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.