Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Conservatives For the Environment

"There is a small subculture on the Right, known as 'free market environmentalism,' that offers an alternate path toward environmental protection consistent with conservative principles, including respect for property rights, a strong preference for markets, and our congenital suspicion of government and regulation. The conservative movement would be well served to take those ideas more seriously."

- From Steven Hayward's call to modernize conservatism in Breakthrough Journal.

Running in Pennsylvania is Awesome

Autumn woods from my mom's back porch:

The warm Thanksgiving weather made PA's woods and fields and rolling hills even more fun to run in than usual, and even though the leaves are down there's a lot of green undergrowth to make it feel alive. The November air smelled fantastic. The one drawback to PA is its old geology and broken up granite and shale that give it the Appalachian Trail hiker's nickname of Rockylvania. Neversink's trails are a lot of fun and totally under-utilized, but a bit rocky. Fortunately the western shore of Blue Marsh, my new favorite place to run in Berks, is almost all soil rather than rock.

So is there any kind of a "Berks County Triple Crown"? I.e., you've completed the Thun Trail plus Blue Marsh circumnavigation plus Neversink? It's a neat interlocking trail system and seems ripe for something like this. There are cool races around those parts already like the Mt. Penn Mud-Run, how about an ultra for all those trails?

I had a side trip to Western PA but unfortunately didn't have any time to run - was going to do the Thousand Steps near Mt. Union but that will have to wait until my next trip to State College. I also had never heard of the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Trail until I drove under the pedestrian overpass across the turnpike. Coolly enough, there's already an ultra. Here's a video of the trail, one end of which is at Ohiopyle falls and rapids, which is in turn close to Wright's Falling Water:

Sports Stadiums Don't Help Local Economies

Sports are great, but private enterprise is better, so don't stick taxpayers with the bill for stadiums. And here's why: "Few fields of empirical economic research offer virtual unanimity of findings. Yet, independent work on the economic impact of stadiums and arenas has uniformly found that there is no statistically significant positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development." A paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives covers the topic, further expanded upon in a current, concrete instantiation by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing.

These big structures are typically built where the land is cheap, in out-of-the-way locations, ex-industrial zones or bad neighborhoods, and I don't think too many people stop to shop and eat after a game in those kinds of places.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Worst Things About the Sandusky Scandal Penn State, besides (obviously) the fact that so many kids were hurt, and people didn't go straight to law enforcement over it, are as follows:

1. That the sincerity of the fans is being called into question. Yes, we're sad that our beloved team and institution is involved in this. Yes, we still like them, and no we're not personally responsible. (Those who were responsible will receive justice, too late for some unfortunately. That's how we do it in the civilized world, not by blaming all members of the same tribe for something they didn't do.) Yes, we're wearing blue on Saturday, a team color and the color of sexual abuse survivors. This is so terrible and phony? What's the morally superior action then? Should we pretend nothing happened? Should we all sit at home weeping in dark rooms or beating ourselves bloody in shame? No, we shouldn't, because here's a fantastic opportunity to get the message out that sexual abuse remains a horrible problem. If hundreds of thousands of Penn Staters do not wear blue this weekend, we've wasted that opportunity.

2. That some idiot students didn't realize the one thing they could do to further besmirch the school was to riot. Thanks guys.

3. That sports journos who always had an axe to grind with Paterno, and/or just see a chance to write a controversial article to get their name out there, are villifying the entire history of the man and the program. Really: as a consumer of sports media, I ask you to read these articles closely. If concern for protecting children is what this is all about (and it should be), then you'll notice that surprisingly, many of these articles are surprisingly devoid of all but the most perfunctory expressions of empathy.

4. That a team and figure not incorrectly associated with fairness and decency will forever have this association. Programs not nearly as clean as PSU will roll their eyes when they see how Paterno ended up and say, "See? All those years of throwing people off the team for getting caught with drugs or having bad grades amounted to nothing. Let's go take steroids and beat prostitutes." Paterno made a huge mistake, but I fail to see how that makes every act throughout his career evil, and I especially fail to see how villifying him will help serve justice or protect kids in the future.

Humans are often bad at moral thinking, and this scandal has exposed that - and unfortunately not just in decision-makers at Penn State, but in the public's reactions to it, and misplaced demand for shame in people who did nothing wrong and are trying to make the best of a bad situation. Penn Staters, our ashamed silence right now does not help anyone. There's nothing moral in sitting idly by and indulging the media's moral chest-thumpers who seem to think that the ruination of these kids' lives can be undone by impugning the motives of Penn Staters who had nothing to do with the tragedy. To put a point on it: imagine that after 9/11, a citizen of Jordan (where several of the hijackers came from) went on a U.S. speaking tour to argue for tolerance and non-violence, to show the world that the vast majority of Jordanians and Muslims are not homocidal maniacs. Would he have been insincere and immoral? What would have been the more moral act, for him to stay home and hang his head in shame just because he happened to share his religion and country of birth with a few evil men, or go out into the world and try to make things better and keep the same thing from happening again? I keep reading articles about how shameful it is that PSU's players are still focused on beating Nebraska. So what should they do? Forfeit the game? Lose intentionally? Would that take away these kids' suffering? And why just the football team, how about Penn State employees, like the facilities people who prepare the field every week, or the stadium janitorial staff, should they all shirk their duties or mope around with heads down while they do it? Would that help?

Once kids are safe and justice is underway, then there's nothing immoral about Penn State fans increasing awareness of the problem that caused this. Once kids are safe and justice is underway, there's nothing immoral about Penn Staters being concerned with the school's reputation. What's most moral now is making sure justice is served, and doing whatever we can to keep this from ever happening again. Part of that is increasing awareness of the problem, which the blue-out will do. Browbeating the team, the fans, and alums will not accomplish this, it will only distract.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Paterno

I went to Penn State. So did my dad. He was a Penn State football maniac. Despite his best attempts to reproduce this part of himself with frequent family trips to Penn State during the autumns of my adolescence, I have to admit that aside from the fun of tailgating and hanging out with friends, I never cared that much about football (or any team sport); although, tellingly, the one ranking system that I pay attention to is college football. That said, Penn State football was quite literally the closest thing I had to a religion growing up. At age five I began reporting to adults that when I grew up I wanted to be a Penn State football player. My room was blue and white. We had blue and white cars. My dad was the president of the county alumni association and I eventually arranged his funeral to be held in a Penn State conference room. So even though I haven't watched a single game since I graduated (other than ones where I was sitting in Beaver Stadium drinking beer with college buddies), it still hurts when I hear on the news that they lost, and it hurts when they lose a bowl game. And this scandal has really hurt.

I once joked that I felt silly when Metallica's bass player quit in 2001 just before the inauguration of George W. Bush, because my worldview was more shaken by a line-up change in a metal band than by the changing of the guard in the most powerful office on the planet. At the time I said the only thing that could shake the natural order more - the thing that would revert the whole universe to a primitive chaotic state - would be a Penn State football team without Joe Paterno coaching. And that was assuming that he would exit gracefully with adoring fans thronging him. It's not going to happen that way now.

This is sad for many reasons. It's sad first and foremost because of what happened to the kids involved. It's sad if people acted to protect the institution more than the kids, as also seems to be the case; and the justice system will find these things out. But what's also sad is that, regardless of any mistakes he made in this affair, Paterno is a one-of-a-kind who (to understate it) worked very hard to keep values in college football. Bad grades and behavior could and would get you thrown off the team. Really. And he no doubt lost games because of it, and he no doubt lost recruits who went elsewhere where they knew they could get away with bad behavior - but he was willing to make that trade. Where else in college athletics has that been the rule for a half century? Of course, whatever anyone did, none of that makes it okay.

Joe turned down opportunities to go pro to stay at Penn State. Huge amounts of his money have gone to the library and, mostly, to other non-athletic institutions. His house, just off campus, is well-known by students and, while nice, is certainly not huge or attention-drawing. And just two weeks ago he officially became the winningest coach in college football history. I had thought he would retire anyway, but now he'll leave under this cloud. I hope it doesn't pollute his whole legacy because he was an example for all of athletics, and I hope any mistakes were sins of omission. But ultimately football is a game, and real life - the lives of these kids - is more important. And justice will tell us what happened, and that's what I'm waiting for.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finally! I Can Go Long!

Since a) I'm done with boards and a lab project and b) the weather is BEAUTIFUL (i.e. cold and rainy) I have gone for long runs for the first time in I don't know how long. And I don't even feel guilty for taking three hours out of my day without carrying an iPod to listen to lectures. Amazing. Simply amazing. Aerobic exercise really does have mood stabilizing properties!

The San Diego Blackout and the Sunrise Power Link

There's a great article at Voice of San Diego about the blackout we just had, and how the answer is not to depend more on foreign energy, but good ol' locally generated renewable stuff. It's really not a trade-off between cheap electricity (which is good!) and conservation (which is also good!), although that's the story we usually hear. In fact in this case it seems to have been a no-brainer, with all the bad stuff (loss of wilderness, fire danger, no improvement to power grid, increased dependence on foreign energy) all on one side.

...The problem began at a substation in Arizona, and a series of triggering events caused failures all the way to San Onofre nuclear plant on the coast. At the cost of an estimated $100 million in damages, and major inconvenience to millions of people, the San Diego region received a crash course about the fragility of depending on a grid that runs mostly on distant sources of energy.

But it didn't have to turn out this way. Four years ago a San Diego engineer, Bill Powers, published a groundbreaking report, San Diego Smart Energy 2020. The report was all about how to use off-the-shelf technologies in order to build and generate power locally to enhance the existing grid, and provide protection against these sorts of events. The report isn't a pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It uses affordable technologies that are available and ready to deploy. It's a practical guide that includes a 20 percent reduction in energy usage through existing efficiency measures and 2,000 megawatts of local solar projects. To back up the solar, which doesn't generate at night, Powers' report proposes 700 new megawatts of small co-generation facilities, similar to what is already in use at Qualcomm, UCSD, SDSU, and Children's Hospital, which are highly efficient users of natural gas.