Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stu Inman, RIP

Stu Inman died yesterday.

He was the Blazers' first director of player personnel, and was the architect of the Blazers team that won the 1977 NBA title. I was really sad to hear he had passed away, because just a couple weeks ago I learned he was helping coach Lake Oswego High's basketball team (where my kids go to school) and I was going to swerve by and say hi to him.

I haven't spoken to him in more than 30 years. But I will always remember the grace of the man.

Back in 1970 when the Blazers started and Stu Inman moved here, I was a little leaguer, and my dad coached my team. He drafted for our team a kid named David Inman. After a few practices, we realized that the man who came to every practice and watched, cuffing his cigarettes, was Stu Inman. He didn't say a lot, didn't ever intervene in the coaching, he just watched.

His boy was a decent player, nothing special. Over the season, we got to know Stu a little bit. Very nice family. Very down to earth. But I started to realize, as a star-struck pre-teen, that this man went to work every day with NBA basketball players!

Throughout my youth I spent my summers caddying and working at Tualatin Country Club, and in about 1969 they started an annual "Celebrity Golf Tournament." I relished that tournament, because all the local celebs came. All the Blazers, and everybody else I idolized as a kid.

I remember Tom McCall's limo pulling into the club for one year's tournament. The license plate was a simple "1." One year, when I was 14, Bill Schonely drove up with Keith Jackson in the passenger seat, and handed me the keys to his car to park after we took the clubs out of the trunk. I parked it with no incident.

When I saw Stu Inman's name on the list of local celebs who were slated to play, I thought: "Wouldn't it be cool if I could caddy for him?" In those days golf carts were rapidly replacing caddies. Most players in this type of event didn't need any caddy - they just took a cart.

How could I make sure if Stu Inman requested a caddy that I was the one chosen?

My solution was to take chance out of the equation. I was about 14, and had caddied for 5 years. I knew the ropes. I knew that celebs like Stu Inman were used to a certain amount of special treatment. My solution was to lay in wait for when he arrived, then walk straight up to him and announce that I was his caddy. As if the club, wanting to treat their celebs right, had assigned caddies for all of them.

So I hung back as all the other caddies got their assignments, waiting for Stu Inman to arrive. Finally, he walked up, carrying his clubs. I jumped in front of him.

"Hi Mr. Inman! I'm your caddy today!"

He chuckled, and said "Great!"

And so we spent the day together on the golf course. I was in heaven. He bent over backwards asking me to read his putts, choose his clubs, steer him around the course, etc. Now, I was a pretty good golfer myself at that time, regularly breaking 80, which was about the score I think he would shoot. So I could actually add some value as his caddy. But it wouldn't have mattered if I was completely cueless.

Stu Inman new that I was a starstruck teen, and he indulged me. Because he was a class act.

Because I assigned myself to be his caddy, I knew there was some chance that he would assume that caddies were already paid by the club. So there was a chance that I would work the whole day and not get paid.

When I took Stu's clubs out to his car, put them in his trunk, he handed me a tightly folded up bill. I unfolded a $20 bill - which was about four times the regular caddy fee.

Stu Inman was a class act. He died at the age of 80. Not young, but many people live longer. I do regret that he died before I had a chance to reconnect with him.

I'll bet Rex is a card carrying member

Get a load of this list at - a web site that pushes for sustainability.

The funny thing is that people can propose these things and not be immediately discredited. In fact, Rex Burkholder has proposing similarly extreme things for years and he's still considered a mainstream guy.

Remember - I am not making this stuff up - it is on the front page of the web site!

10 SOLUTIONS that are feasible, sustainable, safe, and healthy:

1. An immediate and permanent moratorium on all new major road construction and expansions. (Every additional dollar spent building and widening roads digs us deeper into our dangerous oil / auto addiction, and increases global warming)

2. An immediate and permanent moratorium on all new airport construction and expansions, as well as an end to all aviation subsidies. In addition, an end to oil industry subsidies.

3. A huge increase in funding for Amtrak, and the rapid construction of a new nationwide train network. This should connect every city, town, and neighborhood with an efficient, state-of-the-art electric train network comparable to what is currently operating all across Europe and Japan. This should be built to transport both passengers and all the cargo now moved by very inefficient trucks. Trains are by far the most energy efficient form of transportation that greatly reduces global warming, saves lives, and encourages compact, walkable communities.

4. The rapid tripling of minimum vehicle miles per gallon standards for all vehicles produced in America - accomplished by a quick and complete conversion of all automobile manufacturing facilities to the building of only hybrid, solar, and fully electric vehicles. Government car purchases made each year should be switched to buying only hybrids and fully electric cars. It is estimated that the entire U.S. government purchases well over one million new vehicles each year - the sum total of Federal, State, & Local Government agencies, municipalities, counties, highway patrol, sheriff, police and fire departments, etc. The real solution is to eventually stop making cars altogether by a phased retooling of the auto industry into manufacturing trains (much like during the second world war when they switched to building military equipment).

5. An immediate moratorium on the building of any additional sprawl. Sprawl is probably the single largest contributor to oil addiction and global warming due to it's very design (or lack of). Sprawl forces everyone to drive many miles daily for everything, which in turn requires constant road expansions, encouraging more cars and driving, and more sprawl. Its a vicious cycle consuming ever more oil, and spewing out more pollution, making global warming continually worse.

6. A major focus of federal, state, and local governments on New Urbanism and Transit Oriented Development - the revitalization and densification of all existing cities and towns across America into walkable, mixed-use communities, with pedestrians and bicycles given top priority over automobiles, and a serious focus on bicycles and trains as the major forms of transportation. Included would be millions of affordable housing units and high quality neighborhood schools located so all children can walk or bike to them.

7. An immediate moratorium on the construction of any new coal fired or nuclear power generating plants. Contrary to what some are saying - that nuclear is a "clean energy" solution to global warming - nuclear power is far from clean. The waste it produces is the most toxic substance known to humankind, remaining deadly radioactive for many thousands of years, and no safe way to store or dispose of it.

8. The rapid construction of massive new solar and wind power generating capacity all across America, from large-scale installations to smaller neighborhood and roof-top units. Also, the immediate installation of new hydropower generating capacity in the form of coastal wave and tidal energy capture.

9. The rapid installation of full roof solar panels on every building in America.

10. The rapid installation of major organic farms at the edge of every city and town across America. In addition to this, the rapid planting of millions of trees across America.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Feds to Rex: Transportation means ROADS!

The Federal Highway Administration is my new hero.

Rex Burkholder sent them Metro's draft update of the long range transportation plan. The feds rejected it, and sent back some juicy comments.

Basically they said: "Rex, we think that a regional transportation plan should actually try to plan for transportation."

Rex says: "Screw you."

OK, I am reading between the lines just a little. What the feds actually said was:

"It is difficult for us to find the transportation focus in this opening chapter of the Regional Transportation Plan. The plan should acknowledge that automobiles are the preferred mode of transport by the citizens of Porltand. They vote with their cars every day."
Rex's response? He said that the feds' comments should be "taken with a grain of salt."
Meaning, of course, that we should ignore them. Rex went on to say that the feds raise the same kind of questions that Metro will face as it moves forward with the plan.
Translation: Metro will have to railroad this through even though citizens want roads, not more traffic calming, one-way streets, light rail, and street cars.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Climate Change Debate Tuesday

The Oregonian reports that there will be a debate between Washington's state climatologist and Oregon's state climatologist tomorrow night at OMSI.

The Washington guy is on the alarmist side, and George Taylor, from OSU, believes that the human impact on the climate is not significant.

The Oregonian article goes to great lengths to explain that George Taylor is not credible. After setting up the issue, and playing it straight for the first third of the article, the smears begin.

It says that Taylor is "far" from the "great majority of scientists." And that the "distance from the scientific mainstream and the public has widened as evidence of global warming has mounted in the form of rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers and accelerating snowmelt."

Except one problem: Taylor doesn't say that this evidence of warming are not happening, he says that human beings are not the cause.

The Oregonian quotes Mark Abbott, the dean of the College of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Oregon State University saying "The public is just moving past him. The science certainly has."

And they go on to point out that Taylor is an advisor for a group that gets money from Exxon, and then the governor joins the fray, saying : "He's not the state climatologist. I never appointed him. I think I would know. He's not my weatherman."

This is how you'll be treated if you question the official government position that we have to accept draconian limits in our lifestyle in order to forestall this cataclysm. There is no room for dissent - they have politicized science so completely that they actually think science works on concensus.

How about the other guy - Washington's climatologist? Does he have a dog in the fight? Well, he's one of the lead authors on the soon-to-be-released IPCC Climate Change report. Presumably, he was paid to do this work.

The official position of the IPCC has been for years that man is causing global warming. They want this to be true so badly that in 1998 they actually doctored chapter 8 of the report to delete paragraphs that contradicted this position.

So Mota, Washington's climatologist, should have his credibility scrutinized too, right?

Yeahhh, right.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Today's global warming news .....

Who'd have thought that global warming, which is such a slow developing story that the concern is an increase in average mean temperature of .6 degrees over an entire century, requires daily updates in the Oregonian.

Ever had the feeling that someone was trying just a little too hard to convince of you of something? That it was just a little too important to them that you believe it, and you suspected that maybe they weren't giving you the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but that the information they presented to convince you was perhaps just a little shaded in favor of what they wanted you to believe?

I get that feeling when I read the Oregonian's global warming drumbeat. It is almost getting laughable.

I have never seen a single article in the Oregonian that discussed research or scientists views on the single most important question in the global warming debate: is there a direct causal relationship between CO2 and global mean temperature. If not, this entire issue disappears.

If CO2 is not the culprit, then it doesn't matter how much or how little the glaciers are receding, the ocean levels rising, etc etc. It means that man isn't causing it to happen, and the whole edifice of the alarmist crowd comes crashing down upon them.

Is that perhaps why the Oregonian and all their pew-mates in the church of global warming seem to want to keep you eye off the ball of whether CO2 actually causes warming?

The "evidence" they have that says CO2 does cause warming is the global climate models. Which is to say, actually, that they think CO2 causes warming because the models they created assume that CO2 causes warming.

Today's entry in the Oregonian's global warming hysteria series is actually pretty funny. Remember how biotech was going to be the next big thing to bring Oregon jobs? The Oregonian cheerleaded that scam all the way to the Tram. Number of new biotech jobs? Zippo. [Oh, wait, we did get a Genentech packaging plant out of the deal.]

Now, the Oregonian tells us, the next big thing is sustainability and alternative energy. Oregon is going to lead the nation in demonstrating how to develop low carbon impact stuff, and it will be a boon to Oregon's economy and save the world in the process.

The lead editorial has a great headline, hinting at the hype we are all in for:

The Little State That Could
Oregon "has all the ingredients," including leadership
to help pull the nation ahead on energy and climate issues
Examples given in the editorial:
1. "Several bills aimed at enlarging the production of alternative fuels." In other words - subsidies to get farmers to produce things that don't make economic sense.
2. "Bills to expand renewable sources of energy." In other words, subsidies for windmills and other energy production facilities that don't make economic sense.
3. Bills to "ecourage manufacturers to meet clean energy standards." In other words, regulations on business.
4. Bills to "spur more homeowners to install solar systems and energy efficient appliances." In other words, subsidies so people do things that don't make economic sense.
The Oregonian goes on to talk about the Governor's "cap and trade" proposal, and to say it would be far better if it was a national thing, but if not, we are right to "go it alone."
We have "too much to lose," they explain - coastline, glaciers and forest. What they don't touch is whether an Oregon only system of cap and trade would actually make any difference. Not a whisper of whether the reduction in CO2 from such a program would be enough to have any effect. Why not?
Easy question - they don't discuss results of an Oregon only cap and trade because for liberals, results don't matter. And because discussing results might risk swerving into a discussion of CO2 and whether it is causing warming in the first place.
No, better to gloss over dangerous issues like this and keep the hype going. Lather praise on anybody who goes along, and don't discuss any doubts. And definitely don't give credence to any skeptics - that only gives them credibility. Make sure everyone knows that global warming skeptics are flat earthers - not to be taken seriously.
After all, those are the same people who said that biotech would never be a big deal in Oregon, and CIM/CAM was going to fail.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Drumbeat

I looked in the Oregonian yesterday and thought: "Hey! No global warming article!"

Then I found it - an entire page devoted to the "extreme weather events" of 2006. A month by month chronicle of the rain, the cold, the wind, the storms. They didn't explicitly blame carbon dioxide, of course, but on the heels of the relentless propagandizing they've been doing on global warming, this was obviously the implication.

In today's news on Global Warming, the Governor has called for CO2 emission caps, and will be lobbying other western state governors to do it too. He wants to establish a system of tradeable credits to enforce the caps.

He's all excited about the supposed boon for Oregon's economy to be found by controlling CO2, since we are such leaders in renewable energy and conservation technology. He says that the New York investment bankers have told him that there's a lot of money to be made.

The Governor has a global warming task force that has made a bunch of recommendations to him. [Note: I'll bet there were a buch of global warming skeptics on that panel, right?] The task force told him that if Oregon established CO2 limits, that electricity prices would go up, but people would end up spending less on electricity because all the new energy saving devices would result in them consuming less.

I'm not sure where to start with this completely illogical and bassackward assertion. But if it represents the quality of economic advice our good Gov is listening to, then we are in for a long four years.

First, I've seen nothing but claims that Oregon is somehow a leader in so-called "sustainability," whatever that is. They act as if as soon as we put Draconian limits on CO2, the world will beat a path to our door so we can show them how we make energy without a lot of carbon dioxide emissions. I guess we will give them a tour of Bonneville!

Second, if our big competitive advantage requires that we regulate competitors out of business, then we are in trouble. Remember when the use of freon was prohibited because of the supposed effects on the ozone? Guess who lobbied for that? The producer of the replacement chemical, who had a patent on it.

Well, that is about the same thing as Oregon demanding CO2 limits and then hoping to make money off sources and uses of energy that produce less CO2.

Carbon dioxide is NOT A POLLUTANT! It is necessary for life on Earth. We can't let them regulate CO2 because that will give them control over the blood supply for the world's economy, which is what they are really after.

A system of tradeable carbon dioxide credits as a way to limit emissions is simply a strategy. They think that free-market types will buy in, since tradeable credits is indeed the most efficient way to actually limit emissions of harmful chemicals.

But CO2 is not a harmful chemical.

As Peter Drucker once said: "Nothing is less worth doing than to do more efficiently that which should not be done at all."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Global Warming Alert

I've decided to chronicle, on this blog, the extent of the hype surrounding global warming by monitoring the number and nature of the Oregonian's articles on the issue.

Today we were rewarded with a major article and an editorial - a global warming two-fer!

The gist of the article was the big news that ten major corporations (some of them energy companies!) along with some environmental organizations, have sent an entreaty to the President to enact some mandatory CO2 limits.

The editorial scolded the President for being a follower rather than a leader on CO2 limits.

Big news, though, that big corporations are now saying we need mandatory CO2 limits, right? Especially if they are energy companies. I mean heck, enrgy companies are the biggest culprits in the CO2 problem, and so if they now recognize that things must change, how can the "oil-man" President continue to deny reality?

Not so fast.

What do you want to bet that the energy companies who signed onto the memo are those that already use natural gas and hydroelectric sources for the energy they produce? And so mandatory limits would increase their competitive position in their market?

Among the signers was: Duke Energy - natural gas. PGE - hydroelectric. Hmm.... wouldn't caps on CO2 emissions make these guys more profitable?

What we really have here is big companies begging the government to regulate their competitors. Nothing new, but when it uses the global warming issue as the basis for their demand, they can be certain to get all the mainstream media going along with the ruse.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hillary makes it official

She obviously got nervous with all the others stealing the limelight. So now it is a crowded field indeed. It should be an interesting primary.

Hillary is a formidable candidate. The question is will voters let her get away with repositioning herself as a centrist? She has done a good job of recreating herself as a U.S. Senator, but to do that she only had to get a wink and nod from NY voters. Will the broader body politic buy it?

Especially if she wins the nomination and chooses Richardson as VP. That is a solid ticket. Richardson has legitimate broad appeal, and a fabulous resume. He actually reduced taxes in New Mexico.

Obama, Edwards, Hillary, Richardson - this will be far more interesting than the Republican race.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Why does he think his scheme will work this time?

John Kitzhaber was the architect of Oregon's "model for the nation" health care plan. After only a few years its costs had run out of control and the rationing mechanism that was supposed to keep costs in check was not working.

Kitzhaber himself said that it had failed.

Now, he's back, with a new plan to cover not just needy Oregonians, but every man, woman and child in the state. The Oregonian started their cheerleading today with the oh-so-neutral headline: "Kitzhaber offers health care cure."

His new plan seems similar to the Oregon Health Care plan, except it is broader. When he designed the OHP he wanted an employer mandate, but he wasn't going to get it, so he settled on taking the Medicaid dollars, combining them with Oregon general fund dollars, and designing a system that ranked medical procedures based on priority, and the available dollars would determine where the line between what was paid for and what was not paid for would be drawn.

This idea had at least the advantage of being intellectually honest. Most universal health care plans pretend that there is no need to ration health care services if the government is in charge. Kitzhaber's OHP at least implicitly acknowledged that there had to be some rationing system.

Our current system rations service on price. If you can afford insurance, you get pretty darn good care. Unfortunately, millions are priced out, and that is indeed a problem.

Single payer systems ration medical service not on price, but by queuing. Wait in line until your number comes up. It is certainly more equitable on its face - high income and low income folks all have to wait - except for the fact that people with means simply go pay for what they need and refuse to wait in line for medically urgent services that lower income folks sometimes die waiting for.

So Kitzhaber's OHP did have a rationing mechanism, but it didn't work. The feds weren't flexible enough with all their medicaid rules to allow Oregon to determine which services were paid for.

So Oregon never got to move the line of which services were paid for up when money got tight. The result: runaway costs.

In hindsight it is not clear whether there ever would have been the political will in the Human Services agency to actually move the line up when necessary, even if the feds were OK with it. Much easier to play the crisis game.

And this is the central flaw with Kitzhaber's current plan, and also with Ron Wyden's plan, the Senate plan and any other universal health care plan out there: there is simply not enough money to provide "free" health care to everyone.

The problem, in economic terms, is called a "price illusion." If people make their health care consumption decisions knowing that their consumption behavior costs them little or nothing, they individually use far too much in service, and they do not care about the price of those services. The cumulative effect of this behavior is to make the system's costs spiral out of control.

We have this precise problem even with our current private medical insurance, which generally uses a third party payer method. If you don't pay for the services you use, you use more than you should.

This is why I am opposed to every universal health care system I have seen. Every one suffers the same flaw - price illusion that will make costs increase far beyond estimates.

Medicare was created in 1969, I think. By 1989 its costs were ten times what Congress had estimated. The same will happen to any universal health care plan.

Look, I agree that our health care system is an inequitable mess. I don't have the answer - but I think I know what won't work. Any system that has a built-in price illusion will not work.

I use a Health Savings Account. I have a $5,000 deductible insurance policy that costs me about $4,000 per year, and I have a savings account into which I put up to $5,000 each year (pre-tax) to pay my family's medical expenses. Anything we don't spend stays in the account and accumulates.

We have become true consumers of medical services. We ask how much procedures cost, and we shop in much the same way we'd shop for any similar consumer good.

I'd like to see a universal health care plan that turned people into consumers. I know that any single payer system or any other system that perpetuates the price illusion is destined for expensive failure.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Snow day

You know that Portland is small time when it allows a minor snowstorm to completely paralyze the transportation system for days.

The city refuses to use salt on the roads. Instead, they throw down gravel, which not only does nothing to melt the snow, but when the snow finally does melt, it puts dents in your car body and chips in your windshield.

The Mayor tells us to stay home, the schools close, businesses lose money and goods and services can't move around the region.

What is the cost? Does anybody care? The financial impact of a single day of a crippled transportation system is immense, but leaders in this town act as if we are a charming hamblet in central Iowa in the 1850's. "Just stay home," they tell us.

Stay home? Tell that to the drywall contractor. Or the IT consultant. Or the electrician, or the nurse.

I lived in Chicago for a decade. When it snows they put salt on the roads, and the plows get busy. It takes a lot of snow to slow that place down.

Sure, it wouldn't make sense for Portland to have Chicago's level of snow preparedness, since it snows only once or twice a year. But would it be too much to ask to ptu salt down instead of gravel? Or for snow plows to hit the major roads?

I guess allowing snow to cripple the roads is just another strategy in the war on the car.

Of course they learned the wrong lesson

Editorial in the Oregonian today about a dragon sculpture in Chinatown, paid for with $20,000 in public funds. It seems that a bunch of folks in the Chinese community find the sculpture culturally offensive.

They think the scultpure "demeans" the dragon, because it appears to be being choked by a metal collar, and there is an upside down wok somewhere on it.

The "Regional Arts and Culture Council" commissioned the work, and they did all the usual design review before approving it, so they are pretty surprised by the uproar.

The the lesson is obvious, says the Oregonian. They need more Chinese Americans involved in the design.


No, the lesson is that Government should not fund art. If the Chinese American community wants to put a sculpture of a dragon in Chinatown, be my guest. But government has no business funding art.

Friday, January 12, 2007

That can't be a right!

Ben Westlund explains in the pages of the Sisters Nuggett what prompted him to become a Democrat. He read the platform of the Democrat party, and when he got to the part that read:

'The Democratic Party of Oregon believes access to effective, affordable
healthcare is a fundamental human right,"
That was all he needed to know. He agreed, and so he became a Democrat.
Both Westlund and the Democrat party make a fundamental error here. Our republic is founded on the notion of individual rights. The framers, heavily influenced by the writings of John Locke, knew what rights are: rights are things that the government cannot take from you. Speech, property, liberty. Given to us by our creator, they cannot be taken away by government, and it is the government's primary function to protect them.
Democrats apparently reject the notion of rights that our republic was founded upon. They apparently believe that rights are things the government MUST do FOR you.
This is far more than a little semantic difference. It is fundamental to the central question that divides the individualist philosophy from the collectivist philosophy: what is the appropriate role of government?
If a right is something the government must give you, then that inherently means that the government must take it from someone else. If people have a "right" to health care, then of course we cannot limit the amount of care they get, and therefore there is no limit on how much the government can take from others to pay for it.
In the collectivist world view, rights do not reside with the individual, but rather, with the "collective." If society needs the fruits of your labor for the benefit of the group, then you must give it up. It is your duty to subvert your individual well-being for the well-being of others.
In other words, you must live for others. There is a word for people who are forced to live for others....

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Should home schoolers be accountable to the government?

The Portland Tribune ran a long article on home schooling this week. One of the questions discussed was whether home school parents should have to prove to the government that their kids are learning.

While home-schoolers are enjoying their autonomy, one of the
biggest fights at the moment is over accountability. Many public-school advocates, including Caruthers, of the Oregon Education Association, say home-schoolers must be held to the same standards as public-school students.

If not, home schooling “could lead to kids being miseducated, uneducated,” said Peter Cookson, dean of the Lewis & Clark
College Graduate School of Education and Counseling and a national expert and author on school-choice issues. “Kids deserved to be protected at that level,” he said. “It seems to me to be a safeguard.”

To that end, Cookson said, he thinks home-schooling parents
ought to make some sort of presentation to the school district on what type of curriculum they are providing.

Over at former schoolteacher Terry Olsen's blog, he agrees:

But on the other hand, if public schools must be held "accountable" with test scores, why not home schools? The state has a legitimate interest in demanding that school-aged children be provided an education sufficient to make them functioning members of a civil society. That's why we have compulsory education laws and truant officers (or at least we did.) Are we supposed to accept a parent's word that the children they keep at home are actually learning something of value as opposed to, say, merely being locked safely away in some back room?

This is a pretty common viewpoint in public school establishment circles, but I couldn't disagree with it more. This idea completely misunderstands the concept of accountability.

The government should be accountable to the people, not the other way around. Our public schools are government entities - paid for through tax dollars. They should be accountable for using those dollars effectively.

Individuals are NOT accountable to the government. The notion that individuals should be required to go in front of some form of government tribunal and justify their actions in the absence of some sort of criminal or civil complaint is really quite scary.

Oddly enough, both Caruthers and Olsen also misconstrue how the public schools are held accountable. What happens to a public school if 30% or 40% of their kids fail to meet standard? Nothing. Some accountability.

One wonders what these folks would like to happen to home school parents if the state or the school board decided they weren't teaching their kids the right things. Force them to attend public school?

It is a reasonable sounding argument, I suppose, that home schoolers should be held accountable becuase society has an interest in making sure every child gets an education. But it is specious.

Doesn't society also have an interest in making sure every child is well fed? Absolutely! So are parents supposed to appear in front of the government nutrition board and justify their family eating habits? Of course not.

It's ironic that the people who share this view are generally also the people who are quick to protest supposed civil liberty violations in our war on terror. I guess all civil liberties are not created equal.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

One of the best global warming articles I have read

This is a long article on global warming, but it is very even handed and well worth plowing through. The author is a journalist who has written a bunch of books. He writes for a publication called "What We Now Know" put out by an outfit called Casey Research.

The article is a very convincing and well written summary of the current state of the global warming debate. Sorry for any formatting errors. It didn't paste in very well.

Climate Change Revisited, By Doug Hornig

In March 2004, we ran an article on a Pentagon-commissioned study on the possibility of abrupt and drastic climate change, such as happened 12,000 years ago when, according to estimates, the average global temperature rose by seven degrees in only twenty years and put a decisive end to the most recent ice age.

The result of the study, a brief paper titled, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, pushed certain computer models to their extreme, at which a sudden rise in global temperature results in a shutting down of the Gulf Stream and, counterintuitively, colder conditions for much of the planet.

That, of course, is just one projection among many. Other researchers have modeled quite different futures, with conditions both more and less dire.

In the past two and a half years, the debate over global warming, its potential effects, and (especially) the human role in bringing it about, has only intensified--with Al Gore's widely seen movie, An Inconvenient Truth,and his packed public lectures leading the way. Thus this seemed like an opportune time for us to revisit the topic.

The central question, it would seem, has been answered. Are we in a period of global warming?

Yes, sort of.

As always, the devil is in the details. While much has been made of record-breaking thermometer readings and "unprecedented" heat waves, the average global temperature has risen by just 1°F in the past hundred years. If this doesn't seem like much, well, it isn't and, moreover, it has been unevenly distributed: temperatures rose from 1920-1940, decreased for the next thirty years, increased again until the mid-1990s, and have been nearly flat since 1998.
This is not the result one would expect if human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, which have constantly increased, inevitably caused temperatures to rise. But such fluctuations--and even more dramatic ones--are not only commonplace, they are inevitable, given a dynamic feedback system like that which exists between the Earth and Sun. There is even one current theory that posits super-cycles, within which the average global temperature varies between 120°F and minus 50. It's a wonder that life has endured at all.

How then should we address the coming 21st-century climate change (something that will surely happen), and the proposition that it will primarily be driven by man who, many claim, is creating a massive greenhouse effect through the burning of fossil fuels?

There are many aspects to this but, to begin at the beginning, Al Gore and others, including most of the media, have been telling us there now exists a"consensus" viewpoint on man-made (anthropogenic) global warming (or AGW). For purposes of economy, let's call them the alarmist faction. Furthermore,we're told that the faction questioning the majority view--we'll call them the skeptics--consists of only a tiny handful of shills for the oil industry.

Not so.

Take the famous "hockey stick," for example. This is a graph that is routinely trotted out by the alarmists, and plays a large role in Gore's film. It purports to show that global temperature was flat for most of the past millennium, before suddenly and ferociously spiking upward during the20th century, thereby creating the business end of the hockey stick. I.e.,AGW is out of control.

The graph was created by Dr. Michael Mann, then a climatologist at the University of Massachusetts, in a 1999 paper, and it was immediately and rather uncritically accepted.

One problem with Mann's and others' attempts to pin down global temps is that the thermometer wasn't invented until the early 18th century. For data before that point, we have to rely on reconstructions based on inferences from historical records, and climate proxy indicators, such as tree rings (upon which Mann heavily relied), corals, lake sediments and ice core samples. And even there, most of the work has been done in, and on, the Northern Hemisphere, since that's where most of the people are; we know little about what may have been going on to our south.

(Recent satellite tropospheric temperature data from NASA indicate that theSouthern Hemisphere hasn't heated up at all in the past 25 years; perhaps we should be discussing "north hemispheric" rather than "global" warming.)

Now, granted that research scientists' methodologies have become increasingly sophisticated over the years, and high-speed computers haveenabled the concatenation of huge amounts of data from many different sources. Many climatologists feel confident of their inferences about a given historical period. Nevertheless, it's wise to keep in mind that there are disagreements, that all estimates are subject to considerable margins oferror, and that anyone who purports to "know" for certain exactly how hot or cold it was in 1066 is being disingenuous, at best.

So what are we to make of Mann's graph, in which actual thermometer-recorded temperatures for the past 150 years are casually grafted onto many more centuries of tree ring records? That's a bit like gluing an apple to anorange and calling it a new type of fruit. It's sloppy science.

Even if we completely accept the inferred temperatures scientists have givenus--and even if we ignore the large margin of error Mann built into hisoriginal graph and which his disciples never bother to reproduce--there still emerges a very major problem with the hockey stick: the graph shouldn't be flat between 1000 and 1900. During those nine hundred years there were some very substantial fluctuations. Most notable are the Medieval Warm Period that began abruptly around 1000 and peaked somewhat above today's conditions around 1250 (thereby allowing the Vikings to establish farms in Greenland); and the Little Ice Age of the 15th-18th centuries, whenit averaged a degree and a half colder.

The hockey stick simply ignores these periods, making them instead roughly flat, an alteration that geophysicist David Deming, of the University ofOklahoma, calls deliberate. He cites a colleague who, hoping to stir upalarmist sentiment over global warming, once wrote him that, "We have to get rid of the Medieval Warming Period."

They did. If you leave it in, along with the Little Ice Age, then the graph no longer looks like a hockey stick, but more like a snake slithering alongthe ground. We are at one of the peaks of warmth, but there was another a thousand years ago, along with a really frigid trough four centuries back. With this perspective, as Dr. Deming writes, "late-twentieth-century temperatures are not anomalous or unusually warm."

Dr. Deming's opinion was borne out by a June 2006 publication from the National Academy of Sciences, titled Surface Temperature Reconstructions forthe Last 2000 Years. In it, the NAS slammed Mann's ignoring of the major hot and cold periods. Additionally, it said that "substantial uncertainties"surround the notion that the last half of the twentieth century was the warmest of the millennium and that, while the uncertainty increases thefarther back in time one goes, "not all individual proxy records indicate that the recent warmth is unprecedented [...] Even less confidence can beplaced in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that the 1990's arelikely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least amillennium ..."

Commenting on the NAS study, the U.S. Senate's leading skeptic, James Inhofe(R-OK), said in a September 2006 floor speech, "This report shows that theplanet warmed for about 200 years prior to the industrial age, when we were coming out of the depths of the Little Ice Age [...] Trying to prove man-made global warming by comparing the well-known fact that today's temperatures are warmer than during the Little Ice Age is akin to comparing summer to winter to show a catastrophic temperature trend."

Furthermore, the line at the end of the graph has suddenly gone flat. "There is a problem with global warming," says paleoclimatologist Bob Carter ofAustralia's James Cook University, "it stopped in 1998." Despite all the excess CO2 our SUVs have been pumping into the atmosphere, Carter says,"official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK [show that] the global average temperature did not increase between 1998-2005."

All in all, that is one broken hockey stick.

But isn't there still a "consensus" about global warming? Didn't most of the world's nations agree on that at Kyoto?

Well, consider a letter written to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper inApril of 2006, in an effort to get the government there to review actual climate change evidence before implementing provisions of the KyotoProtocol.

The letter leads off by saying: "As accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines, we are writing to propose that balanced, comprehensive public-consultation sessions be held so as to examine the scientific foundation of the federal government's climate-change plans [...]

"Observational evidence," it continues, "does not support today's computer climate models [...] While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policy. The study of global climate change is [...]an 'emerging science,' one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded that it was not necessary [...]

"When the public comes to understand that there is no 'consensus' among climate scientists about the relative importance of the various causes ofglobal climate change, the government will be in a far better position to develop plans that reflect reality..."

After all, the authors say in conclusion, "It was only 30 years ago that many of today's global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe. But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it doesnot fit with predetermined political agendas."

Who signed this letter? 61 of the world's most prominent experts in thefields of Earth science, climatology, meteorology, geophysics, math and economics. Without them, the "consensus" is thin indeed.

Another consensus-buster came in the form of a reexamination of a study byUCSD social scientist Naomi Oreskes, published in Science, claiming that areview of abstracts of scientific papers on climate showed a 100% agreement that global warming is not the result of natural variations. Oreskes' study was featured in An Inconvenient Truth.

Unfortunately for Oreskes and Gore, Dr. Benny Peiser, a British social scientist, took a close look at the study and found that Oreskes had referenced only 928 out of nearly 12,000 available papers on the subject.Even among those 928, Peiser found that only 2% wholly endorsed the view that human activity is driving global warming, and several of the studies actually opposed that conclusion.

Another striking image that many will remember from An Inconvenient Truth is of huge chunks of glacial ice breaking off from Antarctica and floating away, presented as "evidence" that the polar continent is warming.

Actually, no. This is what glaciers do when they're growing. "The breaking glacial wall is a normally occurring phenomenon which is due to the normal advance of a glacier," says Dr. Boris Winterhalter, a professor of marine geology at the University of Helsinki. "In Antarctica, the temperature is low enough to prohibit melting of the ice front, so if the ice is grounded,it has to break off in beautiful ice cascades."

Some sections of Antarctica are warming, true enough. But others are cooling, with variations "probably because of a small change in the position of the low pressure systems," says Dr. Wibjörn Karlén, a professor emeritus of geology at Stockholm University. Overall, Karlén says, the "mass balance"of Antarctica is positive--more ice is building up than melting off.

That's what's happening at the bottom of the world. What about at the top?Well, the Arctic was warmer in the 1930s than it is now. It cooled significantly in the '60s. It warmed until the early '80s, then cooled again through the mid-'90s. After a sudden 30% drop in ice thickness in the Canadian Arctic between 1996-1998, it has been rebuilding and is now near"normal" levels, whatever that means.

A 2003 paper by Igor Polyakov of the University of Alaska found no overall Arctic temperature rise since 1940. In fact, "For several published records,it is a decrease for the last 50 years," Karlén says.

Similarly, scare stories about the melting of Greenland's glaciers and the resulting rise of sea levels are premature. In October 2005, a study ofGreenland ice was published by researchers from Bergen University's Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC). The researchers analyzed "a continuous satellite-altimeter height record of Greenland Ice Sheet [...]elevation changes over an 11-year period, 1992-2003."

The NERSC team found that "below 1500 meters, the elevation-change rate is minus 2.0 ± 0.9 cm/year, in qualitative agreement with reported thinning in the ice-sheet margins" (i.e., the alarmists are correct that glaciers are melting along the coast). However, "an increase of 6.4 ± 0.2 cm/year is found in the vast interior areas above 1500 meters." Averaged over the bulk of the ice sheet, the net result is a mean increase of about 5.4 cm/year. In plain terms, the Greenland ice is expanding, not contracting.

Alpine glaciers? Says Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science atMIT, "Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the early 19th century [i.e. before the Industrial Revolution], and were advancing for several centuries before that. Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are now advancing again. And, frankly, we don't know why."

There has also been steadily accumulating, supporting evidence that temperatures today bear about the same relationship to the millennial meanas did those in the Medieval Warm Period, to the upside, and the Little IceAge, to the downside.

Researchers using proxies other than tree rings have fashioned a climate picture that is remarkably coherent, no matter where on the globe they look. To take one example, in 1996 Lloyd Keigwin, Senior Scientist of Geology and Geophysics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, published a3,000-year reconstruction of sea temperatures in the Sargasso Sea, using radiocarbon dating correlated with marine organism populations found in seabed sediments.

Keigwin's data clearly delineate the Medieval Warm Period (sea temps betterthan two degrees above the mean) and the Little Ice Age (more than twodegrees below it), as well as spikes as high as four degrees above the meanin the first millennium B.C. Today, the Sargasso is right at the mean.

Other proxy studies have involved the study of coral off of Puerto Rico; ofKenyan and Taiwanese lake bed sediments; of oxygen-18 isotopes from icecores in the Peruvian Andes and from South African stalagmites; and much more. In all of these studies, our era stands near the mid-point oftemperature extremes between the Little Ice Age and the Medieval WarmPeriod.

Yet alarmists continue to proclaim that AGW is out of control.

One of the smoking guns they use is a 1996 report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC's website explains that it "does not carry out research nor does it monitor climate related data or other relevant parameters. It bases its assessment mainly on peer reviewed and published scientific/technical literature." The panel is composed of representatives appointed by governments and organizations.Participation of delegates with appropriate expertise is "encouraged."

In '96 these experts concluded that, "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate," and set the basis for Kyoto.

However, Dr. Dick Morgan, a climatology researcher at England's ExeterUniversity, notes that the globe is anything but uniform. Along with the warming parts, he says, there are massive areas that are cooling, includingthe NW Atlantic, North and South Pacific Ocean, the Amazon valley, north coast of South America and the Caribbean, the eastern Mediterranean, BlackSea, Caucasus and Red Sea, New Zealand, and the Ganges Valley in India.

Furthermore, Morgan questions the IPCC's methodology. "Had the IPCC used the standard parameter for climate change (the 30-year average) and used an equal area projection, instead of the Mercator (which doubled the area of warming in Alaska, Siberia and the Antarctic Ocean), warming and cooling would have been almost in balance."

And while we're on the subject of methodology, one further note. The alarmists' dire scenarios are based on computer models of the planet's future, and models are always iffy, to say the least. They depend on what data is put in and how that data is massaged. With regard to weather and climate, they're often way wrong. Remember the ultra-violent hurricane season computers warned about for the summer of 2006? Didn't happen. But no doubt, after the savage storms of 2005, big hurricane seasons will continueto be predicted. Any of us can do that, with or without a super-computer and, eventually, the laws of probability will make sages of us.

Are the alarmists right about anything, then? Yes. For example, sea levels are rising. But then, they have been since the peak of the last Ice Age,18,000 years ago. They've risen some 400 feet in the interim. "In recentmillennia," writes S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist and professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia, "the rate has been 18 cm (7 inches) per century--and there is good argument for this rate to continue until the next ice age. Tidal gauges show no acceleration during the 20th century but only a steady rise [...] Evidently, the rise expected from melting glaciers and a warmer, expanding ocean is largely offset by loss of water from increased ocean evaporation and more ice accumulation on the Antarctic continent."

It is also true that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing, from about 280 parts per million in the 19th century to some 387 ppm today, and that humans are primarily responsible for this. That's about a 38% jump in100+ years, something the alarmists find, well, alarming.

It's not, Professor Lindzen maintains, writing that, "carbon dioxide is aninfrared absorber (i.e. a greenhouse gas--albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute to warming. Indeed, if all else were kept equal, the increase in carbon dioxide should have led to somewhat more warming than has been observed, assuming that the small observedincrease was in fact due to increasing carbon dioxide rather than a natural fluctuation in the climate system."

Not to mention that the relationship between CO2 levels and temperature is far from clear. There is an intricate interplay between release of the gas by humans and natural sources, and uptake by the ocean, plants and soil.Given the dynamism of the process, it is a bit surprising that atmospheric carbon dioxide has remained as stable as it has for the past millennium,before spiking up, in hockey stick fashion, only recently.

Will the upward curve continue indefinitely, as alarmists fear? Or will someother element of the system change, bringing CO2 levels down again? No one knows. What is known is that there have been more significant surface temperature changes during the past thousand years than we are experiencingtoday, and that CO2 levels were not a factor.

What was the deciding factor, then? Again, no one can say, except that itwas probably a combination of ingredients.

The most important of these is the amount of solar radiation that isreceived on the Earth's surface. Everyone agrees that greenhouse gases likecarbon dioxide (and, much more importantly, water vapor) can serve to trap the sun's heat and raise surface temperatures. But it's a feedback system, depending not only on greenhouse gas levels, but on how much heat there is to trap, and that varies for a number of reasons.

For one, the sun itself goes through periods of greater and lesser radiation, with the presence or absence of sunspots being a good indicator.Sunspots are cyclical. So is the variation in the shape of the Earth's orbit; when it's at its most elliptical, it receives about 20% less radiation than when it's at its least elliptical, a state it's now approaching. Also of influence are the regular changes in the tilt of theEarth's axis and the effects of planetary wobbling on that axis.

Finally, there's one other question that's seldom posed: what are the benefits of global warming? Now, we're not talking about it becoming so hotthat the Earth becomes a skillet and we the bacon. But no model foresees that.

Some will be negatively impacted, but that's true of any change, man-made ornatural. On the other hand, warmer temperatures mean later frosts and longer growing seasons. Crops could be raised where they cannot today. Ocean evaporation would rise, increasing the global supply of fresh water. Farmers could repopulate Greenland.

To us, that doesn't sound bad. What sounds much worse is that we may have the enormous good fortune to inhabit one of the most benign climatic eras ever, and that ice ages will continue to alternate with interglacials like the present. The giant glaciers tend to grow and recede on a 12,000-yearcycle, which means they're about due to return again. When and if they do,they'll override our land, flatten our proud skyscrapers, and relentlessly drive humanity into ever more densely populated southern latitudes. Those already living there are not likely to open welcoming arms.

It isn't a pretty picture. Trapping a bit more of the sun's heat looks likea very viable alternative.

To sum up, in the spirit of full disclosure we cheerfully confess that weare not physicists, or climatologists, or any other kind of authority on the subject of global warming. We don't have a clue what's up for 2007, muchless the coming century--best guess based on the evidence we've reviewed: continued moderate warming, due in some part to human activity--and we rather suspect no one else does, either. All we did was look into the debate, and we hope that we've brought to our readers' attention the fact that there is a debate, that the absolute "consensus" you hear about is amyth.

The consensus tale has been placed in the hands of some very potent mythmakers, including prominent scientists, politicians, and most members of the media. We don't believe that all of them have been deliberately lying to us, although some have.

We do believe that the debate should be taking place out in the open, with both sides presenting evidence, rather than engaging in name calling. We also believe the mass media should do a better job of framing the debate,but we doubt that they will. Fear sells, and the absence of fear is a non-starter. It's just that simple. The media has glommed onto the alarmists' point of view, because it is apocalyptic and generates better headlines. The skeptics get short shrift.

Alarmist and skeptic alike, though, agree on one thing: The sun willeventually burn itself out, leaving Earth as a cold, lifeless rock. Now that's global climate change.

Trust him, it will work this time!

Hugo Chavez is taking Venezuela trippingly down the well-paved path to socialism.

The path is paved, of course, with the murdered souls of millions of poor suckers who had the bad fortune to live in countries where their leaders decided that they knew how to make this inherently flawed model work.

Chavez announced he is nationalizing the telecom and the electric industries, and that Venezuela is "heading toward socialism and nothing can stop it." He also has his eyes on his nation's oil companies, and will soon ask his national assembly to expand his powers to legislate by Presidential decree.

Sound vaguely familiar?

Being a socialist means never having to own up to the fact that everywhere it has ever been tried, it has been a dismal failure (at least if your definition of success is increasing the well being of your people.) Usually, though, leaders like Chavez care not a whit about their countrymen. They care about their own power.

Socialism, it turns out, is a horrible system for creating a functional society, but it is a fabulous model for consolidating power in the hands of a thuggish dictator.

Socialism's track record doesn't ever seem to give pause to the many Marxists being churned out by our higher education system. Just walk through the pristine Reed College campus and you'll see them. Pampered, privileged, and oh-so-sure that their utopian vision can be realized if only people were smart enough to put them in charge.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Minimum wage is a racist policy

My Aunt Terry used to live in San Jose. She is a very savvy, experienced political operative, very involved in the political scene in California. She ran the district office for a congressman, and once ran for San Jose City Council.

About the time she ran, San Jose had established a minimum wage of something around $11.00 an hour. "That will keep the riff-raff out of San Jose," I told her once. She just gave me a dirty look. I think she probably understood what I meant.

Here's what I was driving at: Let's say you are starting a business, and the minimum wage is $10 an hour. You look at all the applications from people who want jobs. Since you have to pay $20,000 a year, you have to be selective. You'll only offer a job to those people whose skills will produce at least $20K in value to you. (Actually, because you have to pay all sorts of other payroll costs associated with each employee, the number is more like $25K.)

Anybody whose skills aren't worth $20K, you simply won't hire. The fact of the matter is the state, by making the minimum wage $10 an hour, has made it illegal for low skilled people to sell their labor for what it is worth in the marketplace.

Now, what is the best way to acquire job skills? The best job skills training is a job. But if we make it illegal for low skilled people to sell their labor for its value, they will never get on the ladder of increasing their skills, and commanding higher wages. In effect, the state cuts off the first few rungs of the economic ladder.

Who gets hurt? It doesn't hurt those whose skills are above the minimum wage value, only those below it. In our society, sadly, because of the state of the schools in the poor (and often minority) neighborhoods is so bad, black teenagers are far more likely to emerge from the school system with a skill level below that of the minimum wage.

Therefore, Oregon's high minimum wage is profoundly anti-black. It disproportionately creates unemployment among black teenagers. It prevents them from selling their labor at its value, and keeps them off the job skill ladder that they could start climbing if the do-gooders who push for high minimum wage laws actually understood economics.

On second thought, I think a lot of the folks who push for high minimum wages know precisely the effects of the policy, but they don't care. Labor unions are concerned mostly with increasing the pay and benefits for their members. They have a vested interest in making sure that low income people do not have access to the labor market, because restricting the supply of labor is a sure way to drive wages up.

So, labor unions are fine with policies that ensure America's black youth are consigned to a permanent underclass, because they don't pay their union dues. And your run-of-the-mill liberal who thinks minimum wage laws help people - well, they are just well meaning dupes.

Overhaul Measure 37 - because it is working!

There's an op-ed piece in the Oregonian today by Zoe Bradbury of "Ecotrust," which is described as an environmental advocacy group. She says it is time to "overhaul" Measure 37.

The problem? Big corporate landowners filed Measure 37 claims before the deadline so they have the option to develop their land.

Plum Creek Timber is Zoe's villian. They filed 100 claims to develop 32,000 acres at the coast. For young Zoe, that should be enough to ring "alarm bells" that prove Measure 37 needs revision. Even worse, Zoe worries, Plum Creek Timber, an "out-of-state $1.6 billion corporation, might have found another opportunity to fatten its profit margin."


It's bad enough that Measure 37 might allow to actually build homes and resorts and other recreational facilities on currently dormant land, but they might even make a profit!

In a state as hostile to wealth creation and business activity as Oregon, these are fighting words.

My question: Is Oregon so far gone that most people think developing real estate is bad? I hope not. Thankfully, 60% voted yes on Measure 37, but the land use Nazis are convinced that most of us were duped by a sympathetic Dorothy English, and we'll be up in arms if the result of Measure 37 was to enable large-scale housing and resort development.

I hope they are wrong. I'd love to see more houses at the coast. I'd love to see more world-class resorts such as Bandon Dunes open up on our beautiful coastline. I'd welcome more supply in the housing stock so that you didn't have to have a six figure income just to buy a house.

But then, I don't believe wealth creation is evil. I'm out of step.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Doomslayer - a must read

Have you ever heard of Julian Simon?

He died a few years ago - a great loss to anyone who cares about truth and the environment. Simon made a career out of proving the environmental doomsayers wrong with provable empirical data.

I first heard of him through an article in Wired Magazine back in 1977. The article is as relevant today as it was then - in fact more so, because of the recent near-hysteria of global warming alarmism.

Go read it. I guarantee it will change how you view things.

Becky Johnson - one of a kind

Becky Johnson died this week at the age of 93. She was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. I only wish I had the chance to know her better. As it happened, I never met her in person, but had several extensive phone conversations with her.

One day I was working in my office, and my phone rang. "Rob, this is Becky Johnson," a very firm, but clearly elderly voice informed me. She explained that she was a trustee at Lewis & Clark College, and she wanted to talk to me about my recent column in BrainstormNW Magazine in which I took to task the dean of Lewis & Clark's graduate school of education.

I first thought "Uh-oh, she's gunna let me have it," but she went on to explain that she had been complaining for years about precisely the same thing I wrote about. She had already taken my column, copied it, and distributed it to the other trustees and the management of the college.

We were on the phone for at least an hour and a half in that first conversation. We talked about education, the environment, local politics, the legislature and a bunch of other topics. It was incredible how much she knew about what was going on and how clear her thinking was - but what intrigued me most was the combination of her extensive knowledge coupled with her 90+ years of experience. It gave her a perspective on things more sophisticated than I can relate.

She was clearly a highly intelligent woman, and was blessed with a huge surplus of common sense. Her mind was incredibly sharp, even in her 90's.

Becky is the mother of State Senator Betsy Johnson, and it is easy to see where Betsy's common sense came from.

The world needs more Becky Johnsons. I wish I knew her better, but I am thankful for the time I did have to get to know her.

All day kindergarten, lower class size or fully fund Head Start?

There's a tussle afoot over how to spend some of the new K-12 money in the governor's budget.

State Superintendent Susan Castillo wants to fund all-day kindergarten, whereas currently the state only provides funds for half days. The governor wants to make Head Start available for every child who qualifies, whereas now about 60% of the qualified kids have spots in Head Start programs. And Project Chalkboard wants to decrease class sizes in kindergarten and first grade classrooms to 15 students per class, whereas now the number (on average - it varies widely) is about 21 students per class.

Each, of course, comes with its own price tag. So what is the best use of tax dollars? Available research barely clarifies things.

The effects of Head Start programs have been studied time and again. The convergence of the research would suggest that kids in HS programs do indeed enter school with an advantage over their peers, but that advantage disappears after about grade three. The best summary of the research I have found was in Abigail Thernstrom's "No Excuses - Eliminating the Achievement Gap in Education."

There is simply not much good research on the benefits of all day kindergarten.

Class size, like Head Start, has been studied time and again. The quick bottom line: lowering class size has very little effect except at the early elementary level, and then only if the class size is reduced to the 14-15 students per class, where a small but statistically significant gain in achievement made.

So given these three choices, what is the best direction? I'll give a thumbnail analysis that handicaps each:

Head Start: The fact that gains from Head Start participation disappears after a few years is probably less a knock on Head Start programs than it is the schools that Head Start students tend to attend after leaving Head Start. By definition, Head Start is primarily in low income areas where the elementary schools are far more likely to be bad. It could very well be the case that Head Start is generally doing its job very effectively, only to have the elementary schools screwing it up. But if that is the case, wouldn't our efforts and money be better spent reforming the elementary schools, rather than spending more on Head Start?

All-day kindergarten: This is very popular with parents, because they get a longer break from their little darlings each day. But the educational benefits are suspect at best. The fact is, our kindergartens are mostly play-schools, as currently structured. For the most part, not much in the way of academics is taught in kindergarten. They tend to focus on "readiness" activities.

In the Arthur Academies that I help start, we do indeed have academic kindergartens where we focus on phonics and basic math. Would a full day make us more effective? No - five year olds simply are not equipped to have all-day academics. If the state funded all day kindergarten, we wouldn't probably increase the academic component of our kindergartens at all. (Oh, by the way, our kindergartners are off-the-charts in academic achievement, which calls the question: if we can do that in a half day, why would a full day be required?)

Class size reduction: Class size reduction is the "minimum wage" of education. That is, it is terrific politics, and horrible policy. Like a call for an increase in minimum wage, no politician ever was criticized for calling for smaller class sizes. It sounds compassionate, it threatens no-one, and both parents and the education establishment love it. But it is lousy policy.

As I said, the research shows a discernible increase in achievement only when class size is below 15 students. Project Chalkboard at least should be given credit in that they are calling for reducing the size to that level. But the question is whether this is the best way to get that level of achievement increase - and the answer is emphatically NO. As researcher Eric Hanushek (who did most of his class size research while at the University of Rochester) showed, class size reduction is perhaps the least efficient way to increase achievement. Dollar for dollar, there are far better ways.

The problem is that class size initiatives require hiring a lot of teachers, the quality of which are suspect. Then, there is the problem of facilities. Nobody ever prices in the cost of classrooms when suggesting lower class sizes - they always just calculate the personnel cost.

A seat in an Oregon elementary school these days requires a capital investment of roughly $20,000. Reducing kindergarten and first grade class sizes by a third means about 30,000 new seats - that would cost $600+ million to build anew. Of course, some districts have excess capacity, such as Portland, so they wouldn't have to build. But nearly every other Portland metro area school district already has a shortage of classrooms. Mandating lower class sizes would force them to pass new bonds to build more classrooms - and this cost has not been part of the discussion initiated by Chalkboard.

So, what is the best choice? Frankly, none of them would be on my list of the best ways to improve educational outcomes. We'd get far better early elementary results simply by using effective teaching practices in our elementary schools, such as we do in the Arthur Academies.

But given the three choices, I'd say that the Head Start is the best option. At least it's targeted to the kids who are most in need - and most likely to fail. And it has the added benefit of keeping the dollars out of the education establishment and the teachers union!

This, of course, is the reason why the Head Start option will probably lose. The unions will get their way, and from their perspective, they like both lower class sizes AND all day kindergarten, because they both result in more dues paying members.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Another New Year, another "Business Summit"

I took a couple weeks off at the end of the year, but I'm back to it now. A few things have piled up. First, the recent issue:

Oregon Leadership Summit: Every year, Oregon's pretend business groups (there are three: Oregon Business Council, Oregon Business Alliance, and the Portland Business Association) put on the Oregon Business Summit, where they create a bunch of plans for government programs and call it the "Oregon Business Plan."

Only in Oregon would the business establishment actually go along with this stuff. This year the Summit has on its agenda: 1) More money for K-12; 2) Universal health care; 3) How to "fix" Measure 37, and 4) sustainability.

That's it. All of it is public sector stuff, sold under the guise of a business plan, and validated by the collaborators - the Portland business establishment.

Sustainability will be the overriding theme. From what I hear, all the presentations were to focus on different ways businesses have found to incorporate green/sustainable practices into their operations.

The Oregonian, of course, is all agog about it. They wrote the most nonsensical editorial today talking about how sustainability is Oregon's big competitive advantage, and how much money is to be made by Oregon being a global leader in sustainable business practices. They write:

"The state's top business and government leaders will rally around a new economic strategy of building on and selling Oregon's history and expertise in sustainability."

After all, says the Oregonian, Oregon has already laid the groundwork for this new economic strategy with our: "forest practices rules, land-use planning, solid waste recycling, wetlands protection, greenspace investment, support for light rail and bicycle transportation."


So now they are calling these anti-business policies an ecomomic strategy? Forest practice rules that basically euthanized our timber industry? Land use planning that has made Oregon a totally non-competitive state to do business in and has driven up housing costs so far that few middle class families can afford a home? Solid waste recycling madates that waste tremendous resources by forcing the use of more costly recycled materials rather than the plentiful raw materials? Wetlands and greenspace "protection" that force on private property owners the costs of preserving land that supposedly benefits the public? The proven failure of light rail, which has diverted billions away from road capacity improvements and created the fastest increasing congestion in the U.S.?

In the Oregonians' mind, these are all huge opportunities to export our expertise to other states. The world is lining up at our door for us to teach them how we did it, how we achieved the status of near the top in unemployment over the last six years.

And our pathetic business community goes along with it. More later.