I have to second Glenn Reynolds recommendation of this Snap Circuits electronic kit. This is BY FAR the most user friendly electronic building toy we have found, and it works great. I don't see that many kids with these so its a great gift for nieces and nephews who you are not sure what they already own.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.
California Cap-and-trade plan may be put on hold because they failed to do an Environmental impact study. LOLOLOL
The California Air Resources Board violated state environmental law in 2008 when it adopted a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gases and again last year when it passed cap-and-trade regulations, a San Francisco Superior Court judge has ruled in a tentative decision.
If the decision is made final, California would be barred from implementing its ambitious plan to combat global warming until it complies with portions of the California Environmental Quality Act, though it is not yet clear what the air board would have to do to be in compliance. The state’s plan, which implements AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, would reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Here is the next bit of news I bet we will hear: One of the victims or his/her families will sue Safeway, whose only involvement in the crime was that it had offered the parking lot as a location for Ms. Giffords constituent meeting. Increasingly, though, the tort system is not about justice, but about finding deep pockets somehow tangentially connected to a tragedy. I will bet that some lawyer right now is crafting a suit based on Safeway's inadequate security, poor judgement in allowing the meeting on their property, failure to warn customers of the potential dangers of attending such a political meeting, etc. etc.
For some reason, Phoenix is in the midst of frozen yogurt wars. A few years ago a store opened with a new concept - they set up about 12 self-serve frozen yogurt machines so you could fill your own bowl, and then gave the customer direct access to heaps and heaps of toppings (e.g sprinkles, chocolate sauce, m&m's, gummie bears, etc). At the end, you weigh your bowl and pay based on weight, exactly as one might do in one of those salad bar restaurants.
Over the last few years, the market has exploded with new stores in the same model. We must have at least 10 different chains. We have about 6 within a short drive of our house. Already, the price per ounce they charge has fallen by over half.
I have learned from my out-of-town visitors that this is not a concept that is common in other parts of the country. Which leads me to ask why so many restaurants with the same concept are piling into Phoenix. Is it just people in the local market thinking it is a great idea and deciding to copy the idea in their neighborhood? I can sort of see the appeal - these stores were (initially) popular, had low barriers to entry, and probably elicit dreams of creating a franchisable concept. Which leads me to two questions:
- Why is the tenth or twentieth incremental store being opened in Phoenix? I would find some place like Georgetown or Harvard Square that has not seen this concept yet and open it there. Or even better, open one on Sand Hill Road or wherever retail investors work.
- Seeing the low barriers to entry and the quick proliferation in this market, combined with sagging visitation as the novelty wears off and steeply falling prices, why is anyone attracted to this at all? One guy will probably get out ahead on this and establish a national brand, and everyone else will likely get slaughtered (and the first mover will probably go bankrupt anyway as many fast-growing franchise model from Jiffy Lube to Boston Chicken have). Is it the lottery value? Or am I too much like the joke about Milton Friedman, who refused to pick up a twenty dollar bill on the ground because he argued that the money couldn't be real since in a free market someone would have already picked it up.
Apparently, the folks in France are at it again, valiantly trying to retroactively create trademark rights that don't exist. I saw this link below:
Which leads to this site, which says in part:
When it comes to wine, there is no ingredient more important than location. The land, air, water and weather where grapes are grown are what make each wine unique. That is why we, as wine enthusiasts, demand that a wine's true origin be clearly identified on its label in order for us to make informed decisions when purchasing and consuming wine. This ensures we know where our wine comes from and protects wine growing regions worldwide.
Use the form below to sign the petition to protect wine place and origin names:
I hereby sign the Wine Place & Origin Petition. In doing so, I join the signatories of the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin - Champagne, Chianti Classico, Jerez, Napa Valley, Oregon, Paso Robles, Porto, Sonoma County, Tokaj, Victoria, Walla Walla, Washington State and Western Australia - and a growing list of consumers in supporting clear and accurate labeling to better ensure consumers will not be misled by wine labels.
Some countries like Germany cannot use "champagne" or "Cognac" to describe similar products. Do you know why? These conditions were actually thrown in to the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI. Since the US never signed the treaty, it and its citizens and growers are not bound by this restriction.
In the same spirit I demand that: 1) Hamburgers only be made in Hamburg 2) Franfurters can only be made in Frankfort 3) Wiener Snitzel can only be made in Vienna 4) Hollandaise Sauce can only be made in the Netherlands 5) Boston baked beans can only be made in Boston. Obviously we consumers are all duped, thinking our hamburger was actually made in Germany. Had I only known!
A while back another entrepreneur/blogger wrote and asked me about investment choices for retirement. My philosophy on retirement seems to be a lot different than that of others, and I think owning one's own company changes some of the dynamics of retirement investing. Note that this advice is not right for everyone, and maybe no one, so read at your own risk. I publish it because the person I wrote suggested I do so, and after weeks of crazy intense work schedules I finally have the time.
A blogger wrote me about his despair at finding appropriate investment vehicles for his retirement savings. With relatively equal chances of 1) a long period of Japan-like slow growth or 2) a high inflationary period triggered by trying to avoid #1, both bonds and equities looked bad, and while real estate may have some value plays when things finally bottom out, neither of us has the time to pursue that. [since our emails, International equities are something I have moved money into, both as a diversification play as well as a way to short the dollar].
As I wrote him in one email
There is still a good chance of returning to normal growth in the middle somewhere, but both those bookends [inflation and stagnation] loom much larger than they might have, say, in my calculations five years ago. I have trouble figuring out what to invest in when both are possibilities. Equities? Great for hedging inflation but suck if there is a lost decade. Bonds would make sense in that case, but their interest will be low and they will be awful if inflation ramps up. If I really knew we would get inflation and devaluation, I would be leveraging like crazy because inflation transfers wealth from creditors to debtors.
As a result, I said that my main investment for my free capital was debt reduction and de-leveraging of my own business. Paying down debt has the advantage of having an absolutely predictable return and it reduces risk. This makes double sense for me as I have put new expansion investments in my business on hold until a variety of government issues from health care to tax rates become clearer. (For example, in health care, because my company is an oddity, with seasonal part time workers mostly on Medicare already, no one can yet tell me what my future costs will be. Estimates range from +0 to +20% of revenues!)
The key to my business, which may be very different from others, is that I make big investments to gain long-term contracts, but once captured, these contracts give my business a fair amount of stability and predictability. Further, in the latest recession, my business has proved to be either counter-cyclical or at least recession-proof to some extent, as 2009 was actually a blow-out record year for us. Given these facts, I am able to put a higher percentage of my net worth into my own business as an investment, without having to diversify as much in case of business trauma. And I prefer this. Given the choice of investing in a company I barely know on the NYSE or mine, which I understand and control, I prefer the latter. Also, returns on capital from buying or investing in private small businesses can be much higher (with higher risk of course) than in traditional equities -- see my whole series on buying a small business.
But here is where I really differ from most people: I take a very different view of retirement. When I worked in grinding corporate jobs (e.g. up until I was about 40) I was very focused on retirement. Now that I am doing something that is not brutally stressful, I hardly think about retirement. The whole concept of retirement now seems weird. I have, after a lot of hard work, gotten my business to the point where I can generally work as hard as I want to -- if I don't work hard, the business does not grow but I have good people such that it doesn't fall apart either. I compete with people who are running businesses in their late 70's who are still having a good time. I can take nice trips when I want to, take the day off if I need to, or whatever. My business actually has an off-season so I can be more relaxed part of the year.
My advice to this particular entrepreneur was to maybe reconsider the paradigm of "retirement." After all, the the long history of the world, retirement is a new concept that is barely 100 years old.
Are you the shuffleboard and golf type? What do you imagine yourself doing after retirement? I think you need some protection against becoming infirm or senile, but if you are healthy and vigorous, are you the type to get bored fast? As an example, nearly all of my 400 employees are retired, but they all got bored and wanted something to do.
Here is an alternative, entrepreneur's way to think about planning for retirement: How do I work really hard building a business that in 10 years will have a position such that it spits out some level of cash without effort on my part and can still grow if I want to spend time on it. I am surrounded in Scottsdale by people who have done exactly this after giving up a corporate job. At some point they took their savings from their 30s and 40s and dumped it into a business where they could still have the lifestyle they wanted. Buying or building the right company is sort of like buying a bond with an attached warrant whose value is related to how hard you want to work.
As I implied earlier, this is not an appropriate approach for every small business. The problem with technology businesses, for example, is that they never seem to mature into that latter predictable-cash-flow-stable-market-share phase. One is always running in place. One lesson I never forgot from my corporate years: In the industrial sector, I often saw people making loads of money selling bushings or some such whose design hadn't changed since 1920. It led me to this strategy: Find a market with barriers to entry, which may well not be very sexy, and spend ten years battering you way in, and then relax behind those walls. (As to sexy, the very first two classes of the first year Harvard Business School strategy course were a sexy cool software business and a boring stable industrial product business. Of course,the boring stable water meters made a fortune, while the software business never made a good return on capital. Beware of sexy businesses -- see: Airlines).
One other paradigm I would challenge is the notion everything you do as an entrepeneur has to be started from scratch. Many entrepreneurs have fun doing this but the prospect of doing a bootstrap startup when you are 70 years old is exhausting. Such entrepreneurs who have had a life of serial startups might consider a new phase in their business career as they get older, when they have saved enough assets to perhaps buy into an existing business rather than starting from scratch. I cannot tell you how many interesting small businesses there are that come up for sale with a guy who has an interesting product and has made some progress but can't manage his way out of a paper bag and thus hits some growth ceiling. I bought just such a core to my current business 8 years ago. These businesses require a lot of due diligence, because they are a real mixed bag, but I bought mine in an asset sale for 3.5 times EBITDA (which is an entirely typical price). Try buying Wall Street equities for 3.5 times EBITDA! If you pick the right business, and you are a good manager, there is not a better investment out there. Again, see my whole series on buying a small business.
Of course this investing-for-retirement is higher risk, because one bets a substantial portion of his net worth on his own business. But for those with confidence in their own ability, I find it a lot more compelling to bet my capital on myself rather than on guys I don't know running the Fortune 500.
From the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, eventually struck down by the Supreme Court:
Whenever the President shall find that destructive wage or price cutting or other activities contrary to the policy of this title are being practiced in any trade or industry or any subdivision thereof, and, after such public notice and hearing as he shall specify, shall find it essential to license business enterprises in order to make effective a code of fair competition or an agreement under this title or otherwise to effectuate the policy of this title, and shall publicly so announce, no person shall, after a date fixed in such announcement, engage in or carry on any business, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, specified in such announcement, unless he shall have first obtained a license issued pursuant to such regulations as the President shall prescribe. The President may suspend or revoke any such license, after due notice and opportunity for hear ing, for violations of the terms or conditions thereof. Any order of the President suspending or revoking any such license shall be final if in accordance with law.
With this law, all commerce was to be conducted only at the President's pleasure. The law also instituted code authorities, modeled on Mussolini's economic system, that would set prices, wages, production quotas and nearly every other business practice in an industry. To some extent, I would argue that the recent health care bill is the first modern American code authority.
In this week's episode, your tax money goes to subsidizing low cost, low down payment loans for New York luxury condo buyers.
I am testing blogging from my droid. My parent's ranch is actually out of signal range, so I hopped in a atv to drive down the dirt road until I got a signal.
Like most who have read Asimovs Nightfall, I read the part about everyone being so afraid of the dark with some smugness. But most of us city-bred folks don't know what real darkness is. I went outside last night, after the moon went down, at a ranch 30 miles by dirt road from a town of 2000, and it was dark-dark. So dark that the darkness seemed to have material substance. Dark enough to not be able to see my hand in front of my face. I kindof understood how those guys in the novel felt.
The upside was that the stars wered amazing -- not quite 30,000 suns but the milky way was amazing. Watched a number of satellites come by using a web site that give time and where to look.
I couldn't care less what happens to my body after I die and I am done using it. So the following, which I suppose is intended to freak me out, simply leaves me amazed yet again at green thinking
Undertakers in Belgium plan to eschew traditional burials and cremations and start dissolving corpses instead.
The move is intended to tackle a lack of burial space and environmental concerns as 573lbs of carbon dioxide are released by each cremated corpse.
Under the process, known as resomation, bodies are treated in a steel chamber with potassium hydroxide at high pressure and a temperature of 180c (350f).
The raised pressure and temperature means the body reaches a similar end point as in standard cremation "” just bones left to be crushed up "” in two to three hours.
My first thought on reading this was "Soylent Green is People!"
My second is to wonder how a torched body creates 573 pounds of CO2. 12 pounds of carbon combusts to 44 pounds (approx) of Co2. This means that to combust to 573 pounds of Co2, the human body must have 156 pounds of carbon. WTF? But carbon in 18% of human body weight, which means that to produce 573 pounds of CO2, the human body would have to weigh 867 pounds. One might be able to get this number by including the cremation fuel in the equation (though this is a generous interpretation since this is not how the article is written), but since it is usually gas used for cremation it would take a hell of a lot of gas given its low carbon content.
My third thought is what does any of this have to do with CO2 reduction
- The process occurs at 350F. You mean no fossil fuels are used to get the chamber up to 350F. What, are they using solar mirrors?
- The process occurs at high pressure. This takes energy
- The end product is a carb0n rich soup that they pour down the drain or pour on their garden. I have a clue for you, all oxidation is not combustion. That carbon dumped in your garden or in your compost heap will still become CO2 even without seeing aflame.
As y'all know, I am not a member of either the Coke or Pepsi party, so I find all the partisan mudslinging on the political blogs to be just kind of funny. Particularly when both sides are piously accusing the other of exactly the same behavior, while maintaining that they are immune from said behavior (or only engaging in it because the other guy started it).
I really don't understand political strategy. I admit this. Take global warming. I really thought the CRU email thing was a minor distraction. After all, the there were so many fundamental flaws in the science and scientific process that a lot of the CRU stuff was old news to those who have paid attention. But I was wrong. There was something about the scandal that was more compact and easy to tell, it fit into a box or storyline familiar to both the media that had to report it and the public that had to consume it. I understood the whole scandal and its impact so poorly that I have done little blogging at my climate site lately, as I still can't get excited blogging about commissions and investigations into the scandal that seem to obsess the skeptic community currently.
So I won't say that this strategy by Kevin Drum is wrong, I will just say I don't understand it:
On Twitter, here was my insta-reaction to Obama's oil spill address from the Oval Office:
What a terrible speech.
Unfair? Maybe! I mean, compared to Sarah Palin's (literally) incomprehensible burbling on Bill O'Reilly's show afterward it was a model of straight talk and reassurance. But that's a pretty low bar.
What's the deal with Sarah Palin? I swear she gets more pub from her enemies than her supporters. How does it somehow help a sitting President -- who was supposedly elected because he was the most competent person of all time -- to be compared, however favorably, to a woman with limited political experience who holds no office? Granted the Republicans really have no one of distinction leading them right now, and Palin is about the only Republican in years with any modicum of charisma. But since when have losing VP candidates been the standard against which Presidents are measured?
Progressive green web site the Thin Green Line takes on subsidies for petroleum products, saying that reducing such subsidies could immediately have a major impact on CO2 production. Fine with me, I am no fan of subsidies by governments of any private activities, though I don't live in fear of CO2.
However, the author, trying I guess to buff his progressive credentials in a sort of typical knee-jerk for green writers, tries to imply all this largess is somehow flowing to large oil companies, and the implication is that western nations like the US are subsidizing folks like Exxon and BP:
The timing couldn't be better: With BP's oil continuing to pollute the Gulf Coast, the question of how much our alliance with the oil industry really costs us is at the front of the everybody's mind.
The International Energy Agency released an early draft of a report documenting, for the first time ever, how much the fossil fuel industries get in subsidies each year (H/T Grist). The timing is, of course, coincidental: The IEA's work stems from an agreement made at this years G20 conference that subsidies of fossil fuel industries should be phased out as part of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
So "” drum roll, please! "” how much money are the energy giants taking in? $550 billion a year.
But the author is, I believe, misunderstanding the study and the underlying economics (no surprise there from a green progressive writer). This is from a study of 37 developing, not rich, nations. There is no way these guys are paying $550 billion in cash into private oil company pockets. In fact, most of these countries barely let the private oil companies even play, or force them into some marginal operator role subservient to their state oil company.
If these countries are subsidizing producers at all, the vast majority who are getting such largesse are large state-run companies, not western private oil companies.
However, my guess (and I have not seen the report yet) is that what they mean by most of these subsidies is actually selling fossil fuels to their citizens at below-market prices. These subsidies are not transfers of state dollars to oil companies at all, but below-market pricing of oil products to consumers by state-run oil monopolies. The people getting subsidized here are poorer consumers, not private oil companies. Countries like China, Iran, Iraq and even Venezuela (run by progressive heart throb Hugo Chavez) sell petroleum products way below market prices to their citizens. I am fairly certain this is the half trillion dollar subsidy the report refers to.
So we have the ultimate irony of a "progressive" lamenting government-subsidized energy for poorer people in developing nations. Wow, I never thought I would say this, but if this is the progressive position, I agree with it. The whole situation does highlight the difficult tension between development and CO2 reduction programs, and reinforces my argument that aggressive worldwide CO2 abatement will mainly hurt the poor.
How to be a Retronaut has prequel trailers by Ivan Guerro. I thought they were pretty clever. Here are two examples but he has more:
An audit of solar-power generation from November 2009 to January 2010 found that some panel operators were paid for doing the "impossible" -- producing electricity from sunlight during the night, El Mundo reported today, citing a letter from Secretary of State for Energy Pedro Marin....
Preliminary evidence shows some solar stations may have run diesel-burning generators and sold the output as solar power, which earns several times more than electricity from fossil fuels, El Mundo said, citing unidentified people from the energy industry. The power grid received 4,500 megawatt-hours of power from midnight to 7 a.m. in the months audited, El Mundo said.
Electric current is electric current. However, in a country like Germany, the price that utilities are required to pay for electric current varies based on its source. While electricity from, say, a diesel generator gets 4-5 Euro cents per KwH, ground-based solar gets about 48 Euro cents per KwH. This is a 10x greater price paid solely for absolutely identical power manufactured in a different way. So of course there is going to be fraud as to the current's source.
This post at Houston Clear Thinkers is just a devastating analysis of Houston light rail. In it, we see the age-old story -- rail is enormously expensive, and starves the rest of the system for money, ultimately leading to fewer people riding at much higher costs. He quotes from Bill King:
Decline in Ridership. Since 2004, Houston population has grown by over 10% from just over 2 million to 2.25 million. At the same time gas prices rose 47% from $1.81 per gallon to $2.67 per gallon. These two factors should have virtually guaranteed an increase in transit. However, exactly the opposite has occurred as bus boardings dropped almost 24% from 88 million in 2004 to 67 million in 2009. Instead of increasing bus service by 50% as it promised the voters in the 2003 referendum, Metro has slashed bus routes and increased fares by over 50%. Today Metro actually operates 225 fewer buses than it did in 2003. An outside performance audit in 2008 found that on-time performance fell by 29% from 2004 to 2008.
Financial Disaster. Since 2003, Metro's sales tax revenues have increased by 43%, rising from $357 million to $512 million. At the same time, its fare revenue increased by 41% from $42 million to $60 million by charging an ever dwindling ridership more. Yet, Metro is in the worst financial shape in recent history. At year end 2003 Metro's current assets exceeded its current liabilities by $125 million. The budget just adopted by the Metro board projects that it will have current accounts deficit of $165 million by the end of this fiscal year, a stunning loss of nearly $300 million in just five years. Over the same period, Metro's debt has swelled by nearly 50% from $546 million to $816 million. [. . .]
In the meantime, the cost of the [Metro's Light Rail Transit lines] has risen from the $1.2 billion originally estimated to something well in excess of $3 billion. Metro is seeking to borrow $2.6 billion to build the LRT, over four times what it promised the voters would be the limit in the 2003 referendum. Originally, Metro assured voters that it could build the LRT without tapping the mobility payments that are so critical to the Houston and the other member cities. Metro's projections now show that it can only afford the LRT if those payments are terminated in 2014. [. . .]
Good news: The nation's mayors spill the beans on what most of us already knew about the Obama stimulus:
About 80 percent of stimulus money has gone directly to state governments, they say. Instead of being used to create new jobs, the bulk of the money has been used to save existing state government jobs -- teachers, law enforcement and others -- and for shoring up sagging state budgets.
Bad news: Mayors are not ticked off about the propping up of governments, they are just ticked off that their own local government budgets weren't propped up as well.
If more money would flow directly to cities, the mayors' group contends, it could be used for local improvement projects that would create more jobs.
Really? I don't see the incentives of city government leaders to be anything different than that of state government leaders. My guess is the money at the city level will be used exactly the same way as it was at the state level.
One aspect of the recent debate about the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision that really irritates me is the notion, propounded by the NY Times among others, that corporations and the individuals assembled in them do not have free speech rights because corporations are "state-created entities."
This is wildly untrue, or alternatively, if you accept the logic, then nearly every aspect of our lives is state-created. Take your pick. Basically, the argument is that because the government has set the rules for corporate incorporation, and that these incorporations require state approval, that makes corporate entities "state-created." But corporations are nothing more than a structure by which people can assemble and aggregate their capital and share ownership of an enterprise that employs that capital. If government incorporation law did not exist, individuals still would have the incentive to assemble in some sort of entity.
I don't know of anything in the corporate structure that could not be duplicated with contract terms. People point to the liability limitation as some sort of government gift to the corporate world, but that could easily be written in to every contract of, say, a partnership (certain torts are an exception I would have to think about). Vendors might choose not to accept such contracts, preferring to be able to pierce the partnership to go after individual owners to settle debts, but that choice exists today. I have many, many vendor contracts in my corporation, and nearly all of my bank loans, that require the personal guarantee of all the owners, effectively waiving the liability limitation for those transactions.
My point, though, is that corporate forms have evolved as they are because that is what the sum of investors and business people were working towards on their own, and government merely enshrined these forms into law. In fact, this basic rules-setting of the contracts playing field is one of the few arguably useful things government has done. If we allow government rules-setting over certain activities to be the test of whether it can further restrict our Constitutional rights, then nearly every aspect of our lives would be subject to such restrictions.
At its heart, this is the classic "heads I win, tails you lose" argument of statists. They claim that individuals must petition the state to register their corporation and license their business, and then use the fact of these required registrations to argue that the business is a "state-created entity" and that individuals give up their ability to exercise their rights when assembled into these entities. By the same logic, the fact that every commercial transaction is subject to license and taxation by the state would make our every transaction a "government-created exchange." Think I am exaggerating? Just look at this from our Arizona state web site:
The Arizona transaction privilege tax is commonly referred to as a sales tax; however, the tax is on the privilege of doing business in Arizona and is not a true sales tax. Although the transaction privilege tax is usually passed on to the consumer, it is actually a tax on the vendor.
Rights, like the ability of free exchange between individuals, supposedly can't be revoked, but privileges can. Thus the name. For folks who treasure individual liberty, we have already lost the battle when we allow the state this kind of language.
Anyway, I feel like I am having a failure of eloquence over this issue. Ilya Somin got me started thinking about these issues, so I will turn it over to him here.
Third, it's important to consider what is meant by "state-created entity." If the term refers only to institutions that literally would not exist absent state authorization, it does not accurately characterize many, perhaps most corporations. If the federal government passed a statute abolishing corporate status tomorrow, most actual corporations would still exist and still continue to engage in the same business or nonprofit activities. They just would do so under different and perhaps less efficient legal rules (maybe as LLCs, partnerships, or sole proprietorships). But they wouldn't all just collapse or go away. There would still be a demand for most of the products produced by corporations.
If "state-created entity" doesn't refer to the mere existence of organizations currently defined as corporations but to the particular bundle of legal rights currently attached to the corporate form, then it turns out that virtually all other organizations are state-created entities as well. Universities, schools, charities, churches, political parties, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and many other private organizations all have official definitions under state and federal law. And all have special government-created privileges and obligations that don't apply to other types of organizations.
Even individual citizens might be considered "state-created" entities under this logic. After all, the status of "citizen" is a government-created legal entitlement that carries various rights and privileges, many of which the government could alter by legislation, just as it can with those of corporations (e.g. "” the right to receive Social Security benefits, which the Supreme Court has ruled can be altered by legislation any time Congress wants). In that sense, "citizens" are no less "state-created" entities than corporations are.
By the way, in case I was not careful with my language, I offer the same proviso as does Somin:
I should clarify that in this post, as before, I'm not arguing that corporations themselves are "persons" with constitutional rights. Rather, I'm asserting that their owners and employees are such persons and that that status enables them to use corporations to exercise their constitutional rights. Similarly, partnerships, universities, schools, and sole proprietorships aren't people either. But people can use them to exercise their constitutional rights, and the government can't forbid it on the sole ground that they are using assets assets assigned to "state-created entities." This distinction was unfortunately obscured in the current post by my shorthand references to "corporations'" rights. I only used that terminology because it's cumbersome to always write something like "people exercising their constitutional rights through corporations."
Last week I did a very enjoyable interview Stefan Molyneux of FreeDomain Radio. My presence was almost superfluous, as Stefan was incredibly well-informed as well as passionate on climate topics. Our discussion hits on many critical topics related to the science of the skeptics position, from positive feedbacks to urban heat biases to hockey sticks. The interview is embedded below, but I encourage you to check out his site, he seems to get a lot of interesting interviews of which I appear to be the most pedestrian.
OK, I am not a foodie. I enjoy good food, but have never really appreciated sophisticated food or food that takes hours of preparation. The steak on the grill is at least as appealing as the veal dish that took all afternoon to put together.
I know other bloggers often publish recipes. If I were to do so, it might look like this (from an, unfortunately, actual experience)
1 bowl of Cap'n Crunch
Substitute 1/2 cup cheap vodka for milk
Preparation notes: Never, ever do this again
That being said, we had the opportunity to have a world famous chef and writer, Hugh Carpenter, over to our house last night. Hugh is a friend of my wife's from his summer cooking school and was kind enough to help us host a dinner party for some friends when he was in town in exchange for his room and board. The fun part was he agreed to whip up a dinner with whatever we had in the house, which was pretty amazing. Sort of an Iron Chef Arizona, with everything as the secret ingredient. I would still be agonizing over how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon in the first recipe item in the time he whipped up a couple of sauces and some appetizers.
Here is Hugh with my wife. Our guests are chipping in to help make the wontons (Hugh actually is a big believer in this, and often advocates getting the guests to chip in on the preparation like this - its fun, a great icebreaker, and reduces pre-party stress on the host.
The list of folks Hugh has cooked for is amazing. I find his cookbooks to be easy and down to earth and have good food in them. They are here, and he has a new book entirely dedicated to chicken wings which may actually get me in the kitchen.
What people like my wife who are really into cooking really rave about is his cooking school in the Napa Valley. There is a lot of cooking and wine drinking, of course, but the venues are great, often in the private homes of many of his friends and associates. Highly recommended if you are into that sort of thing.
Oh, and since I am foodblogging, I guess I should tell you about our meal. We had these pork wonton thingies in some sort of brown sauce. We had black cod in some kind of chutney stuff with some sort of mixed rice thingie and this other vegetable deal. We drank some sort of white wine except when we were drinking some sort of red wine.
Rachel Ray, watch out.
PS- OK, I was actually able to introduce Hugh to a new food product. He asked what I usually made the kids for breakfast, and I said "spray pancakes." He had never heard of this, and so I proudly showed him my spray can of pancake batter (from Whole Foods, no less). I couldn't tell if he was shocked or amazed.
Apparently the British have a National Domestic Extremism Team. Since everything from trying to marry someone of the same sex to advocating for enforcement of the actual wording of the Constitution are consider ed"extremist" positions nowadays, I shudder to think what purvey such an organization would have in this country.
New York's Supreme Court Appellate Division (First Department) handed down a massive victory for property rights yesterday in the case of Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. At issue was the state's highly controversial use of eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University, which wants free rein over the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville, where it plans to build a fancy new research campus.
As I discussed in an article last February, there is overwhelming evidence that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) actively colluded with Columbia in order to produce the very conditions that would then allow ESDC to seize property on the university's behalf. At the time of ESDC's 2006 blight study, for instance, Columbia owned 76 percent of the neighborhood and was thus directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of blight that the report alleged, ranging from overflowing basement trash heaps to major roof and skylight leaks. As numerous tenants have reported, the university refused to perform basic and necessary repairs, which both pushed tenants out and manufactured the ugly conditions that later advanced Columbia's long-term interests. Preliminary findings delivered to the ESDC admitted as much, noting "Open violations in CU Buildings" and "History of CU repairs to properties" among the "issues of concern."
Thankfully, the New York court recognized this shameful mess for what it is: eminent domain abuse. As Justice James Catterson wrote for the majority:
the blight designation in the instant case is mere sophistry. It was utilized by ESDC years after the scheme was hatched to justify the employment of eminent domain but this project has always primarily concerned a massive capital project for Columbia. Indeed, it is nothing more than economic redevelopment wearing a different face.
This, from the Court's majority decision, was especially heartening post-Kelo:
The time has come to categorically reject eminent domain takings solely based on underutilization. This concept put forward by the respondent transforms the purpose of blight removal from the elimination of harmful social and economic conditions in a specific area to a policy affirmatively requiring the ultimate commercial development of all property regardless of the character of the community subject to such urban renewal.
This was pretty unexpected given how the Atlantic Yards case went. I am not sure how to reconcile the two decisions. Damon Root at the link above has the same concerns.
From the AZ Republic, which just can't stop itself from shamelessly cheerleading any effort to spend billions on rail in Phoenix (perhaps the world's worst candidate for rail transit given its density and distribution of businesses).
Enough people would board a train in the Valley's suburbs that a future commuter-rail system would be as popular as some of the busiest lines in the West, new studies have found.
Well, that's a low bar.
A trio of yearlong rail studies, in nearly final form, indicates commuter rail could carry almost 18,000 passengers a day by 2030. Planners at the Maricopa Association of Governments
say, based on the findings, they favor a 105-mile, X-shaped system that could feature 33 stations and cost roughly $1.5 billion. That's a little more than the Valley's 20-mile, light-rail starter line.
If this was presented to me as a business opportunity, I would have had them stop right there. Even before inevitable cost overruns and over-confidence in ridership, even with the supporters' numbers, they want $1.5 billion to carry 18,000 people a day. That is a capital cost of $83,000+ per daily rider, beating the old record of Phoenix light rail which cost around $75,000 per daily rider.
Planners assume the trains will recoup about 40 percent of their expenses, based on the national average for similar service. The average fare would be about $6 to $7, Wallace said, although no detailed study has gone into fares. Generally, rates would go up the farther the trip.
Can you imagine any other investor in the world other than the government making an investment knowing that in the best case of its strongest supporters revenues will only cover 40% of costs? And why should the rest of us subsidize folks who live in outlying areas to commute? They moved to those areas in large part because housing was cheap and cost of living was low, with the knowlege they had a long commute. So those of us with the forsight to live close to work have to subsidize them? This is a really valuable service for them but they can't even pay half the cost?
Further, lets look at those cost estimates. If we get 18,000 a day on weekdays and a third that on weekends, that yields 5 million round trips. Given an 8% interest rate over 30 years, the capital charge is $134 million a year before overruns. That means the fare would have to be $27 round trip or $13.50 one way just to cover the capital cost alone, without even considering operating costs.
This means their figures are nuts. $6-$7 one-way fares barely covers 40% of the capital costs, much less the operating expenses. We are talking about an offering that is deep in the red. $13 round trip at 5,000,000 round trips equals $65,000,000 of revenue. That means that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for all the operating costs ($30 million? $60 million) and at least $69 million of capital charges. It is not unfair to assume that this would punch a minimum $100 million hole each year in the government's budget that we will have to make up with taxes.
Update: Gotta achnowlege this bit of sanity in the AZ Republic comments from "astonished"
Light rail is such a boondoggle. It's expensive to build and always runs at a loss. It is very hard to change the routes to respond to ridership needs. It's a vanity project for hip liberals.
If public transportation is a goal, then get some buses going. Buses are flexible, cost effective, cheap to run and maintain, and if ridership changes, you just change the routes and schedules.
Just what we need, the government choosing winners and losers in media like they do earmark recipients. Since government ownership of GM was politicized in Congress before the ink on the court agreements was dry, I wonder how fast Congress will find a way to use a government media bailout to punish the critical and reward sycophants.
A top Democratic lawmaker predicted on Wednesday that the government will be involved in shaping the future for struggling U.S. media organizations.House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, saying quality journalism was essential to U.S. democracy, said eventually government would have to help resolve the problems caused by a failing business model.
Waxman, other U.S. lawmakers and regulators are looking into various options to help a newspaper industry hurt by the shift in advertising revenues to online platforms.
"Eventually government is going to have to be responsible to help and resolve these issues,"
Why? You mean like when the US government stepped up in the 19th century to bail out pamphleteers and failing broadsheet publishers when the market moved to new media? Or when it moved to bail out network television under assault from new cable channels? Remember that? Neither do I.
At the Federal Communications Commission, officials are embarking on a quadrennial review of the state of U.S. media. The study, which is mandated by Congress, seeks to determine whether current rules should be changed to allow for a more vibrant media industry serving a diverse audience.
We have that. Its called the Internet. It emerged entirely free of government action (save some funding of some original infrastructure). Go away.
I have been saying for years that some sort of due process needs to be applied to Gitmo detainees. I am not knowledgeable enough to know if this should be a civilian trial or military tribunal or what, but just the fact that they are non-citizens does not give us the right to detain them indefinitely without due process. Yeah, I get the POW/battlefield analogy, but one also has to reasonably admit the nature of this process today is different than in, say, the defined battlefields with combatants in uniforms in WWII. The very question of who is a combatant is unclear, so it merits more due diligence to make sure these assertions are made correctly.
Anyway, I suppose I am happy KSM is getting some sort of due process. But I must say I absolutely hate the precedent being set here -- no, not the one the Conservatives are worried about, bringing a terrorist to trial in a civilian court. I don't like the precedent of a trial where the government promises that there is already a pre-determined outcome. US Attorney General Holder seems to be saying there is no possibility of acquittal, but a trial without a possibility of acquittal is not a trial.