So many colors in a rainbow

First Born's kids play on a Civil War battlefieldGoogle has started a new, free, travel opportunity. It’s called the Google Art Project, and offers young people of all ages opportunity to visit places many will never have opportunity to see – for instance, Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian), Denver (Colorado) Art Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art. Point your browser to www.googleartproject.com and start admiring.

Art, one of my college professors said, is the history of the tribe. To which I add, that and fiction. In both, the creators get to show life as they see it, without their stories being approved by Texas and California school districts.

“But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one”

(From “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin, 1978)

When my son started school, … Continue reading …

Big Brother wants your Facebook password

A growing number of employers would like your Facebook login filled in.I was in Florida a couple weeks ago, and purchased a SunPass – like an EZ-Pass to most of the rest of the East Coast states, except EZ-Pass doesn’t work in Florida. They have their own thing going down there, and they’re not sharing.

Of course, one can drive the Florida Turnpike without a SunPass. The state also has Photo Billing, with which it has replaced humans in toll booths. Gone is the toll-taker with whom you could have a slow-down and human contact on a long trip via interstate highway. Instead, you go speeding through (no need to slow down in Florida) beneath an array of cameras and have your picture taken.

And if your car does not have a working SunPass, the registered owner of your license plate will get a bill from the state – plus a couple bucks “administration fee.”

We have become inured to cameras following us around. Banks have them, as do most retail stores. They’re in casinos, … Continue reading …

Just how much does a gallon of gas cost, anyway

We may pay $3.95 at the pump, but the actual cost is much higher.The U.S. Senate this week decisively shot down a proposal to eliminate subsidies to Big Oil & Gas.

The tally was 51 senators, including two Republicans – from Maine – voting to end the subsidies, and 47, including four Democrats – from Alaska, Lousiana, Nebraska and Virginia – voting to keep them. The 100-seat senate has a nifty rule in place designed to increase the power of the minority party: 60 votes are required to pass a bill.

It’s probably coincidental that the four states whose Democrat senators opposed the repeal are heavily involved in oil production or transportation.

Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey voted to repeal the subsidies, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey voted to keep them.

A report published last year said Pennsylvanians provide nearly $3 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers. It’s a subject that draws little media attention. … Continue reading …

Wind off the Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) and the other Great Lakes could power U.S. homes

Wind from the Great Lakes could supply the U.S. with more electricity than 700 nuclear power plants, according to a statement Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The DOE made the claim while announcing a Memorandum of Understanding between the department and five states – Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania – that could lead to creation of the requisite generating facilities. The agreement, DOE said, is part of the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” approach to U.S. energy independence.

“President Obama is focused on leveraging American energy sources, including increased oil and gas production, the safe development of nuclear power, as well as renewable energy from sources like wind and solar, which is on track to double in the President’s first term,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, during a telephone conference call with reporters Friday. … Continue reading …

Clean the air, subsidize a business or two, and all with free money

Look, Ma. No fumes, no spills.California has a suggestion for Pennsylvania: use some money won from companies which have harmed Pennsylvanians’ health – tobacco money comes quickest to mind – to improve the health of the aforementioned residents.

Help support electric cars, for instance, in a public-private partnership that offers something more than tax breaks to petroleum fuel producers.

The Golden State has won $120 million from resolution of a power crisis a decade ago, in which companies such as Enron shut down power plants to create electricity pseudo-shortages and drive up consumer prices.

Now California intends to use $100 million of the money to help a company build electric car charging networks in densely populated areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Joaquin Valley – areas that could benefit from a reduction in gasoline-powered vehicles that daily are stuck in barely rolling traffic jams, replenishing any smog the sea winds might have blown away.

The remaining $20 million reportedly will benefit programs to lower consumer electricity costs.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to place money from the state’s tobacco settlement into the General Fund, where it can be spent on … lots of things his constituents want, or think they want, especially if what they want involves burning fossil fuels. … Continue reading …

Kids need (outer) space for dreams

Somewhere, below the water and above the trees, other worlds await young explorersI went for a walk in the woods one day with the granddaughters, in search of the source of a creek which flows from the county where I live in south-central Pennsylvania, across the state line into Maryland, and joins the Monocacy River east of Thurmont.

A paper company once owned the particular piece of forest, 2,500 acres of the first tree farm in the state that gave birth to the nation’s forest conservation movement. There was a time when men with axes and horses took to the woods to cut trees and drag them to a nearby road, from whence they could be carted to the mill. Axes gave way to chainsaws, and horses to huge, powerful tractors called “skidders,” but even then, logging was a slow process. I know; I was raised where logging and paper making was the primary industry.

Chainsaws have been replaced by machines with air conditioned cabs from which one operator can virtually denude a mountainside in a matter days, instead of the months or years once required, leaving the owner to pay taxes for several decades while waiting patiently for trees to grow to usable girth. Glatfelter, owner of that 2,500 acres, had decided to sell the land, to let someone else pay the taxes and “call us when you’ve got wood to sell.” … Continue reading …

Notes From a Road Trip

Bright colors and a stereotypic sarape and sombrero welcome travelers to South of the BorderYou can’t look out a window from 30,000 feet and see a flame burning on a wastewater treatment plant in Richmond, Va. I wonder what a wastewater treatment plant would have to burn to make that much flame.

I made that note on a drive last week to Florida, a purpose of which was to gather some photos and maybe contact some people working to get better wages for migrant farm workers. You can’t do either of those things in an airplane at 30,000 feet.

I sleep when I fly. When I drive, I think a lot, and talk to a voice-to-text app to keep notes. Such as, in 2,600 miles of driving, how much construction is putting people to work … Continue reading …

Pa. lawmakers aim to curtail public school superintendent severance; how about the secrecy which surrounds it

A high school parking lot awaits its daily inflow of students and facultyState legislators have begun work on long overdue legislation to limit the damage to local taxpayers when a school board and its superintendent part ways.

In Fall 2010, after renewing his contract only a few months earlier, the Gettysburg Area School Board decided it no longer found Supt. Bill Hall acceptable. So, with three and-a-half years left on his contract, they fired him.

Well, not fired – exactly.

“Bill Hall is on administrative leave for personal reasons,” board President Patt Symmes said the day after the Sept. 20, 2010 school board meeting, “and that’s all I can say.”

Placing Hall on “administrative leave” was done in secret, during an executive session … Continue reading …

Renewable energy has jobs for the future, now

An array of wind turbines near the Pennsylvania Turnpike Somerset service areaAmid the political posturing about the nation’s unemployment rate, two encouraging tidbits surfaced in the news flow this week.
The first item was that rising unemployment numbers might well indicate increasing numbers of jobs. Counter-intuitive, but true.

The second item to grab my ear was there are plenty of new jobs in the renewable energy industry, particularly for anyone interested in climbing 300-foot high wind-power towers to maintain the turbines.

And interested also, possibly, in moving from where they live to where the jobs are. (There was a time in this nation’s history when it was normal to move one’s residency for promise of income.)

For instance, Oklahoma has been beneficiary of a boom in wind-power generation, with small, jobless towns gaining treasure in much the way northern tier Pennsylvania towns have benefited from the Marcellus Shale … Read it all …

Telling any company to discourage sales of its product is … silly

A player takes aim at the pool table, observers behind him barely visible in the smoky hazeI lost two games of pool Sunday evening – the first games I’d lost in about 30 years. Maybe longer.

Of course, I hadn’t played pool in about 30 years. Maybe longer.

I had accompanied my son to the pool hall, where he is a regular competitor. I don’t know whether he’s ready for Las Vegas, but he’s pretty good. I am a good photographer, so I got several nice shots of him – through a low haze. There were a few guys and gals in the place who didn’t smoke. At least not directly.

I was raised with a father who smoked, mostly Phillip Morris, and a grandfather who smoked two packs of Tareytons a day. I swiped a pack from Dad’s stock … Continue reading …

Riding the Metro – a lesson in efficient cooling

Commuters wait to board the arriving light rail in the Washington Metro stationI don’t know whether it’s global warming, climate change or as my spouse chooses to believe, the snow thrower we bought last year, when we thought more snowy winters to be in the offing.

I pulled the machine out of the shed in October, when we had a pretty serious snow – for South-Central Pennsylvania. About eight inches of the white stuff blanketed the ground. I cleared the driveway and the extra parking space – and have not used the machine since.

I suggested maybe we spent the money unnecessarily. Wife suggested it was money well spent.

On the other hand, Continue reading …

It’s not what you do it with that counts; it’s what you do with it that means everything

Phones and computers I have ownedA fellow columnist wrote last week thanking other kids’ parents for buying their eight-year-olds cell phones. He thought a cell phone to be far down on the list of things an eight-year-old should have to keep track of.

“But dad,” his offspring moaned, “Everybody’s got one.”

My daughter used that line on me once or twice, to which I replied, “I doubt that a lot.”

Sometime after the last time, Daughter was overheard in conversation with a friend who wanted her company going  someplace.

“Everyone’s going,” the friend said. Continue reading …

Techno advances and capitalists’ profits – what’s not to like?

Wind turbines line a ridge overlooking Mahanoy City, Pa.Spaced out along 10 miles of mountain ridge about 100 miles north of my home are a line of humongous propellers mounted on poles. There are about 60 of the propellers, twirling, almost constantly, above Mahanoy City – a town in the center of Pennsylvania’s once-thriving anthracite coal industry. The slowly spinning blades drive turbines said to generate enough electricity to power more than 60,000 homes.

Phase II of the project – addition of 51 turbines to the original 13 – was accomplished in 2009 with the assistance of a $295 million federal grant. The money from us taxpayers, according to published reports, enticed investors such as Morgan Stanley and Citigroup to kick in more money – money they were loath to invest without Iberdrola, a Spanish wind energy firm currently involved in four other wind-power projects in the U.S., coming up with a significant investment.

The grant was part of more than $500 million we taxpayers kicked in during 2009, Continue reading …

Bypasses, self-propelled people containers, and small pieces of paper

Halley's Comet appears suspended over a tree on it's May 1910 swing past Earth.“This planet has – or rather, had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

In 1985, I retired from the Navy and moved to Maine, next to Mom, where I’d been raised. That was the year Halley’s comet passed by, a treat I enjoyed on my way home for nearly a week of November evenings.

It hung there, as though, had I hiked up the power line to the top of the hill over which it seemed parked, I could have reached out and touched it. News reports excitedly proclaimed it to have come SO CLOSE – only about 93 million miles. A chunk of ice, rock and dust about 6 miles in diameter, with a tail some hundred million miles long, looking, from where I stopped each night to watch, like a baseball hit for a home run into deep center field, leaving a three-foot trail of dust.

Chinese astronomers first recorded its passage in 240 B.C., Continue reading …

Corbett opts for short-term profits over environment and education

GAHS awaits students, while administrators wrangle with governor's budget cuts
Gov. Tom Corbett’s seems to believe that putting money into things like education, so that future jobs might find young Pennsylvanians qualified to take them, is unnecessary, wasteful spending. Investment, on the other hand, means continued tax breaks to gas and coal companies so they can have profits now, some of which they may later contribute to his re-election campaign.

Case in point: A report published in December revealed the state gives about $2.9 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Continue reading …

Fines, remediation & campaign contributions: all “a cost of doing business”

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced last week it had fined Chesapeake Appalachia LLC “$565,000 for multiple violations” in its Marcellus operations. Chesapeake Appalachia is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based company which claims to be the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas.

In Potter County, the company was found to have insufficient erosion and sedimentation controls. The deficiency was discovered when heavy rains washed dirt off a road and a nearby well pad, into the Right Branch of Wetmore Run, am environmentally high-quality stream.

“High-quality streams receive some of the highest levels of protection in the state,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said in a prepared statement, “and (natural gas drilling) operators are expected to ensure their work does not negatively affect them.

The sediment carried by the stream also “impacted” Galeton Borough Authority’s water treatment filters, which, to be fair, Chesapeake paid to repair. Continue reading

Thinking green? Leave a memorial among the trees

Chemicals and concrete boxes not required beneath the monuments and grass
My wife occasionally asks me how I want my final send-off to be arranged. Being a country boy with a penchant for history and “a blaze of glory,” I’ve suggested placing the part of me that used to look like me on a large pile of dry wood, crack a couple kegs of Corona and whatever other libation pleases those in attendance, turn up the Jimmy Buffett and set the pyre afire.

That’s illegal, she says.

Anyway, where I live the blaze likely would result in a fire department response, and a visit from a representative of the Department of Environmental Protection. Continue reading …

Pa. residents pay the taxes, should share the profit

A swath cuts through Loyalsock State Forest for a natural gas pipeline

As I begin to write this offering, we await Gov. Tom Corbett’s second State of the State address, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 11:30 a.m. There is some expectation he will remove a moratorium on releasing additional state forest land for Marcellus shale natural gas exploration. Currently, about 700,000 of the state’s more than two million publicly owned acres has been leased to Marcellus shale developers.

Meanwhile, the state House of Representatives has received a Senate report on House Bill 1950 – a bill that has been batted back and forth, in one form or another, for two years and which may, eventually, begin to levy a tax on the billions of dollars in profits gas and oil companies plan to extract from beneath our feet.

Several years ago, my mother owned 50 acres of woodland in Maine. One day, while I was on leave from the Navy, she came home to report seeing a van parked on the road that ran around the property. Would I go check on it, she asked. Continue reading …

Organic and independent farmers feel under assault

An independent organic farmer tends cropsOn a trip to New England last week, my niece treated me to some really good salsa. It was made in Maine, we were in New Hampshire, and I’m now home in Pennsylvania, way south of where I can buy some.

On the other hand, there are several Mexican stores almost within walking distance of home where maybe …

Meanwhile, I was in the local discount grocery store the other night and picked up a container of Marketside Chipotle salsa. It actually has a nice flavor, and adds a pleasant bite to my favorite chips which, the way I eat the stuff, are simply devices for scooping large dollops of salsa the way someone might otherwise use a soup spoon to scoop the favored ice cream.

If fresh salsa is what you seek, though, you probably won’t find it in a container marked “Manufactured for Marketside, a division of Walmart Stores Inc.” Continue reading