Archive for the ‘Upstate New York’ Category

The battle for Seneca Lake

July 10, 2015
seneca1

View of Seneca Lake from the south

Crestwood Midstream Partners, a Texas company, wants to store methane, propane and butane in salt caverns underneath upstate New York’s beautiful Seneca Lake.

The company wants to make Seneca Lake a hub for transportation and storage of natural gas products for the whole northeast United States.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already approved the methane part of the plan.   The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is considering whether to approve storage of propane and butane—aka liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

Ellen Cantarow, writing for TomDispatch, explains what’s wrong with this idea.

Crestwood’s plan would mean the full-scale industrialization of the lake’s shores near Watkins Glen, including a 14-acre open pit for holding brine (water supersaturated with salt) removed from the caverns upon the injection of the gas; a 60-foot flare stack (a gas combustion device); a six-track rail site capable of loading and unloading 24 rail cars every 12 hours, each bearing 30,000 gallons of LPG; and a truck depot where four to five semi-trailers would be unloaded every hour.

senecaAs many as 32 rail cars at a time would cross a 75-year-old trestle that spans one of the country’s natural wonders, the Watkins Glen gorge, its shale sides forming steep columns down which waterfalls cascade.

The plan is riddled with accidents waiting to happen. Brine seepage, for example, could at some point make the lake water non-potable. (From 1964 to 1984, when propane was stored in two of the caverns, the lake’s salinity shot up.)

That’s only the first of many potential problems including tanker truck and train accidents, explosions, the emission of toxic and carcinogenic organic compounds from compressor stations and other parts of the industrial complex, air pollution, and impacts on local bird species and animal life due to deforestation and pollution.

Salt caverns 1,000 feet or more underground have been used for gas storage since the middle of the last century and have a checkered history.

A January 2015 analysis of Crestwood’s plan, based on documents by both independent scientists and an industry geologist, found 20 serious or extremely serious incidents in American salt cavern storage facilities between 1972 and 2012.

Ten of these involved large fires and explosions; six, loss of life or serious injury; eight, the evacuation of from 30 to 2,000 residents; and 13, extremely serious or catastrophic property loss.

via Dirty Energy vs. Clean Power: The Past Battles the Future at Seneca Lake by Ellen Cantarow for TomDispatch (via Unz Review).  An excellent article, well worth reading in its entirety.

The persistence of American racism

June 22, 2015

Some thoughts inspired by the Charleston, S.C., church massacre.

∞∞∞

As a college-educated white person whose friends are mostly other college-educated white people, I think of overt racism as a thing of the past.  Racial prejudice, yes, but not the ideology of white supremacy.

What the premeditated murder of the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shows is that white supremacist racism has not disappeared, but just gone underground.

confederate_flagI can remember the bombings and burnings of black churches in the Deep South during the Civil Rights era, in particular the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

White racists claim to fear the black underclass.  But what they hate the most are the God-fearing respectable members of the black middle class, because the existence of such people undermines their feeling of superiority.

∞∞∞

The murder victims’ loved ones said they forgive the murderer, just as Jesus taught and the Rev. Martin Luther King preached.  I ask my secular humanist friends whether they could be capable of such forgiveness.  I know I wouldn’t.

∞∞∞

Racial discrimination is not a thing of the past.  Just because we liberal white people don’t come in contact with it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still exist.

One of the members of the Sunday morning discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., is a white woman with an adopted black son.   I’ve met him, and he is a fine young man—intelligent, courteous and much more self-controlled than I ever felt the need to be at his age.

He once was traveling with white friends, stopped at a motel and was told there were no vacancies.  He went back to the car, and one of the white friends went in.  Unsurprisingly there was a vacancy after all.

He likes to visit Canada, but whenever he is driving the car with white friends, he says the car is inevitably stopped and searched.  When a white friend is driving, the car is always waved through.  When he is driving alone, he sometimes is refused entry to Canada—no explanation given.

He once was ticketed for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk and spent the night in jail.  I’ve never heard of anybody else here ever being jailed for a traffic offense.

(more…)

A plan to store natural gas under Seneca Lake

May 15, 2015

A plan is afoot to store natural gas in salt caverns beneath Seneca Lake, one of the world’s beauty spots, an important location for the New York wine industry and a source of fresh water for 100,000 people.

Although Gov. Andrew Cuoma has suspended hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York state, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to allow fracked gas to be brought in for storage from Pennsylvania and other states.

Filmmaker Josh Fox and author and activist Sandra Steingraber report in the video above how the natural gas industry intends to make New York’s Finger Lakes a storage and transportation hub for gas throughout the Northeast.

They argue that this creates danger of not just of a gas explosion, but even of the collapse of the lake bottom.

LINKS

Video of the Week: We Are Seneca Lake – A Call to Action from Josh Fox and Sandra Steingraber from Josh Fox’s Gasland blog.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

We Are Seneca Lake: Josh Fox & Fracking Opponents Fight Natural Gas Storage Site in Upstate NY on Democracy Now! (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

A Thin Wall

April 11, 2015

Last night I went to the Little Theater here in Rochester, NY, to see the world premiere of a moving documentary film on the partition of India and Pakistan.

It was directed by Mara Ahmed, a Pakistani-American women who lives in the Rochester area and studied at the Visual Studies Workshop here, and co-produced by Ahmed and Surbhi Dewan, who was trained at Rochester Institute of Technology.  I’ve lived in Rochester more than half my life, and yet never knew about them until now.

The movie is in three parts—interviews with their aging relatives and friends about the peaceful life in India before partition, then interviews about their terrible experiences during the massacres and flight of peoples during partition and a final part about the ongoing tragedy of division Indians and Pakistanis, culturally similar peoples except for religion.

It includes dream sequences, animation and poetry—all of which work well in the film.

The movie is so even-handed that I sometimes forgot whether I was hearing the experiences of a Hindu or a Muslim, their tragedies were so alike.

Blame for partition is put in the British and to an extent the leaders of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League.  They did virtually no advance planning as to how it would be carried out.  Nor did they ever hold a referendum or consult the people on whether the subcontinent should be partitioned in the first place.

I don’t know enough to say whether Hindus and Muslims would have been able to live in peace in a united India.  There was a history of rioting and violence between the two communities.

In any case, the “two-state solution” did not solve the Indian subcontinent’s minority problems.  There are still 176 million Muslims in India, and their rights are a fraught issue.

The filmmakers said in a Q&A after the showing that Hindu and Muslim emigrants from the Indian subcontinent get along very well, as do ordinary citizens of India and Pakistan when they meet.  As they said, the least that could be done is to allow free travel between the two nations.

LINK

An interview with Mara Ahmed. [Added 4/24/2015]

 

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…

View original 1,650 more words

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

The Kodak moment has come and gone

November 7, 2011

I reported on Eastman Kodak Co. for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle from 1980 to 1992. That was the start of its decline, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  I thought everything that went wrong was a temporary setback, from which the company would recover.

At the time, I thought the same thing about the United States as a whole.  But there’s no law of nature that says once-great companies or once-great nations will remain great forever.  That’s up to the people in them.

Click on The Rise and Fall of Eastman Kodak for a view of Kodak’s decline by a smart Wall Street analyst.

Click on Eastman Kodak and the idea of loyalty for an earlier post of mine.

Click on In memoriam: 75 years of Kodachrome for thoughts on Kodak’s legacy.

(more…)

Immigration is a moral issue

October 30, 2011

My refrigerator is covered with pictures of family, friends, children, library receipts and my son’s artwork.  However in Arizona, parents who are undocumented are clearing their refrigerators and placing prominently on them a single sheet of paper.  This one piece of paper tells social services what to do with their children if they are arrested.

==The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

The Unitarian Universalist Association has recommended “immigration as a moral issue” as a study-action issue for its congregations for 2010-2014.  On Saturday, I attended a social justice conference Saturday at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y.,  sponsored by the UUA St. Lawrence District.

The principal speaker at the conference was the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, parish minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and part of the UU Immigration ministry.  Others were Diane Chappell-Daly, an immigration lawyer from Syracuse; David Friedman, a St. Lawrence district trustee; and Pacho Lane, an American who identifies with Mexican culture and nationalism.

I learned things I didn’t know.  One is the cruel manner in which unauthorized Mexican migrants are deported.  Immigration authorities confiscate their property, including medications, cell phones, all forms of ID and any cash above $15, and deport them to a city in Mexico where they’ve never been.  Husbands are separated from wives, and parents from children.  Sometimes legal residents or even American citizens are caught up in these sweeps because they happen to be without proper documentation.  Reasonable people may differ about overall immigration policy, but no decent person can think this is right.

“Illegal immigrant” is a misleading term.  To reside in the United States without proper authorization is not a violation of American criminal law, although it is a crime to re-enter the United States once you have been deported.  “Undocumented migrant” is inaccurate, since many have documents; it is just that the documents are expired or invalid.  Arizona’s hard immigration law is not just a restatement of federal law.  It goes beyond federal law.

Frederick-Gray pointed out that until 1924, there were no restrictions on crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.  For many decades after that, Border Patrol enforcement was lax, and people routinely crossed back and forth.

During the past 10 or so years, there has been a crackdown that has made crossing more dangerous, and therefore more lucrative.  The Mexican drug cartel has taken over the business of smuggling people and combines it with smuggling drugs.

The private prison industry is an important lobby for a crackdown on immigration, and an important employer in Arizona.  In the current bad economy, it may be the only growth industry there.

The best estimate is that there are 12 million unauthorized migrants in the United States, and this can’t help but contribute to the high unemployment rate and depressed wages of American citizens.  The uproar over illegal immigration is perfectly understandable, but deportation is unlikely to change the situation.  The Obama administration is deporting roughly 400,000 unauthorized migrants a year which means that, even if no new migrants enter the United States, it would take 30 years to deport them all.

President Obama has stepped up deportation of unauthorized migrants in hopes of gaining support for a path to citizenship for those remaining in the country.  But such support is not forthcoming.  If Republicans would not support this idea when proposed by President George W. Bush, it is unlikely that President Obama would change their minds.  The best that can be hoped for is the Dream Act, which allows children who grew up in the United States a path to American citizenship.

The focus of the conference was on unauthorized migration from Mexico into the American Southwest, but migrants come from many countries and enter all regions of the United States.  Upstate New York is an important agricultural region, and many farmers employ unauthorized migrants.

It is not that American citizens don’t want to do farm work.  Employers who pay minimum wage and obey American labor law can get all the workers they want.  But the economic incentive is to hire workers outside the protection of U.S. law.  Chappell-Daly said U.S. courts have ruled that it is legal for an employer to refuse to pay back wages to an unauthorized migrant.  Somebody in the audience, however, said that the New York Department of Labor will try to get workers the wages they’re owed—if they can find the person after they’ve been deported.

(more…)

Gannett’s rich reward for a failed CEO

October 25, 2011

Gannett Co. Inc. owns the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, where I worked from 1974 to 1998.  Newspaper work was good to me, and Gannett was good to me, but I’m glad I was able to retire when I did.  I am reminded why I’m glad as I read this by David Carr in the New York Times.

Craig A. Dubow

Craig A. Dubow resigned as Gannett’s chief executive [on Oct. 6].  His short six-year tenure was, by most accounts, a disaster.  Gannett’s stock price declined to about $10 a share from a high of $75 the day after he took over; the number of employees at Gannett plummeted to 32,000 from about 52,000, resulting in a remarkable diminution in journalistic boots on the ground at the 82 newspapers the company owns.

Never a standout in journalism performance, the company strip-mined its newspapers in search of earnings, leaving many communities with far less original, serious reporting.

Given that legacy, it was about time Mr. Dubow was shown the door, right? Not in the current world we live in. Not only did Mr. Dubow retire under his own power because of health reasons, he got a mash note from Marjorie Magner, a member of Gannett’s board, who said without irony that “Craig championed our consumers and their ever-changing needs for news and information.”

But the board gave him far more than undeserved plaudits.  Mr. Dubow walked out the door with just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.

via NYTimes.com.

And also this, by Peter Lewis, formerly of the Des Moines Register, New York Times, Time magazine and Stanford University journalism school.

Mr. Dubow … required many employees to take unpaid leaves of absence, and instituted pay freezes.  He referred to this as “increasing workplace efficiencies.” … …

Mr. Dubow managed to keep earnings high, according to analysts, by cutting costs (i.e. people) more aggressively than any other company in the media industry.  Gannett refers to this as “workplace restructuring.” … …

Gracia Martore, who replaces Dubow as CEO, said: “We will continue our relentless quest to provide trusted news and information and will actively support the people and businesses in the communities we serve.”

These people are lying.  The corporate goal is not to serve the consumer; it’s to maximize profits and pay packages for top executives.  Can anyone argue that Gannett newspapers and journalism are better today, and that news consumers are better served?

How did Mr. Dubow and Gannett serve the consumer?  They laid off journalists.  They cut the pay of those who remained, while demanding that they work longer hours.  They closed news bureaus.  They slashed newsroom budgets.  As revenue fell, and stock prices tanked, and product quality deteriorated, they rewarded themselves [with] huge pay raises and bonuses.

via Words & Ideas.

(more…)

What’s the hurry on hydrofracking?

October 5, 2011

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, with the approval of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has set up a fast-track approval process for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state.  Public comments are being sought on the process itself and on the DEC’s proposed rules for the process at the same time, rather the one first and then the other if approved.  The comment period ends Dec. 12, and the DEC will then consider the comments and make its decision.

What’s the hurry?  The natural gas has been under the ground for hundreds of millions of years.   It won’t go away if the state government takes a slow and careful approach to studying hydraulic fracturing.  The natural gas will only become more valuable over time.  And – who knows? – maybe new technologies will be discovered that answer or mitigate current objections.

I can understand why natural gas companies are eager to drill.  If a natural resource is available, a business will want to exploit it before a competing business gets access to it.  But this is not necessarily in the public interest, and the DEC ought to take a longer-range view.

Hydraulic fracturing – “hydrofracking” for short – is a process for extracting hard-to-get natural gas from shale formations.  A casing is sunk deep into the shale formation, then horizontally.  The shale is fractured, and water mixed with detergent is forced into the fractures at high pressure, forcing out the natural gas.

Josh Fox, producer of the documentary movie Gasland, who is shown in the video above, says hydrofracking posts dangers to the environment and to public health.  The detergents contain toxic chemicals which potentially could contaminate underground water.  Natural gas (methane) burns cleanly, but in its raw state is a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.  The process of hydrofracking creates wear and tear on the land, and on local roads and bridges.

But hydrofracking creates jobs in regions of New York state where unemployment is high.  Natural gas drillers say the shale formations are so far beneath the watershed that contamination is impossible.  The DEC says that hydrofracking, if done right, should not have an unacceptable environmental impact.

At present we need fossil fuels and nuclear power to maintain our industrial civilization.  The easy-to-get fossil fuels are being used up, and, unless alternatives are developed, it will be necessary to authorize hydrofracking for natural gas, mountaintop removal for coal and deep ocean drilling for oil, or revert to a primitive existence.  But we need not be in a hurry to take irrevocable actions.  The natural gas, coal and oil will not go away.  They still be there if and when we decide we need them.

(more…)

Elbert Hubbard’s recipe for perpetual ignorance

July 17, 2011

Be satisfied with your opinions, and content with your knowledge.

(more…)

Sestina d’Inverno by Anthony Hecht

February 9, 2011

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
where there are twenty-seven words for “snow,”
not all of them polite, the wayward mind
basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

 

and O that we were there. But here the natives
of this gray, sunless city of Rochester
have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

an ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
with sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
the grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
unable to conceive of Rochester,
made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

 

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
do than some wistful reverie of an island,
especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn’t mind
such profitable weather, while the natives
sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
the single verity of heaven’s making,
deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
and the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
where to the natives destiny is snow
that is neither to our mind nor of our making.

(more…)

What is your city telling you?

February 7, 2011

Paul Graham is an essayist, computer programmer and venture capitalist who lives in Cambridge, Mass.  In one essay, he said the greatest of a city is determined by what it tells its inhabitants they should be.  How can a city send a message?  By providing an audience that applauds certain things and not others, Graham says; by providing peers that understand certain things and not others.

Paul Graham

Here are the messages he received from cities he has lived in.

Boston/Cambridge, Mass.: Be smart.

Silicon Valley:  Be powerful.

New York City: Be rich.

San Francisco/Berkeley.  Live well.

Los Angeles: Be famous.

Washington, D.C.: Be an insider.

Paris, France: Do things with style.

London, England: Be aristocratic

If this is true, what would be the message of Rochester, N.Y.?

The message I get from the city is this.

Rochester, N.Y,: Be nice.

I have to back up a little before I go on.  Any city is a different city to members of different social classes and groups.  Rochester wasn’t a very nice place to that high school athlete who, a couple of years ago, was shot dead on the street for supposedly looking disrespectfully at a peer passing by on the street.  So when I speak of Rochester, I speak of my own particular Rochester, which I don’t claim is everybody’s Rochester.  And in any city, or for that matter any large group, you can find people with almost any conceivable goal in goal.

At the same time, I think I have some basis for my claim about Rochester.  The old American Demographics magazine once did a survey on helpfulness and kindness in different American cities.  They sent people to different cities who asked strangers for directions, dropped their wallets and pretended not to notice and so on.  As I recall, Rochester always ranked high, maybe highest, in people who gave directions, retrieved and returned the wallets and so on.

Drivers are always quick to pull over to the side of the road and stop when they hear a fire engine or ambulance approaching, which, I’m told, is not always the rule in other cities.  I’ve never encountered road rage in Rochester.

In an earlier era, the famous anarchist Emma Goldman was radicalized by her experience of working in a Rochester garment factory, but during the time I’ve lived here, Rochester has been a city of labor peace.  This is partly because George Eastman of Eastman Kodak Co. and Joseph Wilson of Xerox Corp. pursued more humane policies than did, say, Ford Motor Corp. or General Motors Co. in Detroit.  But even the GM branch plants in Rochester had better relations with workers than GM in Detroit.

I have a sense of Rochester as a community and not just a collection of people who happen to live in a certain place.  If you’re a Rochesterian, do you have that sense?  If you live somewhere else, do you think your city is sending you a message?  What is it?

Click on Cities and Ambition for Paul Graham’s essay.

Slay the gerrymander!

November 2, 2010

I just got back from voting at my neighborhood polling place.

I voted in New York’s 28th congressional district, the so-called “earmuffs” or “headphones” district, which looks like this: –

I voted in New York’s 55th state senate district, which looks like this: –

I voted in New York’s 131st state assembly district, which looks like this: –

And I am sure these far from being the most absurdly and arbitrarily drawn congressional and legislative district.

The only requirements for drawing district boundaries are that (1) the districts be roughly equal in population and (2) the boundaries not be drawn to intentionally reduce representation of minority groups.  Isn’t it time to add (3) the districts be compact in shape, (4) the districts as much as possible, subject to requirements 1-3, respect historic governmental and community boundaries and (5) the district be drawn by a non-partisan commission, subject to an up-or-down vote by the state legislature?  It might even be possible find a computer algorithm for doing this.

I voted for Kenneth Krause, the Republican candidate for Assembly, because he has signed a pledge to support non-partisan redistricting of the Assembly.  Of course the Assembly is gerrymandered to favor Democrats, as the state Senate is gerrymandered to favor Republicans, so he has less to lose than if he were a Republican.

(more…)

Taking root in the Flower City

October 13, 2010

Skyline of Rochester, NY

Before I moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1974, I had lived all my life – except for college and peacetime military service – in or near Hagerstown in the western Maryland panhandle.  I was discontented in my work and had an opportunity to get a better job in Rochester, but before I accepted, I read books by Henry Clune and others to reassure myself that Rochester was a place with a history and identity and not just some sort of giant suburb.  Like many people in western Maryland, I had only the vaguest notion of an upstate New York separate and distinct from New York City and its environs.

I now have lived in Rochester more than half my life.  I think of Rochester as home and people in Rochester as “us.”  Rochester offers me everything I want in terms of what’s called “quality of life,” and yet it is a community of which I feel a part.

My friend Michael J. Brown, a lifelong Rochester resident, wrote an article in the Fall 2010 issue of Dissent magazine magazine about how living in one place relates to the ancient ideal of citizenship and what you lose when you sacrifice that ideal to the quest for status and success.

What’s at issue is the tension between belonging to a rootless professional culture and a rooted local one. The price of holding on to the latter may be exclusion from the status, power, and income the former offers. It’s not the case, however, that those leaving their childhood homes in places like Rochester are lighting out for wide open spaces where opportunity abounds and careers are simply open to talent. My peers are not leaving to pursue Jeffersonian independence; they’re leaving to enter large professional organizations in which they often become quite dependent—on the caprice of bosses, the vicissitudes of markets, the shifting terrain of mergers and acquisitions.

And this brings me back to how eager I am to tell people why I live in Rochester. It is not because Rochester affords me economic independence (though the low cost of living helps). There are surely capricious bosses and volatile markets here, too. But there is something else. There are the faces and the names of the people around me, each of which has a story behind it, each of which is a buoy anchored in the social sea, helping to orient me. There are the old buildings—the grand facades of high culture, the battered storefronts of the inner city, the sentinel-like pump house on the reservoir hill—to remind me of history and time. What is different in Rochester is that I own a piece of this place, and this place owns a piece of me. I’d like to suggest that this relation is the grounds for a special kind of independence.

via Dissent Magazine

(more…)

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals

October 10, 2010

Saul Alinksy is considered the father of modern community organizing.  In the 1930s, he was a labor organizer for the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and then turned to organizing poor people in slum areas, first in his native Chicago and then nationwide.

Saul Alinsky

His community organizations, like labor unions, existed for the purpose of putting pressure on established authorities in order to force concessions.  Alinsky sought confrontation rather than conciliation because he thought this taught poor people they were capable of exercising power.  In 1971, a year before his death at age 63, he wrote a book called Rules for Radicals in which he shared the lessons of his experience.

1.  Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.

2.  Never go outside the experience of your people.

3.  Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy.

4.  Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.

5.  Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.

6.  A good tactic is one your people enjoy.

7.  A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

8.  Keep the pressure on.

9.  The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

10.  The major premise for tactics is the deployment of operations that will maintain a constant pressure on the opposition.

11.  If you push a negative hard enough, it will break through into its counterside.

12.  The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

13.  Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.

(more…)

Hydrofracking and carbon caps

October 6, 2010

Like almost everybody else I know, I oppose the environmentally destructive practice of hydrofracking – horizontal drilling for shale gas using hydraulic fracturing.  But without the development of large-scale and practical alternatives to natural gas and other fossil fuels, we will have no alternative in the end.

New York state is on top of the northern edge of the Marcellus Shale, a large mostly-underground shale formation extending below West Virginia and parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  There are large quanities of natural gas in the pores and cracks of the shale, and conventional technologies are incapable of extracting it.

Hydrofracking involves fracturing underground shale formations by means of shaped explosive charges, and then forcing out natural gas by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure.  This requires millions of gallons of water per well.

Part of the water stays in the ground and, opponents say, could work its way into the ground water.

My default position is that we should refrain from hydrofracking, and, for that matter, from surface mining for coal or deep ocean drilling for oil as long as we possibly can.  The natural gas, coal and oil have been underground for millions of years.  They won’t go away if we wait another 10, 20, 50 or 100 years to dig them up.  Maybe in the meantime affordable substitutes for fossil fuel will become available.  Maybe better methods of extraction will be developed.  Maybe there will be some sort of breakthrough which I can’t even imagine.

But hope is not a plan. Easy-to-get natural gas, coal and oil have been used up.  I heat my own house with natural gas, and I know it has to come from somewhere.

Demand for natural gas is increasing at a rapid rate because of the likelihood of caps on emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gasses that is heating up our planet.  Caps on carbon dioxide mean less use of coal and oil and, in the absence of a commercially-available alternative, more use of natural gas and nuclear energy.  Natural gas is clean burning, and nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gasses at all.

One irony is that release of natural gas (methane) into the atmosphere is one of the problems associated with hydrofracking. While natural gas is clean burning, raw natural gas is one of the most potent greenhouse gasses – much more powerful than carbon dioxide.  So it is possible that the increased use of natural gas, whose purpose is to slow down global warming, may help make the problem worse.

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 725 other followers