Saturday, January 10, 2015

To the Episcopal Church: How Drunk Would Jesus Drive?


Descanso, Baltimore Style. 
Credit Matt Roth in the NY Times
That old question, What Would Jesus Do (WWJD?), is a little tired, but pretty much on point for anyone who has ever studied or practiced Christianity. Having been confirmed in (into?) Catholicism by a bunch of crazy Jesuits back at the University of Hawaii's Newman Center, after spending time at the "thinking intensive" masses under Fr. Vin Rush at SUNY Stony Brook, that includes me.  Thinking is quite good if done before actions, but only good as damage control if done after that "oh, shit" moment. To some, contemplation precedes repentance and change.

 So here we have, according to the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun (thanks, Ian) a high ranking lady in the Maryland Episcopal Church who was guilty of DWI in 2010 (0.27 BAC), later promoted to Suffragan Bishop of Maryland (2nd highest job in the pecking order), and who still can't separate the car keys from the bottle.

Meanwhile, cyclist Tom Palermo was out for a post Christmas ride. I think you can guess the rest. Texting and breathing a 0.22 BAC (after finally returning to the scene), Bishop Cook veered into the bike lane, plowed into Mr. Palermo, and fled the scene while he lay dying, which he subsequently did. Bishop Cook is now in the slammer at 2.5 million bond on charges including negligent manslaughter, leaving the scene, and DWI.

Unfortunately, the Bishop had a problem: when it came to driving drunk, she could not follow her own advice, as described in the Times piece from her own sermon, available on Youtube, and linked in the Times excerpt below (you can start at about the 6:50 mark):

In a sermon last year, Bishop Cook spoke about traffic safety and the consequences of unsafe driving. “My perception is that we live in the midst of a culture that doesn’t like to hold us accountable for consequences,” she said, “that somehow everybody gets a free pass all the time. Well, we do in terms of God’s love and forgiveness, but we don’t in many of the things that happen, and it’s up to us to be responsible.”

That's the problem with our driving culture and to some degree, our culture in general. We think we can screw it up and let God sort it out. Often enough, we only have that WWJD moment after we are facing the tragic consequences of our lax attitudes and find ourselves praying for forgiveness from a judge and jury, if not from our choice of deity or patron saint. Lesson learned? Heck, this is not the first such story.  I hope, as a matter of penance, the local Episcopal Church takes a time out from its usual sermons to preach this story. Perhaps start with Matthew 25:40.  Because it is not just sixteen time losers who kill or endanger.  Its the guy or gal we see in the mirror who lets his/her guard down, is in denial, or who thinks bad things happen only to those other people. And of course, its not just Episcopalians.

When a vulnerable Tom Palermo is riding his bike or crossing the street in front of you, How Would Jesus Drive? For that matter, how should you or I drive? We can pray for the victim and for the Bishop, but that, unfortunately, is damage control. At least in this life for the defendant and the survivors.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

This Blog Works For Charlie Hebdo


And from Morin in the Miami Herald


Survey Open To Collect Opinions About Potential Bike Sharing Project In Los Alamos County

I was asked to publicize this too, so I hope no one at the Daily Post minds that I just copy/link to the article. Its all the same. I met with Kevin Holsapple, who is spearheading this, before the Christmas season.

Note. If you have detailed comments, please feel free to leave them here as well as on the survey. Thanks.

Survey Open To Collect Opinions About Potential Bike Sharing Project In Los Alamos County

An online survey is open for responses at http://bit.ly/LAbikeshare that invites all interested public to provide information that will be used in assessing the feasibility of providing a bicycle sharing service in Los Alamos County. 

The survey is a project of Places & Spaces Los Alamos, a 501c3 community development organization. The group has researched approaches to bike sharing systems that are being implemented in other communities with a particular emphasis on private sector initiatives. They concluded that there may be a cost effective, scalable operating approach that could have applicability here. An open question is whether there could be sufficient demand for shared bikes to justify the effort to pursue the idea further.

The survey is short and will take most people five minutes or less to respond to. Respondents are requested to share the link with other members of the public who they think could be interested in providing their inputs.

Places & Spaces mission is to support the creation and development of amenities, places and spaces for community social interaction. The survey will be open for the next two weeks. Analysis of survey responses and future actions planned by Places & Spaces will be published on the group's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/placesandspacesLA
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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year




Yep, another trip around the sun has passed the start/finish line. Off we go to 2015. I posted the Youtube link to that Bruce Cockburn song in a sombre moment last night, as one sometimes feels a little strange realizing that far more laps are behind one than in front of one as one reflects on life, as Bruce does in his lyrics.

Today I did some non-sombre things, i.e., walking the hounds in the bright sunlight and taking a drive to Pajarito Mountain to enjoy what the snow we just were blessed with did to the X-C ski trails. Skiiing was excellent, although the base is not deep enough to protect one completely from rocks and other land mines.  Proceeding through the sharp downhill hairpin directly south of marker H, the one marked with the yellow "caution" triangle sign, I was in what was otherwise looking like a good setup as I dove into the tight radius descent. Then I snagged one ski on an intact aspen shoot that was slightly buried and got spun around and dumped on my hind end. When pushing the Envelope of Life, I suppose one has to watch for buried aspen shoots. My apologies to others for the sitz mark! 

Dinner included a traditional Japanese New Year's Day soba based soup (delivered with an "akemashite omedetou gozaimasu" card) brought over by our neighbor, who is of Japanese-Italian descent, in honor of my three weeks of bachelorhood.

It was truly a glorious New Year's Day.

NW End of Canada Bonita, looking west towards Redondo Peak, 
the resurgent dome in the middle of the Valles Caldera

Same location as above, looking back southwest towards the meadow

Burn scar area of ski trails in low lying cloud cover 
(well, where low lying clouds are at 9,000 feet!)

Extolling fossil fuels. Really?

 I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

In an editorial printed in the 30 December Santa Fe New Mexican, Alex Epstein, President of the Center for Industrial Progress, extolls the virtues of fossil fuels, saying, quite correctly, that cheap and abundant fossil energy sources have powered human development during the Industrial Revolution and improved our lives. If you Google Alex Epstein, you will find a wealth of connections to pro-coal and pro-fossil energy essays. In the New Mexican, under a title "There's a moral case for fossil fuels" (original long version here), he says "...Fossil fuels have a profound moral importance. They allow us to improve human well being and make the world a better place..."

I can't help but wonder how Epstein is able to be such a Pollyanna in the 21st Century. It is absolutely true that cheap and abundant energy (traditionally including hydropower, coal, oil, natural gas) has and continues to drive human progress and has improved the human condition for those who have partaken of its benefits. Having said that, one has to look at the totality of the human endeavor and how it changes through time. A human infant is dependent on abundant and easily available mother's milk to grow and prosper. A mature adult consumes an entirely different mix to prosper.

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, there were about a billion humans on the planet. Industrialization directly impacted only a few, first in England and later in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. There are now over seven billion of us; the rest of the world is rapidly cashing in on industrialization to obtain the goods and services we in the U.S. take for granted. If seven billion of us use fossil fuels, the impacts will be far greater than they were a century or two ago. Thus, one has to look at the complete, forward projected cost-benefit analysis of fossil fuel use rather than just the price at the pump or meter, in order to see what in the long term is a good idea.

We may not remember the bad air present in many American cities a half century ago (or, conversely, our booming industrial economy of a half century ago), but one only has to look at pictures of the air in urban China to see how bad it can get; one is not supposed to be able to see air. The immediate down side of fossil fuel use, especially coal, includes pollution in mining and pollution in combustion, the latter having both health and environmental impacts. Coal burning, for example, releases radionuclides, mercury, and a variety of toxic and acidic combustion gases and aerosols, the last, unless trapped technologically, being responsible for cardiovascular disease and for fresh water acidification such as we have seen in the Eastern U.S. An October, 2014 Consumer Reports article notes a dramatic rise in mercury concentration in long lived, top of the food chain fish in the North Pacific (I blogged on that here). This change in downwind ocean mercury chemistry is directly attributable to the rapid industrialization of the Far East and its reliance on primitive coal plants. We should note that the dirty side of coal burning is convincing the Chinese to invest in cleaner power sources such as nuclear.

In the long term, the reliance on fossil fuels by the world economy promises at least a couple things. One, that the world will constantly be struggling with the Hubbert Curves of supply and demand as we exploit each resource in boom and bust cycles, as we are currently doing with hydraulic fracturing. Secondly, the release of combustion products will have both short and long term impact. Mercury in fish is an immediate concern. Climate change is a long range problem.

CO2 is a "greenhouse" or Tyndell gas (acknowledgements to Michael Jackson in the New Mexican) and, along with water vapor and other "greenhouse" gases, contributes to making the earth quite inhabitable; without "greenhouse gases" the average temperature on the earth would be far colder, in this link about 32 deg C colder. The carbon-oxygen bonds in CO2 (and chemical bonds in water and other gases) absorb infrared energy that would otherwise escape back to space and re-radiate it within the atmosphere, an effect studied since the early eighteen hundreds by scientists including Joseph Fourier, Svante Arrhenius, and John Tyndall. Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere from sources long sequestered in the earth (stored as coal, oil, natural gas) makes humans agents of climate change by changing the atmosphere's effectiveness in absorbing energy that would otherwise be lost to space. CO2 is good and perhaps we could actually calculate optimal levels and keep them there. Like anything that is good, a lot more of it added without due prudence is not necessarily better. Think of what you would look like if you ate a half gallon of ice cream every night.

Climate, as any earth scientist will tell you, is a fickle beast and it changes with or without our help due to natural processes such as variations in solar output, wobbles in the Earth's orbit (Milankovich cycles), the eruption of supervolcanoes that release climate-impacting aerosols and gases, and variations in geophysical processes such as ocean currents and their relation to the positions of the continents. These changes, both slowly evolving and sometimes rapid and dramatic (i.e., the Little Ice Age) are not without consequence and can sometimes have catastrophic human impact, as the Anasazi in the Southwest and the Vikings in Greenland discovered (and discussed in Jared Diamond's book Collapse).  For example, adding heat to the earth by significantly increasing atmospheric CO2 above pre industrial levels can melt continental glaciers and raise sea level, acidify the oceans, speed up the water cycle and move climate belts. All of these impact human activities built on the implicit assumption, at least in the short term, of relative climate stasis. One can go up and down the coastlines of different nations and see perched shorelines, some of them due to previous high stands of the sea during periods between ice ages. One can study the migration of humans to North America when the Pleistocene glaciation created a land bridge between North America and Asia. Future humans may have to grapple with how to move whole cities and farm belts, irrespective of national boundaries.

So while cheap and abundant energy has very positive impacts on human activities (think of your life without food refrigeration), it is not without both positive and negative consequence. The real cost vs. benefits of the energy we use today is measured not just in the meter reading, but in how we will manage the present and future environmental as well as economic impacts our choices impose on us and the planet. Should we include in the cost of fossil fuel what is needed to manage climate change through geo-engineering or carbon sequestration? Should fossil energy be taxed to pay for the costs of cardiovascular disease directly linked to pollution?  How do we measure and calculate the cost benefit ratio of all of the "externalities" of fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy consumption? We must quantify these effects if we want to know how cheap, or conversely, how expensive, our energy sources really are, and how they compare to their alternatives.

A 600 word version of this has been submitted to the New Mexican as a "My View" contribution. Here 'tis...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

County Council Approves Alignment to Continue Canyon Rim Trail to Smith's Marketplace

As covered in the Daily Post, Council approved Option 3 to continue the Canyon Rim Trail west of its current terminus by the fire station. When complete, it will extend from its eastern terminus at the Airport Basin (across from the Los Alamos Co-Op) to a western terminus at the Smith's Marketplace parking lot. This will provide a badly needed and quite attractive off road option for those who want to hike or bike to the Airport Basin rather than use NM502, which has serious choke points where the shoulder peters out just as one is entering stretches of road with center medians, i.e. squished into motor vehicle traffic in that same interval where the speed limit changes from 50 mph to 35 mph. Its especially annoying on the westbound, uphill return trip from the Basin area.

Kudos to Council for acting on the need to provide good transportation alternatives. With improvements to NM502 to make it more amenable to biking far over the horizon, Council did what we should have done, i.e., do something ourselves. A nice marked crossing on 502 would help.

Of course, one will have to respect the trail for its limits as well as enjoy its beauty. I've discussed that before. 

As far as Smith's Marketplace, I'd like to see a little more dedicated bike parking, but when I ride there, I just lock my bike up to that really fine looking fence to the south of the Starbucks. As far as I can tell, that fence is actually a really fine bike rack.

Figure from county, via the Daily Post