Anasazi Ruins, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Germany's nuclear power phaseout turns off environmentalists

KLEINENSIEL, Germany — When the German government shut down half the country's nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, followed two months later by a pledge to abandon nuclear power within a decade, environmentalists cheered.

A year later, however, criticism of the nuclear shutdown is emerging from a surprising source: some of the very activists who pushed for the phaseout.

They say poor planning of the shutdown and political opportunism by the government have actually worsened the toll on the environment in Germany, and Europe, at least in the short term.

To make up for the lost nuclear power, which supplied 22% of Germany's electricity before the phaseout began, the country has increased its reliance on brown coal, a particularly high emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and a major contributor to global warming. Brown coal now supplies 25% of Germany's electricity, up from 23% a year ago.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Terrible Austin Infrastructure

Around 1960 my family was thrilled because Los Angeles built a sidewalk along Woodley Avenue in front of my house in the San Fernando Valley. The city was building sidewalks along all the streets in our neighborhood. Suddenly, I no longer had to walk home from elementary school on dirt paths alongside heavily trafficked roads. A few years later my younger brothers and I were able to walk to middle school on sidewalks, unlike my older brother who had walked on dirt.

Flash forward to 2012. Today I live in the Highland Park/Balcones neighborhood of Austin, which has poorer infrastructure for foot traffic than I experienced over 50 years ago in California. Mostly I walk in the street because there are no sidewalks. Behind Camp Mabry on Edgemont Drive and Madrona Drive there are no sidewalks. Up the hills west of Balcones on Ridge Oak Drive, Crestway Drive, and Highland Crest Drive there are no sidewalks.

There are sidewalks around Highland Park elementary school and along Balcones from Perry Lane to Northland. That’s it. If it were only me doing this it would not be worth an editorial in this newspaper. But many others use the same streets. I often pass other walkers and joggers, including neighbors walking dogs and parents pushing babies in strollers. All doing so in the street, because there are no sidewalks
Children who live farther than one block from the elementary school usually aren’t allowed to walk to and from school because that’s where the sidewalks stop. Although, I do occasionally see children walking on my lawn to keep off the street.
In fact, when I visit my family back in the San Fernando Valley, I notice that people who walk enjoy sidewalks that are usually better maintained than the sidewalks along most Austin streets outside of downtown.

City Council members say they want Austin to be a pedestrian friendly and walkable city but the evidence is lacking. The city often supports expenditures on consultant studies, incentive programs and grand initiatives while ignoring basic infrastructure needs such as neighborhood sidewalks.

Austin should get its priorities straight. If we truly want our citizens to exercise and walk to work and school when they live close enough to do so, let us spend money on the means to help them do so safely.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reaction to Austin's Water Shortage

As I walk or drive around the Highland Park/Balcones neighborhood I notice how nature and man have combined to adapt to the recent water shortage. Lawns are usually in poor shape, if not actually dying. Plants that are doing well are things like Crape. Myrtle, Rosemary, Sage, Pyracantha (commonly known as Firerhorn) and many different cacti. Roses bushes are few, and those I looked closely at are doing
poorly. Those yards that look best often have as much well laid out rock paving as plants.

I started looking because I was worried that our yard would itself look bad compared to those of my neighbors. Well, not a problem. Our yard is no worse than many others, however, a brief period of thought sent me to the nearby nursery to buy Mountain Laurel, Sage, and Cacti to plant in my own front yard.

A hedge of Pyracantha

But I will never plant Pyracantha. I took out a 50 linear foot hedge
of Pyracanth a when I was 14, and today I recoil in fear when I see
just one of those horrible plants.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Yet Another Afghanistan Killing by the Usual Suspects

Rogue Afghan police officer: A Taliban infiltrator’s road to fratricide
The Washington Post
By Kevin Sieff and Javed Hamdard, Published: April 1

KABUL — Before the Afghan police officer named Asadullah killed eight of his colleagues and one civilian Friday morning, he spent years as a Taliban fighter, targeting men he called infidels and crisscrossing the Pakistani border with teams of insurgents.

But his first collaboration with the insurgency was the one his neighbors still find the most egregious: He granted the Taliban permission to kill his father, Ehsanullah.

Afghan and Western officials said they uncovered those details in conversations with Asadullah’s family and friends after the new police recruit and Taliban sleeper agent apparently drugged his colleagues and shot them in the head while they slept.

The incident is one of the bloodiest cases of fratricide in the 10-year-old war and comes amid a surge in attacks by rogue Afghan army and police personnel on their Afghan and American colleagues. At least 16 NATO service members have been killed by men in Afghan army and police uniforms since January, an increase compared with the same period in previous years.