Thursday, December 31, 2009

The East Valley Tribune and the end of an era

Today's issue of the Tribune will be the last. Like many businesses that fail to survive it will end with a fizzle and not a bang.

I had always hoped that the Tribune would motivate the Arizona Republic to provide better coverage of issues of the day but it may well be that other factors make that unlikely.

Newspapers such as the Arizona Republic and the New York Times will continue to operate with their token articles from the other side.

The Tribune will be missed.

[Update: It appears that a business may continue Tribune operations into 2010]

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

This post is just to wish readers of this 'blog a happy and safe Christmas.

Look for politics and policy discussion later: enjoy the time with your families--and if you insist on substance here: consider whether or not something or somebody you supported prevents others from doing the same.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Global warming and desert flowers

Via the University of Arizona, news of a study that shows that anthropogenic climate change (local effects of global warming) is both diminishing and changing the showy Sonoran Desert spring blooms.

Counterintuitively, the change favors more cold-hardy species; as rains get shifted later into the season, germination happens in colder weather. The whole news article is an example of responsible science journalism and is worth reading.

For more information about how AGW will affect Arizona, see the Southwest Climate Change Network website, a project of the University of Arizona.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The recession.

My apartment now has a few squatters of the Mus muscularis sort. I wouldn't mind were it not for the noise and that they don't use the toilet; a live-catch trap is set to try to get rid of them, and the entrance holes have been duct-taped. Mice and people have different ideas of space which makes living together difficult. (Perhaps the difference between reasonable folk and many socialists or global warming denialists is equally intractable; perhaps their brains are simply different. The prospect that some people are incapable of "getting it", of distinguishing truth from falsehood and good argument from bad, in the same way mice can't be brought to not chew the walls and defecate in strange places, is very interesting...)

In earlier times, a live-catch trap would have been though of as ridiculous; the problem with mice back then was not so much that they crapped on the counter and rattled inside the cabinets but that they ate one's stores of food. The mouse and the weevil were a serious threat to health and survival--look up how much grain is still lost to weevils; while one couldn't do much about weevils, killing mice, or keeping allergy-aggravating cats around to do so, was in order. Today mice are a mere inconvenience. Given a choice between the very small inconvenience associated with live catch and turning the mice loose a few blocks away or easier neck-breaking traps and suffering and death for mice, I go with the former. (Shades of Nozick's musings on animal rights, right?)

Over the past few years I've saved aluminum--mostly cans--to take in for recycling, storing it in a trash can outside my apartment. It'd be easier to just throw it in the blue bin, but the money adds up to something not insignificant to someone drawing a grad student salary. On Saturday I was to take it in, along with a few bags from inside my apartment, to pay for gas for a car-shopping trip to Phoenix, but when I went outside, the trash can was empty. The cans in there were mostly in plastic bags, conveniently wrapped up for any scavenger. I took the few bags from my apartment to the recyclers, but arrived a minute late (by their reckoning).

On to the gas station, to fill up before heading to Phoenix. At the pump a shifty-looking, shabbily dressed old man in a pickup was eyeballing me and had the courtesy to wait until I was done pumping before spanging. From his appearance and twitchy manner I though him a tweaker--it isn't uncommon in that part of town for people to somehow have money for amphetamines but not for gas and laundry--so I asked where he was headed. The reply: The metal place down at 22nd and Euclid, to take in scrap.

Instantly it hit me, that his was the truck I saw pulling in to Can-It just before I did. Also a minute late by their reckoning. He explained further that he needed the money to buy pain medicine for his back; he just got out of the hospital for treatment of a crushed vertebra. Ouch! No wonder he was so twitchy.

I gave him the few quarters in my pocket--certainly enough for gas to get to 22nd and Euclid from Miracle Mile-- plus the ten pounds of aluminum from my trunk. Never have I seen anyone so happy to get (what by then was) another man's inconvenient junk.

This economic recession doesn't feel so painful. My in-laws' business is hurting, but they were well-off, and that's most of what I've been hearing: "business is lousy". Jobs statistics reveal something different. Surely as usual they mean many people get laid off and then find employment elsewhere--there's turnover. But for the really marginal cases, recessions can mean having to spange for gas money to sell scrap to buy cheap opiates to take the pain out of a back injury.

In the John Ford film version of The Grapes of Wrath--and unlike Steinbeck, John Ford was no Red--Oklahoma townsfolk try to figure out who should be shot or hung for bringing bank-related trouble down on farmers. There's ultimately no answer, just as there's nobody to blame for last year's finance-sector collapse. (That didn't stop many from seeking someone to blame, be it economists who had nothing to do with the problem, bankers, or someone else. Such talk always sounded brutish to me, but see the note about mice and global warming denialists above.) We can say that the system used to hedge against certain sorts of risk was broken, and we can't say that there's anything wrong with hedging against risk. If we choose to look deeper, we find that the government forbade more transparent ways of hedging against risk.

Contra Rawls, I do not think it necessary or even desirable to do everything that will produce some gain at the "bottom", regardless of its effect on everyone else. His theory also is clumsy in its failure to account for progress over time, its 100% discounting of the future. Nevertheless there are reasons, both moral and practical, for everyone from the "bottom" to the "top" to have a stake in the political and legal order. Reactionary policy from Washington--"X Y and Z need to be 'more regulated' (whatever that means"--still appears likely, but if we had any sense we'd sit back and ask "what will make us better off?" That must take into account not only the welfare of those who use derivatives to hedge against risk but also of those for whom the systemic risk problem means having to spange for gas money to sell scrap.

If this means that things are made slightly less convenient for those at the "top"--and I'm not confident that it does mean this--then so be it. I'd like to think that people deserve at least as much consideration as my apartment mice.

Martel writes Grijalva...

Martel Firing of the "Odd Citizen" 'blog sent a letter to Rep. Grijalva. It begins:
You’re acting like a push-over. Look, Ben Nelson and Mary Lanerieu got lots of boodle for their districts...
Read the whole thing. Best humor I've seen in the blogosphere in months!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Border Patrol: "Our arrests aren't really arrests."

Via Terry Bressi, a report in the Nogales International about a possibly unlawful stop, arrest, and search by the Border Patrol.

Pima Medical Institute student Iris Cooper turned around to return to Patagonia to retrieve her forgotten textbooks and was pulled over by the Border Patrol. Maybe seeing someone perform her maneuver gives "reasonable suspicion" for a stop and maybe it doesn't, but as Bressi notes, standards of probable cause for detaining her for half an hour in handcuffs and searching her vehicle probably isn't in order.

Here's the hilarious part:
Agent David Jimarez, a spokesperson for the Border Patrol, said agents more than likely thought they had pulled over a smuggler and that Cooper was cuffed for both their safety as well as her safety. He said that often smugglers will try to run away if they think their vehicle is going to be searched. “The handcuffing doesn’t necessarily mean that she is being placed under arrest,” said Jimarez, referring to Cooper.

"Yeah, you're in handcuffs, you're not free to go, and it's not an arrest because we don't call it an arrest." I suppose it's better than facing prison time for having been punched in the face by Border Patrol, but still both stupid and unbecoming of agents of the law in a liberal republic.

It looks like La Migra might be getting thumped again.

However, Dan Pochado, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona told the Weekly Bulletin/Nogales International that 99.9 percent of the time such an act would indeed be considered an arrest.

"When you are handcuffed that is effectively an arrest because you are unable to leave voluntarily,” Pochado said. "From the information given, it appears that the level of force here would arise to an unreasonable seizure and a violation, therefore, of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

"Pochado" here is actually "Pochoda", and is no lightweight.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bill of Rights Day

This post is just to wish readers a happy and free Bill of Rights Day.

Food for thought: It does not appear that the enumeration of rights in the Constitution facilitated abridgements of others. Ponder that next time a "libertarian" offers up "principle" and high abstractions as reason for a policy position.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

San Diego police chasing homeless to AZ

On behalf of nine San Diego homeless and a relief-providing church, ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties has filed for injunctive relief and damages against the City of San Diego.

The city would wait until homeless left their belongings to seek services in a church, then confiscate them and load them in a garbage truck. Seized items included medical devices, medications, bedding, winter clothes, identifying papers, and personal effects such as family photos. Victims of this practice were advised to head to Arizona.

The San Diego Union-Tribune and Courthouse News have more.

HT: Nick Martin

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Robert Shelton weighs in on UA "Climategate" involvement.

This is why it is good to have a scientist as a University president: he knows how to evaluate popular controversies about science.

In full:

TO: UA Employees
FROM: Robert N. Shelton, President
SUBJECT: Email Messages on Climate Change
DATE:Dec. 9, 2009

The University of Arizona takes very serious any allegation of impropriety, academic or otherwise. As soon as news accounts surfaced about selected emails that were illegally obtained from a British university computer server and posted publicly, the UA reviewed the material with the full cooperation of UA faculty whose names appeared on some of those messages.

We firmly believe there is no substance to the negative allegations regarding the content of the emails. To the contrary, the work of our professors is contributing substantially to humanity's growing understanding of the origins and nature of global climate change.

As a matter of course, our faculty adhere to the highest standards of research ethics. Their data, once published, are available to other scholars as required by the journals publishing the work, and in most cases are posted online and hence are freely available for download. Their research conclusions are cross-examined through vigorous rounds of peer review. In the case of collaborative research by the UA's Malcolm Hughes, independent studies by other research groups and critical reviews, including by the National Academy of Sciences, have confirmed both the integrity of their research methods and their basic findings.

The research area in question - global climate change - is the subject of vigorous, worldwide debate. The implications of the findings being produced by the world's scientific community are profound. Naturally, there will be those who will not fully understand or be prepared to accept scientific conclusions that may be upsetting. This is an expected part of our faculty's work. Their response is to inform and explain their research methods as transparently and dispassionately as possible.

The UA faculty mentioned in these stolen emails have done so admirably. For that reason, the leadership of the UA has full confidence and pride in both the scientific methods they have employed, and the conclusions they have reached.

Unlike the Arizona Daily Star's false balance--Ross McKitrick is neither a "skeptic" nor a credible person nor one making reasonable accusations--and the Wildcat's parlay of this into an actual accusation by the paper itself of scientific wrongdoing, Shelton nicely gives weight where weight is due. Shelton is not a journalist and not acting as one, but nevertheless, his use of good sense is exemplary and the note is a show of fair-mindedness. Word to the Washington Post and the Star: Impartiality doesn't require you to give equal time (or, in the Post's case, well more than equal time) to the ridiculous. Most of the time, you do not do so!

What we should see from Hughes and Overpeck is a public lecture. They don't owe it to anyone, but it would go a long way to restore confidence, unfairly lost or not.

No word yet on whether or not either scientist plans to hit back. Maybe the Wildcat crossed the line and maybe it didn't--what's "potentially" supposed to mean?--but there have been things written in the blogosphere, especially about Hughes, that are outright libel. Being upset with a scientist's finding does not justify allegations of "fraud", even if one can cite private e-mails out of context to justify this post hoc. "Fraud" is an allegation of fact, not of opinion.

The Maricopa County tantrum continues.

Via the Phoenix New Times, Andrew Thomas files criminal charges against Gary Donahoe.

Donahoe is the judge who ordered Adam Stoddard to jail.

The excuse: involvement in the supposed conspiracy involving the new court building. The evidence?: a series of rulings with which Thomas and Arpaio disagreed. Chances of indictment?: Minuscule.

Anyone closer to this care to weigh in? Thane?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"Climategate" comes to Arizona

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe has sent intimidating-sounding but somewhat vacuous letters to University of Arizona dendrochronologist Malcolm Hughes and paleoclimatologist Jon "Peck" Overpeck. Something a bit more substantial was directed to U of A General Counsel Lynne Wood.

To Wood:
Recently a large number of alleged CRU documents and e-mails were released to the public. These documents and e-mails outline disturbing trend of actions, which, at the least, imply activity to create a false impression of the certainty of climate change science. I will be conducting an investigation into these matters.

I am requesting that you secure, as soon as possible, all documents and records related to the communications or other interactions with CRU. This would include materials directly and reasonably related to CRU documents, e-mails, and its subject matter. Should you discover that other employees in your agency/organization have interacted with CRU or have furnished information which may be used in communications with CRU, please secure those documents as well.

Very interesting doublespeak there: "Released to the public." Meaning "somebody committed a computer crime, downloaded information from a mailserver, and then released the stolen information to the public."

And the e-mails don't really "imply activity to create a false impression of anything", at least not to a reasonable person familiar with academic science, when put in their proper context. The stolen e-mails may contain evidence that U.K. scientists ran afoul of that country's Freedom of Information laws, at least enough to merit investigation. There's nothing in the e-mails pointing to wrongdoing by any U.S. researcher. Claims to the contrary have all fallen apart upon critical inspection.

But to the point: Inhofe is requesting communications between U of A scientists and those at the CRU--and the "and its subject matter" bit can only mean that he is requesting all documents and records pertaining to climatology done at the U of A, from all labs!

The letters sent to Overpeck and Hughes were clearly both showboating and a smear. The stolen e-mails not imply a single act of wrongdoing by either man, but Inhofe's letters serve a way to imply that their activities are suspect without making an accusation.

The request for all information, however, is clearly nothing but an harassment tactic, designed to prevent scientists from spending their time doing science. Can the "legal eagles" clarify to what extent this request must actually be met?

Overpeck and Hughes are both holding their own in the Daily Star. Those who bother to read can confirm: no wrongdoing here.

If you stop at "We need to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period", yes, it looks bad, but stopping there is simply lazy. When reputations are at stake due diligence is a moral obligation. That's something Inhofe doesn't understand. (And I'd love to see him cross the line to libel, so Overpeck can sue him off the planet!) Overpeck makes due diligence easy:
Overpeck said last week that he had searched through his e-mails dating back a decade, and could find none like Deming referred to. Overpeck pointed out that he has written papers dating to the late 1990s saying that various records, including tree rings, stretching back 1,200 years, confirm earlier assertions that the Medieval period was warmer than today in the North Atlantic and northern Europe — but not globally.
"My papers are the record of fact, and in this case, I obviously did not try to get rid of the MWP," Overpeck said. "Instead, I have tried hard to be clear what it likely was and was not."

As I said: no scandal here, just a mal fide twisting of a scientist's words, a treatment of informal private communications as though they trump what Overpeck actually contributed to the scientific record.

If any Arizona scientist ought to be investigated regarding climate it's probably ASU's Robert Balling. Funding sources do not necessarily or even usually control scientific outcomes, but there are clear tail-wags-dog cases, like Fred Singer and the late Fred Seitz, who went from tobacco denialism to ozone hole denialism to global warming denialism. Balling doesn't publish his arguments against the scientific consensus (meaning, consensus of those with current scientific arguments) in the meaningful sense of "publish" but spends an awful lot of time directing them at a noncritical public. Just what is it that the Western Fuels Association pays him to do?

Balling, of course, will never be investigated by Inhofe, because he's a "skeptic". "Skeptic" in Oklahoman must mean "one who disagrees", without the implications of reason, caution, and modesty that the word usually carries. A skeptic, and most scientists are skeptics, who agrees with the only position compatible with what we know now--as Overpeck does--doesn't count. Being a real skeptic, that gets your research interrupted by a showboating Senator who has an ideological or psychopathological beef with the implications of your work.

No word yet on whether Inhofe's request for anything and everything pertaining to climatology has yet hampered research at the U of A. But Arizona taxpayers and donors to the U should be mad as hell. Being a U.S. Senator shouldn't mean that your peculiar form of crazy be nursed, in the form of a frivolous investigation, at the expense of a university.

Have questions? Readers should follow the instructions in Inhofe's letters and direct them to (202) 224-6176.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Food for thought: Christmas shopping arbitrage

Counting cars at the Tucson Mall today going into and out of two of the department stores, I found that nearly 40% had Mexican license plates, mainly from Sonora with the usual handful of Sinaloans thrown in, but also a few from as far away as Mexico City (Distrito Federal).

In Tucson we're used to seeing this every weekend--at Food City, at Wal-Mart, and at department stores--but not quite at the same scale. Arizona politicians should think of that before speaking as though the AZ-Mexico relationship is one-sided.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Fake surveys?

Today was not supposed to be "Beat up on the Goldwater Institute Day", but here's the second in a row about their lax intellectual standards.

David Safier, of Blog for Arizona, outlines good reason to believe that the survey of students' knowledge about their government conducted by Strategic Vision LLC for the Goldwater Institute was extremely flawed if not outright bogus. See:

It's impossible to say if the Institute colluded with Strategic Vision or was merely a "mark" in a scam. Donors to the Goldwater Institute--and supporters of the free-market cause--should be very concerned either way. We depend on them to at least be a sound, credible source of information. (It'd also be nice for them to be intellectually sound in their arguments, too!) If the surveys turn out to be fake, the result isn't merely the loss of a talking point.

Nate Silver has more. Although he uses the word "random" to mean "uniformly distributed" (sort of like a signal that he drags his knuckles when walking--the concepts are very different and not in a subtle way) once one substitutes the right word in, his point is valid.

FWIW, a real test of randomness would be interesting, as well. In a large table of survey responses, the results should be "spatially" uncorrelated--e.g. the response in row 198 should not depend on the response in rows 197 or 199, or (e.g.) if the responses are on an integer scale from 1-10 the probability of respondent N+1 reporting a 7 if respondent N reported a 2 should be the same as that of a respondent reporting a 7 in the data set as a whole. If the behavior of science lab students is indicative, data fabricators tend to like zigzag patterns, avoiding repetition or even lingering above or below the mean.

Schlomach lies about climate--and includes Plimer in bibliography!

Right-wingers and libertarians of the "nutjob" variety have said a lot of stupid things about the "Cliamategate" black-hat hack of CRU's backup mailserver, most of it simply untrue. The Goldwater Institute's Byron Schlomach--there's no affiliation between the Institute and this 'blog--joined in today, a little "late to the party" following the death of most of the right-wing/right-wing-libertarian talking points.

In full:
Does "ClimateGate" expose weird science or political propaganda?
By Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.

Twenty years ago a biologist showed me a graph from a peer-reviewed scientific journal that showed an alarming increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Then I noticed the graph's scale was logarithmic and made even small increases look exaggerated. I've been skeptical of the science behind global warming ever since.

Weird ScienceNow there's ClimateGate. Somebody hacked the University of East Anglia's e-mail server in England and downloaded e-mails to and from scientists in the Climate Research Unit, perhaps the world's premier climate research center. The messages show scientists engaged in politics over science. One damaging e-mail includes this remark:

"I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

"Mike" is Michael Mann, made famous by the "hockey stick" temperature diagram Al Gore helped popularize. It first appeared in a UN report on global warming and purports to show that earth's recent temperature is the highest in a thousand years, using tree ring data to reconstruct past temperatures. Mann apparently grafted in data from unrelated modern sources to get the desired result when ring data didn't cooperate.

Add to this the recent confession that raw temperature data have long been destroyed. These data are the basis of the two main datasets used by the UN for its policy reports. Now nobody can actually check the methodology of the data that's being used to dictate international policy.

Given the lack of reliable, replicable, scientific evidence of global warming, it calls into question the wisdom behind the Arizona Corporation Commission renewable energy standards that will cost Arizona utility customers billions in the coming years. The Commission should rely on more than questionable science before they strike a multi-billion dollar blow to Arizona's already fragile economy. I've got plenty of raw data to back that up, by the way.

Byron Schlomach, Ph.D., is the director of the Goldwater Institute's Center for Economic Prosperity.

Learn More:

Goldwater Institute: Miller v. Arizona Corporation Commission

Power Line: Global Warming Bombshell

TimesOnline: Climate change data dumped

Ian Plimer: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science

The more important remarks are in bold-face type; I give them from top to bottom:
  1. Signing one's name "Given Surname, PhD" is a practice generally frowned upon as pretentious, and often as an attempt to establish a spurious credibility outside one's field of expertise. Schlomach's training is in economics; mine is in physics. Neither of us are climatologists but I gather from (unpleasant) personal communications with Schlomach that he doesn't read climatology papers and isn't familiar with even the basic science. It's perhaps too much to say that those who do not read the primary literature should not comment on recent science--even though I hold myself to that standard when it comes to both natural science and economics--but we should at least expect someone with the cojones to offer a strong opinion to not make mistakes that would earn college freshmen an "F" in their survey course exam. That should be the end of the story, and the comma PhD thing is thus in this case like putting icing on a turd.
  2. The standard logarithmic scale doesn't exaggerate small changes--it does quite the opposite. But either way, Schlomach is acting as though there was a deceit involved. In physical and natural sciences we use logarithmic scales all the time--and it's nearly always obvious when one is being used from the axis labels, tick marks, and grid lines if present. And since he is trained in a technical field, Schlomach should be able to read a graph.

    This is really just another instance of something common from denialists (more on that term below): a tendency to make standard scientific practices out to be deceitful when they are not.

  3. Schlomach calls himself a "skeptic". I don't see that manifested here; it appears he's caught up in a pitchfork-wielding mob. And no real skeptic would refer anyone to Plimer, nor would a real skeptic argue (as Schlomach did in previous public messages) that (carbon-neutral over relevant timescales) human breath is at issue.

    It's worse than what is in this e-mail alone. In what appeared to be seriousness, Schlomach once asked me to debunk a very bizarre graph without referring him to scientific literature. Don't think it takes much: there's no scale on the Y axis, no indication of what is plotted on the Y axis, no explanation of methodology on the source website, and the whole thing appears to be made up of clerverly arranged cubic splines. But it isn't clear what they're trying to argue in the first place. "Hey Kalafut, tell me what's wrong with this squiggle" is a Rorshach test.

    This is why I call Schlomach a "denialist". He doesn't consider--doesn't even bother to read--the solid evidence in favor of the mainstream scientific position, but he will hold up the weakest of evidence--including an unlabeled squiggle--in favor of his seemingly predetermined conclusion. "Skeptical", my ass. The scientists are, by and large, the skeptics. As libertarian commentators go, Bryan Caplan, Megan McArdle, and Tyler Cowen (for example) are acting like skeptics in the wake of "Climategate". Schlomach and co are credulous--that's the opposite of skeptical.
  4. When proxy data and instrumental data disagree, which would you trust more? Michael Mann and co-authors plotted the instrumental record along with their proxy reconstruction, were honest and up-front about it in their paper, and it becomes an issue now for what reason? Objection to "shop talk" diction in private e-mails?

    If nothing else, the divergence problem--the mismatch with the instrumental record beginning in about 1960--means proxy reconstructions should be taken cum grano salis The case for anthropogenic global warming never depended on paleoclimatology, anyway, despite the emphasis put on it by right-winger, so if plotting two data sets on the same graph and being honest about it is an issue, it's really a sideshow. Schlomach isn't so much making a point about the scientific case here as he is trying to create an "aura" of doubt on science.

  5. Schlomach's claim that raw temperature data were destroyed is an outright lie. A lie that has become "social truth", like the Emperor's clothes, on the Right, but a lie nonetheless. Representatives of CRU recently remarked that they deleted their copies of raw data and kept only their derived data sets. Each of these derived data sets was accompanied by a paper explaining methodologies and listing data sources. The only exception is CRU TS 3.0, the latest gridded time-series, for which the paper is "in preparation". As far as one can tell, the raw data are still available if one contact the original sources, who provided it to CRU. There have been no reports in the press or in the scientific community of these groups also deleting their data, consequently, we cannot even say here that Schlomach is understandably mistaken.

  6. "Given the untimely death of Byron Schlomach, Kalafut's allegations cannot possibly be answered." See what I did there? Even supposing that Schlomach were right about CRU, there is plenty of other evidence for global warming. This begins with the spectral properties of gases and the application of modern physics to them, culminating in general circulation models (GCMs), although there are plenty of simpler treatments which give less precise results. In principle the case for global warming need not be founded on an historical record at all. If a cartridge is in the chamber and the gun is put to the temple, we can predict brain damage if the trigger is pulled; we do not need position and velocity measurements of the bullet in the barrel. Having temperature data helps us to refine models and do historical attribution studies, and there are other temperature measurements independent of CRU data sets, from GISS, from the raw data, from satellites, etc., and other evidence such as long-term decline of sea ice extent, moving of tree lines, and changes in seasonal behavior of animals and plants.

    So even if Schlomach were right about CRU, what he says is "given" is not so: lie number two. But he's not right about CRU: whatever evidence has emerged about misconduct pertaining to FOI requests, there has been no evidence that could lead to the retraction of a single scientific paper or that otherwise calls CRU science into question. That a few thousand bad-faith Internet ideologues are playing "let's pretend it does" and maybe tenfold more nincompoops and illiterates believe them doesn't change that. Science runs on reason, not on memes.

  7. Schlomach's bibliograhy exposes him as someone who either can't tell the difference between good argument and bad, or doesn't care. Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth is the most discredited academic monograph since Bellesiles's Arming America, and its recommendation by Schlomach should be taken as nothing short of evidence that Schlomach's intent is to deceive. In the age of Internet search engines, it takes a downright creative selection of keywords to find information on Bellesiles or especially his book without finding an account of the deception contained therein. A naïve search will not do it. It is likewise for Plimer. Ian Enting's list is a good place to get started, but just search yourself if you want to know what I mean.

What Schlomach has yet to come to appreciate is just how much this matters. "Haha...I lied to boost popular support for our Corporation Commission lawsuit, so what?" The "so what" is that not only will being caught in a lie hurt support, but also that if I know I cannot trust him to be honest and competent (separate issues, but both are at work here) when it comes to topics I know about, how can I trust him to be honest and competent on topics where he is presumably the expert? There is no compartmentalizing of trust.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

How I spent the morning of November 22.

I made it into the newspaper police blotter for the morning of November 22:
Football fan battles bicycle to lose his blues

UAPD officers were dispatched to the Arizona-Sonora Residence Hall on Nov. 22 at approximately 4:20 a.m. in reference to a report of two unidentified men kicking and jumping on a bicycle near the northeast corner of the residence hall. En route, officers observed two men matching the descriptions given by the man who reported the incident. Officers made contact with the two men and detected the strong odor of intoxicants coming from both of them. The men stated that they were on their way to the Villa Del Puente Residence Hall from the Coronado Residence Hall. When asked about the report, both men denied being near any bicycles or bicycle racks at any point during the evening.

At that point, the man who reported the incident arrived on scene. He identified the two men as the same men he had seen jumping on a bicycle in front of Arizona-Sonora. Officers asked the men if they had been drinking and both men admitted that they had. One of the men further admitted that he had been upset because of the football team’s loss to Oregon and had taken his frustration out on a random bicycle. He further stated that his friend had not participated in the event. The man then led police to the area where the damaged bicycle was located. Officers observed that the rear fender was severely damaged. Officers cited the man on charges of minor with spirituous liquor in the body and criminal damage. His friend was cited on charges of minor with spirituous liquor in the body. Both men were released on scene.

Of the three mans in that article, you can probably guess which one I was. I thought it'd be better to follow them and identify them to police--cell phones are fun!--than to tell them to knock it off. That way, the owner of the bicycle could identify them and sue for damages.

Charles Murray is right: we should not use a college degree as a signal for all that we use it for in our society. It is no longer a proxy for middle-class values--not clear to my Chicagoan working-class-origin self that it ever was--nor is it a near-sufficient indicator of good sense. It's stupid enough to be angry about a loss in a sporting match--especially if you weren't one of the players!--but to be angry eight hours later and to let the anger drive you to kick and jump on a bicycle, that's just plane ridiculous. It's too bad the paper didn't release the culprit's name for future employers to Google.

I'm pleased to see that one of them confessed; I couldn't say for sure whether it was one or both of them who was damaging the bicycle.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Deputy Stoddard did not pass "Go", did not collect $200

Last week (via Matt Brown), Sheriff Joe was blustering that Detention Officer Adam Stoddard, who helped himself to a defense lawyer's privileged documents, would not be going to jail.

He's in jail now, albeit probably at the 'Mesa Hilton' facility.

The ABC 15 article contains Stoddard's statement to the press:
Recently, Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe ordered me to hold a press conference to publicly apologize for doing the job I have been trained to do.

Part of my job in providing security to the court is to inspect documents brought into the courtroom. On October 19th, I saw a document that I had not yet screened, and that raised security concerns. I retrieved that document in plain sight and had court personnel copy it to preserve it as evidence in case it was a security breach.

It was a split second decision and I do not regret my actions.

If the job Stoddard was trained to do includes taking privileged documents from defendants' attorneys, the problem is much more serious than just a "bad egg". And there's no reason for split-second decisions in that context. Defendant attacks a witness, that's time for split-second thinking. Removing a paper from an attorney's file after a split-second of consideration, that's called "kleptomania".

Word is that twenty officers of the MCSO engaged in a solidarity sickout this morning. Solidarity with violation of attorney-client privilege?--as in "we'd do it too!"? And on the taxpayer dime? Pink slips all around are appropriate. But in Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County, that'll never happen.

Note that Stoddard is being represented by an assistant county attorney. Maricopa County voters: What are you paying to keep Sheriff Joe? Add this to the total.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Driving through "Photo Enforcement Zones": a guide for the perplexed.

This post is dedicated to motorists on the stretch of I-10 from the Maricopa County line to Tolleson city limits:

When approaching one of Maricopa County's fixed photo radar installations, you will be warned by at least two signs, one designating the "Photo Enforcement Zone" and another stating that the cameras are located 300 feet ahead. On seeing these signs:
  1. If you live more than one county away, do nothing, but remain alert, as some drivers will stomp on the brake. Maricopa County is not serving tickets to Pima County or elsewhere in person, and Arizona law does not consider mail delivery proper services. After 180 days, the county's claim is no good.
  2. If you have a plate cover lens obscuring wide-angle view of your license plate, do nothing.
  3. If you live in Maricopa County or an immediately adjacent county and do not have a plate cover, check your speedometer. If you are not driving eleven or more miles per hour over the speed limit, do nothing.
  4. If you are driving eleven or more miles per hour over the speed limit, gently reduce your speed to "ten over". If possible, do this without applying the brakes.
  5. Continue to drive "ten over" or at your previous speed if less than ten over until you have passed the cameras.
  6. Increase your speed to what is appropriate for conditions, if applicable.

Do not:
  • Abruptly brake at the first sign.
  • Slow to the speed limit if the prevailing safe speed is greater than the speed limit.
  • Slow to below the speed limit, "just in case".

And if you are going to do any of the above, please get out of the left hand lane. You cause other drivers to have to apply the brakes, which wastes fuel and could cause an accident.

Drive safely and defensively, and never at a speed too fast for conditions.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A 'Blogger's Thanksgiving

I wish a happy (and safe) Thanksgiving to my readers--and would like to list three things for which I'm thankful, or perhaps three non-mutually-exclusive sets of people to whom I am thankful:

  1. Kim and Thane for signing up to be contributors, even though they haven't shut me up and taken this over just yet,
  2. Everyone who has helped to promote this 'blog and associated material, including but not limited to Evan Lisull, Laura Donovan, and the volunteer contributors to Ballotpedia,
  3. Reasonable opponents and foils. An astute reader noted that I must agree with Nozick's idea, that the "separateness of persons" is of both practical and moral import. I think it enhances my life. While I'm known for being sometimes downright vicious to people I see as being wild, slanderous, or intellectually arrogant, reasonable, measured foils, opponents, or whatever one may call them--the sort of person who has me thinking "I can see how somebody could think that in good faith, and it's interesting..." make me a better commetator and a better person, providing ideas and perspectives I do not have as both one individual. This would be a dull 'blog if they agreed.

    At the risk of missing a few friends and acquaintances or fellow commentators--some of whom are in both categories--I'd like to single out the following: Joe Cobb, David Safier, Jim Peron, Nick Coons, Martel Firing, Tom Jenney, and even the anonymous coward "CLS". Even if some of them have their moments of being wild, slanderous, or arrogant, and even if some have the obnoxious habit of agreeing with me too often, they keep me honest and push my intellectual boundaries.

No, I am not up typing at 2:24 AM. I'm out of town, and hope to return to regular 'blogging by Monday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A minor taxpayer revolt in Baja Arizona

"Espresso Pundit" Greg Patterson has a friend who asked around at a recent gun show to find out why TUSD budget overrides were voted down. The reported answer is somewhat surprising: not fiscal irresponsibility, not "secession" and frustration over having to pay when kids in their families don't go to public school, but rather the "La Raza Studies" program.

It seems completely lost on proponents of overrides, "home rule", and other fiscal laxity, that the relationship between the government and the governed, between the taxpayer and the tax spender, is one of give-and-take. It isn't symmetric, but the people have expectations of government--and they are right to have expectations of government. It is not sufficient for elected and appointed officials to have good intentions or to want to do Nice Things with the taxes collected; they must also deliver the goods, and respect the taxpayer.

In Pima County we're now learning the meaning of "consent of the governed". Teaching kids ethnic nationalism, group identity, that some people are better than others or otherwise "special" because their ancestors came from a certain place, or that there exists such a thing as group oppression, that's disrespect for taxpayers not from the elevated class. Likewise, manufacturing a "budget crisis" when there is a 1% revenue shortfall in order to justify tax increases, instead of cutting back the scope of city government, that's disrespect for the taxpayer. That's treating the interests of elected officials--those interests being re-election and supporting those niceties that have been added to the budget through the years--as more important than the interests of individual taxpayers. And asking--no, demanding!--constantly for more, more, more, out of proportion to population growth, is a disrespect of the voters.

The final results of this month's election (with irregularities presumably cleared up): defeat of "home rule", TUSD overrides, and even a few overrides in districts operating with overrides--a rare occurrence!--reflect nothing short of a loss of the consent of the governed. Rather than go on and on about how important education is (a non sequitur argument, really) those unhappy with the result ought to think: what's being done wrong? Should we try again or try another paradigm? And if we try again, how can we uphold our end of the bargain this time around?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The reasonable purchase happened anyway

Remember how TUSD wrapped up a money-saving software upgrade into their request for a huge and perhaps wasteful technology budget override?

Today's Arizona Daily Star reports that they've gone ahead with the purchase. In retrospect, this makes its inclusion in the ballot question look very cynical. "Hey voters! Approve a tax increase to upgrade our Internet connection and buy new workstations or we won't make a sensible cost-containing purchase...that we intend to make anyway."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Best of the 'blogs, week of 7-13 November 2009

A little late this time around.

In Arizona:

Farther afield:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On science funding, moving beyond "Yes, Please!": Science Salon TONIGHT at 5:30 PM

A late announcement, for sure, but I'll put it out anyway.

I will be giving the fortnightly Science Salon tonight, Thursday 12 November 2009, at 5:30 PM, in the back room of the Auld Dubliner (at the intersection of Euclid and University, in Tucson) on the topic of science funding. Abstract is as follows:
Poll a roomful of academic scientists about funding and you will likely find a consensus position: "Yes, please!" Most of us are economically productive, but what we produce cannot be sold, which means we are largely dependent on grants from the government and the private sector. It is often argued that science is by its nature a public good and thus will be underprovided by the private sector. We will discuss to what extent this is the case, as well as under what conditions government funding of science is fair to nonscientists, how the funding paradigm affects the way science is done, and whether or not it can reasonably be improved.

Monday, November 09, 2009

A few words about Warren Meyer's bona fides.

It's been brought to my attention that Warren Meyer of the Coyote Blog and its side project "Climate Skeptic" will deliver a talk in Phoenix tomorrow about anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

Arizona has real experts on the topic--Chris Castro and Jon Overpeck both immediately come to mind--but Meyer, an "amateur" working through the literature (in that respect, not unlike myself, but read further) almost certainly draws a different audience, one I suspect overlaps a bit with this 'blog.

Meyer may call his climatology 'blog "Climate Skeptic", but I wouldn't call him a "skeptic" at all. "Skeptic" involves a measured, rational, cautious take; Meyer is if nothing else very excitable. Many of the would-be "skeptics" don't even bother to read up on the scientific case for AGW before claiming that the scientific mainstream--98% of people actually working on the problem--is wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong for reasons that would have the scientists involved being outright slobs or worse. Meyer, on the other hand, clearly reads and could almost be said to be trying to learn the science.

The trouble is the spirit in which Meyer is reading. Meyer is not trying to gain an understanding of the state of the science, but instead, he's looking for tidbits to help him argue a preconceived position, like a lawyer does. He's looking for a "gotcha!", and when he thinks he's found one, he stops without going further, without checking to see if his criticism is well-founded or if it is merely a personal hangup, and he tries to convince the public that the people who do this for a living have made a (usually gross) mistake or worse.

When you make a statement about science or the state of science, it comes with an unwritten message: "I have exercised intellectual due diligence and can not only make this argument but can be confident that it is truthful and valid." Meyer completely neglects this. His mistakes are often things that someone working in that field would spot right away but take a bit of effort for someone like me working on different problems. I can't usually fault him for getting it wrong--but in maybe every tenth post there is a glaring exception where he doesn't bother to get the basics right before slandering scientists as being slobs--but I can fault him for not being skeptical, for not examining his position before he tries to convince others that he is correct. And I can fault him for never correcting himself. Being Warren Meyer means never having to explain one's self or apologize.

One of the clearest examples is a a recent post on ocean acification. Ocean acidification isn't a consequence of AGW but it shares a cause, so is often brought up in the same conversation. Meyer plays some word games He thinks it's insightful to note that the pH of seawater is not predicted to drop below 7 and therefore finds use of the word "acidification" objectionable, as though his being an ignoramus implies moral failings for others. But that's not the worst of it.

Meyer tries to pick through the chemistry ab initio--and without the use of tables--and fails in a ridiculous fashion. The claim is that carbon dioxide not only doesn't acidify seawater, but that it cannot, because it "soaks up" H+ ions. (He also gets the mechanism of shell thinning wrong, but that isn't common knowledge.) In short, he is claiming that the
CO2+water <--> carbonic acid <--> H+ + bicarbonate
reaction causes water to become more basic! This is not an advanced topic: this is freshman-high-school level stuff that he could learn from a textbook at a used bookstore. Aquarists (fishkeepers) and others have firsthand practical knowledge of the affect of dissolved CO2 has on pH; if Meyer wanted for some reason to experimentally confirm it, he can purchase a pH meter, Instant Ocean seawater mix, and either generate his own CO2 in a yeast reactor or capture it from a 2 liter bottle of pop, and test what happens to the pH. That sodium carbonate (washing soda) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are alkaline should also give him pause. Or perhaps he is also a baking-soda-as-antacid "skeptic".

The basic chemistry, empirical work, physiology, and more are spelled out with constant reference to the literature in the Royal Society's review of ocean acidification, which was written to summarize the topic for nonspecialists (and nonscientists). If nothing else, Warren Meyer should have read this before trying to convince the world that the position that increased partial pressure of CO2 acidifies the ocean and that such acidification has negative impact on marine life is "silly". But the normal rules of intellectual honesty do not apply to Warren Meyer and other faux-"skeptics". Take what he has to say tomorrow cum grano salis, or perhaps chase it with antacid.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Final totals are in: Proposition 400 defeated!

See the County's election results table. More to follow.

Best of the 'blogs, week of 31 October - 6 November

A bit of a slow week, or at least one in which very little stood out. There have been quite a few quality posts this weekend, but they miss the Friday cutoff.

In Arizona:

Farther afield:

Tucson Day of the Dead parade

In my seventh November in Tucson, I finally made it to a Day of the Dead/All Soul's parade. A few impressions:
  • I was expecting it to be much more Mexican or Mexican-American and much more centered on honoring the departed. The Downtown/Fourth Avenue crowd, which often looks a little skeletal and sunken-eyed even without masks and makeup, was very represented. It appeared that there were as many parading just to parade as there were parading for holiday-specific reasons. There's nothing wrong with that, but again, not what I was expecting.
  • It's clear that some worked on costumes for weeks or months.

  • If I had to compare the parade with anything, it would be the carnival parades in New Orleans, specifically the neighborhood/club krewes and half-formal "Krewe de Vieux" march that come out on Mardi Gras day. It has the same autochthonous and non-hierarchical structure.
  • If you have a tiny camera with a short lens and can't get a shot from where you're standing, please don't run out into the parade to snap pictures; you mess things up for the rest of us. Use your zoom or crop.
  • The parade is used to honor not just relatives and friends but other things that have died, sometimes as protest. Drug war victims and "Macho B" the unnecessarily-killed jaguar both were represented--Macho B both by a lone marcher and a group of at least 30. Also mourned was the better of the two local papers, the Tucson Citizen.

Regarding 2008's Proposition 104, ASA and the Arizona Board of Regents toed the line.,

It made the last "best of the blogs" list, but is worth noting on its own: Going through meeting minutes, Evan Lisull of the Desert Lamp finds the Arizona Students Association and the Arizona Board of Regents doing as much squirming as necessary to intervene against 2008's Proposition 104 making the ballot without running afoul of the law.

Proposition 104, for those who don't remember, was what the crass called the "Ward Connerly Initiative", which would have prohibited racial discrimination by the State in, among other things, hiring or the awarding of contracts.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Prop 400 "No" lead expands

Based on the 1:43 PM update of the County's official results, votes against Tucson Proposition 400 (waiver of the Article 9 spending limit aka "Home Rule") number 32,416; votes for the measure number 31,671. "No" has a 745-vote lead.

I'm still not ready to call it victory, but: Thanks go out to everyone who took a deep breath, realized that the measure has broader implications than "the city can spend the money it receives", and voted "no".

Tucson/Pima County election early results: some good news

From the Elections Division's website, with 98.9% of precincts reporting:
  • Proposition 200 is being handily defeated, 70%-30%,
  • Proposition 400 is surprisingly close, but defeat edges out success almost 31676 against to 31054 for,
  • Proposition 401 and 402 are both being solidly defeated, with "no" votes amounting to around 60% for both.

For those interested in the city council races, Fimbres is far ahead of McClusky, Uhlich has a 600-vote lead on Buehler-Garcia, making it too close to call, and Kozachick, with a 1200 vote lead over Trasoff, is the likely winner.

Amphi's override elections (Propositions 403 and 404) are close, but it looks like "No" is winning, meaning the district's overrides will not be renewed. The Vail bond issue (Proposition 408) looks likely to pass, but it looks like voters are canceling Vail's override (Proposition 409) as well. Sahuarita's override (Proposition 410) is being defeated by a 10% margin. Fiscal responsibility appears popular this year.

Word is turnout on the East Side is high: for the purposes of this race, a good thing.

The unorganized opposition to Prop. 400--who else is out there?--can't celebrate just yet, but there's more reason to be hopeful than I thought possible 24 hours ago. Early voting has the measure succeeding; polling shows the opposite. This isn't the pattern for Props 401 and 402. I can't take credit, but I wonder how many votes my eleventh-hour guest opinion was worth.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Summaries and recommendations for all 17 Pima County ballot questions are up.

Were it not for an editing outage at exactly the wrong time, this would have been posted last night and on Google News this morning.

Over on Associated Content, I have summarized all of the Pima County ballot questions, and provided a voting recommendation for each. A few "yes" votes on the school questions--my erstwhile co-'bloggers should feel free to put up zillion-word posts telling me I'm wrong--but mostly "no"s.

Monday, November 02, 2009

An afterthought: the Tucson City Council race

Candidates for Tucson City Council have been lackluster. We've all read about the failings of Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff; neither has been a supporter of fiscal responsibility and both were original proponents of the rent tax The Republican challengers have shown very bad judgement in their support for Prop. 200 and Ben Buehler-Garcia has, in defense of this, claimed falsely that crime is increasing. You've already seen this. Cue up a Ben Stein recording. Buehler? Buehler? Democrat Richard Fimbres, on the other hand, is far too much of an insider, very connected to the retiring Steve Leal, and offers more of the same when we should be seeing proposals for lasting change.

No endorsements, but here's how I'm voting:

For the Ward 3 seat, I'm casing my vote for Mary DeCamp of the Green Party (and "of the non-existent campaign"), because she is neither Karin Uhlich nor Ben Buehler-Garcia.

For the Ward 5 seat, Fimbres gets my vote because Scott Stewart, who contends with Ted Downing for the distinction of being "the most reasonable and decent person in Southern Arizona politics", has endorsed him.

Regarding Ward 6: in the same spirit as the Tucson Weekly, I highly recommend the banh mi at Saigon Pho. Kozachik will probably reluctantly receive my vote: when in doubt, throw the incumbent out!

TUSD voters: say no to frivolous computer purchases by voting no on Prop 402

A day before the election, the final post on this year's ballot questions for my area.

Voters in TUSD's boudaries are being asked to approve a capital outlay override (Proposition 402) the purposes of which is (according to TUSD) computer equipment upgrades.

It's a mix of reasonable and unreasonable requests. Were upgrading network switches to decrease energy consumption and replacing inefficient old business operations software the only proposed options, I'd recommend a "yes" vote. But taxpayers are also being asked to fund an increase in Internet connection speed and replace up to 10,000 "worn out or failing" classroom computers.

Computers do not get "worn out". They are either failing or not failing. Many of the remarks made by supporters of Prop. 402 to the press make it sound as though the computers are to be replaced because they are old. For grade-school and high-school classroom purposes, older computers are as good as new ones. Even DOS machines with Wordperfect 5 and Lotus 1-2-3 would probably work well--an that's fancier than the IBM PCs we used in grade school!--except where Web access is needed or for the purposes of a high-school programming course in which the students should probably be learning C or C++. Even for those purposes, Athlon machines--a dime a dozen--running Linux will do just fine.

Want an example of the sort of weasel talk has got my blood boiling here? See Robert Breault's guest opinion defending Prop 402 in the Daily Star. Breault claims:
10-year-old computers cannot run modern software and it takes too long to do a simple Internet search.
Computer literacy prepares students for college and the workplace. In today's world, everyone — from medical technicians to heavy-machinery operators to optical engineers — must master modern computer technology.

But what "modern software", versions of which didn't run on the 686 that I bought in 1999, is really of use in the classroom? That machine accessed the Internet, ran a GUI wordprocessor and spreadsheet, and even was used for scientific computation? And Breault, being a tech guy himself, must surely know that Internet searches are done on the server side, not the client side: speed of the machine being used to access the search engine doesn't affect the speed of the search. And whatever it is those technicians he names at the ends do on computers, the kids won't be learning it in grade school or high school no matter how new their computers are. Computer basics--which, to me, means using a computer to compute something!--can be learned on an old machine as well as a new one.

Baloney, in short. Arguments for upgrades are baloney. They may have a reasonable core, but they've been universally padded with so much bad argument that the request itself is suspect. The District has not given a curriculum-based argument for new computers or faster Internet access. Moreover, the District has insufficiently explored another option: replacing its failing computers with hand-me-downs from homes and businesses. A 5-year-old machine replaced because its user wants to play the newest video games or because asking office staff to not use the latest frivolous upgrade of MS Word as an interchange format is somehow asking too much can have plenty of life left for school purposes. But public schools don't ask.

As noted in the Pima Association of Taxpayers' argument in the official information packet (page 35 of the file), TUSD is already entitled to Federal "E-Rate" telephone tax money, were TUSD to put together a successful application. (TUSD can receive the money due to, among other things, the number of students in the hot-lunch program...) We're already being taxed on our phone billsto pay for technology upgrades for TUSD; TUSD mismanagement means the schools don't receive the money. Prop. 402 is a double-tax, asking the taxpayer to make up for TUSD's errors. Turn the page of the packet to find BEST TUSD's argument for more of the same. We're being asked to pay to make up for vendor favoritism, loss of E-rate funds, and other mismanagement.

See Dave Devine's 2006 report in the Tucson Weekly or just search the Web for the keywords "TUSD" and "E-rate" to learn more about what has transpired.

Hold on for Federal phone tax money, don't subsidize TUSD bureaucrats' failures. Vote "No" on 402.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Best of the 'blogs, week of 24-30 October

In Arizona:

Farther afield:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tucson Prop. 200 is so bad that there's near unanimity.

It's very rare that there's as broad, across-the-political-spectrum agreement on an issue as there is on Tucson's Proposition 200, the sole initiative Tucsonans will see on next Tuesday's ballots. The Goldwater Institute, the 'Blog for Arizona guys, and everyone in between seem to agree: it's fiscally irresponsible, it's a growth subsidy, the policing mandates do not makes sense given that crime is plummeting, and its passage will necessitate major tax increases in the near future. The main opposition group's website, Don't Handcuff Tucson, has links to newspaper editorials and guest opinions in aggregate giving more than enough reason to vote "no".

This has been the most talked-about ballot question of the season, despite there being nearly nobody, except the three Republican candidates for City Council and the initial financial backers of the question, in favor. I've remained silent on it because I haven't had anything unique to say, until now. I'll add the following:

Police in Tucson are, relative to those of both the Pima County and Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, the ICE, and the Border Patrol, well-disciplined and courteous. They're not the best in the state--if you've even been pulled over in Graham County you'll understand what tough competition there is--but for an urban police department, they're doing fairly well. Incidents of brutality are few and things I'd expect to provoke misconduct in many other places--even killings of police officers--are handled here with professionalism.

Policing is a psychologically demanding job in two ways. First, it involves confrontation, including the prospect of physical confrontation. Second, as the famous Stanford Prison experiment and many more serious studies since then demonstrate, power can bring out very bad things in people. Tucson has done a good job of hiring people who can handle the stress and who can use the privileges granted police officers responsibly. Mandating that Tucson hire more police officers may mean a lowering of standards and the hiring of people who would otherwise have to be projected, especially if the city needs to grow its police force "on the cheap." Tucsonans, for safety's and dignity's sake, keep bad cops off the force by voting "no" on Prop. 200.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's only a 1% difference, but: Vote "No" on Tucson Proposition 400

To avoid imposing on Tucson a drastic all-at-once budget cut, I was going to recommend a "Yes" vote on Proposition 400, the extension of "home rule" budgeting for Tucson, until I read the city's own numbers. The expected difference that would be made by failure of Proposition 400 is 1% or less of the city budget!

Turn to page 3 of the City's information packet on the ballot question. In each year 2011-2014 the difference between the projected city expenditure and the state-imposed limit is 1%. For example, in 2011, the state-imposed limit is projected to be $1,337,883,920, and expected revenues are $1,345,876,320. The difference between the two is 0.5%; repeating the calculation for the 2014 figures, the difference is 0.8%.

Endorsers of the proposition, such as the Arizona Daily Star, are being a bit disingenuous or naïve about the tax implications of passage. Yes, passage of the proposition would not directly raise taxes, and failure of the proposition directly lower them. But with the city required to bank excess revenues, there would be no rationale for taxes to be any higher than necessary to meet the state-imposed limit; we can expect lower taxes in the long run were Proposition 400 to fail.

Article 9 Section 20 of the Arizona Constitution sets forth a recipe for fiscal restraint, adjusting 1979-1980 expenditure for population growth and inflation of the currency. Subsection 9 permits cities to avoid this restriction by holding special elections, hence Proposition 400.

Remember that earlier this year the City Council was contemplating imposing a double tax on renters to balance its budget. Nicety after nicety was added during the housing boom, and when revenues decreased the Council couldn't find the integrity or the moxie to cut back the scope of government spending to pre-boom levels. Article 9 Section 20 limits, which tie spending growth to population growth, would prevent such irresponsibility in the future; by re-imposing these limits on Tucson, defeat of Proposition 400 would put the city back on the fiscal straight-and-narrow path in the long run.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Best of the 'blogs, week of 17-23 October 2009

As this is being posted, I'm in an airplane, probably over California's Central Valley. I have an alibi!

In Arizona,

Farther afield,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pima County election integrity update: Dems drop fight for cynical reasons; Libs soldier on.

Two weeks ago--I'm more behind than I thought, but nobody else is following this story!--David Euchner delivered a report at the Pima County Libertarian Party's monthly meeting on recent developments in the possibly "flipped" 2006 Regional Transportation Plan election.

The Democratic and Libertarian Parties both desired a hand-count to be performed; Pima County Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington ruled that challenges to election results are not allowed beginning five days from the announcement of the results.

As a result of the Osmolski Affadavit, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard conducted his own investigation. It was less than thorough and the best election integrity watchdogs were not allowed to observe. The AG's office permitted the county's political parties to name several observers, and one of its choosing would observe. The Pima County Libertarian Party, for example, nominated election integrity guru Jim March, and the request was denied. Goddard could have settled the question once and for all, but by keeping the experts out of the room and failing to do obvious things like inspect the poll tapes, Goddard's affirmation of the election's results only called them further into question.

Destruction of the ballots has been stayed pending the outcome of the Libertarian Party's appeal. Ralph Ellinwood, working on the case pro bono, was said by Euchner to contend that Harrington had equitable jurisdiction and his hands were not tied by statute as he claimed. Bill Risner, the Democrats' counsel, is said to like to continue working on the case, and has sources of funding, but needs a client. The Democrats backed out.

Pima Association of Taxpayers vice-president Dick Bayse, a longtime Democrat, was in the room during Euchner's presentation. His explanation for the Democrats' sudden loss of interest: the matter became an embarrassment to Terry Goddard, a possible gubernatorial candidate. Willingness to pursue the matter was always less than unanimous, and when it became a question of supporting Goddard, it tipped the balance.

I can't speak to Goddard's chances or whether or not the Dems' support is rational behavior. I find him tremendously crass--not only for flaunting economic ignorance but also for his perpetual campaigning. For example, as the featured speaker at the ACLU-AZ Southern Chapter's Independence Day event a few years ago, Goddard had the nerve to spend his whole speaking time talking up populist efforts to sue tobacco companies or protect senior citizens from deceptive (and non-deceptive) business practices, devoting not a single minute to civil liberties. But I also find Sheriff Joe crass, and he's a perennial winner.

Let's hope the Pima County Democrats are right and this matter could hurt Goddard's chances. A man who conducts such a banana-republican "investigation" shouldn't be Governor or dogcatcher.

But enough with that digression. There was unanimous support in the room for the Pima County Libertarian Party to become Risner's client and continue the fight for fair and properly conducted elections. Former Pima LP chairman David Euchner deserves much of the credit for this; the LP's continued involvement in the case has been largely due to his efforts. I could write pages about how the Pima LP and the Arizona LP more generally acts like the sectarian, self-defeating third party that it is, but Euchner's involvement in the election integrity matter has been nothing short of professional.

The Libertarian Party is standing up for election integrity; the Democrats chose cynical loyalty to a born-privileged elected official over fighting for the right of the people to lawful, open government and fair procedures. If you had to consider sending a contribution to one of these groups, or registering as a member of one or the other, which would you choose?

"No legitimate penological purpose": The Sheriff Joe bill keeps adding up.

Maricopa County taxpayers: Your elected Sheriff Joe Arpaio becomes more expensive by the month. How much is enough--how long will you be willing to fund his private crusades?

Back in 2005, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the Maricopa County Jail could not require women inmates to have to obtain a court order before receiving an abortion. Both the Arizona and United States Supreme Courts declined to hear appeals.

Sheriff Joe, never one to take "no" seriously, simply refused to change the policy; last year the ACLU-AZ asked that he and the MCSO be held in contempt of court. Sheriff Joe responded with a change in policy; instead of requiring a court order, he'd require that inmates prepay security and transportation costs.

Back to court, then, and according to Tuesday's ACLU-AZ press release, Arpaio loses again. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig granted ACLU-AZ's motion for summary judgement. I'd provide a link to the arguments, but Oberbillig's order indicates that no court recorder was present and, instead, the matter was recorded electronically. ACLU-AZ's motion is probably indicitave.

Oberbillig cites the 1987 Turner v. Safley precedent, in which the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion (in a case concerning marriage) stipulated that restrictions of inmates' 14th Amendment-protected rights must serve a legitimate penological purpose. The ruling was unanimous and the opinion, nearly so. This is settled law, in other words--that the motion for summary judgement was granted also reflects this--and supposing one wished to overturn abortion's legally protected status, given the Turner precedent, restricting inmate access to the service is an unintelligent way to go about it.

No word yet on whether or not the ACLU-AZ will seek attorney fees; I don't know them not to do so. There's no casual way to estimate how much Maricopa County spent on the case, either, but I can confidently say that once again Sheriff Joe spent taxpayer money on a sure loser.

HT: Alessandra Soler Meetze

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall color report: Pinaleños/Mount Graham

The Pinaleños are especially colorful at this time of year. Starting at the altitude corresponding with the Wet Canyon Bridge (location of the cell-phone camera photo), the few walnut trees hiding in creeks are turning yellow, sycamores, a bright festive orange, and oaks, red. Up a bit higher the bright yellow aspens are almost glowing back at the sun

It was 68 degrees Fahrenheit last weekend, ideal conditions for a hike along Ash Creek. If I didn't spend so much time taking pictures I might have made it to the bottom of the falls. Lizards and snakes must like the weather, too, as they're still very active. Ferns are turning brown and dying back at high altitudes, but flowering plants are still hanging on, and some odd Sky Island refugees--including a geranium-like plant I don't recall ever seeing--are in full bloom. More photos to follow when my Kodachromes return from Dwayne's and I finish the roll of Ektar 120 in the Yashica-Mat.

Word to the wise: If you leave a nice lens on top of your car, be sure that it's inside your car before you drive off. And if a Canon f/1.4 50mm prime is spotted 3/4 of the way up the Swift Trail, it's probably mine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vote "No" on Proposition 401 and all other school overrides

Tom Jenney of the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers has been a nearly lone voice recommending the defeat of school-district budget overrides. For what it's worth, I'll lend my voice to that effort and recommend the same, especially to those who, like me, reside in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), which is not operating under an override.

There's plenty of money available per classroom full of students. Jenney puts the figure at $194,000 per 25-student classroom. That's not using the "fishy" figure whereby total spending is divided by total number of students (see David Safier's explanation; inclusion of construction costs is a bad idea); Jenney instead computed the average using Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne's annual report, excluding construction and land purchase costs.

Averages in the abstract might not reflect the condition in any particular district, but the $7,730 per pupil figure used by Jenney is a few hundred dollars less than spending in TUSD and almost a thousand more than Catalina Foothills. (I did not write that backwards, and you did not read it backwards.) Regardless, there's a lot of money in the districts. Spend $100,000 compensating a classroom teacher (salary plus lavish health insurance plus "employer contribution" to pensions, Social Security, and Medicare, and nearly that amount is left over to keep the lights on, purchase supplies, have art and music classes, pay administrators, etc. A lot is being spent on the public school system--Jenney says that the figure has doubled, in inflation-adjusted dollars, relative to 1970--and there is little to show for it. It's clear that the taxpayer's money is not being spent intelligently, that there is waste and systematic failure; it makes no sense to give more.

A "no" vote is not drastic. Override amounts vary by district, but 5-10% of the district budget is a usual amount. Moreover--and all of the publicity pamphlets mailed explain this--ARS 15-481 establishes a "phase-down" procedure. If an override election fails, a district's funding will not be cut all at once. If the cut was too drastic, the districts can ask for another override. (This could establish perverse incentives for administrators.)

Call them "public schools", "government schools", or whatever you like; it's also quite clear that they're violating the social contract, and not just by failing to educate students to an eighth-grade level before sending them to high-school and to produce high-school graduates before handing out diplomas. (Geriatric libertarians: "social contract" is a well-understood metaphor; please Google it before ranting in the comments section.) When government agencies tell us how it's going to be, insist on doing things on their own terms, and insist that we pay no matter what, we don't ordinarily tolerate it. With schools, it's different. It's "for the kids", if not ours, then someone else's, possibly some disadvantaged household's. If that's the case, we should be even more intolerant--and we shouldn't let anyone try to cast us as immoral for our position. Failing us is one thing--we can vote, throw the bums out, and "shoot the bastards" if we need to. Failing children, who have no recourse at all is less tolerable, much less still if we consider that the product of an urban public school will often lack the literacy, the communication skills, or the understanding of government needed to ever have recourse. Not wanting to hand over more money to poorly-performing and wasteful government institutions does not reflect an antisocial tendency. Sometimes the opposite is true.

If the schools want more money, they should start doing things differently, demonstrating need first, by becoming more efficient and adopting internal reforms. We should also demand an end to the following:
  1. Teachers are not paid according to merit. Schoolteachers should probably be paid more, to attract people to teaching who would instead go into other professions. Effective teachers should be paid more than ineffective teachers. Teaching is a highly individualized profession. It is not ditch-digging. It is not house-framing. Teachers are not fungible. The manner in which they are compensated should reflect that. Looking at this from the other side, taxpayers should be outraged that their involuntary contributions are being given as much to poor teachers as to good ones.

  2. Public schools don't ask. They either demand, or they are silent. I am a graduate of a public/government K-8 system and a private high school, the former in the Chicago sububs and the latter in the city itself. The private school sends mailers, solicits me for funds, maintains personal ties, and seeks my help in other ways. The public school stopped keeping track virtually the day after graduation. It started again when I applied for a small college scholarship but stopped immediately after I graduated college, and even then the communication was limited to my receipt of their check. They didn't even ask me to come in to tell the kids that yes, someone from our neighborhood can go on to be a scientist or whatever else he'd like to be.

    I thought that perhaps this was a Cook County, IL problem, but I've asked around, and Arizona public schools are no better. There is no continued contact with alumni, no routine active solicitation of contributions from area businesses, no Mother's Clubs, Father's Clubs or associated boosterism, no real effort to create a learners' community. If the public schools and their supporters can't be bothered with establishing of foundations or asking those with close ties to the institutions--alumni, parents and families of current students--for voluntary contributions, they have no business demanding involuntary contributions from the taxpayer.

  3. Nonparticipants are not treated equitably. A vote for an override is a vote to raise taxes not just on public school parents and families but also those homeschooling, sending their children to private schools, or sending their children to charter schools. None of these groups will benefit from the override.

    Charter school families receive a government subsidy just like public schoolers do. The other two groups do not receive so much as a tax credit. Homeschooling and private-schooling parents save the taxpayers the expense of educating their children. They've taken responsibility for their children. We shouldn't just admire them for it, we should treat them fairly. The least we can do is to not bill them for support of the public schools while their children are being privately educated. A tax credit for homeschoolers and tuition fee payers, up to the amount the district spends per pupil, would not only make private education in reach of more families; it would also constitute simple justice. Homeschoolers, private school parents, and those of us who support them should vote "no" on overrides until they are treated fairly and not made to pay double for education, at least while their children are of school age.

  4. Student promotion is haphazard in the early grades. Arizona's high schoolers must pass the very basic "AIMS" test to graduate. Too little, too late. I'm no advocate of pervasive testing; the temptations to teach to the test and to treat the test as a target are both too great. But to require that students be reading with basic comprehension by the end of First Grade and read fluently (no more "sounding it out") and comprehend more advanced passages by the end of Third Grade would seem reasonable. Reading comfortably and with comprehension is the key to further education and good citizenship, too. What good is the high-school AIMS test if a student enters high school a functional illiterate?

    For those who fail, aggressive remediation is in order--and I'd happily support an override to fund it.

  5. Curriculum decisions are politicized. Ideally, the schools would be independent and any subsidy would follow the student. That's too great a paradigm shift for "this year" but we should insist that the schools act as though they are independent and allow teachers to choose textbooks. This is intimately related to the "merit pay" issue. Effective teachers don't do the same thing as lousy ones, but better. They do things differently, and as anyone who has ever taught understands, classroom materials are part of this. Arizona has a limited system of choice, enough to start de-politicizing the classroom.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Best of the 'blogs, week of 5-16 October 2009

Switching back to a Friday schedule. Last week was a slow one for the 'blogosphere and a fast one for me, hence no update then.

In Arizona:

Farther afield,