Sunday, March 30, 2014

401 and Done

When I was a kid I was bowled over by the national parks my parents took my three sisters and me to.  We didn't go to that many, but they amazed me.  Redwoods, Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns are three that come to mind.  We got a National Geographic book, America's Wonderlands, and I avidly pored through it.  I dreamed of one day going to every national park in America.  There were about 40 of them in those days.

Today's entry is about an interesting fellow who has accomplished something I admire very much.  By visiting the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. this year,     Chris Calvert has been not only to all 49 national parks, but to all 401 sites and units in the national park system!  To read a more complete story, National Parks, the quarterly magazine of the National Parks Conservation Association, has an article about him in ts Spring 2014 issue.  Appropriately, it's titled "401 and Done."

Carter's quest began 33 years ago,     when he was 17.  His parents took    him to Olympic National Park in     Washington state. He remembers  being overwhelmed by the majesty of snow-capped crags looming over old growth forest and flowered  meadows and saying, "If this is what the national parks
are about, I have   to see all of them."
Carter graduated from law school, but instead of becoming a "big-shot lawyer" remains a clerk in the office.  That's because he is "unwilling to sacrifice that much of his life to a job."  As his partner  Jeff Splitsoser says, Carter feels "The most precious thing we have is time.  All the money in the world     cannot buy you back another second of it.  His passion is seeing parks--not filing an application or a    brief." For living life as he wishes in pursuit of his passion and dream this entry salutes Chris Calvert.                       

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tweny-Five Year Anniversary of Exxon Valdez Disaster

Twenty-five years ago today, on March 24, 2014,  the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska.  The 11-million-gallon oil spill killed an estimated 200,000 sea birds and wrecked the regional fishing industry.  Though some species have recovered to pre-spill levels, the herring and orcas have never rebounded past a tiny fraction of their former numbers.  Click here for a recap and update on the disaster. 

Though all agree safety has improved considerably in the years since, with double-hulled ships, blood testing (the captain of the Exxon Valdez had been drinking) and somewhat stiffer penalties for toxic spills, recent events prove that as long as we rely on these highly poisonous fuels for the bulk of our energy, accidents are inevitable.  Equipment fails and humans make mistakes.  The 2010 BP Deep Horizon Rig disaster killed eleven workers and put an estimated 200 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.  Just yesterday, a barge collision with a ship in the Houston Ship Channel near Galveston has leaked some 170,000 gallons there so far.

The race to extract hydrocarbons from ever more difficult environments guarantees there will be serious environmental costs.  Such processes as drilling under ever deeper waters, particularly including the Arctic seabed, unearthing coal by mountain top removal and squeezing hard-to-reach oil and natural gas from rock formations by fracking are fraught with sufficient risks that the laws of probability ensure regular episodes of devastation.

The sad truth is that our means of coping have advanced but little.  The toxic dispersants and floating booms and sweeps they use today are little changed in the quarter century since Exxon Valdez entered our consciousness.  Our development of solar and wind resources are accelerating but remain at a relative snail's pace compared to the surging world demand for coal, oil and gas.  We must do better than this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Probable Fate of Flight 370

The airwaves have been thick with news and, more often, speculation about the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 for a week and a half now.  Hard evidence has been sketchy and ambiguous, and in the ensuing fact-vacuum theories about the quandary have ranged from terrorism to pilot suicide to alien abduction.

Leave it to an experienced pilot to come up with the most plausible explanation I've seen, based on the facts as we know them.  Pilot Chris Goodfellow yesterday wrote an article in Wired magazine that examines the disappearance from the perspective of a flyer with 20 years' experience and comes up with a scenario that accounts for each facet of the case of the Boeing 777 that left Kuala Lumpur but never made it to Beijing.  It also tells us where to look for the wreckage, if we want to save time and expense doing so.

In all likelihood, nothing will ever be settled conclusively until the aircraft is found, if it ever is.  If Chris Goodfellow is right, that is probably going to be 20,000 feet below the waves of the South Indian Ocean.  But until then, I'm going with Goodfellow's case as a good tentative explanation. 

To take a look at things through the eye of a professional pilot rather than a breathless news anchor, go to this link.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Obama Appearance on "Funny or Die."

The big news today is President Barack Obama's appearance on comedian Zach Galifianakis's mock interview program "Between Two Ferns" on the "Funny or Die" site.  The President and the comic trade barbs, with Galifianakis of the "Hangover" movies adopting his customary slouching, passive-aggressive style and the Prez dishing it right back at him.  The humorous six-and-a-half-minute spot has recorded six million hits in less than a day.

The President does have a message to deliver in the midst of the wit, and the viral nature of how the piece has taken off has confirmed the genius of choosing this medium to reach the young adult demographic. 

See the video here, and prepare to laugh!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ukrainian Situation: What Next?

The situation in Ukraine has preoccupied the world's attention for the past several weeks,  First there was the popular uprising against President Yanukovich for his decision to spurn the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia.  When his police forces turned on the people with deadly force he lost all credibility and support.  He fled the country and surfaced later in--where else--Russia.

Next the Ukrainian Parliament declared him to have abandoned his post and selected a successor.  This was quickly followed by the intervention of thinly-disguised Russian troops into the southern province of Crimea, where Russia still maintains a major naval base, leased from Ukraine.  The Crimean regional parliament was "dismissed" by Russian troops and replaced by pro-Moscow politicians who have now called for elections in 10 days to allow the people to decide whether Crimea should remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia.

The US and EU have responded with calls for support for Ukraine.  Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted to support President Obama's offer of $1 billion in aid for Ukraine's government.  He said that economic sanctions on Russia will not be far behind.  The EU is considering aid and economic sanctions on Russia as well.  For their part, Russia has countered by withdrawing offers to support Ukraine with $15 billion in aid and provide them hefty discounts on natural gas.  What's next?

Well, in truth, Crimea should probably have been part of Russia all along.  The people who live there are not Ukrainian.  It's about 60% ethnic Russian and was added to Ukraine by Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev in 1954 simply as part of an administrative reorganization.  That doesn't make Russia's thuggish tactics, clearly orchestrated under the direction of its President, Vladimir Putin, right.  But with a majority Russian population and as the home base of the Russian Black Sea fleet it is clearly considered a vital interest to the Kremlin.  And the majority of its people probably actually do want to be part of Russia.  

Putin and Obama had a 90-minute phone conversation last week reportedly had another 60-minute talk today.  That augurs well for a diplomatic solution.  The West can do a great deal of harm to the Russian economy if push comes to shove.  There will not be a Russian-American war over this.  Look for some form of arrangement whereby the Ukrainian Parliament agrees to allow the sovereignty election, which would make it legal.  In exchange, Russia will agree to lay off the Eastern part of Ukraine, such as the city of Kharkiv, where Russians are also numerous, and let Ukraine cozy up to the EU.