Posts tagged ‘NPR’

NPR on the Obamacare-Driven Shift to Part-Time Work

I don't have time to excerpt but, as I predicted, the media is finally catching up to the enormous shift (mainly in the retail and service sector) to part-time work.    I had a long article on this at Forbes last week.

Government Prioritization Fail: Adding Staff When It Is Least Essential

Matt Welch has a good article here about a self-refuting NPR piece, which was obviously supposed to be a scare story about the loss of Sequestration money but turned out to be an illustration of just how stupid the sequestration panic was.  It's funny listening to the podcast of this episode as the NPR hosts desperately try to support the Administration position.

But one thing I thought was funny was this bit illustrating pre-sequester government staffing prioritization:

NPR's David Greene brings on Yvette Aehle, director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, Georgia, to talk about the terrible danger that passengers will face now that Aehle's airport stands to lose its air traffic controllers:

AEHLE: Well, I don't really want to say anything is less safe. It's just a better opportunity for people to listen and to be heard and to understand where they are. And also, I'd like to point out that we don't have 24-hour tower coverage here currently. Those air traffic controllers are only directing traffic between 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week. And most of our heavy traffic is outside of those hours.

So the government chooses to staff the control tower only half the day.  But they choose to staff the tower during the 12 hours of lightest traffic, presumably because the employees wanted day jobs rather than night jobs.

As an aside, I will confess that my business of running public parks benefits from this.  The biggest management load on parks is obviously on weekends and in the evenings (in campgrounds).  Most employees of public agencies only work weekday days.  Its incredibly typical that public parks employees will take their vacations in July and August, by far the busiest months.  One advantage  (other than the obvious cost advantage) we have over public operations is that public agencies can't or won't ask their employees to work weekends and defer their vacations out of the summer time.  We are perfectly happy to hire people with very clear expectations that the job involves work on weekend and holidays.

I will give you my reminder of how to understand most government agencies:  Ignore the agency's stated purpose, and assume that it is being operated primarily for the benefit of its employees.  One will very often find that this simple heuristic is far better at explaining agency decisions than relying on the agency's mission statement  (this does not mean that there are not dedicated individuals in the agency truly, even selflessly, dedicated to the stated mission -- these two notions are not at all mutually exclusive.  Government agencies do not act badly because they are full of bad people, they act badly because their incentives cause good people to do stupid things).

A Difference Between Republicans and Me

Both I and most Congressional Republicans want to defund NPR.  Republicans want to do it because they perceive it as a government-funded liberal partisan voice;  I want to do it because broadcasting is simply not a role for government.

But note -- Republicans who want to count coup on NPR out of spite and frustration should recognize that defunding it could very likely make NPR a more, rather than less, potent leftish voice  (insert Star Wars quote "if you strike me down.... yada yada).  NPR's government funding is all that is really keeping it in sight of the political center.  Pull that funding and it will be free to tack left - in fact, this likely will be an imperative given its likely sources of additional private funding it will need.

All of which is fine by me, but I think the Republicans are expecting an Air America-type crash and burn, and I think they are mistaken.  There is a lot about PBS and NPR that are vital and unique -- their supporters are not wrong about that -- which I think will make them viable private (though still non-profit) entities.

Balloon Boy in a Prius

I absolutely couldn't believe what I was listening to on NPR the other day, with the breathless coverage of the moron in Southern California who for some reason couldn't slow his Prius but did manage to alert the national media.   Your brakes on your car can stop it even at full acceleration. Why couldn't he?  Why didn't he shift into neutral?  Why didn't he turn the engine off?  How amazing was it that a one in a million problem (because even if the sudden acceleration issue is a real hardware problem, it is very, very rare) occurs at just about the exact height of the Toyota panic in SoCal, the world's largest media market?

I am glad someone else is showing some skepticism.  The media is just incredible.  I used to feel guilty that I was too hard on the media in stories like this in my novel, but now I think I stopped short of reality.

Why Modern Music Sucks

Boy, do I sound like my parents with that headline, or what?

Apparently, two kinds of compression are changing the sound of recorded music.  The first is digital compression, such as we use to get a bunch of mp3's on an iPod.    I still buy CD's, and then rip them myself so I can control the bit rate and compression, but a lot of folks are buying mp3's online of all kinds of quality.  (I actually rip every CD twice -- once as a VBR MP3 for my iPod and once as a loss-less FLAC file for my home audio server).

The second type of compression, perhaps more insidious because it is impossible for the individual listener to control, is use of audio compressors that reduce the dynamic range of music - basically making soft parts louder and vice versa.    NPR discusses it here, via Flowing Data. While the second form of compression is as old as vinyl (the revenge of Phil Specter?) these two types of compression are related as apparently louder music gives more room to hide digital compression artifacts, so producers are compressing music and increasing loudness.

The best test I have of dynamic range is listening to music in a noisy car, say with the windows open.  Many classical disks can't be listened to this way, as the variation from soft to loud causes one to keep having to fiddle with the volume knob.  I have a few old rock disks that have the same kind of range  (some old Genesis albums come to mind) but most of my newer disks will play just fine in a loud car, probably meaning that they indeed do have much narrower dynamic ranges.

To some extent, this is counter intuitive to me given the prevalence of headphone listening, since headphones are great for listening to music with big dynamic ranges.  But what do I know?  I grew up listening to 8-tracks so it all is an improvement for me.

Here is a very good, succinct example of how compression works and why it makes music suck:

I Don't Get It

Just a few days ago I wrote about proposals for government subsidies / bailouts / partial control of print media. Already, it seems that bills are popping up in Congress. I guess this is not surprising -- as Congress loves to throw pork at particular industries in exchange for help getting elected, the temptation to make the newspaper industry, with its unique political muscle, beholden to the political class must be overwhelming.

But I must say this makes zero sense to me:

With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.

"This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat," said Senator Benjamin Cardin.

I don't see how allowing organizations (whose problem is that they are making no profits) to avoid income taxes on their non-existent profits is really going to solve much. Is the thought that donations will save the day? Are we to endure endless pledge drives in print media?  Or maybe Democrats are hoping ACORN will use its stimulus funds to start buying up local papers?

This is classic government in the corporate state.  Economics and new technologies are driving huge changes in an influential business.  These changes will force survivors to adopt new business models, and will force formerly dominant competitors who refuse to change out of business.  Rather than face these changes and deal with risks to their leading positions, powerful incumbents run to government to try to get the state to lock in historic business models and prevent new entrants for poaching on what they consider their protected market preserves.

For Those Who Doubted Me When I Said We Are Heading Towards A European-Style Corporate State

I predicted it here.  Now see it here:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Congress is considering bailing out Detroit's Big Three automakers."We may need to make a statement of confidence in our auto industry," Pelosi told NPR this afternoon. "We're not saving those companies, we're saving an industry. We're saving an industrial technological and manufacturing base... It's about jobs in America."

I wrote why its better to let GM fail.

So what if GM dies?  Letting the GM's of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation.  Assuming GM's DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM's assets from GM's control actually increases value.  Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value.  Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

The alternative to not letting GM die is, well, Europe (and Japan).  A LOT of Europe's productive assets are locked up in a few very large corporations with close ties to the state which are not allowed to fail, which are subsidized, protected from competition, etc.  In conjunction with European laws that limit labor mobility, protecting corporate dinosaurs has locked all of Europe's most productive human and physical assets into organizations with DNA multipliers less than one.

Pelosi held a meeting Monday with Democratic leaders to consider a request from Detroit's Big Three automakers for another $25 billion in "bridge financing" to help them survive a huge downturn in auto industry.

This Job Is Half Empty

I again heard someone on NPR today lamenting the loss of manufacturing jobs in the US.  It got me thinking about a couple of things:

  1. When I had my political awakening in high school debate in the 1970s, all of the complaints from the left were about how horrible blue collar workers had it in manufacturing jobs.  At that time, manufacturing jobs were labeled by leftish critics as dirty and dangerous, and, most common, as repetitious and boring (in the Fredrick Taylor legacy).  OK, so now that they all have nice clean service jobs, we are unhappy that they don't have those old manufacturing jobs?  These are folks whose agenda has nothing to do with the words they are actually speaking, and everything to do with creating dissatisfaction to facilitate government takeover of economic functions
  2. While I am sure the service sector is overtaking manufacturing (in the same way manufacturing overtook agriculture), to some extent the statistics are misleading.

    Let's take an automobile assembly plant circa 1955.  Typically, a
    large manufacturing plant would have a staff to do everything the
    factory needed.  They had people on staff to clean the bathrooms, to
    paint the walls, and to perform equipment maintenance.  The people who
    did these jobs were all classified as manufacturing workers, because
    they worked in a manufacturing plant.  Since 1955, this plant has
    likely changed the way it staffs these type jobs.  It still cleans the
    bathrooms, but it has a contract with an outside janitorial firm who
    comes in each night to do so.  It still paints the walls, but has a
    contract with a painting contractor to do so.  And it still needs the
    equipment to be maintained, but probably has contracts with many of the
    equipment suppliers to do the maintenance.

    So, today, there might be the exact same number of people in the
    factory cleaning bathrooms and maintaining equipment, but now the
    government classifies them as "service workers" because they work for a
    service company, rather than manufacturing workers.  Nothing has really
    changed in the work that people do, but government stats will show a
    large shift from manufacturing to service employment.

  3. I am tired of the whole McJobs meme.  Have you been in a McDonalds?  How many middle age auto worker types do you see working there?  None?  What you see are young people and recent entrants to the job market, including new immigrants.  What these people need more than anything is real experience with the basics of holding a job, including showing up reliably, working in a structured environment, following a process, and providing customer service.  Sure, they would prefer that to happen at $60 an hour, what they really need, and are getting, is a credible work experience they can use to go get higher paying jobs in the future.

Most Pathetic Interview Ever

I don't know if this has made the blog rounds yet (I have been out of touch and have not gotten through me feed reader today) but this is perhaps one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.  It's a 40 second interview with a woman named Geri Punteney in Iowa about Barack Obama on the left of this page  (ironically, NPR makes you listen to a brief commercial before you hear the clip).

You really, really need to take the time to listen.  I will include an excerpt below, but you won't get the full effect of the woman absolutely in tears through the statement, crying because she had gotten to touch someone she had seen on TV.

A few weeks ago, at the home in Oelwein, Iowa, she shares with her mother, Punteney said she'd been inspired to see Obama when he came to the area.                        

"I'd seen the commercials," she said. "And he just seemed sincere, like he's for people like my mom, my brother and me."                        

Many people feel politicians may not be the first place to turn when in dire need of help. But Punteney said she was confident Obama could do something to make her feel better.                     
"I never had anyone pay attention to me and my needs "” and he held my hand," she said.

He can do something to make me feel better?  Barf.  Can it really be that my future freedom and prosperity depend on how this woman votes?  Have we really given this woman so much power over the rest of us?  Have we really throttled back the most productive in society so this woman can feel like she is keeping up?  Have I really become the sacrificial lamb to this woman's need to feel better?

And, oh by the way, in case I have not gone off on this rant in the last five minutes or so, Obama can care because he can promise you whatever you desire, and then he can force me to pay for it.  Unlike people in private life who really do care, politicians don't actually pay for their promises because they can force other people to do it for them.  Worse, politicians like Obama reap the praises of women like this for being caring, while vilifying people like me who are productive and make his caring possible.  It just makes me sick.

Oh, and how much did Obama really care?  Not much, it seems:

I brought a tape recorder to Punteney's house and played her moment
with Obama back for her "” and his suggestion that he'd write her
brother a note. He never did.                        

"He
didn't have time, I guess," she said. "I understand. You know, he was
bombarded by so many people. But just knowing he knows "” that's more
important than a note."

So here it is:  Cares enough to spend Coyote's money:  Yes.  Cares enough to actually expend some effort himself:  No way.

Indeed, Punteney seemed to get just what she wanted from Obama. She got noticed.

How about a trade, Ms. Punteney?  If I promise to get you to an Oprah show, will you promise not to ever vote?

Update: Yeah, I know, her brother has leukemia, which is sad.  The lack of portability of his health insurance is also pain, a result of WWII wage control policy and subsequent tax policy that encouraged the practice.    Sorry, but this need to be touched and noticed by a second or third term Congressman is pathetic. 

You Gotta Love NPR

You have to love NPR.  On Friday, I was on a lunchtime errand and heard the begging on Science Friday.  Apparently it was inventors week, and the intro promised the next hour might "change the life" of aspiring inventors in the audience who are struggling with getting patents and monetizing their inventions.

Then, after this intro, the show spent the next half hour interviewing an professor at MIT who specializes in non-profit development of low-tech solutions to 3rd world problems.  LOL.  The woman was certainly interesting, but had about zero to offer on the topic at hand.  I guees NPR just couldn't actually bring itself to talk about monetizing inventions in the good old capitalist US without first spending a good hunk of the show on selfless innovation to solve third-world environmental issues.

Better Late Than Never

Via Instapundit comes the separation of powers is slowly starting to work, with the Senate starting to reign in the Administration:

In a break with the White House, the Republican-controlled Senate
overwhelmingly approved a measure Wednesday that would set standards for the
military's treatment of detainees, a response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and
other allegations that U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a victim of torture while a prisoner during the
Vietnam War, won approval of the measure that would make interrogation
techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual the standard for handling
detainees in Defense Department custody and prohibit "cruel, inhuman or
degrading" treatment of U.S.-held prisoners.

Its good to see Congress getting off its butt and seeing it stop relying on the Supreme Court to deal with these issues.  I thought this was overdue a while back when I posted this.

Of course GWB, who is the only president in history to go 5 years without vetoing anything, is threatening a veto of this sensible regulation:

The White House has threatened to veto the $440 billion military spending
bill to which the measure was attached, and Vice President Dick Cheney has
lobbied to defeat the detainee measure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan
objected that the measure would "limit the president's ability as
commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism."

Uh, how?  Glenn Reynolds responds:

This resistance seems to me to be a mistake. First -- as Lamar
Alexander noted on the Senate floor, in a passage I heard on NPR
earlier this morning -- it is very much the Congress's responsibility
to make decisions like this; the President might do so in the first
instance, but we've been at war for more than four years and Congress
is actually doing its job late, not jumping in to interfere. If the
White House thinks that the Senate's approach is substantively wrong,
it should say so, but presenting it as simply an interference with the
President's Commander-in-Chief powers is wrong. Congress is entitled,
and in fact obligated, to set standards of this sort. It's probably
also better politically for the White House, since once the legislation
is in place complaints about what happened before look a bit ex post facto.

Perhaps current practices are producing a treasure trove of
intelligence that this bill would stop, but I doubt that -- and if I'm
wrong, the Administration should make that case to Congress, not stand
on executive prerogatives. And this bill seems to be just what I was calling for
way back when -- a sensible look at the subject by responsible people,
freed of the screeching partisanship that has marked much of the
discussion in the punditsphere. That should be rewarded, not blown off.

A Bush veto of this measure is likely to touch off the perfect political storm within his own party.  This would make the trifecta of alienation from the more sober parts of the Republican Party, following on his profligate spending tendencies as revealed post-Katrina and his cronyism as reveled first at FEMA and now with his recent Supreme Court nomination.

I Am Abandoning the Term "Judicial Activism"

I had an interesting discussion with my father-in-law about the term "judicial activism" which has led me to eschew the term.  Here's the reason:  He made the observation, I think from a story on NPR, that though conservatives seem to complain the most about liberal activism from the bench, in fact majorities of conservative judges on the Supreme Court have struck down more laws than their liberal counterparts.  It was the striking down of laws they considered "activist".

After thinking about this for a moment, it made me realize that he, and I guess NPR, used the term judicial activism differently than I do.  As a fairly strong libertarian, when I have referred negatively to judicial activism, I generally am thinking about judicial decisions to create new powers for the government and/or, from the bench, to put new restrictions on individual behavior.  In that sense, I think of decisions like Raich to be activist, because they sustain expansions of federal and government power.  As I have listened to both liberals and conservatives now, I realize that my usage of judicial activism is, ahem, out of the mainstream, and therefore confusing.  My personal concern is how the courts have ignored the 9th amendment and thrown the commerce clause out the window. 
I have decided that, as most people use the term, I am neutral to positive on what the majority refer to as judicial activism.  I think a lot more laws should be thrown out as unconstitutional, and if
this is the accepted definition of activist, them I like activism.  For example, I wish they had been more active in striking down laws and government activities in Raich and Kelo

Until I come up with a better term, I now describe myself as being against judicial expansion of federal power.  Maybe I can coin the term "judicial expansionism"?