Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Senate Intelligence Committee Study

Recently, a report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding the use of torture by the CIA. It declassifies some of the information gathered and is available for public viewing with the link below.


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Role of National Parks

I've been to many national parks. I'm very fortunate that a few good men like John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt thought it was important enough to have national parks. They were two of the many heroes that have been there throughout our nation's history to stand up for preservation over the continued exploitation of our natural resources. They thought that some things were worth saving. The main question is, why?

The truth is, some places are worth preserving simply because they're there. They shouldn't be preserved because they have some valuable natural resource that we might need later on, as Gifford Pinchot viewed the forests in the Sierra Nevada, or even because we want the citizens of our country to be able to enjoy these spaces, or because we want to preserve them for posterity. Our national parks are beautiful places. Yosemite offers stunning unique granite formations, while much of Yellowstone is itself and active volcano. Many national parks in Alaska contain vast tracts of wilderness, where the complex ecology is protected from future development. We need to protect these places, because they preserve the beauty of nature.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We Need Net Neutrality

President Obama recently addressed the need for net neutrality in this country. His words are heartening, but real efforts need to be taken to make sure net neutrality becomes a reality, as opposed to an idea that we continue to discuss around the dinner table, wishing that is existed.

Here is a link to President Obama's plans on Net Neutrality:

Net neutrality is an issue that divides many different interests groups. Put simply, net neutrality is the idea that both governments and Internet Service Providers, often referred to as ISPs, should treat all data on the internet equally. This means that they cannot discriminate based on user, platform, content, site, or mode of access. Without net neutrality, ISPs can filter out information or slow down internet access for some, while allowing others to pay a premium for a fast lane of internet access.

While some may argue that we should let the free market run its course, this is at least one area where the government should be involved in. Setting clear and fair rules on how ISPs can deliver internet content is important in creating a open internet without unnecessary restrictions, and makes sure that internet access is not adulterated simply because a user or company cannot pay the steep price for fast access.

What you can do about it
Please email, call, or write to your congressperson about this issue. Some members of congress take input from their constituents very seriously, especially when so many of them write about one issue. Each email can make a difference. Be sure to mention what action you would like to see taken. This could help congressmen focus their efforts on getting legislation passed, as opposed to just discussing it. Debate and discussion can happen, but eventually, something tangible needs to come out of it.

Also, keep track of who supports and who opposes net neutrality. With the President urging this issue to be taken up, this could very well become a talking point during the next election cycle. Support those in favor of net neutrality in the next election, and then we could see some action on this important front.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Development vs Preservation: Open Space

Open space and park space are critical parts of any community. Along with clear environmental benefits, open space provides a community with a outlet to exercise, participate in other recreational activities, or simply enjoy the outdoors.

Setting aside open space and park space is a critical aspect of every society. I'm an advocate of balance in development, and part of that is making sure there is ample open space. Many proponents of open space bring up the health benefits to open space, and how places with open space have fewer problems with childhood obesity.

A lot of the value of open space is intangible, and is therefore hard to make people understand why it is important. People value public space, but it is difficult to put it in context of dollars and cents that city administrators and planners understand when creating their vision for the future of their communities. However, a well balanced society does not just take care of its citizens basic or economic needs, like providing adequate housing or jobs for people to earn a living. A well balanced society also helps fulfill psychological, physiological, and cognitive needs, all which open space is able to provide. People exercise, play, and enjoy open space and parks. People enjoy spending time in nature, and are happier because of it. These intangible benefits are perhaps the most significant positive impact that open space has on our society, and a major reason why it's still worth investing in.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Make sure to vote today

Voting is your chance to have a say in how our government functions. While it often seems that each individual vote does not really matter, it is still important to participate in elections. If you vote, you have some say, while if you don't you have no say. If you don't vote, you don't matter. A lot of elections can be close, especially local or county elections, and it's important that everyone has a chance to voice their opinion. The easiest way to change the government is to elect a new one. Please, go out and vote and encourage others to do the same. Collectively, we can make a difference.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Malala Yousafzai is deserving recipient of Nobel Prize

Malala Yousafzai is a hero. Shot by the Taliban simply for going to school, she has continued her activism for education in spite of the personal risk. She has traveled around the world speaking and advocating for the rights for girls. A brave and inspiring individual, she has rallied world support to her cause and served as a leader of a movement dedicated to improving education for girls not just in her home country of Pakistan, but all around the world.

Here is her speech to the United Nations in 2013:

And here is a New York Times feature on her:

The world needs more people like Malala Yousafzai. She is an inspiration to us all and a very deserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Featured Podcast: NPR's Planet Money

A little while ago, I found a podcast by NPR's Planet Money team on a strange situation in a California Mall.  The mall is split into two cities, each with a different minimum wage. Take a listen to find out what happened:


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Development vs Preservation: Transportation (SF Bay Area Case Study)

Transportation is a critical part of any sustainable development plan, a focus on which I believe is lacking in many areas of the United States, especially the San Francisco Bay Area, where our case study continues.

In California, as well as much of the west coast, development has been completed with a car oriented society in mind. Part of this is due to the relatively late point that the west coast became urbanized. Readily available land and lower population densities also made this possible, but as more people come to live in western states, population densities are also on the rise.  Previous blog entries have touched on this, but here I'll focus on the effect on transportation, and what should be done about it.

Unfortunately, the arguments surrounding transportation projects are framed with the present, rather than the future, in mind. Certainly, there are future-oriented individuals behind most of these projects, but in order to get funding and support, organizations have to sell their ideas, convincing skeptics that projections on use are correct.  Of course, projecting how populations will increase or decrease, whether people will use a new bridge or train or highway is difficult, so opponents often bring up current circumstances as reasons against spending money on transportation projects.  Sometimes their concerns are legitimate.  However, overall, I would advocate a more aggressive approach to transportation development, especially in light of recent glaring needs.

In the Bay Area, for example, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, or BART, has planned an extension from Fremont, a medium sized city on the south-east corner of San Francisco Bay, to San Jose for around 10 years. A segment to Berryessa--part of San Jose a little north, but not exactly close to downtown--is currently under construction.  It could well be 20 or even 30 years from the initial planning stage to completion before a BART station opens in San Jose, allowing for a ring of public transportation rail around the Bay.  This is a project whose benefits are badly needed now, and could have been useful for years previously.  Car traffic is increasing all over the Bay Area, and a rail corridor to San Jose along the East Bay has been badly needed for a long time.

We cannot implement solutions to problems that we have now 20 years down the road.  We need more foresight, planning, and investment in transportation; communities need a proactive plan rather than a reactive plan.  Here's what a plan would look like:

1.) Collecting Data: Communities need to get an accurate feel for what their community will be like in the future. What will the area look like in 10 years, 20 years? 50 years? Information on all of this can help form a plan and guide the plan into implementation. It's important to make a detailed, good-faith effort to figure out what is likely to happen.

2.) Community Engagement: Figure out what residents/workers want from their community.  Many might not want any increased development, or might be unwilling to pay for this new transportation.  Still, great ideas can be taken from community members themselves.  Community meetings are also a good way to dispel fears and develop a transportation infrastructure that community members can support. Simply providing information and educating the population can go a long way to garner public support for this important issue.

3.) Balance: It is always good to have a balanced transportation plan. Increasing rail and bus lines are great, but increasing residents' and workers' ability to walk or bike around their communities are just as important.  Investing in non-obstructive rail lines, increasing shuttle and bus lines, as well as creating better bike lanes, bike boulevards, and bike trails can help maintain balance in a transportation plan. Increased transportation projects doesn't just have to look like more highways and trains.  While these need to be a part of a plan, improving the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure of a city or town can set up the community well for the future. Balance and accessibility of transportation options is a necessity.

4.) Innovation: Communities need to start thinking outside the box for solutions to their transportation woes.  There is not a one-size fits all solution for every transportation problem. Many problems communities face will require unique solutions and some creative thinking.  Whether it's adding elevated walkways in cities like the High Line in New York City, or investing in personal transportation systems like multiple Bay Area cities and companies have discussed, there are ideas out there that can solve transportation problems. There are ideas out there that could really help communities all over the United States or the world.  It's just a matter of taking action.

Friday, August 22, 2014

TED Talk Highlight: Jared Diamond on Why Societies Collapse

While working on the next post, I decided to post this video from a TED Talk by Jared Diamond. It was delivered several years ago, but the lessons he's trying to teach the audience resonate in any age, especially today.

Diamond outlines why some societies fail where others have succeeded, giving the audience some food for thought on how we can avoid our own collapses today. Especially noteworthy is his observation that societies tend to fail not long after their peaks, meaning all societies, even ones that seem powerful, have a risk of failing if they encounter the pitfalls that Diamond outlines.

Another point that Diamond articulates is the phenomenon that what has been a society's main strength, or a trait that helps it succeed at first, can ultimately be its undoing. For an interesting take on how societies, even ours, could fail, take a watch after the jump.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Development vs Preservation: Taller Buildings

The construction of taller buildings is a development issue that brings out many opponents all around the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether it is the erection of large skyscrapers in San Francisco, or the construction of anther office building in Silicon Valley, one doesn't have to look far to find opponents of large buildings. Despite the displeasure and vitriol directed at these buildings and the developers that fund them, building upwards may be the Bay Area's, and the whole world's best option to initiate sustainable growth.

Tall buildings certainly have significant drawbacks associated with them.  San Francisco is rightly investigating whether tall buildings on the waterfront is a good idea. However, some of the fear associated with tall buildings and the aversion to approving and constructing them is misplaced. Many readers of the San Francisco Chronicle immediately take to the comment pages whenever a plan for a skyscraper is unveiled, predicting that these new buildings will put the city at an increased risk of a large scale disaster, with multiple large buildings crashing down during an earthquake. 

Anybody with this fear should look at the pictures of damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. They will find that instead of tall buildings, most of the damage was to 2-3 story buildings with a garage underneath, or buildings built on landfill. The houses with large garages underneath were often not well supported, and the house fell through the garage space. Landfill is not as stable as solid ground, so understandably, some buildings were damaged. This is one of the reasons San Francisco should not build large buildings (or really, much of anything) on the waterfront on landfill or sandy soil.

Additionally, countries like Japan, who experience frequent earthquakes, build tall buildings that similarly outperform low lying, older structures in earthquakes. Architecture has become advanced enough that skyscrapers are not a significant risk of falling over. A person is more likely to have their old two story home collapse than the new, 800 foot skyscraper where they work.

Another concern people have is interruption of the view and creating an imposing feeling on residents. This can be a legitimate concern. In San Francisco especially, if super tall buildings are constructed on the waterfront, everyone's view is obstructed.  In suburban areas, taller buildings can create an imposing feeling, as many residents were attracted to the "small town feel" of their small cities.  However, as population increases, taller buildings must be constructed.  We need to build more buildings in order to meet the high demand for housing and office space. Residents and political leaders need to realize that some sacrifices have to be made-by everybody-in order to develop a sustainable future. In San Francisco, there is significant resistance to building taller buildings, as each building owner or resident does not want their own view blocked.  In San Francisco as well as other peninsula cities, locals complain about the high cost of housing, but are unwilling to see larger apartment complexes go up in order to alleviate the housing burden.  The issue then is how to construct higher density housing and office/retail space while preserving the core aspects of our local communities.

There is a solution to this problem, and it involves being proactive about solving the urban planning problems.  We cannot continuously shift back and forth between periods of housing development and office development: they must be done in tandem. The high cost of housing is a major problem, just as higher costs of office space are a problem and will get even worse if communities stop zoning for office and retail space and build only housing instead.

The idea is to create a balanced approach, zoning for the future, rather than the current situation, in mind. People need to make sacrifices regarding how the communities of the future will look, as they will need to deal with increased development that can make their small cities feel too big, but if plans are made earlier, it is much more likely that we can preserve key elements of our communities without seeing large scale development that we see in Asia.  We can set aside some areas for increased growth, while limiting growth in other areas, such as the San Francisco waterfront. By intelligently planning for the future, including transportation and open space in our plans, we can create a future society that may be significantly different than our present one, but nevertheless one we can all live in and enjoy.

There are many issues not talked about in this article that clearly matter when talking about sustainable growth. We hope to delve into urban planning, transportation, open space, parks, and alternative methods of transportation in the coming weeks.