Kaibab Journal

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Random Fragments

July - September 2009

Signs of the Times

Of Mules and Men

NAU Parking Newspeak

Is It Health Insurance?

I'm 80% with Beck

Flagstaff Tea Party

Monday, July 6, 2009

   Signs of the Times - I like to take photos of interesting, quirky, funny, sad, or just plain poignant scenes.  Often times, it is a photo of a sign that catches my attention (see here and here, for example).  But, not always.  I have decided to do a better job of collecting these images and posting them up on a regular basis.  So, don't be surprised to see more "Signs of the Times" in future entries of the Kaibab Journal.

Lucky for me, I didn't get caught.  I was hiking down to Indian Garden, on the Bright Angel Trail, in the Grand Canyon, on July 1st.  In the outhouse there, this sign was posted above the toilet.  Can you imagine having to pay a $100 fine because you had no trash?!

I really don't like the sound of this one.  I was in the Phoenix airport recently, and a deli outside of the security check point had this sign prominently displayed.  And, it is so wrong on so many levels.  First, doesn't "grab and go" seem vaguely criminal?  Then, who could possibly believe that buying a cold sandwich to take on the plane would make your experience akin to being in "paradise"?  Is it a cruel joke?  And, the kicker, which had me do a double-take, was the reference to a "security-friendly" sandwich.  Exactly, what is that?  Is it one that the security guards like?  Is it one that doesn't have more than 3 ounces of mayo?  Really, I want to know.

Patriotic menu - I like it!  On the way back from Phoenix, we drove through the small hamlet of Pine, and decided to have lunch at HB's.  In the middle of the second page of the laminated menu is a photo of Mt. Rushmore and the words, "Freedom, Liberty, Peace, Trust, Justice, Harmony."  I don't know how they chose those six words, and it is something of a chuckler that right below this they feature, "The Lighter Side of HB's."  BTW, the food is great.

Not eligible for concealed carry permits.  One of my neighbors seems to have upgraded their home security system.  It isn't a very heavy duty tank, but it is a tank nonetheless!  Perhaps they know something about rising taxes that I don't???

St. Louis Tea Party - April 2009.
  Cara Lynn was in St. Louis on tax day this past spring and caught the big tea party being held in the park downtown.  She snapped this great photo of the Arch, the old courthouse and this protester's Obama and Socialism poster.  Priceless.  [Click this photo to see a larger image.]

Friday, July 10, 2009

   Of Mules and Men - The National Park Service is considering whether to change property rights, with regard to mule travel, at the Grand Canyon.  There were some public "scoping" sessions back in early June.  I attended one, but there wasn't any formal decision to study and comment on - it was all very open ended.  I challenged one of the park spokesman here with the comment that there must be some agenda motivating all this time and energy.  I suspect it is an attempt to reduce and restrict mule travel in the canyon.  He said that the ongoing "conflict" between mules and hikers necessitated a periodic review of these conditions.  I suggested that the appropriate solution to dealing with any perceived "conflict" was to expand the trail infrastructure to accommodate more users, but that I doubt whether anyone at the park service would ever seriously consider such an outcome.  So it goes.  The photo, above, shows the mule barn at the Grand Canyon (click to see a larger image) - the oldest commercial facility currently being used in the United States, as I understand it.  Since the park finished its 1995 General Management Plan, this has been on the chopping block.  As usual, the idea is to preserve the structure and turn it into an interpretation site, while moving the actual operation somewhere else, mostly out of sight of the visitors!

     The deadline for commenting on this issue was June 22, and I didn't realize that until June 23.  Doh!  But, whatever action they decide to pursue, there will be another public airing, so I can comment then.  Still, I penned the following letter to the editor of our local paper, which ran on Tuesday, June 30:

To the editor:

One of the truisms that emerge when the government owns desirable resources is that special interests constantly seek rule changes that profit them, while disadvantaging and restricting others.  At the Grand Canyon, we see this process in perpetual motion, as some seek to curtail overflights, eliminate motorized travel on the river, destroy lodging and commercial activity on the rim and, now, there is an attempt to relegate mule traffic into that vast chasm to the dust bin of history.

The selfish behavior of such individuals and groups should be patently obvious.  Rather than embrace the concept of liberty, theirs is the morality of the gun.  They seek more and more restrictions, moving us towards a point of ultimate conformity with some grotesque “ideal” state of being.

I have been hiking in the Grand Canyon for over thirty years.  I have logged many thousands of miles on its trails and hundreds of nights camped in its backcountry.  Yet, I don’t mind the fact that some people would rather take a mule ride into the canyon.  And, I don’t mind if some people take a motorized raft trip down the river.  I guess that makes me tolerant of others who choose to see the Grand Canyon in different ways than I do.

If the park service really wanted to reduce hiker/mule conflicts, they would work to expand the infrastructure of trails at the park.  That sound you hear is the collectivist shudder at the notion that we can actually make the Grand Canyon more accessible!

A few other comments:

The selfish issue.  I am always amazed at how easily people fail to see the "selfishness" of their opinions.  Instead, they seem to think that their "vision" is a reflection of a true and just outcome.  I guess that makes them rather pretentious, and, as I infer, not at all tolerant of others.
     This issue is made even more awful, in my opinion, when I read some comments that mules should continue because they help those who cannot physically hike these distances.  The presumption is that if you are healthy enough to hike, you shouldn't be allowed to ride the mule.  Yeech!  I have only ridden the mules once, and clearly I am able to hike.  It was a fantastic trip - I was having a great time looking all around me at the Grand Canyon instead of looking down at the trail!

Expanding the infrastructure.  While nobody with any authority will ever consider this, I do have a more specific suggestion here.  Improve the Hermit's Trail and re-establish the old Hermit Camp.  In other words, turn it into a "Phantom Ranch Lite."  Don't allow the mules back on this trail, so that it can be a viable alternative for hikers, complete with canteen, bunkhouses, et al.  Re-establish the old tram as the supply conduit.  That way, the park would not only honor the history of the area, but actually build on it!

I am not such an outlier on this issue.  One other letter was published by the newspaper on this topic, and also in favor of the mules.  And, some of the Yahoo group (Grand Canyon Hikers) seem fine with the mules as well (although, perhaps a minority).  Also, when I was up at the park on July 1st to stand in line for a November hiking permit, another local came up to me and commented that he mostly agreed with me on the points raised in the letter, and he is well-connected to the liberal side of this community.  And, my letter received a 3.8 rating on the web (out of 5.0) with 29 "votes."  That wasn't enough to crack my way into the top 5, but a very respectable score all in all.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

   NAU Parking Newspeak - There are so many colossal issues to write about (health scare, cap and tax, and innovation-killing taxes, to name a few), that it is easy to be overwhelmed by such a task.  So, I'll defer on those for now, and focus on a local matter that has me especially irritated:  on-campus parking at Northern Arizona University.  Last year I paid $60 for a permit in an unpaved lot on the edge of campus.  This "yellow" permit was good only in that one lot, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

     Right next to this yellow lot is a paved commuter lot, which requires a "black" permit.  During the summer, this lot is mostly empty.  Since it can rain a lot during the summer, the yellow lot can become quite a mess.  So, at the end of this past spring term I wrote to our Parking Services and asked if they wouldn't allow the yellow permit parkers to use the adjacent lot during the summer, which would help extend the life of the unpaved lot.  [I also blogged about this last summer - Spaces, Spaces, Everywhere]  The reply I got was disheartening - this lot was scheduled to close down this summer, paved, and turned into another commuter lot.  The yellow lot was to be no more.  The income effects on me are significant - today I bought the only kind of permit available to me, at a cost of $314.  That's more than a whopping 500% increase in parking fees for me!

     So, today I have been looking over the Parking Services' website, and I am just amazed at how good an example it is of fuzzy logic, misdirection, obfuscation, and, well . . . Orwellian newspeak.  To wit:

The purpose of meters.  The home page notes, "Meters on campus have been reduced to open up more student parking. Meters are intended for visitors. Student permit owners are prohibited from parking at meters."   Well, I understand that parking should be made available to visitors, and I understand the notion that the metered parking should be reserved for these visitors.  But, why is the prohibition only applied to students?  I wrote to Parking Services and asked if faculty could park at the meters and received a reply of "Yes," noting that, of course, we have to pay for the meter.  So, if they are intended for visitors, but employees can park there, but students can't, what do we conclude?  It's not rocket science.

The purpose of the "Park N Stay" lot.  From the home page, "Park & Stay, originally intended for residential students as a means to decrease vehicles driving on campus, was only being used by commuters. Therefore, it will be paved and converted to commuter parking."  This is false.  The lot was designed to do exactly what it says - get people to park in this one lot and walk, bike, or bus around campus.  The point was to reduce on-campus traffic.  And, the idea is sound.  The fact that a lot of folks like me (especially, the staff), who work on that end of campus, found this to be a nice choice doesn't negate the fact that I did not drive around campus to other lots (my permit wouldn't be valid).  Now that the lot is being paved over, the justification for it has changed in order to validate this decision.  I don't know if this would make Orwell proud, or have him rolling over in his grave.
     Also, I should note that declaring it as "intended for residential students" is also disingenuous.  Those students have to buy "red" permits and can only park in their residential zone on campus.  That is, they have no ability to drive around campus to other lots during the day anyway!

Efficiency is in the eyes of the permit holder.  We have only four categories of parking permits - employee ($314), student commuter ($324), student on-campus resident ($324) and our new parking garage ($418).  Insofar as the latter is concerned, the web page states, "Parking Garage permits will only be permitted to park in the garage to ensure this facility is efficiently used and vehicles are not taking a second parking stall elsewhere on campus."  How is it possible that a full garage is a meaningful measure of efficiency?  Well, it isn't.  But, it is symptomatic of the kind of "thinking" that goes on in government agencies.  Efficiency refers to how well we use our scarce resources relative to our needs and desires.  That's why my college dean has his own parking space, even though he is gone every other week on some kind of fund raising effort.  It would be the height of inefficiency to require him to stay at the college every day just so his parking space can be occupied.  [Of course, a better way would be to auction off spaces, maybe on a daily basis . . .]

The ecoPASS as fraud.  Don't want to pay to park on campus?  Well, there is another option - get an "ecoPASS" and ride the bus into school.  And, it's free!  Of course, it isn't free.  You have expend an inordinate amount of time, energy and effort to use the bus system, especially if you live many miles from campus.  On their ecoPASS page, they state, "Using your ecoPASS helps reduce campus traffic congestion, lessens the impact on employee parking, reduces air pollution, and expands the range of cyclists and walkers."  Does it?  Probably not.  You face increased congestion for on-campus bus services.  What lessening the "impact" on parking means is beyond me, but if it was something real, they wouldn't mind letting garage permit holders park somewhere other than the garage!  And, the last thing I want to see on campus is an increased "range of cyclists."  They are already a hazard to my health!  The web page touts the pass as a way to "Relax On Your Way To Work."  That doesn't sound like any bus system I've ever heard of.  In fact, I recently received an e-mail from a student of mine that just started working in Washington D.C. and has to take the not-so-relaxing metro to work every day.  Her take - "Being productive during the commute is tough, especially when you have zero personal space most days. Sometimes the occasional person tries to pull out a laptop and work on the train, and it never lasts long with how close people cram in. I generally just read the paper in the mornings, but a lot of people sleep, such as the fellow next to me this morning that I had to keep pushing off my shoulder."  Yeech!
     But, there is one more point here.  Not only is this a fraud insofar as our choice go, but it is an accounting fraud as well.  The passes are not free.  The university has to use taxpayer money to pay for them.  And, the bus line, also a government entity, will no doubt count this money as "revenue" rather than as part of its taxpayer support, thus claiming that they are moving closer to being a break-even operation.  I can already feel the chill running up and down my spine in anticipation of reading such a pronouncement. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

   Is It Health Insurance? - There is so much awful about the current efforts to "reform" health care, that it is hard to find a place to start any critique.  The presumed motivation of lowering costs and making it more accessible seems laudable, but then the solution should be more competition and less government.  And, anyone who is paying attention to this issue knows that this juggernaut is moving in the opposite direction.  One slice of the current debate that has me constantly cringing is the issue of insurance.  We hear all about the millions of people without health insurance.  The contention is that we can (partly) solve our problems by roping these folks into an insurance pool.

     First, let's dispense with the magnitude of the problem.  When it comes to the actual number of "uninsured" there are easy ways to deflate these figures into something a heck of a lot less than the 47 million we often hear hyped in the media.  Take out 10 million illegals, 17 million that earn more than $50,000 a year and those that choose no insurance because they feel healthy, and you may be left with 7 to 8 million people.  That is something on the order of 2% to 3% of the population.  It hardly seems like a crisis point for the country.  And, under a free and competitive environment, I suspect that 80% of these people could be adequately served.

     But, this still begs the question of what is meant by "insurance?"  Simply put, insurance is a mechanism to protect your wealth when you encounter some event that would otherwise wreak havoc on your finances.  You are not insuring your house, or your car, or your health.  It is your wealth.  If you have no wealth, then insurance isn't especially an issue.  When we hear the argument about "universal coverage," we aren't talking about insurance.  We're talking about defined benefits, that pretty much everyone expects to access.

     You buy insurance to protect yourself from unexpected calamities.  You don't buy insurance to gas up your car, or replace the tires.  You don't buy insurance to paint your house or have a new roof installed.  One of the problems with health insurance is that these are exactly the kinds of items covered - doctor visits, shots, etc.  That is not what I want to insure against.  I expect to make those kinds of payments.  I want insurance for the big things - like cancer - that I hope will never happen.  One reason that the cost of insurance is so high is that the wrong things are being paid for, and I am quite certain that will continue under "universal coverage."

     If we are all going to use the coverage, then it isn't insurance.  Over time, we will have to contribute as much into the system as we get out of it.  Now, that isn't perfectly true, since this will also be like "progressive" taxes - richer people will pay more.  But, insurance isn't about richer people paying more.  It's about individuals paying the expected amount of the weighted odds of "collecting" on the insurance.  That is, if you have a 1% chance of a total loss to your $200,000 home over a twenty year period (e.g., fire), then your insurance would cost $2000 over that time frame, or $100 per year.  If the odds are 100%, then there is no insurance you can buy!  That's the way it works.

     So, if we all expect to use health care, say to the tune of $500,000 each, then that is what we'll have to pay for.  You can't insure against it.  You can only tax people this amount in order to "cover" us.  That is a fraud.  Insurance is insurance.  Benefits are benefits.  Confusing the latter with the former is just another example of political doublespeak.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

   I'm 80% with Beck - On Friday's edition of the the wildly popular Glenn Beck show on Fox, he summarized his week-long critique of not only the proliferation of the "czars," and their unconstitutional power grab, but also the radical nature of so many in the new administration, and where they would like to take us.  He wrapped the week up with a five point plan of action.  I would say I agree whole-heartedly with three of his points, but have some reservations about two others.  So, on a scale of 0 to 20, here is how I rate these five "prescriptions:"

Government spending should be frozen until the budget is balance.  While increasing spending can be an aggressive policy insofar as dealing with a recession is concerned, we have gone way over the top here.  I think that doing too much causes longer term harm by discouraging private sector reallocation of resources.  Besides, there are better ways to fight a recession.  20 points.

Don't raise any taxes until the economy has rebounded.  Absolutely!  Even after the economy rebounds, our government is so bloated, we'll be poorly served by any tax increase, but it shouldn't even be a issue under active consideration until then.  Even without any discretionary policy changes, a recession pushes the federal budget into deficit.  That is fine with me.  Maybe we should even encourage tax cuts, which would expand this deficit, at least in the short run.
     But, when it comes to the state government, they face different choices.  Unlike the feds, they don't print money, so can't sustain deficits ad infinitum.  The current Arizona governor is calling for an increase in the sales tax to remedy a huge budget shortfall.  It might be done, but it is a stark signal that the state budget has been mismanaged for many years.  Ah, there is the problem.  During good economic times, state legislatures/governors act irresponsibly insofar as our long run fiscal health is concerned.  Then, when the economy sours, they force us to make awful choices between severe spending cuts or tax increases.  The fools.  And, us, too, for letting them get away with it.  20 points here, too.

The U.S. is the greatest nation on earth and doesn't need to apologize to anyone for anything.  Hear, hear!  That isn't to say we don't make mistakes or cause harm.  But, I, too, am sick and tired of the "blame America" crowd who seem to think that we are the scourge of mankind, rather than the single, best, hope for a better future.  20 points.

Our borders need to be closed except for designated immigration points.  Well, I understand some of the frustration here.  Especially when we have a system of social welfare that taxes Americans and legal aliens for services enjoyed by illegal aliens.  I would much rather see wide open borders (well, maybe with perfunctory data collection - name and passport information, etc.) and an end to these social services.  Let's not make it a crime to want to come to the U.S. to work hard and make a new life for oneself.  But, until we return to our roots insofar as the proper role of government is concerned, I'll grudgingly support this measure as well.  12 points.

Our dependence on foreign oil is a "travesty" and we need an "energy plan that increases usage of domestic resources."  I think that there are a couple of ways to take this one.  If you want this to be about our "energy independence" and about more government planning, then I think this is an awful idea.  [See, for example, John Stossel's excellent commentary, The Idiocy of Energy Independence.]  If this is all about reducing regulations to allow for a more robust domestic market here, then I am all in favor and I would suspect that our import of foreign oil would fall over time.  But, the key here is market freedom, not some anti-trade agenda.  Free trade is great.  It raises our standard of living.  It also raises the standard of living of other people, some of whom you may disagree with.  Well, as long as we aren't at war with them, I don't have a specific problem here.  I do believe that increased trade tends to benefit our ideology in the long run.  That is, even if we trade with generally awful states (and, as consumers, we can always choose to shun trade with these countries and accept the burden it places on us and them), this inevitably leads to more interaction between cultures and ours, to the extent we still champion freedom and liberty, should be the more appealing.  I am a bit unsure exactly where Beck stands on this one, so I am only going to give him 8 points.

     The final tally is 80 points for Beck.  Not bad, all things considered.  With whom, after all, do we ever agree all the time?  So, now it's time to get back to work on my protest sign for the upcoming tea party.  Where is that piece of Astroturf I was going to use as a prop . . . ?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

   Flagstaff Tea Party - It is hard to believe that it has been two weeks since the Tea Party Express rolled through our fair hamlet of Flagstaff.  I think it must be our auspicious position on Interstate 40 - a few years ago we were also favored with a visit from the Ending Earmarks Express - since we are smack dab in the bluest of the blue areas in this otherwise red state.  I guess that makes sense, as the government is the largest employer here, and by a long margin!

     The party started in the early evening, but folks started assembling well in advance of six o'clock.  One of the highlights was that we were featured on Fox News, especially at the front end of both the Hannity show and On The Record with Greta Susteren.  I taped those shows and could see part of my sign showing though those closer to the camera.  The two sides of my sign are shown to the left and right, above.  Cara Lynn also made a sign (see below) as did a colleague of mine who retired a few years ago - LOL to the right.

     The crowd was large and enthusiastic.  The folks running the show have honed their message and staged an event that is informative and entertaining.  While we had some mighty dark clouds threatening, we stayed dry.  We also heard from some local voices, including Tom Jenney, the Arizona director of the Americans for Prosperity.  Tom and I go back to the days he was the Communications Director for the Goldwater Institute.  We also heard from Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin, who is one of a small group of politicians that I really believe would be great for our state in a higher office.  While we currently have an unintended Republican governor (because Dem Janet Napolitano left to become Homeland Security Secretary in D.C.), I still like Martin's chances in the primary and general next year.

Click on any photo to see a larger image. 

The "manufactured" crowd had manufactured signs? Not!!  

I didn't even see this sign until near the end of the event. 

The rally was held at the Tea Party Express buses.  No rain on our party.
As dusk gave way to night, the crowd remained strong and attentive.  I guess Dean Martin is running for governor - I pegged it in 2006. Cara Lynn waves to passing motorists. 

There were a handful of protesters and they lined up on the opposite side of the street.  I didn't realize that they were protesting until we were about to head home and decided to spend a few minutes on the street waving to passersby.  There were some catcalls going on back and forth across the street, but it seemed mostly in good fun.

     On the other hand, I did have an interesting encounter with one of the food vendors, who asked why everyone was opposed to health care.  At first, I thought he was just making a joke.  But, he went on, and despite my attempt to be both reasonable and courteous, wouldn't really listen to any other view.  His opinion was succinctly stated as, "The job of government is to take care of us."  I don't think he heard my reply that there is no such role for government spelled out in the constitution.  But, I think that his view is exactly what the left-wing believes and it is so antithetical to the founding principles of our country that it is a wonder their heads don't explode from their inability to resolve the contradiction between liberty and freedom, on the one hand, and the desire to take what isn't theirs, from someone else, and justify it as being somehow "just."

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