Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Global Warming & Modeling

It is clear that something is happening with cllimate. It is fairly clear that humans have something to do with it. It also is clear that the less crud people put into the environment the better. But Al Gore's certainty of apocalypse aside, it is not at all clear what is going to happen in the future. That's because the predictions are done by people and those people use computers. Remember the infamous Club of Rome's computer-based predictions of apocalypse from 1972's "The Limits to Growth." Some very basic modeling precepts were overlooked. In an article in the August 18 issue, "Gambling on Tomorrow," The Economist reminds us of the complexities of modeling. For the lay reader, the article is a bit challenging. But, basically, how variables for the model are chosen has a lot to do with the outcome. The Economist concludes, "As the old saw has it, garbage in, garbage out. The difficulty comes when you do not know what the garbage looks like."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wine: Vivac Winery

A highlight of our weekend Taos / Santa Fe hang out trip will today's visit to the Vivac Winery. We noticed Vivac about four years ago, just after they had opened the winery. They had been in business for a couple of years before that. The owners, brothers Jesse and Chris Padnerg, are Dixon natives who are in their early 30s. (That age is a guess, for sure, they are younger than we are.) They bring a fresh enthusiasm of youth. The winery is at the intersection of N.M. 68 and N.M. 75. Business has grown enough that Vivac has made the lengthy wine list at the Trading Post Cafe in Ranchos de Taos.
Vivac is a family business all the way. The spouses of the Padberg brothers, Liliana Zavala and Michele Bartley, contribute their talents toward expanding the non-wine product line. Offerings include paintings and hand-made chocolate.
Jesse Padberg says New Mexico now has around 38 wineries. The official brochure lists 21, including Vivac. The difference, Jesse says, is paying the dues to get listed.
We like the Vivac wines, though note that our taste buds are only semi-educated, and we love the spirit of the Padberg brothers. Check them out at www.vivacwinery.com.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Governor & Gossip

Gossip isn't our normal cup of tea here, but we can't resist.
A conversation with a Republican operative provided laundry list of potential Republican candidates for governor in 2010: Rep. Steve Pearce; Darren White, Bernalillo County sheriff; and Susana Martinez, Las Cruces-based district attorney for the Third Judicial District. Pat Lyons, commissioner of public lands didn’t make this list, but must be added for two reasons. He is the highest ranking Republican state official and governor is on his 2010 options list.
Pearce and Lyons would have two huge advantages over White and Martinez. As high-level elected officials, they have a donor network in place, considerably easing the fund raising problem. Pearce also would bring personal wealth. White and Martinez have raised money for their successful campaigns, but nothing on the scale of a governors race.
Money counts. The price for admission into a competitive primary is $1 million.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Immigration & Cops

Capitol Report New Mexico photographer Mark Bralley is a blogger in one of his other lives. His most recent post, August 19, is a long examination of the relationship between citizenship status and local police. Mark's posts are almost always long. Also very good. He makes two basic points:
1. Immigration status is not the job of local cops. 2. There is no bureaucratic mechanism—i.e., no little boxes on the forms—to collect data anyway in a standard manner.
See: http://www.mgbralley-whatswrongwiththispicture.blogspot.com/

Sunday, August 19, 2007

New Mexico Tech honored

From the Mountain Mail in Socorro comes this story:

Tech One Of 25 ‘Hottest’
by: Thomas Guengerich For The Mountain Mail

Contact: mountainmailreporter@gmail.com

Current issues of Newsweek and Popular Science laud a small science and engineering university on the Rio Grande for its work in Homeland Security and explosive research.

New Mexico Tech is regularly featured as a “best buy” by the Princeton Review and nearly always gets a high ranking from U.S. News & World Report. Those rankings are based on Tech’s overall value and the quality of the education.

The recent headlines are generated from a small – but lucrative – division at the university – the Energetic Materials Research Testing Center, or EMRTC.

In its list of the 25 “hottest” universities, Newsweek named Tech as the university that is “Hottest in the War on Terror.”

The single paragraph said, “Tech, in a friendly desert town an hour south of Albuquerque, has reduced admissions red tape while quietly building, with a flood of federal dollars, one of the prime research centers for fighting the War on Terror. It is in some ways the Los Alamos of a new age, this time focusing on searching suitcases and disabling roadside explosives rather than building the

A-bomb. The school boasts a stylish collection of historic buildings with red tile roofs and a lush 18-hole golf course.”

In the September 2007 issue of Popular Science, Tech is featured in a two-page pictorial spread that highlights research opportunities for undergraduate students at EMRTC.

The spread includes a seven-frame sequence of a Buick sedan exploding, plus a large photo of Tech students Stephen Graves, Matthew Nelson and Matthew Majors examining the remains – or posing and pretending to examine the remains – of a 1978 Skylark destroyed by a five-pound bomb.

In the feature titled, “PopSci Goes To College,” Tech and EMRTC are praised as “one of the country’s foremost lab for explosives research,” and where “students work on every aspect of the research, including setting up shots, analyzing data and conceiving new tests.”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cooling Global Warming?

Robert J. Samuelson makes his living taking on the conventional wisdom. His latest target is one of his employers, Newsweek magazine. In an column first published in Newsweek, Samuelson attacks a Newsweek cover story attempting to debunk the "denial machine" that "has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change." The story, he says, "was a wonderful read, marred only by its being ndamentally misleading." Emission reduction goals are "fantasy," he says, and we don't know how to achieve the goals, even if they were real. Global warming is not a morality tale. Doubt exists and is legitimate. There is much to debate and debate we should.
Samuelson's 1995 book, "The Good Life and Its Discontents," dealt with classic American utopianism—"We expected all social problems to be solved." They aren't solved and won't be. Samuelson discussed the resulting complaining.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Municipal Wireless

The enthusiasm of believers to the contrary, municipal wireless networks ain't what they're cracked up to be. Albuquerque is working on a proposal. Rio Rancho is trying to rescue its project from disaster.
Some projects are running 30% over budget, reported the Wall Street Journal on August 16. Customer demand is slow. Various concerns have pushed San Francisco's deal with Google and Earthlink onto the November ballot for voter consideration. Anchorage cancelled its project. Minneapolis increased project spending to make the signal strong enough to get through trees. New Mexico cities probably have fewer trees than Minneapolis, but the problem is one not to leaf, er, leave, standing.
A Web sire is tracking such projects around the world See: www.muniwireless.com.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Girl Scouts & Matt.org

From her biography, It doesn't appear that Patricia Diaz Dennis lived in New Mexico a long time. This deduction stems from all the Texas and Washington, D.C., items on Ms Dennis' resume. But she did start in New Mexico, by being born in Santa Rita, and that trivia item was discovered in the most backhanded manner. Professionally, Ms Dennis is Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for AT&T. In her civic life she chairs the board of the Girl Scouts of USA and is a board member of MATT.org, which cycles back to her birth in Santa Rita, a mining community located in Grant County which is the locale of all sorts of border related development activity centering on Western New Mexico University. MATT.org got a full discussion recently from San Diego-based nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. MATT.org is a "a binational think tank to help bridge the divide between Mexico and the United States," Navarrette said. The acronym stands for Mexicans & Americans Thinking Together. The organizatiion "has more than 1 million members on both sides of the border."

This is another instance of dicovering a hugely accomplished person with New Mexico ties, however thin, via the national media instead of the locals.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Santa Fe & New York Times

An August 5 article in the New York Times travel section had this headline: Is Santa fe Ready for a makeover? Such things are always a useful window on what the other guys think. In this case, in my opinion, the other guys are patronizing, "blinded by the light," to borrow Bruce Springsteen. Asking whether Santa Fe is ready for a makeover starts with the premise that Santa Fe hasn't changed. That premise has no basis in reality. Santa Fe, and any other dynamic place, is constantly making over. For example (some of these are a little old):
The Bull Ring parking lot was paved.
The Bull Ring moved.... into the Wells Fargo Building, which was despised at the time of its construction.
All the big political events are now held at the Eldorado, which was despised at the time of its construction.
A convention center is under construction.
The Pink Adobe has new owners.
Capitol Report New Mexico will present the first handbook of the interim committees.
etc., etc., etc..

Friday, August 10, 2007

Health Care Recommendations

The Health Coverage for New Mexicans Committee has submitted its recommendations to Governor Bill Richardson.
According to a news release from the Department of Human Services, the Committee’s key policy recommendations include:

1. Create a single statewide unified health care authority or governance structure based on the guiding principles adopted by the Committee that would be charged with implementing health care reforms regarding universal coverage, cost and quality controls and oversight of health care delivery in New Mexico.
2. Maximize enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP as soon as economically feasible.
3. Reform New Mexico health insurance and HMO requirements to move towards guarantee issue for individuals regardless of health status or pre-existing condition; require a standard percent of premium collected by insurance companies to be spent on direct services; lower the twenty percent that insurance carriers can add to small group rates due to health status and claims experience and implement common data reporting.
4. Allow employers to buy into the state employee health risk pool and individuals without access to commercial insurance to buy into a Medicaid benefit plan.
5. Consolidate or create larger health insurance risk pools where beneficial and consolidate public administrative functions.
6. Require individuals to obtain coverage through public programs or commercial insurance.
7. Require employers to contribute in some way to coverage for employees.
8. Maximize health information technology such as enrollment, develop electronic medical records, diagnosis, billing claims, provider payment and reimbursement.
9. Increase provider recruitment and retention through incentives.
10. Consider a state-operated reinsurance or risk equalization program to distribute risk and manage the effects of catastrophic claims on any one pool due to medical procedures.

“Many recommendations may be implemented without delay following the successful passage of legislation in 2008,” the release said.

The committee’s final report is in the health care section at www.capitolreportnm.com.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Biomass and Doing One Thing

The problem is that one can never do "just one thing."
A biomass plant proposed for Torrance County does some other things (the details don't matter here) and has been rejected by State Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry. Syndicated columnist Sherry Robinson, in her column this week, says "Curry ignored the favorable recommendation of his own hearing officer and denied the permit because the plant would use natural gas once a year to start up after maintenance." Other proposed alternative energy projects are watching for the outcome of the Torrance County situation. Robinson's column runs in eight newspapers around New Mexico..
Ethanol made from corn comes to mind. Ethanol is touted as a supplement to gasoline. But diverting corn to fuel feedstock creates more demand than farmers have been able to deliver. The result: higher food prices.
One other example: A water bureaucracy dispute in northwest metro Albuquerque becomes major factor in the significant delay of a large real estate project.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Home Prices: Albuquerque

In metro Albuquerque, average and median homes prices are up, sales are down and the number of homes offered for sale, known as "inventory," is way up. The explanation, and just about the only explanation, according to a recent report: More expensive features in new homes which increases the price and, in turn, pulls up the price of existing homes.
Well, no.
The first rule of simple explanations is that life is almost never that simple. People in Albuquerque used to think the water situation was simple.
Housing markets around the country vary widely. Albuquerque, in fact, is one of the healthiest if one defines health as prices continuing up.
Neighborhoods also vary widely. The Albuquerque Metropolitan Board of Realtors tracks housing prices for 41 areas around the metro. For the first half of this year, prices in seven neighborhoods increased by more than 10%. Prices dropped in seven other neighborhoods and showed essentially no change in two. One area, Canoncito, had no sales.
The geographic behavior is inconsistent. Sandia Heights, with a average 2007 price of $510,000 and the fifth highest prices in the metro, showed a 1.2% drop this year. North Albuquerque Acres, next door and with the highest average prices in town at $682,500,, registered a 10.7% increase.
Prices in the Far North Valley, with an average around $350,000, dropped. Prices in Four Hills, also around $350,000, increased.
The number of sales in some neighborhoods is down. Others are holding steady.
It just ain't that simple.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Education Spending

A new report from the Rockefeller Institute details something thought never to happen—a drop in spending on K-12 education. The report, a Rockefeller Institute Policy Brief, begins by saying, "Total revenues supporting K-12 education—after factoring in inflation and changes in the number of students — fell in most states between 2002 and 2005. These overall revenue declines were driven largely by reductions in state support for K-12 education. Increases in revenues from the federal government and local governments compensated for some of the state-level cuts in many states."
In New Mexico, for the period, real (inflation adjusted) revenue per pupil dropped $33. The biggest drop, $182 per pupil, came in state revenue. Between 1992 and 2002, New Mexico spent an average, each year, of $7,427 per pupil, 41st nationally. The report is posted in the economic reports section of www.capitolreportnm.com.
The Rockefeller Institute of Government is the policy research arm of the State University of New York. It looks at government finance and management.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Rural Economic Development

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City often has some thoughts on our rural economies. The following comments come from a KC Fed newsletter, "The Main Street Economist."
"The advantages of innovation are often well within the reach of rural America. Size and distance may limit a rural entrepreneur's ability to produce radical new innovations. But adopting new technologies and retailoring them exemplify the traditional spirit of rural American, especially in agriculture. In the language of economics, rural places are adept at technological adaption. a kind of inovation that improves existing technologies. The key players in this game of innovation are rural entrepreneurs."
This issue is posted in the economics section at capitolreportnm.com.