Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 30, 2005

Sorry for the Interruption

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:46 am

I know, I haven’t posted all week — I’m still here, I’m just having a very busy week.

September 25, 2005

Susan Estrich on Cindy Sheehan

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:42 am

Susan Estrich is no one’s idea of a conservative: she worked on Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign, an was the national campaign manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988. She’s a former ACLU national board member and a current member of the board of the California Abortion Rights Action League.

But she sees right through Cindy Sheehan (boldface in the original):

Did an ABC staffer insert the following lines in an e-mail sent by celebrity anti-war mother Cindy Sheehan?

“Am I emotional? Yes, my firstborn was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.” That is what Sheehan is claiming.

If you don’t believe that explanation – if you don’t believe an ABC staffer set about to put anti-Semitic words into Sheehan’s mouth – then your hero, my liberal friends, is a raging, ignorant anti-Semite. Sorry, but what are you doing hanging with that crowd?

It is ludicrous to suggest Casey died for Israel, but it is worse to lionize Cindy Sheehan without confronting the anti-Semitism that seems to be accepted not even beneath the surface. If her allies really believe ABC was out to frame her, where is the investigation? Where is the staffer who could include such language? And what of the equation of Israel with Syria and Iran, a statement too foolish to debate? Why isn’t anyone concerned about that?

Or, rather, why is it only the right?

Symbols matter. For better or for worse, they help to define movements. If the “anti-war movement” in America is defined, even remotely, as an anti-Israel movement, it will fail. That is certain to me.

I hope she’s right about that last prediction — because the alternative is that the antisemitic antiwar movement succeeds, and they decide to kill all the Jews. It wouldn’t be the first time. Jews have been murdered for allegedly causing WWI, WWII, the Napoleonic Wars, and even the wars of the Crusades — during which both the Muslims and Christians killed Jews for allegedly siding with the other.


(Hat tip: Soccer Dad.)

September 23, 2005

Tom DeLay and Budget Fat

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:13 pm

Last week, (former?) fiscal conservative Tom DeLay (R-TX) apparently said there is no fat to cut in the federal government’s budget:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an “ongoing victory,” and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Now hearing someone like Tom DeLay say something like that is kind of like hearing Ted Kennedy say he’s had enough alcohol to drink, or like hearing Bill Clinton saying he’s had enough … never mind. Anyway, that is so out of character I normally would have thought he was joking, as in, “Nope, there’s no fat left to cut in the federal budget — and the Air Force has all their pigs fed and ready to fly!”

But apparently — and frighteningly — DeLay seems to be serious:

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans’ choice to borrow money and add to this year’s expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn’t seem possible.

“My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I’ll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet,” the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Well, if Tom DeLay needs help finding the fat to cut in government, I’m here to help. For starters, if he wants to cut fat, we could start with milk fat. Here’s a program I think we could cut:

§ 7981. Milk price support program

(a) Support activities
During the period beginning on June 1, 2002, and ending on December 31, 2007, the Secretary of Agriculture shall support the price of milk produced in the 48 contiguous States through the purchase of cheese, butter, and nonfat dry milk produced from the milk.
(b) Rate
During the period specified in subsection (a) of this section, the price of milk shall be supported at a rate equal to $9.90 per hundredweight for milk containing 3.67 percent butterfat.

So, here we have a government program whose sole purpose is to spend money in order to increase prices. The Secretary of Agriculture is directed to buy enough milk, butter, and cheese that the market price increases to a specified level — per unit of fat. (Talk about “fat in the budget”!).

And what happens when the price gets that high? Ordinary people pay more at the grocery store for milk and milk products than they would if there were a free market with supply and demand determining the price.

Of course, since the price is higher than it would be, more people are too poor to afford milk. But don’t worry, they have another couple of programs for that, too — Food Stamps and WIC.

These are basically programs in which the government pays artifically inflated prices for food for poor people who can’t afford it because other government programs made the prices artificially high.

In other words, the government is taxing you and using the money to buy milk and pour it down the drain, for the express purpose of making it more expensive for you to buy with whatever money you have left after paying taxes. And for those people who really don’t have enough money left, they tax you more so those people can pay those increased prices.

And of course, there’s nothing unique about milk and milk products — I just picked that because it is literally, rather than merely figuratively, “fat in the budget.” There is also plenty more programs very much like this — they are called “price support” programs, and they exist for corn, grain sorghum, soybeans, barley, oats, wheat, mustard, safflower, sunflower, canola, flaxseed, rapeseed, rice, and cotton, and maybe some others I missed.

It is a huge program to use taxpayer dollars to increase prices, for the benefit of a small group (farmers). It is wasteful on its face, since they destroy most of the food they buy, and it is a direct transfer of wealth from everyone who’s not a farmer (or poor enough for food stamps) to everyone who is a farmer. (The poor don’t necessarily benefit, since without the higher prices they might not need food stamps and the like.) And farmers are not necessarily poor; some of them are rich and some are corporations. And this does not necessarily aid the farm workers;the aid goes to the owner of the land, whether that person or company is actually a farmer, or just an investor.

I have never once heard a single rational justification for this program. Can you imagine if this sort of program were in existence for, say, cars? Imagine: “The Secretary of Transportation shall support the price of automobiles produced in the 48 contiguous States through the purchase of cars, trucks, cans, and SUVs … at a the price of automobiles shall be supported at a rate equal to $20,000 per ton of gross vehicle weight.” And imagine then that the government buys millions of cars a year, crushes them and puts them in a huge dump, and then gives “car stamps” to poor people, since someone earning the minimum wage can’t afford to pay $75,000 for a car. The rest of you have to pay that artificially increased price — and by the way, through your taxes you also have to pay for all the cars the government buys and crushes, and those are paid for at the artificially increased price also.

If Tom DeLay needs to be told this, he’s completely lost his marbles. Of course, the article has further evidence of that as well:

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.”

The government is running at peak efficiency? Quick, tell the FAA they need air traffic control at all the pig farms!

UPDATE: Mona Charen has more comments.

Exposing Hypocrisy

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:39 pm

Attorney and former appelate law clerk Stuart Buck said this more concisely than I could have:

While the standard Democratic line is that Roberts didn’t “answer enough questions,” or that he didn’t answer them fully enough, or that he didn’t take a firm position on specific cases (read: abortion), etc., etc., this is all just a smokescreen. If Roberts had given a perfectly clear answer to the effect that he would vote to overrule Roe at the first opportunity, the Democrats would certainly not respond by saying, “Now that we have a clear answer, we’ll be happy to vote for you.” To the contrary, all of the talk about “not enough answers” really means “not enough answers that explicitly affirm the Democratic Party position.”

You mean it wasn’t Bush’s fault?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:50 pm

Well, we finally found a member (well, until he resigned yesterday) of the mainstream media who does not thing that Hurricane Katrina is George Bush’s fault. He does, however, have an alternative that is nearly as crazy:

POCATELLO – To the rest of the country, Scott Stevens is the Idaho weatherman who blames the Japanese Mafia for Hurricane Katrina. To folks in Pocatello, he’s the face of the weather at KPVI News Channel 6.

The Pocatello native made his final Channel 6 forecast Thursday night, leaving a job he’s held for nine years in order to pursue his weather theories on a full-time basis.

Since Katrina, Stevens has been in newspapers across the country where he was quoted in an Associated Press story as saying the Yakuza Mafia used a Russian-made electromagnetic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina in a bid to avenge the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima.

There is the loony left, and then there is the loony loony.

Thanks to Clayton Cramer for the pointer.

The Economics of Hurricane Relief

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:31 pm

As usual, Steven Landsburg puts things in the right perspective (Thanks to Arnold Kling for the pointer):

Before we spend $200 billion on New Orleans disaster relief, can we just pause for about three seconds, please? That should be long enough to divide one number by another. The numbers I have in mind are, on the one hand, $200 billion, and, on the other hand, 1 million people—the prestorm population of the New Orleans area, broadly defined.

Two-hundred billion divided by 1 million is 200,000. For the cost of reconstructing New Orleans, the government could simply give $200,000 to every resident of the region—that’s $800,000 for a family of four. Given a choice, which do you think the people down there would prefer?

Based on Stephen Moore’s assumption that the money would be divided between 500,000 families rather than 1,000,000 individuals, Clayton Cramer did a slightly different calculation:

[A] lot of that money is going to be spent on levee repair, bridges, public buildings, so the $400,000 per family is a little misleading. Nonetheless, think of the kind of money we are talking about with this relief program. That’s enough money that the interest payments would come to $1666 a month per family forever–without ever touching the principal.

(Emphasis added.)

That is assuming a 5% interest rate, also. I wonder if that is more or less than the average welfare payment in Lousiana, including the value of food stamps, rent vouchers, and the like. (I could look it up, but I’m too busy with work right now.)

But what would people actually do with all that money? Landsburg:

I’m guessing most of them would take the cash. I can’t prove that, but I think I can make it plausible: If your city were demolished, would you prefer to have it rebuilt—with someone else making all the decisions about how it gets rebuilt—or would you prefer to collect $800,000 in cash and move your family elsewhere?

Or, I might add, use all that money to rebuild in the same place — if you want to. As Landsburg adds:

Even after paying out all that cash, there would still be some tidying up to do, like rebuilding the interstates—but that accounts for a small fraction of the projected $200 billion. A lot of the other funds are earmarked for rebuilding infrastructure that’s local to New Orleans. But if you hand out big buckets of cash, most of that rebuilding is no longer necessary—some families will leave the area, and the ones that remain can, if they wish, tax themselves to re-create urban amenities—just as people do anywhere else.

It’s expensive to rebuild the levees. If enough newly enriched people choose to remain, there’s enough of a tax base to do the job—and if too few remain, then rebuilding the levees would be a bad investment anyway.

In other words, give the people the money, and let them decide whether, and how much, to rebuild. I’m sure people in New Orleans know better than (say) the Congressman from Oregon what should be rebuilt and how in New Orleans. Coyote Blog has an alternative idea, similar to Landsburg’s:

Cafe Hayek points out that Rep. Earl Blumenauer wants to make sure that New Orleans is rebuilt with a strong urban planning vision. Since Mr. Blumenauer represents Portland, Oregon, the city beloved of planners that has been planned into having some of the highest priced housing and worst traffic of any city of its size in America, I presume he wants something similar for New Orleans (Portland was also the city that thought it had solved global warming).

Here is my urban plan for New Orleans: Every person who owns property can build whatever the hell they want on it. If other people want something else built on that property, and value this outcome enough, they can buy the property from its owner. This novel concept is called “private property rights” and falls under the broader category of what are called “constitutionally protected individual rights” or even more broadly, “freedom”. It is a concept that used to be taken for granted in this country and but now is seldom even taught in schools.

For the property owned by the government, well, they are going to build whatever dumb***t thing they want to on it anyway, so I’ll just root for their choice to be fairly inexpensive. We here in Phoenix built a half-billion dollar stadium for the for-god-sakes Arizona Cardinals that is used for its core purpose 3 hours a day for 8 days a year. It couldn’t be worse, could it?

September 22, 2005

It’s Official! He’s a Genius!

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:45 pm

One of my professors from graduate school, University of Chicago , is now officially a genius. That is, he’s been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for 2005 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Since this comes with a rather large amount of money, no duties, and no strings attached — and since you can’t apply for it; they have to come to you — it’s unofficially known as a “Genius Grant.” So Professor Murphy is now unofficially, officially, a genius.

Of course, any of us who were in his class or who saw him in seminars knew he’s actually a genius anyway. He went to college at UCLA, got his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago economics department, and then got hired by the University of Chicago business school, which was probably just a way of keeping him at Chicago without violating the tradition of departmens not hiring their own Ph.D. students right away. The joke at Chicago is that his one-line biography should read, “Kevin M. Murphy graduated from UCLA and was admitted to the Ph.D. program at Chicago as a full professor with tenure.”

Ironically, when Kevin M. Murphy was an undergradate at UCLA, there was another economics major there named Kevin J. Murphy — and Kevin J. Murphy went to Chicago for graduate school also! Kevin J. Murphy preceded Kevin M. Murphy by two years at each place, and is now the E. Morgan Stanley Professor of Business Administration at USC. The joke among students at Chicago was that when Kevin M. Murphy showed up and showed his genius, a professor used to razz Kevin J. Murphy by saying, “Not only are you not the smartest person in the Ph.D. program here, you’re not even the smartest Kevin Murphy in the Ph.D. program here!” I have no idea if the story is true or not, but that’s an insult in the same sense that it’s an insult to tell a basketball player he’s not as good as Michael Jordan. After all, both Kevin Murphys have endowed chairs now.

The Plane That Didn’t Crash — But confirms our stereotypes

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:42 pm

A JetBlue plane with a malfunctioning landing gear (the wheels were turned sideways) landed safely at LAX today. No one was hurt. From the AP story:

The landing gear trouble _ the front wheels were stuck in a sideways position _ was discovered almost immediately after the plane departed Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3:17 p.m., en route to New York City.

The Airbus A320 circled the Long Beach Airport, about 30 miles south of Burbank, before being cleared to land at Los Angeles. It stayed in flight for three hours to burn off fuel, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Donn Walker.

The pilot finally brought the plane down, back wheels first. As he slowly lowered the nose gear, the stuck wheels erupted in smoke and flames, which quickly burned out.

Emergency crews from across the area met the plane on the runway. Spectators gathered on buildings and stood on parked cars to see firsthand as passengers walked down a stairway onto the tarmac with their carry-on luggage.

Some passengers shook hands with emergency workers and waved to cameras. One firefighter carrying a boy across the tarmac put his helmet on the child’s head.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who spoke with the pilot, identified him as Scott Burke and praised him for the calm he showed during the flight.

“He joked that he was sorry he put the plane down 6 inches off the center line,” Villaraigosa said.

This confirms two stereotypes: (1) that airline pilots are incredibly skilled, creative, and calm under pressure when something goes wrong, even though most of the time nothing goes wrong and their jobs are probably not that exciting, and (2) politicians, especially local ones, will do anything to get themselves in the public eye. Note that the mayor had absolutely nothing to do with the successful resolution of the problem, which was purely in the hands of the pilot, air traffic control, and airport personnel on the ground. But the mayor was there to bask in their reflected glory, perhaps implicitly taking some of the credit. I wonder if he would have chased the cameras if the plane had crashed and people been killed, or if he would have tried to avoid any association with the event.

By the way, a video of the landing is available here and another one is here.

Another weird thing is that since JetBlue has actual TV receivers on their plans (one in front of every seat), passengers could spend the three hours when the plane was burning fuel watching the drama unfold on live television.

September 21, 2005

Think Like a Lobbyist

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:51 pm

Those few times I’ve made the mistake of trying to show liberals that
the news media has a liberal bias relative to the population (i.e., the media is overwhelmingly liberal but the population is about evenly split), economically-aware liberals have always asked me why, if the media is so much more liberal than the public, why doesn’t the market correct this; in other words, why don’t readers and viewers stop buying the newspapers and watching the TV news?

Well, this actually has been happening. TV network news viewership is dropping (except for Fox News, which is supposed to be less liberal — I don’t know personally, since I don’t watch it). And newspaper readership is dropping, too. In fact, newspaper readership has dropped so much that the New York Times Company and Knight-Ridder are cutting jobs.

My question is, how would the those companies’ newspapers report the story if it were someone besides them doing the layoffs? How would they editoralize if, for example, it was farmer or steel workers being laid off? Part of the decline in sales is, rightly or wrongly, blamed on the Internet, and its free sources of information, including blogs. At the risk of giving these guys some bad ideas, Capital Freedom has some thoughts on how a lobbyist for the industry might deal with this problem:

I decided to think like a lobbyist for the newspapers, ignoring any moral objections to manipulating law in my favor at the expense of others, and asking myself: what would a lobbyist write … ?

——————————
SAVE THE NEWSPAPERS!!!
We must save these jobs! Newspapers are an integral part of history and we cannot let them disappear due to the rise of weblogs and other online news sources! Think of the days as a child, watching your father sit at the table with his newspaper and coffee. Remember clipping articles about your favorite athletes. Consumers are falsely led to believe that the Internet is a good substitute for newspapers. We must do something to save the newspaper industry!

If I were a lobbyist, I’d start proposing a “FAIRNESS IN JOURNALISM” law. Here are two options.

Option 1
Stated reasoning:
How do we know that the information presented in blogs is accurate and well researched? In the interest of protecting the public from misinformation, we should require the leader of each organization that produces articles which may be seen as news to take classes or obtain licenses to ensure that they understand and communicate the news. All they have to do is have one representative from their organization take a course and they can write all they want! It is such a simple step and will ensure that Americans are getting reliable information.

Hidden reasoning:
This law eliminates our competition by reducing the supply of competitors. Although it applies “equally” to everyone, it does not impact everyone equally. This is its intent. From the perspective of the NYT, this representative would be one of many – a small percentage of the workforce. (If 4% = 500 workers, their total workforce is approximately 12,500; therefore one person out of 12,500 accounts for only .008 percent of the NYT workforce). However, let’s suppose that one person from Capital Freedom were required to take the same class. One person accounts for 100% of the “Capital Freedom workforce,” and that workforce has much better things to do with her time. We can easily put Capital Freedom and other blogs out of business!
——————

Option 2
Stated reasoning:
News organizations need to start “giving back to the community.” As the NYT representative, I will be the first to support a law requiring all providers of information on current events to pay a flat $100 fee that will go to help the underprivileged in their community. Any news organization that refuses to pay the $100 is obviously doesn’t care about helping the community and should no longer be allowed to serve as a source of news.

Hidden reasoning:
Let’s suppose we charge $100 flat fee to post any news. For the NYT, this is pocket change – especially compared to the profits that they can make as a result of the law. For a blogger like myself, $100 has to be greater than the psychological benefit I get from maintaining a weblog in order for me to continue it. We would therefore observe a law which disproportionately affects those news organizations designed to generate little or no revenue. A licensing fee has the same effect.

Note that both of these “ideas” — and many more like them — have actually been applied in real life to real industries. Licensed professions have numerous fees and regulations which serve little purpose other than to restrict entry into the profession and thus protect those currently in the profession from competition. For example, in most U.S. cities, taxi drivers must have a “medallion” — a small piece of metal affixed to the car that costs thousands of dollars and serves no purpose other than to limit the number of taxis competing for riders, because there is a set number of medallions in circulation. (Most cities also regulate taxi prices, too.)

Another example: Farmers for certain crops (e.g., peaches, oranges, cranberries, and many others) are organized by the government into government-mandated cartels. It is basically illegal for anyone to start a farm and grow one of those crops without permission of the other farmers (i.e., of the cartel). If you start growing oranges in your backyard and sell them from a fruit stand in your front yard, you can literally be arrested. If you already have a farm and frow more oranges than the quota the cartel assigns you, the additional output can be siezed by the government and destroyed; you can then lose your permission to grow any oranges in future years. This serves no purpose whatsoever except to maintain higher prices for oranges (and products made from them, such as orange juice).

Another example: Lots of people think the bar exam is designed to protect the public from incompetent lawyers, but nearly everyone I know who’s taken the bar exam and worked as a lawyer for a couple of years claims that the material tested has almost nothing to do with what you need to know to be a competent lawyer. Most of what you need to know is not tested, and most of what is tested (they tell me) you do not need to know. The purpose of the exam is to protect lawyers from having too much competition. If you don’t believe this, then explain to me why the passing score on the bar exam in most states is set so that the pass rate matches the number of retiring lawyers plus the change in population. And if you still don’t believe me, explain why lawyers have to pay a couple of hundred dollars a year to maintain their licenses? How does a $200 annual fee to remain a lawyer protect the public from incompetent lawyers? (If it’s a test to see if a lawyer is competent enough to earn at least $200 a year, I’d suggest that a lawyer earning less than that is not doing enough lawyering to endanger the public anyway, so there is no need to “protect” the public from him/her. If the reason the lawyer can’t earn that much is incompetence, then I’d say that public is doing a pretty good job of protecting itself already!)

Global Warming — on Mars!

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:08 pm

Clayton Cramer writes:

I’ve previously mentioned the evidence of global warming happening on Mars, but here’s yet more evidence of it from JPL (a place that I used to work):

And for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars’ south pole have shrunk from the previous year’s size, suggesting a climate change in progress.

Instapundit comments:

If only we had ratified Kyoto.

Shouldn’t that be, “If only the Martians had ratified Kyoto”? Or better yet, “This proves that George W. Bush is a Martian!!!!!” ;-)

Clayton Cramer has more discussion and links on the science of all this here.

September 20, 2005

Elasticity of Demand for Gasoline

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:27 pm

(Note to non-economists: The “price elasticity of demand” is a measure of how much more or less of something people buy in response to a change in price.)

Most people believe that the demand for gasoline is not very elastic — that is, if the price of gasoline increases, people will still buy the same amount. Most economists agree, only the would say, “Demand for gasoline is inelastic.” As my students said when I was teaching introductory economics, “You still have to go to work.” (My response: “Yes, but you don’t have go everywhere you drive, you can combine, trips, you can carpool — and even if you personally can’t, someone can, and that’s enough to reduce the population’s demand for gasoline.”)

It turns out that the demand for gasoline does actually have some elasticity in it. James Hamilton of EconBrowser shows that the recent run-up in gas prices actually has reduced the quantity of gasoline consumed — both from level before the increase, and the level at the same time last year (so what we are seeing is not merely a seasonal effect.) He even has a great chart showing the prices this summer and last summer. (Hat tip: Knowledge Problem.)

So, people are actually driving less. If the higher prices persist, we should see the demand drop even further. The reason for this (which in econospeak is, “Demand is more elastic in the long run than in the short run”) is that in the short term, the only way to change your gas consumption is to drive less, which usually means going fewer places. In the long run, you can buy a more fuel-efficient car, move closer to work, or make other adjustments that reduce the amount of gas you consume.

Meanwhile, over at Tech Central Station, James Glassman makes nearly — but not quite — every error imaginable in discussing the relationship between fuel efficiency and fuel consumption. His article is entitled, “10 MPG: The Road to Energy Independence” and his basic point is that increased fuel efficiency leads to increased fuel consumption if people drive more. Now that may well be true, but Glassman hasn’t proven it.

It is true that if demand for “miles driven” is sufficiently elastic, a decrease in the cost of driving in dollars per mile — which could be accomplished through in increase in fuel efficiency — could increase the total amount of fuel consumed. But all Glassman has done is shown that over the 30 year from 1973-2003, fuel efficiency has increased and the total amount of fuel consumed in the entire United States has increased, as has the total number of miles driven in the entire United States.
This ignores several key variables. For example:

  • The population of the United States has substantially increased during that time period. Surely if we have (say) 40% more people, and we drive 40% more miles, shouldn’t that be attributed to something other than the effects of increased fuel efficiency.?
  • The price of gasoline has been changing over that period. In fact, the inflation-adjusted price of gas was lower in the mid-1990s than in 1973. When the price of gas drops, people drive more. (This is precisely the reverse of what James Hamilton showed above — driving lesswhen the price is high is equivalent to driving more when the price is low.)
  • The reason for this is that people don’t really care about the price of gas for its own sake, or for fuel economy for its own sake. The key factor is, how much, in dollars, does it cost to get where you want to go? This cost drops if the price of gas drops, your car’s fuel economy increases, or you start out closer to your destination (e.g., move closer to work).

Any analysis of the long-run effects of fuel economy has to take all these factors into account. To determine the true effect of fuel economy on driving, we should convert the fuel economy from miles per gallon into dollars per mile driven, per person, and see how that changes with respect to fuel economy.

Glassman doesn’t do that; he just takes the total number of miles driven and sees that it increases, and concludes that improving fuel economy increases oil imports. We shouldn’t be surprised then, but the fact that even the title of his article is wrong: back when the average really was 10 MPG, we didn’t have energy independence. Why does he think that’s different now?

Can Someone Steal a House?

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:02 pm

Seems like it. I guess this is why you need title insurance:

Mr. Cook, an insurance adjuster, had been on a business trip in mid-June and his wife caring for her ailing mother in Oklahoma when their home’s warranty deed was unknowingly transferred to another individual. The locks on the two-story house had been changed.

As a result:

He and his wife, Paula, spent their first night back in a walk-in closet, a steel pipe by their side, prepared for uninvited guests.

Then comes the disbelief.

They met a man who said he owned their house the next day.

“I said: ‘Like hell you do. She does.’ And I pointed to my wife,” Mr. Cook, 48, said Saturday while standing in the house, which is currently vacant.

“It’s very outrageous. Basically, you’ve had your house stolen.”

(Hat tip: Plastic.)

Simon Wiesenthal, ZT”L

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:41 pm

Simon Wiesenthal passed away in Vienna at the age of 96.

From the CNN obituary:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005; Posted: 12:04 p.m. EDT (16:04 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down Nazi war criminals following World War II and spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice, has died aged 96.

In his book “Justice, Not Vengeance,” Wiesenthal wrote: “Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived.

“The answer I have found for myself (and which need not necessarily be the answer for every survivor) is: I want to be their mouthpiece, I want to keep their memory alive, to make sure the dead live on in that memory.”

Wiesenthal is credited with helping to bring more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.

“Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of history’s greatest crime to justice.

“There was no press conference and no president or prime minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.["]

Thanks to Orin Kerr for the pointer.

Liberals Opposed to Hurricane Donations

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:02 pm

While most Americans are opening their wallets to donate for hurricane relief, some liberal bloggers think it’s wrong to donate, and they are offended to be asked! Two cases in point:

First, there is “Blunderford” at BlogCritics, who first reveals that (s)he is lazy, then shows (s)he is selfish, too:

I Won’t Contribute to Katrina

I just stopped at the grocery store to pick up a candy bar. They only had one line open, plus the do-it-yourself area where you have to play amateur cashier. I hate that do-it-yourself area, but the other line was too long so I used it.

After I managed to get the candy bar’s bar code to fit perfectly over the little laser and figured out how the machine worked so I could waste twice the time it would normally take me to buy a candy bar, an employee approached me and said, “Would you like to give a dollar for Hurricane Katrina?”

I said, “No.”

First off, I’m offended that the store employees are wandering around fundraising instead of helping customers, especially when it’s so obvious that the store conglomerate uses these do-it-yourself machines to cut down on the number of employees necessary to help customers so that the store conglomerate can turn a larger profit while having fewer of those pesky union workers to deal with.

But beyond that, I’m sick of footing the bill for George W. Bush and the rest of his so-called compassionate conservatives. It’s been well-documented over the past two days that there were all kinds of warnings about what could happen to New Orleans and that the levees designed to keep out the water were sinking or uncompleted.

Let Bush open his wallet. I’m sure he’s still got a few nickels rolling around his pockets from flipping the Texas Rangers like a Miami condo.

You 60 million losers who voted for this loser open YOUR wallets. This president declared war on the poor long ago, and while some of us cared enough to vote for someone who gave a damn, you buried your heads in the sand, babbled about abortion and family values, and voted for the doofus.

And now you want to act all high and mighty and come asking me for a buck or two to help these poor people? Sorry, Charlie. Take an extra buck or two out of the fund you set aside to buy seventeen Support Our Troops magnets to stick all over your car to show how patriotic you are.

You want disaster relief? Impeach George W. Bush.

So according to this fellow, since Bush is President, only those who voted for him should help the people who lost their homes/possessions/jobs/relatives, while people who “care enough” should not help. Never mind the fact that no doubt many of the hurricane refugees did not vote for Bush — I mean, I’m sure some did, but I’m also sure others voted for Kerry and others didn’t vote at all, including those who are too young to vote.

As if that weren’t disgusting enough, try this from Joe Cannon at Cannonfire (italics in the original; boldface added):

Damn RIGHT I blame Bush!

Bush is at fault, and we must remind the world of this fact relentlessly.

[Long rant about how global warming causes hurricanes, and how the fact that the worst hurricane in history took place in 1900 just proves the point -- or something like that, it's not very coherent.]
..
They voted for a president who preferred fantasy to fact.

Now they come, hands outstretched, to their more prosperous blue state cousins. Not only do they dare to ask us for further handouts, they actually have the audacity to lecture us about our politics.

We Californians and New Yorkers already pay far more to the federal government than we receive — unlike the folks in Texas and Alabama and Louisiana, who take and take and TAKE. And then they take some more — even as they lecture us about spending. What sheer gall!

So, “Californians and New Yorkers” pay more taxes because they are “more prosperous,” but the less-fortunate folks have “sheer gall” to accept help from the “more prosperous.”

So much for liberalism being about helping poor.

Now those mother- (and sister- and brother-) f[---]ing red state LEECHES

So much for liberals not caring what you do in your bedroom. (Not like they actually have any actual evidence that that’s what people in actually Louisiana do — the statement is pure bigotry. So much for liberal tolerance!)

want Californians to open their wallets even wider. Those Bush-loving Darwin-hating quasi-retarded brutishly-primitive hillbillies want us to fork over more of our hard-earned money in order to get them out of a deadly fix they brought upon themselves.

See previous comment about bigotry. (Given that most of the refugees are Black, you can tell this guy’s a racist, too.)

Newsflash, y’all: If you want money from us blue-staters, you’re also going to have to listen to our words. That’s the price.

No, we will not listen to anything you have to say in response. You are leeches. Leeches do not have the right to a response.

So much for liberal tolerance and open-mindedness!

You want us to give you a hand-out? Fine, we’ll give it to you — but ONLY if you sit still, hold your bloody tongues (bite ‘em until they bleed, if you have to) and let a much-deserved lecture sink in.

No lecture, no hand-out. It’s that simple. You have to pay the price; otherwise, get the money from Jesus.

The lecture comes down to this: BUSH CAUSED THIS DISASTER.

(… In case you were wondering if this guy’s actually a liberal.)

So if you Jesusmaniac simpletons really want that cash, you will just sit there and SHUT UP and not say ONE DAMN WORD in your defense.

So much for liberal support of freedom of speech, not to mention the rights of the accused. Not to mention freedom of religion and religious tolerance. (“Jesusmaniac”? You mean to tell me that’s not a slur?)

BUSH CAUSED THIS DISASTER. YOU CAUSED THIS DISASTER BY VOTING FOR BUSH.

You don’t like that message? Then don’t take our money!

If I read ONE MORE article in which a science-hating red state pundit attacks progressives, I’m going to take the money I was going to donate to disaster relief and spend it on a nice Thai meal. And I’m going to suggest that all other progressives do likewise.

I’m going to say “DROWN AND DIE, YOU ARROGANT HILLBILLY SOUTHERN-FRIED LEECHES!!”

(That last boldface was in the original.)

Whew! I have to say that I have never seen such utter, shameless, visceral, angry hatred ever uttered (anywhere except in translations of anti-Jewish mosque sermons) and this is directed against people who just happened to be in the wrong place when a hurricane came through.

And it comes from a liberal, who no doubt would loudly proclaim his tolerance for diversity if given the chance.

And lest you think these are just two exceptions, if you read the comments you’ll see that on the second post above, they are mostly supportive, and on the first one they are about evenly split.

(Hat tip: The 20 Most Obnoxious Hurricane Katrina Quotes)

How Did Bush Respond So Fast?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:05 pm

Yes, you read that right.

Jack Kelly has pretty much definitively resolved the issue of why the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was so slow: It wasn’t. He quotes Jason van Steenwyk of the Florida Army National Guard:

“The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.”

Kelly continues:

For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three.

Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.

So they libel as a “national disgrace” the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.

Stranded school busesThis underscores one of the main flaws of modern journalism — journalists write about what’s going on now — preferably dramatic, scandalous, emotion-tugging events (“If it bleeds, it leads.”) — but they give, and often have, absolutely no perspective on how “today’s events” fit in with the rest of the world. That’s easy to do, and even easier of not having a perspective makes it easy to blame someone you don’t like. They show what they can show, and ignore what they can’t. In this case, they showed the tens of thousands who were stranded, not the hundreds of thousands who got out safely; the three days it took the military to get there, not the five days it took in past storms; and most dramatically, the mayor denouncing the president for allegedly not caring about the stranded poor, not the hundreds of unused schoolbuses, municipal buses, and even a passenger train that could have been used to evacuate them.

“In fact, while the last regularly scheduled train out of town had left a few hours earlier, Amtrak had decided to run a “dead-head” train that evening to move equipment out of the city. It was headed for high ground in Macomb, Miss., and it had room for several hundred passengers. “We offered the city the opportunity to take evacuees out of harm’s way,” said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. “The city declined.”

So the ghost train left New Orleans at 8:30 p.m., with no passengers on board.”

This is a general problem, not limited to Hurricane Katrina coverage. Another example: In Abu Ghraib, they showed the humiliation inflicted by National Guardsmen taking pictures of naked prisoners when the U.S. held the prison, but not the innocent men being fed feet-first into industrial shredders when Saddam was in charge. (It’s not that the latter weren’t recorded; Saddam’s torturers videotaped them to show other political prisoners what they had coming to them — but those videos are way too gory for American TV.)

Hurricane Urban Legends? (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:27 pm

The Mail on Sunday in London and the Sun News in Ottawa both report that doctors in New Orleans killed their patients with overdoses of morphine because they “were going to die anyway” from either their diseases, the hurricane, or some combination thereof. One doctor was quoted as saying, ” “If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose … This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days.”

Several medical-doctor bloggers have checked in the good reasons to doubt this story, both based on its alleged source (a utility manager, who did not work at a hospital), and its general plausibility: Orac, Kevin, M.D., and Diana Kroi.

Previous Hurricane Katrina urban legends here.

Cashing In on the Hurricane (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:42 am

It’s not just Charles Schumer. John Kerry is also using the hurricane to raise money for himself.

September 19, 2005

Sad News from NASA

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:00 pm
Photo of Marta Bohn-Meyer
Marta Bohn-Meyer. Photo credit: NASA.

NASA Dryden Chief Engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer Dies in Airplane Crash

The crash of an aerobatic plane in Oklahoma has claimed the life of Marta Bohn-Meyer. Bohn-Meyer was chief engineer at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and a widely known precision aerobatic pilot.

Bohn-Meyer, 48, died Sunday morning when the Giles G-300 she was flying crashed as she was beginning an aerobatic practice routine near the C.E. Page Airport in Yukon, Okla. Yukon is a suburb of Oklahoma City.

The crash is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In a message to Dryden staff this morning, center director Kevin Petersen said he was “deeply saddened” upon hearing of Bohn-Meyer’s tragic death.

“Marta Bohn-Meyer was an extraordinarily talented individual and a most trusted technical expert and manager at NASA Dryden,” Petersen said. “She committed her life and career to aviation and the advancement of aeronautics and space in the United States. We at Dryden will miss her tremendously. All the hearts and prayers of NASA Dryden go out to her husband Bob and Marta’s family,” he added.

Moonshot Cost Estimate

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:08 pm

Last year, President Bush announced a new mission for NASA — to return to the Moon and set up a permanent base, and eventually go on to Mars. Today, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced the first cost estimate for the Moon program: $104 Billion doll.

Now, when scientists and engineers write numbers, they typically use a concept called “significant figures” — that is, they only write as many digits as they have some reasonable confidence of being correct. As described here (boldface in the original):

It is important to be honest when reporting a measurement, so that it does not appear to be more accurate than the equipment used to make the measurement allows. We can achieve this by controlling the number of digits, or significant figures, used to report the measurement.

The number of significant figures in a measurement, such as 2.531, is equal to the number of digits that are known with some degree of confidence (2, 5, and 3) plus the last digit (1), which is an estimate or approximation. As we improve the sensitivity of the equipment used to make a measurement, the number of significant figures increases.

If the people at NASA who came up with that estimate understand the concept of significant figures — and surely Dr. Griffin knows, what with his Ph.D. and four engineering master’s degrees (really!) — the implied precision of the estimate is preposterous. Here they have a proposed 13-year program to do something that’s only been done once before at all and never before on this scale, in a totally different technological environment, and they think they can estimate the cost to within 1-2%? That it makes sense to say “$104 billion, but not $114 billion”?

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if not only the third digit, but even the first digit turns out to be wrong. There is a story (perhaps an urban legend, but I’d love to verify it) that when the second NASA Administrator James E. Webb, Sr. (no relation, as far as I know, to the novelist/historian/Secretary-of-the-Navy James H. Web, Jr.) was asked by President John Kennedy how much it would cost to go to the Moon, he asked his staff for a cost estimate, received it, and then in the car on the wa over to the White House decided to double the estimate before telling the President, just to be on the safe side. This doubled estimate was pretty close.

Based on that, I hereby guess “$200 billion.” I can’t claim it’s accurate enough to say “$208 billion,” but by using only one significant figure, I mean that if you round to the nearest hundred billion, you’ll get my prediction. So it’s really a prediction of “$150-$250 billion.” In constant year-2005 dollars, of course.

Ideas for LA from L.A.

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:08 pm

Former California Governor Pete Wilson has some ideas for the contracts for rebuilding New Orleans, based on earthquake experience:

In early 1994, a major earthquake (measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale) jolted the residents of greater Los Angeles from their slumbers and knocked houses off their foundations. Within seconds, the Northridge earthquake reduced to rubble the overpass bridges of Interstate 10, Los Angeles’s major east-west artery, and thereby instantly shut down the most heavily trafficked freeway in the world. I was advised that it would require some two years and two months to repair the bridges and restore the I-10 to use. For as long as it remained unavailable, it would mean not only driver inconvenience on a dramatic scale, but delays that would translate into economic dislocation conservatively estimated to cost $600,000 per day. The interruption to the life of the nation’s second largest city would be of a plainly intolerable magnitude and duration.

Instead, we completed the repairs and reopened the freeway to its normal heavy traffic in just 66 days. How? We did two things.

First, I quickly exercised the extraordinary emergency powers conferred upon the governor of California by the state Government Code. I suspended the operation of statutes and regulations that would have required the protracted public hearings called for before environmental impact reports could be filed and acted upon, and I suspended other normally demanded procedural hurdles. The elimination of these legal requirements drastically reduced purposeless delays that would have impeded recovery and compounded the injury inflicted by the quake.

(If they are “purposeless delays,” shouldn’t we get rid of them altogether, not just after natural disasters? I’m serious.)

Second, we took a page from the book of private-sector incentives for accelerating performance. We told contractors bidding to repair the bridges that they must submit bids that specified not only the cost but the date of completion, and that they must agree to an added condition: For every day they were late, they would incur a penalty of $200,000; and for every day they were early, they would be rewarded with a bonus of $200,000. The winning bidder, C.C. Myers Inc., put on three shifts that worked 24/7. In order to prevent any delay in the work, they hired a locomotive and crew to haul to Los Angeles steel sitting on a siding in Texas. Myers made more on the bonus than they did on the bid [price].

Incentives work. The reward to the contractor in this instance was well worth the reward to the public in achieving restoration of critical infrastructure two years early.

It’s nice to see a politician who understands the single most basic principle of economics: People respond to incentives.

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