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June - July - August 2007

Stinking T-Shirts

Lernin' is gud

The Sunscreen Police

Ask Not ... please!

Looking Glass Logic

Remembering Peppyr

Cairns Above Sockdolager

Out of Service

My 2¢ on City Council Pay

When the Poor are Fat ...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

   Stinking T-Shirts - Local activist, and crazy person (or, is that just being redundant?) Dan Frazier has been singled out for selling T-shirts that proclaim "Bush Lied - They Died" with the names of soldiers killed in Iraq listed.  I have three problems with this:

It is extremely unlikely that many, if any, of the soldiers who died would sympathize with Frazier's viewpoint.  There is no draft - being a member of the armed forces is a voluntary act.  The implication of Frazier's use of these names is that he actually cared about these people; he didn't.  That soldier's families have complained about his use of these names should send a signal to Frazier that what he is doing is . . . unethical.  But, then, he is a liberal.

The sentiment is faulty.  Bush did not lie We live in a world of imperfect information.  If we are going to be held to a standard of perfection, then let's just give up now.

Does anybody understand the meaning of liberty?  I guess not.  We all know that politicians have no backbone, so this case shouldn't surprise us.  Still, that the Republican legislature can concoct this bill, and that our Democrat governor should sign it, speaks volumes for how little these politicians care about the most fundamental principles of governing under our constitution.

     So, I decided to send off a letter to the Arizona Daily Sun, focusing on the role economic freedoms play in our having political freedoms:

To the editor:

Many object to Dan Frazier’s T-shirts.  So do I.  My response is to not buy any.  But, politicians, who have little fundamental respect for the concepts of freedom and liberty, have decided otherwise, making his actions a crime.  His supporters claim that this action violates his “freedom of speech.”

But, this is about something bigger.  Mr. Frazier has the right to go out and express his political views all he wants, even using, however disingenuously, the names of fallen Americans soldiers to make his point.

What this issue is really all about is economic freedom – the right to engage in voluntary trade in a system of private property rights.  It is this right that has been so easily trampled by the Governor and the Legislature.  Our political freedoms are enabled by, and dependent upon, our economic freedoms.  As Milton Friedman pointed out, there is no such thing as a world of political freedoms (speech, religion, the press, association, et al.) when there are no economic freedoms.

So, let’s oppose government restriction of our economic freedoms, whether it be the imposition of minimum wages, the mandatory cutbacks in economic growth to satisfy the priesthood of global warming, or making it crime for a loathsome political activist to sell T-shirts.


     My first encounter with the notion of economic freedom as being a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for political freedom was in Milton Friedman's classic, Capitalism and Freedom.  The argument is up front in the book and it just bowled me over.  That, and his opening critique of JFK's "Ask not..." statement.

Monday, June 11, 2007

   Lernin' is gud - This past Saturday, I made two trips to the Grand Canyon area.  I was starting to feel like one of the characters in a Tony Hillerman novel, spending the entire day driving around northern Arizona (or, New Mexico, as is usually the case in his books).  We put in 325 miles.  And, what did we do?  Besides drive, that is.  We took a hike to Cedar Ridge, along with some astronomy students, that have come to NAU for ten weeks of research experience.  And, we went to a special benefit at the Imax Theater in nearby Tusayan.  The benefit included a dinner (fresh BBQ pork - yummy), entertainment (Exit 64 - great stuff) and a movie (Niagara - two stars).  The benefit was for the Kaibab Learning Center, a day care operation in Tusayan.  However, the sign at the event (above) suffers from a misspelling, and I couldn't resist the irony.  As best I can tell, this is strictly a private operation, so two cheers for voluntary solutions to our myriad of problems, but I'd have felt better if someone had, at least, wrote in the correct spelling of the word, "Kaibab."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

   The Sunscreen Police - A story in yesterday's paper was titled, "New rules for sun safety."  The upshot of this article is that the FDA is set to impose more standards on sunscreen makers.  Producers will now have to calculate their product's effectiveness against ultraviolet-A rays, as they current must do with ultraviolet-B rays.

     I can't think of a better example of what the government shouldn't do.  The reason for interfering in this market is clear - many people contract skin cancers, linked to UV-A rays.  OK.  So, why does it, then, fall on the government to mandate testing of producers to show how well their products counteract these rays?  If consumers want that information, and I think they do, then producers will have an incentive to provide it.  Those that don't will lose business.  The issue isn't whether people find this information useful; rather, it is about the proper role of government.  And, this is not a proper role of government.  To believe otherwise opens up a Pandora's box - where on earth would government regulation stop if the sole criteria is that it can "do some good?"  Even if it isn't clear that it adds anything above and beyond what the market would do?

     What is doubly idiotic about this issue is that we are talking about trying to protect ourselves from the adverse effects of the sun's rays.  Isn't this rather anti-nature?  Shouldn't we be embracing the simple life, without sunscreen?  Is it an unsustainable concept?  Will we lament that we have become addicted to sunscreen, and that the government helped make it so?  [Sort of like cigarettes, I suppose.]  I suppose that it is typical of contemporary culture that we would find fault with producers that make a product designed to help us in this way - "Sunscreen is imperfect," warns Dr. Nancy Thomas, a dermatologist at the University of North Carolina who led the UV research. "Schedule activities when UV irradiation is not quite so high."  What is next?  Perhaps lawsuits from workers that are "forced" to work outdoors during the day?  I wouldn't be surprised.  And, I wouldn't be surprised if John Edwards found a way to get a piece of that action.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

   Ask Not . . . please! - Yesterday, I went to see a film sponsored by the Sedona International Film Festival titled In the Shadow of the Moon.  It is an entertaining story of the Apollo flights to the moon, told by many (but, not all) of the surviving astronauts who flew these missions.  The hook is that the story, to a great extent, is about the men themselves.  Well, I'd give it a B+.  I thought that the film's "mission" was a bit convoluted and not as well focused as it could be.  And, failing to aggressively go after Neil Armstrong - which producer Duncan Copp (who did a Q&A after the movie) lamely passed off as acceding to the wishes of Armstrong - was a huge hole in the story.  [And, then, in his next breath, he hoped that Armstrong would agree to later interviews.]  One element of the story that stood out, as one would expect, is Kennedy's "Ask not ..." passage, from his inaugural address, and his pledge to send a man to the moon (..."before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.").  As I contemplated this "pledge" I came to see it as fitting into a disquieting pattern. 

     We should be quite ill as ease with the politician that makes a pledge of a technical nature.  JFK's famous pledge is troubling on three fronts.  First, he doesn't have any technical expertise.  He doesn't know whether it can be done, or whether it should be done.  That is exactly the problem we have with the current global warming hysteria - nothing I have read tells me it is worthwhile spending any money on this "problem," save for some further data collection.  Second, the funds that are being "committed" comes from taxes.  We have no choice in the matter.  If private parties are willing to invest in Space Ship One, then hurrah for them; but don't force everyone to chip in as well.  It distorts our priorities, and requires us to embrace just one vision, rather than many visions.  Third, we'll never really know what we missed being able to do because of this political mandate.  Maybe we should still have spent the money through NASA, but there were probably a million and one other projects that might have been done.  [Or, maybe not; there was the PR aspect of the moon race, although that didn't last beyond Apollo in terms of what many expected to follow - moon bases, trips to Mars, et al.] 

     I don't know that Kennedy was the first in this regard - after all, gigantic pyramids got built in ancient Egypt.  And, given the politician's drive to control our lives, maybe I should just resign myself to this ego trip they have insofar as technical matters are concerned.  The alternative is that they spend more time trying to control the economy, which is potentially more disastrous - we're still trying to undo the damage FDR did, and it is very slow work indeed!  Still, Kennedy set the standard that contemporary Presidents follow - every State of the Union Address has become a litany of projects to artificially stimulate technical advancement and waste money, be it higher CAFE standards, or using sawgrass to power automobiles.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

   Looking Glass Logic - This past Sunday, the Arizona Daily Sun ran an editorial titled, "Housing options need price tags and full debate."  The arguments made were built on such a flimsy house of cards, that I decided to pen a response and send it to them.  As the main thrust of the editorial was that the debate was over, insofar as government involvement in the local housing market was concerned, I thought about calling this blog, "Housing meets Global Warming."   As long as someone proclaims consensus, apparently there must be one!  The editorial concerned recommendations made by a $100,000, city-funded, study (Nexus Housing Study).  Here's the letter:

To the editor:

Your recent editorial on the housing “crisis” suffers from three flaws.  First, the notion that local workers are underpaid “compared to the Phoenix market” is untrue.  Our total income is derived from both monetary and non-monetary sources – living in Flagstaff conveys lots of non-monetary benefits (e.g., our proximity to the Grand Canyon).  Those who stay here have decided that the trade off is worthwhile, hence they are not “underpaid.”

Second, the notion that we should have some target ownership ratio, or that prices should represent some specific multiple of median income, is arbitrary.  If the average for the nation is 67%, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that some places are higher and some are lower.  So, why is it a “problem” that we have a lower rate?  Let’s just accept and embrace our diversity.

Third, the notion that the “private market simply cannot solve the problem” is untrue.  The market has solved this problem by efficiently allocating scarce resources among competing ends.  To the extent that our scarcities are made worse by physical limitations, so be it – we have to live with physical limitations!

However, if our scarcities are worsened by ill-conceived political regulations, then don’t blame the market if prices are high.  Blame all the people that want to impose unwarranted constraints and restrictions on the use of land.  Imposing further restrictions and constraints will only exacerbate the scarcities we face and continue to raise the cost of living in Flagstaff.

Some additional notes:

The "underpaid" class.  As noted, the editorial misses the point of what economists call the "full wage" of any worker.  By living in Flagstaff, instead of Phoenix, workers trade off summertime highs of 115 degrees (or, more) for wintertime lows that may dip below zero.  They trade off long commutes along congested highways, for short trips, even across town.  They trade off the desert for the mountains.  I have met people that don't want to make those trade offs, so they move elsewhere.  There is a constant rearranging of equilibrium conditions to reflect these underlying differences. 

Home ownership rates.  Whenever I see someone point to an average and bemoan the fact that "we" are below it, I just cringe.  Averages are made up of high and low numbers.  Hasn't Garrison Keeler convinced us that it is a pipe dream for everyone to be above average?  So, the national average is 67% (actually, it is 68.4%).  For the current year, across the fifty states, and D.C., the average ranges from 45.5% (Washington, D.C.), 55.7% (New York) and 59.9% (Hawaii) to 78.4% (West Virginia).  In "principal cities" the rate (for the U.S.) is 54.1%.  Across the 75 largest metropolitan areas, the rate is lowest in New York City (53.6%), Fresno, CA (53.9%), Los Angeles (54.4%) Honolulu (58.4%), and San Francisco (59.9%) while the highest is in Indianapolis (79%).  Note that these are not city limits, but metropolitan areas.  Certainly, the rates would be lower inside of city limits (except for Honolulu, where the city is the entire island of Oahu).
     And, that is true for Flagstaff as well.  The metro area, in the
2000 Census, is more than double the population of the city (116,000 versus 53,000), and had an overall home ownership rate of 61.4%, while the city had a rate of 48%.  Essentially, this means that home ownership rates in the local area, outside the city limits, are well over 70%!  While the editors of the local paper contend that local workers, commuting from outlying areas is "inefficient and ... undesirable," there is no support for any such notion.  They must be asserting that all 116,000 local area residents should be squeezed into the current city limits!
     Another issue here, which hasn't been addressed, is that Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University, which has well over 10,000 students.  This means that some demand exists for rental housing, not for owner-occupied housing.  This will skew the results for home ownership rates.  Having skimmed through the Nexus report, I can't find any adjustment for this demand.
     What about other places in Arizona?  Well, the 2000 Census gives home ownership rates for various places around the state.  The lowest rates are for
Tempe (51%), Sierra Vista (52.2%), Tucson (53.4%), Bullhead City (60.3%), and Phoenix (60.7%).  The highest rates are for Apache Junction (82.1%), Peoria (84.3%), Gilbert (84.9%), and Surprise (88.3%).
    
Well, these are the largest communities of our state.  Some of the smaller places, and their home ownership ratios can be accessed from this web page (put an * in the search box to see a list of Arizona places).  Here are the stats for some of these communities (from the 2000 Census) ranked from highest, to lowest, in terms of home ownership rates:

     Clearly this issue is not as cut-and-dried as the editors of the Daily Sun would have us believe - "The time for arguing over whether government should get involved in Flagstaff's housing crisis is over."  But, I think it is going to take more letters . . .

Monday, July 23, 2007

   Remembering Peppyr - For about a year, Peppyr had been feeling the ill effects of old age.  We celebrated her 15th birthday this month, with special dog treats from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.  But, her worsening arthritis, the loss of some forty percent of her weight, an increasing inability to stand, and a dramatic lessening of appetite, led us to have her put to sleep this past Friday.  She was a great companion and the first dog I've ever had.  The sadness felt by Cara Lynn, Eric and me is certainly a testament of how easily it was for us to project some of ourselves onto her.

      I have a great many fond memories of Peppyr.  I took her hiking a lot.  I can still see her trying to hop up the steep steps on her first hike on the Fatman's Loop at Mt. Elden.  She was to the top of Mt. Humphreys at least twice.  We would often hike up, and jog back, along the trails at Sandy Seep and the Inner Basin.  Our longest hike together was from the Inner Basin to the Mt. Elden trailhead parking lot.  We were both tired and sore for some days afterwards.

     She came along on many camping trips to the North Rim - Saddle Mountain, Jumpup Canyon, and Crazy Jug were favorite spots to camp.  The photo, on the right, shows us looking over a benchmark site above Hack Canyon in 2004.  I am reasonably sure that she was the first dog to walk across the old Navajo Bridge, below Lees Ferry, as we happened by there right after the new bridge opened for business (but, before the ceremony marking its use).  I also took her on some road trips - a couple of times to visit family in Denver, and once on a trip to Fargo.  But, mostly we spent our time together hiking, especially in Flagstaff.

     There are tons of humorous moments that I recall - like her chasing after snowballs in the deep snow of the front yard.  She would stick her nose into the spot where the snowball had landed and try to fathom what had happened to it.  She never did catch the LED pen light shining on the carpet.  Nor, did she ever manage to catch her tail, as I recall.  Also, she was great at holding a dog biscuit on her nose until I allowed her to lean over, let it slide off, and eat it.

     I got Peppyr from the Humane Society in August of 1992.  She, and two siblings, were the last of a large litter available for adoption.  Exactly what kind of dog she was, besides "Humane Society Special," was unclear.  She had a cool distinctive white tip to her always-curly tail, and her paws looked like someone had dipped her into white paint.  The short hairs on her spine would shoot straight up when she got into an attack mode, which wasn't very often.  She was very good at "fetch" but not so good at "let go."

     The decision to put Peppyr to sleep was not an easy one, but we'll have many good memories to keep with us.  During our final visit to the Canyon Pet Hospital, I should also note that the reception staff, the techs and our vet, Dr. Chris, showed us a great deal of kindness, consideration and professionalism.

Sunday, July 27, 2007

   Cairns Above Sockdolager Rapids - Recently, I have begun to try to assemble the photos I have taken of various cairns in the Grand Canyon.  Unfortunately, I don't seem to have been a reliable chronicler of these crude structures.  And, of course, I don't have digital photos of the ones I have encountered more than five years ago.  So, I have been thinking about doing some hikes to cairns I know about, so that I can correct for this photographic deficiency.  [For instance, see BM 3702 - West of Plateau Point for a recent trip.]  Now that the monsoon season has kicked into full swing in northern Arizona (lots of clouds, especially in the afternoon, and pretty reliable rain every day), a day hike to the otherwise broiling Tonto Plateau seemed like a good idea.  I got my hiking buddy, Bill Ferris, to come along on this hike, so that I could photograph the cairn that marks a most unusual trail in the Grand Canyon . . .  

Read the full story - Cairns Above Sockdolager Rapids; Day Hiking the Grandview Trail

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

   Out of Service - This past Friday, hiking buddy Bill Ferris and I went on a loop hike in the Grand Canyon.  We went down the South Kaibab trail, across on the Tonto trail, and came up on the Bright Angel trail.  He has written up a report of this hike here, and I may post one as well (check for updates at the end of this blog).  The day was supposed to be on the hot side, with temps at the river forecast for a bit over 100 degrees.  On the Tonto Plateau, which we would be traversing, we likely were experiencing temps in the upper 80s.  To make this trip work, we needed to get up to the canyon before the final "hiker express" shuttle did the Bright Angel Lodge to South Kaibab trail run, which was at 6 a.m.  So, Bill picked me up at 4:20 a.m. and off we went.  We parked behind the Bright Angel at 5:50 and strolled down to . . . the wrong bus stop!!  It wasn't especially clear which stop the bus would make - the small one just before the BA, or the large one just past it, at the West Rim interchange.  We started at the latter, and determined that we would be better served by walking back down the road to the former, which turned out to be the correct decision.  We saw the bus arriving at this stop just before we got there.  [As the photo, above, attests, it was not crowded on this bus.]  While this was the start of a great hike, it was also the start of a day filled with examples of poor service at the Grand Canyon.  So, I penned a letter to the local paper . . .

To the editor:

“I think that woman wanted this bus, but she’s at the wrong stop.”  So uttered the driver of the Grand Canyon “hiker express” shuttle as we passed by a woman and her serious looking backpack.  It was 6 a.m., the traffic was very light, and her efforts to flag down this unmarked bus were in vain.  At our next stop, the driver bolted off the bus and had a five minute cigarette break.  Although it would have cut into his smoking time, picking up this hiker would only have taken about fifteen seconds.

“It’s not going anywhere,” said the park ranger to the hiker that had just arrived at Indian Garden, about halfway to his destination at the bottom of Grand Canyon.  Of course the Grand Canyon isn’t going anywhere!  But, that is not the issue – we try to maximize our enjoyment of this special place within the various constraints we face – time, energy and money.  The young man, and his wife, soon decided to reject the ranger’s suggestion that they spend an extra three hours at Indian Garden.

Poorly serving customers is the common thread for these two incidents I witnessed last week.  “Service” is a concept that is not well appreciated in the context of a collectivist state, which is what the National Park Service is creating at Grand Canyon.  And, visitors will be even more poorly served by the Park’s pending expulsion of the Verkamp’s from their century-old business on the rim of the canyon.

Dennis Foster
Flagstaff, AZ


While the letter must be brief, there is more to write about these incidents and this issue:

The stranded hiker.  She was at the same bus stop that Bill and I had started out at (but, not there when we were).  I had felt confident that we could flag down the bus if need be, but I guess I was wrong!  Having missed this "express" bus, she was likely to face about an hour's worth of waiting and riding to get to the South Kaibab trailhead.  She would have to wait and take a Village shuttle, making every stop until the Visitor's Center, where she'd have to get off and transfer to the So. Kaibab trailhead bus.  The total distance is probably four miles, and even our "express" bus took a dreadful 35 minutes to cover this ground.

The incident at Indian Garden.  As noted, the forecast was for a hot day, but with cloudiness in the afternoon.  We found conditions be quite nice - crystal clear skies until noon, then some small clouds forming.  By the middle of the afternoon, we did, in fact, catch some shade from the occasionally passing cloud.  Bill and I had been at Indian Garden for the better part of an hour (about 9 miles into our hike totaling 13.5 miles) when this ranger started to leave, heading uphill.  The hiker was really sort of a "drive-by" victim here - had he been one minute earlier, he wouldn't have had the conversation with the ranger.  She (the ranger) asked a couple of friendly questions at first - "How are you doing?  Going to the bottom?" - and noted that it was quite warm and would get hotter, suggesting that he hang out at IG for a while.  OK, so far.  I don't have a problem with that general advice.  But, then she hit him with the "It's not going anywhere" line and concluded with "I wouldn't go any further."  The hiker sat down on a nearby bench and seemed to reflect on this negative advice.  A few minutes later his wife arrived and they talked about what to do.
     Then, they came over to the spigot, where I was, to fill up water bottles.  I took the opportunity to tell them that I had overheard the ranger's comments, and I offered up a contrary opinion.  It seems that they had already decided to reject the ranger’s suggestion.  I told them that what the ranger didn’t tell them was that the trail continued alongside Garden Creek and Pipe Creek for most of the way to the Colorado River, so that they would have plenty of opportunities to cool off if they felt overheated.  Also, I told them that, while the forecast was for temps over 100 degrees, we were already starting to see some afternoon clouds rolling in, which would mitigate conditions.  I told them that the worst part was along the River Trail, where they would leave Pipe Creek and climb up above the river for a mile, or more.  That can be a brutally hot stretch, but you are closing in on Bright Angel Creek, and there are places to reach the river, if need be.
     The main problem here is that the ranger offered up the "worst case scenario" as the basis for her advice, without any particular regard to the condition, and circumstances, of these hikers.  The guy seemed in pretty good shape, his wife had hiked in the canyon before, and they had just spent a day in Phoenix without suffering from the heat.  The ranger knew none of this, but I did when I talked with this couple.  Consequently, I would say that this couple was poorly served by this "advice."

The cost of this "worst case scenario" mindset.  Primarily, this attitude, by far too many people in the Park Service, serves to lessen the quality of visitor's trips, especially if they feel like they have been bamboozled into altering their itinerary on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Grand Canyon.  This is especially true when only one in, maybe, twenty hikers, will actually get this "advice," due to the arbitrary nature of who a ranger actually talks with.  That lessens respect for the Park Service and puts people off from visiting such a magnificent place.  I am appalled that there are so few visitors to the Grand Canyon each year.  Sure, 4.5 million may sound like a lot, but it pales behind visitation to other places, and I tend to think that the more people that see the canyon, up close and personal, the more they will care about it.
     Another aspect of this, which can be seen from the incident, above, is that the advice may actually raise the risk level to some hikers.  It was about 1:30 p.m. when I talked with this couple.  What if they had hung around Indian Garden for an hour, and then, being frustrated by their circumstances, decided to head down the trail.  It is quite possible that they could have faced worst conditions as a consequence.  This is especially so when rangers give out this kind of "advice" in the late morning.  I am not opposed to hanging around and waiting out the heat, but I know that at 11 a.m., that wait may be six hours, and if I am in good shape, and well-hydrated, I am likely to be able to improve my circumstances dramatically in just one, or two, hours.

Giving unbiased advice.  I believe that the ranger gave the wrong advice to this couple.  But, that doesn't mean that other hikers might not be well-served by this advice.  It depends on the circumstances.  If a ranger can't judge a hiker's condition, and spend a few minutes really listening to them, then they are no better than the warning signs one encounters.  A couple weeks earlier, I was on the Grandview trail.  At the top of the Coconino, I encountered a middle-age man and his teenage son.  They were interested in going to the river and they had no water on them (nor any food).  The man was already looking overheated, and they were many thousands of feet above what they were used to at home.  I told them that they should turn around and head back up – that it would probably be a struggle as it was, especially without water.  I recommended that they head to the Bright Angel Trail, where they could hike down a mile and a half, or three miles, to rest houses with water, if they felt up to the task.

The Verkamp's story.  I just happened to find a page on the NPS website that shows concession opportunities at various National Parks.  The top one on the page (as of now) is for the Verkamp's Store, located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  This business predates the existence of the park, and has been continually run by this family.  But, the Park Service doesn't like to deal with multiple concessionaires, and would rather deal with a monopoly.  It is bad enough that the Park Service does so much to regulate business at the canyon, but allowing for a monopoly (which many economists argue cannot last without government support) is adding insult to injury.


  Related blog:   The West Rim Shuffle

  Related link:  Jackalope Pursuivant's take on this issue in his blog, "Good views, bad customer service."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

   My 2¢ on City Council Pay - The headline in this morning's Arizona Daily Sun notes that a "citizen" panel has recommended raising salaries for City Council members, and the Mayor, to $24,000 and $36,000 per year, respectively.  There are two main arguments put forth for this proposition, neither of which should hold much water...

Higher salaries will reward council members for putting in lots of time, energy and effort.  Well, yes, and that is just the problem.  I don't want the city council to work harder.  I'd rather they worked less than they do.  But, with the reins of power comes a natural urge to use that power.  If we could all just think about how awful the very idea of government is, then we could agree that we want to keep it as small as possible.  Rewarding elected officials for working hard is just an open invitation to increased activism on the part of public officials, who use the political process to force compliance rather than working to achieve their ends through voluntary means.  If anything, we should cut their salary, so that they might be more diligent in putting a lid on what the government does.

Higher salaries will ensure a more diverse candidate pool.  Really?  I can't imagine why that would be so.  At least, not at these levels of pay.  With a very high cost of living, and homes having a median price of well north of $300,000, a salary of $24,000 to $36,000 is hardly enough to support oneself, or a family.  The general expectation is that these elected officials have real jobs, and devote their spare time to these political efforts.  Let's keep it that way.  There is no evidence that this would increase either numbers, or diversity.  The article noted that only four people ran for three council seats in the last election, even though their salary had just been raised from $3,600 to $12,000. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

   When the Poor are Fat ... - The Trust for America's Health has issued its annual report on obesity in America.  I have no qualms with the bottom line (pardon the pun) - it is getting wider all the time.  Why, just last week, I was having breakfast with Sue and Tom, my sister and her mate.  Tom had just returned from a three week motorcycle cruise around a big chunk of the country and was noting how many fat people he saw on his travels.  I pointed out to him that the three of us had just ordered four breakfasts (at our favorite place - the Cracker Barrel), so we could split the order of pecan pancakes.  Well, none of us are obese, but we can each lose ten pounds.  Still, lifestyle is everything, isn't it?

     One thing that interested me about the report is the "connection" between obesity and poverty.  "Eight of the states with the highest poverty rates are also in the top 15 states with the highest obesity rates," according to the report (p. 15).  This observation should cause pause, not so much about the problem of obesity, but about the definition of poverty.  It seems clear to me that we have defined poverty in a dysfunctional manner if it can include people who eat too much.  I thought poverty meant that you didn't have enough income to properly feed, clothe and shelter yourself.  If poor people are fat, then they are, ipso facto, not poor.  There cannot be any other conclusion.

     A huge problem with the tenor and tone of this report is its advocacy for government involvement.  The report was funded by a private group, and, as best I can tell, it wasn't funded with any taxpayer money.  They seem to have a good handle on measuring the problem, and suggesting ways to combat it.  But, the report harps on the role of government, even to the extent of providing a host of public opinion survey results, showing how much people agree that the government should be involved.  Yeech.  Some of their proposals include:

-- "Restricting the sale of foods of poor nutritional value in schools."  [p. 45]
-- "Increasing the minimum food stamp benefit."  [p. 45]
-- "Providing subsidies to farmers' markets to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer cards."  [p. 46]
-- Provide "subsidies for growing fruits and vegetables."  [p. 46]
-- "Encourage new building design that encourages use of staircases rather than elevators or escalators."  [p. 79]
-- Use "[s]tate and federal transportation dollars ... for mass transit, sidewalk, and mixed use opportunities rather than be focused on highway construction."  [p. 79]
-- "The federal government should develop and implement a National Strategy to Combat Obesity."  [p. 93]
-- Require that "private employers and insurers ... ensure that every working American has access to a workplace wellness program."  [p. 94]
-- "Provide No or Low Cost Physical Activity Opportunities ... such as YMCAs."  [p. 97]

     There are many good ideas here, but using the government as the blunt force instrument to operationalize them is a huge mistake.  It is bad enough that we have to use government to deal with a host of real ills that afflict us.  But, this notion that something so controllable at the individual level must call into being a gigantic bureaucracy and boatloads of regulations is just mind numbing.

The Kaibab Journal

dfoster@kaibabjournal.com