Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Apocalypse, Sign of the

Metallica baby lullabies

Government in Action

RL sent me a nice little case study of government in action.

And, he was so kind as to write the lede for me, also, in the email:

The current mayor made opposition to a bridge that would connect a small airport on an island a football field away from downtown the centerpiece of his election campaign. Upon winning, he killed the project. The result was a multi-million dollar settlement to aggrieved parties that enabled one businessman to ~start~ a commercial airline at the airport. Even better, he got to evict what would have been his main competitor. Federalism at its very best- local govt kills a business venture, but the feds step in and provide seed money and a chance to build a monopoly.

(You do have to read through some amazingly inane stuff in that article before you get to amazingly dumb stuff)

Thanks, RL!

ProfGRRRRL strikes

Poor ProfGRRRRRL has been to too many faculty meetings (i.e., N>=1)

She nails the patois:

Step 3 -- Random comments and brainstorming (may occur in any order)
CF 2: [excited ramble about why this would benefit the department]
CF 4: [excited ramble about how this would benefit his students]
CF 3: [attempt at joke]
CF 5: [segue into pet project issue that is not entirely related]
Chair: Let's get back on topic
CF 6: [excited ramble about how [idea] would please the dean's office]
CF 1: [pie in sky brainstorm about how this might increase FTEs, solve world hunger, and improve the entire university's ranking]

Step 4 -- Original dissenters are supportive
Policy Wonk: It sounds like there is interest in [idea], and if there is no policy preventing it we could try.
Historian: As long as we make sure to not repeat past mistakes

Step 5 -- The put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is moment
Chair: Well, if we're going to do this, we should figure out who would be in charge. Maybe we need a subcommittee. Who would like to volunteer?

Step 6 -- Crickets

Yepper, yepper, yepper. She left out the part about the Chair seething with fury from start to finish, knowing at Step 1 that it would end up at the same play as always. But maybe other Chairs don't do that.

A bonus: The Night Before School Starts, also by ProfGRRRRL.

(nod to Dirty Davey)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Best Patent Ever

I literally weep with joy at the chance to deliver this news to readers of the End.

There is a patent, an actual US Patent # D419,233 , for a...device? Article of clothing? What would you call it?

Because it is a "unisex short with reversible condom."

It works like this: You wear it as an "innie" or an "outie", just like a belly button.

Men would wear it with the condom covering their protuberance. Women would wear it...well, you know how women would wear it. That would be the "innie": this space available.

Both sexes might want to wear something over it, unless they are in Venice Beach, CA. Or Pittsburgh, CA, the home of the inventor, Roly R. Brodie.

The images are....not work safe, I'm sure. And I could not view them with my browser. So, I may have this wrong, on the details. Please let me know....

(Nod to David Reid)

UPDATE: You just need AlternaTiff to view the images. Not that you will want to, really.

The Laws of Space and View

I had an epiphany. For the past few years, I have had a "chairman" type office. 160 square feet of floor space, corner, three large windows, looking directly onto Duke's lovely main quad. In those years I have done....crap. Chairman stuff. As I wrote about before, the urgent stuff crowding out the important stuff.

Anyway, the epiphany is that there are two dimensions that almost perfectly describe the assignment of office space in academics. These are (1) space and (2) windows/view. Let me explain.

1. Space: the unused frontier. Here is "Munger's Law of Academic Office Space":

The larger the office, the less time it will be used.

This could be because the (non)occupant is travelling a lot, of course. But it is just as likely that the person with a large office has (yes, I'm not making this up) another large office! In academics, the people with large offices are more likely to have multiple offices. In any case, new assistant profs are assigned a grotto, and fill it completely with stuff, because they pretty much live there. The real capis have more, but use it much, much less.

The reason it is important to have two offices? Paradoxically, it is to explain why you are not using your office! "Where is Dr. Smith?" "Oh, he must be in his other office." Yeah, yeah...THAT must be it.

2. Windows/View: the antidote to work. Here is "Munger's Law of View":

The more windows in the office, and the better the view, the less actual academic work will be done in the office.

As far as I can tell, "nice" offices used to be given out to people as compensation for administrative duties. That is, we all know it sucks to be an administrator, but we'll give you an office with these beautiful views of the Old Well, the bell tower, the mountains, the ocean, something.

But after the proliferation of McAdminstration in state universities*, there are dozens of demi-deans scampering the halls. If you aren't careful, you crunch three or four of them underfoot, like little cockroaches, just walking to a meeting. They are there to ensure that real administrators don't have to do any administrative work, to go along with the academic work real administrators at state universities are being paid extra not to do.

The norm held, though: Admin people get nicer offices. And nicer furniture. Even though most of them never receive visitors except other admin people. They have never done any academic work, and never will. But they have a most excellent view of the football stadium, and Saturdays they could see part of the game from their window. If they were ever there on a Saturday. Or even a Friday afternoon.

*I haven't been at a state university in some time, and perhaps things aren't as bad as I remember. But I bet that if anything it has gotten worse. I have to admit, I don't see the same trend at private universities. There is a proliferation of administrators to deal with students, but that is at least partly a response to customer demand. But I don't see the same proliferation of "vice associate deputy provosts of building custodian management" as at state schools.


It is true, I have the oddest retail experiences of anyone I know. People ask if I stand in line all the time, but I don't. It is just that.....well, listen.

Stop at a BP station, ten miles outside of Knightdale, NC. Not a metropolitan setting. I set the gas pump to fill the tank (it has one of those little clips on the handle, so you can start pumping and then walk away).

Go inside to get some coffee. Behind the counter, implausibly (we are 20 miles from a town of even moderate size), is a very Sikh man. Turban*, loud non-English yelling into a cell phone, Indian music from a small radio.

He is yelling nearly non-stop. I congratulate myself on what an international, cosmopolitan place I live in. I pour the coffee, get the cream from the little cups with paper tops, and then look for a place to throw away the little cups (each of which holds exactly one spit of cream).

There is a white trash can over at the entrance of the cash register enclosure. I put the spit-o-cream cups in the trash. The can had a swinging lid, and I pushed my hand through and dropped the trash in.

Walk around to the front of the little counter, put down the coffee, and say, in my best "Southern Gentility Welcoming Person of Color and Foreign Origin to the New South" voice, "Good morning, sir!"

And my Sikh guy stops talking for the first time since I entered the store, looks at me like I just spit on him, and says, "WHAT!" Not a question, more like an accusation.

Astonished, I hold up the coffee. What I want is pretty obvious. I want to give him money.

"What about the Skoal!" Again, not a question. And his eyes made it quite clear I would need to work quite a bit to rise about the status of simple excrement.

It took me a second to realize he meant the famous Skoal, perhaps America's favorite smokeless tobacco. "Just a peench between your cheek and gum," as Walt Garrison used to tell us in the TV commercials.

"I don't want any Skoal." Meekly. I'm not sure why. But the attack was so unexpected. If he had been white I would have yelled at him. But I was being welcoming and cosmopolitan. And Sikhs were treated rather badly after 9/11 by people who thought they were Muslim (as if THAT were an excuse).

Sikh puppy, shouting again: "You took some Skoal! I heard you. I heard you take it!"

Now, I don't see how he could have heard anything through the third world economics lecture he had been giving over the cell phone. But he could not have heard me take Skoal, since I hadn't.

The only thing he could have heard was the trash can lid. I said so. "I got coffee, got some cream, and put the cream cups in the trash." And then I stared at him.

He backed down, but only in a technical sense. "Sorry, sir, I thought I heard you get some Skoal." His tone was precisely that of, "So, I hear yo mama is a Christian, you piece of dung."

I walked out to the car, and he was still peering at me out the window. Last I saw, his turban was bobbing behind the window; for all I know he was writing down my license number so he could call the police on another "Skoal absconder."


1. If I were black, it is likely I would have an experience like this, or worse, at least once a week. Since this REALLY pissed me off, realizing the fact in the previous sentence is pretty unsettling. So, I did learn SOMETHING from the experience. It sucks to have people just completely mistrust and disrespect you, for no reason. This is not exactly news, but it is useful for white people to get reminded of it (society takes care of reminding all the non-whites).

2. BRITISH Petroleum? Like it is still the Raj? Is that the problem: a taste of the deflated empire?

3. Skoal? Of all the things to be accused of shoplifting. I want to think I look more like a sensual guy, the kind who would need to steal condoms because I go through so many (well, not literally, but...). But Skoal? I don't have any teeth missing.

*This description of Sikh turbans is unintentionally quite amusing.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Vintage Baseball

Jim Bouton, who came down a couple of years ago and gave a great talk at Duke about his then new book, Foul Ball, has a new project. (He doesn't get tired of projects).

The Vintage Base Ball Federation (VBBF) was officially launched yesterday.

Got some pretty decent coverage, at several places.

Congratulations, Jim, and good luck.

(Full disclosure: Jim B has been very supportive of my run for Governor of NC, and has agreed to write the foreward for the resulting book. He is a big believer in participant observation, which he is certainly good at himself. Now, I'm not saying he would VOTE for me; he just loves encouraging other people to do weird stuff. I am going to have to work to make that book even half as good as either Ball Four or Foul Ball. And, I was using the latter book in class; a very fine textbook on local land use from a public policy perspective)

(Nod to my man Martin, who is complicit in nearly everything)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Joanna Nails It

I think this is quite interesting.

Tending towards knee-jerk open-borderism myself, I am interested in the articles she links. Maybe open borders are bad....

But her main point, that the real justification for draconian immmigration restrictions is our inept welfare state provisions and disastrous education policies, seems spot on. Don't blame the immigrants. Maybe we need to regulate immigration, but the reason is that we can't get our act together on core issues.

And the result is a second-best or third-best world where we don't know if we are doing good or doing harm. The theory of the second best tells us stuff is complicated, once you depart from the path of righteousness. But second best is a two-edge sword: if the deviation from optimality is the RESULT of bad policy, then additional policy interventions (like immigration restrictions) may make things worse, not better.

My Prediction: We Will Hear More About This

The Lebanese Red Cross Ambulance incident: a counterclaim.

This is interesting in a broader sense, because this is what bloggers do.

Send me other links, for or against the hoax claim (I'm agnostic), and I'll post them.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Concealed Position Returns

Concealed Position returns, after a hiatus.

Her most recent entry captures, in a wonderful brief narrative, the relationship that a surprisingly large proportion of women seem to have with their mothers. Now, CP's experience was worse than most, but teenage girls and their moms....wow. Armageddon.

Plus, I think all mothers put some version of "the curse" on their daughters.

My wife actually went so far as to voice openly the hope we wouldn't have girl babies. She had been one, and it was pretty tough dealing with the mom. In my wife's view...no daughter, no curse.

You really don't understand your parents until you have children.

I, for example, learned a great deal from my own father about how (not) to raise children. I am more like him than I'd like to admit. Remembering his mistakes helps me avoid those mistakes. But now I do understand him: until the day he died, he told me often, "You aren't smarter than I am. You are just better educated. And I paid for that education. So what makes you think you are so great? You aren't so great." Then he would have another beer.

The answer just turned out to be that I am mostly happy, while he never really was. God rest your tortured soul, Dad. And welcome back, CP.

Viewpoint Diversity: Why Fight Hypocrisy With Hypocrisy?

I have had some trouble with the claim that the way to "solve" the problem of leftist bias at universities is to hire a lot of additional profs, all of whom are biased to the right. All that would do is validate the claim that bias is acceptable, and reduce education to a power struggle over whether the left or the right controlled the state legislature. Ick.

Stephen K has a long, interesting meditation (actually, he may be on medication!) about the problem, or nonproblem, of viewpoint diversity. Nicely done.

He also links this Mallard Fillmore cartoon:

Sure, I smile when I read it, and some people on the left do buy into a neo-Rousseauvian "secular religion," but...

I really don't think it is harder for a conservative professor to get tenure than a liberal one, in most disciplines. At most good universities, if you publish important work that gets noticed, and restrict your political jabber to the dinner table and your personal life, you will get tenure. It is too hard to find good scholars.

Now, it is certainly true that people on the right, as well as the left, find it convenient to play the victim of enormous shadowy forces (remember Hillary Clinton's "vast right wing conspiracy", when all that really happened is that her husband lied about a blow job?).

There is a growing tendency on the right to blame their own simple laziness, and an appalling dullness of the spirit, on a nonexistent leftist establishment. Lack of productivity is NOT a sign of profundity; neither is it evidence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

So, sure, there is an embarrassing hypocrisy on the side of the left. They want to hire people who LOOK different, but who all think exactly the same. That's not diversity. But it is crazy to think enabling right-wing nutjobs to force students to parrot a DIFFERENT line of crap will make things better.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Went Down to the BlogRoad

Ed Cone has a nice perspective on the "Why Do We Blog?" question. The links he gives are interesting.

His answer to the "Why Does Ed Cone blog?" is "Because Ed Cone can!" Of course, that's the same reason a dog licks its private parts*, so maybe we are talking about something more primitive here.

(*No, not because Ed Cone can lick his private parts; because a dog can lick its own private private parts. Pay attention, will you?)

Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell have an interesting paper, and now an edited volume coming out, entitled (I think) THE POWER AND POLITICAL SCIENCE OF BLOGS (titles change, but that is the name of the paper...)

Dan and Henry were kind enough to allow me to let me write the concluding chapter in that book. Below is a brief excerpt from my chapter....do buy the book, when it comes out next year, or the year after that!


The distinction I want to focus on is one popularized by Stephen Colbert in his October 17, 2005 segment of “The Word” on The Colbert Report on the cable TV network Comedy Central. To distinguish much of current political debate from questions about truth or falsity, Colbert suggested a neologism:

Truthiness: the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.

Colbert’s point was that truthiness trumps truth, because it is an intuition based on feeling or values rather than debate and evidence.

Some of the key topics raised in this book can be distilled down to questions about truth vs. truthiness, or so I will argue. I want to ask the reader to consider the blogosphere as a (potential) generator of truth claims, in effect a statistical estimator that returns predicted values for an unobservable parameter of political interest. Under some circumstances, this estimator has desirable properties, and is a means of glimpsing outlines of the truth. Under other circumstances, blogging is simply an exercise in truthiness, and reinforces pre-existing disputes over the truth, possibly rendering their resolution more difficult, or even impossible.

Truth vs. Truthiness: The End of the Beginning

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill, The Lord Mayor's Luncheon, Mansion House, November 10, 1942

Churchill was referring to what he called the “remarkable and definite victory of Allied troops at El Alamein. But the claim is strikingly apt for the state of blogs and their impact on elections and politics. Never again will we be surprised by the kind of frenzy that swept the blogosphere in 2004, and the strange political consequences of a large number of nameless, faceless writers who had rented an IP address and an FTP client.
The end of the beginning of the blogging phenomenon will, for future generations, have a definite place. This incident is cited so commonly, and so smugly, by bloggers that it is now its own meme, reduced to the status of a fortune cookie saying. But it really happened, and it is important to get the events right. And it is important to say why it is important: we depend on truth, not truthiness, as a basis for political discourse.

The date was September 9, 2004. The television show 60 Minutes, a dinosaur even by the standards of the main stream media, had been accused of being duped by doctored documents. These documents purported to show significant irregularities in G.W. Bush’s National Guard service, most particularly in a failure to report for a physical when a direct written order to do so had been issued May 4, 1972 by Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian. CBS had the documents to prove it, and they had broken the story on 60 Minutes on September 4, a conspicuously short time before the election scheduled in November.

The Executive Vice President of CBS News, Jonathan Klein, was appearing on the Fox News Channel on that night of September 9. He was “debating” Weekly Standard writer and pundit Stephen Hayes, in the confrontational style now popular on TV news shows. Hayes, and the host, were both citing claims by bloggers that the documents were obvious forgeries, and that CBS should acknowledge that.

Jonathan Klein responded with a level of condescension that will take its historical place beside Marie Antoinette’s dismissive, “Let them eat cake.” The last words of the main stream media’s ancien regime were:

“You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [i.e., fact checkers at 60 Minutes] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

It turned out to be true, though not in the way that Mr. Klein intended. The documents were forged, just like the bloggers said. The pajamas guys ended up having a better claim to truth than the multiple layers of checks and balances.

The reason is that, in this instance, the main stream media giant CBS was acting out of a sense of truthiness. Dan Rather had believed in the “essential truth” of the claim that George W. Bush had violated an order to report for a physical. This was, for Rather, part of a larger “essential truth” (Rather’s words), that the President’s service record was an indication of indifference (at best) or outright shirking of duty during wartime. This idea of an essential truth, or a truth that transcends mere facts, is a remarkable claim for a news organization. CBS persisted in defending this exercise in truthiness long after it was clear to most people, even those who shared the basic distrust of the President and his policies, that they had gotten their facts wrong.

Now, the documents either were or not forgeries. Three decades had passed since the letters had been written (if they were real), so it would not be surprising if memories were hazy. But peculiarities in the letters quickly surfaced, and the focus quickly moved to apparently simple features of the primary letter in particular, the one in which the supposed “direct order” was issued. The most obvious problem was with the raised (superscripted) letters, in a smaller font-size, on unit numbers in the letter. This way of typing would not be conventional on most military typewriters, as it would have required changing the type ball and manually moving the line setting to create superscripts. This, it was pointed out on dozens of blogs, is nearly impossible to do without distorting the line-up of type at least slightly. Furthermore, other (legitimate) letters from the files at around the same time from the same office showed a completely different, nonproportional typeface.

None of this is proof, of course, but the questions kept coming as more and more people independently studied the letter. My use of “independent” is important, because each person is bringing a new perspective, trying to make sense of the truth in a complicated problem. Before long, the supposed “source” for the letter had changed his story about where he had gotten it, and CBS eventually threw in the tool. Dan Rather issued a tepid, narrow apology for the use of the letters, and CBS News fired four people, including the (apparently) overzealous producer Mary Mapes.

Right up until the end, Dan Rather defended the story as “essentially” accurate. That is, even though the specific documents were (possibly) not real, Rather and the producers at CBS argued that their description of the behavior of President Bush was real. CBS saw the behavior, and not their evidence documenting the behavior, as the real issue. On several occasions, as documented in the Thornburg-Boccardi (2005) report and elsewhere, senior CBS personnel (including Dan Rather) flatly stated that they could prove the essential truth of the story: The President had not denied their claims about his missing service time.

Let me summarize what I have intended by giving this extended example. CBS’s 60 Minutes producers, particularly Mary Mapes, believed so firmly in the essential truth of their argument that the Killian documents were seen as examples, not evidence. In fact, no evidence was required. They both relaxed the normal standards of fact-checking and speeded up the production process so it could have an impact on the election. The President’s guilt was a foregone conclusion; the news producers’ only job was to get the word out.

The universe of bloggers, partly out of (nearly universal) innate contrarian impulses and partly out of (widespread, though perhaps not majority) partisan antipathy, jumped on inconsistencies in the evidence for the claims. And the particular evidence that CBS had used had varied between flimsy and fabricated. Consequently, as an exercise in discovering truth, blogs proved far more accurate and useful than a respected mainstream media organization.

But CBS had erred in a relatively narrow and technical sense. There was quite a bit of other evidence, both in the form of documents and eyewitness testimony, that supported the CBS claim, at least in its broad outline. Because of its surrender to truthiness in one broadcast, CBS appeared to be biased, and the blogosphere appeared to have the better claim to generating truth.

At a minimum, guys in their pajamas had laid low the people in suits, acting as an independent check on veracity.

The Jewish God of Walks


Dennis Leary puts out some smack, on Mel Gibson.

At this point, it has to be pretty funny before you pile on poor Mel. But this is pretty funny.

Thanks to MA, through MWT.

(video may not play, because so many people are watching it right now)

Desperate, But Not Serious

The old Adam Ant song describes a lot of what goes on in academic administration: desperate, but not serious.

What follows is probably not an original formulation, but it is one I have found useful in being an academic administrator, or for that matter a junior faculty member.

There are TWO dimensions on which we evaluate projects and obligations. The first is urgency. That would be time-sensitivity, deadline pressure, and so on.

The second is importance. Actual significance. Will anyone care a month from now? More important, will anyone read what you are writing ten years from now, or more (the Buchanan test).

So, it works like this:

Desperate Is Not Serious
. Important? Yes No
Urgent? Yes 1 2
No 3 4

Nobody pays any attention to cell 4.

And everybody works right away on cell 1.

The question is how you trade off cell 3 and cell 2.

The point is that nearly all real work academics do, or should do, is in quadrant 3. Journal editors don't have deadlines. They don't care if they NEVER hear from you. You can do it tomorrow. But you won't.

Because what everybody wants you to do is in quadrant 2. "Can you talk to this person we have on the phone? They want to know about the _____ program." Can you attend a meeting of the letterhead control committee? (Yes, my children, that is a real committee. We have to have standards.)

And the problem is much worse for administrators. The electronic revolution means that you are never out of touch. And, incredibly, lots of administrators willingly buy crackberries, or treos, so that they are always on call. But that means that every waking moment is spent answering, or at least reading, some stupid crap from some other administrator who does not know the rules of academic work. And (a bonus for readers of the End), here those are:

1. Work is what we do between meetings. Repeat this to yourself every day.

2. Reading email is a virtual meeting, of the most time-wasting kind. We had an assistant prof here at Duke that checked his hand-held device every two or three minutes (I'm not making this up). So, he appeared CONSTANTLY busy, when what he was doing was living in cell 2 of my little table: urgent, but not important. The reason they are called "crackberries" is that if you have any trace of self-importance (and what prof doesn't?), then taking out your hand held device and then saying, "Excuse me, I have to answer this" is so appealing you can't help yourself. Don't buy rocks of crack, and use your treo only on trips, and then sparingly. People don't think you're important if you have to check email every 3 minutes. They recognize that you would rather be in a permanent meeting than do your work.

3. Most emails will wither up and blow away in 24 hours. People don't really need you. Same for phone calls. If you are a professor, just don't read your email, or delete almost everything after reading the first line. Tell everyone you know: any email that blathers on for more than three lines, I'm going to delete unread. Do not read and respond to emails every 2 or 3 minutes. If you do, you are in a permanent meeting, Dante's secret 39th circle of hell.

4. If you are an administrator, design a filter system. Raise transactions cost of contacting you. There are type I and type II errors here: how many urgent but unimportant messages will you have to pay attention to, to ensure that you get all of the urgent AND important messages? And the main thing is to preserve some time for important but not urgent tasks, LIKE WRITING! Your assistant is your filter; depend on her/him to take care of you. If you don't answer your email (it was more than three lines long, so it got deleted), or you are not in your office/didn't answer the phone, the next person who gets called is your assistant. She (in my case) knows where to track you down. And LOTS of times the irate person is not willing to pay the transactions costs of setting up an appointment and coming back next week. You are doing them a favor, because they don't really want to have this meeting. It is urgent, in their minds at this moment, but not important.

A final note: meetings are an important part of what we do. We talk, we get together, we share. We perform service. I don't mean to say you should shirk your service duties. What I do want to say is that you have to filter out all the urgent, but trivial, things that will take up all your time. If you retire and wish you had written something more significant, that regret will hurt for a long time. Don't let the reason for your failure be that you spent all your time in meetings, or checking your $%^$&#$ treo.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The fellows over at Joint Strike Weasel (in this case, Jeffrey and Ivan) have a couple of pieces on the decision to require an end to wiretaps by NSA.

I like the outcome; the wiretapping seemed like a dangerous power for the President to have.

But the JSW boys, and their reference to the Volokh roundup, do raise some difficult questions.

Liking the outcome doesn't mean you think the decision is a good one. I have felt this way often since Roe v. Wade: seems like the outcome is the one I would pick, but I don't know that I want judges MAKING that kind of pick, on essentially political issues.

The Recognition I Deserve

Ah, so at last I have gotten to that putz, Colbert.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Andrew Young is NOT Racist

I can tell that Andrew Young is not racist, in spite of his comments.

How can I tell?

Because the Daily Cause has not published a criticism of his hate speech, as they do in the case of REAL hate speech. And the Cause always speaks the truth, and all the truth is spoken by the Cause.

Strange that getting annoyed by one guy is a war crime, but calling entire ethnic groups names is okay.

(Nod to anonyman)

Bribes and Taxes

A commenter on my earlier post where I said this was my second bribe solicitation ever asked what my "first" bribe solicitation was.

It was like this. An electrician working on our room addition told me it would cost me $125 for him to do the work. "Or," he went on, using a calculator, "You can pay me in cash, and only pay $100, 'cause then I won't have to pay any taxes."

I had to know, so I asked. "You're a Democrat, right?"

"Sure!" he said. "Union all the way."

Well, of course you are, buddy. Liberals believe that taxes, and for that matter all rules, are for other people. The system is only there to control bad people, or dirty immoral rich people. We can ignore bad things done by good people, like our boyfriend.

Anyway, I told him: "My wife is an attorney, an auditor for the IRS. You have to realize that if you really want to make me that offer, you are going to get investigated. So let's just pretend you didn't say it."

His eyes bugged out, and he just sat down and pretended to work. I could hear him cursing under his breath.

After about an hour, he shouted up the stairs. "Finished!"

I realized my wife had the checkbook. I would have to pay him....IN CASH!

So, I counted out $125 in twenties and a five. Started to hand it to him.

He laughed, a little too aggressively for my taste.

I pulled back the cash, and said, "I'll need your social security number before I can give you this."

Eyes bug out. But he stopped laughing.

Me: "I'm just messing with you, man. Now go out there and vote for higher taxes."

He was muttering again as he went to his brand new extended cab Ford truck with the dualies in back.

It really does surprise me how many people who consider themselves liberals, and who are quite wealthy (this electrician was making $75/hour) also can justify a special exemption for themselves from those very rules. The rules COULDN'T have been intended to apply to them. They WORK for their money.

My wife and I together paid more than $80,000 in taxes last year, federal and state, and another $10,000 local. Can we afford it? We can't afford NOT to. Men with guns will come to our house and take our property. If we resist in any way, they will beat us, and quite possibly kill us. So we pay.

Do "we" pay enough? Consider the context for the Bush tax cuts.* These IRS data, from 2000, show that the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 35 percent of Federal personal income taxes, while the top 10 percent pay about 65 percent of these taxes. The top quarter of taxpayers account for about 83 percent of these tax payments. The top half pay 96 percent of Federal personal income taxes, while the bottom half of tax filers account for about 4 percent of the total.

Percentiles Ranked By AGI (2000)
Adjusted Gross Income Threshold on Percentiles
Percentage of Federal Personal Income Tax Paid
Top 1 %
Top 5 %
Top 10 %
Top 25 %
Top 50 %
Bottom 50 %
< $25,491

The criticism of tax cuts seems to be this: People get upset when someone who is paying most of the taxes says "I shouldn't have to pay so much in taxes, because I'm paying more than my share!" Hard to say what the share is, maybe progressivity is okay. But should the top half of the income distribution really pay 95% of the taxes? And, if so, how can you criticize a tax cut that benefits "only" the rich? Of course it only benefits the rich, because only the rich pay taxes.

The truth is that liberals think, "I shouldn't have to pay so much in taxes, because I'm morally superior!" When they cheat on taxes, or ignore rules that should only apply to the little people, it's okay. Because they LOVE the little people. Even if they don't really know many of them personally.

*It is a fair question to ask about the Bush DEFICITS. Cutting taxes and then starting a war and encouraging an absolute orgy of pork barrel spending is hardly conservative. But I'm just talking about the taxes, already.

Better and Betterer

I may just stop blogging about any topic....

....OTHER than Hinky Lube. It is my best source of material.

You may recall my earliest experience.

And, more recently, the bribe solicitation.

WELL. I got the part, the cover for the turn signal. Put it on. But now the signal bulb didn't light. Coudn't get it to work, and it looked burnt (the filament was gone, between the two contacts in the bulb).

So, I drive to Hoppy Lube, just to see what will happen.

Different guy doing the inspections. Gives every indication of energy and competence.

I give him the paper for the reinspection. He checks the cover, nods, and says, "That will work!"

Go in to pay. Cashier says, "$.85"

I point out that the previous guys (the bribery solictors) had not charged me for the inspection, which costs $20, or for the certificate sticker, which is $8.50.

She says, "Oh, they must have." I point out that receipt, in her hand, shows they did not. She waves her hand and says (I am not making this up): "Oh, a lot of times they just take that payment in cash! I'm sure you paid it."

Um. They don't put in the cash register, or on the receipt, and you KNOW that they do this? WTF?

So, she charges me the $8.50 for the receipt, plus $.85 for some NC tax thing that I had never seen on a receipt before.

I go back out to the inspection guy. I ask if I can buy a light bulb. "Why do you need it?"

"The turn signal doesn't work."

He puffs up. "I didn't have to check that. The reinspection was only on the cover. Doesn't matter if the turn signals work; it can still pass inspection."

Now, that is a pretty narrow, letter of the law interpretation, but maybe he was worried I was one of those undercover NC-DOT guys. "Sir, I understand, I just want to get the bulb here rather than drive across town to an auto parts store without a turn signal."

We get the bulb, he shows me a neat trick to open the cover on the frame to get better access to the screw that holds on the cover, and I replace the bulb. He charges me $7.50 for the bulb, and went inside and rang it up on the cash register, giving me a receipt with the correct amount and part number. A fine, upstanding fellow. We had a good talk.

I think I'll go back to Higgy Lube tomorrow. I can't live without those jerks anyway, and besides all my friends are here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Allen's "I have a macaca" speech

I questioned the possibility that Allen knowing used an overtly racist slur.

Received several emails questioning my genaelogy, and one who thought my parents were not married at the time of my birth.

But, one of the comments I have to credit, and will reproduce here in full:

Watch the video! Sen. Allen's comments were unbelievable. Reminded me of being a "Jungle Bunny" in third grade.

In any case, I made up some funny t-shirts and other stuff to celebrate the end of Allen's campaign. Thought you might want to check it out.

I'm donating 30% of the profit to Allen's competitor, Democratic candidate Jim Webb.


I am always a fan of entrepreneurship. And if the donations make you happy also, go for it. Mr. Macaca, you are a real American. As Patton would have put it, "Every REAL American loves an idiot. And if the rest of us can make money off the fact that our politicians are idiots...Well, you will know what to do."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Happy Lube strikes again

The coolest things happen to me down at the Hinky Lube.

I wrote about this at some length before.


Well, let me tell you.

I go into the Hobby Lube, to get my son's car (1995 Mustang) inspected. My son being a teenager, didn't notice that his inspection had expired in MAY (that's the one nearly three months ago, not the one 9.5 months from now in the future).

So, since I would be the one paying the higher insurance bill if he gets a ticket for an exspired inspection, I took it down to Horny Lube at 4 in the afternoon, when they are not busy.

After five minutes, the guy motions for me to come out. He points out that the tag light is out, and that the cover on the driver's side front turn signal is smashed, exposing the bulb to the elements.

I point out that Honky Lube has passed this twice before, the last two years in fact. (It's true, the light has been broken for three years).

He points out that he didn't inspect it those other times, and that the law is clear about broken light covers. He can show me the standards, if I want, or if I have any questions.

This seems like a win for him. I'm sure he is right about the law, and in fact when I look at the cover I can see that the bulb is starting to corrode and there is a lot of junk up in there. Not safe, and if it is not fixed soon I can see that I am going to have to replace the whole unit.

I apologize for being a jerk, he agrees that I was a jerk but that it is not a big deal, and I go back into the waiting room. Jackie Dickinson, dominatrix model madame, is on Oxygen, and I don't want to miss too much. (UPDATE: I got this wrong. Her name is Janice, not Jackie. I was just too excited to notice).

30 seconds later, just as Jackie is ripping some poor girl a new one for not having enough energy for the camera, another guy comes in.

"Can you come out, sir? We want to show you something."

DAMN! I am going to miss Jackie, and they must have found something else wrong.

The new guy gestures to the other guy, and to the Mustang. "Now, just like he told you: we canNOT pass this car with that broken light cover. It's the law."

I nod. We already worked this out. The guy is right. I'm not sure why I had to miss Jackie for this.

But then, the guy blurts out, almost angrily: "But we can pass it if you give us fifteen dollars."

I am undone. I burst out laughing. $15? They will openly break the law, and endanger their own jobs, for $15? Split that two ways, and you can barely buy lunch at Mickey D's. What the hell?

I just go back inside. I can't watch TV anymore, though; I'm too stunned. This is like Mexico City, where fines are negotiable and the law is simply a starting point for the negotiations. (neither Harpy Lube worker was Latino, for the record. One blonde kid and one dark-haired frat boy type).

They finish the car, and only charge $8.50 (I had them replace the tag light). No charge for the inspection. Makes no sense.

1. If $15 is the value of the infraction, why not just wave it through to begin with? It's not worth endangering your job for that.
2. There is not really a safety problem here. THe turn signal worked fine. But what if there had been? Would our boys have just charged a higher "fee"? Would they fake an emissions test?
3. This is only the second time I have ever had someone solicit a bribe, openly or otherwise. Am I naive? Does this happen more often than I think? 'Cause I don't think it happens very often.

George Allen's Own Version of "I have a scream"


George Allen stepped in a big pile of macaca, it appears.

Daily Kos' Jeffrey Feldman lays it out, with a lot more analysis than any sane person would want to read, much less write.

And read the comments on that post. Amazing.

The Democrats DESERVE whatever nutjob they are going to select. I'm sure they will apply the same "analysis" to the speech of their own candidates, not just poor George A.

This is just an assassination. You can't seriously believe that Allen intentionally used a word he knew to be racist. You can say he should know that macaca is a racist word, before he uses it, but the theory that it is coded signal to white supremacists is such a paranoid fantasy that Oliver Stone would laugh out loud.

But...c'mon. Mit Romney uses the phrase "tar baby" and gets pounded for that? The important thing is that tar is sticky, not that it is black. My man Saunders has the correct view of that little affair.

I agree George Allen made a dumb mistake. And I also understand that if I were the dark-skinned fellow who got called the name, I might not be so placid about this. But for all the white boys to jump on Allen in a holier-than-thou fury is just....well, it's just about all the Democratic party has come to represent. Instead of policy initiatives, they give us speech police. Daily Cause needs to work a bit more on what the Republicans do, rather than what they say.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Props to Reykr: Small World

Reykr, at LiveJournal, had this song in the ol' head:

Ach, du lieber Lieberman,
Lieberman, Lieberman,
ach du lieber Lieberman,
alles ist hin!

Hut ist weg, Stock ist weg,
Geld ist weg, alles weg,
ach du lieber Lieberman,
alles ist hin!

Reykr Googled it up, and found my version.

Reykr extends it nicely.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Messes Are Unnecess(ary)

I come home from work. The younger younger Munger has been home for a couple of hours. It appears he tried to make macaroni and cheese, and burned a full box of elbow macaroni (think about that, given how one cooks macaroni). The kitchen is a mess, and there are empty soda cans and frozen food boxes all around the microwave.

The floor is covered with dirty clothes and wet towels, in a stream from the bathroom going up the stairs toward the rooms of both the elder younger Munger and the younger younger Munger.

The yyM walks in, with four friends. They look at the mess, and look at me, and start to laugh. I can't really yell at Brian, in front of his friends. I do make him pick up the clothes and towels, throw away the trash, and generally do the things necessary to keep the EPA away.

And, then, I do the offensive tactics. Brian is probably sure I am going to do this, because none of his friends come down for over an hour. But I can wait. I have all the time in the world.

Finally, I hear footsteps on the stairs. A kid I don't even know is coming down to use the bathroom, and get a soda from the drink fridge outside.

And I am ready. I recommend this to other parents, as the counteroffensive measures necessary to get your kid's attention.

Step 1: remove your shirt. (This is not recommended for moms, as it will make the occasion a little TOO memorable for teenage boys. And if you are an in-shape guy, it won't make much of an impression. But if you are a pudge like me, it is a great start).

Step 2: Have "Conway Twitty's All-Stars: Country's Greatest Hits!" (1982) cranking on "repeat" on the CD player. Have the speakers up loud.

Step 3: While doing the dishes, dance. I mean, shake your money-maker hard. They will pay you to stop shaking it.

Step 4: Sing along, loudly, to the song that is playing. Get the words, or the tune (but not both), slightly wrong. It is important that you appear to KNOW the song.

Step 5: When the kid stops at the doorway, in horror, turn to him and say: "Hey! How are you? This is {insert your kid's name}'s favorite album!"

The kid went straight back up, to report. In about no seconds, the yyM comes running down stairs. "Dad!"

I look at him. "You know why I'm doing this..."

He shakes his head, and goes back up. Now, one can argue that, since I have done this before and the offense still occurs, it is not effective. But it is more fun than yelling, and in this case the sympathy your child gets from his friends is really genuine.

Non-Performance Non-Art

I have in the past posted about my experience with employees who needed firin'.*

Some of these I have developed into longer essays, with a moral and a happy ending.

But, today, something happened that...well, let me tell you. It put me away, speechless. No opportunity for performance art. Just stunned silence.

Had a "buy one fatburger, get one fatburger free" coupon. Stopped by the Hardee's with younger younger Munger to get our share of salt and saturated fat for the day.

I order, "One 2/3 pound vastbruger, and one monster deathburger, please!"

The poor employee (no other customers, and only one non-English-speaking cook to back her up behind the counter) rings up the order, and announces, "$14.95, sir!"

Now, the deathburger is $5.49, and the vastburger is $4.89. Buy one, get one free means you charge for the more expensive one, and get the cheaper one free. I try to point this out. She angrily shouts, "Look, you ordered two vastburgers and two fatburgers, and that costs $14.95!"

Ah, I think, honest mistake. Except then I notice she has rung up a vastburger, a fatburger, and (I'm not making up this name; I made up the other names, but this is real) a "bogoburger." The bogoburger had a price $3.68. It appeared nowhere on the menu. Presumably, "bogo" is a misspelled shortening of "bogus charge".

But, I really felt bad for the woman behind the counter. She had the shape, skin tone, and complexion of a dumpling, probably 50+, and was just confused.

So, I repeated what I actually wanted: "One vastburger, and one deathburger, please. And the coupon says buy one get one free."

She gulps, looks around, and says, "I'm sorry. That makes sense." She yells at the cook to take the other hamburger patties off the grill (!!), then goes off on some long explanation in a language that was not Spanish. The cook appeared to speak only Spanish, and so this didn't go well.

So, she comes back to the register, and rings up:

1 vastburger $0.00
1 deathburger $0.00

And says, "Well, I guess that won't cost you anything, then, with the coupon."

Younger younger Munger and I stare at her, completely frozen.

She says, "It's cheaper if I give you the free one, instead of the one you have to pay for. Don't you want to save money?"

Well, yes, that's true, I do. But... I tried one more time. "Ma'am, the coupon is 'buy one, get one free.' I have to buy one. I owe you #5.49, plus tax, which is..." (I used to work in fast food, I can do it in my head) "...$.39, which is $5.88."

"No, no!", she says. "You had a coupon. So you...OH! (pause) Oh..."

By this time, there is a guy behind me. He is peering over my shoulder; everybody loves a train wreck.

I gave up. She was just staring at me, shaking her head slightly but quickly, a "shut up and go away now, please!" look if I have ever seen one. (And, since I have received that look from MANY women, I have seen one.)

The sandwiches come up, in their little burger coffins. She bags them, and hands me the bag, with a rictus of deathwish on her face. She goes to wait on the next customer.

Now, here's the deal:

1. I stole $5.49 from Hardee's, and $.39 in sales tax from the state of North Carolina. I didn't do it on purpose, and I tried hard to pay, and the employee "gave" me the sandwiches for free. But they weren't hers to give.

2. If I go back and try to pay, she may get fired. At her age, working at Hardee's in the middle of the afternoon, she must not have a lot of other prospects. And she clearly lacked some of the basic skills needed to work in retail. "Buy one, get one free" is not a difficult concept.

3. I could write to Hardee's corporate office, and enclose a check. But we already wrote a letter to Hardee's corporate, about bad service two months ago. We got back a form letter...AND THE BUY ONE GET ONE FREE COUPON.

(*Thanks to the Texan who, when charged with killing another man, used as his entire defense the claim, "But, he NEEDED killin'." Supposedly, he was then acquited, as described in the link...)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

....Only Fatter, and Not as Funny

I was on an AM radio show this a.m., early drive-time show. I have 4 minutes, total, including the hosts' questions. Brief, pithy, witty. Brief, pithy, witty. Brief...

With 7 seconds left, one of the hosts asks me about Hillary Clinton: "What are Hillary's chances for the Presidency?"

I check the clock, realize that there is no way to give a serious answer, and say: "Her main problem is that the First Man would spend all his time down at Denny's, trying to get the waitresses to play 'Prez and Intern'." Big laugh from hosts, promises to talk again soon, etc.

So, score one for me. How clever.

I relate this to my older son, rather proudly (being a narcissist, I am mostly proud of EVERYTHING). He stares at me.

He says, "So, you crack on Jon Stewart, who is a comedian, for ridiculing public figures. But you, a college professor, are allowed to make crude jokes about an ex-President?"

I really didn't have an answer.

He continued: "Dad, you are just LIKE Jon Stewart, only fatter and not as funny."


Reminded me of H.L. Mencken's law of self-awareness: No man can be a fool, and not know it, if he is married.

Munger's corollary to Mencken's law: No man can be a pompous ass, and not know it, if he has a teenage son.

Ach, du lieber Lieberman!

A song. (ahem.)

Ach, du lieber Lieberman, Lieberman, Lieberman!
Ach, du lieber Lieberman, you just can't win!

1. Money's gone, nomination's gone,
You just can't win, Lieberman!
Not as an independent, Lieberman,
You just can't win!

2. Office is gone, staff is gone,
But turnout rose 30 thousand.
O, my dear friend Lieberman,
They all hate you so!

3. Even that rich town Greenwich,
Voted for Ned*, which
Spent four mill of his own dollars,
And left Joe for dead!

4. Still, Schlesinger's** a nebbish,
And you've got name reCOGnish,
The polls say you might win it,
In November, if you run.

5. Now, MoveOn*** is beaming,
Howard Dean**** will be screaming!
Ach, du lieber Lieberman,
You just can't win!

(With apologies to the German folk, for using their German folk song, "Ach, du lieber Augustin" in so craven a fashion. And, check that link for the lyrics. Think of all the times you sang that in grade school....)

* Ned is Ned Lamont, now Dem nominee
** Schlesinger is Alan Schlesinger, Repub nominee
***MoveOn.org is a loose society of liberals who have gone over to the dark side
****Howard Dean is head of DNC

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cat House

Hemingway's house in Key West has a bunch of cats. They aren't feral, but they aren't really tame. They live on the grounds, and are fed by the museum staff.

The street people (or they could be U.S. Congressmen; I can never tell) who sit around all day on the porch are happy to give loud recitations of names and family histories. For the cats, I mean. Their own names and family histories are more obscure.

And, of course, the cats have that strange extra toe, like a little boxing glove sticking out of their leg an inch or so above their foot. (On which I have written before, from the Cuban perspective).

ANYWAY...the cats are in danger. So, the museum is going to have to shut down, or else euthanize all the cats in order to save them.

My real point here: The problem is the thing itself! The bureaucrats (burycats?) who want to clean up this den of inequity* are just doing their jobs. The law is pretty clear. The fact that they got away with it for 40 years is no reason to suspend the law now. Equal protection means equal LACK of protection: we all get treated like crapola, because the law says so. The problem is not the bureaucrats; the problem is the law itself. You can't blame a dog for eating out of the garbage.

Nod to MG, with thanks.

*Yes, settle down, I spelled it that way on purpose

Gibler on Maps and Mapping

Doug Gibler has an interesting piece on "maps" of the middle east.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Donna Martinez has a nice piece on immigration.

I don't know if she is right, though, about her claim that "real" conservatives should support immigration reform of the kind she outlines.

Her claim is logical, I think. But I don't know what a real conservative is any more. Numerically, most people who call themselves conservatives seem to advocate imposing their own religious views on everyone else, expanding government to accomplish that imposition, and spending lots of money on foreign adventures without any source of tax revenue to pay for it.

Still, a good read.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

My sons (16 and 14) get all of what news they get from the Jon Stewart show and the Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. They often bring up something that was said there, as if it were simply true.

All I know about Stewart is his famous "confrontation" with Crossfire talking head Tucker Carlson, where Stewart said: "No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey." And Stewart also said, about his show and why people watch it for political news, "We have civilized discourse."

And, of course, Stewart ended his petulant school-marm-grabs-little-Tuckie-by-the-ear lecture with this exchange:

CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?
STEWART: If I think they are.
CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.
STEWART: I know. And you won't. But the thing I want to get to...
BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.
CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let's get to those.
BEGALA: They're in this book, which is a very funny book.
STEWART: Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please.
CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE.
We're going to take a quick break.
STEWART: No, no, no, please.
CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We've got commercials.
STEWART: Please. Please stop.
CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the "Rapid Fire."
STEWART: Please stop.
CARLSON: Hopefully, he'll be here, we hope, we think.

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
We're talking to Jon Stewart, who was just lecturing us on our moral inferiority.
Jon, you're bumming us out. Tell us, what do you think about the Bill O'Reilly vibrator story?
STEWART: I'm sorry. I don't.
STEWART: What do you think?
BEGALA: Let me change the subject.
STEWART: Where's your moral outrage on this?
CARLSON: I don't have any.
STEWART: I know.

Oh, snap! What a cool guy! Gag me, please. I actually don't think
anyone was confused, Jon: Crossfire was an entertainment show, professional wrestling for wonks. Your little lecture was sad, and you are a pathetic, preening poseur.

Anyway, I did decide to see how Stewart and his boy, Colbert, were doing on the moral outrage front. Since Stewart wants more moral outrage, I mean.

So, I watched the Thursday, August 3, 2006 edition of both programs at 8 pm EDT (yes, those are reruns of the 11 pm live version from August 2; sue me).


I have to admit, I did also know this, going in:

4-01-2004 -- Fake and scathing 1, fair and balanced 0. CNN and MSNBC have gotten used to losing to Fox News. But during the Democratic primaries, an unexpected foe stole the ratings crown from all three. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, a mock news program airing on Viacom's (VIA) Comedy Central, attracted more viewers at 11 p.m. than any of the cable news channels in the last two weeks of January, outdoing Fox by 20 percent even as the news network was running live campaign coverage. Stewart's fake news show has won ever-growing audiences with help from real politico guests like John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.

So, I'm not so sure he can really leave the moral outrage to others.

Anyway, my "review" of the Aug 3 8 pm EDT showing:

1. He said "fuck" four times. It was bleeped out, but his lips said it clearly, and it wasn't really bleeped out very effectively. Saying "fuck", for a comic, is a lot like calling your opponents Nazis in a debate. It means you aren't very smart, and don't have any real things to say.
2. There was also a graphic, up nearly constantly, that showed "10th fucking (something or other" that was supposed to have significance for fans.
3. He said shit once, that I caught.

Remember, this is on standard cable, at 8 pm. I am glad to let the boy be potty mouth, if he wants, but why does he have to pretend to be a real news show, and then work as hard as he can to make it seem like the concept of news itself is boring unless you say "fuck" a lot. Well, and "shit."

The first segment was about President Bush, being fat. Stewart called him a "fat fuck," facing full on into the camera. It made me proud to be an American. I'm glad that my sons get to be exposed to such an enlightening display.

Why would we expect civility in discourse, which Stewart says he wants, when tomorrow's generation of voters are being told the President is a fat fuck?

The second segment was a montage of interviews from Florida. Excellent stuff, very funny, I did laugh out loud. Just letting people be themselves. The Republican congressional hopeful from Florida who sang the rap sang about gays, and cocaine, was excellent. And the lap dancer...and the woman who wants to ban Satan. Nice television. One thumb up, at least.

The final segment was Chris Paine, and his omni-present "Who killed the electric car?" movie promo. Still, the questions were fine, and Paine is a smart guy. I have to give Paine credit, he noted that independent carmakers could produce electric cars, and would as soon as it was truly economical to do so. Still, I wondered why he (or Mr. Civility, the host) didn't announce they were starting a new electric car company. If it's that easy to do, and you could make money, why not do the free media thing and announce it on the show? Maybe it is NOT that easy? Maybe the fact that no one has produced a commercially successful electric car means something other than a grandiose capitalist conspiracy. Still, Paine has some good points, and I'll probably see the movie.

All in all, this is a 7 out of 10. Without the hypocrisy about civilized discourse, I might even have thought the "fat fuck" bit was funny. But if you go on other entertainment shows and give them lectures about morality, you have to have standards yourself.


I was really prepared to hate this, a lot. The guy who went looking for Mr. Goodwrench, doing political comentary? He is such a gut-wrenchingly horrible guy.

Starts with a bit about the empty chair for Senator Lieberman, and a box of Cocoa Puffs. And some sort of running gag about milk, and nausea. Then a skit about the "on-notice board." This was as bad a skit as I have ever seen on TV. Saturday Night Live would not have run a skit this lame even if Regis Philbin were the host and they were looking for philler.

Then, the segment on "The Word," apparently a regular feature. Pretty darned funny. Quick, witty, clever. Excellent stuff.

Then, some calls from "listeners." I assumed an outbreak of lameness was imminent, but it was great. Colbert is actually a good actor, as long as he gets to shtay in his shtick, and the callers did a good job, too. Way better than such a lame concept should have been. Nicely done.

Finally, a guest "interview": Linda Hirschman, flogging her book on why woman should work outside the home. It's called, GET TO WORK. Colbert actually does this bizarre, anorexic Benny Hill dance on his way over to the interview table, and then does a moderately serious interview.

Hirschman actually said, at one point, that all of western philosophy was on her side, and that women should work because if you read western philosophy that's what it says. I'm paraphraising, but that's pretty close. Well, my own reading of Aristotle (for example) would say that "Silence is a woman's glory." (Politics, Bk I, pt 8). Linda H didn't really take THAT part of western philosophy very seriously. Hirschman was incredibly sure of herself, and her own ability uniquely to dictate right and wrong to other women. But to give her credit, she made some valid points, and was brave, given the atmosphere. She summarized her claim this way (again, not quoting exactly): we need to move toward the middle. Men should feel free to spend more of their time on children, and women should feel free to spend less on children, and more on work outside the home. Except she didn't mean it; Hirschman clearly thinks that if women only work inside the home, then a squad of long-haired men and short-haired women should visit and reeducate them.

Colbert did ask some pretty pointed, but useful questions. His best shot, which was exactly right, was: You just want others to have to want what you want. Why can't they want what they want? Why isn't staying home and raising children a perfectly valid choice? (Full disclosure: my wife is an attorney, full time, and has been straight through except for two maternity leaves. I am the cook in the family. So I agree with Hirschman, at least to the extent that I want women to have the OPTION of working outside the home, and I agree also that husbands are obliged to accomodate that choice if that is what the wife wants).

But Colbert also just made fun and constantly interrupted Hirschman, and made me much more sympathetic to her personally than I was to her totalitarian arguments.

Still, you know what this reminded me of? One person trying to score debating points, and another person interrupting and making fun of them? It was just like....Crossfire.

I have expected the moral authority of the universe, Jon Stewart, to come in and lecture Colbert on the importance of civility. But for some reason it didn't happen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Minimum Wage Follies

One has to laugh at the jabber about the minimum wage. I don't think that raising the minimum wage does much harm, so maybe it's not a big deal. But it is offensive that nearly all the harm falls on those who the measure is supposed to help, the economically marginal.

And nearly all the benefits accrue to union workers, and people who make high wages, because now their pay is not so out of line, and they are better substitutes for unskilled workers.

Some points:

1. Very few workers work at minimum wage. I never did. I often worked two jobs, to pay for college. Construction, unloading timbers at a lumber yard, laying sod, working in orange groves. And if you work at minimum wage for more than a year or two, without getting a raise, you have other problems (productivity, attitude, attendance difficulties, etc). It is not clear that raising the minimum wage is the best way to help such desperately marignal people.

2. Job loss, job gentrification

From the EPI site, propaganda arm for white middle class union workers who are the actual chief beneficiaries of the minimum wage increase:

There is no evidence of job loss from the last minimum wage increase.

A 1998 EPI study failed to find any systematic, significant job loss associated with the 1996-97 minimum wage increase. In fact, following the most recent increase in the minimum wage in 1996-97, the low-wage labor market performed better than it had in decades (e.g., lower unemployment rates, increased average hourly wages, increased family income, decreased poverty rates).

Studies of the 1990-91 federal minimum wage increase, as well as studies by David Card and Alan Krueger of several state minimum wage increases, also found no measurable negative impact on employment.

New economic models that look specifically at low-wage labor markets help explain why there is little evidence of job loss associated with minimum wage increases. These models recognize that employers may be able to absorb some of the costs of a wage increase through higher productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, decreased absenteeism, and increased worker morale.

A recent Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) study of state minimum wages found no evidence of negative employment effects on small businesses.

The minimum wage increase in the late 1990s was during one of the greatest economic booms in human history. Basically no one was making minimum wage, and so it is hardly surprising that there was no measurable job loss. It was really hard to find workers even at higher wages.

The Card and Krueger analysis is discredited. They themselves recanted, no one claims that specific industries go one way or the other, and the minimum wage increase differentially harmed mom and pop pizza shops, and helped McDendy's and Taco Hell: franchises face more inelastic demand, because of advertising. And, fast food prices in New Jersey (home of the C&K mythology) rose much faster than in surrounding states over the study period.

Finally, the unemployment rate among African-American teenagers is approaching 30%. In many parts of the nation, the unemployment rate among adults (if you count people who have given up looking for work, and account for the fact that we jail people for minor crimes that wouldn't be committed if they had more economic opportunities) is not much lower. If you have no job experience, and no sense of the need to show up for work on time, dressed properly and with an attitude that customers are your boss, you won't EVER have a job. The unemployment rate only measures people who have LOOKED for a job in recent past. Minimum wage increases mean that search is hopeless for anyone who would have been employed at $5.15, but not at $7.25. What is the effect on the measured unemployment rate? Zero! That poor teenager never even bothers to look for a job. We can always build more jails, though. (A screed from the OTHER EPI)

So, anyway, I really don't mind the minimum wage increase. We should just call it the "Legislation To Increase the Salaries of Middle Class White Union Workers Who Contribute Big Bucks to Ted Kennedy." Then, at least we would be honest about who is benefitting.

(you might check the very nice WSJ article by David R. Henderson, which got me thinking about this. Yeah, it's for subscribers. Waddya want for nothing, rubber biscuit?)

UPDATE: Dirty Davey makes a good point: restoring the real minimum wage is different from actually raising it. I worked on this a bit over at Div of Labour.

It's hard to leave when you can't find the Doha

Danny D eulogizes, but does not bury, Doha.

And a nice post on WTO and Doha from PKK.

His conclusion:

In total, a number of countries must share responsibility for the breakdown. Brazil and other Third World food exporters probably were too ambitious on behalf of the developed countries, India refused to accept more competition in its comparatively weak industries, and the US position remained opaque while the country for too long hid behind the protectionist positions of other member states. However, the bottom line is that the main culprit - the member bearing most of the responsibility - is the European Union. The problem continues to be that the official policy of the union is controlled by Southern European countries with strong agricultural lobbies - and the policy is therefore rather clearly dictated by Paris. French top politicians have throughout the negotiations ‘protected’ French farmers against cuts in tariffs or support measures - Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin both went on air in national media to ensure their voters that France would veto any liberalization - which makes the country the Global Public Enemy Number One. Yet, another part of the story that needs to be told is that other EU members also made an indirect effort. The EU as a whole and traditionally liberalist countries such as the UK and Denmark in particular are all accomplices. We are guilty of both crimes and misdemeanours but the worst crime of them all is that we are actively preventing poor countries from gaining extra opportunities to lift themselves out of deep poverty. If justice exists in this world, future historians will not look kindly on today’s political letdown.

(just so it doesn't drive you crazy, song snippet in the title is from Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good to Me". I bring it up because that song has one of the very best list of misheard lyrics. Hilarious).