Archive for February 2005

Software Senescence: Google Imitating Microsoft?

When I first installed Google desktop search, I thought it was awesome.  It did an amazing job indexing everything from my Outlook email to the files on my hard drive to my Internet history files. 

A couple of months later, though, I am not so thrilled.  In particular, Google desktop search seems to be missing all kinds of hits in my email.  I will get no email returns from Google but then use the "find" function in Outlook and get 20 hits for the same search term.

This is very disappointing, because I was so fired up about the product initially.  It seems like Google software may be subject to the same senescence issues that seem to be a fact of life in Windows.  Since it is both free and a beta, I am perfectly willing to cut them slack, but I do hope they get the kinks worked out.

Carnival of the Capitalists

The Carnival of the Capitalists is up this week at Weekend Pundit.  The Carnival is coming here to Coyote Blog in 2 weeks.

Carnival of the Capitalists

The Carnival of the Capitalists is up this week at Weekend Pundit.  The Carnival is coming here to Coyote Blog in 2 weeks.

Saving the Children from ... the Refrigerator Repair Man?

Appliance repair men take notice:

By a vote of 60 to 34, the Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that would fine people $50 for wearing low-riding pants that show off their underwear in a "lewd or indecent manner."

I presume fines are doubled if an actual butt-crack is revealed.

UPDATE:  Looks like the Norge is on the fritz (especially the bottom photo).

Beyond Red and Blue

Steven Malanga has a fascinating analysis of electoral politics in big cities (via reason):

The electoral activism of this New New Left coalition--public-employee unions, hospitals and health-care worker unions, and social-services agencies--has reshaped the politics of many cities. As the country's national political scene has edged rightward, thwarting their ambitions in Washington, these groups have turned their attention to urban America, where they still have the power to influence public policy.

In New York, this public employee coalition makes up a third of the work force and an even larger portion of the voters in the last election. 

An exit poll conducted by City Journal of the 2001 New York mayoral election found that private-sector workers heavily backed Michael Bloomberg, the businessman candidate who had been endorsed by Rudy Giuliani and had run on a pledge of no new taxes (which he broke after his first year in office), while those who worked in the public/health-care/social-services sectors favored his Democratic opponent, who ran on a promise of raising taxes to fund further services. In the race, Bloomberg won among private-sector voters by 17 percentage points, while the Democrat won by 15 points among those who worked in the public/nonprofit sectors

Read it all.

Several months ago in this post, I pointed out that the income tax system has become so "progressive" that:

Half of the people in this country pay more than 100% of the personal income taxes. The other half get, as a group, a free ride (though there are individuals in this group that pay paxes, net, as a group, they do not). We are basically at the point in this country where 51% of voters could vote themselves all kinds of new programs and benefits knowing that the other 49% have to pay for them.

Malanga's article points out the other side of the coin.  We are also increasingly approaching the point where, at last in certain urban centers, half the workers can vote themselves government jobs (and pay raises, pensions, etc) at the expense of the other part of the population.

Reading About the Next War

I just finished reading these three books, one after the other:

In basic outline, each book has exactly the same plot, about a man joining the army in some future war.  Each have many of the classic war-story elements, including the tough over-the-top drill Sargent in basic training. 

At the same time, all three are totally different, in different universes with different physics and different politics and enemies.  And, perhaps most importantly, each with a different outlook on war and its necessity.  Each one is awesome individually but created an amazing accidental trilogy when read together.

Anatomy of An Insta-lanche

Had a record day today hosting the Carnival of the Vanities.  Guess what time in the traffic chart below that Glenn Reynolds linked to me?

Instalanche

How the "Consensus" on Global Warming Emerges

Consensus on global warming (and on many other academic issues on campus) is apparently achieved the same way Augusta Country Club remains all male:  just don't invite anyone who doesn't fit in (via the Commons):

LONDON, February 2 (RIA Novosti's Alexander Smotrov) - Presidential economic aide Andrei Illarionov criticizes the policy of censorship practiced at the British Climate Change Conference.

The scientific conference of G8 experts is held in Exeter in the south of Britain on February 1 through 3.

"Its organizers have not accepted reports from many participants whose views are different from that of the organizers,'" Mr. Illarionov told RIA Novosti in the interview.

Asked by the RIA Novosti correspondent why his name is not in the list of speakers, Mr. Illarionov said: "Making a report here is impossible because organizers practice a policy of censorship against people having different points of view."

Mr. Illarionov is against the Kyoto Protocol, which intends the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions.

Jeff Flake Finds More Pork

Arizona has a history of producing some fairly libertarian politicians, and our Congressman Jeff Flake fits that mold.  Via the Club for Growth, Flake points out some more egregious pork:

Washington, D.C. - Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, who represents the state's Sixth District, today highlighted another pork project contained in the massive omnibus spending bill that Congress passed late last year.  This week's egregious earmark: $1.5 million for a demonstration project to transport naturally chilled water from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga.

Ballooning Health Care Costs

Jane Gault at Asymmetrical Information is on a roll with a series of posts about the problems with the Medicare system.  Check out her posts on the rising costs of the prescription drug benefit,  the media bias when programs are cut, and the rising cost of Medicaid.

The problem in the world of health care costs is actually very simple:  patients have the incentive to over-consume services and providers have the incentive to over-provide services.  Patients consume as many services as possible because some other entity is generally footing the bills, such that the marginal cost to the patient of extra services is generally nil (if you don't believe this, imagine a world where a 3rd party paid for your car - would you choose the same care you drive today?)  Providers tend to over-provide in part for the same reason, and in part as a defensive response to the threat of torts.  As a result, costs go through the roof, and those who pay (government, insurance companies, employers) respond by rationing, which pisses everyone off.

This disconnect between the entity paying the bills and the entity selecting the care cannot endure.  The fix in the future is guaranteed to be one where the decision maker on the selection of care is the same person who is paying for the care.  The only choice we have in designing the system is whether that entity making the decisions is the government (as preferred by statists of all stripes) or the patient. 

We need a system where people pay their own everyday medical bills, with insurance in place for catastrophic needs (which is basically how we take care of our cars).  You could probably incentivize this tomorrow by making personal medical expenses tax deductible while at the same time making employer-provided medical insurance taxable just like every other kind of compensation.  Not only would this fix the incentives problem in the system, but would also eliminate the portability issue associated with employer-provided coverage.

Unfortunately, people have a huge mental block where paying for their own medical care is concerned.  My wife is a great example.  When I became self-employed, she was shocked that I did not get dental insurance.  I tried to explain that we would just use the insurance to pay for checkups and a filling here-or-there, and it would probably cost more than just paying the expenses ourselves.  But for her, medical bills are paid by insurance, not by individuals, and it actually felt wrong for her to pay her own doctor's bill (we have a big annual deductible on our medical insurance too so it acts mainly as catastrophic coverage).  This is not an isolated attitude - it is why many people equate "not insured" today with "not getting medical care".

Postscript:  There is nothing magical about the system of employer-paid medical insurance we have today.  Many large employers implemented paid health benefits as a way to evade government wage freezes during the NRA of the 30's and later in World War II.  In the tight labor market of WWII, government mandated maximum wages could not lure enough workers, so free health benefits were thrown into the compensation mix since only cash wages were frozen.  The system is perpetuated today by a tax code that does not tax health insurance as it does all other parts of the compensation package.

UPDATE:  Or, we could just try this

UPDATE#2:  A small example of the mindset:  Carly Fiorino get $42 million as a parting gift from HP, but still insists that HP privide her medical insurance.  With $42 million, she couldn't pay for it herself? (via gongol)

Is Fife Symington Back?

Perhaps, as reported here at Arizona Watch.  Symington would certainly make politics more interesting around here for a while.

125th Carnival of the Vanities

Welcome to the 125th edition of the Carnival of the Vanities.  Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals at these sites:

February 16th - Soccer Dad
February 23rd - Pundit Guy
March 2nd - Belief Seeking Understanding
March 9th - Solomonia
March 16th - Bird's Eye View
March 23rd - CodeBlueBlog
March 30th - Eric Berlin
April 6th - Incite
April 13th - Yea, Whatever

Future dates are open to anyone interested in hosting.  While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do here.

OK, enough of the introduction, on with the show.  As is traditional, we have taken all comers regardless of their point of view.  I have exercised my editorial license only in selecting the first post:

Continue reading ‘125th Carnival of the Vanities’ »

Welcome Business Blog Awards

If you are coming from the "Best Business Blog" poll, welcome  (if you are a regular reader, you can vote for Coyote Blog here).  Here are some examples of our business blogging:

Real-life small business experiences:  Buying a company; Outsourcing to Your CustomersWorking with the Department of LaborA Primer on Workers CompDealing with Sales TaxesServices and Brands

Economics:  Taxes and Class Warfare; The Harvard MBA indicatorMessed-up Pensions

Capitalist Philosophy: 60 Second Refutation of Socialism, While Sitting at the Beach;   Respecting Individual Decision-Making

Libertarian political commentary:  Post election wrap-up; Thoughts on KyotoFisking the NEA

Frustration with runaway torts:  Jackpot Litigation; Coyote vs. ACMEPlenty More Here

Camping (my business):  New American nomads; This RV is just wrong

Attempts at humor:  Replacements for Dan Rather; My Manhood vs. the Pocket Door

Extending Occam's Razor: Meyer's Law

ACME Products:  Instant Girl; Ultimatum Gun; Earthquake Pills

FactCheck.Org Back up and Running

FactCheck.Org, which did a lot of good work during the election, is back up and running with several new posts related to Social Security claims and counter-claims. 

Women's Groups Have Lost Their Way 2

Previously, I wrote:

It is not uncommon that advocacy groups struggle to declare victory.  The problem with crossing the finish line for such groups is that their leaders will lose power, influence, and face-time on the news, and rank and file members may lose jobs.  Also, it is always possible to point to some instance where victory has not been secured, though these instances are often trivial compared to the original problem the groups were organized to fight.

Such seems to be the case with women's groups today.  Their shift from women's issues advocacy to groups trying to maintain their political stature probably began in the Clinton administration, where most women's groups chose to support their political ally (Clinton) rather than their traditional issue (sexual harassment in the workplace).

Ann Althouse has similar thoughts:

But didn't you notice that the feminist concern about sexual predation, a huge deal circa 1992, fell into steep decline shortly thereafter? The people of the left had a keen eye for the sexual subordination of women in the late 80s and early 90s, the era of the anti-pornography movement. They gasped about sexual harassment around about when Clarence Thomas was nominated as Supreme Court Justice. And then it all just suddenly went away, because party politics outweighed whatever real concern about feminism they'd ever had, and Bill Clinton needed help beating Paula Jones into submission. Feminism has never recovered! Oh, abortion politics still remains, because it works well as a campaign issue, but there's not much serious attention to feminism on the left anymore.

More on Eminent Domain

I criticized the use of eminent domain to advance private commercial interests here.  The Commons Blog has more:

On February 22, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Kelo v. New London, a case challenging the use of eminent domain for economic development. Those interested in Kelo may also be interested in today's conference on "Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal & The Constitution." The conference considers both the constitutional and policy aspects of eminent domain, particularly the use of eminent domain for economic development.

Dutch Ban Display of Dutch Flag

Via Volok:

At the Groene Hart Lycee [an elite high school] in the city of Alphen-on-the-Rhine, the three colors that are the Dutch flag have been looked upon as evil for the past year. No symbols that identify specific groups are considered acceptable and any student may be permanently expelled for coming to school with flags on their clothing, shoes or briefcases. Earlier this week readers reacted with fury to another school in IJsselstein, this school forbids any display of flags because this would provoke students of other nationalities.

I find this amazing.  Apparently, the Dutch flag is considered by some to be insulting to non-Dutch.  A couple of reactions:

  • The Dutch have more to be proud of than any other nation.  The Dutch in many ways led the whole world, or at least the western portion of it, into the modern world of free, secular, capitalist society.  What does it say that they are rejecting this heritage?
  • Somehow in the US we have managed to avoid a connection between the flag and nativism.  For all but a few hard-core America haters, the flag represents the melting pot, not an individual ethnic background.
  • How are we ever going to get out of this culture of hyper-sensitivity, where words and flags have to be banned?  People are suing others every day for huge damages over mere words or gestures or symbols. 

UPDATE:  Volokh has another good post on hyper-sensitivity to mere words in this good post on academic freedom.

Teacher's-eye View of the NEA

I have posted criticisms of the NEA, or teachers union, here and here.  I discussed the lack of accountability of the NEA to students and their parents, but the Education Wonks has a nice post here about the teacher's unions lack of accountability to... the teachers.

Defending Your Enemy When They Are Right

There is a tendency in politics, once you have an enemy, to attack that enemy no matter what position they take.  Conservatives of late have (rightly) attacked Liberals for being un-supportive of Iraqi democracy, just so they can embarrass their arch-enemy GW Bush.  However, conservatives can be guilty of the same thing. 

Ed Morrissey of Captains Quarters has been on Governor (of Wisconsin) Jim Doyle's case for historically opposing and promising to continue to oppose reforms in election controls, despite very suspicious voting numbers in Milwaukee.  In this case, Captain Ed has done a great job bringing focus to election fraud and "over-vote" issues in Milwaukee, E. St. Louis, and Washington State, especially since the MSM has preferred to focus on potential "under-vote" issues in Ohio and Florida.

However, in piling on Mr. Doyle, I fear that Morrissey has put aside his political and/or philosophical beliefs in favor of giving his enemy another good bludgeon.  His post points out that:

executives involved in a controversial health-care merger gave Doyle over $28,000 in donations shortly after he allowed the merger to go through. Critics at the time wondered why Doyle didn't ask for common-sense economic concessions

OK, lets take this in two parts.  First, lets look at Doyle's decision on the merger.  The article says that Doyle is being criticized basically for NOT holding two companies for ransom.  Often anti-trust law is used as "merger tax" to extract some sort of pay-off from the parties, in the form of reduced prices or a spun-off properties or whatever.  However, no matter what you call it, this is a bribe the government is demanding to let individuals carry forward with a private business transaction.  Usually this bribe is waved around by some politician in order to score some populist political points toward their next reelection (the Europeans and Elliot Spitzer are both good at this).

Is this really what Morrissey thinks Doyle should have done?  As a libertarian, I find that conservatives' support for truly free market capitalism sometimes runs hot and cold, but I would generally expect a conservative to oppose this kind of extortion and interference with the free market.  So does Morrissey really think Doyle did the wrong thing?

The second part of the story, of course, are the campaign contributions.  First, I would argue that if Doyle's merger decision was not wrong, then donations based on this decision are not wrong either.  Many, many companies out there donate to politicians who promise to keep the government off their back.  I certainly do - does that make my contributions graft?  Finally, Morrissey admits that

These donations do not appear to have broken any laws, although the timing strongly suggests some sort of payoff

Look at it the other way around:  If Doyle HAD extracted concessions to approve the merger, it would not have strongly suggested a soft of payoff, it would have been a definite payoff.

Captain Ed- I enjoy your site immensely, even when I disagree with it.  It is OK for you to say that Doyle made the right decision on the merger without backing off of him over the election issue -- just as it is OK for those of us who had concerns about the war in Iraq to gleefully support that country's return to democracy.

More Kyoto Foibles

Silflay Hraka has a nice post on Kyoto and Global warming.  I expressed many of the same thoughts here and here, though Hraka is much more concise and eloquent about it.  However, I missed this bit on Russia:

Europe as a whole may be able to meet its goals thanks to huge potential market in emissions trading brought about by the unprecedented collapse of heavy industry in the former nations of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union--graphically portrayed in this pdf from the Guardian--but actual levels of European CO2 output will not fall at all.

That's one reason it was so important for the EU for Russia to ratify Kyoto. Ratification of Kyoto allows that nation to enter into the emissions market, where the EU desperately needs it.

This makes a lot of sense.  I explained here how the Kyoto protocols, and particularly the 1990 date, were carefully structured to slam the US and make meeting targets relatively easy for Europe.  In short, 1990 was the beginning of a massive economic expansion for the US and a decade-long slump for Japan and Europe.  In addition, 1990 marked the date of German reunification and the fall of the Soviet Union -- since this time, thousands of horribly inefficient pollution-producing Soviet industries have shut down, giving Europe a huge reduction credit with no work.  Switch-over from coal to North Seas oil and gas has done the same for Britain.

125th Carnival of the Vanities Submission Guidelines

February 9 will be my first attempt to host Carnival of the Vanities.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Carnival, it was started by Silflay Hraka and is meant to give smaller blogs a chance to reach a wider audience.

Submission guidelines

Send an e-mail sent to coyote@coyoteblog.com.  Put "COTV" in the subject line. Add a one word category to help me sort them (i.e., sports, religion, politics, etc.). It should look like this: cotv -- rambaldi devices.  I am not insisting on any theme, and all political points of view are gratefully accepted (if you want a theme, wait for our Carnival of the Capitalists issue at the end of the month).

In the text of the e-mail include the following information:

  • Name of your blog:
  • URL of the blog:
  • Title of your post:
  • Permalink to that post:
  • Trackback of the post:
  • Describe the post in a sentence or two:

I need to receive your e-mail by 3 p. m. (EST) Tuesday, Feb. 8 for it to make the 125th edition.  Deadline extended to 6PM EST.

Watching Golf

Today I am going to the the Phoenix Mardi Gras, which happens to take place at a golf tournament.  The Phoenix Open is unique among PGA Tour events, with about twice the attendance as the next-most-attended tournament, and with a huge party atmosphere.

Below is the famous 16th hole, ringed all the way around with grandstands and tents.  Absolutely the loudest and rowdiest hole on the PGA tour:

Hole_16_5

By the way, here is the weather forecast today (he he):

Condemned!

Before you read any further, look at the houses here.  Here is an example:

Picture9

They look like normal, everyday Midwestern houses, right?  I mean, some are kind of small but several look pretty nice and all of them are in good shape with well-kept lawns, etc.

So what do these houses have in common?  They have all been condemned as "blighted" by Norwood, Ohio.  They have been seized by the city government and will be torn down.

OK, what's the real reason?  The real reason is that Norwood, Ohio wants a Crate & Barrel store where these houses are.  They think the Crate & Barrel is a better use of the land, and they are pretty sure that C&B will pay them more taxes than these homeowners, so they are taking people's homes and giving the land to the developer.  More here and here on this story, and Cato has a whole bunch of articles on abuse of the Constitution's takings clause here.  We have had our own local ongoing takings debate in nearby Mesa, Arizona.

This kind of garbage happens far, far too often.  If the developer wants the land, he can buy it.  If people won't sell, he can go somewhere else.  Simple.

Update:  Here is a pretty bizare intrusion of local government on your home here, too.  Hope they don't find out house.

Pulled out My C64 The Other Day...

I pulled out my old Commodore 64 the other day and played a bunch of fine old games including Raid on Bungling Bay, Choplifter, and M.U.L.E.  All were fun, even if their graphics do not stand up to the test of time.  In particular, M.U.L.E. is a fabulous game and it amazes me nothing like it has ever been produced since.

Conservation Easments

Currently, Congress is considering scaling back on tax breaks for conservation easements.  As habitat protection and open space have become larger environmental issues, conservation easements have gone way up in use.  As with most government programs, the laws of unintended consequences have taken over, and many have found ways to get tax breaks some feel are undeserved.  Nature Noted has a long series of posts on the debate. 

I have mixed feelings on the change.  To understand this, lets take a step back and look at government environmental policy.  As I have written in the past, I think of government environmental legislation in 2 parts:

  1. Regulation of pollution and emissions that affect other people's property.  These regulations are essential to the maintenance of a system of strong private property rights.  Without them, we would all be in court every day suing each other for damage to our property or water or air on our land from neighboring lands. Of course, we can all argue about whether set limits are reasonable, and we do.
  2. Regulations of land use that effects only your own land.  This is a relatively new area of environmental law, ushered in by the Endangered Species act and various wetlands regulations.  These regulations say that even if your proposed land use doesn't create any emisions that affect anyone else, the government may still ban your land use for some other environmentally related goal (habitat, watershed, anti-sprawl, the list is endless). 

These land-use laws constitute by far the most distressing area to me in environmental law.  In the worst cases, these laws can result in what are effectively 100% takings of a person's land without any compensation. (Example:  you buy a lot on the ocean for $500,000 to build a beach house.  Before you can build it, new regulations are passed making it illegal for you to build a house on that land.  Yes, you still own the land, but it is now worthless to you since you cannot use or develop it).  Good article on this here (pdf) and a listing of Cato Institute articles on this topic here.

I have for a long time been a supporter of the Nature Conservancy and other land trusts (see Nature Noted site linked above for lots of links and info).  These trusts works to reach the goals in #2 above but with private money instead of government regulation and takings. 

Back to the issue of conservation easements.  It is becoming clear to me that while deals made by the Nature Conservancy rely on private money, they also rely on government subsidy through conservation easement tax breaks.  Their actions are not as private as I thought the were.  And therefore my mixed feelings.  I still think that their activities, even with the tax breaks, is more fair and probably much more efficient than the government takings approach.