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Columns

  • Counting down to infinity

    As a teacher of mathematics, it always bothers me how little comprehension there seems to be with big numbers. Perhaps the blame lies in evolution’s decision to accommodate us with only 10 fingers.
    The worst victim of math is our National Debt, which now stands at more than $17.6 trillion. Now, the problem here is the use of the word “trillion.” It makes it sounds so well understood and sensible.
    Maybe we should change the word. Would saying that the National Debt is 17.6 wowza-hollaring-gazillion dollars make it sound more intimidating?
    But really, how big is the debt?
    One figure used to scare people (rightfully so) is $56,300, the amount of debt owned by every man, woman and child in our nation. But this still doesn’t seem to convey the actual size here. We need a more geometric perspective.
    Consider the border fencing being built along the U.S.-Mexico border. The average cost per mile of fencing is $3,900,000 (someone out there is getting very rich). Even at that ridiculously high cost, with more than 17 trillion dollars to spend, we could build fencing to circumscribe the entire perimeter of the Continental United States, not just once by 415 times.

  • Pet Talk: Minutes in a hot car can do Fido harm

    If we find the scorching summer temperatures unbearable outside of our cars, imagine how our furry friends feel when trapped inside. Dog fatalities from extreme heat in cars are avoidable and all-too common.
    Although leaving your pet in the car while you run a few errands may seem harmless, dogs can suffer from heatstroke in a matter of minutes, even if parked in the shade with the windows cracked.
    “One study in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that cars parked in the sun showed an average of 40 degrees increase in internal temperature,” said Dr. James Barr, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “This means, in 100 degree temperature, the car could reach 140 degrees.”
    Although rolling the car windows down may seem like a workable solution, this is not the case, even if you only plan to leave Fido in the car for a short period of time. Exposure to extreme heat for less than 20 minutes can still cause internal damage and be extremely harmful in the long run.
    “That same study in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that the rate of temperature rise was slower if the car window was rolled down, but still remarkably dangerous and reached the same levels after 60 minutes,” Barr said. “So just rolling the window down is not sufficient.”

  • Startup accelerator welcomes applicants

    New Mexico is home to the first United States startup accelerator aimed at entrepreneurs in creative industries. That Albuquerque-based business, Creative-Startups, is accepting applications through the end of the month for its inaugural class of startup candidates.
    The new accelerator aims to bring business sensibilities and savvy into fields dominated by “creatives,” including the fields of advertising, architecture, crafts, design, film, music, the performing arts, photography, publishing, game and app creation, television and radio.
    Taken as a whole, these sectors of the economy are among the most vibrant, judging by a 2013 United Nations report, which found that global trade in creative fields grew at an average rate of 8.8 percent each year between 2002 and 2011 and that the annual growth rate of creative exports from developing countries in that period was12.1 percent.
    Until now, few resources existed for startups in these professions to get the mentorship they need to start and sustain commercial enterprises based on creative products or services.

  • Medical marijuana program should come before legalized recreational use

    Returning from a long drive through Marijuanaland, also known as Colorado, I can report that there is no massive transformation. No potheads loitering in the streets. And citizens are still earnestly debating the subject.
    Proponents of legalized cannabis in New Mexico weave tales of vast riches from tax revenues, but it’s not entirely working out that way.
    Colorado’s law has a local option provision, so each county gets to decide whether it wants marijuana dispensaries. Some counties have voted it down, and others have yet to vote.
    As for tax revenues, a youthful source told me the taxes are so high it’s cheaper to buy it on the street. Recreational users pay a 2.9 percent state sales tax, a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax and a 15 percent retail excise tax.
    Because it’s legal to grow six plants, 40 percent goes untaxed, according to the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division. The projected $48 million in marijuana taxes for the fiscal year ending in June withered to $12 million.
    One of my friends complains that Mary Jane’s tax revenues can only be used to build schools — the excise tax’s first $40 million is earmarked for school construction — but some communities don’t need to build a school. They need to improve the schools they have.

  • Credit 101 for the college freshman

    To parents with a freshman entering college this fall: You’re probably expecting to shell out major bucks for tuition, room and board and a million other necessities over the next few years. But before you send your kid off, make sure you share one gift likely to steer him or her along the road to financial security — a sound understanding of how credit works.
    You probably learned the hard way yourself that young adults encounter many unfamiliar expenses — and temptations — upon entering college or the workforce. So it’s important to help your kids avoid early financial missteps that could damage their credit for years to come.
    The first step in managing personal finances is mastering the basic checking account and debit card. A few tips you can pass along:
    • Look for a bank or credit union that charges no monthly usage fee, requires no minimum balance and has conveniently located ATMs so you don’t rack up foreign ATM charges.
    • Enter all transactions in a check register or in a budgeting tool like Mint.com and review your account online at least weekly to verify when deposits, checks, purchases and automatic payments have cleared.

  • Pecos league completes fourth year of independent baseball

    Professional baseball continues in New Mexico through Labor Day with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes and spillover into the lower Mesilla Valley from the first-year El Paso Chihuahuas, also a Triple-A team.
    New Mexico had other baseball, organized and professional, during the summer of 2014 and it is that effort that this column pauses from all the state government matters of recent weeks to honor and applaud.
    Wait. The question might come from much of the state, “What other baseball?”
    Answer: The Pecos League of Professional Clubs.
    If the Pecos League seems a little obscure, that’s because in the grand world of baseball, it is. The Pecos League is one of eight independent baseball leagues. “Independent” means not tied to major league baseball, unlike the 20 leagues Wikipedia tells us are “affiliated.”
    Since I paid any attention to this as a kid 55 years ago or so, the old Triple-A, Double-A, A, B, C and D structure has turned into Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A, Short Season A, Advanced Rookie, Rookie and the Arizona Fall League.
    The Madison (Wisconsin) Mallards of the Northwoods League is the only one of the many minor league teams with which I have the slightest acquaintance other than the Albuquerque Isotopes.

  • Seducing Independents

    Early this year Gallup pollsters released a survey showing fully 42 percent of American voters either “lean,” or are registered as Independents.
    Only 31 percent of those responding to the poll said they are registered Democrats. Even fewer, 25 percent, were registered Republicans.
    Much has been made of these numbers.
    Some political onlookers find it ironic that members of Congress from a political party with only a quarter of nation’s registered voters are consistently able to block key legislation to the point of nearly shutting down the government. Others wondered how, in congressional elections two years ago, a mere 25 percent of registered voters managed to get enough of their fellow Republicans elected so as to have an outright majority in the U.S. House capable of blocking such legislation — especially since analyses of 2012 election returns reveal that fully 1.1 million more voters nationally cast their ballots for Democratic congressional candidates than Republican candidates?
    Questions of that sort vex politicians and strategists in both parties and the answers vary. Some say Republicans are more apt to vote than Democrats, and that may be the case — especially in off-year elections.

  • Facts about water in Los Alamos

    Third of a series

  • Carbon pollution limits can help save lives, improve health

    Few things are more frightening for a parent than racing to the hospital with a child who can’t breathe. Few things are more difficult for a physician than telling a family that a loved one will not recover from an asthma attack. We work with people who know those experiences far too well and — because of those experiences — support reducing carbon pollution.
    The American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society members and volunteers understand the impact of polluted air. We know that, as a nation, we have to do more to protect the ability of people to breathe, and that requires us to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
    It isn’t enough for physicians to educate patients about the health risks of air pollution, and for parents to keep their children with asthma indoors on bad air days. We must reduce pollution before it takes a further toll on our children and families.
    As a nation, we have cut air pollution by more than 70 percent since 1970, but today more than 147 million Americans (nearly half of the U.S. population) still live where the air is unhealthy to breathe. Warmer temperatures from climate change will make it even harder to reduce air pollution in many places, and increase the likelihood of drought, wildfires and other threats to our health.

  • Water solutions at an affordable cost

    Second of a series
    One of the major issues in this town is water: do we have enough to keep this a green community, at an affordable cost?
    Contamination Threats and Mitigation
    Laboratory operations since the 1940s resulted in a wide array of chemical releases, often in effluent discharged from wastewater treatment facilities. Many millions of dollars have been spent to monitor and remediate the environmental contamination caused.
    Reactive contaminants, including plutonium and other radionuclides, tend to adhere to solid surfaces, so they usually have not moved very far in groundwater. In fact, wastewater effluent (now treated to strict standards to prevent further contamination) is used to irrigate vegetation holding soil in place to keep previously deposited surface contamination from spreading.
    Non-reactive contaminants, including hexavalent chromium, tritium, nitrate and explosives components perchlorate and RDX, have traveled farther in our groundwater, in some cases reaching portions of our aquifer. The presence of these contaminants above naturally occurring levels has not been detected in our water supply wells, but unless carefully monitored and properly remediated, they could threaten our water supply.