Monday, September 28, 2009

Fairhaven Highlands: Entertainment for Silly Season

After a little break to bone up on Ancient & Medieval History, it may be time to revisit what passes for Modern history in the making.

This announcement just entered my e-mailbox earlier today:

Fairhaven Highlands Draft Environmental Impact Statement released

Posted: September 28, 2009 11:35:14 PST

City officials announced today (Monday Sept. 28) the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Fairhaven Highlands development. Tim Stewart, Planning Director and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Official for the project, said that along with the draft DEIS an updated schedule also has been released that includes a 45-day public comment period.

A public hearing on the DEIS is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20 in City Council Chambers at Bellingham City Hall. If necessary to accommodate a large number of speakers the hearing will be continued to 6 p.m. Wed. Oct. 21.

Fairhaven Highlands is a development proposed in April 2005 by Greenbriar Northwest Associates, LLC, located within Bellingham city limits between Chuckanut Drive, the Interurban Trail, Old Fairhaven Parkway, and Old Samish Highway. This planned development proposal includes 739 units of single- and multi-family residential units and related public and private infrastructure.

In February 2007, Greenbriar requested that the City's Planning and Community Development Department initiate the preparation of an EIS for Fairhaven Highlands. The City contracted with ESA Adolfson to conduct the EIS process. A public hearing to hear feedback on the DEIS will be held October 20, and the public comment period extends through November 12, 2009.

"The purpose of the EIS is to provide fair, objective and factual information about the site and its environment," Stewart said. "Good information, generated in an open and transparent process, will result in higher quality decisions about the proposal, the site and ultimately the land use and development permits that will be required before any development may occur. The EIS process allows us to seek the very best information before any decisions are made about the permits," he said.

Copies of the DEIS are available to review at the Bellingham Public Library, the Planning Department, and hard copies and CDs are available for purchase in the Planning Department. The entire DEIS is also available to view online at the city's project page at An updated EIS schedule and timetable has been posted as well as all sub-consultant reports. Please see the city's project page at for more information.


Media Contact:
Nicole Oliver, Communications Coordinator
Planning & Community Development Department


Here are more links for those who may be salivating:

Fairhaven Highlands Draft Environmental Impact Statement released

Most info is posted at this City website:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bellingham's New Transportation Commission

A recent Herald article reports Bellingham is seeking applicants for new Transportation Commission

The City's website provides information on its new Transportation Commission:

This sub-website explains the rationale behind establishing this new Commission:

Basically, the new Commission expands its previous role(s) into longer range planning, while also continuing the prior functions of advising the City on Bicycle/Pedestrian and Parking issues.
Because the Growth Management Act requires Transportation CONCURRENCY in planning for Growth, the new Commission's role is intended to help fill some gaps this effort.

For example, I can see some clear possibilities of jointly meeting with the Planning Commission, the Whatcom Council of Governments [Regional Transportation Planning Agency], the Waterfront Redevelopment Project, and Public Works regarding the City's annual Transportation Improvement Plan [TIP].

Because of the increased depth of scope envisioned, care must be taken in selecting members willing to undertake these important assignments.
Additionally, use may be made of task forces and sub work groups as may be necessary and prudent.

Transportation projects often share at least two main characteristics; they address multiple long term needs and they tend to be relatively expensive.
Both of these are reasons that strongly justify an expanded Transportation Commission.

I hope citizens will seriously consider volunteering to be a part of this new idea.
Although the deadline for initial applications is September 18, there will be new appointments made at least yearly for the first three years.
A normal term of appointment, thereafter, is 3 years.

The following Questionnaire provides some food for thought for potential Applicants:

City of Bellingham
Transportation Commission Inventory

A broad cross-section of our community is expected to declare interest in the nine (9) seats that are available on Bellingham’s new Transportation Commission. Please help us assess the attributes you could bring to the Commission by highlighting your vision, knowledge, philosophy and experience related to transportation issues while answering the following questions. Please keep your responses to a total of no more than three one-sided pages, using a font of at least 11 points. Submit your responses to the Mayor’s Office, 210 Lottie Street, Bellingham, WA 98225. Thank you.

1. As part of a 9-person body, what unique perspective or experience do you feel you would bring to the Commission?

2. What are the challenges, as you see it, to meeting the transportation needs of Bellingham and even Whatcom County?

3. What are some specific ways the city can address these issues or challenges?

4. If you had a symbolic $100 in public money to spend on any transportation system improvements you saw fit, how would you allocate the sum (use whole dollars only)?

5. What transportation modes do you personally use as...

Your primary means?

Periodic alternative transportation (e.g. once a month or more)?


6. If not selected for one of the Commission’s nine seats, would you be willing to serve on a select limited-term work group or a standing subcommittee? Check one: 0 YES 0 NO

Name: Phone:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Local Politics: 25 Reasons?

Beware of candidates claiming their inexperience as their main virtue.
I'm just now returning to the present after a short interlude to the past, studying ancient & medieval history.
That was interesting, but I must say we have it better these days, notwithstanding the habitual lying and dishonest posturing on political matters.

For example, I'm pleased that another local blog, Latte Republic, published a document -plus responses to it- entitled

The original list of '25 Reasons' purports to support 4 brand new candidates for County office by trying to smear 4 other candidates, three of whom have actual experience in that office.
[Note McShane has been out of office since 2007 and Mann has never held elected office]
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the 25 'reasons' are bogus and don't hold water, but since several are on the subject of water, I'll get back to that.

Anyway, this particular political piece ends this way:

Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list. All of these statements are factual. Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County. The 'Gang of Four' (Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan) must be removed from office.

And finally, this admonition:
We Must Support Kathy Kershner, Mary Beth Teigrob, Michelle Luke, and Bill Knutzen!

Note that none of these favored four have any experience at all in public office, which is being touted as a virtue.
Instead, their clever handlers are speaking for them by using this poorly aimed broadside.
A fitting, and more likely result will be actually to turn the 'favored four' into political cannon fodder, a hard lesson for not being careful with the truth, or with whom you let speak for you!

This reminds of a quote nearly 60 years old: 'The GOP would do well to remember the warning of Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who worried in 1950 that her party was trying to achieve victory on "the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."'
Guess we could also add simple lying and deliberate misinterpretation of facts.

Of the 25 'Reasons' several are related to important water issues, so this piece will focus on them.

1. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan advocated for, and voted to raise taxes without offsetting the net cost to the taxpayer. This has not otherwise occurred in the 14 years Executive Kremen has been in office. Carl initially advocated for more than double the increase that was finally passed by a slim Council majority.

Carl's response: This refers to the increase in the Flood Tax which amounted to less than $1/month on the average house. This small increase was needed to start to implement the Lake Whatcom stormwater plan, meet other mandated water quality issues, and shore up the flood fund that was dipping below what has historically been the level set to meet emergencies. Luckily this increase happened when it did because the January 2009 flooding required a big chunk of this emergency money.

My response: This 'increase' actually was a partial restoration of funding necessary to accomplish water related work considered vital to this entire county. Formerly, the so-called 'Flood Tax' was used to fund the WRIA1 Program [Water Resource Inventory Area #1], a comprehensive planning effort supported by 5 'Initiating Governments', Whatcom County [Lead entity], City of Bellingham, PUD #1, Lummi Nation & Nooksack Tribe and several stakeholder groups. About $4.5 million was expended in this effort over several years, before the effort was undermined by those -including the development community- who felt threatened by it; quite possibly by some of those who are still attempting to discredit water planning as a necessary task.
Whatcom County retains the serious, legal responsibility for providing water-related services, and to give these priority without providing the necessary funding would be irresponsible, thereby inviting costly legal actions the County would likely lose.

2. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan increased the taxes to pay for pet projects, one of them directly benefitting a friend and campaign advisor. This of course was for the "Shellfish Bed Inventory" portion of the designated uses for the Flood Tax increase. Geoff Menzies will assist in this work, and gain financially.

Carl's response: This again refers to the increase in the Flood Tax ($12/year for a $300,000 property). The rest of the statement is a bald faced lie. There was no money included for anything like a “shellfish bed inventory,” or anything that Geoff Menzies would have in any way been paid for. There was money for shellfish closure response plans for Birch Bay and Chuckanut Bay because the pollution in those areas have closed shellfish beds and we are required by state law (and it’s the right thing to do) to develop recovering plans in such circumstances. We also enhanced the Flood Fund with $500,000 from the REET fund. Here are the ways that money was targeted.

• Increased Flood Planning, Implementation, and Response $555,000
• Shellfish Closure Response Plans (Birch Bay and Chuckanut) $70,000
• Code revision to add appropriate Low Impact Development standards for county roads, other developments $60,000
• Design and engineering for Lake Whatcom sub-basin natural drainage retrofit - $150,000
• Stormwater Low Impact Development Pilots for existing homes (Lake Whatcom) $120,000
* CAO/Shorelines Education and Enforcement (PDS) Additional FTE $85,000
• Enhance implementation of shoreline, salmon, marine restoration, and shellfish recovery plans $50,000
• Lake Whatcom Stormwater capital projects planning and construction per Lake Whatcom Stormwater plan $390,000
• Lake Samish stormwater plan development $110,000

My response: Drayton Harbor has a terrible problem related to high levels of fecal coliform that is evidenced particularly at low tide. As a historic shellfish habitat, addressing this problem and restoring a healthy shellfish production was considered a worthwhile task of the former WRIA1 program, and remains so.
The attempt to characterize this effort as personal and political is bogus and gratuitous. In other words, a lie!


4. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are strong advocates to create a gigantic park around Lake Whatcom, rather than allowing for an environmentally, responsibly, and economically-managed (by DNR) undeveloped forested landscape to be maintained around the lake. While this removes revenue to the County, it adds a huge future cost-liability to the taxpayers with no other foreseeable reimbursement.

Carl's response: This refers to the proposal to reconvey about 8000 acres of DNR land around Lake Whatcom back to the County to set it aside as a low impact reserve. Yes some hiking will be allowed in the area, but those impacts will be minimal compared to the impacts associated with road building and logging. New studies have recently been released, and more are on the way, that show pretty clearly that logging in the watershed has a much larger impact on phosphorus loading to the Lake than previously acknowledged. While it is true that DNR does a better job than most private forest operations, in the Lake Whatcom watershed we need to get into place more stringent control on all logging if we hope to restore the lake. It should be noted that DNR recently increased their forest practice regulations, and the Dept. of Ecology has just started a huge process to address the scientific evidence which shows that the much touted Forest and Fish law is not adequate to protect water quality in general, and certainly not in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

My response: My position is clear from previous blogs, and can be briefly summarized as follows. Protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the sole water supply for half of Whatcom County, is important, and minimizing development and land/vegetation disturbance is critical. To the extent the County can fund and carefully manage the reconveyance of 8400 acres of forest lands around Lake Whatcom, the proposed reconveyance may be helpful, notwithstanding the loss of revenues from timber harvests. To date, I have not seen the land use plans nor the longterm funding source that would give me confidence this will work as anticipated. But, the potential for protecting the Lake and its watershed are considerable.

5. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan led the charge to create a costly and inefficient homeowner septic inspection program. Under this scheme, the property-owners of Whatcom County pay millions per year for needless inspections, with well over 90% of the results being 'everything's fine'.

Carl's response: The state legislature passed a law requiring counties to institute a system for the inspection of septic systems. The local Health Department estimates there are 30,000 septic systems in the county, although they don’t have any records for a third of those systems. That equates to somewhere in the area of 30,000,000 gallons of human sewage in the county that no one knows where it is, or if the systems are functioning properly. What we do know is that every stream in the lowland parts of the county are failing to meet federal water quality standards for fecal coliform pollution (the measure of sewage in the water). Sophisticated DNA testing in area streams shows that this pollution is coming mainly from livestock and to a lesser degree septic systems. The regulations we passed require an initial inspection by a professional so we can get a clear baseline of where all the septics are and how well they are working. After the initial inspection most systems can then be inspected by the homeowners themselves on a regular schedule after they take a class from the Health Department. The first year of data indicates that about 5% of the systems inspected so far a failing outright, and about 20% need maintenance. If these types of numbers hold for the rest of the county it would mean somewhere in the area of 1500 systems are failing county-wide (1,500,000 gallons of human sewage), and as many as 6000 systems need maintenance to keep from failing. The cost of an inspection is between $200 - $300 which is still a bargain compared to what people in the cities pay for sewer annually. The County is working on a low cost loan program for people who need to do expensive repairs to their systems The Council has also made it clear that once the initial baseline inspections are complete we will look at the data to decide whether it makes sense to then relax the inspection interval to even further lower the cost.

My response: What is it that is so hard to understand about following State law? The County's responsibility includes public health & safety. Get serious!

6. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan came up with a scheme to remove the authority of the County Executive to veto tax increases in one of the County funds. They did this to insulate the Council from veto, and it was this very fund that a slim majority of Council members ended up increasing.

Carl's response: This is referring to the Flood Tax again, and is not at all accurate. The Flood Control Zone District (FCZD), which sets the Flood Tax level, is set up in state law as a separate municipal entity from the County. Currently the FCZD Board and the County Council are one and the same, but under statute it doesn’t necessarily have to remain that way. There was an audit finding in the 1990s that pointed out that the County was incorrectly mingling the functions and money of the FCZD with that of the County. Correcting this error has been in the works on and off for years, and the need to do this surfaced again a couple years ago. The County Prosecutor, Council, and the Executive all agreed this was needed. Part of that separation of functions was to follow state law in the operations of the FCZD, which would not allow the Executive to veto the decisions of a separate municipal entity (the FCZD), just like he is not allowed to veto the decisions of the City of Bellingham. Another example of this incorrect intermingling was that the interest off the Flood Tax was being directed into the County’s General Fund instead of accruing for Flood Fund purposes. This intermingling still has not been completely fixed, but is in the works.

My response: It's good that some discipline has been imposed on the County in its accounting practices. Those who complain are being either ignorant or disingenuous at best! One of the reasons the County failed to continue diligent pursuit of its WRIA1 Program was the threat of legal challenge over legal use of its funds. Now, at least part of that is fixed.


8. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan championed one-size-fits-all shoreline regulations which require limiting or eliminating uses, such as homes and driveways, within 150 feet of the shoreline, with no supporting evidence whatsoever that somehow this would afford environmental protection.

Carl's response: There is tons of evidence (I have it) that impervious surfaces like homes, driveways, sidewalks, etc have a significant negative impact of our shorelines, fresh water, and ultimately Puget Sound. Most all of these studies show impervious surface totals in the 5-15% range have significant impacts on water quality. Saying over and over again that there is “no evidence” doesn’t make the evidence go away, although it may make people who do not want to have to adopt reasonable stewardship practices believe it.

My response: The Shoreline Management Program recently updated by Whatcom County is considered as an excellent effort by the Dept of Ecology and others knowledgeable in such matters. By its nature, the SMP must be fair and consistent to everyone. It's very hard to teach 'supporting evidence' to those who are being paid not to learn!


10. SKIP

11. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are currently advocating and promoting an elaborate and costly stormwater-tax scheme for many areas around Bellingham and Ferndale.

Carl's response: This refers to a proposal that is being developed by the Executive’s Public Works staff to create a Stormwater Utility in the urban areas of Bellingham and Ferndale that are outside of the city limits. Much of the impetus for this is to create a dedicated funding source to address mandated water quality issues around Lake Whatcom (NPDES, TMDL). The creation of such a stormwater utility would help start to shift the cost for such programs to those that are for the most part creating the problems or will benefit from the programs (people who live in the watershed or drink the water), instead of requiring people that are not the cause of the problems, or people in Cities already paying stormwater fees, to subsidize the cleanup.

My response: Stormwater and its potentially harmful effects are well known and regulated. Not only erosion and flooding are the problem, but also chemical contamination going into our lakes, streams, estuaries and bays. The City of Bellingham had pass new stormwater rates in 2001 to support a number of mandatory program elements, including stormwater treatment -in perpetuity. The County is required to do the same, beginning with those areas adjacent to urban areas and critical water resources. Because we are all living in watersheds, there is a necessity for a cooperative effort, with each participant paying their fair share of costs.

12. through 25. SKIP

Now, returning to the author(s) of the '25 Reasons', and the request to potential supporters of their anointed acolytes;

Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list.
All of these statements are factual.
Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County.

I hope folks do review this list, because that could be a valuable lesson in what passes for political discourse in a significant portion of our population.
But, also review the responses, and also ask a few questions of your own, because that is how the truth gets known.
I don't believe a majority of the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County at all.
Quite the contrary!
But those who believe that all the '25 reasons' are factual, do have a problem!
Accepting any of these statements as true without questioning does not serve anyone's best interests -including those who think they might benefit from it.

Candidates with integrity and competence always need to protect those valuable traits against such temptations!
I hope they will.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On Peak Oil

An oil industry consultant recently had the following article published in the New York Times.
You get to decide whether he's dealing with basic science or just disguised BS.

‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy
A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about the theory of peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry operates.......
As has become my habit, I decided to ask 'Mr Google' and here are excerpts from Wikipedia on peak oil, including different opinions and perspectives.

“All the easy oil and gas in the world has pretty much been found. Now comes the harder work in finding and producing oil from more challenging environments and work areas.” — William J. Cummings, Exxon-Mobil company spokesman, December 2005

To pump oil, it first needs to be discovered. The peak of world oilfield discoveries occurred in 1965 at around 55 billion barrels(Gb)/year. According to the ASPO, the rate of discovery has been falling steadily since. Less than 10 Gb/yr of oil were discovered each year between 2002-2007.

Concerns over stated reserves
“World reserves are confused and in fact inflated. Many of the so-called reserves are in fact resources. They're not delineated, they're not accessible, they’re not available for production” — Sadad I. Al Husseini, former VP of Aramco, presentation to the Oil and Money conference, October 2007.

Al-Husseini's estimated that 300 billion (64×109 m3) of the world's 1,200 billion barrels (190×109 m3) of proved reserves should be recategorized as speculative resources.

Unconventional sources
Syncrude's Mildred Lake mine site and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta

Unconventional sources, such as heavy crude oil, oil sands, and oil shale are not counted as part of oil reserves.
However, oil companies can book them as proven reserves after opening a strip mine or thermal facility for extraction.
Oil industry sources such as Rigzone have stated that these unconventional sources are not as efficient to produce, however, requiring extra energy to refine, resulting in higher production costs and up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel (or barrel equivalent).

While the energy used, resources needed, and environmental effects of extracting unconventional sources has traditionally been prohibitively high, the three major unconventional oil sources being considered for large scale production are the extra heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt of Venezuela, the Athabasca Oil Sands in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, and the oil shales of the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming in the United States.

Chuck Masters of the USGS estimates that, "Taken together, these resource occurrences, in the Western Hemisphere, are approximately equal to the Identified Reserves of conventional crude oil accredited to the Middle East."

Authorities familiar with the resources believe that the world's ultimate reserves of unconventional oil are several times as large as those of conventional oil and will be highly profitable for companies as a result of higher prices in the 21st century.
“I do not believe the world has to worry about ‘peak oil’ for a very long time.” — Abdullah S. Jum'ah, 2008-01

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah told his subjects in 1998, "The oil boom is over and will not return... All of us must get used to a different lifestyle."

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens stated in 2005 that worldwide conventional oil production was very close to peaking.
On June 17, 2008, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Pickens stated that "I do believe you have peaked out at 85 million barrels a day globally."

Data from the United States Energy Information Administration show that world production leveled out in 2004, and an October 2007 retrospective report by the Energy Watch Group concluded that this data showed the peak of conventional oil production in the third quarter of 2006
The Hirsch report

In 2005, the United States Department of Energy published a report titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management.
Known as the Hirsch report, it stated,
"The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

Conclusions from the Hirsch report and three scenarios

1. World oil peaking is going to happen - some forecasters predict within a decade, others later.

2. Oil peaking could cost economies dearly - particularly that of the U.S.

3. Oil peaking presents a unique challenge - previous transitions were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.

4. The real problem is liquid fuels for transportation - motor vehicles, aircraft, trains, and ships have no ready alternative.

5. Mitigation efforts will require substantial time - an intense effort over decades.

6. Both supply and demand will require attention - higher efficiency can reduce demand, but large amounts of substitute fuels must be produced.

7. It is a matter of risk management - early mitigation will be less damaging than delayed mitigation.

8. Government intervention will be required - otherwise the economic and social implications would be chaotic.

9. Economic upheaval is not inevitable - without mitigation, peaking will cause major upheaval, but given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble.

10. More information is needed - effective action requires better understanding of a number of issues.

The report listed three possible scenarios:

• waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades;

• initiating a mitigation crash program ten years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked;

• or initiating a mitigation crash program twenty years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.


While there are various optimistic and pessimistic predictions of future oil production, no one knows for sure when peak oil may occur, or if it has already happened.
But, is how important is this exact knowledge in a practical sense?

Doesn't it make sense to plan for contingencies rather than waiting for an 'energy 9/11' to happen?
After all, there is a finite limit to most material things.

And, if we have learned anything from history, it is that new technologies are there waiting for our discovery and application.
Some of those new technologies -like harnessing solar & wind energy- are already known and awaiting application, as are various energy conservation techniques.

It just makes sense that we use these new and less polluting ideas earlier rather than later, so we have the benefit of time being on our side in at least mitigating any peak oil calamity that might come our way -or come our children's or grandchildren's way.

My two cents.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Library: Consolidation Via Deus Ex Machina?

Fanatic: a person motivated by irrational enthusiasm (as for a cause);

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject" - Winston Churchill

The September Issue of Whatcom Watch carried yet a third article from Mr. Fred Volz on the subject of our Library system, the first two appearing in the March and June 2009 issues.
Sandwiched in between these first two articles was a clear and factual response in the May issue by Pam Kiesner, our Library Director.

Curiously, Mr Volz's second article was prefaced by an Editor's comment to the effect that some of his statements could not be readily verified and therefore ought to be considered as opinions. Good surmise!
Quite possibly, that may account for the fact that WW chose not to enable that piece for Internet reading.

Now, Mr Volz has again submitted a lengthy article that repeats much of his previous arguments, but also adds some rather presumptive speculations, thereby weaving a remarkable scenario that has an almost Alice in Wonderland quality about it, but not quite.
While it is apparent that Mr Volz has learned something from his various exchanges, the way he has chosen to apply this knowledge subtracts from his credibility.
This verified by the Editor's subtle -perhaps too subtle- lead-in byline; 'Deus Ex Machina'.

I had to look up Deus Ex Machina in Wikipedia
Here's briefly what it means:
A deus ex machina (pronounced /ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkinə/ or /ˈdiː.əs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/, or day oos ayks mokinah [1] literally "god from the machine") is a plot device in which a person or thing appears "out of the blue" to help a character to overcome a seemingly insolvable difficulty.

In fiction writing, the phrase has been extended to refer to a sudden and unexpected resolution to a seemingly intractable problem in a plot-line, or what might be called an "Oh, by the way..." ending.
A deus ex machina is generally undesirable in writing and often implies a lack of skill on the part of the author.
The reasons for this are that it does not pay due regard to the story's internal logic and is often so unlikely that it challenges suspension of disbelief, allowing the author to conclude the story with an unlikely, though perhaps more palatable, ending.
Sometimes the unlikeliness of the deus ex machina plot device is employed deliberately:

I don't know if the author used this device deliberately, or what his intention might have been in doing so.
Maybe, it was just to get another badly organized argument with multiple opinions and personal wishes out there for others to read, become misinformed or confused about and thereby aid and abet whatever agenda he is pushing.
There are better ways to advance a principled public discussion on this important issue than the method Mr Volz has chosen, which may end up mainly discrediting him.

Perhaps, he will consider attending the public meetings of the Library Board of Trustees, joining the Friends of the Library, availing himself of the facts that are readily accessible on the various legalities, realities and methods available to initiate changes in the system we have, etc, if he has not already done these things.

Continuing to rely on some supernatural force, like deus ex machina or Superman won't help much.
Neither will casting dispersions on others who are doing what they can with the situation and resources available to even maintain the valuable library system we have now.

Instead of externalizing his perception of a problem to others, Mr Volz -and the public- would be better served by simply engaging in the hard and often thankless work of civic involvement.
Everything is not perfect, nor is it likely to be, unless one's imagination can conjure an endless array of deus ex machina devices at will, then believe they work.

News links:

Bellingham Public Library announcement

Herald article

CNN article -digital libraries

Crosscut article

' I cannot live without books.' - Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)

Monday, September 7, 2009

More on Cake Baking

Two years ago about this time I published as a blog, an earlier 2004 Guest Editorial on the subject of baking a cake.

With the Healthcare debate taking such a dysfunctional life of its own, maybe it's appropriate to repeat this generic writing, which seeks to remind our elected officials of what our highest expectations of them are, regardless of which issue is being discussed.

Excellence has been described as a habit, not any single act.
With that in mind, let's hope our legislators and other elected representatives decide to get in the habit of more productive discussion, debate and progressive action in resolving the battery of problems that beset us, including something so basic as healthcare.

On a more practical level, here are two cake recipes that I can personally attest to as being quite good.
Obviously, these bakers got their recipes pretty well perfected before going public.

Debbie's McFadden Chocolate Cake:

4 squares chocolate
1 stick butter
1 cup coffee
------- mix together----------
then add:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk [with 1 1/2 tsp baking soda mixed in it]
beat in 2 eggs

use (2) 9-inch cake pans
bake at 350 F for 30 minutes
let cool and set


melt 1 stick butter
add 4 TBS Cocoa
add 5 TBS Milk [or coffee, juice, etc.]
-----Boil or microwave, then whisk-------

add 1 box powdered sugar
add 2 tsp Vanilla
[runny -let it sit a few minutes]

Alan's Carrot Cake

From Colorado Cache, A goldmine of recipes from the Junior League of Denver ©1978

Cover Mountain Carrot Cake with adjustments for gluten-free version

1 ½ cups vegetable oil (use olive oil)
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
3 cups grated carrots
2 cups unbleached flour (substitute rice flours as listed below*)
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice (1/2 tsp ground cloves works well)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Gluten-free substitute: 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup white rice flour, ¼ cup tapioca flour, 1 ½ tsp xanthum gum

Cream oil and sugar. Add eggs and carrots, and mix well. Mix dry ingredients. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture, a small amount at a time, beating well. When blended, add pecans, raisins and vanilla. Pour into a 10 X 14 inch greased and sugared pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Cool slightly before frosting.


½ cup butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sifted, powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine butter and cream cheese with sugar and beat well. Add other ingredients, mix well and spread on cooled cake.


"They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent. . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill