Archive for December 2006

BMOC, Chapters 5 and 6

A few days late (I usually publish on Thursday night) here are chapters 5 and 6 of my book BMOC, available on Amazon.com and as a low-cost pdfChapters 1 and 2 are hereChapters 3 and 4 are hereAll chapters are indexed here.

chapter five

"Tell me, Mr.
Marsh, what does BMOC do?"

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Sped up the Site (Hopefully)

I have removed some code from the site that was really slowing down load times.  Hopefully those of you who are not reading CB via RSS reader will find the site responds a lot faster.

Business vs. Government Time Horizons

One of the excuses statists often use to promote government over private enterprise is that businesses are "short-term focused".  They are only after "profit in the next quarter."  They don't "invest for the long-term" like a government can.  Really?

Iran's oil exports are plummeting at 10pc a year on lack of
investment and could be exhausted within a decade, depriving the world
economy of its second-biggest source of crude supplies.

A report by the US National Academy of Sciences said rickety
infrastructure dating back to the era of the Shah had crippled output,
while local fuel use was rising at 6pc a year.

"Their domestic demand is growing at the highest rate of any country
in the world," said Prof Roger Stern, an Iran expert at Johns Hopkins
University, Baltimore.

"They need to invest $2.5bn (£1.28bn) a year just to stand still
and they're not doing it because it's politically easier to spend the
money on social welfare and the army than to wait four to six years for
a return on investment," he said.

"They've been running down the industry like this for 20 years."

You never hear this problem in the privately run oil industry.  And I can say with complete confidence that this is a government problem, not just an Iran problem. 

Take one area in this country I know about, public recreation.   The BLM, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Corps of Engineers (not to mention state, county and local authorities) all run thousands of recreation facilities across the country.  And I can tell you that no public entity I know of budgets or spends adequate money on preventative and routine maintenance.  The nature of the process is that Congressmen love to get their name attached to building a new government recreation facility - that's sexy.  But then they never appropriate enough money to keep it maintained.  In their calculus, politicians can get a lot more political mileage from spending money in year 2 on another flashy announcement of a new facility than they can from spending that money to maintain the facilities they funded in year 1.

Can you imagine someone like Disney doing this?  Of course not.  The Magic Kingdom at DisneyWorld, the oldest of the them parks there, looks as fresh and new and well-kept when you visit it as does the newer MGM and Animal Kingdom parks.

And don't even get me started on government pensions and Social Security.  Oops, too late, I am started.  Yes, a few private companies in steel and airlines have under-funded pensions (though the government is partially to blame there) but by the definition of "under-funded" that private companies use, nearly every single public pension fund in the country is under-funded.  That is because most public pensions do not actually put away any money (zero, zip) for future liabilities -- they simply pay this year's required payments out of this year's funds.  States and municipalities have a huge balloon pension burden coming -- just wait twenty years and we will all be talking about it.  And Social Security, for all the smoke and mirrors, effectively works the same way, since current premiums in excess of current obligations are spent on the feds general obligations (if you still think there is some trust fund out there, wake up.)

Best of Overlawyered

Ted Frank at Overlawyered is posting links to his favorite Overlawyered stories of 2006, month by month Don't miss the link to yours truly in Marchupdate:  Hey, I'm in February too.

Beware Staples Internet Site

I am always suspicious when retailers try to pursue a parallel channel model.  Most tend to screw it up.  Office supply retailer Staples gets my screwed-up online retailer of the year award.  We tried Staples online service when a sales person visited us and offered us a corporate discount to try their remote order service.  The first several orders failed to show up on the promised dates, a hardship for a small office where someone often has to explicitly wait around for such a delivery.  Their delivery windows are worse than even those provided by the cable company, promising only to show up sometime between 9 and 5. 

This week, I waited all day for a couple of filing cabinets, which showed up battered and beaten up.   It was clear that the cabinets were damaged just from looking at the boxes.  I hope no one in my company would ever ship something that looked so banged up to a customers without checking on it.  Sure enough, the cabinets were a mess, and I insisted on sending them back.  The driver said, sorry, you already signed for them, I can't take them, call customer service. 

So I called customer service and they did what?  Scheduled another pickup/delivery.  So I again waited all day today for the replacements.  The driver took the old ones, but the new ones were again in beaten up boxes - one had black electrical tape patching it up.  But I had learned.  I said I would not sign for them until I had opened and inspected them.  The driver said I was not allowed to inspect them until I signed for them.  Great.  Well, like an idiot I signed and then immediately upon opening the boxes found that they were both beaten up.  Obviously they had a bad lot of these type cabinets, and I had begged them to inspect my two replacements first before they came out, but no joy.  And of course, the driver would not take them back because ... I had already signed for them.

This restrictive approach to customer acceptance of merchandise, which I would summarize as "you have to accept the merchandise without inspection" stands in marked contrast to how this works in their stores.  I believe that I would certainly be entitled in the store to look at the actual cabinet, rather than the box, before I decided to accept the merchandise.  Heck, I am pretty sure it was my local Staples store that, when they sold me two chairs, unboxed them and assembled them for free.

 

So tomorrow is yet another visit.  I again begged Staples to inspect the cabinets before they put them on the truck to make sure this third set would be OK, since they obviously were pulling from a bad lot.  The Staples customer service guy said that their warehouse folks don't do that kind of thing.  No shit.

Update: OK, I give up.  The replacements were battered as well.  Why through this no one in the warehouse would have the initiative to check on what is obviously a bad lot they have received from the manufacturer is beyond me.   I have left them on the curb for Staples to get whenever they want them.  They were good about my credit.

Distance Runners are Nuts

For those who think marathoners are wimps:

Paul Keeley, a U.S. Marine at the South Carolina
Military School, wants to run the Boston Marathon unshod next year.
Last summer, he began training by pounding the streets of Charleston,
S.C., in combat boots, hoping to nurture some preliminary calluses. He
took off the boots this fall but soon landed on a surgeon's table for
an abscess in his middle toe that required draining. Mr. Keeley, 18,
says his calluses had hardened so well that he felt no pain when a pine
needle or some other sharp object penetrated his skin and worked its
way to the bone. He says he's still on track with his
barefoot-in-Boston plan.

"Barefoot running isn't for sissies," says Jonathan
Summers, a 37-year-old Boston horticulturist who took up the regimen
this summer after seeing a couple of unshod runners pass him by at a
local 10K race. "It's like running on sandpaper."...

Paul Keeley, a U.S. Marine at the South Carolina
Military School, wants to run the Boston Marathon unshod next year.
Last summer, he began training by pounding the streets of Charleston,
S.C., in combat boots, hoping to nurture some preliminary calluses. He
took off the boots this fall but soon landed on a surgeon's table for
an abscess in his middle toe that required draining. Mr. Keeley, 18,
says his calluses had hardened so well that he felt no pain when a pine
needle or some other sharp object penetrated his skin and worked its
way to the bone. He says he's still on track with his
barefoot-in-Boston plan.

"Barefoot running isn't for sissies," says Jonathan
Summers, a 37-year-old Boston horticulturist who took up the regimen
this summer after seeing a couple of unshod runners pass him by at a
local 10K race. "It's like running on sandpaper."

This is Weird

This is a weird case, via Radley Balko:  A court issues a search warrant for a bullet, correctly stating the specific location to be searched and the reasons the bullet is needed.  No problem so far, but unfortunately, the bullet is inside someone and must be surgically removed.

In the middle of Joshua Bush's forehead, two inches above his eyes,
lies the evidence that prosecutors say could send the teenager to
prison for attempted murder: a 9 mm bullet, lodged just under the skin.

Prosecutors
say it will prove that Bush, 17, tried to kill the owner of a used-car
lot after a robbery in July. And they have obtained a search warrant to
extract the slug.

But Bush and his lawyer are fighting the
removal, in a legal and medical oddity that raises questions about
patient privacy and how far the government can go to solve crimes
without running afoul of the constitutional protection against
unreasonable searches and seizures.

They go on to mention this problem:

Police then obtained a second search warrant and scheduled the
operation for last week at the University of Texas Medical Branch
hospital in Galveston. It was postponed again, however, after the
hospital decided not to participate for reasons it would not discuss.

Prosecutors said they continue to look for a doctor or hospital willing to remove the bullet.

Duh.  No private doctor or hospital is going to do this procedure.  Whoever removes this bullet is 100% guaranteed to get named on at least one lawsuit seconds after the procedure.  Even if they win the suit, the cost of defending themselves will outweigh anything they might get paid for the procedure.

More on Virtual Assets

The other day I posted on Second Life, which seems to be trying to do something eerily similar to the virtual world in Snow Crash.  TJIC has more, from an article in the WaPo:

"¦Earlier this month, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner visited
Second Life, appearing as a balding, bespectacled cartoon rendering of
himself, and addressed a crowd of other animated characters on a range
of legal issues, including property rights in virtual reality. Posner
stressed that it was in Linden Lab's interest to ensure due process and
other rights.

"They want people to invest in Second Life, and we know
people won't invest if their rights are not reasonably secure," he told
the audience, which included a giant chipmunk and several supermodels.
He went on to predict the eventual emergence of an "international law of virtual worlds" similar to international maritime law"¦

I Hate the Liquor Licensing Process

I have liquor licenses in about six different states, and like sales taxes, the process varies a lot by state.  But one universal impression I have is that the whole liquor licensing process has long ago ceased to serve its original purpose and has instead become either become captive to rent-seekers or has become a bureaucratic jobs program or both.  Al Capone died more than half a century ago.  And while one might argue there is some government interest in making sure minors don't buy the product and similar rules are followed, the liquor licensing process is orders of magnitude more complex and onerous than, say, getting a license to sell cigarettes or to prepare foods on site, both of which have similar features.

The liquor licensing process in most states was crafted in the 1930s, with the end of prohibition.  At that time, the primary concern was to keep out organized crime interests who had run the liquor business during prohibition.  So the process includes FBI background checks, as well as minute disclosure of every single person who has ever loaned you money, so they can be checked out to make sure you are in no way beholden to anyone who is a bad guy in the FBI computers.  The licenses take months to obtain (including a fingerprinting process) and cost thousands of dollars a year, presumably to offset the bureaucracy required to review all the applications.  Here in Arizona, minuscule errors, such as abbreviating "Boulevard" in an address to "Blvd" can cause the application to be rejected and have to be resubmitted.  Believe me, I know.

Worse than the ridiculous jobs-program-and-mindless-bureaucracy-fighting-a-threat-that-no-longer-exists problem is the way liquor licenses are now used in many locales for rent-seeking.  The worst offenders are states that purposefully artificially limit the number of liquor licenses.  This is quite obviously an incumbent protection program, protecting current liquor businesses from new competition.  California is one such state.  Even after I had purchased an existing license for a ridiculous amount of money ($5000 I think), I still had to make my case to the local county planning board who had final approval as to whether they would allow me a license into the county.  I asked them why this was necessary, and they were very up front about it (the following is paraphrased but accurate):

If we issue too many licenses, then it would be hard for you to make money.  We are really just helping you.

Sorry, but I don't need help.  I am willing to take the risk.  And does anyone really think that Shasta County California is looking after me, an out-of-state business just entering the area?  Of course not.  What they are really saying is "let us decide if all our buddies here in the county who we play golf with and who donate to our campaigns are OK with you competing with them."

In fact, this is exactly what happens in Lake Havasu City, AZ.  Though Arizona is not a state that limits liquor licenses, Lake Havasu required some kind of local board meeting to approve our license in that city.  The stated reason was that they wanted to make sure the new liquor business would not bring down the image of the city.  Which is hilarious, for anyone who has been to Lake Havasu City, particularly in spring break.  In fact, I am pretty sure it was an excuse for all the local interests to decide if they could tolerate another competitor or not.

All this comes to mind after I read this article by Radley Balko.  It is a good example of what can happen to you if your business depends on a government license and the local rent-seekers decide that your business needs to go.  A very brief excerpt:

I'll get into the
harassment, entrapment, and defamation Mr. Ruttenberg has endured in a
bit. For the moment, I'd like to focus on possible reasons for the
harassment. Why has this been going on for several years? I think there
are a few minor motivating factors. For one, I think there is,
unfortunately, some antisemitism at play. There's also a strange
rivalry Mr. Ruttenberg had with a Manassas Park police officer over a
girl. And I think part of this may be driven by city officials who for
whatever reason simply began to harbor a grudge against Ruttenberg.
Remember Milton Friedman's old axiom: Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.

But I think something else is going on, here. And Black Velvet Bruce
Li has hit it. I believe there is some very strong circumstantial
evidence suggesting that Mr. Ruttenberg's bar was targeted by the city
of Manassas Park because the city had its eye on the property as a
possible site for an off-track betting facility for the Colonial Downs
horse racing track in New Kent County, Virgina.

Update:  I guess this is the day to blog about outdated 1930's liquor legislation.

When the Legislature wrote the first alcohol laws after
Prohibition was repealed in 1933, California defined what a beer is and
what wine is. The definition was simple"”anything added to beer or wine
renders it something else. Sometime thereafter beer and wine producers
started adding things such as preservatives, flavor enhancers and other
things. So narrowly reading the law there is NO such product as either
beer or wine sold in California today. Now common sense and alcohol
regulators know that is not true and so for years have ignored this
narrow interpretation.

Last week [on December 13] a bare
majority of the Board of Equalization voted for the narrow
interpretation of the law, and have begun the process to tax all
alcohols with any additives as distilled spirits. This will increase
the taxes charged on beers, wines, flavored malt beverages, and
flavored beers to the level on hard liquor.

The dated California
law defines beer as having no additives whatsoever. No beer that I know
of"” except perhaps some home brews"”meets this definition.

California Gets A Mulligan

There is no doubt that electricity markets are a mess.  Electric utilities have been regulated for so long and in so many ways, and new capacity is so hard to add, the deregulation experiments tend to fail over short time periods for any number of reasons.  In California, what was called "deregulation" never really was such, since pricing signals were never passed on to consumers and therefore never really influenced demand.  In Texas, the areas where my company operates still struggle with deregulation, and we have seen few price or customer service benefits. 

This is not that surprising when you consider other major industries that have been so thoroughly regulated.   Railroads come to mind, for example.  Deregulation occurred thirty years ago and we are only recently starting to see a renaissance in that industry.  Pre-deregulation airline incumbents (e.g. Delta, United, American) are still struggling with open markets.

Mike Gibberson links a pair of court decisions that may set back any progress made in deregulating at least the wholesale electricity markets.  In a series of suits, the State of California is seeking a mulligan, asking the court to rule that wholesale electricity contracts it entered into in 2000-2001 should be voided because the price was too high and FERC did not have the authority to allow blanket market-based rather than cost-based electricity pricing.  And the judges seem to agree:

The panel held that prices set in those bilateral transactions pursuant
to FERC's market-based program enjoyed no presumption of legality.

I don't think there is anything more depressing to a good anarcho-capitalist like myself than seeing the government rule that a price negotiated at arms length by the free will of consenting, and in this case well-informed adults enjoys "no presumption of legality."  If not, then what does?  Is that where we are heading, to a world where no voluntary actions enjoy a presumption of legality?

By the way, one has to remember that this is not a case of an impoverished high school drop-out in East St. Louis signing a high interest rate loan he didn't understand.  This is the case of highly paid electricity executives and government electricity officials signing electricity contracts.  It is as ridiculous to argue that they were somehow duped in buying the one and only item they ever buy for resale as to argue that Frito-Lay somehow shouldn't be held responsible for the price it negotiates for potatoes.  These electricity companies knew they had obligations to supply power at retail at certain rates and failed to lock up enough supply in advance.  Whether Jeff Skilling gamed the short-term spot market is irrelevant - the utility executives were at fault for finding themselves beholden to the spot market for so great a volume of electricity, and doubly at fault for taking this power at insane rates when other lower cost options were available to them (such as cutting off customers on interruptible contracts).

Cotton Growing Dying in Phoenix -- Good!

I have written a number of articles about the ridiculous subsidies paid to cotton growers in Arizona.  The AZ Republic has a semi-nostalgic look at the decline of cotton farming in the Valley, mainly due to the pressure of urban growth.  I say:  Good!  How have we tolerated a situation like this so long:

This year, Arizona farmers planted 215,000 acres of cotton, a 66
percent drop from the 633,000 acres in production in 1981, said Rick
Lavis, vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

"I wish we could grow more and the prices were better," Lavis said.

Cotton averages 55 cents per pound, up from five years ago, Lavis said. But it costs 75 cents a pound to produce, he said.

"Doesn't sound very profitable, does it?" Lavis asked. "If the trend
lines tell us anything, it probably is continuing to be a diminishing
commodity because of urbanization and price. If you're not making back
the 72 cents to 75 cents a pound that it costs to produce it, cotton
growers may say, 'Gee, I need to grow something else.' "

A variety of federal subsidies, including guaranteed payments, price
supports and below-market loan rates, keep cotton profitable for
Arizona farmers, Lavis said. When cotton prices rise, subsidies
decline, he said.

You mean at some point when prices are 20 cents under the cost of production, farmers might eventually consider planting something else?  Duh.  Farmers, generally rational sorts, would have made this decision long ago if it weren't for the enormous federal subsidies mentioned in the last paragraph that keep cotton profitable.  And this underestimates the total subsidy, since farmers in Arizona (as well as Southern California) use millions of gallons of subsidized water, ofter priced below cost, usually priced below what we other citizens pay, and always priced below what a true market clearing price would be (which explains why Lake Powell is drying up).

In this post I list information on cotton subsidies
-- over $100 million in Arizona just for cotton in 2003, and 2006 appears to be a worse year.  And notice the top three subsidy recipients are all Indian Tribes with very, very profitable casino operations.  These are not struggling family farms.  Most every one of these farmers on the top subsidy list are in cities (Goodyear & Queen Creek for example) that are right at the wavefront of Phoenix expansion and so probably sit on a fortune in real estate.  I am sure they are happy to have the USDA pay them a half million dollars a year so they can cover the carrying cost of their land until they find the right developer to buy it for millions.

Neal Stephenson On Target

Written in 1993 before the vast majority of us had even heard of the Internet, Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash continues to seem prescient.  Check this out.  Folks who have played MMRPG's  (I played Asheron's Call for years) will know that this online second society with virtual assets that have real value has been around for a while.

I'm just hoping I don't start speaking in tongues... ba na vo ta no la ma si go

I'll Say It

I'll say it:  Jane Galt is a genius.

Are You Kidding Me?

This is so wrong.  When possessing cash is a crime:

A federal appeals
court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying large sums of
money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the case
entitled, "United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency," the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash
away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a "lack of significant
criminal history" neither accused nor convicted of any crime.

I know what you are thinking -- there must be some other facts Coyote is leaving out that explain why a man should have his money confiscated for no other reason than he chose to keep it in cash.  Read the whole thing, because you won't find anything that makes this sane.  I do a lot of business down on the border, and get many Mexican customers (legally) visiting as a tourist.  Almost to a one, they show up with large rolls of cash.  Our preference for key fob credit chips and ubiquitous Visa cards is not shared by every other culture, and the desire to keep one's assets in cash should not be a crime (it may not be smart, but not a crime).  Hell, murderers have more protection under the law than this person carrying cash.

I would be interested to hear more about this from folks with a legal background, but I am surprised that an appeals court even has the purview to find that a crime exists when lower courts found none.  The problem here, I think, is that the cash can (legally, which is nuts) be seized and kept without a trial, just on the say-so of the police, who have the incentive to decide that the cash is seizable because they get to drop it into their budget pool.  So I guess the trier of fact is the police (?) and the lower court reversed the police decision and then the circuit court is reinstating it. 

This is just one example of the incredibly high price we pay in civil liberties for the war on drugs.  See this post to measure the countervailing benefits of the war on drugs.  Hat tip:  Catallarchy.

Update: Via Hit and Run, here is another nice feature of the war on drugs:

Tim takes one 24-hour Claritin-D tablet just about every day. That
puts him just under the legal limit of 75-hundred milligrams of pseudo
ephedrine a month. The limit is part of a new law that Quad Cities
authorities are beginning to strictly enforce.

The law limits the
amount of pseudo ephedrine you can buy. Pseudo ephedrine is an
ingredient in medicines like Sudafed and Claritin-D, and it's also a
key ingredient in methamphetamines.

"It's the only allergy medicine that works for me "“ for my allergies," Tim explained.

The only problem is, Tim has a teenaged son who also suffers from allergies. And minors are not allowed to buy pseudo ephedrine.

"I bought some for my boy because he was going away to church camp and he needed it," he said.

  That decision put Tim over the legal limit. Two months later, there was a warrant for his arrest.

And off to jail he went, with no apologies:

But even if you're not making meth, if you go over that limit "“ of one maximum strength pill per day "“ you will be arrested.

  "Does it take drastic measures? Absolutely. Have we seen a positive result? Absolutely," Sandoval stressed.

Do you see the similarity in these two stories.  Two different people, both punished by the state for taking legal actions similar to those taken by drug dealers (holding cash and buying Claritin) with absolutely no evidence they in fact had anything to do with illegal drugs.  Next up:  Anyone driving a Porche 911 will be arrested since those cars are favored by drug dealers. 

Merry Christmas

No blogging, just lots of overstimulated children.  Be back soon.

The Obesity Non-Epidemic

It seems of late that obesity is the new sky-is-falling health care issue I see in papers all the time.  One of the easiest ways to create a "trend" is to steadily change the standards**, which is in fact what has been happening with obesity in the US.  Every year or two, government officials or whoever does this stuff expand the range of weights that constitute "obese".  By doing this, even if the average weights are not changing (and I don't know if they are or are not) you can create a trend in increasing obesity just from changing the standards.  In fact, I argued here:

By the way, I am willing to make a bet with anyone that no where near
40% of our healthcare charges in Arizona are due to obesity.  I am
positive some advocate made up this number, or created it using some
ridiculously broad assumptions, and it has now been swallowed by the
credulous and scientifically-illiterate press. 

Sandy Szwarc who runs the new Junkfood Science blog, writes of a similar effect in hospital statistics.

The HCUP report
is not actually reporting hospital stays of obese people. It is a tally
of the numbers of times "obesity" was checked off on the billing codes
on the hospital records. These codes are currently known as ICD-9
codes, taken from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision.
This is an enormous, complicated and continually changing system which
gives a number to every disease and medical procedure, and currently
has about 12,000 codes. The medical literature is filled with
documentations of their inaccuracies in reflecting actual patient
disease rates. But over recent years, healthcare providers are being
increasingly educated on using these codes in order to receive
reimbursements ... including coding for obesity. The weight loss and
bariatric industry has been especially intense in marketing the usage of the obesity code, in particular.     

Not surprisingly, more providers are.    

So that 112% increase in hospitalizations for "obesity"since 1996 actually reflects increased usage of
the coding, but whether or not it means there are actually more obese
patients is arguable. But with the heightened stringency and
surveillance by third party payers in compelling providers to
accurately note ICD-9 codes in order to receive reimbursements, the
current figures are certainly more complete than in past years.

She concludes by questioning whether there really is an epidemic of hospital admissions for obesity.  Remember that this is important because it is this obesity epidemic that is used as justification for nanny-state interventions like the NY trans-fat bans as well as potential tobacco-clone litigations against fast food companies. 

This report is being
presented as proof that ""˜obesity' has become a major public health
problem." That was even its opening sentence. But the media's failure
to give us the full story is demonstrated in the most significant fact
in the report: 94.3% of all hospitalizations made no mention of obesity!    

Fat people are not flooding into hospitals with health problems more than anyone else.   

"Obesity" is the primary diagnosis in only 0.4% of all hospitalizations and
virtually all of those (95%) were for bariatric surgery! Not the result
of fat people succumbing to life-threatening health problems, but a
profit-making elective surgery targeting them.

My sense is that the obesity issue is the next phase of what I call the health care trojan horse (and here and here).  This is the practice of using government funded health care expenditures as an excuse to micro-regulate our eating and other personal practices.  As I said then:

When health care is paid for by public funds, politicians only need to
argue that some behavior affects health, and therefore increases the
state's health care costs, to justify regulating the crap out of that
behavior.  Already, states have essentially nationalized the cigarette
industry based on this argument.

** As an aside, a fantastic example of this game is in the movie "An Inconvenient Truth."  The filmmakers try to make the argument that global warming is making weather more volatile.  As "proof", they show the number of reported tornadoes in the US rising dramatically since the 1950's.  But here is the rub:  In the 1950's, we had no good way of detecting smaller class 1 and 2 tornadoes that we now detect using Doppler radar and the like.  This means that we do not necessarily experience more tornadoes, we just can detect more.  In fact, if you look only at larger class 3-5 tornadoes that we could detect through the whole period, the tornado frequency has NOT gone up.  I leave it to the reader to decide if the filmmakers are terrible at interpreting scientific data, or if they are disingenuous.  Neither reflects well on the rest of the film.

Arizona Snow Play

Arizona has always lacked a managed snow play area.  In the past, when the snow first flies in Flagstaff, everyone in Phoenix would hop in the car and sled any place they could find, even some downright dangerous spots on Interstate overpasses. 

After a year of work, we have opened the Wing Mountain Snow Play Area, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona.  We have a huge, managed parking lot, portable bathrooms, and concessions which include hot chocolate and sled sales.  If you live in Arizona, come and visit us this winter.

Update:  I think the season is going well, and we have good snow.  We had an enormous number of visitors on Christmas day, more than we could ever have predicted, and I apologize if anyone was not able to get in and play.  However, that day was an anomaly, and most days we have plenty of space to park and play.

To the bathroom question, we only just got the permit to run this facility from the US Forest Service a few weeks ago, so yes the bathrooms are just porta-john types.  Once we have a little time with the facility, we will work for a more permanent solution.   However, last year before we took over the facility there was only Mother Nature.

Good News

Via Captains Quarters:

The fundamental attack on free speech that McCain-Feingold foisted upon America has finally received recognition
from the federal judiciary. Portions of the BCRA got struck down today
in a lawsuit filed by a right-to-life group, as a judge ruled that the
campaign-finance restrictions violated the First Amendment...

It's not for nothing that many have termed the BCRA the Incumbent
Protection Act. The restriction on political speech that keeps groups
from buying advertising that names politicians violates the fundamental
reason for the First Amendment -- to allow Americans to criticize their
elected officials. While the court did not recognize the entire
egregiousness of this BCRA provision, it did recognize that the idea of
never being able to name elected officials in advertising within 60
days of an election regardless of the nature of the reference is a
ludicrous standard.

BMOC, Chapters 3 and 4

In what is becoming a Thursday night tradition, I am posting the next two chapters, numbers three and four, of my book BMOCThe first two chapters were posted here.  The next chapters after these are here.  Before we start, here are some of the "reviews":

"Who
is this guy?  You're not allowed to portray lawyers in novels as
anything but dedicated warriors for the common good.  In the words we
teach all of our clients when they are suing for millions over
spilled coffee, "˜it is not about the money.'  We hate this book,
and if you read it, we will sue you."

"“
America's tort lawyers

"This
Meyer person obviously never read the instruction manual for writing
novels.  Journalists are supposed to be brave and honest, while
corporations are supposed to be evil and rapacious, not the other way
around.

"“
Other modern novel writers

"It's
not that bad here."

"“
The Harvard University administration

"I
was kind of proud that Warren wrote a novel, but then I read it and
saw the dirty stuff and all the bad words.  Now I am really
embarrassed."

"“
Warren's mother

"We
are shocked that anyone would imply that our legislative efforts are
aimed more at helping favored political supporters than championing
the common man."

"“
Congress

"This
is what he was doing at the office instead of driving the kids to
soccer?  Writing a novel? I thought he was doing work!"

"“
Warren's wife

"Warren
was never my student.  I swear.  Don't even think about blaming
this on me."

"“
Warren's high school English teacher

And now, chapters three and four:

chapter three

It was one
of those rare, perfect weather days in New York City "“ sunny and 70
degrees.  A few weeks from now, it would be slit-your-throat weather,
so hot and humid that the grime from the surrounding buildings would
seem to leech into your pores.  On a beautiful day like this,
everyone was in a better mood, and New Yorkers could almost creep up
the attitude scale to "human".  Now, it wasn't like they would
smile at you and wish you a good day, but it did mean that if you
keeled over unconscious in the middle of the sidewalk, someone might
check on you rather than just stepping over your body on their way to
lunch.

Continue reading ‘BMOC, Chapters 3 and 4’ »

Dear HP

Dear Hewlett-Packard:

I have a quick question.  Why is it you cannot design a paper handler on your printers that will reliably handle your own paper?  I am using HP photo paper, and about every sixth copy I will have two pages stick together in the paper feed, resulting in an off-center image and wasted paper and ink.  Oh.  I think I just answered by own question.

Coyote

The Drug War -- It's for the Children?

I have written a number of times about the high cost of the war on drugs, and the craziness of locking up drug users for years in prison "for their own good." 

Usually, the argument for the drug war devolves to "its for the children."  The argument is that by keeping various narcotics and other drugs illegal to all, children, who by definition can't make adult decisions well, will find it harder to obtain and use these drugs.  Also, drug warriors argue that full prohibition prevents kids getting the message that drug use is OK, presumably because they might interpret "legality" as "approved for use."

We could prove or disprove this hypothesis that full drug prohibition reduces that drug's use among kids with a simple experiment:  Make some drugs legal for adults, but illegal for children, and make other drugs illegal for everyone, and see what happens. 

But wait!  We already have such an experiment in place.  Drugs like cocaine and marijuana are illegal for everyone, and a drug like tobacco cigarettes are legal for adults but illegal for kids.  If the drug warrior's hypothesis is correct that total bans on drugs reduce childhood use, then we should see tobacco use among children much higher than use by those same kids of drugs that are illegal for all.  Well, here are the stats, from Monitoring the Future (hat tip: Hit and Run), whose funding comes from the war-on-drugs folks.  I will use the 2006 data on drug use in the last 30-days, but any of the table shows the same basic results:

% Using Illegal
Drugs

% Using Tobacco

8th grade

8.1

8.7

10th grade

16.8

14.5

12th grade

21.5

21.6

Can you see the point?  Tobacco use is the same or even lower than the use of illegal drugs in this survey.  Legalizing a habit-forming drug for adults does not seem to increase use of that drug among kids vs. full prohibition.  So what is the war on drugs buying us, anyway?

The Joy of Blogging

I guess it's become de riguer to take a shot at Joseph Rago's editorial in the WSJ the other day, saying in part:

Some critics reproach the blogs
for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs,
they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren't much
rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem
with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful.
Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.

Every conceivable belief is on the
scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone
of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly
brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are
eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its
conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in
pronouncement than persuasion . . .

I haven't really posted on this editorial any more than I have posted on the commercials I hear every day for FM radio telling me how bad satellite radio is, and how much I should enjoy hearing 15 minutes of commercials an hour rather than paying $30 a month in fees.  There is a consistent human behavior which tends not just to be threatened but to be outraged by upstart competitors.  Remember this story on the milk cartel  -- entrenched interests are flabbergasted that anyone would even attempt to compete with them in a new way.  New competitors are not just bad and unworthy, they are portrayed as threatening all the good things that already exist.

Now that I am started, though, here are a few other random thoughts:

  • It is inappropriate to compare single blogs to individual newspapers.  The WSJ has hundreds of reporters, while most blogs have one.  In making such a comparison, one is comparing a brain on one hand with a single brain cell on the other.  Blogs have much of their value as a network or swarm, in how the individual "cells" interact with each other and complement each other.  We might read one or two iterations of the daily fishwrap each day, but I read at least 30 blogs, all aggregated together for me in a convenient form by Google Reader.  And these thirty are augmented by links that I follow to as many as a hundred other blogs each week to learn more about individual issues.
  • I don't particularly disagree with this statement:

The blogs are not as significant
as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism
requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital
age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead,
they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks,
picking at the scraps.

Few bloggers would disagree with this view that we depend on the reporting of the MSM for a starting point of much of what we do.  However, I would probably argue that some of the scraps we are picking up are larger than Rago would concede.  By the way, if you leave out a few papers like the NY Times, I could make the same accusation against 99% of the papers in this country, arguing that they are riding on the backs of the wire services, only doing a small percentage of their own reporting.  What's the difference?

  • One of the reasons there are so many scraps left for us blogger-remoras is that newspapers load up on people whose education and entire professional career is in writing and journalism, rather than in economics or business or law or science whatever they are writing about.  You can just see the institutional hubris in Rago's complaint quoted above about the quality of the prose and the humor, longing for real journalists who can use logorrheic and solipsistic in the same sentence (not to mention four commas, five semi-colons, one colon, and one set of ellipses).   So while newspapers load up on journalism and English majors who write lovely and witty prose, blogs are written by leading economists, legal practitioners and professors, successful business people, technology experts of every stripe, etc. etc.  No newspaper, for example, has even one tenth the economic firepower the combination of Cafe Hayek, Marginal Revolution, the Knowledge Problem, and the Mises Blog, among many others, bring to my desktop.  Ditto for Volokh / Scotusblog / Instapundit / Overlawyered / Tom Kirkendall on legal issues. [Update:  Oh, and a lot of those other bloggers are, uh, journalists]

  • One of the mistakes newspaper-types make in comparing newspapers to blogs is that they compare the reality of blogs with the ideals of newspapers, particularly on things like sourcing and fact-checking.  However, it's becoming clear that this comparison is increasingly unfair, because the reality of newspapers is diverging a fair amount from their ideals.  Of course, we all tend to fall short of our ideals.  But what is worrying about newspapers is that those who purport to be gaurdians and watchdogs of these ideals are increasingly becoming appologists for their violation.  How many times are we going to hear the "fake but accurate" response to blogger accusations of problems in MSM sourcing?
  • I will concede that the Mr. Rago's employer the WSJ is one of the few newspapers that really understand how they create value, or at least are consistent in their value story and their pricing policy.  If, as Rago and others argue, it is the reportage that is of value and editorializing is just the remora, then shouldn't it be the reporting behind the firewall and the editorials out front?  This is how the WSJ does it, but for some odd reason the NY Times does it just the opposite:  They let everyone have access for free to the output of their uniquely large and talented reporter pool, but put the confused economic rantings of Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd behind a paid firewall.  Huh?

Asymmetrical Racism

First, just as background, I can't get too worked up about a black professor named John Streamas at WSU calling a Young Republican a "White Shitbag."  As I have written many times before, speech shouldn't be banned in a public forum merely for being offensive  -- we don't have a right not to be offended, and even idiots can speak.  While I think that a number of observers are correct in saying that if the races of the protagonists were reversed, the reaction to the statement and the university penalties applied would have been much more severe, it really doesn't matter.  WSU might rightfully evaluate whether they would like its professors to be more eloquent in political discourse or better able to handle heated arguments with students with some self-restraint, but that is in the realm of employee evaluation and not punishment for speech.

That being said, this case does provide a useful insight into something many of us have suspected for years but few African-Americans have admitted:  Some blacks and black leaders would like to redefine "racism" as applying only to slights against blacks.  Professor Streamas comes right out and argues that blacks can't be guilty of racism:

Prof. Streamas "insists that he did not utter the phrase as an
expression of racism, in part, because he argues that a person of color
cannot be racist, by definition, because racism also defines a power
differential that is not usually present when a person or color is
speaking."

This is an asymmetrical definition of racism that I have long suspected is harbored by various folks on the left.  By the way, the "power differential" argument is just a distraction.  If he really believed this, it would mean that I could utter the foulest things about powerful men like John Conyers or Colin Powell with impunity from being called a racist, and I know he doesn't mean that.  What he means is that he wants to claim the title of victim all for himself, allowing for enormous restrictions on actions and speech of others vis a vis himself, while not in the least bit in any way restraining his own actions or speech.

This is a common theme nowadays, especially on campus:  Everyone seems to be looking for a way to say anything they want, while simultaneously silencing their critics.  You can't have it both ways.  Its much easier to let everyone speak.  Free speech should not partially be for your enemies, but especially be for your enemies.

Finally

Our new puppy finally made it through the night without having to poop (or at least until 6AM, which is close enough).  The dog is small enough to be food for hawks and owls, so we have to take her out ourselves, and my sleep deprivation has been approaching levels not reached since my kids were babies.  I am new to dog ownership, so experienced owners probably could have short-cut this somehow, but I will observe that small dogs seem to have small brains, small bladders, and very short GI tracts.

Otherwise, we have been very happy with her.  She is the quietest small dog I have ever seen (she almost never barks) and she has a wonderful disposition.

The Problem with Kwanzaa

[This is an update and a reprint of a post from 2004.  Lesson learned from last time I posted on this topic:  If you are going to send me hate mail, at least read the post carefully first]

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of
themselves and their history is a good one.  The specific values
celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist
-Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe
around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because
they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible
to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the
African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly
constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

First, understand that I have no problem with people of any ethnic
group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth
celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new
occasions. One of the great things about living in Arizona is getting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Second, understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah
Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord
and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their
clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss
Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her
own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent
and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly,
after this conviction as well incidents of schizophrenia in prison
where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and
imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by
dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a
holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their
history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built
around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.
Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition
from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by
blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red itallics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On
its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight
Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th
century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In
practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of
a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly
criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack
Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally
cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this
was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's
context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To
do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I
guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things
better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on
this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What
about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the
individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is
interesting that a holiday
that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as
a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage
to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However,
this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and
totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god,
and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ...
them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for
Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the
totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and
daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So,
in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a
totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among
African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
thats not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the
core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin
and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom
- Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other
master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against
injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and
heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in
particular, so we will never again repeat it. 

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American
should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors
suffered the horrors of the slavery passage, suffered the indignity and
humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country,
infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than
I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.