Matthew Schwartz Named to Oglethorpe University Fall Dean’s List

Matthew Schwartz,of Paeonian Springs was among just over 200 students from Oglethorpe University who made the Fall 2010 Dean’s List. The Business major is a second year student at Oglethorpe, who earned this distinction by reaching at least a 3.5 grade-point average while maintaining a full-time class schedule for the semester.




Clyde Kessler Named to Dean’s List at Hampden-Sydney College

Clyde Royal Kessler, a senior at Hampden-Sydney College, was named to the Dean’s List for the first semester of the 2010-2011 academic year. To earn this distinction, students must achieve at least a 3.3 semester grade point average out of a possible 4.0.

Clyde is a graduate of Loudoun Valley High School and is the son of Robert and Joanne Feickert of Round Hill.

A private college for men, Hampden-Sydney is ranked in the top tier of liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report. The College is known for its liberal arts curriculum, the Honor Code which stresses individual and collective responsibility, and a focus on the needs of young men.




Purcellville Police Blotter – Week of January 22

Click here to see this week’s Police Blotter.




Yard Sale – Part 2

“A guiding principle is that new ideas come from profound analysis of simple models – thinking deeply of simple things.” Ray Pierrehumbert, Principles of Planetary Climate, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

“Misery and poverty are frequently confused, because they are close – close, but located on either side of a limit. On one side, economic life is not assured; on the other side, it is assured. Beneath that limit, there’s misery, no certainty of a viable life, constant risk; above the limit, the risk stops, and poor or rich, there is assurance. Immediately above the limit is poverty, and above that are the successive zones of affluence. All below is misery; poverty is only a little above; thus the two are close in quantity, closer than much affluence is to poverty. Judging only by quantity, wealth is much further from poverty than poverty is from misery; but between poverty and misery is a distinction in quality, in nature.” Charles Péguy, 1902 essay “De Jean Coste.” [1]

Tony Noerpel

Following Pierrehumbert’s advice, Last week I discussed the need for simple economic models and listed some requirements of a good model. I suggested Pareto’s Yard Sale model [2] to describe the observed migration of wealth from middle class and poor to the wealthy which seems to have occurred in all human civilizations since humans discovered the principle of private property and commerce. Prior to about 10,000 year ago, humans lived as small (between 75 and 150 individuals) egalitarian groups based on hunting and gathering with little concept of private property. With private property came trade and with trade came inequality. Pareto’s yard sale model suggests that inequality is inherently a result of commerce even without considering individual characteristics such as intelligence, good looks, shrewdness or dishonesty. In a large population some individuals will win big and many will lose. There have always been kings and emperors, dictators and captains of industry while most of the population either just got by or were slaves or destitute. According to the yard sale economic model with near certain probability somebody will become as wealthy as Bill Gates. The probability that Gates’ himself would turn out to be that person were probably rather low but because of his personal characteristics and inherited wealth certainly much higher than most people.

Another simple model that can show that this propensity of commerce to make somebody rich and many people poor is the Gambler’s Ruin problem from probability theory [3]. If two gamblers start with an equal amount of money and make a series of small wagers on the outcome of the toss of a fair coin, it is easy to show in closed form that there is a 50 percent probability that the first player will become bankrupted and a 50 percent probability that the second player will become bankrupted and zero probability that the game will continue without bankruptcy. This result is exact.

Further, we can calculate the probability of ruin for the two players if they start with unequal amounts of money. As you would expect, the player starting with the most money is most likely to win. The problem can be made more interesting by varying the relative probabilities of each player’s chances of winning. In other words, if the first player cheats a little bit, he may increase his probability of winning each coin toss slightly but he will increase the probability of the second player going bankrupt substantially.

At this time, 129 million Americans have health care problems which qualify as pre-existing conditions. All of these people could be denied coverage by their private-for-profit health insurance companies if the GOP/FOX/corporate elite succeed in overturning Obama’s health care plan [4]. Since health problems are the principle reason families are forced into bankruptcy in the United States, more American families will become vulnerable if Republicans were to succeed.

A recent report published by the Levi Institute finds that the top 1 percent of American households by income hold 37.1 percent of all wealth. The next 4 percent hold 27.9 percent. The next 15 percent hold 22.2 percent. The next 20 percent holds 10 percent of all wealth. The middle quintile holds 3.1 percent of all wealth. The bottom 40 percent of American households hold -0.8 percent of all wealth. 24.1 percent of all American households have negative net worth [5]. We see that wealth distribution is highly skewed and most Americans are vulnerable to economic failure even without suffering a debilitating injury or illness. The author of this report, Edward Wolff, concludes:

We can see how the rising debt of the middle class made them vulnerable to income shocks and set the stage for the mortgage crises of 2008 and 2009 and the resulting financial meltdown. The rapid decline in house prices over these two years (on the order of 24 percent) left many middle-class families (I estimate 16.6 percent of homeowners) “underwater” (greater mortgage debt than the value of their homes) and, coupled with a sharp spike in unemployment, unable (or unwilling) to repay their mortgage loans.”

Since the exploitation of fossil fuels, humans have been able to create new wealth faster than the natural migration of wealth from middle class and poor to the wealthy. In the recent past, this has led to increasing prosperity for a greater number of people but it has not eliminated misery. The large middle class was a positive feedback further increasing total wealth. This led to the evolution of modern democracies and the sense of fairness in which we all believe. A prudent and honorable goal of our society might be that no American has to live in misery and indeed we were on our way to achieving this goal. Poverty as defined by Péguy is fine so long as all Americans have equal opportunity, access to education, freedom from hunger and adequate health care and nobody is forced into misery. While some unequal wealth distribution may be acceptable and even desirable, vast accumulation of wealth is quite unnecessary and is harmful to the democratic process. Chief Justice William Brandeis wrote [6]: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” One of the mantras of the current economic crises is that failed banks were “too big to fail” and were subsequently bailed out. The lesson might have been that we should not let corporations become too big to fail or individuals to wealthy and powerful to corrupt, but we appear to have lost the opportunity to learn and apply this important lesson.

Naturally, extreme wealth is connected with extreme influence and power and of course that corrupts democracy. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited funding of political campaigns by wealthy individuals and corporations probably signaled America’s transition from an oligarchy to a keptocracy [7]. Since Justices Scalia and Thomas met with the Koch Brothers who directly benefitted from the decision several times while the Supreme Court was dealing with the issue, they should have recused themselves. This is of course text book corruption.

Since the natural flow of wealth seems to be from poor to already wealthy and the natural evolution is to fewer and fewer larger and wealthier entities and individuals, we need a progressive income tax in order to redistribute wealth back to society. This is not a new idea but it is one that has been both successful and then successfully attacked by corporate elite, since the Reagan administration. We need to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision and institute real campaign finance reform. We can learn from more successful democracies. We also need to decide, as a nation, whether or not we are going to tolerate misery, as we do today, or work to eliminate it. Since most of us are perhaps a single transaction away from misery, this might be the preferred choice of a majority of well informed citizenry.

I don’t suggest that excess wealth be taxed and then simply given to the poor. What I suggest is that it be taxed and then invested in the needs of society such as building schools, financing single payer federal health care, building mass transportation systems and of course funding research and development.

In part 3 of this series, I will describe Herman Daly’s ecological economic model of the economy and how it can show us how to invest in society in a sustainable way.

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-01-17/decent-poverty-report-poverty-and-misery

[2] Brian Hayes, Follow the Money, American Scientist, Volume 90, Number 5
Page: 400, DOI: 10.1511/2002.5.400September-October, 2002 http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/follow-the-money/2

[3] Ghahramani, Fundamentals of Probability, second edition, Prentice-Hall, 2000.

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/17/AR2011011702842.html

[5] http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_589.pdf

[6] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis

[7] http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/01/20-2




The Unloved

By Mark Gunderman

Last year 62 children were provided an unconditional love in the GSA shelters. A total of 118 people lived in our shelters receiving 8,216 bed-nights and 20,540 meals in 2010. However 937 folks were turned away due to a lack of bed space. Over 1,400 near homeless families were assisted through GSA Outreach and Resources and Referrals programs.

There is an award winning homeless animal shelter in Waterford, Virginia. It is located on a beautifully landscaped 13 acre parcel of land not far from an historic village. The 13,000 square foot facility includes a state of the art heating and air-conditioning system, a clinic for dogs and cats and animal visitation rooms. The paid staff and volunteers are conscientious and well trained. The homeless animals are kept in comfort, provided human love and treated with dignity.

There is an award winning homeless human shelter in North Leesburg for women and children. We call the 10 acre property Hebron (place of refuge). The Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA) is determined to provide unconditional love to these people in their time of greatest need. When an individual or family comes to the GSA seeking shelter at our Women and Children’s shelter, they are required to enter the Six Steps to Self-Sufficiency Program. We believe it is essential to provide them opportunity to plan for a long-term solution; not just shelter for a specific period of time.

Some homeless people go through life never having been loved. They grow up in an environment being abused, neglected or even abandoned during childhood. They were unloved from birth. I call these people the unloved. As adults, they find themselves living in dysfunctional families or dysfunctional relationships. They frequently lose their jobs and apartments, friends and families and find themselves living out in the streets or in cars or vans or tents. People without shelter fall prey to parasites, frostbite, infection, hopelessness and violence.

Hebron House

Leesburg's Hebron House. Photo is courtesy of Vickie Koth.

Tucked away deep in the Loudoun Woods, Hebron House is shelter for single women and single mothers with children. The GSA operates this 22 bed emergency shelter named after a city in the Bible meaning “place of refuge.” Residents immediately enter into our Six Steps to Self-Sufficiency intensive case management program. The program is geared to helping families in crisis get back to work and find a permanent residence. Guests may stay up to 89-days in the emergency shelter.

The GSA Mission Statement is as follows:

The Good Shepherd Alliance, Inc. exists to provide women, children, and families in crisis with emergency shelter, food, clothing, children’s programs, and counseling and transitional housing for pregnant women so as to empower them to become self-sufficient in the shortest-possible time.

It is founded upon the faith that there is but one Creator and sustaining God who manifests Himself in three personal revelations as our loving Father as Jesus Christ the Son and as the Holy Spirit.

We believe that our loving God calls us to love Him and others unconditionally.

We believe in the proclamation of God’s love through acts of mercy and justice to the poor. We believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word of loving the world through acts of salvation, mercy and justice.

We believe that just as God used ordinary people in the Bible to accomplish His mission of love so God uses ordinary people today to accomplish His mission of love by proclaiming the Good News of salvation through acts of mercy and justice for those whom society finds hard to love.

We believe that it takes a unified effort on the part of all God’s people for His love to be given to and seen in a broken and needy world.

GSA has developed critical programming to meet the needs of homeless people. Our Six Steps Stage Development Model assesses the needs of homeless people and attempts to engage them in accessing support services such as shelter, clothes, and food, financial and medical aid. The children of homeless parents are assisted in registering in nearby public schools.

Homelessness can have detrimental effects on children’s cognitive, emotional, physical and psychological development. Risk factors facing homeless children include poverty, family problems, parental loss, violence and drug use. Children may experience the loss of family members, friends and familiar neighborhoods; disruptions in school attendance; and exposure to strangers and threatening situations. All of these stressors increase a child’s risk for physical and mental health impairment.

Goals for the parents include understanding the basic development needs of children and how homelessness impacts those needs, learning techniques and strategies to meet their children’s needs, and developing the self-confidence and competence to make wise family decisions.

Goals for the children include providing a secure, nurturing place where children can express their emotions, providing opportunities for regaining self-worth and a sense of accomplishment, and developing strategies for children to communicate their needs to the adults in their lives.

The staff and volunteers of GSA believe in the power of selfless service, providing the homeless with an unconditional love. This love includes commitment and compassion to service the sick, abused, hurt, unloved and powerless. Unconditional love that flows freely is the simplest and purest of all acts.

We are a community of plenty.

To whom much is given, much is expected.

This year, the Good Shepherd Alliance asks every man, women and school child living in Northern Virginia to please be conscious of the poor that live among us. Be men and women of courage. Be strong in faith. Above all things do everything in love and please, once a month, once a week or even once a day, be a Good Samaritan!

If you are interested in learning more about the range and depth of the GSA mission, please call our Ashburn office at 703-724-1555 or email at administration@loudounhomeless.org or visit our web site at www.goodshepherdalliance.org.

If anyone is interested in publishing a faith article on this web column, please contact Mark Gunderman at gunderman2001@aol.com.




Blue Ridge Leader News – January 23, 2011

Crime- and Punishment

Up to two years in prison and $5,000 in fines; how’s that for making racist remarks at a local department store and then beating up another customer who objects to your comments? The accused attacker from the January 2 incident at the Dulles Town Center Sears has been charged with a couple of misdemeanors, and may walk away with what many may feel is light sentencing.

Adam Clark Branson of Ashburn turned himself in to authorities and faces one count of assault and battery and another for disorderly conduct.

Perhaps they could force him to watch a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Defiant Ones, or even to read a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or maybe some of the more stirring speeches by the late Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

But, poetic justice seldom reigns supreme in our country.

Come on, Steve

Just go with me on this one: if I were to rob a bank, and give the money to a friend, would that person not be bound (knowing the money was illegally obtained) be bound to make the best attempt to get the cash back to its original owners?

Now- how about if I were to give the money to the Sheriff of the County, and he were to later hear that the money came from robbing a bank?

Are you with me on this one?

Well, our real Sheriff- Steve Simpson- recently donated $15,000 to various charities in Loudoun- a nice thing, in its own way; trouble is, this came in response to some heat from the media regarding some big donations to his campaigns by an eventual convicted felon (a man found guilty of defrauding various banks of tens of millions of dollars).

Now, you know the drill on Osama El-Atari- the Ashburn restaurateur who was put away for 12 years?

Well, he gave the Sheriff something like $35,000 over a two-year period- but only $15,000 of that came from the time El-Atari was proven to be stealing from banks.

One of the local papers got after the story and the Sheriff made his donation to 15 different charities- $1,000 each- this past December.

He happens to be in a re-election campaign.

I’ve voted for Steve every time he’s run for office, at least since I moved to Loudoun.

I’m not saying this situation erases my support, but I’d have to ask, whether or not he ever tried to find out what really should have been done with the money received from El-Atari- all of it.

Never mind if it was all spent on campaigns.

I’m sure- with his annual salary- he could take a $35K hit if it meant keeping his job.

He’s been a good Sheriff, in my opinion, and I’m glad he helped those local non-profits, but gosh-darn it, even if I mistakenly receive a piece of mail addressed to another person, I’m legally bound to direct it to its proper source.

Are you with me on this one?

Left and Right- Brain, that is

We’re confusing emotion and reason. It happens every year at this time- and I ain’t talkin’ Christmas.

No- it’s the budget.

See- reason tells us that the Supervisors agreed (at least by majority) to advertise a tax rate of up to $1.33- at a time when property assessments increased by a little under a percentage point.

Now, I’ll leave mathematics to the slide-rule boys, but even I can figure out that I’ll be paying more by the time all the shouting’s over.

And that’s where the emotion kicks in- and I say it’s unfair to confuse the two.

Who wants to raise taxes- or pay more than last year?

No-one, probably.

But you know we will.

Because the School System put in their wish list of some $757 million.

Like I said, this is where the emotion kicks in.

Who wants to cheat the teachers out of adequate pay- or force children to sit in the snow to learn?

No-one, probably.

But this will be pretty close to the rhetoric you’ll hear if you attend the public input sessions on the County budget.

I like low taxes.

I also like kids- and I love teaching.

So, here’s an idea: in order to be fair to the local taxpayers, and to the students who already live here, let’s just make a rule that we’ll only allow more families to move into Loudoun County if they don’t have any kids- and if they agree to a sterilization process, so we don’t have any ‘accidents.’

That’s really the only fair thing to do, as I see it.

We pay for the students who live here now- we don’t need to build any new schools- or hire any more new teachers- or expand the system in any way.

Because, unless we’re willing to make that rule- and enforce it- you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll all end up paying more in taxes every year, just to run the system that Loudoun’s in.

If you want you order a bigger hamburger, you have to pay for it.

And every year, this County orders (metaphorically) a bigger educational hamburger: more kids, through an already high birth rate and the attrition of welcoming more residents- none of them sterile, by the way.

So, I don’t need to get all emotional when I consider the annual budget; even a simple story teller like me can see that I’m gonna have to fork over more money- ’cause I live in a County that likes big hamburgers.

Yellow Brick Road

And, speaking of the green stuff, they’re gonna have to show me the money on this one: I’ve heard some early celebrating about the state agreeing to pay for some important local road projects. I say, let the party start when the check gets here.

County Board Chairman Scott York issued a heads up on a proposal by the Governor to fully fund a new interchange at Route Seven and Route 659- Belmont Ridge Road in Ashburn- as well as a flyover at the critically-busy crossing of the Bypass and Sycolin Road in Leesburg.

But- there’s the rub.

We gotta remember, it’s just a proposal, and it’s in Richmond, where strange things can happen- especially where money for Northern Virginia is concerned.

See- the legislators from the other sections of the Commonwealth- well, let’s just say that at least some of them believe we can pay for those two interchanges ourselves- we’re rich and we got it made up here.

The cost of those two projects may extend to $100 million before all is said and done.

Anybody got an extra hundred ‘mil’ lying around?

That’s what I thought. I’m fresh out, too.

I’m reminded that there’s a portion of the Formula One racing calendar called the ‘silly season.’

For some reason, trying to connect the dots between the Virginia Legislators, the General Assembly Session, and $100 million in Loudoun road money, this came to mind.

Train Wreck, or Intelligent Rule?

And, on this one, I’m honestly afraid to guess as to what the elected leaders in the Holy City may do; a couple of our local legislators crafted a bill that would give the County Board veto power over the controversial utility rates set by the Town of Leesburg. Senator Mark Herring’s legislation (co-sponsored by Delegate Joe May) refers specifically to the payments incurred by the residents outside the corporate limits.

It’s been an ugly situation since time immemorial- or immoral- between the Town leaders and the utility customers on the other side of the fence- but linked up to the municipal water and sewer system: it’s been through the courts, the papers, the Town Council Chambers and coming to a big screen near you (well, maybe not that last part, but it’s just about melodramatic enough for an episode of Desperate Housewives).

The pending bill would not allow the Town to charge higher rates than already ordered as of the first of this month; Council had lowered the prices after losing their initial lawsuit in Circuit Court, which was eventually overturned by the State Supreme Court. With all the jostling back and forth, the planned 100 percent was reduced; Council maintained privilege to revisit the pricing situation at a later time.

Now, with the Herring bill in the General Assembly, it may be out of the Council’s hands.

That is, if Senator Herring can convince his fellow Legislators to side against the Town of Leesburg, which has (arguably) more powerful lobbying clout than the backers of this item.

Like I said, I’m afraid to guess what the wise Virginia statesmen will do with this one.

After a morning’s news writing such as this, I often find I must turn to the solace of the great bard- Shakespeare- in which I find the comfort of simple treachery, drunkenness, lust and misbegotten love.

Tim Jon for the Blue Ridge Leader




Sushi’s Back

Hello out there, it’s me Sushi.

Wondering where I have been lately? Well let me tell you… I had a lot of work to do to run off my turkey belly after Thanksgiving. Then I had to sleep off my Pot Roast belly after Christmas. Now that that work is done I am keeping watch from the warm hay loft in the barn. I love it up here perched on top of my hay bales, watching out over the world of my little farm. I wish you would all come out and join me. Not a cozier feeling in the whole world than sitting on top a hay bale with the loft doors open and the sun warming your face in the midst of a cold winter blast!

We are bringing in the New Year with a bang at Fields of Athenry Farm. Popper one of Bernie and Lainos’ favorite ewes had the farms first set of twin ewe lambs this past week. (That’s “girl lambs” for those of you not too sure) Now Popper is special – it seems it was just yesterday when we were all sitting on hay bales down in the lambing stall when Popper was born on New Year’s Eve, in 2006.

Yep, you guessed it Popper and her twin brother Uncle Cracker – were born that New Year’s night, as the ball dropped in New York City!

As I watch out over my farm, as any mighty Cairn Terrier would do – I remember with fond memories, think of my future and my born and bred duties.

With clear resolution I promise to myself this will be my best year yet.

I think about when young lambs and baby geese are born how weary and tired they can get from a hard birth or the cold. I vow to protect and defend my barn yard. I commit to being cheerful by flashing my brilliant white tooth grin. When the sly ones sneak up from the forbidden woods and want to snack on Mrs. B’s favorite poultry, I will howl from the hay loft in warning. I will leap with ferocity onto the farm drive and stand my ground. I will defend all the small chicks unaware of the dangers that await them from the sneaky fox.

I promise to write each and every week that I can, to bring you my friends new “Tails” from the Barn Yard.

Speaking of new “Tails,” as the Farm Crier I have an announcement to make –

There are going to be some major changes in Mrs. B’s life……and her name is Stinging Nettle Nelly……………

Until next week,

Love, Sushi




Public invited to submit local redistricting plans

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is soliciting redistricting proposals (the redrawing of local election district lines) from citizens and interested groups. Instructions for submitting proposals are available at www.loudoun.gov/redistricting. Proposals submitted by 5:00 on Friday January 28, 2011 will be posted on the County’s website and made available to the Board for consideration. While early submissions are encouraged due to the limited time available to complete the redistricting, the public may submit proposals or comment at any time prior to a decision by the Board on a redistricting plan. Tentatively, the Board will decide on a plan in April 2011.




Join Woodgrove for a Wolverine Shoot Out

First annual Woodgrove Wolverine Shoot-a-Thon will be held on Saturday, February 5, at 4:30 p.m. at Woodgrove High School. Coach Douglas will be holding a free clinic for all WLBL players who attend the Shoot-A-Thon. Also the WLBL players will have the opportunity to rebound for the Woodgrove players during the Shoot-A-Thon. The Shoot-A-Thon will be part of Woodgrove’s Youth Weekend where all WLBL players in their jerseys will get in free to the games on Friday, February 4 beginning at 6:00 p.m. against Tuscarora and on Saturday, February 5 against James Wood beginning at 1:00 p.m. The Shoot-A-Thon will follow. Also the WLBL travel teams are invited to scrimmage at half time of the games Friday night against Tuscarora. The sixth grade team will play during the halftime of the Freshman team, the seventh grade team will play during the halftime of the JV game, and the eighth grade team will play during the halftime of the Varsity game. Come on out and support the boys.




Yard Sale – Part 1

“We make models in science but we also make them in everyday life. Model-dependent realism applies not only to scientific models but also to the conscious and subconscious mental models we all create in order to interpret and understand the everyday world.” Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 2010 [1].

by Tony Noerpel

In my last article [2], I discussed the difference between thinking dogmatically and thinking critically. In either case we construct models to help us understand reality. Using Paul O’Neill’s terminology, recall that an ideologue’s model is arbitrary and rigidly maintained without regard to facts. A philosopher’s model is based on facts and is continuously adjusted to accommodate new information. One might say that a philosopher (or physicist) is willing to accept the possibility that she might be wrong. The physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow write in The Grand Design [1] that a good model:

  1. Is elegant
  2. Contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements
  3. Agrees with and explains all existing observations
  4. Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.


We can ignore the first two points for now as these are subjective. The third point requires hard work, anathema to ideologues according to O’Neill, and the fourth point requires courage, as the models must be tested with the possibility that they may be incorrect or inadequate. Though economics is a soft science, a good economic model should have these properties also. A good economic model should explain observation and would have anticipated the recent housing bubble, the recession, the run up in gold and oil prices and the credit crises. The economist Gregory Mankiw in his popular text book, Principles of Economics [3] writes:

“In his 1776 book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith made the most famous observation in all of economics: Households and firms interacting in markets act as if they are guided by an ‘invisible hand’ that leads them to desirable market outcomes. One of our goals in this book is to understand how this invisible hand works its magic.”

An astute observer might note that James Watts invented the steam engine in the same year, 1776, which allowed the British to exploit the low entropy of their coal and that British coal production peaked in the early 1900’s coincident with the decline of their empire. In other words, a robust economy may have more to do with thermodynamics than magic.

Mankiw’s free market, small government model works reasonably well, though not perfectly, when the resources it ignores are not limited and when pollution does not overwhelm the economic system, but eventually it fails utterly. Given that the U. S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have both acknowledged that peak production of conventional crude oil has already occurred in 2005 and 2006 respectively, our economy is clearly resource constrained. Given the size of ocean dead zones, mountaintop removal mining, soil deterioration and global warming, our economy is further constrained by our pollution. Since our current and on-going economic crisis is thermodynamic in nature, a model which ignores entropy is not likely to do well. Recall that the physicist Arthur Eddington wrote that if your model contradicts the second law of thermodynamics there is no hope for it. We need better economic models. In this series of articles I propose three.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer/economist who died in 1923, collected vast amounts of data on wealth and income distribution from many different countries and from several time periods, which included a variety of economic and government types. He found that wealth was always distributed inequitably, following a power law distribution sometimes called the 80-20 rule or the Pareto principle, i.e., 80 percent of the people owned 20 percent of the wealth and 20 percent of the people owned 80 percent of the wealth [4]. One might observe that the invisible hand inevitably makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Pareto developed the “yard sale” economic model, which was nicely described in an article in American Scientist by the mathematician Brian Hayes [5]. This is the first of our three simple models. This model holds wealth constant and the initial distribution of wealth is uniform across the population. If the participants engage in transactions which are of exactly fair value (market efficiency holds) then the economy is stable and robust and continues forever with the same equitable distribution of wealth. However, if we assume instead that transactions are of unequal value even if only by a very small amount relative to the total value of the transactions, eventually one person accrues all of the wealth and the economy dies. To justify the latter assumption note that everybody who purchased a home after 2003 paid too much. Cleary the market is not efficient and there is no invisible hand guiding the economy. And this result is independent of skill, hard work, avarice, or intelligence as well as the details of the way the economy operates. An unregulated free market leads to inequality at least until it becomes so unstable that the economy breaks.

Pareto observed that the wealthy accumulated power as well. This destroys democracy and feeds corruption further aggregating both wealth and power in a positive feedback loop.

According to Mankiw a free market economy will encourage entrepreneurial ambitions and economic growth. This can appear to work if at the same time society is discovering and exploiting new sources of energy. With the discovery of fossil fuels wealth was created faster than the wealthy could co-opt it from the majority. Thus prospects for the majority improved and a large middle class was created in many societies including the United States. This in itself was a positive feedback which encouraged yet more growth. In the end though, the momentum of the unregulated free market is to aggregate wealth in a highly skewed power law distribution. As resources are depleted, wealth aggregation overwhelms wealth creation. The middle class becomes poor and the poor fall out of the economy altogether. This is happening in the United States today. Mankiw’s model does not predict this. In fact Mankiw reprints a gushing article by the articulate and insouciant free-market cheerleader David Brooks from November 27, 2004, just before the economic collapse, titled “Good News about Poverty” [6], describing how remarkably well the world economy was doing.

Pareto’s yard sale model while elegantly simple has obvious deficiencies. It ignores avarice and greed, intelligence and hard work, ambition, and other personality characteristics which might favor some individual’s fate over others. But we can show that these differences exacerbate inherent inequitable wealth accumulation. The yard sale model also starts from an equitable initial condition. In reality some of us are born into poverty and others into wealth. How we start out in life is a substantial disadvantage or advantage. Mankiw writes: “A person’s earnings depend on the supply and demand for that person’s labor, which in turn depend on natural ability, human capital, compensating differentials, discrimination, and so on.” While all that is true, Mankiw ignores initial conditions and pure luck or happenstance in the eventual distribution of income. We can appreciate how these differences might exacerbate inequitable distribution by considering a second model, the Gambler’s Ruin problem from probability theory [7]. We will do this in part two.

Finally, neither Pareto nor Mankiw consider thermodynamic limits. When we discover how to exploit new sources of low entropy, more surplus wealth is created. On the other hand, all wealth is far from thermodynamic equilibrium so that cars rust and bananas rot. Our clothes become threadbare and our infrastructure deteriorates. Wealth is continually destroyed and needs replacing. Pollution and misallocation of resources extract wealth from the economy. The eventual cost of addressing global warming will far exceed, by several orders of magnitude, the relatively meager immediate gains (capital formation) made by the wealthy as a consequence of ignoring the problem. The nuclear arms race had cost the United States over five trillion dollars by 1998 [9]. All of our federal debt can be attributed to misallocating the nation’s capital and low entropy towards military spending and as a consequence our country is being bankrupted by the same forces that bankrupted the Soviet Union. All of these factors, including the incipient housing market collapse were evident by the time Brooks wrote his ill-considered column.

Consider that Mankiw published the fourth edition in 2007, after the housing bubble burst and well into the credit crises and several years after peak oil, yet his book does not contain any information about bubbles, resources, crashes or derivatives. One would think that it would not be so difficult to make predictions after they’ve already happened.

Thermodynamic impacts can be appreciated by considering our third model, Herman Daly’s ecosystem model of the economy. We will address this aspect in part three.

These three models (perhaps not elegant but simple) together can suggest in broad terms what we need to do in the United States in order to preserve our economy and society and ensure its sustainability. They are too crude to supply the detail. However, given the direction in which we are headed, and which most of us inherently understand is not good, comprehending those broad terms would be an enormous benefit.

The conclusion of Pareto’s yard sale model is that happenstance alone naturally exacerbates inequality. As we will see human frailty, such as greed, inevitably makes this condition worse.

[1] Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam Books, 2010.

[2] http://brleader.com/?p=2550

[3] Mankiw, Principles of Economics, Fourth Edition, South-Western Cengage Learning, 2007.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilfredo_Pareto

[5] Brian Hayes, Follow the Money, American Scientist, Volume 90, Number 5
Page: 400, DOI: 10.1511/2002.5.400September-October, 2002 http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/follow-the-money/2

[6] David Brooks, Good News about Poverty, The New York Times, November 27, 2004, reprinted page 435 in Mankiw, 2007.

[7] Ghahramani, Fundamentals of Probability, second edition, Prentice-Hall, 2000.

[8] Herman Daly, Beyond Growth, Beacon Press, 1996.

[9] Stephen I. Schwartz, Atomic Audit The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, Brookings Institution Press 1998.




Blue Ridge Leader News – January 16, 2011

Exchanging Fire

A young man from Manassas has some explaining to do- that is, if he recovers from the gunshot wound sustained in a shoot-out that killed a Leesburg man. Thursday’s incident took the life of 29 year old William Henry Welch III, of Bride Crest Square.

The Prince William County Sheriff’s Office said that the two men knew each other, and that they were the only ones involved.

Both men were shot in the upper body; emergency personnel flew the surviving Manassas man to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

At last word, the investigation remained active, charges pending.

The Last Third

After a local family lost two members in a recent car crash, the man who initially drove into the path of their vehicle to cause the tragedy, has himself passed away from injuries in the accident. George Radston of Ashburn died this past Wednesday at Inova Fairfax Hospital; he was 58 years old.

The Christmas Eve crash on Route Nine in western Loudoun took the lives of Timothy Doane of Harpers Ferry and his father, David, from Tennessee.

Investigators believe Radston’s eastbound Pontiac struck the Doanes’ Toyota Prius after he lost control and crossed the center line; the Pontiac rolled, throwing Radston from the vehicle, and it struck a third car- a Volkswagen Jetta, whose driver and passenger suffered minor injuries from the impact.

Condolences now extend to the family and friends of George Radston, as well as Timothy Doane and his father David.

Good Places to Crash

You’ll recall that we discussed the most dangerous intersections in the County last Sunday; well, this week, we’ll focus on Leesburg- you should be able to come pretty close to guessing the results. Town Police listed the top five crash sites for 2010, with the Bypass and Sycolin Road crossing the most accident-prone; it had 50 incidents last year.

Another spot on the Bypass- at Edwards Ferry Road- came in at Number Two, with 31 crashes.

Three spots along East Market Street finished up the Top Five List: the Battlefield Parkway intersection with 28 accidents, Cardinal Park Drive with 22, and Fort Evans Road, with 14.

As you can see, the Top Five crash sites in Leesburg all came on the Bypass or East Market Street- all in the eastern part of Town.

Drive safely in the East and the West, the North and the South.

Some of the best driving advice I ever heard came from a former Loudoun County State Trooper- Lieutenant Tom Martin; he transferred to another position down in the Virginia Beach area. He told me that Loudoun’s roads had become so congested (and this was back about 10 years ago!) that you can’t afford to lapse even for an instant in attention. Both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road, and NO multi-tasking.

Just drive.

I’d like to know, if all the participants were completely honest, how many of our local crashes in a year stemmed from some form of driver inattention.

Come on now, be honest: how many times have you had a close call when changing a CD, or making a quick cell phone call, or performing some other, ‘innocent’ procedure?

And- remember: you got lucky.

Lincoln- the Enemy

We are being threatened by three pennies. Those little Lincolns can be pretty scary when they outnumber you and get you cornered.

I know I’m frightened.

The County Administrator announced that the Supervisors would have to raise the local tax rate by exactly three cents on the dollar, if the Board so chooses to pass a budget which would cover the request by the Public School System, which has yet to officially approve its own financial plan for the next cycle.

The local tax rate currently stands at $1.30; the Supervisors plan to talk about that extra three cent issue at this week’s meeting.

The School’s proposed budget of $727 million ($47 million up from last year) would include salary increases (some say overdue), and accommodations for the growing student population.

At times like this, I have to see Loudoun as a very funny place.

Some of us are obscenely wealthy, and still complain about taxes; others in the rich column gladly pay their share.

A portion of the population struggles to maintain a semblance of ‘normal’ living, by working several jobs; many of them complain of the high cost of surviving in the area- others are happy just to be able to pay their rising bills.

And some of our population, no doubt, have no legal resident status in the United States; we probably educate some of their children as well.

Local and regional influences (see last week’s news story on this topic) continue to raise the price tag on public education in Loudoun County.

It’s as predictable as the movement of the planets.

I’m not surprised when we’re told (on an annual basis) that it’s gonna cost more money to cover the cost of schools for the next 12-month cycle.

And I’m certainly not surprised, in an area where I see unchecked tempers flare on the highway nearly every day, that this complicated phenomenon turns us against one another.

It’s a scenario akin to a truckload of chickens, pecking each other to death on the way to the slaughterhouse.

Just don’t be a chicken.

Over the Edge?

A sense of bravery will surely be needed for the small army of staff workers in the County Seat over this current budget discussion. The Town Manager urged Council Members to consider reductions in employee numbers as a means of closing a $2 million affordability gap in next year’s financial picture, and they complied.

Some assurance (small, indeed, for those who find themselves on the short end of the stick) came in the announcement that the Town would provide extended notice to any workers to be laid off, as well as a three-month severance package, with health insurance coverage during that time.

A cold winter, indeed, for the Town employees who receive those pink slips.

I’m sure it’ll be a long budget process for those who feel their jobs may be in jeopardy.

It’s a Real Holiday, Now

But, the Good News in Leesburg over this past week is: the Town Council declared Christmas!

Well, sort of.

They voted to change the name of some of the December festivities to “The Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting Ceremony,” which evidently seeks to accommodate rites of both Christian and Jewish faiths.

Not so for the annual December Parade, however; the Town Attorney warned against labeling the activity with any particular religious branch, as this could make the appearance of issues involving possible exclusion of various groups.

The current, generic (holiday), label evidently allows for more flexibility.

So, Christmas returns to Leesburg, albeit in January.

The Thrilla, or the Rumble?

I’m reminded, writing this on Sunday morning, that- every so often- a snazzy boxer like Muhammad Ali would come up against a real no-nonsense fighter (in the prime of his career) like Joe Frazier, as in their bout at Madison Square Garden in 1971. This thought came in reading over the latest shenanigans in the PATH energy application.

They evidently tried to dance away from the proceedings (again) in requesting another stay in the timeline; they weren’t knocked out of the ring, but the hearing examiner did veto their bid for extension.

The tactics, over the past couple of years, for the folks behind the Potomac Appalachian Tramsnission Highline, have been to (seemingly) get all their ducks in a row for passage or denial by the State Corporation Commission, then try to put the process in the deep freeze.

Why?

Well, maybe to exhaust the mounting opposition.

The PATH design would string wires from West Virginia to Maryland, including a stretch across Northern Loudoun; you can imagine the feathers they’ve stirred up, especially since they’ve had trouble convincing the SCC of the need for the project.

Going back to one of my favorite analogies, I recall the early Cassius Clay possessing enough stamina to elude the best of heavyweight boxers (Sonny Liston, among others), simply wearing them down for the eventual bee’s stings.

Well, in this case, the referee, or SCC Hearing Examiner, denied the PATH request to dance away from the fight; he ordered them to box.

He plans to bring the applicants to the table this week to formalize the next steps.

A local public hearing comes up on the 4th of February at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville.

You can bet the opposition will be out in force at that one- they had better; I’ve had the smart money on Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power all along. I would be very surprised if they- eventually- don’t get their way and prevail in the application.

I came to greatly appreciate the skill of the more mature Muhammad Ali, particularly in the bout against the heavily favored George Foreman, in Zaire in 1974. The eluding (and illusion) still paid off.

But, then again, the PATH opponents, this time, may have just caught their opponent in a vulnerable state, as Larry Holmes did with Ali in 1980.

The day of consolidated, overhead transmission lines may one day end in this part of the country, and the current amalgam of opposition seem to be on top of their game.

Just don’t put the lights out.

MLK

Lest we all forget the reason that many of us can sleep in tomorrow morning, here’s a reminder of local observances for Martin Luther King Junior Day. Activities in Loudoun County start with an assembly at 10 o’clock in the morning at the Courthouse Square in Leesburg, followed by a march to the Douglass Community Center- with organized programs for much of the afternoon.

Observances take sponsorship by cooperative efforts by the Douglass Alumni Association, Loudoun NAACP, the Bluemont Concert Series and the Baha’i Community of Loudoun.

Martin Luther King Junior came into the world 82 years ago in Atlanta- the son of a schoolteacher and Baptist Minister.

The Reverend King fought discrimination for over a decade until his assassination in 1968.

The United States began celebrating his birthday just 24 years ago.

We remember the man’s name today as almost synonymous with the words love, equality and non-violence.

Tim Jon for the Blue Ridge Leader




A Letter of Thanks

The final tally is now in and ten local nonprofits are the beneficiaries of the $15,000 raised through the Loudoun Alternative Gift Fair during the 2010 Holiday season. The Fair was coordinated by Loudoun Interfaith Bridges and Loudoun Cares with two goals in mind: provide our community with truly meaningful gift giving opportunities while raising much needed resources for local nonprofits.

Both of our goals were accomplished thanks to generous sponsors, corporations, individuals and faith communities. Three entities, Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation, Inova Loudoun Hospital and the Loudoun County CEO Cabinet stepped up at levels that insured the success of the Fair. Other key sponsors and supporters included: Blue Ridge Title and Escrow, Inc., Bob Miller of Southern Trust Mortgage, Burnett and Williams Personal Injury Attorneys, Dr. Gordon Culp, Optometrist, Mel Pine’s Allstate Insurance Agency, Sperry Van Ness/Vaaler Real Estate and local artist, Elaine Nunnally.

The beauty of the Loudoun Alternative Gift Fair is that it meets the needs of the growing number of gift givers looking for alternatives to the holiday shopping frenzy while supporting local nonprofits that strengthen our community through health care, literacy, homeless services, youth volunteerism, mental health advocacy and much much more.

Thanks again to all who made the 2010 Loudoun Alternative Gift Fair a community giving success. Look for us again in 2011. We expect to be back with new ideas and even more giving opportunities.

Sincerely,
Steve Wolfson, The Arc of Loudoun
Kristi Stilen-Lare, Blue Ridge Speech and Hearing Center
Laura Dove, Friends of Homeless Animals
Stephanie Foran, Friends of Loudoun Mental Health
Yvette Castro-Green, La Voz of Loudoun
Andy Johnston, Loudoun Cares
Debra Dever, Loudoun Community Health Center
Candace Kroehl, Loudoun Literacy Council
Tracey Parent, Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers
Helen Richardson, Volunteers of America – Chesapeake




Update: Crooked Run Condemnation Hearing Scheduled for Jan. 11

*UPDATE: At last night’s Purcellville Town Council Meeting January 11, 2011, a public hearing was held regarding Condemnation-Quick Take of the Crooked Run Orchard property. Over 50 Town and County residents attended, and more than 20 people spoke at the hearing. Only two speakers were in favor of the agenda item. In a 7-0 vote, the Purcellville Town Council voted to Condemn via quick take condemnation powers over seven acres of Crooked Run Orchard for the Southern Collector Road. (the parcel is 16 acres)

Town Council members kept repeating that this was the “original” alignment. It is not, it is an entirely new alignment. The road has been moved entirely onto the Brown property, locating the road less than 75 feet from their home and making the annexation of the O’Toole property unnecessary. In preparation to seek State and Federal funding the Town has submitted documents for 4 lanes and 40 mph. The original alignment only required 3.08 acres, the new alignment will take almost half the 16 acres and destroy the main barn and farm road to the back 40 acres.

The offer to purchase the property did not address any safe access to other parcels or fence protections, nor any plans to replace or compensate for destroyed mature fruit trees, or replacement of the barn.


On January 11, 2011, the Purcellville Town Council will hold a public hearing on the “quick-take”/eminent domain condemnation of a portion of Crooked Run Orchard. The 200 year-old farm carries a “Century Farm” designation and is the only working farm in the Town of Purcellville. Portions of the farm are due to be condemned to make way for the proposed Southern Collector Road (SCR). The condemnation seeks to take immediate possession of four to seven acres of one 16 acre parcel of the farm – an action that would cut the farm in two, and place the four lane portion of the SCR less than 75 feet from the Brown’s home.

The Town of Purcellville is seeking the condemnation even though Sam Brown is involved in a family partition lawsuit seeking to purchase his brother’s share of the property. Sam owns 100 percent of the Crooked Run Orchard business, but shares ownership of the 16 acres and another parcel with his brother. Once he is sole owner of the land, Sam and his wife Uta plan to fully restore and place their home on the Historic Registry. It was built in 1908, and Sam’s father moved into it when he was three months old – the same year Purcellville was incorporated. Sam also intends to place the land in Conservation Easement to preserve it in perpetuity for the enjoyment and education of generations to come.

It was only one year ago that the Town held a public hearing to “quick take” over two acres of the Brown’s back 40 acre parcel of the farm for the Town’s preferred alignment of the SCR. “Quick Take” powers, which transfer land from private ownership to government ownership is a particularly severe form of eminent domain, and is one of the most intrusive powers of a government. It means that the Town can take immediate title to the land, and parts of Crooked Run Orchard can be bulldozed and built on as soon as the title is secured.

Even if the government’s possession of the property is later judged to be unwarranted, the owner has no recourse for compensation for damages that the town might have done to the property and business. In Crooked Run Orchard’s case, planned government activity would include the destruction of dozens of mature fruit trees, and the demolition of the large main barn used by the Browns to store all of the farm equipment used for daily operations. Immediate activity would also remove an existing farm road (the only road providing access to the back 40 acre parcel) and create a development path that would threaten significant streams and tree canopies. The Town would not be obligated to pay for any damages, even if the damages were so severe that it caused major losses to the farm business. Moreover, the Town has never addressed their farm operations and safety concerns. The most recent contract to purchase this land for the road did not mention a bridge, road, culvert, or tunnel, which might provide access to the back 40 acres of their farm. Nor is there language about fencing the portions of their property that would be exposed to pedestrian, vehicle and other traffic.

For this reason, in early of 2010, a judge granted Sam Brown a temporary injunction to protect his livelihood and avoid irreparable damage to his property until a Town vs. County lawsuit is settled. Purcellville has failed to include the County in its Phase 2 annexation procedures, as required by joint agreement. Purcellville is annexing land, and approving development projects at a very fast pace and without County input, even though the County and Town joint agreement requires Purcellville to prove it can provide short and long term utilities to existing and future residents and businesses.

Ironically, in November of 2010, Vice Mayor Wiley sent a letter to Blue Ridge Supervisor Jim Burton admitting that the current alignment does the most damage to Crooked Run Orchard and is not the preferred alignment of the Town Council. The Town is moving forward anyway and quickly. It has been standard operating procedure for the Town of Purcellville to hold a vote on the same night as the public hearing. Most localities do not vote the same night as a public hearing, in order to give sincere consideration to the input of their residents.

Previous Town Council actions have shown a distinct disapproval of government overreaching while exercising the extreme and potentially destructive powers of eminent domain. For example, at the July 19, 2005 Purcellville Town Council meeting, a “Resolution outlining the Town’s Policy toward the use of eminent domain powers for Economic Development” carried 7-0. A motion was made by then Council member Robert Lazaro that “Therefore, be it resolved that the Town Council of the Town of Purcellville hereby refrains from legislating law that allows government to take property from citizen A and give it to citizen or corporation B.” Major commercial development is planned for the areas immediately surrounding Crooked Run Orchard. Sam Brown and others see the Town’s planned Quick Take action as a way to promote developer interests at the farm’s expense – indeed favoring one citizen or corporation over another.

In April 2010, Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli told the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce that he wants to add stronger property rights protection to Virginia’s Constitution. He also has said, “The right to own and keep private property was considered among the most fundamental rights by the Founding Fathers; a right that I believe should be protected at both the state and federal levels”. Public comments on Eminent Domain/Quick Take of the Brown property will be heard on Tuesday, January 11 at the Town Hall at 7:00 p.m.