Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer reading

Hot summer days make for excellent times to read in a Pawley's Island hammock in the deep shade of our maples. Or, when it gets too blasted hot and still outside, under a ceiling fan (closest thing we have to AC). Recently I've gotten into several nonfiction books:

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. On Memorial Day I posted reactions to Sledge's compelling account of his service as a Marine in WWII. I was inspired to learn more about the war in the Pacific and to read With the Old Breed after watching HBO's excellent miniseries, The Pacific that was based, in part, on With the Old Breed and on Robert Leckie's A Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific. Leckie's book will be a future read for me.

Loaned to to me by my brother-in-law, I just finished reading a fish tale, Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish, by G. Bruce Knecht. Ever heard of the Patagonian toothfish? Perhaps you know it better as an offering on your favorite restaurant's menu - Chilean Sea Bass. Much of the story takes place in the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean as Australia's Southern Supporter tracked poachers suspected of illegal fishing near Heard Island. But Hooked is a global fish story of how a little known fish was rebranded and became a runaway hit at trendy American restaurants. It is the story of pirates who feel they've done nothing wrong, of rich importers who go to great and often illegal pains to deceive regulators, and of lawyers who use every courtroom trick to make sure the pirates are back at sea using hi-tech means to take in huge hauls of fish. Ultimately though, Hooked is the story of how man's greed and technology has lead to the commercial collapse of many of the world's great fisheries.

On the fiction side, I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.
While I found it a bit slow at the start, the pace of this thriller quickly picked up and it was tough to put down until all the twists and turns of this thriller were exposed. If you find a murder mystery, financial intrigue, an offbeat love story, and a dysfunctional family intertwined in a sprawling novel to be of interest, you will enjoy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a fun read.

During the heat of yesterday afternoon, I started Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire. I'm not that far into it, but like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the author is taking some time setting the stage and introducing the characters. I'm still uncertain where this story is heading but am looking forward to getting back into the lives of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist later today.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Frack U

Gasland, a film by Josh Fox, is must-see-TV for folks in Rockingham County, Virginia. A drilling company is pushing to drill for natural gas in the Bergton area using a controversial technique that could adversely impact ground water resources. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the high pressure injection of millions of gallons of water along with sand and chemicals into a deep well to fracture the shale and to allow the gas to flow more freely.

Fracking is permitted because the Bush Administration successfully got natural gas drilling exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Drilling companies are not required to disclose the proprietary chemicals that are injected into the gas wells, many of which are over 8,000 feet deep. This so-called "Haliburton Loophole" essentially means the EPA cannot regulate these wells. Fracking in an area of karst limestone and aquifers, such as found in much of the Shenandoah Valley, is especially risky since since a poorly cased gas well could contaminate many wells, even those located miles from the drilling site.

Gasland has won numerous awards and will be airing on HBO through 2012. Let's hope members of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and especially their chairman, Pablo Cuevas, who represents the Bergton area, take time to watch Gasland and thoroughly investigate fracking before making a decision. Recent events scream for caution - if drilling/fracking is permitted in the Bergton area, the company should proffer a emergency fund to be held in escrow to compensate anyone adversely impacted.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DNR played by hate merchants

The Daily News Record was apparently scammed by the merchants of hate and intolerance at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Well known for their absurd assertion that U.S. military deaths are God's punishment for homosexuality, the Westboro bigots told the DNR that they'd protest at the funeral of Army Spc. Brian "Bucky" Anderson in Broadway. The DNR obliged by giving the hate mongers prime space (log-in required) on the front page of the June 22 edition, thereby promoting hate while distracting from Anderson's funeral. Anderson was killed in Afghanistan on June 12.

Mr. Yates and Mr. Hunt... would it have been so hard to wait until after the funeral to then, and only then, report on any protests by the Westboro Baptist gang. Those guys played you like a fiddle, getting free front page publicity, not once but probably twice, for their venom of religious hatred. But, something tells me the DNR is proud of giving the assist!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Endorsement - Kai Degner for Delegate

CCC is proud to endorse Kai Degner in the special election for 26th House of Delegates district. After hearing from the candidates in the abbreviated campaign, it is clear Degner is the best candidate to represent the good people of Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg.

Degner has run a principled campaign and has done his best to address current issues of interest in the district. As I listened to the candidates' answers to the questions posed to the candidates on TV3, it was abundantly clear Degner was the best informed, most articulate, and most in tune with residents. If that isn't enough, Degner's experience and accomplishments alone put him head and shoulders above his opponents. If you live in the 26th, Kai Degner deserves your vote.

Tony Wilt's campaign has done just that... wilted. Questions about potential conflicts of interest with his land ownership and concrete business and the proposed gas drilling in the Bergton area trouble many voters. And, from this bird's roost, his answers on TV3 were uninspired, inarticulate, and at best party talking points that he couldn't even repeat very well. As some recent letters in the DNR have indicated, putting someone in public office is all about trust and Mr. Wilt has failed that ultimate test.

Carolyn Frank's campaign is mostly nonexistent. The gadfly is a joke. Who knows how many votes she'll draw... we should all hope they don't come at Degner's expense.

 Put principle and competence above party in this special election - Vote for Kai Degner for Delegate.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cypress Creek - more questions than answers

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), of which Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative is a member, has proposed to build a new coal-fired power plant known as Cypress Creek Power Station in the Town of Dendron (pop. 300) in Surry County, Virginia. At a cost up to $6 billion ($9,000+ per household served), Cypress Creek would be the most expensive coal power plant in the country and the largest coal-fired plant in the Commonwealth. ODEC has already spent thousands of dollars in the ongoing permitting process. ODEC defends the plant by stating that coal "is still the least expensive way for us to make sure we have the electricity we need at an affordable price."

Others aren't so sure that ODEC's dollars make much sense. Wise Energy for Virginia commissioned a study by Synapse Energy Economics Inc. The respected analysts concluded that an uncertain economic climate and costs of meeting regulations related to carbon dioxide could mean even higher electric rates for consumers.

Of course, there are costs that aren't always measured in dollars and cents. A Chesapeake Bay Foundation study found that the plant would discharge significant amounts of mercury and other toxins into the James, Pamunkey, Blackwater, Nottoway, and Roanoke rivers and into the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the plant violates provisions of the Clean Water Act. Physicians for Social Responsibility and others have pointed out that air and water discharges from a coal-fired power plant will create a variety of environmental and health problems for the region. Cypress Creek is located just upwind and upstream from one of Virginia's most populated areas - Hampton Roads - which is also one of the state's major tourist destinations.

So far, ODEC has been touting the benefits but has been less than forthcoming about the costs, financial and otherwise, of Cypress Creek. SVEC members should be asking questions and demanding answers. A few of those questions:
  • How much will Cypress Creek cost? What will SVEC contribute? How with this be passed on to customers?
  • With many banks wary of the risks of financing coal-powered plants, how will Cypress Creek be financed? What are the borrowing costs? How will those costs be passed on to SVEC customers?
  • What are the alternatives to a mega coal-fired plant? Have those alternatives been completely explored?
  • Currently there is excess power on the PJM grid and an uncertain economy and greater conservation make future demand uncertain. Do we really need this mega power plant?
  • Since the beginning of the year plans for at least eight coal-fired power plants have been abandoned or put on hold. Most recently it was Wolverine Power Cooperative's plans for a coal-fired plant in Michigan. An air quality permit was denied and the Michigan Public Service Commission concluded that the plant was not needed and "would result in an estimated rate increase of $76.95 per month for the average Wolverine residential customer." What lessons can we learn from that case study? Will Cypress Creek mean customer's rates could increase by 50-60% a month?
  • The ODEC board of directors has yet to vote on the Cypress Creek plant. Why is ODEC moving forward on the project without formal approval of the board?
  • Can ODEC and SVEC assure customers that rates won't go up to pay for Cypress Creek?
Many questions and, so far, few answers from ODEC, SVEC, and the other member cooperatives. As customers of an electric cooperative, we are the owners... it is our cooperative. We should demand answers before ODEC moves forward with Cypress Creek.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Don't elect whack jobs on SVEC

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative will be electing new directors at their annual meeting on June 10, 2010. One of the nominees in Augusta County is a right wing whack job by the name of Philip Lynch. While his bio that was sent out in the Notice of the Annual Meeting sounds perfectly reasonable, he is a crazed reactionary blogger going by the name of "Yankee Phil" and a local political flamethrower whose ideology is way out of bounds for SVEC members. We don't need those kind of views on the Board of Directors of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and we certainly don't need the distraction that his presence would bring to the co-op's governance. Paul Bugas, Joyce Craun, and Larry Howdysell are better choices!

Bob McDonnell's right wing exports

Bob McDonnell talks about building business in the Old Dominion, but it appears he's spending time, money, and energy trying to export his right wing views to other states. According to the Green Mountain Daily, the Times Argus, and others the Virginia governor is helping raise funds for ultra conservative Vermont gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie.

Taliban Bob has been blasted in Virginia as well as across the county and been reduced to fodder for comedians for his controversial, backwards, and downright stupid statements on issues such as sexual orientation, Confederate history month, and women's rights. Well out of the mainstream, many national politicians are distancing themselves from our governor. I guess Bob hopes to get Dubie elected so he'll have someone to sit with at meetings of the National Governors Association.

Governor McDonnell, now is not the time for you to spend any time or energy in the politics of another state. Virginia's budget remains in disarray with education (teacher layoffs), roads (still potholes here), and public safety (sheriffs' budgets cut, judgeships unfilled) demanding attention. While many of us would be glad to see you somewhere/anywhere else, the hard truth is you are the only governor we've got and we expect your focus - 100% of the time - on Virginia's problems. Besides, your controversial record doesn't exactly support Vermont's motto, "Freedom and Unity."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Scott Miller at the Historic Masonic Theater

Scott Miller.... who the f#%&* is Scott Miller? Although Scott Miller grew up in the Swoope area of Augusta County and attended Buffalo Gap and Stuarts Draft high schools, my bet is that not too many in the area are familiar with the man and his great music. The reason is simple - he just hasn't played the area very much. If you check out his tours he's all over the place, but not here. Well, that's not quite true... Scott did play in Staunton back in January. But, I was in Beijing and missed what I heard was a great show.

I have been fortunate to hear Scott, sometimes along with The Commonwealth and sometimes solo, several times. Once in Roanoke and another time when his Amtrak Tour made a stop in Charlottesville. Oh yeah, in Ashland, VA. Then my wife won tickets to one of his shows at the Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee. Road trip!! Great show and even greater to be part of his live album, Reconstruction. Scott plays some great rock and roll... just the kind you want to hear with a cold pitcher of beer, good friends, and a rowdy crowd. There's a little country mixed in. And traditional tunes from his love of history. Check out his other albums including Thus Always to Tyrants, Citation, and Upside Downside.

OK, here is the really good news. Scott Miller will be playing at a birthday party/fundraiser for The Historic Masonic Theater in Clifton Forge, VA on Friday, July 2 at 8:00 PM. Can you spell ROAD TRIP? I've ordered my tickets and if you are in the mood for a good time and good music you should too. Click the link to the theater or if that damn Microsoft mouse is quirky, click here. Get your tickets. Go! Explore Clifton Forge (won't take long) and learn about this highland treasure and enjoy some great music. Go Scott!