Monday, November 30, 2009

ToT: Fann on infrastructure

Since there was nothing in the first section, I was hoping that in her followup Karen Fann might suggest some ideas for solving the problems she copiously cites. I was disappointed.

It matters because Ms Fann is the anointed successor to Lucy Mason in the House, so her abilities as a leader and problem-solver are important. (The idea that a Dem challenger might beat her for the seat seems remote at this point.)

Ms Fann risks public derision for complaining about the state of public infrastructure -- because of her close ties to firms that do so much of it on the public dime -- so you'd think she would want to offer some sort of plan that makes sense. Instead we see nothing but complaints about other public initiatives that she thinks have little or no value, like research on how we can reduce the impact of climate change and keep Arizona habitable.

This illustrates exactly the sort of conventional pigheadedness that has rammed us full-speed into an obvious economic wall. It does not bode well for our legislative delegation.

I agree wholeheartedly that our infrastructure is woefully neglected, including portions of it that Ms Fann neglects to mention. But our problem is not addressing other problems, rather it's that Americans are unusually resistant to the idea that we have to pay for everything we need, and unwilling to accept that the majority rules on what we need.

In the comments, George Seaman brings up a good point. It appears that the editors are showing marked favoritism toward Ms Fann in getting her views published. I'm so surprised.

Restoration uncovers intact 1920s Elks marquee

I've been rubbing my hands hoping for this. The face work comes down and we can see the original electric-era sign. I'm guessing that certain people in the Foundation were hoping it had been previously erased, because now they'll have to figure out what to do with it.

They want to restore the theatre to its look before the electric era, putting that sign out of period. But no one will be able to even suggest taking it down, nor should they. There's also the little problem of the name of the place. It might be embarrassing after these several years of calling it an opera house (it is not, never has been and never could be an opera house) to have to go back and start calling it Elks Theatre again, as it always was. But with that sign there'll be no choice.

It's not the marquee, by the way, that would be a projecting structure holding the signage. It's the sign.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The mammogram tempest

I don't really wonder that a lot of people are confused by the media treatment of this week's announcement about mammograms, and clearly the unnamed Courier editor is among them. There are a couple of factors involved in this that shouldn't be, and they muddy the water considerably.

The first is that this is a science story, an area where we can count on our journalists to fail us pretty generally. Start talking about random trials, control groups and methodologies and their eyes instantly glaze over. They just want the bottom line, and they have a hard time remembering that the conclusion of a scientific study does not constitute a fact, but rather the best estimate the scientists can get of the truth given the specific conditions involved. Big difference.

In this case what we have is a new report from the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts on preventive care set up by the Reagan administration to "review the evidence of effectiveness and develop recommendations for clinical preventive services." The PSTF

"recommends against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years. The decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient's values regarding specific benefits and harms."
(Incidentally, this backs up a similar conclusion from a study not long ago in Canada.) It's a simple, straightforward message. On looking at the current evidence, the panel found that the benefits of routine mammograms for low-risk women do not outweigh the associated risks.

The second factor making a huge mess of this is that a small proportion of people in this country are convinced that health-care reform is about rationing, killing off Republicans early and making lots of Democrats, and so they jumped in with both feet on the idea that this is a a nefarious scheme to deprive women of their necessary cancer tests. (Like they ever gave a rat's behind before about preventive services for women.) They came out screaming bloody murder (again) over nothing, and this is where we are.

In a way I wish it were a little more like the screamers fear. The profit motive in US health care leads to huge amounts of overprescription, overtesting, unnecessary procedures and other highly profitable waste. I think it would be reasonable to infer that profitmaking insurance companies will look for a way to use this to deny reasonable coverage. This has nothing to do with the public plan, which of course does not yet exist.

But it just isn't that important. It's another data point in the continuing refinement of our understanding that science pursues, no more, no less, and if more experts agree, a consensus may emerge to stop pushing women to have these tests because they're not necessary.

The editor basically gets it right in describing how to respond, but his tut-tutting the experts for unclear communication is ridiculous. The media have messed up the message, not them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where do the elements come from? It's feed-your-head Friday.

Talk of My Ass: Kirkpatrick won't get his vote again

Fred Veil leads by calling Democrats "Neo-Socialists," ticks off a few of the outright falsehoods the radical right is flogging as talking points, then complains that the representative failed to respond to his list of nonsense questions inspired by those talking points. He's right in that she should have responded, preferably telling him to take his disrespect and attitude and stuff it.

The piece wouldn't matter a bit except that the Courier editors slapped a "Talk of the Town" flag on this idiotic rant, giving it column status, rather than leaving it in the letters box. Dumb move.

To the headline-writer: Where did Mr Veil state that he voted for Ms Kirkpatrick the first time?

Editorial: Peavine Trail calls for right crossings

I've looked at the design presentation for the Road 39 trail crossing, and none of the options look all that good. I have to disagree with the unnamed Courier editor and probably with most of the trail-lovers, though. Building a tunnel or a bridge for the trail would suck for the trail in terms of environmental damage and access problems for horses and wheels, it would suck for the adjacent properties in terms of acres of earthwork encroachment, and it would suck for the taxpayer in terms of untenable expense.

I notice something missing from the plan though. The at-grade crossing design does not include a traffic light. With pedestrian request buttons to stop traffic when necessary (estimating from current numbers, not that often), it seems to me that the at-grade crossing would be a lot safer.

Anybody know otherwise?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wiederaenders: Should we buy gold?

Gosh, what a mess. I hardly know where to begin.

First, as some of you know, for 22 years I've earned a major portion of my income from work for Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's business paper of record, equivalent to The Wall Street Journal. Japan's economy lives and dies on international currency exchange rates, so to stay current I read a lot about this stuff. I won't claim expert status, but I know more about it that your average Courier editor.

Next, two points of fact.

Tim asserts that "China is ... purposely deflating its currency." This is plain nonsense. In point of simple fact the yuan has been rising steadily against the dollar for many years, albeit more slowly than it would naturally because the Chinese government has been buying dollars like crazy. The purpose of this has indeed been to protect export values, yes. But deflation? No way. US and international pressure is what's causing the Chinese to slowly relent on their currency, and this is positive progress from our perspective. Everyone manipulates their currencies, that's the primary purpose of central banks. This stuff goes on everywhere all the time.

Tim goes on: "the world economy’s recession led Russia and China to call for a One World Currency – other than the U.S. dollar – earlier this year." Tim's conflating two different discussions. One -- which hit the news not this year but over four years ago, while the economy was still hot and oil was becoming stupidly expensive -- was not about a scary "One World Currency," as Fox News would have it, but rather the idea of denominating more international trade in one or more currencies in addition to the dollar, which would help hedge the risk of loss of value of the dollar. Our currency has been vastly overvalued for decades, in small part because of its hegemony in international trade in vital commodities like oil, but more because other countries (especially China) buy dollars to reduce their own currency values to support exports to us. The other, going back to October last year, involves China and Russia agreeing to oil trade between them denominated in rubles and yuan rather than the dollar, which is perfectly reasonable and beside the point.

It helps to understand that currency has no intrinsic value. It's like atomic structure -- it seems solid, but if you look really closely, there's almost nothing there. Currency is just a medium of exchange, and its value is always relative. Domestically we judge value by purchasing power -- how many burgers or gallons of gas it will buy. Internationally it's set relative to other currencies. These two factors rarely track together. So, with no intrinsic value, the idea that the dollar "should" have a high value is just wrong. The value you want depends on whether you're buying or selling.

Tim says, "Within the past week we have seen reports of the U.S. dollar’s value dropping." He's behind the curve by a couple of years. Against the yen, for example, the dollar has fallen by about 20% since June of '07.

That matters to me because I earn yen and spend dollars. But changes in the international value of the dollar mean almost nothing to you if you earn dollars and spend dollars. Think -- has the dollar's 'loss' of 20% of its relative value raised prices here by 20%? Of course not. It does affect the cost of imported goods, materials and resources somewhat, but bear in mind that exchange rate is only one factor in prices. No manufacturer wants to cut his own throat by allowing his prices to rise above norms in the world's largest consumer market, so exporters to the US are mostly eating the exchange losses. (What about oil!? I hear you cry. It's generally denominated in dollars, so no change!)

If anyone's been purposely deflating a currency recently, it's been the US, and that's generally a good thing. Since what goes up must eventually come down, artificial inflation of the dollar to improve international buying power caused international investors to gradually lose confidence in it, and the return to natural balance is restoring the soundness of the currency. It's also giving a little boost to what's left of our manufacturing base by making US goods cheaper internationally and foreign goods more expensive for us.

Now we get to the real nutty stuff. Tim says darkly, "Could the U.S. dollar fully collapse? I suppose so," imagining that the dollar could lose value to the point where it becomes useless, like Confederate scrip or the Iraqi dinar as the bombs were falling. Tim may suppose it, but the idea is plainly preposterous short of an asteroid strike. The US economy is huge and it has a strong (sometimes too strong) central bank. There is no risk of real military threat to us. Most important, the entire world is holding our bonds, which means both that our currency is the one they prefer when theirs seem shaky, and they have a closely vested interest in maintaining the value of that currency. Where people agree that something has value, for whatever reason, it has value.

Sure, go buy gold if you like, and make the gold dealers richer (both when you buy it and when you sell it later). But bear in mind that gold has volatile relative value just as currency does, so it carries exactly the same risks.

If you really want to maintain the value of what you own, on the other hand, invest in your community, vote against warmongers (the single most reliable cause of lost value is war), vote against oil interests, and help make sure everyone is healthy and the kids are well educated.

YCSO investigates alleged employee misconduct

This looks like another case where something comes in over the transom and the Courier hasn't the curiosity or wherewithal to ask a question.

A Sheriff's captain has resigned, apparently because he did the nasty while on duty. There's an investigation ongoing. The question any good cub would ask is why. If the guy just got caught with his pants down and quit, what's to investigate? Either something big is missing from the story, or something in the story is just wrong.

Editorial: Prescott's lucky Norwood is staying

The unnamed Courier editor is allowed his opinion of City Manager Norwood, whether or not it's assembled from a patchwork of plain misapprehension, assigning him the credit for other people's work, and wishful thinking. I have a different opinion. But the really odd thing about this article is that the editor has clearly missed the primary implication of recent events and got the news backward.

The headline and the editorial express relief that Norwood is not leaving his post. That's true for this week, at least. But what we know now that we didn't know last week is that while he hasn't found the right deal yet, the manager is openly looking to move on. Every headhunter in the country working this market now has him on a list of names. More deals will be forthcoming. If Council has any sense, they're already putting feelers out for the next manager.

The aficionados of dark conspiracy like to infer new conflict between Norwood and Council driving events, but such conflict would be neither new nor necessary here. Norwood is a young, ambitious player in a very specialized profession where success is measured in population and budget numbers. His priorities and focus since he came have been on resume-building projects. I've discussed this with many connected people across the spectrum over the years and all agree, most with a sense of relief, that he won't be here long.

Today's Chuckle

An anonymous commenter: "Reading comprehension can be your friend. Invite him in. Let him stay awhile."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stockmar: Annoying – and healthy – facts

Steve turns in a smackdown today of the hysterical claims about health-care reform, and manages a still entertaining but more refined approach than I've seen previously.

This is how it's done, folks -- calmly, factually, confidently, with citations and good humor. Steve gets a cookie.

Editorial: Law should ban feeding bears

What do we do about a bear in the neighborhood? It's not an easy question for a thoughtful person. The bear is just doing its bear thing, and killing it for that is truly awful. Leaving it alone justifiably freaks people out, since they have no idea how to deal with it and are left to inflate the threat to the limits of their imaginations. So we try putting it back in its safer habitat, but it finds its way back because it's become habituated to humans, so its preferred habitat has changed. Problem.

The unnamed Courier editor, in good Republican fashion, advocates tort reform as the answer. Just "restore the immunity" of the state from suits by people who believe it's part of the state's job to protect them from animals, and it's all fixed. People who are maimed by bears must have been feeding them, we gather, so no foul.

It fascinates me how easy it is to blame the victims. The editor cites two cases in which people who were hurt won judgments against the state, infers that Game and Fish has to kill bears because it's afraid of more suits, and leaps to the conclusion that the law is the problem. These people won their cases because the court saw it as reasonable for them to expect protection from the state and the state did something wrong. That's not a political opinion, it's a legal ruling. It demands that the state do right.

So the editor twists this basic, practical problem to his own political end of reducing public access to the courts, essentially ignoring all the practical aspects. It's a stunning mental trick.

Lacking interest in any real problem-solving, the editor misses that Game and Fish is not talking about other options for these animals. There's more we can do than kill the bear, leave it alone or send it away. Right here in town we have an institution dedicated to the care of animals that cannot be released into the wild -- the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. We could be exploring the possibility of moving human-habituated bears into sanctuary as a "third way," perhaps involving some state funding to help. I'm sure there are other options available as well if we really care more about these animals than whether they're convenient to us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Editorial: Immigration calls for action

It feels like the unnamed Courier editor really wants to tell us that illegal immigration is a huge and costly problem, and to find some way of criticizing Secretary Napolitano, but he can't quite find a way to do it. I could put a different headline on this piece and it would read like a bouquet for Janet and a statement that the problem really isn't all that big.

His biggest number is $150 million for health care, supplied by the hospital lobby, which of course inflates its numbers to the max to justify more subsidies. (Hospitals don't ask about legal status, after all, so there's certainly some windage in there at least.) Not even an eighth of the jail budget for illegals? That's not bad! Considering how much thunder we've heard about this for years, one might expect it to be more like 40%.

Then he gives us a couple of grafs on the sensible approach Napolitano is taking, and closes with an ambiguous non-opinion that could be read as approval or not.

Seems like the editor, after years of table-banging about this non-problem, is more than a little perplexed all of a sudden.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hansen: Let' check the national pocketbook

Another extremely dull Monday at the Courier forces me to turn to the funny pages -- the pseudoblogs. Ben offers a column today in which he puts on his pundit's mitreboard and tries to take us to school on the national debt and budgets. As we've come to expect, he fails miserably.

Let's just breeze by the headline failure by our self-described "pit bull about spelling, grammar and usage." He writes,

The current national debt is $11,998,747,017,892.96. That’s 11 trillion dollars. A trillion is 1,000 billions.

Now we’re getting to the root of the problem. The last time the U.S. had a balanced budget was 1957. I was 12 years old. Congress, over a long period, under presidents and congressional majorities of both parties, has lost all sense of fiscal responsibility.
Let's take a good look at the inferences that Ben hopes his reader will make, since he is apparently incapable of just writing them out.

First, the national debt is really, really big (and if you don't know what a trillion is, he'll explain it in billions, which, since you're under age eight, you probably don't understand either), and that, we gather, is really bad, for reasons Ben apparently figures we all know.

A little historical context could be useful here. Check this out:

This is national debt as a percentage of GNP, the index that economists and investors use. Notice that they don't pay much attention to the hard number, as Ben does above, because it's meaningless except relative to the size of the economy supporting it, not unlike the size of your mortgage relative to your income. So in historical terms, yes, the national debt is high right now, but not anything like as high as we've experienced in living memory.

This one breaks out the more recent figures above by administration, which is enlightening:

I also think it's important to compare our debt with other big economies for a relative credit score:

So we see in hard numbers that our current national debt is not exceptional relative to our own history or to the rest of the world. I won't go so far as saying it's a non-problem, but given the new confidence investors can have in our decision-makers relative to the Bush administration and the interest we all have in responding decisively to our credit and employment problems, it's nothing like as scary as Ben would like to imply.

Next he makes a claim about balanced budgets. I went on a little fact-checking tour and I found where he got this idea. It's (gasp!) a blog by an anonymous guy selling stock-market advice and opining occasionally on "reckless government spending." His unusual take on the budget requires us to add government trust funds to outstanding debt to get what he sees as total public debt. If we take a somewhat more rational and conventional approach, we see that the Big Dog managed several balanced budgets in the '90s:

The way Ben juxtaposes these two ideas -- national debt and balanced budget -- he creates the impression that he thinks they're pretty close to the same thing. If he truly won't be satisfied until we clear off the national debt, he'll likely have a long wait. That's occurred exactly once in our entire history, for about a week in 1835.

Ben skims quickly over this twisted history to support his real point, and it's the usual one -- that Congresscritters can't be trusted with anything, that they're only interested in getting potted, laid and reelected, presumably so they can get potted and laid some more. I'd just love to see him say that to the face of any of the people he's criticizing. (Quite frankly I'm guessing he's just projecting what he would do if he got to Congress.)

Looking at this column as a whole, I'm having a hard time imagining what good public purpose Ben thinks he's fulfilling by publishing it. Who would be served if readers further adopt his cynicism about politicians? How would that make anything better? Does he imagine that angry voters will rise up and elect better politicians, even as he trashes everyone in Congress? What would he have them do differently?

Fueling anger without clear purpose leads only to mob mentality. Is that Ben's vision for a better America?

Update, Tuesday: I just ran across this version of the debt graph, which includes a pair of interesting projections. Notice that the editor of the graph is confusing the debt and deficits as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

You've heard about nanotechnology, and you know it means really small stuff. Here's a good explanation of just how small for your Friday mind-expansion.

Naked contempt for workers

The Courier's coverage of the Safeway/Fry's labor action over just a day and a half cuts a window into the editors' minds.

Over on the front page, Jason Soifer's story is sourced entirely from two unhappy union members. It includes no balancing facts or opinions. He wouldn't have had to go far to get some, such as Frank Cuccia's letter, which appears on the opinion page today and so must have been bouncing around the offices for a couple of weeks. But Jason's source-challenged story was enough to spark an angry broadside from the unnamed editor, condemning the union for withholding the vote from the membership. Tut tut. (His use of a quote from a company PR flak defending the rights of the poor downtrodden union members was particularly entertaining.)

Then, within hours of the editor's rush to judgment, comes the breaking story that, surprise surprise, the union's tactics have won a better settlement from Safeway and the union will vote on that rather than the crappy deal the company offered two weeks ago, before the strike threat.

The labor action had been coming for months and had been an active news story for weeks, but the Courier had nothing to say. The first word it offers its readers on the subject is shamelessly biased against the union. The slapdash editorial extends this bias, slamming the union for not settling while it was in the midst of hardball negotiations, and spuriously accusing it of anti-democratic practices.

I can think of no example of Courier coverage over the last few years that more clearly illustrates the radical bias at work at the Courier.

Will we see an editorial retraction now that all this has become clear? I'll give nice odds to anyone who wants to take that bet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stockmar: Naysaying global warming won't stop it

I've been watching Steve's newish pseudoblog for a while, appreciating his street sense and entertaining approach, and wondering when he might surface in print as a columnist.

His first attempt is a little shaky, sorry to say. He refutes the climate-change deniers by adopting a superior, talk-down-to-the-kindergarteners tone to explain a couple of aspects of the planetary feedback phenomenon that we're experiencing. By using clumsy metaphors and failing to disclaim his examples as such, he leaves the impression that he's outlining the crux of the problem and critically weakens the argument. He also skirts the issue of the human cause as if it doesn't really matter. But if you're arguing in favor of human intervention in something as big as this, you have to first establish that we're capable of having that global effect, then that we should.

The subtle changes in complex, interdependent, chaotic systems causing climate change are a lot to get one's head around. The best researchers and educators in the world are having a hard time putting the message across. Journalists who hope to help in this effort, as Steve clearly does here, must be very careful to avoid making things worse. While expressing the frustration a lot of us feel, flip, offhand and arrogant squibs like this do nothing useful to educate those who could learn, and do a lot to further alienate those who won't.

Steve admits (brags?) on the pseudoblog that he hasn't seen "An Inconvenient Truth," the Oscar award-winning documentary that inspired a Nobel Peace Prize for Mr Gore. I have to wonder about a journalist writing on this topic without exercising himself to undertake even this most basic bit of research. I fear that Steve may have already succumbed to the Courier's hipshooting tradition.

Norwood explores options, Courier scooped again

After more than six years in the office, City Manager Steve Norwood is competing for a new job in an Austin suburb. When he came on, my bet was three to five years, so he's lasted a fair bit longer than I expected. I hope he gets the job, moves on, and we can start breaking up the little empires that he's created in the staff and rationalizing the management-heavy mix at City Hall.

Lynne McMaster got what looks like a nice leisurely interview with him on the subject. The Courier has nothing yet.

Update, Friday: Cindy turns in nothing new to account for tardiness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our forgotten veterans

In honor of our veterans the Courier offers four different pieces, but manages to avoid any mention of Iraq, Afghanistan or the men and women who have been part of those conflicts. This is just appalling. The editorial headline says "Our protectors deserve thanks" even as the editors brutally snub them. I'm having a hard time seeing this as any less awful than spitting on surviving combat troops coming home.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Socialist Paradise or Corporatist Hell?

I'm promoting Mia's comment on the health-care bill so I have a chance to farble on about it more publicly. She says,

I do applaud Kirkpatrick for voting in line with the majority of those who elected her. I wonder though, if the insurance companies have come out the really big winners here. Mandatory insurance, with a public option that "will probably cost more than private insurance". Even with the added cost of covering preexisting conditions, not charging women more, and whatever else, how many millions of new customers will insurance companies get? I don't see how this is a move toward socialized healthcare, maybe even quite the contrary. Insurance companies will grow in power tremendously. Look how much power they've flexed during this debate. Am I missing something?
I think that if the House bill were to pass through the Senate funhouse and come out the other side more or less unscathed, it will substantially diminish the power of the insurance companies.

First, the public option, contrary to your quote above, will almost certainly operate at substantially lower cost. Profitmaking companies must produce profits for their shareholders, and that can be seen ultimately as a dead loss from the system, meaning higher costs out of the gate. To balance that higher cost-structure, the companies will have to cut corners on personnel and benefits to the customer. Meanwhile the public plan, because it has less motivation and scope for denying coverage, has to focus on reducing costs through prevention and keeping its customers healthier.

An important piece of the picture will be the lifting of the antitrust exemption that insurance companies have enjoyed for so long. This will lead to breakups of the largest companies in favor of local competition.

With more reliable and lower-cost benefits and larger scale, the public plan will then become the biggest player, furnishing more economies of scale and negotiating clout. As in Europe, eventually the private insurers will get mostly out of standard care and into boutique and specialty benefits covering things the public plan can't or won't. They will also have steady customers among the many Americans who can afford to throw away some of their money because they don't trust the government.

One thing we'll still have to fight for in the public plan is coverage of non-allopathic care. We're discovering and rediscovering so much in medicine that's useful and effective but (so far) outside the scope of the Physician's Desk Reference. It will be very important to start building in the acceptance and coverage of treatment and care modalities that are not taught in the medical schools if we are to see any of the vast potential cost-savings and life benefits they offer. With a public plan, which is more focused on reducing costs by making people healthier than reducing benefits to customers, this will be far easier.

Anonymity vs Civility

In the comments, Mia says

I feel like I can't blog on the Courier site anymore since some people called my friends and me moronic, fecal matter, simple-minded, sheeple, full of horse pucky, and all kinds of other really mean stuff. It makes me want to meet them by the swings and kick their asses!
Online spleen-venting has been a problem ever since online communities began, and I've been doing this nearly that long. It's hard to prevent where you want open dialogue, but there is one factor that guarantees it: anonymous posting. Where there is no social cost for acting like a baboon, that's what some people do.

Further, where this element is allowed to spit its bile unfettered, it drives out people who value civil dialogue, and so the proportion of bilious comments inevitably rises. In my experience it slowly rises to a majority and holds there for a certain amount of time, then participation falls off suddenly as the community dies gasping in its own stink. I expect that this will happen with the dCourier comments within a couple of years if editorial policy does not change.

Adding to the outrage is the Courier's capricious editing of the comments, and their failure to understand their own comments policies. Despite the written policy barring them, I see many, many comments that are nothing more than personal attacks on previous commenters. Name-calling is rampant and egregious. And trust me, it will get a lot worse.

I came back to this blog for these very reasons, as I found that my comments weren't safe from editorial screwing around. The name-calling from those who have no better communication tools I don't mind, as it says more about them than me and I have eliminated the reflex of responding to it. I do regret that they drive away sensible people who have less tolerance for this sort of BS, so on this blog I promise to maintain a higher level of decorum.

I encourage everyone who cares about this to demand of the editors that they require registration on the site with a real name or regular handle for all comments, and bar those from commenting who abuse the privilege. This will not eliminate the problem, but it will reduce it by at least three-quarters, I guarantee it.

Editorial: Let's get people back on the job

The unnamed Courier editor offers yet another example of willful short-sightedness today in decrying the administration's efforts to reconfigure our clearly broken health-care and energy systems while people are out of work.

We used to rely on journalists to look into the implications of public issues and supply us with the information we need to see the bigger picture and make better decisions as voters. It seems that those journalists are in the unemployment lines now, too, since corporations realized in the 1980s that all they really need to do to reliably get what they want is buy up the news business, knowing that over time the media organizations would steadily make small changes in policy and mindsets favoring corporate views.

Let's postulate, for example, that a cap-and-trade regime really could "put and end to the coal business," as the editor egregiously misquotes the president. Could he really imagine that the transaction ends with all the coal people out of work? Can he really not see that the shift to renewables will create an order of magnitude more jobs than the modern coal business could ever provide? How could a supposed journalist miss this plain-as-day linkage?

The problem here is that ideology is simply blinding the editor to the facts. He sees what he wants to see (and the person who hired him knew that would happen). The challenge for the reader is to avoid seeing only the bit that the editor is able to see. Bear in mind that the decisions the editor makes in the open on the editorial page indicate the sort of decisions he makes subtly on the news pages.

Today's Chuckle

Prescott and PV officials set up events befitting a visiting head of state for a big dead tree. Am I the only one in town who finds this embarrassingly juvenile on multiple levels?

Not everyone happy with House health care bill

Some editorial decisions just take my breath away. It plumb evades me, for example, how any editor can see news value in person-on-the-street interviews. I know, the "wisdom" of the volk, right? What's true is that 90% of the time you're going to get the wise old volk feeding back exactly what they saw on teevee last night. I expect it feeds an editor's ego to hear people saying what he's been telling them. But what value can it possibly hold for the reader? Somebody splain this to me.

As for the headline, here's today's 'duh' moment.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Editorial: Will health bill really help folks?

On behalf of the entire community, I want to thank the unnamed Courier editor for this ringing endorsement of HR3200 and health-care reform.

Oh, I can see that he tried to cover up his enthusiasm with some token objections. But they're so weak that one can only conclude that he's not serious about them.

For example, he says he doesn't "like" the bill because "Members of Congress continue to receive taxpayer-subsidized, gold-plated benefits packages." If the reform passes, most Americans will maintain the same health plans they're on now, although with more security about their coverage, and most corporations will continue to offer the same plans, so Congress isn't special in that regard. It's completely beside the point.

He goes on to warn that "A strong public option would let the hand of government reach too far into yet another industry." Leaving aside that this is nothing more than a vague ideological point, the bill does not include a strong public option. It's really pretty weak. But we can make it stronger later, as it becomes clearer to more voters that we really need it.

His third and strongest point in opposition to the bill is that "it requires individuals 'who can afford it' to buy insurance in the interests of distributing costs. No specifics exist on what parameters define 'who can afford it.'" That would be a tough nut if it were true. Of course, it isn't. "Affordability credits are provided under the House health care reform bill for families with income below 400 percent of the Federal poverty level," says the FAQ from the House Ways and Means Committee. That's a clear means test defining exactly "who can afford it."

Always standing up for individual rights, the editor adds that "it's still an American's right to remain uninsured," apparently quoting fine print in the Constitution that only he has seen. But even this is provided in the bill -- if you really don't want to buy coverage, you don't have to. You'll still have to pay a little bit to help support the system that will be your safety net when you get sick anyway, of course. But that's only fair.

So most readers will see that these quibbles are just a paper-thin attempt at balance, covering the editor's clearly unmitigated enthusiasm. We should all thank him. And give him a cookie.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How news goes interactive

Check out the comments on the story on last night's mayhem on Hwy 69, offering a very high signal-to-noise ratio and enough different viewpoints to give the reader an almost three-dimensional perspective.

What does it take to turn space inside-out? The Schwarzschild Radius for feed-your-head Friday.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ooh, the bigtime!

I just noticed today that Courierwatch now has a link from the page of mostly dead pseudoblogs. Welcome to all six of you new readers who happened to be rummaging around in the basement over there. Lemme know what you think.

Older readers may recall that the Courier began linking to blogs a couple of years ago, and this one was among them. That's when they made the approximation of my mascot J Fred Muggs as a logo. They told me about it at the time and asked my permission, but that was the extent of my input. This time it was a surprise, so an apparently belated thanks to whomever at the Courier doesn't mind my twitting his/her bosses.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Editorial: Law judge decides correctly on water

The reader may notice something odd about the leader of the opinion page today: it doesn't offer an opinion.

Oh, there's an opinion of sorts in the headline, but there's no supporting argument in the text for characterizing the decision as "correct." There's only a recitation of the facts of the ruling.

The unnamed Courier editor's Barcalounger is hard at work again, turning in an echo of the front-page story, something that would better fit a breezy column on the business page. It's like he just wanted a little vacation today.

What it really means is that while the editor understands intuitively that the court result has some sort of meaning, he can't quite figure out what it is beyond an apparent win for the side he prefers in the contest. A reader would be excused for concluding that his grasp of the complexity of the pipeline issue is weak and shallow.

The facts are that this ruling was expected by everyone involved, ending a technical, preliminary bout that opens the doors for the brutal main events to come. The results there are far less clear, all we know for sure is that they'll be complex and very costly, involving many stakeholders beyond Prescott and SRP.

Challengers sweep election for Prescott City Council

These local results are in line with many other elections around the country this week. We see clearly once again that where conservatives are dogged about voting, progressives need inspiration, and our local slate was anything but inspiring. It also shows that for all the sturm und drang among those of us who pay attention, Prescott remains a sleepy place overall, and Prescott residents in general really don't think Council matters all that much. This is a self-fulfilling idea, I'm afraid, furnishing power over our lives directly into the hands of the developers and corporatists who will be most happy to exploit it to their advantage.

Okay, let's do our sums.

There were 13,093 Prescott voters this time.
Mr Hanna got 7,548 votes.
Ms Linn got 6,979.
Mr Blair, 6,708.
Mr Luzius, 5,888.
Mr Peters, 4,337.
Mr Katan, 2,104.

Notice something missing?

The total of that column is 33,564. At three votes for each of 13,093 voters, the available total for Council was 39,279, leaving 5,715 votes missing. In the vote trade we call that the undervote.

The final tallies will change slightly, but by any standard that's a big number relative to what would have been needed to alter the results substantially. Compare this to the results on the props:
400: 8,809 ayes + 3,329 nays = 12,138; undervote 955
401: 8,233 ayes + 4,183 nays = 12,416; undervote 677

It's academic to the result, of course, but it would be interesting to know how many of those undervoters were either protesting the weakness of the Council candidates or voting strategically, reducing the totals overall in favor of a single candidate. I'd bet five bucks their preferences are not evenly spread statistically.

It might also play into the idea that Prescott has grown beyond the current regime and we could be better served by a borough system, in which each Council member represents a specific area of the city.

Radio news

Regular 89.5 listeners will have already noticed our format change this week. This will be coming to 90.1 in Prescott once we jump a couple more bureaucratic hoops, bumping KJZZ off the air here.

Some listeners will not be happy about this, and I want to get the word out that it wasn't our idea. Rather, the boss tells me that KJZZ in Phoenix, our erstwhile partner for many years, unilaterally abrogated its contract with us.

Our new network partner is KAWC in Yuma, providing community-based programming as well as selections from PRI and other public media outlets. KJZA weekend programming will also start earlier on Saturday. If you're a member of KJZZ, we hope you'll also consider membership in KAWC to help support community radio here and across the state.

The new format is just the beginning, and you can expect to hear new shows and features coming online over the next few months. I hope you'll give it a try, tell your friends, and let me know what you think.

For you early birds I especially want to recommend The Takeaway weekdays 6-8am, produced and hosted live by my old school chum and bandmate John Hockenberry, who's found his way back to public radio after a long, storied career with NPR, ABC and NBC News. And on Saturday mornings we'll be hearing the familiar voice of Bob Edwards 8-10am. I hope you'll join us.

Talk of the Town: Teachers take multiple hits on pay

Barring unforeseen circumstances, along with an update on the deal to open a special legislative session, I'll be discussing Victoria Kendall's letter with Rep Mason this weekend on The People's Business (KJZA 89.5FM, Sat and Sun at 2pm).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Talk of the Town: Global warming data not current

Actual scientist and ecologist Tim Crews gives us a sparkling smackdown of climate-change denier, corporatist tool and non-scientist Terry Lovell. I'm sure we'll see a long list of comments to say that Crews can't possibly know anything because he teaches at Prescott College. Logic like that is what's giving the blockhead right* such stunning electoral victories lately.

* VP George HW Bush, speaking privately to Soviet Premiere Gorbachev in '87: "Reagan is a conservative. An extreme conservative. All the blockheads and dummies are for him, and when he says that something is necessary, they trust him."

Letter: Mother seeks help for late son's unit

Maybe one of my anonymous Courier employees will pipe up here. In Jasmine Crowl's letter seeking donations, she thanks "the following originations for their support ...." The editors spend untold hours screwing around with people's letters to control the message, but they couldn't be bothered to fix this obvious spell-check error for a Gold-Star mother? You guys kill me.

Deputies arrest man after chase in Dewey-Humboldt

Gad the paper is full of editorial mistakes today. In this entertaining little chasing-the-nutbar story, Ken manages to omit the first reference to a witness only called "Grugel," who might have been the bad guy's target, but the story's so deeply muddled I can't really tell.

Today's Chuckle

Or maybe Today's Wince -- this headline: "Small swine flu vaccine shipment lets county give doctors some."

In the lead, Jerry describes "5,000 doses of H1N1 (swine) flu vaccination." That should be vaccine, of course. The story is riddled with errors that any freshman copy editor could have handled. Ack.

Further down, we see in Bruce's story on the Supes meeting that the Centennial Committee wants to issue a "cache" and commemorative stamps. It's "cachet," of course. I'm sure there's a dictionary in the office somewhere. Check under the dust in the broom closet.

Broken limbs and relationships: Property owner, APS at odds over tree trimming

A rich white lady is mad at APS for trimming trees in her rental yard that she should have pruned back years ago. Why in the world is this a news story, leave alone on the front page? Electric utilities are constantly pissing people off by taking liberties with the trees. Should we expect a front-page story next week on how the credit-card company raised the interest rate on some nice grandma?

By the way, Jason, that quote should have been "... we couldn't in good conscience re-energize that line ..." rather than "conscious." Really basic.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Amster: 'Call to service' worth encouraging

Today Randall turns in what I think may be the best-written piece I've seen from him. Good show, Randall!

Editorial: Progress is fine, but let's be open with it

In his Sunday editorial, the unnamed Courier editor complains that "The Republicans were left knocking on the door" to be involved in health-care reform. Anyone with half an eye open can see that the Rs have not only refused to contribute positively despite a huge and politically costly effort to get them in the room, they've proven repeatedly that they will do all they can to derail even the mildest reform.

The editor can go on like this without a hint of irony, having consistently applauded the Rs for keeping the Ds out in the cold through the eight Bush years and decades in the Arizona legislature, today's slap on the wrist notwithstanding.

An honest negotiation needs two honest negotiators. Since the Gingrich years the radical authoritarians, religionists and corporatists running the Republican party have demonstrated that they are interested only in power and gamesmanship. Statesmanship and citizenship have fallen by the boards. It's past time that we all clearly understand that, the editor included, and play the hand we're dealt.

Dems need to grow a spine and stop pretending that Reps are negotiating in good faith. Reps who truly want to act in good faith, and there are a lot of them, must disavow those who don't, separate themselves from the radicals and take back their party.

Elks renovation gets boost

Cindy's nice little update piece on the Elks Theatre is notable for the first mention I've seen or heard of any interest in replacing the stage draperies. These are not "decorative," as the story would have it, but rather are essential stage equipment in dire shape, ready to explode in flame with just the right spark. It's this sort of upgrade and maintenance of equipment and facilities, neglected in all talk I've heard about the project, that I've been harping on for years,

By the way, Cindy, what you're groping to call a "stage archway" is what's known as the proscenium. This indicates to me that you're still talking to people who know nothing about theatre.