Sunday, April 21, 2013
There were a couple of nights where the skies were so clear that we could see the Milky Way and the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that populate the universe. As we were driving back from the Valley to where we were staying in Wawona, Mrs. Lawhawk pointed out that the moon painted the valley and she could see Bridal Veil falls even though it was "dark". She was absolutely right. And like that, we stopped off at Tunnel View and I proceeded to take a couple of photos. They're not the best - and I think they may have gotten out of focus, but you get the idea of what we were seeing (albeit with a 109 second exposure). I don't normally shoot night shots like this, so there was a bit of experimenting, and of course the autofocus on the camera couldn't lock on to anything because of the darkness - so I had to guesstimate, and my eyes aren't that great either. The view screen wasn't much help either - as I thought things looked pretty good out in the field. It was only later that I saw that it wasn't as sharp as it should have been.
It's because I know that this shot could have been so much better that I posted it. It's the reason I can't wait to get back - because I know I could shoot this one so much better than I did.
Labels: Nat'l Parks, photography, Yosemite NP
Labels: art, Nat'l Parks, photography, San Francisco, waterfalls, Yosemite NP
Thursday, April 04, 2013
I am once again reiterating my call on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to fire NJ Transit officials, starting with Executive Director Jim Weinstein.
Weinstein appeared before the State Legislature once again and admitted that the agency not only stored rail equipment in Kearny and Hoboken before Hurricane Sandy, but purposefully moved still more equipment into both low-lying areas before Sandy.
“We brought some additional equipment in there to store during the storm,” Weinstein told members of the Senate Budget Committee during a hearing on the Christie Administration's transportation budget Wednesday morning. At the time, he said, "there was no reason to believe it would flood.”That was despite all manner of warning from weather forecasters who were predicting dire flooding throughout the New York City metro area - including the Hackensack River, Passaic River, and Hudson River basins. The Kearny yard and Hoboken yard are both squarely in the affected flood zones and yet NJ Transit has repeatedly stated that their experience was that neither yard would fully flood during a storm.
Weinstein did not say how many rail cars were moved into the vulnerable spot, but that it won’t happen again. More than a quarter of the agency’s rail fleet was damaged during the storm, most at the maintenance facility. “We are informed by the experience,” he said. “We won’t be bringing equipment there in the future in the event we are faced with a similar situation as we were with Sandy.”
NJ Transit Spokesman John Durso, Jr. refused to say how many pieces of equipment were moved into harm’s way, saying "that specific information had not been previously provided due to security-related concerns." Durso has repeatedly cited “security” as a reason not to release details about NJ Transit’s movement of trains during Sandy.
However, he has not explained how security would be breached by making public the number of cars moved to a yard where all the train equipment sits on tracks in clear view to the public.
The flooding at the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, and at the agency's Hoboken yard - a location that Weinstein acknowledged on Wednesday is close to the Hudson River's waters - damaged 272 passenger cars and 70 locomotives. Weinstein said it amounted to more than $100 million in damage that NJ Transit is hoping will be reimbursed from its insurance and from federal emergency grant dollars.
The Hoboken Yard isn't merely close to the Hudson River. It abuts it. The station has been prone to flooding in the past, though not to the extent it was during Sandy. Likewise, the Kearny Yard is surrounded by water. Rivers and waterways can and do flood during severe storms.
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They gambled with money and equipment and lost. More than a third of the rail fleet was flooded and the agency is still scrambling to restore the rail schedule to pre-Sandy levels. The Main and Bergen line is still below its pre-Sandy level, and dozens of railcars and locomotives, including the agency's newest dual mode locomotives are out of service until repairs can be completed. The delay in repairs is exascerbated by the fact that the agency has had problems sourcing replacement parts due to the severity of the flooding to its own facilities, replacement parts in-house, and from the manufacturers.
Christie must fire Weinstein, who has been less than transparent in the agency's failings before, during and after the hurricane hit. Weinstein has tried to bluster his way through all this, claiming that his agency didn't know the areas would flood - but that is a transparent lie to anyone who watched news reports in the 72 hours before Sandy hit. The warnings were there. The worst-case scenarios were already laid out.
And NJ Transit rail operations moved more equipment into the flood zone that everyone was warned to evacuate from.
Even now, they're less than transparent about how many cars remain to be fixed. It took months before the agency put up a site indicating how many cars and locomotives remain to be repaired, and the numbers haven't been updated since.
The agency is touting its ability to get Hoboken back up and running, but it downplays the fact that essential services were not restored for months - like restrooms or a warm waiting area for customers in the heart of winter. It took an outcry. They've managed to restore electrical service to a substation so that electric trains can now run to Hoboken, but the station is still in shambles and the retailers are still displaced due to flood damage.
Labels: Chris Christie, infrastructure, James Weinstein, mass transit, NJ Transit, scandals
North Korea keeps ratcheting up the threat index with pronouncements that they're going to unleash nuclear annihilation against the US and South Korea. The threats are definitely crazy, but I think they've been acting as rational irrationalists. What do I mean by this? It means that they're crazy like a fox and have a definite strategy here. They know from past history that crazy gets the goods. Kim Il Song got the West to give humanitarian aid. Kim Jong Il threatened nuclear war and got aid. Now? Kim Jong Un threatens apocalypse and the endgame is to get aid.
Everyone knows the North Korean economy is in shambles. We know it. South Korea knows it. Even the North Koreans know it. They sacked their Prime Minister and replaced him with a guy who was previously sacked for not getting the economy going. The North wouldn't do that unless things were dire.
About the only thing going for the North right now is that they've got nuclear tech and some intermediate range missiles that might work but aren't necessarily accurate. It's enough of a threat though to be taken seriously, which is why the US, South Koreans, and Japanese are moving in theater missile defense systems and orienting their defensive capabilities accordingly. At the same time, the US/SK/Japanese are moving in assets that could deter what could be the next phase of North Korean saber rattling - a small scale provocation such as sinking a South Korean boat, shelling disputed South Korean islands, or threatening South Korean fishermen.
The North has been thoroughly indoctrinated by the Kim clan to consider the US to be equivalent of the Soviets in Red Dawn. Evil that must be thwarted from worldwide supremacy and to protect the honor of the homeland. All that changes is instead of shouting Wolverines!, the North is shouting Juche!
What we take to be defensive action, like moving in assets to the region in response to North claims of nuclear Armageddon is considered a further threat that North Korean leadership considers is justification for their earlier claims.
Now, are the North really so crazy as to light the Korean peninsula aflame, let alone carry out their nuclear threats? If the North doesn't get what it is demanding, would it be really willing to attack the South?
I definitely see the North restarting their shuttered nuclear program, and it also is a bargaining chip that the North could use in essentially shaking down the west for more aid (which the North will spin as winning and tribute to North Korean success).
I don't think they are willing to launch a full scale conflict, but can the South really take that risk? It's places like Seoul that will be on the front line of a North Korean attack given its proximity to the DMZ. The North might be convinced that they could manage the element of surprise and get in a devastating first blow, but it would only be a matter of time before Western technological superiority demolishes the military the North has (and which is largely stuck in the 1960s both with ground and air assets).
Moreover, the Chinese would probably step in to moderate the North's bellicosity before things go wrong for the North. The Chinese don't want a refugee crisis on their border, which is exactly what would happen if the North goes to war. China has trading relations with the South, and an economic hit to the region would hurt the global economy as well.
Labels: China, Japan, Kim Jong-un, missile defense, missile tech, North Korea, nuclear proliferation, nuclear weapons, South Korea, USA
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Earlier this morning, law enforcement carried out a massive corruption sweep in NY, with multiple arrests of local politicians.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith and city Councilman Dan Halloran were arrested this morning on charges they were plotting to rig this year’s mayoral election through fraud and bribes.Others arrested includeBronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino and Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, and they are all being accused of trying to rig the mayoral election.
The pols allegedly formed an alliance built on cash payments and fraud to get Smith — one of the state’s top Democrats — placed on the GOP mayoral ballot, sources said.
FBI agents arrested them both at their Queens homes shortly after 6 a.m.
“I have no idea,” Halloran, in handcuffs, told a Post reporter when asked if he knew why he was being arrested.
As alleged, Senator Malcolm Smith tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion - Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes. After the string of public corruption scandals that we have brought to light, many may rightly resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most powerful special interest in politics is self-interest. We will continue pursuing and punishing every corrupt official we find, but the public corruption crisis in New York is more than a prosecutor's problem."The 28-page complaint offers up a bunch of juicy details, but it boils down to money for access:
Council member Halloran was to receive $20,500 while Tabone and Savino received $40,000 in bribes with a promise of $40,000 more.If Halloran's name sounds familiar, it's because he was a blowhard who alleged that Sanitation workers purposefully slowed down snow removal during the blizzard a few years back. Investigations found no evidence of any kind of slowdown. And the FBI had already been investigating Halloran when they sniffed out the potential bribery for ballot access plan.
Smith's name should sound familiar as well, as he was part of the breakaway Democrats in the State Senate who gave temporary control of the Senate to Republicans in a coup against Democratic leaders. Smith joined a group of independent Senators, earning himself and his staffers a pay raise in the process. Smith's defection also enabled Gov. Andrew Cuomo to maneuver and exploit the divisions in the Senate to advance his own agenda with less opposition - including on matters like the same sex marriage act and the NYS SAFE Act.
Not only does this scandal threaten the disrupt the political balance in the State Senate, but this scandal threatens to upturn the entire Republican campaign for NYC mayor, as key behind-the-scenes officials are involved and it's entirely possible that others could find themselves perp-walked. Tabone has been working for the campaign of John Catsimatidis.
These people are instrumental in getting the campaigns of multiple candidates off the ground and working support for candidates already in the running. It could potentially derail existing campaigns for those who are in the race and indirectly helps those Democrats who are already in the race, including Democrat City Council honcho Christine Quinn.
Expect Tabone and Savino to flip on Smith and Halloran who are the big fish in this particular scandal in exchange for less time behind bars.
Labels: Christine Quinn, corruption, Dan Halloran, elections, FBI, GOP, John Catsimatidis, Malcolm Smith, New York City, scandals