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Columns

  • A prowl among shades of nature

    What does crude oil have in common with mountain lions and mistletoe? Answer: All three bring special good and special harm to their environs.
    We love mountain lions for being mountain lions and love mistletoe for brightening homes and prospects for the Christmas season.
    We hate when a mountain lion kills a family pet and hate when mistletoe sucks the life out of a stately tree, which it does.
    We know how mountain lions control animal populations to sustain food supplies and we know that mistletoe makes tasty food and habitat for many species of birds and other small creatures.
    Nature weaves many webs.
    Crude oil makes its own kind of tangles. It creates jobs and kills wildlife. It powers trucks, ships and airplanes and takes its toll on water.
    Just as plants and animals respond to an abundant or scarce food supply, countless interests lose or gain as the world price of oil climbs and falls.
    The price of oil varies with the supply of crude and the demand for oil products, coupled with the prospects of changes in supply and demand.
    Drilling more oil wells produces more oil, thus it tends to lower the price. Fracking of wells yields more oil, so it lowers the price.
    A lower price for oil discourages drilling. A higher price spurs drilling.

  • A prowl among shades of nature

    What does crude oil have in common with mountain lions and mistletoe? Answer: All three bring special good and special harm to their environs.
    We love mountain lions for being mountain lions and love mistletoe for brightening homes and prospects for the Christmas season.
    We hate when a mountain lion kills a family pet and hate when mistletoe sucks the life out of a stately tree, which it does.
    We know how mountain lions control animal populations to sustain food supplies and we know that mistletoe makes tasty food and habitat for many species of birds and other small creatures.
    Nature weaves many webs.
    Crude oil makes its own kind of tangles. It creates jobs and kills wildlife. It powers trucks, ships and airplanes and takes its toll on water.
    Just as plants and animals respond to an abundant or scarce food supply, countless interests lose or gain as the world price of oil climbs and falls.
    The price of oil varies with the supply of crude and the demand for oil products, coupled with the prospects of changes in supply and demand.
    Drilling more oil wells produces more oil, thus it tends to lower the price. Fracking of wells yields more oil, so it lowers the price.
    A lower price for oil discourages drilling. A higher price spurs drilling.

  • Open letter to Hanna Skandera

    Two years ago, you achieved five of your 10 goals for changing education in New Mexico.
    Last year, you achieved only three. Due to this decline in your effectiveness and achievements, your evaluation has been downgraded from A to C.
    If this decline continues over the next year, that is, if you do not achieve at least four of your remaining two goals, you may expect to be dismissed from your position at that time. 
    We hope that this example illustrates to you that, while previous measures of teacher performance in New Mexico may not have been sufficient and may no longer be acceptable, that does not ineluctably lead to the conclusions that the changes you propose for evaluations are the correct ones, or even sensible.
    In particular, the measures you propose do not allow for previous success at improving student achievement.
    Until you are able to devise more sensible measures, it does not make sense to implement the half-thought-out ones that you have proposed.
    We remain confident that you can do better if you think more and try harder. 
    Terry Goldman
    Los Alamos
     

  • A tribute to fracking oil companies

    I really do love finding reasons to admire people. And I love even more learning new ways to publicly applaud them.
    Marita Noon’s column (Jan. 4) did just that. Her educating us on the benefits and safety of fracking, was both heartwarming and inspiring.
    I’ve never felt so moved. Honestly, it moved me in more ways than one.
    That being said, I want to publicly state that she has my total and unwavering support in this matter. I love that fact that progressive thinkers like her are out there fracking away with impunity.
    Noon’s article was about how the fracking oil companies are our fracking friends.
    To put this in proper perspective, I first want to emphasize that the word ‘frack’ and all its grammatical constructions now hold a special place in my vernacular. When I say frack, I mean it in the best possible way you can imagine.
    What better way to compliment someone than by using “frack” to emphasize your admiration?
    You’re fracking wonderful. You’re fracking remarkable.
    In a word, Marita, you are a fracker extraordinaire!

  • Can you read this essay?

    If you are still following along, then you can answer in the affirmative. According to a recent CNN article, however, a surprising number of the college athletes we watch playing basketball or football can only answer in the negative (“Some college athletes play like adults, read like fifth-graders”). At one university however, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the evidence appears to be even more daunting, where a graduate student researcher reported (in a controversial research project that has been recently suspended by the university) that “between 8 and 10 percent were reading below a third-grade level.”
    Of the 38 public institutions CNN attempted to survey, 18 provided no data. Some of these claimed that they do not track the aptitude scores of their athletes. (Really?) Others refused the request. Yet others failed to respond. Of the 20 who responded, 13 provided data in a standardized format that enabled the researchers to compare the results. In the worst case, one university reported that 25 percent of its athletes participating in revenue-generating sports were reading at a level below that of “college literacy.” 

  • Climate change threat is overblown

    The current cold temperatures have brought back the “serious threat” claims made by climate change alarmists.
    Richard C.J. Somerville, climate scientist at the University of California, San Diego Institution of Oceanography, wrote “Cold comfort,” an op-ed recently published in newspapers throughout the country.
    He grouses that people don’t take the “here and now” consequences of climate change seriously — pointing out that only 40 percent of Americans see it as a threat.
    Somerville posits: “the medical profession and communication experts may have much to teach those climate scientists” because “Priming patients to appreciate the value of medical diagnostic tests has been shown to make them more likely to take these tests and then act on the results.”
    What Somerville misses in the analogy is that the data backs up the medical case. For example, getting a mammogram catches breast cancer early and increases survival rates. On the contrary, the data doesn’t support the claims made by climate scientists — but they just keep making them. In Somerville’s column, he offers several familiar, easily disproven statements:

  • Jobs Council focuses on economy, not politics

    Every year in the Legislature we see dueling jobs packages. This year, the focus is on one package coming out of the Jobs Council.
    The council is an interim committee, co-chaired by House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. Between sessions, the nonpartisan council met and, with input from business and economic developers, produced something like a road map.
    Usually economic development bills range from inspired to inane. Because few legislators understand economic development, their proposals have more to do with party dogma than job creation.
    One of the first things Martinez did last year was bring in Mark Lautman, a veteran economic developer who has taken to speaking and writing about the process, and, along the way, become something of an economic development guru in New Mexico. He’s demonstrated that economic development isn’t wishful thinking. It’s a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other discipline.
    When I met him in the 1980s, he was working in Grants. The uranium industry had crashed, and Grants was trying desperately to survive. The walls of Lautman’s office were covered with charts and lists. And, boy, was he busy!
    Back then, this was economic development:

  • Rule changes tighten reverse mortgage eligibility

    Reverse mortgages have become increasingly popular in recent years, as cash-strapped seniors seek ways to keep pace with rising expenses — not to mention cope with the pummeling their retirement savings took during the Great Recession.
    But the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) noticed that borrowers increasingly have been opting to withdraw most or all of their home equity at closing, leaving little or nothing for future needs. Consequently, by mid-2012 nearly 10 percent of reverse mortgage holders were in default and at risk of foreclosure because they couldn’t pay their taxes and insurance.
    That’s why Congress authorized HUD to tighten FHA reverse mortgage requirements in order to: encourage homeowners to tap their equity more slowly; better ensure that borrowers can afford their loan’s fees and other financial obligations; and strengthen the mortgage insurance fund from which loans are drawn.
    Here are the key changes:
    Most reverse mortgage borrowers can now withdraw no more than 60 percent of their total loan during the first year. Previously, borrowers could tap the entire amount on day one — a recipe for future financial disaster for those with limited means.

  • Job growth forecast bleak in New Mexico

    Our four bigger cities didn’t make the grade. Neither did our smaller cities.
    The grader was Sunset magazine. Passing the tests would have brought a place in Sunset’s group of 24 “Best Places to Live” in the West that is the magazine’s cover story for the February issue. “We’ve found the ideal city, town or neighborhood for you,” Sunset said proudly.
    Albuquerque did get mentioned — as “the nearest major city” to Durango, Colo. Whoopie.
    A small consolation for me is that Sunset’s city search started with “urban experts around the West.” Such people in my experience come with highly prescriptive notions of what is good (being walkable, whatever that means) and what is bad (cars).
    Consolation aside, we’re not in the game, and that is bad. Nor is much expected to happen any time soon. That’s the tip of the forecasting iceberg from the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (bber.unm.edu).
    Lee Reynis, BBER director, presented the forecast Jan. 16 at the annual outlook conference in Albuquerque. The forecast was titled, “New Mexico Economy: Recent Developments and Outlook.”

  • Amending the Constitution

    Last year, the Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment, changing one word of the state Constitution. Its purpose is to make it easier to vote in local elections and considerably less expensive for local jurisdictions to hold those elections. The amendment will be on the ballot this coming November.
    The amendment removes the obsolete restriction, written a century ago, that requires school elections to be held at different times from other elections. It changes the word “other” to “partisan.” If it passes, as I fervently hope it does, it will enable local jurisdictions to discuss the possibility of holding school and municipal elections together. It will also offer that option to special districts (such as water and sanitation districts), which get minimal voter participation because most voters don’t know enough about them and they can’t afford to advertise much.
    I am a huge supporter of this change. I wrote about it last July. I mention it now as an example of an appropriate use for a constitutional amendment.
    The only way to change something that is locked in the state Constitution is to amend the Constitution.