Archive for the ‘Arizona’ Category.

Hopefully, The Phoenix Police Won't Find You Odd

Raymond Rodden was arrested and dragged to the police station for interrogation for a) taking pictures of the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Court Building (not a crime) and b) walking down an alley (also not a crime).  The police followed him for an hour on foot (how creepy would that be), tore his car apart, have impounded and will not return his phone and computer, and contacted the man's boss to make sure Rodden would get fired from his job.  Eventually they released him, because he had done nothing illegal.  They kept repeating this to him in the interrogation:

“I told them I was not doing anything illegal by taking photos and they kept saying, ‘we’re not disputing that it’s illegal, we just find it odd,’” he said.

Sorry, but people cannot be arrested, detained, and have their property searched and seized for being odd.

This seems to be a typical police state reaction after a terrorist incident or public crime.  If we had just hassled that guy earlier for being odd, this may never have happened.  The problem is that for every one person who does odd things in the runup to a horrendous crime, another hundred thousand people do odd things because either they are odd or because we simply do not understand their motives.

More Arizona DMV Madness

My daughter is ready for her final (in-car) driving test to try to get her driver's license.  But it turns out that the AZ DMV only gives driving tests before 3PM each day.

This is yet another policy designed for the pleasure of government workers (who want to get home nice and early) and not customer-citizens.  Ask yourself:  Who are 99% of the people who take the in-car driving test.  Answer:  16-year-olds, also known as high school sophomores.  And what are they doing up until 3PM weekdays?  Why, they are going to school!

So I have to pull my daughter out of school to take the driving test.  But it is worse than that, because we can't just show up at 2:30, missing perhaps her last class.  The AZ DMV has this insane process that is essentially a series of chained queues.  One waits in line for the receptionist, who gives the "customer" a number based on what task they want to complete (license, tags, etc).  One then waits endlessly for this first number to come up, only to find that the person who calls you up can only complete half the task (at best), so you then have to wait in line for the next person to complete the next task, etc.

Well, reports from all the other parents tell us that if you show up two hours early (e.g. at 1PM), there is a very good chance you will not get the driving test.  If all the prior queues one must work through cause one to show up at the driving test queue even at 3:01 -- Sorry!  You have to come back another day and start all over.

This is obviously insane.  The chained queue process is nuts.  The fact that the one portion school age kids must complete ends before school is out is nuts.  The fact that the person who performs the last step in the chained process goes home first is nuts.

Until last year, and with my previous kid, we did not have to do this.  AZ had a very sensible law that allowed private licensed driving schools to give the driving test.  You could still go through the DMV, but for a $100 or so one could get this done via a high service, no-queue, work-on-the-weekend private company.  But of course our legislature ended this sensible service last year, ostensibly over concerns about quality, but likely because the DMV folks didn't like competition from outsiders who actually gave a sh*t about customer service.

Global Warming Hits Phoenix

phoenix-global-warming

 

Is Al Gore in town?

Arguing Against Personal Interest

The best time to argue for general principles is when they work against one's own interest, to firmly establish that they are indeed principles rather than political opportunism.  Two examples:

First, from a topic rife with political opportunism, the Supreme Court a three-judge panel recently ruled Obama's NLRB not-really-recess appointments were unconstitutional.  I think that was the right decision,  but a President has got to be able to get an up or down vote in a timely manner on appointments.  As much as I would love to see all of Obama's appointments languish for, oh, four years or so, and as much as I really don't like his activist NLRB, having to resort to procedural hacks of this sort just to fill administrative positions is not good government.  The Senate rules (or traditions as the case may be) that even one Senator may put a hold on confirmations is simply insane.  While I am a supporter of the filibuster, I think the filibuster should not apply to certain Constitutionally mandated activities.  Specifically:  passing a budget and appointment confirmations.

Second, readers of this blog know how much I dislike our sheriff Joe Arpaio.  He was unfortunately re-elected a couple of months ago, though the vote was closer than usual.  This week, an Arizona group who also does not like Joe has announced it is going to seek a recall election against him.  Again, as much as I would like to see Arpaio ride off into the sunset, this practice of gearing up for recall elections just days after the election is over is just insane.  It is a total waste of money and resources.  While I don't like to do anything that helps incumbents, there has to be some sort of waiting period (perhaps 1/4 of the office term) before we start this silliness.

Ugh - Proposals for Loyalty Oaths

Arizona is generally more intelligently managed, at least fiscally, than California.  But while that state still is treated seriously for all its dysfunctionality, Arizona is often a media laughing stock.  This is in large part due to the fact that Conservatives in the Arizona legislature just can't seem to stop themselves from proposing a few absurdly goofy pieces of legislation each session.

House Bill 2467, sponsored by Republican state Representatives Bob Thorpe, Sonny Borrelli, Carl Seel, T.J. Shope, and Steve Smith, proposes the following:

"Before a pupil is allowed to graduate from a public high school in this state, the principal or head teacher of the school shall verify in writing that the pupil has recited the following oath:

"I, _________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God."

Smith and Shope are also in on House Bill 2284. Whereas current Arizona law says students in public schools can opt out of doing the pledge if they so choose, Smith's and Shope's proposal says only a child's parents can let them avoid reciting the pledge.

So they want to make it harder to opt-out of the current loyalty oath (Pledge of Allegiance) and then add a new loyalty oath.

Historically, loyalty oaths are the hallmark of dictators, the Caesers and Hitlers of the world.  In a free society, loyalty is earned by a government.  When government officials demand a blank check in the form of a loyalty oath that pledges allegiance no matter what the government does, watch out.

A few other observations:

  • I love the part in the oath above that says "I take this obligation freely."  Sure.  We won't give you the diploma you have in every other way earned without taking the oath, a diploma practically required to function in our society, but the oath is voluntary.  This is the kind of double speak that is a hallmark, along with loyalty oaths, of a dictatorship.
  • Apparently to graduate in Arizona, this would force every student to acknowledge the existence of God
  • I understand what it means for the President to preserve and defend the Constitution.  But what does it mean for the average high school graduate?  Just what is this obligating them to do?  And what is the penalty for not doing it?
  • I would gladly trade having all high schoolers in the state embrace this oath for simply having our state officials, in particular our Sheriff Joe Arpaio, being true to this oath.

Life in Phoenix

The first time I ever saw one of these coming at me, my first thought was to a Steven King novel (the Mist).  I had a moment where I honestly thought to myself, "I wonder if, five minutes from now, I am going to regret not jumping in my car and driving like hell to stay ahead of this thing."  More here

Basically an enormous dirt tsunami  once inside of it things are not as bad as they look, with it being like a medium-dense brown fog.  Of course, absolutely everything one owns outside or with the smallest non-airtight seal to the outside has to be hosed off afterwards.

Claiming to Find One Variable That Explains Absolutely Everything in a Complex System

Of late I have been seeing a lot of examples of people trying to claim that complex, even chaotic multi-variable systems are in fact driven by a single variable.  Whether it be CO2 in climate or government spending in Keynesian views of the economy, this over-simplification seems to be a hubris that is increasingly popular.

The worst example I believe I have ever seen of this was in the editorial page today in the Arizona Republic.  Titled Arizona vs. Massachusetts,  this article purports to blame everything from Arizona's higher number of drunk driving accidents to its higher number of rapes on ... the fact that Arizona has lower taxes.  I kid you not:

In the absence of discernible benefits, higher taxes are indeed a negative. We would all like to keep more of what we earn. That is, if there are not other negative consequences. So, it is reasonable to ask: What do Massachusetts citizens get for these increased public expenditures? A wide range of measures from widely disparate sources provide insight into the hidden costs of a single-minded obsession with lower taxes at all costs.

The results of such an investigation are revealing: Overall, Massachusetts residents earn significantly higher salaries and are less likely to be unemployed than those who live in Arizona. Their homes are less likely to be foreclosed on. Their residents are healthier and are better educated, have a lower risk of being murdered, getting killed in a car accident or getting shot by a firearm than are Arizonans. Perhaps these factors explain the lower suicide rate in Massachusetts than in Arizona as well as the longer life spans.

None of this supposed causation is based on the smallest scrap of evidence, other than the spurious correlation that Arizona has lower taxes at the same time it has more of the bad things the authors don't like.  The authors do not even attempt to explain why, out of the thousands of variables that might have an impact on these disparities, that taxation levels are the key driver, or are even relevant.

Perhaps most importantly, the authors somehow fail to even mention the word demographics.  Now, readers know that I am not very happy with Arizona Conservatives that lament the loss here of the Anglo-Saxon mono-culture.   I think immigration is healthy, and find some of the unique cultures in the state, such as on the large tribal reservations, to make the state more interesting.

However, it is undeniable that these demographic differences create wildly different cultures between Arizona and Massachusetts, and that these differences have an enormous impact on the outcomes the authors describe.  For example, given the large number of new immigrants in this state, many of whom come here poor and unable to speak English, one would expect our state to lag in economic averages and education outcomes when compared to a state populated by daughters of the revolution and the kids of college professors (see immigration data at end of post).  This is made worse by the fact that idiotic US immigration law forces many of these immigrants underground, as it is far harder to earn a good income, get an education, or have access to health care when one does not have legal status.  (This is indeed one area AZ is demonstrably worse than MA, with our Joe-Arpaio-type fixation on harassing illegal immigrants).

By the way, it turns out Arizona actually does pretty well with Hispanic students vs. Massachusetts  -- our high school graduation rate for Hispanics is actually 10 points higher than in MA (our graduation rate for blacks is higher too).  But since both numbers are so far below white students, the heavy mix of Hispanic students brings down Arizona's total average vs. MA.   If you don't understand this issue of how one state can do better than another on many demographic categories but still do worse on average because of a more difficult demographic mix, then you shouldn't be writing on this topic.

Further, the large swaths of this state that are part of various Indian nations complicate the picture.  AZ has by far the largest area under the management of tribal nations in the country -- in fact, almost half the tribal land in the country is in this one state.  These tribal areas typically add a lot of poverty, poor education outcomes, and health issues to the Arizona numbers.  Further, they are plagued with a number of tragic social problems, including alcoholism (with resulting high levels of traffic fatalities) and suicide.  But its unclear how much these are a result of Arizona state policy.   These tribal governments are their own nations with their own laws and social welfare systems, and in general fall under the purview of Federal rather than state authority.  The very real issues faced by their populations have a lot of historical causes that have exactly nothing to do with current AZ state tax policy.

The article engages in a popular sort of pseudo-science.  It drops in a lot of numbers, leaving the impression that the authors have done careful research.  In fact, I count over 50 numbers in the short piece.  The point is to dazzle the typical cognitively-challenged reader into thinking the piece is very scientific, so that its conclusions must be accepted.  But when one shakes off the awe over the statistical density, one realizes that not one of the numbers are relevant to their hypothesis: that the way Arizona runs its government is the driver of these outcome differences.

It's really not even worth going through the rest of this article in detail.  You know the authors are not even trying to be fair when they introduce things like foreclosure rates, which have about zero correlation with taxes or red/blue state models.  I lament all the negative statistics the authors cite, but it is simply insane to somehow equate these differences with the size and intrusiveness of the state.  Certainly I aspire to more intelligent government out of my state, which at times is plagued by yahoos focusing on silly social conservative bugaboos.  I am open to learning from the laboratory of 50 states we have, and hope, for example, that Arizona will start addressing its incarceration problem by decriminalizing drugs as has begun in other states.

The authors did convince me of one thing -- our state university system cannot be very good if it hires professors with this sort of analytical sloppiness.  Which is why I am glad I sent my son to college in Massachusetts.

PS- If the authors really wanted an apples to apples comparison that at least tried to find states somewhat more demographically similar to Arizona, they could have tried comparing AZ to California and Texas.  I would love for them to explain how well the blue state tax heavy model is working in CA.  After all, they tax even more than MA, so things must be even better there, right?  I do think that other states like Texas are better at implementing aspects of the red-state model and do better with education for example.  You won't get any argument from me that the public schools here are not great (though I work with several Charter schools which are fabulous).  For some reason, people in AZ, including upper middle class white families, are less passionate on average about education than folks in other states I have lived.  I am not sure why, but this cultural element is not necessarily fixable by higher taxes.

Update- MA supporters will argue, correctly, that they get a lot of immigration as well.  In fact, numerically, they get about the same number of immigrants as AZ.  But the nature of this immigration is totally different.  MA gets legal immigrants who are highly educated and who come over on corporate or university-sponsored visa programs.  Arizona gets a large number of illegal immigrants who get across the border with a suitcase and no English skills.  The per-person median household income for MA immigrants in 2010 was $16,682 (source).  The per-person median household income for AZ immigrants was $9,716.  35.3% of AZ immigrants did not finish high school, while only 15.4% of MA immigrants have less than a high school degree.  48% of AZ immigrants are estimated to be illegal, while only 19% of those in MA are illegal.  11% of Arizonans self-report that they speak English not at all, vs. just 6.7% for MA (source).

What Joe Arpaio's PR Activity Has Been Displacing

While Sheriff Joe was pursuing a vendetta against County officials, chasing down Mexicans with broken tail lights, and raiding dry cleaners demanding immigration papers, over 400 sexual assaults were going under-investigated.  According to the article, this was not an accident -- there was a real prioritization that put few resources in the special victims unit and put more and better staff on things like counter-terrorism (Phoenix being a well-known hotbed of terrorist activity).

The understaffing in the special-victims unit was due in part to the Sheriff's Office's priorities -- and the special-victims unit was not one of them, according to a half-dozen current and former sheriff's employees.

Despite a Maricopa County hiring freeze prompted by the faltering economy, the Sheriff's Office from 2005 through mid-2008 was hiring 45 to 50 new deputies annually and tackling initiatives that included counterterrorism and homeland-security enhancements. The office also embraced immigration enforcement, sending 60 deputies and 100 detention officers through a federal immigration-training program and creating a human-smuggling unit with at least 15 dedicated deputies.

Staffing in the special-victims unit remained unchanged during those years: four detectives....

The Sheriff's Office was allocated more than $600,000 in fiscal 2007 for six full-time positions for "investigating cases involving sexual abuse, domestic violence, abuse and child abuse." The Sheriff's Office now says the six new positions were to focus solely on child-abuse cases. In any event, they cannot say where those deputies went to work.

"We don't know," Chief Deputy Sheridan said. "We've looked, and we can't find any of those position numbers which were allocated for child-abuse cases."

This is due in part to the acknowledged misallocation of roughly $100 million in agency funds that had patrol deputies being paid out of an account designated for detention officers.

The department was almost certainly spending more on Joe Arpaio's PR than it was on the special victims unit.  Dozens of cases showed no investigation at all, and hundreds showed that no contact had been made either with the victim or the suspect.   Piles of case files were found random file cabinets and even one officer's garage.

Sheriff Joe Is Finally in Jeopardy

The Media's Role in Promoting the Corporate State

I found this article in the Arizona Republic, our local rag, almost criminal.  As far as it goes, I think the facts are correct.  What is amazing is what it leaves out.  First, the article:

Glendale administrators propose cutting nearly a quarter of the city's employees, or 249 positions, if voters approve a ballot measure in November to repeal a sales-tax hike.

Repeal of the 0.7 percentage-point tax hike that took effect last month would mean the loss of $11 million this year and $25 million annually through 2017, according to city estimates.

The City Council had approved the temporary increase to shore up its deficit-ridden general fund after laying off 49 employees and cutting $10 million from departments at the start of this fiscal year....

Proposed cuts include shuttering two of the three city libraries, one of its two aquatic centers, the TV station and all city festivals, including Glendale Glitters.

The article continues with the usual panic about cuts in police and firefighters and libraries and parks,  etc. etc.  What the article does not mention except in passing in paragraph 12 is the reason for the tax increase and the budget problems in the first place.  Over heated opposition in the community, the City Council, which has enjoyed pretending to be big shot Donald Trumps over the last few years with taxpayer money, handed a private individual $25 million a year to keep the ice hockey team in town, an ice hockey team that has the lowest attendance in the league despite doing fairly well the last few years.  This is on top of years of other subsidies and the taxpayer-funded $300 million stadium.   The numbers line up exactly -- a new $25 million a year subsidy and a new $25 million a year tax, and the paper cannot even connect these dots, even when they were directly connected in real time (ie the tax was specifically justified to pay for the subsidy).

What the article entirely fails to mention is that, given no voice in these corporatist extravagances in Glendale (the tiny town of 250,000 has also subsidized an NFL franchise and a couple of MLB teams), the only way the citizens of this town have any way to exercise accountability is to vote down the tax that enables this corporate handout.  They were not allowed to vote on the deal itself.  This is not a bunch of wacky red-staters voting to decimate the parks departments, as the city and the paper would like you to believe, but a citizenship that is tired of the idiotic corporate cronyism in the Glendale city council and are looking for some way, any way, to enforce some accountability.

This is the media and the state in bed together promoting the larger state.  Glendale's problems are entirely self-imposed, spending huge amounts of tax money on subsidizing sports teams and real estate ventures.  When these all failed like so many Solyndras, they are trying to make this out to be a tax shortfall, when in fact it is spending idiocy.

The media always seems to participate as a cheerleader in this statism, but local papers have a special interest in promoting this sort of sports corporatism.  Just about the only thing that sells dead-tree newspapers any more is the sports section.  I would love to see what would happen to circulation rates if they cut the sports section.  So any state actions that add professional sports franchises or keeps them in town contribute directly to the newspapers' survival.

All These Years I Was Driving Right Past...

Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix.  In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day.  In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.

I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth"  (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well.  I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.

The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.

State Stereotypes

This is pretty awesome.  Using Google's auto-suggest which is based on their most frequent searches, Renee DiResta created a rollover map of state stereotypes.  Here is Arizona's, the rest are here.  Via Flowing Data

Here-to-For Only Seen in Spy Movies - the Cyanide Capsule

It is never dull here in AZ.  It appears that Michael Marin, upon being convicted of arson in court yesterday, may have committed suicide right there in court.

"Burning Man" Michael Marin reportedly died after his "medical emergency" in the courtroom yesterday, which came after a jury handed down a guilty verdict in Marin's arson case.

Fox 10 had its camera on Marin's face as the verdict came in, and it sure looks like he put something in his mouth before he started having an apparent seizure and fell unconscious in the courtroom.

Video at the link if you are morbidly inclined.

I just read JD Tuccille's High Desert Barbeque, also about arson in AZ as it turns out, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  But authors like Tuccille who are writing satire have to work hard to stay more outrageous than the news here in AZ.  Seriously, a guy starts a fire in his own house, escapes from the second floor in a scuba mask and tanks, and then crunches a cyanide tablet in court as the verdict is read?  Come on, who is writing this stuff?

PS-  I may be missing the legal definition on this, but Marin was convicted of arson on an occupied structure when he was the only occupant.  I find it odd that the arsonist himself "counts" as an occupant towards this charge which, I presume, carries worse penalties than arson on an unoccupied structure.  Upping the charge this way reminds me of the NYC police asking people on the street to show them their weed and then busting them on the charge of public display of said weed.

Bottom Story of the Day

Sorry for the lack of serious blogging, but I am not in the mood.  Local 81-year-old woman accused of hoarding and eating cats by Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.  Sheriff Joe and this woman are perfect for each other.

Headline of the Day

 Joe Arpaio Thinks Tennessean Who Said Satan Told Him to Kill "Birthers" Might Be After Him (source)

Wow, two loonies duke it out.  Except unfortunately, while Tennessee actually convicted their guy, we Arizonans elected ours to a high office.  To be fair to Arpaio, Eugene Cox did list him as second to die (behind Alan Keyes), though its unclear if anyone other than Arpaio's press agent really considers this a credible threat.  This is not the first time our fair city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending Arpaio from various mythical threats.

Stupid

Apparently an Arizona Catholic High School forfeited their state finals because the other team was playing *gasp* a girl at second base.  I am not really familiar with this sports league they are in -- it must be made up of smaller schools who choose not to join the AIA, which is the league most high schools (including ours) play in.

These are private schools in a private league, so I guess they can do whatever they want, but this just seems bizarre in the extreme.   I would guess that their players were irate.

My son plays in the smaller division of the AIA, and we run into teams that play girls from time to time in baseball and a bunch of schools that play girls on their soccer team (the rule generally is that girls can play on the boys team if there is no girls' equivalent of that sport at the school).  I have never before heard of another Catholic school having a problem with this, and given that this is Arizona, there are a lot of Catholic schools knocking about.

In fact, I always find it kind of cool to see girls out there.  I remember a few weeks ago we were playing a team who had a girl at third base who the boys thought was pretty attractive.  I laughed pretty hard when my son took a big chance to stretch a double into a triple.  I knew exactly what he was doing --he wanted to be on third base!

I suppose this will be a better object lesson for the Catholic boys than any gender-equality propaganda film.   Adopt Victorian attitudes about women, lose the chance to play for a state championship.

More Glendale Follies

I almost hate beating on the silly folks who run the City of Glendale even further, but they keep screwing up.

One of the reasons I think that city officials like those in Glendale like to dabble in real estate and sports stadiums is what I call the "bigshot effect."  They don't have any capital of their own, and they don't have the skills such that anyone else would (voluntarily) trust them to invest other people's money, but with a poll of tax money they get to play Donald Trump and act like they are big wheels.  The Glendale city council did this for years, and when their incompetence inevitably led to things starting to fall apart, they have simply thrown more money at it to try to protect their personal prestige.

But unfortunately, incompetence generally is an infinite reservoir, and apparently the City has screwed up again.  Years ago, when the City promised the rich people who owned the AZ Cardinals a new half billion dollar stadium, they put a contract to that effect on paper.  Granted, this was a sorry giveaway, spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium that would be used by the Cardinals for 30 hours a year, by the Fiesta Bowl for 3 hours a year, and by the NFL for a Superbowl for 3 hours every 6-7 years.  But, never-the-less, the City made a contractual agreement.

And then, in its rush to be real estate bigshots, the city turned about 3700 parking spaces promised contractually to the Cardinals over to a developer to create an outlet mall (of the sort that has been quietly going bankrupt all over the country over the last few years).  Incredibly, the city did this without any plan for how to replace the parking it owed the Cardinals.  To this day, it has no plan.

Apparently, there were also some shenanigans with $25 million that had been escrowed to build a parking garage.

The demand letter also blames the parking problem on the city's dealings with Steve Ellman, Westgate's former developer and a one-time co-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. The letter states that Ellman's relationship with the city has been "characterized by a lack of transparency."

The letter raises questions about a January 2011 arrangement in which the city and Ellman equally split a $25million escrow fund that had been earmarked to build a parking garage in Westgate, the team said.

Ellman put that money in escrow in 2008 after failing to keep a promise to the city to provide a set amount of permanent parking in Westgate.

By early 2011, half of that money went back to Ellman's lenders as part of a deal to try to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, while the city received the other $12.5 million in the account.

What a mess.  This is what happens when politicians try to be bigshots with our money.

 

 

Yes, We Have One of Those Stupid Speech-Limiting Bills Here Too

Arizona House Bill 2549, which just passed its committee 30-0:

It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use ANY ELECTRONIC OR
DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.

I'm no lawyer, but it sure looks like, under this proposed law, my blogging that Sheriff Joe is an asshole will be illegal (if he is annoyed, and believe me he is annoyed by any criticism).

Note also that by the wording of the law, said communications are illegal in Arizona if it was originated here or received here.  That means if you folks in Colorado or California put something profane in an Internet comment, and it annoys some idiot in Arizona, you are technically in violation of the law.

Sometimes I have this fantasy that we have a Goldwater-libertarian streak among Arizona Republicans.  Obviously, this is just that, fantasy.

 

An Open Letter

Dear America,

Have fun resetting all those clocks this weekend.  Sorry about the hour you lose.

Love, Arizona

 

PS-  we have to have something to make up for Sheriff Joe, and not farting with DST eases the pain a bit.  See my article here about why DST is an outdated concept that no longer saves energy -- it turns out that the nature of electricity demand has changed over the last 100 years since DST was first tried.  Who would have thought?  Anyway, this research essentially demonstrates that Arizona is at the forefront of modern, science-based environmentalism.

Well, I Guess Dave Barry Was Right About Libertarians

This has to be the bottom headline of the day:  Joe Arpaio: Craigslist Used To Find A Dog To "Fornicate" With Woman While Husband And Friend Watched.  Sheriff Joe certainly does seem to be the last bastion against a total breakdown of civilization.  I am so relieved he is on top of this.  Gives me the willies to think he might have been chasing murderers or something and let these guys escape.

Happy Florist and Restaurant Promotion Day

Also, apparently its the 100th anniversary of Arizona statehood.  I am kind of proud of my state for making this anniversary a virtually ignored event.

Kudos to the AZ DMV

No, that headline is correct -- some crazed hacker has not taken over Coyote Blog.  Having been relentlessly critical of government organizations in general and the DMV in particular, I think fairness demands I post exculpatory evidence when I have it.

This morning we thought my son lost his driver's license (later found).  Dreading the all day trip to the DMV to get it replaced (and no, nothing has changed my opinion that that experience sucks), we checked online for the procedure.  It turns out that we could have applied for a new license over the Internet, and, best of all, if we got the application in by 3:00 today we could have had the license in our hands by noon tomorrow, on a Saturday no less, via express delivery.  That's better than my credit card company does.

Yes, such service is a virtual necessity given how central the government has made the driver's license in so many routine activities (except voting of course, that would be racist!).   But it is still a breath of fresh air to see any state institution match their service to such necessities.  Now, if we could only get the passport process sorted out, but that one is just getting worse.

Anonymity for Me But Not For Thee

The AZ Republic, which still prints a couple of unsigned editorials in the paper every day, has decided that it does not like having anonymous comments.  Their solution is to have all commenters use their Facebook id.  Because it is so much harder to create a fake Facebook persona than it is to put a fake name on your comment.

Postscript-  Apparently "anonymous gutter talk" triggered the change.  The decision to tie into Facebook was a natural, I guess, because everyone knows the level of discourse is so high there.

Dispatches From the Corporate State: Apparently, Taxpayers Don't Give Enough Money to Solar Companies

Well, it appears that Solyndra has not scared solar companies off from feeding at the state trough

More subsidies for the solar industry in Arizona are crucial to avoid being left behind by other states and China, a Phoenix business leader said today at a solar-power conference.

Tax incentives and loan guarantees "make a lot of sense" right now in Arizona, which is already a leader in the industry, said Barry Broome, president and CEO of theGreater Phoenix Economic Council at the Solarpraxisconvention.

Despite the high-profile financial failure of the Solyndrasolar plant this year in California, Broome told a packed conference room that solar power is destined to be a major force in Arizona and elsewhere. The only question, as he sees it, is whether sunny-skied Arizona will take full advantage....

Behind Broome on an overhead screen, a chart showed that Texas, Oregon, Nevada and other states provide more "aggressive economic development tools," (a.k.a. public money), for solar power than Arizona, and the state can't compete without doing the same thing.

What is this, a football game?  This strikes me as turn-of-the-century small town boosterism updated to the 21st century, with a dollop of tribal rivalry thrown in. He's talking mainly about manufacturing of solar components.  I am left with a couple of questions

  • Why should the fact that Arizona has sunny skies have any bearing on whether or not it is an appropriate spot to manufacture solar panels.   Should Seattle subsidize umbrella manufacture because it is rainy there?   My sense is that transportation costs are a small part of the price to end users.  Arizona clearly will be a great spot for solar panels to be installed -- why does that mean we need to manufacture them?
  • If other states like Oregon or China are subsidizing solar products that we might buy, shouldn't we celebrate that?  Thanks, taxpayers of Oregon, for forking over your tax money so we can buy solar panels cheaper in Arizona.  Why in the hell should be try to out-do them at this?  Now we can go invest our capital in a business that actually makes money.
  • I am obviously not a fan of government-led economic/industrial policy, but if I were, why in the hell would I want to direct my state's capital and manpower towards a business that requires subsidies, ie can't make a profit  on its own in the marketplace?

Its just too easy to snipe at about everything in this article, but this caught my eye in particular

To help move the industry's message, Broome said, solar advocates must stop infighting over their competing technologies and present a unified and positive position.

Normally, I think an economist would argue that in an immature (both market-wise and technologically) product, competition and creative destruction between various competitors is critical to ultimate success.  So in fact this advice is totally senseless, unless you see the industry as a taxpayer-money-magnet rather than a real business, and then it makes perfect sense.  Politics, after all, demands simple sound bytes and a unified front.

Update:  In the first week of Harvard Business School, I learned a lesson from strategy class, in a series of two cases, that still may be the most important thing I learned there.  The cases were a hot, sexy electronics company, and a boring, dull as dirt water meter company.  To cut to the chase, the electronics company sucked as an investment, and the water meter company was a gold mine.  The moral, among several takeaways, is don't get fooled into thinking the hot, sexy business of the moment is necessarily a good investment.  Our development agencies in AZ are making this mistake in spades.  In fact, the entire history of government economic development efforts in Phoenix has been to chase sexy businesses at the top of the market, spend taxpayer money to get some plant relocations, and then see the businesses struggle.  We certainly did this with semiconductor fabs a couple of decades ago.

Some Love for the Ballet

For those of you in the Phoenix are, I would like to encourage you to check out the Arizona Ballet (disclosure:  my wife is on the board).

I was never a big ballet fan.  To be honest, the only times I really ever went in my younger days was when I was dating a girl who loved the ballet and when I was still in that relationship phase that I was bending over backwards to please her.

That being said, the Arizona Ballet is really doing a good job here.  In particular, we were dating far above our heads when we lured Ib Andersen as artistic director.  My wife wouldn't like me saying this, but we are not going to keep this guy in flyover country forever.

As I have grown to appreciate the ballet, I really like the more modern, story-less dances more than the classic ballets, but that is a matter of taste.  But this week the company is putting on Prokofiev's Cinderella, and the music, sets, and dancing are just fantastic.  This is not going to be the most daring or interesting dancing the company will do this year, but it is very likely the most accessible to the newcomer.  Everyone knows the story, so there are not any wtf? moments I get in some ballets, even ones as overdone as the Nutcracker.  And there is real humor in the ballet, in the form of the two stepsisters, that makes this perhaps the most accesible ballet for kids I have ever seen.

So go try it.