• Part 1 of 2

    The scope of our government is easy to forget.
    Like fire hydrants, government is in the background much of the time, doing whatever.
    Then, like a fire hydrant that doesn’t work — surprise — government can get our attention. In the broken hydrant case, the firefighters run the hoses to the hydrant in the next block, one that does work.
    Other attention getters are momentary. Last winter, Bernalillo County government bumped the gross receipts tax rate by 0.1875 percent, making the Albuquerque rate 7.1875 percent.
    I first noticed the change three weeks into July when a $32.10 ($30 plus 7 percent) became $32.16 ($30 plus 7.1875 percent). The change brought some mumbling while writing the check and slid to the shadows.
    “Highlights 2015” is the annual report about the legislative session from the Legislative Council Service, the staff to the Legislature.
    The table of contents shows 45 separate topics, some covering multiple sectors. The alphabetical list starts with alcohol and ends with water.
    The topics are policy. The Legislative Finance Committee’s annual “Post Session Review” discusses the money side.
    The regular session saw introduction of 1,755 items of legislation including 1,449 bills.

  • Statistical studies claim that extracurricular activities in school promote a higher rate of academic success.
    One study showed that 30.6 percent of students who participated in extracurricular activities earned a GPA of 3.0 or greater compared to 10.8 percent for students who did not participate.
    Keep in mind, though, that 87.14 percent of all statistics are purely fabricated, especially those that are presented with decimal points.
    Statistics aside, it’s just common sense that out-of-class activities promote both mental and physical health.
    Extracurricular activities help reduce behavior problems. In sports, students learn discipline and planning skills. Clubs and community organizations teach them responsibility and social inclusion.
    Students involved in activities gain higher self-esteem, more confidence and learn valuable interaction skills.
    And of course, there is a correlation between club involvement and higher academic performance. The creation of clubs and promotion of sports helps the students, helps the schools, and helps the community. It’s a win for everyone!
    But perhaps the most important benefit is it’s fun! Sometimes “fun” is more than enough reason!
    Being a teacher, I don’t want to downplay the importance of classroom studies.

  • I have a love-hate relationship with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
    I love the convenience and level of service that traditional taxis don’t offer. But I hate what they portend for the future of work with their rapidly expanding business model that pretends regular workers are franchisees.
    For one thing, casting employees as entrepreneurs offloads risks, along with the security and benefits that a traditional job used to offer.
    Workers toiling in the so-called sharing economy get no paid vacation or sick leave, no company match for a 401(k) retirement plan and no employer-paid health insurance. They may benefit from greater flexibility that they need for family obligations or even some fun, but these folks are missing out on big swaths of the safety net.
    What’s more, the CEOs and investors who are driving this share of our economy can get pretty stingy when it comes to sharing the profits with those who made those profits possible.

  • I’d like to meet Ignacio Padilla one of these days.
    Padilla is the fellow who recently got booted from his post as treasurer of the Santa Fe County Republican Party for having invited folks around the local plaza to whack away at a piñata fashioned to look like the “Great Bloviator,” Donald Trump.
    What it tells us about a sizeable bloc of rank-and-file Republican voters I shudder to think, but as these lines are written a goodly number of usually reliable polls indicate Trump to be leading the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
    Yet, since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination over a month ago, the billionaire real estate mogul has systematically set himself to the task of alienating first one and then another segment of the American electorate with an abandon that takes the breath away.
    His rivals for the nomination he alternately scorns as “idiots,” “weak,” “incompetent,” “jackasses.”
    Mexican immigrants, including naturalized citizens, “bring us drugs and crime. They’re rapists,” he raged, before going on to malign the military service of John McCain, who spent five years interred as a POW in Vietnam.

  • Light in living rooms is an ancient and basic need.
    Yet, filling this need reflects the long and shifting trials of society, business and the environment.
    In times past, cave dwellers filled their rooms with wood smoke. Today’s fluorescent light bulbs utilize mercury.
    The story line from then to now is a mini-history of the human race.
    The oil lamp, teaching of smoke and smells, was a new thing in 4500 BC. By 3000 BC, the candle was the latest and best.
    Candles use consumable wicks to control the rate that fuel is burned and thus control how much light is produced and for how long. Candles even tell time.
    As seen in many fields down through history, inventions in lighting came at a quickening pace. Is this effect driven by world population?
    A larger population brings with it more inventors and more demands for products. The world population in 4500 BC is estimated at six million, roughly like today’s Dallas-Fort Worth. By 1800, world population was near one billion.
    For more than 5,000 years, living rooms were lit by improved designs and better fuels for lamps, candles and fireplaces.
    We pick up the story again in early America, in the bloom of revolution.

  • President Barack Obama’s confusing approach to energy encourages our enemies who shout “Death to America” as it penalizes our closest allies and even our own job creators.
    Iran’s participation in the nuclear negotiations netted a deal that allows it to resume oil exports. International sanctions have, since 2011, cut Iran’s oil exports in half and severely damaged its economy. Iran currently has about 50 million barrels of oil in storage on 28 tankers at sea.
    It is believed that it will take Iran months to bring its production back up to pre-sanction levels. The millions of barrels of oil parked offshore are indicative of their eagerness to increase exports. Once the sanctions disappear — if Congress approves the terms of the deal, Iran wants to be ready to move its oil.
    On July 17, the Financial Times (FT) reported: “The departure of a giant Iranian supertanker from the flotilla of vessels storing oil off the country’s coast has triggered speculation Tehran is moving to ramp up its crude exports.” The Starla, “a 2 million barrel vessel,” set sail — moving the oil closer to customers in Asia.

  • The reason that the Parks and Recreation Board is hearing complaints is that voice and sight control of dogs does not work.
    Revise the animal ordinance to delete Sec. 6-4, and many problems will disappear.
    When one class of people is given more freedom than another, the ordinance does not protect everyone.
    This policy has been the problem since it was created.
    I was appointed as the advisor (non-voting) to the animal ordinance revision committee that created the 2006 ordinance.
    These are my observations of that process: The committee meetings were closed to the public. I was not allowed to lead a public discussion of pet owner responsibilities. The previous ordinance, as well as the last revision, were written by the same person.
    There needs to be real representative membership by a committee of users and experts. As a result of the process, the rules were written to give domestic dogs more freedom (voice and sight control), as well as access to county space with a “trust me” policy inferred.
    I was not in favor of the amended ordinance that designated that privilege (Section 6-4) because it conflicts with Sec. 6-3, which requires leashes for animals off the owner’s property.
    Voice and sight control is not considered a valid means of restraint of dogs in either Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

  • Next! What will you have today, sir?
    Well, I’d like the implosion special with a 400 kiloton yield, and an extra shot of tactical uranium, please.
    Very good. And would you like to be fried with that?
    So, this Aug. 6 is the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. How time flies when you’re having cold wars and hot proliferation parties!  Seventy years. What to get as a gift? 25 years is silver and 50 years is golden, so would plutonium be appropriate for 70 years?
    The question asked every year is, “Should we have dropped the bomb?”
    When discussing past wars, people literally go to battle with each other.
    The atomic bomb is of particular interest in our community, for reasons that escape me at the moment. The trouble with debating this issue is that for most people, it’s something they’ve only read about in a book.
    Myself, I still think the Diadochi’s treatment of elephants in the Battle of Ipsus, 301 BC., was inexcusable. I’m still waiting for a formal apology from them!
    World War II began in 1939, lasting six years with 113 countries participating or directly involved. Over 50 million people worldwide were killed.

  • One obstacle to improvement in a typical American company is the assumption that change requires months of planning, major expense and a work stoppage or slowdown. Then there’s the fear that old habits and practices will slowly return as people forget what they learned amid the pressures and demands of running a business.  
    Even when the need for change is obvious, such companies often resist fixing something until it’s utterly broken.
    An alternative, nonreactive view embraces change as a continual process of incremental improvements and tweaks — not as an exercise in obsessive compulsion but as an adaptive approach to reducing waste-related costs, eliminating inefficiencies and optimizing competitiveness.
    That perspective is the Japanese system of kaizen.
    Change is good
    As the Japanese rebuilt their economy from scratch after World War II, they invested heavily in their manufacturing and banking sectors and in the education and training of a disciplined, sophisticated and technically savvy workforce. Their manufacturing sector became so efficient that it challenged America’s status as the world’s largest economy in the 1980s.

  • There might have been a dam, a mile and a-half of stored water and a new chance at sustainability — though “sustainability” was not in our vocabulary then — with thriving truck gardens, lush orchards and a much greener valley.
    Or something else entirely. It depends whom you believed.
    Indian Camp Dam is the dam that never was. Seeing the current conflict over a proposed dam in the Gila, I looked back at the stories I wrote in the mid-1970s, when Indian Camp Dam was the dominant controversy in Taos.
    Years earlier, led by U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez, Congress passed a law creating the San Juan-Chama project.
    The project diverted water from the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado, across the Continental Divide into the Chama River, from which it flows into the Rio Grande.
    The Chama joins the Rio Grande near Española. Communities farther north did not have access to that water, so the legislation authorized a dam to be built in Taos County.
    The dam was to be sited in the foothills upstream from Ranchos de Taos, along the Rio Grande del Rancho, the stream that runs near the famous St. Francis Church.

  • After the 2008 economic crisis, many people assumed they would never be able to reach true financial independence — the ability to live comfortably off one’s savings and investments with no debt whatsoever.
    However, individuals willing to use their time horizon to plan and adjust their spending, savings and investment behaviors might just find financial independence is possible. Here are 10 ideas to get started.
    1. Visualize first, then plan. Start by considering what your vision of financial independence actually looks like — and then get a reality check. Qualified financial experts can examine your current financial circumstances, listen to what financial independence means to you and help you craft a plan. The path to financial independence may be considerably different at age 20 than it is at age 50. The more time you have to save and invest generally produces a better outcome. But at any age, start with a realistic picture of your options.
    2. Budget. Budgeting — the process of tracking income, subtracting expenses and deciding how to divert the difference to your goals each month — is the essential first task of personal finance. If you haven’t learned to budget, you need to do so.

  • Part 2 of 2

    For days after the first atomic test on July 16, 1945, a powdery ash floated from the sky, coating everything in the Tularosa Basin, including cattle and crops. Then it rained, washing the stuff into wells and water sources.
    Ranchers noticed that their cattle turned white or partially white. Family pets similarly exposed had partially white coats. A rancher said his beard stopped growing for a few months, when it began growing again, it was white.
    Locals visited Trinity Site, walked around the cavity left behind, picked up the green glass that was sand before the blast, and looked at the twisted remains of the tower that suspended the bomb.
    Immediately after the blast, as a red haze descended, scientists and military personnel scrambled to evacuate.
    North of Trinity Site, men waited with vehicles to evacuate civilians, but radiation readings indicated they were safe, so far as they knew then.
    Photographs taken two months later show Manhattan Project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists, unprotected, examining the tower’s remnants.
    Today, knowing what we know, it’s surprising how casual everyone was. It was the world’s first nuclear fallout, and New Mexico was the recipient.

  • This year brought the 35th edition of “The Capitol Fourth,” the public broadcasting show that runs twice each July 4. “The Capitol Fourth” celebrates the United States.
    To start this year, Barry Manilow walked onto the stage, took his place at the piano and sang, “America the Beautiful.” He followed with his own “Let Freedom Ring.” The song’s chorus says, “It’s a dream to build upon. We’ll take the dream and pass it on and on and on, and let freedom sing, let freedom ring.”
    The show included Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The overture was accompanied by fireworks exploding in the sunset behind the Washington Monument, which was framed by flags.
    The usual 10-minute fireworks and music spectacular closed the show with a medley of Souza marches and “Yankee Doodle Boy,” from the musical “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
    A few weeks ago, I mentioned our drive-by of historic sites in Massachusetts and Philadelphia.
    We went to Lexington and Concord, Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house in Boston, and Independence Hall In Philadelphia. Spirits inhabit these places. Not ghosts, really, but a definite sense of events having happened.
    Today, Lexington and Concord mean the Minute Man National Historical Park.

  • At its regular meeting on July 15, the Board of Public Utilities voted unanimously to approve and forward to the County Council for their approval the following five agreements related to the San Juan Generating Station (SJGS):

    1. The San Juan Project Restructuring Agreement
    2. The Amended and Restated Mine Reclamation and Trust Funds Agreement
    3. The San Juan Decommissioning and Trust Funds Agreement
    4. The Restructuring Amendment Amending and Restating the Amended and Restated San Juan Project Participation Agreement
    5. The Exit Amendment Amending and Restating Amended and Restated San Juan Project Participation Agreement

    The county council will be reviewing these documents for possible approval at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
    The documents are agreements among the nine entities which currently participate in the SJGS and concern many issues. In particular, the agreements provide conditions for exiting from the plant in 2022, or how a decision for remaining in the plant post-2022 would be handled. Other topics include federal and state regulatory requirements, fuel supply sources, site and mine reclamation arrangements.

  • With respect to the San Juan Coal Fired Power Generating Station Vote in the County Council on Tuesday:

    1) We are told that we can’t get out from our ownership of San Juan until 2022.
    2) We are told it is smart to maintain our ownership to recover our $6 million bond outlay for the NOx abatement equipment to be installed.
    3) We are told we will have to pay our share of the expected forthcoming lawsuits whether in or out of the picture.
    Here is some background on all of these issues. Flexibility exists if we choose to take it. Going blindly ahead, we could be committing to much larger costs and here’s why:
    First, the removal of our ownership of San Juan was on the table. Here is how several California cities utilities did it. It is revealed in the document Entitled “City of Colton Electric Utility Department 2013 Integrated Resource Plan,” which can be found at ci.colton.ca.us/DocumentCenterView/1830:
    Here is a quote on page 17:
    “The California owners of Unit 4 (Anaheim and Modesto Irrigation District, Santa Clara and Redding or MSR) are trading their ownership in Unit 4 for capacity in Unit 3 so that when Unit 3 is decommissioned in 2017, they will have no remaining capacity in the project.”

  • I love all sorts of music.
    The world of music is like a buffet, and it’s fun to sample new dishes just to get a taste.
    I even like the taste of rap. Well, some of it. Most rap tastes like salted prunes dipped in Vegemite.
    The only two forms of music that I’ve never particularly liked are “country and western.”
    That nasal whining can ruin a good set of speakers, but there is one thing you can say about country music: when you listen to it, you know what’s being said.
    I love how Dennis Warner captured the true meaning of love in his song, “If my nose were full of nickels, I’d blow it all on you.”
    Or how about rockabilly’s legendary Johnny Burnette, who crooned out “You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine.” Did anyone ever ask him exactly how, at the age of 26, he knew her under-aged lips tasted like strawberry wine?
    Whatever one’s favorite music, it’s interesting to see how many people can enjoy a song without knowing what the song is about.
    The epitome of the enigmatic is, without a doubt, “Louie, Louie.”
    First sung by Richard Berry, it was later immortalized by The Kingsmen.

  • Let’s stop unwanted pregnancies! Let’s stop abortions! Real progress has been achieved in Colorado.
    Recent articles in the New York Times, Santa Fe New Mexican and other publications have reported that the birthrate among teenagers in Colorado plummeted by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013 and teenage abortions dropped by 42 percent.
    There was a similar decline in births for another group of particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.
    The changers were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state where jobs are scarce and unplanned births come often to the young.
    These astonishing results were not the consequence of abstinence curricula, but rather an aggressive outreach program administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
    Using funds from a private grant provided by the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation (named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffet’s late wife), more than 30,000 long-lasting contraceptive devices, such as intrauterine device, known as IUDs, and contraceptive implants, were distributed at 68 family planning clinics across the state.

  • A Boy Scout takes an oath to become a Scout, “On my honor I will do my duty to God and my country and to help other people at all times and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” It is as simple as that.
    To become an American Legionnaire, one does not take an oath because one will have already done that when he/she raises their hand and swears to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and to defend our country against all enemies foreign and domestic. One then dons the uniform of the United States of America military service then become a veteran. The motto of the Legion is “For God and Country.”
    Both are very similar as to allegiance in the purpose and goals of each organization.
    The image of The American Legion may be that of a bunch of old men sitting around, drinking beer and swapping war stories. There may be something to that because veterans do drink beer, but the bulk of conversation is not war stories. It is about family, friends and just plain everyday conversation.
    The common bond is not spoken but it is there. Part of that bond is a sense of duty to something more than one’s own self.

  • Despite public protest, Japan is going nuclear — again.
    Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in northeastern Japan, all nuclear reactors were gradually switched off for inspections. Due to safety concerns, the country’s nuclear power generation has been at a standstill.
    Meanwhile, new regulatory standards have been developed and reactors are undergoing inspections.
    Prior to 2011, nuclear power provided nearly one third of Japan’s electricity. Lost power-generation capacity has been replaced by importing pricey fossil fuels.
    Japan has few natural resources of its own. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports: “Japan imports more than 90 percent of its fossil fuels, and is particularly dependent on the Middle East for oil and natural gas.”

  • Part 1 of 2

    Not one newspaper mentioned the searing flash, massive fireball and multi-colored mushroom cloud that arose in the southern New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. Windows rattled as far away as Gallup and Amarillo, Texas.
    The army said it was an exploding ammunition dump. New Mexicans doubted the story privately, but the nation was at war, New Mexico was deeply involved, and citizens didn’t ask too many questions. The story of the first atomic bomb test at Trinity Site came out with the devastation of Hiroshima, a few weeks later.
    What we’ve said about “the day the sun rose twice” in news stories has changed during its many anniversaries, starting with the wonder of it all and moving to the morality and legacy of the bomb. Decades passed before we heard about human impacts here in New Mexico.    
    On the first anniversary, a news story described the Manhattan Project in detail and noted that during the year, “four atomic bombs have been dropped, and peace has returned to the world.”