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On the Off Chance You Missed this...

On the off-chance you have not seen this 20-lateral play by Trinity, here it is:

In American Football, the other ten players without the ball are taught to go downfield and throw a block.  However, if everyone does this, then a play like this becomes impossible, because no one is behind the ball carrier to receive a lateral.  I played rugby for years, and the training there is different.  You want to get behind the ball carrier diagonally to be ready to receive the ball.  This is what you see here -- watch for it.  Players are backpedaling to get in position.  I don't know if any of these players had rugby training -- I do know that a number of the Cal players in "the play" were also rugby players.

Posted on October 31, 2007 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Anti-Trust is Anti-Consumer

Pursuing what has become a familiar theme on Coyote Blog, we again revisit anti-trust, and in the process, discover why the NY Times might be better off putting its editorial inanities back behind a firewall.

Writing about Intel, the NY Times editors say:

The abuse of market power to protect a monopoly hurts consumers and hinders innovation — locking out smaller rivals that may have better products with new features or lower prices. With an 80 percent to 90 percent share of the microprocessor market, Intel wields much more power than your local supermarket. Its threat to raise prices the moment a customer tries to buy from rival A.M.D. can lock in even the largest computer makers — which depend on Intel for most of their products and can’t simply swap all their processors overnight. And with such a level of control, Intel doesn’t have to exert itself to come up with new and better products.

Which I guess is why Lotus 1-2-3 must still have a hammerlock on the spreadsheet market, Creative must still dominate in MP3 players, IBM must still own the computer market, and GM must still rule the automotive roost.  How can any sentient human being who has lived through the past 20 years doubt that, particularly in technology, market dominance is as fleeting as the next technology cycle.   In fact, AMD several years ago made a huge penetration of the market with a series of processors a year or two ahead of Intel.  Most average consumers who can't even figure out how to attach a photo to an email never noticed, but among those who understood and cared, AMD ruled the roost.

Oh, and what was Intel's crime?

They say Intel is improperly protecting its stranglehold of the microprocessor market by offering big discounts and rebates to computer makers who minimize the use of processors made by rival Advanced Micro Devices, and punishing those who stray with higher prices.

Oh my god, they are offering discounts to loyal customers!  Don Boudreax gets right to the heart of it:

Monopolists raise prices; firms facing competition do not.  Intel keeps its prices low, meaning that it behaves competitively.  Yes, Intel's pricing practices make life more difficult for AMD and other rivals, but that's what competition is supposed to do.

The popular myth is that anti-trust policy is about protecting consumers.  Well, it may have been at one time or another, but currently it is all about protecting competitors who have political pull.  The Europeans are shameless about this, using anti-trust as a bludgeon to hamstring US companies who are out-competing EU home-grown competitors.  Now the NY Times wants to emulate this practice, explicitly calling on the government to force Intel to raise prices to make things easier for its competitors.

Update:  By the way, is there anyone out there who thinks Dell or H-P don't get the best possible pricing from Intel, with or without AMD purchases?  The coy little personal shopping example in the opening paragraph of the editorial is probably to help the reader forget that we are talking about Intel selling to customers who are big boys too.

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Wow! Megan McArdle on Vouchers

I won't even bother to try to excerpt the post.  Just read it if you are interested in vouchers.  Or Education.  Or just read it anyway.

OK, I lied, one excerpt.  She is refuting anti-voucher arguments.  Here is #11:

11)  There's no way to assure the quality of private schools Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously? The problem with private schools is that they can't match the same level of quality we've come to expect from our urban public school system? And what else have you learned in your visit to our planet?

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Chanelling Milton Friedman

For years I have tried to find the right words to express my frustration with the notion that the problems encountered with government planning and technocratic meddling was merely the fault of having the wrong humans in charge, rather than of the system itself.  For example. I wrote:

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter. And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well, what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial lawyers.  In establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for their own body  (other thoughts here). Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that the machinery of control you created would never fall into your political enemy's hands.

Well, it turns out that Milton Friedman said it better decades ago.  Megan Mcardle reminded me of this passage from Free to Choose:

The error of believing that the behavior of the social organism can be shaped at will is widespread. It is the fundamental error of most so-called reformers. It explains why they so often feel that the fault lies in the man, not the "system"; that the way to solve problems is to "turn the rascals out" and put well-meaning people in charge. It explains why their reforms, when ostensibly achieved, so often go astray.

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Remembering East Berlin, With a Thought about Health Care

I remember in about 1978 going on a bus tour into East Berlin through checkpoint Charlie.  It is hard to describe to my kids what a creepy experience this was.  The state-run tour was clearly run by the propaganda ministry, and they really pulled out all the stops to convince you that life was great in the East.  The interesting part is that all this propaganda failed miserably.  No matter what streets they took you down, you couldn't help but notice the stark contrast in prosperity between East and West.  East Berlin was full of buildings in 1978 that still had not been rebuilt from WWII bomb damage  (this actually might have been a plus, since much of West Berlin was rebuilt in that hideous 50's European public architecture).

The most amazing statement was when the tour guide bragged, "And over 70% of everyone in the city has running water."  It was just so clueless and pathetic, to be so out of touch that what Westerners considered a statistic indicating poverty was hailed as one they thought indicated wealth.

I was reminded of this story when I read the British NHS response to an article that over 70,000 Britons a year travel abroad for health care.  Their response was:

A Department of Health official said the number of patients seeking treatment abroad was a tiny fraction of the 13 million treated on the NHS each year.

Waiting times had fallen. Almost half of patients were treated within 18 weeks of seeing a GP. Most people who had hospital care did not contract infections.

I had exactly the same response as I did to the East Berlin tour guide.  Half within 18 weeks?!  That's PATHETIC.  Again, what we Americans know to be awful service is being bragged about as a sign of excellence. 

The really creepy part, though, is that America is the last place on Earth that people understand that a medical system can do much better than 18 weeks.  But we are likely to elect a President in the next election whose goal is to bring our system down to the level of the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, someday our grandkids may not know any better.

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Giving to State Universities

A few weeks ago, I discussed how Ivy League schools came under fire from some leftist for not spending their endowments fast enough.  Obviously this guy has been a succesful adviser to Congress.

Anyway, one of the differences between private and state schools is not just that many private institutions get a lot more per alumnus giving.  Another big differentiator is how the money gets spent.  Here is a great example of private giving taking on the, uh, most critical challenges in public education.  Via Market Power.

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

When an Ivy League Degree is a Handicap

Megan McArdle writes:

Why is it so much fun to hate Ivy Leaguers? In part, because they (well, we*) can often be so hateable. For years, I toyed with the idea of offering a prize to the first Harvard grad I met who did not, in the first ten minutes of conversation, manage to work that fact into the conversation somehow.

OK, I have a couple of Ivy League degrees, so now I have fallen into the trap as well.  But I say that mainly to tell a story about running a small business.

Running a service business that is dispersed across many locations in 12 states, I cannot personally be on top of everything.  Not even close.  I depend on my employees taking the initiative to tell me when they think the company should be doing something differently or better.  However, many of my employees do not have college degrees at all.  This is not a problem for their job performance, as most have a lot of life experience and they do their jobs quite well.  Unfortunately, if or when they find out I have a Harvard B-School degree, the very likely outcome is that they stop making suggestions.  They make the assumption that because I have a more expensive piece of paper on my wall than they do, that I must know what I am doing.  They are embarrassed to try to give me suggestions.  Which is a crock.

I constantly have to hammer home two messages to my employees, both of which are hard to get people to believe despite the fact that they are true:

  1. Most of my employees do their job better than I would do their job.  They tend to assume they are somehow an imperfect proxy for me, when in fact, because their skills and interests are different, they usually do what they do better than if I focused on the same job myself
  2. If the company is doing something stupid, it is probably not because I want it that way.  It is probably because I am ignorant, either of the problem or of the better way to do it. 

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Proposal For Those Empty Carpool Lanes

TJIC points to an article in the local Boston news that planners are shocked -- SHOCKED -- that the carpool lanes they spent tens of millions of dollar on are going unused.  I thought this was the best line:

Amazing.

I would never in a thousand years have guessed that people, - if they have the means - prefer to commute to work on their own schedules, in their own cars instead of in some sort of communitarian Charlie Foxtrot where they have to coordinate schedules with their neighbors, and have no flexibility to do errands on the way home, and must welcome other people into their private domain.

And it’s not just me - no one at all thought that people might prefer privacy, individualism and freedom over enforced contact, compromise, and obligation.

Quite a while ago, I made a counter-proposal for using the carpool lanes:

Several years ago, I sent in a proposal to the Arizona Dept. of Transportation for their new HOV lanes in the Phoenix area, though I never got a response back.  I suggested that HOV lanes probably did not really increase carpooling, since they probably just shifted vehicles that would have already been carrying 2+ people into the faster lane.  Why should I get this artificial subsidy of a dedicated lane when I am driving my kid to a soccer game but not when I am driving myself to do productive work?  Either way, the lane is not changing my behavior.

Anyway, I suggested that instead, AZ DOT should create a number of special passes for exclusive use of the HOV lane.  The number of passes should be set as the largest number that could be issued while keeping the HOV lane moving at the speed limit at rush hour. Maybe 5000?  Anyway, they would have the stats to set the number, and it could be adjusted over time.  I proposed that they then auction off these passes in a dutch auction once a year.  I posited that the clearing price might be as high as $1000, thus raising $5,000,000 a year that could be used for other transportation projects.

I have friends that said I was crazy, that no one would spend $1000.  Back then, I argued it in two ways.  First, thousands of people in town spend not $1000 but tens of thousands of dollars, in the form of purchasing a nicer-than-basic-car, to make their driving experience better.  In those terms, to the Mercedes or Lexus owner, $1000 was nothing and in fact the price might go higher.  Second, if each pass holder saved 15 minutes per commute, or 30 minutes per day over 250 work days, they would save 125 hours of their time each year. Bidding just $1000 for this would mean that people would have to value their free time (since commuting generally comes out of free and family time) at $8 an hour.  I certainly value my free time at a MUCH higher rate than this.

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Climate Video Release!

My first climate movie, What is Normal?  A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory is now available for free download.  If you have the bandwidth, I encourage you to download the full 640x480 version as Windows Media Video, but be forewarned that the file is 258MB.  This is actually a pretty small file for a 50+ minute movie, and the full resolution version looks much nicer than the streaming version.

Right-Click Here to Download Climate Movie in Full Resolution

Right-Click here for full resolution 144MB .mov quicktime version of Climate Movie

Make sure you turn up your volume -- I think I recorded this with a pretty low audio level.

If you are bandwidth-challenged, or you can't view a .WMV file, you may stream the video from Google video or download a reduced resolution version here.  Unfortunately, to make the video stream effectively, the resolution is cut to 320x240, but having watched it, it still looks surprisingly good streamed. 

Note, on the streaming version, the video stutters between the 12 and 17 second marks in the movie, but runs fine after that.  By the way, thanks to all the commenters who gave me some good alternatives to using my own fairly week narration voice.  I decided for this first release I wanted to see what I could achieve with a pure solo effort.  Many thanks to Adobe Premier Elements, which made this effort possible.

Finally, you can stream the reduced resolution Google video version below:

 

Posted on October 28, 2007 at 09:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Startup Looking for Help

I know a gentleman named Alan Shapiro who has come up with what looks to me to be a nice new boat concept he calls the "Raptor".  Pictures of the boat are below (click on any picture for larger image)

Pic00017 Pic00010
Pic00014 Pic00007

I believe he also has a link to some YouTube video at his web site.  Update:  Here is the YouTube link.

He knows how to design and build the boat and has pretty good contacts for selling it, but needs help from a CFO/Strategist/business-type to push the company forward.  He has a prototype built and the production model fully costed-out and sourced.  However, he is about to look for a new round of financing and need help in that process.  He is offering equity in the company but can't pay a salary.  The job would not be full-time in the beginning.  If anyone has some time on their hands and has experience with startups and likes boating, this may be something to look into.  I have helped him a little bit, but I am out of time and need to focus on my own business.

I do not in any way warrant whether this is a good opportunity or not.  Don't assume that because Coyote seems like a smart guy, that this must be a viable business, because I just don't know.  I have given him a bit of startup money in exchange for some future boats, and a bit of advice, but that is the extent of it.   He has a draft business plan I am sure he would share with qualified candidates.

What I like about the product is that in the rental business, there really is a need for a personal watercraft or jetski that is enclosed, such that it will rent in colder waters and does not require renters to get out of their street clothes.  If you know what a mouse boat is, these are much higher performance versions of that type product.  He takes jetski engines, from 50-110HP, and puts them into this really fast hull shape.  This boat is fun to drive (see the video linked above) and my opinion is that it would rent well, but I of course have not been able to prove that with actual boats.  Alan believes there is also a strong market for individual sales, but I can't confirm or deny that from my own knowledge.

If you are interested, or know someone who might be, email me at the link on the right with some information about yourself and I will pass it on to Alan.

Posted on October 26, 2007 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Great Moments in Egalitarianism

Somewhere around 20BC in the Roman Empire, the emperor Augustus Caesar wanted to to promote a bit of egalitarianism in Rome, and hoped to curb some of the conspicuous consumption of the rich.  It turned out that the most conspicuous display of wealth was the freeing of slaves, usually in one's will.  Slaves were quite valuable, and freeing a large lot of them on one's death was considered a great way to flaunt how rich one had been in life.

So, in the name of egalitarianism, Augustus set strict limits on the number of slaves that could be freed at any one time.  Thus slavery was maintained in the name of egalitarianism.

Posted on October 26, 2007 at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Great Moments in Taxation

A few weeks ago, my wife's car was totaled when a guy in a large van fell asleep and slammed into her car when she was sitting at a red light.  Since he admitted culpability, his insurance company quickly came up with a settlement amount for the totaled car based on blue book values and such. 

Here is the interesting part -- since the insurance company is technically buying the wrecked hulk from us, Arizona treats the payoff as a taxable transaction, and charges its full automotive sales tax rate on the settlement.  It's incredible to me that having my car wrecked is considered by the state of Arizona to be a taxable event, and that the tax is owed in this case by the victim.  I am glad my house didn't burn down, the state might have bankrupted me!

This all seems odd to me, since if I had sued the driver to make us whole, rather than accepted the insurance settlement, any amount I won in court would not be taxable.  My guess (and hope) is that they are only taxing me on the scrap value of the hulk, not the entire transaction, but I have to do more checking.

Note before commenting that laws and rules on this are highly variable by state.

Posted on October 26, 2007 at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Video Release

Please check back Monday morning, as I will be releasing my new video, "What is Normal:  A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory."  As with my global warming book, which began as a ten page summary and ended up as an 85-page manuscript, the video started at a goal of 15 minutes and eventually ended up at 50 minutes.  However, unlike other global warming-related videos I will not name, it is all climate science, with no self-congratulatory segments on my childhood.

Posted on October 26, 2007 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Warming and Drought

"It's hot in the desert, so therefor warmer temperatures must cause drought."  That is the logical fallacy I address today over at Climate Skeptic, where we find evidence that, if anything, global warming is making things wetter rather than drier.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 09:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Comments are Weirding Out

Not sure what is up with comment viewing.  Have sent service ticket to Typepad.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Thought of the Day

Frequent readers will know that I am a strong supporter of open immigration.  I don't disagree with McQ at Q&O when he writes "Open Borders or Welfare State: Pick One," but I don't think that this is the logic of most folks who are anti-immigration.  It may be their public stance, but if more folks really thought this way, there would be serious discussion of tiered citizenship or guest worker models similar to what I have proposed on several occasions.

However, I am tempted to become a close-the-border proponent if the left continue to use numbers skewed by immigration to justify expansions of taxation and the welfare state.  Whether they are illegal or not, whether they should be allowed to stay or not, the fact is that tens of millions of generally poor and unskilled immigrants have entered this country over the last several decades.  These folks dominate the lower quintile of wage earners in this country, and skew all of our traditional economic indicators downwards.  Median wages appear to be stagnating?  Of course the metric looks this way -- as wages have risen, 10 million new folks have been inserted at the bottom.  If you really want to know what the current median wage is on an apples to apples basis back to 1970, take the current reported median wage and count up about 10 million spots, and that should be the number -- and it will be much higher. 

Income distribution numbers are the same way.  I showed in a previous post how these numbers are deceptive, when we compare them to Europe, because though European poor have a higher percentage of the median wage in their country, it is a higher percentage of a lower number.  When you correct for that effect, the US poor look pretty equal.  But immigration exaggerates this effect even more.  Instead of having income distribution numbers comparing, say, a lawyer and a blue collar worker, they are now comparing a lawyer and a non-English-speaking recent unskilled immigrant.  Of course the disparity looks worse!

The folks using these numbers have to be smart enough to understand this issue, so it can only be hugely disingenuous that they simultaneously promote immigration (which I support) while at the same time using immigrant-skewed numbers to say that the average US worker is somehow worse off.  If they keep this tactic up, even I may be tempted to close the borders.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Hang in There

Maggie's Farm has a great series of pictures of a bear rescue from a high bridge.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

We Just Don't Have Enough Taxes

I propose a survey.  We will ask 500 CEO's of large company's and 500 small business owners just one question

1.  Do you agree/disagree with the following statement:  In order to make my business more competitive in international markets, the federal government needs to raise taxes and expand its scope

How many out of the 1000 would answer "Agree?"  Well, at least the number won't be zero, as long as you ask the NY Times:

…the taxes collected last year by federal, state and local governments in the
United States amounted to 28.2 percent of gross domestic product. That rate was one of the lowest among wealthy countries - about five percentage points of GDP lower than Canada’s, and more than eight points lower than New Zealand’s. …the meager tax take leaves the United States ill prepared to compete. From universal health insurance to decent unemployment insurance, other rich nations provide their citizens benefits that the U.S. government simply cannot afford. …revenue will prove too low to face the challenges ahead.

I love the part about unemployment insurance particularly -- other countries are more competitive than we are because they pay their citizens more not to work.  Huh?  Daniel Mitchel responds:

The editorial conveniently forgets to explain, though, how America is less competitive because of supposedly inadequate taxation. Is it that our per capita GDP is lower than our higher-taxed neighbors in Europe? No, America’s per capita GDP is considerably higher. Is it that our disposable income is lower? It turns out that Americans enjoy a huge advantage in this measure. Is our economy not keeping pace? Interesting thought, but America’s been out-performing Europe for a long time. Could higher rates of unemployment be a sign of American weakness? Nice theory, but the data show better job numbers in the United States.

I also would point out the general direction of net immigration, which has always been towards the US from nearly every country in the world rather than the other direction.

The favorite argument du jour for more taxes is that the US has more income inequality than other countries.  Well, that is sort of true.  Our rich are richer than theirs.  But are our poor poorer?  In fact, as I posted here, the data (from a liberal think tank) shows that they are not.   The poor in European countries have a higher percentage of a lower median wage.  When you normalize European income distribution numbers to percentages of the US median wage, you can see our poor do at least as well as those in Europe, while our middle class and rich do better.

Study2

The US poor still trail countries like Switzerland, but that is because of very different immigration realities.  The US numbers for the bottom quartile are weighed down by tens of millions of recent immigrants (both legal and not) whereas those of Switzerland and Norway are not.  If you left out recent immigrants, my guess is that the US poor would be the richest in the world.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Go, Megan, Go

Best thing I have read all week, from Megan McArdle:

I very rarely get angry about politics. But every time I see some middle class parent prattling about vouchers "destroying" the public schools by "cherry picking" the best students, when they've made damn sure that their own precious little cherries have been plucked out of the failing school systems, I seethe with barely controllable inward rage. It is the vilest hypocrisy on display in American politics today.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Maybe They Choose to be Uninsured

Via Arnold Kling, Maggie Mahar writes:

Some citizens of the Commonwealth don’t even want to pay for their own health care insurance. Under the plan, everyone in Massachusetts is required to buy insurance (or pay a penalty), with the state providing a 100% subsidy for those who earn less than 150% of the poverty level. Those receiving the full subsidy are enthusiastic. The state had hoped to sign up 57,000 uninsured and they’ve over-shot their target: 76,200 of Massachusetts’ poorest citizens have enrolled.

At the other end of the spectrum, the program isn’t doing as well. Uninsured citizens earning more than 300% of the poverty level are expected to buy their own insurance. Here, the state hoped that 228,000 of its uninsured citizens would sign up. So far, just 15,000 have enrolled.  Apparently, they’ve done the math and decided that it would be cheaper to pay the penalty.  But their premiums are needed to keep the program going.  If more in this group don’t sign up, it is not at all clear how the state will be  able to continue subsidizing the poor.

All of this adds up to "people without health insurance are so because it is not worth the price."  If they get it free, fine, they will use it like crazy, but they won't pay for it.  So I should for them?

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Rollover

The visit counter rolled over 1,000,000 this morning.   I'm not sure that this number is very meaningful any more, as Coyote Blog gets about a thousand feed readers a day who don't register on Site Meter, but its a fun milestone anyway.  Thanks to all you readers for your interest.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Request to Inventors

I am working this afternoon to put a narration track on my climate movie.  The problem is that I don't really want to hire a narrator, and I don't really have that strong of a narration voice.  What we need is some kind of digital filter that I could apply to my narration mp3 file to make me sound better.  Click on "bbc" and suddenly I would sound like I have a lovely British accent.  Click on "darth" and I would have James Earl Jones' deep baritone.  In fact, in anticipation of such technology in the future, I think James Earl Jones needs to spend several days in a sound booth reading the dictionary so that future generation will have access to his voice, at least digitally.

Posted on October 24, 2007 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Environmental Preservation of a Man-Made Lake

Environmentalists are working to preserve another priceless natural treasure, one that has been on this earth supporting its habitat for, uh, decades.  From the Save the Salton Sea web site:

The proposed transfer of water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego as part of the reduction of California's Colorado River use, the possible reclamation of New River water by Mexico, and the increased evaporation from the Sea's restoration all threaten to reduce lake levels.  The proposed transfer of the 300,000 acre feet alone, if inflows are not replaced, is estimated to drop lake levels by over 16 feet, exposing almost 70 square miles of sediments.  The result could be potential air quality problems caused by blowing dust, seaside homes stranded far from the Sea, and greatly accelerated concentrations of salts and nutrients.

Of course its freaking drying up.  In a sense, this lake represents the United States' largest industrial spill, as early in the 20th century a couple of Colorado River aqueducts broke and poured water into the Salton basin, creating a brand new sea.  By usual environmentalist arguments, this lake is supposed to dry up, having been an artificial creation of man.  (By the way, as an extra credit task, I challenge you to find anywhere in the web site linked above where they mention that the lake is a man-made accident that is barely 100 years old).

HT:  Maggies Farm

Posted on October 24, 2007 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Government Limitations on Choice

I am a little late on this, but Ilya Somin has a nice post on Joel Waldfogel's book on capitalism and serving niche markets. 

University of Pennsylvania business Professor Joel Waldfogel argues that markets give us too few choices because they often fail to provide products that satisfy minority preferences. This is the opposite of Barry Schwartz's argument that markets are bad because they give people too many choices, which I criticized here. In one sense, Waldfogel's point is irrefutable: due to high startup costs or fixed costs and just to the general scarcity of resources in the world, there are some minority preferences that the market won't satisfy. The market is undoubtedly inferior to a hypothetical world in which all preferences, no matter how unusual, could be satisfied at zero cost. Not even the most hard-core of libertarian thinkers denies this. That, however, says little about the question of whether government could satisfy such minority preferences better, or whether it is even a good thing to provide products whose costs are greater than their benefits.

He makes a number of good points, including the one that first comes to my mind -- that in most cases, it is the government that tends to limit choice.

the relative lack of diversity of programming on radio stations - one of Waldfogel's principle examples of the inability of the market to satisfy minority interests - is actually a failure of government regulation. As Jesse Walker documents in this book, the FCC has for decades colluded with big broadcasters in suppressing alternative and "microradio" broadcasters, thereby greatly reducing the number of stations and making it very difficult to run a station that caters primarily to the interests of a small minority. Even a completely free broadcasting market would not satisfy all potential listeners. But it would have a great deal more diversity than is currently permitted by the FCC.

I called for the end of broadcast licensing here.  By the way, the author also ignores Sirius and XM, which have some incredibly niche offerings, and which happen to be in the least regulated part of broadcasting.  Why Sirius would have more niche choices than Clear Channel is explained here.

I could add many other examples onto this.  The FCC's regulation of the cell phone market creates the stupid environment we have today, arguing about locked iPhones.  In a previous post, I demonstrated how new government "a la carte pricing' regulation will lead to more homogenization and less focus on niche viewing audiences in the cable TV industry:

I can add a million examples.  Hair braiders are stepped on by the government in collusion with licensed beauticians.  Taxi companies get the government to quash low-cost or innovative shuttle transportation.  Discount casket companies are banned by government in collusion with undertakers.  Take dentistry.  Why do I need to go to an expensive dentist when 99% of my dental needs could be served by a hygienist alone?  Because the government colludes with dentists to make it so.  And don't even get me started on medicine.  My guess is a huge percentage of the conditions people come into emergency rooms with are treatable by someone without a 4 year medical degree and 6 years of internship.  Does one really need a full medical education to stitch up a kids cut knee?  Well, yes, you do today, because doctors collude with the government to make it so.  Why can't people specialize, with less than 10 years of education, on just, say, setting bones and closing cuts?  Why can't someone specialize in simple wills or divorces without a full law degree?

Every business where the government has licensing is an industry where the government is limiting consumer choice.  It is limiting the number of competitors, and it is specifying a narrow subset of ways in which a company can compete, eliminating service or product innovation.  In Colorado, my employees needs a license to take our customers fishing on a lake.  In Phoenix, you need a license to paint street numbers on a curb.  In Scottsdale you need a license to work out of your own home, a license to valet park cars, and a license to give massages.  And, of course, there are our tremendously dated liquor licensing laws.

Per Milton Friedman:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Update:  Just for fun, I sat here and came up with 10 business ideas that would provide better service for customers, would reduce costs in notoriously high cost industries (e.g. medicine, dentistry, law) and which would make me a pile of money. which are all illegal due to licensing requirements that are set in collusion with current industry incumbents.

Posted on October 24, 2007 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Garbage Nazis

Apparently, the garbage nazis have won the contract in Seattle.  To remind you, here were some of their proposals in their bid for the contract:

If [CEO Chris] Martin is allowed to implement what he calls "my best idea, my get-people-riled-up thing," we could all soon be subject to a kind of garbage audit, too. He wants to bring the equivalent of the red-light camera to your front curb. Just as the traffic camera captures you running through a stoplight, CleanScapes' incriminating photos would catch you improperly disposing of a milk carton. (It belongs in the recycling bin.)

He also has advocated mandatory waster audits, whatever those are.  This is the choice that libertarians face every day -- we can either vote for a party that wants to listen to our phone calls or the party that wants to search our garbage.  Put a pizza carton in the recycling, you spend a night in the box.  Put a milk carton in the trash, you spend a night in the box.

It's never too early to start google bombing the company's home page:  Garbage Nazis

Posted on October 24, 2007 at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Frampton Still Alive

I saw Peter Frampton in concert tonight from the eighth row of a small venue.  He still puts on a really good concert.  It is really rare to see someone who has been touring as long as he has having so much fun on stage.  The 40 minute rendition of "Do You Feel Like We Do" was worth the price of admission alone.  The show had a little of everything, from some acoustic guitar to a Soundgarden cover.  He ended the final set with his friend George Harrison's "While my Guitar Gently Weeps," which was quite good.

Posted on October 23, 2007 at 11:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Giant Trash Island

I am more than willing to believe that too many people treat the oceans as a big trash can.  In particular, I have written before about how Southern Californians in general seem to love to leave their trash lying aboutHowever, I am going to call bullshit on this article:

In reality, the rogue bag would float into a sewer, follow the storm drain to the ocean, then make its way to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists.

The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.

Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, said his group has been monitoring the Garbage Patch for 10 years.

"With the winds blowing in and the currents in the gyre going circular, it's the perfect environment for trapping," Eriksen said. "There's nothing we can do about it now, except do no more harm."

The patch has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.

Uh, right.  Funny that it does not seem to show up in satellite photos.  Again, I am not minimizing the fact that a lot of jerks litter and the trash ends up in the ocean, but the floating island of trash twice as big as Texas and growing by 10x every decade?   I'll file that right next to the story of the grandmother who tried to dry her cat in the microwave.

Posted on October 23, 2007 at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Magic Act

OK, via Theo comes one of the odder magic acts I have seen for a while.  Not safe for work, as the magician gets nekkid by the end.  Definitely puts to rest the "nothing up my sleeve" thing.

Posted on October 23, 2007 at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Pumpkin Idea

I see my past pumpkin-carving posts are getting high Google traffic this week.  If you are looking for a pumpkin idea, this was my favorite past effort:

Pumpkin1   Pumpkin2

I traced a world map on the pumpkin, and then thinned the pumpkin skin in the land masses without cutting all the way through.  Since there are no holes, you will need an electric light to illuminate it.

Posted on October 22, 2007 at 08:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Backyard Nuclear Reactor

I couldn't make the return on investment (even with a 50% government subsidy and in one of the best solar sites in the world) work for solar on my home in Phoenix, at least at current prices and technology.  Maybe I can justify a backyard nuclear reactor?

Hat tip:  Another Weird SF Fan

Posted on October 22, 2007 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

It Really is a Smaller World

Anthony Watt has a pointer to a nice presentation in four parts on YouTube by Bob Carter made at a public forum in Australia.  He walks through some of the skeptics' issues with catastrophic man-made global warming theory.

What caught my attention, though, were the pictures Mr. Carter shows in his presentation about about 1:30 into part 4.  Because I took the pictures he shows, down at the University of Arizona, as part of Mr. Watts project to document temperature measurement stations.  Kind of cool to see someone I don't know in a country I have (sadly) never visited using a small bit of my work.  Part 4 is below, but you can find links to all four parts here.

Posted on October 22, 2007 at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

I Second the Motion for UnSexy

TJIC quotes Scott Rafer:

Rafer’s Rule #1: ‘Un-sexy’ is good business. This is a riff on a market principle Rafer picked up from a couple of his ancestors back east: one who ran Rafer’s Kosher Meats; and his grandfather, who ran Rafer’s Army Navy Surplus (both were in business in the 1950s, long before Rafer was born.) The idea here is that there is potential in furnishing a (seemingly) boring business that plenty of people need, but which few people want to do - a.k.a. stuff that ain’t sexy. Which also means you're likely to have a reliable market for your business, and might not have so much competition - good!

I absolutely agree.  I have been in sexy and I have been in boring, and from a long-term profit perspective, boring is better.  Here is the way I put it to friends:  "Avoid any business where there are substantial non-monetary reasons why people might want to start a business there."  For example, the bankruptcy roles are littered with brew-pubs.  Guys have a male fantasy of owning their own bar and brewery, and, shazam, there are way too many of them.  Many parts of aerospace are the same way, filled with guys who love aviation more than making money.

From reading the press, it would seem that what the world is short of is "bold new visions."  But in fact bold new visions are a dime a dozen.  I had to try to sell a number of them when I was in the Internet world.  I would argue that what is in fact in desperately short supply is managers and companies who can focus, day after day, ruthlessly on operational excellence.  I worked for years for a company called Emerson Electric in St. Louis, a conglomerate that owned the world's greatest collection of boring businesses.  In their prime, under CEO Chuck Knight, they were unbelievable at blocking and tackling in boring businesses.

This point about boring and sexy is so important that when I was at Harvard Business School, the first two classes in the first year competition and strategy course hammered these points home.  Class one was the story of Rockwell Water Meters.  Class two was the story of some go-go semiconductor business (maybe Fairchild?)  These two cases epitomized "cool" and "uncool", but in the end it turned out the semiconductor firm never made a return on capital, while the water meter business had stratospheric returns.

The common response I get to this is, "but what about all of those Internet millionaires?"  With a few exceptions (Amazon, eBay), most of the folks who made millions in the Internet did not make them from operating profits.  They made them with timing, selling out inflated stock to the public or to a bigger sucker (e.g. Yahoo) before the whole Ponzi scheme crashed.  Does anyone really think that Maria Cantwell created real value in the marketplace?

Posted on October 21, 2007 at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

More Light Rail Suckage

Portland is the poster child for light rail "success," but this is an interesting definition of success:

“Many (Portlanders) use their public transportation system,” says Weyrich. In fact, 9.8 percent of Portland-area commuters took transit to work before the region build light rail. Today it is just 7.6 percent. In a story repeated in numerous cities that have built rail lines, rail cost overruns forced the city to raise bus fares and reduce bus service. That’s a success?

A lot more money for fewer total transit riders.  This is absolutely predictable.  Light rail creates huge investment along one single route.  The assets created are totally inflexible -- unlike buses, they can only run one single route.  For most western cities with low density and literally hundreds of different commuting routes this way and that, light rail is silly.  Here are a couple of analysis I did for Albuquerque, LA and Phoenix.  Here is more about Portland.

Posted on October 21, 2007 at 09:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Update on the Health Care Trojan Horse

I have argued on numerous occasions that government-funded health care is a Trojan Horse for detailed regulation of how we treat our bodiesThe Economist Blog has a great post on this topic:

Why exactly is obesity a public health issue? Well, when, by force of law, you externalise responsibility for providing a good, such as health care, then the effects of all individual choices that affect the cost of providing that good for the individual are thereby transformed from internal to external effects. If you, like Mr Dubois, are in the grip of the blithe assumption that reducing negative externalities by raising the cost of the behaviour that causes them is simply what government does, then obviously my gluttony and sloth are public problems. Because public policy made them public problems! So, obviously, it's up to the government to fiddle with prices to manipulate our behavior in order to minimise its impact on the tax-financed national budget.

This sort of thing drives me crazy because it's just so thoughtlessly arbitrary -- intellectual empty calories. Why specifically a tax on junk food? Yes, one of the causes of obesity is "the consumption of too many calories." Another is the failure to burn the calories one consumes. So why not levy huge fines on people for not showing up at "voluntary" government-funded yogalates classes? Or if people are consuming too many calories, then just put a tax on calories. Why tax some calories but not others? You can get fat eating steak, too. Maybe a national "cap and trade" system of calorie credits would do the trick. Hey, do you know who's healthy? Mormons are. Maybe the government should provide giant tax credits for being Mormon. Or perhaps it would be easier if the national health care system could just deny services for ailments it judged to be obesity-related.  You could even decide not to have a national health care system at all and allow insurance premiums to reflect the actuarial risk of individual behavior! But that would be crazy. 

Hat tip to TJIC, who has more.  I think this would be a great anti-universal-coverage T-shirt:

Tskyl2

Ironically, this shirt is produced by the National Organization of Women, who are strong government health care supporters.  Go figure.

Posted on October 21, 2007 at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Cold, Cruel Marketplace

Travis has more patience than I do in responding to a bit of anti-market silliness

Posted on October 21, 2007 at 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Good News

The case discussed here and here has been dropped against the Phoenix New Times

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced that all charges against New Times, its owners, editors and writers have been dropped — and that special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik has been dismissed.

Posted on October 21, 2007 at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Political Pitch I Can Buy Into

As a libertarian, I tend to get turned off by most political pitches.  But here is one I can definitely buy into, and it is not even from Ron Paul.

Posted on October 20, 2007 at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Newspaper Executives Arrested

In an update to my story from yesterday, Phoenix New Times founders and executives Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey were arrested last night by Sheriff Joe Arpaio for revealing the details of a subpoena.  The subpoena, which sought personal information on all Phoenix New Times web site visitors, was part of a grand jury case which looks suspiciously like retribution and intimidation by Arpaio for past negative stories about him in their newspaper.

Radley Balko also has an update and reminded me of this classic Phoenix New Times article about Sheriff Joe.

 

Posted on October 19, 2007 at 08:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Joe Arpaio and Abuse of Power

Here in Phoenix we have a sheriff named Joe Arpaio.  Sheriff Joe, as sensitive to building his media image as he is to fighting crime, has built himself a reputation among the majority of voters that he is a tough-on-crime code-of-the-west kind of guy.  As the Phoenix New Times describes his image:

While voters lapped up the sheriff's harsh approach to inmates in his jails — from forcing them to wear pink underwear, to feeding them oxidized, green bologna, to working them in chain gangs, to housing inmates in tents — New Times writers pointed out that the cruelty and violence in Arpaio's lockups prompted Amnesty International's first investigation in America.

I, however, see Sheriff Joe as a shameless self-promoter, uncaring about basic civil rights, and a serial abuser of government power.  A number of Phoenix New Times (our free alt-weekly) reporters have been on Arpaio's ass for years, dogging him in the best tradition of American media trying to hold public officials accountable.

In 2004, during an election cycle, reporter John Dougherty found that Arpaio had over a million dollars of investments in commercial real estate parcels.  Dougherty asked the question, how does a lifetime public official making $78,000 a year have so much real estate?  Arpaio could have replied that his family was independently wealthy or that he had parlayed his real estate investment from rags to riches.  Instead, Arpaio used an obscure law aimed at protecting the home addresses of government officials to remove access to any public records of his commercial real estate transactions at the same time he removed his home address from these data bases.  Instead of explaining where the money came from, he used his power to cover his tracks.

The cool thing about alt-weeklies is that they are feisty in a way that major newspapers used to be but are no longer.  The paper responded by publishing Arpaio's home address in an editorial.  Ill-considered?  Perhaps, but the paper pointed to several public web site where Arpaio's home address was already published, including several government sites.  Their point:  Arpaio's concern about his home address was a smokescreen to mask the fact he was really trying to remove the records of his real estate investments.  If he had really been concerned about his home address being public, he would have removed it from all the other sites it appeared on, not just the data base he wished to purge of his commercial investments.  [update:  the law apparently bars publishing the address on the Internet, but not in other media.  The New Times is legally OK for publishing it in their print edition, but technically broke the law by having that print edition also appear on the web]

Joe Arpaio is never one to just "move on."  In response to the paper's editorial, Joe Arpaio used the full force of his public office to form a grand jury to investigate the Phoenix New Times.  Via the grand jury, his prosecutor-buddy has slapped a really amazing subpoena on this small newspaper.  This first part is bad enough:

In a breathtaking abuse of the United States Constitution, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and their increasingly unhinged cat's paw, special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik, used the grand jury to subpoena "all documents related to articles and other content published by Phoenix New Times newspaper in print and on the Phoenix New Times website, regarding Sheriff Joe Arpaio from January 1, 2004 to the present."

Pretty broad scope, huh?  If the case were really about whether the paper broke any laws by publishing his address, they would just subpoena that particular editorial.  But this case appears to be about a lot more, specifically a chance by Sheriff Joe to finally punish the New Times for years of critical reporting.  But the subpoena goes even further, into total la-la land:

The subpoena demands: "Any and all documents containing a compilation of aggregate information about the Phoenix New Times Web site created or prepared from January 1, 2004 to the present, including but not limited to :

A) which pages visitors access or visit on the Phoenix New Times website;                                        

B) the total number of visitors to the Phoenix New Times website;                                        

C) information obtained from 'cookies,' including, but not limited to, authentication, tracking, and maintaining specific information about users (site preferences, contents of electronic shopping carts, etc.);

D) the Internet Protocol address of anyone that accesses the Phoenix New Times website from January 1, 2004 to the present;                                        

E) the domain name of anyone that has accessed the Phoenix New Times website from January 1, 2004 to the present;                                        

F) the website a user visited prior to coming to the Phoenix New Times website;                                        

G) the date and time of a visit by a user to the Phoenix New Times website;                                        

H) the type of browser used by each visitor (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape Navigator, Firefox, etc.) to the Phoenix New Times website; and

I) the type of operating system used by each visitor to the Phoenix New Times website."

I am sorry to do this to you, but if you clicked through to the Phoenix New Times site via the links in this story, any personal information that is recoverable about you is now subject to this subpoena. 

For years I have argued against special privileges like shield laws for the press.  My point has always been that we should not create a special class of citizen with more or less rights.  And this case does not change my mind, for this reason:  We all should have protection against this kind of abusive and intrusive probing by a public official, not just the press.  The Phoenix New Times should not have to divulge the details of its readership, but neither should my blog or Jane Doe's MySpace page.  This kind of prosecutorial fishing expedition against a critic of a government official is not wrong because it is directed at the press; it is wrong because it is directed at any American.

Update:  I didn't get into all the really weird stuff.  For example, Joe Arpaio argued that publication of his home address was damaging because groups were out to assassinate him:

A Mexican drug cartel acting on behalf of the Minutemen through the intercession of a pro-immigration rights radio talk show host intended to assassinate Arpaio, according to a sheriff's office investigation detailed on the front page of the Sunday, October 7, edition of the Arizona Republic.                                        

Now just think about this for a second. The Minutemen hate Mexicans sneaking across the border. They are even less fond if the Mexicans are smuggling drugs.

And we are supposed to believe that the Minutemen, seldom associated with unexplained stashes of bling, agreed to a $3 million assassination fee and put 50 percent down?

And that this was brokered by Elias Bermudez, a talk radio host, former mayor of Mexican border town San Luis Rio Colorado in Sonora, and an outspoken critic of Sheriff Arpaio — and, obviously, no fan of the Minutemen?

And a key linchpin in this comic book farce was a teenage girl in a prep school in Hartford, Connecticut, who was an exchange student at one point in San Luis. If the drug cartel needed to contact the Minutemen "for any reason," they could use a particular e-mail address . . . which, as the officers discovered, belonged to a kid in a private school.

And from the Arizona Republic, our mainstream paper that usually fawns over Arpaio:

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spent an estimated $500,000 during the past six months protecting Joe Arpaio from an assassination that supposedly was designed to cause a furor in the United States over illegal immigration.

The convoluted plot, reported to police by a paid informant, purportedly involved members of the Minuteman border group hiring a hit squad from a Mexican drug cartel and using an outspoken immigrant-rights advocate as their intermediary.

Sheriff's officials now acknowledge that virtually none of the information supplied by the source panned out.

I'm sorry, but the person who dreams this stuff up has a huge burden of proof to even argue that he is sane, much less should be our sheriff.  The Minutemen love Sheriff Joe -- they are peas in a pod.  They believe many of the same things.  The odds they would be trying to assassinate him are ZERO.  By the way, this is not the first time Arpaio dreamed up an assassination plot:

in 2003 ... prosecutors took hapless James Saville to trial for "plotting" to kill Arpaio. Jurors wound up deciding that deputies set up the assassin, coaxing and entrapping him. Saville was acquitted ("The Plot to Assassinate Arpaio," August 5, 1999).                                      
Then there was the time Arpaio identified a threat upon his life that turned out to be an art student's sculpture of a spider left upon his lawn.

Update:  Joe Arpaio has arrested the owners of the Phoenix New Times paper for revealing the contents of the subpoena.

Posted on October 18, 2007 at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Music Bleg For Classic Rock Fans

OK, I am tired of getting grief from family and friends for only listening to classic rock.  My collection includes some Metallica and SoundGarden and Pearl Jam, but thats about as new as it gets.  So, here is my request.  Knowing I like classic rock, what albums or artists from the last 10 years should I be exploring?  And please, don't tell me Avril Lavigne because you like her -- Tell me what I will like.

Update:  Holy Sh*t!  If you want lots of comments fast, put up a music bleg!  I'll put up a summary post for all of the results this weekend.

Posted on October 18, 2007 at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

Vista Sucks -- Fact of the Day

I won't go into my bad experiences with Vista, nor into the story of my purge of Vista from all personal and corporate computers, but you can read here and here.

Here are some interesting Amazon sales rank numbers as of 10/16/07 for Vista vs. XP, which Vista supposedly replaced 12 months ago.  All the following are sales ranks in the Amazon software category, with a lower number implying higher sales:

XP Home Full Edition:  #19
XP Home Upgrade: #105
Vista Home Basic Full Edition:  #277
Vista Home Basic Upgrade:  #174

Obviously this is unscientific, because it is just one channel.  Also, Vista has more different segmented SKU's, so the product comparison is not exactly apples to apples.  But it is interesting, no?

The OEM market is going to skew towards Vista because that is what OEM's tend to load by default.  But even so, Dell, for example, is still offering Windows XP as an OEM option, a pretty unprecedented move this long after a new Windows launch.  But the Amazon traffic is probably 99% OS changes, since almost everyone with a PC gets an OEM version loaded.  Most of the Vista purchases are going to be upgrades from XP, and most of the XP purchases are going to be downgrades from Vista.  Does this mean Vista downgrading is outstripping Vista Upgrading?

Postscript: It has now been two months since I downgraded to XP on my kid's laptop, and we are still amazed at how much better everything runs now.  I was afraid I could not get all the drivers for XP but in the end I was succesful and everything, including the sound, is working great.  There are a LOT of websites nowadays to help you downgrade.  Or you can try dual booting.

Update:  The real indicator that this is Vista downgrade sales of XP is that the Full Edition is out-selling the upgrade edition, which is a reverse of history when XP was the lead product.  When I downgraded, I found I could not use the upgrade version of XP and had to use the full edition.  My guess is that others have the same problem, and that the very high sales rank of the XP full edition is very likely due to high downgrade demand.

Posted on October 16, 2007 at 11:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Things I Didn't Know

The length of a day varies slightly year by year.  I would presume this is due to small changes in the Earth's core, which would effect angular momentum.  I wonder if the water cycle on the earth (ie moving water from the ocean say to lakes or high-altitude ice) measurably affects angular momentum.


Goodridge_fig8_lodvariance

Posted on October 16, 2007 at 11:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Supply and Demand, But Not In Water

Thanks to a reader comes this article from the NY Times that yet again discusses a water shortage and possible government action without once mentioning the word "price."  If water prices floated like gas prices, we wouldn't have to discuss things like these:

Within two weeks, Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is expected to send Gov. Sonny Perdue recommendations on tightening water restrictions, which may include mandatory cutbacks on commercial and industrial users.

If that happens, experts at the National Drought Mitigation Center said, it would be the first time a major metropolitan area in the United States had been forced to take such drastic action to save its water supply.

But of course politicians love being responsible for resource allocation through command-and-control government, because it creates winners and losers and both will then donate to the next election cycle.  Atlanta already has fairly expensive water, but a quick 50% rate hike about 3 months ago would have likely obviated this shortage while also providing the municipality with additional funds to develop new sources.

I wrote a lot more about water scarcity and the price mechanism, including the observation that Phoenix ridiculously has some of the lowest water prices in the country, here.

postscript: One of the media tricks to make things look worse and panicky is to present asymmetric charts.  For example, the NY Times presents this drought map:
2007droughtgraphic

All you see is what one presumes to be normal in white and then a lot of drought.  But in fact, this chart is truncated.  It omits all the data for areas that are wetter than usual.  Here is the chart for September form the NOAA with both over and under precipitation over the past 12 months:

Spi12_200709_pg

Whoa, that shows a different picture, huh?  Basically, about as much stuff is wetter than normal as drier than normal.  Which is exactly what one might expect in any period.  And by the way, if you look at the last five years, the US is pretty freaking wet:

Usnmx20070960monpctpcppg

Posted on October 16, 2007 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Really Awful Article on Dentistry

The NY Times outdid itself last week with a truly awful article on dentistry.  They started with just one fact:

Previously unreleased figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2003 and 2004, the most recent years with data available, 27 percent of children and 29 percent of adults had cavities going untreated. The level of untreated decay was the highest since the late 1980s and significantly higher than that found in a survey from 1999 to 2002.

They then apply the patented NY Times class-based story-generation model to assume a cause for this rise that is not supported by the study itself:

But many poor and lower-middle-class families do not receive adequate care, in part because most dentists want customers who can pay cash or have private insurance, and they do not accept Medicaid patients. As a result, publicly supported dental clinics have months-long waiting lists even for people who need major surgery for decayed teeth. At the pediatric clinic managed by the state-supported University of Florida dental school, for example, low-income children must wait six months for surgery.

So is the rise in untreated dental problems concentrated in the poor?  Well, they don't say, and there is not data for that in the study, but that does not prevent the NY Times from just assuming it to be so.  In fact, the article itself contradicts this premise, by noting that the problem is not limited to the poor:

The lack of dental care is not restricted to the poor and their children, the data shows. Experts on oral health say about 100 million Americans — including many adults who work and have incomes well above the poverty line — are without access to care.

By the way, how did they figure a 100 million don't have "access"?  I don't know, but the figure is suspiciously close to this one:

With dentists’ fees rising far faster than inflation and more than 100 million people lacking dental insurance...

Anyone want to bet that the NY Times just made its usual logical fallacy of equating lack of insurance with lack of access?  And by the way, dental insurance is a HORRIBLE investment.  I have priced it many times myself and for a normal family, it is much cheaper to just pay the dental bills, particularly since there are not that many things in your mouth that can go wrong that will be bankrupting.  Trying to push everyone to dental insurance is a terrible idea.  Every time there is a dental procedure in our family, it turns out there are several options for fixing it at different prices.  We actually have the incentive to ask for these alternatives and make trade offs.  What do you think would happen if we had insurnace?

In fact, I can think of a LOT of reasons why people don't go to the dentist as often as they should.  One reason is that no one like the dentist.  Another is people's busy schedules.  And certainly rising costs are a factor -- As I mentioned before, our family makes very different decisions about treatment options than we used to with a fat corporate dental plan.  Which is as it should be. 

By the way, note the screaming socialism here:

The dental profession’s critics — who include public health experts, some physicians and even some dental school professors — say that too many dentists are focused more on money than medicine.

“Most dentists consider themselves to be in the business of dentistry rather than the practice of dentistry,” said Dr. David A. Nash, a professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Kentucky. “I’m a cynic about my profession, but the data are there. It’s embarrassing.”

I wonder.  Does Dr. Nash accept a salary for being a professor?  Then I guess he is focused more on the business of education than the practice of educating.

Oh, and by the way, how is socialism in dentistry working out?

In a survey of 5,000 people in the UK, six percent claimed that they had done DIY dentistry, including yanking their own teeth and fixing cracked crowns with glue. Apparently they resorted to such self treatment because they couldn’t get in to see a National Health Service dentist …

One respondent in Lancashire, northern England, claimed to have extracted 14 of their own teeth with a pair of pliers. In Liverpool, one of those collecting data for the survey interviewed three people who had pulled out their own teeth in one morning.

“I took most of my teeth out in the shed with pliers. I have one to go,” another respondent wrote.

Posted on October 15, 2007 at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

The Patented NY Times Sneer

Yesterday, I talked about my fondness for private conservation projects.  Today, the NY Times makes it clear that they are not so fond of private conservation.  In an article about environmentalist-triggered death of logging in the west, the Times observes that many rich folks are taking up the opportunity to buy large tracts of western forests for second homes and ranches.

William P. Foley II pointed to the mountain. Owns it, mostly. A timber company began logging in view of his front yard a few years back. He thought they were cutting too much, so he bought the land.

Mr. Foley belongs to a new wave of investors and landowners across the West who are snapping up open spaces as private playgrounds on the borders of national parks and national forests.

Cool, a win-win -- conservation without use of tax funds or government coersion.  But instead of being thrilled, the Times adopts their patented sneering tone they use with anything having to do with wealth.

The rise of a new landed gentry in the West is partly another expression of gilded age economics in America; the super-wealthy elite wades ashore where it will.

Hmm, I would have thought it an example of how increases in wealth in the US has always driven higher environmental standards and more conservation.  The NY Times tries to portray this as something like turning national parks into sprawling suburbs, lamenting the "increase in density," but this is just a joke and a product of a bunch of New Yorkers who have never really spent time in Montana.  There is zero danger of any kind of urbanization here, and their very story belies this fact when it talks about 640 acre lot sizes. 

The real problem for them seems to be one of access, and they lament that these new owners tend to put up no trespassing signs rather than allowing public access as private loggers used to.  But in so arguing, the Times is trying to have it both ways.  Eliminating recreation access from western lands is a HUGE priority for environmentalists.  In fact, though many in America don't know it, within a few decades it may be impossible to drive into national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.  I know and work with the management of the National Parks, and many of their leaders do not consider their job finished until they get all the visitors out of the parks.  So throwing up no trespassing signs to recreators is exactly what environmentalists want on these lands.  What they don't like, because many are openly socialist, is private ownership of these lands.  They know that increasingly, because they have gotten so good at filing lawsuits and forcing public lands officials to do their bidding, that public ownership means, effectively, ownership by the environmental groups. 

Posted on October 13, 2007 at 07:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Al Gore and the Peace Prize

Several readers have asked for my comment.  This is what I posted over at Climate Skeptic:

This morning I was all fired up to write something petty, like "Al Gore now has made the same contributions to peace as have previous winners Yassir Arafat and Henry Kissinger."  Later, I considered a long and drawn out post on the inaccuracies of "An Inconvinient Truth", but I really have already done that in long form here and in short form here. In truth, the Peace prize process has for years been about a group of leftish statists making a statement, and often it has been about tweaking the US, rather than a dispassionate analysis of true contributions to peace made with the benefit of some historic distance (as is done with the scientific prizes).  Further, most folks I argue with don't really care about the specific inacuracies in Gore's movie, their response typically being something in the "fake but accurate" line of reasoning.

So instead I will say what I told a reader by email a few hours ago.  I tend to be optimistic about the world, and believe that we are approaching a high water mark (so to speak) for the climate catastrophists, where we will look back and see their influence peak and start unwinding under the presure of science and the reality of the enormous cost to abate CO2.  Gore's Peace prize, in the same year as his Oscar and that global warming music festival no one can even remember the name of 3 months later, feels to me like it may be that high water mark.   The Peace Prize certainly was the high water mark for Jimmy Carter's credibility, not to mention that of Henry Kissinger and a myriad of others.  Think of it this way -- if the guys who made the peace prize decisions were investors, and you knew what they were investing in, you would sell short.  Seriously, just look at the group.  Well, they just invested in Al Gore.

Update:  One thing many commenters have not pointed out is that Al Gore is really manuevering the US and China and India (and the rest of the developping world) into a position that, if he has his way, conflict is going to occur over who gets to grow and develop, and who does not.  CO2 catastrophism has the ablility to be the single most destabalizing issue of the 21st century. This is peace?

Posted on October 12, 2007 at 08:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Private, For-Profit Environmentalism

I toured a commercial seahorse farm here in Hawaii this afternoon.  It was really an interesting tale, of a couple who saw a problem with the over-catching of wild seahorses and attacked it with a private farming effort.  Not only has private seahorse farming cut the capture of wild seahorses for pets almost to zero, it also produces a better pet (their seahorses born in captivity are taught to eat dead shrimp rather than live food, they live much longer than wild seahorses, and they are easier to breed).  Kudos to these folks.  I love seeing private action solving environmental issues, and their story gets me interested again in the many proposals to allow ownership of tigers and rhinos in private farms to save those species.  Their website is here, and if you are in the market for a pet seahorse, I highly recommend their product. 

Postscript:
  The biggest threat to seahorses is the same one faced by rhinos and tigers:  The huge Asian market for fertility drugs based on these animals.  Generally, any animal included in Asian folks wisdom as improving sex in some way is on the fast track to endangered status.  I am hoping that Viagra may turn out to be a savior for these species, as a substitute, in the same way John D. Rockefeller saved the whales in the 19th century with cheap kerosene.  Maybe the Sierra Club should take some of the huge funds they allocate to paying off Congressmen for more regulations and direct it to Viagra donations to China.

Posted on October 12, 2007 at 07:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

I Honestly Don't Understand Where We Are on Foreign Policy

I don't even pretend to be very knowledgeable about foreign policy so I seldom write about it.  But the dialog around Turkey honestly has me confused.  Nancy Pelosi argues that we need to call out Turkey right now in order "to restore America's moral authority around the world."  So I get the moral dimension of calling out bad people for bad actions.  But it was my understanding that this was what Democrats found facile in Bush's foreign policy, that Bush called out countries like North Korea and pre-invasion Iraq for being part of an axis of evil.  Is it then Pelosi's position that morality in foreign policy consists of pointing out evil actions committed by our allies eighty years ago, but avoiding calling out current evil actions by our enemies?

Posted on October 12, 2007 at 07:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Cost of "the Right to Build"

Virginia Postrel has a really interesting article in the Atlantic.com.  Often, home construction costs are disaggregated into the cost of land and the cost of the home.  She adds a third piece -- "the right to build" related to regulation and land use restrictions.  She cites a study that most of the cost of new homes in expensive markets like California are not building costs or even land acquisition costs, but the enormous costs involved in getting the government to let you build the house you want on your own land.

In a 2003 article, Glaeser and Gyourko calculated the two different land values for 26 cities (using data from 1999). They found wide disparities. In Los Angeles, an extra quarter acre cost about $28,000—the pure price of land. But the cost of empty land isn’t the whole story, or even most of it. A quarter- acre lot minus the cost of the house came out to about $331,000—nearly 12 times as much as the extra quarter acre. The difference between the first and second prices, around $303,000, was what L.A. home buyers paid for local land-use controls in bureaucratic delays, density restrictions, fees, political contributions. That’s the cost of the right to build.

And that right costs much less in Dallas. There, adding an extra quarter acre ran about $2,300—raw land really is much cheaper—and a quarter acre minus the cost of construction was about $59,000. The right to build was nearly a quarter million dollars less than in L.A. Hence the huge difference in housing prices. Land is indeed more expensive in superstar cities. But getting permission to build is way, way more expensive. These cities, says Gyourko, “just control the heck out of land use.”

These differences cascade into a number of areas:

Dallas and Los Angeles represent two distinct models for successful American cities, which both reflect and reinforce different cultural and political attitudes. One model fosters a family-oriented, middle-class lifestyle—the proverbial home-centered “balanced life.” The other rewards highly productive, work-driven people with a yen for stimulating public activities, for arts venues, world-class universities, luxury shopping, restaurants that aren’t kid-friendly. One makes room for a wide range of incomes, offering most working people a comfortable life. The other, over time, becomes an enclave for the rich. Since day-to-day experience shapes people’s sense of what is typical and normal, these differences in turn lead to contrasting perceptions of economic and social reality. It’s easy to believe the middle class is vanishing when you live in Los Angeles, much harder in Dallas. These differences also reinforce different norms and values—different ideas of what it means to live a good life. Real estate may be as important as religion in explaining the infamous gap between red and blue states.

The Dallas model, prominent in the South and Southwest, sees a growing population as a sign of urban health. Cities liberally permit housing construction to accommodate new residents. The Los Angeles model, common on the West Coast and in the Northeast Corridor, discourages growth by limiting new housing. Instead of inviting newcomers, this approach rewards longtime residents with big capital gains and the political clout to block projects they don’t like.

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Government Sucks

I really wanted to fisk in depth this post at Government Is Good.  While there are loads of factual inaccuracies and logical fallacies, the most common is the assumption that if the government does something today, that activity would not have been performed by anyone without government.  For example, if the government did not educate our kids, we'd all be happy to let them lay around all day and play Nintendo.

The article reminds me of nothing so much as the old "better living through chemicals" commercials which were so ably parodied with the Kentucky Fried Movie skit about zinc oxide.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time. Fortunately, TJIC has already done a great job. Here is one example from a long post:

7:01 a.m. Government also helps you own your house in more than the legal sense. On a more practical level, the federal government actually gives you money every year to help pay for your house. It’s called a mortgage interest tax deduction

So I earn $100, and the government would normally steal $30 of that, but because I fill out certain forms, the government only steals $20 of it…and the $10 that the government would have stolen, but chose not to, is a “gift” ?

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 01:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Environmentalists are Anti-Change, Not Pro-Environment

Here in Hawaii, much of the talk is about the Hawaiian Island ferry service that was supposed to start up this summer.  Most of you who have not spend much time here would probably expect that there already exists some kind of ferry service between the islands.  But for some reason, there is no such service.  Lacking you own boat, the only way to get to the island that I can see right across the water (I can see Maui right now from the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii) is for me to drive forty miles south to an airport, get on an airplane, fly to the Maui airport, and then drive tens of miles to my destination.  Those of you who live in San Francisco, imagine if the only way to get to Oakland were by airplane.  One would think a ferry service would not only be a great service for residents and tourists, but would be a huge environmental benefit, giving folks an alternative to driving and flying.

Well, not according to the Sierra Club,
which has sued to block the ferry service on environmental grounds.  Of course, absolutely everything Hawaii uses comes in by ship, and there are always ships coming in and out of port, not to mention hundreds of fishing boats.  But we just can't have this one extra boat.  It makes much more environmental sense to the Sierra Club that people drive miles and miles to an airport and fly between the islands than to take a sensible ferry.

Note, by the way, as an added libertarian bonus, the ferry service seems to be entirely for-profit and does not appear to involve any major government subsidies.  Though I could be wrong about that, there are always hidden ways to subsidize such efforts.

Update: The main reason for opposition is that the ferry will make it easier for "undesirable" people to come to Maui and make the place less, uh, desirable.  First, it is unclear to me why the ferry service should be held accountable for future environmental damage that might be committed by its passengers - certainly airlines are not held to the same standard.  Second, this is snobbery, not environmentalism.  It is the same argument that prevented the red line in Boston from being extended to Lexington -- the upscale residents didn't want an easier path for the undesirables to get in.  So now Lexington residents have to drive for miles if they want to ride the train.  My sense is that this kind of faux environmentalism has become a very popular way for the reach to keep the middle class and poor at bay.  See:  Hamptons.

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Let's Get These Guys to Run Health Care

From the New York Post via Carpe Diem and TJIC:

For seven hours a day, five days a week, hundreds of Department of Education employees - who've been accused of wrongdoing ranging from buying a plant for a school against the principal's wishes to inappropriately touching a student - do absolutely no work.

The Post has learned that the number of salaried teachers sitting idly waiting for their cases to be heard has exploded to 757 this year - more than twice the number just two years ago - at a cost of about $40 million a year, based on the median teacher salary.

The city pays millions more for substitute teachers and employees to replace them and to lease rubber-room space.

Meanwhile, the 757 - paid from $42,500 to $93,400 a year - bring in lounge chairs to recline, talk on their cellphones and watch movies on portable DVD players, according to interviews with more than 50 employees.

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 12:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Dual-Class Citizenship

I understand the logic behind reporter shield laws.  However, I can't support the establishment of different classes of citizenship with different rights, particularly when these rights are tied to certain professions.  Either everyone should be able to ignore a subpoena, or nobody should be able to do so.   My individual rights should not be subject to a hiring decision by the NY Times.

For those who believe this is essential to the functioning of the press, it is left as an exercise to explain how the press has survived without it for over 200 years.

It is worth noting that this is effectively an extension of what Congress began with McCain-Feingold.  In that law, Congress gave members of the press unique speech rights within 60 days of an election that the rest of us do not have.  The press tries to piously portray itself as a special entity, but they sure do look like any other special interest group lobbying Congress for special privileges.

Much more here.

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 12:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Howard Beale Vote

As a libertarian, I am hugely excited that Ron Paul is getting some positive attention.  However, I have a terrible time syncing up the enthusiasm for him in some quarters with the historic indifference to libertarian ideas in the same quarters.  I am worried that this country has a 5-10% Howard Beale segment (I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more) that will get enthusiastic about any third party candidate who seams to challenge the establishment.  Do these people behind Paul really understand him, or are they just the same folks who supported Ross Perot's populist melange?

Posted on October 10, 2007 at 11:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Great Moments In Justice

It's been a while since I posted any tort pr0n, so here are a couple of juicy onces:

From West Virginia:

Joe Meadows was drunk. Very drunk. 0.296 percent blood-alcohol content drunk, 12 or 13 beers worth. Fortunately, he didn't drive in that state. Unfortunately, he chose to sleep it off by resting under a parked 18-wheel truck. More unfortunately, the driver, Doug Rader, who didn't check to see whether there might be drunks lying under his truck at 1:40 a.m., ran over Meadows. Rader had EMT training, and was able to save Meadows's life, but Meadows lost a leg, and sued both the truck company and the store that owned the parking lot. A Kanawha County jury decided that Meadows was only a third responsible for his injury, which means he "only" gets two thirds of the three million dollars they awarded.

And from Florida:

"A police officer has sued the family of a 1-year-old boy who nearly drowned because she slipped and injured a knee responding to their 9-1-1 rescue call." Andrea Eichhorn, a police sergeant in Casselberry, Florida, responded to the pool accident, and now "claims the boy's family left a puddle of water on the floor, causing her fall during the rescue efforts. She broke her knee and missed two months of work." So she's suing the Cosmillo family. "It's a situation where the Cosmillos have caused these problems, brought them on themselves, then tried to play the victim," says her attorney, David Heil. Joey Cosmillo, the infant in question, suffered severe brain damage and lives in a nursing home now.

West Virginia and Florida -- who'd have thought it?

Posted on October 10, 2007 at 11:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

A Bad Idea

Hopefully, the idea of burning food to power automobiles is finally being discredited.  It's amazing to me that environmentalists, of all people, who for years have criticized America's love affair with cars, have been at the leading edge of advocating government subsidies to shovel our food supply into our SUV's.  Particularly when corn ethanol creates more CO2 and other pollutants than it eliminates.  More on the insanity of biofuels here and here.

Posted on October 10, 2007 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

This is Low?

A study finds that 17.6% of social scientists at American universities self-identify themselves as Marxists.  And the study's authors find this percentage to be "low".  By the way, had Coyote been responsible for assigning the Marxist label rather than just self-idntification, my guess is the number would have easily cracked 50%.

Posted on October 9, 2007 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Long Drain

The long drain begins:

When Kathleen Casey-Kirschling signs up for Social Security benefits Monday, it will represent one small step for her, one giant leap for her baby boom generation — and a symbolic jump toward the retirement system's looming bankruptcy.

Casey-Kirschling — generally recognized as the nation's first boomer (born in Philadelphia on Jan. 1, 1946, at 12:00:01 a.m.) — won't bankrupt the Social Security system by taking early retirement at 62. But after her, the deluge: 80 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964 who could qualify for Social Security and Medicare during the next 22 years.

The first wave of 3.2 million baby boomers turns 62 next year — 365 an hour. About 49% of the men and 53% of the women are projected to choose early retirement and begin drawing monthly Social Security checks representing 75% of the benefit they'd be entitled to receive if they waited four more years to retire.

If Social Security were a well-managed private insurance program, this would be a non-event.  The returns on investments over the last 40 years have been tremendous, such that a private fund could easily start paying out benefits based on boomers' premiums.

Unfortunately, as a government program, the funds in the program are subject to the whims of politicians.  And it turns out that boomers have elected politicians who have spent all the money that has been contributed to Social Security (despite USA Today in their graphics trying to continue the myth that a meaningful "trust fund" actually exists as anything but a bunch of government IOU's to itself.)  So, because Congress has spent all the past contributions, an action that would have had any private manager jailed decades ago, Social Security must now run itself as a Ponzi scheme, where current contributions pay off retiree benefits.  This game runs out somewhere in the 2020's.  And this all despite the fact that Social Security pays out a negative rate of return.

Posted on October 9, 2007 at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Hurray!

In a blinding glimpse of the obvious for those of you who just reached CoyoteBlog.com, the blog is a going concern again. Problem explained here.  Sorry.

Posted on October 9, 2007 at 12:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Happened to Coyote Blog (Network Solutions Sucks Edition)

Years ago, I, without really knowing what I was doing, established a bunch of my URLs through Network Solutions.  I didn't understand at the time that Network Solutions was both irritating and the high-cost provider. 

Now that I know more, I have doing my registrations via a much lower cost supplier (GoDaddy).  A few weeks ago, I did a mass transfer from Network Solutions.  Apparently, Network Solutions locks the domains down, ostensibly for security (which is probably true) but also to make it harder to leave them, which makes sense as given their prices there must be a serious net drain of business out of the company.  Most of my domains cleared this Berlin Wall to freedom, but I screwed up on a couple, one of which was CoyoteBlog.com.  As a result, the domain ended up expired, and email dead.

Thanks for all of you who have tried to notify me of the problems.  Nearly two days ago I went ahead and renewed at Network Solutions for another year, just to get things back up ASAP.  Unfortunately, the URL still seems to be marked expired.  I don't know if that is their poor service or because I am in Hawaii and at the absolute end of the earth for name server updates.  Hopefully all will be right tomorrow.  For those who visited CoyoteBlog this weekend, I am sorry about the flurry of tacky popups Network Solutions was dealing out at the URL (as many as three at a time, the losers).  For those of you who access via http://camprrm.typepad.com/coyote_blog/ you should have been able to read the blog but without formatting.  I believe that RSS access was unaffected.

Posted on October 8, 2007 at 12:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Zero

Number of experts that predicted that the NLCS would feature two teams from the National League West.  Go D'backs.

Posted on October 8, 2007 at 12:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sorry

Network Solutions and I seem to have a disagreement as to whether I have already renewed my domain name.  Hopefully we will be back up soon.

Posted on October 6, 2007 at 08:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

How Princeton Uses Its Money

Everybody is always trying to spend someone else's money.  This kind of thing would really make me sick, except it is a little funny to see the kind of class warfare and redistributionist economics preached by elite universities come back to bite them:

Dr. Gravelle points out that endowment wealth is concentrated in the upper ranks, much of it at 62 institutions with endowments larger than $1 billion. But just three years ago only 39 schools had billion-plus endowments. That’s a 38% increase in just a few years. In 2006, 125 schools had endowments over $500 million—a third more than in 2002. The number of schools that can count themselves as endowment-rich or super-rich is growing rapidly....

What the data shows is that endowment wealth is everywhere—except in the hands of the students who need it today. Last year endowments increased 17.7% on average—those larger than a billion increased 18.4%. Yet, despite double-digit increases stretching back a decade or more —endowment spending is at a nearly all-time low of 4.2%--down from 5.1% in 1994, 6.5% in 1982, and 5.2% in 1975....

Tuition has been going up so rapidly for so long it has reached nearly ungraspable levels. So let me put today’s tuition cost in concrete terms. Senators, what would your constituents say if gasoline cost $9.15 a gallon? Or if the price of milk was over $15? That is how much those items would cost if their price had gone up at the same rate that tuition has since 1980.

I believe that skyrocketing tuition is undoubtedly the biggest “access” problem in higher education. What can possibly be more discouraging to a capable student whose parents are not wealthy than a school with a $45,000 price tag on the door?...

Congress should not hesitate to consider a minimum payout requirement—and 5% should be considered a starting point. The 5% number is a dated one—even for private foundations. Many schools have been rolling over so much money for so long that they should easily be able to accommodate a higher rate of payout. Possibly the most significant challenge for policymakers will be to make sure that any newly directed monies actually go toward aid or tuition reduction and don’t become part of a shell game.

Seriously, is there no pocket of private money that socialists won't stick their hand into?  In effect, at the same time Americans get lambasted for saving too little, this guy is going after private universities for saving too much?  And note the implicit assumption about government intervention he holds and expects all of Congress to hold in the third paragraph above:  It is just assumed that if prices go up enough to upset the constituents, then it is Congress's job to act.

Far be it for facts to get in the way of good populism, but I do know what Princeton does with its 2nd or 3rd largest endowment:

  • Every student who gets admitted gets a financial aid package from the University that will allow them to attend, no matter what their finances are.  Yes, the student may have to work his butt off, but if he really wants to go to Princeton he will be able to go.  Princeton's wealth also allows it to be much more friendly in these financial assessments.  For example, many assets like the parent's house are taken off the table when assessing ability to pay
  • If a student graduates normally, then all of her debts are paid off at graduation.  Every student graduates debt-free, giving them far more flexibility in what jobs they choose our of college.  No longer must they eschew non-profit or low-paying jobs due to the burden of debt.
  • Princeton has accepted that applying more money to increasing the educational intensity of its existing 4000 students by an additional 0.1% is not the best use of its investment.  It has committed (in too small of a way for my preferences, but that is another matter) to using its fortunes to increase its size and bring Ivy League education to more people.  This year, it increased its entry class size by 250, which may seem small to those of you from large universities but is about a 20% increase for Princeton.

Since all Princeton students get whatever aid they need and graduate debt-free.  So the tuition number is irrelevent.  And statements like "I believe that skyrocketing tuition is undoubtedly the biggest “access” problem in higher education" are virtually meaningless. 

Posted on October 5, 2007 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

We're Saved!

The Arizona Republic had this headline on the front of the business section this morning:

Arizona economy will get boost

Oh, is there some interesting structural change in the economy?  Did some local company get a big contract.  No, it turns out that the state government is going to reorganize some of its committees:

Gov. Janet Napolitano announced creation of a new non-profit on Thursday aimed at improving the state's economy and reducing its dependence on housing and construction.

The Arizona Economic Resources Organization, or AERO, will bring together the state's "disorganized" business-recruiting efforts, she said.

AERO's board of directors will include representatives of government organizations such as the Commerce and Economic Development Commission, private enterprise and the state's universities, the governor said.

Is there a single person who reads this and thinks to himself "Oh, that should help?"  Is this really what the Arizona Republic thinks boosts economies and creates value?  Some reorganization among the bureaucrats that run around doling out taxpayer money for relocations so the governor can claim to have boosted the economy, or God forbid, to have created jobs?  How about an income tax cut instead?

Just as an aside, I couldn't help but note this hilarious quote:

"The governor has taken some important and bold steps, probably steps that we should have taken 20 if not 30 years ago," said Barry Broome, president and chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, which he said has discussed representation on the AERO board with the governor.

It's simultaneously "bold" and 30 years late.   Is that possible?

Update:  As to my last question, it probably is possible.  After all, actually limiting the Congress to the enumerated powers in the Constitution would be both bold and about a hundred years late.

Posted on October 5, 2007 at 08:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Nevermind

Up until now, the retreat of Arctic ice to 30 year lows has been credited, without proof, to global warming.  This never made a lot of sense to me, since at the same time Antarctic sea ice was hitting an all-time high.  Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a new NASA study that proposes that Arctic sea ice melting over the last decade has been due mainly to shifting wind patterns that basically push the ice into warmer waters where it melts faster.

Posted on October 4, 2007 at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

I Blame Mattel

From the WSJ:

By a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe free trade is bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democratic views and suggests trade deals could face high hurdles under a new president.

Mattel screwed up the design, specification, and their quality control responsibilities which resulted in a series of toy recalls.  Eager to save face and push the blame onto others, management eagerly spun the story as a general failing of Chinese production, rather than their own personal screw-up.

Posted on October 4, 2007 at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies

What guy wouldn't want one of these?

552a_12

Hat tip Tyler Cowen

Posted on October 4, 2007 at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Money Laying on the Sidewalk

For years I had some kind of corporate health plan.  When I started my own business, I bought a Blue Cross plan that roughly mirrored the corporate health plan I used to have -- very low deductible, lots of coverage.  And it had very high premiums. 

So I finally got serious and went out and did something 99% of Americans never do or never have to do:  I went out and really researched my health care options.  And what I found was that to raise our family's deductible from $500 a year to $2000 a year would save me over $3000 a year in premiums.  In fact, if I switched plans, I would get just as high of a maximum payout and I would get a better gaurantee on future pricing and a commitment never to drop my coverage from a large, well-rated insurance company.

There's an old joke about an economist and another fellow walking down the street.  There was a $10 bill laying on the ground, but the economist just walked right past it.  The other fellow said "what are you doing, you just passed up $10."  And the economist replied "It can't be a real $10 bill, because in an efficient market someone would have already picked it up."

That was my reaction to my health care options.  I asked my broker, "you mean that if I increase my deductible $1500 I can save $3000 a year?  Even in a worst case year I am better off, and in a healthy year I am MUCH better off."  He replied "Yep."  I asked, "But why doesn't everyone do this?"  He just shrugged.  As my Harvard investment management professor used to say, as he wrote up a market situation on the chalkboard to begin each class, either this is an opportunity, of there is something we don't understand.  As I have gained more experience with my new health plan, I have become convinced it is the former.

McQ over at Q&O
has a great post on insurance vs. insulation.  I won't quote it all, but it is well worth your read.  Towards the end, he quotes John Stoessel on my particular conundrum:

But people are so conditioned to expect others to pay their medical bills that they hate high deductibles: They feel ripped off if they must pay a thousand dollars before the insurance company starts paying.

But high deductibles may be the key to lowering costs and putting you in charge of your health care.

I am absolutely convinced that the best possible step for US health care is to expose more users to the market and price-value trade offs, while providing high-deductible insurance that shelters people from bankrupting unusual events.  More here, here, and here.

Posted on October 3, 2007 at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

A Thought On Defending the Right of Commerce

From the Associated Press:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a challenge to Alabama's ban on the sale of sex toys, ending a nine-year legal battle and sending a warning to store owners to clean off their shelves.

An adult-store owner had asked the justices to throw out the law as an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy of the bedroom. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving intact a lower court ruling that upheld the law.

Sherri Williams, owner of Pleasures stores in Huntsville and Decatur, said she was disappointed, but plans to sue again on First Amendment free speech grounds.

"My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand. I refuse to give up," she said.

The appeals court made this distinction:

Williams had asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found Alabama's law was not affected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision knocking down Texas' sodomy law.

The Texas sodomy law involved private conduct, while the Alabama law regulated commercial activity, the appeals court judges said. Public morality was an insufficient government interest in the Texas case but was sufficient in the Alabama case, they said.

Now, I don't in any way shape or form see any differences between "private conduct" and "commerce."  How in the hell can sexual decisions between consenting adults be any different, legally, than commercial transactions between consenting adults.  It is a distinction that socialists have been succesful in introducing in the US, and to which many now cling.

The interesting part is to consider the folks who are fighting the sex toy ban.  My wild guess, which may be off the mark, is that this is not a bunch of Christian conservative Republicans.  My guess is that these folks are probably a bit left of center, and further, that many of them accept and support the notion that the government has every right to regulate dirty old commerce, but no right to regulate one's "private life."  Well, maybe now it will be clearer, at least to some, how dangerous this distinction is.   As a parting note, it has been two years now since we saw the irony of left-leaning members of the Supreme Court overrule state laws allowing medical marijuana use based on the commerce clause.

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 04:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Government Thugs

Rad Geek has three awful stories of petty little thugs hired by government schools to harass and intimidate students.  At least one of these stories has racial overtones, but it would be a mistake to ascribe these actions merely to prejudice.  This is what inevitably happens when government employees are given carte blanch to exercise cohesive power.

In the first story, a 13-year-old girl was asked to strip naked because school security thugs has "reliable" information that she had an ibuprofen tablet - basically a freaking aspirin.

In the second story, security officers quiz high school girls about whether they are having their period to see if it is OK that they are carrying a small purse.

In story number three, a fifteen-year-old girl was tackled by security officers, forced down on a table, and had her wrist broken in an arm lock.  Later she was arrested and charged with assault.  All because she failed to fully clean up a piece of cake she dropped on the floor. 

Cakedropping

In the same incident, two onlookers were attacked, tackled, handcuffed, and arrested for photographing and video-taping the incident.  This is what you get for trying to record video of government employees at work:

Bystander

Twenty years ago, when I would have called myself a conservative instead of a libertarian as I do today, I probably would have said, "Oh, there are probably two sides of the story.  He probably provoked them."  I am embarrassed to admit it, but that might have been my reaction.  But watch the video that is linked from Rad Geeks post.  What could he have possibly done to warrant this?  You can see in the video he was just circling the security guards filming them until one pointed at him, the other came at him, and then this.  This boy was led from the school in handcuffs and spent the night in jail.  Sick.

Hat tip Catallarchy.

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 03:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Dispatches from Zimbabwe

Here are a few scenes from Zimbabwe, stitched together form several posts by Cathy Buckle.  For all of those who support Hugo Chavez, and there are a surprising number in this country, this is exactly where Venezuela would be in a year if it wasn't for its oil.  And it may get there none-the-less (hat tip Q&O):

After three months of price controls the food situation in the country is perilous and even those who were able to stock their pantries and cupboards are now in trouble. In a main supermarket in my home town this week there was air freshener, window cleaner, some vegetables, Indonesian toothpaste and imported cornflakes from South Africa - one single packet costing more than half of a teachers monthly salary.  There was also milk being sold from a bulk tank to people who bring their own bottles and the queue went through the empty shop, out the door and along the pavement. The line broke up suddenly before 10am when the milk ran out and the huge shop was suddenly completely empty - nothing left to sell, no more customers. This situation was a mirror image of conditions at three other major supermarkets in the town and so we look desperately into another week of struggle, praying for relief....

Milk is like gold in our town, as it is almost all over the country. When you appreciate that the shops are empty and there is no food to buy, no protein, no meat or eggs and now not even bread, you understand that people are desperate for nourishment. A phone call to the local bulk dairy marketing outlet this week went as follows:

Q: Hello, Do you have milk please?
A: Nothing.
Q: What about lacto (sour milk)?
A: Nothing.
Q: Any cheese?
A: (Bored) Nothing
Q: Ice Cream! ?
A: (Slightly annoyed) No, we have nothing. We are playing football in the car park! ...

Standing outside over yet another smoky fire late one afternoon this week, a Go-Away bird chastised me from a nearby tree. I'm sure this Grey Lourie is as fed up of me intruding into its territory as I am of  being there - trying to get a hot meal for supper. For five of the last six days the electricity has gone off before 5 in the morning and only come back 16 or 17 hours later a little before midnight. "Go Away! Go Away!" the Grey Lourie called out repeatedly as my eyes streamed from the smoke and I stirred my little pot. My hair and clothes stink of smoke, fingers are yellow and sooty but this is what we've all been reduced to in Zimbabwe. Our government don't talk about the power cuts anymore and don't even try and feed us with lame excuses about how the power is being used to irrigate non-existent crops. We all know it's not true and the proof is there in the empty fields for all to see.

Something else our government aren't talking about  anymore is the nationwide non availability of bread and the  empty shops in all our towns and cities. Everywhere you go people are struggling almost beyond description to try and survive and yet the country's MP's, both from the ruling party and the opposition, do nothing to put an end to this time of  horror. I have lost count of how many weeks this has been going on for but it must be around three months. None of the basics needed for daily survival are available to buy. There is no flour to bake with, no pasta, rice, lentils, dried beans or canned goods. People everywhere are hungry, not for luxuries like  biscuits or snack food but for the staples  that fill your stomach. When you ask people nowadays how they are coping, mostly they say that they are not, they say they are hungry, tired and have little energy. This is a national crisis almost beyond description and people say they are alive only because of " the hand of God."

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

But No One Shops for Health Care

For a while, I have been trying to highlight that the real problem with health care is that consumers who receive the service do not have any incentive to shop for the best price or to make trade offs on marginal procedures based on price.  The only people who have any incentive to shop are 1) people without insurance and 2) people with high deductibles (like me).  Politicians are trying to eliminate the former group, even if they don't want insurance, and programs like Romney's in Massachusetts actually ban high deductible insurance.

Now, Obama is worried about anti-trust:

The consequences of lax enforcement for consumers are clear. Take health care, for example. There have been over 400 health care mergers in the last 10 years. The American Medical Association reports that 95% of insurance markets in the United States are now highly concentrated and the number of insurers has fallen by just under 20% since 2000. These changes were supposed to make the industry more efficient, but instead premiums have skyrocketed, increasing over 87 percent over the past six years. As president, I will direct my administration to reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. It will step up review of merger activity and take effective action to stop or restructure those mergers that are likely to harm consumer welfare, while quickly clearing those that do not.

How can these mergers harm consumers when consumers don't shop for the service and don't care about price in the first place?  Candidates like Obama and Clinton are threatening to create single payer systems that use monopsony power combined presumably with the coercive power of government to hammer suppliers.  Is it any wonder that they are joining together to try to gain some sort of bargaining position for themselves?  In the context of what Obama wants to do with health care buying, this can be thought of more as unionizing than merging.

By the way, does anyone else note the irony of Obama, who wants to create a single supplier for health care (the US Government) lamenting concentration in the health care field?

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

I am Tired of Paying For People's Winter Vacations

I hire retired couples for the summer to run campgrounds and other recreation facilities.  Since these campgrounds are closed in the winter (most are under 8 feet of snow) I lay most of these folks off in October. 

The vast majority of my employees do not work the winter.  They have other retirement savings that they supplement working for me in the summer and then they take the winter off.   And that would be all of the story, except in  California.  For some reason in California, but not in most other states, all these folks run straight to the unemployment office and file for unemployment over the winter.  For those of you who don't know how unemployment insurance premiums work, the premium I pay as a percentage of wages is based on past claims experience.  In California, I am an "F", the worst category, and have to pay over 6%(!) of wages to unemployment insurance. 

Now in most states, what these employees are doing is illegal.   It is typical of unemployment offices that you have to call in each week and certify that you are looking for work.  If you are not actively looking for work, then you are not eligible, and most states outside CA seem fairly diligent about enforcing the rules.  Last year, not one but two of the people who were claiming unemployment in CA over the winter were in Mexico on the beach the whole time!  I know, because they called me from there to see if they were going to be rehired in the spring.

It was then that I found out why this happens more in CA than in other states.  I called the California state unemployment office and asked them how I could have cases of unemployment fraud (ie claiming unemployment when one is not actually looking for work) investigated.  The person from the state office got very hostile with me.  She said that I was making a very serious charge, and that if I made such a charge, and fraud was not proven, then I could be liable for civil and even criminal penalties for asking for the investigation.  I said forget it, raised prices to customers to cover the extra winter vacation wages I was forced to pay, and moved on.   

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Green Security State

Via Hit and Run:

Chris Martin, Coldplay lead singer founder and frontman of the CleanScapes waste removal agency, is bidding for a piece of Seattle's garbage collection contract.

If Martin is allowed to implement what he calls "my best idea, my get-people-riled-up thing," we could all soon be subject to a kind of garbage audit, too. He wants to bring the equivalent of the red-light camera to your front curb. Just as the traffic camera captures you running through a stoplight, CleanScapes' incriminating photos would catch you improperly disposing of a milk carton. (It belongs in the recycling bin.)

"We could do it the nice way," he says, meaning his company would e-mail you pictures of your detritus, along with helpful information about separating out recyclables. Or, he says, CleanScapes could send the pictures on to municipal inspectors, and "the city could enforce its own laws." (While the city has sent warning letters, no fines have ever been issued, according to Seattle Public Utilities.)

The vast majority of recycling is a net loss, both in dollars and in energy.  Only a few items (scrap iron, aluminum cans, bulk news print) make any sense at all in curbside recycling programs.  Milk cartons are not one of them.  The rest of the curbside recycling we do is merely symbolism actions that demonstrate our commitment to the cause, much like reciting a liturgy in church (Interestingly, the more honest environmentalists have admitted this, but still support the program because they believe the symbolic action is an important source of public commitment to the environment).

I guess it is not surprising to see folks like Mr. Martin bring the full power of the state to bear to make sure you are sorting your milk cartons correctly.  After all, in previous generations, the powers-that-be in small towns would employ people to watch for folks skipping out on church, and nations like Cuba still use neighborhood watches to spy out political heresy.  It's just a sign of the times that now such tactics are being used to smoke out environmental heresy.

Posted on October 2, 2007 at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Am I Freaking Prescient of What?

A while back I wrote about racism vs. tattoos, in the context of a story that claimed black players had more fouls called against them than white players in the NBA

My sense is that we make snap decisions about other people based on a wide range of physical attributes, including height, attractiveness, clothing, tattoos, piercings as well as visible racial characteristics (e.g. skin color) and race-related appearance choices (e.g. cornrows). It would be interesting to see where skin color falls against these other visible differentiators as a driver of third party decisions (e.g. whether to call a foul).   My sense is that 60 years ago, skin color would be factor #1 and all these others would be orders of magnitude behind.  Today?  I don't know.  While skin color hasn't gone away as an influencer, it may be falling into what we might call the "background level", less than or equal to some of these other effects. It would be interesting, for example, to make the same study on level of visible tattooing and the effect on foul calls.  My sense is that this might be of the same order of magnitude today as skin color in affecting such snap decisions.

In a follow-up I posited that tattoos may be the new black.

Now, Via Overlawyered:

"Some San Antonio apartment complexes are refusing to rent to people with tattoos and body piercings."

Posted on October 1, 2007 at 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gas Pricing Thought for the Day

Today I was working on a bid for a retail concession in a county park in California.  In these bids we usually promise a set percentage of sales as rent in exchange for the concession and use of certain fixed assets.  One of our standard clauses is to exempt gasoline sales (if there are any) from this rent calculation, because gas sales are so horribly low margin.  Considering the licensing, environmental, and safety issues, gasoline is always a money loser for us that we offer either a) because it is expected, as in the case at large marinas or b) because it gets people in the door to buy other stuff.  And I sell gas in rural areas where I have less price competition than in cities.

It is for this reason that I am always flabbergasted at how much time and attention the government and media tend to pay to retail gasoline pricing.  The portion of my business that is clearly the worst, most unprofitable piece, so much so I have to make special contract provisions for it, gets all the attention for price gouging.   It's like the FEC dedicating most of its labor to investigating Mike Gravel's campaign donations.  I mean, why bother, there's nothing there.

Posted on October 1, 2007 at 05:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Cool Family News

My daughter was selected to perform as part of the opening number of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Posted on October 1, 2007 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Simply Outrageous

Via Cato@liberty, comes this really outrageous incident:

The Gilpin County Sheriff's Office was apologizing Monday after a weekend effort to help a research group led to complaints about what appeared to be a DUI checkpoint - but wasn't....

Sgt. Bob Enney said deputies assisted the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in stopping motorists at five sites along Colorado 119 for surveys on any drug and alcohol use. Surveyors then asked the motorists to voluntarily submit to tests of their breath, blood and saliva. At least 200 drivers were tested, Enney said....

They were greeted by "youthful, college" surveyors dressed in jumpsuits and blue generic caps.       

"We had a 10-year-old in the back who's tired, we tell them thanks but no thanks, we have to get this child back home to bed," Sequeira said.

He said a worker persisted, saying that the researchers would assist in driving the family home if they needed assistance.       

When the Sequeiras again demurred, a supervisor offered them a $100 money order.       

"We say, 'No, thank you, we have to get our child home,"' Sequeira recalled. "At this point, both clones start chortling at us and ridiculing us."

The problem in this case is that many people don't take the time to even take a 5-minute survey over the phone, much less to pull over on the roadside and donate bodily fluids.  Every market researcher understands this problem, and tries to deal with it.  But the government has one tool in its bag that ordinary private firms do not have:  The coercive power of the government.  Whether they were tested or not, motorists who were in complete obedience to the law were forced to pull over by government law enforcement officials merely to increase their survey response rate.  This is such a typical government solution that I think most people are desensitized to it.

Posted on October 1, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)