Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sure: It Briefly Lifted the Roof Off the Bungalow

Quite a story. Sometimes, things just get out of hand.

A teenager left at home while his parents were on holiday decided to do some washing - and ended up blowing the roof off and causing £35,000 of damage.

In a freak string of mishaps, Sean Davey, 18, left a washing basket full of clothes on top of the electric cooker. He then accidentally knocked one of the hob controls, turning on one of the rings, before going out to meet friends.

The heated ring set fire to the basket of clothes which, in turn, heated a nearby bag of shopping that his sister Nicky, 20, had left for her brother earlier in the day.
And that caused a can of Sure deodorant to explode with such force that it not only blew out windows but cracked a wall and even, briefly, lifted the roof off the bungalow.

Three fire crews tackled the blaze in the home at Caister-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, on Sunday evening. Firemen rescued one of the family's labrador dogs while the other one escaped of his own accord and reappeared, somewhat shaken, eight hours later.

Joanne Bray, who cut short her holiday in the Scottish Highlands with her husband Paul when they heard of the disaster, said yesterday that structural damage to the building was estimated at £20,000 with another £15,000 needed to repair fire and smoke damage inside.

"Sean phoned me and said: 'Mum, the house is on fire.' I have forgiven him because it was just one of those unfortunate accidents. I am just grateful that he and the dogs are alive and well," said Mrs Bray.


Political Graveyard

So, my wife (last name, before and after marriage: Gingerella; her motto is, "Why don't YOU change YOUR name?") asked me if there had ever been "a politically successful Munger."

I did not say, "before ME, you mean, dear?"

Obviously, the place to go to answer such questions is THE POLITICAL GRAVEYARD.

Here's one useful entry:

"Munger, William S. — of Michigan. Republican. Candidate in primary for Michigan state senate 18th District, 1952. Still living as of 1952."

Well, that is a minimal kind of success: Ol' Bill Munger ran for Michigan state Senate, and did not actually die during the campaign. He lost the race, but he didn't die. You takes your victories where you gets 'em.

I would have to say that the biggest success story is Willard Munger. Check this:

Munger, Willard (1911-1999) — also known as "Mr. Environment" — of Duluth, St. Louis County, Minn. Born in a log house, Otter Tail County, Minn., January 20, 1911. Democrat. Member of Minnesota state house of representatives, 1955-64, 1967-99; defeated, 1934, 1952; died in office 1999; delegate to Democratic National Convention from Minnesota, 1960; candidate for Minnesota state senate, 1964. Served in the Minnesota House longer than anyone else in the state's history. Died, of liver cancer, in the hospice unit of of St. Mary's Hospital, Duluth, St. Louis County, Minn., July 11, 1999. Interment at Oneota Cemetery, Duluth, Minn.

Now, that is a political career. He served in the Minnesota House for 41 years. I bet Mrs. Environment was getting a little sick of those tuna hotdish dinners at the Duluth Rotary Club long before the end. But Willard stayed in office until there was no more Willard.

He left a legacy. The Willard Munger Inn. The Munger Trail. A biography, written out of respect and gratitude for all those years of service. An obituary to be proud of.

Now, when I started this post, I was just mocking the idea of political success. Things we can't have, we make fun of. But by the time I actually learned something about Willard Munger, I have to admit I'm proud to have the same last name.

Willard Munger, here's to you: the greatest political Munger of all time.

The Rawls Experiment, Part II: It was an open bar...

A friend here in Raleigh (though soon moving to DC), sent the following email:

Okay, I was a bit loosey-goosey with the methodology but consider the following field data. (It was an open bar, I moderated and participated, there is no way to repeat the test under the same conditions etc.)

Last week we hosted state regulators for four days of economics boot camp. One evening, before loading everyone up on a bus and carting them off to an awesome dinner at La Cantina in downtown Aspen, I borrowed (with attribution) your classroom experiment. (for those interested in the Munger version, look here)

The scene: half a dozen state regulators; approximately half a dozen professional academics with backgrounds in law or economics (NIE and experimental folks) and myself. We had two extra tickets that given the outcome of the vote, I decided to just throw into the "pot."

I proposed the following rules for our experiment: a) anyone may opt out; b) if you opt out, then you may not vote; c) a vote would be taken to establish a rule of action which would be binding on everyone and a simple majority would carry the vote; d) the vote was to determine if we would socialize the winnings of 15 lottery tickets and share the prizes equally or if we would each take an individual property right in a randomly assigned $1 scratch ticket that I had purchased and would provide at no cost; e) warehousing was disallowed -- everyone would scratch at the same time and we would pass out any winnings at dinner.

Everyone wanted to participate. Only two people voted to have individual risk-reward and 11 (5 of 6 regulators and all of the academics) voted to socialize benefits. After the vote, a few enterprising folks discovered that there was a 1 in 4.68 chance of breaking even on any given ticket. After scratching, we had two tickets win $1 each and one ticket win $40.

Net result: A recently tenured assistant professor from George Mason voted to socialize winnings and as a result "lost" out on $36+ while everyone else came out ahead. As a sample, I'm willing to go out on a limb and generalize to say that regulators and academics are willing to take low payoff/high probability options over high payoff/low probability options. Your students were less risk averse. We can hypothesize as to where Rawls influence lingers the most.

Recovery: I had anticipated the "lessons" of the experiment to be things like how consumers are capable of making decisions with limited information, the decision rule (simple majority v. unanimity v. super majority) was important, and while socializing risk and reward may help some people, it comes at a cost to others. If these points failed, I planned to simply say "Boy that was fun; let's go eat." But given the circumstances and outcome, I focused on the decision rule, the transaction costs that would have ensued if we needed unanimity and externalities since some folks volunteered that their vote would have changed had it been their dollar plunked down on the ticket.

Discussion tid bit: Several people commented during the discussion that they were slightly worried about how they would "look" or "feel" if they won a hundred dollars but had voted to keep it all to themselves since the whole experience was "random or by chance." It was observed that this "feeling" would have dissipated if they had earned their lottery tickets or paid for them. This social pressure sparked a short investigation of rational but non-profit maximizing behaviors in the marketplace.

Anyway, I'm just a policy guy trying to change the world a bit at a time. And, I don't mind a little fun and a good dinner at La Cantina. I have no regret about the methodological sloppiness although the lopsided vote suggests that the program is not being as successful as I had thought in instilling the virtues of property rights etc.

Thanks to Kent Lassman, and good luck serving the public weal.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Controlling Legal Authority III

On the continuing problem of controlling legal authority....

The Supreme Court today issued a 5-4 decision narrowing the First Amendment rights of public employees. It held that speech made “pursuant to” an employee’s duties is not entitled to First Amendment protection. Employees do have other statutory and contractual protections, however.

Two excerpts from LA Times story:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday restricted the free-speech rights of the nation's 21 million public employees, ruling that the 1st Amendment does not protect them from being punished for complaining to their managers about possible wrongdoing.
Although government employees have the same rights as other citizens to speak out on controversies of the day, they do not have the right to speak freely inside their offices on matters related to "their official duties," the high court said in a 5-4 decision.
When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom," said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, rejecting a lawsuit brought by a Los Angeles County prosecutor.
Lawyers for government whistle-blowers denounced the ruling as a major setback. They said it could threaten public health and safety. Public sector hospital workers who know of dangers may be discouraged from revealing them, while police and public employees may be dissuaded from exposing corruption, they said...

...Still, Tuesday's majority opinion left open the possibility that an employee might be shielded by the 1st Amendment if he or she acted as a "citizen," rather than in an official capacity, and took complaints to a newspaper or to a state legislator.
Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that it "seems perverse" to protect whistle-blowers who go public, while punishing those who take their concerns to their managers.
"We think this is a bad decision, but it may not be a catastrophe," said Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU lawyer in Los Angeles. "It basically says, if you go to the L.A. Times, you might get some protection. But if you report it in the office and up the chain of command, you don't have any protection under the 1st Amendment."


Ice and Fog...not

Check this, or else this, for word on the giant wreck on I-40/I-85. It was apparently caused by heavy fog and a layer of ice on the road.

Except, without the fog or the ice. Just rain. So not even like January 19, 2005, when traffic was completely gridlocked for five or six hours, because of less than an inch of ice. At least that was ice. It's hard to drive on ice.

Today, in the rain, more than 80 cars wrecked, in more than 20 little goofball clusters, with more than 30 injuries.

I Lots of these people did nothing more than stop to avoid the cars in front of them, only to be rear-ended, of course, so maybe only half of the 82 (or less) were actually at fault. But that's a lot fault for a Wednesday morning with a brief rain shower.

People in San Diego were talking about this pile-up: "See, Californians aren't the only ones who can't drive!"

One elderly man, at least, was seriously injured. Sometimes, when it first rains in summer, that sheen of oil comes up, and watch out.

Be careful out there....Or else just abandon the pretense and get yourself one of these. Cops love gags like this.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Yes, Dear

My (our) twentieth wedding anniversary is coming up. My lovely wife:

The lovely wife did something that, years ago, might have gotten me into trouble.

Here's what she did:

1. Decided my son's car needed gas (it did, it had fumes and nothing else. he had driven it home on empty...why? now, if I did that, i'd get a stony look. But since our older son did it, she decides she is going to go fill it up for him).

2. Drove to a gas station three miles away. (Pretty scary, might have run out of gas any second)

3. Realized, when she got to the gas station, that she had forgotten her purse. No money, no credit card.

4. Reasoned that she couldn't drive home, AND BACK, on the clearly empty tank (almost certainly correct). Reasoned further that without money she couldn't put gas in the car if she stayed at the station, either.

5. So, she called me. On my son's cell phone. I am pitching batting practice. He holds up the phone...."Mom wants to talk to you!"

6. I take the call. She explains. I say...."Well, now, that could happen to ANYONE, dear! I'll be right there!" (Baseball field is 1.5 miles from this gas station).

What does this have to do with 20 years of marriage? Answer, especially for young men not yet married or only married for a little while: You will do stuff MUCH more stupid than this. You will do it often. And if you laugh, or yell, or do any of the things that a not-married-for-20-years person would automatically do, you will regret it.

Besides, maybe this way I'll get lucky later. You never know. It could happen. Even after 20 years of marriage.