Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coal Terminal: Bulk Carriers & Kayaks

"You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." - Yogi Berra
How'd you like to be out kayaking and look up to see something like this bearing down on you?

Something like that could happen you know, if the proposed Coal Terminal at Cherry Point ever gets built.
In fact, it may have already happened with oil tankers bringing Alaskan crude to a local refinery.
But, much bigger problems could occur should a spill, collision or grounding ever happen with any very large ship plying our local waters.
There are plans afoot to bring many more such behemoth ships into our rather pristine Salish Sea.
Between the Coal Terminal proposal and Canadian schemes to export oil sands crude from Alberta, the future is in very serious doubt.
On that cheery note, let's look further at what is happening elsewhere, in a global frenzy of natural resource extraction and trade.
Shipping coal to Newcastle was a joke the Brits liked to tell. Of course, Newcastle was where the coal was mined and exported from. There's a new Newcastle, down under in Australia, and it puts the old Newcastle to shame. Here's a short fairly recent report from Bloomberg.
And, here's another more detailed account of what's happening down under.

But, you don't have go all the way to Australia for this type of information. Here's an article describing recent activity around coal exports from the Hampton Roads area in Virginia, which was also mentioned in an earlier blog.

And, here's a good picture of the smaller coal terminal in Seward, Alaska.

Here's a larger coal loading facility in India.------------------------------------------

How'd you like to see dozens of large ships queued up waiting to be loaded at Cherry Point?
Where would they anchor? Anacortes? Port Angeles?
Exactly where would you prefer to see them wait?
[Supposing, of course, that you had any influence in this matter.]

Who would you appeal to? The Army Corps of Engineers? The US Coast Guard? The State of Washington? The Province of British Columbia? Greenpeace? Who?
Just asking, mind you, but maybe this is a topic for discussion.....

Also, just for discussion, here's another website to help comprehend this industry.
And, the types of ships likely to be employed in any coal exporting scheme are described in detail by Wikipedia.

Don't know about you, but to me the ships necessary for this undertaking are the most worrisome part of the entire proposal.
Their presence in our part of the Salish Sea violates every preservation principle we can think of because it puts all our marine ecosystems under direct threat!

Think about it. These huge, foreign-registered vessels -each manned by only 20 to 30 people and drawing 50 feet or more- will be hanging around the Straits of San Juan De Fuca, dodging orcas, ferries, tour boats and all manner of private small craft in the few deep water channels winding through the San Juan Islands, and in the limited approaches to Cherry Point and points north.

Do you think they will not dump bilge waste and ballast while there?
Will escort tugs be required to help them stay safely in these channels?
Will licensed Pilots be necessary to guide them in and out?
What spill protection will be implemented? How many spills and mishaps will it take to befoul our waters and render them undesirable?
Will their presence help our valuable marine life survive and thrive?

Pardon me, but I do have a few doubts, which do not disappear despite hearing about all the potential benefits!
But, maybe that's also not my responsibility, or the County's, or the State's? How about the US Government?
And so, maybe some folks don't think I have the right to publicly question or challenge such things; that we must leave it to 'others', without even trying to influence them with our legitimate concerns?
Still, I do wonder if all these things will be adequately included in the EIS required? Don't you?

While we're thinking about having big ships coming here, how about building a deep water cruise terminal instead, notwithstanding the well-documented problems associated with this idea? One of these ships [about 225,000 DWT] is five times bigger than the Titanic.
At least that way, we could gain some tangible tourist dollars, without the need to endure endless coal trains.
But, seriously, is that such a good idea?


Back to trains for a moment;
It almost makes the many additional daily trains required to fill the maws of these gigantic vessels, a small, incidental consideration by comparison.
So, how trains many trains per day?

Let's see, 48 million metric tons per year, divided by 365 days equals what? About 131,500 metric tons [1 MT= 2205 lbs] per day?
One train load equals about 12,000 tons per day; means about an average of 11 train loads would be required per day.

Capesize Bulk Carriers are vessels of 80,000 Dead Weight Tons [DWT] and over, that are so named because they are too large to pass through either the Panama or Suez Canals.
So, assuming timely supply and loading can be achieved, and doing quick math, the equivalent of a ship with about 150,000 DWT would need to be loaded every day.

I don't know if this is actually feasible, affordable, or sustainable, but the numbers do indicate a pretty darn quick turnaround -in all weather conditions- and a likely sizable -20 or more? -queue of ship traffic, waiting to be loaded, plus constantly entering or leaving our inland waters.

Put all together, this type of operation simply can't help but have dramatic impacts on our area, land and sea!

Tell me again, what are the benefits of such a plan? Who gets them and how much?
And, while we're at it, what are the costs? And to whom? Who will pay?
You know, for a real COST/BENEFIT Analysis, both aspects need to be considered and compared!
I'd rather this information be developed & debated BEFORE this scheme gets implemented, not AFTER, wouldn't you?

Methinks, some folks may have to give up kayaking in the San Juan Islands if this scheme comes to pass, but that's just a guess....

US Navy Aircraft Carriers like this one weigh in at only about 100,000 DWT. Two are based in Everett and usually only one at a time ties up at a secure wharf, with services provided from shore.
Imagine 20 of these dudes just hanging around, offshore.
“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful for impotence.” - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965]

Maybe we ought to give the Guv'mint a hand in figuring this out to our mutual benefit?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coal Terminal: Trains & Infrastructure

This quotation from the Internet is revealing; "....while railroads have always been conservative and “archaic” in their views they have also have had their reasons, to some degree, being that railroading in its very nature has nearly the highest cost of capital of any industry and relies on economies of scale to be profitable...."

What this doesn't say is that Railroads rely upon governments and 'others' -read you and me- to pay for infrastructure [like bridges & underpasses] that is not strictly needed for their own profit-making.
That would include little things like grade-separated crossings, multiple tracks for sharing, noise abatement, and active civic involvement when proposing projects that carry social & environmental impacts.
It also doesn't say that railroads are habitually opportunistic and secretive, both traits that help them gain competitive advantages.

Part of the "archaic" label has to do with the sense of entitlement granted railroads 200 years ago, when our nation was keen to enable westward migration and needed a way to haul to haul freight and people -in that order- to previously remote areas.
From inception, railroads abused their privileges, often engaging in land promotion swindles and all manner of chicanery to further their own interests. Ironically, James J Hill, the main personality behind what has become Burlington Northern, was perhaps the most responsible Railroad Baron, often doing things for communities that have become unheard of today.

But then was then, and now is now. Now, it is a struggle to even maintain passenger service, like AMTRAK, much less expand its use. In competition with freight hauling, passenger service loses with regularity, which is a shame when the system -or lack of it- we have now is a very poor substitute for what Europe has come to enjoy and rely upon.

What has to happen before the unquestioned benefits of rail passenger service are dramatically improved?
The answer appears to be: dramatic changes in the way we regard railroads, how improvements are funded, and how railroads are regulated. All three are somewhat daunting, even in the face of growing transportation, energy and land use woes.

One small example illustrates the above point. This comes directly from BNSF's website, and pertains to Train Horn noise:

Why do trains sound horns?
Train horns are required by federal law to be sounded at all public crossings, 24 hours a day, to warn motorists and pedestrians that a train is approaching.
Train crews may also sound their horns when there is a vehicle, person or animal on or near the track and the crew determines it is appropriate to provide warning. Crews may also sound the horn when there are track or construction workers within 25 feet of a live track, or when gates and lights at the crossing are not functioning properly.

Are there any ways to reduce horn use?
One solution is for a community to look at what is required to qualify for a quiet zone under rules established by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). A quiet zone is a stretch of track where the FRA has agreed that trains are not required to routinely sound the horn at each public crossing except in emergencies, such as someone on the track or workers within 25 feet of the track or at the discretion of the crew, as appropriate.

Another alternative is to close crossings, especially if they are redundant, which automatically reduces the points where trains must blow their horns. BNSF has a special program dedicated to working with communities to close the number of public and private crossings on our network. Good candidates for closure include those that are redundant (other crossings nearby allow access to the same roads or areas), are not designated emergency routes, have low traffic volumes or are private crossings that are no longer needed or used.

Another option is to put in more grade separations (overpasses or underpasses). When communities build roads across rail lines, they have the option of building an overpass or underpass over or under the track. In some cases, when a community works with BNSF on a series of crossing closures on a corridor, a grade separation may be an option for one or more of the remaining crossings.

How can my community establish a quiet zone?
Communities can invest in additional grade-crossing safety devices to qualify for a quiet zone. However, only the FRA can grant a quiet zone. You can learn more about the FRA's quiet zone criteria on its website.
Community leaders who have questions about BNSF's role in the quiet zone process can e-mail Lyn Hartley, BNSF's director, Public Projects.

Does this seem fair or helpful? Sounds to me like the railroads are still claiming their turf, and requiring the burden of cost for safety, nuisance and access to be borne by 'others' -you & me. Wow, 200 years of history brings us to the point where the railroads are still claiming unusual privilege and externalizing all the problems created by the very growth they were chartered to help achieve.
Nice work, if you can get it!

Keeping things in perspective, railroads do play a critical role in our freight transportation, something necessary for our economy.
And, they do need some kind of immunity from the sometimes arbitrary, and always expensive, acts of municipalities through which rights of way pass.
But, it doesn't seem like these immunities are always justified, particularly when major, potentially harmful impacts are proposed - like the one currently under consideration at Cherry Point that requires a dramatic increase in train traffic through established areas and sensitive ecologies.
Maybe the required new Environmental Impact Study [EIS] will consider these things in a much wider scope than the coal terminal advocates want, but don't count on it.
The result is still very much in doubt, despite reasoned opposition.
Do not expect that railroads will give up their favored position easily, or spend dollars they don't absolutely have to spend.
[BTW, "PRB" means Powder River Basin]

The following details describe our likely situation should the coal terminal be approved and rail traffic increased to supply it:
Factors affecting rail car design specifications include railway beds, curves, track, railway gauge, bridges and tunnels, and condition of the system as a whole.
Railway Requirements
• The quality, composition and condition of railway beds affect the weight and speed of a railway car.
• Railway curves affect turning radius requirements.
• Railway track type determines wheel requirements.
• Railway gauge determines the width between wheels.
• Bridges and tunnels determine maximum height.
• The condition of the railway system determines gross weights and load limits for rail car configurations.
Note from the system map below, the three routes that BNSF has between Spokane and Coastal Washington. Of these, the most southern route along the north bank of the Columbia River to Vancouver, WA seems the preferred one. At least that would have allowed a coal terminal near Longview, which was earlier proposed -and rejected by local authorities for its devious and deceitful approach of grossly understating its size & purpose.
If BNSF were to use their route along the Columbia' perhaps two factors influence the choice of location for a coal terminal; proximity to a deep water port and competition with established grain & mineral trade from river barges.
And, while Longview area does provide deep water port sites, crossing the Columbia River bar to enter the Pacific Ocean might be problematic for the very large vessels [Cape class] expected to haul coal to Asian markets.

Now, using these same very large vessels is expected if the proposed Cherry Point Coal Terminal comes to fruition!
No Columbia Bar to cross here, just narrow channels weaving through ecologically sensitive waters & surroundings that are meccas for tourism and fishing.
Stay tuned for a future blog touching on this very problematic aspect.

Supplying a proposed 48 MMT/Y coal terminal at Cherry Point requires 18 additional trainloads per day [two full & 2 empty] to traverse essentially a single track south of Bellingham, which is already subject to periodic congestion, landslides and controversy. So, borrowing from a vendor's web page, let's look at aspects of what this would entail:

Hopper Cars, The "Coal Car"

Modern open-top hopper cars are a bit more sophisticated than what they might look. While these railroad freight cars today almost always haul coal or varying forms of aggregates, such as ballasting (a term which refers to the crushed rock used under the railroad tracks that acts as support and cushioning), coal, or iron ore they have a number of different drop-bottoms to empty their cargo.

“What are the differences between gondolas and hoppers?” The drop-bottoms are basically what separate the two car types. Whereas gondolas can look just like hoppers, right down to their size, length, commodity, and even a basic form of drop-bottoms as well (which discharges material straight down), the difference that separates them, is that hoppers contain some type of angled or sloped drop-bottom chutes or hatches, which use the force of gravity to quickly unload their cargo without having to tilt or turn the car upside down in any way.

The hopper car can trace its roots all the back to the very beginning of the railroad industry itself, being used as early as the late 1820s by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company to move coal, which hasn’t changed too much over the last three centuries! Back then, however, the cars were not known as hoppers but jimmies, although they did carry all of the basic features that differentiate the car from its companions of today.

Over the years, as with all railroad freight cars, the hopper became larger and stronger (moving from wood and wood-steel construction to all-steel construction) able to haul heavier and heavier loads (which allowed for better efficiencies and thus, better ROI). For instance, during the United States Railroad Association’s reign during World War I, as with the 40-foot boxcar the hopper became standardized with the 55-ton version.

As the hopper became larger so did the number of drop-bottom chutes it carried; from two, to three, and now today most carry four chutes (more chutes allow for faster unloading times). Similarly, what has allowed the increased number of chutes on a hopper is mostly the result of its increase in size from 50 tons to today’s 100-ton capacity, which is the size most commonly used by the railroads today.

Today’s hopper car has come a long way, even from the USRA 55-ton standardized car of the early 20th century.
Not only are the current cars carrying 100-tons but also many now have rotary couplings to literally spin the car 360 degrees while still attached to the train to empty its cargo.

In future, the hopper car will undoubtedly become larger and more sophisticated. However, regardless of the changes it will go through, the car will be just as recognizable 50 years from now as it was 50 years ago, a platform capable of discharging a product quickly through bottom, angled chutes.
Hopper Car
• Hopper cars are designed to transport free flowing dry bulk commodities.
• Common commodities transported include grains, industrial minerals, plastic pellets, crushed rock, gravel and sand.
Features and Options
• Hopper cars are available in both covered and uncovered configurations.
• Hopper cars have the advantage of bulk loading from the top and bulk unloading through hoppers on the bottom.
• Special interior linings are available to protect specialty commodities.
• Different railcar manufacturers worldwide produce a variety of models designed for different container and stacking configurations.
• Weight and capacity data are a function of railcar manufacturer, railcar model, and rail system requirements.
• The following Dimensions, Weight/Capacity, and Curve Negotiability Radius data are valid for the Greenbrier Covered Hopper for Grain Service.

Length over couplers - 58' 0"
Length between truck centers - 52' 101/8"
Length, inside - 45' 51/2"
Height, extreme - 15' 6"
Height, rail to center line coupler - 341/2"
Width, extreme - 10' 8"
Weight/Capacity Light weight - 61,500 lbs [30.75 tons]
Gross rail load - 286,000 lbs
Load limit - 224,500 lbs [112.25 tons]
Capacity - 5,250 cu ft
Curve Negotiability Radius
-Uncoupled - 150'
-Coupled to like car - 199'
-Coupled to base car - 197'

Illustration and specifications courtesy The Greenbrier Companies, Inc.

So, putting this information together can produce an estimate of what we may expect, should the proposed coal terminal become a reality.

A typical, dedicated coal train might consist of 120 or more coal hopper cars and multiple -say three- diesel-electric locomotives, plus sufficient fuel to last for 1000 to 1500 miles, sand for increasing traction as needed, water and crew.

Each hopper car is 58-feet long and carries a 100-ton load of coal.
So, 58 times 120 equals 6960 feet, or about 1.32 miles total length.

Each locomotive is about 60 feet long and weighs about 150 to 200 tons, with Horsepower ranging between 2000 and 6000.
So, 3 times 60 equals 180 feet, or 0.034 miles, for a total train length of about 1.35 miles.

At a speed of 10 MPH, it takes about 8 minutes for a 1.35 mile-long train to pass any set point.
At 20 MPH, about 4 minutes
At 30 MPH, about 3 minutes
At 40 MPH, about 2 minutes

Most trains passing through Bellingham don't exceed about 30 MPH, and sometimes less.
BNSF tracks closely follow Bellingham's shoreline, which extends about 10 miles from City Limits, North & South.

So, the leading locomotive engine [with Horn] might require about 20 minutes to traverse the entire City, leaving about 8 minutes for the rest of the train to pass, with its track noise.
Of course, the Horn gets blown before reaching the City and can be heard after it leaves the City.

But, if we say each additional train will be heard by City residents for 20 minutes, then nine additional trains will be heard for 180 additional minutes [3 hours] per day.
Remember, this is in addition to the number of trains -about 9- that are already traversing the City. Adding existing and additional trains may total over 4 hours per day of Horn noise, allowing that some existing trains -think AMTRAK- are much shorter than 1.35 miles.

The point is, what may be tolerable at current levels may become much less tolerable at elevated levels, particularly at night.
If I can hear the train Horns from 2+ miles away, I'm pretty sure those living closer to the BNSF tracks will hear them too, and at higher decibels.
And NOISE is only one part of the potential impacts of additional trains carrying heavy loads.

Maybe lots of train traffic was believed to be desirable 100 years ago, but is it today?
For those still wishing to sing train songs, here's a great list:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Coal Terminal: A Pit & Pendulum Exercise?

I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. - Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)
It's always interesting to see politicians react to proposals. Often they say things that they come to regret, aren't very accurate, are based upon whatever particular biases they may have, or seem popular at the time.
Some are cynical enough to know that citizens aren't paying that much attention, or can be readily influenced by an early dose of propaganda that sounds good.
Of course, the memories of voters is pretty poor at times, which means politicians can often get away with ridiculous statements without much worry about later voting contests.

A disturbing number of today's politicians are also insidiously biased, but avoid divulging their bias by dodging questions or using clever language that avoids answering questions that might clarify their real stand on issues.
That behavior is deceptive and dishonest, but likely as not, not illegal.
Too bad, for a country that was built upon truth and idealism that works for everyone, born or not yet born.
Why not require members of Congress to take the same oath that witnesses in civil & criminal trials must take?
But, I digress....

This opening paragraph could apply to any number of issues, both local and national, but this particular blog focuses upon the so-called coal train terminal proposal for Cherry Point, Whatcom County, Washington.

We are fortunate to have among our community, journalists with both skill & integrity, to help us sort through the myriad ideas, impacts, costs & benefits that will come to play in determining the eventual outcome of the major proposal that is now on the table and awaiting resolution.
In particular, the journalists I am referring to are seasoned, respected professionals and veterans of their trade;

Floyd McKay, a WWU Journalism professor & a regular contributor to Crosscut, a regional blog publication focused on issues of regional significance.

Bob Simmons, a seasoned journalist with a long career in both Seattle & Bellingham, also a regular contributor to Crosscut, a regional blog publication focused on issues of regional significance.

John Stark, senior reporter of the Bellingham Herald.

All of these individuals are to be commended for their dedication to informing the general public on an issue that is very complicated and with potential seriously impacts to our community and region.

Of course, there are others to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for positively contributing to and informing this dialogue, as well, including RE Sources, CommunityWise, The Cascadia Weekly, the City of Bellingham and others.
To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day. - Sir Winston Churchill
Claims of bias seem rampant, particularly from among those whose ox seems to have been gored. But, hey, that's the way things are supposed to work in America!
Time will tell the outcome of this episode, but isn't it fun to be an actual part of the discussion?
Maybe 'fun' isn't the exact right word, but what's a better one?

Anyway, here's a few thoughts on how this particular issue is now being touted, debated and discussed:

As early as January 07, 2011, Floyd Mckay alerted us to this issue, with a log entitled 'How great corporate power shadows Gregoire on coal shipments to China' on Crosscut.
Check it out for its historical context and prescience.

One telling phrase was 'There will be debate as to whether a coal port is an opportunity or a long-range sacrifice to short-term jobs.'

Another is; 'It is difficult to see a scenario in which Amtrak could substantially increase its passenger trains north of Seattle at the same time that BNSF a dozen coal trains of a mile or more in length-all on a single track.'

And, a third; 'The nation's railroad infrastructure, one of the worst in the industrial world, has been neglected for decades and now plays a big role in how we create an industrial and energy policy in a time of shifting global economics, climate change and environmental degradation. Our neglect of basic investment in transportation may save us from hasty decisions with repercussions far down the road.'

On March 04, 2011, Bob Simmons posted this article on Crosscut, entitled 'Bellingham: Back to coal with planned shipping terminal?'
This piece is also notable for its perspective, typified by this statement; “This is like a tale of two Bellinghams reaching for a sustainable, clean future, the other clawing its way to the past.”

Back on February 2, 2001, John Stark published this article in the Bellingham Herald.
It's interesting to see what has happened since then, and particularly how the Mayor's position has strengthened and shifted in response to hearing citizens' views.
Earlier reports may also have been made, but these certainly did not do much to raise public awareness, since key politicos and likely supporters were mainly targeted.

The techniques used for promoting, reporting and questioning the coal terminal proposal are interesting to observe by themselves:
Politics is like football; if you see daylight, go through the hole. - John F. Kennedy
Promotion has been largely revealed on a Progressive Disclosure model, first popularized in the 1980's using a presentation technique designed to guide the audience through stages of information. Except, in this case, the audience itself was also controlled, thinking an initial groundswell of commitment might steamroll the idea into reality, bypassing some problematic 'hoops' the promoters would rather not jump through. This scheme seems to have failed, as it should have.

Reporting by the seasoned journalists has been nicely done following the inverted pyramid technique, used frequently in the media. This starts with the six basic questions; who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, how?
Questioning has always been the wild card, as is usually the case with the public. Each citizen is motivated by unique factors, ranging from single logical concerns, to multiple fears, rumor, hearsay, personal bias, influence from others, or just a desire to be heard and participate in the melee.
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” -Benjamin Franklin
But, whatever the method employed, the important thing is that all the important information is drawn out into public scrutiny. Only then can a fair analyses be made and reasonable practical decisions made. The process does depend on facts, but not only facts but feelings, interpretations, judgements and politics. It is inherently messy! But, hey, isn't that what our democracy is about?
It is entirely possible that this coal issue will be resolved to most people's expectations and satisfaction, but don't count on it!
Things could get scary and turn out in a way different than we think. The Pit & the Pendulum comes to mind.

A brief description & synopsis for those interested, courtesy of Wikipedia:
"The Pit and the Pendulum" is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842 in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1843. The story is about the torments endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, though Poe skews historical facts. The narrator of the story describes his experience of being tortured. The story is especially effective at inspiring fear in the reader because of its heavy focus on the senses, such as sound, emphasizing its reality, unlike many of Poe's stories which are aided by the supernatural. The traditional elements established in popular horror tales at the time are followed, but critical reception has been mixed. The tale has been adapted to film several times.

The story takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. At the beginning of the story an unnamed narrator is brought to trial before various sinister judges. Poe provides no explanation of why he is there or for what he has been arrested. Before him are seven tall white candles on a table, and, as they melt, his hopes of survival also diminish. He is condemned to death and finds himself in a pitch black compartment. At first the prisoner thinks that he is locked in a tomb, but he discovers that he is in a cell. He decides to explore the cell by placing a hem from his robe against a wall so he can count the paces around the room; however, he faints before being able to measure the whole perimeter.
When the prisoner awakens he discovers food and water nearby. He gets back up and tries to measure the prison again, finding that the perimeter measures one hundred steps. While crossing the room he slips on the hem of his robe. He discovers that if he had not tripped he would have walked into a deep pit with water at the bottom in the center of the cell.
After losing consciousness again the narrator discovers that the prison is slightly illuminated and that he is bound to a wooden board by ropes. He looks up in horror to see a painted picture of Father Time on the ceiling; hanging from the figure is a gigantic scythe-like pendulum swinging slowly back and forth. The pendulum is inexorably sliding downwards and will eventually kill him. However the condemned man is able to attract rats to his bonds with meat left for him to eat and they start chewing through the ropes. As the pendulum reaches a point inches above his heart, the prisoner breaks free of the ropes and watches as the pendulum is drawn back to the ceiling.
He then sees that the walls have become red-hot and begun moving inwards, driving him into the center of the room and towards the brink of the pit. As he gazes into the pit, he decides that no fate could be worse than falling into it. It is implied by the text that the narrator fears what he sees at the bottom of the pit, or perhaps is frightened by its depth. The exact cause of his fear is not clearly stated. However, as the narrator moves back from the pit, he sees that the red-hot walls are leaving him with no foothold. As the prisoner begins to fall into the pit, he hears human voices. The walls rush back and an arm catches him. The French Army has taken Toledo and the Inquisition is in the hands of its enemies.


Let's hope we don't have such a nightmare before the coal terminal issue is resolved.
Maybe this experiment will be more palatable?
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." -- Aristotle

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are Cities Bipolar?

What is the city but the people? ~ William Shakespeare

In Rome you long for the country; in the country - oh inconstant! - you praise the distant city to the stars. ~ Horace, Satires
Map of Haarlem, the Netherlands, of around 1550. The city is completely surrounded by a city wall and defensive canal. The square shape was inspired by Jerusalem.
Wikipedia's definition of 'City' provides interesting details about why & how cities were first formed and what distinguishes them from rural areas.

A few excerpts:
...'In 1995, Kanter argued that successful cities can be identified by three elements: good thinkers (concepts), good makers (competence) or good traders (connections). The interplay of these three elements, Kanter argued, means that good cities are not planned but managed.' ....

....'Modern anti-urban attitudes are to be found in the United States in the form of a planning profession that continues to develop land on a low-density suburban basis, where access to amenities, work and shopping is provided almost exclusively by car rather than by foot or transit..' ...

.... 'However, there is a growing movement in North America called "New Urbanism" that calls for a return to traditional city planning methods where mixed-use zoning allows people to walk from one type of land-use to another. The idea is that housing, shopping, office space, and leisure facilities are all provided within walking distance of each other, thus reducing the demand for road-space and also improving the efficiency and effectiveness of mass transit.' ...

... 'Cities generally have complex systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation. The concentration of development greatly facilitates interaction between people and businesses, benefiting both parties in the process. A big city or metropolis usually has associated suburbs and exurbs. Such cities are usually associated with metropolitan areas and urban areas, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers of employment.'

"Cities could persist—as they have for thousands of years—only if their advantages offset the disadvantages" .... two similar attracting advantages known as increasing returns to scale and economies of scale, which are concepts normally associated with firms. Their applications are seen in more basic economic systems as well. ....."one of the oldest reasons why cities were built: military protection". ....'The Neolithic revolution brought agriculture, which made denser human populations possible, thereby supporting city development'.
Panorama of New York City
Wikipedia's definition of 'bi-polar' largely has come to mean an illness of the psyche in which mood swings between melancholy and mania occur. But that is a relatively modern term with origins around the 1850"s.

Earlier, the definition of bi-polar was also an adjective with several related meanings, as –having two poles, as the earth; or of, pertaining to, or found at both polar regions; or characterized by opposite extremes, as two conflicting political philosophies.

But, all these definitions seem somehow related, don't you think?

It seems to me that people -including me- often think of cities with two minds; one good and one not so good.
That is normal about many things, but cities do engender such strong feelings that they may have become almost a metaphor for political schizophrenia.
As veritable scapegoats for the ills of society, cities must somehow defend themselves in a more balanced way, by also emphasizing all the good they should and do provide.
That's what this blog is about, at least in my intent, but judge it for yourself.

I believe it was the 1920 US Census that first showed more people lived in urban areas than rural. At the time, this caused concern among politicians who were afraid city issues & politics might begin to dominate national priorities and policy.
Why, the idea of the ignorant masses imposing their will upon our entire country was downright repugnant to some then in influence. That was the time when the number of House Representatives was limited at a maximum of 435, which was to be reapportioned after each subsequent Census to reflect some sort of delayed and diluted geographical balance.

The persuasive arguments at the time included concerns over the actual size of Congress, which were supposed to limit its ability to effectively legislate, although similar bodies in other counties seem to function every bit as well as ours.
You tell me if this particular 'concern' was legitimate. or simply a ploy to limit or delay the trend toward the spread of a truer democracy.

I believe that argument was largely disingenuously cosmetic, but it cleverly played upon the uninformed trust of some and the concealed desperation of others to become the reality we still are dealing with today. So it is a our system of government that has become something of a parody of its former high-sounding ideals.

The same forces -and reasons- that defined and fixed the individual States representation at two each in the Senate were essentially applied to the House as well, making the historic bi-cameral compromise reached to enable our Constitution to be adopted a shadow of its former intent.
So it is with history; stuff gets changed, whether we notice or not.

But, why should this matter to us now?
Because the anti-urban bias still exists and is hurting our society and economy.
Just look at all the subjects of political rhetoric that pass for 'debate' these days, like 'the city' did this, or neglected to do that, etc.
Of course, not all of this rhetoric pertain to ONLY cities or urban areas, but some of them do.
Yet, the ones that don't apply are often blamed on cities & urban areas anyway.
It's almost like the rural and thinly populated areas are trying to act like the innocent victims of all life's ills!

But, how can this be true? After all, it is primarily the cities that provide most jobs AND markets for the goods & services we need and want.
So, without the cities & population centers, how can we -as a country or as individuals- truly prosper?

As a recovering politician, having served a serious stint in city government as an elected legislator, I feel somewhat qualified to defend cities and the roles they uniquely provide.
A couple of recent articles in Crosscut came to my attention since they both converge on what are basically city problems.

The first captures an argument made by the former mayor of two Washington cities, that job creation needs to strongly involve cities. That should go without saying, and largely had, before this particular former mayor said it.

The second article chronicles the 6-year tenure of Tacoma's former City Manager, who transitioned from being hailed as a super hero saviour to someone deserving to be fired -a trajectory that seems almost inevitable these days.

To me, these articles are also notable for the issues and political dynamics they tell.
But, I do realize that for those without some experience in office, or those disinterested in observing trends and commonalities among municipalities, they may not hold much more than passing interest.
That is part of the problem our political system suffers -disconnection between citizens and the mechanisms that allow them to gain corrections for the public good.
Making a democracy work well is not an easy task; and it requires an engaged populace.

Fortunately, there are resources that help us understand common problems and those solutions likely o be effective.
One excellent website is maintained by the Association of Washington Cities [AWC] of which the City of Bellingham is a member and benefits from its staff and elected officials taking its training.
The National League of Cities [NLC} is another valuable resource with a broader charter and perspective.

These sources of information are available for public use, and can serve as valuable learning aids for anyone- candidates included.
As a short example, here is the agenda and session materials for the latest AWC conference, showing a range of current topics involving cities.

Think that could be valuable?

So, there is good news and bad news from this; the good is we don't have to always rediscover the wheel; the bad is we have to actually study and use the information available.

I must conclude that cities probably are, or can become, bipolar, because they reflect the problems, triumphs, hopes, fears of people, and the inevitable clashes of opinions, aspirations, facts and law.
In fact, maybe the term multi-polar may be more descriptive, because it is rare when only two clear choices are the only ones available.
No, Cities are not simple or easily managed, because they are made up of people -many different people- who are not simple or easily managed either.
To expect otherwise is misguided, or maybe even just stupid.
Panorama of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one. - Aristotle

Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm. - John F. Kennedy


Friday, July 15, 2011

Making Tracks To Where?

"Make Tracks To Washington's Side Of The Gorge" is the slogan used by the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce on a useful promotional flyer and map of Stevenson, WA.

A recent short vacation outing to the Columbia River Gorge brought me to Skamania County and it's seat at the scenic little town of Stevenson, hard by the well-used [24/7] triple tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which separate it from the river.

Across those tracks to the south, lies access to the riverfront and its attractions, including a Port of Skamania pier and cruise vessel [stern-paddle steamboats] landing, lodging places, a modest industrial complex, an eatery, and stretches of public parks and launching points for small boaters, fishing and the various wind-surfing arts for which the Gorge is internationally famous.

On the other side of the river, Oregon enjoys its own suite of scenic delights, tourist havens and small business and population centers, again, mostly separated from the river by multiple, main-line railroad tracks, and, again well-used, literally around-the-clock.

The Columbia Gorge provides a natural corridor for commerce, and it has been accepted and welcomed as such for a long time. The inhabitants of the area welcome the jobs and the essentials provided by both water & land-based traffic, despite any inconvenience of access or noise that in-transit commerce carries with it.

But, as a visitor, I was somewhat irritated by having to wait for trains to pass at regular intervals, plus being disturbed at night by startlingly loud train whistles close at hand - and, even across the river [sound travels easily over water]. BTW, earplugs didn't work very well for me.

My displeasure can be easily remedied by not visiting the Gorge again, at least for overnights; and the locals have long since a tolerance for such distractions. The point is, tolerance for frequent train traffic must either developed or tolerated, since in most places it is not all that common.

Out of curiosity, I measured the time it took for one, 120-car [+ 3 engines] train to pass at an estimated speed of 35 to 40 MPH. From crossing arms being lowered, then raised, it took 2 minutes. Of course, the warning whistles took a few minutes longer, approaching and leaving.

Much larger Bellingham shares some commonalities with little Stevenson, including significant tourism, business & residential areas near transportation corridors, and a waterfront that is largely separated from populated areas by railroad tracks. Except, in our case, BNSF has a single track that has a small fraction of the traffic routinely experienced along the Columbia Gorge.

Now, maybe our local Chamber of Commerce wants a slogan similar Skamania's? Something like "Make Tracks To Washington's Side Of Puget Sound & The San Juan Islands"? Think that would work for this area? I don't, but maybe I could be persuaded by cogent arguments that actually make good sense.

The problem is that our local & vocal C of C is mostly about slogans, and little else except the Ski to Sea annual event and begging grants from the same local governments & elected officials they love to criticize. OK, maybe that's unfair and is being changed for the better, but I don't yet see much evidence of it.

Maybe, our CoC could take a lesson from Skamania County and co-locate its office with a [non-profit] Economic Development Council, right down there close to the railroad tracks, where they can enjoy its full benefits -noise, inconvenience and all.
But, you know the Port of Bellingham is already there, and both the Whatcom County Courthouse & Bellingham City Hall aren't that far away either.

I was pleased to see these two new articles posted today on Crosscut, by Floyd MacKay & Bob Simmons, respectively, which update important developments on the controversial Coal Terminal proposal.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Anonymity & The Online Disinhibition Effect

The practice and proliferation of so many 'anonymous' comments and postings on the Internet has become so annoying that it's now a pet peeve of mine.
And, I suspect that a growing number of others have come to feel similarly.

This article pretty much sums up my views on anonymity on the Internet.

One reference within the above article directs to this site which is also helpful in understanding what's going on with all the anonymity being practiced, particularly on the Internet.

Respecting privacy is certainly desirable, but I wonder if that is really what is going on in many instances. There are definitely situations where anonymity has been useful, like in exposing wrongdoing in government, institutions or elsewhere. Watergate comes to mind as a clear example.
But many other instances -maybe most- involve pettiness, meanness or just deliberate mischief making. None of those need to be forced upon us, at least not on the Internet commons.

Different media outlets have differing policies on anonymity, with some prohibiting it and others severely restricting it because it gets in the way of a civilized exchange of ideas or opinions.
Others seem to be blissfully unaware of any problem, or glad to encourage such conduct in the interest of attracting invisible verbal fistfights.
And, of course one is never required to read or believe anything anonymous anyway. Its a matter of choice But people are tempted to use it as nasty gossip which can do serious damage to others, often unfairly or even maliciously.

Point is, the Internet is an open forum that is available to practically anyone these days. That much is good. But, it's also potentially bad, too.
Without unduly restricting Internet use, ISPs and various websites and chat rooms could fairly easily institute simple restrictions by requiring limits on anonymity. Of course, everyone won't like that, but I think most people will support the idea in the interest of common good.
Then too, all those 'anonymouses' out there are creative enough they can always find alternate ways of expressing themselves.

Honestly, the idea of so many calling themselves 'anonymous' is ridiculous, don't you think?
By now it must have become the most common name in history! I wonder how long it will take to have someone actually given that name.

Close cousins of 'anonymous' are the legions of clever pseudonyms that talk to each other -and themselves- regularly.
You've probably noticed that a few of these characters like to dominate comment columns with multiple postings within a short time.
It's like their need to vent or be heard on a subject overwhelms their better judgement. You think such folks probably just need to 'get a life'? But, what if that IS their life? Get a better one!

Some time ago, I chanced upon a clever website written by Mike Reed that describes a whole range of Internet persona he calls 'Flame Warriors'.
Check that out here for laughs.

Climatology: Natural Science or Political Science?

Think politics doesn't affect what information is accepted as true? Read this article.

As if we weren't confused enough, now this revelation. Or, this one. Or, maybe this one?
All three of these citations report the likely impact of switching from burning high-sulfur to low-sulfur coal.

It seems -according to scientists [but what do they know?]- that sulfur dioxide actually shields our atmosphere and reflects more of the sun's energy back into space, thereby somewhat masking our global warming -uh, excuse me- climate change.
So, producing more acid rain from dissolved SO2 prevents our noticing that average global temperatures are rising. Imagine that!

But, maybe those choosing to question whether global warming exists, or that we as humans have been responsible for part of it, won't believe that either? It's a free country, so pick your poison, and while you're at it feel free to choose what you believe -like a faith or religion.

Point is, if only 'politically correct' things are accepted as truth, how can that be used as a solid basis for our national policy and practices?
Mustn't we also verify alternate views from those science suggests? As Reagan said, 'trust but verify'.

Hey, I like diversity and believe it to be both a principle and product of our system of government, but at some point common agreement is necessary to advance the common good.

So, without my further editorial comment, here are several random quotes from various people through time that seem to have bearing on our current 'debate' over climatology and the projections of what effects mankind has -and is- contributing.

Read 'em and weep - or don't.

Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty. - James Madison

The struggle to save the global environment is in one way much more difficult than the struggle to vanquish Hitler, for this time the war is with ourselves. We are the enemy, just as we have only ourselves as allies. ~Al Gore

"Facts are stupid things." ~ Ronald Reagan

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. ~Richard P. Feynman

"Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.'' ~ Rep. Michelle Bachmann

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive. ~Albert Einstein

To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. ~Theodore Roosevelt, seventh annual message, 3 December 1907

To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one's own in the midst of abundance. ~Buddha

We cannot command Nature except by obeying her. ~Sir Francis Bacon

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~Chief Seattle, 1855

As we watch the sun go down, evening after evening, through the smog across the poisoned waters of our native earth, we must ask ourselves seriously whether we really wish some future universal historian on another planet to say about us: "With all their genius and with all their skill, they ran out of foresight and air and food and water and ideas," or, "They went on playing politics until their world collapsed around them." ~U Thant, speech, 1970

Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth. ~Albert Schweitzer, quoted in James Brabazon, Albert Schweitzer

Remember when atmospheric contaminants were romantically called stardust? ~Lane Olinghouse

The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition. ~Carl Sagan

One of the first laws against air pollution came in 1300 when King Edward I decreed the death penalty for burning of coal. At least one execution for that offense is recorded. But economics triumphed over health considerations, and air pollution became an appalling problem in England. ~Glenn T. Seaborg, Atomic Energy Commission chairman, speech, Argonne National Laboratory, 1969

The victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. ~Lynn I. White, Jr., Science, 10 March 1967

When some high-sounding institute states that a compound is harmless or a process free of risk, it is wise to know whence the institute or the scientists who work there obtain their financial support. ~Lancet, editorial on the "medical-industrial complex," 1973

You go into a community and they will vote 80 percent to 20 percent in favor of a tougher Clean Air Act, but if you ask them to devote 20 minutes a year to having their car emissions inspected, they will vote 80 to 20 against it. We are a long way in this country from taking individual responsibility for the environmental problem. ~William D. Ruckelshaus, former EPA administrator, New York Times, 30 November 1988

In an underdeveloped country, don't drink the water; in a developed country, don't breathe the air. ~Changing Times magazine

"Never mistake activity for achievement." -John Wooden

Denial is a form of cowardice which is afraid to face up to the realities of life. -G Edwin Osborn

This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile. Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages. But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature had proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself.... We've got to be stopped. ~Michael L. Fischer, Harper's, July 1990

We shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man. ~Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," 1967

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Do The Wealthy Serve Us?

Christianne Amanpour’s guest mentioned Benjamin Franklin wrote that he wouldn’t mind being preserved in a “vat of Madeira wine” in order to see if the Constitution held up 200 years later. Amanpour responded, “he was amazingly perspicacious when this Constitution was signed.”

Honour sinks where commerce long prevails. - Oliver Goldsmith
I've seen a few episodes of the latest PBS Masterpiece series called 'Downton Abbey'. It's a story about the lives of a fabulously wealthy family in Victorian England and their staff of domestic servants. Probably a reasonable depiction of how the 'upper class' lived, but it seems more like a fable from the distant past. But, maybe there are those living today who would like to emulate that past and have themselves as the subject of some future series? Looks like it to me anyway.
This CBS News report identifies Congress as a Millionaire's club.
Is this OK?
If not, what do we do about it?

Not only do the wealthy tend to see their wealth as a deserved privilege, but they sometimes go to great lengths to deny it, rationalize it, flaunt it, connive to obtain it, and even lie about it. Not all wealthy people do this, but a lot of them do -enough to make you wonder if they aren't living in some kind of parallel universe apart from the rest of us.

But wealth can be a relative thing, too. I am much better off than millions of people, some of whom struggle daily to even feed themselves. And, I don't feel particularly guilty about the luxury I enjoy, even though early biblical training may have had something harsh and unyielding to say about not freely sharing with those less fortunate. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to do what? Fact is, there has always been inequity among people, and in earlier times the disparity was probably greater than it is now.

For example, look at our founding fathers; weren't they better off than most of their compatriots? Yet, the sacrifice that these relatively well-educated and prosperous founders were, they put everything they had on the line to espouse freedom -for all, not just themselves! Think they may have figured out that a rising tide might lift not only their boats, but every other citizen's?
Nowadays, many Americans seem downright schizophrenic about wealth. Maybe that's just a sign of the discontinuities between greed, the legitimate desire to get ahead in life, and basic jealousy? Let's face it we live in a material world, and the quest for wealth and ownership of lots of stuff is reinforced by our lifestyles and media every day. All you need to observe this is an occasional peek at a TV game show, or the ads that play to desires for a life of ease, luxury and dissipation.

Then, there are the super rich and famous movie & TV stars, sports heroes, entrepreneurs of all stripes, plus drug dealers and other swindlers & crooks who have managed to amass large fortunes which they take as evidence of their personal worth. And, don't forget those with good old inherited wealth, many through no effort of their own, except maybe choosing the right parents, spouses or significant others at some point in their past.

All of these folk types somehow get held up as successful examples made possible by 'the American Way'. And who can argue with that? Well, these conditions do exist outside of the US too, you know. They occur because of power struggles, crime, good fortune, great ambition and, sometimes even good will.

Titans of industry, from the 'robber barons' of 100 years ago, to the kings of industry, begotten by wars, technology advances, creative opportunity and sometimes plain luck all make interesting studies. There are blue-bloods, dark villains, white knights and Horatio Alger characters, plus some folks who just worked very hard and saved what they earned, to choose from.

Today's Billionaires were yesterday's Millionaires, but who cares that some folks can never have enough? Even great philanthropic gestures like endowments to medical research, educational institutions, charities & other worthwhile public facilities do not necessarily earn the respect they may deserve, particularly after the benevolent benefactors become history.
Look at Bill Gates & Warren Buffett for example; even their announcements that most of their great wealth will be left to charity and good works isn't enough to satisfy some detractors, who choose to hold their wealth against them!
Definitely, Bellingham has some folks with an attitude about those having wealth, although possibly they may exempt themselves from such criticism.

Point is, I don't think wealth, per se, is evil; in fact wealth has the potential to do great good, as it has over time.
For example, what do you think it takes to have a capitalist system? Wealth, of course, plus to ability to invest it toward some purpose. Like maybe, jobs? Services? Products that are useful and even essential? Education? Charity? Taxes paid to Govt to provide pubic services? Those are some of the good things that money can help provide.
But, of course, money can also be used for not so good purposes, and we must find a way to discourage and sometimes punish that.
Looking back to old England, Winston Churchill was born to great privilege, and in reading his biography I was tempted to despise him for his attitudes born of that heritage. But, can you imagine anyone more capable of leading Great Britain during the threats of WWII? I can't.

Through the ages there have been many kings, emperors, and other rulers of great wealth & power. Some were repressive, ruthless and evil, but others were great benefactors of their people. So, that tells me that wealth is not necessarily bad, although it's ability to control power makes it an object to be feared and reckoned with.

George Washington was a wealthy man in his day, but look what he did for our country! So were Jefferson, Madison and some other founders quite wealthy and also essential to the formation of our nation.
Since then, many of our Presidents have come from great wealth; Teddy & Franklin Roosevelt come immediately to mind, as does John F Kennedy. All served our nation honorably and with distinction, as did others as well.

You know, legislating, administering, enforcing and acting in the public interest does take a lot of time and energy that most of us do not have, or even want to do. So, why not let the wealthy take care of that for us? After all, they've got the time, resources, contacts, skills and habits necessary for these tasks. Sounds like a plan to me, as long as we have reasonable assurance they won't tilt the scales too much for their own benefit. Just make sure we get honest folks in there to do our bidding, without having to vote, inform ourselves, or otherwise get involved at all. That way, we can fully enjoy our leisure, get on with what we have to do and just leave the rest to 'staff' - like the good folks in Downton Abbey. Right!

So, it really should be no surprise that our Federal Government continues to attract people of wealth; that in itself is not all bad. But, the potential for badness being evidenced is still there, and wealth can readily translate into customs, perspectives and attitudes that may not fairly represent all citizens -particularly those without wealth. People of privilege sometimes get the big head, thinking they're somehow more important than others and throw their weight around. That conduct is irritating at best and all kinds of trouble at worst!
Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals. - George Washington
For example, look at this piece by Timothy Egan about Michele Bachmann. What does it say about her attitudes on privilege, a sense of entitlement, truth telling, respect for her peers & moral philosophy? Don't know about you, but this kind of stuff bothers me! It's not her wealth that makes her act this way, but it certainly helps keep her in the media spotlight -and in office.

Then, there's 'Campaign reform', an oxymoron if I've ever heard one! And, 'Tax Code reform', another one. 'Earmarks'? How about 'Budget debates'? 'Entitlements'? 'Exemptions'? 'Incentives'? It seems most of the issues we face in Washington, DC & elsewhere have a large component involving financing & funding. Hey, that's necessary! Maybe folks who know something about wealth & money feel more at home with all that. But, who else gets to impact fiscal decisions? Lobbyists? Corporations? Political Action Committees? Political Parties? Unions? Exclusive Clubs? What about us?

This whole wealth thing is just getting me exhausted! Of course, the Wealthy serve us, and sometimes very well. But my fear is not that they serve themselves first, but that there is anything left for the rest of us consumers of democracy. After all, that's name of the game in getting wealthy in the first place. Or, so I've heard.
Oh, shoot, this has become a rant. And its happened without a single beer. That's some kind of sign I think -of what I do not know...
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. - George Washington

Laws of infernal dynamics:
▪ An object in motion will be moving in the wrong direction.
▪ An object at rest will be in the wrong place.
▪ The energy required to move an object in the correct direction, or put it in the right place, will be more than you wish to expend but not so much as to make the task impossible.

Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

John Buckle: You can lead a fish to water but you can't cure its fin rot.

TANSTAAFL: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Got Qualifications for County Executive?

It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune. This necessity however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect.
- James Madison, to an unidentified correspondent, 1833


Have others noticed that three of the four candidates for County Executive required strong encouragement from 'others' to commit to run for this important office, despite the incumbents decision to step aside?
I took note of that, and it is certainly is not unusual in our political system, because running for elected office is not something that comes easily to most people I know. [including yours truly] Of course, some do seem to actually enjoy political campaigns, but don't you have to wonder why, unless their ambition is to be popular and powerful enough to become career politicians?

But one candidate seems to have had sufficient internal encouragement from himself to willingly throw his hat into the ring, knowing the challenges that would certainly bring; first in campaigning and then, the task of actually serving the public in an honest and responsible manner.

Now, why would Tom Anderson be the only one to do that, you might ask? And, it is no surprise that Tom was the only one to declare his candidacy BEFORE the incumbent opted out of the race. [Jack Louws announced his candidacy the same day that incumbent Pete Kremen decided to opt out -coincidence?] That is because he has come to know that Whatcom County has needed better leadership for years, and simply decided to run himself, despite the odds of competing against an entrenched incumbent.

There is a big difference between running for office and actually serving in office!
If I had the choice, I would always pick the person who would serve us the best, never forgetting the public's expectations of trusting their competence, integrity, willingness to listen impartially, and the personal courage to take timely and necessary action.
But, I -and everyone else- don't get to have that happen without going through elections first. There's the rub; an ideal candidate remains just that until they actually garner the votes to be elected. If someone with lesser qualifications, visions and administrative skills gets elected, then we are stuck with our choice. Thing is, we don't want to waste our vote on charlatans, unelectable candidates or career political wannabes if we can do better!
And, in this election we can do no better than elect Tom Anderson.
So, with that conclusion in mind, here's a short summary of the important traits people have told me they prefer to see in their County Executive, in no particular order of significance:

• Credibility

• Good Listener

• Intelligent

• Sincerely Cares

• Selflessness/Self Effacing

• Leadership [Low Key]

• Thoughtful & Analytical

• Works for Common Interests

• Achiever through True Collaboration

• Puts Money Where Mouth Is

• Confident in Ability to Make A Difference

• Sees Job As Opportunity to Serve & Give Back to His Community

For comparison, this is a list of what I consider to be Tom's main strengths:

• He has authentic integrity. Can be trusted with managing public fiscal affairs, including budgets & funding methods.

• He is personally intelligent & competent & a registered P.E. [professional engineer].

• He has business experience, both as employee & owner.

• He has an informed grasp of a range of important local issues.

• He has seasoned/local life & administrative experience- both in public & private sector.

• He is independent-minded & innately bi-partisan - as is also required by the County Charter for this office.

• He has good health, energy, enthusiasm & courage.

• He is an excellent communicator.

• He has a pleasing, quiet, low-profile & unassuming manner.

• He is the type of service & family-oriented citizen that every community needs.

Based upon these desirable qualifications & characteristics, plus knowing and observing Tom fairly closely since my own elected public service began in 1999, and recently spending some time talking to him, I have decided to strongly support his candidacy.

I hope other people will give this recommendation serious thought and also decide to support Tom Anderson.
You will be surprised to learn how many people in Whatcom know Tom and respect him a lot!
In my book, that's exactly the type of principled citizen we need to represent us in this important position.

But, remember, enough votes for Tom in the August primary elections will be necessary to ensure his inclusion in the November general election.
It is only after those two required hurdles that we will know whether the best candidate has been elected.
Now, its time to put all candidates to the test!

In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority. - James Madison