A New Chapter

Posted: April 15, 2016 in California, Canada, Jobs, Planning, Transportation

Well. I am beginning a new chapter in my quest to do more than just get by. My time in Canada has come to an end, and I have returned to California. I am currently jobless, but I did get a decent severance package which will hopefully not be substantially needed while I job hunt for urban planning opportunities up and down the coast. One success I have had so far, beyond driving 2500+ miles from Fort McMurray, Alberta, to Fresno, California, is this:

I successfully, IN ONE TIME WITH NO REPEAT TRIPS TO THE DMV, imported and registered a Canadian vehicle in the most complicated state in these here United States! No plates yet, because I ordered one of the coastal specialty platesDN03-WHALE-DC (because beach bum, yo), and those will need to be sent from Sacramento instead of issued at the DMV. Still, I am registered and good to go!

Beyond that, this will be the new chapter in my life, and I hope to document plenty of success at more than just getting by. I hope you enjoy the story.

You Betrayed Them

Posted: December 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

I wish I could understand why people really, genuinely feel the need to go out and kill people who are charged with protecting them. It just does not make any sense.

This House Is Our Home


I was driving to a Christmas party when my phone rang. I heard the words and my heart felt shattered. Every fear, every worry, every feeling of panic came rushing into my throat and I couldn’t stop it. I had to stop it. My babies were with me. I was about to meet new people and see old friends. It was a party. Everyone’s supposed to be happy. My heart felt ripped to shreds. I kept looking at my phone, even though I knew there would be nothing good to see. My face kept smiling, my mouth kept speaking but my heart was racing and the tears were always right beneath the surface.

Today it was them. You don’t know them. They’re just names to you. To some of you, they are symbols of heroism and honor, but to many of you they are symbols of “oppression” and “brutality.”


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The key here is “responsible breeders.” Overcrowded shelters are a problem, without question, but there is no reason to sacrifice the entire breed on that thought alone.

AKC Dog Lovers

Dobe stack-WebDAM smAKC Gazette breed column—Anti-breeding ways of thinking distract people from remembering that it’s through the breeding of good dogs that the breed exists and continues.

In the 1970s the Doberman Pinscher was among the top five breeds in popularity. At that time, most specialty shows had well over 100 Doberman entries, with some shows having so many that two judges were needed. The entry at the nationals was between 700 and 1,000 dogs. There were movies featuring Dobermans, and the breed was used by law enforcement. They were the dog of the day.

Serious breeders became alarmed to see our breed becoming the dog for everyone; we knew they aren’t that. Therefore, we started to discourage breeding. “Only breed to champions” was the catchphrase.

Fast-forward 40 years, and today’s Doberman Pinscher specialties are lucky to have a major, let alone an entry reaching 40 dogs. Shockingly, our nationals have…

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Bill Moyers’ website ran an interesting article today. The article was a discussion of what life was like in Iraq under Saddam Hussein before and after the US invasion in 2003. The difference is that it wasn’t written by an “expert” on the Iraqi situation who traveled the country extensively with the military, media, contractors, or an NGO. Rather, it was an actual Iraqi citizen.

“The US destroyed that Iraqi national identity and replaced it with sectarian and ethnic identities after 2003.” Very interesting statement, and definitely runs counter to everything the mainstream media put out, even after Gulf War I. I particularly thought the Kurdish situation was a noticeable internal conflict prior to our involvement in 1990-1991, but the author states that it wasn’t. Personally, I’d suspect that the Kurdish situation was a little more “prominent” than the author may have been aware of, but likely wasn’t as prominent as the US media and political machines made it out to be. Given the author’s statements about Saddam being a “run of the mill” dictator with the usual attacking of dissidents, I’d suspect that the Sunni/Shia conflict was there, but the US invasion that knocked Saddam out of power shifted the balance of power in that conflict and set up opportunities for revenge on years and years of abuses. The New York Times has an interesting “before and after” set of sectarian maps of Iraq that show how the invasion altered the religious and sectarian divisions within the country. Either way, definitely an interesting article.

Apologies to the Beach Boys and their legions of fans (of which I count myself in), for the title of this post, but it kind of works. A theme in Urban Planning that has been around for a while and seems to be picking up momentum is how to implement Transit Oriented Development (TOD) principles, increased density, and a reduced reliance on automobiles into the existing urban fabric of our North American cities (yep, looking at you too, Canada and Mexico). North America as a whole developed out of a pioneering, exploration mindset. The wild wild west of the United States. The interior of Mexico. The oil sands and other natural resources in the northern regions of Canada. Horseback. Conestoga Wagons. Dog sleds. Small river boats.

Dioramas as State Museum Indian Travois, Trappers and Red River Cart Denver

These provided the early explorers their means of covering large distances. With the development of the automobile, this not only furthered the ability to explore, but facilitated the establishment of communities in these newly explored areas. And these communities obviously were developed to accommodate the element that allowed for their establishment…private transportation.

Granted, establishment of these far-flung communities also warranted the development of ways to move larger numbers of people from one place to another (remember, populations in these cities were relatively low compared to what we see today, and much more highly concentrated). The stagecoach was a relatively easy evolution of existing technology, but trains spun up as a more efficient way to move large amounts of people and goods from one place to another. As these cities developed, grew, and evolved, the population continued with the “exploration/wide open spaces” theme and began to create urban sprawl (overly simplified, but work with me), supported by the availability of personal means of transportation…including, ultimately, automobiles. This has now led to the establishment of massive networks of transportation infrastructure optimized for use by automobiles, and additional urban development established to support and exist within that framework. Hence, the Washington DC metroplex, Monterrey and Hermosillo Mexico, Edmonton and Ottawa, Canada, San Diego and Las Vegas. Even smaller communities like Laramie, Wyoming and Fargo, North Dakota are developed around their primary supporting transportation networks…which are primarily automotive in nature.

With the general direction and desire coming out of the urban planning field focusing on sustainability, energy efficiency, and a sense of community, the goals are to minimize the presence and need for automobiles in the urban space, and manage transportation needs via increased density (minimize need to move from place to place) and mass transit (increased density minimizes number of “points” on the transportation network and maximizes the potential user pool). Unfortunately, most “policy planners” tend to look at these ideas and solutions in a relative vacuum. Yes, you can design a plan to redevelop a city or community, remove roads, and establish transit infrastructure. But the time, effort, and yes, money that are required to do this can in no way be taken care of in the “short term.” There is too much momentum in the usage of the auto-oriented urban fabric to allow for a wholesale 180 degree turn away from it. There has to be a long-term plan that establishes the baby steps to begin incorporation and implementation of these solutions. This is why this article in Atlantic Cities is so promising: it does just this. Long Island, in trying to minimize auto usage has recognized and acknowledged that they cannot just get rid of the cars. As noted in the article, Long Island was founded and developed along the “park and ride” model, where residents of the suburban communities like Levittown would drive to the transit facility, park, and ride into NYC to work. Quoting Ann Golob, director of the Long Island Index (a data clearinghouse supporting policy development), “It’s unrealistic that we are going to move immediately to not needing a car. In time this may change … but we’re not there yet.” So they’re taking the baby steps. Consolidation of surface parking lots into a few parking structures. This frees up land in and around the transit hubs, allowing for TOD-oriented projects to rise up and further support the prominence of a walkable, higher density area. My hometown of San Diego has been working on this model for a few years as well…surface parking lots were sold to developers (granted, this was in the now-burst real estate boom of the early 2000s) to build residential and mixed-use developments in close proximity to the downtown LRT line. These, combined with the development of the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park Stadium and the San Diego Convention Center have really established a walkable “center of gravity” in downtown San Diego.

SD Convention Center

To support this, underground parking was developed with most of these new buildings, and a few multi-level parking structures were developed to allow for the automobile-oriented lifestyle to enmesh itself in the higher density walkability of downtown San Diego’s East Village and Gaslamp District neighborhoods.

There is still a long ways to go, and a lot of it has to start with the centers for learning in the urban planning field, but it is nice to see that progress is being made.

Frustrating yet interesting. There’s so much happening in many northern European countries (Norway, Denmark, etc.) that could theoretically be applied to the US, but don’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance of happening. One key example is the area of renewable energy. Regardless of the method of generation (and frankly it doesn’t even have to necessarily be renewable energy), to operate in the most efficient fashion possible will require a comprehensive Smart Grid. And to make that happen, we need the regional and national will to go ahead and implement one. You hear all the arguments about how Big Brother will be watching, yadda yadda yadda, and that’s the key right there. As a nation, we regularly elect government officials that we wouldn’t invite into our homes to babysit our children! We don’t trust them with THAT much authority and power. So goes similar criticism of government-run healthcare, higher taxes for social programs, and so on. Norway has something like a 60% tax rate, and because of the revenue said tax rate generates, they offer comprehensive healthcare, a year of maternity AND paternity leave for a newborn, 3 months of vacation, and so on. Why? Because their political leaders can be trusted to not screw around with the power they have been bestowed with. The statment “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has been modified in Washington to be “power corrupts and absolute power is actually pretty neat!” If we could figure out how to judge (and ultimately elect) politicians based on their character instead of just their political views, we’d probably be in much better shape as a country. So please, I don’t particularly care about your political views, just as you probably don’t care about mine. But as we approach the fall elections (and surprisingly I’m less concerned about the Presidential election than I am about the Congressional elections), don’t just knee-jerk select the candidate who is affiliated with your party. Research the candidates and try to vote for those who exude a character worthy of the power that would be bestowed upon them.

Holiday greetings from Afghanistan! I apologize for the lack of posts, but I was enjoying a much-deserved vacation back in the States with the fiancee and our dogs. But that was then and I am now back in the ‘Stan, awaiting my second Christmas away from the family. At least I have a job…for the time-being.

Nothing is Recession Proof…Not Even War

For whatever talk there has been of a recovery, things are still contracting. An interesting progression has been the impact to the Department of Defense, the military, and the contractors (of which I am one) that support their efforts. In the Air Force Squadron and Group I am embedded with, there have been troop reductions, both in lower numbers of replacement troops coming into the theater and some currently deployed troops having their rotation cut short. Deployment cycles are also being shortened…Air Force units typically work on 6 month rotations, but the Army units we support have conducted 12 month deployments. Those are being shortened to 9 month deployments. On the contracting side, the overseas war efforts have been the life preserver buffering against a distinct lack of jobs in the States. Now that Iraq has wound down to its current levels of activity, competition for contractor jobs (particularly in the construction, engineering, and planning fields) has gotten much more intense. The contract I am currently on recently went out for bid and a joint-venture underbid my current employer. Talking with my co-workers, compensation packages are ranging from 35% to 50% cuts compared to the current contract. Because of my current financial obligations, that brings me dangerously closely to not being able to cover my expenses. Many of my co-workers (who aren’t necessarily in the same straits that I am) have decided that putting up with the conditions, the danger, and the dysfunction simply isn’t worth the offered compensation. The hiring manager for the joint-venture has told people that it doesn’t matter if they leave, because he has a bunch of resumes waiting. As you might suspect, I am aggressively pursuing my options…globally. I’m already overseas…I’m not likely to find much worse than Afghanistan.

The Progression of Clean Technology

I have argued in several forums that (using the example of solar, and the failure of Solyndra and others), that government can serve a vital role in the development and adoption of new technologies, in this case clean-tech and alt-energy. The problem (well, one of them) that hit Solyndra was that the government provided funding for an actual development venture, before ensuring that the technology was fully deployable and that there was a market for the ensuing products. That’s the problem with funding the production side of things…you actually do have to make a profit or the venture will fail. Look at all of the technology that arose from the 60s, 70s and 80s via Cold War defense research. Internet. Cellular communications. Aeronautics. Lightweight materials. The Federal Government put out a request for these types of innovations, and provided the R&D funding to make it happen. Being that these requests were borne out of what was effectively a war-time need, there was a ready-made market and the manufacturing side of the businesses tended to be handled without direct Federal funding (beyond purchase orders). And once again, the Department of Defense is taking the lead on this, only this time it is not just war-time technology but the kind of clean technology that has potential applicability far outside of the battlefield. In an article in The New Republic, the authors make the exact same point.

(T)he U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)–one of the largest institutional technology and energy users in the country…is using its power of procurement to at once create markets and drive the deployment of both existing and new technologies.

This is exactly how the Federal Government is supposed to work. A need or goal is identified, R&D funding is provided, and the private sector can innovate as it sees fit. Then, the initial market is supported by the Federal Government, thus providing both stability for the firms manufacturing and providing the technology, it allows for proper field-testing and refinement of the technology, and demonstrates the technology’s potential applicability for other uses. I know that I am oversimplifying, but that’s the whole point. Don’t bog it down by over-thinking things. Set up an environment that fosters creativity, ensure that adequate resources are available to support the creative efforts, and let the magic happen. Battery technology is a huge potential target for this type of effort. Electric vehicles, hybrids, and the like are rapidly arriving in the market, but the one thing keeping pure EVs (as opposed to hybrids or “range-extended” EVs) from truly taking over the marketplace is that current battery technology doesn’t support the type of range that most people would expect from their vehicle. Likewise, part of the premise behind solar farms, wind farms and smart grids is the ability to generate clean power, store it, and then utilize it when the demand is there. A possible concept would be for the Federal Government to fund battery research, with the goal of deploying energy storage “facilities” in support of a nation-wide network of regional smart grids that generate power from solar, wind, whatever, and can then store it until it’s needed. Having the planned roll-out of a new energy infrastructure in this country would both create the market and drive the deployment of the technology. Plus, the added engineering and construction jobs that would support such an effort couldn’t hurt.

Strange Bedfellows

A recent article in Governing serves to highlight the evolution of clean-tech industries, and the unique circumstances they find themselves in. Much of the clean-technology that is being developed requires some sort of manufacturing element, and (as with rust-belt industries such as automotive), Southern states like Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia are courting these industries with tax incentives, regulatory relief, and low costs of living. It is a strange confluence of a (generally) left-leaning desire for clean-technology and a (generally) right-leaning ability to offer lower taxes and a less-burdensome regulatory environment, combined with available land and facilities and a workforce able to provide manufacturing services. Some examples of this include: Nissan built a plant to build its all-electric Pure EV car, the Leaf; Sharp has a solar panel manufacturing plant that employs 400 people; Volkswagen constructed a new auto plant that employs a number of green-technologies (green roof, reclaimed water, solar power, etc.) and one of the deciding factors was hearing of the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory working on a biofuel public/private venture; finally, Tennessee is installing a major solar farm east of Memphis. The concern noted in the article (and it is a very valid concern) centers on continued funding for the region. Given that the populace of the region tends to vote right-leaning, the concern is that continued public funding support of these and other similar efforts could be in jeopardy. The hope is that the population would, if nothing else, see the effective job creation arising out of these efforts…again, efforts focused on R&D or on a supportable market…and not risk kicking out the golden goose. Besides, if we can clean up the air, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and save money on our electric and gas bills, it seems like a reasonable trade-off to me.

Sez me…

I consider myself to be a Republican, but lately I’ve found myself leaning a bit more Libertarian on the social end of the scale.  In terms of economic activity, though, I’ve been consistently trumpeting a need for properly targeted, funded, and administered government stimulus program to help create jobs.  Knowing the unemployed having the most difficult time finding work (at least in my neck of the woods) are those who worked in construction and engineering-related fields, and combined with the amply documented state of deterioration of our country’s various infrastructure elements, my focus has been a multi-faceted, long-term infrastructure construction program.  In addition to the direct economic activity of job creation, equipment sales, tax revenues and such, we reap the added benefits of more reliable, safer, and more environmentally friendly infrastructure facilities.  Energy efficient schools.  Safe bridges.  Smart grids.  Mass transit.  Cost savings on maintenance and repairs.  Seems pretty win-win to me.

A lot of recent economic discussion has focused on China, that their economy is about the only global growth activity out there and they need to find a way to stop manipulating their currency to ensure that their economic growth remains sustainable.  Basically, if they grow too quickly, they could ultimately outpace demand and their growth could quickly drop off and leave a lot of people hanging.  But the more interesting recent news is coming out of Japan.  It seems that they’ve been able to grow at a sustained clip adequately to bring an end to the recession that gripped the country since the March earthquake and tsunami.  A Reuters article via Yahoo Business News highlights this, but also raises concerns.  The author notes that the recent Thai floods present another risk to their manufacturing supply chains, networks which only recently returned to nearly full capacity after the Tsunami.  To top that off, the euro debt crisis serves to minimize external demand for Japanese goods.  Citing several economists, the author notes that in Japan the onus for economic activity “…is now on public spending in the nation’s biggest rebuilding effort since World War Two to sustain the recovery.”  In fact, Japanese economists say that the bulk of contribution to GDP in the near future will not come from external growth but rather from publicly funded reconstruction efforts.  The expectation is that this internal activity will serve to sustain Japan’s economy until the global economy recovers enough to reestablish external demand for Japanese goods and services.

Sounds like something that could work here in the US as well, don’tcha think?

A Case of the Stupids

Posted: October 31, 2011 in California, Economy, Jobs

So…California is suffering from extended periods of high unemployment.  Frankly, much of the nation is suffering similarly, but California’s size and economic prominence begets additional scrutiny.  Anybody who pays any attention to economic development, politics, the business world in general, or governmental regulations in general, knows that California is not an easy place to do business.  Between taxes, environmental regulations, labor regulations, and overall cost of living, there are compelling reasons to NOT set up shop in California.  Furthermore, most of the California media do semi-regular stories on businesses in California that have pulled up stakes and fled to more welcoming business climates such as Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

So you can imagine my shock upon reading this article on the San Diego Union-Tribune’s website.  To sum up, a local developer wants to develop a mixed-use apartment complex at the waterfront edge of San Diego’s downtown area.  Normally, that might be a welcome development (no pun intended) that would generate some much-needed construction work.  Unfortunately, across the street from the project site is a heavy industrial factory operated by Solar Turbines.  Solar manufactures gas turbines that are sold the world over, and their site has been used as a manufacturing facility going back to the 1920s.  Approval of the apartment project would pretty much preclude further operations at the Solar plant, because the acquisition of any new equipment would trigger environmental reviews…reviews that likely would not pass muster with residential uses a mere 100 feet away.  Solar does have an additional facility in a different part of San Diego, but to shift the waterfront operations to their other facility would require a substantial dollar investment…a much greater investment than it would in many other parts of the country.  According to Solar’s president, D. James Umpleby,

“The primary issue is that we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in machine tools. If we were in fact to invest the millions it would take to leave this site, it wouldn’t be a prudent business decision to put the plant in the state of California. Heavy manufacturing has left California for the last 30 years. We’re one of the last heavy manufacturers here. If in fact you looked at the business climate, environmental regulations, costs, taxes, everything that goes into heavy manufacturing in San Diego County — if you invested the money, quite frankly, you probably would not stop until you hit the fence line (of the state).”

To further muddy the waters, San Diego in general and downtown in particular suffers from a glut of housing.  Downtown took part in the condo boom of 2003-2007, and a good number of the unsold properties were converted to rental units.  I have a hard time believing that vacancy rates are low enough to justify another rental housing project, and I definitely have a hard time trading existing, long-term established jobs for what would amount to temporary, short-term jobs.  This is an ugly situation, and I can only hope that the City of San Diego, the San Diego Unified Port District, and the Centre City Development Corporation (Downtown San Diego’s redevelopment agency) take a cold hard look at reality and realize that the loss of Solar would far outweigh any benefits that another apartment development would bring to the waterfront.

A recent article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle talked about President Obama’s new program called “Joining Forces.” The premise behind this is simple: get a commitment from companies to train and hire post 9/11 veterans. From the government’s perspective, he is asking the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to design what would amount to a reverse boot camp, to prepare troops to leave the military and figure out how to translate their military training into civilian-oriented job credentials. That is all well and good, and it is nice to see some acknowledgement that, if you plan to reduce the size of the military, those who separate from the military will need to find gateways into civilian life.

The problem is that we don’t have any jobs for these people to go into when they separate from the military. My fiancee is going on four years of looking for full-time work as an Operations/Human Resources manager in San Diego (yes, she’s looking nationwide), and she has an advanced degree and legitimate experience in her field. Someone coming out of the military might have some specialized technical knowledge (helicopter mechanic, as an example), but for the most part they will probably be able to claim some fairly generic project management type experience and not much else. Doing what I do here in Afghanistan, I interact with many of our military personnel. Often it is while waiting to catch a helicopter flight from one base to another, where I’ll have an opportunity to simply chat with someone. As a civilian over here, I’m often asked why I would be over here. The main reason is that I was laid off and out of work for 9 months before I got this job. I spent 9 months not just looking for a job nationwide, not just being rejected nationwide, but being ignored nationwide. I wasn’t even getting a “thanks but no thanks” email to better than 80% of the jobs I applied to. So when I would get these soldiers asking me about getting out of the military, I most often would reply that they should stay in, at least until they start hearing news that companies are actively hiring in their desired fields. Those who had specialized experience that could be utilized in a civilian contractor capacity (like a military dog handler) I would encourage to go that route, but generally I encouraged them to stay in a deployed state.

The article notes that there are more than 1 million service members are expected to separate from the military as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, and as of this past summer, of the millions of unemployed Americans, more than 1 million of those were ex-service members. The fact that there hasn’t been meaningful job growth in our country for quite some time means that no matter what sort of training and transition assistance is given to these service members, without jobs to apply to, they are just going to add to the unemployment numbers. Our elected officials from both sides of the aisle need to stop bickering and agree on some sort of job creation program. If they don’t take action soon, continued high unemployment will only stifle consumer confidence, and that will be the final push to officially drive us back into recession.