Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Southern Utah National Park Touring

It was a trip that was over far too soon. There's so much to see across Southern Utah that there's no way to see everything you want in one shot.

So, after having taken in Bryce and Zion and Capitol Reef on a prior trip, we decided to hit Arches and Canyonlands on this on. Add to that a day trip to Mesa Verde and a stopover in Capitol Reef since it was essentially on the way back to Salt Lake City, and we had three major national parks on the itinerary, plus the well renowned Dead Horse Point State Park.

1,600+ miles driving later, and nearly an equivalent number of photos taken, here are just a sample of the shots.

The scenery in Arches is something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, or a Dali painting. It is absolutely surreal, and there's no way to understand it unless you're out there and see these formations in person. Delicate Arch was a favorite, in part of the hike to get there, but Landscape Arch was perhaps more impressive since it was even more delicate - it is 200+ feet long, but six feet wide at its narrowest point. It wouldn't take much for that arch to collapse.

Mesa Verde provided a glimpse back in time, and left us with more questions than answers - namely what happened to the people who came to the region, built these structures in the caves, and left just as quickly as they came. Why did they leave? Where did they go? No one really knows.

Canyonlands, at least in the Islands in the Sky district, was most similar to a perch atop the rim of the Grand Canyon. Similar vistas, but with perhaps an even clearer sky - meaning more visibility. It was quite impressive, as was the neighboring Dead Horse Point State Park.

Capitol Reef is one of the lesser known national parks, but it's known for its solace, and dark skies. Of course, on this trip, it was overcast, so no night shots this time.

Delicate Arch from the Upper Viewpoint

Landscape Arch; one of the world's longest arches.

At the Windows

Double Arch

Delicate Arch after hiking 1.5 miles only to realize there was an oncoming sandstorm.

Courthouse Mesa

Only the Shadow Knows

Mesa Arch. This guy walked on top, but I wouldn't have. It's a long way down, and a gust of wind could have been real bad.

Islands in the Sky at Canyonlands NP.

Budding Flowers in Canyonlands.

The ponds are part of a potash plant that runs between Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park. 

Jug handle Arch, which is appropriate since we're from the state that makes all turns from the jug handle. New Jersey.

Meadows at Capitol Reef National Park.

Swirling skies and shadows at Capitol Reef at sunset.

The Utah State Capitol at night.

Mesa Verde National Park - a panorama shot of Cliff House.

Arches After Dark

Courthouse Mesa and the Milky Way. This is still slightly out of focus as I was dialing in my manual focus, but I couldn't help but include it because a car driving up the main road bathed the mesa in a wonderful light.
Courthouse Mesa silhouetted against the Milky Way.
Balanced Rock capturing car light.
Balanced Rock at moon rise.

All the photos were taken with my trusty Canon 60D and Canon 18-55 IS lens.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Time To Eliminate Law Enforcement Responsibilities From the Port Authority

That's the video taken from one of the BASE jumpers who jumped from the top of 1WTC last September.

That incident, plus the more recent incident involving a teen climbing all the way to the top of the spire without anyone noticing anything wrong, shows how porous the WTC site is and how ineffective Port Authority security truly is.

I get how security can't be 100% perfect, but the Port Authority has made a show of how much security is there. It's a facade. They spent money on cameras, but didn't bother to install them.

They will repeatedly stop people attempting to enter the PATH but it's a superficial show and is hardly a deterrent when the search takes place at the base of the escalator bank.

Their police force is among the most highly compensated in the NYC metro area, and yet the site has repeatedly been entered by persons who don't belong. It is past time to turn over security at the WTC, and other Port Authority sites to the local law enforcement agencies, particularly the NYPD in NYC. There's nothing that the PAPD can do that the NYPD can't do - and the NYPD can do it better, and for far lower cost to taxpayers/riders/toll payers.

Eliminate the PAPD altogether. Consolidate law enforcement responsibilities in the local agencies and grant the NYPD and the New Jersey local law enforcement responsibilities and jurisdiction to handle the bistate crossings.

The PAPD was established because there are bistate bridges and tunnels, and this gets around the jurisdiction issues, but there are far too many problems with the PAPD that can't be solved with the existing system. The politicization of the Port Authority is a big reason. That politicization includes the Gov. Christie Bridgegate (GWB vendetta against Fort Lee Mayor for not endorsing him in a surefire reelection), and Gov. Cuomo and Christie's manipulation of a recent toll hike to make the governors look good even though they were approving massive toll and fare hikes.

Dismantling the bistate agency isn't going to happen anytime soon, not when both governors continue using the agency for their political purposes, but there has to be more accountability with the agency. Security problems at the WTC are only the latest issue. Cost controls on WTC reconstruction have long shown that the agency isn't interested in fiscal responsibility when they can get tolling and fares to cover any overruns. The agency is planning a vast capital program over the next decade, including rebuilding two bridges (Outerbridge and Bayonne) and building two new spans (new Goethals), plus major rehabilitation of the Lincoln Tunnel approach and the GWB. PATH is also getting expanded to Newark Liberty airport, but it doesn't appear that cost containment is in the picture, especially with the WTC PATH transit hub. And because there isn't sufficient cost control, money that could go towards other major capital projects is sucked up by the projects already in the pipeline.

Removing or at least seriously reducing the law enforcement responsibility will free up more money to do what the agency was intended to do in the first place - build transit infrastructure in the NYC metro area. It would help refocus the agency on its core mission.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Behind the Curtain: Who's Really Behind CPAC?

Getty Image

CPAC is currently having its annual shindig in Maryland. CPAC is run by the American Conservative Union, and the event needs lots of money to happen. But it's not grassroots organizations that are funding this event. It's heavy hitters and deep pockets.

Who's really sponsoring CPAC?

It's big energy companies, tobacco, and the NRA.

Rarely seen and previously unreported tax filings for the ACU and ACU Foundation, the group responsible for staging CPAC, reveal that in the 2010 tax year, the National Rifle Association provided $225,000 of the ACU Foundation's overall revenue. In 2010 the ACU Foundation reported $288,670 in grant revenue and $1,063,103 in "program service revenue." The NRA's executive vice president and CEO, Wayne LaPierre, has been a regular featured speaker at past CPAC events and he again spoke at the gathering on Thursday. The 2013 CPAC included an event titled "NRA University" at which CPAC attendees could "learn more about NRA, Second Amendment, gun control debate." It even offered participants "a FREE one-year NRA membership," according to the conference schedule. The NRA is a "presenting sponsor" at the 2014 conference--a sponsorship level requiring a $110,000 contribution.

In 2010 the billionaire Koch brothers' companies contributed a total of $50,000 to the ACU and the ACU Foundation. In the same year, cigarette giant Altria contributed $25,000 to the ACU, and the conservative Anschutz Foundation contributed $25,000 to the ACU Foundation.

So, if you've wondered why Wayne LaPierre gets to scowl and complain and cajole the audience to buy guns before the President takes them away, it's because the NRA paid for the spot.

Here's the list of other sponsors, and lots of familiar names.

Presenting sponsors require a contribution of $110,000 or more. They include: the NRA, One America News Network, Tea Party Patriots, Townhall Media/Regnery Publishing, and the Washington Times.

Associate Sponsors, which require $60,000 contributions are Koch Industries and a movie scheduled to come out May 9, 2014 "Persecuted".

Supporting Sponsors require $25,000 contributions, and include: Citizen Link (Focus on the Family), Heritage Foundation, How Money Walks, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Liberty Alliance, MPAA, National Review, Red Alert Politics, and Tea Party News Network.

Contributing Sponsors, who pony up $18,000 include: The Blaze, Citizens United 25th Anniversary, Leadership Institute, Run Ben Run, and Red Card Guest Worker Permit.

Participating Sponsors, which is the lowest tier at $9,000, include: Americans for Prosperity,, Ashbrook Ashland University, Sarah Palin's new tv show, AECR, 60 Plus, BDMR, College Republicans National Committee, Christians United for Israel, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Eagle Forum, Eberle Associates, Empower Action Group, Fabrizio Lee, Facebook, Gravis Marketing, Convert! Integrated Marketing, GWU Graduate School of Political Management, Freedom Alliance, Let Freedom Ring, Policy Issues Institute, Justice Fellowship, TMA Direct, Turning Point USA, (aka the anti-IRS movie), 780 WAVA 105.1, 1260 WRC talk radio, and Young America's Foundation.

Sponsorship levels are here.. Sponsors by level are here.

WTC Rebuilding Update - An Expensive Update

The Port Authority continues building the WTC PATH transit hub, and have opened up the first platform of the permanent station. If you were wondering what a $4 billion transit hub can look like, this is what we're getting:

There's wall to wall marble. Everywhere. On the floors of the mezzanine. On the walls. It's omnipresent. The striking Calatrava designed arches and steel components swoop along underground, just as surely as the above ground components are taking shape.

I actually think the below-ground design is likely to age better than the above-ground terminal, which looks like a skeleton or a stegosaurus. The New York Times' David Dunlap panned the efforts thus far.

The Port Authority chose Santiago Calatrava to build the transit hub.

They had $2.2 billion to make this happen. The cost is now $4 billion, and likely to be more than that. We're talking twice as expensive, and that's money that could have gone to extend the 2d Avenue Subway for the Phase 2, extend PATH to Newark Airport, or the LIRR to lower Manhattan. Instead, we've got a glorious transit station that will serve about 50,000 people daily (I'm not counting the connections that have been built to the Fulton Center, which includes the Dey Street Connector).

They blew past the $2.2 billion and never sought to implement the cost controls they claimed they would. That isn’t on Calatrava. That part is on the Port Authority. They chose a design that was far too complex for what is a moderate use station (the original design called for a movable oculus, and that was dropped pretty quickly – about the only good move the Port Authority made here).

But Calatrava isn’t blameless either. His design puts form over function by a wide margin, and his vision constrained the Port Authority once things got underway.

As it is, I think that the actual access to the platforms is inadequate considering the size of the platforms. There is a constant bottleneck at the stairs/escalators. The stairs feel narrower than those at the temporary platforms, and that means people trying to get down to the platform choke the flow even further.

You would have thought passenger flow would have been a paramount concern, but it appears to have been an afterthought. But at least the escalators talk incessantly about not letting children ride alone, not walking or running up the escalators, and holding the handrails.

The materials chosen are just the outward symbol of excess spending, but it’s the execution of the station that is the most troubling aspect. Calatrava thinks that if only more money were spent, he’d get what he envisioned.

What riders and the PANY should be asking is how did we spend this much to get a station that falls short in so many ways. There are so many missed opportunities here, and we're stuck with a design that is too costly and doesn't live up to the expectations.

Still, I imagine that once the main hall is built, I might warm up to the design, but for now, it looks like the Port Authority and Calatrava did a poor job of keeping costs down – and that controlling costs was never part of the bargain.


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