Eugene Weekly : Letters : 12.10.09


After reading Warren Weisman’s (Viewpoint, 12/3) negative assessment of solar power, I felt the need to supply some facts and corrections.

The energy payback time of photovoltaic panels is one to three years, meaning that during their 20 to 30 year lifetime photovoltaic panels produce 10 times more energy than is required for their manufacture. This value has improved substantially over the past decade and will continue to improve.

Photovoltaics produce low-voltage DC power, but this can be easily transformed to high voltage and/or converted to AC to power anything that runs on electricity.

When looking at potential to offset fossil energy use, solar beats energy crops hands down. Consider a comparison with corn-based ethanol. An acre of corn can optimistically provide 430 gallons of ethanol, or 10.1 megawatt-hours of energy, enough to drive a 30 mpg car about 13,000 miles. Using Weisman’s own numbers (15 percent efficiency, 200 W/m2 average solar energy), an acre of solar panels will annually produce 1,060 megawatt-hours, or more than 100 times more energy from the same land area. Given that electric motors are three times more efficient than internal combustion engines, the ultimate gains could be even greater.

Covering 1.5 percent of the contiguous U.S. with 15 percent efficient photovoltaics could supply 100 percent of our energy needs. This is roughly equivalent to the U.S. built area (buildings, roads and paved areas). With conservation this could be reduced substantially. The best biofuels would need to cover 50 percent or more of the contiguous U.S. to supply the same amount of energy. Wind energy is cost-effective in some areas, but even with maximum implementation it could not supply all of our energy needs.

Weisman’s concerns about expense, emissions during manufacturing, toxic wastes and end-of life disposal are valid, but they can all be overcome by developing economies of scale, using green energy for manufacturing, changing manufacturing processes and developing recycling technology. Thus, solar panels are at present bound by economic and engineering challenges, not by “inescapable laws of physics,” and photovoltaics will play a prominent role in our carbon-neutral energy future.

Mark Luterra, Corvallis


In your Nov. 19 “Slant” section, you advocate for keeping small towns on septic tanks as some sort of cure for sprawl. A home needs an acre of land to be permanently served by a septic tank. Expanding a town with one-acre lots is the ultimate in sprawl. This would gobble up farmland at 10 times the rate of more compact cities with sewers.

Assuming you really want small towns to be frozen in size, what should the current residents who live on one-fourth acre and one-half acre lots do? They have no room to replace a failing system.

Nancy Nichols, Deadwood


To the UO: As to the sunlight dilemma between the dorm and the Long House, the magic solution: Do it with mirrors.

Vince Loving, Eugene


Mark Harris’ turgid prose is insufferable and his political ideas are increasingly backwards as one would expect from someone who wholly bases his approach on identity politics.

Harris’ ardor for Obama bloomed most recently in the Nov. 25 EW, in which he compared the non-white kids trick-or-treating at his house with the U.S. president who just expanded the war in Afghanistan. Only Harris doesn’t tell us that; he says, “Some of them have been the best examples of humanity in arts, letters, the sciences.”

Indisputable. But then, “Now one of them leads the nation seeking higher ground.” 

Prosecuting imperialist wars is not higher ground, nor is overseeing the largest upward transfer of wealth in history. Nor is strengthening the hand of insurance capital against the health care needs of the people. The fetishization of blackness, purchased by Wall Street, has made this series of betrayals possible. Our kids are and will be paying for these massive rip-offs the rest of their lives.

But Harris says he was “proud of them without even knowing who they were” after colorfully describing their non-whiteness. Could Harris motivate himself to feel proud of all children, regardless of their skin color, because they are the definition of beauty and hope?

Harris dubs himself “Educated Black Man” and fantasizes scaring the likes of Samuel Thurston, the representative of the Oregon Territory in the U.S. Congress. Thurston worried that free slaves would join with “savages” and “long bloody wars would be the fruits of the comingling of the races.” Now we know it was all a scam to steal the land from Native Americans and industrialize the continent most affordably.

Kevin Hornbuckle, Eugene


EW’s Gear Guide (12/3) promoted Motorola’s “MOTOROKR T505 Bluetooth In-car Speakerphone with Digital FM Transmitter.” A week earlier the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it will award $900,000 to Motorola Israel and SmartSynch to develop an energy grid management system that will support Israel’s illegal West Bank settlement projects.

Motorola Israel also provides “virtual fences” to dozens of these settlements that allow continued annexation of Palestinian land. 

The exclusive provider of encrypted mobile phone technology to the Israeli military under a $100 million contract, their communications equipment supports over 600 Israeli military checkpoints restricting free movement of Palestinians within their own communities.

Motorola has provided fuses for Israel’s MK80 series of bombs used against civilians during last winter’s Gaza massacre and earlier in Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon when over a million cluster bomblets were rained upon southern Lebanon during cease-fire negotiations, with a high percentage remaining unexploded like land mines making their orchards and fields too dangerous to harvest.

They even obliquely brag about it. Moto’s commercials for the “Droid” phone clearly suggest this dark side of Motorola’s business, showing stealth bombers blasting Droid phones near puzzled fishermen, farmers and motorists.

A boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is growing rapidly among citizens worldwide who deplore Israel’s land theft, suffocating occupation and brutality against the Palestinian people. All Motorola products are targeted, and we are disappointed to see these promoted in EW. To learn more about the boycott, its justification and the strategy it supports, visit, and

Jack Dresser, Mariah Leung, Al-Nakba Awareness Project


Let me commend Joanna Birns for drawing attention to the crosswalks on River Road south of Silver Lane (letters, 11/12). They are poorly lit and are an invitation for a disaster. Fortunately there is a reasonable solution. South of downtown Corvallis are several crosswalks on Hwy. 99, a street at least as busy as River Road. Those crosswalks are near a school, and there are often children present. However, in contrast to the “take your chance” crossings on River Road, the crosswalks in Corvallis are lighted and even solar powered. When driving on River Road at night, I frequently worry I won’t see someone venturing into the darkness to cross. I doubt I am alone. Something must be done before tragedy strikes. 

Charles Varani, Eugene


Massive government bailouts draw public outrage. OK, sounds reasonable enough, so reasonable in fact that nobody asks why. It is almost a universal article of faith that the government shouldn’t interfere in business and that free markets are the making of capitalism. But wait a minute — is it true?

In the beginning, the government primed capitalism’s pump with colossal giveaways of public resources — right-of-ways went to railroads, forests went to timber companies, mineral rights to miners and drillers and land itself went to farmers. During wars the government poured money into the private sector, and when peace came, Washington walked away from its investments. In peacetime, government helps business through tax laws, policy initiatives and court rulings. 

Government also pays for the basic research that has led to blockbuster products from computers to pharmaceuticals. It builds highways and other infrastructure essential to transportation, educates workers, facilitates trade, keeps the peace, and well, the list is pretty much endless. Agribusiness needs a direct government subsidy each year to stay afloat, and the manufacturing sector would take a huge hit if mammoth defense budgets ever happened to shrink. 

Capitalism requires state subsidies. Government bailouts in one form or another are completely natural. Without Washington, the markets would chew capitalism up and spit it out in less than a generation.

This time, though, bailouts are right out there in the open where nobody can ignore them. The public has drunk deeply, and now it is unleashing anger on anyone within reach.

But this time, free markets aren’t free. There’s a chance to break the cycle. That begins with understanding capitalism as neither good nor bad, but accurately just as it is, not only as relying on markets but also as depending on subsidies. Only then can we put the focus where it will do the most good, not on anger but on making future bailouts as small as possible. It’s up to ordinary taxpayers to save themselves from boom and bust. Everybody else is making too much money.

Douglas Brown, Eugene


George Beres (letters, 11/25) is right on the mark. There is no more powerful persuader than shame.

Informing their neighbors, their employers, their employees, the people they do business with, the people they want to do business with, the people they socialize with, etc.: All this really does is to force these people to actually live with the decisions they make and prevent them from hiding behind a corporation, a statute or anything else.

Frank Skipton, Springfield


Last weekend my partner and I were getting ready for my mother’s birthday lunch while the children were playing in the other room. At one point we heard the doorbell and waited to see my parents walk in the house. When they didn’t, we asked who had rang the bell. The boys told us the mailman had because he wanted to know if they were OK. Apparently, he had peered into our window and was concerned about the 5- and 9-year-olds who were playing guns. We are aware of the sensitivities around this type of play and don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. We hadn’t considered the feelings of possible peeping-tom mailmen.

Shortly after this, the police arrived, with weapons drawn on the kids, instructing them to open the door and show their hands. Seems our mailman called 911 and told them the 9-year-old had a gun and he was afraid for his life. What? So frightened he took time to put his face against our window and stand at the door to ring the bell? After the police realized what was going on, they admitted this is the type of overreaction a person might have to worry about if they were out in the community — not in their home.

If it’s standard protocol to act this way when police are responding to a “gun call,” then what is standard protocol? What if my 9-year-old freaked out and did something that made it look like he was pointing the gun in their direction? Would they shoot him? Over a plastic toy he was playing with in his own home?

People working out in the community need to be able to rationalize how their actions may affect their community members. They shouldn’t peep into windows that aren’t theirs, and if there is a concern regarding children, they should ask to speak to a parent/adult.

Maybe, if police officers are incapable of discretion, they should go through very specific training that enables them to deal with situations involving children. A vulnerable 9-year-old boy should never have to have a gun pulled on him. The police are now one big group of community servers my son will not turn to if he needs help. I don’t blame him.

Amanda Black, Eugene