June 30, 2008
Buying Local Food Isn't The Most Effective Way to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
I've repeatedly complained that the talk about global warming and environmentalism has been oddly silent about vegetarianism as an option, even though it's one of the single most effective ways to reduce carbon footprint. As more evidence of this, see Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2008, 42, 3508–3513, which argues that reducing meat consumption does a lot more to reduce emissions than jumping on the "local food" bandwagon. The punchline (from the abstract):
dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food
June 29, 2008
Free WiFi in San Jose Airport
San Jose Airport is now offering free ad-supported wireless Internet access to airport travelers. Hooray! The odd thing is that they still offer paid subscription connectivity as well. Hmm--wonder how well that will work? I've been avoiding SJC due to the limited flight schedule compared to SFO, plus the fact that every time I visit, they have reconfigured the driving access to make it worse. However, free WiFi might prompt me to reconsider!
June 28, 2008
Therma-a-rest Compressible Pillow Review
At Epinions, I posted a glowing review of the Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow, one of the many gear items I procured as part of my Hulahula River rafting trip and one of the best investments I made for the trip. Check out my review there.
June 27, 2008
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Reading List
To prepare for my Hulahula River rafting trip, I wanted to read some books that would preview this foreign environment and give me a general orientation. However, I was surprised by the dearth of helpful reading lists about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Trying to develop a reading list on my own wasn't easy either. There are many books about the Arctic generally, but I was interested in books that focused specifically on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge so that I could learn more about my exact destination. I found at least a dozen books about the Refuge and ended up reading these books:
Midnight Wilderness: Journeys in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Debbie S. Miller, 1990 (republished 2000)
Debbie Miller moved from California to become a schoolteacher in Arctic Village. From there, she took numerous treks into the Refuge. This book captures her experiences and impressions.
Debbie is a graceful writer who weaves a story well. Occasionally she gets a little preachy about the need to protect the Refuge from development, but for the most part her writing is informative, entertaining and entirely readable. I found the last chapter absolutely gripping as she describes taking her toddler to camp in the Refuge. As a parent of young kids, I cannot possibly imagine this--it's hard enough to travel there as an adult without kids, but bringing a kid just seems overwhelming. But her stories, especially the interaction between her daughter and a wolf, were moving and emotional.
The book did a great job giving me a preview of life as a visitor to the Refuge. This is the seminal book about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, written before the Refuge was "cool," and it is the template for all of the books that follow it. If you're going to read only one book before going to the Refuge, this is the one. Strongly recommended.
I look at Madsen's book as a complement to Miller's book. Like Miller, Madsen writes a travelogue about his trips in the Refuge and beyond. He also describes his Caribou Commons project and his relationship with the Gwich'in people.
If this was the only book about the Refuge on the market, I would encourage you to read it. But in light of Debbie Miller's book, this book is unnecessarily redundant. Madsen's writing is overdone and filled with groan-inducing metaphors; he recounts his stories with a hint of ego and self-importance entirely absent in Miller's book; Madsen recaps dialogue that he thinks is funnier that it actually is; and the book was in desperate need of more aggressive editing. Reading this book was tiresome and unenlightening, and I struggled to finish it. Not recommended.
Where Mountains Are Nameless: Passion and Politics in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Jonathan Waterman, 2005
This book is very similar to the Madsen book in a number of ways. Like the Madsen book, it is a travelogue of Waterman's experiences in the refuge. Waterman's unique angle is that he weaves in a biography of ANWR pioneers Olaus and Mardy Murie into his own stories, putatively showing how his experiences are similar to those of the Murie's.
Unfortunately, like the Madsen book, this book is deeply flawed. The entire book is wrapped up with an air of self-importance, the stories' drama seemed intended more to impress us about Waterman's courage than to enlighten us, the book was massively overwritten and desperately needed heavy editing, and the putative linkages between Waterman's experiences and the Muries are frequently incomprehensible.
I actually enjoyed reading about the Muries, and Waterman does a decent job telling their story. It made me wonder if a good biography about the Muries is available. That would be worth reading. However, this book is not an adequate substitute for a legitimate biography of them. Because it cuts between Waterman and the Muries constantly, the book is choppy and, frankly, the parts about Waterman just aren't that interesting.
Thus, like the Madsen book, I don't recommend this book. It only reinforces that Miller's book is so much better than the subsequent copycat books. Get Miller's book instead.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, Subhankar Banerjee, 2003
The Last Wilderness: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Kennan Ward, 2001
These two books are both photoessays of the Refuge, and in that sense they compete with each other. Both of them are filled with awe-inspiring, "how did they get that?" photographs that provide a nice visual preview of the Refuge. Banerjee is a bit of a johnny-come-lately to the Refuge; only a few years before publishing the book, he ditched life as a professional in Seattle to become a Refuge bum, and he is neither a trained wilderness expert nor an expert photographer. In comparison, Ward is a longtime Refuge denizen. While Banerjee does a fine job, not surprisingly I think Ward's photography is a little better. Even so, the overall compilation of materials in Banerjee's book, including essays and other textual material as well as the photographs, is a more enlightening package. Both books are meritorious, but if you're only going to buy one photoessay book, I recommend the Banerjee book.
Arctic Refuge: A Circle of Testimony, compiled by Hank Lentfer and Carolyn Servid, 2001
This book is a collection of short essays written by a wide variety of folks in response to the threat of oil development in the Refuge. The idea was to package up a bunch of statements against drilling or in praise of the wilderness value of the Refuge and present the collection to Congress. Perhaps this collection of essays has some historical value, but it has not aged well. Instead, I mostly found it worthless. A number of essays were written by people who have never been to the Refuge, and most of them are filled with redundant preachiness and philosophizing. Don't waste your time with this book. Not recommended.
Conclusion: If you're going to buy only one book, get Miller's Midnight Wilderness. If you're only going to buy two books, get the Miller and Banerjee book. Happy reading!
[note: the links are Amazon Affiliate links]
June 26, 2008
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge/Hulahula River Photos and Videos
I've uploaded 216 photos (with explanatory titles) of my trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Hulahula River to Kodak Gallery's website. I haven't really edited the photos with care, and I hope to showcase a much smaller number of favorites in a future post. But if you would like to drink from the firehose now, check out the full collection. I have also posted 6 brief videos to YouTube.
Prior post related to the trip: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge/Hulahula River Trip Quick FAQs
UPDATE: Jerry's photos.
June 24, 2008
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge/Hulahula River Trip Quick FAQs
I'm back from my 2 week celebratory adventure in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Northeast Alaska. I have a lot to say about this trip, and I will be blogging various observations and photos over the next few weeks or months. For now, I thought it would be helpful to respond to some of the questions I've been getting:
Where Did I Go? I rafted the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We started on a small commercial puddle-jumper from Fairbanks to Arctic Village. From there, we flew on a bush plane to the put-in on the Hulahula River (at East Patuk Creek). We landed on a gravel bar, although the gravel area had been cleared to facilitate repeat takeoffs and landings. Over the next 10 days, we rafted over 80 miles to a take-out spot called Six Mile a few miles inland from the Beaufort Sea. A bush plane landed on an infrequently used faint strip in the tundra to pick us up. The bush plane took us to Kaktovik, and we finished the trip with a commercial puddle-jumper back to Fairbanks.
Did I Go on a Tour? The tour was organized by Arctic Wild, a Fairbanks-based tour company. There were 6 customers (including myself) and 2 guides. Even at my advancing age, I was the youngest of the 6 customers.
Did My Family Go? I went without them. My wife generously let me go solo while she watched the kids. One person told me that I must have unmatched advocacy skills to convince my wife to do this. I will note that her 40th birthday is still to come, so I think she's making some big plans herself.
Was It Beautiful? The scenery was pretty, especially in the Brooks Range. It looked similar to what you might see in the Colorado Rockies. The coastal plain was flat and relatively feature-less. I thought its starkness was compelling, but most people would find it boring. Overall, I'd rate the scenery as a B or a B+. It was nice but not the most spectacular I've seen, and if scenery were the only goal, going to Colorado or Montana would be a lot cheaper and lower hassle.
Did I See Any Wildlife? Highlights include 7 grizzly bears, dozens/hundreds of caribou, dozens/hundreds of Dall Sheep (including numerous lambs), a porcupine, an Arctic fox, and too many birds to count, including golden eagle chicks, ptarmigans, arctic terns, long-tailed jaegers, golden plovers, mew gulls, and dozens of others.
How Was the Weather? The weather was better than I expected. 8 of 11 days were sunny or mostly sunny, and a couple of days were close to California-grade with sunny blue skies, temperatures in the 60s and light wind. There were a couple rainy days, and as we got close to the Beaufort Sea, we had a couple of very cold days (<40 degrees) with strong winds (15MPH+).
How Were the Bugs? By going early in the season, we mostly avoided the bugs. We had only 1 night when I considered using bug juice, and I tallied only about a half-dozen bites over the whole trip.
What Was the Highlight? The best part was the people on the tour with me. We formed a tight-knit and supportive community, and it was fun to share the experiences with such nice folk. Otherwise, 3 apex experiences stood out over the others:
* seeing two grizzlies mating
* a close encounter of the grizzly kind, when a grizzly ambled within 50 yards of camp
* a crystal-clear view from a ridgetop on Kikiktat Mountain at about 5,000 feet, with clear 360 degree views that included the Beaufort Sea coastline, views into Canada, and closeup views of the Brooks Range, including big peaks like Mt. Michelson and Mt. Chamberlain.
What Was the Lowlight? Due to a last-minute change in plans by our scheduled bush pilot, we had to leave the coastal plain a day early. This interrupted our planned hike from Six Mile to the Beaufort Sea coastline on a rare beautiful day on the Arctic coastal plain (temps in the 50s, sunny blue skies, light wind). Instead, we got an unscheduled extra day in blustery Kaktovik, a town that isn't thrilling for tourists staying more than a couple hours.
Was the Trip Scary? I had all kinds of fears going into the trip, including concerns about the wildlife, the weather, the bugs, the bush planes, the river rapids, etc. In the end, my concerns were largely ameliorated. We avoided the bugs; the weather was tolerable, especially with the right gear; the grizzlies wanted nothing to do with us; the bush planes were totally smooth; and the river rapids were manageable despite my limited skills.
How Was the Food? Overall, the food was good, and the guides did a good job accommodating my vegetarian needs. However, it was tough to eat on a diet set by someone else, and I definitely missed fresh fruits and vegetables.
Why Did I Pick the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? (Usually this is expressed with a pejorative undertone, as if the real question is: why didn't I pick a warmer vacation like Tahiti?) I have always been fascinated by the Arctic, and I wanted to experience it myself. However, going to the Arctic is very expensive, so I wasn't able to afford it in the past. At the same time, at some point later in life I will be unable to take a trip like this due to health concerns. So this was a good time in my life to take a trip like this. I decided to take a rafting trip because I wanted to see a lot of different terrain, and it's a lot easier to move gear in a raft than a backpack. I decided to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because I wanted to see what all the fuss is about first-hand, plus it's a politically endangered refuge that may not be as compelling a tourist destination in the future.
How Do I Feel About Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? I have long opposed drilling there, but now I have my own first-hand observations about why it would be a bad idea. I'll address this issue more in future blog posts.
June 03, 2008
Law School Proliferation
The legal education industry is facing a potentially significant expansion of supply. As Leigh Jones at the NLJ reports, up to 10 different universities are investigating adding new law schools. Some of the potential new entrants include:
* Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA
* SUNY Stony Brook
* SUNY Binghamton
* St. John Fisher University, Rochester, NY
* University of New Haven, CT
* Husson College, Bangor, ME
* Louisiana College, Pineville, LA
* Lincoln Memorial University, Knoxville, TN
* Concordia University, Boise, ID
* University of Idaho, Boise, ID
In addition, the UC Irvine law school is coming online in 2009.
On a current base of less than 200 ABA-accredited law schools, this would represent a 5% growth in the number of suppliers. In terms of actual supply (new seats for law students), the growth will depend on both the number of new seats created by the new schools as well as any changes in the number of seats at existing schools.
At the same time, it's projected that law school applications will crest in the next few years and then start falling--basically, right around the time that these new schools come online. With the expansion in supply and reduction in demand, the most likely scenario is that some schools will reach deeper into the applicant pool to admit folks who are currently being turned away. However, I also think some (many?) schools--to preserve their US News GPA/LSAT credentials--will reduce their admitted class sizes to avoid dipping deeper into the applicant pool, but it's also possible that more schools will be stuck with involuntarily unfilled seats. (In theory, price competition may also increase, although to date we haven't seen much of this). Either way, reduced class sizes means less revenue, potentially making these law schools less profitable ventures or even necessitating cost-cutting efforts to preserve profitability.
So what's driving the increase in supply? I view this as a classic supply-side dilemma. Universities get marginal private benefit by adding new schools. Law schools increase the overall prestige of the institution and typically add net profits to the institution. Also, local communities like law schools because they are significant economic enterprises and can help supply the local economy with new legal expertise (both from the law school itself as well as from law school graduates who want to stay in the local area). So while each individual decision to add a law school may make sense to the decision-maker on a microeconomic basis, the macroeconomic result can be a prisoner's dilemma/market oversupply.
Note that the increase in law schools doesn't mean that law school consumers will actually get new choices about their legal education. In terms of admission, in all likelihood each and every school will still focus on the top X% of the applicant pool bell curve--the X might grow due to increased supply, but the identity of sought-after candidates won't change so long as US News puts so much weight on matriculant GPA/LSAT. Meanwhile, in terms of pedagogy, consumers using the US News rankings as a principal evaluation tool do not actively demand heterogeneous marketplace offerings, and suppliers have no incentive to diversify their offerings both for fear of spooking consumers and the risk of screwing up the US News metrics and being punished in the rankings accordingly. So in all likelihood, the new law schools will look like the existing law schools, which doesn't create real marketplace diversity.
(I know that UC Irvine's law school has been emphasizing a more public interest focus as a differentiator. Let's check back in 10 years to see how much that rhetoric remains. My guess is that the US News homogenizers will have muted the differences substantially).
As the NLJ article points out, another potential downside of legal education market expansion is that the legal industry may not be creating new jobs as rapidly, resulting in more law school graduates competing for an inadequate pool of law jobs. This could lead to salary deflationary pressure for the "average" law student (the top end for the top students will stay at an eye-popping rate, but only a small percentage of law students get those jobs)--which will be all the more painful as the cost of legal education continues to increase at a rate faster than inflation. So long as the top end of entering attorney salaries remains a huge number, many students will be psychologically biased into thinking they can win that lottery and therefore won't be dissuaded by the averages. The likely result: lots of law school graduates with huge debts and limited means to meet them, along with the psychological trauma of not winning the lottery and needing to take a suboptimal job to generate immediate cash flow.
UPDATE: The AP explores this topic more.