Friday, February 12, 2010

Another gem from Martel Firing

In the Arizona 'blogosphere, Martel Firing is probably the master of the succinct, witty post, and he's put up yet another gem. I'll give only a teaser, and a few remarks:
Volgy said (as accurately as I can remember), “Democrats hire garbage men and pay them well. Republicans contract out the job and the contractors pay the minimum possible. So yes, there is certainly a partisan difference.”

  1. Volgy just inadvertently provided one of the best explanations for why urban Democrats--and I'm thinking back to days living in New Orleans and, before that, the Chicago area--are so corrupt and so prone to turning everything into a brother-in-law job. Is this why he's a professor of political science?
  2. A Swiftian economic theory in which a the product of jobs, hours, and wages was maximized instead of utility would be hilarious. Perhaps only to me and two other people, but still, I'd buy that book!
  3. Having been to San Francisco lately, I'm inclined to think that Martel means "stinks" literally.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Comically bad headline writing.

Thinking back to Thane's last post, I just saw the following on a newspaper rack:

Epic blizzards renew assault on East Coast.

Mixed metaphor fail. Will someone please explain to me why Tucson's better paper got stuck with the afternoon slot (sure death in today's market)?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are we to take SB 1266 to be a sign of decency?

Schoolkids send naked cell-phone photos of themselves to each other. Given what is usually on one's mind--and what usually seems funny--at that age, does this come as a surprise to anyone?

What is surprising is the response. Bawdy jokes, (usually less-than-tasteful) drawings of sexual subjects, and "dirty" pictures passed around by schoolkids used to be the subject of adult scorn, at worst being confiscated, especially if the pictures are of a classmate, or resulting in issuance of a detention. Way, way back in the '90s this kind of silly, juvenile behavior was treated as just that. Nowadays, schoolteachers and parents of the "victims" want to get the law involved.

Under current Arizona law, sending of nude pictures of self or classmates by cell-phone or e-mail could be prosecuted as sexual exploitation of a minor, a class two felony. SB 1266 creates a new class 2 misdemeanor, "unlawful transmission or possession of explicit sexual material by a minor", to take the place of this. The title is a bit misleading; in addition to explicit sexual material, it also criminalizes the possession or transmission of photos of the genitalia, or of mere nude photos. As Alessandra Soler Meetze of ACLU-AZ remarked to the Arizona Republic, the bill criminalizes the digital equivalent of mooning.

From a certain perspective, SB 1266 looks like a stroke of decency from the legislature. "Let's not make the kids register as sex offenders; let's give them a slap on the wrist." However--Candy Andy Thomas's persecution prosecution for having a computer virus ultimate plea bargain with teenager Matt Bandy for passing around Playboy in school aside--Arizona prosecutors have been reluctant to charge teenagers with felonies for acting like kids due to the severity of the sanction.

Issuing Tasers to police made it more likely that they use force against suspects and detainees. Passage of SB 1266 will likely have the same effect of prosecutors. To quote the same Republic article:
Paul Ahler, executive director of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, said he didn't think any Arizona children have been charged with felonies for sexting under the current law.

However, children in other states have.

His organization, which includes representatives from the state's county attorneys, the state attorney general and municipal prosecutors, supports the bill.

Ahler said judges and law enforcement now are stuck with labeling a child a sex offender or finding some lesser charge that may not precisely fit the circumstances. In August, for example, Tucson police recommended a misdemeanor charge of using a telephone to offend, harass or intimidate for two 13-year-old boys suspected of sexting.

"Arizona prosecutors do not want to deal with this issue using child-pornography laws," Ahler said. "These are not pedophiles, not sex offenders. But they are doing something dangerous that needs to be stopped."

Susan Crawford with the Pinal County Attorney's Office said the current law has made officials reluctant to prosecute sexting at all.

She said the proposed legislation would show minors that sexting is serious, while at the same time allow for a more appropriate level of sentencing.

Since when is sending nude pictures dangerous?--and since when was the (cash-strapped) State of Arizona supposed to show kids that Behavior X is "serious". What does "X is serious" mean, anyway? "You'll get in trouble for it" or "It's harmful to nonconsenting parties?"

Southern Arizonans take note of the bill sponsor: Sen. Paton. The re-election of Gabby Giffords is looking better each week.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Of the import of article titles in newspapers

I live and work in Phoenix, Arizona. I follow news and commentary from Tucson. One complaint that I hear is that the Arizona Daily Star has an employee that chooses article titles that are biased against Barack Obama. That intrigued me enough to research the title assigned to a national column in my local newspaper.

Today's Charles Krauthammer's column in the Arizona Republic has the title "Common sense will win in U.S. - despite liberals". The title provided on of "The Great Peasant Revolt of 2010" doesn't seem appreciably different to me.

I found the article to be a very useful analysis of the folks currently called Liberals in the news and by 90% of the population.

Friday, February 05, 2010

HB 2148: Their culture war, on our time.

HB 2148 is not the terrible bill it has been made out to be. A reading of the full text shows that, contrary to some of the more strident arguments against its passage, it will not give preference to married strangers over single relatives.

Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves: Why change the adoption rules to give preference to married couples? Are so many people seeking to adopt children that many are being turned away? Can "we" (Arizona) afford to be this choosy?

I'm not confident that this bill will make it any more difficult for single people to adopt, nor that it will make it less likely that current wards of the state will be adopted. I am not confident that it will do these things. But I am reasonably confident that adoption of children by single people is not a current problem and that the legislature should concern itself with matters of greater substance, such as the budget, firearms law reform, or education. Legislators' "signaling" bills waste what is in many sense our time and increase the chances that meaningful fixes to real world problems be put off until next year.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

And Hitler named that cute little puppy "Liebchen"

"Hugh Nuze" over at the Sonoran Alliance 'blog complains that the Arizona Republic "refuses to publish even one positive article about Arpaio, Thomas."

Reading further, it turns out that the Repug rejected one particular guest opinion--written like a letter to the editor! One poorly written guest opinion goes unpublished --> "they refuse to publish even one (that is to say, they refuse to publish any) positive article about Arpaio, Thomas."


It looks like the whining tactics of the right-wing and libertarian Lysenkoists, the global warming denialists, have crept their way into everyday concerns. The world just got a bit more obnoxious.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Beat Back Buffelgrass

Now on to what I actually wanted to post about today:

The Buffelgrass Information Center and the Pima Association of Governments is holding a "Beat Back Buffelgrass Day" this Saturday from 8-11 AM. Attendees will learn how to identify buffelgrass and will be taken to sites in the area to remove it; the group also encourages neighborhood removal of the noxious weed. I support pulling it on sight.

Learn more on the event website.

Buffelgrass is an invasive weed and fire hazard wrongheadedly introduced to the area as forage a few decades ago. As the Sonoran Desert biome did not evolve as one that periodically burned, buffelgrass-fueled fires kill off native plants like saguaro and cholla and destroy the local ecosystem, leaving nothing but buffelgrass. I'd say that buffelgrass is to Arizona what kudzu is to the Deep South, but it's worse. It's more like rabbits in Australia.

In Mexico it is still planted as forage, illustrating yet again (as if we didn't have enough examples already) why there's need for an international convention on invasive species and noxious weeds.

A PIRG case worth reading: even refundable fees are of questionable legality.

Galda v Rutgers, 772 F.2d 1060

See also the University of Chicago Law Review article "The Right Not To Sue".

I won't be around next semester when the fee is imposed and thus will not have standing myself, but I'm thinking of calling FIRE (again) to see if there's anything I can bring to e.g. the U of A general counsel's office, and I'm certain that it will be possible to find students who do have standing.

(An aside, added later:)

Given that the "Student Government" is considering a resolution against concealed carry on campus, this review is interesting.

One of the PIRG culprits identified--read the justification and laugh!

Through the grapevine, your narrator learns that one of the organizers of the effort to charge all U of A students to subsidize the PIRG political organization is one "Pacifica Nicholson Sommers", a biology PhD student. The justification (to a friendly party), word for word:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pacifica Nicholson Sommers
Date: Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 8:32 PM
Subject: Re: PIRG Info
To: [redacted]

Hey [redacted],

Thanks for writing. I am generally opposed to fee increases as well, but I
think ArizonaPIRG is a really cool program that I would like to see have a
more concrete infrastructure and presence on campus, which is why I am out
there asking people to support this one. There is a lot of talk about social
and environmental problems on campuses, lots of cool research and lots of
round tables and panels and forums. There are some clubs that take on social
issues, but the problem with all-volunteer efforts run by busy students is
that there is often very little accountability and things tend to fall
through the cracks. Leadership gaps open up between school years. The whole
premise of ArizonaPIRG is that we can hire someone to provide structure to
internships for credit, to do the gruntwork of scheduling and logistics, and
who has the experience to train the students in techniques for public

The idea of students assessing ourselves fees dates back to the 1960's and
1970's, when students wanted more ownership of their campus life, and wanted
to create women's resource centers, recycling programs, and other things
university administrations were not doing for them. One of those things to
emerge was the Public Interest network. Over eighty chapters in fifteen
different states fund themselves a variety of ways. For example, most
students in the UMass have a mandatory $11 fee - with no refund. Students
voted for it, in fact within the last three years students voted to raise
that from $7 to $11. New Jersey Rutgers students fund student PIRG chapters
through a waivable $11 fee on their tuition bill. In 2007, over 90% of
voting students in a referendum voted to keep that. We are proposing that
all the students on the campus at University of Arizona will benefit from
voting to assess ourselves a refundable $1.50 fee to support ArizonaPIRG

This fee would apply to all students on campus because having ArizonaPIRG as
a funded group on campus would benefit the whole student body. In the big
picture, students are supposed to be learning, engaged, active citizens.
Having someone ask you to take a stand on an issue like the Arizona Clean
Cars program informs you and gives you a chance to think critically. Whether
you file it away for later or you get in a three hour fight following your
rant about the Great Hoax of global warming, both you and the person you are
talking are learning something. We put on events like the panel discussion
on perception and substance in sustainability last semester that give
students a chance to learn something they never thought about before.

I understand the whole concept of grad students needing to be focused on
"piling higher and deeper." Undergraduate years are the time to get that
breadth of experience, to go out and campaign and protest and skip classes,
right? Still, I contacted the PIRG organizer on campus when I arrived here
and wanted to get involved. I have found a really useful niche in being a
part of ArizonaPIRG, in that I can interact with undergrads and inform
(yes, beyond being a TA for them, fun as that is). I have been involved in
reaching out to faculty to advise us and participate in events, which has
been neat since I end up reading about their work and finding out about
novel sources of funding and programs. Plus, I have learned public speaking
and planning skills that will be helpful if and when I run anything from my
own lab to my own department.

I am not sure what is "sneaky" about students funding a student-run advocacy
group - the whole point is that any students who are interested can join and
can help set the agenda. That includes tea-partiers if they are interested
in organizing change the status quo for the better. The defining feature of
campaigns we work on is that it's our interest against special interests. We
organize peers against monopolies for concert ticket prices, like would
occur if LiveNation and Ticketmaster are allowed to merge. We organize for
public transportation. That's not a partisan issue. There are plenty of
conservatives (Bob Walkup, Mayor of Tucson) and liberals (Al Gore) alike who
support alternatives to high gas prices. The whole point, however, is that
students join and set the agenda for that campus and that state. Arizona is
in no way required to conform to Massachusettes' or California's agendas.

And we certainly intend not to be sneaky about what we're doing. No one will
be paying a fee unless students vote for it. That takes getting the word out
to a lot of people. We have been doing class announcements and tables on the
Mall. We met with GPSC last semester and have been working with them on what
it would take for them to support this. We're hoping GPSC representatives
can help explain exactly what this is for to their department peeps. Our
goal is to do a poll of the student body and have at least three quarters of
the students know what ArizonaPIRG is and what we're doing.

The whole point of students being able to assess ourselves fees is so
someone with a proposal can give students the option. That's what we're
doing - putting in a proposal. I think it's a great organization, and a cool
idea, but I won't force anyone to agree. That's why we have votes, right?

Anyway, sorry this is so long. I just wanted to make sure I gave you some
concrete details. Does this answer your questions?


To sum up why a PIRG subsidy is ok:
  1. UMass has a mandatory fee and hasn't been spanked in the courts yet. (It's worth noting that Rutgers PIRG's fee is refundable because they were beaten in court. See Galda v Bloustein.)
  2. Students in the PIRG club can vote on what PIRG does.
  3. The issues PIRG concerns itself with are largely "nonpartisan" and that somehow makes them better.
  4. The organization is student-run therefore it's ok that students fund it. (Isn't that argument from equivocation?)

It appears that Ms Sommers either doesn't understand at all why people would oppose a PIRG fee or sees the cause worthy of "used car salesman" disingenuity, equivocation, and fast talk. I'd like to think that a PhD student isn't so flaky as to fall into the first camp, nor so unethical as to fall into the latter. It's tough to be charitable here.

PIRG is back at it.

The Naderite busybody brats of PIRG are at it again, attempting to secure funding for their political activity through a line-item fee at the University of Arizona, or so I have learned through the Associated Graduate Council of the College of Science listserv, which I for some reason am still on, a few years after my involvement with that organization.

No word on whether or not another illegal election will be held. I don't know if I'd have standing to sue (I plan on graduating before the next semester starts) but I'm sure I can find someone who does. What's amusing about this is that PIRG lost the plebiscite that (up to the obvious legal speed bumps) decided whether or not they'd be funded by a student line item.

The Internet is great, in that nonsense lives forever. I don't know who the people are in Associated Students of the University of Arizona (the undergrad "student government", a sort of Mickey Mouse organization) who think that they can decide better than individual students--grads, undergrads, or others--what political and policy causes are worthy of support. But I'd like to know, so that their names be preserved on the Web and show up on Google searches for a very long time, for example, when they are being screened for admittance to the bar. They're 18, they're at college: childhood should have been over a couple of years ago. Time to hold them to adult standards.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Another reason to support universal school choice.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat recently printed a Laura Donovan column about bullying in schools. (The original is superior to the version that made it to print.) "Where were the teachers?" is the million-dollar question.

But where are the rest of us, too?

It's a narrative I hear over and over: A student, usually but not always of above-average academic ability, having difficulty at government-run public school moves to a private school to escape cliqueish social nastiness and daily abuse, the "Lord of the Flies" culture that constitutes the "unifying experience" some on the Left use to justify the continuation of the one-size-fits-all model for education. Sometimes the change happens between middle school and high school, and sometimes it is a change of middle schools, high schools, or even grade schools that does it.

Stress levels drop, social life improves by leaps, and very often the student's grades improve as a result. It is simply unjust to expect such students' parents to make a double-payment for their child's dignity to be respected. Should Phoebe Prince's parents have had to pay double so their daughter wouldn't be driven to suicide?