You Got to Be Kidding Me!

The Wrong Side of The Road

Posted in DCinites, Snark by Stacy McMahon on February 27, 2007

I almost got taken out this afternoon by a vehicle that was definitely not where it should have been. I was doing what I often do on the way home from the office–driving eastbound on Pennsylvania Ave, trying to find someplace to legally make a left and a right to turn around and go west, towards the river. Because there was a lot of traffic, I got pushed past where I usually turn, and reached a spot I’ve only seen once before. In this spot, at this time of day, there is virtually never any oncoming traffic. The last time I came past it, traveling in the left lane, someone pulled out and passed me on the left …yes, in the oncoming lane.

Today when I finally located a good turning spot and put my signal on, guess what. Yep, some asshat pulls out on my left. I spotted him, said wtf and hit the brakes, and heard a scary-yet-satisfying sound of squealing tires from behind me. I finished my turn and went on my way without incident, but I have rarely been that angry at someone else on the road. Amused, blown away, smugly satisfied in my own superiority, yes. But angry–this is a first. I guess I have to just assume people will do something reckless and stupid like that, since that’s 100% of the times I’ve been in that spot and seen them do it.

..DC

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Employment At Will

Posted in Guns, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 26, 2007

There’s an interesting thread over at the Volokh Conspiracy today on the subject of what kinds of things your employer can fire you for. The case at issue involves a UPS employee who was fired after notifying his supervisor that his personal handgun was stored in his car, which was parked in the company parking lot.

The Good: US companies aren’t constrained by byzantine laws about hiring and firing employees, and are thus more willing to hire people, knowing they aren’t stuck with them forever in case of problems.

The Bad: That means they can fire you if they don’t like your blog, even though you don’t blog or discuss your views at work

The Ugly: Joe Huffman was apparently let go from his job at a government-funded research facility based on his online support for gun rights. This is in spite of consistently positive performance reviews and seemingly no particular workplace conduct issues.

I’ve Walked Past It A Dozen Times

Posted in Outdoors, Silly/Funny by Stacy McMahon on February 24, 2007

But somehow I didn’t notice this til dad pointed it out this afternoon:

funny sign

Happy Birthday to the February 23rd Babies!

Posted in Miscellaneous, Social Life by Stacy McMahon on February 23, 2007

That would be Carolyn, our friend Kristen (who can finally party with us this year since Carolyn’s party is delayed three weeks) one of my relatives that I can’t quite remember at the moment, two people I used to know from online, and uh, me 😀

Side note: my blogroll is getting to be like speed dial–I don’t remember anyone’s blog URI because I just click links to get there. Terrorists, if you really want to screw with us just wipe out speed dial and links…

Update: Vicky has some fond reminiscences for this auspicious date…

Update 2:

my birthday cake

That isn’t my cake though, with “32” on it. Must be someone else’s…

Remembering Milton Friedman

Posted in Books, Economics, History, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 22, 2007

Reason has a great piece on the Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economist Milton Friedman, who passed away last November at the ripe old age of 94. I of course knew who Friedman was, but had no idea that, for example, as a member of the Gates Commission he was primarily responsible for ending the military draft and instituting an all-volunteer military.

Vietnam troop commander William Westmoreland gruffly announced during one commission hearing that he was not interested in leading an army of “mercenaries.” Friedman coolly replied, “Would you rather command an army of slaves?”

Classic!

Without getting into the subject of monetary policy, Friedman also had another characteristic that’s sadly (and shockingly) rare in the realm of policy analysis:

Friedman famously believed that the true test of economic theory was not whether it seemed to make sense but whether it led to testable predictions that were borne out by observable evidence. Thus he didn’t depend only on logical argument to make his point. He and his collaborator Anna Schwartz scrupulously accrued data that showed, in as close to controlled experiments as history allows, how monetary changes usually had far greater effect on nominal income, prices, and output than did fiscal changes.

I once read about an engineering chief at a Detroit automaker who hung a sign on his door: “Without data, you’re just another opinion.” The absolute necessity of honest “did it work or not?” assessment of public policies is breathtakingly ignored by both workaday bureaucrats and politicians driven by ideology or poll results, with often-disastrous results for ordinary people. Radical free marketeer Milton Friedman spent much of his career in government, advising the decisionmakers. Because he was able to make his case so well, we live in his world–as Reason puts it–to a greater extent than someone living in the 1960s could have hoped.

Although Friedman frequently was on the “wrong side” of his profession, in the sense that his beliefs went against then-standard opinions, the cogency of his reasoning, his rigorous reliance on empirical evidence, and such real-world phenomena as stagflation ensured that, as the Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics put it, “No other economist since Keynes has reshaped the way we think about and use economics as much as Milton Friedman.”

Friedman believed so strongly in the relation of individual economic choice to basic freedom that he was willing to lend his advice to unfree societies if they would take it. That resulted in the worst and most ridiculous libel against him–the claim that he supported the bloody butcher of Santiago, Augusto Pinochet. That claim probably began life as part of a package of complaints about US involvement in the coup against Chile’s hard-left (but freely elected) president Salvador Allende, but it’s been separated over time and seems to come up a lot when the name of Milton Friedman is mentioned. As ever, reality is less dramatic:

The dictator asked the professor to write him a letter laying out what he thought Chile’s economic policies should be. Friedman did this, calling for quick and severe cuts in government spending and inflation as well as a more open trade policy.

[…]

Defending himself against accusations of complicity with or approval of Pinochet in a 1975 letter to the University of Chicago student newspaper, Friedman noted that when he spoke to communist leaders he “never heard complaints” that he was giving aid and comfort to their governments. “I approve of none of these authoritarian regimes—neither the Communist regimes of Russia and Yugoslavia nor the military juntas of Chile and Brazil,” he wrote. “But I believe I can learn from observing them and that, insofar as my personal analysis of their economic situation enables them to improve their economic performance, that is likely to promote not retard a movement toward greater liberalism and freedom.”

Milton Friedman is dead, long live Milton Friedman!

Update: Ilya Somin teases us with a couple of great quotes from a new biography of Milton Friedman

In 1971, President Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls on the country, a ruinous policy rightly decried by Friedman and most other economists. Nixon told Friedman not to “blame George [Shultz] for this monstrosity,” even though Friedman’s friend Shultz was the administration official in charge of administering the price controls. Friedman’s response: “I don’t blame George, I blame you” (pg. 186).

But First He’s Going to Smoke Some Crack!

Posted in Guns, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 21, 2007

The Examiner editorializes on a surprising development in Washington, DC:

District residents have been the guinea pigs in a failed 30-year-old experiment in social engineering. Three decades of strict gun control laws have not made the capital city’s streets safer.

[…]

None other than former Mayor Marion Barry, now representing Ward 8 on the D.C. Council, is waving the white flag of surrender by introducing legislation to provide potential victims a limited window of opportunity to arm themselves in self defense.

[…]

Barry’s bill is a first step and it is co-sponsored by Council members Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, Kwame Brown, D-at large, and Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6 — none of whom are gun-toting NRAers. However, all four councilmen face the same intractable problem in their own neighborhoods: The city’s gun control laws don’t work as advocates promised they would. Armed criminals still terrorize peaceful residents who remain essentially defenseless, particularly those in the poorest neighborhoods.

Interesting bedfellows indeed. From the rest of the piece, I get the impression that the bill would allow a legally owned gun to be kept in the home fully assembled and loaded; in other words ready to use against an intruder. Washington has been a leading light of the gun control movement for decades, and even though this is a tiny change in the letter of the law, it strikes me as a 180 in the spirit of it. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, that’s one small step for a city, one giant leap for individual rights.

Life in The Flood Zone

Posted in Home Improvement, Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on February 21, 2007

Check out the blog of a young couple who are staying in their historic New Orleans house and rebuilding. My favorite post (sofar) is the one about push-button light switches.

Single Pole Switch (HD1)

I sort of want these for my place now!

Two Emission Credits for The Road

Posted in Economics, Environment, Four Wheels, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 20, 2007

The WSJ has a column about California’s recent distribution of stickers to allow hybrid vehicles with single drivers to use HOV lanes during rush hour.

A report determined that California’s HOV lanes were operating only at two-thirds of their capacity and not easing congestion as much as they could; the idea was to stimulate demand for hybrids and thus reduce the emissions of greenhouse pollutants.

Their answer was to distribute enough permits to take up the excess capacity in the HOV lanes, reasoning that moving some traffic from the standard to the HOV lanes would reduce overall congestion. By issuing permits only to hybrid cars, the vehicles moving into the HOV lanes would produce less pollution. In the event, the stickers went out the door quickly, and congested areas saw a spike in purchases of hybrid cars.

The column goes on to suggest that, since the stickers remain with the car, not the owner, used hybrids with stickers will become more valuable than those without. That’s undoubtedly true, but it would make more sense to allow the stickers to be bought and sold freely (with the restriction that they can only be used on a hybrid vehicle) Pollution permit markets built on that exact model have worked very well in reducing industrial air pollution, and are starting to be used for water pollution. There is, at this point, no market incentive at all for individual people to reduce their vehicles’ emissions–and vehicle emissions are something like half of the total CO2 and NOX emissions in North America. Monetizing the use of road networks in congested areas would be an excellent step towards reducing those emissions in the most economically efficient way possible.

This is likely part of a set of initiatives being rolled out by California EPA chief Terry Tamminen. I’ve read about this guy before, and not to put too fine a point on it he’s a socialist treehugger and a crank who hates oil and anyone he sees as being anti-environment, but for all that he’s a talented politician and good at finding or inventing, and selling ways to improve environmental protection without doing unnecessary and politically unacceptable damage to the economy.

New Election Category

Posted in 2008 Election, Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on February 20, 2007

I’ve been slowly going back and categorizing my old posts, and I’m pretty much making up the categories as I go along. It’s interesting sometimes to see what I write about. For example, even though I already have a “politics” category, I’ve found that I have some posts specifically about the ’08 election cycle (ugh, yes, even in my serene no-spin zone it apparantly begins more than a year ahead of time)

So, I’m making a “2008 Election” category to pull those posts together. There’s some of the fun of a personal journal in this–looking back, I predicted Ned Lamont’s quick disappearance from the electoral stage–and I’m sure I’ll write more as the election itself approaches. So herewith, my very own special coverage of the 2008 election

Organic Foods Not So Green Afterall

Posted in Economics, Environment, Politics by Stacy McMahon on February 19, 2007

A UK government report (link via Instapundit) says that “organic” food is not always better, and may be worse, in terms of pollution and “footprint” compared to conventional growing methods. That isn’t surprising, since the goal of scientific agriculture has always been to get higher yields per acre of land.

Ken Green, professor of environmental management at MBS, who co-wrote the report, said: “You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger.”

The study did not take into account factors such as the increased biodiversity created by organic farming or the improved landscape.

No, it didn’t take into account “the improved landscape”, and that’s as it should be. I don’t know when such completely subjective terms crept into scientific analysis, but you seem to hear a lot these days that something or other is statistically better or worse compared to something else, ‘but it looks nicer and that’s worth something!’. Yes, that’s worth something, but that’s for end users of the report to decide.

Anyway, examples of popular but land-hogging organic foods include:

Tomatoes

* 122sq m of land is needed to produce a tonne of organic vine tomatoes. The figure for conventionally-grown loose tomatoes is 19sq m.

* Energy needed to grow organic tomatoes is 1.9 times that of conventional methods.

* Organic tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses in Britain generate one hundred times the amount of CO2 per kilogram produced by tomatoes in unheated greenhouses in southern Spain.

Milk

* Requires 80 per cent more land to produce per unit than conventional milk.

* Produces nearly 20 per cent more carbon dioxide and almost double the amount of other by-products that can lead to acidification of soil and pollution of water courses.

Chickens

* Organic birds require 25 per cent more energy to rear and grow than conventional methods.

* The amount of CO2 generated per bird is 6.7kg for organic compared to 4.6kg for conventional battery or barn hens.

* Eutrophication, the potential for nutrient-rich by-products to pollute water courses, is measured at 86 for organic compared to 49 for conventional.

* The depletion of natural resources is measured at 99 for organic birds compared to 29 for battery or barn hens.