Marked for life

Pity poor Hester Prynne. Censored by her Puritan community for having a child out of wedlock she was forced to wear a scarlet A, so that all would know of her mortal sin wherever she went.

But really, sexual promiscuity is so passé in this day and age. Everybody does it, right?

No, the real promiscuous behavior – the nearest thing to original sin in autoAmerica – isn’t performed between the sheets, but rather on top of the asphalt.

The new promiscuity is committed every day by miscreants who refuse to insert themselves into two-ton steel cocoons, like normal people, before using the public streets.

Instead they insist on inserting themselves, sans cocoons, between the unobstructed road ahead and the God-given right of American motorists to drive as fast as they please wherever they please.

Slow down hell! Freedom of movement is an American birthright and not to be surrendered lightly.

Until some reckless pedestrian or renegade cyclist gets in the way. And then pity the poor motorist who has to live with that.

Thus the new scarlet letter. Interfere with the fast flow of traffic is you must. If you dare. But at least, for the love of Ford, brand yourself with neon red flags.

Or fluorescent yellow vests. Or something else reflective to warn innocent drivers that you intend to rudely interrupt their freedom of movement.

It is only in hunting that the predators wear bright orange and the game goes unadorned. But that’s just because they can’t figure out how to make a deer wear a vest.

But there is a war being waged against cars in autoAmerica. Everybody says so. At the very least the anti-auto insurgents should be made to identify themselves.

Really, there ought to be a law. We could call it the Yellow Flag Law. Branded for life.

And when will these people learn to just stay out of our way? Haven’t we drivers suffered enough?

Or maybe the prey aren’t the problem. Maybe it really is the hunters.

Perhaps it is because, as a mobile society, we stubbornly refuse to design our communities and public streets to protect life rather than facilitate speed.

Instead of this.

We could do this.

And we could reverse this deadly trend.

By slowing cars down. Because we know that speed kills.

And we know how to do it.

We simply lack the will to do it. No matter the consequences.

Hence the new scarlet letter. Something to scare or shame the miscreants so they might stay out of our way.

But be warned, autoAmerica. France’s yellow vest law set the stage for a revolution. It could happen here.

Viva la revolution.

The waiting game

Listen, if you think waiting for Dorian to make up its mind was a tedious exercise in quiet desperation, try waiting for our politicians to do something about Florida’s other warm water crisis.

The same climate change-driven conditions that are conspiring to make hurricanes slower, more destructive and less predictable are also fueling the explosive growth of toxic algae in our lakes and rivers and red tides in our coastal waters.

“Florida waters are in trouble,” warns the Florida Conservation Coalition. “Across the state, point and non-point source pollution plague the quality of our rivers, springs, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters, and have created ecological, economic and health crises.”

And here’s the thing. Hurricanes may be here today and gone tomorrow. But our blue-green algae and red tide problems won’t blow away. They will only to get worse thanks to our failure to exercise stewardship over our most precious natural resource, the life-giving waters around us.

We know why this is happening. It’s neither an act of God nor the fickle finger of nature.

Let us count just some of the ways we have been turning our waters into algae factories.

More than a billion gallons of wastewater discharged into Tampa Bay in just four years.

South Florida, unable to handle its own sewage sludge, has been trucking it north, ostensibly to “fertilize” farmlands, but ultimately to turn the St. Johns River green.

The Big Ag retention basin formerly known as Lake Okeechobee continues to spew its filth west into the Caloosahatchee River and east into the St. Lucy.

The Indian River Lagoon is suffering the death of a thousand point sources – septic tanks, stormwater runoff, lawn fertilizer overuse and more.

When we hear the word “infrastructure,” we are conditioned to think roads and highways. But Florida’s algae crisis is very much a result of our failure to modernize sewage treatment systems, replace aging septic tanks, insist on more responsible agriculture practices and otherwise invest in water quality infrastructure.

Under the flimsy excuse of providing better hurricane evacuation routes Florida will spend billions for new toll highways which will only further abet the runaway growth and over development that is killing Florida’s environmental integrity.

But where is the funding to stop St. Petersburg from dumping a couple million gallons of poorly treated wastewater into the aquifer? Or to keep biosolids out of the St. Johns?

“Upgrading wastewater utilities and replacing or upgrading septic tanks in areas already impaired by excessive nutrient pollution will be an expensive but necessary undertaking for current and future generations of Floridians,” cautions the FCC.

How expensive. The coalition argues that Florida requires a sustained $1 billion to $2 billion a year investment in water quality infrastructure. That would mean septic tank replacement, upgrading aging sewage treatment facilities, imposing new “best management practices” on dairy and agricultural operations, cracking down on Florida’s green lawn fetish…for a start.

“This has been frustrating I know for a lot of people because it seems like we’ve been talking about this a long time,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said the other day, urging Floridians not to succumb to complacency while waiting for Dorian to move on.

Talk about complacency! Florida has been stewing in its own toxic juices for a long time and we’re still just talking about it.

Billions for toll roads and pennies for clean water?

The time for talk is over, Governor, and a new legislative session is near. We need less talk and more action.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

9th ray of the sun

Of course by the time John Carter got to Mars it was already too late.

Great civilizations had crumbled. Oceans had dried up. The very atmosphere was on life support. And all that remained were red warriors, green barbarians and multi-limbed beasts to fight over the rubble.

Carter’s story was the ultimate dystopian fiction.

Ok I’ll admit it. I was seduced at a very young age by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the mad master of pulp.

Tarzan of the jungle. Carson of Venus. Innes of Pellucidar. The Moon Maid. The lost continent of Caspar…I ate it all up.

In my pre-teens I devoured his fantastical tales, overlooking the inconvenient fact that Edgar wasn’t much of a writer but a hell of a story teller.

Tarzan got all the attention (which I never understood). But John Carter, the Virginian gentleman turned gunslinger turned red world warlord was my favorite.

But of course, he got there too late.

Mars was already on life support. Literally.

If not for the forboding, fortress-like “atmosphere factory” – pumping out its life-giving air for a thousand years – all of Burroughs’ creations would have been as dead as we now know the red planet to be.

In truth, Burroughs wasn’t any keener a scientist than he was a writer. His science, noted one critic “is just enough to spark imagination, but does not quite measure up to earnest analysis.”

But of course, imagination is what sparks human creativity. Always has.

And I have to admit that, lately, I’ve been thinking about Barsoom’s atmosphere factory as a convenient literary device for putting an entire planet on life support.

Which brings me to Earth’s best known atmosphere factory.

The Amazon rain forest.

On fire now. And every burning moment releasing vast amounts of the carbon that it has been dutifully capturing and locking up for millennia.

They tell us this amazing ecosystem generates 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. Which seems like quite a lot to me.

But to be fair, it’s not like we don’ have emergency rainforest backups.

Like Tarzan’s old stomping grounds.

Which, as it turns out, has fire problems of its own.

Heck, the island of Borneo alone is legendary for its massive tree cover.

Or at least what’s left of it after all the timbering and land cleaning they’ve done for palm oil plantations.

We will be hearing a lot about Borneo in the coming months and years. Because Indonesia plans to build a brand new capital city where trees and orangutans once ruled supreme.

This because its current capital city, Jakarta, is slowly sinking into the sea under the sheer weight of its 22 million population.

But never mind all that.

The point is that, after the rainforests have been cut down, burned off and “tamed” so ranchers can raise more cattle and we can all eat more hamburgers…

…we can probably build all of the artificial atmosphere factories we’d ever need to make up our, um, oxygen deficit.

No, seriously, we can do this.

We put a man on the moon.

We invented Tang, for goodness sakes.

Maybe we haven’t figured out how to use the 9th ray of the sun to manufacture air, as the Barsoomians did.

But there are all sorts of “big ideas” to cool down our overheating planet floating around out there.

We can build giant mirrors in space.

Or lighten the very clouds themselves

Or fertilize the oceans with iron.

What could possibly go wrong?

Still, ticking off all of the heroic efforts mankind might make to compensate for the loss of earth’s, um, lung capacity notwithstanding. One question remains.

If a single nation, one intransigent regime, is determined to destroy one fifth of the Earth’s lung capacity…

…is the rest of the Earth collectively obliged to sit by idly and allow it to happen by sheer virtue of someone else’s “sovereign” privilege?

Because Edgar Rice Burroughs’ real gift from Barsoom to we mere earthlings wasn’t the hope that we might possibly, one day, in some way, be able to to build massive atmosphere factories in order to prolong our lives and our civilization.

Not at all.

Perhaps what he was really telling us is that we, as a species, do not have the luxury of merrily dancing our lives away while others interrupt “the uninterrupted working of this planet.”

It shouldn’t require a scientist, or even a great writer, to deliver, let alone understand, that message.

Governing is hard

A moment of silence to mourn the passing of Governing.

In the world of “fake news” and global media conglomerates, Governing is a rather obscure publication that has, for 32 years, examined the inner workings of state and local governance – basically what legislatures, counties and cities do and why they do it.

It’s not sex. It’s not scandal. It didn’t have to bleed to lead. It was mostly about what it really takes to fill potholes, make transit run on time or build a smarter electric grid.

Typical Governing headlines:

“The problem with one-stop government,” and

“The parking garages of the future,” and

“Will upzoning make housing more affordable?”

Alas, such content is fast losing its relevance in a Trumpian Tweetisphere Age where politics often seems to, um, trump policy.

“Governing has proven to be unsustainable as a business in today’s media environment,” reads the magazine’s obit. It concludes, optimistically, with “we’re confident that the tremendous work of America’s state and local public servants will go on.”

I hope they’re right.

Politics is easy. Governing is hard. And America’s dirty secret – the one that may ultimately lead to our downfall as a functioning civilization – is that we too frequently opt for the easy way out.

You can see it at all levels.

Congress:

Politics: Cut taxes, yes.

Governing: Balance the budget, no.

Legislature:

Politics: Prohibit cities from doing anything about guns, pollution, unsustainable growth, yes.

Governing: Do something about guns, pollution and unsustainable growth, no.

For a long time it seemed as though cities and counties would be the last bastions of good old fashion governance in America. The old chestnut that potholes aren’t political is comforting if oversimplified.

But the right wing think tanks have figured out that cities, especially large ones, tend to be run by Democrats, while Republicans usually dominate the legislatures. Thus the new “preemption agenda” has been aimed at stopping city and county commissions from doing pretty much anything. The politics of preemption just forced Alachua County and Gainesville to back off their newly enacted plastic bag bans.

Now all we have to do is sit back and wait for Tallahassee to do something about the one-and-done bags that clog our sewers, litter the landscape, kill marine life and poison the food chain.

Still waiting….

“Will states stop cities from combatting climate change?” poses one Governing headline. They’re certainly trying.

Governance, it seems, isn’t just irrelevant, it’s becoming a fighting word.

Just understand that when Trump derides Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta et al as “rat infested” hellholes, he’s using Republican shorthand for “governed by Democrats.”

Which is not to say that governance is dead in America. Not yet.

Partisan gridlock may be the status quo in Congress. One-party state rule is trying mightily to stymy local innovation and problem-solving. But if there is anything like a governance revival going on in America, you’re still more likely to find it at city hall than in the executive mansion.

Alan Ehrenhalt, who has been writing for Governance almost as long as it’s been around, puts it best:

“What if the national political culture is just as bad as most of us believe, but another corner of the political system is steadily getting stronger?” he poses in one column. “Federal and state government may be a mess, but local governments are an increasingly positive force, innovating and solving problems that would have been beyond them a generation ago.”

Which is another way of saying that you can’t keep good governance down.

So keep fighting, commissioners.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

Why I ride

People are all the time asking me why I ride.

Isn’t it dangerous? Don’t you worry about getting hit by a car? I would never ride on the road with all those automobiles.

And I get that. Navigating your way safely through autoAmerica is no walk in the park.

And, listen, I have never tried to convince anyone who is not comfortable with the idea to get on a bicycle and see for themselves what lies in store.

Instead I give them Ron Cunningham’s Acme Anvil Theory of Risk Management.

It goes like this: You can spend your entire life avoiding that which makes you supremely happy because doing so may lead to discomfort, pain misfortune or death.

But then, one day, you walk out your front door.

And an Acme Anvil falls on your head.

So you might as well stop worrying and enjoy the ride.

And so I ride.

I ride through space and time.

Around Florida

Around The USA.

And Europe

And Canada

And so far, no anvil. Fingers crossed.

So why do I ride?

Because getting on a bicycle take me places that I never dreamed I’d go and shows me things I never quite noticed before.

And under my own power. My own terms. My own resolve. To go. To do. To see.

Because a bicycle is not just a bicycle. It is form, function and freedom of movement. And a work of art.

All the signs point to roads not yet taken and paths not yet discovered.

Oh the places you’ll see.

And the things you’ll do.

And the life you’ll experience.

Under you own power. On your own time.

I am not traffic.

I do not ride to live.

So much as live to ride.

Where to now?

Days of wine and poses

We spent five weeks this summer on Otty Lake, in Lanark County Ontario. And I probably took a hundred sunset photos. I could not help myself.

After the sun sinks behind the tree line on the opposite shore magical things begin to happen.

Explosions of pink, orange, blue, purple and gold light up the sky, reflect off the clouds and ripple across the water.Endless variations of hues, shades and shapes.

A work of art, really.

Electric, neon, arresting.

Jill spent a lot of time on the lake with Roman on her paddle board.

Roman is not a great admirer of sunsets.

Mostly he just wanted to bite the water.

But I kept a close eye on them from the dock.

Never letting them out of my sight.

Allowing nothing whatsoever to distract me.

Or alter my keen sense of perception.

As I contemplated life the universe and everything.

Hey, where’d they go?

They were here just a second ago.

I must have gotten distracted.

By Trump, Turkmenistan and The Times.

Maybe I should launch a search and rescue operation. Hey, anybody got a paddle?

Oh, never mind, there they are.

Not that I was worried. I had two rescue canoes.

Except you need two hands to work a paddle.

When life throws one curve balls one must, um, rise to the occasion.