Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Midland...How Embarrassing

Whoa, my Southern credentials are very much in question.

But my dad was from upstate New York, and my mom from Southern Indiana. It's their fault.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana (BINGO! THAT'S THE GUERNSEY HOMELAND!), southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

(nod to Lord Sutch, and props to the interview boy. Here's hoping it went well!)

Carried Away: The Box

A gentle reader suggest that I have gotten "carried away" on the whole horse thing, and probably in a dozen other earlier posts.

Almost certainly right. Over the top, not funny, and all that.

But I have to admit it pleases me to develop the implications of surreal situations, particularly ones that involve anthropomorphizing animals or objects. I think about them when I drive, or run, and then just have to write them down.

For example:

Have you ever thought about what it must be like for the box? The box that plastic trash bags come in, I mean.

That box has contained those bags for months, possibly for years. All folded. Kept in the line, with sharp creases, in perfect order for being removed from their box by someone who wants to take the full bag out of the trash bin, and put in a new, clean, empty bag.

But, at some point, you get down to just a few bags left.

Does the box KNOW? Do the bags begin to taunt the box? They can't know which will be the last bag, because as there are fewer bags there is room to flop around, and the hand may pick this one, or that one....can't tell.

But at some point, there is the end of the caste system, the destruction of the only social order that the bags and the box have ever known. AT SOME POINT, THERE IS JUST ONE BAG LEFT!

And now, surely, the box knows its fate.

The trash bin is full. The guy (should be a guy) pulls the full bag out, ties it up, and places it on the floor to take it outside. Then, he pulls out the last trash bag, puts it in the trash bin, smooths it out.


What is the conversation like? What does the bag say? "How does it feel, you fascist box? Kept us in line all that time, all folded and repressed. Never could stretch our wrinkles or get unfolded with you holding us back. HOW DOES IT FEEL?"

Before long, the box, once the keeper of social order, is covered with turkey guts, coffee grounds, eggshells. No social order, just anarchy, and a smelly one at that. But surrounding it all, the bag, newly elevated to the status of king, constrains and controls all.

The bag fills, and it is taken out to the outside bin, with all of its brothers and sisters. The box is forgotten, empty, useless. Simple refuse, where once it held sway over two dozen bags.

We should have some sort of ceremony, a recognition of the change in the social order. Like when Great Britain left Hong Kong, and there was a transfer of the flags. We should acknowledge that the box is no longer the boss, and the bag is no longer the subaltern.

(See? See what I mean? This is no doubt completely boring. But I find it WONDERFUL!)

Winning the Whole Pot

My friend Jenna at TtBW links to an interesting piece by Jeff Miron.

Executive Summary
Government prohibition of marijuana is the subject of ongoing debate.
One issue in this debate is the effect of marijuana prohibition on government budgets. Prohibition entails direct enforcement costs and prevents taxation of marijuana production and sale.
This report examines the budgetary implications of legalizing marijuana – taxing and regulating it like other goods – in all fifty states and at the federal level.
The report estimates that legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.
The report also estimates that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.
Whether marijuana legalization is a desirable policy depends on many factors other than the budgetary impacts discussed here. But these impacts should be included in a rational debate about marijuana policy.

Interesting Talk in Durham....

From a comment from my guy Swamp Fox. I thought it deserved real posting status:

Since we've touched on the topic of school choice, I feel compelled to shamelessly plug a Duke Conservative Union-sponsored event.

Tonight at 6 PM in the Social Science Building, Room 124, DCU will host author and blogger Joanne Jacobs. Jacobs will discuss her new book about the remarkable success of a charter school for failing, underprivileged children in downtown San Jose.

For more info, check out this site...

Come and join this conversation! It should be an interesting discussion about educational reform in America. Of course, the more heterogeneous the viewpoints of participants, the more stimulating this chat will be.

And, let me give a blanket invite: If you want to publicize a talk, or program, that is open to the public, just send me an email. I'll post it, for what that's worth. And I don't care at all about the content, as long as it is a public event in the Triangle.

Public Education

A number of people have asked about my public education views. Regarding the whole governor thing, I mean.

Well...okay. I am for, with reservations, at least in the foreseeable future.

It has become customary to bash public education, and the state of our educational system in general. I really do want to sound a positive note; there are a lot of good things happening in North Carolina education, and I would want to continue that advance, to guide continued improvement. And the path to continued improvement is to foster choice. School choice would be the central premise of the education policy of a Munger administration.

We already know that it works. Both of my sons go to public schools. Now, my wife and I could easily afford elite private schools for my sons, but the excellence of the public school choices in Raleigh make it unnecessary. My sons went to Magellan Charter School in north Raleigh, and now attend Raleigh Charter High School downtown.
Newsweek magazine, in its May 16, 2006 issue, ranked the top 1,000 high schools in the United States. NC has 4 of the top 50, 9 of the top 100, and 17 of the top 200. Let me say that again: NC has 4 times as many top high schools as you would expect if all state public education systems were equally good.

Why is NC doing so well? Choice. NC has an educational system that welcomes innovation and individual initiative. The high school my sons attend, Raleigh Charter, is ranked 9th in the U.S., among all public high schools. That’s in the entire U.S., mind you: number 9 overall, among all U.S. public high schools. A group of private individuals put together a plan, formed an organization, and use public funds to run a public high school under a charter. And even though Raleigh Charter is one of the top ten high schools in the nation, its cost per student is less than half that of the average for NC high schools. Facilities costs are less, administrative costs are less, and janitorial services are either provided by the students (they take out their own trash), or by contracting out to private firms that clean the bathrooms and mop the floors. In spite of only spending 50 cents on the dollar compared to traditional state-run schools, students are still better off because they had a choice.

Now, it is true that not all charter schools are so successful, though it is also true that even the worst charter schools are no worse than the lowest-performing public schools. But think about it: what happens to a charter school that parents aren’t satisfied with? It closes, because its enrollments fall below the level required to secure sufficient funding to continue. What happens to a traditional public school that parents aren’t satisfied with? Nothing, because public schools are not just the last resort, they are the only resort for parents who are denied a choice.

Now, you can say that everybody has a choice. After all, there are private schools. And there is home-schooling. Both of these options have been selected more and more often in the past decade. Those choices are not enough, however. Private schools are not plentiful, and they are very expensive. Home-schooling is expensive too, in its own way, and not everyone is able to teach bright students the challenging material they need to know to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

I would argue that NC faces three fundamental problems in educating its children:

1. Huge disparities in the ability of counties to provide a solid basic education;
2. Low teacher pay, making it hard to attract good new teachers and even harder to keep the many excellent teachers already in the system;
3. a flight of the best students, particularly those from wealthy families, from the public schools into private schools or home-schooling arrangements. This takes a lot of the best students out of public schools, and sharply reduces support for school spending.

One possible solution, one I myself was opposed to, is the highly touted new "Education Lottery." But the lottery is a sham, a tax on poor people pursuing a dream that they will almost certainly never realize, given the odds. And it is most likely that lottery proceeds will displace existing education spending, as has been the case in other states.

Most people in government, particularly those in the state-sponsored parties, got there by making some variant of the same promise: “Vote for me, and I will give you other peoples’ money.”

My promise is a little different, when it comes to education: “Vote for me, and I will let you decide how to spend your own money.” I would offer each parent in the state of N.C. an education voucher, financed by lottery proceeds, of $1, 250 per child in their household. This voucher could only be spent at a state-accredited school, or be credited to the household in the case of home-schooling. But I would make the accreditation process streamlined and simple, fostering the growth of charter schools, religious or theme schools, or any other kind of innovative educational program that can attract the children of parents who want to exercise their choices as parents.

Importantly, I would put a floor on public school spending at its existing level. Our schools need a lot of work, a lot of physical plant improvements, and better textbooks. A voucher/choice program cannot work by starving the traditional public schools of revenue. And I don’t want the General Assembly to be tempted to cut education dollars and use them for pork barrel spending in their districts, hoping lottery money will make up the difference.

What would be the effect of this voucher/choice program? In many counties, particularly in the beginning, this would simply mean that children would continue to attend the existing public schools, since there is no effective "choice" there. But at worst this would mean that there would be large infusion of funds into those school districts, representing a more effective settlement to the issues in the Leandro court case than anyone else has proposed. And over time, private schools, charter schools, and public schools that deliver good educations at low cost would find their enrollments increasing. Ultimately, “accreditation” would simply mean that voluntary choice of private parents resulted in enough enrollments to stay open. Schools that satisfied parents would be accredited by something like a market process: people value the service being provided enough to spend their voucher money there.

Because parents would be empowered to make a choice, many parents would investigate those choices and make the one that best suits them and their child. Because enrollments are a means of increasing school funding, students and their needs would start to count again. The public schools bureaucracy of our state seems to think it is doing us a favor by educating our children, because each child is an additional burden. Under my program, each student is a way of attracting more revenue.
NC is already doing pretty well, compared to public high schools across the nation. We have 4 times as many top-performing schools as would be predicted by an equal per-state distribution. But we can do better. And with the Munger voucher/choice program, we will do better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fodder, and a Mudder, and Teaser Stallions

A horsey friend of mine writes with more information, more "fodder" if you will, for the horse sex thread. (If you add a race horse who specializes in wet tracks, you get a mudder to go along with the fodder).

Friend notes, in an email:

In fairness it should be noted that there are also teaser stallions, because one wouldn't want to allow a valuable breeding stallion to mount an unwilling mare, now would one? Not much sexual dimorphism in the horse world, so she is well able to protect herself, if uninterested.

This of course only necessary if one is planning to rely not on artificial insemination but on -- another lovely phrase -- live cover. No napping there because, as you note, of the head-smacking thing.

Llive cover? Sounds like a strip club I know in New Orleans. I've just seen the outside, of course. Very nice outside.

And, if i understand what my friend says, the teaser stallion has got to be the most pathetic, loser job in the universe. Worse than being a grad student in English Lit, though not by much. Most teaser stallions, most times, likely just get kicked in the chest, because the mare has a headache.

But if the teaser stallion DOES get her all hot, and it turns out she says, "Give it to me, baby, uh HUH, uh HUH*"...THEN THE TEASER STALLION GETS PULLED AWAY!

"NOOOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOO! She likes me! Just give me five minutes! Three minutes! 30 seconds! Oh, GOD, NOOOOOOooooo...."

Then, he has to WATCH while the high dollar stud ("I'll take it from here, loser!") starts gettin' busy with the mare that the poor teaser stallion just seduced. Should call him the "Cuckold Stallion."

Here is a picture of Hootie, a "mare ovulation prediction technician." As if the euphemism helps....

The site says: "Hootie earns his oats by teasing mares. (Teasing is the process of bringing mare and stallion together to determine, by the mare's reactions, if she is in the receptive and fertile portion of her reproductive cycle.) Hootie LOVES big mares, so he enjoys his job." I LIKE BIG HORSE BUTTS, YOU KNOW I CAN NOT LIE!!

Poor Hootie. Who's he kidding? Doesn't the poor teaser stallion get all hot, too? What about HIS needs? Do they at least let him borrow the big wooden girl-horse for a few minutes, later? I mean, he doesn't have opposable thumbs, so he can't very well take matters into his own hands. Maybe watch some video, perhaps an old Flicka movie, and then bring on the Trojan horse, complete with horse-sized Trojan?

Otherwise, as we are told here, "stallions used heavily for teasing may develop 'frustration-induced behavior changes.'"

I bet so. In fact, I think being a teaser stallion may be worst job in the world.

(It's been a while, so I should say: apologies to the Offspring, and their song, "Pretty Fly")

Mencken Rising

Had trouble sleeping last night, read some THE MENCKEN CHRESTOMATHY I keep at bedside to soothe me.

Found this: "Sometimes, a politician must rise above his principles." Fell asleep immediately.

This morning, though, I was curious: did Mencken say it FIRST?

I have seen the thought attributed, in very similar form, to Lincoln, though I find no authority for this.

Still, WHOEVER said it, as good a statement of the Downsian model as I have seen, in succinct form.

Mencken's Creed

  • I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
  • I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
    I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
  • I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
  • I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
    I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
  • I believe in the reality of progress.
  • I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Herald Sun Story

A nice piece in the Durham Herald Sun, on my run for governor. Quite fair, and no sneering at all.

Quite different from the question I usually get on TV shows: "Aren't libertarians just the weird party?" Thanks, thanks very much for that wise question. Did you get up early this morning to think of that?

A Rather Serious Criticism

A rather serious criticism, smearing my intellect, and political integrity, has been written by the good John Bruce. These claims, that I am inconsistent, hypocritical, and illogical, would be of concern if proven. I leave the reader to decide.

Let us think of two sets of actions:

1. The set of things I would do if I were king of the world, and could simply impose those policies I believe to be good.

2. The set of things I do, in fact, as myself rather than as king of the world, and possessing as I do only puny powers to effect change in politics and economic regulation.

Mr. Bruce, hearing that I ride on Amtrak and enjoy it, concludes that if I were king of the world, I would continue Amtrak in its current state, with all its wasteful subsidies. This logical leap baffles me.

My claim was more modest, as befits my modest faculties. GIVEN that Amtrak exists, and GIVEN that the train is going to run anyway, should I ride it? I said yes, I like it, it's convenient, and it doesn't cost much.

If I travel by Amtrak, whose trains will be running anyway, and whose unionized employees and dining facilities I have myself decried in a previous post, then do I "cost" the republic anything more? Does it cost the U.S. government for me to ride the train?

In terms of average cost, of course it does. One takes total cost, and divide by number of riders. And Mr. Bruce goes to surprising length to fetishize this non sequitur. The claim seems to be that by riding the train I am, indeed, costing taxpayers money.

But this is an absurd fallacy. At the margin, the cost to Amtrak of my occupying a seat, one of many which would otherwise have been empty, and my use of the dining car, which was open and staffed in any case, is near zero. By patronizing Amtrak, and paying more than marginal, though less than average, cost, in fact I am reducing their deficit. Far from costing Mr. Bruce, I am saving him a bit of coin, and expected from him a bit of gratitude. (sniffle)

As for the apparent belief that I am king of the world, I am flattered, but confused. Sure, if I were king, I would be a libertarian king, and end public subsidies of Amtrak. But what does that have to do with deciding, as a simple citizen, whether to ride an Amtrak that exists over my protests? They are just separate questions. And by writing that I like Amtrak, do I commit an offense, in that others might read, and try the train also? I don't see how. More riders will reduce the deficit, and weigh down the growing lightness of the apoplectic J. Bruce's coin purse.

The comments about my income, multiplying the magnitude of my theivery as a "privileged elite"? Well, in a person I respect less than Mr. Bruce, I would say these reveal a sniveling, puling envy. In this case, I assume the comments are simply uncharacteristic, and manners require that I ignore them, much as one ignores flatulence at a dinner party.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Don't Get Me STARTED on Subsidies to Transport

Okay, now I'm pissed off.

An exchange, reproduced from my good man S. Carlson's blog, Coldspring Shops. Also, a response to a gentle reader, commenting on an earlier post on trains.

The comment, from the good John Bruce, on my post:

One reason the Palmetto doesn't cost Prof. Munger $420 for the same distance -- I'm sure you understand this, Mr. Super -- is that taxpayers nationally are forking over the difference in per-passenger Amtrak costs that Prof. Munger doesn't have to pay. Among other things, there are folks in Nevada or South Dakota who will never, ever have any reason to ride business class on the Palmetto, but helped Prof. Munger pay the costs of his trip.

On top of that, I believe a CBO study has pointed out that the premium Amtrak services, such as business class, sleeping and lounge cars, actually lose more money than the basic coach service. I can see funding Amtrak as a bare-bones necessity, but setting things up so a well-heeled PoliSci prof at Duke can have a glass of wine as he travels, much of which is on our nickel, is something else. The food service on Amtrak, of course, is one of the most egregious loss-producers. How much did I pay for Prof. Munger's wine on last year's 1040, I wonder?

Whoa, whoa, whoa: We are spending $100 billion on a war to protect gas prices so you can fuel your SUV! I wonder how much I am paying so you can sit in traffic and watch taillights ahead of you. How much revenue are we getting from that? You use the roads for free! At least I paid something to use the railroad. You are just stealing my money, in your car, man.

We spend billions and billions improving the road bed and facilities for cars, and our revenues are....ZERO. We get some money from gas excise taxes, but most states use those for other purposes. Why not a call for toll roads, or making roads pay their own way? You are comparing apples and hookers.

The real problem, from an economic point of view, is of course the difference average and marginal costs. The marginal cost of providing seat space for my oversized butt, and my NYT and coffee, was less than the $29 extra in revenue. So, they made money on the business class sale. Now, sure, in terms of average costs, they lose a lot.

But, again, how much do we lose on roads? The "tickets" on most roads are zero! And thousands of our best young people are fighting to subsidize gas prices. We wouldn't care any more about the middle east than we appear to care about Darfur, without the oil. Maybe that is reprehensible, but our subsidies to cars, and to air, are huge. They just aren't factored into the operating costs of cars and planes. Almost makes me want to advocate a Pigouvian excise tax!

I said, almost.

UPDATE: Dirty Davey, as usual gets it right, in a comment: I'm sure Amtrak will turn a profit for the government at the same time I-95 does.

Why is that so hard for otherwise wise people to understand? I'm just all upset. I'ma'go drive my Lincoln Town Car on the interstate, and spend some of John Bruce's money using up asphalt. And he is going to get NOTHING for it, not a penny. At least I paid for part of my own wine, pal! (I have to admit that I do enjoy the Mt. Hollywood blog of John's, but I have to say, in a pathetic bid to get added to the list of insults on the top right column there: JOHN BRUCE CAN BITE ME!)