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Archive - February 2006

The Point Huitzil Route

Freedoms, Collectivism and Cartoons

The Winter Cabin Trail in Sycamore Canyon

When Life Gives You Lemons

The Path to Liberty

Noisy Grand Canyon?

Local Roundup - Late February

Monday, February 6, 2006

   The Point Huitzil Route - The winter continues to be dry and great hiking opportunities abound in the Grand Canyon.  This past Saturday, I went up to the South Bass area with a group to hike down the bizarre route at Point Huitzil, and then follow the Esplanade to the South Bass trail and out.  The route is marked by a secretive hole in the cliff, a crack in the rock that you must descend, a huge rock art panel and ancient footholds.  To read about this hike, and see more photos, go to my extended blog "Point Huitzil to the South Bass Trail."

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Abandoned range station.

Toroweap towers at Pt. Huitzil.

Mt. Huethawali from South Bass.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

   Freedoms, Collectivism and Cartoons - The "cartoon jihad" that is rocking the Muslim world has, I hope, shocked many in the western world.  If you haven't seen these cartoons, follow the link to the right.  [The image and link from Michelle Malkin's site.]  They range from the trivial to the humorous to the critical.  This episode contains lessons galore for our present age.  Other blogs have done an excellent job of drawing out these lessons (pun intended), but I'd like to weigh in on this issue, with comments that you might not have pondered in this regard.

Tolerance is not always a virtue.  Some have argued that "we" need to be tolerant of religious beliefs, like the prohibition, in Islam, against caricatures of Muhammad.  I have no problem "respecting" another person's belief system, as long as they don't try to impose those beliefs on me.  If Muslims want to deny themselves in this way (and it isn't clear that this is necessary - Zombie has an excellent compendium of illustrations of Muhammad that have been done over the ages, many of which come from the Muslim world).  The "toleration" that has been urged in this regard (including that of the U.S. State Department) is really the same type of toleration practiced by Neville Chamberlain.  That is, allowing others to proscribe our rights, through threats and intimidation.  Such "tolerance" is not a virtue.

Principles are not always a vice.  Either we believe in liberty and freedom, or we don't.  Trying to slice and dice liberty so that it is not "offensive" to some has, I thought, been thoroughly discredited.  [Well, maybe not at NAU.]  You have the right to be stupid and you have the right to say stupid things.  Freedom of speech is not reserved just for the speech that we agree with.  I always thought that was the point.  I was dismayed that the editor of our local paper chose to defend the prohibition of printing these cartoons on the grounds that they were bigoted.  Well, he is entitled to his opinion, even if he is wrong.  And, the newspaper belongs to its owners and they can decide what to print and what not to print.  The point of the cartoons was to show that we do enjoy, and practice, our freedoms.  And, recall the episode of Salman Rushdie - he used prose to mock Muhammad, and for that he earned a fatwa calling for his assassination.  In other words, while written criticism may not be explicitly prohibited, Muslim religious leaders can make exceptions.

It's collectivism vs. individualism, stupid.  The underlying issue is not religion or tolerance.  It really is about the fundamental conflict between collectivism and individualism.  Our freedoms are based on a perception that individualism is the primary value to be upheld, protected and defended.  Collectivism is the polar opposite of individualism; it controls, dictates and proscribes.  A collectivist state, be it a brutal dictatorship, a communist regime or a theocracy, cannot abide individuality.  The individual is a threat to the power of the collective.  Collectivism is premised on force - the power of the state to compel you to use your life, your abilities, your resources, in a manner determined by others.  Arguing that it "takes a village" is arguing that you have obligations to the collective; obligations that you will be forced to fulfill.  In her book, Anthem, Ayn Rand has a passage that does an excellent job of explaining what freedom means:

     I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of the spirit. I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom.
     I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others. I covet no man's soul, nor is my soul theirs to covet.
     I am neither foe nor friend to my brothers, but such as each of them shall deserve of me. And to earn my love, my brothers must do more than to have been born. I do not grant my love without reason, nor to any chance passer-by who may wish to claim it. I honor men with my love. But honor is a thing to be earned.

     As man evolved, the tribal/collective structure was successful at allowing humans to survive in a world that is beset by forces that would kill us off - freezing temperatures, diseases, predators, difficulty in acquiring food, clothing and shelter.  But, as we have progressed, this tribal structure has ceased to be relevant to our continued development, and, indeed, it acts as a barrier.  I remember an exchange between one of my grad school professors and a visiting economist from South Africa (before they abandoned apartheid).  The visitor was talking about how the government was encouraging people to live in their own tribal groups in order to better spur economic development, to which my professor remarked that it seemed to him that tribalism was Africa's biggest impediment to economic development and suggested that maybe it would be better to blur these distinctions.  That was many years ago, well before the carnage in Dafur, or the atrocities in Rwanda.  I think he, my professor, was right.  As the "cartoon jihad" shows us, throwing off the shackles of tribalism (whether based on ethnicity or religion or some other factor) is going to take some time.

     A final thought, albeit a light one - why not invent a character that is not Muhammad, but who stands for him?  We could call him, oh, how about "Brian."  [Yes, I do get inspiration from Monty Python.]  Would Muslims be offended by cartoons of Brian?  Hmm, I wonder ...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

   The Winter Cabin Trail in Sycamore Canyon - With the mild winter we are having in northern Arizona, my blog has become half political/social commentary and half hiking stories/pictures.  Well, I can't do anything about the weather, so I'm on a tear with regard to getting outside and wandering about.  This weekend (today), Cara Lynn and Scout and I did a day hike in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, which is south and west of Flagstaff.  One can access the lower end from the Verde Valley, west of Sedona, while the upper end is quite close to Flagstaff.  We decided (well, Scout had no say in the matter) to do the Winter Cabin Trail, which is about 25 miles out of town, over dirt roads that get progressively worse the closer you get.  And, during a "normal" winter, they would be snowy and icy, at best, and impassable, at worse.

     The trail leads 1.5 miles to the namesake Winter Cabin, located along a small spring.  Another 1.5 miles takes you to Ott Lake, which has no water, but ought to!  Lots of elk tracks here, and elsewhere in the area, although we didn't see any today.  We did see about 20 turkeys scurrying about near one of the many tanks that dot the landscape on the rim.  They were huge and I was surprised to see so many together.

     The day was beautiful - clear blue skies, and highs probably in the upper 50s.  It was cool in the shade, and warm in the sun.  We both got a bit of a sunburn on our hands and faces!  Well, that should teach us a lesson.  There was nobody else on the trail, or even in the area.  The last trail register entry was for February 6, and that was made by someone from the Forest Service.  In the last month, only four groups signed into the register.  So, it was a very relaxing and peaceful hike.  There were a few woodpeckers about, and we did see many small birds flying around at Ott Lake, which was as far as we hiked.  We started down the trail at about 11 a.m. and returned to the trailhead at just past 4 p.m.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Scout & I peer at trailhead map.

The Winter Cabin. 

Agave along trail near Ott Lake.  This section is sandy with lots of river rock - quite a change of pace from the lava we have been hiking through. 

Cara Lynn & Scout at Winter Cabin.

Trough at Winter Cabin Spring. 

Ott Lake with rim trailhead behind. Looking into Sycamore Canyon. Turkeys racing across rim road.

Friday, February 17, 2006

   When Life Gives You Lemons - Hey, I like Dick Cheney! 

Monday, February 20, 2006

   The Path to Liberty - Such was the title of the 3-day lecture series presented by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Scottsdale, Arizona this past weekend.  The lectures, a sampling of FEE's student seminars, offered each summer at their New York home, ranged from "The Miracle and Morality of the Market" to "Private Education Instead of Government Schooling" to "Utopia in Power: The Soviet Tragedy."  The presentations were given by Richard Ebeling, President of FEE, Anna Ebeling and Sheldon Richman (pictured above, right to left).

     Certainly, this event was a case of "preaching to the choir" since those in attendance were already strong supporters of the libertarian cause.  I don't know if the audience was also well-schooled in basic economics, but many, like myself, were teachers, either in the public schools or in the university environment.  For me, the highlights were the presentations by Anna Ebeling, who was born and raised in Soviet Russia.  She gave presentations on the history of liberty and the history of collectivism, as expressed in the writings of philosophers, scholars and others.  My knowledge in this area is not very broad, and I appreciated her tour de force of this subject matter.

     What really riveted us were Anna's stories of growing up in the communist state.  She told us about being disabused, by her parents, of the notion that Lenin was her grandfather, which was standard propaganda "taught" to grade school children ("Here is a picture of your grandfather - Lenin killed him;  here is a picture of your other grandfather - Stalin killed him.").  She talked of her grandmother, who literally tried to take food to starving peasants in the Ukraine during the time when Stalin's brutal collectivization was killing millions.  To read about the ideas of liberty and freedom, she joined with others to hand-copy and distribute such subversive literature as The Law, by Frederic Bastiat, and Animal Farm, by George Orwell, the latter of which lead to her detention and interrogation by the KGB.  One of the most memorable lines, at least to me, was:

Intellectuals claim that the problem with the Soviet Union was that they had stopped following Marx.  That is not true.  I know; I lived there.  We followed the bastard!

     While most of FEE's activities take place at their home in New York, there are occasional events, like this one, that are held around the country, allowing like-minded people to get together to re-invest their energies and efforts in promoting the ideals of freedom and liberty.  And, FEE maintains a web site, where you can find many books and essays posted up (usually in pdf format) in their Freedom Library - no card required!  Another resource, which has a more extensive collection, is the Online Library of Liberty.

Friday, February 24, 2006

   Noisy Grand Canyon? - This past Wednesday, a public scoping session was held at the nearby Museum of Northern Arizona regarding an upcoming EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process that will likely further limit and constrain overflights at the Grand Canyon.  The topic is "noise" but the issue is really one of control.  The major parties in this process are the FAA and the NPS.  So far, they seem to be following different agendas, and I hope that the FAA can retain the upper hand here.

     This session was really about letting people know what the issues are and to encourage comments before an EIS is first issued, which would, then, detail several alternatives and subject them to closer public scrutiny.  I don't really have any idea how important this scoping process is in determining the shape of the EIS.  My view is that most of the entire EIS process is used to justify decisions made by bureaucrats and politicians, and that the public's role in all this is mostly illusory.  For example, when resources are "impacted," as they inevitably are, the federal agency will claim that these impacts can be "mitigated" when they really want to pursue a particular proposal.  If they are opposed to a particular outcome, then these impacts are deemed serious and detrimental.

     Still, representatives from the Sierra Club had flyers at this session, promoting their own view on this matter.  As you might suspect, they favor fewer overflights.  Their "talking points" flyer exhorts participants to write "thousands of comment letters in support of natural quiet at the Canyon."  Clearly, they believe that such public pressure would influence the course of events.  Interestingly, the same flyer also maintains that the EIS process should not revisit the meaning of the phrases "natural quiet" and "substantial restoration of the natural quiet."  If the process must assume the meaning of "natural quiet" then why is the Sierra Club urging people to write letters in support of such quiet?  I can only infer that the meaning of these phrases is, in fact, still up to debate.

     The issue here quickly degenerates into the absurd since the "problem" of noise is independent of people.  That is, if a plane flies over the canyon, and nobody hears it, "natural quiet" has been disturbed and, so, it must be prohibited.  It is a concept that just boggles my mind.  There is probably some sort of philosophical paradox involved here, but I don't know if it has a name.

     Also, there is the question of what it means to have "natural quiet."  The park service goal is stated like this:

Natural quiet is obtained when, "substantial restoration requires that 50% or more of the park achieve "natural quiet" (i.e., no aircraft audible) for 75-100 percent of the day, each and every day."   [link]

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this definition is arbitrary in the extreme.  What is magical about 50% of the park?  Why not 65%?  Or, 42%?  And, why for 75%-100% of the day?  As if that wasn't enough, the park service defines a "day" as being "the 12 hour daylight period."  For what purpose?  Clearly, it is subterfuge, designed to make the 50% and 75% figures more palatable to the public.

     I had thought on the question of "noise" while I was hiking in the Kanab Creek Wilderness Area in early January.  One day I just did some easy day hiking, over to Indian Hollow Spring and out along the plateau by Racetrack Knoll.  I decided to put on my MP3 player and listen to tunes all day.  The thing is so light that, even though I don't listen often, it is worth carrying to listen to occasionally.  Anyway, while I was listening to BTO and Jethro Tull, among others, I thought, "Why not let people download 'natural quiet' onto their MP3 players?  Then, they can enjoy the natural quiet as much as they want!"

     At the scoping session, I decided to write a comment, although I don't have any expectation that it will receive any consideration.  But, here is the essence:

Include a market-based option in the EIS study.  Identify as many overflight routes as is practical (and, safe) over the Grand Canyon and auction off the rights to these routes.  They may be auctioned off every year, or for multiple years.  If there are people who would like to preserve the "natural quiet" of the Grand Canyon, they can buy these rights, either as individuals, or through groups like the Sierra Club.  There are two advantages from such an approach.  First, instead of using the political process to determine how best to use the resource (and, probably getting it wrong), interested parties can express the strength of their views by participating in this auction, insuring that the resource goes to its highest valued use, be it for air tours or not.  Secondly, the money from such an auction could be used to enhance and improve the park, for all visitors, without raising entrance fees.

     I have also submitted this comment to the FAA via their on-line web page.  If you would like add your two cents worth, click on the image, below, to do so.  [Click on either photo, above, to see a larger image.]

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

   Local Roundup - Late February - Despite my best efforts . . . well, despite my efforts, best or otherwise, local issues worthy of some comment pass by me in the hustle and bustle of life.  I really don't know how the blogmeister at CoyoteBlog gets so much written (and, written well) when he is also running his own business!  And, all I have to do is teach a couple of classes at the university.  Well, that is about 150 students and I have been giving them a reasonably heavy dose of homework so far this term.  And, I have been hiking practically every weekend during this new year.  Still, I am compelled to offer my 2 worth on matters close to hand - any quotes come from the Arizona Daily Sun for the date cited.  And, by the way, why isn't the cents symbol on the keyboard anymore?  Was it ever on a computer keyboard?  I do remember, distinctly, that it was on the old typewriters - did it get replaced by the @ symbol?  ... 

Set a fire in a private school - go directly to a public school.  Two students at Northland Preparatory Academy (grades 7-12) set a fire at their school and, rightfully, got bounced out.  And, now?  Why, they have enrolled in the Flagstaff Public Schools!  The public school system superintendent was paraphrased as saying, "Even if a student is found guilty of committing a crime, that does not affect the student's right to attend public school."  Yes, it's crazy time here in Flagstaff.  This case does a great job of illustrating the argument that compulsory education is not a proper role of the government.  By making it compulsory, we not only weaken incentives to do a good job in educating students, we promote the schools as just a place to park children until they reach the age of 18.  [02/26/2006]

Don't like your homework?  Just lodge a complaint.  The Arizona state legislature is considering a bill that would allow students to opt out of assigned readings that they found "personally offensive or pornographic."  Oh, yes, this is a good idea.  Well, this is another example of what government shouldn't do - subsidize higher education.  Let the market rule and students can go to any college they want to.  Or, at least, to any college that will accept them.  And, if the student doesn't like the assignments, they can leave and go elsewhere.  And, if most of them do so, the college will can the professor and change the curriculum.  Isn't the market a wonderful thing?  [02/20/2006]

It's official - watering restrictions lifted during the driest winter ever!  Well, I don't know if it is the driest winter ever, but there are still great hiking opportunities on the San Francisco Peaks.  We have been laboring under mandatory water restrictions for a couple of years now, and you'd think that with our dry winter, there would be even more restrictions.  But, no!  The city council has decided to suspend the restrictions on daytime watering (but, I don't know if the even/odd restrictions are still in place) until mid-April.  Of course, most folks are scratching their heads over this one.  This would be an excellent area to privatize and let the market price the water according to what is available and what is demanded.  If people want to go around door-to-door proselytizing for residents to conserve water, then that's fine with me.  But, for heaven's sake, let's fire the city's "water conservation manager" and keep church and state separate.  [02/19/2006]

Will Chinese water-less torture be next?  The city, in its unfathomable wisdom, has also decided that all new buildings in Flagstaff, and remodeled ones, will have to use waterless urinals.  Why can't it be up to the individual builder and/or tenant?  Why does the city get to decide whether you can, or cannot, use water in a urinal?  We have installed just such devices at the new College of Business Administration at Northern Arizona University.  Oddly enough, the toilets seem to use about 100 gallons per flush.  It seems to me that a happier medium could have been reached here.  And, with no daytime custodial staff in the building, the men's rooms do start to smell a bit like hamster cages - that is probably not featured in the city's propaganda extolling the virtues of conserving water.  A state official was quoted as saying, "We need to raise awareness that we don't have tons of water."  Well, guess what?  We also don't have tons of bread, or tons of avocados, or tons of automobiles.  At least, not in Arizona.  Yet, we manage to get these items and we manage to live within our means.  Drum roll please ... isn't the market a wonderful thing?  Wouldn't it be nice if more people understood how it works and how it works so well?  [02/20/2006]

Kaibab Journal gets kudos.  There is a phenomena in the blogosphere called "carnival."  Not to be confused with the celebration down in Rio, but the idea is to have a blogger post up samplings of many other blogs over a weekend (or, whatever), usually with a theme in mind.  This way, folks around the web can better interact with others of like mind (or, not).  A new entry is the Coyote Carnival (not to be confused with CoyoteBlog, although it is hard not to) which had its first posting about a week ago.  They kindly singled out the Kaibab Journal with this entry:

For best coverage of a local issue, Kaibab Journal takes the prize with its chronology of the Canyon Forest Village development.

Thanks to the CC for the mention and I hope I can be a more active participant in the future.

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