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Columns

  • Stamping out bigotry

    Tomorrow (June 7) marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s death. I find it sad that children today know about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, about Pocahontas saving John Smith’s life, and about Columbus discovering that the Earth was round, and yet not one student I’ve ever asked knows who Turing was.
    Incidentally, little George never did chop down that tree. It was an apocryphal anecdote written by Parson Weems, an obscure author in the early 1800s. Pocahontas (who was 11 years old at the time) probably never met Smith, and she was later kidnapped by the English and held for ransom. And mathematicians knew the Earth was round 1800 years before Columbus (Eratosthenes measured the Earth’s circumference in 240 BC).
    So who was this Turing guy and why should anyone care?
    Turing was a British mathematician and logician. His theories on algorithmic design gave birth to a little thing called the computer (Turing is often referred to as “The Father of Computer Science”). His work on cryptanalysis was instrumental in decrypting the German’s Enigma (coding machine), helping to win World War II and saving millions of lives. His work in mathematical biology (morphogenesis — single cell differentiation) was instrumental in modern theoretical biology.

  • Nonprofits in need: Borrowing can be tool for financial stability

    A nonprofit isn’t in business to enrich its shareholders, but it still needs revenues and incurs operating expenses while pursuing its community service mission. It, too, can experience cash flow problems or require considerable cash to fund a capital project, or expanded services.
    When that happens, the nonprofit faces many of the same choices a for-profit business does, though it draws from different funding sources.
    While a for-profit business can offer investors a chance to share in the company’s fortunes by buying stocks, for example, a nonprofit relies on a stakeholder who’s motivated by public interest rather than self-interest. Such unconditional in-kind and cash donations are as sensitive to economic conditions as consumer spending is for profit-driven businesses.
    A cash-strapped nonprofit may decide to live within its means, devoting itself to increasing endowments, grants, special event income, donations, or sales of a mission-related product, or service. But this approach can cost the nonprofit in missed opportunities, and it can divert organizational energy into treading water rather than moving forward.

  • Financial advice for new fathers

    Each year when Father’s Day rolls around, I’m reminded that I wouldn’t trade the experience of raising my two kids for the world. But when I think back to how naïve my wife and I once were about the costs of raising children, I can’t help wishing we’d been better prepared.
    If you’re a new dad, or about to become one, you’d better sit down. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a typical middle-income family can expect to spend more than $241,000 to raise a newborn child until age 18 — and that doesn’t even include prenatal care or college costs.
    Right now, you’re probably more worried about getting enough sleep than funding your retirement. But at some point, you’ll need to plot out a financial roadmap to ensure your family’s future financial security. As one dad to another, here are a few strategies I’ve learned that can help:
    • Start saving ASAP. It’s hard to save for the future when your present expenses are so daunting, but it’s important to start making regular contributions to several savings vehicles, even if only a few dollars at a time.

  • Legislative policy summary: Teacher pay, copper wire, micro school districts

    A mood-setting short statement, typically from a policy person about policy, each year begins the legislative session report from the Legislative Council Service. For the “2014 Highlights,” released in May, a poet, T.S. Eliot, provided the statement, “Between the dream and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.”
    Legislatures and poets deal with moods, uncertainty and mysterious processes. The key word was “shadow.” The council service said an important and obscure technical matter dominated discussions — the degree to which public school money goes to districts to use for overall education or how much is program-specific according to requirements set in Santa Fe.
    Two Democratic representatives, absent due to illness, provided another overlay of uncertainty, a second shadow.
    The Legislature completed its main and constitutionally assigned task of creating a budget for the budget year beginning July 1. Priorities remain, in spending order, public schools, human services, higher education, general government, aka everything else, public safety and judicial.
    The normal budget track starts in the House and, once approved, moves to the Senate. About 40 percent of the time, the Senate starts the budget, as proved the case this year.

  • Drug issues still dominate workers' compensation

    The New Mexico Court of Appeals has supported the use of medical marijuana after a work-related injury.
    The timing was inconvenient. The ruling was announced on May 19. The state’s annual workers’ compensation convention was the previous week. I wish the ruling had been announced a week earlier, so that it could have been part of the conversation at the convention.
    If you had heard what I heard at that convention, you might be cheering about this ruling. Though it is fraught with complications that cannot be minimized, the marijuana ruling is potentially good news. That is, if you believe marijuana is less of a problem than opioids.
    The convention, sponsored by the Workers’ Compensation Association of New Mexico, was all about the opioid epidemic. A few years ago, I wrote that the overuse of opioid prescription medication was becoming a crisis in the workers’ compensation system. This year, the opioid epidemic is established fact and the Number One topic of concern. New Mexico is among the worst states for opioid addiction.

  • Ignorance in high places holds economy back

    How is it that our economy languishes while every state around us prospers?
    One answer is, we elected a career government employee with no understanding of job creation, and some of our legislative leaders are equally clueless. They spent most of the last four years groping in the dark every time the subject came up and didn’t have a flashlight among them until last year.
    When this governor took office, the recession had gripped the state’s economy for two years. In 2011, everybody focused on budget cutting, but look at what else happened.
    The governor made it clear she would veto any tax increases, which cheered business people — you know, those folks who make hiring decisions — but they had more on their wish list.
    One was sensible regulation. A bipartisan Red Tape Reduction Act, blessed by the governor, industry and environmentalists, failed after a Republican added language to eliminate the state cap-and-trade program. Lawmakers also killed an extension of the successful Angel Investment Tax Credit for individuals who invest in startups.
    Business also wanted to increase unemployment premiums to stabilize the fund. The governor, who didn’t know that unemployment is insurance and a premium is not a tax, argued against “higher taxes” and vetoed higher premiums. Dems sued and won.

  • Key on better, faster, cheaper


    Innovation,” how sweet thy name!
    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So said Shakespeare with the lilt of Juliet.
    Yet today’s political parties take no chances. To play safe, the name of “rose” goes ‘round in the news and comes out “thistle” or “skunk cabbage.” In the process, ideas die aborning.
    Ideas about regulatory engineering have evolved here since my column of April 2011. This spring I first heard about a different perspective — “next gen compliance,” which is short for Next Generation Compliance, a new effort of the EPA.
    The first look finds countless similarities between regulatory engineering and next gen compliance. Their differences, aside from names, will appear as things progress.
    Yet names are pivotal. Names guide sentiments, because names display their ethnicity, just as tribes do.
    The word “compliance” is a term of regulation, which brings on bad thoughts of government rules. “Engineering” names the discipline of creating better, faster and cheaper technologies.

  • How mountain top renewal is a good idea

    Recently I received the following email: “Please explain how energy from mountain top removal, fracking and tar sands makes America great.”
    The email sent by someone named Greg used terms that represent three different energy sources: coal, natural gas and oil — and each have been big contributors to America’s progress and prosperity.
    Mountain top removal is a coal-mining method. It is safer than underground mining because it virtually removes the risk of mine accidents. In fact, in the mountainous regions of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, this surface mining process allows for hospitals, housing developments, schools and shopping centers to be built — which brings much needed economic development and jobs. The area is filled with hills and valleys — but no place to create a community.
    The coal provides, and has provided, America with low-cost, base-load electricity — which has given us a competitive edge in the global marketplace and unmatched personal progress. And, therefore, energy from mountain top removal makes America great.

  • Preparing pets for possible disaster

    Disaster can strike anywhere at any time, and the best way to survive is to be prepared early.
    “Hurricane season begins June 1 and is a great time to review your personal preparedness plan,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team. “While you make sure all of your family members are covered in the event of a disaster, make sure the four-legged members of your family are included in the planning process.”
    It’s important to remember that if you have to evacuate your home, you will often have to do so very quickly. Know ahead of time the route you will take, and identify potential shelter locations along the route. Make sure you know which shelters will accommodate pets, or if there are designated shelters for evacuated animals nearby.

  • Children of the NRA

    Do you remember the last time you bit your tongue?  When you do bite your tongue, you can’t seem to stop biting it. You start focusing on the pain and consciously trying to avoid chewing on it, and in doing so, you find that you almost can’t help biting it again. It’s like the bitten area has swollen to the size of a grape and it’s impossible for you to close your mouth without clamping down on it.
    It’s human nature to zero in on that which most offends us, and in doing so we give its existence a strange sort of credence.
    Enter one of the strangest and most annoying grapes, Wayne LaPierre, spokesperson for those who can’t muster enough hatred and stupidity on their own, and so they hire someone to do it for them.
    LaPierre calls the NRA “the world’s largest civil rights organization in the world.” This is like calling the Al Qaeda the world’s most successful social awareness program. But criticism never seems to hurt LaPierre’s feelings. He doesn’t have enough of a brain stem to support a headache.
    When some gun-toting moron shot up the Newtown Elementary School, the NRA and its supporters immediately blamed gun laws for the murders and gun sales went through the roof.
    Ah, but guns don’t kill people! Only bad guys with guns kill people, right?