Tuesday, July 22, 2014

@sonomanews, a well reasoned and valuable pool editorial -- http://tinyurl.com/mjhxw2e

"How To Save A River," 
David M. Bolling (1993)
So, I give the Sonoma Index-Tribune a fair (sometimes, they think, unfair) share of criticism when they take chances on publishing third party pieces on their editorial page. But the editorials they draft themselves are different.  Today, they comment on the plans for Sonoma's pool, and the editorial is well-taken.

There's a specific reason that I want to single out this editorial, and it's because it debunks an idea that's been advanced against the pool that's obviously wrong, but that the community needed someone to do the math on, and to publish widely:
"[W]e have begun hearing timid voices of dissent, arguing that in the midst of the worst drought in modern California history we can ill-afford to waste water on a non-essential facility like a public pool." 
Intuitively, most people sense that there's no way a Valley of 42,296 people has its water use significantly impacted by an aquatic complex, but the argument creates a certain degree of uncertainty. Earlier this year, that kind of uncertainty (in reverse) was used by Roger Hartley to go after the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which I blogged about here. So the Index-Tribune broke out their reference materials, fired up Excel, and ran the numbers:
"[T]he average, daily per capita water consumption in Sonoma County is 160 gallons ... [t]he figure for Sonoma is closer to 180 gallons. We are also being asked – almost but not quite mandated – to reduce that consumption by 20 percent, a per capita reduction of 32 gallons a day. For the estimated 40,000 residents of the Sonoma Valley, that daily reduction in water use would equal about 1,280,000 gallons. [emphasis added.
"The volume of a standard Olympic swimming pool is about 660,000 gallons."
And there it is; a half-day's reduction by the Valley, along the lines requested by the Sonoma County Water Agency, and we've filled the pool.  Water's an important issue, but when you have a newspaper edited by the former executive director of Friends of the River, you should expect water policy's use as a red herring to get shut down, rather hard, quite quickly.

This isn't to say that the City Council meeting on July 21 necessarily epitomized Sonoma's ideal of procedural due process and organizational rationality.  Indeed, the hurried, rushed, and probably not-yet-fully-thought-through planning for the City of Sonoma's contribution to the pool demonstrates all the problems local government has in marshaling initiative. But the great and the good are not enemies, and the efforts (thus far) should be applauded, while knowing that the hard questions on ownership, the funding of construction, operations, and long-term maintenance remain unanswered.

Friday, July 11, 2014

@nytdavidbrooks, today is your best column ever.

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times today, wrote just about the best column I think he's ever come up with.  He starts with a distinction between baseball and soccer as cognitive metaphors for understanding modern life, and comes down decidedly on the side of soccer.
"Baseball is a team sport, but it is basically an accumulation of individual activities ... soccer is not like that ... [soccer] is defined by the context created by all the other players ... [m]ost of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer. We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize."
Welcome to the party, sir.
image available at http://tinyurl.com/qh8ww2f
"Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning."
This is legibility via the back-door.  Brooks is arguing that value lies in awareness of the contours of the forest, rather than reshaping it to be "computable" (or presuming that it is legible in the first instance). This is a clarion call for evidence-based evaluation of reality, rather than the computation frame of thinking.  That concept's come up here before (and again here).
"... [s]occer is like a 90-minute anxiety dream — one of those frustrating dreams when you’re trying to get somewhere but something is always in the way. This is yet another way soccer is like life."
"Red on Maroon" (1959)
Mark Rothko (1903‑1970), Tate Modern
available at http://tinyurl.com/ohsovbl
This is Rothko's Red on Maroon -- a gateway through which one may struggle to pass, to a
destination unknown. A blocked portal, through which you're not even sure you want to go, knowing only that you feel little choice, on a path you sense will be fraught with danger, danger that we fear (which came up here).

Sometimes you want to just acknowledge the quality of another's writing, and while Brooks' often doesn't resonate with me like it once did, I think his time spent leading a writing seminar at Yale University may be paying off ...