Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coal Fired Power Plants Still S.O.P.

Sobering news: AP Enterprise: Old-style coal plants expanding.

My own public comment to the KDHE to deny Sunflower Electric Power Corporation's permit for the Holcomb Power Plant expansion project is below:

As a Kansas citizen, I’m urging you to deny the permit for the 895 MW coal fired power plant proposed by Sunflower. Over this comment period I’m sure a great deal of opponents have provided a variety of health, environmental, economic, and energy related reasons for denying the permit. I myself did so during the last go around. But this time I thought I’d provide a narrative of what life might be like for one Kansan 30+ years from now if we don’t step up and start making some really hard choices. And the only way this is going to happen is if we have some very strong-willed leaders (from local levels all the way up) to pull us down this path.

7:43 AM and it already feels like a sauna. Beads of sweat begin to roll down Dan’s back as he waits for the bus. The high is predicted to reach 111, with a heat index near 122. It’s the 17th day in a row of over 105 degree heat, with no end in sight. And the sea of asphalt and concrete surrounding him only makes it worse as the hot days drag on. For the umpteenth time last night, the weatherman discussed how their asphalt jungle’s nightly dissipation of heat at these temperatures is too slow to fully recover by the time morning rolls around. And so each day seems to start out warmer than the last. Add to that the multitude of city air conditioners rejecting interior heat into the outside air and you have a local urban climate up to 20 degrees warmer than surrounding areas on any given day. Dan looks up at the bus stop sign and thinks to himself, “Next stop, hell on earth.”

He briefly glances at those next to him, taking care to stay outside of everyone’s personal bubbles as they wait. Tempers flare much more quickly in this kind of heat – yesterday two people were stabbed at a bus stop across town as an argument spun out of control. A sudden sneeze snaps Dan to attention; its then followed by a few coughs. He slowly inches away in the opposite direction. The respiratory infection going around was another reason to stay clear of strangers. This was the third time in the last 2 months a large scale illness was making its way through the city. He recalled his doctor’s declaration that such occurrences were now the rule as a result of the warmer climate, particularly in the close quarters of a city.

As Dan waits, he tries to will the beads of sweat back into his skin – coming into work soaked with sweat doesn’t exactly help generate clothing sales and the resulting commissions he desperately needs. “Clothing sales,” he says to himself and mentally shakes his head. Working in retail was a far cry from his life growing up on farm near Greensburg. Though he was never really sure whether or not he wanted to take over the family farm, that decision was made for him by the farm’s ever expanding costs and dwindling profits.

Every year rain seemed that much more unpredictable, increasing their use of irrigation as well as more frequently delaying getting into the field when it was needed. The stress resulting from agricultural, residential, and industrial water use (including the region’s coal fired power plants) on regional groundwater sources and the once vast Ogalla Aquifer had resulted in irrigation related water use taxes. New and increasing weeds, pests and diseases meant increasing pesticide costs, as well as antibiotics for the cattle. Crop yields were steadily declining despite trying more expensive drought and pest resistant wheat. Cattle were underweight and sometimes sickly, and they lost more calves every year. Beaten down by the constant stress and a mountain of debt, his dad finally sold the farm.

With no future in farming and no money for college, Dan needed a job. He could probably have gotten some scholarships and government assistance, but it wouldn’t have been enough and his family had long ago blown through the little college savings he had trying to keep the farm afloat. So he needed work. The local wind turbine manufacturer would have been a great option, but the manufacturing floor wasn’t hiring anyone, at least no one with his limited skills. Had the U.S. jumped on the renewable energy bandwagon 30 years ago, US manufacturers might now be the dominant players in wind power. As it turned out, China has had that title since 2015 and the US was still playing catch up. Though he’d heard a Chinese manufacturer was looking at purchasing the Greensburg plant. If so, they likely would expand, start hiring, and maybe even implement some extensive on-the-job training programs.

But for now Dan needed other options and so he turned to family. His cousin lived in Olathe and could get him a job at one of the local clothing retailers, as well as put him up to save some expenses. And so now he found himself in the greater Kansas City area, waiting at a bus stop, futilely trying to keep from sweating.

Finally the bus arrived and Dan made his way onto the air conditioned oasis with the rest of the crowd. As he made his way down the aisle to an empty seat, he passed a young mother and her crying toddler, a look of sad resignation on her face. He wondered what her story was – was she a recent immigrant into the city as well? Did she have a job? A place to live? Was she squatting in one of the many abandoned buildings throughout the city like so many of the new arrivals?

He took a seat as the bus pulled away. So many looks of resignation, sadness, and apathy on his fellow passengers. “What did the future hold for any of them?” he wondered. Dan settled in and stared out the window towards his destination. “Was it really going to be hell on earth?”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taxes Fund Education & Other Services That We All Use

To my fellow Kansans:

Taxes – a word that generates loathing among many; at best it’s often portrayed as a necessary evil. George Lakoff, linguist and UC Berkeley professor, has pointed out that politicians like to promise us “relief” from taxes, as if they’re providing relief from a headache. But that relief comes with the price of cutting our services and benefits.

Taxes fund our police and fire departments, parks, public libraries, armed forces, and the list goes on. Particularly important is public education, one of the bedrocks of U.S. democracy. Every time we cut taxes we degrade the quality of these services. “Taxes, after all,” as Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”

While we Americans subscribe to the ideal of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we never-the-less are social creatures. We live in large groups, relying on others for many of our needs. We don’t build or maintain our own roads, we have but to turn on a faucet for good quality water, and most of us don’t school our own children. This pooling of resources and the resulting services and benefits (and jobs) provided, are part of our written and unwritten norms; they help bind our society together.

To be sure, balance must be maintained between inadequate vs. overbearing taxation. However, our state has generally moved farther into the inadequate side over the last decade. During that time, according to Rep. Jim Ward, our legislature has cut taxes by $12 billion, with an additional $4 billion in sales tax exemptions.

Yet many in the legislature refuse to consider that additional revenues are required to maintain needed services and benefits. Instead we are to rely on additional cuts and a reduction of state employee salaries and benefits. And since the majority of our state’s budget goes to education and social services, you can see where the brunt of the burden will fall – squarely on the backs of those with the least say.

Whether tax cuts and exemptions generate jobs is debatable. At best it’s a highly contextual outcome dependent on a mix of factors – social/cultural, economic, and otherwise. What isn’t debatable, however, is the job loss resulting from continued cuts and exemptions. According to a February 28th Wichita Eagle article, Wichita estimates it would cut 320 full-time education positions. And tragically such scenarios are being repeated all over the state.

As a Kansan, I’m willing to pay for the service of quality education for my children and for my neighbors’ children. I’m willing to pay for the benefit of higher property values resulting from having good quality neighborhood schools. And the last decade of cuts and exemptions surely has allowed for revenue generation that distributes the burden fairly across the state relative to income, and minimizes negative impacts on business creation and growth. If you feel the same, I urge you to contact your legislators with this message – otherwise we’re putting our state’s future, and that of our children, at risk.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We Must Have Health Care Reform

With all of the evidence out there regarding the dire need for health care reform, I find it extremely distressing that pundits, certain corporate interests, some politicians, and a portion of our misguided public seem to be having their way in killing the current effort at reform.

See the following graphic to hit it home: Infographic of the Day: How Bad Is U.S. Health Care?

And see the following article for the personal side of what the status quo will continue to give us: A day at Lawrence’s Health Care Access clinic reveals need for affordable medical care

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Increase in Diabetes Symptomatic of the Problems that Plague our Society

Diabetes in Kansas: A pending tidal wave  by Christine Metz, Lawrence Journal World

"The number is so large — $174 billion — that if what Americans spend on diabetes were a country, its economy would rank 45th in the world.

To treat a diabetic costs $11,744 a year. Much of that cost is picked up by health insurance and Medicaid or Medicare. In the end, it is estimated that every Kansan has to pay $566 a year for diabetes through higher health insurance premiums and the added burden on the Medicaid and Medicare system. That cost has gone up by 32 percent in the past six years, Eberhart-Phillips said.

'Don’t tell me that you don’t want to raise taxes. By not doing something about the diabetes problem, your constituents are already paying a higher and higher tax,' he said."

"If the entire American population could shift its weight downward by 10 to 20 pounds, it would prevent 60 percent of future diabetes cases, Eberhart-Phillips said.

'If we could solve that, if we could get people’s weights back to where they belong, to what is natural and normal for human species … then we will be going a long way to control not only diabetes, but heart disease, stroke, cancer, all the major killers,' he said."

"'The decisions that most impact people’s health are made by people who have nothing to do with health, nothing to do with medicine directly,” he said. “It is people who run school systems, it is people who run transportation systems, it is people who plan and design our cities. They are the people who place shopping centers three miles from where anyone can walk to them.'

On the pyramid of what prevention methods work the best, the one with the smallest impact is telling people they need to change their behavior. Creating environments that lead to healthier lifestyles is more effective, Eberhart-Phillips said. That will require getting public health officials involved in local politics."

My comments: The problems are society face are all linked together to various degrees and are going to require some systematic, wide ranging shifts in behavior and attitude to address. Increasing diseases such as diabetes, rising health care costs, a focus on defense spending vs. education, closing neighborhood schools, urban sprawl, use of personal vehicles vs. public transporation and/or walking, lack of exercise/growing demands of our time that must be dedicated to working, energy consumption, GHG emmissions, global warming, environmental degradation - this and more are all linked.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saving Our Neighborhood Schools

Sending out an S.O.S.: Save Our Schools exhibit set up to help prevent New York, Cordley from closure - Lawrence, KS

Our neighborhood schools are part of our local identities, helping to bind us together - tie us to our neighbors and helping to form the basis for integration into our larger communities.  When they close, a part of our identities die with them and we have less in common with our neighbors, whether it be through our children, nephews/nieces, god-chilren, friends, etc. who attend (or attended) these schools, or the memories of attending these schools ourselves. Our bonds grow weaker and our community suffers. We become less than we were before.

This event is "a day of imagination, creation, and possibility for our neighborhood schools." Please attend if you can.

When: Saturday, January 30, 2010, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: The Lawrence Percolator, Ninth and New Hampshire, Lawrence

Cost: Free

Friday, January 29, 2010

Charles Darwin Movie May Have Limited US Distribution

"Creation: The good, the bad, and the ugly

A new movie about Charles Darwin's life and work struggles for distribution in the US, where many refuse to subscribe to the theory of evolution

[Published 29th January 2010 04:43 PM GMT] by Sarah Greene

It's a given: we're diehard Charles Darwin fans. So how can we resist a film that projects his life onto the big screen -- his study filled with flasks and beakers, stuffed birds, fountain pens, giant beetles, and a locked treasure chest with the beginnings of On the Origin of Species? ...

The ugly news is that Creation had difficulty finding a US distributor and it remains uncertain whether it will be widely screened before American audiences. Not only does a recent Gallop poll reveal that only 39% of Americans believe in evolution (a "half-baked theory" that informed Adolph Hitler's genocide, according to the Christian-influenced ), but apparently the majority of US moviegoers prefer flying dragon-vampires to historical drama. According to director Jon Amiel in a interview, "The fact is that any independent movie that's A) about something, B) period and C) a drama, is likely to have a very hard time finding distribution these days."

Did this sad commentary on American society not only limit distribution, but also inform the distracting, ghost-infused story line of Creation? Regardless of the film's few letdowns, it succeeds at portraying a smooth-faced Darwin in love with ideas and with life, grappling with a question (often with his actual words! eloquent!) that remains impossibly frightening to many, a century-and-a-half later. One can only pray (to whomever) that Creationists and their children have ample opportunity to see this movie and many more of its ilk, conveying the beauty and complexity of science and evolution ..."

Rest at

The lack of understanding and downright hostility toward evolutionary theory, the state of education in America, our obesity epidemic, skyrocketing health care costs, the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots, and the list goes on. It certainly can be depressing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Marriage Metamorphosis and Prop 8 Continued

Listen to Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross' show from Jan. 20, "Courting Attention: Covering Calif.'s Marriage Trial" for an overview of the federal court case challenging California's Proposition 8.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Marriage Metamorphosis

In light of what is going on with Proposition 8 in California, a little perspective on the history of marriage is in order. The article I wrote below was originally published in the now defunct Albuquerque Tribune on April 8th, 2004.

As the service nears completion, the priest leads the couple, hand-in-hand, around the lectern. The three find themselves enveloped in the voices of the assembled, who fill the church nave with song.

Slowly, the two raise their heads. Their breath quickens as they anticipate the final pronouncement. After a nod from the priest, they gently kiss. The priest presents the couple to those assembled, reciting Psalm 133:1: "Behold how good and sweet it is for brothers to live as one."

And with that, the union of the two men is complete.

While the above narrative might be a dream of many same-sex couples in the United States, it is based on a type of same-sex union ceremony - one might say marriage ceremony - that was occasionally performed in Europe between at least the fifth century and through the middle ages, if not later.

This ceremony was part of an Orthodox Roman Catholic and Greek institution that combined the idea of a spiritual companionship with the desire of some church members to bond with people of the same sex. These "brother-making" rituals were recorded in perhaps hundreds of church liturgies. And within the church's stored collections of liturgies, they were typically placed immediately following those of different-sex ceremonies.

John Boswell, a medieval historian, has argued the similarities between these early same- and different-sex ceremonies imply both were seen as a form of marriage. But other scholars limit their view of these same-sex ceremonies to formal church recognitions of very deep bonds of platonic friendship.

However, the ceremonies were often performed between monks and missionaries, and the same-sex, tightly knit environments of schools, monasteries and nunneries helped foster a degree of intimacy. It is possible that some of these same-sex unions consisted of deep, monogamous, homosexual relationships.

So, it would appear that the intellectual tradition of marriage has not been as unchanging as many believe, including [former] President [George W.] Bush. In proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Bush said: "After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization."

The institution of marriage has primarily been centered on the union of a man and woman for the obvious reason of propagation of the species. But it certainly hasn't been limited to this over the course of human history, including religious history, contrary to what he and others might say.

Socially acceptable "marriages" between same-sex couples have been a part of many cultures, including, but not limited to, ancient Rome, Hellenic Greece, the Yuan and Ming dynasties of China, several African cultures, and many native tribes within the New World.

The definition of marriage for different-sex couples has not remained constant throughout history. Among U.S. changes: abolishment of laws forbidding interracial marriage. Earlier Christian practice included a prohibition of second marriages and strong discouragement of marital sex beyond what was needed for procreation.

The point is the definition of marriage as an institution and tradition has varied over time and across space. We are born, then live and die; and our traditions, including marriage, change as the generations do.