Smoke gets in your eyes - The Flagstaff City Council recently extended the "no smoking" ban to areas outside of bars. The argument about the "health and safety" of the public would seem especially suspect given that we are about to have more controlled burning in the national forest. If smoking outdoors is unsafe to non-smokers, how can we possibly justify these prescribed fires? And, during the winter, there is often a haze of smoke from wood burning stoves. Will the city next ban these? Even worse, I suppose, is that they will offer a tax rebate to get rid of your current stove!
Grass for Cash - How can the Flagstaff politicians possibly justify the rebate program for homeowners that tear up their grass? Since maintaining a grass yard is not cheap, this program smacks of a transfer from less-wealthy residents to more-wealthy residents.
The nanny state - Item: Man gets workman's comp even though, at the time of his accident, he failed a drug test. The legal ruling seems sound - the law is what it is. But, this is a great example of the "moral hazard" problem - if people are not held responsible for their bad behavior, then their bad behavior is encouraged. And, that means it will cost more to the rest of us. It illustrates one big problem with government - regulations designed to protect the innocent can hurt us all.
No left turns? - The Daily Sun had a couple of interesting articles on traffic conditions in Flagstaff, and a good editorial today. It seems odd that the rule is that you can't use the center lane to wait and merge to the right. Consequently, it is "lawful" to make a right-hand turn, get into the center lane, wait, and make a U-turn. That increased complexity would seem to come with an increased probability of an accident. One may argue that merging from the left is not acceptable, but there are plenty of exceptions. Consider the I-40, eastbound, merge onto I-17, northbound; not only do you merge from the left, you do so after being obscured from regular traffic while in that tunnel!
See Dick Run? - There is some buzz about Dick Cheney running for president. So claims Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) at a talk in Aspen, Colorado. I can't imagine it. Although he'd make a fine president, our presidential choices are usually about the lesser of two evils, not the better of two angels. Still, I can imagine Cheney offering to serve as the Vice President for the next GOP standard bearer. The notion that you can offer substantive continuity through the Vice President's office sounds like an oxymoron, but you never know.
Cash II -
The "grass for cash" issue,
editorial supports the general idea, but notes the loophole that a
homeowner could just let their yard be taken over by weeds. On
the local news blurb on KWMX,
my favorite station, it was mentioned that only the first 50 takers
would get the rebate. [I think it was 50, but I may not be
remembering it correctly; anyway, it was not that many.] Still,
it is just an example of government failure. Here, the prime
culprit is water pricing. If water was priced competitively,
then it wouldn't matter how people use it - they figure out for
themselves whether it is worth the expense. You may be rich and
decide you don't want a grass lawn, or you may be poor, but want your
own small plot of the green stuff. That's how it works.
The notion that it is cheaper to pay people to rip up their grass than
it is to drill another well is absurd. Why not just outlaw grass
altogether? Wouldn't that be even cheaper? Well, yes,
according to the logic of the Daily Sun.
No left turns? Take II - There continues to be some confusion about using the center lane to merge right into traffic, after having turned into that lane from a side street. One recent letter to the editor in the Daily Sun quoted from the prevailing regulations. I had thought such a maneuver was perfectly legal, and I recall looking up information on this point about five years ago. So, I revisited the Arizona Driver License Manual and, on page 40 is the description of using the "Two-Way Left Turn Lane." While one statement here seems clear - "This lane is only for use of vehicles turning left in either direction," the very next sentence states, "This lane provides a safe area to slow before a left turn off of the street, or to speed up after a left turn onto a street." Well, therein lies the conundrum. While it appears that the lane can only be used for left turns, speeding up after having turned into this lane can only be for the purpose of merging right. The manual is how the state interprets the relevant statutes, so I think it is fair to conclude that the center lane can be used this way.
(8/23) - While the Driver License Manual states that it is "not a
proper legal authority and should not be relied upon in a court of
law" (p. 24), the actual statute (ARS28-751-4b)
states: "A driver shall not drive a vehicle in the lane except if preparing for or making a left turn
from or into the roadway or if preparing for or making a u-turn if otherwise permitted by
law" (emphasis mine). It is crystal clear to me that
one may use this center lane when you are turning into the roadway,
i.e., turning left from an intersecting road (or a driveway, et
al.). The Driver's Manual quote from above ("This lane
is only for use of vehicles turning left in either direction.")
is not a statement in the statute cited. What the statute (4a)
does state is that you can't turn left from some other lane, when the
center lane is present. Now, we will likely all agree that is
sensible, even though I observe many vehicles failing to do this when
I am on Butler, heading west past the interstate, and a driver wants
to turn left into the Mobil station. This is especially true
when the vehicle is a truck hauling a trailer or a boat.
Update (8/31) - Today's Daily Sun has a front page story recanting its earlier interpretation of the center lane. Some lawyers for the city wrote to say that it can be used to merge right, and that the statute is clear about this. The problem is that the misrepresentation of this rule had gone on for so long that many (including those in law enforcement) just took for granted the notion that the lane couldn't be used to merge right.
ID, please - Arizona voters approved a measure to require identification when voting. Why is anyone against that? How can anyone back a system so open to fraud and abuse . . . unless they want to engage in that kind of fraud and abuse? Is there some kind of civil liberties issue here? Absolutely not. As much as I lean libertarian, I can't imagine supporting a voting scheme that is not fair and honest. If you don't want to vote, fine. If you do want to vote, bring your ID. I looked up some info - Arizona has about 2.7 million registered voters as of April, 2005, yet as of July 1, 2005, there were 3.9 million driver licenses issued. Add to that the number of state IDs issued and you must wonder who it is that doesn't have sufficient photo ID for voting. We already have restrictions in place for voting - after all, you do have to register beforehand and you can't register late. Adding to this the ID requirement is not onerous, and, in fact, helps to insure the integrity of the system.
Make jurors pros - Last night, on MSNBC's Live and Direct, Rita Cosby talked with some disgruntled jurors from the Michael Jackson trial. I am not especially interested in their specific complaints, but it called to my mind a notion I have kicked around for some time - make juries semi-professional. That is, create a test that anyone, who would like to serve on a jury, can take. It would be based on knowledge of how the law functions . . . like what "preponderance of evidence" means, how courtrooms function, what roles attorneys, witnesses, judges and jurors play in all this, etc. The idea is to get a jury that actually understands what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what boundaries they face. Add to this an all-volunteer nature to jury selection and I think you'd have a much better system. We can probably speed up trials, cut down on the jury impaneling process, limit the number of challenges made, and pay jurors more. [Well, if it is all-volunteer, a wage sufficient to attract enough jurors will be have to be offered.]
Markets and smoking - KFC and Pizza Hut announced that their restaurants will bar smoking. It illustrates the power of the marketplace, and why we should defer to it, rather than use the power of government to force the issue. In fact, it seems rather absurd to have a vote, as was done in Flagstaff some years ago. If most people want smoking banned in restaurants, owners will respond. It is profitable to give consumers what they want. That is what is happening here. Wouldn't it have been better to leave the government out of this case? Let government be used as it is intended to be used, not as a club to cow others into submitting to the will of a majority.
Cash for slash - According to the local news last night, the city is offering subsidies to property owners who thin their trees. I have searched through the city's web site and haven't found any details, but I can't help but wonder if George Nackard acted too soon on his property! I recall that his fine was related to the number of trees cut down, and that the city is demanding that he replace the trees that were cut, one for one. Perhaps, later, he can apply for funds to cut some of these new trees down?
Problems with gas? - Everyone knows that the price of gas is going up. But, how high is it really? Most people would say that it is higher than it's ever been. That is both true and false. It is true, in that the "nominal price" is higher than ever (about $2.55/gallon today); during the bad old days of the early 1980s the price of gas was lower; it averaged about $1.35 a gallon in 1981. But, $1.35 buys a lot more in 1981 than it does now, because of inflation. If we adjust for the effects of inflation, and restate gas prices in "real terms" we get a different answer. Measured in 2003 dollars, the price of gasoline, back in 1981, was $2.79 per gallon. That is still about 10% higher than the prices we see today, and that was the annual average price. I put together a chart showing these real values from 1976 to 2003. If prices were closer to their historical average (over the last 25 years), they would be closer to $1.50 a gallon.
Update (9/03/2005) - Events have overtaken the analysis above. The price of gasoline has climbed over $3 a gallon in Flagstaff, and, perhaps, everywhere else in Arizona. So, now, the price is at its highest in at least 30 years. Will it persist? Alas, my chart can still be useful for answering this question. Since I haven't heard any credible news that some structural change is behind this price spike, I cannot imagine that it will persist. As long as the private sector is able to exploit existing oil fields, and drill in new ones, and as long as our refining capacity is restored and, heaven forbid (!) actually grows, this is likely to be a temporary situation. The high price in the late 1970s/early 1980s persisted for a couple of years. When the bottom fell out, it fell big time, and persisted for some time.
Iraq-naphobia? - What does "anti-war" mean? Does it really mean that someone, wholly and completely, opposes the participation in any war? If it does, it is absurd and meaningless. War is a tool; it can be used for good or for ill. To oppose all wars is to ignore the consequences of giving up. Would we have been better off having refused to fight the Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese in World War II? Is there anyone in the current anti-war movement that holds that position? If not, then we are back to my point - war is a tool. It isn't a preferred tool insofar as dealing with conflict, but it is a tool nonetheless. We may argue about strategy, and we certainly will make mistakes along the way, but it is important to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. I rather like the idea that radical Islamists made a huge mistake in attacking the U.S. I am sure that, if they could do it all over again, they wouldn't. They'd probably wait until we had another Democrat for president and assume we wouldn't offer any meaningful response. President Bush, to his credit, has made a bold push to ensure the long-run sustainability of peace, not only for us, but also for the godforsaken people that live under the oppression of tyranny.
burned in Hawaii -
An interesting story from the AP ran in the Daily
Sun today about gas prices topping $3/gallon on Maui. I find
it hard to believe that prices (even in nominal
terms) haven't been this high before. I spent most of thirteen
years living in Hawaii, from 1977 to 1990. One of the first
things I remember, when I moved there, was that the price of gas was
quite cheap. Then, I found out that the prices I saw posted up
at the gas stations, were in liters, not gallons. It takes 3.8
liters to make one gallon. So, a price of about 78 cents per
liter would get you to $3/gallon. I suspect that prices, around
1982, may have actually been that high, but I don't have any
Weather peeves - There is one thing I really hate about how the weather is reported on the radio. When the announcer is going through the expected highs for the day, invariably they will mention the temperature first and the city/place second. As in, "75 in Flagstaff, 83 in Sedona, 79 in Camp Verde..." The problem I have is that the numbers don't mean anything to me; the place does. So, I am half-listening for "Flagstaff." Of course, then I don't know what the number was - I don't have a rewind in my head that allows me to back up and fetch this data. Instead, this information should be conveyed as place first, number second - "Flagstaff - 75, Sedona - 83, Camp Verde - 79..." On TV it doesn't really matter how they say it, since you can see it on the screen. But, on the radio, it is just irritating.
homes on the range -
There has been a flurry of letters to the editor of the Daily
Sun about the propriety, or not, of people buying second homes in
Flagstaff. On the left you have the usual suspects, and, as
isn't always the case, a few rebuttals from the right. While the
socialist view is that it is all about greed, of course it
isn't. At least, no more so than everything we do in the normal
course of our lives. If you define as greed, any consumption
above absolute self-sufficiency, then all of us are greedy. It
is a dead-end argument.
please - take II -
The Daily Sun's editorial today
bemoans the ID requirements being imposed on
voters. I sympathize with some of their arguments to keep the
system simple. But, their notion that driver's licenses are too
easily faked is a red herring. I presume that fake IDs are acquired
for drinking purposes not for voting purposes, making that the bigger
concern. So, let's make it simple - you must have a valid
driver's license or a state ID. End of story. And, perhaps
. . . we could actually allow private firms (Staples, UPS Store,
Wal-Mart) to issue state IDs to more easily facilitate their
acquisition (bringing assorted proof of who you are and leaving behind
a set of fingerprints).
Inside 9- II - The National Geographic Channel (which still does not show up on the Daily Sun's TV listings!) ran a fascinating two-part series called Inside 9-11 this past Sunday and Monday, to be repeated in the weeks to come. It details not only the events of that tragic day, but gives a good accounting of the backstory leading up to 9-11. There were so many people that died that we can't possibly learn all of their stories. However, the stories of the victims and heroes that were highlighted in this documentary were compelling. One thought that struck me was the Cindy Sheehan really should be at the door of Bill Clinton to ask why her son had to die in Iraq, not at the door of George Bush. Clinton's refusal to take action, after repeated provocation, is exactly the mindset that Bush has rejected in his determination to fight back against those that would harm us as well as those that support them. As an aside, Steve Emerson ,who was prominently featured in the early segments of this series, spoke at NAU this past spring.
Pseudo-research - NAU professor Cathy Small has been identified as the true author of "My Freshman Year," a research project where she pretended to be a freshman student, living in a dorm and enrolling in classes. The purpose? Well, there is a good question. I can't really imagine a real research purpose here. If it was just some cheap trick to write a popular book, like "Nickel and Dimed" that would be one thing. But, the notion that this is research goes beyond the pale. As a professor, we know, with certainty, that Small was, as one time, a freshman! So, can't you just sit down and think about what life was like then? I can. I remember missing classes, going to parties and cramming for exams. I remember the financial stress and life in the dorms. It isn't that hard. And, the idea that you must go back to school to learn what students go through ignores the fact that you can just ask them! Indeed, it appears that she got some of her best material from students that knew she was an "undercover" professor doing research.
are people, too
- Despite the exhortation of today's editorial in the Daily Sun to
Freshman Year," required reading on the mountain campus, I
have yet to read anything about it that seems new to me, much less
insightful. As I noted previously, all
university professors were once freshmen, myself included.
Studying mountain lions in northern Arizona, or wildebeests on the
African savannas would seem to call for some time spent up close and
personal. But, freshmen are humans. When dealing with
humans, we have the advantage that we can actually talk to them!
Now, this may not be practical when dealing with a group that is
totally alien to your own - like studying the inner workings of drug
dealing gangs. But, freshmen are people we (faculty) deal
with every day, and, while there is a great deal of variability in
their academic, social and ethnic backgrounds, we still came from the
- As is usually the case, a dramatic shift in events must occur before
change is possible. One may, fairly, argue that it is best to
follow the adage of "don't fix it unless it's broken."
For example, the attack on 9-11 caused us to change our attitude
towards terrorists; rising home prices causes the city council to open
up land for denser development; rising gas prices provides the spur to
drilling in ANWR. It is the
nature of the beast, even if all those changes were perfectly
reasonable before the catalyst began.
Gates of Fire - Michael Yon has been posting truly amazing blogs from the front lines in Iraq. He is an independent, self-financed journalist out to provide a narrative of the "monumentally important events in the efforts to stabilize Iraq." If you haven't read his dispatches, do so and learn something about the men and women fighting for us and for freedom and stability in Iraq. Here is brief passage from his Gates of Fire posting:
Canyon's Bass Trail - Visitors Discouraged -
It has been some time since I have been to the South Bass
trailhead. From what I hear, it may quite some time before I
decide to revisit that area, despite its awesome beauty and
allure. After all, choosing where to go trek about in the Grand
Canyon is like picking a selection from a dessert cart that is loaded
with appetizing treats! And, why pick one that costs you an
extra twenty bucks?
F. Alston, Superintendent
In a 1976 land use plan*, prepared in part by the Havasupai tribe, appears this passage:
While this is a bit convoluted, I read this to mean that access to the park, across these lands, cannot be restricted. Either the park service should insist that this road be open to public use (without charge), or it should follow through with the plan to skirt the reservation with a road from Dodd Tank to the old Pasture Wash Ranger Station.
* This link is one single html page and very long. There is a table of contents, which will show you the topics covered. Scroll down about 75% of the way to the end to find the section on public access.
Liberal Nonsense -
The Daily Sun has a new slate of virtual board members up and running,
and it looks like Managing Editor Randy Wilson did another good job of
picking folks from across the political spectrum. One
participant in particular, Ms. Linda Magnelli, looks like she will be
producing comments that will be ripe fodder for my own
commentaries. A self-described "diehard liberal," she
has already shown that logic and sensibility are irrelevant to most
"liberal" arguments. One may also add in honesty here,
as well. Today's topic dealt with Iraq and whether President
Bush should set a troop withdrawal deadline. Let's
1) Bush has not articulated his decisions concerning Iraq - Maybe in her world. In my world, Bush announced his intentions, sought U.N. authority (and got it), sought Congressional authority (and got it) and then acted on it. I don't see how he could have been any clearer in this matter.
2) The Iraqis didn't ask for our help - Maybe not Saddam, nor Uday, nor Qusay, nor any other of their murdering brotherhood of Ba'athists. But, plenty of Iraqis wanted our help and appreciate it. Former Prime Minister (and survivor of an assassination attempt by Saddam's henchmen) Allawi said this to the U.S. Congress: "We Iraqis are grateful to you, America, for your leadership and your sacrifice for our liberation and our opportunity to start anew." I am sure that there are many Kurds and Shi'ites happy for our help, although they may still resent us for failing them in the past, when, at our encouragement, they opposed Saddam and we did nothing.
3) "We are in a dilemma far worse than Vietnam" - Aside from the fact that it was a Democrat that got us into the Vietnamese War (Kennedy), and that expanded that war (Johnson), and that it was a Republican that extricated us from that war (Nixon), the analogy is incredibly facile. Over 50,000 Americans died in that war. So, how can Iraq be worse? Our opponents in Vietnam actually had a country (North Vietnamese) and had the support of a major superpower (the USSR). Additionally, the elected president of South Vietnam was overthrown (with President Kennedy's acquiescence). Nothing about Iraq is at all like Vietnam except that there is fighting and there is dying. The whole "worse than Vietnam" argument is nothing but an excuse for not being able to muster any real reasons to oppose this ongoing fight.
3) President Bush cannot tell the truth - This is probably the same old worn-out WMD argument. President Bush had multi-national intelligence agencies telling him this; President Clinton said the same thing; even Al Gore endorsed this conclusion (years earlier). You would think a psychology major would know better.
Convention Center Madness - The Daily Sun is reporting that NAU will pursue the building of a hotel and conference center complex on campus and that the city will kick in some $2 million for the project. It also appears that some private funding will be made, although I suspect most of the money will come from the state. The obvious question here is: Why should the city contribute anything? What purpose does it serve to use taxpayers money for this project? Of course, the typical argument from City Hall is that this center will attract loads of visitors who will spend money in town and generate more tax revenue that can be used for the benefit of residents. There are at least two problems with this argument:
1) Why should the city be interested in raising tax revenue? It is the primary purpose of government to establish, and enforce, simple rules that allow us to live peacefully among one another. There may be a role to play in the provision of certain "local public goods" like roads and sewers (although water and trash could be privatized). But, after that, government becomes the target of special interests that want all residents (or visitors) to pay for projects that benefit just a few, whether it be land for a YMCA or public art along Route 66.
2) Why isn't the City Council concerned with impacts from such a project and demanding that NAU pay for infrastructure improvements, like they require from private developers? If you want to build housing in Flagstaff, the City Council treats you like a pariah (well, except for Joe Haughey), and demands all manner of monetary and in-kind kickbacks. Yet, the university entertains the idea of this conference center and the city can't wait to throw money into the project. If this center attracts a thousand participants to some function, how will that affect traffic, parking, police services, etc.?
The city government should stick to crafting sensible rules that protect private property interests and resist the temptation to meddle in these kinds of development decisions.
Failure of Government -
The purpose of government is worth extended public discussion.
While the founding fathers crafted a federal republic, and detailed
what it could and could not do, it is up to every generation to
revisit these basics. All too often, we take the system for
granted. Lethargy is a far more potent force than we may want to