Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nutcase Again Trying to Rename Mt. Diablo

Someone is trying to re-name the Bay Area's fantastic Mt. Diablo to Mt. Reagan. Why? Apparently he thinks Mt. Diablo is an evil name. This is ridiculous. And I even like Ronald Reagan. I was just at the Reagan Library two weeks ago.

(BTW, don't believe me about how awesome Diablo is? Here's just one picture from a random corner of the park.)

Other articles list a different name than Mt. Reagan, but it's all stupid. As a Bay Area expat I won't stand for this landmark being abused for one man's ego. If memory serves, this same schmendrick tried to re-name Mt. Diablo a couple years ago, that time to Mt. Nisenan. If you think this is goofy, there's a Facebook group you can join, "People AGAINST Naming Mt. Diablo to Mt. Reagan!!".

The Greatest News Story Ever Told

is this.

Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the Beast, for it is 26.2.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Another Pro Sports Team Demands a Free Stadium

The Vikings are telling Minneapolis to build them a stadium or they'll leave (not the main focus of this article on football economics but it's in there). Of course, this has happened before, and sometimes, when the city has a tourist economy outside of sporting events, they can tell the NFL team not to let the door hit them in the ass on the way out, as happened in San Francisco a few years ago. (I still love how stunned the Niners owner was.) Same reason the NFL won't give LA a new team, because LA won't spring for a stadium. On the other hand the Steelers were successful in their bid, in a post-industrial Pittsburgh that has better things to spend money on than a new stadium. Sometimes when they don't get their way teams will just plain-old sue their cities, as in Oakland. Thanks Al Davis.

It turns out my anecdotal instincts are correct. Economists have looked at these questions and it turns out that building new stadiums isn't much benefit to anybody except the sports teams in question. In an article titled "Too Big to Fail", we hear about the Chargers' stadium plans:

...[a new Chargers stadium] is definitely a questionable use of redevelopment resources. If you look at the state redevelopment law, there's two purposes for which the state has authorized cities to use tax increment financing. One is fighting blight and the other is providing affordable housing. Nowhere in the state community redevelopment law does it say you can use these resources because you don't want your football team to go to another city. None of the rationale we have heard from the Chargers or the mayor links the construction of a football stadium to either affordable housing or economic development. It's hard to argue that the Chargers' stadium would have any of these benefits because the team has said the plot of land is so small the only way they can finance it is with the city, because they can't build anything else there. Well, if you can't build anything but the football stadium it's hard to see how you will have any measurable impact on blight, affordable housing or economic development

From a redevelopment standpoint, a football stadium is not a very good investment of your redevelopment dollars. If your goal is redevelopment, which it's supposed to be, you can buy a lot more redevelopment taking that $800 million meant for the stadium and investing it in other things downtown.

Sports rarely report on the business aspect of pro teams (which is the real reason these people are all doing what they do); the only time you'll read dollar figures is when a player signs a huge contract, everyone clucks their tongues that this quarterback is making so much, then they go right on buying tickets and merchandise to pay that quarterback's salary. That's why stadium stories are certainly not going to be reported nationally by the sports media, so putting these stories together is up to those of us who read local papers or who travel around the country a fair bit and hear these stories in bars.

You might be a Chargers fan offended by my lack of sports patriotism (about which I wax eloquent here). Fair enough - but you have to recognize that professional sports organizations are really interested first, always and only, in money. If winning gets them there, that's what they'll do, and somehow if losing gets them there, that's what they'll do. And that's completely appropriate, because that's what private companies are for; you don't expect the owner of a McDonald's franchise in one town to make decisions that lower his profits just because he's loyal to that town. If he can move to a new town, and make more money, he will, and too bad for the customers from the first town that didn't come in! Same goes for the NFL, and yet somehow, people think differently about it. What we see over and over again is that if screwing the fans or city will get them there, that's what they'll do (exactly as we should expect with a private franchise). It's why your jerseys cost $200. Now, if the McDonald's franchise owners group in your city were exerting such influence on local politics, you might call it special interest pressure. Granted, other corporations do it too when they threaten to move their offices unless they get a tax break, but that has far more economic impact than an NFL team moving. (By the way, LA's economy doesn't seem to miss their teams.) So what enables the NFL to treat cities the way they do, when McDonald's can't? You the fan, that's what, taking the team's side and then voting out the politicians that took a stand against them when they got greedy. That's how they get mayors over a barrel.

The NFL is not a government agency. They're not entitled to public funds any more than your or my companies are, but they know they can stay at the trough by exploiting their fans' easily abused loyalty. Bottom line: NFL teams, you want a stadium? Move to one, or build it on your own goddamn dime. Maybe Minneapolis would lose tourist dollars without a team, but San Diego sure as hell won't.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Coast of San Diego County: Done

I've completed my little projecty of running the coast of San Diego County from Oceanside to the border with Mexico. (I used the same rules as my Around the Bay run last year.) This was the route:

You will notice that I didn't draw the route all the way up through Camp Pendleton to Trestles just for the sake of the map shape, and also that there is a break from Point Loma to Coronado. I wasn't going to swim or kayak a heavily trafficked and in any case secured strait, and I don't want to run through the industrial areas of National City or Chula Vista. So the rule is, since I was running the coast, I had to be even, on a north-south basis, with the next leg. Which I was, between Point Loma and Coronado. (Only time this rule needed to be used.)

North County Highlights: You can run through the southern part of Camp Pendleton (from the Oceanside Marina to Las Pulgas Canyon) if you go through the gate and show your drivers license. From Las Pulgas Canyon it's just along the coast past San Onofre to Trestles, right on the border with OC, and you don't need ID there. Carlsbad is more interesting than Oceanside, at least along the coast. There are nice coastal paths for running in both Carlsbad and Encinitas. In a sign of actually growing up, I can muster zero interest for a visit to Legoland, but at least now I know what the big smokestack up there is and one day I also had occasion to check out Oak Riparian Park. I think the camping area along the coast in Encinitas is closed, but people seem to keep using it. Encinitas has a neat little "downtown", but what the hell is that Eastern Orthodox-looking dome along the road? I also saw a fast runner going the other way who had an artificial leg; at first you feel all happy that someone is empowered, etc. etc., but all those feelings of warm benevolence evaporate when you start to worry that the guy would actually beat you in a race. Not much to say about Solana Beach.

La Jolla, San Diego City, and points south: Torrey Pines Preserve is so far the only place I have seen a rattlesnake in 4.5 months of running trails around San Diego, although the park is not that big, despite what surfing MD/PhDs named Anup may tell you. I really wish the lighting was better in northern coastal La Jolla; this was odd for me because I was running my usual afternoon run from 1998, when I still lived in Pennsylvania and was frequently in San Diego on business (never ran it at night until now). Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are nice if you want to try for a fast mile split and I keep swearing that I'm going to stop in for beer, pizza and an arcade game in M.B. sometime. There are sketchy types on the north side of O.B. The neighborhood in Point Loma reminds me a lot of the East Coast and Alameda in the Bay Area, maybe because both seem to be heavily influenced by relocated Navy families. Silver Strand is nice now and then but gets boring quickly. You can run on a levee to get into Imperial Beach, which has more character (and characters) than it knows what to do with (lots of Native American stores here - what's the deal with that?) The wooded areas at Border Field are cooler than anyone gives them credit for, at least when they're not under internationally-polluted flood water. It's nerve-wracking running at night there when you know border control guys with night vision goggles watching from mountaintops are saying to each other, "Hey Chuck, get a load of the jerk on the access road, he's running south." I wasn't deported, so that's a plus.

Thanks are in order to: the good people of San Diego County's coastal communities who recognize the importance of clean beaches, parks, and pedestrian trails and vote accordingly; and of course, also to the people at the border who were working as hard as ever on Christmas Eve (when I was there) to keep the country's frontiers secure.

So that was the first, easiest, and most boring project of the ones mentioned here. The next two will probably be running from the coast to the Salton Sea, or running a piece of the PCT.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Update on Paleolithic Sorghum

Follow-up: professional paleolith Loren Cordain MD was asked to comment on the paleolithic sorghum paper I wrote about before. Of course he's going to say this isn't good evidence of grain consumption at that time, though that doesn't mean he's wrong.

More importantly: it's good that we're having these debates and there's still a lot that evolution can teach us about health, but because we're at the beginning of these kinds of discussions, the bottom line should always be the empirical health endpoints that we observe from people right now consuming these diets. (Hence the little experiment that I'm currently beginning, with nutrition advice from Tom C.) The reason I emphasize endpoints is that we need to remember the only reason we care about CRP, cholesterol, etc. is because we believe they're linked to quantity and quality of life through heart disease and other conditions; the blood values are all proxy indicators for real endpoints that we should be constantly poking to make sure they're meaningful. As it turns out, even CRP might not be the gold standard of inflammation we've assumed it to be, as has been recently shown by the eminent Michael Gurven et al working with (guess what) hunter-gatherers in the Bolivian Amazon.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Local Earthquake Triggering

Astute Californians will have noticed (and in many cases felt first-hand) this pattern:

30 December - 5.8 earthquake under Mexicali (about a hundred miles inland from San Diego)

7 and 8 January - 4.1 and 3.8 in San Francisco Bay Area

9 January - 6.5 off the coast of Ferndale, CA (Humboldt County, way up there in Northern California). Apparently this one was right at the Mendocino Triple Junction where the North American, Pacific, and the subducting Juan de Fuca plates come together. It's also deeper than the average strike-slip quake.

9 January
- 4.1, again under Mexicali (6 hours after Ferndale quake)

[Added later] 12 January - Here's the big one on the other side of the North American Plate, a 7.0 in Haiti.

See the trend? The trend is that property values in Portland and Seattle will be depressed for the next few weeks. You can get real-time earthquake information here, though they drop off after a week.

Years ago I'd noticed, like many people, that when there's a destructive quake in one part of the world, there's often another one (or more) within a few days. Interestingly, they're frequently at opposite ends of the same tectonic plate. It turns out that earthquake triggering is known to geologists but we don't yet know enough to predict where the next one might happen. But usually these triggerings are far from each other; and usually they're triggered by bigger quakes than these. My question is whether mid-size quakes are associated with quakes closer to them, rather than across the ocean?

In my last post about redwood habitat I mentioned how nature's real modus operandi, when you look closely, is to move with jerky, inelegant jumps instead of the inexorable beauty that we seem to read in the distant fossil and mineral record. When you live through something, you necessarily look closely.

For example: the Pinnacles are the best National Monument you've never been to, near the northern Central Coast, and they're the other half of an extinct volcano that died about 20 million years ago when the Pacific Plate started slipping northward as it is today, instead of subducting under North America. (The other half is near Lancaster, CA but it's not much to look at.) Today the two halves have drifted 300 miles apart. So you can If you work out the rate at which they move, does that mean that every year, the fault moves exactly an inch? No - but if you take measurements once every century, you're more likely to get an answer closer to that rate (8.25 feet). And what do you know! In the twentieth century, the San Andreas in the Bay Area moved 9 feet. Except it was almost all at one time, in 1906:

Talk about inelegant. This weekend the people in Humboldt County sure are. I should add that in some places the fault does creep noticeably, but this doesn't stop the jerks from occurring. Go here to see street curbs that have been separated over the years by fault motion.

Because I'm a nice guy I once tried to stop all this plate motion by standing on the fault at the Carrizo Plain and pushing south on the Pacific Plate but I guess this means it didn't work. My attempts to make Mount Shasta erupt by jumping up and down on the summit met with similar results.

For fellow wanna-be geo-nerds: I've been interested in the Mendocino Triple Junction and West Coast plate-boundary geology for a while; here's a post I did in May about that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Invasion of Bay Area Flora Begins

Phase 1 is complete. Five minutes ago I planted a bunch of redwood cones today in front of my house in San Diego. Don't you understand? This is only the beginning.

Forgive the blurriness of my bad cell phone camera; you still have all the information you're likely to be interested in:

I collected a bunch of these bad boys from the Oakland Hills in Redwood Preserve just after a winter rain. I'll have to give them extra water down here in the Venus-like sun-blasted wastes at the very southern edge of the Mediterranean climate zone, but we'll see. Yes, I know there are various rules about when you harvest the cones, don't let them dry, only 5% germinate, etc. etc. but this is just a little experiment and I planted enough to take advantage of statistics. If any of them do germinate, when I move I'll dig them out and re-plant them; redwood trees wouldn't do any favors to future residents. They're not easy to maintain and one horticulturist described the area under/around a redwood as a war zone.

I'm patriotic and even protective about Bay Area flora. That's why I'm so acutely aware that since the start of the Holocene, western North America has become progressively warmer and drier, and commensurate with that, climate zones have marched inexorably north, redwood forests included. When you're looking at geologically significant periods long after they've passed, the world seems to change gradually. But when you're up close or in one of them, you understand that the universe is not elegant at all scales, and usually there are noticeably, unpleasantly uneven kicks and jumps. For redwoods, the most recent of these uneven jumps are the fires a couple years ago around Big Sur, the current southernmost extent of redwood forests. Barring further human aggravation of the trend, in a thousand years they may well have disappeared from Ventana Wilderness, and Big Basin will house the southernmost stands. This trend has in fact also run almost to completion elsewhere an another of Laurasia's daughter continents, across the Pacific in China; the range of the only redwood outside North America, the dawn redwood, had dwindled to a single forest by the 1940s when it became known to the global biologist community. In the meantime I'm throwing in my lot with the redwoods and giving them a little boost.

Every passing day I am more amazed that this cone contains a solar-powered chemical program to make a redwood tree out of air and dirt. We'll see if it can run on SanDiego OS.

[Added later: fewer foggy days in the summer is another way that redwoods' ideal habitat is shrinking.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Powerline Land Grab: El Monte Valley

If you drive east on I-8 toward El Cajon, you'll notice an impressive red mountain to the northeast of the freeway. That's El Capitan, and the valley at the base of it is absolutely gorgeous. El Capitan Reservoir is right next to it and besides being a popular fishing spot, it's one of San Diego's main water sources.

SDGE is trying to put power lines across El Monte Valley. They're doing so surrepetitiously too because they know the reaction this decision will provoke. To learn more visit Save El Monte Valley. It's in the interests of big developers and government agencies to get us ("us" meaning land- and property-owners plus outdoorsy types) to think our interests are opposed, but they're not. They played this same game with Anza-Borrego.

The problem of course is that we do need electricity. This certainly isn't a near-term solution, but we would have fewer problems like this if we had more nuclear power. Electricity has to come from somewhere, right now those wind turbines supply less than 2% of California, and as oil becomes more expensive we'll start turning to coal, which is filthy and a far worse greenhouse fuel. The fact that this is an outdoors blog and I just said that should count for something.

Property Rights Advocate Supports More Open Space

Great article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a real estate agent in the East Bay who actively helps broker land use deals for the various park districts in the area. There's no conflict between lots of preserves and private land holding its value; in fact keeping open space increases land and home values. If I already owned property adjacent to a San Diego County canyon, I would be the first to complain if someone wanted to put in a power line or an overpass or a new subdivision.

The private property rights advocate in the article addresses the concern that's in the back of most land- and home-owners' minds: "[Park districts do] not have the power to condemn property," he said Wednesday while tromping around the Briones Valley property. "But what it does is bring another buyer on the market, and that's a good thing." When open space is freed up for development, there's one winner - the developer, and next thing you know, San Diego is completely losangelized. Adjacent landowners lose property value and open space lovers lose enjoyment. There's a lot of money to be had for the developer, which is why they try to scare people out of supporting their parks and preserves.

Trying Out Paleo-Lite(tm) for a Month

I will be able to bash paleo more effectively if I actually do it. My friend Tom isn't hardcore Paleo, but he is hardcore CrossFit.* He's going to give me a diet recommendation and physique performance goals for the month of February and we'll see what happens. It'll probably be some combination of weight, measurements and blood chemistry. Then in April I'll go back to a high-carb endurance-only regimen for a month and see how that looks. Once the metrics and diet are established I'll post it on here with regular updates. The worst that can happen is I'll actually learn something.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Word About Point Reyes

The vegetation along the trails was so brilliantly green this weekend that after an hour on trail my eyes were color-fatigued and the exposed soil along the single-track started to look purple. There were deer prints all over the beach. Poor chlorophyll-challenged SoCal types don't know what they're missing.

SoCal types: clearly this is just the whining of a NorCal snob (who like all of them is really an uptight East Coast transplant anyway) and should be regarded as such. There is no reason to visit or move to the Bay Area. Plus, it was cloudy, and it actually rained several times while I was there.