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Michelle Obama is a Socialist

There.  I said it.  And I believe I am right.  My only hope for the Obama administration is that their family is like the Clintons, where Bill was much more moderate than his socialist wife who has held nothing but rent-seeking jobs that gravy-trained off her husbands political position.

“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” she tells the women. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.” Faced with that reality, she adds, “many of our bright stars are going into corporate law or hedge-fund management.”

I already covered the idiocy of my fellow Princeton-Harvard grad's rant on student debt here.  And let's be clear:  You have absolutely no ground to criticize the state of the economy because kids of middle class black families are not doing well when you are busy counseling them to embrace low-paying jobs over higher-paying ones.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 09:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Update on E-Verify

This is a follow-up to my experience this morning logging on to E-verify for the first time, as required now by Arizona law.  After some research, it is becoming clear to me that the federal government's official position and the one that companies must agree to adopt when using e-verify is this:  When using e-Verify, it is against the law to screen out anyone in the hiring process based on immigration status.  Even if a company were to develop very strong evidence in the hiring process that a person is not a legal worker, that worker must still be hired (or at least not not-hired based on immigration status, if that makes sense).  Then, and only then, after the person is on the payroll, may the company begin the process of checking to see if that person is legal.  After weeks of various government steps, it may be required that the company fire that person, but apparently it could bring strong penalties to fire the person before the process has played out.

Is this nuts or what?  Its like having a job that requires an engineering degree but to not be able to ask during the hiring process if the candidate has an engineering degree and then being forced to fire the person after a few weeks of work for not having an engineering degree.  This is certainly a process that only the government could design, and one that completely ignores the substantial costs associated with taking on a new employee,

What really makes this interesting to me is that the Arizona law that requires the use of this system by Arizona companies was intended to end the use of illegal day laborers.  But in fact, there is absolutely nothing about this system that can be applied to day labor, given the way the timeframes work and the prohibition on pre-screening before the hire.   In fact, rather than being liable day one for hiring an illegal immigrant, one could argue with this system that, as long as one is following the process, a business is covered for weeks of an illegal immigrant's work -- covered so well that it is arguably illegal to fire said illegal alien worker until the multi-week process plays itself out.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Numbers in the Media Are Almost Meaningless

Every time I dig into numbers in a media report, I typically find a real mess.  Russell Roberts finds the situation even worse than average in the recent Washington Post article on middle class finances.

The debt figure of $55,000 in 2004 (which supposedly is 151% higher than in 1989 to pay for day-to-day expenses) is actually ALL forms of debt INCLUDING mortgage debt. So how can that be? How can the median family have only $55,000 of all kinds of debt when there's $95,000 of mortgage debt all by itself?

That's because each line of the chart (other than the top line and the bottom line) is a subset of all families and a different subset.

So among families that have mortgage debt (maybe 40-50% of all families) the median mortgage debt among those families is $95,000.

But among families that have any kind of debt, (about 3/4 of all families) the median indebtednes including all kinds of debt is $55,000. That includes mortgages debt....

So you can't add up any of the lines of the chart or even compare them to each other. They're each for a different subset of the population, the population who have that kind of debt or asset.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Incarceration

Like a lot of folks, I am staggered by the fact that more than 1 in 100 Americans are incarcerated, including approx. 1 in 9 young black men.  I don't have the evidence at my fingertips, but my gut instinct, like many libertarians, is to blame the war on drugs for much of the prison population.  I would have liked to have seen more detail in the PEW Report on how the population breaks down -- ie for what crimes and sentence lengths -- but no such information is available. 

I will say that the PEW report spends way too much time on the utilitarian argument about the costs in public dollars to actually incarcerate these folks.  My sense is that Americans almost never complain about the budgetary costs of incarceration.  They tend to be more than happy, as a group, to pay whatever it takes to keep felons locked away for long periods of time.   I think a much stronger argument is the individual rights complaint that so many people are locked up for what is basically consensual activity.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Why Is "Big Soybean" Getting A Pass?

Would an oil company get roasted for this or what:

Call it a soybean spat. The University of Minnesota isn't going to receive any research funding from the state's soybean growers council until the two parties have a heart-to-heart talk next week.

The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council voted to temporarily suspend its financial support after a study co-authored by U researchers in the journal Science said increased use of biofuel crops like corn and soybeans could worsen global warming, not lessen it.

The council typically picks up the tab for $1 million to $2 million a year for research on such things as how to increase soybean yields and how to improve marketing, said Jim Palmer, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

The funding relationship has gone on for decades and was good until now, both the growers and the university said.

The study, published Feb. 7 by the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group, warned that converting prairie or peatland to cropland for corn and soybeans would release more carbon stored in plants and the ground as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

My dad is a University of Iowa grad and has tried for years to get them to demonstrate a higher quality of scholarship around the ethanol issue.  Good freaking luck.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't... Hell, Damned if You Try To Run Any Kind of Business at All

Arizona state law now requires that employers use the federal e-verify system to screen employees for legal immigrant status.  As I mentioned earlier, state law requires that I use this system in ways that are illegal under federal rules, at the risk of losing my business license.

Right now, I am going through a 6000 screen required tutorial that I have to endure before I can use a system that requires me to fill in about 3 blanks and hit enter.  (Of course, since this is a government system, the tutorial has already crashed twice three five times and I have had to restart it each time).  Somewhere in the midst of the training, I reach this admonition:

You may not discriminate against applicants and employees based upon their citizenship or immigration status with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee. This includes treating citizens and non-citizens differently during the hiring process, such as screening out non-citizens or not hiring lawful immigrants based upon their immigration status.

WHAT?  Personally, I am all for living by this, but isn't this EXACTLY what the law is requiring me to do?  To discriminate against people, and ban my hiring of them, based on their immigration status?  How can I possibly keep my actions legal if I am required to discriminate based on citizenship status but I am also banned from discriminating in hiring based on citizenship status.  How Orwellian can we get?

To continue the Orwellian theme, as part of this law by the state of Arizona whose sole purpose is to restrict the classes of people I can and can't hire, I must display this poster:

Ocw_poster

Gee, I would have thought everyone in the world had the right to seek work and to contract with anyone they please for their labor, but in fact the only body taking away the right is the group that made this poster -- ie the government -- which requires that everyone have a special government license called citizenship or a green card before they can sell their labor to willing parties in this country.

Well I wondered, of course, why there were 176 (I counted) training screens just to enter name-social-DOB and hit return.  It turns out that by "agreeing" to join the e-Verify program, which I am forced to do by Arizona law, I have agreed to become a US immigration officer and to do their job for them (without compensation, of course).  Here is an example screen:

There are five options for resolving a case:

  • Resolved Authorized. Select this option when employment is authorized.
  • Resolved Unauthorized/Terminated. Select this option when employment is not authorized (SSA Final Nonconfirmation, DHS Employment Unauthorized, or DHS No Show), or when a Tentative Nonconfirmation response is uncontested AND employment is terminated.
  • Self Terminated. Select this option if an employee quits or is terminated for reasons unrelated to employment eligibility status while the verification query is in process.
  • Invalid Query. Select this option if a duplicate query was discovered after the query was sent or if a query was sent with incorrect data.
  • Employee Not Terminated. Select this option to notify DHS that you are not terminating an employee who received an SSA Final Nonconfirmation, DHS Employment Unauthorized, or DHS No Show response or who is not contesting a Tentative Nonconfirmation response.

Got that?

Every campaign year we get these debates with all of these stupid questions, including things like "do you know how much a gallon of milk costs" or "Who is the head of state of Mayanmar?"  I would just love to see someone ask Obama or Clinton "In the largest city of your state, can you name all of the city, county, state, and federal licenses, registrations, tax numbers, certifications and registrations you need to be able to legally run a business with 10 employees?"

Update: OMG I have to pass a 33-page test before it will let me use the system.  LOL.  We can't test government-employed teachers for subject competency but we can test employers on government bureaucratic procedures before we allow them to hire anyone.

Update #2:  Well, there is an hour and a half of my life I will never get back.  It would have gone much quicker if they had a server that wasn't powered by a hamster on a treadmill.  Every several pages the server would take a minute or more to respond with the next page, and every twenty pages it would crash my browser completely.  Incredibly, to continue the Orwell theme, there were several questions where a correct answer required one to confirm government propaganda about the program.  Stuff like "The e-Verify helps every employer by...."

I am now fully empowered to, as required by US and Arizona law, discriminate in hiring based on immigration status just so long as I am careful not to discriminate in hiring based on immigration status.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

No More Mike's Hard Lemonades For Me

OK, perhaps it is a guilty pleasure, but I enjoy downing a couple of Mike Hard Lemonade's on a hot afternoon.  Now, it seems, the Food Nazi's at the Center for Science in the Public Interest want to stop me"

Public Citizen's blog announced that CSPI plans to sue the beverage sellers, asking for disgorgement of profits from flavored malt beverages, unless they agree to take them off the market. Their theory? By making flavored alcoholic beverages that taste good, they are effectively marketing to children. (Because, after all, adults don't like beverages that taste good.)

Posted on February 28, 2008 at 11:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Great Picture

This is an awesome photo.  I am a total sucker for depression-era southern photograph.

Posted on February 28, 2008 at 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Why Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry Were So Popular in the 1970's

Citizens of the US in the 1970's were in shock at how the crime rate was increasing.  In part, this was a demographic shift as a wave of young males more likely to resort to crime bulged through the system.  But this chart showing the great release of mental patients onto the streets in the 1960's and early 1970's points to another potential cause we seldom hear people discuss.

Bernardharcourtvolokh_graph1

Here are US crime rate stats:
Crime

Posted on February 28, 2008 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Irrational Voter

Much has been made of late of the irrational voter, a voter who demands of politicians government economic measures that actually are not in his/her long-term best interest.   For example, a large number of voters want the government to shut down NAFTA, thinking this is in their economic best interest when in fact the evidence is pretty strong that for most of them, it is not.   

What is a gung-ho but thoughtful politician to do?  Do you listen to your experts, who council free trade, or do you pander to the masses?  Do you stick by our trading allies, or do you begin your kindler-gentler foreign policy by unilaterally abrogating treaties with our neighbors. 

Well, if you are the modern presidential candidate, you tell the masses what they want to hear, and then tell our allies you are just kidding.

Update: Cato brings us a great example from North Dakota

Posted on February 28, 2008 at 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Whew

I just got a 15,000 page bid package (yes your read that right) to the shipper, and so my hell period of the last week is pretty much behind me.  In my business, I bid to be a private operator of public and private recreation facilities, usually on a concession basis (description of why a libertarian is providing services to the government here).  In this case, the government body we were bidding with required 16 copies of the bid, so really the bid was only about 900 pages long copied 16 times, but even generating 900 pages of business strategy and operations plans is tiring.  Not to mention the logistics of making 14,000 copies.

While this may seem to be surprising, it is exactly this type of sales process that attracted me, in part, to this business.  Yes, I know, most of you want to barf just thinking about preparing such a document.  However, I knew myself well enough at the age of forty when I got into this to know that I am really, really good at this type of complicated written presentation and that I am really, really bad at face-to-face cold-call selling. 

Postscript:
So far, the business has been fun to run and we have had some real victories in privatizing public recreation, and new opportunities open up every day, as California threatens to close its parks.  We do a fair amount of private work now, as well.  I can't say that dealing with the government, particularly as a libertarian, is always fun, but so far the business has continued to be a pretty fair straight-up bid process with the best bid winning.  However, the moment I start seeing evidence that the bid process is shifting to lobbying and rent-seeking, I'm out of here.  I can't even muster up even the smallest desire to play that game.

Update: TJIC writes:

It’s fascinating how modern technologies let introverts (or, at least, people who aren’t skilled or interested in traditional glad-handing) thrive in fields that are thought to require exactly that sort of thing.

He was right the first time.  I am an introvert.   And this very blog is another great example of his point.

Posted on February 27, 2008 at 10:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Down With DST

I think that Arizona's decision not to go on DST is a great one.  Being outside in the summer sunshine in Phoenix can be miserable, but the desert cools very quickly once the sun goes down.  The earlier the sun goes down in the summer, the better as far as I am concerned.  Within an hour or two after sunset, it is pleasant to sit and eat and play outside.

A new study seems to show that DST increases electricity use, rather than reducing it.  DST was, if my memory serves, a WWII innovation to save electricity.  It does so quite well if electricity demand is driven mainly by lighting.  It lets one read and function by sunlight in the evening hours.   However, as air conditioning has become a larger element of electricity demand, that equation is changing.  DST can lead to higher air conditioning loads in the evenings.

Our main finding is that—contrary to the policy’s intent—DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase range from 1 to 4 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period. There is some evidence of electricity savings during the spring, but the effect lessens, changes sign, and appears to cause the greatest increase in consumption near the end of the DST period in the fall. These findings are consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. Based on the dates of DST practice before the 2007 extensions, we estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $8.6 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that range from $1.6 to $5.3 million per year.

Posted on February 27, 2008 at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Danger! Loss of Perspective! Danger!

Via Q&O comes this charming story of PETA asking Sri Lankan terrorists to go back to murdering humans and leave the animals out of it:

An international animal rights group called on Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tigers to "leave animals out" of the armed conflict, two weeks after a grenade attack blamed on rebels at the island’s main zoo.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said in a letter dated Feb. 15 to Velupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive rebel leader, that "the explosive device that was set off near the zoo’s bird enclosures terrified many animals at the zoo."

PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk pleaded with the rebel leader "to leave animals out of this conflict," the letter said.

Newkirk added that the group has been inundated by messages from people saddened by the attack.

There was no immediate comment from rebels to the PETA’s letter.

It is an amazing loss of perspective when scaring zoo animals (not even killing them!) gets an organization worked up enough to send out such a letter when just merely killing people did not.

Posted on February 27, 2008 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Update on the Science Project

We're having a lot of fun with the post of my son's science project measuring the Phoenix urban heat island.  The original post has nearly 60 comments and at least five long updates.  Go back and read it all, its like a whole new post.

Commenters are slamming my son for having an R-squared that is insufficient (only 84%!)  I have challenged them to post the R-squared of their vinegar and baking soda volcano they did in eighth grade.

Posted on February 26, 2008 at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Well, I lost My Appeal

The California labor board has ruled, in its infinite wisdom, that my company is responsible* for the unemployment insurance payments to an employee who got hurt when he wrecked his motorcycle on his own time and was physically unable to work.  So an employee gets hurt in his off time and leaves us in the lurch when he can't work during our busiest season, and we owe him money for staying home?  Other issues I have with California unemployment here.  The original post about the ruling I was trying to appeal is here.

* Being responsible means that these payments go into the calculation for our unemployment insurance premiums.  Effectively the premiums we pay this year are calculated to match the payouts to our employees (or ex-employees) last year.

Posted on February 26, 2008 at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The More Things Change....

Professor Lance Endersbee, via Tom Nelson:

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the climate in Europe was cold and unpredictable. Crops failed. Famine followed famine, bringing epidemics.  There was a belief that crop failures must be due to human wickedness.

But who were the wicked ones? 

It was believed that there must be some witches who are in the grip of the devil. Witches were named, Inquisitors tested their faith, and a large number of poor souls were condemned and burnt at the stake. For decade after decade, fires burned in most towns in Europe.

Fast-forward to our "enlightened" society today:

Every time a child dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned,” for causing global warming, rants UK firebrand George Monbiot. Government leaders “should go to jail” for failing to act more quickly to prevent planetary climate cataclysm, insists Canadian eco-zealot David Suzuki. These assertions range from simplistic and outrageous to straight out of Lewis Carroll.
...
Eco-alarmists tell impoverished Africans that global warming is the greatest threat they face – when Al Gore uses more electricity in a week than 100 million Africans together use in a year. Those people rarely or never have electricity and must burn wood and animal dung, resulting in lung diseases that cause millions of deaths annually. Yet alarmists oppose fossil fuel power plants, as well as nuclear and hydroelectric projects – guaranteed that Africa’s poverty and death toll will continue.

Posted on February 26, 2008 at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Food-Miles: Most Moronic Metric Ever?

For some reason, a group of people on this earth have convinced themselves that food-miles, or the distance food had to travel from the farm to the table, is somehow relevant to the environment.   Food-miles is one of the best examples of the very common environmental practice of looking at a single factor out of context of the entire system. I have written about the food-miles stupidity before.

We actually have a name for the system in which food-miles are reduced to their theoretical minimum:  Subsistence farming.  It used to be that most food was grown just a few feet from the table where it was eventually eaten because nearly everyone was a subsistence farmer (or hunter or gatherer).  We abandoned this system, and thereby increased food miles, for a number of reasons:

  • It is very inefficient, not just from labor inputs but from a land use standpoint as well.  Some places are well suited to potato or rice production and others are less so.  It makes a ton of sense to grow things on soils and in climates where they are well-suited rather than locally everywhere. 
  • It doesn't work very well in a lot of areas.  Subsistence farming here in Arizona is not very practical, and would use a ton of water
  • It leads to starvation.  Even rich countries like France were experiencing periodic famines just 150 years ago or so.

But the main reason food miles and local subsistance farming is stupid is that it has nothing to do with environmental health.  Everyone looks at the energy to transport food, but no one looks at the extra energy cost (not to mention the land use cost) of growing food locally in climates and soils to which the food is not well-suited.  To this point:

European consumers shunning imported food supposedly to limit climate change should not make African farmers a scapegoat, a Brussels conference has been told.

In Britain, several supermarkets have begun labelling products flown into the country with stickers marked “air-freighted,” to reflect concern about the contribution of aviation to global warming.

But Benito Müller, a director at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, dismissed the concept of food miles as “an extremely oversimplified indicator” of ecological impact.

Saying he was “really angry” with the implicit message that agricultural produce from Africa should be avoided, Müller claimed that less greenhouse gas emissions are often emitted from the cultivation and transport of such goods than they would be if grown in Europe.

Strawberries imported from Kenya during the winter, he maintained, have a lower “carbon footprint,” a measure to ascertain the effect of a method of production on the environment — than those grown in a heated British greenhouse, even when their transport by air from Africa is taken into account.

Posted on February 25, 2008 at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Ethanol Update

Q&O has a great extended post on the ongoing ethanol fallacy.  But the farmers love the rent-seeking:

Crops

Posted on February 24, 2008 at 07:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

I Wonder if This Is Related?

Megan McArdle had a stat the other day that was pretty depressing, related to the number of kids of middle class African-Americans that appear to fall back into poverty:

A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16 percent of middle-class white children

That is not good, though I am always suspicious of income statistics (for example, income statistics show me as close to or below the poverty line over the last few years, a function of an entrepreneurial startup).

Then I saw all the silly to-do about Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton (I can't say I honestly even know what my wife's thesis was about).  But what got me to thinking was the fact that as an African-American Ivy League student, she felt compelled to study and write her thesis about race.  I started to remember a disproportionate number (but by no means all) of my middle-class African-American Ivy League acquaintances studied and wrote on the same thing - race.  This means that while I was studying engineering, which had obvious value in the workplace, many blacks are studying a topic that has no marketplace value except to get a very low paying job in a non-profit somewhere.  Which is all fine and good if that is what people want to do, but if blacks are worried their kids are not financially successful, they should consider whether its smart that, while other kids are studying subjects that will get them ahead, their kids are studying a subject that seems to focus mainly on explaining to them why they will never get ahead.

Update:  I want to be careful not to call race / gender / group identity majors "worthless."  Worthless is in the eye of the beholder, and if a student values such a course of study, then it has worth.  However, by the same token, the student should be prepared for the fact that most of the world, particularly the subset called "hiring managers", does not value degrees in majors that have little practical application outside of academia and which have a reputation in general for having low academic standards.  The student does not have to accept the rest of the world's judgement of her degree, but in turn the student can't demand that the rest of the world adopt hers.

In fact, when I made these comments, I didn't know Ms. Obama's choice of course of study.  Knowing that now, it is even more amazing to me that she sees her student debt experience as an average data point indicating a structural flaw in the economy instead of the fact that she chose perhaps the most expensive college in the country and then chose to dedicate four years of study to a major that is nearly impossible to monetize in the job market.

Posted on February 23, 2008 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

IKON: The Perfect Storm of Suck

I had a really bad day today. 

I have a 18,000 page proposal (actually 18 copies of a 1000 page proposal) due next week.  I had a new color printer ordered from IKON Office Solutions scheduled to arrive last week.  When I got in town this morning, I found no copier, even a week after it was promised.  No call, no warning -- just no printer.  I called and my sales guy had no idea what was going on, despite the fact that I had been adamant that I needed to hit this date.  Apparently, he never even bothered to check the schedule.

Anyway, he promised an immediate call back but never called.  I called him again on his cell at noon and he acted like he had forgotten to check and promised to talk to his boss.  An hour later it was confirmed -- I was not getting my equipment in time for this bid.  I told them they could therefore keep it, and I would call Xerox.  I absolutely cannot stand companies that require me to do constant checking and expediting in order for them to deliver on their promises.  I can't tell you how many times I have been promised an immediate call-back from IKON "within the hour" for service only to have to call again and again over the following days to get any response.  I would not have contracted for this new machine in the first place if I wasn't already locked in an IKON lease they won't let me out of -- this would at least have gotten me a better machine for the money.

In the mean time, I prepared to do the proposal mostly in black and white with bits of color from the laser printer.  I was going to use my high speed B&W copier I had under lease from IKON, and which we were planning to replace with the new machine that never showed up.  I had a technician from IKON out just last week to check it so I knew it was in good shape.  WRONG.

Within minutes of use, the machine began spitting out horrible copies.  Looking inside, it was clear something in the heat-finisher was unraveling and very broken.  I called service and was given an emergency designation and assured of a call in one hour.  Nothing.  So I called again, and was again assured that I would definitely hear from a technician in one hour.  Nothing.  Now, everyone has gone home, and the messages all say they will get back to me on Monday, when it will be too late.  I called my sales person on his cell phone tonight (the one that was begging me a few hours earlier, asking me what he could do to save my business) and was told there was nothing he could do and he had no way of getting in touch with a dispatcher or any real human service person until Monday.  Right, they are willing to do anything for me except what they are supposed to do.

So here I am, with a thousand dollar a month copier that doesn't copy, a color copier that is not here, and the prospect of spending all weekend and a couple grand at Kinko's to get my proposal out.

IKON has been informed that they are now in breach of their service contract and may come by any time and pick up their boat anchor.

Posted on February 22, 2008 at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Oh Crap, I Agree With Paul Krugman!

Paul Krugman, on ethanol:

I'm almost never censored at the Times. However, I was told that I couldn't use the lede I originally wrote for my column following the 2007 State of the Union address, in which Bush made ethanol the centerpiece of his energy strategy: "Before the State of the Union address, there had been hints and hopes that President Bush would offer a serious plan to reduce our dependence on imported oil. Instead, however, he took refuge in alcohol."

Well, anyway - the news on ethanol just keeps getting worse. Bad for the economy, bad for consumers, bad for the planet - what's not to love?

Well, I have heard that he was a pretty good economist before he became a political hack.

Posted on February 22, 2008 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Measuring Urban Heat Islands

My son finished his science fair project to measure the Phoenix urban heat island, the effect the IPCC swears is too small to have an effect on surface temperature measurements.  See all his results at Climate Skeptic.

Posted on February 22, 2008 at 01:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Experience is in the Eye of the Beholder

Via TJIC, on Hillary:

In 1973 she worked for a non profit.

In 1974 she was a government employee.

In 1975 she failed the D.C bar exam, and married Bubba.

In 1976 she joined the Rose Law Firm, and somehow made partner three years later in 1979, despite rarely appearing in court …a stunningly quick rise!

Oh, and Bubba became the Governor of Alabama in 1976, but that’s unrelated.

In 1976 she was made, through political appointment by Jimmy Carter, head of a government funded non-profit corporation which did nothing but launch lawsuits.

In 1978 she laundered $100,000 of bribes through cattle trading contracts. Despite having never engaged in cattle trading before, she somehow managed to pick the two best times to trade each day: she bought cattle contracts at the absolute lowest price each day, and sell them at the absolute highest price. After laundering the bribes, she quite cattle trading forever.

From 1993 to 2001, Hillary attempted, from her unelected position, to socialize American health care, and routinely violated open meetings laws.

In 2000 Hillary carpet-bagged her way into a senatorship.

Women's groups seem to be supporting Hillary's contention that being married to the President counts as presidential experience.  Wow!  If that is the case, the glass ceiling is exploded!  Melinda Gates has 20 years of experience as Microsoft CEO!

I'd like to say that I would love to see someone who has actually tried to run his/her own business running for the White House, but most of the candidates who claim to have business experience seem to have the politically-connected rent-seeking business experience (e.g. GWB) rather than the real try to make a business work against the general headwind of government bureaucratic opposition type of experience.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 11:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Kept Down by the Man

I think it's so cute when my fellow Princeton grads who pull down nearly a half million dollars a year complain about being put down by "the man."

Blaming your student debt on the structure of the economy when you chose to go to the most expensive school in the country is a bit like trying to get sympathy for the size of the note on your Lamborghini. 

By the way, lost in all this is the fact that Princeton is one of the two schools in the country that now help students graduate debt-free.  In most cases, Princeton has replaced student loans with outright grants. Somehow she kind of forgot to mention that Princeton solved this problem years ago, without even a whiff of government intervention. 

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 11:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

With Universal Health Care, It's No Longer Your Body

I have chided women's groups for the inconsistency of supporting choice and freedom from government coercion when it comes to decisions about their bodies, but at the same time lobbying for universal government health care.  If after my previous posts you still fail to see the inherent contradiction, try this story:

A Winnipeg case currently winding its way to its grim conclusion pits the children of Samuel Golubchuk against doctors at the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital. According to the pleadings, Golubchuk’s doctors informed his children that their 84-year-old father is "in the process of dying" and that they intended to hasten the process by removing his ventilation, and if that proved insufficient to kill him quickly, to also remove his feeding tube. In the event that the patient showed discomfort during these procedures, the chief of the hospital’s ICU unit stated in his affidavit that he would administer morphine.

Golubchuk is an Orthodox Jew, as are his children. The latter have adamantly opposed his removal from the ventilator and feeding tube, on the grounds that Jewish law expressly forbids any action designed to shorten life, and that if their father could express his wishes, he would oppose the doctors acting to deliberately terminate his life.

In response, the director of the ICU informed Golubchuk’s children that neither their father’s wishes nor their own are relevant, and he would do whatever he decided was appropriate. Bill Olson, counsel for the ICU director, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that physicians have the sole right to make decisions about treatment — even if it goes against a patient’s religious beliefs — and that "there is no right to a continuation of treatment."...

The claim of absolute physician discretion to withdraw life-support advanced by the Canadian doctors would spell the end of any patient autonomy over end-of-life decisions. So-called living wills, which are recognized in many American states, and which allow a person to specify in advance who should make such decisions in the event of their incapacity, would be rendered nugatory.

I find the discussion of the "duty to die" to save the state money especially chilling.  This story is also in the save vein.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 10:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Economic Resources for Free

Via the Mises Institute, some Austrian and libertarian economics texts are free online:

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 10:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Open Up Trade with Cuba

Cuba, Castro, Che Guevara, etc all suck.  It is ridiculous to even have to keep making this point against folks who are trying to sanctify them.

That being said, it is way past time to open up Cuba to US trade.  When will we learn that we are doing the Castros work for them?

  • If the US did not go out of its way to limit contact with Cuba, the Castros would have to try to do it.  We are just playing into their hands.  Totalitarian governments have a very dicey time in this era of free communications.  China interacts with the west, and is improving.  North Korea blocks all contact and is not.
  • The economic boycott gives the Castros a fig leaf to hide behind as their entire population wallows in poverty.  Yes, they are poor, and they are poor because of communism, but the Castros are able to blame the failure of their country on the US embargo.

But they have free health care!  They get all the leeches they want.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

There Are Two Americas, update

In a previous post, I observed that there did indeed seem to be two Americas:  the one productive people want to live in, and the one productive people are trying to escape because the local government is so controlling and confiscatory.  I further observed that, unfortunately, both Democratic candidates appeared to be from the latter.

This is an interesting follow-up
:

"When California faced a Mount Everest-sized $14 billion deficit in 2003, one of the major causes for the red ink was the stampede of millionaire households from the state," says a report called "Rich States, Poor States" by economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. "Out of the 25,000 or so seven-figure-income families, more than 5,000 left in the early 2000s, and the loss of their tax payments accounted for about half the budget hole."

I am not sure how they got to this number, but holy crap!  20% of the wealthiest families left the state?  I'm not sure even Hugo Chavez is doing that poorly.

Update:  Even more here, comparing inward and outward migration rates of states vs. a state-by-state economic freedom index.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 10:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Tony Soprano Test

I must say that I find this state Supreme Court decision from Washington State terrifying.  It is interesting that the State of Washington has exactly the same proprietary attitude over the garbage business as does the Mafia in New York:

In a decision released this morning, the Court stated that hauling construction waste is not a private enterprise and “is in the realm belonging to the State and delegated to local governments.” The court found specifically that the provision of waste hauling service is a “government service” and constitutional protections do not apply to government-provided services.

I don't know the Washington State constitution, so it may indeed mention "construction waste hauling" as an enumerated power of the government.  If it does not, and by "constitutional protections do not apply" they mean the US Constitution, then this is a stunning over-reading of said document.  Nowhere, in the US Constitution at least, is there a provision for the government providing services of any kind, much less construction waste hauling. 

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 09:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

US Poverty Rate

Tyler Cowen links to Lane Kenworthy Saying:

]Poverty comparisons across affluent nations typically use a “relative” measure of poverty. For each country the poverty line — the amount of income below which a household is defined as poor — is set at 50% (sometimes 60%) of that country’s median income. In a country with a high median, such as the United States, the poverty line thus will be comparatively high, making a high poverty rate more likely...

There is actually at least one study out there by a left-leaning think tank that sort of addresses this (though not exactly).  The study first shows US and European income of the bottom 10 percentile vs. the median income of that country.  Not surprisingly, since US median income is so high, the bottom 10 percentile have a low share.  BUT, they then do the numbers a second, time, showing the bottom 10 percentile income in each country all compared to US median income, ie all with the same denominator,  here, the US poor do at least as well as most European countries.  The comparison shows clearly that while the US has more income inequality, it is not because our poor are poorer but because our rich and middle class are richer.   Here is that second study:

Study2

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Health Care Housing Project

The looming federal government takeover of health care as proposed by most of the major presidential candidates will be far worse than anything we have seen yet from government programs.  Take this example:  In the 1960's, the federal government embarked on massive housing projects for the poor.  In the end, most of these projects became squalid failures.

With the government housing fiasco, only the poor had to live in these awful facilities.  The rest of us had to pay for them, but could continue to live in our own private homes.

Government health care will be different.  Under most of the plans being proposed, we all are going to be forced to participate.  Using the previous analogy, we all are going to have to give up our current homes and go live in government housing, or least the health care equivalent of these projects.

Think I am exaggerating
?

One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor. “He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview...

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.

Here is the poll question I would still love to see asked:

Would you support a system of government-run universal health care that guaranteed health care access for all Americans, but would result in you personally getting inferior care than you get today in terms of longer wait times, more limited doctor choices, and with a higher probabilities of the government denying you certain procedures or medicines you have access to today.

Posted on February 20, 2008 at 07:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Standing in the Way of Success

Megan McArdle has a good post and excerpts from Adam Shepard, who set out with $25 to see how hard it was to escape from poverty.  I won't re-quote that post here, you should see her site, but I wanted to comment on one thing Shepard says about his early days trying to convince supervisors they should hire a homeless guy:

So, he gave me the secret. To paraphrase, he told me to go to these managers and tell them who you are, that you are the greatest worker on the planet and that it would be a mistake not to hire you. If they take you on, great. If not, move on down the line. By day’s end, you’re gonna have a job.

So I did. The next day, I went to see Curtis at Fast Company, a moving company where I’d already applied. “Curt!” I said. “I’m Adam Shepard, and I’m the greatest mover on the planet. It would be a mistake for you not to hire me.” He looked at me across the table and smiled, knowing I was lying like hell to him. But he liked my attitude – especially after I offered to work a day for free – so he hired me on the spot.

This is very normal -- if you want someone to take a risk, you try to reduce the cost for him.  Not sure you want to try our product?  We'll give you a free sample.  In this case, he agreed to work for free to convince the manager he was a good worker.  This makes sense -- to emerge from homelessness and to get a job with no skills and no work history, one needs to be willing to give a bit of a discount on your labor, at least at first, to get someone to give you a chance.

But here is the interesting part -- the arrangement Curtis and Adam Shepard made is ILLEGAL.  The Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes Federal minimum wage law, does not allow Curtis to accept unpaid labor and does not even allow Mr. Shepard to offer it.  The fact that the deal makes so much sense and it so clearly is in the mutual best interest of both parties is absolutely irrelevant under the law.  Fast Company could be busted, should the DOL choose to focus its attention their way.

When people argue that the minimum wage is most harmful to the poor, because it prices the first rung of the labor ladder beyond what their minimal skills can justify, this is what they mean.

 

Posted on February 20, 2008 at 07:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

First Question: Ask About the Energy Balance

Over the coming months and years, you are going to see a ton of stories like this for somehow storing or reprocessing CO2:

 

If two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are correct, people will still be driving gasoline-powered cars 50 years from now, churning out heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and yet that carbon dioxide will not contribute to global warming.

The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.

The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.

This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels. The closed cycle — equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed — would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels would no longer be contributing to global warming.

Although they have not yet built a synthetic fuel factory, or even a small prototype, the scientists say it is all based on existing technology.

You are going to see a ton of stories like this from academia because academics respond to incentives like everyone else -- faced with billions of dollars available for funding research into carbon-neutral technologies, they are going to publicly promote their ideas in an attempt to garner this funding.

The first question you should always ask is about the energy balance.  I am sure that this is technically possible.  Today we can create hydrogen fuel from sea water, but it is atrociously expensive from an energy standpoint.  The problem, then, is whether it makes any sense from a cost and energy balance point of view.  This is a good hint that it does not:

Even with those improvements, providing the energy to produce gasoline on a commercial scale — say, 750,000 gallons a day — would require a dedicated power plant, preferably a nuclear one, the scientists say.

We have to be suspicious that the carbon benefits come from the nuclear plant they require, not the process itself.  In fact, one is left to wonder why we would go through so much effort at all rather than just charge electric cars directly from the nuclear plant.  My sense is we are much closer on battery technology than on this stuff.

 

Posted on February 20, 2008 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

San Francisco City Government Outspends Exxon on Climate Advocacy

A bunch of media outlets credulously ran a Greenpeace press release as a news story last year, hammering on Exxon for donating a cumulative $2 million dollars to "skeptical" climate researchers.  Never mind that no one could explain what was so ominous about an American company exercising its free speech rights.  I and other pointed out that this $2 million was a trivial amount of spending compared to the billions that had been routed to global warming activists. 

This week, we get a great example.  While over a period of a decade, the great Satan ExxonMobil spent $2 million on climate issues, it turns out one city government, in San Francisco, spends this much each year on global warming activism:

In his quest to make San Francisco the greenest city in the nation, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently created a $160,000-a-year job for a senior aide and gave him the ambitious-sounding title of director of climate protection initiatives.
...
But officials in the Newsom administration say that even 25 people working on climate issues is not enough and that having a director in the mayor's inner circle is necessary to coordinate all the city's climate initiatives."

If there are 25 people working on climate protection issues for the city, that's a good start," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. "Ten years ago [when the "globe" was still "warming"], there probably weren't any. It's smart policy to have one point person at the highest level of city government to coordinate all 25 of them."

The city has a climate action plan, issued by Newsom after he took office in 2004, that aims to cut the city's greenhouse emissions by 2012 to 20 percent below 1990's level.

In addition to the director of climate protection initiatives in Newsom's office, San Francisco has an Energy and Climate Program team of eight people in the Department of the Environment, who combined earn more than $800,000 a year in salary and benefits, including a "climate action coordinator." At least 12 San Francisco Public Utilities Commission staff members work on climate issues related to water and energy, including a $146,000-a-year "projects manager for the climate action plan."

Also in the name of climate control, the Municipal Transportation Agency has a "manager of emissions reductions and sustainability programs" who works on making Muni's bus fleet greener, and the San Francisco International Airport has a "manager of environmental services" who oversees such projects as the installation of energy-efficient lighting and solar panels.

The list doesn't include the scores of staff members who work on broader environmental policies, like the recently hired $130,700-a-year "greening director" in Newsom's office, or Jared Blumenfeld, who earns $207,500 a year in salary and benefits as the head of the city's Environment Department, which has a staff of 65 and annual budget of about $14 million.

It borders on journalistic malpractice that nearly every article on skeptics delve into their funding sources but no reporter ever seems to have ever asked climate alarmists about their funding sources nor delved into these funding issues.

Posted on February 20, 2008 at 11:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Key Fact Missing

The AP does a great job in this story reporting absolutely everything but the most important fact:

The Supreme Court has refused to offer help to Hurricane Katrina victims who want their insurance companies to pay for flood damage to their homes and businesses.

Wow, those insurance companies suck, and they have the Supreme Court in their pocket.  The only teeny-tiny fact missing is that the people suing had policies that very explicitly did not cover flood damage.    They sortof acknowledge this but say the insurance companies should pay anyway, because the flood was caused by a broken levee and that somehow is not really the same kind of flood, sort of.  Or whatever. 

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 08:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Really, Really Busy

If you have not figured it out from the nature of the posts lately switching to quick links from extended bloviation, I am really, really busy.  I have huge bid packages due in a matter of days, and am currently running my every-two-year (biannual or biennial? ) management conference for my company.

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 08:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Yes, I Have This Problem Too

From Megan McArdle:

People are so wrapped up in their own irrational bundles of ideas that they seem unable to conceive of any bundle that isn't

a)  theirs

b)  the exact opposite of theirs

 

It just floors me when people want to argue that the current conservative/liberal or Democrat/Republican positions are internally consistent and the logical (or even only) way to parse the world of ideas.  Particularly when I can start naming so many issues where the two sides have swapped positions over the last few years.  For example, left/right opinions on unchecked presidential power tend to have a lot to do with whose guy is in office.  Bill Clinton proposed most of the Patriot act  as his anti-terrorism bill way back in the mid-nineties, and was opposed in Congress by Republicans led by John Ashcroft.

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Today's Correlatoin Not Equal Causation Moment

From Overlawyered:

I was very amused by Brockovich's remark "It is no coincidence that thousands on Avandia now have heart attacks." Really? Thousands of people who saw Erin Brockovich in the theaters have had heart attacks, and many others have had strokes. Some even contracted cancer! Coincidence, or has Ms. Brockovich put movie royalties ahead of safety?

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 08:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

All Businesses Allowed, Except Those That Are Proven Successes With Customers

Via Hit and Run:

The Palm Beach Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to block "formula restaurants" from opening in the island town.

The ban, which was first proposed in 2006, applies to restaurants with three or more units and similar trade names, standardized and limited menus, uniforms, architecture, and decor. The measure will go before voters this spring.

In other words, if your business has proven itself to be successful with customers and attempts to bring this proven success formula to our town - forget it.

The post digs in further, and finds the real problem to be that the Palm Beach Town Council is afraid of the "riff raff" that might come with certain plebeian chains.  Which reminds me of Lexington's opposition to the Boston Red Line being extended into their town.  Ostensibly, they were opposed to it on fiscal grounds, but that is a joke in a town that has never opposed a government program ever on fiscal grounds.  In fact, they were afraid of the "riff raff" the metro might bring to town, but the more-liberal-than-thou residents could never admit that in public.

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 08:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Climate Rorschach Test

Over at Climate Skeptic, I have what could be called a climate Rorschach test.  Look at these two images below.  The left is the temperature plot for Lampasas, Texas, a station in the NASA GISS global warming data base.  On the right is the location of the temperature station since the year 2000 (the instrument is in the while cylinder in the middle of the picture under the dish).  Click either picture to expand

Lampasas_tx_ushcn_plot_2   Lampasas_tx_ushcn

So here is the eye test:  Do you read the warming since 2000 as man-made global warming due to CO2, or do you read it as a move of the temperature instrument to a totally inappropriate urban site to which the instrument was moved in 2000, contaminated with hot asphalt, car radiators, nearby buildings, air conditioning exhaust, etc?

You should know that NASA's GISS reads this as man-made global warming, and reports it as such.  Further, NASA actually takes the raw data above and in their computer model lowers temperatures in 1900 and 1920, actually increasing the apparent warming trend.  For the record, the GISS opposes this kind of photo survey as worthless and argues that their computer algorithms, which correct for urban warming at this site in 1900 but not in 2007, work just fine with no knowledge of the specific site location.

Posted on February 18, 2008 at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade

I don't believe man-made global warming is substantial enough or catastrophic enough in its effects to warrant expensive public action.  But if we did feel the need to do something, John Tierney echoes a theme I have been sounding for a while (emphasis added):

The CBO report concludes that a tax on carbon emissions “would be the most efficient incentive-based option for reducing emissions and could be relatively easy to implement. If it was coordinated among major emitting countries, it would help minimize the cost of achieving a global target for emissions by providing consistent incentives for reducing emissions around the world.” But the major presidential candidates aren’t supporting such a tax, and the few proposals on Capitol Hill to impose a tax are not expected to go anywhere anytime soon.

Instead, the candidates and most legislators prefer to talk about cap-and-trade schemes like the Kyoto protocol. These schemes have the great political advantage of hiding the costs from consumers and voters, but they cost more and accomplish less. The CBO calculates that the net benefits of a tax would be five times higher than for a cap-and-trade with inflexible targets. A more flexible cap-and-trade system wouldn’t be quite as bad a deal economically, but it would create all sorts of political temptations for doling out exemptions and subsidies to well-connected industries and companies.

Posted on February 18, 2008 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on the Teens as the New Seventies

For a while, I have been worried that the next decade may well be a return to 1970's economics, with bipartisan commitment to large government, ever-expanding government micro-management of... everything, growth-destroying taxes, and consumer-unfriendly protection of dead US industries.

Now, Megan McArdle points to an article that hints that the stagflation of the 1970's may be back as well.

Inflation and sluggish growth haven't joined in that ugly brew called stagflation since the 1970s. They may not be ready for a reunion, but they are making simultaneous threats to the economy and battling one might only encourage the other.

Among a batch of economic readings today, the Labor Department reported that import prices jumped 1.7% last month. The data included troubling signs that consumer products, many imported from China, have caught the inflation bug. The signs pointing to slowing growth included a sharp deterioration in consumers' mood, as measured by the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, and a worsening outlook for manufacturers, revealed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Empire State Manufacturing survey for February. The government also reported that U.S. industrial production only increased slightly during January, as colder weather elevated utilities output and offset sharp declines in the auto and housing sectors. If indeed inflation is teaming up with slower growth, it means big headaches for policy makers, in particular Ben Bernanke. The Federal Reserve chief in congressional testimony yesterday suggested that he is willing to keep lowering interest-rates if the economy stalls. But, naturally, he will have less room to do so if those lower rates would accelerate inflation to unacceptable levels.

Posted on February 18, 2008 at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Oops, There Goes Another Bridge

I probably shouldn't criticize a curriculum that I have not observed, but as someone who studied engineering the old-fashioned way (ie with lots of math and equations) this looks kind of worrisome:

Today’s Christian Science Monitor profiles Glenn Ellis, a professor who helped develop Smith’s innovative engineering curriculum, which emphasizes context, ethics, and communication as much as formulas and equations.

We know that when the goals in public schools were shifted from education to graduation and retention (e.g. social promotion), the results were disastrous.   So one has to be a little wary of a curriculum aimed more at retention than, you know, designing bridges correctly:

Smith, the first women’s college to offer an engineering degree, graduated its first class of engineers in 2004, and since the program’s creation, in 1999, has attained a 90-percent retention rate.

Hmm.  Well, if they are teaching the same material in a more engaging manner, fine.  But lower degree retention rates in hard core engineering programs is not a "female thing."  I know that we had a lot of attrition from the harder engineering degrees (mechanical, chemical) at Princeton even among Ivy-League-Quality students and even among the males. 

Hat tip: TJIC

Posted on February 18, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

A Junior High Science Project That Actually Contributes A Small Bit to Science

Cross-posted from Climate Skeptic

Tired of build-a-volcano junior high science fair projects, my son and I tried to identify something he could easily do himself (well, mostly, you know how kids science projects are) but that would actually contribute a small bit to science.  This year, he is doing a project on urban heat islands and urban biases on temperature measurement.   The project has two parts:  1) drive across Phoenix taking temperature measurements at night, to see if there is a variation and 2) participate in the surfacestations.org survey of US Historical Climate Network temperature measurement sites, analyzing a couple of sites for urban heat biases. 

The results of #1 are really cool (warm?) but I will save posting them until my son has his data in order.  Here is a teaser:  While the IPCC claims that urban heat islands have a negligible effect on surface temperature measurement, we found a nearly linear 5 degree F temperature gradient in the early evening between downtown Phoenix and the countryside 25 miles away.  I can't wait to try this for myself near a USHCN site, say from the Tucson site out to the countryside.

For #2, he has posted two USHCN temperature measurement site surveys here and here.  The fun part for him is that his survey of the Miami, AZ site has already led to a post in response at Climate Audit.  It turns out his survey adds data to an ongoing discussion there about GISS temperature "corrections."

Miami_az_mmts

Out-of-the-mouth-of-babes moment:  My son says, "gee, dad, doesn't that metal building reflect a lot of heat on the thermometer-thing."  You can bet it does.  This is so obvious even a 14-year-old can see it, but don't tell the RealClimate folks who continue to argue that they can adjust the data for station quality without ever seeing the station.

This has been a very good science project, and I would encourage others to try it.  There are lots of US temperature stations left to survey, particularly in the middle of the country.  In a later post I will show you how we did the driving temperature transects of Phoenix.

Posted on February 17, 2008 at 05:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

There are Two Americas!

OK, I guess I have to admit that there are two Americas:  The one that no one wants to live in any more and the one where everyone is moving to. 
Unitedvanlines
Unfortunately, it appears that our next president will be from Illinois or New York, two of the eight states the local government has screwed up so bad that no one wants to do business there any more.  I guess both Hillary and Obama can claim that their states have licked the immigration problem bay increasing taxes and regulation so much that no one wants to come to their states any more.

Posted on February 16, 2008 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

The Format Wars May Be Over

It looks like Blu-Ray will soon defeat HD-DVD

Fans of Toshiba's HD DVD format have been kicked while they're down, this time by Wal-Mart's decision to ditch the format, and sell Blu-ray players and media exclusively. Effective June, the move is the result of customer feedback, and an attempt to "simplify" patron's decisions. This news closely follows Best Buy's decision to also give the format the boot. Speculation has already surfaced that suggests Toshiba will abandon their own format "in the coming weeks"...

So file all that HD-DVD software next to your Betamax tapes.  I actually preferred the HD-DVD format, but thought from the beginning that Blu-Ray's position in home gaming machines, which immediately gave them a huge installed based before any of us started buying High Def. movie players for our home theaters, might give it a lead that could not be overcome. 

Most consumers have just wanted the format wars to be over so they could pick the right player and software (I partially avoided this problem by buying a combo player).  This is an interesting consumer-friendly role for Wal-Mart that I have never seen discussed, that of standards-setter.

So here is a message to Blu-Ray:  Now that you are on the verge of victory, you need to clean up your own house.  The creeping standards problem you have had, which has caused early players to be unable to play newer disks, has got to end.  In particular, it is irritating not to be able to play a newer disk because the fancy multimedia menu won't work.  When when you learn that we aren't interested in all that crap and just want the movie to start?  Just because the technology says you can do that stuff does not mean that you should.

Update: Reuters with the same news, and a rumor that Toshiba has already shut down production line.

Posted on February 16, 2008 at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

This Explains a Lot About Michigan

The state of Michigan is a hoot.  The politicians craft laws that create one of the worst business environments in the nation, and then scratch their head and wonder why all the jobs seem to be leaving.  One explanation may be that they simply don't understand even the fundamentals of business.

Case in point:  I have to pay a yearly registration fee as a corporation in Michigan.  That fee is based on the number of shares of stock my company has outstanding.  If my company were worth a million dollars, and had issued one share worth a million dollars, we would pay lower fees than if the same company had issued a million shares each worth one dollar.  Basing taxes and business fees on economically meaningless numbers is probably a leading indicator of some deeper issues.

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Bush is a Total Failure

James Hansen is a climate scientist at NASA.  He has accused the Bush administration of exerting too much political control of government scientists and of censoring him.  If so, the Bush administration is doing a really horrible job, as demonstrated by this chart:

Hansen_in_the_news_2

As a libertarian, I am the first to believe that government funding of science is corrupting.  Mr. Hansen should consider leaving the government immediately for one of the many universities who would eagerly have him on their faculty.

Unfortunately, I suspect it is not free inquiry that Mr. Hansen wants.  I suspect he treasures his position of government power.  He does not want a position of equality in a free exchange of ideas, he wants a position of power from which he can dictate without accountability.  He wants government power without the check of accountability and criticism.  He wants someone paying his bills but he doesn't want a boss.  Well grow up.  If you don't like working for the Bush administration or the scrutiny that comes with accepting public funding, and I certainly would not, then leave.

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

So That's Why

I have always wondered why the Denver airport has so much goofy modern art all over the place.  Even the subway tunnels have art on the walls (I must admit I am kind of partial to the little fans on the outbound train trip).  There are replicas of paper airplanes hanging from the ceilings, a fountain that is supposed to model the Front Range, and a fake Mayan temple in one terminal concourse.  It turns out that Colorado has a law that says that 1% of the budget for public building construction has to go for art.  Given that the airport costs overran to $4.8 billion, that was a $48 million boondoggle for every goofy public artist that could pull up to the trough.

1318971united_nations_picturre_in_d

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

In Case You Thought I Was Sane

There is a false rumor going around that I may be sane.  Wrong.  As proof, I offer the following.

I recently read that among retail stores, mattress stores have the highest customer conversion.  By "conversion" I mean the percentage of people who actually make a purchase once they walk in the store.  Brookstone and Sharper Image, for example, have close to the lowest conversion ratios because they get so many people just looking at the gadgets with no intention of buying.  Anyway, having read that mattress stores have a sky-high conversion rate  (I seem to remember 80+% of people who walk in the door buy something) I have now taken to walking into any mattress store I encounter, say in a strip mall, looking around a bit, and just walking out.  I figure with the sky-high conversion rates the sales staff must be conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to equate the ringing of the doorbell with a sale, so I like to mess with them.

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Happy Florist and Restaurant Promotion Day!

I don't really have any Valentine's related advice for folks.  I will just leave you with this list of meanest loves songs that I heard on the radio this morning.  The Rolling Stone's "Under my Thumb" and Meatloaf's "Two out of Three Ain't Bad" would have been the top of my list.

Oh, and related advice:  I saw yet another wedding a while back that used Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as part of the ceremony.  I know the refrain is nice, but please, those of you who are betrothed out there, read the lyrics before you use this song in your wedding!

Update: From the same source, this is actually a more interesting list.

Update #2: Valentines jewelry for the brave man.

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

When You Convert the Police to Revenue Generators

When you convert the police from crime solvers to revenue generators, this is a pretty logical outcome.  Hat tip to a reader.  A man has his cars stolen, the police ticket them and tow them but refuse to return them to him.

Posted on February 13, 2008 at 09:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

I Don't Think He Understands

The Colorado faculty is going apeshit because the state has proposed making Bruce Benson, a Colorado oilman-Republican, who *gasp* only has a paltry BA degree, head of the University of Colorado system.  To a large extent, folks are going nuts largely because he has different politics than 97% of the faculty and because he has actually done something productive in his life.  However, not being able to say this out loud  (we're a government body so we are not supposed to have political tests, wink wink) his lack of an advanced degree has become the centerpiece of the opposition.

State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat and CU law school graduate, declared that Benson would be "the least educated president ever considered in modern history."

Apparently, his academic record does not live up to University of Colorado standards, which has gleefully employed academic titans like Ward Churchill.  (By the way, isn't it interesting that these folks respect a couple of years at the age of 23 getting a masters in petroleum engineering more than 50 years of demonstrated excellence actually practicing petroleum engineering.)

But here is my advice to Mr. Benson:  Don't take the job.  Mr. Benson, in the private sector, you were probably used to having employees who didn't like you or think you were the best person for your job.  However, you knew that they could either be persuaded by demonstrated performance over time, or else you at least knew that people would work for your goals despite their dislike for you, since they knew that their success lay in the success of the organization as a whole.

University faculty do not behave this way.  They have a completely different set of incentives.  With a job for life, and knowing that no matter how bad the university gets, it will still get state support, they have absolutely no incentive to pull together for the good of the institution or, even less likely, for the well-being of the student body.  There are many exceptions to this; in fact, the exceptions may number more than 50% of the faculty.  But these exceptions do not drive faculty behavior.  Those that drive faculty behavior are the ones that are out for either self-aggrandizement or the promotions of symbols over performance or both. 

There once was a dean at Princeton University I liked and respected named Neil Rudenstine (actually he was Provost when I was there, but who the hell knows what a Provost is?).   Rudenstine was named President of Harvard, and was a good fundraiser (like Benson) and was very hands-off in his management style (as Benson promises to be).  Neil was a good man, but he was broken by the Harvard faculty, driven to what probably was literally a mental breakdown.  And then there was Larry Somers.  He was a very different type of man than Rudenstine -- tougher, more politically experienced.  But he too was broken by the Harvard faculty in an attempt to move that institution perhaps 1% of the way towards where you probably want to move Colorado. 

Don't do it. 

Posted on February 13, 2008 at 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

No Wonder Police Want To Make Videotaping Them Illegal

Wow, this officer is a total loser.  Absolutely out of control.  Hand-held video recorders may well be the greatest defense yet against the over-bearing state.  No wonder many police organizations want to ban videotaping of police officers.  Sometimes I watch "The Wire" and wonder, even as a libertarian, if the government and police suckage portrayed there is exaggerated.  And then I see this ... in Baltimore now less!

Update:  The guy in the video likely supports this site.

Posted on February 13, 2008 at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

It Turns Out That I Am Not A Patriot

It turns out, according to Barrack Obama, (who hales from the party that doesn't believe in questioning anyone's patriotism) that I am not a "Patriot Employer."  This is from the text of Senate Bill S. 1945 of which he is a co-sponsor  (My snark is interspersed in italics):  Patriot Employers are to be given tax breaks over unpatriotic employers (I presume this means that their tax rates will be raised less in an Obama presidency than those of other folks) with "patriot employers" defined as such:

(b) Patriot Employer- For purposes of subsection (a), the term `Patriot employer' means, with respect to any taxable year, any taxpayer which--

        `(1) maintains its headquarters in the United States if the taxpayer has ever been headquartered in the United States,

      OK, I guess I can comply with this.  Though I am not sure the best way to begin an Obama "kindler gentler foreign policy" is to tell the nations of the world that we will be taxing their company's income in the US at a higher rate than our own companies.

        `(2) pays at least 60 percent of each employee's health care premiums,

      So the #1 determinant of patriotism is not commitment to individual rights but paying 60% of employee health care costs.  I guess I am so unpatriotic

      And, just from a practical standpoint, 90% of my employees are seasonal, hired for about 4 months of the year.  To be patriotic, I have to pay their health care costs all year long?  Also, since most of my employees are retired, they are on Medicare or an employee retirement medical plan.  If they pay $0 in premiums and I pay $0 of that, do I get credit for 60%?  Maybe the government can mandate a solution for zero divided by zero, like they did for the value of pi years ago

        `(3) has in effect, and operates in accordance with, a policy requiring neutrality in employee organizing drives,

      I presume neutrality means that in a hypothetical union drive, I do not express my opinion (and likely opposition) to said unionization drive?   I am told that this also entails allowing card checks rather than hidden ballot voting.  In other words, patriotism is being defined here as 1) giving up your free speech rights and 2) opposing hidden ballot voting.  Uh, right.  Besides, if a union organized our company, as unlikely as that would be, I would probably have to do a Francisco d'Anconia on the place.

        `(4) if such taxpayer employs at least 50 employees on average during the taxable year--

        `(A) maintains or increases the number of full-time workers in the United States relative to the number of full-time workers outside of the United States,

        In other words, we don't want American companies growing overseas.  This could also be called the "give up international market share act."  This implies that it is unpatriotic for US-based Exxon to explore for oil in Asia and that it is more patriotic to let the Chinese national oil company do it.  This implies that it is more patriotic for Coke to lose market share in Germany than to gain it.  This means that it is more patriotic for Mattel to buy its toys in China from Chinese companies rather than run the factories themselves (and thereby be accountable themselves for product quality and working conditions).

        This is beyond stupid.  We LIKE to see US companies doing well overseas.  If we have to import our raw materials, we feel more comfortable if it is US companies doing the extraction.  Don't we?  In the name of patriotism, do we really want to root for our domestic companies to fail in international markets?

        `(B) compensates each employee of the taxpayer at an hourly rate (or equivalent thereof) not less than an amount equal to the Federal poverty level for a family of three for the calendar year in which the taxable year begins divided by 2,080,

        90% of my workers are retired.  They work for me to supplement their income, to live our in nature, and to stay busy.  They need me to pay them based on the poverty line for a family of three, why?  I will tell you right now that if I had to raise wages this much, most of my employees would quit.  Many of them force me to give them fewer hours so they can stay under the social security limits for income.  I discussed what rising minimum wages often force me to do here, but just as an illustration, a $1 an hour across the board wage increase would easily wipe out all the money I make in a year and put me into a loss position.  In which case the lowered tax rate would not do me much good anyway.

          `(C) provides either--

            `(i) a defined contribution plan which for any plan year--

            `(I) requires the employer to make nonelective contributions of at least 5 percent of compensation for each employee who is not a highly compensated employee, or

            `(II) requires the employer to make matching contributions of 100 percent of the elective contributions of each employee who is not a highly compensated employee to the extent such contributions do not exceed the percentage specified by the plan (not less than 5 percent) of the employee's compensation, or

          `(ii) a defined benefit plan which for any plan year requires the employer to make contributions on behalf of each employee who is not a highly compensated employee in an amount which will provide an accrued benefit under the plan for the plan year which is not less than 5 percent of the employee's compensation, and

          Uh, I am not sure why it is unpatriotic for an employee to save for themselves, but I think 401k plans are a nice benefit.  I would certainly offer one except for one tiny fact - ALL MY EMPLOYEES ARE ALREADY RETIRED!!  They are over 65.  They are drawing down on their retirement, not contributing to it.

          This is at the heart of the problem with all US labor law.  Folks up in Illinois write laws with a picture of a steel mill in mind, and forget that employment and employees have infinite variations in circumstances and goals. 

          So I am unpatriotic, huh.  But if forcing companies to contribute to emplee retirement plans is patriotic, why is hiring folks once they are retired to give them extra income in retirement unpatriotic?  In fact, maybe I could argue that 100% of the wages I pay go to retirement spending

        `(D) provides full differential salary and insurance benefits for all National Guard and Reserve employees who are called for active duty, and

          In other words, we of the government are not going to pay our employees (ie reservists on active duty) what they are worth and are not going to give them benefits, so to be patriotic you need to do it for us.  We in Congress are not really very patriotic and don't support the troops, so you need to do it for us.

          All kidding aside, I would do this in my company if it was applicable, but I really resent being piously told to do so by several Senators who don't really model this behavior themselves.

        `(5) if such taxpayer employs less than 50 employees on average during the taxable year, either--...

blah, blah.  Basically the same stuff repeated, though slightly less onerous.

Since when did patriotism equate to "rolling over to the latest AFL-CIO wish list?"

Posted on February 13, 2008 at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Extrapolating From One Data Point

I had a friend in the consulting business that used to joke that he preferred to only have one data point when he had a point he wanted to make.  "If you only have one data point, you are free to slam a line through it in any direction and at any slope you want.  Once you have two, you are more constrained."

I am reminded of that story reading Trevor Butterworth's fabulous take down of typically bad media "science" scare story, this one on fireproofing materials in mattresses.  He has a lengthy fisking, but concludes:

What CBS produced is an advertorial for ABC Carpets and Homes, more suited to a shopping channel. By failing to test any of the claims for a risk against the science, by using a sample of one self-diagnosed couple, by testing nothing, and not even bothering to interview someone from the CPSC, let alone an independent toxicologist, the viewer is left with the message: buy a bed at ABC if you want to be safe.

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 08:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

$100 Million Incentive to Move About 1 Mile

The City of Phoenix is subsidizing a mall developer to the tune of $100 million dollars.  Why?

Desperate to keep another Nordstrom store out of Scottsdale, the City of Phoenix put together a $100 million incentive deal to lure the upscale retailer to the new CityNorth development.

That picture emerged in Maricopa County Superior Court arguments Monday over the constitutionality of the package.

That deal bought a parking deck -- at $30,000 per parking spot.

You see, the developer and its allies in city hall were afraid that Nordstrom's might instead locate their new store waaaaayyyyy over in Scottsdale, probably at the shopping development getting started ... about a mile away and all of one exit further down loop 101, as show below or here.
100milliondollarmove

Here is the gist of it:

At issue in the lawsuit is an agreement between the developers of CityNorth and the city of Phoenix that enables the developers, Related Urban Development and the Thomas J. Klutznick Co., to retain half of the project's sales taxes in exchange for free public parking spaces in a parking garage. The agreement goes for 11 years or $97.4 million, whichever occurs first.

Now, those of you who are from New York or Boston may be saying -- Hmm, free public parking.  Thats a good deal.  Well, in Phoenix, its absurd.  All the mall parking is free.  All the mall parking garages are free.  Every mall around these two locations provide free parking and parking garages.  In fact, a mall developer would get run out of town on a rail in north Scottsdale or Phoenix for even uttering the words "paid parking."  People freak out around here if the valet parking is not free.  Further, the city is trying to somehow portray that the parking is a useful asset for the community at large.  Look at the Phoenix site above.  Do you see a lot of stuff in the surrounding acres that is demanding a lot of parking?

Effectively, this is all a smoke screen for the city giving a $100 million handout to developers to build something, ie free parking, they already had to build.  And the incremental sales revenue argument is absurd.  All the wealthy Scottsdale folks who want to shop at Nordstrom's are already doing so, or are shopping at nearby Desert Ridge.  Only the worst sort of analysis would show incremental sales from this location - all it will do is shift sales around a bit.

I am reminded of my previous post on the subsidization of business relocations as a prisoners dilemma problem.

 

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 07:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Subsidize it and They Shall Come

My son, an avid baseball player, loves the "field of dreams" concept, where little league fields are built to resemble famous major league stadiums.  We have played on such fields in several towns of California.  Recently, Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix, ended up paying $40 million for such an 8-field complex, which seems excessive even with the cool concept.  It certainly is a whole new world when city governments build little league baseball fields at the cost of $5 million per field.

As a private company in public recreation, I can say that the deal  cut by the city of Gilber with Big Leage Dreams to design, build, and operate the park really looks appalling.  We build and operate recreation facilities under competitively bid concession contracts, but never have I seen such a sweetheart deal.  First, in every case, I pay a bid percentage of revenues as rent to the public landlord for the concession.  This deal seems to include no such rent to be paid by the operator Big League Dreams.

Second, our company is always responsible for making at least some of the capital investments.  The public entity may have to lengthen the term or reduce the minimum rent to a level where a private company can get a return, but most of the capital nowadays is usually private.  Further, if the public entity does put up capital, it is a fixed amount with the private company responsible for the overage (if the private company is building it -- the terms might be different if the public entity is doing the construction itself).  In this case, the town of Gilbert let the private operator build the facility with little oversight and was committed to absorbing all of the 76% cost overrun.  Now the private company, who has already defaulted on its one major commitment to the city (ie the capital cost) gets a $40 million facility rent free to run for profit.  Stupid city.

Well, at least the city engaged an expert consultant to help them with the feasibility study, the project evaluation, and the writing of the bid spec.  That consultant was ... Big League Dreams.  The same company that by a wild coincidence also got the construction and operating contracts.

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Gene Nichol: Not Quite the Martyr He Pretends to Be

Gene Nichol of William & Mary has resigned, pointing to the university's opposition of his First Amendment defense of a campus sex workers' show as a major reason for leaving.  Which is all well and good -- I for one compliment him on supporting the speech rights of controversial people and performers. 

However, before we go declaring Mr. Nichol a martyr for free speech, FIRE reminds us that less than six months ago Mr. Nichol spearheaded this far more comprehensive violation of free speech:

This fall, The College of William & Mary launched a Bias Incident Reporting System “to assist members of the William and Mary community—students, staff, and faculty—in bringing bias incidents to the College’s attention.” In its initial incarnation, the system was fraught with constitutional problems, from both free speech and due process standpoints. The system initially allowed for anonymous reporting, providing that “[a] person reporting online may report anonymously by leaving the personal information fields blank.” The definition of “bias” was overbroad and encompassed constitutionally protected expression: “A bias incident consists of harassment, intimidation, or other hostile behavior that is directed at a member of the William and Mary community because of that person’s race, sex (including pregnancy), age, color, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.” The homepage for the system even contained an explicit misstatement about the First Amendment, stating that the First Amendment did not protect “expressions of bias or hate aimed at individuals that violate the college’s statement of rights and responsibilities.”

...a group calling itself “Free America’s Alma Mater” published an advertisement in William & Mary’s student newspaper, The Flat Hat, skewering the new program. “Welcome to the new William & Mary’s Bias Reporting System, where W&M now invites you to shred the reputation of your neighbors…anonymously,” the ad read. “Prof gave you a bad grade? Upset at that fraternity brother who broke your heart? Did a colleague vote against you for tenure? Now you can get even!! Anonymously report anything that offends you to the William & Mary Thought Police at http://www.wm.edu/diversity/reportbias/.”

This earlier episode reveals that Mr. Nichol clearly does not believe that all speech is protected.  In this light, the episode with the sex workers becomes one of taste rather than first amendment privileges, a mere quibble over where the censorship line (that Mr. Nichol believes should exist) is going to be drawn.

Which reminds me of the old joke:  A man approaches a beautiful woman at a party, and says "Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" and she says, "Yes."  He then asks "would you sleep with me for $10?" and she screams "what kind of girl do you think I am?"  He retorts "We already established that.  Now we are just haggling over price."

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Equal Protection? Bah!

From Disloyal Opposition:

L.A. councilman Dennis Zine is urging a proposal in the wake of the pop star’s latest psychiatric emergency that would implement a 20-yard “personal safety zone” around celebrities after Spears’ ambulance had to be surrounded by police cars and helicopters late last month to prevent the paparazzi from snapping photos of the singer en route to the hospital. ...

The tentatively termed “Britney Law” would have the right to confiscate all profits from any photograph taken without signed consent within the bubble of safety around any celebrity.

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Cap and Rent-Seek

Just the other day, I made the point that just because regulated corporations support a regulation does not mean that said regulation is sensible or good for the economy.  Often, incumbents are beneficiaries of industry regulation, which tends to give them certain advantages over new entrants.  I showed an example with General Electric and the new energy bill regulating light bulbs:

we see that GE has a product sitting on the shelf ready for release that fits perfectly with the new mandate.  Assuming competitors don't have such a technology yet, the energy bill is then NOT a regulation of GE's product that they reluctantly bow to, but a mandate that allows GE to keep doing business but trashes their competition.  It is a market share acquisition law for GE.

Marlo Lewis makes a similar point, this time in relation to cap and trade systems:

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that line of chatter—and from people who usually assume anything corporations are for must be bad!
 
There are many reasons some corporations support cap-and-trade, or at least say nice things about it in public. Some companies seek the PR value from looking green....
 
But in the case of energy companies, many who support cap-and-trade do so in the expectation that they’ll get a boatload of carbon permits from the government—for free!
 
Permits represent an artificial, government-created scarcity in the right to produce energy. The right to produce energy is very valuable, especially where government restricts it. The tighter the cap, the more valuable each permit traded under the cap.
And this is a major problem with cap and trade that no one talks about:  It is a huge government subsidy and protection of existing competitors against new entrants.  Because in most systems, current competitors receive a starting allotment of credits for free, but new entrants who want to start up and compete against existing companies must purchase their credits.  This is tolerated in Europe, because that is how the European quasi-corporate-state works, with politicians and large corporations in bed together to protect each others' incumbency.  But it creates a stagnating economic mess, ironically locking in place the very companies and business models environmentalists would like to see overtaken by new ideas and entrants.

Frequent readers know that I am not convinced the costs of man-made global warming exceed the costs of abating such warming.  However, if we are going to do so, a carbon tax makes so much more sense, in that it avoids the implicit subsidies of incumbents and reduces the opportunities for rent-seeking and political shenanigans.  Politicians, however, live for these rent-seeking opportunities, because they generate so many campaign contributions.  They also favor hidden taxes, as cap-and-trade would be, over direct taxes, such as the carbon tax, because they are, well, gutless.

More here on cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax.

HT:  Tom Nelson

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Judicial Restraint

I think the term "judicial restraint" is often used in another context, but for me, it aptly describes how the Third Circuit avoided calling this guy a f*cking moron.

Posted on February 11, 2008 at 11:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Did the World Overlook a Volcano Eruption?

An interesting story told by Anthony Watts, of trying to figure out if an seemingly extinct volcano erupted in Antarctica last October.  No definitive answers yet, but a reminder that  even in a world of billion dollar particle accelerators, amateurs still have a role in science.

Posted on February 11, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advice for Writers

John Scalzi has what looks to be good advice for writers.  Why?

Because it very often appears to me that regardless of how smart and clever and interesting and fun my fellow writers are on every other imaginable subject, when it comes to money — and specifically their own money — writers have as much sense as chimps on crack. It’s not just writers — all creative people seem to have the “incredibly stupid with money” gene set for maximum expression — but since most of creative people I know are writers, they’re the nexus of money stupidity I have the most experience with. It makes me sad and also embarrasses the crap out of me; people as smart as writers are ought to know better.

Beyond really liking Scalzi's work, he does an amazing amount of work promoting other writers.  Just skim his blog for the last several months.  A hell of a lot more of it is about promoting other authors than it is about promoting his own work.  Here is an example of his advice.

8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.

Because they’re friggin’ expensive, that’s why. Let me explain: Just for giggles, I went to Apartments.com and looked for apartments in Manhattan that were renting for what I pay monthly on my mortgage for my four bedroom, 2800 square foot house on a plot of land that is, quite literally, the size of a New York City block ($1750, if you must know, so I looked at the $1700 - $1800 range). I found two, and one was a studio. From $0 to $1800, there are thirteen apartments available. On the entire island of Manhattan. Where there are a million people. I love that, man.

Posted on February 11, 2008 at 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

In Case You Thought Thought Global Warming Was Really About Climate

Fortunately, after years of skeptics trying to warn folks about this, the global warming folks are doing us the favor of being honest about their goals.  From the catalog description for the book "The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy."

In this provocative book, Shearman and Smith present evidence that the fundamental problem causing environmental destruction--and climate change in particular--is the operation of liberal democracy. Its flaws and contradictions bestow upon government--and its institutions, laws, and the markets and corporations that provide its sustenance--an inability to make decisions that could provide a sustainable society. Having argued that democracy has failed humanity, the authors go even further and demonstrate that this failure can easily lead to authoritarianism without our even noticing. Even more provocatively, they assert that there is merit in preparing for this eventuality if we want to survive climate change. They are not suggesting that existing authoritarian regimes are more successful in mitigating greenhouse emissions, for to be successful economically they have adopted the market system with alacrity. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that an authoritarian form of government is necessary, but this will be governance by experts and not by those who seek power. There are in existence highly successful authoritarian structures--for example, in medicine and in corporate empires--that are capable of implementing urgent decisions impossible under liberal democracy. Society is verging on a philosophical choice between "liberty" or "life."

By the way, for a description of why this technocratic fascism by the experts never works, read here.  By the way, when you see this...

Nevertheless, the authors conclude that an authoritarian form of government is necessary, but this will be governance by experts and not by those who seek power.

...it means "We support fascism as long as we are the fuhrer." 

Posted on February 9, 2008 at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Tornadoes

It is incredible to me that anyone could treat Senator Kerry seriously at this point, but a credulous media seems to be lapping up his accusations that recent tornadoes represent an increase in such storm activity caused by global warming. 

I am way too tired of refuting this stuff over and over to repeat the whole post I put up a while ago about tornado frequency, but you can find it here.  But here is the short answer for those to tired to click through:  Apparent increases in tornado frequency are an artifact of improved technology that can detect more tornadoes.  If one corrects for this by looking only at tornadoes of the larger sizes (3-5) that were consistently detectable with 1950's technology, there has actually been a small decreasing trend in tornado strikes in the US.

This is drop-dead obvious to anyone who knows anything about weather.  However, since it keeps coming up, the NOAA has an explanation quite similar to mine plastered all over their site.

With increased national doppler radar coverage, increasing population, and greater attention to tornado reporting, there has been an increase in the number of tornado reports over the past several decades. This can create a misleading appearance of an increasing trend in tornado frequency. To better understand the true variability and trend in tornado frequency in the US, the total number of strong to violent tornadoes (F3 to F5 category on the Fujita scale) can be analyzed. These are the tornadoes that would have likely been reported even during the decades before Dopplar radar use became widespread and practices resulted in increasing tornado reports. The bar chart below indicates there has been little trend in the strongest tornadoes over the past 55 years.

My daughter when she was 9 years old was able to more accurately portray this fact in a class project than did Mr. Kerry.

Posted on February 8, 2008 at 11:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Wire

I really like the HBO series "the Wire" about the Baltimore police force and the pursuit of various drug gangs, which I have been catching up on via DVD.  While season 2 and 3 were not quite as good as 1, they still are quite good.

In many respects, this is a very libertarian series in outlook.  A central part of the show is that government officials nearly universally do wrong and wasteful things.  However, only a few of them are overtly corrupt.  The vast majority are regular folks responding rationally to the types of incentives government employees are given and which result in really bad outcomes.

In fact, I may just be screwed up from too many years in a past life working on corporate performance metrics, but at some level the show is all about incentives.  Even within the drug gangs, there is an interesting interplay between Avon and Stringer due mainly to the fact that though they face roughly the same circumstances and inputs, one has a goal of making money while the other has a goal of reputation and street cred.  I can see now why the Freakonomics blog discusses the show so often.

Oh, and the season 3 experiment with effective drug legalization is also interesting.

Highly recommended.

Posted on February 8, 2008 at 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Ethanol and Deforestation

From an AP report:

The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes, researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to biofuels as a response to global warming.

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use worldwide if ethanol from corn — and in the future from other feedstocks such as switchgrass — become a prized commodity.

"Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate global warming," concludes the study published in Science magazine.

Promoters of biofuels often hold up Brazil as an example of a model ethanol mandate.  Forget for a moment that in fact ethanol still makes up only a small percentage of the transportation fuel market in Brazil.  Think of all those satellite photos we used to see of farmers burning the Amazon to expand cropland:

1016nasa

I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this land clearing, which has always one on, really accelerated after the Brazilian ethanol mandates and subsidies.  My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for a lot of the destruction of the Amazon on ethanol.

Moonbattery has a fitting conclusion:

The study's findings aren't likely to change government policy, since ethanol mandates are a political boondoggle that only dupes expect to have any effect on the climate. If the first caucuses were held in Hawaii, they'd be forcing us to run our cars on macadamia nuts instead of corn.

Posted on February 8, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Businesses and Regulation

I sometimes here supporters of a certain regulation say "even big company X supports this regulation, so it must be a good idea."  But this is based on a faulty assumption, similar to that made by people who equate being pro-business in politics with being pro-free markets.  They are not the same thing.  As was said at the Cato blog:

Representatives of the business community frequently are the worst enemies of freedom. They often seek special subsidies and handouts, and commonly conspire with politicians to thwart competition (conveniently, they want competition among their suppliers, just not for their own products). Fortunately, most business organizations still tend to be - on balance - supporters of limited government. But as the Wall Street Journal notes, some state and local chambers of commerce have become relentless enemies of good policy.

Incumbents of major industries very often shape regulation to their advantage, and to the disadvantage of consumers and smaller or new competitors.  For example, as one of the larger companies in my business, many of the regulations and restrictions I rail against in this blog actually help my business.  Licensing requirements, bonding requirements, insurance requirements, regulatory and reporting requirements, etc.  all tend to make it nearly impossible for new companies to enter the business to compete against me, and give a distinct advantage to the larger incumbent players.   I still vehemently oppose all that garbage, but I do so as a defender of capitalism and against what are probably the best interests of my company.

So when large companies like GE say that they are now on the global warming bandwagon and support government intervention in CO2 emissions and such, it is not an indicator that CO2 science is any good; it just means GE has decided that likely CO2 legislation will help its bottom line.  While GE is portrayed as someone who will get hurt by CO2 regulation but is reluctantly coming around to the science anyway, what it in fact really means is that GE has decided that global warming regulation can be shaped to its advantage, particularly if it can use its size and political muscle molding the details of that regulation.  Here is a great example, via Tom Nelson (the Instapundit of global warming skepticism)

But there is sure to be strong opposition to the bill, including from General Electric Co.

The light bulb maker is developing a new generation of efficient incandescent bulbs, said Kim Freeman, a GE spokeswoman in Louisville, Ky.

By 2012, she said, GE will have an incandescent bulb that uses as little energy as the compact fluorescent bulbs sold today.

"We would oppose any legislation that would ban a particular technology," she said. "Giving consumers more choices is the appropriate approach."

The company supports the standards passed by Congress in December, according to Freeman. That law requires bulbs to be 25 percent to 30 percent more efficient starting in 2012.

Read between the lines, and you see GE attempting to steer global warming legislation to its advantage.   The last paragraph goes a long way to explaining GE's support of the last energy bill (with substantial light bulb legislation), which GE might have been expected to oppose.  Because now we see that GE has a product sitting on the shelf ready for release that fits perfectly with the new mandate.  Assuming competitors don't have such a technology yet, the energy bill is then NOT a regulation of GE's product that they reluctantly bow to, but a mandate that allows GE to keep doing business but trashes their competition.  It is a market share acquisition law for GE.  On the other hand, GE says a total ban would be bad, because it would force CF bulbs to the forefront, where GE trails its competitors.  This is the cynical calculus of rent-seeking through regulation.  And it is all worthless, because high efficiency bulbs are one of the things that so clearly pay for themselves that consumers will make the switch for themselves without government mandates.

Posted on February 8, 2008 at 08:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Go Tigers

Sorry, but we don't get to celebrate this kind of thing very often:

The Class of 2008's No. 11-rated inside linebacker Jonathan Meyers spoke with ESPN's Billy Tucker about his recent commitment to Princeton over Division I powers Florida and Michigan.

"When it came down to it, Princeton just offered so much more besides football; it just fit really well with me. Its academics are number one, the football program is highly-respected [2006 Ivy League Champions] and I have a chance to play lacrosse as well."

Additionally, Meyers received some helpful advice from Princeton graduate and current Washington Redskin Ross Tucker.

Posted on February 7, 2008 at 08:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sun Blows a Smoke Ring

Kind of a cool phenomenon observed last week by the SOHO satellite.  The video is here -- watch the right side of the sun and you will see the ring blown into space.  The ring is nearly the same diameter as the sun.  Rather than being a smoke ring per se, it is actually a coronal mass ejection from a recent storm, as described here.

Posted on February 7, 2008 at 07:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Kind of Ironic

I don't really care that much how either party chooses their candidate, beyond a general plea to reduce the influence of Iowa so we can finally put ethanol subsidies to bed.  However, I thought this was a bit ironic:  A self-styled progressive who complained for years about how the 2000 election was decided argues that having the Democratic candidate selected by a few party elites is A-OK:

I really, really hope the Democratic primary doesn't come down to superdelegates — the privileged class of delegate that gets to vote however they want, and were created to ensure that party elites didn't lose too much control over the process.

Maybe I'm just being contrarian here, but why would this be so bad? After all, the only way it could happen is if the voters themselves split nearly 50-50. And in that case, the nomination would end up being decided by a massive effort to sway uncommitted delegates anyway. So who cares if that massive effort is directed at superdelegates (senators, governors, etc.) or the more plebeian regular delegates (typically county chairs, local activists, etc.). And in any case, why shouldn't the party elders, many of whom have to run on the same ticket as the presidential nominee, get a little extra say in the process?

Here is how I think such a scenario will play out.  I think by convention time Obama will substantially lead Hillary in the polls.  However,  Hillary will be at a distinct advantage in the knife-fighting for long-time party movers and shakers.  We could well see the party elites overturning what at the time may be a strong popular sentiment among Democrats for Obama.  Hillary's biggest advantage will be that many party officials will be afraid to cross her.  Obama needs to be able to assure them that he has their back if they scorn Hillary. 

Posted on February 6, 2008 at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Warmer and Richer

Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a Cato study that finally gets at an issue I have tried to press for years:  That even if one accepts the worst of the IPCC warming scenarios (which I do not) the cost of CO2 abatement, particularly in terms of lost economic growth, is far higher than the cost of rising temperatures -- ESPECIALLY for the poor. 

Hurricanes are a great example.  The world is probably warming a bit due to man's CO2, but likely less than the catastrophic rates one sees in the press.  This warming may or may not increase hurricane severity.  But let's assume it does.  Let's say Asia faces an extra cyclone or two each year from global warming. 

Over time, trends in deaths from hurricanes and severe deaths have shown no correlation with storm frequency or severity.  Death rates from storms track nearly perfectly with wealth:  As wealth has increased in the US, severe storm deaths have dropped to nearly zero;  Where countries are less wealthy, they experience more death.  Bangladesh is not the site of some of the deadliest storms on record because they get hit by the worst storms, but because they are poor.  (figure source)

Figure1

As a result, if we really face this tradeoff (which I doubt) the world still is better off richer with 10 hurricanes than poorer with 8.

Posted on February 6, 2008 at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Victim Sweepstakes

I probably shouldn't, but I must admit that I am being hugely entertained by the calculus of guilt and victimization in the Democratic Party as supporters of the white woman and the black guy vie to claim the title of being the most put down by "the man."  I can just see the voter in Berkeley yesterday nearly imploding with stress as she tried to figure out whether it was less PC to vote against a black or a woman.  Anyway, MaxedOutMamma is also having fun with the whole thing, and is surprised to find out that "If Hillary doesn't win tonight it will obviously be proof that the old WASP boys club [of Georgia!] has conquered using a black guy with the middle name of Hussein."  Yes sir, I remember that time when Georgia went so far as to secede from the union to keep women in bondage....

Posted on February 6, 2008 at 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

My Health Care Poll Question

I was going back through my archives and I found a health care poll question I suggested about a year ago that I would still love to see asked.  I believe it accurately reflects the reality that most middle class Americans face with various universal health care plans:

Would you support a system of government-run universal health care that guaranteed health care access for all Americans, but would result in you personally getting inferior care than you get today in terms of longer wait times, more limited doctor choices, and with a higher probabilities of the government denying you certain procedures or medicines you have access to today.

I have said a number of times that health care is not like failed Great Society housing programs.  In those housing programs, only the poor got crappy government housing -- the rest of us kept what we had.  Universal health care is different, because it will effectively be like forcing everyone to move into the housing projects.

Posted on February 5, 2008 at 09:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Pseudo-Science Wack-a-Mole

Well, another pseudo-scientific "threat" that made front pages everywhere has been shot down by careful science.  Most of these stories are so dumb they shouldn't have ever made the press in the first place, but even when the weight of science is piled up against scare-mongering conjecture, the media addiction to treating these "threats" seriously still cannot be cured.  Just observe the continued media treatment of Thimerosal-autism concerns as somehow justified despite rock-solid science that there is no connection.  How long do we have to keep playing pseudo-science wack-a-mole?  Will media editors ever be able to bring respectability to their profession vis-a-vis science-related issues?

Posted on February 5, 2008 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Public Decisions Get Made

The Anti-Planner has an absolutely fabulous article about a Wisconsin passenger rail proposal, but in fact what the article really is about is how government decisions get made.

According to RTA’s latest newsletter, the KRM would cost about $200 million to start up and would require a $6.3 million annual operating subsidy. For that it would carry about 1.7 million trips per year, which translates to 6,700 per weekday.

In other words, RTA wants to spend $200 million to take 3,350 people to and from work each day. The Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha urbanized areas have about 750,000 commuters, so RTA’s proposal would take less than half a percent of them to work. But they would all have to pay for it in the form of some local taxes plus a diversion of a share of federal and state gasoline taxes to fund the rail line.

By the way, though this post isn't meant to be entirely about rail itself, let's use Coyote's test on this rail proposal.  As a reminder, here is Coyote's test:

Take the total capital charge and compare it to the cost of buying every projected rider at $22,000 Prius.  Then, take the operating subsidy (which is always higher than projected) and see how it compares to the average gas consumption in a year of said Prius's.  If the projected capital charge and subsidy could have bought every rider a car and all the gas they need to drive it, then the rail line is not only an average run-of-the-mill government boondoggle, but a total and complete ripoff.

And, the KRM... FAILS.  And fails miserably.  The $200 million charge would have bought every rider TWO Prius's and still have some money left over, and the operating subsidy, sure to be larger in reality, would buy each rider about 627 gallons of gas a year, which at 30mpg would get them 19,000 miles per year.  But don't worry, KRM, every single new rail system to which I have applied the test has failed (Phoenix, Houston, LA, Albuquerque).

But lets continue:

The planned commuter line would run 14 round trips per day, which means each train would have about 240 people on board. That’s about five bus loads. So why not just buy five buses for each planned trainset and move people by bus instead?

The newsletter explains that RTA considered a bus alternative, but it would attract only a third as many people as the rail line. It would also cost only an eighth as much to start up, so I always wonder why don’t they just invest three-eighths as much in buses and carry as many people as the rail line.

But then I noticed that the rail line was projected to have seven stops between Milwaukee and Kenosha, while the bus line would stop 27 times. As a result, the bus would take almost twice as long as the train. No wonder it attracted so few people!

The train would average just 38 miles per hour and RTA admits that it would not go significantly faster than motor vehicles, so there is no reason why buses could not be run on schedules similar to the train. So why didn’t they consider an alternative in which buses stopped only seven times?

It turns out they did. The report from the consultant hired by RTA included a bus-rapid transit alternative that stopped fewer times than the regular bus alternative. It included some exclusive busways, so it cost a lot more than the regular bus alternative, but it would cost only half as much as the train. Moreover, it was projected to carry as many riders as the train.

Naturally, RTA told the consultant to drop this alternative from further consideration.

The Anti-Planner shoots back what to me looks like a really good proposal:

The consultant had also estimated that the bus-rapid transit alternative would disrupt traffic more than the trains. But if the busways (which would move no more than about 5 buses per hour) were opened to low-occupancy vehicles that pay a toll, they would actually relieve congestion. Plus, the tolls would pay for most if not all of the new lanes, and by varying the toll, the lanes would never get congested so the buses could meet their schedules. This would result in transportation improvements for both auto drivers and transit riders, and at a very low cost to taxpayers

Posted on February 5, 2008 at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Open Your Wallets Again, Arizona

From a reader comes this story of Arizona looking to the public trough to get funds to lure another SuperBowl.  I can say from experience now that Superbowl week is made up mostly of private corporate and celebrity parties that the unwashed locals like myself are either a) not allowed to attend at all or b) can attend only by ponying up $1000 or more.  Not being resentful or a leftist, I couldn't really care less about the parties being near by.  However, my opinion changes real fast if my tax dollars are required to pay for them:

Super Bowl organizers will try to nail down another big game for Arizona, possibly as early as 2012.

But for the state to stay competitive, taxpayers need to shoulder the majority of game costs, organizers say. And the organizers plan to lobby for legislation to accomplish that.

The weeklong celebration culminating with Sunday's Super Bowl XLII cost the local Host Committee about $17 million. The private sector, including such big contributors as the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and the Thunderbirds, bankrolled more than 80 percent, while state and local agencies chipped in the balance.

But with a slumping economy making fundraising a challenge, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, the Arizona Cardinals organization and Valley business leaders want see that ratio reversed, with public dollars financing the bulk of the effort.

Don't you love the last sentence?  An exactly equivalent way to state this is "people have other priorities for their own money and refuse to give it up voluntarily, particularly in difficult economic times, so we need the state to take it by force."

No one yet knows how much this year's Super Bowl will fatten state coffers, though organizers project the game created more than $400 million in spending. An economic-impact study won't be out for at least a couple of months.

Bullshit.  Every major economic study not conducted by the management of a professional sports team has shown nearly zero impact from such events.  Here is the Seattle NBA team admitting they have no economic impactHere is yet another economic study to the same effect.

Here is my challenge:  Take the Phoenix-area GDP for this Jan-Feb, take out the growth trend line (which can be found in year-over-year comparisons of previous months) and then compare it to the GDP for Jan-Feb 2007.  I bet you whatever you care to bet you cannot find an additional $400 million. 

Posted on February 5, 2008 at 08:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Understanding What Going Green Means

This photo (via Maggie's Farm) shows life in the United States during a time when the US emitted more CO2 than Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama and other greens want to set as the new emissions cap.  In 1940, the US emitted about 33% of 1990 levels of CO2, vs. the green's target of 20%.
Cartandwagonga1940s

Posted on February 5, 2008 at 08:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Happy Super Tuesday

I will not be voting today, because in Arizona to vote in the primary one must register with the government as a member of either the Coke or Pepsi party.  I just can't make myself do it.

Posted on February 5, 2008 at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

At the Superbowl

Yesterday, I had what will likely (given ticket prices) be a once in a lifetime experience for me -- I got to take my son to the Superbowl.  Our ability to afford this event really was a result of our living in the same city as the Superbowl.  The obvious reason for this is that we did not incur any significant travel costs and did not have to pay peak demand level hotel pricing.  The less obvious, but ultimately more important, reason was because we could afford to watch the ticket prices on the secondary market up until the absolute last minute.  If your were bringing a group from New York, waiting until Friday or Saturday to buy tickets might have been a bit uncomfortable, given other sunk costs. 

As it turned out, Superbowl ticket prices this year on the secondary market  (e.g. TickCo, Stubhub, et al) followed a parabola.  They were below their peak early-on, particularly since sellers did not have the tickets in hand.  You can buy tickets weeks before the Superbowl, but they will be listed as "for this general area."  You could end up in the front row or the back -- it is a bit of a crap shoot.  So they are cheaper because of this.  The peak pricing came the week before the AFC and NFC championship games when many sellers had tickets in hand and could advertise specific seats.  All along, I was looking for a ticket to just get in the door, so I was looking for the cheapest seats (likely upper deck end zone).  At their peak, there was nothing gong for less than about $3800 (when you included the seller commission or transaction fees, typically 10-20% for this type of ticket).  Beginning the Monday before the game, prices started falling  -first 10%, then 20-30%, and finally as much as 50%.  I jumped in towards the end of the week because a pretty good (or at least better than the worst) seat came up for a good price.  I am told by a friend who showed up on game day at the ticket company office that he got in for less than $1500.

Anyway, here is the stadium - yes it is kind of odd looking.  This was taken about halfway through our walk from the car to the stadium.  We just barely parked in the same county.  We showed up about 6 hours before game time and were in the last half of arrivals:
Sb8_2

The stadium is a taxpayer-funded boondoggle that is a good hour away (on the complete opposite side of a very large city) from old Scottsdale where most of the parties and social activities and player hotels were. 

The security included a ban on any bag over 12x12x12 inches, a pat down, and a metal detector.  And the NFL did a MUCH better job than the TSA.  MUCH.  It is hard to see, but the tent on the left is about 1/4 of the length of the full security screening area.   They had  at least 25 lanes open in parallel.  Despite thousands of people, we had no wait at all (the lines below are all moving briskly and continuously).
Sb7
And look!  We must be in the front row!  Well, of the upper deck, but these turned out to be great seats and, having watched prices for weeks, a very good price-value point (in context).  My son braves the wrath of all the surrounding Giants fans by wearing his Cowboys jersey.
Sb6
I thought the fast set up and takedown of the stages was pretty amazing, and something you miss on TV.  Here is Tom Petty's stage going out (or in, I can't remember).  The funniest part was the crew of NFL guys who followed along with rags and buckets to dust off the grass after the equipment passed to make sure it looked good for TV.
Sb2
Sb10
We had a decent view of Tom Petty's back, which once I saw his scraggly beard was probably a good thing.  The crew of screaming fans at the stage was pretty funny.  They ran these folks out for Alicia Keyes, then kicked them out of the stadium, then ran them back in for Tom Petty, and then back out again.  I saw one show on TV last night, and the audience looked young, but to my eye the great mass of the crowd was middle aged women, which I thought was kind of funny.
Sb3
And here is the last play and confetti burst:

It was a great, perhaps historic game, and we loved the whole experience.  Now back to work to pay those bills.

So, here are the [sports-related] events on my must-see list I have tackled:

Baseball all-star game, Superbowl, game at Fenway, game at Yankee stadium, 16th hole at the Phoenix Open, center court at Wimbledon, BCS Championship game, Daytona 500, personally playing golf at St. Andrews, Big 10 home football game, Rose Bowl, Cowboys home game [update: and an original 90s-vintage American Gladiators filming live]

Yet to be tackled:

the Masters, Packers home game, game at Wrigley, NCAA final four, SEC home football game (maybe Tennessee or the cocktail party), maybe at World Series, maybe a World Cup

What else?

Posted on February 4, 2008 at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

More on Public School Spending

Bill Steigerwald has a great editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review dissecting per-pupil public school spending in Pittsburgh.  Generally, when I quote media articles about school spending, I have to do what should be the obvious analyses myself (as with this pathetic Washington Post piece on school spending).  However, this would be totally redundant for Steigerwald's column.  I encourage you to read it all, but here are some highlights for Pittsburgh schools:

  • Per pupil spending in the public schools is $18,719
  • Quality private schools in Pittsburgh charge from $7,000 to an elite level at $19,500.  Humorously, just over $12,000 will get you a year at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Barely half of this spending goes towards the classroom.  The rest, presumably, goes to funding a probably enormous corps of vice-principals.  (If you ever are at a school board meeting that allows public comment or Q&A, ask how many vice-principals they have in their system).  In Pittsburgh, administrative costs are 72.5% of teacher salary costs, meaning there are likely about 3 administrators for every 4 teachers.  Ugh.
  • Teachers make $86,000 in salary and benefits, or $114,667 if you adjust for the fact they only work 9 months of the year.  Kind of obviates the "teachers are underpaid" myth.

The only other thing I would have called the schools out on is their defense that they have to pay transportation, administration, and debt service out of these costs, as if somehow this made their numbers non-comparable to private benchmarks.  So what?  Do you think my kid's private school evades these costs somehow?  Their school charges about $6,500 for middle school, and they make a profit on this (and do not get any donations).  I am pretty sure they also have to pay for administration of multiple schools (they have a network of 5 schools) and for debt service on the capital costs to build the schools in the first place.  Our schools don't have transportation, but many other private schools do.

Posted on February 4, 2008 at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

I Wish I Knew More of This Story

MaxedOutMamma, who has a very nice economics (and other stuff) blog, drops a few hints about having apparently dropped into a persistent vegetative state at some point in the past.  I wish I knew more of the story - maybe if I had been reading her blog longer.  I have read accounts from several people who have emerged from PVS, and I find them consistently some of the most terrifying stories I have read, though I don't think they are always meant that way when told.

In a really bizarre turn of events, I came out of the drooling world smarter than when I went in. No one seems to be able to explain this. I went in with about a 140-150 IQ, and I came out with 160-170. My guess is that I had so little remaining functional brain left at my worst that I evolved an extremely efficient method of using what I had, and that as I got more back, the functionality of the method remained. I may have less working space then I used to, but the way in which I use it is clearly more efficient. I do not think in language at all. Everything is mapped into P-Nat.

Posted on February 2, 2008 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Notice: All the World's Major Problems Have Been Solved

Clearly, all the major problems of the world have been solved, because Arlen Specter wants to focus the Senate's time on the New England Patriots' violation of NFL rules for which they were severely punished and which violations in no way tread on any law, just NFL rules.

In a telephone interview Thursday morning, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking member of the committee, said that Goodell would eventually be called before the committee to address two issues: the league’s antitrust exemption in relation to its television contract and the destruction of the tapes that revealed spying by the Patriots.

"That requires an explanation," Specter said. "The N.F.L. has a very preferred status in our country with their antitrust exemption. The American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game. It’s analogous to the C.I.A. destruction of tapes. Or any time you have records destroyed."

Please, to the friends of Arlen Specter:  It is time for an intervention, before the man hurts himself any more. 

Next Up:  Kay Bailey Hutchison calls Jerry Jones in front of Congress to explain why the Cowboys gave up on the running game in the fourth quarter of this year's playoff game against the Giants.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 11:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Fuel Without the Fossil

A number of years ago I read The Deep Hot Biosphere by Thomas Gold because I was working on a novel which included extremophile bacteria.  Gold's premise was that some/many/most underground hydrocarbons were actually produced underground from methane deep in the earth that is converted by underground bacteria to longer-chain hydrocarbons as they move toward the surface.    Many thought gold to be a quack, including most in the oil industry, but I thought his hypothesis at least intriguing enough to test.  Which someone apparently has:

An article in Science today seems to suggest that the abiotic theory is correct. In a fairly dense article entitled "Abiogenic Hydrocarbon Production at Lost City Hydrothermal Field," researchers Proskurowski et al., find evidence of the abiogenic formation of short-hydrocarbon chains in an area where hydrocarbons would not otherwise be able to form by the biogenic theory. What Proskurowski et al. identified was the formation of carbon chains 1 to 4 carbon atoms in length, with shorter chains forming deeper, and with isotopic signatures ruling out biogenic origins. The conclusion of the article is as follows: "Our findings illustrate that the abiotic synthesis of hydrocarbons in nature may occur in the presence of ultramafic rocks, water, and moderate amounts of heat."

My sense is that we may now say a fraction of oil is abiogenic, but are a long way from saying that any serious percentage is of non-fossil sources.  But it is interesting.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

I'm Unclear Here

I would prefer not to see warrantless searches without judicial oversight be legal under any circumstances, so I am happy there are roadblocks in the FISA extension.  What I am unclear about, though, are the exact issues surrounding telecom immunity from lawsuits which is apparently what has the thing held up.  By no means do I wish to give telecoms some blanket immunity from the consequences of their handling of private data.  However, it seems odd to want to hold them liable for complying with what would be, under the new law, a legal government order.  Or, is the immunity issue all retroactive to past compliance with government orders when it wasn't so clear if the government orders were legal?

I must say I have some sympathy for businesses, particularly those that are highly regulated as telecom, who bow under government pressure and then get sued for doing so.  For example, as I wrote before, I am required by Arizona law to take actions that the Feds consider illegal.  Its a frustrating place to be.

Anyone who can provide clarity on the issues here (not the FISA issues or wiretapping issues but narrowly on the immunity issue) is encouraged to do so.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 05:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Fascists Have Jumped the Shark

Via the Junkfood Science blog,

It has actually happened. Lawmakers have proposed legislation that forbids restaurants and food establishments from serving food to anyone who is obese (as defined by the State). Under this bill, food establishments are to be monitored for compliance under the State Department of Health and violators will have their business permits revoked.

Unbelievable.  And not that this would make it right, but the ban is not even on serving certain types of fattening foods, but on serving any food.  Here is the key part of the law:

Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health after consultation with the Mississippi Council on Obesity Prevention and Management established under Section 41-101-1 or its successor. The State Department of Health shall prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese, and shall provide those materials to all food establishments to which this section applies. A food establishment shall be entitled to rely on the criteria for obesity in those written materials when determining whether or not it is allowed to serve food to any person.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 05:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Paybacks are Hell, John McCain

I really try not to be vindictive, but I cannot tell you how happy this story, rife with irony, makes me:

John McCain has a campaign finance problem. When his campaign was down and out, he agreed to take public funding for the primaries. Public funding comes with spending limits overall and by state. Also, a candidate who accepts funding cannot raise money from private sources. Now that it is possible he will be the nominee, McCain will want to be free of those fundraising and spending limits, but he cannot withdraw from the public system. Or perhaps he could but only with the approval of the FEC, which is not operating because of a struggle over its nominees. The FEC does not now have a quorum to meet and regulate. (The lack of a quorum was caused by Barack Obama’s hold on a nominee to the FEC, but never mind).

McCain will want out of the public system because he is probably close to hitting the limit, and he could not get more money for his campaign until he received public funding after the GOP convention during the summer.  His “dark period” would thus be a period without campaign funding that would run from spring until after the GOP convention. During that “dark period” Obama or Hillary, both of whom have not accepted public funding for the primaries, would be able to continue spending money; some of that spending would be directed against McCain after Obama or Hillary have secured their party’s nomination.

HAHAHAHAHA.  OMG that is great.  Read it and weep, Mr. McCain-Feingold.  McCain has argued for years that money and speech are not the same thing, and that limiting campaign money is not equivalent to limiting speech.  He can comfort himself with that thought as he goes silent for three or four [update: seven?] months  while his opposition yaps away.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 05:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

How to Keep State Parks Open in California

Letter I sent to Governor Schwartzenegger in response to his plan to close a number of California State Parks due to budget problems:

I know many people are probably contacting you to oppose proposed closures of state parks to help meet budget targets. My message is a bit different: Closing these parks is totally unnecessary. 

I own and manage one of the larger concessionaires in the California State Park (CSP) system. We are the concessionaire at Clear Lake and Burney Falls. At Burney Falls, for example, we have invested over a million dollars of our money in a public-private partnership with the state to revamp to the park. We also operate parks for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, Arizona State Parks, Texas State Parks, and other public authorities.

Traditionally, CSP has engaged concessionaires to run stores and marinas within parks, but not to run entire parks. However, in many other states, our company runs entire parks and campgrounds for other government authorities, and does so to the highest quality standards. 

So, I can say with confidence that many of the California State Parks proposed for closure would be entirely viable as private concessions. For example, we operate the store and marina at Clear Lake State Park but could easily run the entire park and make money doing so, while also paying rent to the state for the privilege.

I know that there are some employees of the CSP system that oppose such arrangements with private companies out of fears for their job security. But it would be a shame to close parks entirely when an opportunity exists to keep them open to the public, and improve the state budget picture in doing so. 

Even if California decides to keep these parks open, I would encourage you to have your staff investigate the possibility of expanding private operation of state parks. CSP already has one of the best and most capable concession management programs in the country, a success you should seek to build on. The infrastructure is already there in CSP to solicit bids for these projects and ensure that management of them meets the state's quality and customer service standards.

Even though everything I said here is true, it probably is a non-starter because most state organizations are dead set against such private management.  They would rather close services to the public than establish the precedent of private management. 

Besides, the whole parks closure may well be a bluff.  Unlike private company budget discussions, where it is expected that managers offer up their marginal projects for cuts, the public sector works just opposite:  Politicians propose their most popular areas of spending (parks, emergency services) for cuts in a game of chicken to try to avoid budget cuts altogether.  As I wrote here:

Imagine that you are in a budget meeting at your company.  You and a number of other department heads have been called together to make spending cuts due to a cyclical downturn in revenue.  In your department, you have maybe 20 projects being worked on by 10 people, all (both people and projects) of varying quality.   So the boss says "We have to cut 5%, what can you do?"  What do you think her reaction would be if you said "well, the first thing I would have to cut is my best project and I would lay off the best employee in my department". 

If this response seems nuts to you, why do we let politicians get away with this ALL THE TIME?  Every time that politicians are fighting against budget cuts or for a tax increase, they always threaten that the most critical possible services will be cut.  Its always emergency workers that are going to be cut or the Washington Monument that is going to be closed.  Its never the egg license program that has to be cut.

Update: Here is the form letter the governor's office sent out in response to my letter:

A weakened national economy and auto-pilot state spending has created a projected budget shortfall of $14.5 billion for fiscal year 2008-09. Although state government revenues this coming year are actually forecast to hold steady, the problem is that every year automatic spending formulas increase expenditures.  Left unchecked, next year's budget would need to grow by 7.3-percent, which is $7.6 billion; even booming economies can't meet that kind of increase.  To immediately combat this crisis, the Governor has proposed a 10-percent reduction in nearly every General Fund program from their projected 2008-09 funding levels.  While these reductions are unquestionably painful and challenging, this across-the-board approach is designed to protect essential services by spreading reductions as evenly as possible.

To achieve this difficult reduction, State Parks will be reducing both its permanent and seasonal workforce.  As a result, 48 park units will be closed or partially closed to the public and placed in caretaker status.  By closing parks and eliminating positions, remaining resources can be consolidated and shifted to other parks to provide for services necessary to keep those parks open and operating.  While 48 parks are affected by closures, 230 parks-or 83% of the system-will remain open.

We must reform our state budget process.  Government cannot continue to put people through the binge and purge of our budget process that has now led to park closures.  That's why the Governor has proposed a Budget Stabilization Act.  Under the Governor's plan, when revenues grow, Sacramento would not be able to spend all the money.  Instead, we would set a portion aside in a Revenue Stabilization Fund to stabilize the budget in down years.  If a deficit develops during the year, instead of waiting to accumulate billions of dollars of debt, the Governor's plan would automatically trigger lower funding levels already agreed upon by the Legislature.  Had this system been in place the past decade, we would not be facing a $14.5 billion deficit. 

As Governor Schwarzenegger works with his partners in the Legislature, he will keep your concerns in mind.  With your help, we will turn today's temporary problem into a permanent victory for the people of California.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

European vs. American Rail

It seems that one of those cycles the US always castigates itself about is a perception that the Europeans have a better rail system than we do and that we should somehow emulate their system.  Which is why we still have federal subsidies of a half-assed Amtrak system and high-speed rail proposals are circulated breathlessly from time to time. 

By the way, I have been a consultant to French railroad SNCF and I gaurantee we do not want to emulate the European rail system.  First and foremost, the railroads are huge employment boondoggles.  I remember that the SNCF when I was there had something like 100,000 freight cars but 125,000 freight car maintenance people.  I suggested the railroad could assign one individual full time to his own car and still lay off 20% of the work force. 

The main reason we don't have inter-city passenger rail is a simple one that anyone spending 5 minutes with the numbers can understand -- there are distance break points where air travel is more economic than rail, and most US inter-city transit falls into the larger distance ranges.

Anyway, the anti-planner shares a bit of information that is seldom mentioned in the rail discussion that makes the US rail system look a lot more desireable:

Europe has decided to run its rail system primarily for passengers, while America’s system is run mainly for freight. Europe’s rail system has about 6 percent of the passenger travel market, while autos have about 78 percent. Meanwhile, 75 percent of European freight goes by highway. Here in the U.S., highway’s share of freight travel is only 29 percent, while the auto’s share of passenger travel is about 82 percent. So trains get 4 percent of potential auto users in Europe out of their cars, but leave almost three times as much freight on the highway.

In fact, the freight rail system is so efficient that to some extent we've obviated the need for the Panama Canal.  Many Asian container ships bound for Europe actually make port in Seattle or Vancouver, offload their containers onto trains which shoot across the country to New York or another eastern port where they are reloaded on ships for the trip to Europe.

By the way, in the same article, don't miss the hilarious proposal in Minnesota to spend taxpayer money for a high speed rail line from the Twin Cities to ... Duluth.  Yeah, that's the ticket.  New York to Boston barely makes it financially, but St. Paul to Duluth is going to be a winner.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Traveling Salesman

The Reference Frame has a video of a dog solving the traveling salesman problem.  I was doing some simulations years ago for a railroad company and actually had a traveling-salesman-like problem to solve with equipment routing.  The best approach I found was simulated annealing.  This algorithm starts out with a totally random solution, and then applies random swaps of route legs and then checks to see if the new route is better or worse than the old route.  So far, similar to any Monte Carlo approach.  But in this algorithm, the solution is allowed to jump to worse solutions, though the size of this jump is reduced over time as the algorithm is run.  This helps prevent the algorithm from getting stuck in local minima.

It is called simulated annealing because it is very parallel to the process of cooling and crystallization in a piece of steel.  When heated steel is plunged into water and cooled quickly, the molecules crystallize and are trapped in a higher energy state, whereas cooling the steel slowly lets the structure stabilize into a much lower energy state.  Metal that is quench cooled is harder but more brittle, metal that is annealed is softer and more ductile.  In the algorithm, the slow reduction in temperature is represented by the declining amount by which the algorithm can jump to a worse solution.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Save XP!

InfoWorld is hosting a petition to Microsoft to save XP and continue to sell it past the middle of this year.  You can sign their petition here.  I signed the petition, but the real petition for MS may be the numbers coming in for XP sales, which are still strong.  On this Amazon bestsellers page, as of 2/1/08, places #1,2,3,5 where XP and only #4 was Vista. IT News builds on my Amazon analysis:

Gates, in Las Vegas Sunday, boasted that Microsoft has sold more than 100 million copies of Windows Vista since the OS launched last January.

While the number at first sounds impressive, it in fact indicates that the company's once dominant grip on the OS market is loosening. Based on Gates' statement, Windows Vista was aboard just 39% of the PC's that shipped in 2007.

And Vista, in terms of units shipped, only marginally outperformed first year sales of Windows XP according to Gates' numbers -- despite the fact that the PC market has almost doubled in size since XP launched in the post 9-11 gloom of late 2001.

Speaking five years ago at CES 2003, Gates said that Windows XP in its first full year on the market sold more than 89 million copies, according to a Microsoft record of the event....

A survey published by InformationWeek last year revealed that 30% of corporate desktop managers have no plans to upgrade their company's PC's to Vista -- ever.

As de facto IT manager for my company, you can include me in that 30%.  My other posts on Vista here.

Update:  Face-saving suggestion for Microsoft:  Rename XP as Vista Lite or some such.  Then they can keep it and claim 100% acceptance of Vista.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)