Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Rhode Island recently made the news, but not for reasons that you might suspect.

Other than the fact that Rhode Island was the first of the original 13 colonies to declare its independence from England (on May 4, 1776), was the location (in Newport) of some pretty fancy summer cottages at the dawn of the 20th Century, and was third state in the country to allow the use of medical marijuana (in 2011) , Rhode Island doesn’t often come to mind for any other reason.

(The Breakers, pictured above, was the summer home of the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It was constructed between 1893 and 1895. When completed, it covered slightly over 125,000 square feet on five floors, and was situated on 13 acres of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It currently is the most visited sites in the entire state.)

So why did the smallest state in the country become front page news in the New York Times recently?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Although Rhode Island currently produces a negligible amount of electricity from wind farms, a project currently in process would make Rhode Island the very first state in the nation to generate electricity from offshore wind farms.

The United States, believe it or not, is the world leader when it comes to generating electricitym wind, but it lags behind both China and Europe when it comes to offshore wind production.

The United States also lags far behind Germany in generating electricity from solar energy, even though we receive significantly more sunshine than Germany does.

Texas is the current leader of onshore wind production, and is followed by Iowa, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Three of those states (Kansas, North Dakota, and Iowa are among the top 5 of the windiest states), so there IS a correlation between wind speeds and electricity generated from wind, but it’s far from a perfect match.

The farms that both my paternal and maternal grandparents lived on in Minnesota in the early part of the 20th century had windmills, which were used to pump water and to generate electricity. We may not actually be living in “the good old days”, but there ARE times we seem to be living in the past , and the new wind farm just off the coast of Rhode Island is simply the latest example of that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sleep tonight - your National Guard is awake

I graduated from college in June of 1969. Although it was nice to be free of classes and exams, it also meant that I immediately lost my student deferment (2S) and was subject to the draft. Since we had a “police action” going on in a place called Vietnam at the time, I decided that I didn’t want to take a chance on the draft, so I went to every National Guard and Army Reserve unit in the Twin Cities, even though all the lists were “full”.

I joined the first unit that called me, which happened to be a National Guard unit stationed at the downtown St. Paul airport. My first guard meeting was in February of 1970, and I was called to basic training at Fr. Bragg, North Carolina in May of 1970.

At almost exactly the same time that I reported for basic training duty, a peaceful student protest rally at Kent State College in Ohio turned deadly, and 4 students were shot dead by members of the Ohio National Guard. Ultimately, the state of Ohio paid $675,000 to the families of the students who were slain, which would be equivalent to $3,792.247 in 2010 dollars. The National Park Service ultimately listed the site of the shootings on the national register of historic places on January 15, 2010..

In the words of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, the shootings at Kent State were “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable”.

At the beginning of 2015, the population of the United States was 320.09 million people. According to the most recent data, the number of guns in private hands numbered somewhere between 300 and 310 million, so it’s pretty obvious that we have more than enough guns in our country. Among all developed nations, we have the highest number of guns per capita.. For those misguided folks who think that guns save lives, it’s also worth noting that we have the highest gun homicide rate, the highest rate of suicide by firearms, and the highest rate of deaths due to assault in the entire developed world.

When 26 people were murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school were murdered on December 14, 2012, the remedy suggested by Wayne LaPierre of the NRA was predictable- and dead wrong. His solution was to station armed guards at every school in America. Fortunately, the vast majority of the school districts in America did not take his advice, although there ARE a handful of states in the country where it’s perfectly legally for teachers and other faculty members to “carry heat”

Last Thursday, a long gunman named Mohammed Abdulazees opened fire at a recruitment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing 4 Marines. A sailor wounded at the site died the next day.

Arizona’s Republican governor Doug Ducey’s response to the shootings in Chattanooga was again predictable - and still dead wrong. On Wednesday of this week, Governor Doug Ducey authorized more that 200 members of the Arizona National Guard to be armed while on duty. Since the governor’s order also permits guardsmen to bring their own weapons onto secure military installations, the number of armed guardsmen at posts around the state could actually number in the thousands.

Ducey is not alone in his actions, since governors in 7 other states have ordered their guardsmen to be armed. Not surprisingly, all 7 states are led by Republican governors.

It should be obvious by now that the proper way to stem gun violence is NOT by adding more guns, but by preventing people who have no right to own a gun from purchasing their own personal weapons.

The Chattanooga gunmen had a hard time keeping a job due to his manic depressive/bipolar disorder, as well as heavy drug use, which caused him to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. His parents knew that he owned guns, and tried to get him to give them up, but he refused. They also tried to get him to seek treatment for substance abuse., but he also refused to do that.

Like Dylan Root, the gunmen who killed nine members of the a Baptist church in Charleston last week, the Chattanooga killer left lots of clues beforehand about his intentions, but proper action was not taken in time to prevent another senseless gun tragedy.

In response to the shootings in Charleston, some members of our society advocated arming members of the church, another predictable response that is still dead wrong, but it hasn’t prevented Louisiana from passing legislation that does exactly that. Fortunately, Louisiana is still the only state that allows guns in churches, but it’s possible that recent changes in gun laws in Georgia may permit concealed carry in houses of worship there as well.

If you’re listening, Governor, do the smart thing, and rescind your recent order to arm members of the National Guard. Until Arizona, and the rest of the country FINALLY get around to passing sensible gun legislation (like universal background checks for ALL gun purchases), it’s just a matter of time before another nut gets his 15 minutes of fame by killing more innocent people. Just today, in fact, another "lone white male" at a Louisiana movie theater killed 2 people and injured 7 more before turning his gun on himself. Obviously, the solution isn't to allow guns in theaters, which is precisely what some of our elected officials advocated after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

To paraphrase a bit from an folk song titled “Where have all the flowers gone?”, when will we ever learn?