Are We All Incapable of Doing Anything For Ourselves Any More?
Apparently for some reason having to do with screw-ups and protests in contracting, the State of Arizona is not going to publish a Visitor's Guide.
I run a decent-sized business in Arizona, and have never paid much attention to these guides. Every state and city and town and county and school district seems to put out some kind of visitors guide, and I could go bankrupt paying for ads in all the ones who hit me with marketing calls. Customers have a jillion ways to find out about our business, either from Internet searches or private guidebooks and directories. Heck, when I travel, I usually hit places like TripAdvisor and then run down to Borders to pick up whatever Fodor's guide covers my destination. I have never even thought about calling the government and asking them to send me a visitors guide, but perhaps some of y'all have.
Anyway, what do I know? I am just a little small business trying to run a few campgrounds. Just because I can handle my own marketing needs doesn't mean that billion dollar multinational hotel chains are capable of doing so without the government:
Pathetic. It is interesting to see that, for every 20-something anxiously awaiting the government's takeover of healthcare because they are really bummed about all the work it takes to find the right health care plan, there is a corporation waiting for the US govenrment to do its work for them.
My wife and I went to see the opening of Dale Chihuly's new exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Chihuly is, if not the leading, certainly the most famous modern glass artist (he is perhaps best known for the lobby at the Bellagio, though this is far from my favorite work). He has done garden exhibits before, but the shapes and colors were perfect for the desert landscape.
I don't have pictures yet from Arizona (we saw the exhibit at night), but here are some examples of his work:
And from a garden show in New York:
Information on the exhibit is here. Highly recommended for anyone visiting Phoenix this winter. I think one of the reasons my wife and I like his work is that his work is in some way reminiscent of the handbags she designs.
Throw All The Speculators in Jail! Tax Their Windfall Profits!
Tax their windfall profits! Throw the speculators in jail! Oh, wait. That would be all of us Arizona homeowners. Never mind, then. This is entirely different from oil, because, um, well, it just is.
Just Missed Out on that Coveted Darwin Award
A 27-year-old Avondale man has been arrested on suspicion of causing a massive power outage last summer in Goodyear's Estrella community.
The outage knocked out power to nearly 4,000 homes for 19 hours June 18, 2007, when Goodyear's high reached 115 degrees....
According to police, officers arrested the suspect on a tip from the public. He reportedly told investigators he cut down the pole because he enjoyed the sparks it made.
Because China is Sheriff Joe's Role Modle
Frequent readers will know that I have little love for our self-aggrandizing, civil rights violating Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A recent Arizona Republic article wrote:
A veteran Republican lawmaker wants to know why a high-level chief for the Maricopa County Sheriff has made recent trips to China.
Because China is Sheriff Joe's role model! It's telling that our sheriff sends his deputies on fact-finding missions to Latin American countries and China to learn new policing techniques. Also, the article gets into some of the increasingly weird dealings in the Sheriff Joe's infatuation with facial recognition software.
Far Be It For Me To Disagree, But...
I love Arizona and the Phoenix area. However, I thought the NY Times listing of Scottsdale as one of the #9 place to visit this summer to be a bit odd. Next up will be the suggestion to visit Buffalo in February. Yes, there are a lot of screaming deals at luxury hotels with great spas, so if want two days of spa treatments and proximity to lots of good restaurants, go for it. But expect to find something like Paris in August (but with better attitudes). You may be here but we'll all be gone, if we can afford it. Typical summer temperatures every day are 108-112F, with occasional excursions higher into territory that is stupid-hot. Yeah, its dry heat, and that is exactly what we tell our turkey every Thanksgiving. And yeah, the wind blows a bit -- feels just like a hair dryer.
I Was Right -- Superbowl Economic Contribution Numbers Completely Bogus
In this post, I called bullsh*t on this economic contribution number:
A study released today by the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee estimates professional football's championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale generated an economic impact of $500.6 million for the state.
I used some quick reality checks to show that the likelihood that this was a truly incremental economic contribution number was zero. Now, Arizona has released its February sales tax numbers (the data I suggested was the best way to try to do this analysis). As I suspected the numbers are not even close. Let's start with this report from the Arizona Republic:
Sales-tax collections at hotels and motels showed the strongest gains among tourism-related businesses as thousands of out-of-town visitors booked rooms for the National Football League's Feb. 3 championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
The Arizona Department of Revenue said February sales-tax collections jumped 12.4 percent at hotels and motels. It was the lodging industry's best showing, as measured by sales-tax collections, since January 2007.
Bars and restaurants also rebounded from two consecutive monthly declines to post a 4 percent gain in tax collections.
Despite the improved showing in those tourism-related categories, the state's overall collections continued a downward trend, punctuated by slumping retail sales and the real-estate industry's decline. Arizona's total tax collections for the month checked in at $444.1 million, a decline of nearly 1.2 percent from the month before.
Well, that sure doesn't sound like $500 millions worth. Let's look at the hotel number. From this Arizona DOR source document (Feb 2008 Tax Facts), the taxable hotel/motel sales in February were about $215 million. A 12.4% jump, if you attributed it all to the Superbowl, would thus be $27 million. Similarly, a 4% jump in restaurant would be $33 million. As I predicted, these don't even add up to $50 million and it is unlikely all of this is due to the Superbowl.
[The above is still substantially correct. What follows is corrected in the update]
But wait, there's more! I then I started looking closer at the February tax report. I don't know what copy the reporter was using [probably one "specially annotated" by the Sports Authority], but my copy shows hotel/motel revenues in Arizona going down by 9% in February 2008 vs. Feb 2007. It shows restaurants and bars going down by 2%. I checked the Feb 2007 report, just to make sure, and sure enough the 2007 numbers were much higher, despite one more day in February in 2008! One can find ZERO incremental impact from the Superbowl. Now these are statewide numbers, and it is possible the author of the article mixed in Maricopa County numbers and that is where the increases were seen. If true, though, this means the dollar increase was much less, because we are using a smaller base (ie just one county, though a very large one). And it means that the County numbers may be misleading, because the Phoenix area just cannibalized sales from the rest of Arizona, which was way down. Either way, it means the $500 million number the Republic keeps pushing is total BS (incredibly, the author reprints the $500 million number in his article, as if it were consistent with the sales tax data he is quoting.)
Update: OK, I was right and wrong. Apparently, when the state of Arizona says "February 2008 Taxable Sales" they mean Taxable sales on reports that they receive in February. Because reports come in after the tax month is closed, by February 2008 taxable sales they actually mean sales that occurred in January, 2008. Many apologies to Arizona Republic writer Ken Alltucker who was kind enough to set me straight. The Arizona DOR report for March 2008 sales, which we now know is actually February 2008 sales, has not been posted online but I am willing to take his word on it. This is not the first time, alas, that I have been fooled by the fact that the government uses cash rather than accrual accounting.
The wasted effort I expended on the February report which is actually January is not wasted: From it, we do know that from studying what is actually the sales for January, the Superbowl had no discernible effect on hotel or restaurant revenues in the weeks leading up to the game, since these numbers were down substantially. I am sure that you will find a few people singing the praises of the Superbowl. I have not doubt that a few exclusive Scottsdale clubs benefited from having a series of celebrity parties during the run-up to the Superbowl, but overall the impact is low for exactly the reason I already stated: Superbowl week, due to the nice weather and the Phoenix Open golf tournament, is already a big one for Phoenix area hotels and restaurants.
The point still stands. I got diverted off on the report discrepancy, but using what I now understand to be correct numbers in the article shows that the ASU B-school study seems to have exaggerated the Superbowl's financial impact by as much as an order of magnitude.
So maybe in the future I will show more respect for reporters who make dumb numerical errors. Or maybe I won't, since I don't get paid to do this nor do I have 2 or 3 layers of editors looking over my shoulder.
Phoenix Lights Return
Apparently, the Phoenix Lights may have returned last night:
Arizona Republic reporter Anne Ryman, who lives in Deer Valley, reported seeing four lights in a square shape that eventually became a triangular shape. The lights were moving to the east and they disappeared one by one. She said the lights were visible for about 13 minutes at about 8 p.m...
Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said that air traffic controllers at Sky Harbor Airport also witnessed the lights, but they do not know the cause.
The incident is similar to the "Phoenix Lights" seen on March 13, 1997. Thousands of residents reported seeing a mile-wide, v-shaped formation of lights over the Valley. In that case the lights appeared about 7:30 p.m. and lasted until 10:30 p.m.
My friend Brink helpfully sent me an email this morning saying, "The UFOnauts are coming. Watch out for anal probes." Always good advice, I guess.
I Told You Arizona Was Conflicted
The state Senate voted 17-11, with two senators not voting, to allow a rock-and-roll theme park proposed between Phoenix and Tucson to issue $750 million in revenue bonds to help build the project....
Revenue bonds are repaid with income from the funded projects. The park would tax visitors to repay the bonds.
To issue the bonds, the developers must come up with $100 million of their own financing.
Oh my god, three quarters of a billion dollars of public financing for a theme park? And we give the theme park operator taxation authority? And the developer has to come up with less than 1/8 the total cost from private sources? Yuk. Just for scale (I know the spending sources are apples and oranges), $750 million is more than 2.5 times the total of the federal earmarks that go to Alaska, the #1 porkbarrel state. So here we are patting ourselves on the back for being Congressional pork-free, and then our state Senate does something like this. Sigh.
This Is What You Like To See: AZ Last in Pork-Barrel Cash
Arizona can be a weird place, politically. Sometimes it can be among the most libertarian, part of the Goldwater legacy, and sometimes it can be absurdly statist, for example in the huge popular support our individual-rights-abusing Sheriff Arpaio enjoys. But this is certainly good to see:
Arizona has some powerful lawmakers in Washington, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
But when it comes to pork-barrel spending, otherwise known as earmarks, the state isn't very powerful. In fact, it ranks last.
That's mostly because three of the state's 10 lawmakers in Washington, McCain and House Republicans Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, refuse to ask for any federal money for local projects. Another Arizona Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl, strictly limits his earmark requests. They all say the earmark process wastes taxpayer money and desperately needs reform. But other Arizona lawmakers counter that their colleagues' stance hurts the state.
rizona, one of the fastest growing states in the nation, will receive $18.70 per capita in federal earmarks this fiscal year. By comparison, Alaska, with roughly a 10th of Arizona's population, is set to receive $506.34 per capita, the highest in the nation, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that tracks earmarks.
Alaska receives about three times as much as Arizona in actual dollars, $346 million to $119 million. That means Arizona gets less money for water projects, bridge repairs, road construction and rural clinics.
Good for us. While I have my problems with McCain, Shadegg and Flake are two of my favorite people in Congress.
The article, since it comes from the Republic, of course fails to really explain the issues well. It tries to get the reader confused into thinking that zero earmarks means zero government spending in the state:
"When you have reformers and purists, you end up not getting a reasonable share of money coming out, which hurts the state," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "When you're holier than thou, you don't get much of the money."
This is, of course, silly. Having no earmarks merely means that the huge amounts of money the Feds spend are doled out by existing statute and by the bureaucracy, rather than the whim of individual Congress persons trying to pay back favors to large donors.
update: see the bad half of AZ here.
The Productive Worker Exodus
Well, Arizona nativists are getting what they wanted: Productive workers who don't happen to have been licensed by the government to work here are leaving in droves (via Disloyal Opposition)
Unable to find jobs, or fearful that their loved ones will be caught and deported, illegal immigrants and their legal friends and relatives are fleeing the state in what the press has dubbed "Hispanic panic." In a state where illegals make up better than 10% of the workforce, the exodus promises to have a major impact. The vacancy rate in Tucson-area apartment complexes favored by illegal immigrants has jumped dramatically since the law went into effect....
Of course, advocates of the sanctions law will say that this is exactly the result they were hoping for; they want Hispanics to flee the state (usually, they'll claim that they just want the illegal ones to leave). But with workers leaving Arizona, taking their rent money, mortgage payments and shopping dollars with them, and with state employers facing rising labor costs -- if they can even find workers -- the economy is likely to take a major hit. In fact, the University of Arizona predicts a $29 billion economic loss if illegal workers are successfully purged from the state (full report here in PDF).
Another Arizona Water Ariticle With No Mention of Price
Well, the Arizona Republic has done it again. It has published yet another first-section front page water article (this makes about 50 in a row) discussing ways to make demand match supply without once discussing price. This time, the reporting centers on a new online water supply and demand simulation model (here) introduced by Arizona State University. With the model, the public gets to play dictator, implementing all kinds of policies and restrictions on individual consumers to see what effect these command and control steps have on water supply and demand. And it is almost anti-climactic when I tell you that price does not enter in any way into the model.
I probably don't have to remind readers that Phoenix has some of the cheapest water in the country, with prices less than half what they are in, say, water-logged Seattle. Don't you think that might have a little to do with why supply and demand don't match?
Let's say there are about a 1000 key raw materials we use in modern society -- oil, natural gas, iron ore, uranium, bauxite, titanium, gold, silver, etc. Of these, how do we match supply and demand? Well, for 999 of the 1000, we use this thingie called the price mechanism. The exception is water. And it is incredible to me that not one but dozens of articles could be written by our newspaper about matching water supply and demand and not one of them could mention price, the mechanism we use to match supply and demand for 99.9% of commodities. Remember when Hillary suggested a while back we need a special academy for government workers? This is what they would teach -- that all problems can only be solved by government command and control. As I wrote before:
In their general pandering and populism, politicians are afraid to raise water prices, fearing the decision would be criticized. So, they keep prices artificially low, knowing that this low price is causing reservoirs and aquifers to be pumped faster than their replacement rate. Then, as the reservoirs go dry, the politicians blame us, the consumers, for being too profligate with water and call for ... wait for it ... more power for themselves, the ones whose spinelessness is the root cause of the problem, to allocate and ration water and development
Arizona: Saving Northerner's Lives Since 1912
New study results, via Tyler Cowen:
We estimate the effect of extreme weather on life expectancy in the US. ... However, the increase in mortality following extreme heat appears entirely driven by temporal displacement, while the increase in mortality following extreme cold is long lasting. The aggregate effect of cold on mortality is quantitatively large. We estimate that the number of annual deaths attributable to cold temperature is 27,940 or 1.3% of total deaths in the US. This effect is even larger in low income areas. Because the U.S. population has been moving from cold Northeastern states to the warmer Southwestern states, our findings have implications for understanding the causes of long-term increases in life expectancy. We calculate that every year, 5,400 deaths are delayed by changes in exposure to cold temperature induced by mobility. These longevity gains associated with long term trends in geographical mobility account for 8%-15% of the total gains in life expectancy experienced by the US population over the past 30 years. Thus mobility is an important but previously overlooked determinant of increased longevity in the United States. We also find that the probability of moving to a state that has fewer days of extreme cold is higher for the age groups that are predicted to benefit more in terms of lower mortality compared to the age groups that are predicted to benefit less.
Your welcome, America.
A Letter From Arizona
How are all those VCR clocks? Got them set back an hour yet?
He's Not My Favorite Son
I am not a big fan of Arizona's John McCain. I beyond my problems with the McCain-Feingold disaster, I have always suspected him of being a big-government populist, willing to intervene on any issue in the boardroom or the bedroom. Matt Welch has taken the time to try to decode McCain, and comes to a similar conclusion.
It was a stunning weekend here in Phoenix. Spent most of it at kid's sporting events, but got a chance to go to the Phoenix zoo and finally visit our new orangutan baby. Got some great pictures with my Nikon D50, including this one that really came out great:
Arizona 9/11 Memorial
I haven't really commented much on the local brouhaha over the Arizona 9/11 Memorial. In short, critics argue the memorial does little to honor the actual victims, and spends too much time with irrelevant trivia and "America asked for it" messages. The whole kerfuffle just reinforces my point that it takes time to gain a historical perspective on anything, and rushing to change building names or build monuments or put people on currency can often lead to decisions that are embarrassing given a bit more time for historical perspective to develop.
That being said, I thought this was a pretty good investigative report on the influences behind the memorial design (you may or may not be non-plussed by the alt-weekly writing style). Of course, since it is impossible to get any real reporting out of our main paper, the story comes from our alternative free weekly, which runs rings around the Republic in terms of investigative reporting.
111 in the Shade
But its dry heat.
As a public service, Arizona is taking onto itself all the worldwide effects of global warming, thereby saving polar bears in Greenland and archipelago-living indigenous peoples. Once it gets over about 108 you don't really notice the difference anyway. Picture taken at 4:50PM MST today in the inappropriately-named (at least for today) Paradise Valley, AZ. For all those who want to compare this to hell, I would remind you that the core of Dante's hell was frozen and cold, not hot. Dante knew what he was talking about. It may be hot but there is nothing to shovel off my driveway.
By the way, when people laugh at Arizona for not observing Daylight Savings Time, this is why we don't. At nearly 5:00, we are hitting our peak temperature. If we observed DST, we would not be hitting this peak until 6:00. Temperatures here will cool over the next two hours by 20 degrees (its already fallen nearly 3 degrees in the 20 minutes since I took the picture, and the sun is not down yet). With this fast temperature drop typical of the desert combined with evening shade, it will be nice enough to be outside, eating or relaxing or watching a little league game by 7:00. If I had my druthers, I would observe reverse daylight time, going back rather than forward an hour in the spring. More observations on DST from myself and Virginia Postrel here.
Arthur Cherenkoff and Glenn Reynolds seemed surprised that aging shock-rocker Alice Cooper had some sensible opinions on foreign policy issues. Those of us who live in the Phoenix area, however, are not. Oddly enough, Alice Cooper has become something of an elder statesman in Phoenix, keeping a fairly high profile leading various community and charity events. Its a little odd living in a town where your most visible community leaders include Alice Cooper and Charles Barkley, especially given the area's attraction to many of the rich and famous as a retirement location, but it seems to work.
One story that comes to mind: Alice Cooper is a regular at Suns games. A couple of years ago, my company had some nice season tickets just a few rows up from Mr. Cooper, who had seats in the first row on an aisle. Just about every game I attended, at least one pair of guys would come down the steps, kneel on the floor next to Alice's seat, and bow down saying "We're not worthy" ala Wayne's World and then head back up the aisle without another word. Always made me laugh.
How's the Snow?
This headline today on the front page of the AZ Republic (our crappy local paper with the worst sports section of any major paper):
79º vs. 0º WE WINYou never have to shovel sunshine off the walk
It's sunny. It's January. And it's almost 80 degrees outside.
In official meteorological terms, what we're experiencing is "a strong area of high pressure aloft."
In simpler terms, it's "this is why we live here" weather, which on Tuesday produced a Chamber of Commerce high of 79 degrees. That's just 1 degree shy of the record for the date but a full dozen degrees above normal.
Strange Substance Spotted in Arizona Rivers
This week, an odd substance has been spotted in Arizona rivers. Courtesy of a commenter badassredskin on Fark.com, some good Sedona flood before and after pictures:
Slide Rock Park, near Sedona before (note bathroom building for reference)
Same park, more recently:
This has made a real mess of the Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, which by the way I consider one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Slide Rock Park is a great park, though I am a bit biased since my company runs the concession store at Slide Rock Park. Our building at this park is fine, but we have had several of our campgrounds in this canyon flooded.
WWII Great POW Escape - in Phoenix?
Many people have seen the Steve McQueen movie "the Great Escape", about a group of 60 or so prisoners who cleverly dug a tunnel out of a German POW camp and escaped in various directions across Europe, many of whom where eventually recaptured.
I don't know if such an event occurred in Europe, but an almost identical real-life POW escape (tunnel and all) occurred right here in Phoenix, Arizona almost exactly 60 years ago.
Like many isolated western towns in WWII, Phoenix played host to a number of German POW's, in our case about 1700 in Papago Park. Phoenix, and in particular Papago Park, with its arid climate and red rocks, must have been quite a culture shock to the Germans.
Anyway, I won't tell the whole story, but it is fascinating and you can read it all here. A short excerpt:
The German prisoners asked their guards for permission to create a volleyball courtyard. Innocently obliging, the guards provided them with digging tools. From that point on, two men were digging at all times during night hours. A cart was rigged up to travel along tracks to take the dirt out. The men stuffed the dirt in their pants pockets which had holes in the bottoms, and they shuffled the dirt out along the ground as they walked around. In addition, they flushed a huge amount of dirt down the toilets. They labeled their escape route Der Faustball Tunnel (The Volleyball Tunnel).
They dug a 178 foot tunnel with a diameter of 3 feet. The tunnel went 8 to 14 feet beneath the surface, under the two prison camp fences, a drainage ditch and a road. The exit was near a power pole in a clump of brush about 15 feet from the Cross Cut Canal. To disguise their plans, the men built a square box, filled it with dirt and planted native weeds in it for the lid to cover the exit. When the lid was on the tunnel exit, the area looked like undisturbed desert.
There is some dispute about how many people actually escaped -- official records say 25. Others argue that as many as 60 escaped, but since only 25 were recaptured, 25 was used as the official number to cover up the fact that German POW's might be roaming about Arizona.
The prisoners who led this escape were clearly daring and inventive, but unfortunately in Arizona lore they are better known for their one mistake. Coming from wet Northern European climes, the prisoners assumed that the "rivers" marked on their map would actually have flowing water in them. Their map showed what looked like the very substantial Salt River flowing down to the Colorado River and eventual escape in Mexico. Unfortunately, the Salt River most of the year (at least in the Phoenix area) is pretty much a really wide flat body of dirt. The German expressions as they carried their stolen canoes up to its banks must have been priceless.
It never occurred to the Germans that in dry Arizona a blue line marked “river” on a map might be filled with water only occasionally. The three men with the canoe were disappointed to find the Salt River bed merely a mud bog from recent rains. Not to be discouraged, they carried their canoe pieces twenty miles to the confluence with the Gila river, only to find a series of large puddles. They sat on the river bank, put their heads in their hands and cried out their frustration.
I know how they feel every summer when we go to Lake Powell and find the water lower than the previous year. Anyway, we shouldn't just make light of the escapees. Apparently the prison guards made Sargent Schultz look like Sherlock Holmes:
Although the men left in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, the camp officials were blissfully unaware of anything amiss until the escapees began to show up that evening. The first to return was an enlisted man, Herbert Fuchs, who decided he had been cold, wet and hungry long enough by Christmas Eve evening. Thinking about his dry, warm bed and hot meal that the men in the prison camp were enjoying, he decided his attempt at freedom had come to an end. The 22-year old U-boat crewman hitched a ride on East Van Buren Street and asked the driver to take him to the sheriff’s office where he surrendered. Much to the surprise of the officers at the camp, the sheriff called and told them he had a prisoner who wanted to return to camp.
One of the last to be re-captured was U-boat Commander Jürgen Wattenberg, the leader of the breakout. Interestingly, Captain Wattenberg hid out in the hills just a few hundred yards from my current home.
One reason I thought of this story, beyond being close to the anniversary, was this story about new Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith. Though I am not necesarily a supporter of Mr. Goldsmith's views, the article is a good insight into where campuses are today in terms of academic freedoms. His conservative views and opinions are treated like some hidden scandal that was missed in his hiring and would surely have disqualified him for the position if known. I am sympathetic not because I am conservative, but as a libertarian and defender of free markets, I was thought to be an odd duck on campus as well.
The part of the article that got me thinking about the Great Escape was this:
Before he stepped down from his post as a U.S. assistant attorney general this summer, Goldsmith penned a March draft memo arguing that Central Intelligence Agency officials could transfer Iraqi detainees out of their native country for interrogation without violating the Geneva Convention.
The memo said that detainees would still have to be treated in accordance with international humanitarian norms. But Goldsmith’s position has drawn fire from human rights activists and some scholars who argue that the memo marks a dramatic reinterpretation of the 1949 treaty, which safeguards the rights of prisoners of war.
I know nothing about the 1949 treaty, but it seems odd that holding POW's in other countries would be outlawed so soon after we did so much of it ourselves in WWII. Generally, my understanding is that detention of German prisoners in the US went very well for all concerned - in fact, the biggest problem I have ever heard about is that many Germans did not want to leave and be sent back to Germany after the war (see also here). My guess is that such a ban may have resulted from Soviet actions in the later stages of WWII. The Soviets sent many, many German prisoners back east, never ever to return, living out a life of slavery in Siberia and other happy locations long after the war was over. Anyone have any other background on this?