Archive for October 2004

Wasting Time on a Friday

Dave Berry has lots of good ways to waste your remaining hours in the office today.

Google Desktop Search is Awsome

I have been using Google's beta desktop search for a while. It is awesome. It needs some help organizing results better, but it blows away the crappy function in Windows. Try it here

Plug for My Wife's Purse Business

My wife has started a business designing and making purses. In her first major sales outing, she sold 40 in about 2 hours. Congrats. Check out her funky purses at KateGroves.com
A2002_200

Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 2

This is the second part of a two part post. Part 1, with more general background on my libertarian point of view on the environment, is here.

Because hell is freezing over today, and because the Russions just ratified the Kyoto Treaty, apparently putting it over the top for it to get started, I wanted to talk more specifically about the Global Warming and the Kyoto Treaty.

First, recognize that, whatever one's views are of Global Warming, Kyoto is a flawed treating from the United State's perspective. Leaving out the validity of global warming or the cost-benefit issues (which we will discuss below) the Kyoto treaty is a thoroughly anti-American document, crafted by other countries to put the vast vast majority of the cost on the US.

Why? Well, first, and most obviously, the entire developing world, including China, SE Asia, and India, are exempt. These countries account for 80% of the world's population and the great majority of growth in CO2 emissions over the next few decades, and they are not even included. If you doubt this at all, just look at what the economic recovery in China over the past months has done to oil prices. China's growth in hydrocarbon consumption will skyrocket over the coming years.

The second major flaw is that European nations cleverly crafted the treaty so that among developed nations, it disproportionately affects the US. Rather than freezing emissions at current levels or limiting growth rates, it calls for emissions to be rolled back to 6-8% below 1990 levels. Why 1990? Well, a couple of important things have happened since 1990, including:

a. European (and Japanese) economic growth has stagnated since 1990, while the US economy has grown like crazy. By setting the target date back to 1990, rather than just starting from today, the treaty is effectively trying to roll back the economic growth in the US that other major world economies did not enjoy. This difference in economic growth is a real sore spot for continental Europeans.
b. In 1990, Germany was reunified, and Germany inherited a whole country full of polluting inefficient factories from the old Soviet days. Most of the factories have been closed in the last decade, giving Germany an instant one-time leg up in meeting the treaty targets, but only if the date was set back to 1990, rather than starting today.
c. Since 1990, the British have had a similar effect from the closing of a number of old dirty Midlands coal mines and switching fuels from very dirty coal burned inefficiently to more modern gas and oil furnaces.
d. Since 1990, the Russians have an even greater such effect, given low economic growth and the closure of thousands of atrociously inefficient communist-era industries.

A third flaw is that Kyoto refused to accept increases in CO2 absorption as an offset to CO2 emissions. For example, increasing the amount of forest cover in a country can have the same effect as reducing emissions, since the forests lock up atmospheric carbon. The only logical reason for disallowing this in Kyoto is that it is an area where North America has a real advantage. Contrary to what most people might guess given all the doom and gloom environmental talk about sprawl and deforestation, the acres of forested land in the US has been steadily increasing since the 1920s.

It is flabbergasting that US negotiators could allow us to get so thoroughly hosed in these negotiations. Does anyone really want to roll back the economic gains of the nineties, while giving the rest of the world a free pass? Anyway, as a result of these flaws, and again having little to do with the global warming argument itself, the Senate voted 95-0 in 1997 not to sign or ratify the treaty unless these flaws (which still exist in the treaty) were fixed Note that this vote included now-candidate John Kerry and previous enviro-candidate Al Gore.

These gross and obvious flaws in Kyoto could let us off the hook from arguing the main point, which is, does global warming justify some sort of international action like Kyoto. So lets assume that Kyoto was all nice and fair and some reasonable basis was arrived at for letting countries share the pain. Should we be doing something?

To see if a treaty like a modified-to-be-fair-Kyoto makes sense to sign and adhere to, one must evaluate at least five questions:

1. Has the world been warming, and is this due to man's activities and specifically CO2(rather than natural cycles)
2. Do increasing CO2 levels lead to global warming in the future
3. Are man-made actions substantially increasing CO2 levels, and what kind of temperature increase might this translate into
4. How harmful will the projected temperature increases be
5. How much harm will CO2 limitations create and how do these stack up against the harms of global warming.

Continue reading ‘Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 2’ »

Cartoon Laws of Physics

This is something very familiar to our friend the coyote. Check out Cartoon Laws of Physics. Here's an example:

Cartoon Law I
Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.

Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over.

Gravity

Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 1

As a libertarian and strong believer of individual rights and free markets, I often get "accosted" by folks saying that I must want the environment just to go to hell. Actually, no. Beyond my personal enjoyment of the outdoors, having "the environment go to hell" would be a disaster for my business, which depends on outdoor recreation.

This confusion about libertarianism and the environment falls in the category of what I call being pro-property-rights-and-markets and being pro-business. Many politicians, particularly traditional conservatives, who say they are the former and are in fact the latter. "Pro-business" politicians often support many things (subsidies, using eminent domain to help developers, building publicly funded stadiums) that bear little resemblance to libertarianism or truly free markets. This confusion also stems from differences in how much people trust individual action and incentives rather than command and control government programs. The Commons is a good site dedicated to market solutions to environmental issues, as is the environment section at Cato Institute. Virginia Postrel frequantly writes on the more general topic, beyond just the environment, of bottom up systems driven by individual choices vs. top down command and control.

In fact, environmental laws are as critical to a nation with strong property rights as is contract law. Why? Imagine a world without any environmental legislation but with strong property rights. What happens when the first molecule of smoke from my iron furnace or from my farm tractor crosses over on to your land. I have violated your property rights, have I not, by sending unwanted substances onto your land, into your water, or into your airspace. To stop me, you might sue me. And so might the next guy downwind, etc. We would end up in an economic gridlock with everyone slapping injunctions on each other. Since economic activity is almost impossible without impacting surrounding property owners, at least in small ways, we need a framework for setting out maximums for this impact - e.g., environmental legislation.

But I do disagree with a lot of environmentalists today. The conflict between free market supporters and environmentalists usually come in four flavors:

1. Disagreement over standards. The discussion above implies that environmental laws create a framework for setting out the maximum impact one property owner can have on others. But what is that maximum? Rational people can disagree, and do. This is a normal part of the political process and won't go away, as different people value different things. I generally don't have any problem with people who disagree with me on these standards, except perhaps for folks that want to argue for "zero" -- these people usually have anti-technology and anti-capitalism goals that go way beyond concern for the environment.

2. Disagreement over methods. Consistent with the framework I presented above, I believe that the government should as much as possible set overall emission standards, and allow individuals to make choices as to how those standards are reached. A good example of this are emissions trading schemes. Statists are uncomfortable with these approaches, and prefer to micro-manage compliance, down to the government making detailed choices about technologies used.

3. Use of One's Own Property. By the reasoning for environmental regulation above, the regulation is to limit the impact of one property owner on others. But the flip side is that property owners should be able to do whatever they damn well please with their own property if it does not affect others. Environmentalists will disagree with this vociferously. I have had literally twenty different people give me the exact same response to this: "If you let people do whatever they want, they would all trash their own land and dump toxic waste all over it". Huh? I swear I get this response constantly and it makes no sense. Why would they do this? We have no regulations that people should keep their house looking nice and shouldn't trash it, but most people keep their house up anyway. Why? Because it is in their own obvious self-interest to do so. If other people don't want you building on a piece of property or want it saved for some specific use (or non-use), then they should buy it. That's why I support the Nature Conservancy -- I personally value having some wide open pristine lands and preserving some habitats, but unlike others, I don't expect other people to pay for my wishes, usually in the form of some luckless landholder who suddenly can't use his property the way he wants. Through the Nature Conservancy, private donors who value having certain lands set aside from development pay to achieve that goal privately. This is similar to environmental groups buying up emisions credits. If all the money spent on whining about and lobbying over the Brazilian rainforest had instead been spent buying tracts of it, it would probably be a big park by now.

4. Priority of Man. This is the up and comer in the world of environmentalism. In its extreme form, proponents argue that animals have the same rights as man (though in practice it seems it is just the cute animals like dolphins and harp seals that get the attention). I don't buy it. While there is no defensible reason to allow cruelty when it can easily be avoided, taking the step to put animals on the same level as man, if followed to its logical extreme, will not bring animals up to our level (how could they?) but will knock man back down to the level of animals (see Rush song here).

In my second post on this topic, I will move on to a more specific topic, with a brief roundup on Global Warming and the Kyoto treaty.

Scottish Enlightenment

I posted yesterday about my issues with the current Libertarian party and some thoughts about a return of classical liberalism. A big part of classical liberalism was the so-called Scottish Enlightenment, discussed today at The Knowlege Problem, with links to many other sources.

Let Down by FedEx

Most of the facilities we run are concessions on government lands. To get these concessions usually requires a bidding process, where the government authority evaluates qualifications to run a quality operation as well as the amount of rent (usually as a percentage of sales) "bid" by the concessionaire. Like most government contracting processes, proposals are usually due by a hard deadline (say, 2:00 Tuesday on X date). No proposals are accepted at 2:01 (unlike some arbitrary government regulations, this is actually for a good reason - there is plenty of history of late proposals coming in based on some insider knowledge of the contents of other proposals that have already been opened).

Anyway, we had such a deadline in Florida on Tuesday of this week. Normally, to make a Tuesday deadline, we will ship overnight on Friday, which gives us a buffer day in case of problems. This time, because we only got the RFP last week, we had to work through the weekend and ship Monday.

So we shipped FedEx for 10:AM delivery on Tuesday (paying $155 for 38 pounds, ugghh). And, of course, since this is the one time we had no margin for error, the box ends up sitting in Memphis for a full day, due apparently to excess demand for Florida that day, and arrived a day late and after the deadline. So all the work we did, all went to waste. Bummer (I have cooled down, I was using much worse words than bummer with FedEx this morning).

I learned this lesson once before about 8 years ago. FedEx is NOT for things that absolutely positively have to be there overnight. They are for things that would be best if it were there tomorrow but the world won't end if it is not. In a case like this, where we miss out on a big contract and we could waste hundreds of man-hours of work, I should have gotten on an airplane myself, checked the box as baggage, and taken it to the door. Yes, it would have cost me a few hundred dollars more, but we already had thousands of dollars in time and effort invested in it.

CBS is Pathetic

To this day, CBS and Dan Rather have still not admitted that the documents they used in the Bush National Guard story were forged. Pathetic.

Today we get this, via Drudge.

News of missing explosives in Iraq -- first reported in April 2003 -- was being resurrected for a 60 MINUTES election eve broadcast designed to knock the Bush administration into a crisis mode.

Two obvious questions. What is the public justification (vs. the real one, which is obviously to influence the election) for re-running an 18 month old story and calling it new news? And, how can people keep flogging this story when NBC, who had an embedded reporter on site the day after liberation, continues to report that the stuff was not there when the US arrived?

This is not to let the NY Times off the hook, for beating CBS to the punch on this weak story, but I have built up a particular ire over the years against CBS News. Besides, this is a lame issue - kind of like the museum looting urban legend revisited again. Is this the best October surprise the left has? Maybe Karl Rove has a better one for his side coming up.

It would be interesting to know if Kerry is happy or sad about this. Probably both. So far, the original story is getting more play than NBC's debunking of it, so that must help. However, I saw him on TV Monday and most of the soundbites, at least on CNN, were of him slamming Bush over this story. He can't be happy having the rug pulled out from under him yet again, as happened after the Bush ANG story. Maybe he needs to wait 24 hours after NY Times or CBS stories come out to see if they still hold up before putting his reputation behind them.

Week 7 Football Outsiders is Up

Previously, I explained why I like Football Outsiders here. Their week 7 statistical rankings of teams is here.

A couple of observations. For the first time in recent memory, our hapless Arizona Cardinals crack the top half of the rankings. Woohoo. Arizona is ranked 5th in total defense, and first in rush defense. Good thing, since we can't score to save our lives. Also of note, Miami pulls out of last place, ceding the spot to cap-hangover suffering San Francisco. I can't believe the Cards lost to those guys in the fourth quarter. Yeah, I know what you are thinking - you can't believe anyone really cares about the Cards.

Also, this weeks Tuesday Morning Quarterback is up. Always entertaining.

ACME Featured Product VIII

This series explained, and other past featured products, here. We get many of our featured products here.

Today's feature is just in time for Halloween, the ACME Super Hero suit. The great thing about this product was that the suit not only looked, uh, sortof cool, kindof, but it conferred super powers on the wearer. Unless, of course, the wearer was a coyote.

Super0 Super1

Odd Things that Sometimes Happen When We Promote Someone

Most all of our managers in the company are promoted from within - this means that they started as a "camp host" with us, collecting fees and keeping the park and especially the bathrooms clean. One of the great joys I have found in business is finding someone with the talent and energy that deserves promotion. Many of the people we hire are retired, and a stunning percentage of my employees are over 70 -- I even have a few in their nineties! In several cases we have found folks over 65 who have never had a management job in their working career, or maybe never have worked out of the home before, who have made fabulous managers for us.

However, once in a while, something strange happens. We take a dedicated, customer-focused, friendly and sensitive employee, give them a manager title, and they become a monster. Something about the title, or rather their perception of the title, turns them into der fuhrer, barking orders at everyone, treating customers with disdain, etc. One of the classic lines I have heard quoted back to me intwo or three of these instances is "this is my campground, and I make the rules here". This line is usually stated at about the same time a customer or employee is being treated shabbily.

Of course, it is not their campground. In fact, since we operate facilities on public lands, it is not even the company's campground. In the end, in these two or three cases, the employees have left or were eventually terminated.

In response, we've beefed up our training and tried to better set expectation for managers, but we still have this problem once in a while. I wonder if it is a generational thing, as older employees whose business experience began in the 50's and 60's are channeling an outdated view of leadership. Anyway, it sure is frustrating.

Why I won't vote Libertarian this year

I originally posted this as an update to this post, but I wanted to move it up top.

I am sympathetic to a number of other libertarian writers out there -- I too am disgusted with the fiscal irresponsibility and trade protectionism of the combination of Bush and a Republican Congress, but have little hope that the Kerry alternative would be any better. There is probably a pretty good argument for divided government here, voting for Kerry and hoping that a Republican Congress will oppose everything he asks for, but its a risky strategy.

Many elections in the past, I have voted for the libertarian candidate as a protest vote, and, in some cases, because I even liked the candidate. This year, I think the guy is a total loony. To some extent, I consider my refusal to vote for the libertarian candidate this year as a protest vote to my usual protest vote. Never has there been a better time for libertarians to get their message out and find traction in the electorate, given a choice between a big government Republican and a big government Democrat, and they nominate this guy?

Libertarians' greatest strength - that they like real diversity, not just of skin color, but of outlook and interests and decision-making - is their greatest weakness as a political party. Political parties are brands, and the power of brands is that they bring predictability, they tell people what to expect. The libertarian brand can mean anything and is entirely unpredictable, from small government South Park Republicans to marijuana-legalization-obsessed sixties holdovers to adult film makers to unrepentant moonbat anarchists. If you ever doubt it, go to a Cato Institute donors reception some time. Its fantastic, the range of personalities you get, but it makes consistent political messaging difficult.

What we need in this country is a new "liberal" party, by which I mean a return to the classical liberalism of free markets and small government (also here)

So different in our basic assumptions

I posted here a while back about folks that seemed to be living in a very different universe, whose assumptions about the world were nearly unfathomable to me. This article by John Leo seems to get at this issue pretty well. It helps explain why, though I tend to be skeptical about the war in Iraq, I could so easily get turned off by the anti-war left.

Good Labor Law Site for Employers

Just added George's Employment Blawg to my blogroll. As a small business, the biggest shock has been dealing with employment related issues (working for large corporations, this stuff was all invisible to the average general manager - huge departments of HR people just sortof took care of it).

I like what I have seen of this site, and its got some other useful links in the blog roll. It is written from the perspective of the employer (which is actually unusual for labor law sites - most are run by lawyers who represent workers and are mostly instruction manuals on extracting more money from businesses).

Litigation a Growth Business in Florida

Why am I not surprised to hear this from a Florida attorney.

"Litigation is the No. 1 growth area. It's always recession-proof," said Peter Prieto, executive partner of the Miami office of Holland & Knight, in an interview.

If only our economy was litigation-proof. We operate in Florida because there are a lot of great recreation opportunities there - you can't transport them out of state. I am not sure why anyone else who could move their business out of Florida actually stays there.

Jeb gets a lot of press for being smarter than his brother George W., but George made a lot more progress on tort reform than Jeb has in his state.

courtesy of overlawyered.com

UPDATE#1

The world's whales, porpoises and dolphins have no standing to sue President Bush . Umm, I guess this is good news, though on the other hand what does it say that this even came up before a Circuit court of appeals (the ninth, of course).

UPDATE#2

Fixed link

Failure of Socialized Medicine in Canada

Socialized medicine supporters in the US often talk about Canada's really, really good and affordable care. Except no one can have any, but if they could get any care, I am sure they would love it. Check out this company, Timely Medical Alternatives. Specializes in getting you to the US so you can actually have your operation. Sure must be a mess if there is a niche for this.

And by the way, please don't tell me about lower drug prices in Canada. International markets pay marginal cost for drugs (ie just production cost) and we in the US pay full cost (ie including the development costs of the drug plus all the failures). Expanded programs to import marginal cost drugs from Canada will only mean that Canadian drug prices will go up - ours are not going down to those levels. And, if you pass a law saying somehow that they can't raise their prices in Canada and we can import at those prices, then drug R&D is over. Even if you told the drug companies that they were working for the good of man rather than profits, and dropped all their profits into lower pricing, you wouldn't get more than a 10-20% (depending on the company) price decrease for drugs. Are you really ready to kill all future drug innovations for a 15% discount on the current ones?

UPDATE

The Canadians have now made clear that they will not accept the Kerry plan for mass drug re-importation from Canada. Why? One would think that the socialized medicine supporting politicians in Canada would support Kerry and other socialized medicine supporters in the US. Fellow travelers stick together.

The reason, is, of course, that the Canadians have long ago recognized the truth in what I said above. US massive drug re-importation will just cause drug companies to raise prices in the target countries. Canada likes the below-full-cost pricing they get on drugs, and are opting to let the US keep paying for its drug development.

Carnival of the Vanities is Up

Find the Carnival of the Vanities at the Peoples Republic of Seabrook.

By the way, I think their web site has one of the nicest looking header graphics I have seen on a blog.

French vs. Anglo-American "Imperialism"

For some reason, a portion of our country has adopted France as the standard bearer of "anti-imperialism" (or at least anti-US imperialism). France publicly positions itself similarly, trying to make itself the leader and counterweight to US "Imperialism". I will leave aside for now the argument as to whether the US's recent actions constitute "imperialism". I will instead focus on the French as a role model.

The first thing that struck me was how long the French tried desperately to hold on to their colonial empire. Both the US and Great Britain either liberated or came to an acceptable living arrangement with their major colonies within a few years of the end of WWII. Both seemed to come to terms with the fact that the colonial era was over. The French, in contrast, were still involved in bloody conflicts in Indochina and Algeria to retain their empire through the late 50's and even into the early 60's.

So, I decided to do a little research to understand the relative success of French and Anglo-American colonies. Of course, when judging the success of a former colony, a lot of things come into play, and certainly the freed colony must take a substantial amount of responsibility for its own success and political freedom. However, after a bit of research, it is instructive to see how well prepared for independence Britain, France, and the US left their colonies. Did they leave the country with democratic systems in place and a capable local ruling class, or did they just suck the country dry and try to prevent any locals from gaining any capability.

To make this analysis, I have selected a number of each country's key colonies. Some of the smaller African and island nations have been left out. I also realize that I left off some of the ex-British middle eastern colonies, but I am too tired now to add them back in.

I have used two pieces of data to judge an ex-colony's success. First is GDP per capita, corrected for purchasing power parity, found in the 2003 CIA fact book via World Facts and Figures. The second is the Freedom index prepared by Freedom House.

Continue reading ‘French vs. Anglo-American "Imperialism"’ »

Quick Convention Scorecard

Here is a quick scorecard of the Convenience Store convention today.

Scope: B decent mix of vendors but repetitious in some odd categories

Relevance to me: C- unfortunately, not many vendors of the type I was looking for

Venue: C Las Vegas convention hall, been there, done that. Positive of new Star Trek show next door offset by the fact the monorail was broken and traffic, as usual, sucked.

Food and Bev: A+ Awesome. This is basically 60% a snack food show and everyone had samples. Plus, all the beer manufacturers there in the middle pouring cold ones

Booth Babes: B- Kind of disappointing -- couldn't hold a candle to the consumer electronics or even better, the auto shows. Would have been a C+ but presence of vendor booths for Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler staffed, uh, how you might think they would be staffed, brought up the score.

Other: B+ Got two good autographs, one from Raleigh Fingers (sp?) and one from Ed McCaffery. Skipped on the centerfold and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader autograph lines (which, interestingly enough, were filled with women waiting for autgraphs).

Feet are killing me.

Coyote v. ACME

Two of my blogging interests in one - ACME and litigation. This is a reprint of an article by Ian Frazier years ago in the New Yorker, but it is still funny. The complaint in the case of Wile E. Coyote v. ACME. ACME's response is here.

Blogging in Las Vegas

I am blogging today from Las Vegas, here for the convenience store convention. We run a number of small stores in our campgrounds and marinas, and I am trying to figure out how to make these operations more sophisticated.

I don't know if anyone else feels this way, but I am always a bit self-conscious at a convention. The whole thing is so stereotypical from TV and movies and so predictable from past experience, it somehow becomes kind of a caricature of itself. I always feels like a bit of a schmuck walking around with my little badge and doing that predictable little dance with vendors.

Thank God, though, that I am not working the convention tables as an exhibitor any more. "Have you seen the new model T-1000?" Uggh. And the stodgy companies I worked for never even had booth babes.

McCain-Feingold is a Disaster

The results are in, and they were entirely predictable. McCain-Feingold has been a disaster. Its restrictions have in no way decreased the amount of money being spent in this election. Rather, it has funneled huge amounts of money into negative advertising attacking a person or position (legal) and away from supporting and illuminating the positives of candidates (illegal). It has shifted money from groups with high disclosure requirements (the political parties and candidates) and dumped it into groups with no reporting requirements.

Most troubling, it has created a Federal Bureaucracy around deciding what political speech is legal and what is illegal. Is advertising Fahrenheit 9/11 legal? Is a 60 minutes anti-Bush documentary using forged documents illegal? Is an anti-Kerry documentary by Sinclair illegal? As Jonathon Rauch puts it in Reason:

Now it is official: The United States of America has a federal bureaucracy in charge of deciding who can say what about politicians during campaign season. We can argue, and people do, about whether this state of affairs is good or bad, better or worse than some alternative. What is inarguable is that America now has what amounts to a federal speech code, enforced with jail terms of up to five years.

This is perhaps the worst assault on the first amendment since campus speech codes. Where is the ACLU? Oh yeah, they supported McCain-Feingold.

UPDATE

Another interesting article about the Sinclair situation here.

Disputing Unemployment Claims

As background, state unemployment offices generally give employers a chance to dispute new unemployment claims from ex-employees. In most states, if the employee voluntarily quit or was fired for cause, they are either not eligible or at least the employers experience account is not hit (for each employer, the state keeps a running tally of claims paid to their employees - if the sum is high enough in a given year, the employers rates go up for the next year).

This is all in theory. I don't know what other employer's experiences are, but I almost NEVER win one of these disputes. Most unemployment offices are stacked with people who's bias is always toward the employee. For example, in a recent case, I had documented evidence that an employee was fired for physically attacking a customer! The state unemployment office denied my protest as not sufficient, and to this day I am paying that person's unemployment. Today, I got notice that California had denied my most recent protest. I had sent evidence that an employee was repeatedly warned and eventually fired for constantly being late - day after day an hour or more late for weeks. Nope, not good enough says California. So, instead of paying this person for showing up late, I am paying them, via the unemployment system, for not showing up at all.

Does anyone know if there are any tricks or techniques to be more successful at this?

Carnival of the Capitalists

This weeks Carnival of the Capitalists is up. Check it out.