Duke University

R.I.P. Durham-Orange Light Rail

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It was a nice dream while it lasted:

The GoTriangle board of trustees voted unanimously but reluctantly Wednesday to end the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project. After a closed-door session Wednesday, general manager Jeff Mann recommended to the board that the agency discontinue the $2.7 billion construction project to connect UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with Duke University and other destinations along an 18-mile route.

Opposition from Duke University, escalating project costs and two state deadlines were forcing possible major cuts in the 19-station project, including eliminating a planned stop at N.C. Central University, GoTriangle officials said.

To say this is "unfortunate" would be a gross understatement. No plan is perfect, but this one was pretty damn good. *sigh*

Is there a Koch Brothers connection to Duke's light rail opposition?

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There are five million reasons to think so:

Duke has recently announced that it is accepting $5 million from the Charles Koch Foundation for the “Center for the History of Political Economy,” a center initially established with funding from Koch network donor and anti-public crusader Art Pope.

The Duke community should not just be concerned about Koch’s growing support for corrosive ideology, but the fact that his vast “dark money” network seeks to influence politics by “leveraging” higher education—specifically by influencing what is taught, and by whom. Duke’s contract with Koch gives the donor an implicit veto power over programming by allowing the Koch Foundation the discretion to pull their money at any time with as little as thirty days’ notice.

Bolding mine, because when you consider that leverage in context with AFP's accelerated and very effective opposition to light rail nationwide, it begins to stink:

Are driverless cars a viable alternative to light rail?

Some distinguished scholars believe they are:

The failure to come to an agreement with Duke University has profoundly discouraged many advocates for mass transit in Durham and Chapel Hill. Even if Duke issues can be worked out, escalating costs are almost inevitable.

We propose that large, building-shaking trains be replaced with 6-9 passenger self-driving vehicles, propelled with plug-in technology (just like a Volt or Tesla automobile). Such vehicles would shake Duke medical buildings much less than an existing delivery truck, and the internal battery would not generate electro-magnetic interference. They would also have many other advantages.

My initial reaction to this was it is just a step above "people-pods," which have unfortunately captured the imagination of otherwise logical thinkers. In my opinion, taking the "Mass" out of Transit is a huge step in the wrong direction, and using an inappropriate example to back up your theory doesn't give me a warm fuzzy either:

Duke University's irresponsible opposition to light rail project

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Just to give you an idea of who will suffer most from this:

Leaders at N.C. Central University, Durham Technical Community College and the Durham Housing Authority say the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project will bring prosperity to the Fayetteville Street corridor. The 18-mile, $3.3 billion light-rail project includes two stops — Dillard Street and Alston Avenue — between downtown Durham and NCCU, where the rail line ends.

Fayette Place, the site of an abandoned public housing community meant to house many of those residents, sits between those stops. NCCU, Durham Tech and the Durham Housing Authority held a press conference there on Monday afternoon with light-rail supporters.

I need not mention the symbolism of Duke University wielding such power to suppress the needs of those on the lower end of the economic scale, but since other media sources seem hesitant to make that reference, there it is. And while I'm at it, here's another little tid-bit nobody else thought to mention: The Duke University VP who (literally) hit an African-American parking attendant with his car, and then sped off after calling her a "stupid nigger" from the window of his Porsche, was put in charge of managing the University's response to light rail:

Duke University rethinking construction of natural gas facility

Taking a step back to evaluate their options:

For a university that has always been protective of its global reputation, contributing to global greenhouse gases through a natural gas plant is no way to burnish that image. That’s one of the conclusions of a Duke University Campus Sustainability Subcommittee, which released a report on a proposed combined heat-and- power natural gas plant today.

As a result, university Executive Vice President Tallman Trask announced that the board of trustees won’t vote as scheduled on a new $55 million, 21-megawatt combined heat and power natural gas plant on campus.

It's good they're taking a long, hard look at this project. I was going to say, "It's about time," but I don't want to look a gift academic horse in the mouth. But timeliness aside, there was one particular point I was looking for in the Subcommittee's report, and I found it:

A must-read explanation of "distributed" power systems

The way of the future:

A distributed system, increasingly powered by renewable sources that are often at the site of the business or home. Efficient sensor-enabled appliances, controlled by communication technologies, would be linked to a grid coordinating a complex network of energy producers and users. In this scenario, the end user is increasingly in control of their own energy supply and demand. As networks of these new energy consumers grow, they will link together in micro-grids that allow autonomy from centralized providers.

I sort of jumped into the middle of the discussion with that quote, so you should go read the whole thing. We've already developed parts of this (new) approach with the proliferation of Solar farms, but many more need to be built, with an eye towards local needs. That includes smaller systems that provide power for 1-3 homes. And yes, that last part about "autonomy" will definitely be opposed by Duke Energy and their cohorts, but their business model is going to change, whether they like it or not. Another *huge* advantage of distributing energy generation is to curtail "lost" power. I don't have the stats in front of me, but even the newest long-distance transmission lines lose (waste) somewhere north of 17% of generated power before it can be used. That's right, one sixth of the toxins and carbon we're pumping into the air return *zero* benefits in power. If left to their own devices, Duke Energy will continue their "macro" approach to energy supply, so this battle is going to be a tough one. But it must be fought.

Profiles in idiocy: Asians want to integrate, blacks don't

Making it to the Final Four of stupid bigoted online comments of 2015:

Hough identified himself as a Duke University professor in the comments and went on to praise Asians. “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration,” said the comment. “Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.”

Considering it costs about $63,530 (per year) to attend this renowned school, you would think they could find somebody smarter than your crazy Tea Party uncle to lecture in their poli-sci department. And before any of you Duke fans come to his assistance with the, "What he believes and what he says in class are two different things" argument, if he's willing to sign off on that comment in the New York Fricking Times, I doubt he has the judgment to keep it out of the classroom.

The battle of the Dukes: Better science vs ambiguous results

When solving the mystery of coal ash contamination is not a priority:

Prominent Duke University water-quality researcher Avner Vengosh and several colleagues developed a “forensic tracer” test last year that promises to identify with great accuracy whether coal ash is the culprit in individual cases of water pollution. “The isotopic signature of boron coming from coal ash is always different from naturally occurring boron or boron from other sources,” added Laura Ruhl, Vengosh’s partner in the research and a professor of earth sciences at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Drew Elliot, DENR’s communications director, said agency officials would welcome more and better testing tools, but they are under “aggressive deadlines” set by North Carolina’s new coal ash law. They can’t meet those deadlines if they detour to add a new series of tests, he said. The state’s preferred methodology for deciding whether coal ash is causing water pollution is to look for obvious, chemical clues in the well samples, he said.

And that "preferred methodology" is ineffective. Ignoring the isotopic signature of the contaminant is like ignoring fingerprints at a crime scene. It only makes sense if you're trying to protect the perpetrator.

Duke University and the "mystery" of the hanging noose

The public's right to know trumps protecting the reputation of a wealthy racist scion:

Duke Student Affairs Vice President Larry Moneta said the student responsible for the noose would face judgment under the school's code of conduct, which includes penalties ranging from probation to expulsion. He said it was "too soon to make any comment'' about whether the student had expressed remorse.

“This is all part of what the investigation will yield and the opportunity for the student to speak to the basis for the behavior,'' Moneta said.

"Speak to the basis for the behavior"? What could he possibly say that would mitigate such an outrageous insult (if not threat) to not only African-Americans attending Duke, but all others living in the region? I have a feeling the "privacy laws" excuse cited for their lack of disclosure has a hell of a lot more to do with avoiding a lawsuit from a wealthy family than it does the laws themselves, and that kind of weak-kneed response is exactly why crap like this is still happening in our country. Even if Duke wins the NCAA, it appears they're losing a more important contest back on campus.

Speaking about discrimination

On Saturday, March 28, 2015, I wrote a post When North Carolina economics and Indiana discrimination collide concerning the pervasiveness of discriminatory practices sweeping yet again, our country. I singled out three people that I felt, have a duty to speak up in light of recent Indiana legislation. By now, many are aware what the law (in the name of religious freedom) purportedly says. On its face, the law also says disgusting, discriminatory bigotry.

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