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The Worst Thing I have Seen From a Major Media Company in Quite a While

The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) web site has an absolutely horrible kid's game called "Planet Slayer."  In this game, kids answer lifestyle questions and the program tells them when they should die because they have used up their "fair share" of the world's resources.  The less politically correct kids are, or the wealthier they are, the sooner they are told they should die.  Accepting the default, average choices in the games tells kids they should die when they are 9 years old.

Yeah, I know you think I am exaggerating.  Because this is likely to get pulled down soon, I will show you a series of screenshots from it.  Whether it gets pulled down or not, a major media company (with all of its famed multiple levels of editorial control) thought this was a good game for kids.  I actually delayed publishing this, because I wanted to make sure this was not some kind of hack or joke site.  But you can get there right from the ABC home page by clicking "science" in the top menu and clicking on the planet slayer game icon at the bottom of the science page.  I still wonder whether it's a put on - it's that bad.

Here is the landing page (click on any page to increase the size):

One

Yep, that little sign does indeed say "find out when you should die."  Here the game is explained:

Two

Here is the first question:

Three

With each question, if you choose any answer that might not indicate that you are a subsistence farmer in Africa living on a $1 a day, your pig gets fatter.  I really encourage you to check out the whole thing.  It is one politically correct litmus test after another.  My pig got slightly fatter, until I got to this one:

Four

Answering that you spend any more than $10,000 AUS (about a 1:1 conversion with US dollars), your pig will get really fat.  The wealthier you are, the more evil you are in a direct relationship.  It is a point I have made for a while:  global warming alarmists consider their preferred solution to environmental issues to be universal poverty. 

Five

There is me, really evil, because I earn a good living.  And, as we can see with this question, since I spend my money on ordinary stuff that I actually want, rather than where the authors would like me to spend it, I really suck.  When you hit the final button, you pig is actually exploded in a bloody mess  (yes, the red is blood).  As it turns out, I should have been strangled at birth:

Six

Hat tip to Watts Up With That.  Really, in some ways this is an awesome game.   Never have I seen such a pure combination of Marxist-style zero-sum economics with science-challenged warming alarmism.

I don't think I need to bother refuting any of this.  If you are new to the site, you can find a basic refutation of zero-sum economics here and a series of resources on global warming, from a book to free Youtube videos, here.

Posted on May 31, 2008 at 03:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Because, You Know, People Are All Exactly the Same and Need the Exact Same Things

The Arizona Republic the other day had this headline which certainly caught me attention:

Report: 35% of Arizona jobs  'bad'

I can sympathize.  I have had jobs that were boring and unrewarding.  My last couple of Fortune 50 corporate jobs, while nominally cool on paper, were hugely frustrating.  But it seems this particular "report" had different criteria for "bad" jobs:

The new report calls 35 percent of jobs "bad" because they pay less than $17 an hour, or $34,000 a year, and offer no insurance or retirement plans. In a typical state, only 30 percent of the jobs are considered "bad."

Here is the heart of these studies:  A bunch of middle class people sit around and try to decide what jobs they would be willing to accept and which ones they would not.  Any job that they would not accept is a "bad" job, despite the fact that $12 or $14 an hour might be very good pay for someone with no skills, despite the fact that it makes no consideration of a person's circumstances (e.g. single, married, 2nd job, teenager, etc), and despite the fact that $34,000 would probably put a person in the top 20th  percentile of global wages.  I made a similar point vis a vis jobs in the third world.

Just so I can't be accused of cherry-picking, I will use my own company as an example.  We have a about 80 employees in Arizona, about 70 of which are paid less than $10 an hour and none of whom have a retirement plan or insurance.  All of my jobs in Arizona are included in their count of "bad jobs."  And you know what?  We have a waiting list of over 200 names of people who would take another of these jobs tomorrow if I had one to offer.  That's because my employees are not middle-class academics.   Most are older people who already have a health plan, who don't need a retirement plan (because they have already retired) and who just want a fun job in a nice location where they can live in their RV. 

This has to be one of the most utterly pointless studies of all time.  Sure, $14 an hour would probably suck as a 45-year-old college grad with 2 kids.  But it would be a windfall to a 16-year-old new immigrant with few skills and no English.  The only thing that would be more pointless would be to try to compare states - which they also do:

About 22 percent of Arizona jobs are considered "good" because they pay at least $17 and offer benefits. That is less than the typical state, which has 25 percent "good" jobs. The rest of the jobs are in between because they offer some benefits.

Since cost of living is totally comparable between Phoenix and Manhattan, then using a fixed wage rate to compare states makes complete sense.  By the way, by the study's definition, my job, which is usually awesome, is not "good" because I have no health plan.  In fact, in this study, a $40,000 job with a health plan is ranked as good while a $400,000 job with no health plan is not good.  Yeah, that makes sense.

Posted on May 29, 2008 at 10:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Two Old Favorites Re-Discovered in the Same Day

The other day, I was sorting through my bookshelves trying to find something for my son to read.  He just blew through the four books of the Hyperion series and was looking for fresh meat.  As I was browsing, I picked up Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash, which I have not read in several years.  Despite reading the book twice before, I was immediately engulfed by the first chapter.  I know I am a geek, but I honestly think that the first chapter of Snow Crash may be the best opening of any book I have ever read.

I seldom watch TV, but later that day I had just finished watching the A&E remake of Andromeda Strain, which was a favorite of mine when I was a boy.  I happened across the Redford-Dunaway movie "Three Days of the Condor."  This is one of my favorite spy movies, and not just because I am a sucker for Faye Dunaway (I always thought the young Faye Dunaway would have been a great Dagny Taggert in Atlas Shrugged.)  One of the reasons I like the movie is its pacing.  I enjoy a full-speed ahead never-take-a-breath action movie as much as the next person, but do they all have to be that way.  This was a thriller with an almost languid pace. 

Posted on May 29, 2008 at 07:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Boy Is This Election Is Going to Suck

It is nothing new for politicians and the powerful to despise commerce and "traders."  In Medieval society, and continuing in Europe right up into the 19th century, the ruling elite scorned careers that involved actual productive effort.  If you were actually producing something, rather than indolently feeding yourself off the work of the masses, you were not a "gentleman."

It appears that this attitude is coming back in vogue, most notably from the presidential candidates of both parties.  From David Boaz in the WSJ:

Sen. Obama told the students that "our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." He disparaged students who want to "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy."

The people Mr. Obama is sneering at are the ones who built America – the traders and entrepreneurs and manufacturers who gave us railroads and airplanes, housing and appliances, steam engines, electricity, telephones, computers and Starbucks. Ignored here is the work most Americans do, the work that gives us food, clothing, shelter and increasing comfort. It's an attitude you would expect from a Democrat.

Or this year's Republican nominee. John McCain also denounces "self-indulgence" and insists that Americans serve "a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests." During a Republican debate at the Reagan Library on May 3, 2007, Sen. McCain derided Mitt Romney's leadership ability, saying, "I led . . . out of patriotism, not for profit." Challenged on his statement, Mr. McCain elaborated that Mr. Romney "managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business." He could have been channeling Barack Obama.

Mr. Boaz mentions the hypocrisy of Obama having a million dollar house and being famous for his beautiful suits, and then telling graduates not to aspire for the same things.  But a bigger hypocrisy, or perhaps contradiction, is the fact that the candidates must know that the world won't function if everyone were to take their advice.  While bashing the productive, each relies on the productive to fund his plans.  While urging everyone to be parasites, they must know that some must ignore their advice to become the productive hosts on which the parasites feed.

But hypocrisy is not the biggest issue. The real issue is that Messrs. Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is "self-indulgence," that building a business is "chasing after our money culture," that working to provide a better life for our families is a "narrow concern."

They're wrong. Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss. You have a right to seek satisfaction in accomplishment. And if you chase after the almighty dollar, you just might find that you are led, as if by an invisible hand, to do things that improve the lives of others.

Posted on May 29, 2008 at 07:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Encore!

It is an indicator of the power of the state that most CEO's of public companies feel the need to pay lip service to every politically correct trend that comes along and to engage in outright sycophancy every time they meet with politicians.  The reason, unfortunately, is that morons like Maxine Waters have been granted nearly unlimited powers over commerce.  Some CEOs unfortunately go even further, going beyond just humoring politicians to play the game themselves, engaging in outright rent-seeking for themselves and their shareholders.

So it is in this context that it is nice to see the CEO of Exxon-Mobil continuing in that company's traditions of not rolling over to populist political pressure:

Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s largest oil-and-gas company, came out swinging Wednesday against the environmental movement, arguing the science of climate change is far from settled and that his company views it as its “corporate social responsibility” to continue to supply the world with fossil fuels....

Avoiding the political correctness that many oil executives are now showing on global warming, Mr. Tillerson called for a continuation of the debate, rather than acceptance that it is occurring, with the potential consequence that governments will implement policies that put world economies at risk.

“My view is that this is so extraordinarily important to people the world over, that to not have a debate on it is irresponsible,” he said. “To suggest that we know everything we need to know about these issues is irresponsible.

“And I will take all the criticism that comes with it. Anybody that tells you that they got this figured out is not being truthful. There are too many complexities around climate science for anybody to fully understand all of the causes and effects and consequences of what you may chose to do to attempt to affect that. We have to let scientists to continue their investigative work, unencumbered by political influences. This is too important to be cute with it.”

Mr. Tillerson said Exxon Mobil, despite its reputation as a staunch climate change denier, is in fact close to the issue as the only oil company that is a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Exxon Mobil came under repeated attack during the rowdy meeting for not showing leadership to combat global warming, with some arguing it is putting shareholders’ capital at risk by not moving into greener energy.

Among the many critics who stood up in the city’s Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Centre, where the meeting was held, was Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, the great-granddaughtger of John D. Rockefeller, who founded Exxon’s predecessor 125 years ago.

But her proposal to have Exxon Mobil prepare a report on the impact of climate change on emerging countries and to embrace greener energy was backed by only 10.4% of shareholders.

The Exxon shareholder meeting is a zoo.  LIttle serious work gets done.  There are about a zillion people who buy one share of stock so they can show up and flog whatever political hobby horse they have.  I do wish I had been there, though, so that in response to Ms. Goodwin's proposal I could have in turn asked for a report on how alarmist-proposed 80% reductions in fossil fuel consumption would have impacted poverty and progress in developing countries. 

A while back I had observed that Wal-Mart had passed Exxon as the left's #1 Satan.  It is good to see Exxon back on top. 

Posted on May 29, 2008 at 07:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Myth Of The Anything But Freaking Stupid Voter

Via Kevin Drum's Site:

Ben Smith puts the fact that 10% of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim in context:

"Large minorities of Americans consistently say they hold wildly out-of-the-mainstream views, often specifically discredited beliefs. In some cases, those views should make them pretty profoundly alienated from one party or the other.

For instance:

22 percent believe President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.

30 percent believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

23 percent believe they've been in the presence of a ghost.

18 percent believe the sun revolves around the Earth."

Posted on May 27, 2008 at 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

I Think You Have Me Confused With Eliot Spitzer

An email inquiry I received today:

I am a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel in Florida. I need a comment for a story on prostitution.

I actually think there is an organization with 'coyote' in the name that is more active on this topic, so I presume that was the source of confusion.  Not really sure how my wife would react to this inquiry.  However, since we are on the topic, I have written a couple of rants supporting the legalization of prostitution.  In short, I think there is a good case to be made that most of the abuses of prostitution result from its illegality (and therefore lack of ability of its participants to call on the legal system for help).  While one may find prostitution distasteful, the government should protect our bodies and our wallets from assault rather than worrying whether we are tarnishing our souls. 

Posted on May 27, 2008 at 03:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

This "Price" Thingie

Wow, this is unexpected:

The FHWA’s “Traffic Volume Trends” report, produced monthly since 1942, shows that estimated vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all U.S. public roads for March 2008 fell 4.3 percent as compared with March 2007 travel. This is the first time estimated March travel on public roads fell since 1979. At 11 billion miles less in March 2008 than in the previous March, this is the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history.

Someone really should research this phenomenon.  It is almost if gasoline prices, which we all know exist solely for the benefit of oil company profits and to support oil company CEO pay, have this heretofore unsuspected utility to modify demand for scarce resources. 

Not to be deterred by this spurious data point, the US Congress is moving ahead with this:

The current high price of gas has led to a lot of crazy proposals from gas tax holidays to creating a tax deduction based upon energy consumption. But Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s (D-PA) may top them all in terms of its stupidity. From the Times Leader, Kanjorski’s plan would do the following:

    • H.R. 5800 would tax industries’ windfall profits.

• The bill would set up a Reasonable Profits Board to determine when these companies’ profits are in excess, and then tax them on those windfall profits.

    • As oil and gas companies’ windfall profits increase, so would the tax rate for those companies.

• Kanjorski said his legislation will encourage oil companies to lower prices to prevent them from receiving higher tax rates.

Posted on May 27, 2008 at 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Congressmen Make Themselves Outlaws

From recent legislation:

“It shall be illegal and a violation of this Act,” declared the House of Representatives, “to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product… or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product when such action, combination, or collective action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of oil, natural gas, or other petroleum product in the United States.”

Well, OPEC nations may or may not be in violation of this law.  My guess is that if incompetence and general third-world type fraud is actionable, then they are guilty.  It may be tougher to prove outright conspiracy.

BUT, there is one nation that has, right there on the public record, clear government legislation that substantially limits development of some of the largest potential new oil reserves in the US.  That country is the United States, and by passage of this law, the entire Congress has made itself outlaws.

Posted on May 26, 2008 at 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Not Surprised

I thought it was kind of funny, as I was paging through my referrer logs, to see this search find me:

+"calling in sick" +blog

The search game from Google.fr

Posted on May 25, 2008 at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Prediction Market at Work?

Today, GoDaddy signed a new long-term sponsorship deal with Danica Patrick, Indy car driver most famous for, uh, having ovaries.  The article says that this new deal was signed well ahead of the expiration of the old deal later this year.

I am struck by the fact that this deal was inked just days before the Indy 500, the winning of which would greatly increase Patrick's value.  I wonder if this is based on some kind of insider knowledge by GoDaddy of Patrick's chances of winning this weekend.

Posted on May 23, 2008 at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

The Oil Reality

Yesterday we saw the people who have done the most to keep oil prices high (e.g. Congress) trying to blame shift their policy failures onto oil company executives.  Hilariously, Maxine Waters thinks she would do a better job for consumers if she were in charge of the US oil companies. 

Beyond the realities of supply and demand, which I guess we all despair of teaching Congress, there were these remarks by Shell's John Hofmeister (via Powerline):

While all oil-importing nations buy oil at global prices, some, notably India and China, subsidize the cost of oil products to their nation's consumers, feeding the demand for more oil despite record prices. They do this to speed economic growth and to ensure a competitive advantage relative to other nations.

Meanwhile, in the United States, access to our own oil and gas resources has been limited for the last 30 years, prohibiting companies such as Shell from exploring and developing resources for the benefit of the American people.

Senator Sessions, I agree, it is not a free market.

According to the Department of the Interior, 62 percent of all on-shore federal lands are off limits to oil and gas developments, with restrictions applying to 92 percent of all federal lands. We have an outer continental shelf moratorium on the Atlantic Ocean, an outer continental shelf moratorium on the Pacific Ocean, an outer continental shelf moratorium on the eastern Gulf of Mexico, congressional bans on on-shore oil and gas activities in specific areas of the Rockies and Alaska, and even a congressional ban on doing an analysis of the resource potential for oil and gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The Argonne National Laboratory did a report in 2004 that identified 40 specific federal policy areas that halt, limit, delay or restrict natural gas projects. I urge you to review it. It is a long list. If I may, I offer it today if you would like to include it in the record.

When many of these policies were implemented, oil was selling in the single digits, not the triple digits we see now. The cumulative effect of these policies has been to discourage U.S. investment and send U.S. companies outside the United States to produce new supplies.

As a result, U.S. production has declined so much that nearly 60 percent of daily consumption comes from foreign sources.

The problem of access can be solved in this country by the same government that has prohibited it. Congress could have chosen to lift some or all of the current restrictions on exportation and production of oil and gas. Congress could provide national policy to reverse the persistent decline of domestically secure natural resource development.

This is a point I have made for a while:

Exxon Mobil is the largest U.S. oil and gas company, but we account for only 2 percent of global energy production, only 3 percent of global oil production, only 6 percent of global refining capacity, and only 1 percent of global petroleum reserves. With respect to petroleum reserves, we rank 14th. Government-owned national oil companies dominate the top spots. For an American company to succeed in this competitive landscape and go head to head with huge government-backed national oil companies, it needs financial strength and scale to execute massive complex energy projects requiring enormous long-term investments.

Lots more good stuff, check it out.

Posted on May 23, 2008 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Plasma Rain

A little astronomy pr0n for you today, a video clip of plasma rain on the surface of the sun, via Anthony Watts.

Posted on May 22, 2008 at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

1970s, Here We Come

The economy, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party are all acting more and more like they did in the 1970s.  Keep your head down, and expect more of this kind of garbage.

Posted on May 22, 2008 at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Giving Nothing Back

A few minutes ago, on some cable show, I saw a viewer comment that said something like "I am tired of big oil taking in billions and billions of dollars and giving nothing back.  It is time for the era of big oil to end."

Wow -- I would sure suggest he trying going to a different gas station.  Every time I give the oil companies some money, they give me back a tank of gasoline.  This gasoline has great value to me, and is something I could never produce for myself (OK, actually, I bet I could, but you know what I mean).  In fact, the only organization that takes my money and gives me nothing back in return in the government.

Posted on May 22, 2008 at 02:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

New Indiana Jones Movie Just OK

I saw the new Indiana Jones movie with my kids this morning.  It was OK.  The chase / fight scenes were great, and the effects were terrific.  But the plot was so-so  (George Lucas has a writing credit, so I could just refer you back to the Padme** dialog in the last 2 Star Wars movie).  There is sometimes a fine line between good fantasy and silliness, and the movie crosses back and forth several times.  Also, you just can't beat Nazis for over-the-top bad guys.  The Boris-and-Natasha style Soviets just don't serve as well.  Overall, worth seeing if you liked the others, and certainly better than Temple of Doom.  But I wouldn't stand in line to see it.

** Interesting fact that maybe I am the last person in the world to know:  Do you know who the actress was that played the fake Queen / Padme double in Star Wars Episode 1?  I always thought it was Natalie Portman, but that is actually not correct.  It was an uncredited role, and the actress was always in elaborate makeup.  Who was it?  It was Keira Knightly, of Pirates and Beckham fame.

Posted on May 22, 2008 at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Not Sure this Is A Point of Pride...

I actually found out about this early last year:

Mom-and-pop service stations are running into a problem as gasoline marches toward $4 a gallon: Thousands of old-fashioned pumps can't register more than $3.99 on their spinning mechanical dials.

We operate a marina in the back-end of nowhere in Colorado where, since we can only accept less-than-full-truckload gas shipments, we were paying wholesale prices over $3.50 last summer.  We attempted to go to $4.09 on the retail pump, and wham, we ran up against this retail equivalent of the Y2k bug.

Posted on May 22, 2008 at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Zoning and the Housing Bubble

The Anti-Planner links an article by a Federal Reserve Bank economist on the housing market in Houston and how it is affected by zoning:

“Given that Houstonians had access to the same new types of mortgages as the rest of the country and that Houston has had greater population growth than other large metros, we might expect price appreciation to be stronger in Houston than elsewhere,” says the article. “However, the opposite has been true.”

The reason? Houston’s lack of zoning and its large supply of land available for development allowed builders to respond to easy credit by increasing the pace of construction. Slow and unpredictable permitting processes prevented builders in many other regions, including Florida and the Pacific Coast states, from similarly stepping up production.

While some cities and regions have further delayed construction by imposing adequate public facilities or concurrency ordinances, Houston allows developers to create their own municipal utility districts. Through these districts, the developers install the sewer, water, and other facilities needed by their developments and charge the property owners over time.

The result is that housing prices did not bubble, and they are not significantly declining today. As of the fourth quarter of 2007, in fact, they were still increasing. Anecdotal evidence from local realtors and developers indicates that the tightening credit market has soften the demand for homes under $200,000, but homes above that price are still selling well.

Whatever correction Houston faces, says the article, “takes place in the context of prices that are squarely in line with local construction costs and without the painful supply-induced downturn under way in many other markets.” This leaves Houston relatively immune to the ups and downs of housing prices experienced in regions with planning-induced housing shortages.

I need to think a bit about how that relates to this.

Posted on May 21, 2008 at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Carbon Offset Sausage Factory

For quite a while, I have been arguing that cap-and-trade schemes are inferior to straight carbon taxes because of their susceptibility to rent-seeking and manipulation.  At the top of the list of problems is the carbon offset issue, the notion that someone can create and sell an offset to cap limits by reducing CO2 emissions in some novel way.  The offset products that exist to day are tremendously suspicious, as I wrote here and here.  In particular, the ability to resell the same emission reduction multiple times is a real danger.

The Guardian has an interesting look at the offsets being created by that bastion of good governance and management science, the United Nations.

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism.

The key problem, as I have pointed out before, is how do you know the reduction is truly incremental?  How do you know that it would not have occured anyway:

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism....

One glaring signal that many of the projects being approved by the CDM's executive board are non-additional is that almost three-quarters of projects were already complete at the time of approval. It would seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra income in order to be built.

LOL, yes that might be a good indicator something is amiss.  The other problem, beyond the staggering amount of outright corruption one would expect from any UN-operated enterprise, is this oddity:

Any type of technology other than nuclear power can apply for credits. Even new coal plants, if these can be shown to be even a marginal improvement upon existing plants, can receive offset income. A massive 4,000MW coal plant on the coast of Gujarat, India, is expected soon to apply for CERs. The plant will spew into the atmosphere 26m tonnes of CO2 per year for at least 25 years. It will be India's third - and the world's 16th - largest source of CO2 emissions.

So nuclear plants, the one proven economic and scalable power technology that is free of CO2 emissions is the one technology that is excluded from the program?  But 4,000MW coal plants that can proves they are marginally more efficient than they might have been are A-OK?

Posted on May 21, 2008 at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Congress, Sue Thyself

This is almost beyond parody:

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices, but the White House threatened to veto the measure.

The bill would subject OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, to the same antitrust laws that U.S. companies must follow.

The measure passed in a 324-84 vote, a big enough margin to override a presidential veto.

The legislation also creates a Justice Department task force to aggressively investigate gasoline price gouging and energy market manipulation.

"This bill guarantees that oil prices will reflect supply and demand economic rules, instead of wildly speculative and perhaps illegal activities," said Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who sponsored the legislation.

I am sure, either through scheming or more likely incompetance, that OPEC countries are under-supplying their potential capacity for oil production.  But if we want to deem this a crime, who is the biggest criminal?   The US is the only country I know of that has, by statute, made illegal the development of enormous domestic reserves.  Just last week, Democracts in Congress, in fact the exact same folks sponsoring this bill, voted to continue an effective moratorium on US oil shale development.  No country in the world is doing less to develop the most promising oil reserves than is the US.  Congress, sue thyself.  I mocked this idea weeks ago when Hillary first suggested it.  If this passes, I would love to see the US counter-sued for not developing ANWR.  Or large areas of the Gulf.  Or most of the Pacific coast.  Or all of the Atlantic coast.  Or our largest-in-the-world oil shale deposits. 

Posted on May 20, 2008 at 05:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Arrested for Being Creepy

I think this is about right:

More and more, it looks like the real crime of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is being different and ... well ... creepy. The FLDS has apparently been targeted for destruction because its tenets and practices rub America's increasingly intolerant soccer moms and suburban dads the wrong way.

We just can't let people live that way!

I'm as weirded out by the Persian-harem-via-How The West Was Won ambience that clings to the FLDS as the next guy, but I want allegations of abuse against the group to be (fancy this) based on actual evidence, and addressed on an individual basis, rather than as an excuse for a pogrom. That is, as weirded out as we all may be, you prosecute the actual abusers among the oddball minorities (as well as the bland majorities) and leave everybody else the hell alone.

Next thing you now, we'll be locking up college lacrosse players just because they are rich white guys.

Posted on May 20, 2008 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Business Biorythms Just Hit A Triple Low

People who say that bad things come in threes never ran a small business.  Bad things can come in much larger, Costco-sized lots.  Such is the case today in my own little corner of the American economy.  Expect blogging to be light for a few days.  Also, I may be slow to fix the RSS problem that has been reported.  Sorry.

PS-  The big lots of bad stuff seem to come just after one was thinking "gee, its kind of quiet around here, maybe I will take a day off this week..."

Posted on May 20, 2008 at 01:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

More Reasons to Fear Public Employee Unions

Most all local governments have extensive programs in place for government inspection of elevators because, you know, private businesses can't be trusted to operate safe equipment.  But it turns out the least safe elevators are operated by the government itself:

New York City Transit has spent close to $1 billion to install more than 200 new elevators and escalators in the subway system since the early 1990s, and it plans to spend almost that much again for dozens more machines through the end of the next decade. It is an investment of historic dimensions, aimed at better serving millions of riders and opening more of the subway to the disabled.

These are the results:

¶One of every six elevators and escalators in the subway system was out of service for more than a month last year, according to the transit agency’s data.

¶The 169 escalators in the subway averaged 68 breakdowns or repair calls each last year, with the worst machines logging more than double that number. And some of the least reliable escalators in the system are also some of the newest, accumulating thousands of hours out of service for what officials described as a litany of mechanical flaws.

¶Two-thirds of the subway elevators — many of which travel all of 15 feet — had at least one breakdown last year in which passengers were trapped inside.

The whole thing is pretty depressing.  But perhaps just as depressing is the fact that the NY Times, in a quite lengthy article, never once questions why the government is in the elevator maintenance business at all.  You see, the New York City Transit system hires all of its own maintenance people, presumably because, though the article never mentions it, the public employees union insists that these functions remain in house.  OK, here is a quiz:  How many private elevator owners in New York City have their own staff repair elevators?  My guess is the answer is close to zero.  Everyone uses third party elevator equipment repair companies or operate under long-term service contracts with the manufacturer.  Why?  Well, lets see what problems NY Transit faces:

“They don’t have enough competent people with the proper training,” said Michele O’Toole, the president of J. Martin Associates, which the transit agency hired in 2006 to evaluate its elevator operations. “It all reflects back to qualifications, training, capabilities.”...

Elevators and escalators are spread out over a far-flung system, requiring more mechanics and slowing responses to breakdowns. There has been little standardization of parts, so mechanics must cope with a bewildering hodgepodge of machinery. And the machines, which operate 24 hours a day, are subject to all sorts of abuse: Elevators become makeshift bathrooms, and escalator steps are pounded by heavily loaded hand trucks.

Guess what?  These are all classic reasons for outsourcing.  Manhattan elevator maintenance companies are set up to handle a far-flung elevator inventory, and can more efficiently stock parts, buy special equipment, and provide specialized training than can any individual operator.   Shared external capacity can also be sized and used much more efficiently to deal with random failures -- the more elevators in a region one maintains, the better staff can be utilized across a stochastic system.

But of course, the NY Times is never going to go against any public employee union, so it takes the line that this is a good governance issue, rather than a structural issue where an individual elevator owner is always going to be less efficient than outsourcing to a large regional third party company.  It compares NY Transit to other public transit agencies, but not to other private owners of elevators.  My guess is Donald Trump owns more elevators than NY Transit - how does he handle elevator maintenance?

By the way, the article says that there are 167 elevators and 169 escalators in the system.  They also say there are 200 full-time maintenance people.  So, on average, one person spends 60% of their year on a single elevator or escalator.  Think about the elevators and escalators you ride every day.  Can you imagine someone working on it for 1200 hours a year?

And what is this in the quotes above about slow responses to breakdowns in the far-flung empire?  With 200 people for 336 devices, they could practically assign an individual repair person to each one.   I can see him now, with his toolbox, sitting on a folding chair in the back of the elevator with a box of Krispy Kremes, waiting to spring into action at the moment of failure.

Posted on May 20, 2008 at 12:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Leaving the Scence of an Accident

I include this mainly because I have a funny mental image of a couple of guys crashing the plane and then wandering off to a bar for a drink:

A single-engine plane has crashed near the airport in Bagdad, a remote community northwest of Wickenburg, but the pilot apparently walked away and has not been found, authorities said Monday.

The wreckage of the downed plane, a Beech Model B23, was discovered early Sunday about 100 yards south of the Bagdad Airport runway, said Dwight D'Evelyn, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.

Php4831e9b5885fd

Posted on May 19, 2008 at 11:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Comparing Phoenix to Seattle and Austin

Chad Graham of the Arizona Republic writes an article this week that begins with this headline:

Phoenix can learn economically from robust Seattle and Austin

Already, my BS antenna are deployed.  Why?  I don't know anything about Mr. Graham, but nearly every 20- or 30-something journalist would like all the world to be hip and freaky and trendy and cool like Seattle or Austin (or Boulder or San Francisco).  So they have a natural predisposition to writing a story and interpreting facts to say that Phoenix (or whatever uncool city they hail from) should do everything it can to emulate Seattle or Portland or whatever is the hip city of the moment. 

I have lived in Phoenix and Seattle and Boulder, and have done business in Portland and Austin.  And if you want to find a really great music club, Austin would be your place.  And if you are a really rich guy who wants a unique lake front home and a dock for his floatplane, Seattle would be the pick.  But if you were a middle class family trying to get the most home for your money, you would take Phoenix all the way.  And if you wanted to start a real business that makes stuff, you would be insane to do it in any of these cities except Phoenix (and perhaps Austin).  Portland and Seattle and Boulder and (more recently) Austin are what one might call rich snob - poor snob towns.  They appeal to the millionaire with the fractional ownership jet and the pierced and tattooed slacker club goer.  Which is fine, but does every city really need to be like them?

Unlike the Valley, some parts of the U.S. such as Seattle and Austin have been only slightly affected by the national economic slowdown.

Neither area has experienced the Valley's level of falling home prices, increased foreclosure rates nor its slowed job growth.

Those regions are places that Phoenix could learn from as it charts a future based less on housing and growth and more on competing in the global economy.

OK, lets start with the home thing, since the article focuses A LOT on housing.  I am willing to concede that in some recent period Austin and Seattle had less of a home price drop than Phoenix.  Ignoring for a moment the absurdity of extrapolating 30 year trends from 6-12 months of data, we should look structurally at these housing markets.  It turns out that Seattle, for example, has MUCH higher median home prices than Phoenix, in large part due to structural regulatory factors that I would presume the author would like Phoenix to emulate. 

As a result, the median home price in Seattle is about $450,000 while the median in Phoenix is closer to $275,000.  In fact, the Seattle median is very close to the Phoenix 75th percentile.  [note figures do not match those in article - I could not find any two median home price numbers that were the same for a market] One comment on Seattle housing was this:

The pattern is very strong: In Seattle you have affluent, largely single people chasing a small supply of urban housing. The result is small household size, an exodus of families to the suburbs, and very high housing prices in the city.

Is this really what Phoenix should emulate, just because our home prices dropped more over a 6 month period?

One year ago, the Valley's job growth ranked No. 7 among metropolitan markets with more than 1 million workers, according to the latest Blue Chip Job Growth Update released by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

It now ranks No. 20, while Seattle is  No. 2.

In job markets with less than 1 million workers, Austin ranks  No. 14.

So, until recently, Phoenix led both cities in job growth.  In the last year, we have fallen behind.  Can anyone on the planet tell me why the last year of data is more relevant than the previous five, or ten, when Phoenix dusted these markets?  One year of downturn and suddenly Phoenix's economy needs to be restructured by some massive government 5-year plan?

But here is the really funny part.  Let's take Seattle, the economic juggernaut with which the author is so enamored.  In 1960, Seattle had a population of about 550,000 people.  In 2000, Seattle had a population of about.... 550,000.  In the same time period Phoenix grew from 726,000 to 3.2 million.  Wow, that Seattle is a growth juggernaut.  But it is hard to get apples and oranges on MSA's and such, so here is data from a single source:  From 1990-2000, the Austin MSA added 400,000 people, Seattle MSA added 382,000 people and Phoenix added 1.01 million, more than the other two combined.  Presumably, most of these folks found work, so where are all the jobs being added?

In Phoenix, "housing-related employment is falling fast, and the impact on the economy is extreme since the industry comprises over 15 percent of total employment . . . compared to 10 percent nationwide," an April Moody's Economy.com report said.

This is hilarious.  We happen to be in a housing market downturn, so Phoenix is doomed because it is overweighted towards home construction.  But did anyone visit Seattle or Austin in 2001/2002 after the tech bubble crash?  It was a bloodbath, far worse than what Phoenix is experiencing today.  This kind of analysis is so short-sighted as to be absurd. 

Maricopa County's average weekly wages increased 3.8 percent to $822 in the third quarter of 2007, according to the latest numbers available from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Weekly wages in King County, home to Seattle, rose 8 percent to $1,129. Wages in Travis County, home to Austin, rose to $911, a 2.7 percent jump.

Meanwhile, Arizona's average per person income ($33,029) grew by the smallest percentage among states in 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

One word for you:  immigration.  Arizona has gotten hundreds of thousands of new immigrants with relatively low skills, so they come in at the bottom of the income scale and drive median wages down.  Seattle and Austin immigration, to the extent they have it, are high-skilled and highly paid.  Does every city have to be a high-income yuppie white-Asian enclave like Seattle?  I like Arizona and its Hispanic influences, even if this immigration means the governor can't puff her chest out at the governors' conference over average wages.

The two cities have a greater percentage of employment in tech jobs, with 9.2 percent in Austin and 8.8 in Seattle compared with 4.6 percent in Phoenix.

Sorry, but I have never thought it a goal of government to subsidize and maximize "tech jobs."  The other 95.4% of us in Phoenix without a job statistically categorized by the government as a tech job are happy not to be subsidizing the other 4.6%.  This is the kind of effort that does nothing to help the average person, who will never have a tech job, but makes government officials feel really good about themselves.  Another way of putting it:  The author is suggesting the government single-mindedly focus on subsidizing a class of jobs that 90+% of the people in all three cities do not hold.

Postscript: For those of you who want to laugh yourself silly, you really need to read the "vision" in the sidebar of this article.  It is the most incredible collection of politically correct notions without any relationship to real value creation that I have ever seen.  I can't really do it justice, but here are some highlights:

2010

The latest housing bust finally convinces the Arizona Legislature to fund an aggressive international-economic-development program that invests in science, engineering, technology and higher education.

Incentives draw nutraceutical firms, which use food substances to make products that provide health benefits, such as lycopene. Green-technology firms partner with universities to launch companies that turn a profit...

2035

High-paying technology jobs are clustered in three major areas from Prescott to Phoenix to Tucson. The economy boasts an $800 billion nutraceutical industry and the world's largest solar facility with 10,000 acres of sun power.

I bet they include no offset in their study for lost growth due to higher taxes to fund this.  And our city of 5-10 million people is going to build its economy on nutraceuticals?  We're going to have a vitamin water business that, at $800 billion, is 6% the current size of the entire US economy?  I sure hope some of the business school students who wrote this either wise up or go into academics, because if they try to walk in to a real corporate board room with this stuff they are going to get skewered.

Posted on May 19, 2008 at 12:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

The State Protects Itself

Dibor Roberts was convicted, somehow, for being attacked by a police officer.

The jury in the Dibor Roberts case returned a verdict that I can only describe as contemptible, finding her guilty of resisting arrest and felony flight from a law officer as a result of a brutal attack upon her by Sgt. Jeff Newnum of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department.

Greg Nix of Larson newspapers has an interesting insight, suggesting that the trial could have come down to the prosecution painting a picture for the jury of "'angry black woman' v. 'respectable white officer.'" He adds, "I grew up in the South so running the 'angry black woman' strategy is nothing new and generally works for getting convictions."

Perhaps he's right, and the decision was essentially racist. Or maybe the prosecution succeeded in picking jurors who bow down and bang their heads on the floor every time they see a uniformed government employee. Or the result could have resulted from a little bit of both factors.

Posted on May 17, 2008 at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Feed Problem

Is this site having a feed problem?  I recommend people use the feedburner feed that is linked on the right side, but I have had two people email me to tell me my RSS feed is empty.  I have no problem reading it in google reader.  If anyone can help me with more details, that would be great.

Posted on May 16, 2008 at 07:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

I Wanted to Get Control

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh tells motorists that may be concerned with the authenticity of a police officer asking them to pull over at night in a deserted area that they should continue on to a more public, well lighted place.  Sgt. Jeff Newnum of the same police department says that he would give his wife the same advice.   There have been several well-publicized incidences in Arizona of people being attacked by criminals impersonating an officer making a traffic stop.

But when Dibor Roberts attempted to follow this advice, officer Newnum ran her car off the road, broke the window of her car with his nightstick, and grabbed the cell phone she was using to call 911.  Now, it is, incredibly, Ms. Roberts who is on trial for her actions.   All because she was driving 15 miles an hour over the limit on a deserted rural road.  The post title comes from the Sgt Newnum's explanation in court of his aggressive tactics.

Posted on May 15, 2008 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Power of Institutional Focus

Ilya Somin wonders why some top universities don't have law schools:

It recently occurred to me that there are several big-name universities that don't have law schools, even though a law school established at any of those institutions would probably do well. Princeton arguably heads this list, along with Brown, Johns Hopkins, Rice, and Tufts. Brandeis University also doesn't have a law school (ironically, for a prominent university named after a Supreme Court justice).

Why these universities haven't established law schools is a bit of a mystery (at least to me). Law schools tend to bring in net revenue for the university. This is even more likely to be true at a big-name institution that can quickly attract good faculty and students. If Princeton were to establish a law school tommorrow, appoint a credible dean, and provide adequate initial financial backing, they could very quickly turn it into a highly successful (and profitable) enterprise. Many good students would come just because of the Princeton name, and most outstanding scholars who are not already at top 20 or top 30 institutions might well be willing to move to Princeton if asked.

Princeton, by the way, does not have a law school or business school or medical school.  It really tries to hold itself up as primarily and undergraduate institution, and works hard to be the premier undergraduate school in the country.  It has graduate schools only in disciplines for which there is an undergraduate degree (e.g. math, economics, chemistry, history).  I have always suspected that they maintain these graduate programs mainly because they have to to attract top academic talent to be available for their undergraduates.  Unlike any other university with which I am familiar, and certainly unlike Harvard where I also attended, graduate students at Princeton feel themselves to be second class citizens.

Somin acknowledges this a bit when he says:

Various commenters suggest that these universities choose not to have a law school because of their desire to focus on undergraduate education. That may indeed be the right explanation, though several of these institutions (including Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and Rice) have other professional schools on campus. But it doesn't strike me as a very compelling reason not to establish a law school. If the law school were to drain resources away form undergrad education, there might indeed be a conflict between the two. In fact, however, a law school is likely to bring in net revenue that could be used to improve undergraduate education. Moreover, some law school professors (especially at elite schools) teach courses that undergraduates might be interested in taking, as sometimes happened at Yale, when I was a law student there.

Even if a law school adds resources to undergrad education instead of draining them, it's possible that its presence could detract from undergraduate education in some other, more subtle way. But it's hard for me to see how. If Yale Law School were closed down tomorrow, would undergraduate education at Yale improve? Are undergraduates at Yale currently worse off than at Princeton in some way traceable to the fact that Yale has a law school and Princeton doesn't? Possibly. But I remain skeptical.

I would argue that there is an important difference that you can't just get at through incremental analysis.  That is, that the management and faculty of Princeton have a culture and focus on undergraduates that universities like Harvard do not have.  Somin is right that grad schools bring in lots of money -- and so the sum of a med school and a law school and a business school and all that tuition and grant and consulting money (not to mention resultant faculty egos) is hugely distracting for an institution.  Particularly in the case of Princeton where it does not really need incremental money anyway.  Take my word for it, having attended both Harvard and Princeton, there are enormous differences in their institutional foci which have real impacts, both substantial and subtle, on undergraduate life. 

I would love to do a poll.  Ask the faculty of both Harvard and Princeton, "Which would you give up first, your university's graduate program or undergraduate program,"  I bet I know what the answer would be.

But what do I know - we Princeton grads are all nuts, anyway.

Posted on May 15, 2008 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Legislation for the Benefit of One

What follows is by no means the worst excess of our Congress.  But it is an interesting demonstration of how Congress attempts to disguise legislation that is intended to help just one important contituent.  The program looks moderately innocuous:

[T]his year’s farm bill contains a special-interest provision you’ve probably never heard of — the Qualified Forestry Bonds program. This provides federally funded tax-credit bonds for forest purchases that meet the following four criteria:

The forest must be adjacent to U.S. Forest Service Land;

Half of the parcel must be turned over to the U.S. Forest Service;

It must include at least 40,000 total acres; and

It must be subject to a “native fish habitat conservation plan approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Well, it looks like it might be some land acquisition scheme by the US Forest Service, though by my observation they really aren't staffed or resourced to manage the land they already have.

But here is the truth of it:

But this farm-bill provision offers a lesson on how things are sometimes done in Washington. Only one parcel of land in the entire United States meets the criteria set for the Qualified Forestry Bonds program. You see, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved exactly one “Native Fish Habitat Conservation Plan,” covering a 1.6-million-acre parcel that reaches from western Montana into eastern Washington State. And that parcel is owned by the Plum Creek Timber Company, the single largest private landowner in the United States.

Posted on May 15, 2008 at 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Incumbent Protection

So much of government regulation boils down to the protection of politically connected incumbent competitors against new competition.  This is an astonishing example, sent in by a reader:

BEMIDJI, Minn. - Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe says people who rent out their lakefront homes may be hurting the state's resort industry.

The Bemidji DFLer has authored a bill ordering the state's tourism agency to study whether the increased competition is hurting resorts. It's now awaiting Governor Tim Pawlenty's signature.

If you are willing to make up your own bed, there are a lot of reasons why private home rentals are a more attractive vacation option than resorts, particularly when you consider the high price of those ancillary resort services.  Why the government needs to be involved in what is, to my eyes, just a normal consumer preference is beyond me.  This last line caught my eye:

The state's resort industry is struggling as lakefront property values soar but the market restricts what they can charge for cabin rentals.

Uh, OK.  I have the same problem -- land for cabins and campgrounds in areas people want to spend the weekend is really expensive, labor costs are up, but rental rates remain low.  So what?  Through their preferences and how they translate to prices, consumers are saying that there is better uses for prime land than lakefront rental cabins.  I can accept that.

Posted on May 14, 2008 at 03:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

You're in the desert, you see a tortoise lying on its back, struggling, and you're not helping -- why is that?

We have all filled out online forms where one has to copy sometimes (purposely) hard to read letters from an image to confirm that one is not a robot (CAPTCHA).  Microsoft offers an alternative called Asirra, which stands for "Animal Species Image Recognition for Restricting Access."  I thought this might be a joke at first, but apparently it is real and MS provides access to it and sample code to use it for free.  You can get it here, and, perhaps more importantly, you can test to see if you are human.

Post title from here.

Posted on May 14, 2008 at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Things No One Mentions When They Whine for the Good Old Days

Via Eugene Volokh:

Year Food spending as share of disposable income
1929 23.4%
1939 21.3%
1949 22.1%
1959 17.8%
1969 13.7%
1979 13.4%
1989 10.9%
1999 10.2%
2000 9.9%
2001 9.9%
2002 9.8%
2003 9.8%
2004 9.7%
2005 9.8%
2006 9.9%

My sense is the same pattern would emerge for gasoline prices, electricity (if you had it), phone service (if you had it), cross-country transportation, air conditioning, etc.

 

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

May the Farce be With You

Here is something I really, really did not know, or probably even want to know, before a friend emailed me a link today:

In the 2001 United Kingdom census, 390,000 people - 0.7 per cent of the population - listed Jedi as their religion.

They are not alone - 20,000 Canadians also listed their religion as Jedi in 2001...

Some may list such a choice only as a joke, but there are apparently real churches set up in the model of the Jedi religion as detailed in the Star Wars franchise:

The two cousins and Barney Jones' brother, Daniel, set up the Church of Jediism, Anglesey order, last year. Jedi is the faith followed by some of the central characters in the "Star Wars" films.

The group, which claims about 30 members, says on its website that it uses "insight and knowledge" from the films as "a guide to living a better and more worthwhile life."

Oh, but it gets even better:

A man who dressed up as Darth Vader has been spared jail time for assaulting the founders of the Jedi Church in Britain.

Twenty-seven-year-old Arwel Wynne Hughes was given a suspended sentence for the crime by a judge in Wales on Tuesday.

Prosecutors told Magistrates' Court in Holyhead that Hughes attacked Jedi church founder Barney Jones - a.k.a. Master Jonba Hehol - with a metal crutch, hitting him on the head.

He also whacked Jones' 18-year-old cousin, Michael Jones - known as Master Mormi Hehol - bruising his thigh in the March 25 incident.

 

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Nobel Prize, for sure

Wow, I am not sure how I missed this seminal work, but I discovered it today via Steven Levitt.  The work is titled "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson" by Robert J. Oxoby of the University of Calgary Economics Department. 

Our treatment variable in the experiment was the type of music played while individuals were making their decisions. As demonstrated by Bernardi et al. (2006), different musical styles can have different physiological effects in individuals. These effects, along with emotional responses, may result in different patterns of decision making regarding distributing money between oneself and another. In our Bon Scott treatment, participants listened to “It’s a Long Way to the Top” (featuring Bon Scott on vocals) from the album High Voltage. In our Brian Johnson treatment, participants listened to “Shoot to Thrill” (featuring Brian Johnson on vocals) from the album Back in Black....

our analysis suggests that in terms of affecting efficient decision making among listeners, Brian Johnson was a better singer. Our analysis has direct implications for policy and organizational design: when policymakers or employers are engaging in negotiations (or setting up environments in which other parties will negotiate) and are interested in playing the music of AC/DC, they should choose from the band’s Brian Johnson era discography.

I have this picture of AC/DC music blasting out on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade

(the whole story behind this "study" is here)

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Taking A Peak Inside the Sausage Factory

Our governor is pushing for a one percentage point increase in the state sales tax as well as increased developer impact fees to fund a series of transportation projects.  Like most modern transportation bills, they are sold as a way to improve state road and highway capacity (something most people support), but it turns out that these projects are but window-dressing. Much of the money in the proposed bill goes to a series of dubious mass transit projects, including the oft-discussed mythical passenger rail line between Tucson and Phoenix.  None of these projects make sense in spread out, low density cities like Phoenix or Tucson that have no real city core, which is why they face a lot of opposition.

Well, our governor has cut a deal to try to get more support for her pet projects, and boy does it look ugly:

Some Republican state lawmakers on Monday blasted a "backroom deal" between Gov. Janet Napolitano and a Valley home-builders group that would exempt residential developers from sharing a portion of the costs of a major transportation initiative in exchange for a $100,000 contribution to boost the signature-gathering campaign.

Under the agreement, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona agreed to withdraw their opposition to a state trust-land initiative backed by Napolitano. In return, developer impact fees would no longer be part of the transportation initiative's approach to raising money.

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Vista Gaming Performance Improved

I have been a big Windows Vista detractor, and continue to be skeptical that Vista offers the average corporate user any advantages over XP, while carrying substantial disadvantages in terms of legacy equipment and software compatibility.

But, credit where it is due, service pack 1 combined with better graphics drivers have at least apparently eliminated the Vista-XP gap in gaming speeds, with graphics applications performing now nearly as well in Vista as in XP.

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

I'm Not Sure the Data Means What You Think It Means

Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a recent claim by ABC that year-to-date tornado frequency has nearly doubled vs. 2007, and that this is because of global warming.  I will take their word for it that tornado frequency is up, but there is one tiny problem:  The US in Jan-Apr of this year was almost a full degree cooler than last year.  So if tornado frequency is up, and ABC is correct that yearly changes in this metric are due to changes in global temperature, then it can only mean that global warming reduces, rather than increases, tornadoes.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 09:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tort Reform in Mississippi

WSJ, via Libertarian Leanings:

One of the worst places, in term of frivolous lawsuits, was Jefferson County. It became renowned as the lawsuit capital of the country, with more plaintiffs than residents. This is the infamous county where one pharmacist was named in more than 1,000 lawsuits. In one legendary case against a pharmaceutical company that sold the diet pill Pondimin (part of the weight-loss combination known as fen-phen, which was later banned), a Jefferson County jury awarded $1 billion to the family of a woman who had taken the drug.

But four years ago, Mississippi transformed itself from judicial hell hole to job magnet, a story that is instructive for other states trying to attract jobs in turbulent economic times. The lessons here are especially timely, because the pro-growth tort reform trend that was once spreading across the country may soon reverse course....

Almost overnight, the flow of lawsuits began to dry up and businesses started to trickle in. Federal Express invested $1 billion in a new facility in the state. Toyota chose Mississippi over about a dozen other states for a new $1.2 billion, 2,000-worker auto plant. The auto maker has stipulated that the company would pull up stakes if the tort reforms were overturned by the legislature or activist judges.

That hasn't happened. About 60,000 new jobs have arrived in four years – not a small number in a workforce of about 1.3 million – and a sharp improvement from the 30,000 jobs lost in the four years before Mr. Barbour took office. Since the law took effect, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits has fallen by nearly 90%, which in turn has cut malpractice insurance costs by 30% to 45%, depending on the county.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

On the Front Lines of Building the Nanny State

Paula Brown is on the front lines of building the nanny state.  Her son and his friend built a bicycle ramp out of rocks and old boards in the street in front of Ms. Brown's house.  The youthful construction couldn't stand the stresses involved, and the boy's friend suffered a nasty crash, sending him to the hospital with multiple broken bones.  Ms. Brown, who was present in the house as the boys built their jury-rigged Evil Knievel ramp, believes that the government needs to be doing more:

"We've got good drinking and driving laws here, but why no helmet laws?" asked Paula Brown, Cam's mother.

The Browns moved to Scottsdale in August from Vancouver, where helmets are required for bikes, skateboards and scooters.

"We make our kids wear helmets for anything on wheels," Brown said.

Tammy Blackwell, Tristan's mother, also would support a helmet law for kids. "My husband and I went out and bought helmets for ourselves because of this."...

She complains that, since Scottsdale doesn't have a rule, peer-group pressure is more compelling to kids than common sense.

Evidently the city's modest signs recommending helmet use and the more existential, "Skate at Your Own Risk" aren't making a dent.

The real logic gap in this story is that the kid who was hurt was wearing a bike helmet at the time.  So the severe injuries involved had nothing to do with helmet wearing, and everything to do with the lack of adult supervision by Ms. Brown.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 03:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Show Me Your Papers

Kevin Drum is discussing a book by Larry Bartels that argues the bottom third of the US population (as measured by income) are disenfranchised, as their preferences seem to have no discernible effect on legislative votes.  I have not read the book, but I find this an astounding assertion on its face, particularly given that the US government is nearly entirely paid for by the other 2/3.  We exploiters don't seem to be doing a very good job of taking advantage of our oligarchy.  (By the way, if "oppressed" is defined as having one's preferences have no impact on Congressmen, then add us libertarians into the oppressed).

On the other hand, I would say that if an affluent neighborhood had 50,000 of its citizens per month randomly stopped and frisked in the street, we might see a little more pressure for police and prosecutorial reform.  I just finished Cop in the Hood, in which Peter Moskos spends a good portion of the book discussing these same issues of probable cause and street searches.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 12:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Phthalates and Cargo Cult Science

First it was breast implants, then thimerosal, and now it is phthalates.  Each have been attacked in turn by the junk-science / media / tort law complex.  Nobel Prize-winning chemist William Knowles wrote this week:

Lawmakers -- representing the concern of parents influenced by certain environmentalists -- are calling for an outright ban of phthalates from children's toys because of the misguided belief that by exposing children to toys made with these chemicals we are putting their health at risk.

Phthalates have a long history of attacks by environmental groups dating back more than 30 years. Even then babies were of prime consideration. Few chemicals have undergone such extensive testing and survived as being safe. In fact, diisononyl phthalate, the most commonly used phthalate in children's toys, has been subjected to more than 200 tests....

Today, with no new scientific evidence, we are again challenging phthalates as dangerous to babies and threatening to ban them. These are products that have survived the toughest test of all, the test of time. There is no evidence that babies or anyone else has ever been harmed by them.

Eliminating phthalates from consumer products would be a true challenge. Even more worrisome, however, is the notion that any replacement would ever be able to pass the extreme scrutiny diisononyl phthalate and other phthalates have.

There is nothing wrong with examining the products our children come into contact with to be sure they pose no health risks. However, in this case, it would be a great mistake to ban what has been proven to be a benign product without some further scientific evidence.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Government Licensing Is To Protect Businesses from Competition

Part number whatever in a series.  Today's danger to consumers and the Republic is:  people offering to drive others around without a license.

A man who said he thought he was just helping a woman in need is accused of running an illegal taxi service.  Miami-Dade County's Consumer Services Department has slapped Rosco O'Neil with $2,000 worth of fines, but O'Neil claims he is falsely accused.....

The 78-year-old said he was walking into a Winn-Dixie to get some groceries when he was approached by a woman who said she needed a ride.

"She asked me, 'Do I do a service?'" O'Neil said.

"I told her no. She said, 'I need help getting home.'

"O'Neil told the woman if she was still there when he finished his shopping, he would give her a ride. She was, so he did.

As it turned out, the woman was an undercover employee with the consumer services department targeting people providing illegal taxi services.

"She said the reason she targeted him (is because) she saw him sitting in his car for a few minutes," said Ellen Novodeletsky, O'Neil's attorney.

After O'Neil dropped off the woman, police surrounded him, issued him two citations and impounded his minivan. On top of the fees, it cost O'Neil an additional $400 to retrieve his minivan from the impound lot.

There are no prior complaints that O'Neil was providing illegal transportation for a fee.

I don't care if he was running a business or being a good Samaritan -- I see no possible reason that this type of transaction should be illegal.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Times Blunders on Ethanol (Even After I Explained it to Them)

Last week I tried to explain why the choice of plant, whether it be a food plant or a non-food plant, that is used to make ethanol is mostly irrelevant to whether ethanol mandates raise fuel prices, at least with current technologies.  I wrote:

Food prices rise not because food is converted to ethanol per se, but because the amount of grains going into the food supply decreases.  The issue is the use of farmer's time and resources and the use of prime cropland to grow plants for fuel rather than food for consumption.  The actual crop used to make the fuel, whether corn or switchgrass, does not matter to food prices -- it is the removal of farmers and cropland from food production that matters.  The only way cellulosic ethanol is likely to improve food prices in substitution for corn is by being more efficient per acre in fuel yields than corn  (which may turn out to be the case, but has not yet been proven in this country).  But even so, incremental improvements in yield don't help much, because we are talking about enormous (40-50% or more) amounts of US cropland that would have to be dedicated to fuel, whatever the plant technology, to meet the current ethanol mandates.

I almost didn't post this the first time around, because I thought it was so obvious.  But on Sunday the NY Times blundered right into the same silly assertion:

This does not mean that Congress should give up on biofuels as an important part of the effort to reduce the country’s dependency on imported oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What it does mean is that some biofuels are (or are likely to be) better than others, and that Congress should realign its tax and subsidy programs to encourage the good ones. Unlike corn ethanol, those biofuels will not compete for the world’s food supply and will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gases.

Of course, the ability to produce such biofuels with these magic powers has never actually been demonstrated, but I am all for them when and if someone invents them.  Efficient conversion, for example, of corn stalks, rather than corn itself, to fuel would be great and would solve this trade-off.  This technology does not exist today -- and only a lot of hand-waving can translate cellulosic ethanol successes in switchgrass to corn stalks.  Also recognize that even this has costs hidden to us non farmers, because corn stalks are used for a variety of purposes today.  My guess is that cellulosic ethanol from corn may be economically feasible, but only after some genetic modifications of the plant itself.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 08:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Where the Subsidies Go

A week or so ago, I discussed federal energy subsidies and hypothesized, without a lot of facts, that a lot of them go to failing alternative energy projects rather than to oil company shareholders.  I asked readers if they had any more information, and the discussion is here.

But ask and ye shall receive, and the WSJ has an article today on federal energy subsidies and where they go.  The answer is:  in bulk dollars, a lot of them go nuclear, hydro, and traditional fossil fuel production.  However, it is interesting to look at them on an output basis:

For electricity generation, the EIA concludes that solar energy is subsidized to the tune of $24.34 per megawatt hour, wind $23.37 and "clean coal" $29.81. By contrast, normal coal receives 44 cents, natural gas a mere quarter, hydroelectric about 67 cents and nuclear power $1.59.

The wind and solar lobbies are currently moaning that they don't get their fair share of the subsidy pie. They also argue that subsidies per unit of energy are always higher at an early stage of development, before innovation makes large-scale production possible. But wind and solar have been on the subsidy take for years, and they still account for less than 1% of total net electricity generation. Would it make any difference if the federal subsidy for wind were $50 per megawatt hour, or even $100? Almost certainly not without a technological breakthrough.

By contrast, nuclear power provides 20% of U.S. base electricity production, yet it is subsidized about 15 times less than wind. We prefer an energy policy that lets markets determine which energy source dominates. But if you believe in subsidies, then nuclear power gets a lot more power for the buck than other "alternatives."

The same study also looked at federal subsidies for non-electrical energy production, such as for fuel. It found that ethanol and biofuels receive $5.72 per British thermal unit of energy produced. That compares to $2.82 for solar and $1.35 for refined coal, but only three cents per BTU for natural gas and other petroleum liquids.

I will repeat what I said in my earlier post, just so no one is confused about my position:

I personally don't care where [the subsidies go]. I am all for eliminating all of this subsidy mess, equally, whether it's for oil exploration or energy-from-donkey-poop or for CEO salary enhancement.

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Loyalty Programs

Kevin Drum and I seldom agree on business and economics related issues, but we both agree that consumer loyalty programs suck.  Here is Drum on loyalty programs, and here is my extended screed.

Posted on May 10, 2008 at 06:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

When Is A Bribe Not A Bribe?

I can't answer the question in the post title -- apparently no one has told me all the rules, but I would have called this a "bribe" rather than a "gracious gesture," as Kevin Drum does:

The latest rumor making the rounds is that maybe Barack Obama will pay off Hillary's $11 million loan to her campaign if she quits the race. I suppose that makes some kind of sense — and it would be a gracious and unifying gesture from Obama

If Newt Gingrich had paid a fellow politician $11 million to drop out of the Spearker's race against him, that would have been a, what?  Gracious gesture?  I doubt it.

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Next Up: Book Burnings

Three trends on college campuses all came together in the case of Keith Sampson:

  • Rampant political correctness
  • A newfound "right" for protected groups to be free from being offended, a right that now seems to trump free speech
  • The fetishization of symbolism over substance, and the belief that other people's reactions to an act is more important than the nature of that act itself.

Here is an excerpt from his story:

IN November, I was found guilty of "racial harassment" for reading a public-li brary book on a university campus.

The book was Todd Tucker's "Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan I was reading it on break from my campus job as a janitor. The same book is in the university library.

Tucker recounts events of 1924, when the loathsome Klan was a dominant force in Indiana - until it went to South Bend to taunt the Irish Catholic students at the University of Notre Dame.

When the KKK tried to rally, the students confronted them. They stole Klan robes and destroyed their crosses, driving the KKK out of town in a downpour.

I read the historic encounter and imagined myself with these brave Irish Catholics, as they street-fought the Klan. (I'm part-Irish, and was raised Catholic.)

But that didn't stop the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from branding me as a detestable Klansman.

They didn't want to hear the truth. The office ruled that my "repeatedly reading the book . . . constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers."

A friend reacted to the finding with, "That's impossible!" He's right. You can't commit racial harassment by reading an anti-Klan history....

But the $106,000-a-year affirmative-action officer who declared me guilty of "racial harassment" never spoke to me or examined the book. My own union - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - sent an obtuse shop steward to stifle my freedom to read. He told me, "You could be fired," that reading the book was "like bringing pornography to work."

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Where is the Windfall Profits Tax on Farmers?

This week, we have been given a chance to see a real contrast.  Two consumer staples, gasoline and food, have both seen their prices go up substantially over the last several months.  Both price spikes have been due to a combination of market forces (particularly increasing wealth in Asia) and US government policy that has the effect of restricting supply.

However, the political response from Congress has been completely different.  In the very same week that Democrats in Congress have introduced bills to punish oil companies for high prices with windfall profits taxes, they have passed a farm bill that rewards farmers who are already getting record high prices with increased price supports and direct subsidies.  This despite the fact that on a percentage basis, the increase in crop prices has been far larger than the recent increase in gas prices.  The contrast in approaches to two industries in very similar situations couldn't be more stark.

The only reason I can come up with is votes:  There are a lot more farmers and people who feel themselves dependent on the agricultural industry than there are oil workers.  The oil industry is incredibly efficient on a revenue per employee basis, and I guess that comes back to haunt them.  There is no oil industry equivalent of the Iowa Caucuses to cause politicians to fall to the ground groveling and shoveling out taxpayer money to buy votes.

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Inventory Theory

Inventory theory says that the amount of total inventory that needs to be held to satisfy demand is proportional to the number of inventory stocking points.  The most efficient (from purely an inventory size standpoint- there are other efficiency issues that mitigate against this) is one big single shared inventory.  The least efficient is every individual holding his/her own inventory.  Glen Reynolds points to this effect in food:

I SAW A FEATURE BY TONY CAVUTO last night on food stockpiling, in which one of his correspondents explained how he'd spent $1500 at Costco stocking up against shortages. You know, if you have stories like this on TV regularly, you'll get food shortages at stores even if there's no actual shortage in supply, because today's just-in-time inventory practices mean that there's no real slack for sudden increases in demand. The empty shelves will then promote panic and more stockpiling, setting the stage for the equivalent of a bank-run on grocery stores even if there's no actual reason.

The exact same thing happened in the early 1970s with gasoline**.  Imagine that there are 100 million cars, and each fills up when the tank is 1/4 full.  On average, then, every tank is 5/8 full.  If tanks are all 16 gallons, then there are a billion gallons of gas in people's personal gasoline "inventory."  Now imagine due to some perceived crisis everyone changes their policy and fills up when the tank is only half empty.  Then, on average, every tank is 3/4 full, giving a total inventory of 1.2 billion gallons.  If this panic occurs over a period of a few days, suddenly there is an incremental demand, above and beyond normal demand, of 200 million gallons to expand personal inventories.  That as much as 30,000 tanker truck loads of extra demand at retail in a few days.  When stations run out, and people change their policy to fill up at 3/4 (as many did in those times, in panic) then that causes another 200 million gallons to disappear into personal inventories.  Logistics systems are not built to handle these demands.

**Postscript:
By the way, don't let the US government off the hook.  In the wake of the 1972 oil crisis, the main Congressional "contribution" was to pass a law that mandated oil companies deliver gasoline to each geographic area (probably by county, but I am not sure) in the same proportion as they did in the previous year.  A sort of directive 10-289 for gas distribution.  Well, we all know that things change, and among the biggest changes was the fact that with uncertain supplies and higher prices, a lot fewer people were driving on highways.  Because of Congress's action, rural interstate gas stations were swimming in gas, and the cities were out.  In a cruel but totally predictable twist, a number of the Congressmen who voted for this law later demagogued against oil companies for their poor distribution of gasoline that summer. 

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

All Your Law Are Belong to Us

If you need any further evidence that politicians consider themselves our masters rather than public servants, read this from Cory Doctorow:

The State of Oregon is sending out cease and desist letters to sites like Justia and Public.Resource.Org that have been posting copies of Oregon laws, known as the Oregon Revised Statutes.

We've sent Oregon back two letters. The first reviews the law and explains to the Legislative Counsel why their assertion of copyright over the state statutes is particularly weak, from both a common law perspective and from their own enabling legislation....

Particularly galling is the fact that Thomson West has also made a copy of these statutes and has done so without a commercial license, but the Legislative Counsel explicitly told Tim Stanley of Justia that they weren't going to send cease and desist letters to West. Evidently, it is much easier to pick on the little guys.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse -- but we will only tell you what we want you to know.  How anyone can consider the text of public laws not to be in the public domain is amazing to me.

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The San Francisco Sweatshop

Several companies have been discovered to have benefited from what is in effect slave labor in certain countries.  I have never had a problem with folks in poor countries freely opting to take jobs at factories for less money than our privileged middle class attitudes think to be "fair."  But there have been examples of governments using their coercive power in a cozy relationship with certain companies, forcing people to provide their labor to companies for wages below what they would freely accept.   It is an obscene form of modern slavery.

Today's example, though, does not come from Myanmar or China, but from San Francisco, California, USA, where the government is forcing its citizens to work for free to benefit itself and a few favored corporations to produce products for export.

The resale of recycled materials is apparently big business for a few government contractors:

“When we look at garbage, we don’t see garbage, O.K.?” said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems, the parent company of Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling Company, the main garbage collectors in the city. “We see food, we see paper, we see metal, we see glass.”...

Jared Blumenfeld, the director of the city’s environmental programs, addressed one of the main reasons the city keeps up the pressure to recycle. “The No. 1 export for the West Coast of the United States is scrap paper,” Mr. Blumenfeld said, explaining that the paper is sent to China and returns as packaging that holds the sneakers, electronics and toys sold in big-box stores.

This "No. 1 export product" is wholly a product of major government subsidies.  Reading the article, you get a sense for the enormous amount of extra capital and operating expenses the city pours into the recycling program.  Here is just one example:

San Francisco can charge more for its scrap paper, he said, because of its low levels of glass contamination. That is because about 15 percent of the city’s 1,200 garbage trucks have two compartments, one for recyclables. That side has a compactor that can compress mixed loads of paper, cans and bottles without breaking the bottles. (These specially designed trucks, which run on biodiesel, cost about $300,000 apiece, at least $25,000 more than a standard truck, said Benny Anselmo, who manages the fleet for Norcal.)

Anyone really think they are making enough extra money on scrap paper to cover this (at least) $4.5 million incremental investment  ($25k x 15% x 1200)?   Suspiciously absent from the article is any mention of costs or budgets.  City recycling guys have given up trying to defend recycling on the basis of it being cheaper than just burying the material.  The city is subsidizing this material a lot.

But it's not enough.  Even with these enormous subsidies, the city is not producing as much recycled materials to meet its goals.  So it is going to make its citizenry provide it more labor.  For free.

...the city wants more.

So Mr. Newsom will soon be sending the city’s Board of Supervisors a proposal that would make the recycling of cans, bottles, paper, yard waste and food scraps mandatory instead of voluntary, on the pain of having garbage pickups suspended.

The city is going to coerce every single resident to labor for them each week, just so San Francisco and Norcal Waste Systems can have more scrap paper for export.  This is a labor tax of immense proportions.  I know, whenever I make this point about recycling, everyone wants to poo-poo it.  "Oh, its not much time, really."  Really?  Lets use the following numbers:  Five minutes per day of labor.  One million residents.  $20 per hour labor value (low in San Francisco).  That is $608 million if forced labor.  I'm not sure even Nike has been accused of using this much forced labor.

Anticipated Rejoinder: Yeah, I know, the response will be "It's not for the exports, it's to save the environment."  OK, here is my counter:

  1. Nowhere in the article does it really say how this program, or going from 70 to 75% recycling, is specifically going to help the environment.  I took the article at its face value, where it justifies the program on the basis of exports and hitting an arbitrary numerical target and beating out San Jose.  I am tired of unthinking acceptance of recycling as a net benefit.  Every study has shown that aluminum recycling creates a net energy benefit, but every other material represents a net loss.  It makes us feel good, though, I guess.
  2. Should proponents support the direct subsidy by government and the labor tax, there is still some burden to show that this is the best possible environmental use of 30 million San Francisco man-hours of coerced labor in the course of a year.
  3. For those really worked up about CO2, explain to me why we shouldn't bury every scrap of waste paper as a carbon sink.
  4. The last time I visited, San Francisco was one of the grubbier US cities I have seen of late, with trash everywhere on the streets and sidewalks.  It may just have been a bad data point, but are residents really happy the city trash department focusing on scrap paper pricing yield rather than picking up the trash?
  5. I class battery and motor oil recycling programs differently.  These substances have unique disposal needs and high costs of incorrect disposal.

Posted on May 8, 2008 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Just When You Thought the DMV Couldn't Get Any Worse

Arizona required emissions inspections of vehicles, but only for vehicles in the cities of Phoenix or Tucson.  So, as you can imagine, they only have testing stations in Phoenix and Tucson.

Our company is headquartered in Phoenix.  That is our legal address and the address on all our titles and registrations and licenses and such.  Because all of our vehicle registrations show the company headquartered in Phoenix, then the state of Arizona treats all our trucks as being located in Phoenix.  As a result, we are required to get emissions tests each year on about 20 vehicles.

But wait.  None of our vehicles are actually in Phoenix.  In fact, none have ever even crossed into this county.  They are all in places like Flagstaff and Sedona and Payson that have no emissions requirements, and therefore, no testing locations.  As a result, I am apparently required to, once a year, have all of our trucks driven to Phoenix for an emissions test that they are not actually required to have based on where they operate.  In additions to the cost of the test itself, and any repairs mandated by the test, it costs us 400 miles x $0.55 per mile gas and depreciation plus 8 hours x $12 hour labor for the driver or $316 per vehicle to get them to the test site and back.  A sort of annual pilgrimage to worship at the alter of mindless bureaucracy.

Recognize that none of this was obvious to me at 8AM this morning.  I spent my entire morning not worrying about my 500 employees and not improving productivity and not pursuing some projects we are considering for expanded customer services, but trying to figure this situation out.  All because some state legislators didn't realize that maybe corporate vehicle fleets are not necessarily registered in the location in which they are used.

I still think there must be a legal way to show my vehicle domiciled at one physical address but have the mailing address be my corporate office in Phoenix.  But if there is, I have not found anyone who will admit it.

Posted on May 8, 2008 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

A Thought on Cellulosic Ethanol

I am exhausted by people making policy suggestions by looking at small parts of complex inter-related systems in isolation.  One such example is the recent response of some ethanol mandate defenders to recent charges that corn-based ethanol is net harmful to the environment and its mandated and subsidized use is driving up world food prices.

The response by some (certainly not in the corn lobby, of course) has been that our problems would all be solved if we switched to cellulosic ethanol, which is generally made from non-food plants.  Supporters argue that this eliminated the food for fuel problem.

Huh?  Sure, in the narrowest possible sense, I guess, since we are no longer using food crops but rather grasses and such to make ethanol.  But at any reasonably holistic level of analysis, this is simply absurd.  Food prices rise not because food is converted to ethanol per se, but because the amount of grains going into the food supply decreases.  The issue is the use of farmer's time and resources and the use of prime cropland to grow plants for fuel rather than food for consumption.  The actual crop used to make the fuel, whether corn or switchgrass, does not matter to food prices -- it is the removal of farmers and cropland from food production that matters.  The only way cellulosic ethanol is likely to improve food prices in substitution for corn is by being more efficient per acre in fuel yields than corn  (which may turn out to be the case, but has not yet been proven in this country).  But even so, incremental improvements in yield don't help much, because we are talking about enormous (40-50% or more) amounts of US cropland that would have to be dedicated to fuel, whatever the plant technology, to meet the current ethanol mandates.  And remember, the net effect on fossil fuels may still be zero no matter how much land is dedicated, since no one has demonstrated large scale ethanol operations in the US that don't use more fuel to produce the ethanol than they produce. 

Postscript:  Related to this topic of thinking about economic systems narrowly, Lubos Motl discusses the supposed positive green impact on the economy in light of the open window fallacy.

Posted on May 8, 2008 at 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (28)

These Are Trained Professionals: Don't Try This In Your Own Home

Three Duke professors, two of whom were members of the infamous group of 88 who advocated a presumption of guilt for the lacrosse players in the Duke non-rape case, have written their own self-serving version of history in an "academic" magazine.  The funniest part is where they claim that only trained experts like themselves are qualified to discuss any subject once the race card has been played:

“the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident — scholars of African American and women’s studies. Instead, administrators, like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case. Some faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race and gender) without being legitimate participants in it.”

Beyond the hilarity of such a claim on its face, how does such a self-serving discussion meet the editorial standards of any academic publication?  For though they claim to have "professional expertise,"  all they really accomplish is to reinforce my impression that the social sciences in general, and racial/gender studies departments in particular, have the lowest academic standards of any group on modern campuses.  KC Johnson goes on to sample some of the outright mistakes, outrageous (and unproven) claims, and general lack of sourcing and footnoting that would likely have gotten them laughed out of most any university department with actual standards.  As I wrote about the Ward Churchill affair:

And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings. I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 11:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

What is it With the NY Times?

As a libertarian, I don't really have a horse in the race, but what is it with the NY Times editorial page?  Apparently, the right doesn't like the conservative writers, and Kevin Drum makes it clear that the left can be embarrassed by the liberal writers there:

I generally try not to read Maureen Dowd's columns because, you know, they just don't pay me enough for that kind of hazard duty. But today's column about Hillary Clinton was a train wreck of epic proportions. I couldn't avert my eyes. Here's the final sentence:

As she makes a last frenzied and likely futile attempt to crush the butterfly [i.e., Barack Obama], it's as though she's crushing the remnants of her own girlish innocence.

This would be embarrassing coming from a 12-year-old. Shouldn't Dowd have an obscure blog, not a biweekly column in the greatest newspaper in the world?

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Victims?

Sorry, no big idea in this post.  I just thought that this definition of "victim" was kindof stretching the term a bit:

Authorities in Yavapai County say they're looking for additional victims of a nude hiker who allegedly told women he encountered that he was "getting close to nature."

Yavapai County Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn says deputies were called to a trail in Sedona on April 28 by two women who had been confronted by the nude man. The man offered to take pictures of the women.

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Freedom from Criticism

I have argued many times on this page that there is a dangerous new rights theory gaining traction in today's college campuses.  That theory holds that there exists a freedom (mostly for people in "protected" groups -- women, minorities, etc) from being offended or even being criticized, and that this trumps free speech. 

For years I have supported the legality of what is called hate speech -- not because I agreed with it, but because I thought its expression, no matter how contemptible, should be legal.  Free speech should have no content tests.  I also argued that there was a slippery slope.  If making racist remarks is illegal today, perhaps just criticizing a woman or an African American might be illegal tomorrow.

Enter Priya Venkatesan, former English teacher at Dartmouth.  Ms. Venkatesan was hired by Dartmouth to teach all kinds of odd (but always trendy) socialist eco-feminist babble.  Such courses seem to be a staple of colleges today.  I remember a number of such professors at Princeton, but it was no big deal as long as the course were clearly labeled and one could avoid them.  After all, if people really were attracted to such drivel, it just left more spots open for the rest of us in classes that actually prepared us for the real world. 

The problems began, though, when Ms. Venkatesan's students refused to blindly agree with her  (apparently, they did not attend the University of Delaware indoctrination course that explained why you are not allowed to criticize anyone but white males).

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to "problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways." Ms. Venkatesan, who is of South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by racism, though it is unclear why.

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms. Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about "intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation.

Litigation, exposure of the names behind anonymous course evaluations, and email threats from Ms. Venkatesan follow.  More from Lubos Motl.

Postscript:  By the way, it is just astounding to me that anyone with an over-room-temperature IQ could passionately believe that technological progress is bad for women.  One might argue that way society is organized still under-utilizes women and/or puts artificial roadblocks up to a woman's progress, but get some perspective!

Pre-modern life for women was horrible.  Because of the biological complexities of child-rearing alone, they died young far more often than men and their physical vulnerability caused them to be marginalized in virtually every society of every culture of the world until at least 1750 and really until 1900.  The whole women's movement is built on a platform of technology that only begins with the pill and encompasses a thousand things from automobiles to computers that reduce the importance of size and physical strength in getting ahead in the world. 

Posted on May 6, 2008 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Question about Energy "Subsidies"

Kevin Drum and Alex Knapp write that there appears to be $20-$50 billion in federal energy subsidies each year going to the oil industry, and that this should be a target for elimination before any windfall profits tax.  I wrote in the comments:

I agree 100%.  Let's cut all the subsidies.

However, before you get too excited, my guess is that most of the money marked as "oil company subsidies" really in fact goes to non-oil projects like alternative energy. In the same way that a huge portion of federal "highway" funds don't go to highways but to silly politically correct failing transit projects, my guess is that, similarly, "oil industry" subsidies go for a lot of silly alternative energy projects.

I personally don't care where it goes. I am all for eliminating all of this subsidy mess, equally, whether it's for oil exploration or energy-from-donkey-poop or for CEO salary enhancement. But recognize before you make this the liberal rallying cry, much of this subsidy money may well be going to liberal pet projects.

Anyone have any better idea where this money goes that they are referring to?

Posted on May 5, 2008 at 01:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (34)

Our Fault? Who, Us?

This is funny, in a depressing sort of way:

Twenty-four Republican senators, including presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency suggesting it waive, or restructure, rules that require a five-fold increase in ethanol production over the next 15 years.

They make it sound like some weird EPA rule-making, but in fact the Senate, of which these folks are members, voted these provisions into law just 20 weeks ago.  Now, this is not a totally uncommon practice by lawmakers on the losing side of an issue to go to the administration to prevent enforcement.  And, in fact, I hope they are succesful.  But when the vote was taken 143 days ago, only 11 Republican Senators opposed the measure and one was a no-show for the vote (McCain).  So half of these 24 have buyer's remorse for legislation they voted for and on which the ink is barely dry. 

I have written on this enough, but ethanol makes no sense either as energy policy (it takes more energy to produce from corn than it provides) or as environmental policy (it does not reduce CO2 and causes ancillary environmental damage in terms of land and water use).  But Iowa is the first primary, and for some reason politicians just can't break the habit of pandering to Midwest farmers:

Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. analyst Kevin Book argued in a recent note to clients that Congress will not “turn on the corn belt” because of the significant number of votes held by ethanol-producing states.

Posted on May 5, 2008 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

We Are All Terrorists Now

In the future, we may or may not each get our 15 minutes of fame, but it appears will we all be on the terrorist watch list.  According to Kevin Drum, the GAO reported 755,000 records in the the terrorist watch list.  Drum helpfully graphs the growth of the list and extrapolates to 2008:
Blog_gao_no_fly

I had a fleeting warm fuzzy feeling, thinking "well, at least the GAO is on their case."  But in fact, they are not.  Here is the summary paragraph from the report:

GAO recommends several actions to promote a comprehensive and coordinated approach to terrorist-related screening. Among them are actions to monitor and respond to vulnerabilities and to establish up-to-date guidelines, strategies, and plans to facilitate expanded and enhanced use of the list.

The departments that provided comments on the report generally agreed with GAO’s findings and recommendations.

No discussion about the size of the list - the sole recommendation is around using the list in more places for more purposes.  The report, while discussing a number of times the number of people detained for matching the list, does not even mention the false positive issue.  This is just criminally stupid, and these numbers underestimate the true cost.  First, there is no way that 755,000 or even 75,000 people traveling in this country are terrorist threats, so the list is dominated by false positives.  But in addition, if every name on the list is shared, on average, by 10** people who have no relation to the suspect but the name, then the results are insane.  Five or ten thousand (at most) truly dangerous people are sharing the list with 10 million innocents.  That's a false positive rate over 99.9%.

**UPDATE: This seems conservative.  This site tells me that Warren Meyer, not a particularly common name, is shared by 80 people in the US.

HowManyOfMe.com
Logo There are
80
people with my name
in the U.S.A.
How many have your name?

Posted on May 5, 2008 at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

California Energy Leadership: Leading the Race to the Bottom

California is apparently trumpeting its "leadership in energy."  The centerpiece of its claims is its low per capita electricity use.  Arnold is making the claim now, but Kevin Drum was pushing this a while back when he said:

Anyway, it's a good article, and goes to show the kinds of things we could be doing nationwide if conservative politicians could put their Chicken Little campaign contributors on hold for a few minutes and take a look at how it's possible to cut energy use dramatically — and reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers — without ruining the economy. The energy industry might not like the idea, but the rest of us would.

Max Schulz of the Manhattan Institute is not impressed:

California's proud claim to have kept per-capita energy consumption flat while growing its economy is less impressive than it seems. The state has some of the highest energy prices in the country – nearly twice the national average – largely because of regulations and government mandates to use expensive renewable sources of power. As a result, heavy manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries have been fleeing the Golden State in droves.

Neither am I.  I addressed this issue a while back in response to Drum's post, but since the meme is going around again, I will excerpt from that old post.

The consumption data is from here. You can see that there are three components that matter - residential, commercial, and industrial.  Residential and commercial electricity consumption may or may not be fairly apples to apples comparable between states (more in a minute).  Industrial consumption, however, will not be comparable, since the mix of industries will change radically state by state.....

Take two of the higher states on the list.  Wyoming, at the top of the per capita consumption list, has industrial electricity consumption as a whopping 58% of total state consumption.  KY, also near the top, has industrial consumption at 50% of total demand.  The US average is industrial consumption at 29% of total demand.  CA, NY, and NJ, all near the bottom of the list in terms of per capital demand, have industrial use as 20.6%, 15.1%, and 16% respectively.  So rather than try to correlate electricity consumption to local energy regulations, it is clear that the per capita consumption numbers by state are a much better indicator of the presence of heavy industry. In other words, the graph Drum shows is actually a better illustration of the success of CA not in necessarily becoming more efficient, but in exporting its pollution to other states.  No one in their right mind would even attempt to build a heavy industrial plant in CA in the last 30 years.  The graph is driven much more by the growth of industrial electricity use outside CA relative to CA.

Now take the residential numbers.  Lets look again at the states at the top of the per capita list:  Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas.  Can anyone tell me what these states have in common?  They are hot and humid.  Yes, California has its hot spots, but it has its mild spots too  (also, California hot spots are dry, so they can use more energy efficient evaporative cooling, something that does not work in the deep south).  These southern states are hot all over in the summer.  So its reasonable to assume that maybe, just maybe, some of these hot states have higher residential per capita consumption because of air conditioning load?  In fact, if one recast this list as residential use per capita, you would see a direct correlation to summer air conditioning loads.   This table of cooling degree days weighted for population location is a really good proxy for how much air conditioning is needed by state.  (Explanation of cooling degree days). You can see that states like Alabama and Texas have two to four times the number of cooling degree days than California, which should directly correlate to about that much more per capita air conditioning (and thus electricity) use....

OK, now I have saved the most obvious fisking for last.  Because even when you correct for these numbers, California is pretty efficient vs. the average on electricity consumption.  Drum attributes this, without evidence, to government action.  The NY Times basically does the same, positing in effect that CA has more energy laws than any other state and it has the lowest consumption so therefore they must be correlated.  But of course, correlation is not equal to causation. Could there be another effect out there?

Well, here are the eight states in the data set above that the California CEC shows as having the lowest per capita electricity use: CA, RI, NY, HI, NH, AK, VT, MA.  All right, now here are the eight states from the same data set that have the highest electricity prices:  CA, RI, NY, HI, NH, AK, VT, MA.  Woah!  It's the exact same eight states!  The 8 states with the highest prices are the eight states with the lowest per capita consumption. Unbelievable.  No way that could have an effect, huh?  It must be all those green building codes in CA.  I suspect Drum is sort of right, just not in the way he means.  Stupid regulation in each state drives up prices, which in turn provides incentives for lower demand.  It achieves the goal, I guess, but very inefficiently.  A straight tax would be much more efficient.

Posted on May 5, 2008 at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Subsidizing Real Estate Developers Ruled to be Clearly in the Public Interest

The city of Phoenix's $97 million subsidy for the developers of a new Phoenix shopping mall has been ruled by a local judge as being "'undoubtedly' in the public interest."  Even weirder, the developers lawyers are so mad at having their largess questioned that they are demanding the Goldwater Institute pay them $600,000 in attorneys fees as punishment for even questioning whether funding private mall parking lots that would have been built anyway is really in the public interest.

The subsidy, which I described in more detail here, provides $97 million for the construction of a parking garage at a new mall in North Phoenix, with the only condition being that the mall owners provide free parking in the garage to the public.  I can think of only three reasons this would be in the public interest:

1.  Without the subsidy, the mall might not provide enough parking
2.  Without the subsidy, the mall might charge for parking
3.  The parking garage could serve other surrounding businesses or homes within walking distance

Now, some of you on the coasts may be confused about this, so let me give you one other piece of background.  There are hundreds of shopping malls in the Phoenix area, from local strip malls to huge mega-malls of the type in this case.  At least 99.9% of the parking at all of these malls has been paid for with private funds.   Every one of these has plenty of parking.  This might not be the case in Boston, where land costs are high, but here in Phoenix, land is relatively cheap and malls are plentiful -- If I can't find a parking space, I would just go to a different place to shop.

Further, do you know the total number of these spaces at mall in Phoenix that are not free?  Zero.  OK, there may be one mall downtown that charges money to park, but for any mall in the area in which this one is being constructed, it would be insane to charge to park.  There are just too many competitor malls with free parking.

Finally, as to #3, look at the satellite view here.  Enough said. 

So the city paid $97 million in return for nothing of value, or at least nothing of value that the mall owners would not have provided on their own out of their own self-interest.  The only thing that I can identify the $97 million bought was possibly influencing the decision of one store (Nordstrom's) to locate in this particular development rather than 1 mile away, over the city line in another development planned in the City of Scottsdale.

About the numbers:   I really can't get away without taking on this statement in the same article:

According to its developers, CityNorth is expected to generate $1.9 billion in annual economic activity

In 2005, the metro Phoenix area had a GDP of $160 billion dollar.  The retail component of this is about $12 billion.  So this one mall / real estate project in one small part of Phoenix, one of hundreds just like it all over town, will increase our city's GDP by over 1% and in particular increase the city's retail output by 16%.  Sure.  I really wish our local paper would be just a tiny bit more credulous about printing these numbers from promoter's press releases.

Posted on May 5, 2008 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Profit Motive Rocks

This post from TJIC, which is really about something entirely different, mentions that the price of cocaine has been dropping sharply over the last 10 years.  This is something I have heard police officials lament as well.

Does the profit motive rock or what?  The largest and most powerful government in the world stations armed men and ships around the country.  It has a legal system in place with huge penalties that has of late been nearly entirely dedicated to drug enforcement.  The US has even subverted 200 year old Constitutional restrictions on searches and property seizures (the Patriot Act is mostly used for drug, not terrorism, actions).  All to stop the importation of certain valuable substances.  And even so, the human mind is powerful enough to subvert all of these restrictions and bring in so much supply that the price continues to drop.

Al Gore believes that alternative energy efforts in the US are being subverted by the oil companies:

Apparently, according to Gore, the oil companies drive up prices reducing supply and then depress them in a telling pattern. As soon as the political will swells to a light boil, the companies reduce prices/increase supply.

Really?  Independent drug traders are able to subvert a million government officials with guns to keep cocaine prices low, but Exxon, with a 5% market share (at most) in oil, is able to hold the line on oil supply?

Sure.  In 1972 and 1978 there were a series of oil price shocks (to real levels about where they are today) that convinced everyone that oil prices would keep going up and up and that oil would run out within a few decades.  Of course, in about 1984 oil prices crashed, and stayed down for almost 20 years.  Depending on how you date it, it took oil supply development between 6 and 12 years after the price signal to flood the world with oil, and that was in an environment with price controls and windfall profit taxes that reduced development incentives. 

Right now, we are about 5 years in to the current oil price spike.  Go long at your own risk.

More on supply and demand vs. price manipulation in oil here.  More on Al Gore, including a fisking of his solar plan, here.

Update: Of course, the Democrats in Congress are doing everything possible to keep oil prices up.  If I wanted to ensure high oil prices, I would 1.  Kill incentives to increase supply, perhaps with a "windfall" profits tax and 2.  Put the most promising potential new exploration areas off-limits to new development.  Congressional scorecard:  #2 is in place, and both Obama and Hillary and Pelosi are proposing #1.

Update #2:   Another thought on Gore's statement:  The boom-bust patterns in oil are characteristic of nearly every other commodity out there, which therefore presupposes that if oil prices are the result of manipulation, then every other commodity must be as well since their prices demonstrate the same patterns.  We see these patterns in commodities that politicians have never even heard of and in which they have never thought to exercise their "political will."  (political will in this context defined as use of government force against a segment of the populace).

A reasonable person might suppose that the surge in prices followed by a drop a number of years later is better explained by the time delay in increasing oil production after oil prices spike. In many ways, Al's theory is simply delusional.  If your friend started trying to tell you, in all seriousness, that every action Microsoft takes is actually aimed at thwarting him personally, you would think him insane.  But this is effectively Gore's argument, showing the immensity of the politician's ego.  Oil prices move not because of supply and demand, but because of us politicians.  Every tick up and down is carefully managed to thwart us brave Congressmen!

When a politician describes price signals as mainly influencing political actions, rather than the actions of free producers and consumers, they are probably a socialist.

Posted on May 4, 2008 at 10:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

McCain and the Suppresion of Dissent

Anyone who still believes that campaign finance "reform" is really about cleaning up politics rather than protecting incumbents and government entities from challenge and dissent need to read George Will's column this week.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of association, "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." The exercise of this right often annoys governments, and the Parker Six did not know that Colorado's government, perhaps to discourage annoyances, stipulates that when two or more people associate to advocate a political position, and spend more than $200 in doing so, they become an "issue committee."

As such, they probably should hire a lawyer because even Colorado's secretary of state says the requirements imposed on issue committees are "often complex and unclear." Committees must register with the government; they must fund their activities from a bank account opened solely for that purpose; they must report to the government the names and addresses of all persons who contribute more than $20; they must also report the employers of plutocrats who contribute more than $100; they must report non-cash contributions such as lemons used for lemonade, and marker pens and wooden dowels for yard signs.

McCain-Feingold makes it impossible for me to vote for McCain.  Of course, other such issues make it impossible for me to vote for the other two yahoos either.  Siqh.

Posted on May 1, 2008 at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Will Hillary Sue the US Congress?

Hillary apparently wants to sue OPEC for not producing enough oil. If this idea had come in via the constituent mail, Hillary's staffers would probably have laughed themselves silly, but it is an election year, and no bottom has been found below which candidates are unable to keep a straight face while uttering what they know to be nonsense.

But should Hillary be suing OPEC, or the US?  Because if you ranked the world's countries on those that are doing the least to develop the most promising potential oil deposits, the US would be right at the top of that list.  By Hillary's logic, Western Europe and Japan should be suing us.

Nozone

Posted on May 1, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Know Your Enemy

I want to thank Tom Nelson for the pointer, because I usually don't hang out much at the Socialist Unity site.  But I thought that this post was telling.

While it may be urgent that we create a red green alliance to strengthen radical social action to stop climate change, our collective problem is how are we going to do that?

The Climate Change Social Change Conference held in Sydney Australia during April tried to tackle that challenge.This was a bold attempt to bring together left and green activists in order to locate a shared perspective around which we could begin more consciously organize....

Foster and Perez urged the conference’s participants to consider socialism as the only viable solution to the climate emergency. This was a persistent theme discussed throughout the three day event as speakers were drawn from a range of environment movements and organisations (such as the Australian Greens and Friends of the Earth) as well as academic specialists — who preferred solution packages which were not consciously committed to a socialist transformation of society..

Posted on May 1, 2008 at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)