Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.

Police and Patents of Nobility

I don't have much to add to all the commentary on the Ferguson killing, except to say that many, many examples of police abuse of power are covered by libertarian blogs --but seldom more widely -- so it is nice to see coverage of such an incident hit the mainstream.

Defenders of police will say that police are mostly good people who do a difficult job and they will mostly be right.  But here is the problem:  In part due to our near fetishization of the police (if you think I exaggerate, come live here in Phoenix with our cult of Joe Arpaio), and in part due to the enormous power of public sector unions, we have made the following mistake:

  • We give police more power than the average citizen.  They can manhandle other people, drag them into captivity, search and take their stuff, etc.
  • We give police less accountability than the average citizen when things go wrong.   It is unusual even to get an investigation of their conduct, such investigations are seldom handled by neutral third parties, and they are given numerous breaks in the process no citizen gets.

The combination of these two can be deadly.

Ken White at Popehat writes to some of this

If you are arrested for shooting someone, the police will use everything in their power — lies, false friendship, fear, coercion — to get you to make a statement immediately. That's because they know that the statement is likely to be useful to the prosecution: either it will incriminate you, or it will lock you into one version of events before you've had an opportunity to speak with an adviser or see the evidence against you. You won't have time to make up a story or conform it to the evidence or get your head straight.

But what if a police officer shoots someone? Oh, that's different. Then police unions and officials push for delays and opportunities to review evidence before any interview of the officer. Last December, after a video showed that a cop lied about his shooting of a suspect, the Dallas Police issued a new policy requiring a 72-hour delay after a shooting before an officer can be interviewed, and an opportunity for the officer to review the videos or witness statements about the incident. Has Dallas changed its policy to offer such courtesies to citizens arrested for crimes? Don't be ridiculous. If you or I shoot someone, the police will not delay our interrogation until it is personally convenient. But if the police shoot someone:

New Mexico State Police, which is investigating the shooting, said such interviews hinge on the schedules of investigators and the police officers they are questioning. Sgt. Damyan Brown, a state police spokesman, said the agency has no set timeline for conducting interviews after officer-involved shootings. The Investigations Bureau schedules the interviews at an “agreeable” time for all parties involved, he said.

Cops and other public servants get special treatment because the whole system connives to let them. Take prosecutorial misconduct. If you are accused of breaking the law, your name will be released. If, on appeal, the court finds that you were wrongfully convicted, your name will still be brandished. But if the prosecutor pursuing you breaks the law and violates your rights, will he or she be named? No, usually not. Even if a United States Supreme Court justice is excoriating you for using race-baiting in your closing, she usually won't name you. Even if the Ninth Circuit — the most liberal federal court in the country — overturns your conviction because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence, they usually won't name the prosecutor.

Also see Kevin Williamson.

DC Elites Say: Get Your Car Out of My Way

via the Anti-planner:

Washington DC has proposed an anti-auto transportation plan that is ironically called “MoveDC” when its real goal is to reduce the mobility of DC residents. The plan calls for reducing auto commuting from 54 percent to no more than 25 percent of all workers in the district, while favoring transit, cycling, and walking.

This strikes me as just incredibly elitist.   There is no way the politicians and lobbyists who are writing this stuff are going to by cycling and walking or even riding a bus.  They are going to drive (or be driven).  This is about getting the hoi palloi off the roads and out of their damn way.

As Randal O'Toole points out, congestion pricing, if done correctly, could actually improve capacity, but he is skeptical it will be done correctly.

AZ Corporation Commission's Completely Inadequate Response to My Critique on their Site Security

A while back I wrote about my concerns about the total absence of any security at all in the Arizona corporate annual reporting system

I started the annual reporting process by just typing in the name of my company and getting started.  There was no password protection, no identity check.  They had no way of knowing I had anything to do with this corporation and yet I was answering questions like "have you been convicted for fraud."  The potential for mischief is enormous.  One would have to get the timing right (an annual report must be due before one can get in) but one could easily open the site on January 1 and start entering false information in the registrations for such corporations as Exxon and Wal-Mart.

See for yourself.  Here is their web site.

I showed how one could open and file the report for a company like Wal-Mart, changing all their officers names, and confessing to all sorts of imagined corporate crimes

Again, note what I am saying.  This is not the result of hacking.  This is not lax security I figured out how to evade.  This is the result of no security whatsoever.  I simply went to the link above, clicked on the Wal-Mart Associates link, and then clicked on the annual report link.  I know from doing my own registration that there is a signature page at the end, but all you do is type in the name of an officer and a title -- data that is right there on the site.  It's like asking you for a password after the site just listed all the valid passwords.

The head of the Arizona Corporation Commission wrote me back. Here is here email in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Meyer:

Thank you for your email regarding the Corporations Division.  The Arizona Corporation Commission is the repository for all business formation documents for corporations and limited liability corporations.  We are in full compliance with state statutes.

Submitting false documents to alter another’s corporate structure or status is a crime and carries a Class 4 or Class 5 penalty.  The Commission or the aggrieved business entity may refer the false filing to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution.  Additionally, the individual business entity may pursue a civil cause of action.  The Commission only accepts on-line charges for a few services such as name reservation or to order a certificate of good standing, and the online payment process is completely secure.

Even though the Commission’s existing security measures comply with the state law and are similar to most other states and other Arizona governmental entities like the County Treasurer’s Office, the Commission is looking at implementing new technology to allow for the online submission of additional services – such as the filing of original Articles of Organization and Articles of Incorporation.  We do intend to provide password protected security features when that new technology is offered to the public.

J. Jerich

Executive Director

Arizona Corporation Commission

I had no doubt that submitting a false annual report for Wal-Mart would be illegal.  Duh.  However, it is just incredibly naive that this is the sole extent of the Commission's security, to prosecute people once the damage is done.  Can you imagine if Amazon had the same security policy - "we are getting rid of passwords because it would be illegal for you to buy something from someone else's account."  I wonder if the commissioners leave their doors unlocked at night, trusting in the threat of future prosecution to deter burglary and mayhem in their homes?

Pro Tip: Do Not Set Expectations Absurdly High at the Beginning of a Marriage

I Don't Always Photoshop, But When I Do, It's For Obamacare


Douthat, Brennan, even McArdle Making 3 Mistakes in Looking at Exchange Subsidy Numbers

Ross Douthat in the NYT quoting Patrick Brennan

About one-fourth of the people who have entered their income information on their applications were deemed eligible for subsidies on the exchanges (about 900,000 out of about 3.6 million), which is lower than the number we saw in October alone and remains really far from what was projected. The CBO projected that just 1 million out of the 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges in the first year would be ineligible for subsidies, so the ratio is way off from what was expected (15–75 vs. 75–25). I had some thoughts on that surprising fact a month ago, and I’ll add a couple now: Unsubsidized customers (basically, those above the national median income) are generally savvier and more likely to have the resources to enroll and make their payments ahead of time, so maybe this is understandable and doesn’t say anything about who will eventually enroll. On the other hand, it may demonstrate that the people to whom insurance was supposed to be expanded — the uninsured, who tend to be low-income and not well educated — aren’t getting to the exchanges at all, and covering them will be a much longer term project.

There is a huge, enormous analytical problem with this-- they are looking at entirely the wrong numbers.  Incredibly, Meghan McArdle makes this same mistake, and I generally respect her analysis of things.   I am going to pull out my summary chart of the Exchange numbers to try to make things clear (click to enlarge):



There are 3 major mistakes, each worse than the one before.

MISTAKE 1:  The 3.6 million total applicants number is in line 3 (3,692,599).  This is the wrong number.  The number he should use is line 4, the number of people who have had their eligibility processed.  So the denominator should be 3.1 million, not 3.6 million.

MISTAKE 2:  He leaves out the Medicaid piece.  Seriously, if we looking at numbers that are partially subsidized, why leave out numbers (Medicaid and CHIP) that are entirely subsidized?   This means the applicants eligible for subsidy are 803,077 + 944,531 or 1,747,608 which is 56% of the processed applicant pool.  The subsidy number may be lower than expected but I get the sense that the Medicaid percentage is higher than expected.

MISTAKE 3:  They are looking at the application pool, not the sign-up or enrollment pool.  That is understandable, because the Administration refuses to give the subsidy percentage breakdown of those who have selected a plan (a number which they certainly must have).  My guess is that people are putting in applications just to see if they are eligible for subsidies.  If not, they quit the exchange process and go back to their broker.   That is what I will probably do (out of curiosity, I would never accept taxpayer money for something I am willing to pay for myself).  The people who actually sign up for coverage are almost certainly going to skew more towards subsidized than does the applicant pool.

Making reasonable assumptions about the mix of subsidies in the "selected a plan" group, one actually gets numbers of 80-90% Medicare and CHIP and subsidies in the enrollment pool.

I do think McArdle is correct in saying that the uninsured numbers were both exaggerated and mis-characterized.  I have been saying that for years.

Other Countries Have Higher Minimum Wages. They Also Have Higher Something Else...

Kevin Drum argues our minimum wage in the US is really low



A few quick thoughts:

  • I have a constant frustration that we never see these comparisons just on a straight purchasing power parity absolute dollar number.  Numbers related to income distribution are always indexed to a number that is really high in the US, thus making our ratio low.  I seriously doubt Turkey has a higher minimum wage in the US, it just has a much lower median wage.  Does that really make things better there?  I have this problem all the time with poverty numbers.  The one thing I would like to see is, on a PPP basis, a comparison of post-government-transfer income of the US bottom decile or quintile vs. other countries.  Sure, we are more unequal.  But are our poor better or worse off?  The fact that no one on the Left ever shows this number makes me suspect that the US doesn't look bad on it.    This chart, from a Leftish group, implies our income distribution is due to the rich being richer, not the poor being poorer.

  • Drum or whoever is his source for the chart conveniently leaves off countries like Germany, where the minimum wage is zero.  Sort of seems like data cherry-picking to me (though to be fair Germany deals with the issue through a sort of forced unionization law that kind of achieves the same end, but never-the-less their minimum wage is zero).
  • All these European countries may have a higher minimum wage, but they also have something else that is higher:  teen unemployment (and I would guess low-skill unemployment).

click to enlarge

Admittedly this only has a subset of countries, but I borrowed it as-is from Zero Hedge.  By the way, by some bizarre coincidence, the one country -- Germany -- we previously mentioned has no minimum wage is the by far the lowest line on this chart.

Good God. Twitter Stock Opens Over $45

Forget the #DIV/0! PE.  That prices the company at over 57 times annual revenues.

Photoshop Practice

I am working on a couple of euro-style strategy card games at the moment.  The first is a business start-up game, and the second is a space-themed game loosely based on my experiences playing the Traveler role-playing game years ago.   A good stock image account (I use Shutterstock) gets me everything in terms of card images I need for the first game, but royalty-free space images are harder.  However, it is actually possible to start with prosaic industrial and other images and hack them to look futuristic, but it takes some work.

So I have been working on Photoshop skills.  If I could digitally paint, I would paint beautiful concept art, but I cannot.  So my Photoshop training has focused not on painting per se but on hacking images together and overlaying effects.   A LOT of the work is learning to do selections well to mash up images and then overlaying a few effects.   I can make a really good laser beam now, for example.  Take a modern weapon, have a laser beam come out, wala a pretty functional sci fi gun  (Don't believe me?  Look at the Death Star Turrets in the original Star Wars movie and tell me those aren't essentially current-era battleship turrets with green and red light coming out).  I wrote earlier about the lessons I followed in making custom planets.

As an example, here is the lesson I did last night.  It is not production value because it started with a low-res iPhone photo my daughter sent me and as you can tell from the edges and especially the hair, I did not spend much effort getting the edge selection just right.  But my daughter liked being a cyborg:

Click to enlarge


She has dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, so she is not the ideal model for this because those are hard to colorize well.  Blondes may or may not have more fun, but they are much easier to colorize.  The downsize of the exercise is that she loved the hair and now wants to color it that way for real.

On NSA Spying: No One Says You Broke A Law. It's Just A Little Weird That You Didn't Have To

Dialect Survey

These have been kicking around the Internet for a while but this is the most extensive set (over a hundred) that I have seen  (You can get an accurate guess as to where I grew up by the name I gave the image below)


Weird WordPress Problem, Site May Be A Mess

For some reason the insert image functionality broke the other day on this website.  Basic troubleshooting involved reverting to the standard theme and turning off plugins, so things may be a mess off and on.   This is what i get when I try to insert an image:  two lakes   Wordpress is inserting an image tag but leaving off the source URL for the image, so thus the broken image.

Obamacare and the Recovery, in One Chart

Click to enlarge


The source for the underlying chart is the Department of Labor blog, with my annotations added.

Postscript:  In most cases legislation is anticipated to pass well in advance and one could argue the effects of it show up even before the signing date.  But in this case whether the PPACA would pass was a nail-biter to the last moment.

The State Protects Its Own

It is simply appalling that the officer in this video was acquitted by a judge of assault.  It is clear from the video that he punched a woman who did absolutely nothing wrong (he thought she was the one who had thrown the liquid at him in the early frames).  But even if she had been absolutely guilty of splashing him with a few drops of beer, his reaction is STILL assault.

This quote is particularly amazing:

Josey testified that the woman refused to drop a bottle of beer she had been holding. He said that he went to knock the bottle from her hand and was “shocked” to see her go down when his hand hit her face. She was originally charged with disorderly conduct but the charges were later dropped.

This is an outright lie.  Watch the video.  There is absolutely no time for the officer to have ordered the woman to have dropped the beer.  Nor would that have been a legal order.  Nor is there any evidence of him waiting for her response.  He was pissed off that someone "dissed" him and he lashed out like a violent jerk in a biker bar.

I shudder to think how many people in the past were prosecuted and went to jail on the BS word of police officers.  Without video, this woman probably would have been successfully prosecuted and convicted.  Even with video, the police officer can't be successfully prosecuted.  Though I must give Philly a few point here -- a lot of jurisdictions would not have even prosecuted or fired him.

Killing Mainstreet Banks

C. Boyden Gray and Adam White make the case that Dodd-Frank is an enormous gift to big banks, for two reasons:

  • By putting large banks in a special class -- essentially too big to fail -- it ensures that these banks will be able to raise capital far more easily than can smaller banks, since investments in larger banks are essentially guaranteed by the US government.  This is the same mechanism by which Fannie and Freddie crowded out most other sources of mortgage financing.
  • By creating an enormous mass of new regulations, large banks get a cost advantage because they can much more easily pay these fixed costs as they are amortized over a much larger business.

Each and Every One Its Own Solyndra

I drove through Indio / Palm Springs on Tuesday and was aggravated, as I always am, at just how few of the zillions of government-subsidized windmills are actually turning.  Saying that one in twenty were generating power would be generous.  I know the wind was blowing because a few of them were turning.

On Thursday I drove back through and tried to take a video, though all I had was my iPhone.

You have to squint to see all the dead windmills in the back of the first shot.  If you have never been to this site, you many not be able to comprehend just how far in the distance the dead masts go.  Here is another shot from several miles further down the site

Here is my proposal.  We make this whole area a National Park and call it "Corporate State Park."  It would be at least as educational as any other National Park.

OMG -- More Smoke!

Kudos to a reader who pointed this one out to me from the Mail online.  It is a favorite topic of mine, the use by the more-scientific-than-thou media of steam to illustrate articles on smoke and pollution.

Check out the captions - smoke is billowing out.  Of course, what they are likely referring to -- the white plumes from the 8 funnel-shaped towers -- is almost certainly pure water.  These are cooling towers, which cool water through evaporative cooling.  These towers are often associated with nuclear plants (you can see that in the comments) but are used for fossil fuel plants as well.  There does appear to be a bit of smoke in the picture, but you have to look all the way in the upper left from the two tall thin towers, and one can see a hint of emissions.  Even in this case, the plume from the nearer and smaller of the two stacks appears to contain a lot of water vapor as well.  My guess is the nasty stuff, to the extent it exists, is coming from the tallest stack, and it is barely in the picture and surely not the focus of the caption.

The article itself is worth a read, arguing that figures from the UK Met office show there has not been any global warming for 16 years.  This is not an insight for most folks who follow the field, so I did not make a big deal about it, but it is interesting that a government body would admit it.

Web Site Fixes

I had a surprisingly angry email about some web site issues here, but it did get me off my butt to fix things.

1.  The email address was broken yet again at the link.  I fixed that.

2.  When I bring in blocks of quotes text from other sites, the smart quotes break and end up with things like â€™ instead of a single quote.  This obviously makes the text astronomically hard to read, so I have fixed it in all the archives and will work to make sure it is turned off in the future, though that is a surprisingly rich tech support discussion area on WordPress.

Land Use Regulation and Income Inequality

I don't have time to comment or peruse the study in depth, but this looks interesting.  From Randal O'Toole:

Harvard economists have proven one of the major theses of American Nightmare, which is that land-use regulation is a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States. By restricting labor mobility, the economists say, such regulation has played a “central role” in income disparities.

When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.” Postrel refers to these well-educated people as “elites,” but I simply call them “middle class.”

I have not read the study, but I think the word "proven" in the first sentence likely goes to far.  Economic systems are way too complex to absolutely show one variable among millions causes another.  I am convinced that the way we have regulated the housing market and promoted home ownership has reduced labor mobility.

Quiz: Who is This Wearing Prince Leia's Dress?

Our Next Environmental Crisis

Via the Onion (via Master Resource)

A coalition of geologists are challenging the way we look at global stone reserves, claiming that, unless smarter methods of preservation are developed, mankind will eventually run out of rocks.

"If we do not stop using them up at our current rate, rocks as we know them will be a thing of the past," renowned geologist Henry Kaiser said at a press conference Tuesday. "Igneous, metamorphic, even sedimentary: all of them could be gone in as little as 500,000 years."

"Think about it," Kaiser added. "When was the last time you even saw a boulder?"

The scientists warned that, although people have long considered the world's rock supply to be inexhaustible, it has not created a significant number of new rocks since the planet cooled some 3.5 billion years ago. Moreover, the earth's rocks have been very slowly depleting in the last century due to growing demand for fireplace mantels, rock gardens, gravel, and paperweights.

Kaiser claims that humanity has "wreaked havoc" on the earth's stones by picking them up, carrying them around, and displacing them from their natural habitat.

"A rock can take millions of years to form, but it only takes a second for someone to skip a smooth pebble into a lake, and then it is gone." Dr. Kaiser said. "Perhaps these thoughtless rock-skippers don't care if they leave our planet completely devoid of rocks, but what about our children? Don't they deserve the chance to hold a rock and toss it up and down a few times?"

I Wonder if this Lesson is Getting Through?

There are certain contradictions involved in attempting minimum-rules radical self-expression on government land via a government permit.  Government employees incentives are all geared towards following procedures.  There are no rewards for results or innovation, just punishments for violations of bureaucratic minutia.  It is not surprising that the government and Burning Man cultures have come into conflict.

I'm Not Dead Yet

This is an interesting perspective on why Blackberry / RIM may not be dead yet.  After a weekend trying to futz with iPhone access to Gmail and a failed iPhone OS upgrade, I am sympathetic to the enterprise argument that modern iOS and Android smart phones may be lacking in the security and stability that corporations want.  There is still an enterprise market out there -- after all, IBM completely left most of the sexy and high-profile consumer markets but still does about  hundred billion in sales each year at a respectable 15% profit margin.

Surprise: Fisker Automotive Struggling

Apparently electric vehicle maker -- and recipient of lots of your and my money -- Fisker Automotive is struggling.    Who would have thought that a company that could not fully fund itself privately and had to rely on political connections to use the coercive power of government to take money from taxpayers might be a bad investment?

As a reminder, Fisker's taxpayer largesse likely came at the behest of politically powerful Ray Lane of Kleiner Perkins.  It is his firm's investment returns we taxpayers are supporting.  So it should come as no surprise that Ray Lane says, in the video below, that he thinks Obama is the greatest public sector venture capitalist ever.  What does he use as justification for this conclusion?  Why, Solyndra!  I kid you not, check it out.

By the way, if you did not see it, check out my Forbes article on how the Fisker Karma gets worse mileage than an SUV when you trace its electricity back to the power plant.

When Consumer Regulation is Anti-Consumer

Frequently, so-called consumer regulation is coopted by large corporations to limit the ways competitors can try to unseat them.  For example, limo services will get laws passed that all limos have to have certain features.  Ostensibly, this is so consumers will be protected from having a limo without a wet bar, or whatever, but in fact its to prevent upstart competitors from taking them on with a different kind of business model potentially using different kinds of vehicles.

I find that this is frequently the case with regulated utilities.  Utilities are able to get all kinds of crazy laws passed to protect business practices that would never survive the marketplace.  Just today I was trying to open a business account with Duck River Electric in Tennessee.  We are attempting to reopen a TVA campground that has been closed for several years.  The campground is tiny, so I was flabberghasted when the utility told me that we had to put down a permanent deposit of $4100.  I found this to be shockingly high.  Apparently, it is based on the highest two months demand in the highest year (several years ago) in history.  Since the campground is only open for five months, it means that we have to give the utility an indefinite interest free loan equal to half the annual business we do with them.

This is simply insane.  Name one reasonably competitive business where one has to put down anywhere near this kind of advanced deposit to become a regular customer.  If there was any sort of competition in this business, the sales people for the other company would have a field day with this.  Sure, vendors often do a credit check on us, and a very few times (mostly early in our history) we had to pay COD for orders.  But this is absurd.

PS-  The only vendors we work with that are even close to this for abusiveness are the state authorities from whom we buy fishing licenses for resale.  Many of these agencies require expensive payment bonds not required by any of our other (private) vendors.  Arizona Game and Fish even forces us in January to accept an inventory of many products we do not sell (e.g. hunting stamps) and cannot sell by the terms of our lease.  We have to keep these in the safe for a year and if we lose any and are unable to return them at the end of the year, we have to pay for them.  Imagine sent you a bunch of crap you did not want and required you to hold them for a year, and then pay the expenses of returning them, and then pay for any item you might have lost.   Anyone like myself who was dumb enough to fall into the Columbia House records thing will know the danger of this.