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letters, opinions, editorials
The Signpost welcomes letters of opinion to encourage dialog in the community. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations.
What impressed me the most when we first moved to Placitas was how quiet it was. The loudest noise one heard was the wind. And for the most part, that holds true today.
With one notable exception. Dogs. Barking dogs. Dogs that bark for hours. Nonstop.
Now were I to sit on my deck and blow my bugle at all hours of the day and night, I've no doubt that the owner of the barking beagle down the way would have the sheriff at my doorstep in a matter of minutes. But their dog barks for hours on end it's no big deal. Well, I've got news for you, buster, it is! And this goes for my neighbors whose dogs bark at me every time I return from the mailbox with my mail. And my other neighbors who left on vacation without their precious pooch, who barked nonstop the first few days they were away (it's been over two weeks since they left and the dog appears to be winding down a little). Worse still, this howling hound gets set off by the incessant yapping of another neighbor's spoiled dog substitute (might be a Jack Russell terrier?) who has a good two-hour bark from 5:00 a.m. onward.
In all fairness, it is not the dog’s fault. It's the fault of the irresponsible dog owners who fail to train their dogs. Or who encourage the barking to ward off some miscreant who might threaten them and/or their property.
Well, enough is enough. I'm giving you fair warning. I have a bugle and I am not afraid to use it.
—Had It with Dogs in Placitas
I would like to comment on the superb catering job done by Mark and Lori of the Piñon Café.
This spring, my Indiana high school class held a reunion here in New Mexico that started off with a picnic at my house. I arranged to have Mark and Lori cater it. Knowing them, I expected very good food and service even though they had to feed fifty-eight classmates and also six members of the Howling Dog Jazz Band, who provided live music.
We had a choice of pulled pork barbecue or enchiladas with either chicken or beef. There was also cole slaw and the choice of cherry or blueberry pie. The price was reasonable. Both the food and the service were not just very good but superb. It is hard to think of any way their catering could have been better.
—Richard D. Moore
I have been following with great interest stories from the United States regarding addition of denatonium benzoate to antifreeze.
We have been able to save many lives of pets and children by adding denatonium benzoate to MEG (antifreeze) and ethanol.We are the largest producer of denatonium benzoate in the world.
We offered all the antifreeze producers in the U.S. a special programme—COPPC (Companies for Protection of Pets and Children)— wherein we would supply the product at half the price if they added denatonium benzoate voluntarily. So instead of US$ 200/kg, they would only pay US$ 100/kg and end up saving 100 percent, and the cost per kilogram of addition of denatonium benzoate would be only 1.5 cents per kilogram.
We offered this voluntarily so that cost should not be a factor in saving lives.Not one of the so-called concerned antifreeze manufacturers ever bothered to reply.
So the concern of these people seems rather fake.
C-Tech Group of Companies
re: Letter from the state Attorney General to the Sandoval County attorney, dated June 30, 2005, regarding Open Meetings Act complaint by Charles Mellon made in August of 2004 concerning negotiations that led to the passage of the Intel $16 billion Industrial Revenue Bond.
Dear Mr. Mathews:
This letter responds to the complaint from Charles Mellon, M.D., concerning allegations that Sandoval County violated provisions of the Open Meetings Act.
We have reviewed the complaint and your responses. Based on the information available to us at this time and your explanation of communications among the commissioners, we conclude that serial one-on-one discussions of public business occurred between Commissioner Ely and other commissioners, which involved a quorum of the commission. Serial discussions of public business, even without decisions being made or votes taken, constitute an improper rolling quorum and therefore fail to comply with the OMA.
Moreover, the serial discussions seemingly gave tacit authority to Commissioners Ely and Thomas to negotiate with Intel on behalf of the county commission regarding terms and conditions of Intel's IRB proposal. The sequence of events and contemporaneous statements of the participants support the conclusion that the county commission may have delegated certain policy making authority to Commissioners Ely and Thomas, albeit inadvertently.
Any meetings at which the discussion or adoption of any proposed resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs and at which a majority or quorum of the body is in attendance, and any closed meetings, shall be held only after reasonable notice to the public.
These provisions foreclose a quorum of a public body from discussing public business outside a public meeting, even if a decision is not reached or acted upon. In the scenario described in your letters, "after some of the meetings [with Intel], Commissioner Ely passed that information on to Commissioners Bency, Johnson and Sapien." Although a quorum of the members of the commission was not present in one place at one time, a quorum of the commission did discuss public business in a series of one-on-one discussions that included as many as four members of the five-member commission.
It is important that public bodies avoid the appearance of private decisions on pubic issues. In some circumstances, it will be difficult or impossible to avoid the appearance that agreements or understandings among members already have been arrived at in private in one-on-one discussions when members discuss public business in private. For these reasons, the OMA requirements apply to formulating public policy, discussing public business, and taking formal action.
We note that the county commission on September 2, 2004 acted in a public meeting to authorize Commissioners Ely and Thomas to negotiate with Intel. Section 10-15-3 (B) allows a public body to correct alleged OMA violations by timely subsequent action taken at a public meeting held in accordance with the notice requirements of the OMA. It appears that the county commission, which received a complaint from Dr. Mellon dated August 16, 2004, acted promptly to adopt a resolution "authorizing and affirming negotiations with Intel" concerning issuance of IRB bonds.
Individual members of the county commission should avoid discussing public business with constituents or businesses that have issues that are or soon may come before the county commission for action, unless formally authorized to do so at a public meeting and then only within the limits of their authority. Information about matters of public business under discussion should be on the agenda of a public meeting as soon as practical in order to alleviate fears that policy decisions are being made in private. Decisions to delegate policy making authority must be made at a public meeting.
—Patricia A. Madrid
New Mexico Attorney General
If a government entity can openly violate the Open Meetings Act, repeatedly deny any violation, grudgingly, retroactively vote to cover past misdeeds, and the Attorney General finds wrongdoing but invokes no penalty whatsoever, it really brings into question whether the OMA is worth the paper it is printed on.
SIP construction more energy efficient
—Richard D. Moore
I find it astonishing that over 90 percent of homes are currently built using outdated construction technique, namely stick-frame construction, using 2x6 boards for the outside walls. Not only are stick-frame houses energy-inefficient, they are also potential firetraps.
There are very much more economical ways than stick-frame to build a house—and ways that also produce a very fire-resistant house. Contrary to what you may hear, the cost of building a house with SIPs is not significantly different from building a stick-frame.
My house, for example, receives 95 percent of its heat through the windows. The temperature never falls below sixty-three degrees, even on the coldest days. On those days, I use a pellet stove to keep the temperature up at seventy-two degrees. For less than $30, I buy enough pellets to last for a whole winter. My neighbors with stick-frame houses, by contrast, spend up to one thousand dollars to heat each winter.
After three years of investigating these alternatives, and with help from the Rocky Mountain Institute and also Solar Energy International, both in Colorado, I decided structural insulation panels are the most economical way to build an energy-efficient, fire-resistant house.
Stick-frame walls are notoriously leaky to outside air. True, you need air turnover in a house, but the way to economically do that is either to use a heat exchanger or simply open some windows when the outside temperature is nearest what you want inside. It is the high R value of my side walls and ceiling that is the main factor in making my house so energy efficient—and economical.
Moreover, by having such high insulation, there are no hot or cold spots in the house, just a nice even temperature everywhere. This makes for maximum comfort.
No better recommendation for the insulating value of SIPs is the fact that the new research station at the South Pole is being built using these panels.
In contrast to the tinderbox aspect of stick-frame homes, Rastra and Plysteel are both fireproof construction materials, and SIPs are nearly fireproof. All three of these building technologies are very much stronger than stick-frame construction.
All these qualities—energy economy, fire resistance, strength—were anticipated. But after living in the house for seven years, I have discovered three others. First, the house is almost soundproof; the Howling Dog Jazz Band can practice here without the neighbors even knowing it. To my surprise, the house requires much less cleaning, since dust cannot, unlike in a leaky stick frame, infiltrate through the walls. Mice cannot get in my ceiling. Finally, my house is contributing very little carbon dioxide to our planet's atmosphere. About 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions are from using fossil fuels to heat buildings—mostly homes. If you have any questions, please contact me at email@example.com.
The end of exurbia—An interview with James Howard Kunstler
High Country News
James Howard Kunstler has made a reputation for himself as a critic of America's auto-dependent suburbs, first with his 1993 book, The Geography of Nowhere, and then his 1996 book, Home From Nowhere. Now he is taking aim at the foundation for these dispersed settlement patterns—oil. In an essay in Rolling Stone called "The End of Oil," Kunstler argues that global oil production will peak sometime between 2005 and 2010, and the decline in oil supplies will create what he calls "The Long Emergency." That is also the title of his latest book. In an interview with Allen Best for High Country News, Kunstler predicts sharply reduced population growth in the West, an end to Wal-Mart and other big box retailers, and a return to smaller, inward-looking communities.
HIGH COUNTRY NEWS: With oil more scarce and hence more expensive, how will our lives in the American West be affected?
James Howard Kunstler: People have been moving into the Colorado, Montana, Idaho exurbs for a few decades now. We’ll see that trend reverse. People will find it harder to lead the rugged outdoor adventure exurban life in a McMansion, connected to the civic world by long trips in the SUV. Insofar as food production will become a huge problem in the U.S., requiring much more local farming, the Rockies are at a disadvantage in climate, soil, rainfall.
HCN: What happens to people living on the five-, 10- and 20-acre parcels located miles and miles from their jobs?
Kunstler: Why assume that a lot of these jobs will still exist? The winding down of the cheap-oil era will produce huge job losses and large new classes of economic losers. I predict a lot of population movement. As for the five- or 10-acre ranchettes, the existing ones will be devalued, and many may be abandoned.
HCN: Many names for the recent generation of gas-thirsty SUVs are taken from geographic features of the West — the Tahoe, the Sierra, the Yukon, and the Denali, to name just a few. Any ideas on what might be suitable names for the next generation of cars?
Kunstler: Well, I believe cars generally will be a diminished presence in our lives. There may also be a lot of political resentment of car owners among the former middle class who are no longer affluent enough to own cars. The preoccupation with keeping the easy motoring racket going is one of the obstacles we’ll have to overcome if we want to remain civilized.
HCN: Many people have faith in a hydrogen economy, or at least greater reliance on solar, wind and other alternative fuels. You see none of the above riding to the rescue?
Kunstler: Hydrogen, as currently sold to the public, is a hoax. We’re not going to replace the U.S. car-and-truck fleet with hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles. Ain’t gonna happen. Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in our neighborhood of the universe, but it is always bound with other elements into compounds, such as water, H2O. It takes more energy to separate the hydrogen than you get from the hydrogen. Also, it presents extremely difficult problems where transport and storage are concerned.
Bottom line is: No combination of alternative fuels or systems will allow us to run the U.S. the way we’re used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. Wind and solar will probably be used at only an extremely local or even household level. We will need to get a whole lot of small hydro back in service.
Ultimately, I wonder if any of these alternative systems can run, absent a supporting "platform" of cheap oil. How, for instance, do we intend to manufacture the solar panels and wind turbines? I’m not an advocate for nuclear power, but if we want to keep the lights on after 2020, we may have no other choice.
HCN: Nevada led the nation in population growth during the 1990s, followed by Arizona and other states of the Intermountain West. Many demographers have predicted more of the same during the next several decades. You do not: You’re the worst imaginable spokesman for the Las Vegas or the Phoenix chambers of commerce. But why?
Kunstler: I’m pessimistic about the cities of the Southwest. In addition to problems with oil and natural gas, they will have problems with water, with the inability to produce much food locally, and (don’t be shocked) friction with Mexico. I believe that parts of Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, and California may become contested territory for awhile.
Ultimately, I believe, this region will be substantially depopulated: Las Vegas will dry up and blow away inside of 50 years. Phoenix is hopeless. Denver might revert to what it was before: a cattle rail-head.
HCN: You say the main problem is that cities have become distanced from their food supplies. Can’t railroads be pressed into service to deliver the food now supplied by trucks?
Kunstler: It’s not hard to imagine a rebuilt railroad system in America. The technology is fairly simple, well-established and understood. I don’t see that we have any choice but to do it. However, in places like Tucson and Phoenix, the fabric of suburban sprawl is virtually unfixable. No amount of railroad service will reform Phoenix, or make its neighborhoods walkable.
HCN: But aren’t cities remarkable for their efficiency in delivering goods and services? Won’t the more dense inner cities still thrive, in a relative fashion, once the cheap energy supplies are gone?
Kunstler: Cities are wonderful things. But the scale of our late 20th-century cities is badly unsuited to what the future will require. They will all have to contract, and the process is apt to be painful.
Generally, anything large-scale will be in trouble in this period ahead I call the Long Emergency. Cities, corporations, governments, farms, schools — all these things will have to become smaller.
HCN: You have said Wal-Mart will cease to exist within a decade. Why?
Kunstler: The "warehouse-on-wheels" is already becoming a problem with the fluctuating price of gas. The one thing a giant company like Wal-Mart needs to do is rigorously rationalize its expenses, because the profit margins are so razor-thin. They have to move enormous volumes of plastic wading pools and other stuff in order to make any profit. If the price of diesel fuel is $2.23 one week and $2.57 a week later, they have a big problem. There is also the problem of their 12,000-mile manufacturing supply line from China.
A larger concern for them, however, is that a vanishing middle class means vanishing customers and sales. There will be fewer things to buy. We will be challenged to replace these mega-systems with reconstructed local trade networks.
HCN: Among these grim or at least changed times ahead, do you see silver linings?
Kunstler: Yes. We’ll return to smaller and more socially cohesive communities in which the work people do is more directly meaningful and connected to social roles. We will cease to be a nation of overfed clowns in perpetual need of entertainment to stave off boredom.
The author writes from Denver, Colorado. High Country News (www.hcn.org) covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.