Monday, December 18, 2006


My wife and I drove down to Denver today along I-25. We met a friend near Wash Park and then headed further south to I-225 and points farther east and south. Along I-25 we got a look at the brand new southeast corridor light rail trains. Being a fan of trains and enjoying riding on light rail trains (just rode the Hiawatha Line between downtown Minneapolis and the Minneapolis airport last week) I wish I could say that this is not a very expensive boondoggle. But I can't say that. We saw probably a dozen or more different tain cars during our drive. Quick glances at all the train cars revealed totally empty and nearly empty cars. We couldn't count the people of course. There was no time. But I'd wager a lot of money that we saw less than 20 people riding the light rail.

Now we were driving in the late morning and early afternoon. I know these are not peak travel times. Perhaps these trollies are jammed full of commuters during the morning and evening rush hours. The Minneapolis light rail was also very, very sparsely populated when we rode it last week. Can this be a good use of billions of taxpayer dollars nationwide?

In contrast we drove in the HOV/Toll lane both ways, too. The switch of the HOV lane in the middle of I-25 to be both a high occupancy lane and a toll lane seems like a very good idea. The toll option allows people to voluntarily opt to pay a small fee to reduce the vehicle load on I-25. I don't know how much this helps the traffic flow on the interstate in Denver, but it sure helps me drive to and back from Denver when the HOV/Toll lane is open in my direction.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Better or Worse?

This morning I began reading the latest collection of essays by Freeman Dyson called The Scientist as Rebel. Dyson is a favorite author of Rhoads who owns, I think, all but one of Dyson's books. I enjoy reading what Dyson has to say, too, though the second essay in this book struck me as being at odds with my impression of the state of the world.

In that essay Dyson bemoans the growing inequality in the world. Dyson says that earlier technological innovations like the motorcycle were cheap enough to be liberators of the poor while modern technological innovations, roughly those of the second half of the twentieth century, were "toys" of the wealthy, unnaffordable to the world's poor. This essay was originally written in the early 1990s, so Dyson included cell phones among those toys for the wealthy. In an addendum written in 2006 Dyson claims that things have gotten even worse, meaning more unequal, in the years since he wrote his essay, but that the cell phone, it turns out, is now ubiquitous and cheap enough to be a liberator of the poor.

I think the cell phone example is not isolated, but provides a window into where Dyson gets this story wrong. I suspect that had Dyson been writing in 1893 instead of 1993, he might have viewed the motorcycle as a plaything of the rich, too, when it first came out. I think the predominant pattern of innovation is that the wealthy are the early adaptors of new technology and that the rest of us follow as the prices fall.

The result of this process is one where we all are made better off over time and inequality may be not just a result of this process, but a cause of it.

Of course, I wonder to what extent inequality is growing. I suspect that the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest must inevitably grow. The lowest situation that man can find himself in, complete destitution barely above starvation and death, cannot get any lower. Since it is always possible for people to be destitute in particular times in particular places (poverty being the default position in nature) any increase in the wealth of the wealthiest will necessarily mean a larger gap between the poorest and the richest.

But there must be better measures of the gap between rich and poor than the wealth of the richest people and the destitution of people on death's door. And how many people find themselves utterly destitute now compared to past times? I don't know the answers to these questions, but Dyson seems to assume that inequality is getting worse without providing any evidence.

Luckily there is some evidence that we can examine in the form of a soon-to-be-published book called The Improving State of the World, by Indur Goklany. Below is an exerpt of that book's review in The Spectator:
We should be especially proud of the fact that humanity has never been better fed: the daily food intake in poor countries has increased by 38 per cent since the 1960s to 2,666 calories per person per day on average. The population of those countries has soared by 83 per cent during that time, so this is a stupendous achievement which puts the final nail in the coffin of Malthusianism.

Together with a 75 per cent decline in global food prices in real terms in the second half of the 20th century, caused by improved agricultural productivity and freer trade, fewer people than ever before are going hungry. The rate of chronic undernourishment in poor countries has halved to 17 per cent, compared with a little over a third 45 years ago. In wealthy countries, the cost of essential foods has collapsed, with the price of flour, bacon and potatoes relative to incomes dropping by between 82 and 92 per cent over the past century; similar trends are now visible in developing countries too.

There is still a long way to go; but never before in human history have so many people been liberated from extreme poverty so quickly. The number of people subsisting on $1 a day has declined from 16 per cent of the world population in the late 1970s to 6 per cent today, while those living on $2 a day dropped from 39 per cent to 18 per cent. In 1820, 84 per cent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty; today this is down to about a fifth.

That sounds like progress. Here's more:
To see how far we have come, consider that anyone born in Britain during the Middle Ages would have been exceptionally lucky to live to see their 30th birthday. The average person could expect to live only to the age of 22, before succumbing to disease, injury or famine. By 1800, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, life expectancy in Britain had climbed to 36 years, then the highest ever seen but less than the life expectancy enjoyed today in even the most war-torn and deprived countries. By the 1950s the average Briton could expect to live to the age of 69; today this has increased to almost 78 years.

Life expectancy in poorer countries has improved even faster. In China it has surged from 41 years in the 1950s to 71 years today; in India it is up from 39 years to 63 years, almost doubling the average lifespan of 2 billion people. In 1900 average life expectancy around the world was a mere 31 years; today it is 67 years and rising.

While Dyson asserts, without evidence, that things are getting worse, this examination of the evidence comes to the opposite conclusion. What about the gap between rich and poor?
Just as remarkably, the gap between poor and rich countries has been shrinking fast. By the early 1950s a child born in a wealthy country such as Britain could expect to live 25 years longer than a child born in a poor country such as Algeria; today accidents of birth matter far less. The gap has closed to 12.2 years, thanks to diffusion and transfer of public health practices and medical advances pioneered in the West.

The whole review is worth a read (free registration required, click here to start the process and access the article).

My own sense of human progress is that human life is getting better all the time, just as the above evidence suggests. We tend to gripe a lot and focus on the negatives. That harping on the negatives clouds the immense progress we've seen in the last couple of hundred years, progress that apparently is shared by people the world over.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Save CU Tennis

Long time dormant, but I thought I'd wake up and have a little Coffee With Rhoads. Today it's Farmer Friendly Organic Costa Rican La Amistad. Get some yourself at Little River Roasting, Co.

CU Men's Tennis was scheduled for elimination last month. Supporters have raised over $500,000 in just over a month to get that decision reversed. Anyone interested in the future of intercollegiate athletics and who is interested in this particular story can go to some of the following sites for information:

Save CU Tennis
BRG Blog

The first site has information on what you can do to help, links to stories about the program and the effort to save the team, and so forth. The second site, not realy active usually, has a couple of updates and may have a bit more as the story unfolds.

The reason this is more than just about CU tennis is that men's college sports are disappearing at an alarming rate. Football and basketball are not disappearing, but the participatory sports are. Men's tennis is a favorite place to cut, but swimming, diving, baseball, wrestling, gymnastics, and golf have all taken the axe.

Title IX legislation is partly to blame. But it is not probably the main reason these sports are disappearing. The main reason is that the cost of college athletics has spiraled upwards almost as fast as the stunning rate of growth of college tuition generally. At CU Boulder, undergraduate tuition and fees have grown 7x in the last 26 years. Stunning. Since tuition and fees are a cost of giving athletic scholarships, athletic department costs have risen, too. CU's athletic budget has grown from the $5 mil range per year in 1980 to over $36 mil in 2006.

Without general fund support, without student fees, and without very generous charitable donations every year, very few athletic departments would survive. Despite enormous ticket and TV revenue, athletic departments fail as businesses. The reason is that the two sports that have a chance of making a "profit" at most schools, football and men's basketball, must fund all the other sports. Hence, fiscally responsible athletic directors must look for places to cut. They must look to non-revenue generating sports for those cuts.

With Title IX legislation on the books calling for gender equity in collegs sports, athletic directors cannot very often cut women's sports. The laws state that the participation numbers and dollar amounts must be equal between men and women, or must reflect the enrollment demographics of the school. With men's football spending millions of dollars at most schools, and with men's football having a hundred or more roster spots, getting the dollars and numbers equal between men and women is difficult. Football at most schools brings in way more than it spends, but Title IX legislation does not address revenue equality or expenses compared to revenues. Title IX requires colleges and univesities to strive for gender equity regarding expenses and numbers.

So we get to men's non-revenue sports for any cuts that must be made.

The question on the table hear at Coffee With Rhoads is this: Are the people of Colorado (and the United States) comfortable with the evolution of NCAA Division IAA institutions toward revenue generation and spectator sports at the expense of opportunities for male (and sometimes female) student athletes to play non-revenue, non-TV sports?

I know I love college football and basketball. I know millions of people share those passions. But I'm growing uneasy with a system that caters to the low end of students in those sports (football and basketball team GPAs are overwhelmingly below those of "non-revenue" sports and the rest of the student bodies). I'm also growing uncomfortable with a system that caters more to the fans, donors, and alumni than to the student athletes.

I have always supported bringing student athletes to college campuses. I think that athletes add to the diversity of the campuses. I think that kids who are committed to something outside of the classroom often become valued assets to the campus. I also think that athletes become, on average, quite successful when they leave the campus after graduation. Business leaders, entrepreneurs, and so forth are not always the best students at school. But the commitment they show for the combination of athletics and school, the things they learn as teammates and as competitors, prepare them well for life after school. I would hate to see that lost if we lost college athletics as an extracurricular activity.

Perhaps this unique situation at CU Boulder will prove to be something of a watershed moment. It's not likely, of course, but you never know. At CU with the men's tennis team you have an unusual confluence of events: a VERY successful team being cut, a VERY cheap program, the sole program being cut, a large group of supporters who have quickly raised a VERY large amount of money, a university that has been stung by TERRIBLE PR over the last several years, an athletic department that has been the source of much of that terrible PR, and an opportunity to do something better by keeping a program that has high athletic and academic standards. If CU men's tennis goes down the river, it will surely be followed by many, many more similar programs.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Packers 28, Redskins 14 - Bad News for Bush

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Washington Redskins today, 28-14 in Washington. This is bad news for President Bush and good news for Senator Kerry. Read the article to see why. This has been as reliable as the Iowa Election Markets in predicting the presidential election, although the Redskins have been at it longer.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Kerry's the One

That's not just my opinion. That's the opinion of the writer of this article from The American Conservative magazine. I thought about quoting parts from the article, but the entire thing is wonderful. It deals with President Bush's deficit problem, as well as the problems of letting the neocons control our foreign policy. And it comes from a traditional/conservative perspective! Read the entire thing.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Why I'm For Kerry

I think that Bob has abandoned CwR, and I am not sure why. I number of possible reasons come to mind:

  • He has gotten really really busy.

  • He didn't pay his ISP bill.

  • He got tired of the low quality of the competition.

  • He realized that in fact I have been right all along.

I think the last one is the most probable, especially when my predictions about the Swift Boat Vets and the lack of WMDs have come true.

At any rate, back when Bob was participating, he used to accuse me of being for "Anybody But Bush" instead of being pro-Kerry. Then Bob would attack John Kerry for being a "liberal (strike 1) Senator (strike 2) from Massachusettes (strike 3)" and so forth, without giving very much in a positive statement for our current president.

Well, today, David Corn has published on his blog an entry entitled Why I am for Kerry. I couldn't agree with it more. This explains why I think John Kerry would make a great president. Enjoy the read.

Friday, October 08, 2004

No WMDs - what a shock

Well, the Duelfer Report is out, and the final conclusion is that there were no WMDs in Iraq, nor did they have any programs in place to create them.

I can honestly say that I am a little surprised.

I mean, I was skeptical that we would find "stockpiles" of WMDs when we attacked Iraq, but I thought we would find little pieces of something. We haven't. And it appears that we won't. It appears, as I have been saying, and as the more reasonable pundits on the left have been saying, that the Bush Administration seriously mislead us into the War in Iraq, which they continue to associate with a completly different war - the War on Terror.

John Dean wrote this article last June about what a serious offense against the nation and the world this misleading really is. I highly suggest reading the entire piece. It is even more poignant now that the Duelfer Report is out. These paragraphs at the beginning are particularly important in my mind:
Presidential statements, particularly on matters of national security, are held to an expectation of the highest standard of truthfulness. A president cannot stretch, twist or distort facts and get away with it. President Lyndon Johnson's distortions of the truth about Vietnam forced him to stand down from reelection. President Richard Nixon's false statements about Watergate forced his resignation.

Frankly, I hope the WMDs are found, for it will end the matter. Clearly, the story of the missing WMDs is far from over. And it is too early, of course, to draw conclusions. But it is not too early to explore the relevant issues.

Well, the story was "far from over" in June of 2003, but I hope that America will wake up and that it will be over on November 3. The article then goes on to list many of the statements that President Bush made to the world concerning the certainty of these WMDs. Near the end of the article are these paragraphs:
To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."

It's important to recall that when Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power.