The Earth’s Coming Death?


Since man first stood upright on this planet he has been a creature like none other. In his earliest days, he was a hunter-gatherer. That meant he used very rudimentary tools to kill animals and he harvested fruits, berries, roots, and other edible plants to stay alive. To be sure, for man’s first million years, his was a constant struggle just to stay alive.

But during this period he also started to move outward from East Africa where he first rose to prominence. He discovered that even though he was not match for many of the larger animals he co-existed with, he could use his brain to elude those animals should they decide they had a taste for human flesh.

But also during this period man discovered war. Man grew from family groups into small protective groups and then into small communities. These communities fought one another when food became scarce and possibly when one group felt another was impinging on their territory. This probably did not happen very much but we need only look at today’s society to discover man’s ancient proclivities.

And so it went until the 20th Century arrived. The 20th Century, and now the 21st Century, have burdened our planet early like never before. Even though the industrialization of the Earth started in the 19th Century, those toxic fumes emitted by mills were not so great that they posed an immediate threat to Earth’s biosphere.

The 20th Century, however, was one of great scientific and industrial invention. It has also been the period of the most rapid growth of Earth’s human population. Between these two things, planet Earth has been put at risk of dying, literally.

Industrialists, and those who support them, contend that what is happening to planet earth is little more than a natural progression. That the earth is warming is nothing new and those who complain about it are just alarmists. The contend that there is more than enough proof that the Earth has gone through similar events and survived. The question here is: Is their logic sound?

During the 1940s through and into the 1970, aerosol cans used a gas named florochlorohydrocarbons. This gas was used in items such as hair spray and other consumer items that needed a gas to propel their active ingredients. When it was discovered that the use of this gas compound was causing a big hole over the Earth’s poles where ozone had previously existed, the federal government stepped in and banned the use of those compounds. Most other countries on the earth did the same, following our lead. The result was the holes closed up and there was proof positive that man had caused an unnatural imbalance in the earth’s biosphere.

Plastic was first made in the 1920 but did not come into any sort of widespread use until the 1950s. As a child I remember our milk was delivered either in glass containers or paper containers that were lined with was. Neither of these containers posed any threat to our biosphere. Additionally, most other liquid items were delivered either in glass or metal containers. Again, no serious threat to the biosphere. But starting in the 1970s industrial economies dictated that the delivery of fluids in plastic containers was much more economical. Glass containers, such as the soft drink industry used, required that the bottles be returned, then cleaned for reuse. This process proved relatively expensive. Today, such a process is considered “green.”

Grocery stores changed over from the paper bag to the plastic bag. Plastic bags were less expensive and required smaller spaces for containment. But plastic bags, once recycling took hold, were not acceptable items for many communities recycling. The problem? They tended to get bound up in the gears of the machinery processing them with the other forms of plastic and therefor became prohibited items.

Curiously, one of the nation’s larger food market chains which uses only paper bags and promotes its reusable repurposed plastic bags has no system to capture used plastic bags. To be fair, the reusable plastic bags that I am referring to, feel like fabric to the touch and last a long time making the need to use a food stores plastic bags unnecessary. This is an industry at least attempting to take positive measures in the responsible use of plastics.

To further illustrate the threat these plastic containers pose to the planet, there is an island of plastic sitting in the middle of the oceans larger than 3 countries. More, who has not been to a beach where plastic bottles and bags could be found along the beach front?

The other great threat to our biosphere is atmospheric pollution, green house gases. Most prominent, but not alone, are carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). I put the chemical formula for these compounds to show how closely related they are. Carbon monoxide is unstable and will capture an oxygen molecule quickly thereby robbing our atmosphere of its precious oxygen content and leaving behind carbon dioxide, the compound which most seriously impacts the green house warming our planet is presently experiencing. Green house gases trap sunlight in the earth’s atmosphere, sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back out into space.

One method scientists use for tracking the effect of our planet’s warming is the regression of glaciers. In the 1930, many was the author who wrote about the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. They were legendary but they no longer exist because of global warming. Of particular interest to them has been the glacier which covers most of Greenland. This glacier has always melted during the summer months but the rate of melting has increased over the past decades. Also, where small puddles of water that existed atop this glacier during the summer months, they have been replaced by large lakes, further proof of the extent of global warming.

One of the side effects of global warming, and probably the most deadly to the continued existence of the human race, is that deserts are becoming larger and small tracts of arid land are fast converting into deserts due to the lack of rainfall. The reason for the lack of rainfall is how air circulates around our planet. The rainy seasons that sub-Saharan residents used to rely upon have all but disappeared. The Sahara desert in turn moves southward pushing out the people who used to populate this land. Many other parts of our planet are experience elongated droughts. Such droughts have never been recorded in these areas for as long as man has inhabited them.

A case in point is California. California had traditionally relied upon the snows of the Sierra Mountains to provide them with needed water. But for years on end the snows came in such reduced amounts that the reservoirs they typically filled fell far short of the water necessary. Certain of these reservoirs dried up completely. The city of Los Angeles was in crisis. The drought ended just in time to avert the crisis at hand. But it is only a question time, and not an if, when the next elongated drought strikes the southwestern United States and it lasts far longer than the available water can support.

California is one of the chief vegetable and other food producing areas of the United States. A plant killing drought will be disastrous for both the people of the United States and its economy. That a single state can be the root of a catastrophe illustrates how dependent we are on any one region being economically healthy.

The bottom line is: the Earth is reliant up a series of interrelated eco-systems, each reliant upon the other. When any one of these systems changes, even slightly, the effect of that change is felt in all the rest of the systems. The question is how much is each system affected? That we can quantify the rise in the temperature of sea water to be several degrees is hugely significant. Were it just a tenth or two, there would be no reason for concern. But that is simply not what is happening. The larger question at hand here is: how much more will the temperature of the oceans rise? The is extremely important because the ocean’s temperature directly affects weather patterns. In the Atlantic ocean we have seen a marked increase in both the number and the intensity of hurricanes. In other parts of the earth the change in weather patterns have caused stronger winter storms, greater flooding, hotter summers and even colder winters.

That the United States has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords is a travesty. It says that the United States cares more about corporate profits than the continued life of our planet. The United States, which for over 100 years, has lead the world in most areas, has abdicated its leadership responsibility. This is a debt which must be paid whether the United State’s present political leadership acknowledges or not. The debt grows daily and will be paid by our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren.

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Our World in 50 Years


There are three generations whose ability to impact positive change in the United States has either gone to zero or is on that track. I’m a baby boomer, born in 1949, which means the majority of my generation is either retired of contemplating it. The generation ahead of us has, for the most part, embraced their retirement and only gives thought about our country during national elections. Then there is the generation right behind me. Their age range is about 30 to 55. The youngest end still has a chance to make strong positive changes while the older end, if they are not actively engage in public policy, are not likely to join in.

 
The future of our country lies in the hand of those who are now in high school and country. We need them to be as well-educated and actively involved in government as possible. History teaches us that a large portion of discoveries, inventions, and activism happens to this age group as soon as they finish their education. But my generation, and those generations around mine, are leaving a legacy which is in desperate need of a large influx of new ideas. The ideas of those presently in power are simply not working to a large degree.

 
What will our work look like 50 years from now? First of all, recent history has shown our planets oceans have risen enough that ocean-front cities are experiencing flooding at ever increasing levels. My own city, Boston, Massachusetts, has just this last winter seen flooding of city streets with water from the ocean that has entirely overwhelmed the ability of the city’s storm drains to remove these waters. That the level of our oceans in continuing to rise in indisputable. What will our children have to do?

 
First of all, they are going to need to occupy and become a majority of every country’s leadership and embrace the fact of global warming an man’s contribution to it. Their’s will be the challenge to improve and expand upon renewable energy sources which do not contribute to global warming: wind farms, solar panels, geo-thermal, and water both from the planets rivers but also from the ocean, a well-know but entirely undeveloped source of energy.

efully, the internal combustion engine will be mostly, if not entirely, obsolete worldwide. It will have been supplanted by electric automobile. But to do that effectively three things have to happen: first, batteries capable of operating automobiles at highway speeds must be good for 450 miles. At present 200-250 it about the best. Secondly, the price of these automobiles must be brought into line with what the average consumer can afford. With an average price tag of around $40,000 at the low end, such cars are simply out of the range of the average consumer. But with such cars available, cities, towns, and villages are going to have to accommodate charging stations in their public parking lots, at a reasonable fee of course. And lastly, as the price of oil rises at first, such demand should fall with the advent of the wide-spread electric automobile. This in turn should mean lower diesel fuel prices which will keep our trucking and railroad industries viable. But even their, the Hybrid diesel engine must come into wide use and still have the ability to haul heavy loads.

 
I believe that in 50 years the most notable global crises will be a food shortage. But at the root of this will be two things: expanding deserts and extreme water shortages worldwide, even in the United States. One solute to the water problem is the desalinization process of turning ocean water into fresh water. Right now such costs are prohibitive but that does not mean with our young people and their new idea, the cost of such a process cannot be reduced to where the economics of desalinated ocean allows the flow of huge quantities of water to feed the world’s farmland. Man can develop friendly ecosystems but he has to be willing to pay for the initial costs. My generation is not so inclined but hopefully the next two generations will see this differently.
These three things, energy, food and water, are guaranteed to be at the root of future wars if we do not start acting in a positive manner now and in the immediate future.

 
If you happen to read this and are between the ages of 15 and 30, I do not envy the challenge ahead of you but I believe that when you see the enormity of our failures you will take on the challenge and succeed like we never have.

An Education Second to None


My birth family what is referred to as land poor. We had a big house surrounded by a number of acres of both open fields and wooded areas. My family ancestry shows we were the second family to settle Andover, Massachusetts, which today is call North Andover after an 1855 split. For the most part we were farmers, sometimes minutemen, then factory owner and by the 20th century men who commuted to Boston to work.

 

My mother and father met by an arrangement between friends and it was probably love at first sight for both of them. Unfortunately, I never asked that question, but I know my mother adored my father and my father deeply loved her. I thought I had the most perfect parents any kid could want. It never occurred to me that relative to everyone else who lived in our neighborhood, we were quite poor. Each of my parents worked hard and my sister, brother and I were well taken care of. That gave us the illusion that all was well. And in general, it was, but I now know that my parents struggled mightily to keep things together.
I found out when I asked my parents for my first bicycle that the ability to afford things was rather restrictive. The bike they found cost $10, a large sum in the later 1950s. It was well-used, but I managed to get many many miles out of it before it literally fell apart.
I believe I was about six years old when a neighbor kid asked me if I wanted to make 25 cents shoveling snow. Now in those days, in my mind, 25 cents translated into 5 candy bars. My parents could not afford to give any of us an allowance, so I was introduced to getting what I wanted via work. Much of this early work was what I was already doing around my house, taking out the trash, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, and raking leaves. In those days we could burn a pile of leaves alongside the road. In the country-side one of the harbingers of fall was the smell of burning leaves in the air. It was everywhere and something I miss.
The lady for whom I shoveled snow I offered my services of mowing her lawn which she accepted along with taking care of her flowers. My business spread to other people in the neighborhood and I always had money in my pocket at lease briefly. My weakness for chocolate what as great then as it is now and I saw no reason to resist. But I bought other things with my money, a wallet, a pair of boots, a speedometer for my bike and other things.
When I turned 12 I was old enough to work a paper route for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. My first route was rather lengthy, but I learned a lot. When it came time, each Thursday, to collect from each person the tidy sum of 42 cents for a week’s worth of newspapers. They were 7 cent a day, six days a week. The blue-collar and middle-class people would always give me 50 cents, an 8-cent tip, which I always appreciated. But the wealthy people always waited for their change with the exception of one man, Sam Rockwell, who was a wealthy Boston banker and as kind a person a you could know.
At age 14 and 15 I work on a vegetable farm about a mile from my house. For my 8 hours labor in the hot fields, I received the tidy sum of 3 dollars a day or 15 dollars a week that first summer. The next summer I got a raise to 5 dollars a day. Farms were then, and I expect now, exempt from paying minimum wage which at the time was $1.25 an hour. The farm was run by two Italian brothers and the fields were always filled with their parents and grandparents. I know at least one woman was in her 80s, and because she was widowed, she dressed completely in black every day regardless of how hot it got, and you never heard a single complaint. There were a number of these older women who were dressed in black. It was very hard labor, very demanding, and I got another lesson in work that I feel proud about.
When I turned 16 I knew I could find a job that paid better than the farm. As good fortune had it, there was a man who lived a very short distance from my house. This man I knew owned a mill in Lawrence. I had no idea what was made in the mill, but I went to his house and rang his bell. He answered the door and I introduced myself and told him what I was looking for. A 16-year-old does not recognize when he is properly impressing someone with his industry. Mr. Segal did not even give it a moment’s thought. He simply told me to show up at the mill office and there would be a job waiting for me. I had no idea that this job, though it lacked excitement, would give me a life lesson that I carry in my heart to this day. Mr. Segal’s mill was named Service Heel Company. His factor produced women’s shoe heels which when finished were shipped off to another company, actually several of them, who would use the heels we made to finish their shoes.
The mill was what used to be referred to as a sweat shop. That simply meant, people worked in a place that was hot and un-airconditioned in the summer and cold and poorly heated in the winter. The mill building itself, originally the George Kunhardt Mill, was built around 1890 and was part of the giant woolen industry in Lawrence. I would like to say that the people who I worked with ran the entire spectrum of a community but in truth it had one small sliver. Most of the people employed their had an 8th grade education, if that, and had worked the same job, in exactly the same location for 30 years or more. I know that for fact because I asked that question of several people there.
The thing with these people, almost without exception, is they were what was called “the salt of the earth.” If you worked there you were one of them and no one person was any better than another person.
I was a “floor boy” which meant I dragged boxes of unfinished heels to various stations where work was done on them. It being a union shop, I could work there for only 90 days without joining the union which was more than enough for me because it was only a summer job. Also, I was getting my $1.25 hourly wage which grossed me $50 a week, the most money I had ever earn. Those were the days that you had a time card which you had to punch in and out as you went. If you were one minute late you were docked 5 minutes of pay. That happened to me but a single time but that was enough for me to appreciate the idea of being somewhere on time.
The floor supervisor was a big man named Tony who had now problem rolling out his prejudices. Probably during my first week he took me to the rear of the shop and point out the window to the mill next to us. He said, “that’s where the spics work” and told me I had better not associate with them. In the early 1960s Lawrence already had a sizeable Puerto Rican community which some people like Tony could not tolerate for reason that make no sense. Ironically, I found none of that with the people who worked the stations in the shop. They were kind and very helpful. I got absolutely no training upon my arrival there and of course was quite lost with how to find what was needs and how to tell where I should be taking these boxes. It was the people who needed the boxes who train me of where to find things and how to get them to where they needed to be. They also made me aware that occasionally time sensitive heels would come through and I needed to be on the look out for them and drag the as soon as I saw them to the proper station. By the way, I actually had a metal rod with a hook on the end to drag these boxes around.
One of the stations was in a second building separated by a hallway and a large steel door. This was the paint shop where certain heels were spray painted. OSHA did not exist at that time and the man who worked the shop, alone, only had a face mask to protect him from the paint fumes. He did not have the oxygen mask that would be used today. I don’t know what, if anything, ever happened to him but considering the noxious fumes he inhaled, it is difficult to believe he was not damaged in some manner. But such were the mills back then.
I really do not remember the names of the people who worked there, some were but a few years older than me and others were easily old enough to be my grandparents. But to a person they were not but kind and considerate of me. I never heard them complain about anything. There was a level of respect between employees that was exemplary. I learned the life lesson of not judging people by their station in life. Rather look at the character of the person and you will know who you are dealing with. These people were of the best character.
The next summer I got a job at Raytheon Company in Shawsheen, MA, a part of Andover MA. I believe my basic title was clerk. I worked on the 9th floor of a 10-story building where there built radar systems to the US Army. I did not have a security clearance which occasionally got in the way of my job. The floor I worked on was concerned with completed radar components being properly finished and tested. It was the quality assurance section.
The job site, as opposed to the previous one, did employ a large spectrum of people. But there was something amiss with this group. There was lots of prejudice and angst between the various groups. People who worked in the metal shops and fabrication shops were looked down upon by those in the engineering department of which I was a part. Worse, this shop was also a union shop which had recently gone on strike. A number of men crossed the lines and of course became “scabs.” I had the bad manners to sit down and each lunch with one of the scabs and was told if I did that again I would be treated as he was, poorly. I hated that because I have never thought ostracizing anyone served any useful purpose.
I encounter one other type of prejudice quite unexpectedly. There was a young lady who I worked with, we both worked out of the same office but had different jobs but were otherwise equals. I found I that I was making 5-cents more than she because of my gender. I knew even than that that was wrong. I remember thinking that she had told me things about herself the left me believing that if anyone should be make more money it was her. It had to do with her background, but I do not remember exactly what.
I was glad to leave that job at the end of the summer. They offered me a full-time position with the added incentive of paying for my college education which I was starting that September. I turned down their offer, it was not a place I wanted to work.
And so there you have the first 18 years of my life and the informal, though extremely useful, education I received along the way. If you consider that I started work at the age of 6, I worked continuously for 52 years before I retired. I learned new things each of those 52 years but the best education I received were those years for age 6 to 18. They served me well and I am grateful for every person along the way who took a moment to show me something that was useful. God bless them all.

 

The True Opioid and Alcohol Crisis


Our country has taken to heart the “opioid crisis” as it should. But there is nothing new about this crisis as it has been around for at least 100 years. What they are really saying, but won’t, is that the prescription opioid has gotten out of control. People are prescribed an opioid based medication for pain relief and soon find themselves addicted. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control there are approximately 11,000 opioid deaths per year. The notion here is that either doctors are over-prescribing opioid-based medications or that the addict is easily finding the same medications on the street.
But the real addiction crisis in America is alcoholism. According to the CDC approximately 88,000 people die annually from alcoholism. That’s an 8:1 ratio making alcoholism something greater than a crisis if we are going to apply that apelet to opioids. But I have heard nothing on the news or elsewhere that this crisis is getting much attention.

 
The problems with treating either addiction starts with the insurance companies. Most, if not all, insurance carriers provide very little assistance in this area. What they are willing to give is a 2-week in-patient treatment followed by out-patient treatment. There is one very simple problem to this approach. The alcoholic and the addict each need at least a 90-day in-patient program to stabilize them. And even that may not be enough as relapse among even those who have been in a 90-day program is high. Both the alcoholic and the addict tend to need long-term treatment, the length dependent entirely upon the individual.

 
The underlying issue for most, if not all, alcoholics and addicts, is unresolved serious issues earlier in their lives which leave them feeling “less than,” suffering from depression and/or a myriad of other psychiatric issues. But the way the insurance industry followed by the medical community, is to treat the symptom without even evaluating the patient for the real underlying issues.
I was recently hospitalized for a possible heart issue. I had a heart attack 20-years ago and am always considered an at-risk person. While in one of great Boston’s excellent hospitals, I struck up a conversation with the man in the other bed in my room. As it turned out he was an alcoholic. One of the consequences of untreated alcoholism is liver failure. As the liver fails fluid collects in the abdomen causing it to bulge. I found out that this man had had 3.5 liters of fluid removed but still had at least another 10 liters needing removal. He was given the medication Ativan because he was detoxing and without that medication he was likely to experience the delirium tremens, DTs, of withdrawal.

 
For reasons I could not be privy to, the hospital was only treating his liver issue, the fluid. Although he had a good insurance plan, the hospital, a fairly large one, did not have a detox facility and no program to treat an alcoholic on an in-patient basis. This brings us back to the money issue, insurance. Hospitals cannot survive giving the addict and alcoholic the treatment they desperately need and not get paid for it by the insurance companies.

 
The National Institute of Health estimates that there are more than 15 million alcoholics in the U.S. today. That comes to about 5% of the entire U.S. population. Other studies have suggested that upwards to 10% of the population suffers from alcoholism. Most, unfortunately, are untreated. And there is the crisis. What I said about alcoholism equally applies to addiction, be it medical based opioids or street drugs.
Right now the number of facilities that are prepared to properly treat the alcoholic or addict is low. The alcoholic or addict who applies to get into one of these facilities is usually greeted by the statement that there is no bed available. At that point the alcoholic gives up and goes back to drinking.

 
I suspect that in the era of modern medicine, there has never been a concerted effort to treat alcoholics and addicts. These people who suffer from an identified medical, and frequently a psychiatric, illness fall victim to the insurance industry which simply is not interested in dealing with alcoholics and addicts. The irony in all this is that the insurance companies end up paying for alcohol and drug induced ailments over long periods of time which is always very costly. These costs are easily reduced by proper treatment of alcoholics and addicts. The question is: when are the insurance companies going to come to this realization and when is the medical community going to start pushing back at the insurance companies to compel them to act in a more responsible manner?

It’s Time to Bring the MBTA Into the 21st Century


The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) (the T) is broken, but no one at the state house, governor, senate, house, cares to address the real problems the T has. At present, the governor and the T are both hailing the arrival of new Red Line and Orange Line cars. But this is little more than a PR stunt meant to divert the public’s attention away from the MBTA’s more pressing issues. The T did need to replace the Orange and Red Line cars but it also has issues that will leave customers sitting disgruntled on these new cars.
Much of the T’s rapid transit system needs to have its signaling replaced. At present the T is only replacing that equipment after a catastrophic failure which gains the public’s ire. This band-aide approach only puts the entire signaling system into a sort of whack-a-mole status. A properly running signaling system is not just an operational issue, it is a safety issue as well.
A transportation system is only as good as its ability to handle the heaviest of rush hours. At this, the MBTA fails on all fronts, rapid transit, bus, and commuter rail. The MBTA is wont to restructure the bus routes for fear of angering the public. I suggest, however, that a phased restructuring would alleviate most of that concern. The Route 39 bus is an example of one problem. The T’s schedule for this route guarantees 8-minute or less headway. But ask anyone who uses this route and the reality is far different. One of the biggest problems is that the busses cluster along the route with one bus directly behind another which will be followed by a 15-minute wait for the next bus. Such occurrences happen on most of the T’s most heavily used routes.
Many of the T’s bus routes are the remnants of the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway which it took over in 1968. These routes performed well under the old Eastern Mass but have languished under the T. The route runs through heavily populated portions of Woburn, Winchester and Medford. The schedule, however, shows a less than desirable frequency. This route is also an example of the MBTA’s penchant for being reactive than proactive. Their claim is that as demand climbs so will the level of service. But demand will not climb if the route’s frequency is viewed as less than optimal by the public. This mean, to attract more customers the T needs to increase service first. Ironically, this is the only route assigned to both Woburn and Winchester. It would seem that a second route through these towns which ends at Harvard Square would make a lot of sense.
Another issue with the rapid transit system is portions of it cannot handle rush hour traffic effectively. Anyone who has ever ridden on the Green and Red Lines knows how mind numbingly slow these lines can be. The issue with the Green Line is that of four lines, B, C, D, and E feeding into one tunnel. That singular tunnel is a choke point. It is nearly at capacity during off-peak hours which means it is far over capacity during rush hours. The only reasonable solution here is the building of a second tunnel parallel to the first from Kenmore Square to Government Center. This solution is extremely expensive but is the only reasonable one.  Additionally, many routes needs to be extended.  The 85 route is an excellent example.  At present it runs from Kendall Square Cambridge to Spring Hill in Somerville.  This route would serve the public much better if it started at Lechmere, continued through Kendall Square and Spring Hill to Davis Square Somerville, less than a half mile from Spring Hill.
Finally, the best way to lure commuters out of their cars which now clog the Southeast Expressway, the Mass Pike, Route 93 and Route 1 into Boston is to increase the frequency of the trains, add stations a certain key points and run multiple express trains during rush hour. First, the MBTA would need to construct stations everywhere a commuter rail line passes under either an Interstate Highway or Route 1 and then offering express trains into Boston. Additionally, the T needs to totally rewrite its commuter rail schedules discarding the idea that it must stop at every station on every route during off-peak hours. For example, on the Haverhill line there are four station stops within a 2-mile stretch, Wyoming, Melrose, Melrose Highlands and Greenwood. Two other problems with this route are that it runs too few trains between Boston and Reading, and, that it is still single tracked between Reading and Wilmington Jct. which creates scheduling issues. Additionally, many, if not most, commuter rail stations lack sufficient parking for the potential demand. For example, Andover, a heavily used station, has only 150 parking spaces. Reading, also heavily used, with great potential, has only 71 parking spaces. If the MBTA truly wants to get people out of their cars and onto the T then they must have a place for people to park their car.
As it stands now, the MBTA is a less desirable mode of transportation for the Metropolitan Boston area and beyond than the car. The solutions I have suggested above would cost many billions of dollars but that would be funds well-spent. The MBTA must become a far more attractive system than it is now, which is actually a very unattractive system. Massachusetts politicians must come to grips with the idea that the rapid deterioration of our state’s roadways is in no small part due the almost constant heavy traffic they must contend with. But if the cost of maintaining our roadways at present is compared to the suggested upgrade of the MBTA, it then becomes quite easy to justify the outlay of huge sums of money to modernize the MBTA.

Colleges in Crisis: Who Is Responsible?


I read the Sunday Boston Globe (April 1, 2018) today and there was a front-page article regarding the declining enrollment of many Boston area colleges. Without going into the specifics of the article, it centered around the declining enrollment of these colleges, one had lost 90% of its students over the past decade. How did this happen?
I am part of the baby boomer generation who filled college classrooms everywhere to capacity and beyond. Many colleges were founded during that era. But since the 1980s, college enrollment had been declining. The only colleges immune from this have been the Ivy League colleges and other top tier colleges such as M.I.T., Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon and some small but very highly regarded colleges such as Amherst, Wellesley, and Bowdoin. And because of this, you see colleges who used to have a full enrollment advertising on television in an attempt to attract students. In my area it has been the Massachusetts state schools.
Certain colleges, smartly, have seen the writing on the wall and have combined with other colleges. The fact is, not only do we have fewer students desiring to go to college, but we also have fewer students who belong in college.
Another problem is students are graduating with degrees for which there are very few openings. I recently ran across a young woman who had a degree in Fine Arts from a very good college but had been unable to find a job in that field. She had resorted to being hired by the Audubon Society and giving yoga lessons. But her cumulative pay is far below what someone with her level of education in another field could expect to get. So where does this problem begin?  It begins with high school students not getting sufficient advice on their future prospects.  It continues with student enrolled in fields which see 5000 graduates a year who are competing for 50 jobs.
I put this on the high schools of the United States. I tell people all the time to chase the passion. My qualification to that is, make sure it is a vocation that both has room for you and from which you can expect an income commensurate with having a college degree.
In my case I got a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science with a minor in business. Eventually I got a Master’s of Art degree which looked great of my resume but which in fact I never used. Both fields were then, and are still now, in high demand. It is my belief that every high school guidance counsellor should have in his possession a chart detailing both the demand for any degree desired and the pay a person can expect to start.
Colleges need to reconsider their viability going forward and the sorts of degree programs they offer. They also need to offer counselling services to advise students on their ability to afford the college. Too many students find themselves living hand-to-mouth each semester as they scramble to find the funds to pay for tuition, housing and basic needs. Many fail.
The United States Federal Government in recent years has seen fit to reduce the amount of funding available to college students. Because of this, students are forced to find funding from private financial institutions who change high interest rates and demand the student start paying on the loan shortly after he receives it. This means a student must find employment to cover that debt. This, of course, impacts the student’s ability to focus on his studies.
The answer to all these questions is quite easy in each case. Than manner in which they are resolved, however, is complex and requires a level of effort from our educators and elected officials to find answers.

Who Will Write Planet Earth’s Obituary?


This morning I told my wife our next car will be a hybrid. Knowing me, you would have thought I would have gone that route much earlier. The trouble is my gender. I’m a guy and you know how we like our cars to have a big engine. Well, two years ago, when I went to buy a new Ford Fusion, I asked for their V-6, previously the most powerful engine they offered for such cars. The salesman informed me that Ford no longer had a V-6 version and sold me on a turbo charged 4-cylinder engine. It got only slightly better gas mileage than my previous car and allow me to believe that I had the best engine available.  I have altered my thinking.  I am an excellent recycler but have not taken other issues to heart as I need.
I am a baby boomer which means I was raised in the era of muscle cars and cars we derisively, even then, called tanks. Most often we were referring to the big Buicks and Cadillacs. You need only go back to the 1960s and 70s to see the truth of such a statement. Then in 1974 OPEC came in to being, the U.S. immediately had a gasoline crisis and suddenly car manufacturers were shedding those tanks for smaller cars. But if you look more closely at such cars they were only marginally more fuel efficient than their predecessors.  The requirement for better fuel efficiency was years away although new strict emission standards were put into effect.
But as the years passed, people forgot their history, and the era of the SUV entered. I named the Japanese versions of the crossover SUVs, the Acura MDX, the Infiniti QX70, and the Lexus RX as “a penis on wheels.” SUVs have exploded in the U.S. and both Japanese and U.S. manufacturers have done well with such vehicles. The problem is simple. Most SUVs are in the truck category which makes them exempt for two federal regulations, emission standards for automobiles and fuel standards. Detroit and Tokyo found the loophole and exploited it. Nothing has been done to close this loophole. And the most baffling product to come out of Detroit was General Motors version of the military HUM-V which the dubbed the Hummer.
This brings me the latest issue to rear its ugly head. The United States has the largest coal reserves on the planet and Pres. Donald Trump wants coal to be king again. In the short term, probably very short term, this would breath economic life back into the coal regions of the United States. But the trade-off is painfully obvious. Coal fired plants push extremely large amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. The former creates a warming blanket in the earth upper atmosphere while the latter creates acid rain.

A very recent University of New Hampshire study of sea levels expects there to be a 1 to 1.5-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 (Boston Globe, March 31, 2018, p. 4). Another study of the polar ice caps, and in particular the North Pole:

“The Arctic climate is changing rapidly, breaking at least a dozen major records in the past three years. Sea ice is disappearing, air temperatures are soaring, permafrost is thawing and glaciers are melting. The swift warming is altering the jet stream and polar vortex, prolonging heat waves, droughts, deep freezes and heavy rains worldwide.” (Francis, Jennifer A.; Scientific American, April 2018, p. 50)

I find it alarming the American conservatives are so caught up in their political ideology that they cannot listen to the well-reasoned and heavily researched conclusions of the highly respected scientist who have sounded the alarm. Many have labeled these findings as pseudo-science and that their findings are questionable. Such a statement is difficult, if not impossible, to defend given the overwhelming majority of scientists around the world agree with these findings.
The hard fact is that we are bequeathing our children and grandchildren a planet in its death throws. We could easily be looking at widespread famine, large new deserts, and a world in which people go to war over food and water.
In 1960 a woman named Rachel Carson published a book named Silent Spring in which she predicted everything that is happening today. Now, scientists everywhere are sounding the alarm. The question is an easy one: Why is the Congress of the United States deaf to these warnings?