Posts tagged ‘Glen Reynolds’

IRS and the Filibuster

Glen Reynolds brings us this bit from a letter to the WSJ about the IRS and 501c4's:

For example, if an IRS official subjects citizens to incredibly burdensome demands for irrelevant information just to harass them for their political or religious beliefs, no 501(c)(4) group could later criticize that official’s nomination to be IRS commissioner, without engaging in restricted activity. That’s because the IRS’s proposed regulation defines even unelected government officials, like agency heads and judges, as “candidates” if they have been nominated for a position requiring Senate confirmation. The IRS’s proposed rules are an attack on the First Amendment that will make it easier for the government to get away with harassing political dissenters and whistleblowers in the future.

The part about classifying Senate-confirmed officials as "candidates" seems to be part of the same initiative as the changes to the filibuster to make it easier for the President to confirm controversial judges and administrators.  I wonder if this is a general effort or battlespace preparation for a specific confirmation battle.

Raising Medicare Taxes

Glen Reynolds writes:

The concern is that when people perceive the cost of government to be cheaper than it really is, they will demand ever more government benefits because they either don’t feel the cost directly or believe that others will be paying those costs.”

Social Security taxes are set at about the right level - the reason we have a problem with the program is that we spent the "trust fund" ages ago on everything but Social Security.  But Medicare is a different story.  Medicare taxes cover just a third of the benefits a participant can expect to eventually receive.  Of course everyone thinks it's a great deal, it's like they are buying Mercedes sedans for $15,000.

Update:  I know there are people who are horrified I would suggest raising a tax, that we should work the spending side or eliminate the program all together or replace it with a hybrid voucher system.  I would like to see any and all of that.  But there is absolutely no momentum for doing so.  Even Paul Ryan only fiddles around the edges in a barely meaningful way, and he is labelled as one step away from Hitler for doing so.

If the government is going to offer an "insurance" program, then the "premiums" need to be priced correctly.  If those "premiums" rise to absurd levels because the government is incompetent at management, then we might have some pressure to replace the program with something else.

If the post office were still charging 15 cents for a stamp, and then burying the resulting deficits in the budget somewhere, there would be a hell of a lot less pressure for reform.

SOPA Prediction

Glen Reynolds reports that opposition to SOPA has caused Congress to pull back a bit.  My prediction:  They will kill this particular bill, and we will all pat ourselves on the back for it going away, but they it will get slipped into the back of some defense authorization bill while no one is looking and become law anyway.  This kind of pandering to Hollywood and increased government control over speech and the Internet is just too appealing for Congress to pass up forever.

If Only Conservatives Would Really Take This To Heart

Conservatives are mad at Eugene Robinson's mocking of how Rick Santorum and his family dealt with the tragedy of an newborn death.   Patterico (via Glen Reynolds) writes something that is good critique of the Left, but is an equally good critique of the Right

What really infuriates is the contempt they [those on the Left] show for parents who make different choices than they would . . . and the smug arrogance with which they pronounce judgment on the most intimate aspects of others’ private lives.”

Substitute the word "people" for "parents in the first half and this applies to a lot of folks on both sides of the aisle.

Outright Theft by Public Unions

Though it's a high bar given what has been going on recently, this is the most aggravating thing I have read this week, via Glen Reynolds:

Robert and Patricia Haynes live in Michigan with their two adult children, who have cerebral palsy. The state government provides the family with insurance through Medicaid, but also treats them as caregivers. For the SEIU, this makes them public employees and thus members of the union, which receives $30 out of the family's monthly Medicaid subsidy. The Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) deducts union dues on behalf of SEIU.

Michigan Department of Community Health Director Olga Dazzo explained the process in to her members of her staff.  "MQC3 basically runs the program for SEIU and passes the union dues from the state to the union," she wrote in an emailobtained by the Mackinac Center. Initiated in 2006 under then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., the plan reportedly provides the SEIU with $6 million annually in union dues deducted from those Medicaid subsidies.

“We're not even home health care workers. We're just parents taking care of our kids,” Robert Haynes, a retired Detroit police officer, told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Our daughter is 34 and our son is 30. They have cerebral palsy. They are basically like 6-month-olds in adult bodies. They need to be fed and they wear diapers. We could sure use that $30 a month that's being sent to the union.”

This is a microcosm of the typical liberal fail -- a group or agency does initial good work (private unions in the early 2oth century, civil rights groups in the 60's and 70's, the EPA in the early 70's) but refuse to go away and declare victory, instead morphing into self-sustaining parasites whose only concern is their own survival.

Outsourcing Hiring Decisions to Colleges

A while back I wrote this as part of a response saying that the only way to get into a top consultancy was to got to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford.  Having joined a top consulting firm from Princeton and Harvard, I thought some of their observations to be BS, but there is a certain core of truth.  As I wrote then:

There is some rationality in this approach – it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

Matthew Shaffer, via Glen Reynolds, write something similar about all college degrees:

Those of us who question the price and value of higher education don’t disagree that people with B.A.s do much better in life, especially in employment. We disagree about the source of that advantage: The B.A. may mostlycorrelate with and signal for, rather than impart important qualities. (Really we all agree it’s some mix of the three factors — our differences are of emphasis.)...

We skeptics think this: Since employers can no longer measure job applicants’ IQs nor put them through long apprenticeships, graduating college is the way job-searchers signal an intelligence and diligence that college itself may have contributed little toward. Employers are (to use a little economic jargon) partially outsourcing their employee search to colleges. This is a good deal for employers, because college costs them nothing, and the social pressure to get a BA means they won’t miss too many good prospective recruits by limiting their search to college grads.

I think this has a lot of truth to it, but it can't entirely be true -- if it were, your degree would not matter but we know engineering and economics majors get hired more than poetry majors.  Though one could still stick with the strong skeptical position by arguing that degree choice is again merely a signal as to interests and outlook and a potentially even a proxy for other characteristics (to the latter point, what is your mental picture of an engineering major? a women's studies major? a politics major?  an econ major?)

Cargo Cult Social Engineering

Glen Reynolds has a great observation on government social engineering.  I hadn't thought about it this way before, but in many ways government drives for things like home ownership are like a cargo cult

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them

99-Cent Kindle Book Update

For the second straight day, I have sold fifty copies of BMOC, for a total of a hundred in two days, at 99-cents.  Fifty copies is more than I was selling in several weeks at the old price.  Thanks to Glen Reynolds for linking the idea.

Amazon Bargain

My novel BMOC is now $0.99 at Amazon.  With my second book coming out sometime soon (I hope) I thought I would experiment with online pricing models.  I sold about 30 a month at the old price, but Glen Reynolds linked an article praising the 99-cent Kindle price point.  So what the heck, let's try it.  My loss is your gain, as the ads say.

Reasons you might like the novel:

  • It's a sort of combination of Harvard Business School case study and murder mystery, with some humor thrown in
  • The business at the center of the novel is actually the good guy (err gal, I guess, since the protagonist is female). While sympathetic to capitalism, the book is primarily a light crime novel, not some sort of Randian morality tale.
  • The villains include a media mogul, a tort lawyer, a local news anchor, and a US Senator  -- just like life!
  • Several of the business models were made up on the fly when I attended boring cocktail parties and entertained myself creating whimsical businesses for myself.  Since that time, readers of the book have emailed me with news stories of recent startup companies following almost identical strategies.
  • 4-stars at Amazon

LOLing

I have to agree with Glen Reynolds that this is an awesome quote, from  a member of the teacher's union in Denver:

That’s your problem. You’re an entrepreneur, so you don’t work. You don’t know what work is until you get into an educational area.

Yep, some day I will have to stop loafing around and take on a brutal assistant principal job somewhere.  All I have to worry about is that every dollar I own (and more) is invested in my business and could disappear at any time if I make a mistake.  Thank God I don't have to sit around all day worrying whether the doctor that hands out no-questions-asked disability rulings will still be practicing when I am 45 and ready to retire.

I call this the "Dallas / Dynasty" perception of business, that businessmen just grab a phone call or two, go to a power lunch, and then head home to the mansion.

Update: Apparently this is a common misconception about entrepeneurs

The average number of working hours per week of a successful starting entrepreneur is seventy. This catches the typical American dreamer by surprise.

The teacher day:

Nor do teachers spend all of their time at school in the classroom. In fact, teachers spend fewer hours actually instructing students than many recognize. Stanford's Terry Moe worked with data straight from the nation's largest teacher union's own data - and found that the average teacher in a department setting (that is, where students have different teachers for different subjects) was in the classroom for fewer than 3.9 hours out of the 7.3 hours at school each day.

With several hours set aside at school for course-planning and grading, it strains plausibility that on average teachers must spend more hours working at home than do other professionals.

Not to mention, of course, summer vacation, Christmas break, spring break, fall break.... Oh, and the fact that they have lifetime job security because in public schools they can't be fired for even the most egregious incompetance

One Lab Left Out

Glen Reynolds linked this gallery of 30 awesome college labs.  My favorite at Princeton was our Junior year mechanical engineering course which was basically interfacing micro computers to mechanical devices  (which was a non-trivial task in 1983).  There were two one-semester courses.  The first was mostly software, and involved programming an s-100 bus computer in assembly language to do various things, like control an elevator.  My final project was a put one of the first sonic rangefinders from a Polaroid camera on a stepper motor and built a radar that painted a blocky view of its surroundings on a computer monitor.

But the really cool part for me was the second semester, when it was software + hardware.  We had to build a complete electronics and mechanical package to perform an automated function on ... a very large n-scale model railroad.  Well, readers of my blog will know that model railroading is my hobby anyway.  My team built a coal loading facility where the train was stepped forward one car at a time and a hopper filled each successive car to the right level with coal (or actually little black pellets).  We had sensors to be able to handle certain problems the professor might throw at us, like a car that was already full, cars of different sizes and lengths, etc.  That lab with the big model railroad was easily my favorite.

In retrospect, I almost miss programming in assembler code, trying to cram the code into 4K EPROMS, etching my own circuit boards....  Almost.   Now my only use for circuit boards is to shear them into strips to act as railroad ties when I hand-solder track work and my only use for etchant is weathering scale sheet metal to make it naturally rusty.  Pictures of the latter in a few weeks.

So What?

Via Glen Reynolds, from Keith Jurow at Business Insider

There is a far-reaching change occurring now which threatens housing markets around the country. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the National Apartment Association in May 2010 found that 76% of those surveyed now believe that renting is a better option than buying in the current real estate market, up from 71% in 2008.  Especially sobering was the fact that 78% of those surveyed were homeowners.

David Neithercut, CEO of Equity Residential, the nation's largest multi-family landlord, believes that there is a "psychology change" in the mind of consumers.  In a June address to an industry conference, he declared that there is "a change in one's thought process about the benefits or wisdom of owning a single-family home."

When an author uses the word "threatens" to describe a trend, you know he doesn't like it.  While a home may be  a good place to put excess cash for some people, as a leveraged investment it is insane.  It is a dead asset, producing no cash flow or future value.  While the land under it may be a scarce asset, particularly in some areas with strict growth limits and zoning laws, the house itself is a depreciating asset as much as your car is (trust me, I just replaced an air conditioner and spent weeks repairing dry wall cracks).

Renting pays a lot of benefits, not the least of which is the mobility it adds to the labor market.  Individuals with leases are less tied to a certain spot, so have more flexibility to leave a given area to seek better opportunities elsewhere  (this actually triggers a thought I had not had before -- I wonder if government promotion of home ownership, particularly at the state and local level -- can be seen as a modern form of serfdom, with politicians attempting to tie people to the land so they cannot move and take their tax money elsewhere).

So home ownership is a fine option for many (I own a home and prefer that status in my present circumstances) but there is no law that says it has to be the norm or the default.  Many people have switched from whole life to term, from buying individual stocks to mutual funds, from defined benefit pensions to 401k's.  The way we achieve goals evolve over time, and there should be nothing surprising about a change in how people wish to access housing.  And certainly nothing in this trend which should occasion government intervention to prevent.

This Is Still A Stupid Idea

I probably have posted on the electricity generating speed bump more times than it deserves, but Glen Reynolds linked this story and I am seeing it linked uncritically all over.  Here was the email I dashed off to Instapundit:

The speed bump / power device at the Burger King in New Jersey is the silliest technology I have ever seen and I am amazed that so many people praise it or write uncritically that it provides free power.  Energy is never free, it comes from somewhere.  In this case, the energy is actually stolen from the car.  The electricity power produced is equal to or less than the extra power the car has to expend going over the bump.

This electricity might be "free" if it is used where cars are braking anyway, say on a long down ramp in a parking garage, or on a suburban street or school zone where speed bumps already exist.  But the Burger King example, and in fact most of the examples I have seen of this installation, are just vampiric theft, very similar to what the US Government does in many of its programs, creating a large benefit for a single user and hoping that distributing the costs in small chunks across a wide number of people makes these costs invisible.

I wrote more about the technology here.

Sennheiser PX 100

Glen Reynolds repeats a past recommendation for the Sennheiser PX-100 headphones, and I want to give that recommendation a big ditto.  I have three pair at home and love them.  They are inexpensive, rugged, sound great, and fold up cleverly (though there is a learning curve to getting them back in the case).

Generation Skipping

Glen Reynolds linked this a while ago, but I was fascinated that two of President Tylers grandsons are still alive.   President Tyler was born in 1790 and died before the Civil War was over.  The younger of the two is profiled here. The key seems to be that his father was conceived when President Tyler was in his 60's, and he was conceived when his father was about 75.

While We Are On The Subject of Oil...

Glen Reynolds brings us this:

A provision in the US Carbon Neutral Government Act incorporated
into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 act effectively
bars the US government from buying fuels that have greater life-cycle
emissions than fuels produced from conventional petroleum sources.

The United States has defined Alberta oilsands as unconventional
because the bitumen mined from the ground requires upgrading and
refining as opposed to the traditional crude pumped from oil wells.

California Democrat Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Republican Tom
Davis added the clause.

Uh, right.  Since we all burn pure unrefined crude oil pumped right from the oil well in our car. 

Here is what a traditional crude oil goes through before it becomes gasoline:

  • Water and salt must be removed
  • The oil is heated up to over 700 degrees, and is separated into its fractions via distillation.  Oil is made up of hydrocarbon chains of many lengths, from short ones (methane, ethane, propane) to very long ones (asphalt, heavy motor oils).  Gasoline is somewhere in between.
  • Each fraction generally has to be de-sulfurized.  This generally occurs by injecting hydrogen into the fraction across a catalyst bed to remove the sulfur as Hydrogen Sulfide, a dangerous gas that must be further processed to produce pure sulfur.
  • The gasoline fractions in a typical oil are nowhere near large enough for the relative demand.  So additional steps must be taken to produce gasoline:
    • Very heavy fractions have their molecules cracked at high temperatures, either in cokers, high temperature crackers or in fluid catalyst bed crackers.  These processes either remove carbon in its pure form or remove it by combining it with hydrogen
    • Certain fractions are reformed in combination with hyrdrogen, sometimes across a platinum catalyst, to produce molecules with better properties for gasoline, including higher octane.
    • All over a refinery, there are small units that take individual fractions that use a variety of processes to create specific molecules that have useful properties
  • All of these different fractions and products are blended in various proportions to make different grades of gasoline.  These blends and proportions can change from city to city (to meet environmental regulations, Phoenix must have a gasoline blend that is unique in the US) and must change season to season (gas that burns well in winter will vapor lock in the summer time).

I am sure I left tons of steps out, but you get the idea.  Below are my old digs at Exxon's Baytown Texas Refinery, where I worked as an engineer for 3 years out of college:

Baytown2  Baytown_2

Dave Barry was Right about Having Sex with Dogs

In a really funny interview, Dave Barry lamented that the first argument he always heard against being a libertarian was that in a free society, "everyone would have sex with dogs."  Among other funny stuff, he said:

I got a few letters, mostly pretty nice. One or two
letters saying, "Here's why it wouldn't work to be a libertarian, because people
will have sex with dogs." Arguments like, "Nobody would educate the kids."
People say, "Of course you have to have public education because otherwise
nobody would send their kids to school." And you'd have to say, "Would you not
send your kids to school? Would you not educate them?" "Well, no. I would. But
all those other people would be having sex with dogs."

He was right!  Here is Sean Gleeson, via Glen Reynolds, arguing that libertarians are wrong, because they ... wait for it .. will allow people to have sex with animals.

These pro-bestial arguments are disarming to any honest and consistent libertarian. Even Instapundit Glenn Reynolds allows
that he's "got nothing against" bestiality, explaining "since I'm happy
to eat animals it's hard for me to consider people having sex with them
to be, you know, more exploitative."

That's because libertarianism is fundamentally wrong.

The worthiest argument against bestiality is not that it is "cruel," nor that it is "exploitative." It is that it is a violation of human dignity.

Bestiality
is so very wrong not only because using animals sexually is abusive,
but because such behavior is profoundly degrading and utterly
subversive to the crucial understanding that human beings are unique,
special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe"“a concept
known as "human exceptionalism."

Within the
narrow blinders of libertarianism, laws can only be justified by appeal
to an unconsenting victim. Human dignity has no place in the
libertarian worldview, and the libertarian is left with no basis to
outlaw what he calls "victimless crimes." Prostitution, polygamy,
pornography, incest, drug abuse, bestiality, and a host of other
crimes, being consensual, must be legal, and that's that.

And
this is libertarianism's greatest failing. The libertarians happen to
come to the right conclusions on a great many issues of policy, and I
am happy to ally with them on those issues. But libertarianism is not
an adequate theory of governance.

By the way, just so all of you can think less of me, I have no problem legalizing prostitution, polygamy,
pornography, incest, drug abuse, and bestiality involving consenting adults (kids, who by definition are not legally capable of making adult decisions, are a different legal matter).  Here for example is my rant on legalizing prostitution.  Here is my favorite ode to Polygamy.  Here is my summary post on letting individuals run their own damn life.

When people come to tell you that it is OK for them to use coercion and force against you, but only to protect you from yourself, or even more nebulously to protect your "human dignity," run away screaming.  Here is a bet:  Give me absolute dictatorial powers but limited only to things I could justify as "protecting human dignity" and I would have a full-bore fascist state built by the end of the week.  Because that phrase can freaking mean anything at all.  And it is always, always, always the person who makes such statements who envisions themselves (not you our me!) defining the terms.

I am not sure what my "dignity" is or where it rests, but please, as long as I am not hurting anyone else, leave the protection of it to me alone.

Fluorescent Bulbs

I have to echo this post from Glen Reynolds about fluorescent replacement bulbs for the home.  If you have not bought any in the last two years, they have come a long, long way.  They are much cheaper - home depot was running a screaming deal on multi-packs here this weekend.  The buzzing fluorescent sound is gone.  And the ones at Home Depot came in a range of three color temperatures - from warm white, which comes close to matching the light color and temperature of incandescent bulbs, to bright white and daylight.  The latter have a brighter, cooler (blue-er) light that you might more closely associate with fluorescent.  I use the warm ones indoors and the cooler white ones outdoors.  I can barely tell the difference even for bare bulbs in my ceiling cans between the newer warm fluorescent and the older incandescents.  And if the bulb is in a lamp under a shade, I really can't tell the difference.

These are a total no-brainer.  They pay for themselves in longer life alone, and the 70-80% energy savings comes on top of that.  Highly recommended.