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Hammer

Martha Robertson’s column in this morning’s Ithaca Journal sets up a bunch of straw men.  Let’s just knock them all down.

Fracking doesn’t threaten the property values in Dryden.  Natural gas is a resource to harvest and use, one which will enrich the entire town.

Could accidents happen?  Sure, but have some perspective.  A gasoline station is surely more threatening to the environment than a gas well.  Even Love Canal, walking distance from where I went to high school, didn’t affect the property values elsewhere in Niagara Falls.   The so-called “Urban Renewal” (rhymes with nodal development) and decades of progressive government sure did a number on the Falls, however.

The thing that threatens Dryden isn’t fracking, it’s the education bubble.  Rural central New York is having some hard times. Dryden is propped up by Cornell and Ithaca College.  They aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, but we can easily see serious contraction.   They need families who will spend tens of thousands of dollars a year more than they might spend elsewhere.  They need the government to continue to fund research and “social education.”  And they need to keep attracting foreign students who are filling an increasing number of classroom seats.

Gas drilling isn’t the only way Dryden can hedge against a bubble meltdown -- a pro-business climate would also work wonders.

Will fracking completely clog the roads in Dryden?  Not so much.

The numbers seem large, but think about  how many school buses and TCAT buses ply our roads,  mostly at rush hour.  Add garbage and recycling trucks.  The semi-tractors that run through the town, 24/7.  We have moving companies, utilities, towing services, on the road all the time.  Will we notice the increase?  Sure, like we notice traffic changes on the first day of school.  Is it immense?  No.

Is everyone wringing their hands because the damn school buses go by 180 days a year?  Because the TCAT bus comes by every hour, changing gears on the hills?

Now, consider that drilling is not a forever thing...each well is drilled in less than 70 days and all of the equipment moves on.  It takes that long to build most of our houses.

Robertson wails about how “dangerous” drilling is, citing a list of insurance risks on mandated disclosures: fires, explosions, blowouts...  Have you ever listened to the litany of risks for prescription drugs on TV?  How is it that with the risk of dizziness, hives, hair falling out, suicide, hangnails, blue tongue spots,  complete bone loss or spontaneous human combustion, people still line up for those sleeping pills or cholesterol reducers?  Because the risks, while possible, are small and it is very likely that their lives will be better.

Our Martha says that the town’s only option is a fracking ban.  This is sort of like a hammer in search of something that looks like a nail.  It isn’t necessary for government to fix or control everything, and like that hammer, sometimes wielding power only creates problems. 

Dryden followed 14 other towns in  jumping off a cliff, and happened to be the one tagged with a lawsuit.  Martha says the town’s risk is in losing the Anschutz lawsuit -- as Henry Kramer’s companion article points out, the town would really lose if they won the lawsuit, since we would then be open to a truly expensive taking lawsuit.

So, will the fate of the ban, and the fate of fracking in Dryden be settled by the November 8 elections?  No -- that was always going to be settled by New York State, in the DEC and the courts. 

However, the fate of that hammer -- the inappropriate wielding of government power, and the entanglement of lobbying interests like the Park Foundation, and Agenda 21 in local government, and a war on private property... maybe.  Maybe.

A Pack of Lies

Check out this clip from Talk 1300 AM, the Albany area station.  Fred Dicker, long time State Editor for the New York Post, comments on a commercial which ran on his talk radio program.

 

 

The, um, less than truthful presentation doesn't seem to be sticking.

Yeah, facts are stubborn things.

h/t: A.L.

Pastoral Poverty

A piece in the Times today illuminates the divide in Middlefield between farmers and people who have moved into the rural town.  It might reflect some on Dryden, too.

The dispute has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and has often set people who live in suburbs or villages against the farmers and landowners who live outside them. The discord is compounded by hard times on both sides and by communication online giving everyone instant access to limitless information confirming their point of view...

Like many farmers, [Jennifer Huntington] sees the drilling opponents as largely comfortable urbanites in an area increasingly home to retirees and second-home owners who know nothing about the economics of farming and little about the safety of drilling.
“This land and my family are my life,” Ms. Huntington said. “We probably use three to four million gallons of water to feed my cows. I’m not going to spoil something I need to make my living and for future generations to come.”

Proponents of fracking say that many farmers are on the verge of losing their property.

“The term we use is pastoral poverty,” she said. “You have farmers trying to hold on to land that’s been in their family for 100 to 200 years. People like the landscape, but it’s people living in poverty who are maintaining what they like to look at.” ...

Many drilling proponents, meanwhile, say the professionals and retirees drawn to the area have become antigrowth fanatics...

* * *

The crowd of about 120 was quiet and polite at the candidates’ debate at the Dryden Fire Hall last Wednesday.  I spent my time watching the body language in the crowd. The anti-fracking polemic of Linda Lavine got a chilly reception based on the crossed arms, shifting of positions and shaking heads.  Maybe it was the intensity that was off-putting, or maybe they’ve heard just about enough about drilling.

The strongest reaction I saw was in favor of attracting business and spreading out the tax base of the town.  While the town tax rate hasn’t gone up, assessments have and people see their tax escrow payments going up alarmingly every year.  A bunch of new businesses are going in just up the road in Cortlandville... but we won’t see any benefit from sales tax revenue across the county line.

The budget talk is complicated, and seems to disintegrate into a he-said, she-said battle of jargon.  A few things stood out... a lot of money spent on consultants for an unloved zoning proposal, a bunch more people working in the planning department, a move by the town board to bypass the tax cap passed by the state.   Recreation used to be done by volunteers.

The next candidate debate will be in Varna on Tuesday, closer to Cornell and the anti-fracking epicenter.  

Appropriate (v.) vs. Appropriate (adj.)

The ongoing tug-of-war over Zuccotti Park in New York City is an interesting reflection of the political landscape.

#occupywallstreet has been squatting on private property, monopolizing land leased for other purposes and violating the owner's rights.  The occupiers are claiming that "their rights" are being infringed if they are made to leave the premises for cleaning, or if they must refrain from putting up tents or sleeping on the ground -- that is, they are insisting on treating the property as their own.
 
In Dryden, the anti-energy development crowd is claiming that "their rights" are being infringed if property owners use their own property to access their mineral rights.  Like the occupiers in New York City, they are appropriating the property of others.
 
The 99%ers want to take it all away from the 1%ers because they are envious of what others have that they don't.  Drumming, chanting and handsigns help to cover over the rationalization.  Shouting that people don't really deserve what they have makes it easier to justify taking it away from them.
 
Envy is pretty powerful and it pops up from time to time in the local "appropriate (v.)" discourse. You can hear it right after, "I'm all for property rights but..."
  
* * *
None of this should be construed to mean that people don't have legitimate concerns.  
 
Unemployed because of "crony capitalism" (certainly a problem in the previous administration and Congress and on overdrive in the current administration)?  Check.  Impeach and replace.  Maybe some jail time is in order.
 
Wanting recourse if someone pollutes your well or nearby waterways?  Check, you should sue.
 
The point is that appropriate (adj.) means should be used to address valid concerns, not appropriate (v.) ones.  Use the system, don't tear it down.
  • Did you game the financial system and make a mess?  You're gonna pay.  
  • Did you frack and make a serious mess?  You're gonna pay. 
But we need the financial system and we need energy. Both are legitimate activities and can be done well and responsibly.  Keeping them from working is as egregious as the above messes.
 
* * *
It's interesting that the #occupiers are having food delivered (students are quoted saying that they eat better in the park than they do at their mom's) and the newspapers and fliers they're producing are printed with expensive 4-color process.  Just who is funding all of this, and why?
 
Has the Town of Dryden become a subsidiary of the Park Foundation?  PF is one of the main financiers of anti-natural gas activity in the nation, supplying cash to just about every "activist" group opposing natural gas development.  Is PF funding the legal team for Dryden's ill-conceived attempt to ban natural gas development in the town?
 
                             NYC...                                                                                       Dryden...


(h/t tvm)

Hot and Not

cheerleadersFrom experience, I can say that as the season changes it can sometimes be a challange to get youngsters to plan ahead and dress appropriately for a cold day.  So, out with Youngest Daughter for Cornell football, it was nice to see the cheerleading squad and the Big Red Band decked out in warmer clothes on a blustery, rainy afternoon.
 
Youngest Daughter took the point without any words from me, and was even looking askance at the odd college student shivering in thin capris.
 
* *
 
We had parked in the campus garage, and walked out on the second level to head to the game.  The second level of the garage has an auto entrance, but no exit.  A young woman who had just parked her car was walking near us and looked at the one-way entrance she had just used.
  
"How will I get out of the garage later?", she asked us.  
 
I explained that the exit was down one level, on the other side of the building. 
 
"Oh... which way is down?", she asked. 
 
Ummm... 

Dim-City

A recent Viewpoint in the IJ spews a lot of gas—well, hot air.

The piece is an attempt to dispell the "myth" that "gas extracted from the nation's vast shale deposits can help release the U.S. from the vise grip of our dependence on foreign oil." -- a quote from former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.
 
Attempt: failed. 
 
This is an example of an bus and car-pool advocate invested emotionally in a cause unable to see beyond their portfolio.
 
The strawman in the piece is that "Passenger travel is the gas-guzzling beast."  The monster, the real issue is "transportation — daily, short-trip, commute, errand, run-of-the-mill mom-and-pop travel." 
 
Reality: given a choice, people—even students in liberal Ithaca—generally choose personal transportation over public options like TCAT.  Have you seen the fancy cars these kids bring to town?
 
Now that's not everyone, to be sure.  Yes, some people prefer the bus, or car sharing or even car pooling options.  And those options should be available.  But beyond emergency, lifeline levels, these options should compete with all of the other available alternatives on their own rather than being unfairly supported beyond their economic value.
 
Cars and light trucks can certainly be converted to run on natural gas...or more easily converted to methanol which can be produced efficiently from natural gas.  Methanol would be a great alternative to ethanol production, which takes vast amounts of farmland out of food production and creates vast corn monocultures which are disrupting migrating species.  But I digress.
 
I'm not a big fan of T. Boone Pickens, but some things he's said bear pondering.  For example, the truck fleet in the US is where some serious energy use is concentrated.  And because of intense wear that fleet is replaced about every three years, making adoption of new technology when replacing vehicles pretty quick.  One of the few possible replacements for diesel fuel for those big rigs is natural gas.  Moving big trucks to natural gas could free up lots of other energy for personal transportation.
 
Our future is not all natural gas or nothing... we run around in one of those sissy Prius things when we're not hauling something serious in our big (pre-Government Motors) Silverado, and I've been known to walk to work on the county's pedestrian trails.  These are solutions that serve specific people at a specific point in life. 
 
But the heart of the no-gas program goes like this:
To address air quality, climate change and true sustainability, the U.S. transportation system needs to become more efficient and strive to move away from fossil-fuel use in all its forms. To that end, it is imperative that research continues on alternatives to fossil-fueled motor transport. It also is imperative that alternatives to single-occupant vehicle use be supported by policy and funding. Transit in all its forms, car-sharing, ride-sharing and enhanced bicycle and pedestrian mode use are all part of the immediate solution. Most difficult will be adjusting our lifestyles to reduce the number of car trips we make every day and to consider how we can use other modes to get around.
Essentially all of this is wrong.  
 
Using natural gas would improve air quality.  We can go off on climate change myths another time. Using the resources we have under our feet is the key to sustainability and energy independence.
 
The market, not inefficient policy and public funding, is the most likely mechanism to produce workable, acceptable transportation alternatives.  
 
Transit in all its forms, yes, including big honking single-occupant vehicles, chosen, and not chosen, on their own merits, by individuals and families themselves, will make adjusting our lifestyles to changing circumstances of work, family and society the easiest.  
 
The outrageous assertion that we must change our lives and reduce the number of car trips we make to "save the world" is the kind of pronouncement made by progressives who think they can play Sim-City with real people's lives.  Individuals, set free to solve the problems they face, will beat central planning anytime.

But you knew that

Gas company to sue over town's drilling ban.  Update: here is the link to the same story at the IJ

Anschutz Exploration Corp. plans to file a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Tompkins County to have the ban struck down in the town of Dryden, according to the company’s Albany-based attorney, Thomas West. He said he expected the lawsuit would be filed this week.
 

With the state moving toward allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing, Dryden has been one of a handful of municipalities across the state that have altered their zoning regulations or passed legislation meant to ban the activity.

Read it all.  (h/t South)

Forecast: Bursting bubbles

We've been reading stories for quite a while now about college students graduating with degrees in Women's Studies or some arcane art major, tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and no job prospects.  College tuition and spending has soared in recent decades, much to the benefit of Ithaca and its surrounds.  

But parents and students are increasingly looking askance at the current college model, and the prospect that they might actually do something different is forecast as the "bursting of the education bubble."

Today, there is this:

Call it better learning through technology -- and cheaper.

As college and university classrooms around the country fill with students facing mind-numbing tuition, free online classes are filling up too -- and their rising number threatens to destroy the current model that has student loans soaring and parents feeling the bite...

Similar to how media began “supplementing” printed newspapers in the 90s with free online editions -- which transformed business models and made the news largely “free” on the web for consumers -- free online courses might (perhaps unintentionally) ultimately force tuition closer to zero. 

Exhibit A is Stanford's new "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class. It’s entirely online. It’s free. And it even promises student feedback, in addition to an unaccredited but still résumé-worthy “Statement of Accomplishment.” ...

Stanford is far from the only one making a bet on free online courses. MIT, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and dozens of other iconic universities are getting involved as well.

Our hometown Ivy, Cornell is no stranger to this trend, having run its CyberTower since 2000, first as a for-fee service and then for-free since 2004.  Some of the older material seems to be in ancient video formats but since it's Ithaca, you can still go there to learn about loons.

Online courses can easily have the same disruptive effect that Amazon had on the publishing industry and that iTunes had on the music industry.  

No, Cornell isn't going anywhere any time soon, but students may spend less time in a traditional classroom... and maybe less time in Ithaca. Cornell is branching out with a campus in Qatar and a plan for an engineering campus in New York City.  Fewer students spending less time in Ithaca can mean big changes for our county.  And it could happen quickly, meaning that we will need to diversify -- and fast -- if we want to maintain the lifestyle which currently emanates from the Cornell aura that has kept Tompkins County economically head and shoulders above our neighboring counties.  How exactly would we do that?

As Mark Twain said.... well, he said a lot of stuff.  But while living nearby and sharing rich associations with Cornellians, he only seems to have visited Ithaca twice and maybe never visited the Cornell campus proper.  

Just sayin'.

Sitting on their wallets

YNN interviewed Richard Hanna at Aiello's Restaurant in Whitney Point where he buzzed through to talk with small business people on his Hanna4Biz tour.

Local politicians, small business owners and school board members all had input for the Congressman on issues such as tax relief and health care mandates.

Hanna says he's working to lower the tax rates for small businesses and limit the amount of paperwork that they must file. He says Washington needs to repeal some of the regulations imposed on small businesses so they can expand and create jobs.

"The idea that they can't plan ahead because they don't know what the rules and regulations are going to be like really affects them. It keeps people sitting on their wallets," said Hanna.

Sort of like going Galt?

(Aiello's is a fine place to stop when heading to points east on 79 or 81 south, or when heading home and you need to eat before that last hour of driving...)

 

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