Friday, February 29, 2008



by Robyn Sarah from A Day's Grace: Poems 1997-2002. © The Porcupine's Quill, 2003.

It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious dénouement
to the unsurprising end — riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.


John Steinbeck

"A book is like a man — clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun."

Portland Opera To Go Presents La Boheme


Portland Opera To Go currently has a 50-minute, English version of Puccini's LA BOHEME on the road. Perhaps you've been following them through their blog . They've been wowing young audiences throughout Oregon and SW Washington. Now we're pleased to announce that we'll have them here in the cozy confines of The Hampton Opera Center Studio Theater for four shows. It's a great way to share opera with the young people in your family!
7:00pm, April 3 7:00pm, April 4 1:00 and 4:00pm, April 5 Tickets are specially priced at $5 for kids/$10 for grownups/$20 for a family of four. And you can get them at 503-241-1802.



By Neal Peirce

Bicycling’s best year since the start of the auto age? That’s the argument likely to be made March 4-6 as hundreds of cyclists from across the nation gather in Washington for the National Bike Summit sponsored of the League of American Bicyclists.

A crescendo of trends and developments makes the case.

First the trends: oil costs are surpassing $100 a barrel, global warming alarm calls are mounting, polluting autos and trucks increasingly clog city streets, and health concerns about a sedentary and fattening society are mounting.

And now the developments: Handy bike-for-hire stations are proving instant hits in Paris and other European cities and seem poised to invade urban America. Moves to add painted bike lanes along city roadways are being eclipsed by proposals for entire networks of “bike boulevards” -- roadways altered radically to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. And a companion “Complete Streets” movement -- making roadway space for cyclists and pedestrians, not just cars and trucks -- is gaining traction nationwide.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), founder of the Congressional Bike caucus (now 160-bipartisan members strong), claims a new pro-bike politics is forming, that it can mobilize a 1-million-plus national constituency and force clear recognition of the role of bicycles in the next (2009) federal transportation bill. He and the Bike Summit will be pushing a sense of Congress resolution recognizing the potential of bikes to undergird a greener, healthier and more efficient national future.

Cycling, nationwide, still counts for tiny portions of commuting and shopping trips. But Portland’s experience shows the potential, Blumenauer insists: since that city’s bike program began in the 1990s, the “modal split” for bikes has quadrupled and a $100 million industry of bike shops, bike sales, a start of manufacturing and bike tourism, accounting for 1,000 jobs, has emerged.

Paris’ “velib” bike rental program -- the name combines “velo” (bicycle) and “liberte (freedom) -- opened last July and registered an astounding 2 million trips in its first 40 days. Twenty-thousand bikes are available at 1,450 cycling stations across the city. Insert a credit card to sign up ($1.50 a day to $43 a year) and you can drop your bike off at any other station, the first 30 minutes free.

Paris’ sturdy bikes have three gears, good hand brakes, adjustable seat levels and “sit-up” handlebars. They’re equipped with antitheft and global positioning devices. Cost of the biking operation is offset by revenues from advertising at bus shelters and other “outdoor furniture.”

Almost identical systems are sprouting up across Europe -- in Lyons, Rennes, Barcelona, Oslo, Stockholm, Seville, Brussels, Vienna. Many others are soon to come including London and Rome. There’s also reported interest in Moscow and Beijing.

This April the first serious U.S. fast bike-rental system is due to open in Washington, D.C., followed shortly by San Francisco. Considering the idea or in active negotiations are Houston, Tucson, San Antonio, Portland, Cambridge and Boulder.

Among possible U.S. cities is Chicago -- Mayor Richard Daley tested a Velib bike in Paris last summer and came back a fan. Add Louisville: the health giant Humana has bikes for its own workers and Mayor Jerry Abramson likes the idea of a citywide system. And the U.S. Capitol complex -- It’s a small city of 12,000 workers and, Blumenauer suggests, “government needs to lead by example.”

On the bike boulevard front, London sprang to world leadership with Mayor Ken Livingstone’s February announcement of a £400 million ($787 million) system of 12 two-wheeler superhighways connecting popular residential areas to city center. The roadways will have continuous, wide cycle lanes, dedicated junctions and clear signs, cutting a swath through traffic.

Planners hope the London system will attract a “critical mass” of cyclists. Even diverting 5 percent of people from their cars and the tubes and buses, it’s estimated, would result in 1.7 million cycle trips each day.

The Londoners also hope to set up special cycle networks around 15 suburban towns, connecting residences with schools, train and bus stations, parks and shops.

Portland has its own version of bike boulevards -- remakes of residential streets that had been degraded by motorists using them as cut-throughs. With a minimum of traffic-calming devices such as speed bumps and traffic islands, cut-through traffic was effectively excluded.

Contentious when they were first introduced a decade ago, the Portland bike boulevards have created quality environments raising nearby home prices significantly. But perhaps most important, they’ve marked a major shift from meeting needs of expert and intermediate cyclists. The focus, instead, is on making cycling welcoming for everyone -- kids, families and novice cyclists included.

And in the long run, that’s what the worldwide and U.S. bike reforms will have to achieve -- a world of safe cycling for people of all ages, both sexes, all skill levels. If we get there, you can mark 2008 as a big year on the route.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Satellite Images

My cousin sent me this Power Point Presentation showing satellite images.

Click on image to enlarge.

To see the entire slide show Click Here. (You will have to have software that enables you to show Power Point.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest

This digital collection integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to the American Indians in two cultural areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest Coast and Plateau. These resources illustrate many aspects of life and work, including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment. The materials are drawn from the extensive collections of the University of Washington Libraries, the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture (formerly the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society), and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

Chilkat dancers pose in ceremonial dress with wood carvings, Alaska, 1895. (Click on Image to enlarge.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The Writer's Almanac

It's the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, born in Hardin County, Kentucky (now part of LaRue County) in 1809. Here are some things that you may not have known about Lincoln: He was the first president to have a beard while in office. And he was the tallest president at six feet, four inches.

He was the first president to be photographed at his inauguration. And in the picture of his second inauguration you can see John Wilkes Booth standing near him.

Lincoln liked animals and he owned a cat, "Bob," a turkey, "Jack," and a dog, "Jib." On the night of his assassination, they found in Lincoln's pockets two pairs of glasses, an ivory and silver pocketknife, a linen handkerchief, a Confederate five-dollar bill, a gold watch fob, and a new leather wallet with a pencil inside of it.

Lincoln was the only president ever to receive a patent. It was for a device that lifted ships over shoals in the water.

He was known for keeping an untidy office and also for his loud and resonant laugh. He admired the works of Edgar Allan Poe, but when Lincoln saw that a campaign document had claimed that he spent his free time reading Plutarch, he began reading Lives.

Many thought that Lincoln was overindulgent as a father and he would let his youngest two boys run and play freely in the Presidential Office.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Guppy to Guillotin: The Namesakes of Words

Guppy to Guillotin: The Namesakes of Words

All Things Considered, February 9, 2008 · For author Philip Dodd, a simple trivia question sent him on a quest that crossed oceans and spanned continents.

The question: What fish was named for a West Indian clergyman?

The answer is in the title of Dodd's new book, The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium: From Joseph P. Frisbie to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items Were Named for Extraordinary People. From Guppy himself, who was quite a character, to the Earl of Sandwich and instrument-maker Adolphe Sax, Dodd delves into the lives of those who left their names deeply embedded in the English language.

Tracing the paths of these often unwitting heroes, Dodd's travels took him from Texas — where he met the notorious cattle rancher Samuel Maverick — to Trinidad, where he found the spot where naturalist Robert Lechmere Guppy found his now-famous freshwater fish. Though many of his subjects are long dead, Dodd also found people still alive, well and brimming with ideas, including inventor Roy Jacuzzi, who lives in California.

Some of the stories Dodd discovered were tragic. He tells the sad family story behind the Mercedes, which was named for the young daughter of Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur who commissioned the first Mercedes cars. Jellinek lost his fortune in the war and died a broken man in 1918.

Andrea Seabrook spoke with Dodd about the stories behind some of the characters who give the English language its color.

To listen to the interview CLick Here.

Are you the result of your family dinners?

The Family Dinner Deconstructed

by Alix Spiegel

To Listen Now [6 min 56 sec] Click Here.

Morning Edition, February 7, 2008 · The ritual of a family dinner has been praised as an antidote to bad grades and bad habits in kids. But as researchers look closer at the family dinner, they raise the question: Is it the mere act of eating together that counts, or is it that strong families are already more likely to have a family dinner?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Budapest Festival Orchestra

By Daniel J. Wakin

Take 50 to 100 highly trained musicians, put instruments in their hands, place ’em on stage and charge admission. It’s called an orchestra. But how do you organize them? Pay them? Make use of their time? Keep them happy? Keep audiences happy?

All sorts of models exist. I had a chat with Ivan Fischer, who leads the Budapest Festival Orchestra, at a Lincoln Center bakery/eatery on Friday, and he told the story of his group. It sounded pretty special. Now since I have not looked closely at exactly how the orchestra works, it is hard to gauge the reality. But at the least, Mr. Fischer’s description sounded like a fine ideal. The Budapest Festival Orchestra has been around since 1983, when Mr. Fischer, a budding freelance conductor at the time, decided to settle down and helped establish it. But it has not achieved the notice in this country of other top European bands. It has concert dates Friday night and Sunday afternoon as part of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series.

Mr. Fischer’s orchestra, he said, has three cardinal virtues, established at its creation: an emphasis on the players’ individual creativity; few rules, for maximum flexibility; and unusual programming.

Thus, on Point 1, the orchestra has internal concerto competitions, so not just principals get to play solos. Players are encouraged to come up with their own chamber music programs. Seating rotates. “More active musicians make a better team,” said Mr. Fischer, who speaks slowly with a Hungarian accent. The no-rules rule means no long-term contracts, no overtime and auditions that end up with five or six finalists who play with the orchestra.

Innovative programs mean daylong festivals devoted to a composer; surprise concerts, in which the program is unknown until the players come on stage; and sight-reading concerts, in which a slip of paper is drawn out of a tuba bell with a seat number. The person in that seat then picks the piece. A truck with the orchestra library is waiting outside, so the parts can be delivered. Next season, the orchestra comes to Carnegie Hall with Gypsy musicians.

Often readers of material like the above will write in and say, “Gee, that’s all very well, but my orchestra has been doing those things for ages; you failed to mention X, Y and Z.” So consider this an open invitation to comment on ArtsBeat about orchestra models, model orchestras and interesting features of both.


“If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”
Edward Hopper

Click on image to enlarge.

El Palacio
1946 (120 Kb); Watercolor on paper, 20 3/4 x 28 5/8 inches; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Friday, February 8, 2008

Her wish came true

Bowed Piano

The Bowed Piano: Fishing for a New Sound

By Tom Huizenga

Morning Edition, February 5, 2008 - What happens when you take a perfectly good invention — one that's been around for several hundred years — and completely rethink it? That's what an enterprising musician and composer named Stephen Scott has done with the grand piano.

For the past 30 years, Scott has been exploring, obsessing over, and pushing the sound of the piano far beyond its traditional boundaries, creating a new kind of instrument he calls the bowed piano.

To get a sense of what the bowed piano is, imagine a grand piano with the lid lifted off. Ten musicians crowd around, leaning over the innards of the instrument, like a team of surgeons performing an operation.

Scott says you won't find any traditional-looking bows — like the ones violinists use — in his ensemble.

"The primary sound is produced by a bow of nylon fish-line, which is rosined, and that's just threaded under the piano string and across it. There's another kind of bow, which is a stick of wood which has horse hair affixed to it, and that's rubbed against the strings to produce a short, percussive sound."

The bowed-piano ensemble also uses guitar picks, Popsicle sticks, tongue depressors, and even rubber plumbing tape to expand the palette of sound colors for Scott's compositions.

Even as a kid, Scott always seemed to be searching for a sound. He played in high-school jazz bands, striving for his own unique approach. Then he studied music in Ghana alongside one of his idols, the minimalist American composer Steve Reich.

But Scott finally found his sound in a concert hall in 1976. He was amazed to see a pianist pull a single strand of fishing line through the strings of a piano, and by the time the concert was over, Scott had already envisioned a vast expansion of that idea. The following year, he formed his bowed-piano ensemble, and premiered his first composition.

Scott set up his first bowed-piano ensemble at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he still teaches. He has also created ensembles in Ireland and Estonia.

Scott's new composition, Pacific Crossroads for Bowed Piano and Orchestra, [received] its world premiere Feb. 7 at the American Composers Festival in Orange County, Calif.

To listen to this story (and more) Click Here.

To see video Click Here.

Space Settlement 2009 Calendar Art Contest

Gallery for Space Settlement 2009 Calendar Art Contest

This is the Grand Prize Winner. Click on photo to enlarge.

Click here to see the other winners.

by Raymond Cassel

Category: Martian Settlements

Description: Dear Dad, The sand storm has finally ended. Despite the lower gravity, the weight of drifting sand is still problematic on our more delicate structures. As you can see we are starting the clean up on the greenhouses. Talk to you soon.

Medium/Tools Used: Lightwave 6.5, Poser 5, and Photoshop CS3.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Live better with less

Big Idea

Live Better With Less

By Mark Matousek, May & June 2007

Our high-powered economy is based on growth, growth, growth. So why, asks author Bill McKibben, is all our stuff making us less and less happy?

Attention shopaholics and supersizers. Go nowhere near an important new book called Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (Times Books, 2007). You may never indulge the same way again.

Author Bill McKibben, the Harvard-trained economist and activist who’s forged a career reporting on such hot-button topics as overpopulation and global warming, wants to send a shock wave through our retail-addicted culture. “The idea that more is better, which has been orthodoxy for the past 50 years, no longer matches reality,” McKibben tells me from the rural Vermont home he shares with his wife, author Sue Halpern, and their 14-year-old daughter. “More stuff doesn’t make people happier.” In fact, once our basic needs are met, the very opposite seems to be true.

In the past decade the burgeoning field of happiness studies has overturned many of our basic assumptions about where satisfaction comes from, how long it lasts, and where we should focus our energy. The results of our choices are not as life-changing as we think they’ll be (the novelty passes; the credit card bills remain), and many of capitalism’s long-standing assumptions—that acquisitions improve our lives—turn out to be a load of hooey. Consider a have-versus-have-not example from a visit McKibben made to a factory in rural China, where he spoke with a worker named Liu-Xia. Making small talk, he asked Liu-Xia, 18, if she owned a stuffed animal: he’d noticed that many of the girls in the factory dorm had one on their beds. She began to cry. She couldn’t afford such an item, she said. Later, when McKibben brought her a stuffed dog, “the girl was as pleased as I’ve ever seen a person.” For McKibben the contrast was clear. His own daughter, he notes, has a roomful of Beanie Babies. How could a stuffed animal possibly have the same meaning for her? “In that world,” McKibben says, thinking of Liu-Xia, “possessions still deliver.”

Not so in the United States, where the Eisenhower-era ideal of bigger cars, faster foods, and automatic everything has been nearly as devastating to our nation’s psyche as rampant consumption has been to the earth. Once measured to have the happiest citizens in the developed world, the United States is now number 23, according to research compiled at the University of Leicester. Alcoholism, suicide, and depression rates have soared, with fewer than one in three Americans claiming to be “very happy.” Even more frightening is the trickle-down effect of this malaise on our kids. Studies suggest that today’s average American child reports suffering higher levels of anxiety than the average child under psychiatric care in the 1950s.

“All that material progress—and all the billions of barrels of oil and millions of acres of trees that it took to create it—seems not to have moved the satisfaction meter an inch,” says McKibben. “It’s as if we’ve done an experiment in whether consumption produces happiness and determined that it doesn’t.”

The reasons for this paradox are complex. In part, as with McKibben’s daughter, it’s because we all have more than enough stuffed animals in our lives. But McKibben sees a link between our isolated, overstuffed homes and a breakdown in community—the unseen emotional price of cheap goods and big lives. “Our global economy comes at the cost of local economy and human connection,” he says. The pursuit of mammon “has turned us ever more into individuals and ever less into members of a community, isolating us in a way that runs contrary to our most basic instincts.” We scrimp and save for the bigger house, only to find ourselves more cut off from friends and family.

Suburban sprawl has been an undeniable culprit in our widespread alienation. With population density plummeting, and houses getting bigger, the likelihood of bumping into neighbors drops enormously. “An awful lot of boomers began their adult lives doing extremely idealistic things,” he adds. “Many of these ideals fell away as we became immersed in consuming. Now we need to find our way back.”

There are straightforward ways of scaling down our lives. Consider the local farmers’ market, now the fastest-growing sector of our food economy. The average bite of food an American eats travels some 1,500 miles before it reaches our table. Yet it takes a tenth as much energy to grow foods locally, and shoppers are reported to have about ten times as many social interactions at their farmers’ market than in the aisles of, say, Wal-Mart.

To test his own theory, McKibben decided to see if he and his family could make it through a glacial Vermont winter subsisting exclusively on food produced near their home in the Champlain Valley. The author specializes in real-life experiments: he walked from Vermont to New York for his memoir, Wandering Home (Crown Journeys, 2005). The results of this “year of eating locally” are fascinating. The imperative of finding food nearby, while time-consuming, helped forge bonds with neighbors he’d never met and deepened his intimacy with the landscape. Newly connected to his home, McKibben emerges from his citrus-deprived winter a deeper and healthier man, having consumed not a single processed food. “The winter permanently altered the way I eat,” he says. “It left a good taste in my mouth. That good taste was satisfaction.”

Not all of us can afford to give up the bargain prices at superstores. McKibben-the-economist is sensitive to this, though he entreats us to view expenditures differently. While farmers’ market prices may be a bit higher, local foods are fresher (and tastier) and have less impact on the environment. The idea, he says, is not to forgo bulk-item bonanzas completely but to seek a balance between convenience and the economics of neighborliness. “Efficiency has been oversold as a virtue,” he says. “The ability to produce as fast and cheaply as possible has ruined countrysides and abused people and animals.” Study after study shows that our overreliance on processed foods is contributing to a ballooning national obesity problem.

So how did we get here? McKibben traces our troubles to 1712, with the invention of the first practical steam engine. Overnight the energy produced by burning coal could replace a team of 500 horses walking in a circle. “Suddenly 100 percent growth in the standard of living could be accomplished in a few decades, not a few millennia,” says McKibben. It also explains how human beings have used, shockingly, more raw materials since World War II than in all previous recorded history.

The toxic effects of this struck him hard during his China trip, where in Beijing the sky was so polluted “you could stare straight at the sun.” In an inefficiently energized world where getting rich means getting dirty, copycatting the American lifestyle could push our planet over the brink. At current rates there will be some 1.3 billion Chinese as rich and consumer-minded as our middle class by 2031. “But if the Chinese owned cars like we do, they would add 1.1 billion cars to the 800 million already on the road,” he says, not even mentioning India, Indonesia, and nations in Africa. “If the Chinese ate meat the way we do, they’d consume two thirds of the world’s grain harvest by themselves. The earth will never accommodate that.

“Of course the poor nations of the world need to develop. But if they do so using our model, the planet will break under the strain. We in the rich nations must change. We need to figure out a world that works for everyone.” Doing so just might make us happier.

Mark Matousek is a New York-based writer who’s never liked to shop. He wrote about Joan Didion in the March & April issue of AARP The Magazine.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The tip of the iceberg

The Saws
by Robert Pinsky February 11, 2008

The saying dead as a doornail is still dead as a doornail:
Whatever a doornail might be or was, long lost in the dark,

The dark, the dark—not always deepest before dawn, Pal.
Back then, passing a graveyard you might actually whistle:

No walk in the park, a black back street back in the day.
Zombie expressions, Buddy, as thin as a spare dime.

Generated by generations they still stagger the castle,
Wan, rife. Benighted or bedazed by the March of Time,

Time, time. The old saws hardly ever anymore called saws:
Kiss the cat and you kiss the fleas. And That’s the story of my life.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Steve Reich: 'Music for 18 (Cornfed) Musicians'

Steve Reich: 'Music for 18 (Cornfed) Musicians'

Weekend Edition Sunday, February 3, 2008 - Now more than three decades old, Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians has become an icon of 20th-century American music.

At almost an hour in length, the piece unfolds like a slowly shifting dream, with sections of repeated material ebbing and flowing around a cycle of 11 chords. It's scored for strings, percussion, woodwinds and voices, and takes tremendous concentration on the part of the 18 players. To this day, the work is mainly performed by the composer and his loyal group of musicians.

It took courage, then, for a group of players at a small Midwestern college (not known for its music department) to mount a performance of Music for 18 Musicians — not just for their own amusement, but to play at the high-profile Bang on a Can Festival in New York City.

Under the direction of Bill Ryan, the New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University — amid the cornfields of western Michigan — practiced the music for nearly a year. Ryan recalls a mixed response when he first announced the idea to his students.

"A few people couldn't wait until I finished my sentence before they wanted to sign up; they knew the piece. But a few didn't know who Steve Reich was." Rehearsals were tough going, initially, but Ryan says he saw a breakthrough eventually.

"We had been looking at the work for about six weeks, and there were moments in the rehearsal where I started to see the players come out of their own parts — relaxing, looking around, using their ears, listening to parts that were happening across the room. I knew then that our concert would be fine."

Ryan and five members of the ensemble flew to New York to watch Reich's ensemble perform the piece and strategize with them about how to play it.

All the hard work came to fruition last spring, with Ryan and his ensemble playing Music for 18 Musicians early in the morning at the Winter Garden Atrium.

"It was magical to see my ensemble in that environment," Ryan says. "Here we are, this group from the middle of the Midwest that no one had ever heard of, playing at this significant new-music event. It was just glorious to see the sun come up as we were finishing the piece."

Their performance charmed the critics. Alex Ross of The New Yorker wrote the group "succeeded in holding 400 listeners transfixed at 4 a.m."

Ryan and his New Music Ensemble have documented their long journey into Reich's Music for 18 Musicians with a new surround-sound recording of the piece.

To listen to this broadcast Click Here.

To see a video of a rehearsal of the
New Music Ensemble Click Here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Sand Hill Crane

From a friend:

These photos were taken in the Suntree area of Florida ~Viera~ south of Cocoa & Titusville.

A Sand Hill Crane couple recently had an exciting addition to their family. When they built their nest near the water's edge it immediately drew attention of passers by. Soon there were two eggs sitting on top of the nest and the mother on top of them.

The really curious passed by the site every morning and would stop their cars to get out and see if there were any new cranes yet. Many brought cameras of all shapes and sizes and would stand near the water for long periods of time hoping to catch a photo of the hatching.

Robert Grover, a dentist, didn't actually catch the birth but, he sure did capture some fabulous shots of the Momma, Papa and baby (the second egg never hatched). Then he put together a slide show with music that is just too good to not share it. (Click on Photo to start slide show).



By Neal Peirce
© 2008 Washington Post Writers Group

WASHINGTON -- Three hundred and how many more days until we get a new president?

Two gross missteps by the Bush administration, this time tripping up badly needed national transportation improvements, make the question acute.

After two years of intense work, a broad-based, bipartisan federal transportation commission mandated by Congress unveiled America’s first-ever, 50-year, balanced plan to repair and expand the highways, bridges, ports and rail systems the country needs to prosper internally and globally.

But because the report, released last month, pointed mostly to public funding instead of responding directly to “consumer demand” (meaning private financing), Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and the two other Bush administration appointees dissented, bemoaning the 12-member panel’s failure to “reach consensus.”

An industry analyst quoted by the National Corridors Initiative called their “consensus” remark “frankly pathetic,” noting that “a very bipartisan commission ... has called for a major overhaul of the transportation system, and for the money to do the job.”

Others observed that if the federal government had waited for private, toll-collecting investors to build a national superhighway network, rather than President Eisenhower’s call for system constructed with an overwhelming share of federal dollars, we’d have little more than a thin interstate patchwork today.

The transportation commissioners had the courage to say that upgrading and expanding U.S. transportation systems to world standards won’t come cheaply -- they estimated $225 billion annually for the next 50 years. And they saw past “roads only,” focusing on an expanded freight system as well as repairing our highways and bridges, and making transit and intercity passenger rail a new priority in an ever-more metropolitan nation.

While endorsing more private investment, the commission faced the necessity of a dramatic rise in the federal gas tax, to 40 cents a gallon, indexed to inflation. And it sought accountability by combining today’s 108 federal transportation funding lines (for transit, highways, railroads, etc.) into 10 goal-oriented programs such as “Congestion Relief,” “Energy Security” and “Saving Lives.” The system would be performance-driven, outcome-based, mode-neutral -- a far call from today’s morass of earmarked transportation projects and billions flowing to states for still more highways.

There are some weaknesses in the report, especially failure to deal with three major issues -- how transportation choices impact climate change, how they relate to land use, and considerations of equity for Americans ill-served by today’s system.

But by throwing light on how our federal transportation program is a fundamentally broken system of earmarks and untargeted grants, notes Brookings Institution transportation expert Robert Puentes, the report undergirds growing congressional consensus that a new approach is imperative and should be built into the 2009 transportation reauthorization.

Making another damaging move during the 300-plus days it has left, the Bush administration, in a surprise move, also appears ready to scuttle the long-awaited Metro rail connection from to Washington’s Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.

Political and business leaders in Virginia were stunned when Peters and Federal Transit Administration chief James S. Simpson suddenly raised enough purported weaknesses in the project -- now on the brink of start-up construction -- to justify vetoing the long-expected and critically needed $900 million federal contribution.

Efforts to build the Dulles line date back to the 1960s. The service would ease congestion in Virginia’s biggest job corridor, with anticipated big spinoff benefits in clustered affordable housing, cutting serious air pollution levels, and providing an emergency evacuation route west from the capital.

In today’s world of major global citistates, jockeying for mobility and economic prowess, the Dulles rail extension should be a no-brainer -- notwithstanding its eventual $5 billion pricetag. As the Washington Post noted editorially, airports in Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo and Sydney are all rail connected; should America’s capital city settle for anything less?

John W. Warner, Virginia’s senior and now retiring U.S. Senator, a long-time supporter, was described as “livid” at the meeting where Peters and Simpson dropped their threatened veto bomb. The administration is now promising a “cooling off” period to reexamine the issue, but there’s little confidence it will change its mind. Assuming it doesn’t, Congress may have to override its veto of the Dulles line, for common sense and in honor of the highly respected Warner.

The threatened Dulles line veto is “classic federal hubris,” notes Thomas Downs, transportation expert and former Amtrak president. While the federal $900 million contribution is critical, it’s less than 20 percent of the line’s cost, he observed, asking: should federal bureaucrats “trump all local decision making? Is that what this Republican administration has come to?”

At the end of the day, [the transportation issue] shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Check most members of either party, and they want a strong, economically efficient transportation system. This country is behind, we have lots of catching-up to do. We can’t let ideology trip us up. That’s reality the next president -- he or she, Republican or Democrat -- will have to deal with.