Tuesday, November 20, 2018

John Wetmore Testifies Before Maryland Legislature Hearing

On November 14, John Wetmore, producer of the cable TV series Perils for Pedestrians, testified before Maryland's Joint House and Senate Priorities Hearing. His comments dealt with the Maryland Transportation Authority, which owns and operates the toll roads and toll bridges in Maryland. One of those is the U.S. 301 Bridge over the Potomac River 50 miles south of Washington. Built in 1940, the narrow two-lane bridge is considered obsolete and will be replaced with a four-lane bridge. In 2008, the laws governing the MD Transportation Authority were modified to empower the head of the Authority to allow pedestrians and bicyclists on Authority facilities. This led in 2012 to the selection of a four-lane design that included a barrier-separated ped-bike path. However, the 2008 law did not require that the Authority accommodate peds and bikes, and the Hogan administration lacks a firm commitment to peds and bikes. The minor legal patch in 2008 has turned out to be inadequate, and a more comprehensive reform of the Maryland Transportation Authority is needed for this and future projects.

Senators and Delegates:
I would like to touch briefly on two topics tonight.

First, it has been half a century since the last major legislation governing the Maryland Transportation Authority. It is time to take a close look at the Authority to see if it meets the needs of the 21st Century.
In its current form, the Maryland Transportation Authority is concerned about only two things: moving automobiles and paying bondholders. It is stuck in a 1960s world where transportation agencies ignored their impact on the community and ignored the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists.
This outdated approach to transportation is very obvious with the replacement U.S. 301 Bridge over the Potomac. In a modern agency, a barrier-separated bicycle and pedestrian path would be a fundamental part of the bridge, and would be automatically included in the Scope of Work, as it was in the alternative selected in 2012. It is scandalous that the bike-ped path was downgraded to just a disposable option by the current administration.
The legislature needs to conduct an in-depth investigation into the Maryland Transportation Authority and explore what legislation is needed to ensure that the Authority meets the current needs of Maryland’s citizens.
Second, there are still many missing sidewalks along state roads in Montgomery County. For example, there is no sidewalk on either side of 16th Street (MD 390) where it meets Georgia Avenue (MD 97). There is no sidewalk on the west side of 16th Street from Lyttonsville Road to Spring Street.
In four years, the Purple Line will open, and residents of Montgomery Hills and the apartments along 16th Street will want to walk to the Woodside Station on 16th Street. Will they be able to walk there on opening day? Only if we get serious about building sidewalks now. There is no time to waste.
Thank you for your attention.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Cynthia Lazaroff's 38 Minutes of Dread Expectation

Cynthia Lazaroff has written a long, relentless and horrifying essay for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled "Dawn of a New Armageddon," about her experience this past January of living in Hawaii when a false text alarm went out about an incoming ballistic missile attack with the dread words "this is not a drill."

Lazaroff, a filmmaker and founder of U.S.-Russian exchange initiatives, recounts the terror of the 38 minutes before the announcement was recalled as a false alarm, through waves of incomprehension, phone calls, searches for shelter, thoughts of preparations left undone. She weaves throughout a historical overview of U.S.-Soviet disarmament efforts and the ramping up of nuclear tensions in a multilateral world, with a focus on Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev (whom she recently interviewed as part of a documentary on escalating nuclear threats) and their meetings in the 1980s.

The personal impressions and hurried decisions race along as the clock ticks, literally. Lazaroff writes,

I phone our close friends Prajna and Greg. They don’t know anything. They haven’t yet checked their cell phones. It takes a moment for it all to sink in.
"How long do we have if it’s real?” my friends ask, relying on me for an answer I can’t give them. “It depends on where it’s coming from,” I reply. “If it’s North Korea, I think we have about 25 minutes. If it’s Russia, we might have 25 to 30 minutes or so from launch, but that’s if it’s land-based from Western Russia to New York or Washington. If it’s from a Russian sub, it could be just a few minutes. We don’t know.”
“How long ago did Tom get the message?” Greg asks. Tom checks his cell phone. “About seven or eight minutes ago,” he answers. We are all calculating — maybe 20 or 15 or how many minutes left until … flash, blast wave, death.
Her article demands to be read and pondered.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Cross-Border Princeton Wedding: From Atlanta to Mumbai

Winston Weinmann sent in the following item:

Last summer Winston Weinmann's daughter Ginny Weinmann '12 got married to Sagar Vijay '13 - twice - first in Atlanta, then a month later in Mumbai India. Ginny is now doing Cambridge University's 12 month MBA program in Englad, while Sagar finishes his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at MIT in "the other Cambridge".

Classmates at the Atlanta Wedding included Bill Stevenson, Jim Tausche, Brink Brinkley, and John Williams. Other Princetonians included Tim Dodson '81, Kathryn Brokaw '82, Winston's sister Mary Virginia Coffman '86 and her husband Peter Coffman '87, Marty Franchot '77, Amelia Baker '79, and a host from the classes of 2012 and 2013. Adam Goldstein '81 joined us for the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. The ceremony was held in our front yard, with elaborate rain plans, thankfully unused.

On the way to India, Winston, wife Brooke, and two of our children spent six days in the Maldives, where Winston's youngest brother, George, has been running an airline. On a commuter flight from the international airport to our resort, south of the equator, the archipelagoes and islands of the Maldives look other-worldly.

We then moved to Mumbai for the wedding festivities. These included elaborate mehndi (henna) decorations on the women (and a few of the guys) over a couple of days, and an all-day ceremony starting at 7 am. No elephants, but but plenty of pageantry. We were told that the form of a Hindu wedding is dependent on three things: where the family is from, their caste, and which Hindi god the guru the family looks to had his affiliation. In our case this was Tamil Nadu, Brahmin, and Vishnu.

Both Winston and Brooke had important roles to play in the Indian ceremony. Winston had the privilege of having Ginny sit on his lap for about a half an hour while he repeated phrases in Sanskrit whispered to him by one of the priests. We were told he was more or less intelligible. A section of the ceremony took place outside, where the groom "decides" to give up on marriage and gets ready to go off to be a monk, carrying an umbrella and a few other necessaries. Winston got to "convince" him of Ginny's charms, this time repeating phrases in Tamil. Experience with the Triangle Club would have been handy.

Several Princetonians were able to join us in Mumbai: Amelia Baker '79, Brink Brinkley and his family-including his youngest daughter Sumner '21, and Pat O'Connell '74 (in photo with Ginny & Sagar), as well as Amy Leenhouts Tait's son Alex Tate '12, and Mitch Nahmias '12.

After the Mumbai visit we took a 13 day trip in northern India with most of the guests who'd come from the U.S. The common tourist route is Dehli, Agra (the Taj Mahal), and Jaipur, the "golden triangle", which we did on the first 7 days. We can highly recommend also visiting Jodhpur, where we stayed at the maharaja's Umaid Bhawan Palace, one wing of which is still occupied by the royal family, and Udaipur, built around a lake. Both cities offer as much to see, do, and shop as the first three, with a less tourist-oriented feel.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Steven Strogatz's Wide-Ranging Q&A in Business Insider

Business Insider republished a long and enjoyable with Cornell math professor Steven Strogatz on January 4. Titled "An Ivy League professor explains chaos theory, the prisoner's dilemma, and why math isn't really boring," the interview ranges far and wide. Strogatz's answers and length and elegant, complete with charts, and almost impossible to fairly excerpt, so just follow the link and read it. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Janice Weiner Running for Iowa State Senate

Recently retired after a 26-year career as a political officer in the U.S. State Department, Janice Weiner is running for the Democratic nomination for the Iowa State Senate. She's seeking to represent the 37th Distict, which includes here home town of Coralville. The incumbent is retiring.

Her campaign site on Facebook provides details on her background:

After a post-graduate fellowship at an international law institute in Munich, Janice practiced law in Palo Alto CA before joining the U.S. State Department in November 1987. Her first posting was in East Berlin, both before and after the Berlin Wall fell – an experience that combined totalitarianism with a grassroots, peaceful revolution - dual lessons that Janice never forgot. She then served in Brussels, Belgium, and Ankara, Turkey, where she won awards as Embassy human rights officer during the height of the PKK insurgency, forging relationships with many who risked their lives to defend human rights. 

Subsequent posts included Washington; Warsaw, Poland; Toronto, Canada; Ankara, Turkey as political counselor; Mexico City as embassy press attaché; and Düsseldorf, Germany as Consul General. Her final posting was in the bureau of legislative affairs at the State Department, liaising with Capitol Hill. After retiring from the Foreign Service, Janice worked for the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the bargaining unit and professional association of the Foreign Service. She moved back to Iowa in 2015 with her younger daughter, who will graduate from West High this spring.