April 29, 2005
Video Games vs. Movies
Props for James Pinkerton. In his TCS column he quotes both Marx and Schumpeter effectively. I couldn't do that. No way.
More importantly, he digs deep into the news that video game revenues have now eclipsed movies.
First, studio execs as a group have never known anything about videogames, and can't ever be expected to learn. Movie makers, after all, think of themselves as being in the movie business, as opposed to being in the overall entertainment business. And so just as the railroads ignored the automobile -- because railroad men could not see that their business was transportation overall, as opposed to simply railroading -- and just as autos similarly ignored airplanes, so it is that movies are mostly clueless about the new entertainment platform, videogames. Long ago, management guru Peter Drucker made the point that a new technique would not be adopted until it was obviously and demonstrably ten times better than the old technique. Since then, much work has been done about the impact of "disruptive technology"; the general lesson seems to be that it's the rarest of companies that can make the jump from one way of generating profits to another.
I think this is a big story. The formulaic approach to movies has got to run out of steam someday. And I like the idea that young people would rather participate less passively in their entertainment.
I'm too old and dull for most movies and video games, but I cannot believe that the impulse is much different from blogging.
And, hey, when I was a touring musician I got quite good at "Tempest." Stop laughing!!!!
Gloom And Doom
Larry Kudlow wonders why the MSM is so quick to pounce on a 3.1% GDP growth number as bad, and not look at the Western Europeans they wish to emulate and their 1% growth.
What is it about the mainstream media and the American economy? Why are they always looking for slowdowns, soft patches, double dips or whatever? If anybody bothered to look under the headline 3.1 percent GDP report yesterday, they’d see that 1.5 percentage points were lopped off because of the $660 billion increase in real net imports. But that’s a sign of strength. Consumer and business activity is strong, that’s why they’re buying foreign goods.
Core growh is 5%, profits are good, interest rates are low. Times aren't too bad unless you are a Democrat politician...
April 28, 2005
EU Constitutional Crisis
As waves of liberty wash over the Middle-East, as they did in "New Europe" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where else do you suppose their effects are being felt? Why, in "Old Europe" too!
This AP report from two days ago reveals that the socialist citizenry of the socialist state of France, regarded as the principal force behind the EU unification effort, may be getting cold feet.
French polls have shown a steady opposition to the charter. A poll published Friday, indicated 62 percent of voters will reject the constitution in France's May 29 referendum — the highest figure so far.
Opposition is attributed to the anticipated loss of "French jobs and sovereignty in the EU's giant market." Well, DUH! (On the sovereignty part anyway.)
But what of the poor Germans? They won't even get a vote in the matter: "Germany, the most populous EU member with 82 million people, is submitting the charter to lawmakers for approval and does not plan a referendum." Never fear, after France chooses self-rule, the Germans can always stage a popular "Deutsche Freiheit" revolution.
Instapundit linked to this NYTimes Editorial as an example of historical revisionism, which it is.
But I read the same editorial and was glad the good folks at the NYTimes were not around for the creation of our Constitution. Heavens! Months have gone by and they're still not done? The war was obviously a waste!
The Bush administration has, understandably, stopped trying to disguise its frustration and concern. Granted, Iraq's politicians are new to the challenges of parliamentary give-and-take. But if they manage to squander the aura of democratic legitimacy conferred on them by January's election, it will become radically harder to bridge ethnic and religious divides, build a national army and police force, and repair a still shattered infrastructure.
Dear Timesers: Self rule is a messy business. If it is successful in ten years, we should be happy, five ecstatic. Sorry that only Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan have held elections. And that only Lebanon and Egypt are showing direct leaning toward freedom in the mideast. But what can you expect when the President is a moron!
April 27, 2005
My mentor and hero, Larry Kudlow is concerned that Senator Chuck Grassley is discussing a Social Security reform plan that would restore solvency, “with, or without, private accounts.”
Respectfully, I would suggest to Mr. Grassley, and to the White House, that you cannot solve the pending financial storm in social security without personal savings accounts.
As usual with economic issues, Mr. Kudlow is spot on. Politically it has been pointed out that freedom is more desirable than solvency. Private accounts are part and parcel of the ownership society and the President should not proceed without them.
Worse Than the WaPo Poll
Patrick Ruffini has an online poll for the GOP '08 run, but I don't like the questions.
He puts Rudy Giuliani in 1:1 matchups with Senators McCain, George Allen, and Bill Frist. Man I like Rudy well enough, and I could support George Allen -- but can we (sorry to use the GOP in second person Silence) please not follow the Democrats' losing strategy of choosing which weak Senator we want?
Mitt Romney, Bill Owens, Jeb Bush (no, but yes), Condi (I can dream), &c. We have a deep bench and I look forward to a tough primary that leaves a strong candidate standing. Rudy vs. McCain is fun for the hopeless political junky in me, but I would not extrapolate it into anything resembling important sentiment.
Condi in '08; the absolute end of the Democratic party as we know it...
Hat-tip: Perfeser Glenn
April 26, 2005
Were one sufficiently starved for entertainment to read my entire Pharmaceuticals category on this blog, and then go back to my writings on Berkeley Square Blog, you'd find a tireless and pedantic advocate of the pharmaceutical companies. I defend them and smite their opponents, be they politicians, lawyers, or journalists.
Give me my cred -- if I got money, you'd say I was in their pockets. Yet even I am disturbed at the prevalence of chemical solutions to life's vicissitudes (did somebody say "pedantic?") I don't doubt ADD is real but suspect it is highly over-diagnosed and over-prescribed.
My wife is in rehab for a stroke, and all the nurses are amazed that she is not on any regular medication. They think we're lying. "Every woman your age in here is at least on anti-depressants," we were told.
Last weekend's on call doc is a bright and professional woman who is very easy to talk to and very compassionate. But I have to relate two stories about her. She casually prescribed anti-depressants for my wife, based on "situational depression." The nurse described them to us as the doctor didn't even think it was important enough to discuss. These were non-narcotic, non-addictive, and they're not happy pills. You'd probably get off them in six months.
Wow. "Do you want those?" I ask. "No, I am pretty scared of that," she says. We decide to pass but know that these are on her chart and she can request them at any time.
The second story happened earlier, but I have withheld it for dramatic effect. This same doctor had a fit that my wife was drinking a smoothie I had brought in. "What's in this? Do the nurses know you brought this?" "I really suggest you stick to the dietician's plan! (of a lot of stuff she won't eat)."
So fruit juice is the devil's weed and should be considered seriously, but a half a year's anti-depressants are prescribed without patient input, request, or the suggestion of medical staff who have worked with her longer.
I guess I am naive. Am I nuts?
April 25, 2005
State Coercion: Two More Years
I have been blogging a long time to be such a nobody, but that's a harmless aside, not the thesis of this post.
Two years ago, I wrote some longer posts and kept them around as essays. This one compared the service and decor of the free-market enterprises offering oil changes with the state-monopoly-dictated provider of emissions checks.
It’s been two years and the State still dictates emissions tests. It is a grisly experience. Government appointed bureaucrats get into your car and treat it roughly on a dynamic test bed. I expect they still don't take credit cards, and I expect the facilities are still dingy and uninviting. Why fix it? Customers are forced to visit you every two years.
But I am going to reopen the whine because of my situation. I have Multiple Sclerosis and my wife has been in the hospital for more than four weeks. I leave the house at 7:00 am to see her; I juggle as much time as I can at work, rush home to let out and comfort the dog, rush back to the hospital for every meal and come home late every night.
Sorry to get out the violins, but now I have to find time for this insane government mandate. It will take two-three hours out of my day that I would love to have for laundry, or to get a haircut, or some other frivolous thing.
I'm not the only busy guy in town. Everybody has got something. Why do we allow the State to waste our time so? I cannot imagine anybody is left who believes that these exams reduce half the pollution generated by everyone driving 20 extra miles to get them.
I have always joked that I wanted to open a GOP registration office next door. We’d offer coffee and sympathy and an ATM machine to the deer caught in gub’mint headlights. It’s a great place to catch people who might be receptive to the idea of a little more freedom.
It would be funny if there weren't serious and responsible adults involved.
Bolton has declined to comment on allegations during the confirmation process.
The State Department would not comment last night. But Friday, spokesman Adam Ereli said once the allegations are explored, it will lead to the ''inescapable conclusion that Mr. Bolton would be an excellent ambassador."
Finney, a therapist who has written about ''recovered memories" in childhood sex-abuse cases, said Bolton was not allowed to fire her, but he moved her to a basement office in retaliation. She said that the top USAID administrator at the time, Peter McPherson, came by after the clash to assure her that her career wasn't over.
That event happened in 1982 or 1983!
In related news, in 1974, Hillary Rodham Clinton allegedly called a campaign worker "a f*cking Jew b*astard."
Like the Bolton-Finney allegation, there are also a number of witnesses to that event. There was also an alleged First Lady lamp-throwing incident early in the Clinton White House.
House Majority Whip Senator Mitch McConnell (R - Kentucky) counted the votes, and thinks that they can end the filibuster, and miraculously Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) thinks the Senate can to make a deal.
Apparently, all but two have evolved into human beings, with only two remaining in their pre-historic non-evolved form.
The (deservedly) much maligned NYTimes really does deserve props. A) C'mon, face it, it is an amazing newspaper. I wish they were fair, too. But it defines the news for the entire country and employs (face it again) the best writers. B) David Brooks was a great pick for token Conservative. He is a Conservative that doesn't frighten the NYTimes reader and that's good -- a little right-of-center thought for these folks is better than none.
Today he has a hilarious column on the CDC's "re-calibrating" obesity statistics.
The release of a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association indicating that overweight people actually live longer than normal-weight people represents an important moment in the history of world civilization. It is the moment when we realize that Mother Nature - unlike Ivy League admissions committees - doesn't like suck-ups.
The whole piece is funny and smart. But I think the lede is correct. It is important. They were off by a factor of 14 and their basic premise was completely wrong. That will be remembered, and the expert's advice will be further discounted in the future.
During a rare face-to-face meeting of ThreeSources folk, Johngalt and I had a good squabble about trade with China. I was listing President Clinton's accomplishments in the free-trade arena, wilting poor jg with every kind word about a President neither of us admire. When I got to China's entry in the WTO, I was interrupted.
I have blogged some good things about China of late, and have blogged nothing about the anti-Japan protests, saber-rattling across the Taiwanese Straights, or any of China’s bad behavior.
Why does a freedom lover give this despotic nation a pass? Maybe I need to rethink it, but the answer is clearly self-interest. Dallas Fed President Richard W. Fisher spells it out today in a guest ed for the Wall Street Journal, Protect Us From Protectionists
Financial markets deplore protectionism, and even talk of it can send stocks into retreat. In the days after the tariff measure survived its first Senate vote on April 6, the Dow Jones industrials tumbled 400 points. Import-bashing preceded the market crash in 1929 and Black Monday in 1987. The market knows the value of imports.
The protectionists think exports are good and imports are bad, but as Fischer states, "When consumers pay less for clothes, shoes and electronics, they have money to spend elsewhere -- to the benefit of local businesses."
If the US wanted to discourage trade formally with this human rights abuser , for political reasons, I'd be all ears. But don't let the ghosts of Smoot-Hawley choose military might or human rights as an excuse.
Lastly, I will cede to no one my dislike for El Jefe, but I am forced to compare the embargo of Cuba with the engagement of China. Which one has freed more people and elevated human rights? Clearly, trade with China.
April 23, 2005
Blogging For Bolton
Here's a blog dedicated to getting John Bolton confirmed as an ambassador to the United Nations.
The Democrats strategy on blocking Bolton is an interesting one, only because it's stunningly weak.
Step one was to block him because he's got beef with the UN.
No. They should be pro-American interests.
Maybe chemotherapy is what the United Nations needs. From his rhetoric, John Bolton appears to be the guy to give it.
That strategy didn't seem to work. So on to plan B.
Step two is to block him because he's allegedly mean to his subordinates. Which is pretty weak. But currently it's all they got.
As brought up on Powerline thursday,
And the answer...
Well, I guess there is another difference, too. Bolton had reason to be upset with under-performing employees. Hillary just wanted to install her own cronies.
Put him in.
Maybe someone will then say, "Hey.. Libya shouldn't be on the human rights commission."
The question to ask now is, will step two work? Well, it's appears to sticking right now. Senator Voinovich came out of nowhere to hold things up. I guess we'll see.
It's funny that during the Condi Rice hearings, the argument from the Democrats was that the Secretary of State should question the President's policies. That a Secretary of State should not tow the line... Suddenly, here's a candidate for an office that will *question* the status-quo and question the direction of the United Nations, yet somehow this is not a good thing.
The Democrats are not a party of ideas and positive direction. The Democrats have become a party of "We're not George Bush, and we'll do the opposite."
It's a shame.
April 21, 2005
Posted by John Kranz at 12:56 PM
April 20, 2005
So good to have LILEKS back:
The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?
Said just what I wanted to say, better of course. I don't get a vote. It's political but it’s not a democracy.
Best of luck to Pope Benedict XVI
TNR Bashes Bush
Hold the presses. A Democrat magazine has a beef with a GOP President!
But wait -- I agree. TNR charges that the Bush administration cannot be trusted to put free trade over politics.
It would be one thing if Bush were acting to protect a growth industry. But domestic textile manufacturing has been on the wane for decades--not only because of competition from abroad, but because, as textile industry CEO Gary Heiman wrote in The Washington Post earlier this month, "American textile companies didn't discard failed business models and evolve when they had a chance." Unlike other sectors, the textile industry has been slow to invest in research and development and switch to higher-end products, in which it might hold a competitive advantage. Thus a supposedly principled conservative administration is willing to go to the mat for an industry that has proved unwilling to keep up with the rest of the economy. Bush has often espoused a God-helps-those-who-help-themselves economic philosophy. But, apparently, he's not above giving an undeserved handout to those who can help him politically.
The trade deficit, or as the WSJ Ed Page calls it "The Capital Surplus," will continue to scare average Americans who do not understand comparative advantage. Will W and GOP Senators stick to principles or bow to political pressure?
Yup. Smoot-Hawley II
Hat-tip: The Corner
April 19, 2005
On Second Thought, Make that a Cheeseburger!
Huh? Government wrong? Maybe they didn't kill as many of us as previously thought with their ridiculous "Four Food Groups," and its moronic successor, "The Food Pyramid."
The AP reports Yahoo! News - Obesity Danger May Have Been Overstated
CHICAGO - Being overweight is nowhere near as big a killer as the government thought, ranking No. 7 instead of No. 2 among the nation's leading preventable causes of death, according to a startling new calculation from the CDC.
Anybody can miss a prediction, but it takes a government agency to miss by a factor of 14. Whadaya say we let the private sector handle diet concerns, and have the government stick to important things like the mohair subsidy.
UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru links to the mypyramid.gov site and asks "WHAT WOULD WE DO without the federal government telling us what we should eat?"
US Economic Power
That right-wing-rag, the New York Times is at it again, delivering yet another hit piece against statism.
Bruce Bawer, an American living in Oslo, delivers the bad news to his neighbors who are quite convinced that they are "the richest country in the world."
Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom, topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi. In short, while Scandinavians are constantly told how much better they have it than Americans, Timbro's statistics suggest otherwise. So did a paper by a Swedish economics writer, Johan Norberg.
Growing up in the 70's, I was forced to tolerate Disco music; polyester leisure suits; dire warnings of global cooling, the 80s world famine and overpopulation; and liberal glee over the utopias of Sweden and Norway.
Hard to say that music has improved a lot, but it's now Global Warming, underpopulation, people are eating well everywhere there is some degree of freedom, and the light of truth has been shown on the true effects of statism.
Be Very Freaking Afraid...
I got an email about this this morning, but it had no link, and I just tripped over the story at DailyStandard.com. Wow.
IF THE IDEA OF A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to government-funded child care, "adequate" recreation, and $80,000 in cash seems outlandish, remember that these concepts are no more eccentric than the idea of a right to abortion was, prior to Roe v. Wade. As a law school exercise in 1973, my class was charged with trying to formulate an argument for a constitutional right to abortion. We were stumped. None of us could think of one. A few months later, the "right" to abortion was born.
It was kind of Yale's chapter of the American Constitutional Society to explicitly tell us what their goals are for a progressive Constitution and a new bill of rights:
* Economic citizenship--stakeholder society in which every young adult gets a form of citizenship inheritance of $80,000, funded by a wealth tax . . .
The Constitution of 2020, if these folks get their way.
April 18, 2005
EU Socialism is Dead
I posted an item about Mark Steyn's "Sovereign Citizen" last night. In this piece Steyn finds portentous signals in globalization. Not the Jose Bove, college kids' concerns but whether new opportunities in formerly un-entreprising nations will stem the flow of human capital required by Western Europe and Canada. (Canada is a Western European Nation anymore, that last phrase may be redundant.)
Today the WSJ Ed Page features a Guest Editorial about rapprochement between China and India.
No doubt, China and India are competitors. China has already become the factory of the world, while India is gradually becoming the world's laboratory and back-office. China is seeking to emulate India's remarkable surge in software and IT-enabled services, while India is aiming to match China's stunning success in manufacturing. Both China and India are aggressively seeking hydrocarbon concessions in Central and East Asia, West Asia, Russia, Latin America and Africa -- in Sudan, they are joint-venture partners. Both countries are modernizing and expanding their military capabilities. But what Mr. Wen's visit demonstrates is that competition need not necessarily mean confrontation and conflict, and that areas of cooperation and engagement can indeed be worked out.
You can add these two stories together in your head and see that our children will face a very different competitive picture than we have.
Many fear for the US. And seeing our education system, I should not be so sanguine. But I think we will be able to parlay current advantages for another half a century.
But "Old Europe" is toast. New economies in former Soviet republics, India and China -- these are the new trading partners. The German, French and Scandinavian economies can just wither away, new nations will take their place.
The real question is whether the US will elect to go down the socialist path, and follow these high-tax, centralized command-and-control nations down. Or will we wise up and compete with these emerging economies before it is too late? To compete we will need a new tax system and we will need privatization of pensions.
Are our legislators serious about these? It's not about the trust fund in 2042 -- it's about a company deciding where to build a new engineering center in 2008.
That's Not Funny!
Well, Mark Steyn's The Spectator.co.uk column is not a laugh riot like we've come to expect from the Master. But it is an important column: "The age of the sovereign individual."
Ireland managed to persuade its wandering sons of Erin to return. Imagine if China did the same. For two generations, as fertility rates have nose-dived in the West, the complaceniks of Canada and Western Europe have clung to the assumption that they can go on using the Third World as a farm team and denude developing societies of their best and brightest. Even if one accepts this as enlightened and progressive rather than lazy and selfish, how could anyone seriously credit it as a long-term strategy on which to pin the viability of Euro-Canadian welfarism? The most vital economic resource is people, and that’s the one thing much of the Western world is running out of. The anti-globalists can demonise sovereign states and sovereign companies — the Dells and other multinationals — but we’re entering the age of the sovereign individual, and that will be a lot harder for the anti-glob mob to attack. By 2010, a smart energetic Chinaman or Indian will be able to write his own ticket anywhere he wants. How attractive will the prospect of moving to the European Union and supporting a population of geriatric ingrate Continentals be? Not just compared with working in America or Australia but with the economic opportunities in his own country?
Read the whole thing. Steyn nails some important topics -- and don't worry, there are some laughs to be had.
April 17, 2005
Paris Airport Collapse - Final Report
I noticed on Friday that the unsustainable Amtrak railroad's flagship Acela service had to be shut down because the Canadian made brakes on these French made trains were fracturing. (Affecting 300 of the 1200 total brake rotors in the Acela fleet.) I see today that Amtrak COO Bill Cosbie, errr, Crosbie, has several estimates for when the trains might resume service ranging from next Wednesday to two months or more.
My immediate reaction on Friday was, "another fine example of French engineering" which reminded me I hadn't heard any more news about the Paris airport terminal collapse since my blogs on the subject last August and May. So I Googled news for "paris airport terminal collapse." Only 4 hits - clearly not a hot news story any more - and one of them is actually relevant.
Paris Airport Roof Structure to be Replaced, from the 'Insurance Journal' website. The story cites a February 2005 report by an expert commission that concluded, "both structural and design faults were the underlying cause of the collapse." I suppose that means structural construction and structural design.
The story also references a February 16 IJ article on the release of the report, which I found in the site's International News Archive. From that story we find this summary:
An investigative commission under the direction of Jean Berthier, engineering Professor at France's Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chausées, concluded that the building's structure had been fragile from the outset. It then progressively degraded under use - principally from the side walkways - to the point where the structure gave way.
OK, so there's no direct mention of square windows in a concrete arch leading to its failure, but this sure seems to be an indictment of the structural design. A design which relied upon steel, and apparently not enough of it, to help concrete do a job that it wasn't suited to. If I ever get my hands on the complete report I might find more details to support my original hypothesis.
Another connection I tried to establish was between this engineering failure and the Socialist system in France that advances individuals into positions of authority for reasons other than merit. That charge is echoed by a commentor to the IJ piece from February.
After giving his own explanation for the failure (Structural Instability of the Euler Buckling or P-Delta Effect) Dr. Michael P. Hogan added, "Someone should check the other buildings this designer has "created" - before the next insurance claim." This was answered by a Dr. Doug Shamanon with, "It is clear that you just have a personal axe to grind, this is unprofessional on your part." This really got Dr. Hogan fuming:
"I do have an axe to grind Dr. Shamanon.
The only thing I would add is if you're going to make one man both the architect AND the engineer on your project you'd better make damn sure he knows what he's doing. If your choice happens to be a government official then by all means, don't just go by his "credentials."
The next book I buy will be Steven Levitt's Freakonomics. In the proud tradition of Thomas Sowell (although apparently without the pious undertones) Levitt applies the hard science of economics to the squishy questions of American life.
Steven Landsburg highlights some of the puzzles that Levitt solves in his review of the book. Like the patterns of test score data that prove certain Chicago public-school teachers guilty of inflating their students standardized test scores. Most importantly, Levitt applies the scientific method to reach objective, indisputable conclusions, based on causation and not merely correlation.
Other of life's little puzzles are addressed by Mr. Levitt, such as "why do so many drug dealers live with their mothers" and which parenting strategies work and which don't?" (The teaser on this last one is "it turns out that reading to your children has no appreciable effect on their academic success.") But the issue that really grabbed my attention is related to a favorite topic on these pages of late - Roe v. Wade.
Why, Levitt wondered, did crime rates fall precipitously in the 1990's, just 18 years after the Roe decision? As Landsburg summarizes, "Did crime fall because hundreds of thousands of prospective criminals had been aborted? Once again, the pattern by itself is not conclusive, but once again Mr. Levitt piles pattern on pattern until the evidence overwhelms you. The bottom line? Legalized abortion was the single biggest factor in bringing the crime wave of the 1980s to a screeching halt."
So-called "pro-life" activists argue that every infant should be born because there is a loving and caring home waiting for him somewhere in the world. But what about the millions who are born into disfunctional families of one sort or another, and have the additional misfortune of being "unwanted?" Each is at much greater risk for anti-social behavior in his later years, including the casual sex that breeds future generations like himself.
Some people may not "like" the conclusions that a method like this comes to but as Landsburg says, "economics is about what is true, not what ought to be true." If you genuinely want to do something about one of reality's problems it is indispensably helpful to know what that reality is.
April 15, 2005
He proposes a personal account to collect one's withholding. That way, you have the money to pay your taxes on April 15, but you have access to those funds and earn interest on them.
With the current focus on "ownership society," ownership of withheld income should be restored back to the rightful owners--the taxpayers. Money withheld from paychecks should be an asset of the taxpayer, rather than the government, until the time that the tax burden becomes due. Ownership means letting workers have their withheld income as an invested asset until they rightfully belong to the government. Abolition of withholding is out of the question from a political standpoint; the mention of it raises opposition from multiple fronts. Can you imagine the fallout if every American had to write a check for the full amount of their tax liability on April 15th?
You write a check to the government for your tax bill (accountability and transparency!) and then write your own refund check to yourself of what remains. And the interest is yours.
Tax Freedom Day
No, it's not today.
Incredibly, I managed to provide an interest free loan to our friends at the federal government to the tune of five large.
Being a small business owner, I get to experience the Internal Revenue Service like few others. I get to pay my taxes quarterly.
Which makes me extra specially grumpy then.
If I'm ever elected to anything, removing withholding will be high on my agenda. Nothing can make a person more expectant of their government than actually writing them a sizable check and wondering where that money is going.
Demanding accountability from your government, Republican or Democrat, will do nothing but strengthen us as a nation.
Sunday will also mark the earliest tax freedom day since Richard Nixon was the President in 1970.
April 14, 2005
Here's one for you. You should keep your email passwords and the like in some sort of escrow (with a friend?). This would allow you to keep privacy but still allow your spouse to access accounts in the event that you, say, had a stroke or something.
What about a web service that does this? You can enter your passwords and a master password that is required to access them. If the passwords are accessed, email is sent to the primary account holder. That would come in handy even for the slightly forgetful.
The Elephant in the Room
Being otherwise occupied (My wife is doing pretty well, thanks!) I did not subject myself to the Senate preening session known in some circles as John Bolton's confirmation hearing.
But I'll bet Larry Kudlow is not far off the mark with his critique of the Democrats. In their rush to slam a Bush appointee, they ignored the fact that, er , maybe the UN needs a tough ambassador?
What is utterly astonishing is the failure of the Democrats to even discuss the scandal-ridden Kofi Annan regime at the UN. Not just oil-for-food, which is bad enough, but also the sexual misconduct charges, the institutional corruption, and of course the ultimate issue which is the disproportionate power held by totalitarian states under current UN rules. The UN should be run by democracies, not terrorist dictatorships. What is more, so far I haven’t heard any Democrats acknowledge that it was John Bolton as a State Department official who succeeded in overturning the anti-Israel zionism is racism resolution that stood for so many years. Bolton did this. An incredible accomplishment. Where are the Democrats on this issue now as they attempt to derail Bolton’s bid?
Another great comment is to remember that our ambassador represents us to the UN, not the other way around.
Just There to Draw the Chalk Outline
You may have heard about this story: Two weeks ago a 5 year-old girl called 911 to report that her parents were "dead" and "there is blood coming out of my dad's mouth."
According to UPI, "a man broke into a New Smyrna Beach, Fla., home and killed a couple he believed had turned him in on drug charges and then killed himself." The story goes on, "The Hernlens had nothing to do with Johnson's arrest, the deputies said." In addition, "The couple had asked for an injunction against Johnson in January, but a judge denied it. The couple said Johnson was stalking them by driving by their house and making threats."
Now, here's the rest of the story. Last night, the father of 29 year-old Aeneas Hernlen, the man of the house that was invaded and in which he and his wife were murdered, was interviewed on the O'Reilly Factor. The elder Hernlen, Tracy, told Bill that his son had sought a restraining order against the suspect three times. He also said that a couple of weeks before their murder, Aeneas had called him and asked him for a gun. Tracy Hernlen happens to be a retired police officer. He told his son, "No. You need to let the police protect you." Stiffling tears, Tracy then said, "They let him down. The system failed them."
Knowing all of this you have to ask yourself, whose hands do you want YOUR safety in? Your own, or the cops? I'm no cop basher but they just can't be counted on unless they happen to be there at the time. As my father-in-law puts it (and his son happens to be a cop), "When it comes to self-defense, the only thing the police are good for is to draw the chalk outline around your dead body."
Remember this every time you get to vote on a gun rights issue.
You didn't expect me to keep quiet about Bextra, did you?
The FDA have pulled this compound because of a one in a million risk of severe toxicity. Dr. Gilbert Ross has an National Review Online piece. recounting those who lose in the regulation:
So Bextra is gone, joining Vioxx on the pharmaceutical museum shelf. Of course, there is a theoretical possibility that one or both of these drugs, and the unique benefits they hold for many, may someday return. Meanwhile, what about the many thousands of patients who got relief of pain and no untoward effects? Too bad — they have been regulated out of the picture. Bextra’s only a “me-too” drug, after all, and one person in a million may get a skin condition, so out it goes. Activists have advocated, regulators have regulated, and patients will now pay the price. The choice to use this drug in appropriate populations — in bygone days, a choice made between doctor and patient — is no longer to be an option. Someday, regulators and consumers will learn that nothing is risk-free.
Of course another loss is $1.3 Billion in revenue for Pfizer, plus countless resources for compliance, and extreme exposure to lawsuits.
Wouldn't this money be better spent, say finding a cure for MS? Or better recovery from stroke?
Another Cost of the Drug War
Is there anything more redundant and coals-to-Newcastleish than blogging Instapundit stories? Well, yes, blogging yesterday's Instapundit stories.
But I can't let this go by. Glenn linked to a The Volokh Conspiracy posting. If losing Bork wasn't bad enough, this country appears to have lost a good second choice.
Supreme Opportunity Cost: Sometimes we overly diminish the role of individuals when assessing historical developments. That Ronald Reagan was in a position to be President when he was probably changed the direction of the Republican party (and the US) for decades. Because of his distinctive personal characteristics, Bill Clinton was able to get elected when other Democrats of similar views are not. As President, he also signed on to a welfare reform bill—and brought along enough Democrats in Congress—that contains far more radical reform than anything President Bush has managed to achieve. In short, individuals matter.
But, hey, we got Souter, right!?
This is an uncounted cost of the drug war. Many have chosen not to seek elected office or decline an appointed permission because of past drug use.
Note that an update to the Insty post from John Podhoretz seems to exonerate Bill Bennet. That's almost a shame, because he is an iconic figure of the drug war in the GOP. I like and respect him, but he and I strain the seams of the big tent on drug policy.
Posted by John Kranz at 1:00 PM
April 13, 2005
AG Spitzer is the Devil Incarnate
Yes, I'm a partisan hack, but anybody who doesn't think the Attorney General of New York is the scariest guy in politics is not paying attention.
Eliot Spitzer has a wall filled with trophy scalps from prominent businesspeople and these are a substantive political advantage (cf. Rudy Giuliani).
The trouble is that a prosecutor should follow due process, yet Mr. Spitzer's modus operandi is to make defamatory comments to the media, and force nervous boards to capitulate before risking (further) bad publicity or ensnarement. Today's victim is Hank Greenberg. As Larry Kudlow has pointed out, this man landed at Omaha Beach, and served with distinction in Korea.
The ideals he risked his life for, however, will not be afforded to him. AG Spitzer smears him, but will not charge him with a crime.
The WSJ Ed Page sez: "So Indict Him Then."
And yet you don't have to belong to the ACLU to wonder about the lack of due process here. Mr. Spitzer uncovers questionable accounting about an insurance transaction and demands that the board fire the CEO. He then uses that firing to justify a public accusation of "fraud" that he hasn't yet proven to anybody, much less to a jury of Mr. Greenberg's peers.
Gubernatorial candidate Spitzer can subpoena email records from any New York business and have his government staff sift through all of them to look for malfeasance -- or simply an embarrassing thing to leak. No firm could withstand that scrutiny from a dedicated enemy.
I like a hockey player that pushes the rules a bit to win, or a tax attorney, or a brain surgeon. But prosecutors must be forced to follow the rules.
April 12, 2005
I recently received an emailed Business Week article, "Giving Hybrids A Real Jolt." (Subscription required - Click "continue reading" to see the full text.)
I have several quibbles with this story but for now I'll focus on one: The viability of electric cars. The article champions a "new" strategy for making cars that "use almost no oil products at all." It impressively boasts about "a converted Toyota Prius that gets 100 to 180 mpg in a typical commute." (Italics mine)
"What's the secret" the author asks? "It's as simple as adding more batteries and a plug to hybrids such as the Prius." Simply replace the Prius' existing 1.3-kilowatt-hour nickel metal hydride battery with an advanced 9-kWh lithium ion battery pack. And the only penalty appears to be... it is 170 pounds heavier.
But let's look at some science:
The "revolutionary" Prius' 9 kwh battery pack can hold a charge equal to 3.6 million Joules, or MJ (megajoules). If that sounds like a lot, consider that a single gallon of gasoline has an energy content of 121 MJ. Therefore, this 9 kwh battery pack has an energy equivalence of 3.6/121 = .03 gallons of gasoline (3.84 ounces), based on these conversion factors.
Now consider the costs. 1 kwh costs 6.66 cents retail. (national average) 1 gallon of gas costs 2.217 dollars retail. (national average, 23% of which is tax) This means that electricity is .0666/(3.6/9) or .1665 dollars per MJ, while gasoline is 2.217/121 or .0180 dollars per MJ. The 825% cost premium for electricity is largely due to the inefficiencies of generating electricity by burning fuels such as... oil. (Just because electricity is clean, reliable and plentiful doesn't mean it is economical.)
There is an area where electric motors have an advantage over internal combustion engines, and that is operating efficiency. The energy conversion efficiency of internal combustion engines is roughly 30%, while that of electric induction motors is 78-95%. Here is where electricity can gain a cost advantage over gasoline. When your real cost of electricity reaches 95/30 or about three times the cost per Joule of gasoline, you are at the break-even point. At today's prices this translates to about 5.4 cents per MJ, or 2.16 cents per kWh.
This is about 1/3 of the current retail cost. If you can produce electricity that cheap then forget about cars, sell it onto the grid and pocket the 4.4 cents per kWh profit!
But this ratio doesn't account for the portion of the gasoline cost that goes to taxes to (supposedly) build and maintain roads (about 23% as mentioned earlier) or the efforts to improve efficiencies of internal combustion engines to around 45%. And it also doesn't account for the high cost of these advanced batteries, and the fact that batteries have a limited useful lifetime after which they must be replaced (and recycled.) These factors tip the balance even more in favor of gasoline power.
Finally, don't forget that even when (or if) the cost equation turns in favor of electricity, I can still carry the equivalent of 533 full battery charges of energy in my 16 gallon fuel tank. Batteries clearly have a long, long way to go to make up for this shortfall.
APRIL 11, 2005
Is there a car that can cut America's oil imports to a trickle, dramatically reduce pollution, and do it all with currently available technology? Greg Hanssen thinks so. His company has already built one such car -- a converted Toyota Prius that gets 100 to 180 mpg in a typical commute. Andrew A. Frank thinks so, too. The University of California at Davis professor has constructed a handful of such vehicles. His latest: a converted 325-horsepower Ford Explorer that goes 50 miles using no gas at all, then gets 30 mpg. "It goes like a rocket," he says.
These vehicles are quickly becoming the darlings of strange bedfellows: both conservative hawks and environmentalists, who see such fuel efficiency as key to ensuring national security and fighting climate change. Reducing dependence on the turbulent Middle East "is a war issue," says former CIA Chief R. James Woolsey, who calls the cars' potential "phenomenal."
What's the secret? It's as simple as adding more batteries and a plug to hybrids such as the Prius. That way, the batteries can be charged up at any electrical outlet -- letting this so-called plug-in hybrid travel 20 to 60 miles under electric power alone. Since most Americans drive fewer than 30 miles a day, such a car could go months without visiting the filling station. "The only time you would have to gas up is when you go out of town," says Felix Kramer, who founded the nonprofit California Cars Initiative to promote plug-ins. Run the internal combustion engine on a blend of gasoline and biofuels like ethanol, and it would use almost no oil products at all. "That changes the world," says Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy.
Car owners might not want to try this at home. Such a conversion will probably void Toyota's warranty. But big companies are building their own vehicles. In a project sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), several utilities, government agencies, and DaimlerChrysler (DCX ), the carmaker is building a fleet of up to 40 PHEV delivery vans.
Four will be coming to U.S. cities for tests starting in June. Research at EPRI predicts that the plug-in vehicles, based on DaimlerChrysler's popular Sprinter van, will get a gas mileage boost of at least 50% over conventional vans.
EPRI Program Manager Robert Graham is convinced that Toyota already has prototype plug-ins running. Toyota says no. "We keep looking at the concept, and at some point it might be feasible, but it isn't there yet," says David Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for environmental engineering. For its part, DaimlerChrysler sees its van project "as a great opportunity to develop the vehicles we foresee in the future," says technology spokesman Nick Cappa. The company's first hybrid offerings will be conventional, but plug-ins might eventually be an option, he says.
Auto makers' reluctance to plunge in quickly frustrates evangelists like Professor Frank. "If it is such a damn good idea, why are the car companies not adopting plug-ins?" he asks. "The simple answer is that they don't want to change what they are making." But it's also not clear how much more people will pay for the cars. Hybrids are estimated to cost $2,000 to $5,000 more than conventional cars to make, and the larger batteries for plug-ins would add several thousands dollars more.
That's why some plug-in advocates are striving to create a market for auto makers. On Mar. 3, the city of Austin, Tex., passed a resolution calling for rebates for plug-in purchases and asking local businesses and governments to buy the vehicles. "We can reduce costs [of driving] to consumers, improve the air quality, and increase revenues to the city," says Roger Duncan, deputy general manager of city-owned Austin Energy.
Ordinary hybrids such as the Prius are already popular. Moving to plug-ins is the next logical step -- and the idea is getting high-level endorsements. Last December, the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy tapped plug-ins as a key part of its energy strategy. The Set America Free coalition, a group of conservatives and enviros, is pushing for $2 billion in incentives, pointing out that "if all cars on the road are hybrids and half are plug-in hybrid vehicles, U.S. oil imports would drop by 8 million barrels per day." Americans will be "gassing up" their cars with electrons, predicts Romm: "I would bet the mortgage on it." But not quite the whole house.
Pope John Paul
De Mortuis nil nisi bonum or "do not speak ill of the dead" should probably apply double to a Pope, and to a Pope who helped free much of the world from Communism.
It's impossible to know for sure why so many Islamist leaders and Arab heads of state were so generous in their praise of John Paul this week. But here's one theory: They liked him because he didn't hold them to the same standards to which he held Poland's Wojciech Jaruzelski and the USSR's Mikhail Gorbachev. They liked him because whereas he successfully fought for religious freedom, equality, and social justice in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East he did not.
As a political figure, I think it is right to question JPII's stance on the mideast. As Braude ends, it is worth considering the point for a successor:
But in the long run, the Pope's soft stance toward dictators and Islamists hasn't served anyone well--not Christians, not Jews, not Muslims. In Latin America, the Pope spoke clearly for social justice; in Eastern Europe, he spoke clearly for religious freedom; but in the Middle East he allowed himself to be lectured by Bashar Assad about how the Jews killed Christ, and bad-mouthed by some of the very Islamists whom he had welcomed into the Vatican. His successor must be shrewd and demanding in the Middle East--and willing to be loved a little bit less by the region's self-appointed leaders.
April 9, 2005
Okay, I am going to take the word of my respected pals at the WSJ Ed page, and drop my pursuit of the Sandy Berger Conspiracy Theory
The confusion seems to stem from the mistaken idea that there were handwritten notes by various Clinton Administration officials in the margins of these documents, which Mr. Berger may have been able to destroy. But that's simply an "urban myth," prosecutor Hillman tells us, based on a leak last July that was "so inaccurate as to be laughable." In fact, the five iterations of the anti-terror "after-action" report at issue in the case were printed out from a hard drive at the Archives and have no notations at all.
Fair enough, I quit. However this thing about Janet Reno's involvement with the Michael Jackson trial is really starting to get interesting...
Posted by John Kranz at 11:52 AM
April 8, 2005
A small rant. By the way, Riza has had a great week -- thanks to all for the kind words. Those interested can follow her (considerable) progress on her blog, tat ergo sum.
In the six block drive from the hospital to the office, I have XM-radio "Real Jazz 70" on. They do an hour of music from jazz women between 9 and 10. They call it "Chick jazz." In a promo today, some artist says "Women in Jazz have never gotten their due -- and that's a fact!"
I know it's black-helicopterish to blow up at a stupid radio station promo, but it reflects something larger.
I've said before that Jazz is one of the last true meritocracies. The cats who make it can play, and I think most cats who can play make it. Women have been represented pretty fairly. Billie Holliday and Ella and Sarah Vaughn are legends. Dianna Krall has had a great career including crossover into popular music.
You earn your stripes in Jazz, the sisters have not been shut out.
April 6, 2005
Not as Nice
Crime and punishment is a funny thing. (Dostoevsky certainly thought so) There is no objective scale for what is fair and what is not.
Andrew Sullivan thought that Charles Graner was let off easy for his role in Abu Ghraib. I pointed out that his ten year sentence was probably more than somebody would get for shooting me in my house tonight.
I think most Americans have come to believe that Martha Stewart's sentence was too harsh. I don't have any polls to back that up, but I think the sentiment has drifted her way.
Today, the WSJ Ed Page agrees with the leniency shown to former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger;
More than a few conservatives have been crying foul, or whitewash, in part because Mr. Berger's plea means he'll likely avoid jail and lose his security clearance for only three years. So we called Justice Department Public Integrity chief prosecutor Noel Hillman, who assured us that Mr. Berger did not deny any documents to history. "There is no evidence that he intended to destroy originals," said Mr. Hillman. "There is no evidence that he did destroy originals. We have objectively and affirmatively confirmed that the contents of all the five documents at issue exist today and were made available to the 9/11 Commission."
Foul! A former National Security Adviser knows better, and while I'm glad the commission is convinced that history wasn't compromised, it seems that, like the U.N., we don't know what was on documents that were destroyed.
I don't need to see Mr. Berger in the hoosegow, but I'm not the first to make the comparison to Martha Stewart. I think he should receive a serious censure and a LIFETIME disbarment from obtaining a security clearance.
April 5, 2005
Another El Jefe Crime!
Manolo's Shoe Blog lets Fidel Castro have it:
As the end it approaches for this evil man, he must worry that there is the special place reserved for those who would deny the super fantastic shoes to others.
Beautiful! Hat-tip: Galley Slaves
Supply Side Tax Cuts
First, I will cite the work of Harvard economists Martin Feldstein and Greg Mankiw, along with numerous articles published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Then there's the work of Columbia economist Glenn Hubbard and Princeton economist Harvey Rosen. All show a high correlation between lower tax-rates and higher economic growth.
At the NYTimes, Reubenomics is taken as fact because it worked once, yet supply-side cuts that always work need to be looked at under a partisan economic microscope.
April 4, 2005
John Fund crunches the numbers of the 2004 election and finds some portentous signs for Democrats.
President Bush won in a lot of Congressional Districts which re-elected a Democratic incumbent. That augers poorly for Democratic hopes of keeping the seat when the incumbent retires. (Due to gerrymandering, of course, that's the only way a seat ever changes hands...)
W also made impressive gains among Hispanics. Fund concedes that this may not transfer to another Republican politician, but it also puts the whole demographic in play, contrasting to the monolithic African-American vote.
It looks bad for the House, and re-apportionment in 2010 will help the GOP as "cities of aspiration" bleed population from democratic urban areas. Fund is also right that Dean-Moore-ism isn't the answer:
It's no accident that Mrs. Clinton, who will be running for re-election in New York next year before she launches her presidential campaign, is talking about the importance of religious faith and reaching out to moderate voters. "She pores over political data as carefully as Bill Clinton ever did," says New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. A close look at the Congressional district results from last year is convincing many Democrats that a move to the middle may be more than a smart media strategy. It may be a matter of political survival.
I really enjoy Thomas Sowell's columns. Here's a collection of quotes from his most recent book, Applied Economics
Ahh.. the government monopoly
"Some uninsured people have low incomes but others with incomes sufficient to purchase health insurance simply choose to use their money for other things, especially they are young and feel less at risk of medical problems. Forty percent of uninsured Americans are under the age of 25 and more than 60 percent are under the age of 35. Fewer than 10% of people over 55 are uninsured, despite the widespread political use of an image of old people who may have to choose between food and medical care. That may be the image of the uninsured, but it is hardly the reality." -- P.79
Go figure. It's been so demogogued to the death, who knew?
"If we were in fact approaching those ultimate limits, whether in food supply, natural resources, or other necessities of life, their rising prices would not only inform us, but force us to change course, without public exhortations or politically-imposed limitations." -- P. 216
Sage advice for the chicken littles.
Can't wait to get the book.
April 3, 2005
Free Market at Work
Okay, hear me out on this. Among the many benefits of a free market, perhaps the best is that it directs capital to the best use. This is why I won't discuss the 90's Internet "bubble" without the scare quotes. Capital was made available to build and populate the Internet, some folks got rich, some folks did not, President Clinton kept his approval ratings up with minimal achievements -- what’s the problem?
Anyway, wiping out SPAM I saw this jewel:
PAN AFRICAN LOTTERY INTERNATIONAL
I purport that anybody who loses money to as scam this bad is really not fit to hold capital. The crooks are far more likely to put it to better use. And better use of capital tends to improve people's lives.
SPAM cons: Darwinian economics, directing the world's capital to better uses!
The Country Springs Forward
-- and jk falls back. I showed up to the hospital at 7:50 this morning, and rang to be let in, as I must always do on the ICU wing. "Well, okay," they said, "but make it short, we have a shift change coming up."
These people think I don't know how it works. Shift change is at nine. What's the matter with these people?
Welcome to Daylight Savings time, Americans (the UK changed last week). Arizona readers: as you were...
Silence, this is all the fault of your hero, Ben Franklin as I understand (and everybody's Hero, President Richard "We're all Keynesians Now" Milhous Nixon for extending it). Is it still a good idea in 2005?
If Nominated I Will Not Run
If elected I will not serve.
VATICAN CITY - Roman Catholics and others began to speak out Sunday about their hopes — and expectations — for a new pope, as the intense guessing game began over who would succeed John Paul II in leading the Church.
I celebrate the pope's life, specifically for his contributions to freedom. His support of the Solidarity movement in his native Poland did much to bring down the Soviet Union. Sharansky and Sakharov write that tyrannies are more fragile than they look and find it difficult to weather a strong voice for freedom.
I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I was extremely disappointed when John Paul II could not see the same need in Iraq. It frustrated me to no end that the man who stood up to the USSR could not stand up to a tinpot depot like Saddam Hussein.
Hugh Hewitt credits the triumvirate of Reagan, Solzhenitsyn, and Pope John Paul II with the victory in the Cold War. I'll take nothing from those guys, but how can he not put PM Thatcher in their camp? No Maggie, no victory. When the men wavered or "went wobbly" the Iron Lady held strong.
April 1, 2005
After years of tiresome conservatism, always siding with big business against the little guy, I've decided that I'm going to see the error of my ways, and become a liberal.
I'm burning my NRA card, and replacing it with an ACLU card.
Environmental issues always will trump economic interests and I'm ready to raise taxes on the rich. Social Security needs no repair, and Medicare as well.
I retain my membership in the Roman Catholic Church, however it's tempered with my own blend of abortion on demand and interest in hemlock.
I'm tired of tirelessly defending the Bush Doctrine and all of it's attendant and necessary lies.
I think that our military should only be used at the behest of the UN, and only with their blessing. A corollary to that is that I believe Neville Chamberlain was misunderstood and peace should have been given another chance to work.
And don't you dare call me unpatriotic!
I'm out and I'm a proud liberal!
Of course, before the process is totally complete, I'm going to need a government run health care system to cover my lobotomy, as my government paid prescription of stupid pills are only a temporary fix.