Markets I Trust -
In today's Daily Sun, a letter
from local activist Lisa Rayner raises the specter that markets are
evil and mindless, arbitrary and capricious, dangerous and
delusional. As usual, I get a chuckle by reading her tirades,
which is probably a good way to start the day.
George Steck -
It was almost two years ago that I last saw George Steck, at a
birthday party held for him at Kolb Studios at Grand Canyon National
Park. I hadn't seen George since the mid-1980s. At that
time, I had corresponded with him about a route off of the Esplanade
and into Kanab Creek from the west. I picked up his name from
someone I knew in the Backcountry Office. This was before he
wrote/published his fabulous Grand
Canyon Loops books. He wrote back, in typical George
fashion, "[T]here are at
least two places to get down. One is awkward for one person with
a pack..." Years later, I learned that
"awkward" for George means that I shouldn't even get
close. Sadly, George passed away soon after this
celebration. Still, he had a good run!
Taxation for Representation -
In case you weren't already tuned in, Flagstaff has a Film
Commissioner! And, apparently, we're all darn proud of the job
she's doing! The local paper and the local TV station are all
over the story about how a film crew is set to spend a few weeks here,
filming a low budget sci fi movie about Bigfoot. Can we possibly
contain our excitement? Why, this will really put Flagstaff on
the map! Well, so says the film Commish. Funny, you'd
think we would already be basking in the reflected glory of Hollywood,
with such films as Planet of the Apes (the original and the remake),
Starman, Forrest Gump, Midnight Run (or, was it Midnight Express? I
get them mixed up), Broken Arrow and Evolution having been partly
filmed here, or close by. Still, a flick about Bigfoot will
probably push us over the top in terms of making Flag-town a
blossoming film center.
When is a
Judge "Activist?" -
Today's editorial in the Daily Sun argues that conservatives are just
as likely to favor "activist" judges as liberals are.
They cite, by way of example, Scalia and Thomas as being "just as
likely to overrule Congress as the more liberal justices on the high
court." The editorial further compares the complaints from
conservatives about Harriet Miers, nominee for the Supreme Court, as
being tantamount to a political litmus test.
Bigotry - Today
marks the first day in court over a challenge to the Coconino National
to allow for expansion of the Snowbowl facility, on the San Francisco
Peaks, and to use reclaimed water in making artificial snow. The
challengers are the usual bunch of do-nothings, more or less
participants in the poorly-named Save
the Peaks Coalition. I guess you could call them the
coalition of the unwilling. Unwilling to let anyone do anything
that conflicts with their static view of how the world should
work. Well, maybe "work" is not the right word, since
I am not sure that any of them do. Work, that is. And,
since there is no skiing on the "peaks", I suppose it would
be more accurate if the group was named the "Save the Flanks
Coalition." But, even that begs the question - if we are
trying to save something, what is it, exactly, that would otherwise be
on Empty - The Oil Bugaboo -
Take all of the scary post-apocalyptic stories you can think of and
roll them together into one. Give it a voice and you’d have
the prophet-of-doom Richard Heinberg, who recently spoke at NAU on the
topic of the “Coming End of Oil.” Heinberg argues that we
are running out of oil and that, when the end comes, it will be a huge
shock to us all. His solution is to cut back now, and “build
community solidarity” ... whatever that means.
Inner Basin Aspens - Ah, fall is in the air, and it is well past time to take a trek into the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks, not only for its own sake, but also to catch the changing of the aspens. We had some rain last night (at least, in town), but the conditions were great up in this area. The Inner Basin had some snow - fine, granulated crystals, but it was still cold and they hadn't melted. Also, the northwest face of Agassiz had a sprinkling of the white stuff that contrasted nicely with the golden aspen leaves and green pines. Many trees in the Inner Basin had already dropped all their leaves, although there were groups still fully leafed out. For more pictures and some extended comments, follow this link to Thar's Gold in Them Hills - Hiking to the Inner Basin.
Chairman Harriet Miers?! -
Many years ago, when asked if he were running for President, Newt
Gingrich replied that he wouldn't want the second most powerful job in
the world and that he was holding out for the most powerful job -
Federal Reserve Board Chairman. While tongue-firmly-in-cheek,
there is more than a grain of truth in this observation. The Fed
Chairman (currently, Alan
Greenspan) oversees monetary policy with an eye to economic
stability - largely to prevent creeping inflation and avoid prolonged
recessions. The Fed Chairman operates independently of the
executive and legislative branches, with only the requirement to
periodically report to Congress. While the Fed Chairman should
enjoy the President's trust, they serve in this position for a four
year term, and, if they prove able, can be reselected many
times. In Greenspan's case, he was selected by Reagan, and then
reselected by Bush I, by Clinton and by Bush II. Greenspan's
fourteen year term to the Board expires on January 31, 2006, and he
intends to retire from the Fed at that time. There are still two
years remaining in the current term as Chairman, so, his replacement
will only serve, as Chairman, for these two years before being
considered for reselection to that post.
Her Words -
Janice Rogers Brown
- Free to Choose -
A recent story in the Daily Sun
bemoaned the lack of diversity in the student population of
Flagstaff’s many charter schools. The intent of the article,
and the follow-up editorial, reflected the old-fashioned attitude of
centralization and control and could have been written by any union
hack at the NEA. Local school district Superintendent Kevin
Brown argues that the charters create “de
facto segregation.” The paper claims that failing to
provide free transportation makes charters “exclusionary.”**
And, a suspect academic from ASU decries that charters “have
the luxury to teach in a way to maximize” student
achievements, as if that was a bad thing. It just goes to show that
behind every silver lining there must be a cloud somewhere.
** By the way, when did free transportation become part of the entitlement to a public education? I raised this issue earlier in Bus-stop!
Recommended reading: This attitude of making the educational system a tool of questionable "social justice" reminded me of Ayn Rand's novella, Anthem. It is available completely on-line at noblesoul. Aside from hiking in the Grand Canyon, I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
Additional resources on charter schools in Arizona: The Goldwater Institute has championed school choice for years and has published many reports, articles and editorials on the topic, including this "Comparison of Traditional Public Schools and Charter Schools ..."
Oh, yes, the blog title: Free to Choose was a book (and, later, a TV series) written by Milton & Rose Friedman.
Yesterday, a small congressional delegation held a meeting at the Flagstaff City Hall. It was the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. It's topic was "Management of the National Parks and the Parks of the Southwest." ??! Yeah, I don't get it either. The chairman, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Illinois), tried to explain how this all makes sense, but I never really got past his mentioning that this was the same subcommittee that heard from Mark McGuire on steroid use in baseball. Nonetheless, this meeting raised many issues about which I would like to blog, which will likely get posted up in many parts, this being the first.
Geologist - So What? -
As is often true in politics, proponents of some particular position cite
an anomalous story which has the effect of shocking people into supporting
their position. Meeting in Flagstaff, as part of a study of
management issues in the National Parks, Chairman Mark Souder remarked
that, on the floor of Congress, a representative would never say that XYZ
National Monument is underfunded, because nobody else cares about
XYZ. Instead, they will rail about how the "crown jewels"
are underfunded - Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite. Then, by
extension, so is every park and monument, including XYZ.
Prescott Air Fair 2005 - Yesterday, the family headed out for Prescott to see the annual airshow they put on - Arizona Skyfest 2005. Lots of cool old WWII planes, many flying throughout the day. The highlight had to be the Warbird Flyovers - pictured above. They included a B-17, DC-3, fighters (including the Mustang and Sea Fury) and trainers (besides American, there were also some Chinese!). We were treated to quite a few aerobatic shows and some jet flying late in the day, including the only privately-owed and flown F-4 and a working MiG fighter. To read more and see more photos follow this link to "Prescott Air Fair 2005."
For more photos
and information on military planes go to these resources:
Parking at Grand Canyon - As noted last week, a Congressional subcommittee was in Flagstaff to consider, in part, the new, higher, fees soon to be implemented at Grand Canyon. According to the testimony before the committee, most of the monies collected from the fee demonstration project over the years will go to a new transit system at the park. What a waste of money! The purpose for these funds was to pick up the slack on backlogged projects - apparently there are none at Grand Canyon! So, what can be done to fix the parking at Grand Canyon? I mean, specifically? Well, as it happens, I wrote a report on this a couple of years ago and tried to circulate it among the powers that be in an attempt to at least influence the debate on this issue. I don't know if it found a receptive audience or not, but I have added it to my essay postings above: Grand Canyon Parking Proposal. Any and all feedback is appreciated (my e-mail is at the bottom of this page).
Y a City
Function? - In
its usual fit of "government can't be too big, nor too
generous" mindset, the editors of the Daily
Sun have opined that the city government of Flagstaff should sit
down and work together with the YMCA in building a recreational
facility that would be better than the sum of two parts. While
there is a certain amount of superficial appeal to this notion, it
still begs the question of why the city is even in the business of
building, maintaining and supporting recreational facilities in the
Old Faithful Deserves More
the Congressional subcommittee hearings held
last week in Flagstaff, Ms. Tuck did an admirable job of raising
alarms about how the sky was falling up at Grand Canyon. In
listening to her, I wondered whether the canyon would just disappear
in coming weeks, months, or years, without "adequate"
federal funding. Of course, it won't. Disappear, that
is. Well, not for millions of years. In geologic terms, I
suppose we could say that the canyon is eroding faster than federal
monies during a recession.
At NAU - Insanable is Attainable! - The new religion on the campus of Northern Arizona University is “sustainability.” For those of you who don’t know what sustainable really means, you’re in good company, because, as it turns out, it doesn’t really mean anything. Oh, sure, the proponents of sustainability will tell you that it means that we “live in harmony with the world.” But, that’s just another way of saying that they don’t know what it means either. After all, who is to define "harmony?" I define it as big steel and glass buildings that dominate the landscape and extol the virtues of human ingenuity. But, I don't think everyone else defines it that way.
Think about it for a minute, which is more than anyone at NAU seems to have done. Think about it, that is. For a minute. What is “sustainable?” Well, absolutely nothing. I'm not exaggerating - it means absolutely nothing. It is, at its root, a fundamental contradiction of all known physical laws. The universe began with the Big Bang, at least insofar as I understand the field of cosmology, which, unlike the field of cosmetology, doesn’t require a state license to practice. Our planet has undergone numerous changes to get to where we are today, and it will continue to change right up until the time the sun transforms into a red giant and turns the Earth into toast. Yes, even the sun is not sustainable.
“Sustainability” is really just a cover for those who oppose change, fight development, and detest individuality. They seek to control our every decision, deciding what to eat, how much water to use and when we can turn our lights on. They are, what Virginia Postrel calls, “stasists.” They are the people she wrote about in The Future and Its Enemies.
At NAU, a “Sustainability Pledge” is being circulated around campus. Although not long, it includes the promise to "turn off water when brushing my teeth and while soaping in the shower." Hey, I have a good idea - why don't we just go back to the good ol' days of the fifteenth century and stop taking showers altogether! Soap? Who needs soap? And, who needs toothpaste? When all of our teeth fall out, we can just fashion new ones out of the wood from the trees that the Forest Service burns every year in this area. Brilliant! We not only use less resources, we "enhance" our sustainability by using more local resources. Hey, third world, watch out, because we're coming at ya!
This pledge is being "sustained" by the NAU Campus Sustainability Steering Committee (CSSC), made up of students, faculty and staff. And, they seem to be very busy bees, having formed ten task forces to " conserve natural resources and reduce expenses while enhancing the university’s educational goals and workplace values." There is even a master plan, which includes goals ranging from incentivizing faculty to "ride in hybrid cars to campus" and introducing "sustainability issues into the curriculum" to require local "produce at campus banquets" and training faculty in "sustainability issues."
I don't have any particular issue with reducing expenses at the university - goodness knows we waste a lot of taxpayer money up here besides just that wasted by the CSSC. But, there is a credibility issue at stake here. There is no effort to truly reduce expenses, only to reduce particular expenses. For example, while the new research building may reduce electricity costs, it is not at all clear that it would pass any reasonable cost-benefit analysis. That is, the additional costs that go into its planning and construction may not be compensated for by the decreased cost of utilities. Virtually all of the items in the "master plan" strike me as raising overall costs, not lowering them.
One also must wonder how it is that we, at NAU, have so much time on our hands that we can put together a task force to study the issue of soaping up in the shower, and the resources to create a campaign to stop it. My major concerns at NAU are that my students don't like to read, can't write very well and have questionable math skills. But, apparently, these are minor issues. Why be concerned about education when we can ride around in hybrid cars?
Sometimes, when I look at the world around me, it just seems like a distorted, twisted, chaotic mess, where insanity rules and logic, reason and sensibility have been buried with the old soup bones in the backyard. And, while the madness can't last forever, it certainly can last for a long time, especially if the taxpayer is footing the bill.
There is a better way. We can use markets. Markets like low costs. Markets thrive on low costs. Markets abhor the waste of resources, because it cuts into profits. If we really cared about higher education, and I don't think "we" really do, we would urge the state legislature to end the funding of the three state universities, instead providing students with a grant that they can take with them to the college or university of their choosing. Even more could be done, but that would be a start.
Blog Roundup - Here are some interesting stories floating around the blogosphere...
The Coyote Blog has a nice piece on "Free Camping" where he discusses the odd public perception that camping should be free. I have no problem with paying for services rendered, and at these campgrounds you are getting plenty of services. It is untenable to expect taxpayers to support one's outdoor addiction in this way. And, even while I have argued for Free Hiking in the Grand Canyon and I oppose the fees being charged for backcountry permits, I have long argued that the park service should charge for the improved campgrounds (Bright Angel, Cottonwood, Indian Garden and even, to a lesser extent, at Hermit Creek). If the park were limited to charging just for improved campgrounds, rather than allowed to charge all backpackers, then maybe they'd get their act together and build decent campgrounds at Clear Creek, Tanner Rapids, Hance Rapids, Grandview, Hermit Rapids, Thunder River and Deer Creek. I would be happy to pay for those services (but, not those stinky vault toilets!).
Over at Jackalope Pursuivant is a comment titled "Too Cruel to Contemplate" in which he opines on the folly of trying to re-create the romantic life at Fort Clatsop, built by members of the Lewis & Clark Expedition for the winter of 1805-1806 in Oregon. Quoting from diaries written at the time, one gets much more of a sense of pain and suffering than they do of "romance"!
Spectregunner, over at the Computer Curmudgeon has a great review, in his post "An Education Farce," of the recent case of a student getting into trouble at school because he uses a glucose monitoring device frequently throughout the day. The kit includes a small needle - shorter than a thumbtack - which violated school rules. I think my favorite line from the post is, "I also won't ask how it is that the very people who are entrusted with teaching our youth how to think seem so incapable of doing so themselves." To me, the major problem here, besides an out of control tort system, is the collectivization of education. If we could free up this system to encourage competition, we might not be faced with so many "farces."
Tyler Cowen at the Marginal Revolution offers up some suggestions for how airplanes can be more easily loaded up for take-off (How petty can my worries get?). Although United Airlines is considering a window-middle-aisle ordering, Tyler's suggestion that incentives could accomplish the desired results raises the question of why it is so difficult to employ simple economic reasoning to our everyday problems. After all, being rewarded for "correct" behavior (getting quickly into your seat) is standard economic logic, but it's hardly rocket science.
Laura, at the Rings of Benzene, has a super commentary on how political correctness in higher education serves nobody. In her post, " Diversity: Key to Success" she takes to task the University of Arizona administration and their attempt to pursue diversity rather than education. Here at NAU, I have heard the president say that he wants every student in Arizona to attend college and that every student that attends NAU should graduate. Oh, and by the way, we will do this without lowering standards. No, that wasn't his annual April Fools Day speech, but maybe it should have been. The problem with higher education, especially if taxpayer funded, is that there are extremely weak incentives to actually produce "educated" students. Instead, we are encouraged to produce "matriculated" students. The really good students that I see have a strong personal motivation to learn and succeed, despite the system.
The West Rim Shuffle - I was up at the Grand Canyon on Sunday, for an annual trek that I do with friends and colleagues. This year we decided on a hike down the Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs. Cool pictures and travelogue comments will follow soon. But, here is how our day broke down - 6.5 hours hiking in the canyon and 5 hours in transit. Three hours of this transiting time was spent in cars on the round trip from Flagstaff to the Bright Angel Lodge, at the South Rim Village in Grand Canyon, which covers some 160+ miles. The other 2 hours was spent waiting for and riding the West Rim Shuttle, covering about 16 miles (round trip). It is just astounding how poor the transportation infrastructure is in the park and how much resistance there is to sensible planning in this regard. For instance ...
1. Why is the West Rim closed to traffic during off-peak hours? Over time, the amount of days in a year when you can drive your own vehicle out along the West Rim Drive has been shrinking. Currently, the road is only open from December through February, and I can well imagine that it won't be long before even that is no longer true. I can appreciate the fact that during the daily peak in visitation, say between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., that the road and available parking are insufficient to accommodate the visitors, and their vehicles, that would like to use it. But, that is not true at 7 a.m., nor at 8 p.m. So, why, even during the busiest times of the year, isn't the road opened to the general public during off-peak hours? It would seem an easy task to build a gate that would stop letting vehicles in, but still allow vehicles to exit, even once buses do start up during the day. Many years ago, the park improved the parking at the Hermit Trailhead, but that is now only available to overnight backpackers and not to day users. Quite a waste of this available resource.
2. Why is the bus so hiker-unfriendly? Well, in fact, it is people-unfriendly. From the hard plastic seats, that are contoured to exactly the opposite shape of your spine, to the placement of seats over the wheel wells, it is anything but a pleasant ride. Add to that the lack of any space for packs, and you can easily feel like a sardine squeezed in here. This is made even worse when people have to stand.
3. Why is the service frequency so poor? Even at this late date in the season, we were in packed-to-the-brim buses. On the trip out to Hermit, after waiting a half hour, we got on the bus and the driver announced that we all had to have seats or we'd have to wait for the next bus! Frustration seems to be a concept that eludes officials at the Grand Canyon. On the way back from Hermit's Rest, at about 4:30 p.m., there were people standing for most of the ride back to the village. And, there were people that couldn't get on this bus and had to wait for the next one. Some may argue that this just proves that there are too many visitors to the Grand Canyon. Nonsense - no matter how many, or how few, visitors there are, if the park provides an insufficient number of buses, they will always be crowded.
4. Why is the West Rim Drive in such bad shape? The park has collected over $100 million dollars in fee demonstration money, which is supposed to be used to fix up the park, yet they refuse to use the money this way. This road is so bumpy that one has a difficult time carrying on a conversation on the bus. I am sure that part of the problem is the quality of the bus, but a bigger problem is the quality of the road. It is only 8 miles long and probably hasn't ever been repaved since it was first put in.
5. What could be done to improve this situation:
Repave and improve the West Rim Drive.
Improve and expand the parking along the West Rim Drive.
Build a loop that connects from Hermit's Rest to Maswik Lodge, bypassing the viewpoints. [This would be a boon to locals and hikers just interested in getting to HR. And, this could be kept open even when buses are used on the viewpoints road.]
Keep the West Rim Drive open to private vehicles as many days, and hours of the day, as possible.
The bus service should be made up of small buses that run at a high service frequency.
Don't Drink the ... Snow - Near to Flagstaff is the Arizona Snowbowl. They have gone through quite a long process of getting the Forest Service to accept their proposal to expand these facilities and to begin using reclaimed water to make artificial snow. The winters in Flagstaff are notoriously volatile - some years we get only 30 inches of snow, others we get well over 100 inches. The decision of the Forest Service has been challenged, on "religious" grounds by various Native American activists. I wrote about this in my blog, "Cultural Bigotry." One of the related complaints is about the quality of the reclaimed water. It seemed a case of much ado about nothing. A letter in today's Daily Sun does a great job of "raining" on this particular parade:
J.R. Brown - Back in the Mix - Harriet Miers seems like a nice person, and she may have made a good, even a great, Supreme Court Justice; and her withdrawal from consideration is a point in her favor. But, she didn't have the kind of background that would convince me that she wouldn't slide into a position of accommodation on issues that really need to be decided on constitutional grounds. I did believe that Chief Justice Roberts might have been able to keep Miers in philosophical tow, but I'd much rather see someone on the bench that has wrestled with the philosophical issues and has come down on the side of the constitution and sees clearly the limited role of government. Someone like ... Janice Rogers Brown. Yes, it's time to pull that drum out of the closet and beat on it again. Below are a couple of quotes and some links to further reading.
Canyon Fees - Baloney, not Red Herring
- This past
professor David Ostergren authored a guest column in the Arizona Daily
Sun on the topic of the Grand Canyon and fees. He makes much of
noting that the $10 entrance fee to Yellowstone, in 1916, is
equivalent to some $182 in today's prices. I'm fine with that
result, but it doesn't tell me that the price in 2005 should be $182,
although that is what Ostergren implies. If anything, it tells
me that the park service was engaged in price gouging back in the good
old days. After all, before Yellowstone was a park, or before
Grand Canyon was a park, it didn't cost anything for admission!
Evening in the Pines
- Last night, the
Arizona Republican Party sponsored "An Evening in the Pines"
fundraiser at the Forest
Highlands Country Club. The featured speakers
Bennett, the President of the Arizona Senate and Jim
Weiers, the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, shown
in the photo I took, to the right (Weiers is wearing a jacket).
Both gave insightful talks on their efforts, in the legislature, to
properly govern Arizona. Despite the fact that it was a
Republican group gathered to hear these comments, both speakers talked
about the necessity of compromise, their willingness to work with
their Democrat counterparts, and, especially in the case of Bennett,
their respect for members of the other party with whom they can deal