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A Hidden Structural Bias

Many discussions are swirling about in an effort to try to right the wrongs of centuries of oppression of people of color in America. The ivory tower is no exception, and faculty and students are trying to find ways to support students of color to come and be a part of the university.

But what if one of the biggest obstacles is the university’s business model? Here at CU Boulder, this seems to be a significant problem.

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Shoot the Messenger?

One of the peculiarities of American politics is the disconnect between views on specific policies and how people vote. For a long time, Obamacare polled lower than the Affordable Care Act, despite the two being one and the same. While political scientists will point to how much political identification has become a core part of folks’ personalities, GG suspects there is a bit more at play. Namely that the Democrats are perversely capable of taking popular policies and then applying a label that causes a knee-jerk reaction against that policy.

Take gun laws, which most Americans think should be tightened, with increased background checks being at the top of the list, but even banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons earns majority approval. So then Beto O’Rourke comes along and boldly says “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47”. Which, you know, doesn’t poll quite as well, and which are pretty clearly fighting words. The net result? In part, it helped end Beto’s longshot Presidential campaign, but it did ignite another, more successful campaign, that of Lauren Boebert, whose appearance at a O’Rourke rally to tell him that he was not going to take her guns helped put her in Congress.

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Placing Blame

10/2/20 update: The Atlantic has an in-depth story about the University of Arizona, which has a lot of resonance with CU’s (mis)adventures. A failing in that story is not considering if the $200M hole they thought they faced was factual or perhaps too pessimistic compared to the reopen case…

The media has broadly discovered that universities made bad bets on controlling the coronavirus and that this has yielded a lot of infections; one study suggests about 3000/university; the New York Times counts over 130,000, about 100,000 of which are in the past six weeks. There is a lot of finger pointing going on, but most of it is highly counterproductive. GG thinks we all can agree this has gone poorly, but grumpy here wants us to look for the root mistake. So let’s take a swing at this.

In the spring panic was in the air and schools closed quickly. What happened next is quite instructive. In early May, the California State University system said it would be online only in the fall (save for a few limited courses)–and they have already announced the same for the spring. A story exploring this decision at the time points to three main aspects of CSU: (1) commuter focused, (2) already an online player (3) financial costs. In essence, they decided that the $25M/week cost of testing students was unaffordable. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were not hurting for students.

What this says is that it was very obvious last spring that congregating students would be a likely problem unless you did enough testing. Every university administrator had to know this by early May. So why have so many screwed up?

The simple, bare naked truth is pretty obvious: money.

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Unscrambling COVID numbers

Simply put, there is a lot going on with the numbers of tests, hospitalizations, and deaths for COVID-19. Frankly, each state (and often each county) will be different. Below we’ll look at the oddities of reporting in Colorado and how to get past various biases to get a sense of what is really going on. It really seems like the media–even some of the more quantitatively capable media–are missing some important fine points. To get to numbers reflecting growth of the disease in a community, you have no simple proxies, though there are some general guidelines.

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Boulder COVID Photos

Every community is different, and as the pandemic has moved from novel to pervasive, some of the messaging has evolved. Here are some of the signs of coronavirus over time here in Boulder:

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Growing Pains

As GG has noted before, Boulder finds itself torn between NIMBYism and starry-eyed idealism. The discussion is getting snippy, with the slow-growth neighborhood activists accusing kill-joys of wanting to destroy what makes Boulder a nice place to live and make it Manhattan under the Flatirons. Affordable housing advocates accuse the slow-growthers of being selfish, pulling up the ladder behind them to prevent worthy but lower-paid folks from achieving the Boulder dream. We’ve talked about the inconsistencies in both stances before, so we’ll let you see the particulars elsewhere.  Just let it be known that neither side comes off as cleanly idealistic as they claim.

Here’s the thing.  The only reason for this dispute is growth. Read More…

Bad Behavior

On the grand scheme of things, this is way down the list, but as this blog is from time to time an outlet for a grumpy geophysicist, off we go!

Here in Boulder we have three main classes of travellers: those in automobiles, those on bicycles, and those on foot.  (We will for the moment omit the other, growing classes of motorized skateboards and scooters as well as e-bikes as well as the rather small motorcycle population). GG is in each group most weeks outside the snowy months and so gets to observe behaviors of all three from multiple perspectives.

Now Boulder strives to be bike-friendly, having built multipurpose paths, striping bike lanes on many streets and occasionally putting barriers up between bike lanes and traffic.  The city has signed on to Vision Zero, a program to eliminate traffic fatalities. Now overall most traffic fatalities are car crashes, but in Boulder, according to a city draft study, it is a near tie between those in cars seriously injured (65 from 2015-2017) and those on bicycles seriously injured (61 in the same time period). When you figure that the number of miles driven is probably a healthy factor of 10 or more more than miles biked, it is clear that bicyclists are more art risk.  And so it is hardly a surprise that while bikes are involved in 6% of the crashes in Boulder, they are involved in 39% of the ones producing serious injury or death. For this reason, the city is focused on getting drivers to behave better.

Too bad they have their eyes on the wrong group.

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Football Spotlight

The New York Times has swung its spotlight on Boulder once again, but this time with the somewhat implausible notion that CU is leading the way to end college football. The motivation for the piece is a pair of votes by two regents against approving the contract for a new football coach–not because of any objection to the coach himself, but to protest supporting a game that damages the brains of its players.

This arguably is the third strike against football here at CU, but don’t expect any changes.  There was first a series of recruiting scandals that took out most of the university administration, then there continues to be an uproar over the amount of money collected and spent on football and how little goes to benefit players, and now we are recognizing the incongruity of higher education being the site for systematic brain damage leading to early death or suicide. Add them all up you’d think this would be the death knell for the sport at CU. Don’t hold your breath, (though it would probably end college admissions scams we’ve heard so much about recently)….

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Spring is Here…

…and while in other places flowers are blooming and trees are leafing out, in the Rockies it is fall.

Falling rocks, that is:


This is a spot on the road between Boulder and Nederland a little above Boulder Falls that GG has always been very wary of.  Fortunately it appears nobody got hit by a rock, though once you start having rockfalls in a spot there is an increased risk of more.  Probably the state highway department will have a close look in the near future.

Springtime is a big time for rockfalls as solid freezes of the winter give way to freeze-thaw and bigger temperature swings on canyon walls. Occasionally cars get crushed, usually cars parked under steep rocky slopes. More hazardous are rockfalls into dwellings.

Forced Pooling note

Just a quick pointer to a real rarity–an op-ed on oil and gas development that seems firmly based on fact.  The Boulder Daily Camera weighed in on the rather ridiculous forced pooling laws in Colorado (the next time some oil and gas advocate claims that Colorado is the strictest state in the country for development, remind them about Colorado’s forced pooling laws, which are the nation’s loosest). As a quick reminder, forced pooling means that your minerals can be developed against your wishes; GG discussed this at somewhat greater length awhile back.  In some states it takes 50% or more of the rights holders to trigger this.  In Colorado, it is a single rights holder. In some areas, oil companies have canvased neighborhoods looking for one resident willing to sign over development rights, which would unlock the whole area.