Random Fragments - Odds and ends, some serious and some not, to ring in the new year . . .
began the New Year in Flagstaff with incredible cold. I couldn't
believe it, so I snapped this photo from the TV screen showing the current
temperature as -18 degrees. Apparently the lowest measurement in
the area was an unbelievable 30 degrees below zero. And, by the
way, this is Arizona!!!
reporting of numbers. Did
you ever wonder about how different numbers are reported
differently? Well, it probably isn't that big a deal. But,
it crossed the threshold of my consciousness when I was listening to a
radio report on the performance of the stock market. The
reporter said something like, "The Dow was up 54 points
today..." Of course, that has meaning to us. The
point is that if the Dow had closed at 11,723 it really wouldn't mean
anything to us. Now, that isn't always true. When the Dow
crosses some magical number (10,000 or 12,000), then that is how it is
reported, because it seems more meaningful.
does it take to be a Dean? When
the Dean of the W. A. Franke College
of Business (here, at NAU) moved up to a VP position at the
university, the administration embarked on a "nationwide"
search for his replacement. That was a few years ago.
Before the process got too far, the economy tanked, budgets were cut
and the search was postponed for a couple of years, until now.
We are back in search mode, although, we have just heard that state
funding for next year may be cut by 20%, so it isn't clear how this
will all play out.
So, while she could oversee a Physics Department, she couldn't be the business school Dean? And, why does being a Dean require a PhD? That's like saying that the head of Ford must have a degree in mechanical engineering. And, when we think about how people become skilled, why would you expect that someone that has a "record of accomplishment" in teaching and research to have any level of competence in running a college? Absurd. And, people wonder why the education establishment is so messed up. On my way out of this meeting, I commented to one of my colleagues, "Bill Franke, whose name graces our college, who earned millions by being a successful businessman, wouldn't be eligible to run our college, even though I bet he could do a good job."
Arizona Shootings. Of
course, for the past week, the news has been dominated by the
shootings in Tucson, aimed at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, which
resulted in the deaths of six bystanders, and the wounding of fourteen
others, including Giffords. Of course it was a horrible crime
and one that everyone condemns. Of course it is used by some to
advance anti-gun, anti-conservative, anti-Tea Party and other
agendas. I get it. Stupid. Transparently
stupid. But, I get it.
Nullification, AZ - State Senator Lori Klein wants to create a committee that would look at federal laws to determine whether or not they are constitutional, as viewed from the state's perspective. If they have a suspect law, the legislature can vote on whether to "nullify" its implementation in Arizona.
Wow! I have had the chance to study this issue last year when I signed up for Tom Woods' class at the Mises Institute. He had written a book titled, "Nullification," pictured to the right (and linked to Amazon). I was thoroughly fascinated by the topic, about which I knew so little, not surprisingly, since I am a product of government schools. He went over the origins of this idea, and I was easily convinced of its legitimacy. The states formed the federal government to act on their behalf with regard to expressly delegated powers. But, the federal government often oversteps its bounds (well, today, it is continuous). So, who is to decide when this happens? Most people would say that the federal courts, and, ultimately, the Supreme Court, are the final arbiters in these matters. But, Jefferson, et al., argued that makes no sense - how can you trust an agency of the federal government to really be impartial in a dispute between a state and the feds? That's not to say it can't happen, but there is a bias and conflict of interest here. State nullification, whereby a state decides that a federal law is unconstitutional, is the solution, and one that is continuing to be practiced, even if rather informally.
So, enter a host of local politicians, seemingly influenced by Woods' book, that have taken up the cause. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Arizona. Still, there was a negative editorial in the local paper, and a couple of ill-informed letters. Consequently, I decided to jump into the fray, and penned a letter that ran in Sunday's paper. Here it is, along with the title the editor gave it:
A few notes . . .
These cases are hard to argue. The health care debate may be the straw that broke the camel's back in this matter, but there are plenty of cases to cite where nullification was used to justify non-compliance. Those that argue against this idea must accept the federal government's stance on all of these issues.
The Raich case. Another in a string of awful cases, whereby the federal government uses (or, abuses) the commerce clause to regulate purely in-state activity. Justice Thomas' dissent is especially powerful and worth reading. In his opening paragraph, he notes, "If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything–and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers."
The Civil War issue. One of the current public members of the Daily Sun editorial board penned a column blasting this nullification effort, claiming that the South Carolina case was resolved by the Civil War. Of course, that is more than just wishful thinking, it is wrong. That action created a lot of tension, but lead to a resolution of the tariff issue (which northern states used to harm southern states). The issue of secession is separate from nullification, and, indeed, one of the major arguments backing up nullification is that it would make states less likely to invoke secession!
The Supremacy issue. Left unsaid is anything about federal laws trumping state laws due to the "supremacy clause." But, this is not true. The trumping only applies to expressly delegated powers. For example, the state of Arizona can't independently decide against NAFTA - the federal government is expressly granted the right to make treaties. My letter was running a little long, so I had to omit a short paragraph on that topic.
Banning Campfires - A group of residents has recently formed to push for the forest service to permanently ban campfires in our local forests from May 1 through to the start of our "monsoon" season, usually in early July. It is an idea that presumes we can just legislate fires away and that we know with certainty that May 1 is the right date for such a ban. That is the wrong way to address this issue. There are smarter ways to minimize the risk, and I, for one, am also concerned about these fires. To the right is a photo taken during last summer's "Hardy" fire. It was within a couple of miles of my house and I had gotten a robo-call from the county to be ready to evacuate if it came to that! The photo shows the billowing smoke rising above the nearby Little America hotel. It was started by a transient who was camping out in the woods. Since that is, in and of itself, illegal, how likely is it that this person would have obeyed any law that prevented campfires? None. But, if we can only wave our magical government wand, we can make all these problems disappear! [Click on the photo to see a larger image.] So, literally minutes before heading out the door for a six day hike in Grand Canyon, I sent off a letter, which ran in the local paper on the 17th:
A few notes . . .
Fixed rules frustrate everyone. We have a fixed rule for winter-time parking on the street. None is allowed beginning November 1. Yet, many winters see little, or no snow in November. So, why not park on the street then? Well, the excuse is, "Just because." Awful. Why not just declare certain days as prohibited parking, based on the snowfall? Indeed, can't we figure that out for ourselves? If tow companies could earn a profit towing cars parked on the street after 8 pm, then I suspect people would be very careful about being cavalier about this. Likewise, if we have a rainy late April and the forests are not especially susceptible to fire danger in early May, why have a mandatory ban? Then, people will ignore the law, weakening its force.
Fires that won't be stopped. As I alluded to in the letter, and wrote about, above, the Hardy fire was started by a transient. The kids' fire was also nearby my house - a couple of miles to the northeast. That was the "Christmas Tree" fire. We may have been in a ban at the time, but how is that going to stop these kinds of fires? Also, another fire we've had was started by a forest service employee, who was welding some equipment and a spark flew off to start a fire. Another fire began from sparks from a blown out tire. A few years back, we had a big fire which was the result of a prescribed burn done in the spring (where they burn off these piles of dead wood) that hadn't gone completely out. And, then there was the huge Rodeo-Chediski fire that was started by a lost hiker and a fire fighter that wanted more work (it was two separate fires that merged into one). Bans won't stop these fires, nor, of course, ones that are nature-caused! A better general solution has been to promote forest thinning, with which we have had some success.
Monitoring is inevitable. Even if there is a ban, someone will have to monitor it. Presumably, that means the forest service, since I am sure there would be no end of conniption fits if citizen groups started patrolling the forest in search of violators! And, if the forest service has the personnel to enforce a ban, don't they have the personnel to just go and check for inadequately doused campfires? And, if they don't, how will such a ban be enforced. I think my idea of a volunteer group that merely goes out to check on these abandoned campfires is far less likely to result in confrontations and some escalated police action. A few of the comments on the web indicated support for this idea!
Related blog: Fire as Failure.