Sunday, April 30, 2006

Immigration in the 24th . . .

CNY Underground has a thought provoking piece on immigration that literally brings it home to our region . . . and in a way that will make you feel the issue. No sides are taken . . . but he makes it clear that silence is unacceptable. Take a look at it.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Global Warming, Ignorance, Economic Destruction and the New Dark Age

According to yesterday’s Utica OD our area is seeing signs of global warming. Yet the fact that only 3 months ago people in Russia were dying from record breaking cold that spread into Europe and caused the Prague Zoo to move its penguins indoors might suggest otherwise.

Per the OD: “Global warming is largely caused by the emission of so-called greenhouse gasses from cars and factories, said U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-New Hartford, who chairs the House Science Committee. Those gases eat away at the atmosphere's protection against the sun”.

“Greenhouse gasses… eat away at the atmosphere’s protection …” Huh? Did we hear that right? Or was the reporter just paraphrasing? Hopefully the Chair of the House Science Committee did not really say that. Greenhouse gasses don’t “eat away” at anything; much less eat away at “protection.” This statement evidences ignorance of how the greenhouse effect works, explained here in an animation (ignore the last two frames, which are propaganda).

While the greenhouse theory may be sound, the conclusion that gasses from cars and factories are the major cause of warming (called manmade or “anthropogenic” warming) is far from proven, although a consensus is claimed. CO2, the product of burning fossil fuels, is the culprit most cited along with the fact that a sharp rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration has been documented since the mid-1800s, along with a rise in average world temperature since that time. See Summary for Policymakers, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Although melting glaciers and rising sea levels are cited with alarm by the media as evidence of Global Warming, they are nothing new and, therefore, are not evidence that mankind has anything to do with Global Warming. Any geologist will tell you that Upstate New York was once under a mile-thick ice sheet as recently as 18000 years ago, the ice sheet came and melted four times, sea level was once 300 feet lower than now, and there was once a land-bridge connecting Siberia with Alaska. Obviously something caused the ice sheet to melt 4 times and the seas to rise -- but it could not have been man. These geologic facts seem to be ignored in most discussions of global warming. Against this paleo-climactic background, the current warming of about 0.6 degrees C over the last century and predicted consequences of more seem … ordinary!

Curiously ignored by IPCC seems to be the role of the most prevalent greenhouse gas, H2O in the form of Water Vapor, the effect of which probably overwhelms any effect of CO2.

Mr. St. John from Rome in a letter to the Editor of the Sentinel raises the sun’s role in warming, pointing to evidence of a warmer-than-now climate in ages past, specifically the Middle Ages Viking colony in Greenland that was wiped out by the “Little Ice Age” which followed. To this Fault Lines would add that Ancient Romans were able to grow wine grapes in present day England. These ancient warm periods, long documented in history, seem to have been conveniently ignored. Shouldn’t the sun’s role and the Medieval and Roman era warm periods and the retreats of the great ice-sheets be accounted for before mankind gets blamed? Indeed, the whole idea of overwhelming climate change appears to have been oversold.

Of course, Mr. St. John’s and Fault Lines’ opinions can be dismissed as being non-expert. But we apparently have learned enough along the way to know that we have questions that have yet to receive adequate, understandable answers. Given that Governor Pataki has signed New York on to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative based on a dubious theory, we along with all New Yorkers, face the potential of double-digit increases in our already too high utility rates. Are we not entitled to have our concerns accounted for before the last vestige of the Upstate economy is destroyed?

Unfortunately, people like Mr. St. John are too few in numbers to attract any serious attention. In a “dumb-downed” age where education leaders push students’ doing things rather than knowing things and grade on subjective “performance” standards, We the People have been increasingly conditioned to simply accept without question, and to do, whatever we are told by so-called “experts” based on “black box” modeling that we do not understand.

The whole Global Warming debacle seems emblematic of a much larger, world-wide, societal problem. Indeed, we seem to be entering a new Dark Age where knowledge is reserved for an elite and anyone who knows enough to question is marginalized.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

H2O: Deal . . . or No Deal?

On Tuesday the OD reported that the State Canal Corp. offered a "temporary resolution" of its dispute with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, stemming from a violation of a 1917 Agreement. In return for certain payments, Canals would withdraw its objection to a permit that would allow the MVWA to expand its water system in Frankfort, Schuyler, Kirkland, and Westmoreland. "[I]t's a win-win situation" gushed Westmoreland Supervisor Sydoriw, and State Sen. Meier opined that the proposal was reasonable.

According to the OD, the deal was cooked up the previous Friday in a meeting between Canals, supervisors of the four towns, and state legislators. Apparently not invited were the MVWA; the Towns of New Hartford, Whitestown, Marcy, and Deerfield; the villages included in those towns; and the City of Utica.

Again, we witness another backroom deal that will benefit those who are politically connected (in this case, those who were invited to the conference) at the Expense of those excluded.

For every 1,000 gallons of water drawn, MVWA would pay 3 cents to Canals and 5.5 cents to Erie Boulevard Hydropower. Additionally, MVWA would have to pay Canals and the power company $1,000/day if it draws more than 20 million gallons a day (20MGD). Not mentioned is the fact that the MVWA already draws about 20 MGD, meaning the $1,000/day (which sounds like a penalty) will be charged almost every day.

Because of MVWA's "regional" structure, EVERY CUSTOMER OF THE MVWA no matter where they live will wind up paying for these charges. Most definitely a "win-win" situation if you are the Westmoreland Supervisor, or are a Senator trying to score points in bringing city water to those who don't have it. THIS IS TYPICAL ALBANY THINKING: SPEND SOMEONE ELSE'S MONEY. What about ALL the current MVWA customers in Utica, New Hartford, Whitestown, etc etc. - the people who will pay virtually the entire cost? They have no obligations to those who chose to live in the fringe areas. They get the shaft.

We found out on Wednesday that this "deal," after accounting for expected new revenue from the expansion areas, could cost the Water Authority up to $500,000.00 per year. According to Canals in a Sentinel article, this would cost the typical residential user 75 cents a month (or another $2.25 on your quarterly bill). Sorry, we pay enough already!

If the 4-town expansion is a Net-Loser, MVWA would be crazy to go through with it.


Now Ms. Mantello of Canals wants to "explain" the deal to MVWA at its meeting. Why the theatrics? Why not put the explanation in writing, including the justification for the charges, and make it public in advance of the meeting, so people can come prepared with questions?

MVWA goofed when it destroyed Gray Dam and got itself into this mess with Canals. MVWA has also been a tad arrogant with Canals and unwilling to negotiate. Regardless, MVWA's insolence is no excuse for the politicians and Canals to collude to pick the pockets MVWA's customers to benefit others.

MVWA can't expect to get away without paying something, and, unfortunately that is a price that we as customers will have to pay for its incompetence. It has seriously infringed on the rights of not only Canals, and the power companies, but all others who use Hinckley Lake because, as a third party beneficiary contract (ie for the People of NYS), all people should have a reasonable expectation that the 1917 Agreement would be complied with in perpetuity, as was its framers' intent. MVWA has increased Canals' exposure to lawsuits and Canals should somehow be compensated for this exposure.

Canals, however, needs to get real. What they demand needs to bear some relationship to the degree of harm they have suffered or will suffer by MVWA's non-compliance with the old agreement -- which seems to be minimal as MVWA's obligation to release water to Hinckley only involves at best a few days per year. Any harm caused or that will be caused in the future through increased withdrawals can probably be estimated mathematically. If Canals is serious about settling rather than playing politics, it needs to do the math to show how it is harmed.

Both sides should stop posturing and just settle the issue, once and for all. And, Please, do this in public and let us participate -- after all, WE are paying the bill.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

High School Science Research: "Dumbing Down" the Curriculum?

Today's OD had an article about Poland Central School's Science Research Class, where 12 science students in grades 9-12 have an opportunity to earn college credit conducting scientific research on the topic of their choice, perhaps even leading to publication of their work in a scientific journal. In March the students attended a science symposium in Albany where presentations of similar projects were made. One student is doing a study of the inheritability of fingerprint characteristics. Another is researching the negative effects of algae and thermo-pollution on Lake Ontario.

These things sound good . . . In fact, they sound downright impressive! But, always ready to find fault with the conventional wisdom, Fault Lines wonders if there is a negative to all the hoopla. While high-schoolers are capable of doing scientific research, is it appropriate for high-schoolers to be doing scientific research?

Learning logically progresses from the general to the specific, with early-learned generalized knowledge providing the foundation for later studies in specialized areas. It is from a "pinnacle" of specialized knowledge that scientific research embarks to discover the undiscovered. This is why scientific research is normally performed at the college graduate/post graduate level: It is at these levels where a solid foundation for understanding an issue exists.

Does a 9th or 10th grader have the requisite foundation? Probably not. It is unlikely that such a student would have already had Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics -- yet all four disciplines are needed to understand, e.g., the negative effects of algae or thermo-pollution on Lake Ontario. Students are being led to believe they are experts while their foundational knowledge has serious gaps. What does this do for their attitudes?

Scientific research takes a lot of time but only increases knowledge in an extremely narrow subject area. It takes time away from more generalized fare. If the science research supplants a year of Earth Science, Biology, Physics or Chemistry, then the research project actually will create a knowledge gap. A student can major in science in college without knowing whether fingerprint characteristics can be inherited. However, if the student lacks the year of basic chemistry, it will spell trouble because the student will be presumed to already know it. The student having such a knowledge gap might not understand key points of his or her college lectures, making advanced learning more difficult and, perhaps, leading to abandonnment of what would have otherwise been a budding scientific career. In this respect science research "dumbs down" the curriculum by developing "expertise" in an esoteric unimportant specialty at the expense of something fundamental.

For some reason, people love the idea of high-schoolers receiving college credit, but why rush? College and the time to do specialized work will come later . . . . but youth, and the opportunity to sample a wide range of more generalized subjects will not be. Science research may impress parents and boost the self-esteem of the students, but it will produce lop-sided know-it-alls with limited knowledge outside their so-called expertise.

Let's save the scientific research for the higher levels of college and industry, and encourage our high-schools to produce well-rounded individuals.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tax, Spend . . . Don't Spend . . .

Three news items caught our eyes this morning.

In Pataki vetoes $20 million for SUNYIT ice rink, it looks like all the "regional" plans for a sports facility are on ice, rendering moot the discussion of where it should be best located. The legislators are already planning to get around this one.

Rome mayor names chief of staff . . . Wow. Mayor Brown has taken a page out of Mayor Julian's playbook and appointed a $50K "Chief of Staff" to join the likes of the President and other Heads of State.

Sales tax rollback? Not so fast
. . . Of course ... The county legislators have money to give a break this year, but it apparently is not steady revenue to enable permanent removal of the tax.

While the first story is "bad news" for the region, it could be "good news" if such cuts are applied evenhandedly across the state (Binghamton U and its almost $90 million in new facilities and Albany Nanotach come to mind). The state cannot continue to spend on lavish new facilities that have a questionable Return on Investment and be able lower taxes and fees at the same time. Lowering taxes and fees, however, is essential to making New York competitive.

Even if you don't live in Rome, Mayor Brown's padding the payroll with another political appointee is bad for the region because it sends a signal: local government doesn't care how it spends your money as long as the political system is served. Rome, like Utica, is shrinking. Neither city needs these positions. Rome got along fine all these years without one. But someone from Sen. Meier's office will soon be out of a job, so a place had to be found for her. That's all this is, and all this ever is. When do our political leaders start doing what's best for the people?

Naturally, our Board of Legislators will have a cash shortfall next year and won't be able to fully roll back the sales tax. Why? Because they still spend too much. They can start saving by (1) eliminating their own salaries and benefits and (2) scheduling all meetings at night so that OTHER PEOPLE willing to serve at no cost will be able to run to take their places.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Anti-Utica Bias is Evident . . .

No sooner than the suggestion is made of putting the SUNYIT sportsplex in downtown Utica, the O-D weighs in to shut down even the thought of this possibility.

While the O-D tells us how "excited" Rome, New Hartford and Whitestown are at the prospect of some ice availability at a SUNYIT campus sportsplex, it offers no explanation why a downtown Utica location would be any less exciting.

While the O-D claims that Mayor Julian's points in favor of a downtown location "are well taken," without missing a beat the editors go on to say "but this facility needs to go at SUNYIT. Such amenities are needed to attract students and grow the college's four-year program, keeping it competitive with other SUNY schools. That's in the best interest of this entire community. Besides, it's highly unlikely state officials would agree to an off-campus site, since the $20 million comes from the state university."

Why would locating the SUNYIT facility downtown be any less of an attraction for students to that institution? Why would locating the facility downtown make SUNYIT less competitive? These are points that should be rationally discussed, pro and con, with further study taken if needed -- not summarily dismissed because the O-D editorial board says so.

The big lie is to say that state officials would be unlikely to agree to an off campus site, since SUNY has already agreed to an off-campus university facility in downtown Binghamton to aid in that city's revitalization. It is hard to believe that our local editors are unaware of what is going on in another Gannett city.

Compare how the editorial board for Binghamton's Press & Sun-Bulletin treats the concept of an off campus downtown SUNY facility. The idea is embraced there . . . and not only by the press, but by the local community college as well. Why is there no fretting about "regionalization," when Binghamton is surrounded by some sizeable communities? Why don't Endicott or Johnson City or Vestal complain? Could it be that they all recognize that Binghamton is the hub of that region and that what is good for Binghamton is good for all? The Binghamton Press editors say "The busier the center the better. The more people downtown the better — not just for the city but also for the county and for the region."
That is right -- not only in Binghamton, but right here in Greater Utica!

It is an historical fact that Utica is the regional hub, and the O-D publisher knows full well through last fall's commissioned Zogby poll that not only do a majority of area residents still think of Utica as the hub, they WANT it to be the hub.

There is clearly a difference in attitude in how our southern-tier neighbors treats their hub and how we treat ours which can only be explained by Anti-Utica Bias. The bias is obvious on the O-D Editorial Board and, perhaps, on the Boards of some of our other local institutions or organizations such as the mis-renamed "Mohawk Valley" Chamber of Commerce.

We could speculate on the cause of this Bias, but will not because that would focus on our past at a time that we should focus on our future. Suffice it to say the people on these boards need to examine their consciences for the source of their Anti-Utica Bias and do something about it.

Without a change in attitude, this region will continue to work against itself, and will have no-one but itself to blame for its fate.

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