Archive for February 2016

I Get This Same Comment All the Time -- Here is My Blanket Advice

Don Boudreaux writes:

This note is to an angry young man who describes Bernie Sanders as his and his girlfriend’s “hero” and as “the only candidate following humane economics.”  Sigh.

Mr. Claudio Morello

Mr. Morello:

Thanks for your e-mail.

You find my arguments against a $15 per hour minimum wage to be “totally uncompelling” because “labor is not a commodity like bread and electronics.”  In your view, “labor should not be subject to the bloodless laws of economics.”

I get this sort of comment all the time about it being wrong, even inhuman, to treat labor as a commodity subject to the laws of supply and demand.  I generally have two responses:

  1. For the guy who was just pushed out of a 10th story window, I am sure a more "humane" law of gravity would see him wafted gently to earth -- but all his wishing for such an alternate reality is not going to have it happen.
  2. Forgetting public policy for a moment, to the extent that you (the commenter) relies on other people hiring you to stay alive in this world, I can think of few things that would improve your well-being more than attempting to develop a basic understanding of why your labor might have more or less value to someone else.  Refusing to do so, or even refusing to acknowledge that your labor has some sort of economic value at all, would be like trying to launch rockets to mars while refusing to acknowledge the rules of celestial mechanics. .  Refusing to even think about why labor (and skills) might or might not have value in different situations seems to be a recipe for pretty low earnings over time.

Corporations Don't Want to Report Their True Earnings. Why is The Financial Press So Eager to Help?

I totally understand why corporations may wish to push the envelope on earnings adjustments to make their stock look like a better buy.  But why is the financial media generally complicit with this?  Take any earnings announcement you read about or hear on the TV -- almost every single time it turns out that the earnings number quoted by the press, at least in the headline or the TV sound bite, is the company's non-GAAP adjusted number, not their actual GAAP number.

I might be OK with this if this were being done for good reasons, ie if the financial press thought the adjusted number was somehow more representative.  But I don't get this sense at all.  It feels more like the press is just lazy and accepts whatever number is in the press release without digging further.   Often in a longer story you will find the GAAP number, but buried many grafs in.

Oh, and by the way, the two numbers are diverging:

A good way to think about this chart is that, if you are not careful, you are paying for the bar on the right but getting the bar on the left.  Note that without adjustments, earnings fell pretty substantially in 2015.  It is not at all clear to me why we have not seen this story.

You Are Richer Than a 19th Century Billionaire

Don Boudreaux has a great post about why you are richer and better off than John D Rockefeller.  I would have thought this to be almost axiomatic, but apparently he is getting push back on this. Please go to the link and read it.

I posted a similar article in 2007, though in that case I was doing a comparison with California Big 4 magnate Mark Hopkins.  I will reprint the article in full since it has been so long:

One of the really bad ideas that drive some of the worst government actions is the notion that wealth is somehow fixed, and that by implication all wealth is acquired at someone else's expense.  I am working on my annual tax-day post on the zero sum fallacy, but in the mean time here is a brief quiz.

The quiz consists of matching a description to the owners of these two houses:

House1a House2b

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

Why Exxon Provides a Good Analogy for the Central Banker's Dilemma

This article on Exxon stock seemed to be an allegory for the current problem central bankers face:

Earlier this month, Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) reported Q4 2015 earningswhich, as expected, looked ugly considering the large decline in the price of oil over the last one and a half years. Exxon Mobil has long been one of the largest repurchasers of shares, spending a net of $89.74B on share buybacks during the 2010 through 2015 period. However, during the Q4 earnings release, management stated that share buybacks were being halted, presumably to preserve cash...

Contrast that with the strategy from 2008 when share buybacks were accelerated during the market fallout of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the beginnings of what's now known as the Great Recession. Management reduced shares outstanding by 7.5% in 2008 alone...

Oil prices have sunk to lows not seen in more than a decade. The share price hit a low in the $60s in 2015 which hadn't been seen since late 2010. If you're of the belief that oil prices will rebound, eventually, then now should be the time that Exxon Mobil is ramping up the share buybacks not eliminating them.

This is the problem the author is highlighting:  Exxon ran up tens of billions in debt to stimulate the stock price in good times.  Now that times are bad, at least in the oil patch, the tank is empty (so to speak) and they have had to cease buybacks at the very time they would make the most sense (the same amount of money spent at lower stock prices would have higher impact on EPS).  The tank is empty enough that they might have to cut the dividend, an action with such negative consequences for stock value that it would likely undo all the effects of years of stock purchases.

I am not trying to beat up on Exxon -- I actually admire them as a well-managed company and pretty much every large corporation has gotten caught up in this unproductive Fed-inspired game of borrowing at close to zero and buying back stock (to my mind the financial equivalent of the Keynesian digging of holes and filling them back in).  But I hope you can see the analogy with the position of governments and central bankers.   For the last 5 years, when economic times have been good (alright, maybe just OK) governments have been deficit spending like crazy and central banks have been expanding their balance sheets with programs like QE to keep the economy stimulated.  But just as with the situation at Exxon, when the bad times come, bankers are going to find themselves with far fewer options than they had in 2008.

PS:  This is what Exxon really should have been doing the last 5 years -- hoarding their cash and borrowing reserves to be able to buy assets like crazy on the cheap in the next downturn.  They have always been able to do this in past downturns.  I suspect it may not be possible this time.

Warren Meyer Speaking in LA on Lukewarmer Climate Position on Wednesday, February 24 -- Come See Me!

I am speaking on Wednesday night at the Athenaeum at Claremont-McKenna College near Pomona on Wednesday, February 24.  It is open to the public and is free.  Come by a say hi if you are in the area.  You can just walk in to the presentation which begins at 6:45 but if you want to attend the pre-dinner at 5:30, there is a $20 charge and you need to reserve a spot by calling  909-621-8244.

I really hope if you are in the LA area you will come by.  The presentation is about 45 minutes plus a Q&A afterwards.

Why I Dislike the "Bush Lied About Iraq" Formulation (And Its Not Because I Want to Defend GWB)

I really don't like the meme that Bush lied about Iraq (on WMD's, possession of yellow cake uranium, whatever).  Here is why:  the implication is that if we just had smarter, more honest politicians, all of our interventionist foreign policy would work great.  But beyond the fact that we never have smarter and more honest politicians, this meme prevents us from learning the right lesson from the Iraq war.

If I were a candidate in the debate asked to comment on Trump's "Bush lied" comment, I would say this:

While politicians lie all the time, I think it is entirely possible that the Bush administration honestly believed Saddam had WMD's at the time of the Iraq war.  In fact, it appears that as a minimum, Hussein was bluffing like hell to make the world think he had such weapons.  But the issue of whether it was a lie or not is all a distraction.  The real issue for me is that we have no idea what we are doing when we intervene in these nations.  Typically in the rush of political sound-bites, we oversimplify ancient, five-sided conflicts as black and white, and even our most well-intentioned efforts to eliminate certain problems (such as Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi) tend to result in unanticipated consequences that might be many times as problematic as the original issues.  In Iraq, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Libya -- we had hundreds of people in and out of government who act like they know it all but in fact we as a county had no idea what we were doing.  And we simply can't know.

The lesson from the Iraq War is not that our foreign policy would be perfect if only we purge liars from the government (and good luck with that).  The lesson from the Iraq War is that we are never going to have a sensible foreign policy until we adopt some humility -- a lot of humility -- about our ability to understand other countries and manipulate them by force.  Is this really what you expect out of Donald Trump?  More humility?  While there is still a role for America's strength in the world, we need to set a much higher bar for when we use that strength.

 

Postscript:  They say that a converted Christian is more passionate that those who have been Christian all their lives.  I will confess that I am a convert to foreign policy humility.  I grew up in a Texas conservative Republican family, though I shed a lot of the social conservative baggage, as well as any team allegiance to the Republicans, decades ago.  I did hold on to sort of neo-Conservative forceful foreign policy, though.  I am embarrassed to say that I was a participant in my generation's August madness**, getting all rah-rah about the Iraq invasion.  At least I admit it, unlike a number of other folks *cough* Hillary and Trump *cough* who try to whitewash history.  I will use a famous quote here from Robespierre, though in the end he did not follow his own advice:

The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.

 

** There are surprisingly few good online sources I can find discussing the August Madness.  It refers to the public celebrations that occurred in the first month of World War I in nearly every combatant country.  The beginning of the war was met by a surprising amount of enthusiasm, even from groups (e.g. the Socialists) who were expected to actively oppose a general war.  Growing nationalism combined with a certain strain of 19th century romanticism and even a certain amount of progressive social Darwinism all came to a head to create general (though not universal) enthusiasm for the war.

Coyote Climate Talk in LA Area This Week

I am speaking on Wednesday night at the Athenaeum at Claremont-McKenna College near Pomona on Wednesday, February 24.  I believe it is open to the public and is free but requires you to call ahead and reserve a spot.  Come by a say hi if you are in the area.

Never, Ever Trust Media Reporting of Scientific (Or Quasi-Scientific) Studies -- The Github Sexism Study and the Response.

I recommend this article (via Tyler Cowen) on the interesting topic of whether women's open source software contributions on Github are accepted more or less frequently than those of men.   The findings of the study are roughly as follows:

They find that women get more (!) requests accepted than men for all of the top ten programming languages. They check some possible confounders – whether women make smaller changes (easier to get accepted) or whether their changes are more likely to serve an immediate project need (again, easier to get accepted) and in fact find the opposite – women’s changes are larger and less likely to serve project needs. That makes their better performance extra impressive....

Among insiders [essentially past contributors], women do the same as men when gender is hidden, but better than men when gender is revealed. In other words, if you know somebody’s a woman, you’re more likely to approve her request than you would be on the merits alone. We can’t quantify exactly how much this is, because the paper doesn’t provide numbers, just graphs. Eyeballing the graph, it looks like being a woman gives you about a 1% advantage. I don’t see any discussion of this result, even though it’s half the study, and as far as I can tell the more statistically significant half.

Among outsiders, women do the same as/better than men when gender is hidden, and the same as/worse than men when gender is revealed. I can’t be more specific than this because the study doesn’t give numbers and I’m trying to eyeball confidence intervals on graphs. The study itself say that women do worse than men when gender is revealed, so since the researchers presumably have access to their real numbers data, that might mean the confidence intervals don’t overlap. From eyeballing the graph, it looks like the difference is 1% – ie, men get their requests approved 64% of the time, and women 63% of the time. Once again, it’s hard to tell by graph-eyeballing whether these two numbers are within each other’s confidence intervals.

OK, so generally good news for women on all fronts -- they do better than men -- with one small area (63 vs 64 percent) where there might or might not be an issue.

This was an interesting side bit:

Oh, one more thing. A commenter on the paper’s pre-print asked for a breakdown by approver gender, and the authors mentioned that “Our analysis (not in this paper — we’ve cut a lot out to keep it crisp) shows that women are harder on other women than they are on men. Men are harder on other men than they are on women.”

Depending on what this means – since it was cut out of the paper to “keep it crisp”, we can’t be sure – it sounds like the effect is mainly from women rejecting other women’s contributions, and men being pretty accepting of them. Given the way the media predictably spun this paper, it is hard for me to conceive of a level of crispness which justifies not providing this information.

So here is an example press report of this study and data:

Here’s Business Insider: Sexism Is Rampant Among Programmers On GitHub, Research Finds. “A new research report shows just how ridiculously tough it can be to be a woman programmer, especially in the very male-dominated world of open-source software….it also shows that women face a giant hurdle of “gender bias” when others assess their work. This research also helps explain the bigger problem: why so many women who do enter tech don’t stick around in it, and often move on to other industries within 10 years. Why bang your head against the wall for longer than a decade?” [EDIT: the title has since been changed]

This article, and many many like it, bear absolutely no relationship to the actual data in the study.  Since the article of course is all most people even read, now a meme is created forever in social media that is just plain wrong.  Nice job media.

Advice and Consent

I will begin by saying that I am the last one in the world to bemoan Congressional "gridlock".  I have this argument all the time, but I just don't see that we Americans are facing some imminent shortage of laws and so lack of productive lawmaking by Congress doesn't pose any great problem for me.  And gridlock certainly is not an adequate reason for rule by Presidential fiat, as I have seen argued a number of times in the past couple of years.  There is no Constitutional clause allowing Executive action if Congress won't pass the President's preferred legislation.  The narrow party split in Congress is a reflection of a real split in American voters --  gridlock on particular issues in Congress will pass, as it always has, when the electorate coalesces into a majority on the issue.

All that being said, I have always thought that the Senate's advice and consent functions should be exempt from the filibuster.  Presidential appointments need to get an up or down vote in some reasonable amount of time.  It is fine if the Senate wants to say "no" to a particular judge or appointment, but there needs to be a vote.  I say this obviously in the context of the current Supreme Court vacancy.  I am almost certain not to like Obama's appointment, so I say this now before I get tempted to move off my principles here in the exigency of politics.  But not voting on a Supreme Court nominee for a full year is just stupid  (btw Republicans, for all your love of the Constitution, show me anywhere in the document where it says "lame duck" presidents have less power).   If Republicans want to run out the clock by voting down one candidate after another, then they can of course do that, and suffer the political consequences -- positive or negative -- of doing so.  And suffer the future precedent as well (if a one year wait is the precedent now, what about 2, or 4, next time?)   If Republicans wanted to pick Supreme Court nominees in 2016, they should have won the last Presidential election.

Politics is a multi-round game that goes on for decades and centuries.  This is one reason the filibuster still exists.  Both parties have come achingly close to eliminating it when they had slim majorities in the Senate, but both walked away in part because this was a move that worked for one round of the game (whatever vote was at hand) but has downsides in a multi-round game (where one's party will be in the Senate minority again and will want the filibuster back).  It just infuriates me that the current participants in this game seem bent on making decisions that seem indifferent to future rounds of the game.  GWB and Obama have both done this with expansions of executive power - the Left is cheering Obama on to govern by fiat but will they really be happy with these precedents in a, for example, Cruz administration?  Ditto now with the Republicans and trying to run a full year off the clock on a Supreme Court nomination.

Postscript:  By the way, the very fact a Supreme Court nomination is so politically radioactive is a sign of a basic governmental failure in and of itself.  The libertarian argument is that by giving the government so much power to intervene in so many ways that creates winners and losers by legislative diktat, we have raised the stakes of minutes points of law to previously unimaginable levels.  In a world where the government is not empowered to micro-manage our lives, a Supreme Court nomination would be as interesting as naming the postmaster general.

Love This Chart

Public Key Encryption

This video, linked by Tyler Cowen, is the best I have seen to simplify the basic theory of public key encryption:

This follow-up video takes this basic understanding and explains RSA encryption

Can Congress Keep Its Hands off Anything?

Representative introduces bill set set minimum airplane seat pitch.

Coyote on the Real Clear Radio Hour

Bill Frezza interviewed me for his show the other day.  I felt it was not one of my better performances but he says he is a wizard of editing so we will see.  Anyway, I am actually sharing the show with Coyote-favorite Dr. Richard Lindzen, so at least that half of the show should be worth your time.  Here are the details:

Tune in Saturday, February 13th to RealClear Radio Hour with Bill Frezza with guests Richard Lindzen and Warren Meyer.

You can listen live on Bloomberg’s Boston iHeartRadio or Bloomberg’s San Francisco iHeartRadioSaturdays at 10a PT/ 1p ET, 4p PT/ 7p ET or Sundays at 1a PT/ 4a ET.

Government Science Monopoly

Richard Lindzen, atmospheric physicist, MIT professor emeritus, and lead author of the “Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks” chapter of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, attributes climate hype to politics, money, and propaganda. Lindzen particularly takes issue with the “97% consensus” claim that is being used to stifle debate and demonize skeptics.

Rescuing Public Parks

Warren Meyer, founder and president of Recreation Resource Management, shares how he has successfully managed public parks for nearly 25 years. Meyer advocates for whole park concessions—privatized management of public parks—to save them from closure and agency mismanagement.

If you can't tune in live - download the as-aired shows from iTunes or listen to podcasts with additional content on SoundCloud or YouTube

 

The weekly one-hour program airs:

WXKS 1200 and WJMN 94.5F in Boston Saturdays 1p & 7p & Sundays 4a ET,

KNEW 960 & KOSF 103.7 in San Francisco Saturdays 10a & 4p & Sundays 1a PT,

1030 KVOI in Tucson, AZ Saturdays 4a MT,

KSBN 1230 Money Talk in Spokane, WA Saturdays 5a PT,

Cities 92.9FM WRPW in Bloomington, IL Saturdays 7a CT,

1590 WSMN in Nashua, NH Saturdays 12p ET,

KATE 1450AM in Alberta Lea, MN Saturdays 1p CT,

1330 WEBY in Pensacola, FL Saturdays 3p CT,

The Patriot, KRMR 105.7FM in Hays, KS Sundays 3p CT,

The Patriot, KNNS 1510AM in Larned, KS Sundays 3p CT,

KVOW 1450 in Riverton, WY Sundays 3p MT, and

WROM Radio in Detroit, MI Mondays 8p ET

Does the ACLU Still Support the First Amendment?

The ACLU has always been an important but imperfect organization.  Historically, its biggest problem IMO has been its Stalinist origins and its resulting complete silence on, even at times hostility towards, property rights.   But it was always wonderfully absolutist in protecting free speech.  One of my first blog posts, which I can't seem to find, 10+ years ago was a post congratulating the ACLU to the distasteful but necesary task of defending the free speech rights of neo-Nazis.

Unfortunately, the rising opposition to free speech on the Left seems to be infecting the ACLU.  Via Ronald Collins:

Wendy Kaminer is an ardent free-speech advocate; she is currently a member of the advisory board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Ms. Kaminer Kaminer was a member of the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts from the early 1990s until June 2009. She was also a national board member of the ACLU from 1999 until her term expired in June 2006. As to the omission of any reference to protecting First Amendment free-speech freedoms in the 2016 Workplan, she stated:

I’m not at all surprised that the ACLU’s 2016 work plan doesn’t include an explicit commitment to protecting freedom of speech. At the national level, ACLU has been exercising its right to remain silent on key free speech issues for years, in apparent deference to progressive support for restricting speech deemed racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise exclusionary. Still, while it’s unsurprising, the ACLU’s withdrawal from free speech battles that could eventually lead the U.S. to adopt a Western European approach to regulating “hate speech” is indeed alarming. As threats to free speech intensify — on campus (thanks partly to arguably unconstitutional federal mandates) and in the remarkable tendency of some liberals to blame the victims of violence for giving offense to their murderers (remember Charlie Hebdo) — the ACLU’s timidity in protecting speech looks more and more like complicity in censoring it.

Here is how Harvey A. Silverglate, co-founder of FIRE and a former member of the Board President of the ACLU of Massachusetts, replied:

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that the national ACLU Board and Staff are nowhere to be seen in the increasingly difficult battle to protect First Amendment freedom of expression rights. This is especially so in areas where the ACLU, more and more, pursues a political or social agenda where the overriding importance of the goal transcends, in the eyes of ACLU’s leadership, the needed vitality of free speech principles neutrally and apolitically applied. Fortunately, some ACLU state affiliates still carry the free speech battle flag, but they are a diminishing army in a war that is getting more and more difficult, even though more and more important, to wage.

 

Winners in the "Find Coyote A Special Laundry Rack" Contest

A few days ago I asked readers if they could find me a laundry drying rack that could elevate with an electric winch, to take advantage of the limited floor space but 12 foot ceilings in my bizarrely designed laundry room.  These are surprisingly common in Asia but I could not find any for sale in the US.

Several of the early responses found manual ones but missed on the electric/automatic spec  (e.g  here and here).  I may in the end get one of these and motorize it but the contest specified already motorized.

Phil had the first winning entry, finding this Asian model for sale to the US in retail lots.  Its too expensive, and Dwight found one later much cheaper, but the contest was for first email, and did not say anything about price.  I will give Dwight honorable mention because I feel like I searched the Sh*t out of Amazon and somehow missed this.

I decided to give a second award to Neil.  He was the first one to go a little more creative and search beyond laundry to get something with the right functionality but designed for a different application.  It is not the most attractive item in the world but easily has the best price-value ratio of any solution so I awarded a second prize for it.

Finally, while it does not win, Brad gets honorable mention for this closet solution, which is not quite what I am looking for, but might have been made to work if I didn't have other options.

Thanks to everyone.  I'll post a picture when we finally install something.

 

Stupid BS Government Officials Get Away with Everywhere

I don't know if you have ever had to write a check or sent a form to a county assessor, clerk, treasurer or the like.  But the odds are that the forms you were working with did not tell you to send a check to "Loudon County Tax Assessor" but to something like "Mike Cambell, Loudon County Tax Assessor."  There is absolutely no reason the assessor's personal name has to be on the check, or on the forms, or on the letterhead, or on the envelope, or on the return address.  But it is.  Because this is a way that small-scale elected officials have found to get free advertising and name recognition in their next election at taxpayer expense.  It is an advantage they have structured as incumbents against any would-be challengers.

And it has real costs even beyond the artificial limiting of electoral competition.  When the current assessor loses office, or retires, or just gets hit by a bus, all the printed materials in the office have to be thrown away as they all had his or her name on them and are thus obsolete.  All new material has to be printed.   Someone has to go in and manually edit every single form.  The printer has to reset to make a new batch of return address envelopes and such.  The bank needs to be notified that checks to the deposit will be addressed to a different person.  It is crazy.

Social Justice Warriors and Original Sin

I have come to the conclusion that the concept of original sin must be one of those that are quite appealing to humans.

For literally millennia, original sin has been a foundational part of much of Christianity.  We were all born with original sin, and so effectively started life with guilt.  It turns out that it is much easier to exercise power over the guilty than over people who consider themselves innocent.  The Catholic Church took advantage of this power by claiming that no individual could wipe away their original sin, their inherited guilt, without active engagement with the Church itself.  I will leave aside theological arguments** here, but conclude that the Church used the original sin doctrine in part to enhance its temporal power.

As Christianity fades somewhat as an active part of Western culture, the idea of Christian original sin seldom comes up much in any practical way.  But that does not mean the world has abandoned the concept of original sin - no indeed.  Racism is one of the classic examples of original sin - in it, someone born black, or Jewish, or whatever, is tainted with an original sin that they cannot wash away, and makes them somehow inferior to others.

Much of what social justice warriors say sounds racist to me, as they often offer negative generalizations of whole groups based on race, or gender, or sexual preference.  In my naive younger days I used to think that judging anyone based on their race rather than their individual actions and values was racism.    However, SJW's have managed to change linguistics in their favor, conveniently redefining racism (or sexism) as only applying to those in historically more powerful groups  (e.g. white males).  By this definition, a black woman can never be a racist, no matter how much she negatively stereotypes other racial groups.

Well, OK then.  I am tired of fighting this definitional issue.  So I will just say that SJW's frequently fall in the trap of believing in original sin.  Whites, males, heteros, successful people - they are all tainted in the SJW mind with original sin, so much that any utterance from any individual in these groups is deemed as having no value and therefore should be ignored or actively suppressed.  This is actually a radical version of original sin that goes way farther than the Catholic Church ever took it, though I would argue it is promulgated for roughly the same reason - to enhance one's power.

 

** Speaking of original sin, in one of the great misconceptions that Christians have of their own religion, the immaculate conception was not Mary's virgin birth of Jesus but rather her own birth without the taint of original sin.

Ugh, Aging

My college roommates and I in college, at our 25th reunion, and just this January in Thailand.

How Low Can Journalism Sink? Retailer Selling Blank Paper Where They Used to Sell Magazines

Here is the magazine rack at my local Fry's Electronics store.  They used to sell a huge array of magazines.  Now they are selling blank notebook paper and spiral notebooks

It is bad enough that magazines were seen as a poor enough product that they get replaced by a bunch of generic, low-value, presumably low-margin items.  But I find it especially ironic that periodicals have been replaced by blank bound paper.  It implies that the paper in the magazines had value but the writing on them somehow reduced that value, such that they would rather just sell paper that is blank.

Where Are the Gender Warriors When You Need Them?

The other day I reported on the new, quite onerous race and gender reporting being proposed by the Obama Administration.  One thought I had when I was thinking how we might implement this -- the forms only have two gender options, Male and Female.

For most of us, that might seem almost tautological, but for certain gender warriors this is an act of hostility beyond imagination.  How can the government assume people only self-identify in 2 genders?  What about Agender, Androgyne, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis, Cisgender, Cis Female, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman, Female to Male, FTM, Gender Fluid, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Questioning, Gender Variant, Genderqueer, Intersex, Male to Female, MTF, Neither, Neutrois, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Trans, Trans*, Trans Female, Trans* Female, Trans Male, Trans* Male, Trans Man, Trans* Man, Trans Person, Trans* Person, Trans Woman, Trans* Woman, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman,  and Two-Spirit?

What we need is for the gender warriors to tie up this regulation in 15 or 20 years of litigation.

(By the way, each new gender added, by the nature of how the data reporting is set up, adds an additional 1800 fields to the report).

$10 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

I will give a $10 Amazon gift card to the first person with an email in my inbox (coyote--at---coyoteblog dot com) with a North American retail source (no large lots) for something similar to this:

Does not need to be a scissor lift, could be cables but must be motorized.   We have a very modern house which sometimes results in odd rooms.  Our laundry room is tiny in footprint but has a 12 foot ceiling (!).  So I was just in the process of designing a motor lifted frame with poles to hang clothes for drying** that could lift up and down from the ceiling when I saw this.  They seem to have many in Asia but I can't find one here.    This one has some sort of air drying system which we don't need so that is not a necessary part of the package.   This is a (homemade I think) hand winched version which would also be OK if it were motorized.

PS, this is not quite it

Update:  Thanks.  I have a couple of winners I will announce.

**Phoenix has approx. 5% humidity so we don't need to bother hanging them outside, they will dry anywhere in hours.

New EEOC Payroll Reporting Rule Proposed -- I am Officially Exhausted With This Administration

I have written here before that all the free time I used to invest thinking about how to improve my business has been spent over the last 4-5 years solely on figuring out how to comply with new government regulations.  We are still trying to figure out the ins and outs of required Obamacare reporting, we have no idea yet how we are going to comply with new rules turning all of our salaried managers into timeclock punchers, and now there is this:

On the anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced proposed changes to its EEO-1 report, requiring employers to submit employee W-2 earnings and hours worked. All employers with at least 100 employees would be required to comply. EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) would jointly have access to the pay data for enforcement purposes.

Available are advance copies of the proposed rule and the proposed pay reporting form.

While the Obama Administration’s January 29 statement announcing the proposal focused mainly on the gender “pay gap” as the basis for the new requirements, the proposed changes will mandate submission of pay data broken down by race/ethnicity, in addition to gender.

For the past few years, at the President’s direction, EEOC and OFCCP have sought to develop a reporting tool that would require employers to submit pay data on employees nationwide so the agencies can target investigations to address the gender “pay gap.” This proposal is the culmination of that effort.

The proposed rule will be published on February 1 and interested parties will have 60 days to submit comments.

Forget for a moment that the whole purpose of this rule is to provide litigation attorneys a database they can mine to legally harass businesses.  The reporting requirements here are incredibly onerous.  It takes the current EEO-1 (the annual exercise where we strive for a post-racial society by racially categorizing all of our employees) and makes it something like 15-20 times longer.  In addition, rather than simply "count" an employee as being on staff in a certain race-gender category, we now have to report their income and hours worked.  Either I will have to hire staff just to do this stupid report, or I will again (like with Obamacare) have to pay a third party thousands of dollars a year to satisfy yet another government reporting requirement.  This is utter madness.

Get this -- the report has 3600 individual cells that must be filled in.  And this is in addition to the current EEO-1 form, which also still has to be filled out.  The draft rule assumes 6-7 hours per company per year for this reporting.  They must be joking.

In the past, I have merely asked each local manager to tell me how many folks they have in each racial category.  Now, I am going to have to put everyone's race and gender into the payroll system -- there is no other way to do this.  And by the way, I just checked.  I have a very capable payroll company and I don't see any way to report wages and hours by race.

Congratulations Obama Administration, but I believe you have made me a Republican voter in the next Presidential election.  I have not voted for a Republican for President since George HW Bush, generally voting for whatever libertarian candidate is present.  For a while, particularly when one compared GWB to Bill Clinton, Republicans just were not that much better on economic issues than Democrats and they were terrible on social issues and things like immigration.  Now I am going to have to hold my nose on all that stuff and become a one-issue voter like my wife (she votes solely on abortion availability) and vote solely for people who have some prospect of not larding on more of this kind of crap.  And while I don't know the R's very well, for sure Hillary and Bernie will just be more of the same.

Update:   More here from the same source, who has the same observations about what a joke the administrative burden calculations are that I had.

Federal Lands Footprint

Courtesy of the House Committee on Natural Resources comes this map of Federal "footprint", land either owned by the Feds or under some sort of Federal designation that has substantial impacts on property use.

You can click the map to enlarge it or else just go to the map with layers here.   Click the details button in the upper left to see the legend.  Beware, the map is pretty slow to function for me.  You might find an alternative that works better here.  You won't find a lot of private land west of Denver.

For much of the 19th century, the US had a sensible land policy that promoted homesteading and outright private purchases of Federal land.  Then this policy stopped, and what we have now is most of the land west of Denver managed by special interests who will fight tooth and nail to keep the land out of private hands and in their own control.

It's 2016 And Microsoft STILL Can't Do Bulleted Lists in Word Correctly

I am just staggered.  I am trying to create and edit a simple 2 level  (e.g. 1-a-b-c-2-3-4-a-b-5) etc. list in Microsoft Word and the bulleting STILL does not work right after, what, at least 10 major versions of the software?  Microsoft spends like a million man-hours screwing with the user interface so I constantly have to waste time hunting around looking for options like footer editing but they can't fix bullet points.  This is just unbelievably stupid.  No wonder productivity growth has flattened in this country -- MS Office is single-handedly trying to reduce it for everyone.

If you have worked with a law firm lately, you may well have found one still using Word Perfect.  Don't remember Word Perfect?  Beyond their being the king of the cntl-right shift-j style of commands, the one thing they could do even 20 years ago was manage a hierarchical list without making a total mess.

When I Make My Biggest Business Mistakes

As you probably can guess, I am spurred to write this post as I finally and forever bury the last traces of one of my larger business mistakes (which means that hopefully, the last of the restructuring charges are behind me).  I believe there is one constant element that permeates most of my major business mistakes:

My greatest mistakes have been made when I allow someone else's enthusiasm to overcome my rational business judgement.

I don't claim that this is everyone's problem, just mine.  I will say that the one thing about business disasters that follow a pattern is that it becomes easier to spot and avoid this pattern in the future.

Postscript:  I will add that I think this problem is a common feature of politics.  I personally fell into this trap with my initial support of the Iraq war, and I think a lot of others would say the same.  I feel like I avoided this trap with Obama.  In some sense, the political process has always used enthusiasm, or fear, or shame, or some other emotion to overcome the public's rational hesitation to have the government doing any number of things.  The Iowa caucus process is practically designed to allow group enthusiasm to trump people's rational voting intentions.