Tom riffs on red-light cameras, state education spending and stupidity, yes, stupidity

Three quick things:

It's not surprising that tens of thousands of people signed petitions to ban red-light cameras in Tucson. What is surprising is that people are still making the same old lame-ass arguments for having done so. Why no, I'm not signing this just so I don't have to be more careful (and maybe—gasp!—put my phone away) when driving. I'm doing so to defend the Constitution of the United States.

I have always agreed that it was a huge mistake to allow private companies to play a part in the process. Governmental entities (cities, counties, states) should have bought the equipment and run their own programs. This would have eliminated the only valid complaint that people had with the program. As for the profit argument, I really don't have a problem with the people who are breaking the law having to pay more for police protection and road improvements than the rest of us do. And privacy concerns? There's really no such thing as privacy, especially not in your car, out in public.

So, the cameras will be going away and the streets will be less safe. I hope the petition passers are happy. But, I also have a question. What if there were a way to use cameras to catch people breaking the law in a manner in which there is no subjectivity (short yellow-light times, weird intersection rules) whatsoever? Would you still stumble around in search of an excuse to oppose them?

Consider the intersection of River Road and La Cholla Boulevard. According to the posted signs, there are no U-turns allowed in any direction. I stood on the corner one day and counted 24 illegal U-turns in a 15-minute period. No interpretation involved. No funny intersection design, no rigged signal timing. Just 24 people breaking the law, one right after the other. Would that be an okay use for a camera, and if not, why not?

Please pardon my ADHD moment (I know, I know. People say, "Moment?! Singular?!"), but I have to address something else. We could take a step forward as a country and as a civilization if politicians, bad Letter to the Editor writers and really bad Guest Columnists would stop using the phrase, "You can't just throw money at the problem."

The thing is that you really can throw money at a problem and make things much better. Let's say that the Sultan of Brunei is in Tucson to catch a Wildcats game. He's tooling around in his rented VW Jetta and he hits a monster pothole. He gets to the game, watches the Wildcats kick the snot out of somebody, then heads for the airport. At the car-rental place, he tells the woman behind the counter, "I had such a good time. Please tell the leaders of Tucson that I'm sending them a billion dollars with which to fix that pothole."

Would Tucson then have bad-ass streets or what? In all seriousness, if Tucson had no money for streets, the roads would be impassible (or nonexistent). If it had a billion dollars, the roads would be nearly perfect. So the quality does go indeed up with the money. It may be a logarithmic curve that flattens out after a while, but even the graph of log base 2 of x, which appears to approach the horizontal as it nears infinity, is always going up.

Obviously, Tucson isn't going to have a billion dollars to fix its streets, but more money would make things better.

These days, that phrase most often shows up in truly pathetic attempts at defending how Arizona's Legislature (and now, Governor, also) are finding near-sociopathic glee in strangling the life out of the state's once-proud public education system. Why are teachers so greedy?, we are asked. Why do schools need buses? Do we really have to have Special Ed? As you know, we can't keep throwing money at the problem.

That argument is absurd, especially seeing as how those who are responsible for providing sufficient funding for schools are actually doing the opposite of throwing money at a problem, and they're breaking the law while doing so.

Just imagine if a starting teacher were paid $100,000 a year with a generous year-end bonus while somebody on Wall Street would start at $28,000 a year and have to provide his own supplies. I think that would be a valid and noble reason to throw money at a problem. Of course, teacher and Wall Street guy are not analogous. Teachers do what they do to help make the world a better place. Wall Street guy just wants to make his loft a better place. Teachers have a heart; Wall Street guys have gizzards.

Finally, Tucson Unified School District's plan to allow students to evaluate their teachers is ... oh, I don't know ... let's go with STUPID!! What good can possibly come from this? The district claims that the questions were written in such a way as to prevent the students from taking revenge on a teacher. Yeah, right. Lousy students aren't going to be introspective and objective, and good students aren't going to want to waste their time on something that is (what's that word again?) STUPID!

The district will never share the results, but I'm betting that at least 80 percent of the surveys will come in with either all 1's or all 4's.

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