Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Drill baby, drill..."

How about a little more conservation and exploration safety stirred into the mix, rather than a rampant effort to pump every drop of oil out of the ground in a reckless manner? Its sad that we deplete our resources and ravage the coastline so that we can drive our SUVs to the corner store cheaply and easily.

So next time someone tells you to "get off the road" when you are riding to work and humping it through the Diamond Drive construction zone as fast as a bicyclist can, thank them for this mess:

Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes

And of course....funny we have not heard from these folks lately.

If you are into weird, this one is cool.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Your papers, please....

Before I ramble on, you should simply listen to my cousin Lori and her friend Chuck, who make up Pacific-Buffalo and who are way more articulate than I am.

Those are Lori and my maternal grandparents at the 2:02 mark.

A still unsolved murder blamed on drug dealers, increasing insecurity about America no longer being "leader of the free world", and Federal partisan gridlock on immigration reform have contributed to Arizona passing a highly controversial immigration law. I don't envy Arizona, as it is Ground Zero for our immigration crisis and must sit and watch Washington fiddle while the border sizzles. Still up for grabs is whether this draconian bill will pass judicial muster, but until that is resolved, its passage has created quite an uproar.

The 15 minute Bill Maher clip here points to some of the underlying insecurity leading to these misguided efforts to save America from those illegals by locking them up--yeah, whatta bitch. You will now have to raise bail to get those same people outa the hoosegow to do your yard work. Unfortunately, what we really need to do is save America from our own bad habits: spending ourselves into debt and therefore finding ourselves at the mercy of our creditors, concentrating on short term gain rather than long term stability, and ignoring our own nation's strategic vulnerabilities. Americans need to look in the mirror to find the cause of those problems. Nah. Its easier to find scapegoats.

Back to the Arizona law, the NY Times tells us that the law "...requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials..."

Now, barring racial profiling or a crystal ball, how the heck do you suppose the police will reasonably suspect you are an illegal alien? Sounds like open season on people who look different to me. Better stay out of Arizona if you don't fit the profile of an honest to god American...whatever that is. I'll try to stay clear of AZ until reason prevails.

What I keep wondering is how much of this is political posturing? I don't think most of my fellow citizens are as wacky as they look below.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Geological Society of America Position Paper on Climate Change

Position Statement.

Decades of scientific research have shown that climate can change from both natural and anthropogenic causes. The Geological Society of America (GSA) concurs with assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse‐gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s. If current trends continue, the projected increase in global temperature by the end of the twentyfirst century will result in large impacts on humans and other species. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change will require a combination of adaptation to the changes that are likely to occur and global reductions of CO2 emissions from anthropogenic sources.

(go to link above for full text)

Colin F. Peppard Responds to Does Transportation Need A Sustainability Measurement System??

Colin F. Peppard Responds to Does Transportation Need A Sustainability Measurement System??

Sunday, April 18, 2010

CMR-R in One Thousand Years?

From Wikipedia: "Ziggurats (Akkadian (transliterated): ziqqurat, D-stem of zaqāru "to build on a raised area") were massive monuments built in the ancient Mesopotamian valley and western Iranian plateau, having the form of a terraced step pyramid of successively receding stories or levels..." Photo of the reconstructed facade of the 4100 year old Great Ziggurat of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq

If you read this morning's Monitor, you will notice Greg Mello and Paul Gessing questioning the price tag and usefulness of the CMRR Nuclear facility, which in light of new seismic requirements, has skyrocketed to 4.2 billion dollars and what Greg and Paul tell us is an earthquake-proof (perhaps asteroid-impact proof as well), 225,000 cu. yard concrete foundation.

I am not a civil engineer, but I can't help wonder whether we as a nation really need such a massive structure to safely handle plutonium. What are the relative risks imposed by spending so much on this one project vs. spending on other things we really need to do with what is left of our national treasure?

The pubic's overhype with the risks of all things nuclear, including CMR-R, and Government's potential willingness to spend any amount of Joe Sixpack's money on disaster-proof construction, may be leading us to ignore nuclear's real usefulness: not as bombs, but as a carbon-lite power source. That application is increasingly unlikely to be cost effective since we have convinced ourselves we need to budget so much money to over-engineer nuclear safety requirements. Save us, dear regulator, from an unlikely accidental nuclear release so we can have a far more likely head-on collision with our driving while distracted neighbor on unregulated roads, where we kill over 30,000 Americans per year. Indeed, we suffer more than a worst-case Chernobyl a year due to crashes on our roads, most of which are preventable. But instead lets worry about Plutonium.

Indeed, at least some out there think nuclear power is a cost-effective idea. A NY Times article makes the claim that Middle Eastern nations and the IAEA think it is cost-effective for the Middle East to sell oil abroad and run their own nations using nuclear power: "...When prices are high, gulf countries would prefer to sell their oil at great profit rather than burn it for power. A study done by the International Atomic Energy Agency and a group of gulf states concluded that nuclear power made sense for the region when the price of oil exceeded $50 a barrel. Today it is above $80, and with the world economy gradually recovering, many expect it to go higher. .." So why there but not here?

We need to consider alternative energy sources in order to lessen our carbon footprint and reduce our vulnerabilities to the near-future economic impacts of peak oil and anthropogenic climate forcing due to CO2; nuclear power is one such alternative. Interestingly, I tried the Nature Conservancy's Carbon Footprint Calculator. It ranked our household "above average" for the US with 71 tons of CO2 per year, most of that home energy use. Simply by "moving" my household to New York State, all other things being equal, that number dropped to 45 tons. I suspect it is all our coal-fired power! NYS uses hydro and nuclear as well as fossil power.

Nuclear power, albeit one alternative to fossil fuel burning, is not a solution by itself to our energy gluttony; uncritical addition of yet one more power source to the mix simply adds fuel to the fire in which we will one day cook ourselves. We have to throttle back on our high energy lifestyles by employing extensive efforts in energy conservation and take advantage of a range of options including wind and especially solar in places like the Sun Belt. Indeed, for many of us in the Sun Belt, a quite valuable expenditure of a few billion dollars would be to create a home-grown industry in conservation and green energy so we can better insulate our homes and outfit the equivalent of a moderate size city with solar power, including photovoltaic roof panels. Industrial production may need stationary sources, as may cities in parts of the Gloom Belt such as Western New York where I grew up. In-situ residential power production, where feasible, can reduce the number of these stationary sources and their not-so-hidden social costs.

CMRR-NF at over four billion bucks is only of long term economic value if it saves more than four billion down the road, i.e., if we put in place solid international protocols towards disarmament and non-proliferation and use CMRR to help ramp down the bomb race, solve some of the problems posed by the disposal or re-use of nuclear waste, and to secure and recycle the world's legacy of weapons into reactor fuel. Not to mention, that idea will only work if we develop real international programs that eliminate the reasons nations and other actors seek to develop WMD to begin with--megalomaniac leadership (read Iran) and political and economic unfairness across borders that drive folks to war as a solution. Of course, one may be begging the question to assume we need such a large, overbuilt facility at all if we stop building bombs. Or frankly, even if we do continue to build them, the Defense Board and over-worried citizen opinions notwithstanding.

As far as weapons, I increasingly think that nuclear weapons are the 21st Century's analog to the Maginot Line or Battleship Row: very imposing and powerful in their own right, but likely to be increasingly irrelevant in defense of our nation as technology evolves, and eventually only of high value to terrorists and rogue nations. Of course, even battleships were in use for decades after Pearl Harbor, but in a limited role. Will be the same for nukes--as a deterrent to a fool. Hopefully, never as a warfighting weapon. We need to move on. I think cyberwarfare is the weapon of future choice.  Google cyberwarfare and you will see evidence for its coming ascendency. Its fast, cheap (i.e., you don't need a six billion dollar building to fiddle with it), effective, and has less long term collateral damage than radioactive fallout. Here is Richard Clarke's spin on the future international conflict: cyberwar.

In the final analysis, if we humans don't start cooperating rather than figuring out more innovative ways of fighting, and if we don't get out in front of the curve of the crossing patterns of energy (and food, and water) supply vs. demand, we are cooked. A Jared Diamond style collapse is not entirely out of the question, either for the U.S. or more likely, for our tightly interconnected world. Perhaps in a thousand years or so, the only human artifact left in New Mexico from the U.S. era will be the ruins of CMRR-NF looking like the Ziggurats that came before it, stared at by primitive, post-industrial wanderers. I hope not, but we don't have much time to think about it.

(with acknowledgments to Greg Mello for the Ziggurat analogy and for a lively discussion of this subject)

Edited 5-2-2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Change is hard....

In this video, New York City Transportation Commisssioner Janet Sadik-Khan offers some important pointers that we need to consider in Los Alamos if we are ever to get off our collective okole and move transportation into the 21st Century and beyond shuttling traditional cars on and off the Hill.

From the web site above:

Want to change the game on transportation in your city? Here’s Sadik-Khan’s workplan for you:
  1. It starts with strong leadership from the top with a long term vision of the city.
  2. Then you need a policy framework to make it reality. “The public needs to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. What’s the plan?!”
  3. You need a team of great people, and the institutional capability to deliver.
  4. Move fast, don’t get bogged down in endless debates, and don’t be afraid to experiment. The results will speak for themselves. (I’m reminded of Jaime Lerner’s dictum: “If you want to make it happen, do it fast.”)
Point 4 seems relevant in Los Alamos. From what I have seen, we can talk anything to death here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mark Fiore wins Pulizter for political cartoons

Congrats to Mark. And some of this stuff hits close to home. Check out the NarcoMex, Inc. and Gringo Guns videos.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

And now, for an example of bipartisanship...

William Perry, Sec. of Defense under Bill Clinton, and George Schultz, Sec. of State under Ronald Reagan, wrote this very balanced piece about arms reductions and the underlying need for looking beyond the present discussion on reducing nuclear weapons. Amazing what you can accomplish by putting your heads together. Now if Congress would ever catch on....

How to build on the Start Treaty

"...New Start is the first tangible product of the administration’s promise to “press the reset button” on United States-Russian relations. The new treaty is welcome. But as a disarmament measure, it is a modest step... Perhaps the treaty’s greatest accomplishment is that the negotiations leading up to its signing re-engaged Americans and Russians in a serious discussion of how to reduce nuclear dangers..."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Round and Round we go...

The Transportation Board meeting in White Rock on Thursday was taken up with a presentation and discussion of how to upgrade/modify NM-4 through White Rock to make it more people-friendly in light of County plans to develop both sides of the highway. Many in the community, and apparently in DOE and NNSA as well, continue to be skeptical of roundabouts. So the White Rock Implementation Committee downplayed their use, even though no one seems to know why they should not be used. Indeed, the Transportation Board members supported their use here. So here we go again--round and round in the same circles of questioning, explanation, and skepticism.

There is plenty of information on roundabout safety out there. Here is an FHWA link. Kinda surprising that we have to keep going "round and round" with these discussions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

North Mesa Mutts: Rationale

We decided to start this blog so we can bark and howl without offending the team that runs the LABikes blog, or otherwise compromise the intent of the LA bike site. Someone has to speak for the purity of the plateaus and canyons, right? Those humans are way too compromised to tell the story straight. You gotta go to the dogs to get the real deal.

Is Los Alamos to get "State Department Store"?

"...The most famous GUM*... a large store
in Kitai-gorod of Moscow, facing Red Square...."

I find it rather interesting that on a County Council dominated by Republicans, we are still having arguments, albeit from a single councilor, about County Government mandating that we have a Big Box store here in Bombtown. But even discounting that one emphatic voice, the overall tone of the conversation continues to be government managing private enterprise. Is not the free market supposed to decide these things? Shouldn't the county just sell the land and let private enterprise decide how to develop it? Unless, of course, we want to put up a college or other public institution.

Well, Comrades, if Council acts on turning Trinity Site into retail of its choosing by brute force, I think the taxpayer will end up footing the bill when it fails. We wouldn't be the first community to end up with a white elephant for a mall.

As imperfect as capitalism is, the theory is that customers vote with their paychecks amidst the free market of goods and services provided by those willing to build an enterprise. Well, that's the theory, anyway. The (limited) role of government is to facilitate commerce impartially through fair tax and zoning policies, to oversee a level playing field (i.e., antitrust laws, interstate commerce laws, and the like) and to collect taxes and maintain the public's infrastructure and services.

Government can and does regulate commerce when it is in the national interest or in the interests of public safety and health, but those roles are limited and Government should not otherwise dictate shopping choices for us.

Shopping has changed considerably in the last decades and not just on the Hill. With a fast freeway to bigger, more centralized market centers that can support Big Boxes, and with Internet shopping at our fingertips, the role of the local store in a small community has been redefined. I am sure that if Big Box, Inc. thought it could turn a buck here, we would see their CEOs breaking down the doors to Council Chambers rather than County Government having to ask. But maybe government knows best on this one?

Perhaps if gas prices climb precipitously, people will shop closer to home and it will make sense for more companies to invest in some concrete and steel up here. But until it makes economic sense for those companies to build here, I won't hold my breath. Why? There isn't enough market to support the considerable overhead that a concrete and steel store needs to raise (see Richard Hanneman's post) and there is a lot of competition down in the bigger population centers in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

So if the simple act of freeing up more land brings down costs and brings these stores to town, that's great. If not, and if you want nearby Boxes, move to a big city. But if you want to enjoy what makes Los Alamos a small and special place in its cul-de-sac by the Jemez Mountains, you may have to deal with the limited local shopping. At least until, via changed consumer spending habits and a little more freed up space on the hill, that changes.

Personally, I would like to see Trinity Site used for building an enterprise we could use to sell stuff to others rather than as a convenient shopping mall built on a one-horse economy. Los Alamos is utterly dependent on Uncle Sam's largess. With the nation floating on borrowed money and with Congress utterly dysfunctional, that scares me and maybe it should scare you.

That's my $0.02, anyway. YMMV.

* from wikipedia: Main Department Store or GUM (ГУМ, pronounced as goom, in full Главный Универсальный Магазин, Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin) is a modern name for the main department store in many cities of the former Soviet Union, known as State Department Store Государственный Универсальный Магазин, Gosudarstvennyi Universalnyi Magazin) in the Soviet times.