Monthly Archives: August 2010

freaky freeze

Ok, August and you know what that means. Interminable hours commenting on the heat interspersed with a constant footrace from one pool of air to another. Amid a ubiquitous technology we forget that not long ago AC was a treat akin to going for ice cream.
Were one to compile a list of people who changed the world, Thomas Midgley would near the top. Midgley, head chemist for Charles Kettering of General Motors, is most famous for isolating in the twenties the lead-based gasoline antiknock compound that enabled modern high compression engines, known indiscreetly as “loony gas” for the effects of lead exposure to industrial workers. Another of Midgley’s assignments fulfilled Kettering’s dream of air conditioning. In a few days, Midgley concocted Freon, the chemical heart of modern air conditioning.
Through these compounds suddenly the world was changed although not because of the later discovered and well-publicized effects of Freon on the atmosphere and of airborne lead on the environment and children; that should have been enough. The social effects are equal to or greater than the environmental.
No one is denying the assets of improved technology. Imagine Raleigh before AC, donning office clothing, a stout three piece suit or a long dress of respectable black bombazine concealing petticoats, mounting a streetcar and clattering downtown to a solemn, dark brick building to toil for the state, the interior heat broken only by the lack of direct sunlight and ventilation via roof-top cupolas. Picture one’s office day punctuated by the despair engendered by a drop of sweat dripping from your nose to splatter a newly scribed longhand report.
Accompanying the technological improvements were some losses, most notably social effects that extended past the work day. The lack of automobiles and reliance on ice for refrigeration engendered societal exposure. Part of one’s life involved jumping on a streetcar or walking to shop for food everyday or so instead of the isolated once a week ritual it has become via Freon and gasoline. Gains in food safety and convenience accompanied losses to the public forum. Public transportation and necessity required rubbing elbows and getting to know each other. A great part of unnoticed social connections have become sundered as we run from one bubble of cool air to another to spend the balance of the hours often in solitary passive pursuits, watching television or surfing the Internet.
Few would suggest ridding oneself of these developments although it is within one’s grasp to reduce dependency on what has become a “necessity” with some simple techniques.
 Do your outdoor business before noon. That’s an easy one requiring no explanation.
 Use your AC sparingly (if your system permits it and you can) by keeping the thermostat as high as you can comfortably tolerate coupled with the use of fans.
 If you don’t have AC or don’t want to use it, employ a time-tested southern technique. When the air begins to cool in the late afternoon, early evening, selectively open windows on opposite or different sides of the space, not all of them. Enhance flow with the fans, one pulling air in, the other pushing air out. The attempt is to utilize varying pressure gradients and wind shear to facilitate transfer, evacuation and flow through the space. While opening every window may work if there is a steady wind, in times of still air having every window open can reduce airflow. When the air begins to heat in the morning, close the windows and use drapes or blinds to exclude the sun. Experiment.
 If your car has AC, give it and yourself a break. Park in shade if you can. If not, when you return open as many doors as you can conveniently, start your motor and engage the AC and. Wait a short time, 30 seconds, a minute, to allow the superheated interior air to evacuate the cabin of the vehicle. When you can feel cool air coming out the vents, close the doors, and drive.

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Marry Me

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Photo by Chrystal Bartlett

Of the “sanctity of marriage” movement one is reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain’s concerning drinking: “There are two kinds of people, thems that want a drink and thems that don’t want us to have one.” What beyond that is there to say? Given the unhappy statistics surrounding US-style “conventional” marriage, fully half of which end in divorce, which lifestyle choice could further unhinge that which has proven to be as unstable and temporary a human relationship as one will find? Hey, dig it, more people stick with their jobs longer than many marriages.
That didn’t stop what could politely be called a handful of demonstrators from gathering at the Capitol grounds on Tuesday in support of the National Organization for Marriage, testifying their distaste against any sort of marriage other than the aforementioned. I stayed around to hear what they had to say. While my sympathies were with those on the other side of Morgan street who braved the August heat to confront the narrow minded zealots, the sheer numbers of the rainbow tribe ensured my absence would not be a factor. “If there’da been a rumble, them queers woulda kicked ass,” a passerby giggled.
Sheesh. Where does one start? NOM’s message is such a mish-mash of oblique, historic falsities and unsupportable “consensus” as to defy rational examination. From dictionary definitions to the facts, beginning with the claim that their mission is backed by “3000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition,” NOM’s mission is constructed on a foundation of quicksand. On the simple definition of the word “marriage,” it is worth noting that the second definition in that final arbiter of such etymological disputes, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) concerns Polyandry, everyone married to everyone. Since NOM is dependent on Biblical law, a brief examination of those laws may be in order. “ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN,” the NOMmies shrill, conveniently ignorant of a non-existent stricture that the patriarchs were likewise ignorant of. The Bible reports that Solomon sported 700 wives and 300 concubines, King David, 6 wives and numerous concubines and so forth. Likewise biblical law dictates that adulterers are to be put to death amid helpful advice about selling one’s daughter into slavery. “That’s the Old Testament,” goes the counter, leaving one to quote Jesus, who is reported to have said, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) Were modern US culture to explicitly follow the directions in the Law, bodies would clog the streets.
But none of the above nor any other species of religious claptrap is of any consequence. NOM’s fundamental error is failing to recognize that the US Constitution trumps any religious hogwash, no matter how deep its local level of acceptance. The genius of the founders of this nation is glaringly evident in that they sidestepped the entire, murky, unprovable bog of religion via the First Amendment which as we all know (or should) forbids a religious state establishment. To the oft-expressed error of the US being a “Judeo-Christian” nation, a partial response might be to point how George Washington refused to attend church following his wife’s Episcopalian minister badgering him about taking communion (he attended church to placate her). Most of the rest, Jefferson, Franklin, were Freemasons and/or Deists, both of which are rejected as false idolatry in conflict with Christianity. That is perhaps the how and why of the nascent United States avoiding the bloody path that its sire Great Britain trod, accompanied by the great loss of life attending the Brit’s various religious civil wars (something I am not opposed to for practical reasons for the simple reason of house clearing). Christians killing Christians over dogma. Ah, now that’s the sort of intelligent design I am not automatically opposed to.
Any legal arguments that stems from religious doctrine is unconstitutional by it’s nature. Although the speakers claims that overturning California’s ban was in abeyance of the wishes of the voters is in fact true, it is of no consequence. The US is a nation of laws and judicial overrule of an unfair law passed by a bigoted, ignorant voting body is quite legal under the Constitution. Happens all the time. Although Federal Judge Vaughn Walker was loudly berated as an “activist judge” his ruling was consistent with the US Constitution. California’s Prop 8 violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of that pesky 14th Amendment. Instead of chiding a strict constructionist, religious zealots of all stripe should loudly trumpet a finding that implicitly perserves their right to spread whatever idiotic reading of the Bible they concoct. On that, the biggest laugh I had to suppress was that the counter-protesters were impeding NOM and their supporters right to express the worst forms of bigotry and intolerance.
What remains to be seen is whether Walker’s wise, reasoned review can survive the appeal process. Despite that, California Governor Ahnult Schvartsenekkah and Attorney General Jerry Brown are requesting that Walker permit gay marriage through the appeal process.

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BIG NEWS Convention Center a flop

Once again, correct. Cool. Less work in this heat.

From the N&O Aug 10, 2010
Convention center wants more to spend
BY THOMAS GOLDSMITH AND SARAH OVASKA – STAFF WRITERS

RALEIGH — Faced with increasing competition for national convention business, the managers of the Raleigh Convention Center want to more than double contributions to a fund it uses to offer discounts and incentives, from $350,000 to $750,000.

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/08/10/621916/convention-center-wants-more-to.html#ixzz0wDAXxKZz

February 04, 2004 Peter Eichenberger

Look out, Minneapolis!

The convention center decision reminds me of a neighbor disposed toward the purchase of lawn furniture. A lot of lawn furniture. She wasn’t the type to have anyone over for tea, yet was more than amply provisioned with seating capacity for the garden party that never happened.

That is the plan for the publicly financed convention center/hotel juggernaut–build it and if they come we’ll have a place for ’em. Despite a flat (and in some fields, declining) convention business, cities across the country, big and not so big, are lining up to construct these glossy monsters, often relying on preposterously optimistic projections.

Oh, those troubling facts. My colleague, Todd Morman (www.monkeytime.org) discovered some eye-opening details about the fruits of Music (wo)Man (i.e. head of the Raleigh Downtown Alliance) Margaret Mullen’s convention center boosting efforts in Phoenix, Ariz. –a dead downtown. Morman cites a series from Phoenix New Times ( phoenixnewtimes.com/special_reports/downtown/index.html) that asks: “Why hasn’t a vibrant core city happened? We’ve got interesting people: artists, tycoons, celebrities, cultural and ethnic diversity. Why are we saddled with vacant lots and Soviet-style architecture in our core city?” Sound familiar? Of course, the answer leaders have come up with is… expanding the convention center.

I could cite multiple studies and practical examples that illustrate the ugly truth: Publicly funded convention centers usually fail to live up to “experts'” predictions. Consulting firms don’t get paid to give the bad news, they get paid to come up with rosy scenarios. It is worth noting that KPMG Peat Marwick, LLP, the firm that did the original convention center study, has been in hot water with the feds for filing false Columbia HCA Medicare cost reports as well as assisting Xerox in manipulating its accounting practices to fill a (oops) $3 billion “gap” in operating costs. Just the sort of firm sure to supply a paying client with accurate timely information, right?

Convention centers usually require city revenue to operate. The revenue shortfall for Raleigh’s is projected to start at $1.8 million a year. They can also pump cash into a local economy (bars, restaurants). The question is how much, and who picks up the tab if the revenue stream doesn’t live up to the billing? Remember, it’s not just the center, it’s the hotel spaces. Raleigh, to be fair, is factoring in the hotel with a view toward forestalling the disasters that have befallen cities that have built convention centers without adequate hotel space. But suddenly Raleigh is in the hotel business–a highly speculative trade with its own set of risks.

A big convention center is a mighty big gamble for a “third-tier” metro area–especially with the number of competing cities set to enter the market and, lest we forget, in view of Raleigh’s track record with other big-eyed dream projects–Exploris, the RBC fiasco. Two-hundred-plus million bucks is lot of dough for our version of the Eggplant That Ate Chicago–a “maybe” that amounts to a massive public subsidy for the food/hospitality biz. And let’s have a bit of clarity of the quality of jobs and average financial recompense for gigs in the hospitality business–what, seven bucks an hour (unless you’re a hooker)? That’ll just about buy the gas to drive from your trailer in Clayton with maybe a bit to send back to mamacita.

Let’s be honest. When you look at the competition: Austin, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Orlando, San Diego, Knoxville and the literally hundreds of other big venues metastasizing across the nation–one is left to wonder which organization would be drawn to Raleigh for a regular convention large enough for the new facility to accommodate.

The recent Cranium/Money Magazine’s list for top “fun” destinations listed Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill as the sixth most “fun” place to visit, and that may be true, although when you look at the city at the top of the list, Minneapolis, one has to wonder just who is doing the selecting. As far as Raleigh is concerned, cutting off the Durham/Chapel Hill part, when Lycos lists one of the features as Adventure Landing (sandwiched between Cameron Village and the Rose Garden), it becomes clear that the “fun” factor could well hinge on Raleigh’s go-cart tracks.

Nope, this is the urban equivalent of automotive power windows. You may remember when one had to actually roll car windows up and down by hand. Power windows were something reserved for your loaded granddaddy. Now it is hard to find a vehicle that doesn’t have them–a woe betide the loser who has to bear that social burden. Lord, we can’t let Charlotte (underbooked, may I add) get one up on us, by golly!

The city’s in ostrich mode: “We’re elected to make the tough choices and we’re gonna make a doozy and don’t care a rat’s keister that 60-plus percent of you voted it down the last time we put it to the citizenry.” If it is such a dandy idea, why won’t the council or the mayor and council acknowledge the studies and at least be responsive and up-front instead of insulting us? Why the secret meetings?

Back to Austin, a city to which the Triangle is often compared–state capital, a university and a tech business. They’ve got a convention center–a big ‘un. The difference is Austin has a life, a real beating heart downtown, courtesy of a city government that encourages streetlife–what a concept. There is actually a reason to go to Austin and be downtown–lots of venues serving up local culture, Texas style. Ring a ding ding–three score of music clubs, a legend playing somewhere each and every night. Compare and contrast that to our little town, a place that has, against tall odds (like our very own widdle noise compliance officer, a real buzz-killer against whom the students are about to mutiny) nurtured some big acts that were forced to pursue their careers anywhere other than Raleigh. Fun is not permitted. Stay in your houses. It is like a campfire, always smoldering, trying to spring to life, and a colossus straddling the embers, hosing down the coals and stankin’ up the woods with an endless steam of urine. The fire never goes out–and the piss never stops. So what do we get? Adventure Landing. (OK, there is always The Acorn. To be fair, how many towns have the cojones to admit to “dropping a nut” on New Years, tee hee).

Forget the Livable Streets proposal. I’ve read it and it’s the same, dreary, endless rearranging of the Titanic’s deck chairs. Vague, pre-chewed gunk, the sort of thing that boosts city planners’ self esteem–makes them feel like they’re doing something. Let’s tear up Fayetteville Street and build a mall. No, let’s tear up the mall and turn it into a street! I know–new bus routes! A convention center! That’ll fix everything!

Blowing public money to wine and dine stripper-chasin’ goobers from Dubuque while they wax about lawnmowers at Vinnie’s is a shallow and insulting way to “revitalize” a city. Meanwhile, soon the only activity on Hillsborough will be squashed to-go cups blowing down the street, a pathetic shadow of what was once the happeninest place in Raleigh–now ritually disemboweled following a slobbery wet-kiss of death administered by the city and the (shriek) homeowners.

I know I’m just a lowly columnist, but my mommy did bless me with some common sense. And I see big red flags over this whole downtown “plan.” It’s like Lucy and the football, only I’ve seen this before and I ain’t falling for it. It’s time to get radical.

Downtown housing.

Oh, I know now I’ve gone over the edge, talking all sorts of loony stuff, but that’s me–crazy like that. Geez, people actually living downtown. What a concept. And I’m not just talking about $300,000 condos. There aren’t that many people positioned to play that game, and the ones that can don’t generally avail themselves of walking life and hanging out. No, I’m talking about subsidies to make housing affordable to those who actually make cities purr–are now forced to live in threatened ghettos–you know, the regular joes, including artists, musician and writers, the ones Raleigh seems to despise despite pretty words to the contrary. Read all about it from urban visionary Richard Florida: http://www.creativeclass.org.

It is called “habitat creation.” It works for woodpeckers and it works for people. You build a place for human critters to live and, whadaya know, sooner or later they have to eat, buy shoes. You know, live. And it is not just 25 times a year like some bloated, hideous convention center–residents are there all day, all the time, all year. Plus they just might do more for the community than wake with greasy hair and a hangover, flick a butt on the street and catch a cab to fly back to Dubuque.

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Closed or Sealed, more than semantics

With all the impediments facing the South East High Speed Rail Corridor, one would not be amiss in thinking NCDOT would be all behind the success of the project, right? Well, as one begins to examine the various factions, sides and opinions, some very peculiar omissions and, um — misdirection begin to emerge. As everyone who keeps up with such things knows by now one of the major points of contention that threatens to steer or in fact scuttle the entire project are the closure of roadways which cross the intended route(s). I’ve been to the meetings, read the official papers and kept up with news/opinions. Most of the public comment on HSR, from Raleigh to Richmond, include concerns about potential disconnections via road closure. Well they should for within the current parameters road closures could have the opposite effect of what rail promises, enhanced connections and improved transportation options as well as critical, primary decisions on the route of the corridor. So why, I ask, or rather how, amid all the hoopla, has one key detail on that critical matter managed to have been exempt, conveniently forgotten – or worse, possibly downplayed deliberately for some purpose, say to obtain some sort of economic or policy leverage? A missing link is the sealed corridor concept.
Sealed corridors represent a potential solution to the most significant hurdle to SEHSP. A sealed corridor is one that can be cut off selectively from conflicting modes, cars and other trains via minimal infrastructural changes, so-called 4 quadrant gates and the like, which would obviate the unfortunate need for road closure. Four-quadrant gates are a variation on the familiar one per side gates, i.e. four per intersection, which discourage or render impossible the careless, drunk and/or foolhardy from crossing a busy track and getting creamed. Throughout the current period of public debate, I never heard of the sealed corridor concept. I first learned about the sealed corridors concept from a source outside of the current debate, very curious considering the origins and widespread utility of the idea.
From the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed Grade Crossing Guidelines:
The State of North Carolina has pioneered many of the subsequent advances on the North Carolina Railroad under the concept of a “Sealed Corridor.” NCDOT defines the concept as follows … redundant and/or unsafe crossings are consolidated through closure and/or grade separation and all remaining public crossings are equipped as appropriate with four quadrant gates, median separators and longer gate arms [my bold]
You read right. Suddenly a heretofore unknown detail offers a way out of the closure conundrum. I like to think of myself as fairly well informed but find it quite peculiar and somewhat suspicious that an advance wrought by a North Carolina agency is MIA from a debate — in the very state where said advances could stand to radically alter the end result. What do you think? What is even odder is that I was not the only one who was bereft of this important piece of data. Of all the coverage in the local news, only Bob Geary, a former colleague of mine at the Independent, included the detail; it was absent from all other news sources, the N&O and the myriad broadcast media, so it isn’t just me. I will go ahead and be bold and express the only two possibilties: the omission of the sealed corridor concept was either A LIE of omission or a ham-handed attempt to control the debate by some person or agency in a North Carolina government agency, read NCDOT or NCRR. Go ahead, boys and girls of the press, tear yourselves away from Lindsey Lohan, dig in and figure it out.
But there’s another detail lost in the mists of time that gives the guilty needle a twitch. Some of y’all might remember Triangle Transit’s early attempt to foster light rail in the Triangle. Some of the better informed still in possession of a memory: remember why light rail foundered? Give up? ‘Cause NCRR, like some petulant snot-nosed Trustifarian, refused to let anyone come and play in their sandbox aka the NCRR right of way. Well that seems like very odd behavior for a corporation, a railroad OWNED BY THE PEOPLE of North Carolina, actively preventing infrastructure advances in the very business they are in, namely providing passenger rail for its citizens. Were I to hazard a guess as to why, seems that like any other for-profit corporation, the NCRR wants to stack the deck in their favor, at the expense of reasonable alternatives, or maybe as my all-seeing brother claimed, it is simply for the small-minded expedience of an easy way to keep that pesky High Speed Rail out of their yard on the east side of Capital Boulevard.

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The Super Citizen

The Glaxo/Avantia matter is ubiquitous and representative enough to serve as a touchstone for a discussion on larger issues of where we are as a nation amid the rise of corporatism. Where within the emerging shift of constitutional rights and privileges do we as a nation and “people” stand? Even a casual knowledge of current events should display the fundamental shift and consolidation of political power attending the launch of this new millenium, a consolidation of the dictates of big business exemplified by concurrent losses of flesh and blood rights.
“We’re from the government. We’re here to help,” goes the old right-wing standard yuk-yuk “biggest lie.” A reasonable counter might be something akin to an absurdity like McDonald’s “We Do it All For You.” Corporate expressions of the concern for their customers are pure piffle, constructs of PR firms whose main duty to their masters is to tailor impressions that in the circles you and I travel would often consider lies. And here we can look for the size and effects attending the transcendence from public to private control via emergence of the super-citizen, the triumph of business over the sovereignty of popular government, as seen in the spill zone with civil authority, local cops, commandeered by BP for their purposes, depriving citizens and the press of access to the spill site under threat of arrest for exercising their 1st amendment rights in a public place, a very disquieting return to the 19th century.
From the flawed 19th century railroad case, Santa Clara vs Southern Pacific, that let the monster out of the box, the emergence and institutionalization of the corporate person has evoked major reconfigurations in politics. While the two party “system” has long exhibited a perennial cycle, a plasticity, in what and who they represent, best seen in what “republican” meant to Jefferson compared to what it means to Sarah Palin, no greater change has come as a result of corporation’s enhanced rights to fulfill their primary ethic, make money. Attending that earthquake was a shift in the meaning of money, from an abstraction of capital, a sort of agreement for conducting business, to the actual raison d’etra of human existence, rendered even more absurd and surreal by the emergence of what I call Wall Street’s “debt standard”, an economy at it’s core based on who owes what to whom, the freakery enhanced by money’s new surreal digital expressions.
The primary dividing line of politics, the overused and increasingly meaningless categories “liberal” vs “conservative” was formerly based on where the money went. Practical conservative theorists like Alexander Hamilton bet on elite families, banks and financial entities. The Jeffersonian economic sense of liberalism was more democratic in concept, that the nation’s money supply should retain a fluid nature, widely dispersed by small-scale commerce and trade. Neither of these should obscure that the visionaries who engineered the American overthrow of British power were by the definition of the word at the time “liberals” nor that the newly spawned US was by definition a liberal state. We conducted a revolution that launched a new economic order that reduced Britain to no more than a favored trading nation. The internal fight began between those who favored elite control and Jefferson/Jackson’s romantic yeoman.
The corrupt erasure of the legal distinctions between natural and corporate citizens launched a new royalty based not so much on family connections but on piles of cash. Following Santa Clara, the Democratic party, founded for the individual, had its soul stolen. Since Wall Street could not consistently triumph over the combined will of the electorate at the ballot box, they used their influence to tweak the rule book. A Democratic standards of support for the “people” was skewed when the corporation became a person. Laws and amendments that benefited humans suddenly aided beeg beesiness. Take lying. While distasteful and ultimately producing negative effects, lying is speech protected by the Constitution, a two-edged constitutional sword forged by the first amendment and used daily by corporations to increase profits. We pay with our lives everyday.
In the case of Glaxo, to accept that the corporation releases the safest compound following clinical trials and such is a happyland hallucination. In my role as an AV tech out at the park, I got a front row seat at internal meetings of all the Pharm firms. Much like Ford concealing the deadly faults with the Pinto, invariably Big Pharm would opt for formulations that would make them money, even those estimated to kill a higher percentage. Don’t believe it? There is medicine to help you with that. See your prescriber.

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