Monday, July 31, 2006

Where the Money Is

by Tom Bozzo

In yesterday's NYT, Edmund Andrews wrote this (a significant excerpt with some commentary from Mark Thoma is at Economist's View):
The good news was that people here appeared less polarized and more open to sharing burdens than do their elected leaders in Washington. The bad news was that the ... group thought the best solutions were to tax other people (smokers, drinkers, S.U.V. buyers, the rich) or to somehow “spend smarter.” [emphasis added]
This is "bad news"? Granted, there is only so much revenue to extract from sinners, though with the total cost of smoking as high as $2 per cigarette, of which 35 cents are external costs, smokers arguably remain undertaxed.

Taxing "S.U.V. buyers" would best take the form of a much broader carbon tax, but to suggest it's "bad news" to target drivers of gas-guzzlers is to make the perfect the enemy of the good. A long-standing anomaly (*) is that "cars," but not "trucks" that often have much worse fuel economy, are subject to gas-guzzler taxes — those range from $1000-$7700 and are assessed on cars that make less than 22.5 combined MPG. So you might pay $1300 in gas guzzler tax on a BMW 5-series (manual transmission) but not on an equally inefficient X5 4.4i; an Escalade owner dodges $2600 in gas-guzzler tax on the 18 MPG roadhog.

But it's characterizing taxing "the rich" as "bad news" that takes the cake. As should be well-known, the Bush tax "cuts" (or shifts, if you will) have substantially benefited "the rich" and account for a subtantial chunk of the hole blown in the Federal budget. And, as the title of the post indicates, as a group "the rich" have the ability — if not necessarily the willingness — to pay. The most recent (2003) publicly available tax statistics (MS Excel spreadsheet) show some 54% of adjusted gross income — $3.3 trillion — reported on the top 16% of tax returns, those reporting adjusted gross income over $75,000. So if, as economists like, you want to raise taxes with as little "tax distortion" as possible (i.e., with relatively "small" rate increases), you not only have to tax the rich but also the rich must bear most of the "burden" of the increase.

Since paying a 10% higher federal income tax bill really doesn't bite the rich like it would elements of the income taxpaying non-rich, tears should not be shed.

--------------------------

(*) It's a deliberate effort to exempt work vehicles from the gas guzzler tax. Whatever the merits of that policy choice when the gas guzzler tax was enacted in the late seventies, though, much would be out the window in the present world where many (if not most) "light trucks" are used as ordinary passenger vehicles.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

On the "Bandwidth Hog" Argument Against Net Neutrality

by Tom Bozzo

A centerpiece of arguments against "network neutrality" is the claim that telcos deserve to be able to charge so-called "bandwidth hogs" — or as Ted Stevens famously put it:
They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.
OK, so yes we would like to see a Ted Stevens-Jon Stewart deathmatch. But that is the argument, basically.

As it turns out, though, in the part of the ongoing cat-and-mouse duopoly game between the telcos and the cable companies — the part that isn't being played in the regulatory arena, at least — the telcos are offering some of their lucky custmers... wait for it... lots more bandwidth. And I mean lots. From the Wall Street Journal, earlier this past week:

[A]s companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. have upgraded their networks, they’ve made speeds available to consumers that they previously sold mainly to business customers. Cable companies have had to pick up their own speeds to stay ahead...

AT&T, whose fastest speed was 1.5 megabits per second three years ago, raised it to three megabits in 2004 and six megabits in April. Comcast, the country’s largest cable operator with more than 21 million subscribers, has increased speeds four times in the past three years and now offers most customers six megabits.

Broadband speeds are picking up especially in regions with fierce competition. In parts of the New York area, where Verizon and Cablevision Systems Corp. are in a head-to-head battle, Verizon last week cranked up its fastest connections to 50 megabits per second. The move came just weeks after Cablevision gave its customers in the region a free bump to 15 megabits from 10 megabits and also came out with a 30-megabit offer. [Emphasis added.]

Thirty megabits per second is ten times what I hog in my hoggiest 3Mbps DSL dreams. Heck, when it suits 'em, they're giving away more bandwidth than I have.

Moreover, the most egregious bandwidth-hogging applications are mere drops in these bandwidth buckets:
A two-hour movie that would take almost two hours to download on a 1.5 megabit connection, for example, would take a little more than three minutes to download on a 50-megabit service, according to Verizon.
If Jack Valenti weren't undead, he'd be rolling over in his grave.
Making phone calls over the Internet, for example, requires only 90 kilobits per second, according to AT&T. Watching streaming video with standard-definition TV quality off the Internet needs only two to three megabits, according to AT&T.
Now, 50 megabits isn't exactly cheap at $100-200/month according to the W$J, though charges for lesser but, by U.S. standards, still-fat tubes are much more reasonable. And the pricing strongly suggests that an increment of a dozen or two megabits per second over mainstream single-digit broadband speeds doesn't cost very much to provide.

Maybe Big Telco will end up paying content providers to fill up the bandwidth they throw at their customers.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

by Tom Bozzo

Worst Preznit Ever (transcript and video at ThinkProgress):
BUSH: It’s an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability [heaven forfend —ed], we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.
...and given the violence and instability a shot of Miracle-Gro, right at the roots!

NOW it's a great year for adapting SF books of the Middle-Aged

by Ken Houghton

First there was A Scanner Darkly. Now, one of the great books of all time, Brian Aldiss and Ian Pollock's Brothers of the Head has been released as a film.

Not yet playing in Madison, so everyone (or at least those who remember the final episode, which Owen Gleiberman apparently does not) will have to go to Miami Vice this weekend; others can check here to see if it's near you.

Maybe This is Why the Media Hasn't Talked about Iraqi Schools

by Ken Houghton

Because a CF is a CF?
The United States is dropping Bechtel, the American construction giant, from a project to build a high-tech children’s hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Basra after the project fell nearly a year behind schedule and exceeded its expected cost by as much as 150 percent....

Now it becomes the latest in a series of American taxpayer-financed health projects in Iraq to face overruns, delays and cancellations. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers canceled more than $300 million in contracts held by Parsons, another American contractor, to build and refurbish hospitals and clinics across Iraq.

Dispatch From Ad Hoc Book Club

by Tom Bozzo

"...I myself might not be opposed to Slavery, had I not myself been a slave in Barbary! To most English people, it seems perfectly reasonable. The slavers put out the story that it is not so very cruel, and that the slaves are happy. Most in Christendom are willing to believe these lies, absurd as they are to you and me. People belive Slavery is not so bad, because they have no personal experience of it — it takes place in Africa and America, out of sight and out of mind to the English, who love sugar in their tea and care not how 'twas made."
— from The System of the World by Neal Stephenson

Applications to current events are left as an exercise to the reader.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Do the New York Shuffle, Babe

by Ken Houghton

The highlight of the Landis Saga so far:
Or maybe, the Tour de France winning rider speculated, it was the Jack Daniel's he drank the night before his historic Stage 17, though that would seem a more likely excuse from George Jones than a world-class athlete.

This is not the first time Jack, neat, has been the drink of choice for professional athletes:
Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar told Fox Sports that the team took shots of Jack Daniel's whiskey before Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and before all four World Series games.

There has to be a tie-in advert here.

Menzie Chinn Saves the Best for Last

by Ken Houghton

Via Mark Thoma comes Menzie Chinn's fine argument against "Dynamic Analysis."

UPDATE: Thoma has more, including Jason Furman's updated analysis (PDF).

I'm not certain Chinn intended the post that way (though I suspect in the affirmative), but the collateral damage he does to the concept is impressive:
The 0.7 percent deviation from baseline cited in the 2007 MSR is in the top right hand corner element, under "Financed by Decreasing Future Government Spending" (recent history has not been too supportive of this possibility, though)....

Of course, the astute reader will note that if taxes are raised in the future to finance the tax cut, then GNP will eventually be 0.9 percent lower than steady state baseline....

(By the way, the "Division on Dynamic Analysis" is in the President's budget proposal for FY2007.)

One might believe he greets this as positively as P.Z. Myers take[down] on the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Chinn is also clear on what "Dynamic Analysis" is not:
It is important to understand that there is no welfare calculation undertaken, despite the fact that under certain conditions, GNP is higher than under baseline. That is because undertaking a welfare analysis would require taking a stand on the utility associated with government spending on goods and services. So even if one were to take the Treasury's high end estimate for the long run steady state effect, the answer to the question of whether tax cuts are desirable depends upon the utility associated with spending on civil servant wages, bridges, and body armor. [emphases mine]

So, in summary, tax cuts might be a positive force if (1) they are offset by spending cuts, (2) they don't have such an effect as that they need to be balanced by increases later, and (3) you don't consider the value that revenue may have produced.

Credit Where Due

by Ken Houghton

Tom Maguire--hardly alone--was quick to make much of Floyd Landis's Stage 17 win that placed him back in contention for (and as the favorite to win) the maillot jaune.

He is just as quick to note today's confirmation of yesterday's rumour that it was Landis who has tentatively tested positive (with the second sample to be tested to confirm).

This may make moot my contention that it was a tactical mistake by Sastre's team not to start an earnest pursuit until the yellow jersey was "lost on the road."

Either way, it's a black eye on what remains my favorite sport.

Ready Alert in the Culture Wars

by Tom Bozzo

I'm glad to hear from Ken that while preschoolers in Lebanon and Iraq live in fear of being blown up while minding their own business, and the unluckier of their American counterparts can look forward to careers trying to avoid being blown up while patrolling Middle Eastern war zones, they are safe from this (which is safe for work if your workplace culture would allow you to watch, let's say, Mr. Show in the office):



(The other video, here, is a little more coarse and not quite as funny in this blogger's humble opinion, though it remains, to paraphrase Manohla Dargis's ratings blurb at the end of the review of "Little Miss Sunshine," nothing any sentient adult hasn't chuckled at.)

Even though PBS KIDS Sprout president Sandy Wax turns out to be a cable industry hack rather than the former deputy assistant press director for Ohioans for Bush-Cheney '04, there is noplace to lay the firing of Melanie Martinez but at the conservative nanny state's Ministry of Truth.

Mere corporate cravenness doesn't explain Wax's facially absurd statement:
PBS Kids Sprout has determined that the dialogue in this video is inappropriate for her role as a preschool program host and may undermine her character's credibility with our audience.
The nexus between the Technical Virgin videos and the preschool program is solely the appearance of Ms. Martinez in each, since preschoolers are not yet experts at searching sites like YouTube — the controversy having overwhelmed the Technical Virgin site itself, leading to the posting of a buzz-off message there — and no sentient parent would do it for them. So it's not the credibility with preschoolers that's in question. And while the cable TV cobranding situation complicates identifying the audience, the adult PBS audience is not stereotypically likely to be outraged at spoofs of abstinence programs.

And since CNN doesn't report on the manufacture of outrage among the usual suspects that the wingnut watchers watch, we can only assume that the pressure to fire Ms. Martinez came from the Republican hacks who have been infiltrating public broadcasting.

Of course, the essence of the hackery is that they've helped accelerate a viral video sensation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fair and Balanced Lying at the WaPo

by Ken Houghton

Via the Lovely and Talented Shakes comes a piece of tripe in the Washington Post, with the deliberately misleading headline of "Tax Cuts May Come At a Price, Study Says" (the subtitle is more honest: "Treasury: Financing Must Be Found").

By the second 'graf, Henderson is grabbing straws to suck off the Administration:
The Treasury report did not openly address the much-debated contention of many conservative analysts that the tax cuts will boost economic growth so much over time that the resulting increase in taxes paid will offset much or all of the initial loss in government revenue -- that tax cuts can essentially pay for themselves.

The report acknowledged the debate delicately, saying "the issue of how, or even if, these policies need to be financed remains a source of discussion among economists."

No. Simply no. There is not an economist in his or her right mind--not Mankiw, who engineered them, not DeLong, and certainly not Jason Furman or others at the CBPP--would question whether the extensions "need to be financed"--save for those who agree that they should not happen at all.

For all their attempts at spin, Treasury acknowledges the "savings" don't pay for the cuts:
If those tax cuts are extended and matched by comparable reductions in government spending, under the best scenario, the nation's level of economic activity would be increased by about 0.7 percent per year over time, or by $90 billion a year in current dollars, [deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis Robert] Carroll said. [emphasis mine]

Just a Bomb before I Go; A Lesson to Be Learned

by Ken Houghton

I would desperately like to believe that Israel's "angry denial" that they launched an "apparently deliberate" Israeli airstrike, but there is both evidence
After each call, the Israeli officer promised to have the bombing stopped, an officer at the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) base in Noqoura said....

A Western diplomat familiar with preliminary U.N. assessments of the scene also said that it appeared the munition that hit the bunker was precision-guided.

and, worse, precedent
On November 13... a U.S. missile obliterated Al Jazeera's [Kabul] office.... "This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office," said Al Jazeera's managing director, Mohammed Jasim al-Ali. "They know we are broadcasting from there."

All that, in fact, was correct.

Inside the CIA, and White House, there was satisfaction that a message had been sent to Al Jazeera.

At least Olmert's government learned from the best.

UPDATE: Laura Rozen lays out the details.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Toward Tisha B'Av - mourning destruction and exile

by Ken Houghton

With the new moon (Rosh Hodesh), tonight begins the month of Av:
From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Shabbat) and from wearing new clothing.

Why is Tisha B'Av so feared? Think Friday the 13th with a lot of broken mirrors:
Five misfortunes befell our fathers ... on the ninth of Av. ...On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up. -Mishnah Ta'anit 4:6

Some of those misfortunes may have been arbitrary set:
How then are these dates to be reconciled? On the seventh the heathens entered the Temple and ate therein and desecrated it throughout the seventh and eighth and towards dusk of the ninth they set fire to it and it continued to burn the whole of that day. ... How will the Rabbis then [explain the choice of the 9th as the date]? The beginning of any misfortune [when the fire was set] is of greater moment. -Talmud Ta'anit 29a

but we know well the next nine days are not historically good ones for Israelites or Jews:
Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492

There is, unfortunately, little reason to believe this month of Av will be any better--either for the Israelis or the country being attacked in undeclared war.

I Thought She Looked Familiar...

by Ken Houghton

I can't link to the original website (it's SEX, according to our blocking software), but I'll never be able to look at the "PBS Sprout" option on the OnDemand menu quite the same way again:
The PBS Kids Sprout network has fired the host of "The Good Night Show" after learning she had appeared in videos called "Technical Virgin (update: link not to video; indeed, there is no sex on the site)."

"PBS Kids Sprout has determined that the dialogue in this video is inappropriate for her role as a preschool program host and may undermine her character's credibility with our audience," said Sandy Wax, network president.

Because the two audiences overlap so much.
Airing for three hours each evening, "The Good Night Show" airs soothing stories and cartoons designed to get an audience of 2-to-5-year-olds ready for bed. Each night, Martinez guides a puppet character into dreamland. Martinez is a stage actress and mother of a toddler.

Gonna have to stick with reading the eldest Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I guess.

Monday, July 24, 2006

First of a Series: U.S. Debt and Foreign Holdings

by Ken Houghton

Inspired by James Hamilton, the first in a series of graphics using FRED's fiscal and business data to look at the discussion over foreign-held debt.


(click for larger image)


As you can see from the table, the holding of U.S. debt by foreign/international entities has nearly doubled since March of 2000--and more than doubled since the recent debt nadir of June/September of 2001. While the actual amount of the increase is less than the amount of increase in both public and private holdings, the percentage change is notably higher.


(click for larger image)

Friday, July 21, 2006

five years, my brain hurts a lot

by Ken Houghton

The key to this headline is probably "believed to be," though there were some checks still in place then.
Pull quote:
"After five years, he had become all but hopeless,'' she said. ''Now he's cautiously optimistic."

For those wondering why, the following "comedy" of justice:
The last detainee's odyssey began Sept. 5, 2001, when, after overstaying a six-month visa, he crossed the border near Buffalo to seek asylum in Canada. After the Sept. 11 attacks, his background as a Muslim man with flight experience prompted Canadian officials to turn him over to U.S. authorities.

He spent the next six months in solitary confinement in a federal jail in Brooklyn. Though the FBI concluded he had no links to terrorism, he was eventually charged with carrying false identification -- a case that was dropped after a federal magistrate found his right to due process had been violated.

The magistrate wrote in a 2003 decision that Benatta had been "undeniably deprived of his liberty," and "held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be oppressive."

No Animals were harmed in the making of this book

by Ken Houghton

CNN notes the pending publication of a new Thomas Pynchon novel. The author's description:
Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

Badger Poll XXII: Maybe Bush Would Be More Popular If He Were Gay

by Tom Bozzo



The results are in from Badger Poll XXII, and George W. Bush is testing the Cheesehead Mendoza Line:
GWB04 How would you rate the job George W. Bush is doing handling foreign policy? Excellent,
good, fair or poor?
Excellent 6.5%
Good 19.3%
Fair 24.6%
Poor 48%
Uncooperative/Indecisive 0.8%
Yes, folks! This means that more Wisconsinites approve of gay marriage than think the fondler-in-chief is doing a good job:
GAY07 Moving on to a different topic... Do you approve or disapprove of laws allowing homosexual people to marry members of their own sex?
Approve 39.4%
Disapprove 54.2%
Uncooperative/Indecisive 6.4%
Some of the details suggest why the gay marriage banning thing is being taken up now. Dog bites man, I know, but the answers are (a) perceived short-term political advantage and (b) it's now or never: the young'uns aren't afraid of teh gay. Among respondents under age 30, 57.7% support gay "marriage," versus 19.8% among the 60+.

Wisconsinites are far more tolerant of civil unions.
GAY08 And how about civil unions, where [same sex] couples can register partnerships that give them most of the legal advantages husbands and wives now have. Do you approve or disapprove of laws recognizing civil unions between people?
Civil unions get majority support whether or not "couples" is qualified with "same sex," 58.7% overall. Even 42.2% of Republicans approve.

Thing is, while same sex couples may be the main beneficiaries of civil unions, the wording of the referendum provides:
A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state [emphasis added].
So in the interest, perhaps, of avoiding (more) blatant conflict with "equal protection" language elsewhere (e.g., in the U.S. constitution, not that I'd expect a majority of the current Supremes to enforce it), the amendment would limit the rights of all unmarried Wisconsinites. While Wisconsin is more narrowly split than most other states that have faced similar questions, nevertheless 52.6% of registered voters in the Badger Poll support the referendum.

I don't imagine the audience here is chock full of supporters of the amendment, but if you are one, I ask, what's it to you, really? Surely, some happy same-sex couples in Massachusetts and Vermont have made it no more difficult to preserve your marriages. (*) Supporters of civil unions, some of whom nevertheless favor the amendment, also should Just Say No.

Doing so just saves a later generation the effort of overturning this embarrassment, at no tangible short-term cost.

Addendum. Discussing the anti-amendment stance adopted by Downtown Madison, Inc., the raving lefties (**) of the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board say:
The ban on gay marriage is not only bad for the economy. It also violates the principles of freedom and equality that Wisconsin ought to stand for.

The ban is unequal treatment under the law. It promotes government meddling in private lives, and it is an obstacle to strong families.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Scary Thing to See

by Ken Houghton

No, not the article about how RNC fundraising claims bear no resemblance to reality. Look at the ad on the right, in the #1 position.

Horror of horrors; it's an ad against an incumbent Democrat. On KOS. Clearly, the blogofascists who run the site advertised have no sense whatsoever of the proper political process of deferring to the incumbent in all cases.

Oh, wait, it's not against Lieberman, so it's probably all right.

(cross-posted)

Voting Rights Act, NAACP, and Eliding History

by Ken Houghton

W today:
For many African Americans this new found began with the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A generation of Americans that has grown up in the last few decades may not appreciate what this act has meant. Condi Rice understands what this act has meant. (Applause.) See, she tells me of her father's long struggle to register to vote, and the pride that came when he finally claimed his full rights as an American citizen to cast his first ballot. She shared that story with me. Yet that right was not fully guaranteed until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Condi's claim:
Speaking at the 2000 Republican convention, Rice praised her father as “the first Republican I knew.” She declared, “Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did. My father has never forgotten that day, and neither have I.”

Ms. Rice was born in 1954.

The circumstances:
By the time she was born there were three generations of college-educated family members, including teachers, preachers and lawyers. Her father John Rice was a Presbyterian minister and teacher and the brother of a leading black educationist. Her mother Angelena was also a teacher; her subjects were music and science. She crafted the name Condoleezza from the Italian musical notation “con dolcezza” (with sweetness). It rapidly became simply “Condi”.

And the truth about her father's "acceptance" by the Republicans:
What Rice forgot was the truth: political parties don’t register voters in Alabama....After a White registrar asked Rice’s father a trick question to keep him from registering, according to [Dale] Russakoff['s Washington Post article]: “Rice says her father later learned of a Republican functionary in the registrar’s office who would register blacks secretly, as long as they registered Republicans – not the expansive grant of suffrage suggested in her speech.” [emphasis mine]

In short, if the Voting Rights Act had been in effect, Condoleezza's father might well have been a Democrat.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Faith and Hope, but Whither Charity?

by Ken Houghton

Discussing the Most Famous (Reviled?) Article in the Blogsphere, Big Media Matt and Scott Lemieux elide the crux of the question in light of current events for the Bigger Picture.

Matt declares:
Personally, I would be fascinated to read a serious defense of the proposition that making Israel by far the largest recipient of American foreign aid serves our national interests or else is dictated by considerations of abstract morality.

While Scott chimes in:
But moreover, I also don't understand the decision to focus on the power of the pro-Israel lobby, because it's ultimately beside the point.


Angelica's post yesterday goes to the heart of a matter weighing heavily on what passes for my mind these days, but it's my drive-to-the-station radio station of choice that provokes today's question.

Yesterday's show featured a member of Simply Tsfat calling not to discuss their coming tour but rather the needs of the people of Tsfat (Safed), who have been hit by Hezbollah missiles. He gave a website, a telephone number, and noted that much of the infrastructure of the city had been damaged or destroyed, that many people have left as refugees--in short, that help was needed.

Which is no secret. War damages both sides, no matter what. And that's the crux of the issue. As the Lovely and Talented Shakes notes, "there have been 12 civilian deaths in Israel versus 183 in Lebanon" (current "score," per CNN, 29 to 300). And one need only ask Michael Totten if there are Lebanese refugees.

Here's the rub, and why the well-intentioned Matt and Scott are wrong: giving to the charity named on Jewish Moments in the Morning is certainly safe. There is no chance that the United States will investigate it and discover that its funds are used to support anything the government would define as "terrorist activities." The steps in the process--investigation, discovery, evidence gathering--are simply not going to happen.

The same cannot be said if one wanted--as I do--to give to a charity specifically targeting Lebanese civilians and refugees.

As Duncan Black observed yesterday, "Politics is a contact sport. Those who would paper it over with a veneer of false propriety are pretending it's something that it is not."

And one aspect of that is that the political cover provided ensures that I have multiple options to which to donate for charities supporting Israel without fear of later being accused of supporting "terrorists," while the only clear options for Lebanon are places such as the American Friends Services Committee or Oxfam--but even there, they are providing aid only to Israel-controlled territories.

As Katrina made clear (by its lack of same), the key to effective aid is how quickly it is supplied. Israel, with relatively little damage, has multiple avenues of support. Lebanon, facing a far greater crisis in both infrastructure and refugees, cannot be supported without fear or favor. It case, "the power of the pro-Israel lobby" is precisely the point in attempting to allocate charitable donations.

Please feel free to note charities that are specifically targeting Lebanese refugees in comments.

UPDATE: At least the Europeans have the right idea:
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU's executive Commission, said it was committing 10 million euros to meet the most urgent needs "in this very initial phase".

Aspiration Anxiety

by B. Strong

Thanks to our imminent "move" to Palo Alto, Quinn is going to be entering his third day care center. This means that I've had the dubious honor of filling out my third set of intake forms. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, daycare intake forms are all pretty much the same. Along with the standard demographic stuff, you're asked to describe your kid's family structure (including pets), development milestones, health, eating patterns, personality, and bowel movements. Not necessarily in that order.

So far so good. Then you get to the questions designed for no other purpose than to increase anxiety in the typical middle class parent. Or at least, I've seen no evidence that my answers to these questions have any relationship whatsoever to how the teachers care for my kid.

First up are questions about your kid's favorite activities and toys. Do you tell the truth, and write that Little Quinn plays 5-card draw for hours on end? Do you fib just a little bit and say that his favorite activity is reading classic literature? (Neglecting to mention, of course, that in your house Calvin and Hobbes and Asterix are considered classic literature.) Or do you fib a lot, and write that his favorite toy is either the butterfly net from his biologist grandparents or the miniature piano from a well-meaning (but obviously childless) friend of the family?

The really hard question, though, is always reserved for the end of the form, when you're nearly to the point of sending the kid off to his grandparents until he can fill out his own damned intake forms: "What are your goals for your child for the year?" Do you again succumb to middle-class anxiety, and write that although Little Quinn is making great progress with his calculus, you'd really like him to improve his matrix algebra?

Or do you instead tell the truth, and write that you really hope he can learn whether a full house with jacks over deuces means three jacks and two deuces or two jacks and three deuces, because damned if you can remember?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Barry Manilow II

by Ken Houghton

It's time to check in on the Aussie Manilow Experiment; original post here.

Here's their first mistake:
the local council in Rockdale, in Sydney's southern suburbs, started a six-month trial of high-volume hits by Manilow and Doris Day to chase away car enthusiasts who were gathering on weekend nights at Cook Park Reserve.[emphasis mine]

Even if you think of Manilow as a stylist, a masterful interpreter, and a brilliant stage presence, you would think so because of the modulation, the reaching of crescendo, the variation. To use the baseball analogy, Manilow (and Doris Day) are "finesse" pitchers--if they do the musical equivalent of throwing a fast ball, it's for effect. Treating the music as if it were Sabbath or AC/DC does neither any good--as the neighbors note:
But some people living near the park are less than enthralled. They say the barrage of "Copacabana," "Could It Be Magic" and "Que Sera Sera," blasting from 9 p.m. to midnight every Friday, Saturday [sic] and Sunday is driving them crazy.

"I don't know how I will cope," said Moya Dunn, describing how the songs have invaded her house. "I just can't sleep when it's on, and to think there's going to be another six months of this."

Remember, this was supposed to be a Quality of Life Initiative. But it was spearheaded by people such as Rockdale Deputy Mayor Bill Saravinovski
"The initial reaction was that they found it irritating," Saravinovski said. "I'm not disputing what the residents are saying. I can't swallow some of the tracks like `Mandy.'

"We have tried to reduce the sound and we are reviewing the songs. I don't mind Marry[sic] Manilow, but I'm more of an ABBA and Celine Dion fan."

I suspect if he were dosed with six months of "Fernando," "Dancing Queen," and "Power of Love"--not to mention "This Song Must Go On"--his appreciation for "Mandy" would be at least as high as the local residents's appreciation of his improvement to their Quality of Life.

Best Health Care System In The World

by Tom Bozzo

Overheard last night, ~9:30 P.M., while waiting to collect heavier-duty prescription pain meds for sick boy:
PHARMACY INTERN (to self, while using computer): I'm so sick of insurance I could puke.

Up or Out

by Tom Bozzo

Meanwhile in my liberal enclave, the hot topic for tonight's city council meeting will be infill development.

The property in question this time is Midvale Plaza, a 3-acre-ish parcel that currently features a vacant one-story professional building (and its unused asphalt parking lot) and a small, atomic-age suburbia shopping strip housing, notably, a heavily-used (and much in need of a new home) branch of the Madison Public Library.

The site had been identified as ripe for higher-density redevelopment in the city's comprehensive plan. The development proposal before the council would, in two phases, add about 125 condos in four-story buildings, a new home for the library — in phase 1, replacing the currently vacant building — and additional retail in the ground floor of phase 2, which would replace the existing retail strip. The proposal has been strongly opposed by residents of the modest atomic-age ranch houses that currently have views of the backside of the strip center, and the neighborhood mustered enough additional opposition (*) to require a 3/4 council supermajority to advance the plan — which previously sailed through the Urban Design and Plan Commissions. The neighborhood doesn't oppose the redevelopment per se, but rather seeks some significant design revisions.

Some of the grounds for the opposition, such as added traffic to residential side streets, hold some water. Others, such as claims that the development does not adequately preserve the neighborhood's fifties suburbia category, are in the eyes of the beholder. Still more, concerning the height and density of the project, are not very serious. (The Midvale proposal has a lower average density than the Monroe Commons development in our neighborhood despite including some surface parking; the setback fourth floor reduces the overall bulk of the buildings, leading the developer to respond with a 'watch what you wish for' that the neighbors would do well to heed.)

There are a couple interesting things about the battle. One is that, despite being frequently and often unfairly tarred by business interests as anti-business (as in this not overly balanced WSJ article), votes against the development from the council's liberal wing are far from assured. Ald. Brenda Konkel was blunt on her blog:
I've gotten several emails trying to appeal to me "as a member of Progressive Dane" or "someone who cares about Inclusionary Zoning". I've been attacked for not sticking up for a "middle class" neighborhood. Bottom line is this folks . . . we grow up or we grow out. I believe this is what we asked for in our Comprehensive Planning efforts.
Indeed, as Madison's old sprawl is heavily built-up, the main development alternative is to push the city's far southwest fringes, which only looks cheap in private land acquisition cost terms. Madison sprawl may never be like Northern Virginia exurbia, but the city's moderate density makes promoting more sprawl (especially as other economic and environmental factors militate otherwise) totally illogical. My two cents is that Mayor Dave and the left-leaning element of the council deserve a lot of credit for trying to put some teeth into the idea that Madison should be a city and not a confederation of suburbs.

Obviously, the 'neighborhood character' argument is opposed by a fair amount of popular culture describing the absence of character of 50s car-oriented suburbia. What's more interesting is that the pocket of 50s suburbia that's supplying the core opposition is a case study in path-dependence. When the neighborhood was built, Midvale Blvd. basically marked the western edge of Madison's old suburbia. Fifty years of rampaging and often poorly-thought-out development have made it, more in keeping with its name, just a north-south route in the near-middle west side.

As such, if the neighborhood were swept away for some reason, there's no way market forces would see it rebuilt as the modern equivalent of the 50s ranches. This is in contrast to, say, Dudgeon-Monroe, which as an example of the prewar suburban model for the new urbanism would end up looking pretty much like it does, only with a lot more two-car garages.

Anyway, the council should not break its streak of declining to overturn the Plan Commission. We'll see how it went tomorrow morning.

Note: Kristian Knutsen is live-blogging the council meeting at the Isthmus Daily Page here.

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(*) We suspect that many of the opposing neighbors really don't feel very intensely about the project. For our part, we're a block away from another probable infill site, and unless someone were to throw away the neighborhood plan and erect a skyscraper on the site, I'd be hard-pressed to get pissed despite some sadness over possibly losing what's been an amazingly convenient nursery school location before Julia is old enough for kindergarten.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What State has the Most Large Conservative Cities in the Top 25? Hint: It's BLUE

by Ken Houghton

Via Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns, and Money (who was shooting a barrel-fish at the time) comes the study that should put an end to all the Red/Blue "Divide" bollocks.

Ranking America's Most Liberal and Conservative Cities, there isn't even a question as to the state that has the most Conservative cities in their Top 25 (min population 100,000): California has seven, with Texas second with four, while Florida and Arizona each has three.

On the Liberal side, California also leads with four, though that requires considering San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley as three different areas (which is true if one considers city limits, but the driving time between the three is often appreciably less than a trip from Yankee Stadium to Greenwich Village).

Of course, the part of the Liberal List that comes as a surprise only to the David Broders of the world: Connecticut's two largest cities--one of whose tax base has been destroyed by YOYO policies (Hartford)--rank 12th and 15th on the list. Good for Joe Lieberman he has solid credentials in that area, eh?

Notes Toward A Neil Diamond Case Study

by Ken Houghton

The recent death of Billy Preston reminds me once again that I have not written the long-threatened Neil Diamond appreciation for this blog. Since almost no one (hi, Tim) has complained about the Manilow-related post, now would appear to be the time.

I haven’t considered Neil Diamond interesting since around the time Tom was going to Archmere Academy. There hasn’t been a reason to pay attention as album after album of detritus was released. Sure, there was Up on the Roof, a collection of Brill Building songs that should have been a great album. But it wasn’t, even with--or perhaps because of--the help of the likes of Mary’s Danish and Dolly Parton, it seemed more calculated than honest; and that many of the productions sounded as if Nelson Riddle had gone through the original masters to smooth out any trace of passion or variance was part of the reason why. The few bright notes were covers of the older songs by groups such as UB40 and Urge Overkill (or even Smash Mouth) that reinforced the belief that the Diamond of the late 1960s and early 1970s was providing something that could resonate, and that his performance in The Last Waltz was more an apotheosis than a fluke.

Since then, there had been little reason to hope. The A&E Special (around the time of Three Chord Opera, whose title alone prevented purchase) was a performer on his last vocal chords. The most memorable thing about the show was an anecdote about Muhammad Ali asking him to sing “I Am, I Said”--and that only through early in the second verse. (That the anecdote was following not by the song written when he didn’t get the Lenny role in Lenny but rather by the odious “America” from the soundtrack to the career-[and eye-] destroying The Jazz Singer did not help.)

The enthusiasm of one of my wife’s cousins (“yes, he’s lost his voice, but it’s a great show”) notwithstanding, I realised once again that there was no need to pay attention.

And then came Rick Rubin, whose four (now five, with a sixth promised) American Recordings discs with Johnny Cash include some of the best work Cash ever did (especially notable in this context is the third disc with the consensus best version of U2's “One” and the title track: Neil Diamond's “Solitary Man”).

And Rick Rubin produced a Neil Diamond album called 12 Songs, and talked in interviews about how this was an album of songs written by Diamond, featuring a trimmed-down production, about facing mortality.

The man who wrote “Morningside” and “Done Too Soon” as a young man, reflecting on mortality. This would be worth a listen. Possibly even--for old time's sake, as it were--purchasing.

The Enhanced disc, with two extra songs, was available at Costco for $12.49, which is high for them but not necessarily extreme. That, the cognitive dissonance of buying a disc called 12 Songs with 14 songs on it, and a short-term cashflow problem combined to make me wait a couple of weeks.

And a good thing, that, since shortly thereafter Sony was forced to admit that 52 discs (including 12 Songs) used XCP “protection&rdquo contained a virus-like enhancement (“rootkit”) ; for on any Windows PC on which they were played. And eventually recalling, and reissuing the discs.

But a funny thing happy in the process of reissuing. Suddenly, $12.49 was the price for the 12-song 12 Songs. The Enhanced disc with the extra tracks was priced at $14.99.

The Case Study of this should be fascinating: nearly everything, from a customer-centric point of view, was done incorrectly. First, the original product was defective. Second, the company refused for some time to admit the defect. Third, the valid product was priced to cover the cost of the initial defect—charging the consumer for the company's mistake.

And that's my Neil Diamond post, which is a long explanation of how Sony
failed to reap any income from me despite favourable conditions.

Program Note

by Tom Bozzo

There will be light blogging from me for the next couple weeks, thanks to a combination of office workload and family visits. There are a couple of long-gestating posts that should see the light of day soon. Otherwise, I trust, my blogging buddies will pick up some of the slack.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Headline that Should be from The Onion, But Isn't

by B. Strong

Owens says he was misquoted in autobiography.

To be fair, Owens joins an elite list of other top athletes (e.g., David Wells, Charles Barkley) who were misquoted in their autobiographies.

Here's a radical thought: if you're not going to write your own autobiography, perhaps you should consider reading the page proofs.

Then again, "misquotes" are a successful, time-tested strategy for gaining media attention. Maybe I should try it for my next AJS article...

(Credit to my friend Shelley for pointing out the headline to me.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Other Side of the Being Green Coin

by Ken Houghton

The horrors of Tom's bicycling parking should not be taken as the final word on commuting.

My normal drive is less than a mile to the train station, from which point mass transit takes over. But on occasions of appointments--today's semiannual dentist visit--I tend to work in our New Jersey office.

Visiting the dentist may turn out to be a bit more expensive than usual today:




Fortunately, a Good Samaritan left a Post-It on my windshield with the licence plate number of the car, so there is hope. But I don't even get the "month's fuel savings" of Tom, so here--literally--Your Mileage May Vary.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Globalization Headline of the Day

by Tom Bozzo

Chinese Company Intends to Build MG’s in Oklahoma.

Last Words on "Wordplay"

by Tom Bozzo

Since Tonya's contribution is more review-ish than mine, and substantially in alignment with my take on the film, I won't totally re-invent the wheel here.

Incorporating Tonya's review by reference, I have some additional comments. One of the interesting things about "Wordplay" is that it's subject matter is just on the edge of the unfilmable. Even the structure of the crossword tournament providing the movie's climax, lacking the sudden-death elimination that turns spelling bees into nail-biting dramas. As Ebert notes in his review, the filmmakers resort to clever graphical techniques to dramatize filling letters into tiny boxes.

Ultimately it's the celebrity and civilian personalities that carry the film. Will Shortz's obvious love of puzzles and Jon Stewart's hammy cameo are standouts. Some of the others, meh. I might have cut Ken Burns, and didn't really need to know about Daniel Okrent's puzzle-timing obsessions or to hear Okrent describe how the NY Times is a singular journalistic institution (even though that's approximately true, and Okrent does at least acknowledge that's sometimes for better or worse). As a substitute, I might have liked to find out what separated a competitor in one of the tournament's lower skill divisions from someone who is just privately good at puzzles; the director also lost too much interest in some of the featured competitors as they dropped out of contention. Or perhaps there is no filmable reaction to being a couple minutes behind in the puzzle-solving.

Anyway, "Wordplay" did re-pique my interest in the Times crossword, which I haven't regularly done in some time — in my present-day attention economy, it has to get in line behind family, job, blog and blogiverse, books, and LEGO, in approximately that order. That led to one interesting factoid concerning the NY Times web content. You can get the news for "free" (ad-supported, natch). You can get reasonably liberal access to the Times columnists and archives for no additional charge as a print subscriber, or for as much as $7.95/month (*) to others, via the widely disliked Times Select service. That doesn't include any access to current crosswords; that's a separate $5.95/month service.

Draw such conclusions as you will as to the most valuable content in the Times.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Piling On -- But Why Not?

by Ken Houghton

There are enough economists and others in the blogsphere, both directly and indirectly, who have pointed out the lunacy of Larry Kudlow's latest declaration, but I particularly want to address this gem:
When this last happened in 2003-04 (remember the "jobless recovery" election-year rant of Democrats?)

Which would lead you to believe that people became better-employed in 2003-2004. As John Clute once said, let's look at the evidence.

Via Legal Fiction (out of Duncan via Ezra), we find the U.S. Census's Historical Poverty Tables. And we would expect a decline in real terms--or at least percentage--in people around the poverty level (as the marginal effect of the "recovery" should elevate people out of poverty). Instead, we have:




In simple terms:
1) Over 1,000,000 more people below 125% of the poverty line.
2) Over 150,000 less people (from a larger sample) above the line itself.

In short, at the margins, the percentage of people at or below the poverty line went from 15.4% to 15.7% (an increase of 0.3%) during Kudlow's "recovery."

Does anyone still wonder why the "recovery" bears the adjective "jobless"?

Cross-posted at Economics Question of the Day

Doing the Right Thing

by B. Strong

From Friday's WSJ:
Poverty Program Gives Points to Do The Right Thing

Consumers earn rewards for flying, for using credit cards and for staying at hotels. For the past year, residents in a low-income neighborhood [in Chicago] have been earning rewards for paying their rent, getting their children to school every day and seeking work.

At one rewards banquet, more than 150 people gathered in a church basement to celebrate and cash in points for prizes. Devant-e and Ireyonna Brown, 10 and 7 years old, rode off on new bicycles with points earned for school attendance and volunteer work. Their mother, Marilyn, walked away with a DVD player, thanks to points earned mostly for attending PTA meetings...

The story then goes on to talk about how incentive programs are politically more palatable than traditional welfare programs. This seems self-evident: using material incentives to induce behavioral change is entirely consistent with the assumption that poverty is caused solely by poor peoples' bad decisions and self-destructive behaviors and values; and hence that all we need to do to eliminate poverty is provide the right incentives. (Besides, how better to guarantee consumers of DVDs and Nike footwear than to hand out DVD players and coupons to the local Sportmart?)

I have to wonder, though, if the proponents of the points-for-performance strategy adopt inventive-based strategies for inducing "the right" behaviors in their own families. I guess I thought that bribery was an unfashionable way of getting kids to do their homework, even in the most free-market of thinkers' households.

At any rate, the goal of the points program is to provide a "carrot" for those for whom the "stick" of time-limits on benefits hasn't been effective. Granted, proponents are quick to admit that points programs are not a panacea. Even with this caveat, points programs strike me as highly inefficient, at least for the goal of getting the last of the long-term welfare recipients into the labor force. My understanding from the research on poverty post-welfare reform is that time limits on benefits were relatively effective at getting recipients who had the basic skills to work into the paid labor force (albeit at sub-poverty level wages). The majority of those left behind are unemployed not so much because they lack the incentive to "do the right thing" (i.e., work) but because they lack the basic life skills to find and keep paid employment. In this sense, incentive programs are about 7 years too late.

Not that I don't wish the points programs the best of luck. In this political climate, it seems like any effort to help the poor is to be celebrated.

Monday, July 10, 2006

It's Not Easy Being Green

by Tom Bozzo

A couple minutes into my bike ride home from work, I took a look at my speed-and-distance computer to make sure I was not exceeding the Shorewood Hills speed limit, and saw nothing! Some foul miscreant had swiped it, in broad daylight no less, while the bike was parked in plain sight of the (admittedly no longer heavily trafficked) entrance to our building. I was, as the saying goes, irritated. I was also the first sense I'd had in my time in Madison that portions of Shorewood Hills are underpoliced.

It did explain an earlier incident in which the bracket for my headlight mysteriously vanished under similar circumstances. While I couldn't completely rule out the possibility that the bracket had separated from the bike as a result of the pounding it takes from our cruddy local pavement, I had suspected an incompetently executed attempt to swipe the computer.

In fact, even this time the thief failed to collect the critical part that attaches to the fork and sends the wheel rotation data up to the head unit, so the act is as pure a deadweight loss as any petty theft could be. Or, maybe it's a dumbass gang initiation thing that's fractionally less destructive than the pervasive tagging of commercial buildings that the local authorities seem powerless to stop. Or perhaps it was a McDonald's patron hopped up on saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup gone wilding. Who knows.

Well, there's a month's fuel savings down the drain.

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In other news, the Site Meter registered its 50,000th hit earlier today: the lucky 50,000th visitor had searched "anti whine" at google.it and reached this page. While the milestone is totally arbitrary — most of the regulars nowadays use technologies that bypass the meter, plus the meter had been disabled for a few months last year — the event arrived several years earlier than I'd have guessed when this site registered 10 hits a day. Thanks to all of you who stop by!

Also in the less-irritating department, I saw Wordplay with Colleagues A and B. While this geek tale lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that an Errol Morris wouldn't have left out, it was entertaining enough. I did enjoy a celebrity spotting moment as Tonya (with son Ethan) attended the same showing. Tonya asked if I was going to blog it. Memo to self: get a small, take-everywhere digicam so I can post pictures of Tonya taking out the paparazzi.

Less Than The Least We Can Do

by Tom Bozzo

From the department of Damn Straight, Matt Stoller at MyDD on one line of global warming apologism:
[Bush is] also casting himself as the hero of the [global warming] story. You see, he's also personally solving the problem of global warming by advancing new technologies like hydrogen cars. The 'new technology' argument is something that we've seen other bad faith actors use, like apologist Robert Samuelson in his claim [link is to offending op-ed column] that we are helpless without engineering breakthroughs... [T]echnology is the result of policy decisions, and technology is not magic. If you don't make policy decisions that encourage the development and deployment of carbon reducing technology, it's not going to be developed and deployed.
Very true. If all we need is more electricity that looks cheap in terms of market prices, all we'd have to do is burn lots more coal.

There's a lot of what can only be described as pointless wanking going on while the decider-in-chief weighs the global warming evidence. (Stop laughing at the thought.) What would make most economists relatively happy, by using prices as the signaling method, would be a stiff carbon tax. In addition to encouraging the development of various renewables, carbon taxation would certainly put the 'clean coal' movement's best minds, if indeed there are any working outside the PR field, seriously on the problem of actually figuring out how to sequester carbon dioxide emissions.

But price-based incentives alone can't do everything. A non-trivial problem is that some people can't, or won't, take the hint.

Consider home lighting. A wire service article that appeared on the front page of Saturday's Wisconsin State Journal highlighted the appalling inefficiency of incandescent lights in contrast to fluorescents and not-quite-ready-for market solid state (i.e., LED) technologies.

Replacing incandescents is one of the easiest propositions of energy efficient living: as the compact fluorescent (CFL) packages advertise, the value of CFL energy savings is large relative to the price differential with incandescent bulbs. My guess is that most houses nevertheless continue to harbor large numbers of incandescents. (*)

For instance, we make extensive use of CFLs in our conventionally switched fixtures, but have 650W of incandescent floodlights — 10 bulbs — providing main lighting in our kitchen and family room; they're on dimmers and can't use normal CFLs. Between the shady lot and long Wisconsin winters, they're on a lot of the time.

Installing dimmable CFLs would avoid 500W of that electricity consumption, saving us $300 or so over the 4-year-ish life of the bulbs, net of the additional cost of the CFL bulbs. That's like adding a Star Destroyer to my collection, for free! Your uses for the funds might vary, but if you have 10 or more incandescent bulbs in the 60-watt class in frequently-used fixtures, you could see savings at least as great.

Nevertheless, when Suzanne found one of the dimmable bulbs at our friendly local hardware store, rather than immediately yanking an incandescent — I could pull a brand-new bulb without materially affecting the payoff — I went on the lightbulb deathwatch, providing an observation towards Jeremy's theory that economists are not obviously better at solving everyday sunk cost problems than other people. (**)

In the aggregate, 500W chunks of pure waste roll up to serious quantities — tens of gigawatts. In the mid-nineties, before CFLs were in wide use, the EIA projected that a bit more than 3% of residential electricity use (about 32 gigawatt-hours in 1995, when the last EIA residential lighting survey was conducted) could be avoided if only those incandescents used more than 4 hours/day were replaced with CFLs. Present CFL and electricity prices would make it efficient to replace nearly any incandescent, presenting an even bigger savings opportunity. The upshot is that we're wasting enough electricity to power, say, every TV and every home computer in the U.S. as of 2001. Or, we could eliminate the dirtiest few percent of coal-fired power generation (and coal extraction).

That we aren't even doing a lot of the simple things is part of the reason why, much as I share Jim Kunstler's concern that most of our so-called leaders are doing everything possible to delay much needed restructuring of the economy to adapt to persistently high energy prices (Madison, at least, is trying to be a happy exception), I don't see any reason why the end state need be a new Dark Ages.

That consumers balk at the high entry price of CFLs and thereby leave $20 bills on the floor shows that there's room in the policy mix for efficiency standards such as the sometimes-maligned (even here) CAFE. In practice, it can be a lot to ask of people to evaluate more- and less-vampiric appliances using information theoretically available to the market. Even if it isn't, fairness considerations may militate against allowing, say, the rich to "rationally" decline to pick up the $20. It should also give one pause when economists propose nutball schemes that assume that everyone will react like h. economicus.

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(*) The 1995 residential lighting survey showed essentially zero market penetration of CFLs at the time, when CFLs were clunkier and much more expensive than they are now.

(**) Annoyingly, when I came to my senses, the new bulb proved to be DOA.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Saved By The Bell

by Tom Bozzo

Pace Ken, the most interesting thing I've seen about Kenneth Lay's death is that it apparently voids his recent criminal conviction (via ye old Conglomerate). So say the lawprofs, if you die while an appeal of your criminal conviction is pending in the Fifth Circuit, not only your conviction but also the entire case against you is thereby voided. Never mind the probability of success on the merits of your case.

This may complicate civil suits against the K. Lay estate, which may not be able to refer to the criminal conviction, though as a practical matter it's more whether the remains of Lay's estate can afford to find 12 people who've never heard of Enron.

Meanwhile, proving that men are from Mars, and business law profs are from the Gamma Quadrant, Larry Ribstein wonders whether (hopes that?) that the death technicality will be the beginning of Kenny Boy's rehabilitation. Dream on, Larry. Dream on.

Strange Bedfellows

by Ken Houghton

What do Patrick at Shakespeare's Sister and The New York Post have in common? More than one might have thought.




UPDATE: bitchphd appears to have joined the fun as well. Any others out there?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Carbon Trading, Anyone?

by Tom Bozzo

The next two weeks are the Revenge of the Hail as the body shop attempts to undo the $4400 in damage the April storm inflicted on my poor baby car. Bike commuting, which I've been doing 4 days most work weeks (basically, as weather permits), will be slightly less discretionary for a while.

If you're feeling guilty about driving some ridiculously large SUV to work, Starbucks, etc., I have 2-3 kg/day in carbon dioxide offsets to sell you to assuage your guilt. Complete markets in everything?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day Extra

by Tom Bozzo

Just because we ditched one King George only to get another one 230 years later doesn't mean that there isn't anything to celebrate. So we set off for our neighborhood's kids-oriented event this morning.

To my surprise, the kids shared the wagon pretty well.
IMG_3641

The Monroe St. Michael's was the assembly point for the bike/stroller/wagon parade. We resisted the custard temptation. In retrospect, I'm not sure why.
IMG_3646

The kids are reloaded in the wagon, now with decorations.
IMG_3650

Parading to Wingra Park.
IMG_3656

I have to "marvel at the wonders of the market--that, like a god, knows that in [Madison] there is demand by [the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association] for [inexpensive July 4th novelties], and that diverts bags of the stuff to be carried by truck, train, containership... How wise is the market!"
IMG_3665

Memo

by Tom Bozzo

To: Corndog

From: Tom

Re: Insulation on cryogenic fuel tanks

Get those steel-toed boots ready...

-------------------------

Billmon has an interesting perspective from a stint working as a writer for the commission that investigated the Challenger accident, and doesn't feel good about the Discovery launch plans either. Meanwhile, even members of the CAIB are saying that the concerns are overblown:
Dr. Logsdon, a member of the independent board that investigated the Columbia disaster, said, "Prior to Columbia, we flew 113 times with foam apparently falling off without it hurting us."

At the time, he said, NASA did not understand the problem.

"Now that we are aware of it and have learned about it," he said, "it's more reasonable to fly with falling foam, because we at least understand the issue better."
Now we are "aware" of the problem, we just don't know exactly how to fix it. In any event, from one total vehicle loss and at least one near-hit in 114 tries, the observed instance of the latter occurring after a round of remedial work, you might conclude that they were sitting on something like a 1% failure risk, and the rolls of 0 (*) and 1 on 2d10 — improbable, but not vanishingly so given the consequences — came up in not-unexpected time.

As failures of human decision-making go, get-there-itis is demonstrably dangerous. Most of the time, you get away with it. I remember, back in the days before the fortress cockpit, listening to the pilot and copilot of a flight to Madison that had already been diverted to Green Bay plot a departure around a thunderstorm just off the windward end of the runway: that was an exciting climbout. Other times, you don't. The problem is when the successes make you irrationally optimistic.

Godspeed, Discovery.

This isn't to say that it isn't an improvement that there's a plan B for the Discovery's crew in the event Michael Griffin's luck is bad. And Billmon is almost surely correct that the PR calculus is such that the White House probably isn't pushing the launch schedule. On the other hand, if Bush really were the decider-in-chief, you might think he'd strongly suggest that NASA brass consider whether the taxpayer's interest is served by building an orbital monument to bureaucratic learning processes that has a price tag (in expected value) of some tens of millions of dollars. Can you imagine Bush volunteering such a question? Right.

Addendum: The launch appears to have been successful, pending the on-orbit inspections, though as the NY Times noted:
About 2 minutes 47 seconds into the ascent, an onboard camera showed numerous pieces of unspecified debris appearing to fall away from the shuttle's external tank. They fluttered away and did not appear to strike the shuttle orbiter, the part of the craft where the astronauts ride.
This is much later in the ascent than the foam strike that led to the Columbia disaster. There, deceleration of the foam chunk due to atmospheric drag combined with the acceleration of the vehicle led to the high-velocity strike. At sufficiently high altitudes (and thus thin air), debris shedding is much less dangerous as any strikes would be at lower relative velocities.

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(Previous Marginal Utility posts on the Bush space "vision" here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Another Proposition

by Tom Bozzo

The U.S. would be a better place if the culture had healthier relationships with alcohol, sex, and violence. If that came to pass, we'd be a lot more like France, which would not be a bad thing.

For instance, last night Suzanne and I went to the movies, and having gone to the wrong theatre for a timely viewing of "A Prairie Home Companion" — and being too late to relocate to see "An Inconvenient Truth" — we ended up in "The Devil Wears Prada." A trifle, for sure, which Suzanne described as a guilty pleasure like leafing through a fashion magazine; my reaction was a bit more positive than Ebert's. ("Meryl Streep is indeed poised and imperious as Miranda, and Anne Hathaway is a great beauty... who makes a convincing career girl..." gets 2-1/2 stars from me, though I'd have eighty-sixed the chef-boyfriend altogether. Could his 'I don't know who you are anymore' whining be any less original? At least "Prada" viewers are spared the common Creepy May-December Relationship subplot, the Dude Too Stupid to Know He's Living With Anne Hathaway subplot is equally annoying.)

A funny thing is that "Prada" is rated PG-13 for "some sensuality" per the MPAA ratings board. (Suzanne says, "what sensuality?") I might have rated it PG-32 for making jokes of the fashion industry's pernicious sizeism and for conveying unhealthy messages about reasonable work expectations for entry-level jobs, but otherwise it was darn near the mildest thing I'd seen since "Shopgirl." I didn't especially like "Shopgirl" (see: creepy May-December relationship, amplified by the author of the story acting the December part), but was astonished to see that it had been rated R, for "some sexual content and brief language." I might have missed a stray F-bomb or two that earned the thing an automatic R — reading the Rude Pundit desensitizes you — but the "sexual content" is barely more sensual than "Prada"'s, and is greater in degree, as I recall, mainly in displaying Claire Danes's bare butt. Those of you who can remember the days before Bush put the brain-dead wunderkinder of the Moral Majority and corporatist pseudo-libertarianism in charge of telecom regulation may recall the appearance of bare butts and on balance worse language on broadcast network TV some 13 years ago, not counting occasional moonings by the Simpsons' hairy yellow butts.

Compare "The Da Vinci Code." We don't know how much of the religious-themed murder and mayhem jumped from the potboiler to the screen, but it was also rated PG-13 for "disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material [heresy? —Ed.], brief drug references and sexual content." Or "Van Helsing," at the vanguard of a PG-13 horror-movie movement — better box office by not forcing early teenage boys to find a way to sneak in — cited for "nonstop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality." While part of the problem may be measuring a multidimensional quantity with a unidimensional metric, I'm far from the first person to think that Jack Valenti et seq. have a strange idea of what constitutes people "just like you."

The afterparty was also amusing. We stopped by the Barrique's Market in suburban Fitchburg for a glass of wine after the movie (~9:30). No problemo there, you'd think, and indeed we were set up with our respective sparklers (a moscato d'Asti for Suzanne, prosecco for me) without difficulty. With a considerable increment of space over the Monroe St. location near us, the suburban store stocks a wider variety of beers, and we were happy to see the excellent Three Floyds Alpha King pale ale from Indiana in stock. We also wanted to take home a bottle of the prosecco.

There, we were foiled. I'd assumed that the last call for take-out alcohol we've heard on Monroe St. was a stupid City of Madison regulation, and so wasn't assuming things would be the same in Fitchburg. But no, it's evidently the state's fault: Barrique's must sell take-out beverages under a "Class A" license, which forbids sales between 9 P.M. and 8 A.M. So the law, working as intended, stopped a late thirtysomething couple from purchasing approximately eight ounces of ethyl alcohol (plus additional water and flavoring substances) for later consumption. The maximum penalty for conducting an otherwise legal transaction at the wrong time of day is the same as that for misdemeanor battery.

Since there is nothing in the law that would have prevented us from obtaining beer, wine, and/or liquor from a "Class B" establishment as late as 2 A.M., it's inconceivable that the purpose of the law is to save us from Demon Drink. Likewise, it only takes one drive past a sample of campus bars to see that regulations intended to keep alcoholic beverages out of underage hands are abject failures. In the end, Barrique's lost the beer sale to Woodman's, as the mega-grocery's liquor annex is open for Sunday morning early-bird grocery shoppers as the law allows.

The remaining major possibility is that the regulations affect the balance of economic power between taverns and liquor stores. This may go in the "free markets would be a real shock if we had 'em" file.

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