Posts tagged ‘WTF’

WOW! Incredible Contradiction in October Exchange "Enrollment" Report

I have not seen anyone notice this yet, but perhaps it is just because I have obsessed over the pathetically bad Commonwealth Fund survey whose findings were demolished by the numbers in the October report (here and here).  Well, it turns out, the October report actually proudly highlights the Commonwealth Funds report,  and quotes this line from the Commonwealth Fund in Appendix D:

Of those who have visited the Marketplace, 21 percent enrolled in a plan.

WTF are you doing including this survey finding in a report that essentially makes a laughing stock of this very finding?  Let's review what numbers we have in the October report:

  • From our chart here, the people covered by a "clicked" plan (sorry, but that is their circumlocution, not mine) were 106,185  (note this is generous because it is not actual enrollments, which will be less)
  • From the same chart, the people who were found eligible for Medicaid were 396, 261 (note this is generous as this is not actual enrollments, which will be less).
  • Finally, from the same source are total web visitors times 1.78  family members per visitor (to make our ratio apples to apples) of 47,840,217.  See here for further explanation of why this calculation is necessary

This gives us a percentage of web visitors of 1% that managed to do something kindof sortof close to enrollment.

This demonstrates just how insane the 21% figure is from the deeply flawed Commonwealth study.  So why in the hell is the Obama Administration quoting it as authoritative in their report?  Do they think anyone is dumb enough to use the 21% figure instead of the 1% figure?  Is this just providing ammunition to political hacks who want to spin the story in Obama's favor?  Did the Administration or possibly OFA actually pay for that study?

The only effect including that 21% number has on me is to say that Obama likely has a bigger problem -- If 21% of visitors THINK they enrolled and less than 1% actually did so, aren't a lot of people in for a rude shock?

Film Production -- The Strangely Favored Industry

My son and I were watching a TV show and at the end there was a blurb about it being made in Georgia.  I said to him "I guarantee that "filmed in Georgia" translates to "subsidized by Georgia."  He did not believe me, and could not understand why anyone would subsidize film production.  After all, we can argue about whether any government subsidized jobs make sense or just cannibalize investment in other areas, but film jobs are the most temporary and fleeting of all jobs.

Turns out I was right (I followed a web link from the credits):

Georgia production incentives provide up to 30% of your Georgia production expenditures in transferable tax credits.

The program is available for qualifying projects, including feature films, television series, commercials, music videos, animation and game development. With one of the industry’s most competitive production incentive programs, the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office can help you dramatically cut production costs without sacrificing quality.

Highlights from the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act include the following:

  • 20% across the board, transferable flat tax credit with a minimum of $500,000 spent on qualified production and post production expenditures within Georgia
  • Additional 10% tax credit if a production company includes an imbedded Georgia promotional logo in the qualified feature film, TV series, music video or video game project
  • Provides same tax credits to all instate and out-of-state labor working in Georgia, plus standard fringes qualify
  • No limits or caps on Georgia spend; no sunset clause
  • For commercials and music videos, a production company may group multiple projects together to meet the $500,000 minimum spend on qualified expenditures

This is just insane.  WTF is the state doing subsidizing 30% of the cost of making commercials?  What could possibly justify this, except that this is a sexy business and it gives politicians a chance to rub shoulders with film people?   Why are Georgia business people taxed in order to hand money film producers?   What makes film production a "good" industry and, say, campgrounds a bad one?

Well, I suppose it could be argued that filming in Georgia would help advertise Georgia by showing scenes filmed on location in the state.  Except that the show we were watching was Archer, an animated series about spies based in New York City.  Not one second of the TV show has ever shown or ever will show a live image of Georgia, and I am almost all the way through the second season and not one location in the state of Georgia has been mentioned  (though they might have mentioned the one in Asia).

 

Some Gaming Reviews: SimCity, Bioshock Infinite

First, an update on SimCity.  I am a huge SimCity series fan from way back.  I was excited by the new release, which turned out to be a total disaster.  I wrote several weeks ago about the horrendous decision to make SimCity an always-online game, which led on day 1 to the game being unplayable for most because of server problems and overloads at EA.

Since that time, they have (mostly) fixed the server overload issues and I have been able to play.  Sort of.  The game is beautiful and the interface is pretty nice.  And the game tantalizing retains many of the elements that made the previous games so compelling to some of us.  But in the end, the game is a fail.

First, it is full of bugs.  One horrible bug ensures that over time, almost every city you build will crash on the online server.  The only solution is to accept a rollback to an earlier state, though every once in a while this leads to a total city loss.

Beyond that, almost every element of the game is broken.  Sims will suddenly stop going to school, and complain about there being no education when an empty school is right across the street.  City water tables can be drained in a matter of months, making a city unplayable -- one can avoid this only by putting their sewer plant right by their water supply.  Certain city specializations added to the game, like gambling, don't work right.   Meteor showers cities every few months and can't be turned off.  etc. etc.

It may be that this game will be playable in 6 months or so, but even then I fear that the EA team has simplified the game so much and removed so many options to appeal to the mass market XBOX set that the wonky complexity many of us enjoyed in early games will never be there.  In particular, city size is limited such that in about 20 minutes of play I can completely fill the city space.  All that one can even do with the game after that is just sit and watch density increase and expand a fire station or two as the population grows.  In fact, a lot of the game for me runs unattended, since EA had to turn off the fast speed mode.  The city now needs to just run for hours for anything to happen, so I resorted to leaving it on in the other room and checking back on it every hour or two.

Oh, and by the way.  The highly touted multiplayer features are a bad joke.  Someone in the business department told developers that the game had to be online for piracy protection, and told them to go develop some game features that justified this decision so they could tell users that the online requirement was really for their benefit and not for copy protection.  Well, they failed.

Bioshock Infinite.   I don't play a lot of first person-shooter style role-playing games, but my son talked me into playing the new Bioshock.  He has played a lot of this genre (e.g. the Mass Effect series) and said that this was the best he had ever played.  This evaluation may be in part due to his fascination with strange dystopic visions of society, because we certainly get one in this game (as in each of the Bioshock series).

I am not every far into it but I will say that is a fun experience.  So far I would say it was less of a game and more of an immersive novel -- WTF is this place I am in and what is going on.   The environment is really fascinating to explore.  I am still trying to figure out the back story, but piecing it together is a fun process.  Already I have been to several memorable locations.

I Would Go Where the Jobs Are

Bloomberg does a ranking of where one should go if he is unemployed.  Before we go to their ranking criteria, lets think about what criteria I would recommend to someone:

  1. Go where the jobs are.  Duh.  Pay particular attention to where there are jobs that match your skills, but in general a rising tide will lift all boats (e.g. you don't just have to be an oil field worker to find opportunity in North Dakota, they are paying a fortune for waitresses and retail clerks to handle the new demand).
  2. Look at pay for your skills vs. cost of living.  Manhattan may pay the most for waitresses but living costs there are insane.  You can get good work in Vail, Colorado over the winter but good luck finding a low cost place to live anywhere nearby.
  3. Think about tax rates.  You may be exempt now, but hopefully as things get better you will care about income tax rates, and if you are unemployed you certainly are going to care about sales tax rates

OK, so let's look at Bloomberg's ranking criteria.  They also have three:

  1. Unemployment rate.  So far so good.  Go where the jobs are.
  2. State unemployment payment rates.  Seriously, their criteria is not cost of living or average payments for new workers, but how much one can extract from the government for NOT working?  But OK, this still makes some sense  (though there are a lot of barriers to crossing state lines for a better unemployment deal).
  3. Income inequality.  WTF?  What in heavens name does this have to do with unemployed people and how easily they can improve themselves.  Is this psychological -- ie you will feel worse about being unemployed if there are a lot of rich people around?  The average unemployed American is a service worker (if you are a skilled manufacturing worker, say a machine operator, and can't find work, you are in a minority).  Rich people drive demand for service workers.

More Green Silliness

I couldn't care less what happens to my body after I die and I am done using it.  So the following, which I suppose is intended to freak me out, simply leaves me amazed yet again at green thinking

Undertakers in Belgium plan to eschew traditional burials and cremations and start dissolving corpses instead.

The move is intended to tackle a lack of burial space and environmental concerns as 573lbs of carbon dioxide are released by each cremated corpse.

Under the process, known as resomation, bodies are treated in a steel chamber with potassium hydroxide at high pressure and a temperature of 180c (350f).

The raised pressure and temperature means the body reaches a similar end point as in standard cremation "” just bones left to be crushed up "” in two to three hours.

My first thought on reading this was "Soylent Green is People!"

My second is to wonder how a torched body creates 573 pounds of CO2.  12 pounds of carbon combusts to 44 pounds (approx) of Co2.  This means that to combust to 573 pounds of Co2, the human body must have 156 pounds of carbon.  WTF?   But carbon in 18% of human body weight, which means that to produce 573 pounds of CO2, the human body would have to weigh 867 pounds.   One might be able to get this number by including the cremation fuel in the equation (though this is a generous interpretation since this is not how the article is written), but since it is usually gas used for cremation it would take a hell of a lot of gas given its low carbon content.

My third thought is what does any of this have to do with CO2 reduction

  • The process occurs at 350F.  You mean no fossil fuels are used to get the chamber up to 350F.  What, are they using solar mirrors?
  • The process occurs at high pressure.  This takes energy
  • The end product is a carb0n rich soup that they pour down the drain or pour on their garden.  I have a clue for you, all oxidation is not combustion.  That carbon dumped in your garden or in your compost heap will still become CO2 even without seeing aflame.

Hair of the Dog?

WTF is this designed to accomplish, except to give Obama something to crow about in one or two news cycles while doubling down on the same kind of practices that got the housing market and banks into the current mess?  This reminds me so much of the final days of the government in Atlas Shrugged.  Fannie and Freddie are bankrupt?  Well, lets do the same thing to the FHA, just to save our sorry government jobs for a few weeks longer.

The Federal Housing Administration is heading toward a taxpayer bailout, yet the president's latest mortgage modification plan would further increase the agency's exposure to risky mortgages. Mark Calabria calls it a "Backdoor Bank Bailout."The administration's plan would encourage borrowers who owe more than their house is worth to refinance into FHA-insured mortgages. Therefore, the risk of a future foreclosure on these mortgages would fall to the government and taxpayers instead of private lenders.

A recent study from economists at New York University found that the FHA is underestimating its risk exposure. One of the problems is that the FHA isn't properly accounting for the risk to underwater FHA mortgages that have been refinanced into new FHA mortgages. So it's hard to see how the president's plan to refinance private underwater mortgages into FHA mortgages won't further exacerbate the situation.

WTF?

From the Arizona Republic:

Phoenix officials said Monday they remain confident Dubai is still a good place to do business, even after the Middle East emirate's investment arm announced it would not be able to pay creditors on time for some of its nearly $60 billion in debt.

"It's just a matter of when business will pick up again," said Community and Economic Development Director Don Maxwell, who has been bullish on the Middle East and Dubai, one of seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates. "You just don't know what the timing will be, but it will happen."

Seriously, why are we paying Phoenix government officials to opine on stuff like this, and why is it news?

The two cities have exchanged best practices for wastewater management. Dubai imported 80,000 Palo Verde trees from a Phoenix nursery. And Charity Charms, a Phoenix-based maker of charms for nonprofit groups, received a $13,000 order from a Dubai arthritis support group shortly after the agreement was inked.

Oh, I see now.  $13,000 in charms?  Dubai was practically driving our economy.

Local Governments Mining for Dollars

As a small business owner, a huge portion of my time is spent feeding governments with all the paperwork they demand.  But this year has been twice as bad.  Every local authority we operate in has started mining for dollars.  What this has meant is a whole slew of property "reassessments" that have no basis in reality (e.g. values put on non-existent assets) that I have to spend a lot of my time fighting.  The general modus opperandi is to declare my company owes money for something fictitious, and then make us prove we don't.  Have you ever tried to prove you don't own an asset that doesn't exist?  Think about it.  How would you go about it, short of inviting the assessor out to your property to search for it.

Maricopa County, the county that includes Phoenix where my headquarters resides, has been the worst.  We buy assets for properties all over the country, and have the bill sent to our headquarters.  Often, if a registration is required, we will put our headquarters address on the government registration to make sure we get the renewal paperwork (long experience is that if anything gets sent out to an address in the field, it is lost).  The concept that an asset might be in location X but the paperwork should be sent to location Y is a really, really hard concept for a lot of state registration authorities to get their head around/

This year, Maricopa County has started sending us personal property tax notices for all kinds of assets that have never even existed in this county.  They were bought in state A, shipped to state B, with the bill sent to us here in Arizona.  But the County is in financial distress.  It probably understands that the asset does not exist in the County.  I am sure it knows that I don't, for example, have 24 cabins sitting on the fourth floor of this building, where they have them located.  But they need money.  If they send out enough fraudulent bills, and then tell taxpayers it is the taxpayer's responsibility to prove the bill is wrong, then they will likely get some money.   Yet again, the government is engaging in abusive practices that not private company could get away with for long.

I was pretty calm today on the phone with the assessor until this came up:

Me: Look, these are cabins I bought from a factory in Maricopa County but which were shipped immediately from the factory to California.

Assessor: I don't see where you filed for permission to move the cabins

Me: Excuse me?

Assessor: Your xxxyyy form [I forget the numbers].  You never filed for permission to relocate

WTF?  I know we have problems with declining tax roles, but do I really have to ask permission to move an asset out of the county or state.  What, did I violate directive 10-289?

So beware small businesses.  Your government is mining for dollars -- do not assume that tax bill is correct.

Strange Brew

Combine 40% French design and engineering, 40% political correctness, 10% Hello Kitty and 10% of WTF to get this new electric concept car from Renault with square wheels called the Twizy.  I don't think this is a put on.

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From Our Department of WTF

Under what theory of government is this a proper activity of government with our tax dollars?

Gov. Jan Brewer took the stage Thursday with rocker and restaurateur Alice Cooper to persuade Arizonans that dining out is good for the state. Announcing a three-month public-awareness campaign called Dine 4 AZ, they said going to restaurants supports businesses and helps preserve jobs. Brewer noted that restaurants generate 10 percent of Arizona's tax revenues.

"We are working hard to lead the Grand Canyon State forward and out of this recession, and Dine 4 AZ fits perfectly into our plan," she said. "Please treat your family to a meal and we'll get through this together."

It is just seriously freaking frustrating to see the government spend my money promoting other people's businesses.   And since when has dining out been a sign of patriotism?  Why is buying food from a restaurant more stimulative than buying food from a supermarket? On the plus side of all this is the spectacle of politicians taking the stage with Phoenix favorite son Alice Cooper to make a policy speech.  The only thing that would be better would be for the governor to appear with Phoenix-area resident Jenna Jamison to promote the, uh, stimulative effect of spending an evening at your local strip club.

Postscript - by the way, there is almost no point in challenging the numbers in such a stupid article, but I will bet anything I own that restaurants do not generate 10 percent of Arizona's tax revenues.  Update - In fact, based on this report, restaurants were 9.4% of sales tax collections which in turn are 61% of major state taxes, which makes restaurants and bars about 5.7% of state tax revenue, which I will admit is higher than I would have guessed but still well off the number in the article.

Update #2: OK, I am probably overworking this, but the same report referenced above showed Arizona individual income taxes dropping 32.4% in 2009, presumably due to large drops in income.  However, sales taxes only dropped 13.9% in that period.  And within sales taxes, restaurant and bar sales taxes only dropped 5.8%.  I say only, because except for some stable utility and telecom categories, this is the lowest drop of any business sector subject to sales taxes.   General retail down 12.2%.  Amusements down 8.1%.  Hotel/Motel down 11.9%.  So, in response to the down economy, the state government has thrown their weight behind shifting business to... the single retail category that has been least hurt by the recession.

Is It OK To Laugh At Your Kid?

Today I dropped my son off in England for summer school.  As background you need to know that he has lived in brand-new-out-of-the-shrinkwrap American suburbs all of his life.  So it was funny to me to see the look on his face when he was told at the college that his dorm room elevator was broken and might not be fixed for at least a month.  The "WTF?" look was priceless.  I could see him thinking that a one hour outage of infrastructure would be something to comment on back home, but a month??

But the really funny part was when the Dean asked him to check his rooming envelope to see his room number, and he realized the implication of the three digit number that started with "7."  As with most teenage boys, he wanted me gone anyway ASAP, and I was happy to leave him to his independence and avoid the trudge up to his room.  After I left, he still had a small voyage of discovery as he learns that "floor 7" in England is actually euqivilent to "floor 8" in the US.

Random Entertainment Notes

I feel I need to clarify one thing.  I am a huge fan of the old Bond movies.  Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, Goldeneye -- all great.  Despite my comments above, I even like most of the Roger Moore films, though you have to take a different approach to them.  But the formula was tired.  The Survivor formula was hugely popular at first, but in season 9 or 10 or whatever, it's just done.  You either are repeating the same tired cliches, because you feel locked into a formula by your fans who will get pissed (as they did with Casino Royale) when you violate any minute detail the Formula, or you fall into the trap of trying to top yourself with goofier and goofier plots.  I actually thought the series was dead around about View to a Kill, but Pierce Brosnan really brought new life to the series for a while.

Oh, and I wanted to really make fun of the plot in the new movie, because it really is a great WTF moment, but I didn't want to include a spoiler, since there is some mis-direction in the movie.  However, the spoilers have already come out in the comments, so if you are interested, I reveal the incredible world-shaking evil plot around comment #6 here.

  • I saw a trailer for the upcoming Star Trek movie, which could essentially be called "young Spock and Kirk."  It could be good.  Talk about a franchise, though, that has been milked to death.  A new take would be refreshing.  We'll see.  Never forget Battlestar Galactica - from the ultimate in goofiness came one of the better science fiction series to hit television.
  • The note above reminds me of an idea I have for a movie that I think would be a no-brainer.  The Star Wars clone wars stuff has pretty much lost me  (actually the dialog in episodes 1-3 pretty much lost me).  But I always thought a young Han and Chewie movie - how they met, various pirate adventures, young Lando, etc.  would be almost a layup to make succesful.  I am increasingly convinced that that the Star Wars movies were good almost in direct proportion to how much Han Solo was on the screen  (well, maybe pre-dryfreeze Han Solo -- after he was unfrozen, he was a little goody-two-shoes for my taste.)

Quantum of Solace

First, I want to preface that I absolutely loved Casino Royale.  I had expected not to like it, being skeptical of Daniel Craig and the apparently trendy substitution of Texas Hold'em for Baccarat.  But the movie was fabulous, easily the best Bond ever, and a long-overdue retooling of the franchise.  In comparison, the campy Roger Moore 70's Bond movies are almost embarassing.

All that said, I was disapointed in Quantum of Solace.  The movie was entertaining and worth the price of admission, but two aspects really hurt the movie for me:

  1. The directors have adopted the currently popular edgy filming style of action sequences which involve lightning quick cuts and jerky camera pans (used in the Bourne movies, for example).  The style really increases the confusion of the moment, and has its place in creating tension and giving a first person feel to the action, but it gets tiring and confusing after a time.  Compare the opening chase sequences in this movie to the absolutely fabulous chase scene through the construction site near the beginning of Casino Royale.  I thought the Casino Royale sequence was much a better, but I must admit I am a big fan of long tracking shots over quick cuts, so I guess your mileage may very.  There was one shot I thought really cool in the new movie.  Bond and mystery villain #3 or 4 fall through a glass ceiling, and you fall with them POV-style. 
  2. The movie seems to be a return to the WTF-style plot of a lot of modern action movies, especially sequels, that put one-upping the action sequences of the previous movie over having a coherant plot.  I don't mind twists and turns, but in the end, all the motivations have to make sense.  I mean, how many mystery guys can Bond chase, kill, and then say, well, I guess we'll never figure out who that guy was.  The early parts were like the Seinfeld version of action movies -- they are not about anything, they are just chase scenes.  And, I still don't understand why the bad guys in QoS are doing what they are doing.  Its another one of those "spend a billion dollars in a vast conspiracy to make $100 million" Bond villain plans.  In contrast, Casino Royale was anchored to what I think was the best Ian Fleming book, and it stuck close to the book.  Even when it deviated, for example with the shift from bacarrat to Texas Hold'em, it actually improved the plot, as it shifted to a game that at least involves some skill.

Update:  I feel I need to clarify one thing.  I am a huge fan of the old Bond movies.  Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, Goldeneye -- all great.  Despite my comments above, I even like most of the Roger Moore films, though you have to take a different approach to them.  But the formula was tired.  The Survivor formula was hugely popular at first, but in season 9 or 10 or whatever, it's just done.  You either are repeating the same tired cliches, because you feel locked into a formula by your fans who will get pissed (as they did with Casino Royale) when you violate the formula, or you fall into the trap of trying to top yourself with goofier and goofier plots.  I actually thought the series was dead around about View to a Kill, but Pierce Brosnan really brought new life to the series for a while. 

Update #2:  Tigerhawk has similar thoughts