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Archive - October 2005

In Markets I Trust

Remembering George Steck

No Taxation for Representation

When is a Judge "Activist?"

Cultural Bigotry

Running on Empty - The Oil Bugaboo

Inner Basin Aspens

Fed Chairman Harriet Miers?!

Charters - Free to Choose

No Canyon Geologist - So What?

Prescott Air Fair 2005

Parking at Grand Canyon

Y a City Function?

Old Faithful Deserves More

At NAU - Insanable is Attainable!

Blog Roundup

The West Rim Shuffle

Don't Drink the ... Snow

J.R. Brown - Back in the Mix

Grand Canyon Fees - Baloney, not Red Herring

An Evening in the Pines

Saturday, October 1, 2005

     In 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.
     She writes that "market-worship [is] a religion."  I beg to differ.  The nature of religion is faith, i.e., lack of proof.  Otherwise, it isn't a religion.  The superiority of an economy based on free markets is based on theory and fact, not on faith.  It is based on the principles of logic and reason; the same principles that lead us to conclude that the earth orbits the sun, that there is a force called gravity, and that politicians will lie whenever it is in their best interest to do so.  Ayn Rand, not noted for having any religious inclinations, put it well in the title of her book, "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal."  Her view, and mine, is that we can find no system better than capitalism to promote our own unique individuality.
     Ms. Rayner compares markets as poor cousins to democracy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is no more democratic institution on the face of the earth than markets.  To have markets respond to your desires, you don't need to be in the majority.  All you need is sufficient business to allow a firm to turn a profit.  This is a much lower standard than we see in political elections, where you need 51% of the vote to win, and it is winner-take-all.  Political democracy is the best we can do among many awful choices for governance.  It can be improved upon if there is a suitable constitution that prevents the "tyranny of the majority" as John Stuart Mill put it.  That is, we must preserve the rights of the individual against the majority/mob/democrats and other groups infected by the collectivist mindset.  That means we enshrine in our constitution the right of individuals to keep, maintain and use their own "private" property.
     Ms. Rayner also writes that "Markets have no internal mechanism to determine their proper scale in relation to natural resources and ecosystems."  Assuming that by "proper scale" she doesn't mean some arbitrary outcome, to be determined by her and her friends, she clearly doesn't understand how markets work - cattle ranchers don't run out of cattle, chicken farmers don't run out of chickens, timber companies (with privately owned forests) don't run out of trees.  The only resources we are in danger of running out of are those whose ownership is "public."  When resources are "owned" by everyone, they are, in fact, owned by no one.  And, there is no incentive to preserve these resources.  This is not a short-coming of the market, it is a short-coming of Marxists.
     Will we, someday, run out of oil and natural gas?  It can't happen in a market with well-defined property rights.  If the real price of these resources rise, reflecting a relative exhaustion of the resource (aha - the internal mechanism!), then ways will be found to better use the resource, or alternatives will be developed.  If a really good alternative is developed, then we may find that the demand for oil and gas disappears completely, like it did for skilled horses to pull around covered wagons.

Monday, October 3, 2005

     Remembering 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!
     There were two memories I have that are especially strong that relate to George.  One is from a lunch conversation we had, back in 1984 at the old Wendy's in Flagstaff (where the Carl's Jr. is now?).  We chatted about how we take the occasional pruning shears, or loppers, or small saws, when we go hiking, in order to better access certain routes.  Of course, Park Service people will go ballistic at this, but, for the most part, they are far removed from the real world of Grand Canyon trekking.  One area we agreed was most in need of "pruning" (well, we could call it "voluntary Grand Canyon maintenance") was the route off the North Rim to Shiva Temple.  Just thinking about it gives me the chills as I can practically feel the thorns from the New Mexican locust snagging my clothes and scratching my arms and hands.
     The other memory is more recent.  A few years ago, a friend and I were on a day hike down the Boucher trail, intending to get to the river and back.  It was in mid-January, but during a dry winter.  We got to the river alright, but it was about 3 p.m. by the time we did so.  We were soon hiking up the trail in the dark.  We did have flashlights, but the hike just wore us down.  By about 1 a.m. we were barely shuffling along and getting quite cold.  So, we cashed in one of George's "Cheery Little Campfire" permits (which didn't exist except in George's mind) and proceeded to build a small fire.  Yes, this will also cause you-know-who to go ballistic as well.  The fire helped, although we only stopped for about an hour.  [Yes, we put it out, and cleaned it up so that nobody would know it was ever there.]
     My remembrances led me to dig up an article I wrote eight years ago.  It was about a hiking route on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, near Kibbey Butte in the Point Imperial area.  George had outlined the route in his book and I decided to follow it.  The Park Service had just begun to charge a fee for backcountry permits, and I decided that I wasn't going to participate.  So, my article was both about this route and my desire for "free hiking."  I had wanted to publish it somewhere, but never followed up on that score.  The full title is "Free Hiking the Grand Canyon - Kibbey Butte" and will be posted at a later date.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

     No 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.
     Now, would someone please explain exactly how that makes us better off?  And, why the city should spend taxpayer money for these kinds of efforts?  And, why the city, and the state, want to give tax breaks to these activities?  Clearly, governing is a pretty boring and dull task.  But, that's the way it should be.  However, once well-meaning people start to play with taxpayer funds, there seems to be no limit to how it can be wasted in an effort to make governing fun and exciting.
     There is a city council election coming up next spring.  Perhaps someone will run who adds this slogan to their campaign platform -
No Taxation for Representation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

     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.
     The editors of the Sun have this wrong.  They do not seem to understand the role of judges in general, nor the Supreme Court in particular.  In the latter case, that role is to uphold the Constitution - essentially to ride rough-shod over legislatures, at all levels, that try to exert power when it is not granted in that document.  So, when Thomas votes for Raich (Gonzales v. Raich) and opposes the federal government's attempt to regulate marijuana use in California, based on the interstate commerce clause (Thomas asserted that there was no interstate commerce), he is doing exactly what he should be doing - upholding the Constitution.  That does not make him an "activist" judge in the sense that it is commonly described.  Indeed, the primary role of a Supreme Court Justice is to decide whether laws passed by legislatures are constitutional or not.  His opinion in this matter (a minority view in this case) relies on an unwillingness to find new and exciting interpretations of the Constitution.  That is what "activist" judges do.  They create rights where none exist, justify decisions with an appeal to international law, which is irrelevant and use the court as a substitute for legislative action.
     Take the abortion rights example.  Is there a constitutional basis for this?  Well, Roe v. Wade found such a right, but it has always been a suspect decision.  Yet, there is a way around the inherent weakness of this decision which the "choice" lobby hasn't followed up on in the intervening thirty years.  Go to the state legislature and get them to pass a law that does protect a woman's right to choose.  Then, Roe v. Wade becomes a moot point - if the Constitution does not grant the right to an abortion, then neither does it deny such a right, and it is up to state and localities to decide the matter.
     The "political litmus" test that Miers, or anyone, should be subject to, is whether they really do believe that the Constitution is worth upholding, in a strict constructionist manner, or whether its interpretation should change with the political winds.  It is not a question of being "nonpartisan," as the editors of the Sun would have it.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

     Cultural Bigotry - Today marks the first day in court over a challenge to the Coconino National Forest's decision 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 destroyed?
     Ah, there is the question!  It seems that the use of snowmaking equipment will "affirm government policy of racial
intolerance and perpetuates the slow murder of Native American cultures through its decision to allow the desecration of the Sacred San Francisco Peaks," according to a member of the SPC.  Funny, I thought that the decision was meant to allow people to more fully enjoy this natural resource.  And, even though I do not ski, and am not likely to take it up (at least, not downhill skiing), I don't begrudge others the pleasure they get from this activity.
     What is interesting here is the blatant hypocrisy of the opponents when it comes to tolerance.  While groups like the Flagstaff Activist Network proclaim to be concerned about cultural diversity, they are really acting like cultural bullies and are nothing more than bigots.  Need more evidence?  Check out this bumper sticker that is from the FAN site . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2005

     Running 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.
     Why is it that there are days when the world seems to have become a place best described as "Alice in Wonderland" meets "Spinal Tap?"  Clearly, Mr. Heinberg has an agenda, but I don’t think it extends beyond selling books and touring the lecture circuit.  He certainly understands nothing about economics, and very little about energy in general, nor oil, in particular.  [His web site extols his background as a journalist and musician, and notes that he is “an accomplished violinist and illustrator/book designer.”  So, maybe he doesn’t have the time to study economics.]
     Take, for example, his general notion that we can just run out of oil.  It can’t happen.  The price will rise over time for any truly exhaustible resource.  And, while a government can act to artificially depress prices, like has been done in Indonesia, there would be plenty of smart traders, all around the world, stockpiling oil if we were really headed for the precipice that Mr. Heinberg describes.
     The story of why markets can’t run out of oil is a simple one.  If you really thought that was the case, then you would be buying oil futures like crazy.  That is, if the market is underpricing oil, you can profit from this by agreeing to buy oil in the future for a currently determined price.  Then, when we run out, the price will skyrocket and your oil will be worth a fair chunk of change.  And, you don’t even need to be involved in the exploration of oil, the drilling of wells, the building of pipelines and distribution facilities, the transport of oil, the refining of oil or even the marketing of oil.  You can act strictly on your knowledge, or lack thereof.
     And, then there is the story of the tar pits in Alberta, Canada.  You know, the ones with an estimated one trillion –
yes, that’s one trillion – barrels of oil socked away in a sticky mess underground.  Fifty years from now I am sure there will be another Richard Heinberg roaming around with his own story of how the sky is falling and we’re running out of heavy oil.  [That’s what this stuff is called.]  Of course, by then, we might have figured a way to extract all that oil out of the shales of western Colorado, Wyoming and Utah with it’s estimated 1.5 trillion barrels of oil.
     Local activist Lisa Rayner, who organized this pretend exercise in pretend economics, has founded a group calling itself the “Flagstaff Post Carbon Outpost.”  I can only hope that they have well-stocked their outpost; they’re likely to be there a long time waiting for this particular apocalypse to arrive.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

     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.

Mt. Agassiz and Mt. Humphreys (left and right) from Lockett Meadow.

In many places, the trail was
covered by fallen aspen leaves.

Mt. Agassiz from the Inner Basin with fine snow crystals from last night.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

     Fed 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.
     Who should replace Greenspan?  Well, it is important that this person be a bit "stealthy" as even benign utterances by the Fed Chairman can create financial tsunamis.  And, we haven't had a woman as the head of the Federal Reserve, so how about . . . Harriet Miers?  Brilliant!  This way, President Bush gets to backtrack on his sorry Supreme Court choice and claim that he is elevating Ms. Miers to an even more important job!  Then, he can nominate Janice Rogers Brown and we can begin the battle royale.  Are you ready to rumble? 

Related:  In Her Words -  Janice Rogers Brown
               Janice Rogers Brown for SCOTUS
Related, but in a totally off- the- wall sort of way, is the hilarious Irrational Exuberance "animutation" flash video by Veloso.  I guess I missed the Yatta craze, and maybe I'm better for that.  Still, you can watch this at albinoblacksheep.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

     Charters - 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.
     The notion that all kids should be thrown together in a lockstep formation, with the drumbeat of social justice beating over their heads is symptomatic of everything conservatives despise about the liberal “it-takes-a-village” mentality that celebrates collectivization, and its attendant mediocrity, over the ability of people, in general, and parents, in particular, to make choices for themselves and their children.  Instead of degrading the charter school experience, we should be enthusiastically embracing the right to choose.  In the long run, competition in the field of education will do more to help educate America’s children than will a continued dependence on a system whose incentive is to marginalize individual achievements and “level the playing field” to the point where everyone is the same, but nobody succeeds.
     How out of the mainstream is this attitude of bashing charters?  Well, the paper’s own politically diverse “virtual board” universally rejected the “de facto segregation” charge, and were grateful that parents have choices that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

** 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. 

Friday, October 14, 2005

     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.

     No Canyon 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.
     At this meeting, we had plenty of this kind of rhetoric, especially from Deborah Tuck, President of the Grand Canyon Foundation.  Her group seems to do "good" work.  They raise money and spend it on projects of varying levels of worth.  For instance, they spend money on removing "invasive" species below the rim - pulling weeds (well, some are trees).  I believe that is a waste of time, energy and effort - sort of an attempt to deny the forces of evolution and nature - but, if private money is used, it doesn't bother me.  Of course, eventually, "invasive" species will become local species, and then we'll probably have to spend tax dollars to protect them!  I do think that the money raised by the GCF would be better spent cutting down the trees and bushes that grow along the canyon rim between the El Tovar and the Bright Angel lodges, to restore the scenic views.  But, then, probably the park should be doing that.
     But, what about empty rhetoric?  Well, Ms. Tuck likes to note that "there is no geologist on staff at the Grand Canyon" as her particular way to indict the funding for Grand Canyon.  [Testimony presented to the subcommittee.]  At first glace, this seems damning.  However, upon even the briefest of reflection one should be thinking, "So what?"  That there are no geologists on the park staff doesn't mean that there aren't any geologists studying the Grand Canyon.  That, of course, is the unstated inference.  And, it isn't difficult to start identifying where geologists are that do study the Grand Canyon.  For instance, just a few miles from my home, in Flagstaff, is an office of the U.S.G.S. - the U.S. Geological Survey.  They have plenty of geologists up there, and some are famous for their studies of the Grand Canyon.  Likewise, at Northern Arizona University, here in Flagstaff, and universities in Utah.  That's where the geologists are.  There is no reason for them to be employed by the NPS at Grand Canyon.
     This critique of a lack of geologists in the park, by Ms. Tuck, is part of an overall critique of inadequate funding on science in the park.  Yet, her argument is specious.  That there are few archeologists and biologists at Grand Canyon doesn't mean that research work in these areas is correspondingly meager.  It just means that the work is done by researchers at other institutions.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Warbirds Flyover (click on picture to see a larger image)

      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."

Rob Harrison's Zlin wows the crowd.

The only privately owned F-4 lands.

The MiG17 flew late in the afternoon.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

  For more photos and information on military planes go to these resources:
     Warbird Alley
     National Museum of the United States Air Force
     Prescott Air Fair
     Fixed Wing Gunships (by Arizona blogger, spectregunner)

Monday, October 17, 2005

     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).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

     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 first place.
     It is interesting to note that the YMCA has promised to raise a few million dollars to fund its facility.  This should put to rest the notion that private arrangements can't be made to fulfill this "need."  In fact, if the city hadn't decided to spend taxpayers money as well, perhaps the Y would have been able to raise even more money!
     The editorial laments that, failing to work together, may have "cost" us such fundamental projects like "
an indoor running track or an even larger and deeper pool for competition divers and kayakers."  Excuse me for asking, but exactly what theory of government supports the use of taxpayer funds for kayakers?  And, here at 7,000 feet, with a city government that restricts my water usage, the paper also cries out for "water exercise classes for seniors."  If we can just apply a little common sense here - often in short supply at the Daily Sun and always in short supply at City Hall - it isn't too much of a stretch to conclude that seniors, competition divers and kayakers should pay for their own recreation.
     In a final fit of nonsense, the editorial notes that "
with the city's rapid population growth ... we see the demand for indoor recreation growing much faster than the [private, for-profit athletic] clubs are likely to be able to accommodate."  Yikes!  If the editors were dogs, I roll up this particular editorial and give them a whack across the snout, with a couple of "Bad doggie" admonitions.  The use of tax money to compete with private firms, whether for-profit or not, cannot be a legitimate role of government.  Otherwise, they would be involved in everything from housing to autoplexes to rebates on toilets and washing machines.  Uh oh . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

     Old Faithful Deserves More 

Of the monies received by “the three ‘icon’ parks of the West – Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite … [in] FY 06, Yellowstone garnered 41% … Yosemite … 33% … and the Grand Canyon … only 28% ... The disparity becomes even more pronounced – especially with Yellowstone – when one looks at the capital funding comparisons.”

Deborah Tuck, President, Grand Canyon National Park Foundation

October 13, 2005 - Subcommittee Hearings - Flagstaff, AZ

     At 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.
     Still, I was struck by the comparison Ms. Tuck made to Yellowstone.  She was none too subtle in demanding that funding for these "icon" parks was distorted merely because it wasn't equal.  I have worked at the Grand Canyon, on both rims, and have been hiking there for over 25 years.  And, Grand Canyon is no Yellowstone.  Of course it is true that Yellowstone gets more money.  And, especially, for capital projects.  The park is not only huge, but visitors have access to most of the park, unlike Grand Canyon.  At Yellowstone, there are over 370 miles of paved roads - Grand Canyon probably has 60 miles.  Yellowstone has eight visitor centers, a wide variety of landscapes and large megafauna populations.  There are substantial numbers of people that visit the park in the winter and lots of camping opportunities available in the summer.  At Grand Canyon, there are three campgrounds - at the South Rim Village, at Desert View, and on the North Rim.  At Grand Canyon, park officials have been closing down unpaved roads, prohibiting access to more remote portions of the park - the Boundary road and the Cape Solitude road, neither even accessible to bike riders!  The Grand Canyon is much more visitor-unfriendly than is Yellowstone.  Quite frankly, I am amazed that the Grand Canyon gets such a large share of the funding for these "icon" parks.  Oh, yes, and despite the raw visitation figures, it doesn't take too much reflection to figure out that tourists to Yellowstone stay in that park much longer than do tourists to Grand Canyon.
     So, hooray for Yellowstone.  Keep up the good work.  Keep catering to the visitors and show us what a real national park can be all about.  Maybe your lessons will seep into the consciousness of the park officials that mismanage the Grand Canyon.

Related reading:
Grand Canyon's Bass Trail - Visitors Discouraged
     Grand Canyon: Access-Challenged
     Parking at Grand Canyon
     No Canyon Geologist - So What?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

     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.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

     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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

     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.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

     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:


Natural snow has contaminants, too

To the editor:

Megan Van De Camp's letter on 10/21/2005 expressed concerns about significant pharmaceuticals in reclaimed water used for snow making. I assume she doesn't know that there are more significant amounts of pharmaceuticals in natural snow and rain than there is in reclaimed water, just as there are significant amounts of mortuary body waste in rain water. All the hysteria about reclaimed water is ludicrous.

Backpackers and campers have known for years that water in natural lakes, rivers and even mountain streams should be purified to prevent waterborne illnesses.

I remember my Boy Scout hand book more than 50 years ago recommending the use of iodine tablets to prevent dysentery or worse. Parents like Megan should tell their kids that snow from any source should not be eaten. If they are in dire need they should melt the snow and bring it to a boil.

Reclaimed water is not treated as drinking water and should, therefore, be labeled as non-potable.

Potentially five medicine men can leave more human waste and waste water on the peaks than one day's worth of snowmaking. It is just as ludicrous to me to suggest we ban them as it is to ban snowmaking because it desecrates the peaks and will harm the environment.

Bob Wilson

Friday, October 28, 2005

     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.

"Government has been transformed from a necessary evil to a nanny - benign, compassionate and wise ... defining democracy down.  My grandparents' generation thought being on the government dole was disgraceful, a blight on the family's honor."

Janice Rogers Brown
Fifty Ways to Lose Your Freedom

"Where once government was a necessary evil because it protected private property, now private property is a necessary evil because it funds government programs."

"And most significantly, if we can invoke no ultimate limits on the power of government, a democracy is inevitably transformed into a Kleptocracy - a license to steal, a warrant for oppression."

"Freedom and Democracy are not synonymous. The idea of a constitutional government is deceptively simple: the government cannot legitimately infringe upon our rights, even if the majority votes to do so.  Individual liberty cannot be preserved if the majority's will must always triumph."

"Democracy and capitalism seem to have triumphed. But, appearances can be deceiving. Instead of celebrating capitalism’s virtues, we offer it grudging acceptance, contemptuous tolerance, but only for its capacity to feed the insatiable maw of socialism. We do not conclude that socialism suffers from a fundamental flaw. We conclude instead that its ends are worthy of any sacrifice – including our freedom."

Janice Rogers Brown
As quoted at Neoperspectives

Additional readings:
In Her Words - Janice Rogers Brown
  Janice Rogers Brown for SCOTUS
  Speech: A Whiter Shade of Pale
  Speech: Fifty Ways to Lose Your Freedom
  Neoperspectives on Janice Rogers Brown

Saturday, October 29, 2005

     Grand Canyon Fees - Baloney, not Red Herring - This past Thursday, NAU 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!
     How does Ostergren justify high, and rising, entrance fees at Grand Canyon (currently $20 per car and going up to $25 per car in 2006)?  Why, for these fees, "
you can have all day of outdoor opportunity on more than 1,200,000 acres of the most protected land in the country."  Yes, I think that the sentence needs some work, but the sentiment is clear.  And, it begs the question of why it is that you should have to pay the federal government to spend the day outside.  And, the 1.2 million acres is really misleading - there is no way you will see most of the Grand Canyon in a day, even if you tried.  If you drive up to the South Rim Village and visit along the West Rim Drive, you'll have spent time in only a few dozens of acres, not 1.2 million.  Most of the Grand Canyon is inaccessible, and the park service has worked hard at making it even harder to visit (see my blog, Grand Canyon: Access Challenged).
     Ostergren also notes that your money is helping to fund "
essential research and crucial habitat for endangered species."  Why?  What is "essential" research?  I think it just means that researchers want to spend time in, and around, the Grand Canyon, for their own enjoyment and use "research" as the excuse.  Besides, most research is best done at universities or at other governmental agencies, like the U.S.G.S.  In fact, that is where most research is done.  There is no justification (on a user-pay principle) that visitors to the Grand Canyon should be forced to pay for research.  Nor should they be forced to pay for endangered species habitat.
     The purpose of the National Park Service is to "
promote ... the use of ... national parks" and to "conserve the scenery ... to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."  There is nothing there about research and habitat for endangered species.  Indeed, there is nothing here about creating mass transit systems.  Perhaps it is time to rethink how to best "promote" and "conserve" these places by reducing the role that the Park Service plays and expanding the role of the private sector, i.e., the market.  After all, it was the Santa Fe Railroad, through the Fred Harvey Company, that did so much to do exactly these things at Grand Canyon in the early decades of the 1900s, by building the Hermit Trail, the El Tovar Hotel, the Desert View Watchtower and the Phantom Ranch Cabins.

Additional readings:
The West Rim Shuffle
Parking at Grand Canyon
No Canyon Geologist - So What?
Grand Canyon: Access-Challenged
Grand Canyon's Bass Trail - Visitors Discouraged

Sunday, October 30, 2005

     An 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 were Ken 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 honestly.
     This respect did not, however, extend to the governor, Janet Napolitano.  Both Weiers and Bennett expressed concern that the governor had broken promises to them with regard to legislation, vetoing bills that she had earlier agreed to sign.  Both felt that, despite her popularity in the polls, she was beatable in next year's election.
     Weiers was especially articulate in his defense of a limiting role for government, and told of how his participation in the political process really stemmed from laws passed by the legislature that adversely affected his ability to run his business.  He gave up trying to talk to politicians, and to hiring lobbyists, and decided to become directly involved.  Among the issues he is especially interested in is rolling back the higher property tax rate on commercial users, making it comparable to the rate on residential users.
     Bennett gave a great overview of the political battles that the legislature has had with the governor over the years.  He noted that the state budget has grown from some $6 billion to over $8 billion, over the three years that Napolitano has been governor, an increase far in excess of the growing population of the state and of inflation.  Even with that increase, he detailed a list of revenue-enhancing proposals, from the governor, that would have added another $1.5 billion to the budget, which the legislature defeated.

The Kaibab Journal