. Time it. Time it. Now....

My right foot lands out far ahead and as I come over it I straighten my left knee and sling my body forward.  My left foots points forward and reaches for the ball.  My body hits the ground as gently as an airplane touching down on the runway and slides.  I feel the satisfying tap on the ball on the toe of my soft leather shoe, followed immediately by the slap of his boot under my ankle.

He goes down hard, sprawled out in front of me.  Still on the ground I push up on my elbows to see what has happened.  The ball rolls harmlessly to our keeper who pushes it forward as he surveys the field.  The crowd is booing.  I am inside the penalty area.  My opposing forward is curled up in a fetal position in a pathetic plea for sympathy.

I was even.  I was more than even.  It was clean.  I didn't tackle from behind.  Anxiously, I look around for the referee hoping he saw it my way.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Menu for Gun Control


Gun Control is on the table of public opinion again.  There are design and regulatory options available to reduce the killing power of firearms available to the public.  Responsible gun control will, I believe, be crafted from the options below.  In my opinion, laws consistent with the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution could be enacted which:


1.    Every firearm needs to be registered.  The registration process must involve, at a minimum, criminal, restraining orders, substance abuse and mental health records.  Gun safety and handling courses should be mandatory.  Every sale must involve registration or a registration transfer.  The Gun-Show and Private Sale loophole will have to be closed and all unregistered guns will have to be documented.  All firearm transfers (sales and gifts) should go through a licensed firearms dealer with background check.  (Similar to Transferring a Car) There must be a record of every change of ownership.

a) Every firearm must bear a legible serial number and be registered in federal database to someone.
b)  Owner must notify a dealer and report any lost or stolen firearms.

2. Limit magazine capacity and perhaps require design features with reduced reloading speed.   I like the Larry Simoneaux’s suggestion that weapons should be limited to fixed magazines with capacities under ten rounds.

3. Limit speed of semi-automatic fire.

4. Limit types of rounds (e.g. no hollow-point or Teflon coating).  Loads designed to penetrate bullet-proof vests or glass should be illegal.

5. Impose an annual tax on possession of firearms.  Firearms have a social cost ranging from injuries and bullet-proof vests for law enforcement officers to registration and regulation expenses.  An annual tax on the possession of firearms will allow gun owners to contribute to the cost of their choices. The tax could be a graduated tax such as $5.00 per caliber per year.

6. Require that firearms be stored or transported only with a locking trigger guard or in a locked gun cabinet.

7. Implement an automatic firearm alert system through electronic identification.  All Firearms would be required to have a permanent Tracking Chip.  The Firearm Tracking Chip (FATC) would be designed to be detected by FATC Detectors (FATCD).  FATCDs could be installed in schools, stores and private homes for that matter. The FATCs would have to be built into a sensitive part of the firearm so they could not be disabled without disabling the firearm: a problematic but not impossible engineering issue.


8.  All firearms must be registered with annual renewals.  Registration and renewals will trigger a review of appropriate databases to confirm eligibility.



As long as the 2nd Amendment is interpreted as granting a right to citizens to possess firearms, there will be gun fatalities.  But there are ways to keep guns out of the hands of children, people with a history of crime or domestic violence and those with a mental and/or emotional disease or disability.  There are also technological avenues to limit the amount of damage done by someone intent on mass murder.


The death rate for gun related deaths in US was 1 in 10,000.  In the UK it was only 4 in 10,000,000.

The text of the 2nd Amendment allows for regulation of firearms.  We tightly regulate motor vehicles, drugs and natural gas distribution in the name of public safety.  Social vulnerability to assault weapons justifies a more thorough regulatory system for firearms.

Mike Mallory



Saturday, January 12, 2013

I have changed the name of my blog and broadened its scope. The blog was originally called the "Everett Sketcher" and was devoted to art reviews and plein air paintings in and around Snohomish County. The scope was so narrow that I wasn't able to produce enough suitable material. It is time for a change.

I have been considering new names. I was thinking about Mycopedia, but it was taken. "Mike's Copedia" seemed cumbersome.

I plan to provide a space for the wide range of my interests. I hope to post images of my art, examples of my creative writing, opinion pieces, social criticism and more.

My personal mission is to enliven the world by responding to life with insight and delight. I have decided to move forward with the blog name, "The Grand Reveal." The name is still on probation.

If you are currently a follower, I hope you will stay with me as I develop this more expansive theme.