Posts tagged ‘Glenn Reynolds’

Problem Endemic To Public Parks Management

Glenn Reynolds is writing about colleges, but he could just as easily be writing about public parks:

Full-time administrators now outnumber full-time faculty. And when times get tough, schools have a disturbing tendency to shrink faculty numbers while keeping administrators on the payroll. Teaching gets done by low-paid, nontenured adjuncts, but nobody ever heard of an "adjunct administrator."

Replace "faculty" with "people actually working in a park" and administrators with "headquarters staff" and he has described the management of public parks exactly.  Most parks agencies are suffering from administrative bloat, with more people in headquarters than out in the field actually running parks.  When they have layoffs, it is always of field staff and not headquarters administrators.   In the parks world they will even ignore major maintenance needs in favor of making sure they have the funds to keep paying headquarters staff.

It is just absurd.  Of course, in my case, we make a business out of this.  We run public parks, and have 300 field employees actually in the parks and 2 in headquarters.  It allows us to cut costs while simultaneously doing a better job.

Still Holding Off on iOS7

There was some back and forth at Glenn Reynolds site about delaying iOS 7 upgrades.  The day before the iOS 7 rollout I emailed all my family and told them not to install it until some time had passed and Apple had a chance to do revisions.  This is my general policy with all major OS upgrades (and many program upgrades) but all the more so with Apple software because they never allow download of older versions of things like iOS or iTunes and thus make it impossible to roll back problematic releases.    Now that we see issues about battery life and slow performance with iOS 7 on certain iPhone versions, I am glad we are waiting.  Feature-wise this is a very incremental release (masked to some extent by a totally new visual look) so I can certainly wait.

(The other software that is very much in this category is Quickbooks.  Their history of buggy software is terrible, and because upgrades tend to modify the database in ways that cannot be rolled back, it is another example of software where one needs to be very, very careful before upgrading.  Let others be the bleeding edge).

+1 For Oral Histories

Glenn Reynolds links to an article on oral histories.  In 8th grade, my son had to do an oral history of someone in my family.  I bought him an mp3 recorder, one of those little dictation things they sell at Staples or Office Depot, and he recorded about 4 hours of interviews.

My dad passed away last week, but due to dementia lost the ability to discuss his life long before that.  My dad had an amazing life, growing up in a tiny house in Depression-era Iowa and eventually running one of the largest corporations in the world.  He never talked about himself.  Knowing him, one couldn't imagine him writing a memoir.  In a day where executives hire PR agents to puff them up in the press, my dad scoffed and derided the practice.  He bought all his casual clothes at Sears until his teenage daughters made him stop.

So the only history we have of him in his own words wouldn't exist if a wonderful teacher hadn't assigned him the project.

Creative Destruction

On UVA from Walter Russel Mead via Glenn Reynolds

As the NYT article points out, universities all over the country are facing a world of rapid change. This is going to be hard to face. Universities are structured to adapt slowly—if at all. Typically, university presidents have only limited controls, while faculties have a lot of power to resist. Management is usually decentralized, with different schools and departments governed under different rules and accountable to different constituencies. The fiscal arrangements of most universities are both byzantine and opaque; it can be very hard for administrators to understand or properly and fairly value the true cost and contributions of different parts of the institution.

The structural problem our universities face is this: confronted with the need for sweeping, rapid changes, administrators and boards have two options — and they are both bad. One option is to press ahead to make rapid changes. This risks — and in many (perhaps most) cases will cause — enormous upheavals; star professors will flounce off. Alumni will be offended. Waves of horrible publicity will besmirch the university’s name.

Option two: you can try to make your reforms consensual — watering down, delaying, carefully respecting existing interests and pecking orders. If you do this, you will have a peaceful, happy campus . . . until the money runs out.

This kind of organizational change issue is NOT unique to public institutions.  I think if one were a fly on the wall at Sears, or RIM/Blackberry, or AOL, one could describe exactly the same dynamic: insider constituencies were and are successful under the old model, so consensus processes involving these same constituencies seldom lead to change since these changes are inherently threatening to these same constituencies.  A simpler way of saying this is that it is really hard to obsolete oneself.  Just go ask Blockbuster Video.

But there is one difference in the world of public institutions.  In the private world, new success models in the worlds of Sears and AOL and Blackberry are already out there and growing really fast, run by outsiders who have absolutely no stake in the success of the old model (in fact by folks who have a strong economic stake in killing the old models).  But there is no parallel to capital markets and entrepreneurship in the public space.  There is no venue for new-model proponents to get capital and support outside of the old-model institutions.  In fact, if anything, public institutions will rally their political clout, up to and including sponsoring new legislation, to make sure new models are strangled in the crib.

If I were in the VA legislature and really cared about education innovation in the future, I would give up on UVA driving it and instead take 20% of its funding and hand it off to a brand new parallel entity, say UVA 2.0, run by an entirely new team.

The Appeal of Coupons

Ages ago, I was an executive at Mercata, an Internet store whose strategy was to sell items whose price would go down as more people agreed to buy the item.  In theory, this creates an incentive for viral marketing, as anyone who buys has a financial incentive to get their friends to join in.

The company died for a variety of reasons, in part just because like many startups in that weird era of the late 90's, we just built up too many fixed costs too fast to reach breakeven in any reasonable amount of time.  We were also ahead of our time in some ways -- the model makes a ton more sense in the Facebook / social media age.

But we also failed, as did many Internet stores, because order fulfillment, product inventory, shipping, etc was and still is expensive.

Glenn Reynolds notices that a lot of folks (including Amazon in his link) are selling coupons.  This may be a blinding glimpse of the obvious to all of you, but the appeal of a retailer of selling coupons online is that they are virtually free to inventory, to fulfill, and to ship.   Think of it this way -- you want to compete online on price.  You can actually sell the physical stuff at a discount.  Or you can sell the coupon, which gives access to the customer access to the same discount but is much easier to fulfill.  It also lets you "sell" things you normally can't provide over the Internet, like a restaurant meal.

The model is not that compelling to me, because I shop online for the convenience rather than the price.  I buy some Groupon type coupons, but generally for things like restaurants rather than products.

Ditto

Stephen Carter via Glenn Reynolds

The man in the aisle seat is trying to tell me why he refuses to hire anybody. His business is successful, he says, as the 737 cruises smoothly eastward. Demand for his product is up. But he still won’t hire.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t know how much it will cost,” he explains. “How can I hire new workers today, when I don’t know how much they will cost me tomorrow?”

He’s referring not to wages, but to regulation: He has no way of telling what new rules will go into effect when. His business, although it covers several states, operates on low margins. He can’t afford to take the chance of losing what little profit there is to the next round of regulatory changes. And so he’s hiring nobody until he has some certainty about cost.

Great Toy

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.

Race Tests in America

Glenn Reynolds mentions an article on racial tests in Hawaii.  I blogged about a similar Hawaiian program several years ago, where $1 a year land leases are granted by the state to native Hawaiians

Qualifying for the program requires that the recipient pass a strict racial test, which the HHL web site says is "50% or greater native Hawaiian blood".  Setting eligibility for a government program based on racial tests is pretty outlandish in and of itself, but it gets worse.  People taking advantage of the program need to think carefully about the race of their mate before they decide how much to invest in their home.  A 75% Hawaiian who marries a full-blooded Hawaiian will be able to pass the improvements on to their children (since the children will be more than 50% Hawaiian), and thus can justify a large home investment.  The same person who marries a full-blooded Japanese or African or Anglo-Saxon will not be able to pass their home on to their kids, since their kids will fail the race test.  So, not only is there a race-test for a government program, but the government is providing strong financial incentives not to "dilute" a certain race.  Hawaii uber alles.

Home Theater

Glenn Reynolds has a discussion of projectors as an alternative to flat screen TVs.  I have been a projector owner through 10 years and 3 generations and am a big fan of them in certain applications.

I have an Epson 8500UB, which is close to the top of their line and can be bought under $2000 (which is amazing - the projector price drop in the last 10 years has been stunning).  It is a 1080p projector with great blacks and color.  I have it ceiling mounted with a 110-inch diagonal 16x9 Stewart screen.  I have one of the silver fabrics (I think the Firehawk) that enhances black levels over the white fabrics (there is a reason movies used to be shown on the "silver screen.")  The screen is acoustically perforated so the speakers (except for surrounds) are actually behind the screen (as in movie theaters).

In the evening, with the lights down and the projector adjusted correctly, the effects is awesome.  Not to be missed.  I have had to kick many visitors out of my house.  Sports are also amazing, particularly in HDTV.

As Glenn's commenters mention, you have to be careful with light.  I picked this Epson both because it is really about the best in its price range, but it also is very bright.  Unlike my last generation projector, it can overcome some ambient light.  I have to have blinds in my den, but with the blinds down but the room still lighted well I can watch sports on the bright setting quite well with this projector (you really don't want to watch a movie with this bright setting - movies are all about the blacks, and to get those looking great you need darkness).

Anything 60" and below, get an LCD.  But if you really want a ridiculously large screen for movies and sports, this is the only way to go and I highly recommend the Epson line -- they have projectors at many price points and they are mostly all very good.

The Most Negative Leading Economic Indicator

Will we look back on 2009 as the tipping point where productive resources began to spiral faster and faster into the government black hole?  A few stories that have caught my eye the last few weeks:

Federal salaries exploding, from USA Today via Q&O

The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.

Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months "” and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted....

The trend to six-figure salaries is occurring throughout the federal government, in agencies big and small, high-tech and low-tech. The primary cause: substantial pay raises and new salary rules.

The highest-paid federal employees are doing best of all on salary increases. Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.

When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.

Government Employment Rising, via Glenn Reynolds

goodsgovtgraph

Government services rising as a percent of the economy (from the Heritage Foundation via the same Glenn Reynolds link above)

entitlements_03-580

Capital to private firms is increasingly allocated by the state -- the new Corporate State.  First, Representative Paul Ryan in Forbes:

Thirty years later, this crony capitalism is back with a vengeance, accelerated by an aggressive program by President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership. It is wreaking havoc on economic recovery and fueling continued resentment among the American people.

The actions taken at the height of the financial panic last fall, with credit markets frozen, succeeded in preventing a systemic--and catastrophic--collapse. Since bringing us back from the precipice however, the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP] has morphed into crony capitalism at its worst. Abandoning its original purpose providing targeted assistance to unlock credit markets, TARP has evolved into an ad hoc, opaque slush fund for large institutions that are able to influence the Treasury Department's investment decisions behind-the-scenes. No longer concerned with preserving overall financial market stability, Treasury's walking around money continues to be deployed to reward the market's Goliaths while letting its Davids suffer.

Further, via Reuters:

U.S. banks that spent more money on lobbying were more likely to get government bailout money, according to a study released on Monday.

Banks whose executives served on Federal Reserve boards were more likely to receive government bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to the study from Ran Duchin and Denis Sosyura, professors at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Banks with headquarters in the district of a U.S. House of Representatives member who serves on a committee or subcommittee relating to TARP also received more funds.

Political influence was most helpful for poorly performing banks, the study found.

"Political connections play an important role in a firm's access to capital," Sosyura, a University of Michigan assistant professor of finance, said in a statement.

The Government has gained new power to allocate capital in the future. This was perhaps one of the most under-reported stories of the last few months (mea culpa as well).

To close out 2009, I decided to do something I bet no member of Congress has done -- actually read from cover to cover one of the pieces of sweeping legislation bouncing around Capitol Hill....

The reading was especially painful since this reform sausage is stuffed with more gristle than meat. At least, that is, if you are a taxpayer hoping the bailout train is coming to a halt.

If you're a banker, the bill is tastier. While banks opposed the legislation, they should cheer for its passage by the full Congress in the New Year: There are huge giveaways insuring the government will again rescue banks and Wall Street if the need arises....

Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from days spent reading Frank's handiwork:

-- For all its heft, the bill doesn't once mention the words "too-big-to-fail," the main issue confronting the financial system. Admitting you have a problem, as any 12- stepper knows, is the crucial first step toward recovery.

-- Instead, it supports the biggest banks. It authorizes Federal Reserve banks to provide as much as $4 trillion in emergency funding the next time Wall Street crashes. So much for "no-more-bailouts" talk. That is more than twice what the Fed pumped into markets this time around. The size of the fund makes the bribes in the Senate's health-care bill look minuscule....

But don't worry, trust Congress to get at the heart of the financial meltdown

The bill calls for more than a dozen agencies to create a position called "Director of Minority and Women Inclusion." People in these new posts will be presidential appointees.

I've Been Warning About This

Meddle in the economy too much, and investment dries up as entrepeneurs sit on the sidelines to see what's next:

"America isn't hiring precisely because of government policy. Small business owners, who are usually the first into and the first out of the job pool, are standing by the fence and watching. They are paralyzed by regulatory uncertainty. If they hire someone who ends up doing poorly, will they be able to fire that person? Will they have to pay their health care bills after they've been terminated? If so, for how long? Who will pay for all these stimulus checks? If it will turn out to be small business, why would they hire instead of keeping costs low to prepare for the big tax bill? Where will the market move? Are you in the right business or are your clients in a politically disfavored industry? . . . Jobs aren't languishing despite the government's best efforts. They're languishing because of them."

Via Glenn Reynolds

And We Expected A Chicago Machine Politician To Clean Up Washington?

This is pretty incredible, even by the general standard for Illinois scandals:

In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor's go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor's admissions requests.

When Law School Dean Heidi Hurd balked on accepting the applicant in April 2006, Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?"

Hurd replied: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar."

Props to Heidi Hurd for such a sharp response.  The scale is pretty staggering:

Gov. Pat Quinn convened a state commission to investigate the U. of I. admissions process after the Tribune revealed that more than 800 undergraduate applicants in the last five years received special consideration because they were backed by U. of I. trustees, legislators and others in powerful posts.

That's 160 a year!  I don't know how large the law school is, but that must be a respectable portion of the class.  via Glenn Reynolds

Postscript: Remember what I said on January 20th:

There is some sort of weird mass self-hypnosis going on, made even odder by the fact that a lot of people seem to know they are hypnotized, at least at some level.  I keep getting shushed as I make fun of friends' cult behavior watching the proceedings today, as if by jiggling someone's elbow too hard I might break the spell.  Never have I seen, in my lifetime, so much emotion invested in a politician we know nothing about.   I guess I am just missing some gene that makes the rest of humanity receptive to this kind of stuff, but just for a minute snap your fingers in front of your face and say "do I really expect a fundamentally different approach from a politician who won his spurs in "¦. Chicago?  Do I really think the ultimate political outsider is going to be the guy who bested everyone at their own game in the Chicago political machine?"

Vista Still Sucks, But I Actually Found A Mac I Kindof Liked

Now, I won't argue that Vista will someday not suck - after all, give an infinite number of monkeys $30 billion a year in cash flow and they'll code Shakespeare.  Or whatever.  But I have to agree with this post by Glenn Reynolds that Vista is still not ready for prime time.  Now, I wrote this same conclusion over a half year ago, but incredibly, no updates of any seriousness have been issued.  It is still the mess it was then, and Moore's Law has yet to catch up to make the average machine run it acceptably  (particularly with laptops).   When I set up the dual boot back to XP on my kid's laptop, I did not make the XP partition large enough because my kids absolutely refuse to install anything on the Vista partition, which they use only because that is where MS Office is installed. 

Am I a lone wolf on this issue?  Oh my God, am I a Vista denier! Well, check out this announcement from Microsoft reported by ZDNet on June 28:

Microsoft is simplifying the processes via which its PC-maker
partners will be able to provide "downgrade" rights from Windows Vista
to Windows XP for their customers.

Microsoft will implement the first of the policy changes for its
Gold Certified (top-tier) OEM partners within the next couple of weeks.
The company will streamline downgrade-rights policies and procedures
for the broader channel somewhat later, said John Ball, general manager
of Microsoft's U.S. Systems Group....

Microsoft is working on ways to allow the rest of the channel to
take advantage of these simplified downgrade procedures, but is still
in the midst of hashing out the details, Ball said. He didn't have a
timetable for when Microsoft will make its more liberal
downgrade-rights policies available to the rest of its PC partners.

I am not sure this is the sign of a healthy product line when your top customers are demanding easier ability to go back to the old version.

As a side note, I have never, ever liked Macs.  First, I never wanted to be one of "the rest of us" and I enjoy tweaking and upgrading too much to be a fan of Macs.  Also, I thought their historic resistance to some obvious improvements, like the two-button mouse, was just stupid.  All that being said, I will admit that I really like the new iMac I bought my wife.  It is perfect for her, and it is gorgeous.  The keyboard is not great for speed-typing but it looks really cool and my wife is fine with that.  The iMac did a great job with the tough stuff - it immediately recognized the PC's on my network and was able to trade files with them (something our Vista laptop still balks at from time to time) and it set up a network printer on the first try.  And, for perhaps the first time ever on a Mac, I didn't feel like the things was wallowing in first gear when compared to my desktop PC.

Instalanches are So Last Year

It used to be that Instalanches were the gold standard for blowing out your server bandwidth.  An Instalanche occurred when Glenn Reynolds (or one of the other super-large bloggers) pointed his enormous traffic to an article of interest in some small blog.  The results were sortof like hooking your transistor radio to a high-tension power line.  This was the traffic chart from my first instalanche.

Today, most of my huge traffic spikes come when an article of mine moves up high on reddit or stumbleupon or del.icio.us  (I don't remember ever getting much from digg).  Right now my article on water pricing is on the front page of reddit, and the traffic spike is enormous. 

Thanks Alot, Amazon

First, on the good side, I thought this linkage was fine on the product page for my novel BMOC:

Bmocamazon1

But this one made me laugh out loud:

Bmocamazon2

Fart pen?  That's what I get for appealing to libertarians, I guess.  The tie with Glenn Reynolds is cool though.

By the way, you can buy a pdf of BMOC for $3.46* here.

* Don't ask why $3.46.  I don't know either.

Should We Retreat from Iraq?

Glenn Reynolds quotes Ann Althouse as follows:

ANN ALTHOUSE IS DEPRESSED:
"It's the failure of Americans to support the war. It's the folding and
crumpling because things didn't go well enough and the way we
conspicuously displayed that to our enemies. They're going to use that
information. For how long? Forever."

Despite my initial opposition to the war in Iraq, once we were there I have always been a stay the course guy.  Partially for the reason that Althouse mentions, the damage to our credibility, and partially just because we have made a commitment to the Iraqi people and it would be dishonorable to leave them in the current mess without help.

What Althouse misses is this:  American's are not necessarily ready to give up on the war in Iraq, but they are ready to give up on the Administration's management of it.  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  This is how many folks, including myself, see our effort in Iraq.  We beat our head over and over against the same wall in the same place, expecting different results, and we don't get them.  People need to see an acknowledgment that the current approach is not working, so we are going to try X instead.

In this context, "stay the course" looks less attractive.  Because no one can seem to communicate what the extra time is going to buy us.  What will be done in three more years that was not done in the last three?  Or will we have to support the Iraqi's for decades against their own desire to tear themselves apart, so twenty years from now we can say "well, it took all our capacity and the military got nothing else done, but we finally converted one bad regime out of about fifty out there to a democracy."

I am willing to give the administration one more shot to define success in Iraq and a plan for getting there.  Right now, many Americans feel like the only two choices are "retreat now, with Iraq still a mess" and "retreat in five years, with Iraq still a mess and after a lot more casualties."  The administration is going to have to define an option 3 to get people back on board.

Hey, I was Actually Right

A number of years ago, when I was in marketing for the commercial aviation business at AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), I made a lot of presentations to folks that they shouldn't bet the farm on the Airbus A380 because it made no sense.  I didn't think it would ever get built.  Well, very few people in the aviation business wanted to hear this.  Most people in aerospace are airplane guys first, and business guys second.  They wanted this plane to be built and longed to be a part of it.  I left before everything was finalized, but my sense is they went off and spent tens of millions of dollars to develop products for the A380.

Well, I was right and wrong.  The plane still makes little sense, but it will get built. Maybe.  Someday.  What I underestimated in the latter question was the willingness of European governments to push the plane against the headwind of economic reality merely as a grand salve for the European ego.

What was wrong with the plane is still wrong now.  The original logic, which the company still parrots today, was that airport congestion would require larger and larger planes.  If airports are at capacity, in terms of the number of planes they could handle, the planes have to get larger, right?  Well, no.  The problem with the larger plane is that the FAA and other air transport regulators will require the larger plane to have larger spacing with trailing planes  (the larger the plane, the more they create turbulent air and very stable wingtip vortices that pose a danger to trailing planes).  In fact, regulators are going to force double or triple the spacing behind the A380 that is required of the 747.  How does the plane help congestion, then, if it holds twice the people but takes up three times the landing capacity?  Answer:  It doesn't.  The same arguments can be made where gate space is at a premium - loading and servicing times for the plane can be expected to be twice as long as a regular plane, so in effect it takes up double the gate capacity.

Glenn Reynolds links to this Popular Mechanics article covering this ground and more on the A380.

Postscript:  The alternate strategy to deal with congestion is to start to abandon the hub and spoke system and move to a point-to-point flight network using smaller planes and involving more airports.  This takes connecting traffic out of overloaded hub airports.  Its the way the market has been moving, with competitors like Southwest and JetBlue developing point-to-point networks.  Asia may be the exception to this development, and it is no accident most A380 orders are Asian airlines.

While I am patting myself on the back, I also said that the Boeing Sonic Cruiser made no sense.  The engine and body/wing technology that would make the Sonic Cruiser could either be applied to generate more speed at constant fuel consumption or to achieve current speeds at greatly reduced fuel consumption.  I predicted that 10 out of 10 airlines would prefer the latter.  And that is the way it played out, with Boeing dropping the Sonic Cruiser, the more monumental and sexy project, in favor of the unsexy but demanded-by-the-marketplace next generation fuel efficient mid-sized aircraft.

I Want Hawaii 5-0 on DVD!

Glenn Reynolds had a post on TV series that are coming soon to DVD, and some that other bloggers would like to see.  My vote for most conspicuously missing DVD would be Hawaii 5-0  (Don't be confused by the knock-off on sale on the internet, there is no official release).  I know everyone has their opinion, but I think this was the all-around be TV crime drama ever.  Period.  Aloha.

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.

Advice on Growing a Blog

I have tried a bit of everything to grow my blog:  participating in carnivals, signing up for contests, spamming Glenn Reynolds for attention (sorry Glenn).  Here is the lesson I have learned:  You have just got to write a lot.  Other bloggers will notice you and start linking back to you when you write about them.  Walter Olson at Overlawyered has had me guest blog a couple of times, and I don't think I ever emailed him once.  I linked to a lot of his posts, adding my commentary, and he eventually noticed.  Ditto some of the folks at Cafe Hayek, at Reason, and at the Knowledge Problem.  In turn, I have discovered great blogs like Maggies Farm and Catallarchy from my traffic logs.  Write a lot on your blog, and comment on other people's blogs, if you really have energy to burn, and the traffic will show up.  Search engine traffic alone will bring new readers, and the more you post, the more different searches will find you (though some are a bit bizarre).

As a sort of reverse proof of this, here is my traffic profile for the last year.  Nothing spectacular, I am just a small blog, but you can see what happened to traffic when my posting went way down over the summer.  I have in turn been burning up the keyboard in September, and I hit a new traffic high.

Traffic2

Update: Trackbacks used to be a great way to tell folks that you were commenting on a particular post.  Unfortunately, spam has pretty much killed them at most sites, including this one. 

Eek! Children!

A while back Glenn Reynolds had a series of posts on European birth rates and the social costs of having children (I would link the articles but my timer on this computer in the library is running out and I don't have time to search). 

Our first few days here in the [English] countryside have really reinforced different cultural attitudes about children.  The first night here, we walked into a restaurant with our kids, and the whole place went silent, staring at us.  We were told children were not allowed.  In retrospect, it felt like that scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the townspeople are all staring at the family because in that town kids are illegal.  The next restaurant did not let kids in after 7.  The next saw us and said that they had a large group arrive and couldn't serve us (despite the fact the parking lot and restaurant were empty). 

We thought at first this might have something to do with liquor laws, since many local restaurants are also the pub.  But that first night when we finally found a restaurant that would serve our children, they said we could not sit in the restaurant but they could seat us in the bar!

Not sure I have a conclusion here, except to observe how different attitudes about children and families are here.  Kids here are also much quieter in public than American kids, perhaps because they have learned to keep a low profile in a society that doesn't always want them around.  It will be interesting to see if London is any different.

Bonus trivia question, answer below the fold:  The writer, producer and several of the actors in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also were responsible for what other quite famous series of movies?

Update:  I left off that it was in the English countryside (near the border of England and Wales).  Sorry.  I am finally on a decent Internet connection and just caught onto the confusion.

Continue reading ‘Eek! Children!’ »

Congress Finally Stirs Itself Over Separation of Powers

A while back, I lamented that all three branches of government seemed to be conspiring to weaken Constitutional limits and separation of powers.

The good news is that Congress has finally gotten worked up about protecting separation of powers.  The bad news is that the issue at hand is the justice department's investigation of Congressional bribery.  Unbelievable.  These guys are totally lost.  More on the Jefferson bribery chargesGlenn Reynolds comments and has a roundup.

Ed Morrissey provides a bit of Constitutional analysis, as well as this excellent point:

This can't be the same Congress that issues subpoenas for all sorts
of probes into the executive branch and the agencies it runs. Does
Congress really want to establish a precedent that neither branch has
to answer subpoenas if issued by the other, even if approved by a judge
-- which this particular subpoena was?

The FBI had a valid subpoena for the information in Jefferson's
office. He refused to provide it. The FBI had little choice but to go
in and take it, and from the description given in the Washington Post,
they took extraordinary care not to confiscate legitimate data relating
to his legislative responsibilities.

Bullshit Jobs

Glenn Reynolds linked to Stanley Bing's book "100 Bullshit Jobs... and How to Get Them."  He points out that "blogger" is number 13.  However, the Amazon description hints that I may have had a second job on the list: "McKinsey Consultant."  I will leave to the outside observer whether both jobs are bullshit.  I will say that they both share in common an ability to consume a lot of hours in the day that would probably be free time without them.  They both also share an hourly pay problem, the blogging job because it pays nothing and the McKinsey job because it turned out to have a staggering number of work hours each week in the denominator.

Gas Prices a Crisis??

The media is just longing to make current gas prices into a crisis.  And you can already see them gearing up to bash oil companies for "record" profits (by the way, when reading the profit announcements, pay attention not to just total dollars but to profit margins, then read this).

Glenn Reynolds links this gas price chart this morning at Random Useless Data, showing that in real terms, gas prices are still below their peaks, and not at "all-time highs."

Gasprice_1

I took this one step further, based on the assumption that it isn't the price per gallon that matters for gas, but the price to drive a fixed mileage, say 100 miles.  Since average automobile fuel economy has continued to improve, in real terms we are far below the peak cost of gasoline.  Using this and this MPG data (for passenger cars) and the inflation adjusted gas prices here, I got this chart (1979 dollars)

Gas_price_100_1

By the way, just so you know my personal incentives, there are very few people out there who run a business whose fortunes are more sensitive to gas prices than my recreation business.  This will not be a very good summer for me, but if we leave the market alone to do its work, things will likely be better in 2007.  Intervention by Congress will pretty much assure that things will get worse.

Congrats to John Scalzi

Congrats to John Scalzi for his Hugo nomination for "Old Man's War".  I hope he wins.  I read a lot of science fiction including several of the other nominated books but Old Man's War was one of those instant classics, a book that 25 years from now could easily be included in a best of science fiction series.  I also have to agree with Glenn Reynolds on the accesability of his work.  If I wanted to get someone excited about science fiction, I would likely hand them "Enders Game", "The Foundation", and "Old Man's War"*.  I just finished Vernor Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky", which was awesome.  It and his previous book "Fire Upon the Deep" are beautiful and rich and deep and textured masterpieces, but I would never hand them to a SciFi first-timer.  SciFi needs writers who bring the general population back to SciFi, and Scalzi along with Card and a few others will certainly help.

* Honestly, if you rank yourself as someone who hates or just doesn't read science fiction, give just one or two of these three a try.  Scifi is not all cute robots and Imperial Star Destroyers.  And for those looking for the next step beyond these books for more hard-core stuff I might suggest classics like "Mote in God's Eye", "Ringworld",  "Dune", or about anything by Louis McMaster Bujold.  After that, your ready for anything, from Charles Stross to Harlan Ellison (the latter if you want a good downer).