Archive for the ‘Upstate New York’ Category

A religious pilgrimage of upstate New York

March 29, 2013

The newest addition to my Blogroll page is Chris and Luke Explore the Burned Over DistrictIt is by a couple of young men who go around visiting places of worship and other religious sites in and around Rochester, N.Y., and reporting on what they see and hear.  Their blog is well worth following if you’re interested in the diversity of religion.  They visited my church, First Universalist Church of Rochestersome weeks ago.  

The Burned Over District

The Burned Over District

Western and central New York came to be called the Burned Over District after a series of powerful religious revivals in the early 19th century.  Revival preachers said the area was burned over because there was no more fuel (unsaved souls) to feed the fire of religious fervor.  But that was just the beginning of religious movements in this part of New York state.   At least two religions, Mormonism and Spiritualism, have roots here.

Joseph Smith Jr. lived in Palmyra, N.Y., just to the east of Rochester, and stated he was led by the Angel Moroni to the golden plates, whose inscriptions he translated into the Book of Mormon.  Each year the events of the Book of Mormon are enacted in the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant on the original site.  It is as if the events of the Book of Exodus were annually reenacted in a pageant at the real Mount Sinai.

The Fox sisters of Hydesville, N.Y., conducted their first table-rapping seánces in the area to communicate with the dead, leading to the Spiritualist movement, whose centers include the Lily Dale retreat center in Chautauqua County, NY, and Plymouth Spiritualist Church here in Rochester.

The Oneida Society was a successful communal utopian society in central New York, led by the prophet John Humphrey Noyes who said it is possible to live without sin in this world.  His most striking teaching was “complex marriage,” which included no unique partners, adolescent boys and girls being initiated into sex by older women and men and distinctive practices on birth control and eugenics.  After Noyes abdicated leadership in old age, the society reorganized as the Oneida silverware company.  The <Shakers were also an important part of upstate New York’s 19th century religious ferment.

First Universalist Church

First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY

People of diverse religions are good neighbors here.  In 1874, Unitarians, Universalists and Jews began a Union Thanksgiving Service which has been held annually since then, and now includes Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.

Roshi Philip Kapleau started his Zen Center, one of the first American Buddhist communities, in Rochester in 1966.  He had never before visited the city, but his reading led him to believe the area had spiritual significance.  Chris and Luke haven’t visited the Zen Center as yet, but they have visited three other Buddhist places of worship as well as the local Hindu temple and the Islamic Center

As for myself, I do not believe in the doctrines of any one religion, and I think some religions at some periods of history have fostered hatred and oppression, but I think the teachings of most religions contain valuable wisdom, and I think all religions express the yearnings and creativity of the human spirit.

Hydrofracking for me, but not for thee

March 18, 2013
hemlock canadice,jpg

Click to enlarge.

My friend Hal Bauer, a long-time and committed environmental activist and organic farmer, e-mailed me this graphic.  As a resident of the city of Rochester, N.Y., I get my drinking water from the pristine Hemlock and Canadice lakes 28 miles to my south—unlike my suburban neighbors, who drink mostly treated water from Lake Ontario supplied by the Monroe County Water Authority.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas is a process that involves fracturing deep underground strata of shale with explosives, and forcing out the trapped oil and gas by means of a high-pressure mixture of water and detergent chemicals.   The chemicals as well as some of the toxic underground metals could be dangerous if they got into the water table, and the DEC takes that danger seriously enough to protect the watersheds of the New York City and Syracuse water supplies.  Why, then, do I not deserve the same protection?

The DEC leases public lands to oil and gas drillers.   Historically the DEC has charged significantly less than the drillers pay private land-owners.  I bet this is still true, although I don’t know it for a fact.

Click on Leasing of Natural Gas Drilling Rights on Public and Private Land in New York for a 2003 study by Katherine E. Ziegenfuss and Duane Chapman of Cornell University.  That was before the current boom in hydrofracking, so my guess is that the disparity is even greater now.

Click on Hydrofracking and carbon caps for a post of mine with good links explaining the hydrofracking process and the hydrofracking controversy in New York state.

Rebirth of populism in upstate New York

February 8, 2013

philebersole:

What liberals ought to be.

Originally posted on New NY 23rd:

The following article was written by Paolo Cremidis of Elmira, New York. It was originally published on the Daily Kos website in January, 2013. It was republished here with permission of the author.

We must remember as progressives that if the Democratic party represents us, and we use it as a tool to enact change that the debate we are having is not what that change is, but how the other side can attack us, as being not the party of the people but the party of elitist city borne ideology. That is what happened with the birth of the tea party, or rather it was the final punch in thirty years of regression, because the story of rural populism being regressed by the right does not begin in the Midwest but rather in rural manufacturing sections of the country like my hometown of Elmira New York. But the majority of…

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Something I did not know about hydrofracking

February 4, 2013

I had not known that the chemical-laded hydrofracking waste water was spread on western New York highways for de-icing in the winter and keeping down dust in the winter.  So long as this is done, it negates any regulations to prevent leakage of the chemical-laden water during the hydraulic fracturing process itself.

saltbrinesystem_eOn January 15, the Woodstock Town Board unanimously passed a resolution to petition New York State to introduce New York Public Law #1—which would impose stiff penalties for fracking and related activities.  Before taking this step, the Woodstock Town Board took two others: banning fracking within its borders and outlawing the use of frackwaste fluid, some of which is known as “brine” (because of its heavy salt content), on its roads. 

This material is used as a de-icing agent in the winter and for dust control on dirt roads in the summer.  Despite the fact that brine from oil and gas wells (whether fracked or not) is laden with heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and radioactivity, since 2008 the Department of Environmental Conservation has granted approval for it to be spread on roads in the western part of the state.

Click on Can a Small Community Throw a Monkey Wrench Into the Global Fracking Machine? for details.

Matt Damon stars in anti-fracking movie

November 29, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is supposed to take care of the United States energy problems for the next generation.  Many struggling farm owners in New York and Pennsylvania see it as their economic salvation.  But there is a price to be paid that goes beyond the direct economic cost, in destruction of the land, in danger to the ground water and in greenhouse gas emissions.

Matt Damon stars in a new movie, “Promised Land,” which he also helped write, which makes a case against hydrofracking.  It is due out in December, and should be interesting to see.

Hydraulic fracturing requires drilling a deep vertical well, then drilling a horizontal well out from the side of the vertical well, then setting of an explosive charge to fracture (frack) the underground shale.  Then a mixture of water (hydro) and chemicals is pumped into the crevices in order to force out the gas.  If the seal on the sides of the well is imperfect, gas and chemicals can leak into the ground water.

Even if the seals are always perfect and execution is always perfect, lots of fresh water is used, and it is not in infinite supply.  Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, but in unburned form it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Drilling is hard on the land, and oil rigs are hard on local roads.  Hydraulic fracturing has been associated with minor earthquakes.  There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the process.

For now we in the United States need natural gas, and all the cheap easy-to-get gas has been used up.  We may have to turn to hydrofracking eventually, unless better energy sources are developed in the meantime.  Drilling companies may be in a hurry to get control of the land ahead of other drilling companies.  We the poeple don’t have to be in a hurry to use up our reserves shale gas. The shale gas is not going to go away, and it’s not going to lose its value if we hold off on drilling.  In fact, natural gas prices at present are extremely low and likely to go up in the future..

Click on Shakeshock Media videos for background about hydrofracking and the anti-fracking campaign.

Click on Blog | No Fracking Way for Shaleshock Media’s web log.

Hat tip to Hal Bauer.

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How about a hydrofracking severance tax?

November 14, 2012

If we have to have hydrofracking in New York state, there should be a severance tax—that is, a tax on the amount of oil and natural gas produced—just like Texas, Alaska and other oil-producing states have on oil production.

Hydrofracking—hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale oil and gas—is a highly controversial method of energy production which, according to opponents, is destructive to land, a threat to the water supply, and a cause of minor earthquakes.  But according to a report this week of the International Energy Agency, the future of oil and gas production in North America is in hydrofracking.   Natural gas prices in the United States already are falling, due to use of this new technology.

Hydrofracking involves (1) drilling a deep vertical well into gas-bearing or oil-bearing strata of shale, (2) drilling a horizontal well into the shale, (3) setting off an explosive charge to fracture the shale and (4) pumping in water mixed with detergent to force the trapped oil or gas to the surface.  Proponents and industry spokesmen say that, if done correctly, there is no danger of the oil, gas or detergent getting into the water supply.  The shale strata are deep below the water table and the horizontal well should be sealed tight.  They have answers to other objections as well.

The problem, as I see it, is that even if hydrofracking can be done safely, being completely sure that it is would require a degree of regulation that is not feasible.  But if there were a severance tax, there would be money to mitigate or compensate for the damage.  New York is generally regarded as the highest-tax state, based on combined state and local taxes.  This new source of revenue, while it lasts, might allow for reductions in state income taxes and local property taxes.

The drilling companies might then go to states that don’t have severance taxes.  The way to get around this would be for the governors of the hydrofracking states to agree among themselves as to what the severance tax should be.  If they can’t agree, the oil and gas companies would have to come to New York state in the end, after they’ve pumped the other states dry and natural gas prices start to rise again.

Click on Hydrofracking picking up steam for an explanation of the technology and an argument against federal regulation.

Click on Shale Gas Will Be the Next Bubble to Pop for a dissent on the economic benefits of hydrofracking for shale gas.

How CEOs earn their big bonuses

August 7, 2012

This just in from the Rochester Business Journal.

A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday cleared Eastman Kodak Co. to pay up to $4.5 million in bonuses to 12 top executives and senior managers, along with a onetime cash payment of up to $1.5 million to its co-president and chief operating officer, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Kodak CEO Antonio Perez

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper approved the continuation of the bonus programs, which Kodak put in place before its January bankruptcy filing, Dow Jones reported. Co-President and COO Laura Quatela can earn $600,000 to $1.5 million based on how much money Kodak raises in its auction of its digital patent portfolio and how quickly such a sale closes.

An auction of those digital patents is slated for this week and could raise upwards of $2 billion. The digital patent auction is viewed as critical to Kodak’s emergence from bankruptcy.

The $4.5 million in bonuses would go to Kodak insiders and executives, including Chairman and CEO Antonio Perez, Dow Jones reported.  THE BONUSES ARE TIED TO KODAK’S FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE(My emphasis added)

via Rochester Business Journal.

So Kodak’s top executives are getting bonuses based the company’s financial performance after the company has filed for bankruptcy.  I shudder to think what would have happened (he wrote sarcastically) if Kodak’s financial performance had been really bad.

Natural gas: the fuel of the future?

March 21, 2012

When I reported on the electric utility industry 25 or 30 years ago for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, natural gas was regarded as a premium fuel—an ideal fuel in that it burned cleanly, without emitting pollutants, but costing much more than any of the alternatives.

Nuclear power was the cheapest fuel, followed by coal and then oil.  But nuclear power plants were the most expensive to build, followed by coal-fired plants, then by oil-fired plants with natural gas plants the cheapest to build.  So the logic was that you would want nuclear power for your base-load generation—the power you would want turned on all the time, year in and year out.  And you would want natural gas for your peaking power, the power you would turn on to meet peak demands, such as for air conditioning on the hottest day of summer and electric heat on the coldest day of winter.

I’m now reading energy expert Daniel Yergin’s new book, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World, and Yergin says all that is out of date.  Natural gas is now cheap and abundant and, in his view, the fuel of the future for the electric power industry and much else.

Yergin wrote:

Natural gas is the fuel of the future.  World consumption has tripled over the last thirty years, and demand could grow another 50 percent over the next two decades.  Its share of the total energy market is also growing.  World consumption on an energy-equivalent basis was only 45 percent that of oil; today it is about 70 percent.

The reasons are clear:  It is a relatively low-carbon resource.  It is also a flexible fuel that could play a larger role in electric power, both for its own features and as an effective—and indeed necessary—complement to greater reliance on renewable generation.  And technology is making it more and more available, whether in terms of advances in conventional drilling, the ability to move it over long-distance pipelines, the expansion of LNG onto much larger scale, or, most recently, the revolution in unconventional natural gas.

Back when I was reporting on the industry, natural gas was transmitted in pipelines.  That’s why the Reagan administration objected to Russia’s Gasprom exporting natural gas to Western Europe; officials feared the Soviet government would be in a position to cut off supplies.

Click to enlarge.

There was an emerging trade back then in liquified natural gas, or LNG, but this was in its infancy.  LNG involves cooling natural gas down to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which it turns into a liquid with 1/600th the volume of the gas.   Yergin described how availability of LNG has created a world market in natural gas, led by Qatar, which shares access with Iran to the world’s richest natural gas field, right in the middle of the Persian Gulf.  Other LNG exporters include Oman, Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Libya, Egypt,  Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Australia, Russian Sakhalin, Alaska, Trinidad and Peru.

The necessity to keep LNG at such incredibly low temperatures makes it seem like an unforgiving and dangerous technology.  Yergin didn’t address safety issues, but the Wikipedia article on LNG indicated a good safety record to date.

What Yergin calls “unconventional” natural gas is extraction of natural gas tightly locked into strata of shale by means of a technology known as hydraulic fracturing—a technology which, some of us here in upstate New York believe, creates a danger of water pollution, minor and not-so-minor earthquakes and destruction of the rural countryside.  Yergin did not deal with these objections.  I imagine he would say that this is no worse than coal mining, oil drilling or any other type of fossil fuel extraction.

Coal is the most undesirable source of energy.  The mining of deep coal is one of the most dangerous occupations.  Coal miners have a high death rate in mining accidents and black lung disease.  Surface mining is destructive to the environment.  Coal is the worst source of pollution.  Coal emissions cause respiratory disease and acid rain.  And coal is a major contributor to global warming.

Yet coal is what the United States may have to fall back on if all else fails.  Yergin pointed out that the United States has a quarter of the world’s known reserves of coal, about the same as Saudi Arabia’s known reserves of oil.  The United States together with China, another coal-rich nation, are working on technologies to burn coal cleanly.  One such technology is carbon capture, which would remove carbon from the smoke as it goes up the stack, and make it useful, or easily disposable.

I always thought of nuclear energy as a dangerous technology that is possible to operate safely.  The Chernobyl disaster showed the cost to human life when a nuclear power plant was operated without proper precautions.  Yet the excellent safety record of the U.S. and French nuclear power industries convinced me that, with proper safeguards, these dangers could be averted.   And, as Yergin noted, the increasing efficiency of nuclear power plants has been the equivalent of a whole new source of energy in itself.  I agreed with President Obama’s plan to bring about a rebirth of nuclear energy in the United States.

The Fukushima catastrophe in Japan called my assumptions into question.  The catchphrase, “Nobody could have predicted…”, is a common excuse for negligence and failure.  But I do not think the Japanese were negligent.  As far as I know, they did everything a reasonable person could have done to ensure safety and reliability.  Nobody could have predicted an undersea earthquake would create a tsunami that would inundate the plant and destroy all its backup systems.

So this leaves natural gas.   I still think it would be best to put off hydraulic fracturing for natural gas as long as possible, in hope that more benign technologies will appear.  If not, the gas is not going to go away.  It will be more valuable in the future than it is now.  If there is no choice but to go ahead, New York and other states should enact a severance tax, similar to what Texas, Alaska and other states have for oil.  If we are going to put the countryside at risk, we should be getting something back in return.

Click on Daniel Yergin | Official Website for Yergin’s home page.

Click on Daniel Yergin Examines America’s ‘Quest’ for Energy for a link to a National Public Radio interview with Daniel Yergin on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  [Added 3/24/12]

Click on Hydrofracking and  carbon caps for an earlier post of mine.

Click on Liquified natural gas wiki for a Wikipedia article on LNG.

Click on Qatar Economy | Economy Watch for more about Qatar’s natural gas industry and the source of the map below, which shows world exports and imports of LNG and pipeline nature gas.

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Kodak and the Rochester mentality

January 21, 2012

Rich Karlgaard of Forbes wote in the Wall Street Journal that Eastman Kodak Co. might not have failed if it hadn’t happened to be located here in Rochester, N.Y.

He said Kodak needed to be in a place where “success is the norm and innovation is built into the ecology.”  And he said Kodak CEOs did not make the bold and drastic decisions that were necessary because of excessive concern for the welfare of their employees and the community.

I heard stuff like this a lot when I was reporting on Kodak for the Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s.  When Kodak started to falter, Wall Street analysts called for layoffs – the bigger, the better, in their view – and they complained about Kodak’s generous employee benefits and separation packages, which took money they thought rightfully belonged the stockholders.

It is true that Kodak’s operations were much more concentrated in a single city than almost every other major manufacturing employees.  I no longer have the figures on hand, but my recollection is that 40 percent of Kodak’s employees worked in the Rochester area.  Kodak accounted for one out of every eight jobs in the Rochester area, and one out of every three manufacturing jobs.  All of Kodak’s CEOs, from the death of George Eastman in 1932 to the hiring of George Fisher from Motorola in 1993, were promoted through the ranks and spent most of their careers in Rochester.  Kodak and Rochester were very much identified with each other.

During the 1980s, Kodak management was well aware, as Karlgaard noted, that the days of film photography were noted.  CEO Colby H. Chandler tried to incubate new enterprises within the corporate framework, but fostering start-ups within the framework of a larger corporation proved hard to do.  The new enterprises were neither self-reliant nor free of corporate independence.

Perhaps – who can say? – it would have been better for Kodak to launch its digital imaging business in a new location as a separate corporation, far from Rochester corporate headquarters.  Another Rochester-based company, Xerox Corp., did just that, and it didn’t work out.

In a deliberate effort to escape the Rochester mentality.  Xerox relocated its headquarters to Stamford, Conn., and its research laboratories to Palo Alto, Calif., so as not to be limited by the mentality of any one place.  Douglas K. Smith and Robert C. Alexander in their book, Fumbling the Future, wrote that scientists at Palo Alto Research Laboratories in effect invented the personal computer, but Xerox never capitalized on their invention.  Perhaps — who can say? —  if Xerox factories, research laboratories and headquarters had all been in the same place, the divisions of Xerox might have been able to work together to turn research innovations into marketable products.

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Rochester’s Union Thanksgiving Service

November 24, 2011

Third Presbyterian

I celebrated Thanksgiving by attending an interfaith Union Thanksgiving Service this morning at Third Presbyterian Church here in Rochester, N.Y., with participating clergy from the home church, First Baptist Church, First Unitarian Church, First Universalist Church, Temple Beth El, Temple B’rith Kodesh, and Temple Sinai.

A Muslim representing the Islamic Center of Rochester preached the sermon, on the Quran’s teaching of the duty to be grateful for God’s blessings.  A member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church played the organ.

Union Thanksgiving Services have been held in Rochester every year starting in 1874, when First Unitarian, First Universalist and Temple B’rith Kodesh held a joint Thanksgiving service.  Our claim is that it is the longest-running Union Thanksgiving Service in the United States.

The hosting of the services is rotated among the participating congregations, and the different parts of the service are rotated among the participating clergy.  Next year Temple B’rith Kodesh will host the service, and somebody from First Baptist Church will give the sermon.

One exception to the rotation is the Muslim call to prayer, which is part of each year’s service.  When done properly, it is very powerful and penetrating, and I can imagine someone on a minaret being heard for a mile or more.  This year’s caller was a college student, who wasn’t quite as powerful as some of the more experience callers in prior years.

Another thing we always have is the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, which is part of Jewish worship.  This year the blower played a kind of tune on the shofar, which I’d never heard before and wouldn’t have been sure was possible.

Giving of thanks for blessings, and celebration of harvest-time festivals around harvest-time, are part of every religion and culture of which I know.  Knowing I live in a world where people are still killing each other in the name of religion, I feel good when I am able to attend an interfaith service such as this.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that interfaith religious services happen only in America, but I think they represent what is good in American life—the willingness of people of diverse heritages to seek common ground.


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