May 31, 2005
Let me count the ways…
So on Sunday night, in an effort to liven up our barbecue, we kicked off a game of Trivial Pursuit, 90’s Edition. Before you ask, yes, it did liven things up quite a bit. And if that makes me more of a nerd in my readers’ eyes, so be it.
One question came to our team:
Q. What U.S. government outfit lost $84 million in three years, trying to hawk retail items like T-shirts, mugs, and stickers?
Tough one. I mean, so many of our governmental agencies lose money with reckless abandon, that trying to narrow it down could be hard. I waffled between the US Army and the Postal Service, thinking that these are the two most likely to try selling T-shirts and mugs. Thinking that the Army probably would at least have enough brain cells to make money at it, I guessed the US Postal Service, which was correct.
Now, there could be plenty of reasons why such an act could be seen, in the corporate world, as justifiable. For example, if you were selling mugs and t-shirts for branding purposes, to keep your name and logo in front of the public, you can justify a loss. Or, in the cases where companies donate money to philanthropic causes, they may be doing it for the good will in the community, which may later translate into revenue when customers choose them over their competitors for their activities.
But in the Postal Service’s case, none of this quite works. This is a group who can take all sorts of government monopoly protections against their competitors, and still can’t make money. Advertising? If I were a government service that can’t seem to make money, I think I would be doing a public good by *not* advertising, and hoping consumers will go to FedEx or UPS to send packages. In other cases, like the US Army, wasting large sums of money advertising is simply a waste. As a stand-up comic once suggested, it’s not like we allow other countries’ armies to advertise here. Amtrak, for example, just can’t seem to figure out how to make money in the transportation business. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The government seems to have a certain art to losing money. And when they’re not providing services at a loss, often government simply loses our money. How many times are we subjected to stories about how the GAO just can’t figure out where X billion dollars from the budget went to? They know they collected it in taxes, and know they don’t have it. In between, there’s a disconnect.
Now, I’m not going to be arrogant enough to state that government employees aren’t smart enough to make money. In fact, I think the truth of the matter, to put it in the most delicate way possible, is that they just don’t care. They’re just doing their job, and “making money” has never been a part of the government’s job description. You see, if a corporate executive had to report to his bosses or shareholders that he lost $84 million dollars trying to sell t-shirts and mugs, he’d find his way to the pavement, butt first. In the public sector, though, there are no consequences. If you run out of money, you can always get more. Raise taxes or issue debt, it’s the same thing. The public trough is there, take withdrawals as you need them. And if you’re not able to spend every penny you’re given in the budget, you’re not rewarded, you’re punished, because they reduce your budget for the next year.
Now, all this is not to say that we should always expect our government to be in business to make money. Frequently government’s goal is to do something, that the country feels is worthwhile, and to have government do it because it’s not a moneymaking endeavor. The army, for example, isn’t designed to make money, it is to defend our nation. But when we give the postal service all the benefits of monopoly, finding every loophole to give them as much of a competitive advantage against UPS and FedEx that we can stomach, and they still can’t deliver packages as reliably or cost-effectively, we might just need to rethink the whole matter.
As I was driving to Indiana this weekend, I tuned into AM 700 out of Cincinnati to listen to my Reds beat Pittsburgh (wonder of wonders). While I was entertained by the game, I nearly swerved off I-70 while listening to a radio spot for the upcoming election in Ohio’s 2nd district for the US House. The hypocrisy of this ad was too much for me not bring up in a short rant.
It seems one of the Republicans running for the position wanted us to know he was a good family man, and would say no to the evil democrats who are ruining America from Washington. He went on to mention that the Democrats in Washington continue to tell us how to live our lives (yes they try to), they raise our taxes (or certainly would if they held a majority), they spend our money (amen brother), and try to make us live with their “definition” of marriage (WHAT?).
Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t read the paper every single day. And there are times that I will read about a story that is clearly a week or so in the making and wonder why it is the first time I’ve heard about it. But I have never heard of a Democrat trying to enact a law that defines marriage. I have however read a lot about a law defining marriage being written by REPUBLICANS. Apparently this candidate doesn’t so much have a problem with the fact that the Democrats are trying to tell us how to live our lives, but that they are trying to tell us how to live our lives in a way different from the way HE wants to tell us how to live our lives. Follow me?
It isn’t limited to the gay marriage “crisis” either. All I hear lately is that liberal activist judges are going too far in their rulings and must be stopped. Well, as it turns out, Republicans like activist judges as well, they just prefer them being activist in opposing directions. Why isn’t the mainstream media calling them on this?
When I first started talking about my move to Atlanta from California, Eric had posted about how educated, white-collar workers (such as myself) are starting to get fed up with the Golden State and looking elsewhere. He specifically pointed out how incredibly screwed up California politics are, and how taxes and regulation were driving individuals and businesses away from the state. That is part of why I’m leaving, but only a small part.
Many things played a part. My absolute hatred for everything related to the Los Angeles area was a big one, but when I lived in San Jose I loved it, so that’s not really anti-California. If I won the lottery, you’d probably find me somewhere along the Northern California coast. But the biggest reason was simple: it was too expensive for the life I wanted to live.
Hot California market daunts first-time buyers
Median home price passes $500,000; many young workers shut out
Pity the poor first-time home buyer in California. With the median price of a home in the Golden State crossing $500,000 for the first time, getting into that â€œstarterâ€ home requires perseverance, luck and a willingness to think small.
Maya Vestal, 25, who works for a biotech company, took the plunge this month with her boyfriend, plunking down $585,000 for a 1,200-square-foot home near San Jose in a neighborhood she describes as â€œnot great.â€
Frankly, the three-bedroom, one-bath house doesnâ€™t sound all that great either. Built in 1940, it needs about $50,000 worth of work including new plumbing, new wiring and a new kitchen, she figures. â€œThe only thing weâ€™re keeping are the floors, which are beautiful, original hardwood.â€
Together, Vestal and her boyfriend, a 25-year-old city worker, earn more than $100,000 a year, but the new $3,800 monthly mortgage payments will eat up nearly 70 percent of the coupleâ€™s take-home pay.
This is the main reason that I had to leave California. When I was working in Irvine, I was also living in an apartment in Irvine. That meant that my commute was only 10 minutes, but my rent was $1500/month for a 1-bedroom apartment. To stay near the area I worked, I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a home, and barely could have qualified for a loan on a condo. To move far enough away that I could afford to live, I would have had over an hour’s commute each direction. In addition, my wife and I want her to be able to stay home with kids, when we have them, and to have any house or condo within a commutable distance of work would have taken two incomes.
As I’ve said before, I try to be as rational as possible. I looked at my options in California. I looked at what I truly valued in my life. And the choice was clear. The life that I want to have was a remote possibility in California. $600,000 for a 1200 sq ft home? Why bother? Why would I ever want to work so hard to buy something that meager? Would I want to leverage 70% of mine and my wife’s take home pay into a house that needs $50,000 worth of repairs? Would I want to try to move far enough away that I would be tormented every day with a horrible commute, just to be able to afford a ridiculous house instead of an insane one?
If I had bought a place a few years ago, the tremendous appreciation of the property would give me a different outlook. But I couldn’t rationalize trying to be a first-time buyer in that market. And I so desparately wanted to stop paying rent and start down the ownership process, so I had to make a tough choice. I look at the people who have stayed there and done it, and who are doing it. Partly, I ask myself the question of “how”? After all, I don’t know any lender who will underwrite a loan for 70% of somebody’s take home pay. But the question that inevitably takes precedence is “why”? Why would someone even do it? What about California could possibly make it worth it? I could never answer that question, so off I went. And I haven’t looked back.
May 30, 2005
Memorial Day this year for me has been a nice, relaxing time. A few friends drove down from North Carolina, and we had a nice dinner with my friend’s parents Saturday, a small cookout yesterday, and lounged around today. All in all, a very nice weekend.
I, like most Americans, have for years been thinking more of this holiday as simply a nice day that I don’t have to go to work, and an excuse to get together with friends. Growing up watching the fall of the Soviet Union, barely old enough to remember seeing the Russians as feared enemies as the friendship between the US and Russia developed, I had never seen the violence of the world that my parents and grandparents knew. But one fateful day, one September morning, all that changed.
I’m not one to usually appeal to mob patriotism, because I believe in America as an ideal, which is not always perfectly embodied in our nation’s actions. But the real world is hardly an ideal, as we learned on September 11th. That was a concrete action by people who want to see our destruction, and who will actively work to that end. The above picture is my reminder that there is a world out there that is against us. It is a reminder that as long as that world is out there, the ideal that I love must be defended and protected. The ideals, the logic, the words used to define what America entails are, on their own, powerless. For some adversaries, reason is not sufficient, we must back it up with force.
A quote widely (mis?)appropriated to George Orwell, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf?” sums it up. America is not defended by ideals or words, it is defended by men with guns. Those men and women, who have chosen military service, are putting themselves in harm’s way for nothing more than to keep us out of it. They tell us to sleep soundly, because they are keeping watch.
To those men and women who are serving, have served, will serve, and who have sacrificed their lives in order to keep us safe here at home, thank you. You don’t hear that often enough for us to express how grateful we are for the job you do. When the days come that you feel like an unsung hero, always remember that an unsung hero is still a hero.
May 29, 2005
Ack! Another meme. And since this came from Dada, not Eric, I can’t claim my three-week hiatus rule. Ahh well, one of the rules of this meme is that you must withdraw at least one of the questions/categories from the referrer, Dadahead. So that should make it a little easier.
So here goes. See Dada’s link if you want to see the categories I deleted/added:
Three favorite bands / musical artists:
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Three of your favorite hobbies/interests:
Three things that scare you:
Insects (more hate than fear, mosquitoes are the worst)
My wife’s driving
Three favorite fiction writers:
Robert Heinlein (new addition)
Three celeb crushes:
Three favorite animals:
Three names you go by:
V.I. (drunk college friends thought Warbiany sounded like VI Warshawski)
Three places you want to go on vacation:
Alaska (dreams of a two-month motorcycle tour with a son if I ever have one)
Favorite cities to visit:
Eric has written a great post on the similarities between modern bloggers and the pamphleteers of old:
The rejuvenation of the pamphlet, the electronic form, the blog, has shaken the foundations of this incestuously powerful elite. And they know it. Thus, we find the backlash by the media at the “pajama clad pundits”. The claim that our lack of editors and journalistic integrity and rules means we cannot be trusted. Of course, what they really want is for us to be subject to those same rules because that would mean our incorporation into their world and our consequent loss of influence.
The power of the blog lies in the fact that it nearly anonymous, has zero cost of entry, and reaches as wide of an audience as find their way to the URL. It is freedom of speech perfectly embodied.
And with all freedom, as I’ve said before, it’s messy. It’s chaotic. And it very well may change the world for the better.
T. F. Stern's Rantings linked with Pamphlets, Now why didn’t I think of that?
Catallarchy linked with The Blogosphere's Chaos
News, the Universe, and Everything linked with Why do So Many Libertarians Blog?
May 27, 2005
A homicide suspect remained perched on an 18-story construction crane for a third day Friday, holding police at bay and causing a spectacle in the heart of the city’s entertainment district.
A plea from his sister, offers of food and a plan to have him jump onto air bags hadn’t resolved the standoff.
I’m of the same mindset as Neal Boortz on this one. This guy has moved beyond the level of reasonable response. I think it’s time for a sniper. Now, before you call me a crazy, wicked, evil conservative, I’m not saying we should shoot him. I’m just thinking it’s time for a few warning shots to let him know we’re serious. That just might be enough to get him off that crane, whether he takes the fast route over the side, or comes down peacefully. There aren’t any hostages in this case, the area where he’d land has been cleared, so frankly I’m wondering why he’s been allowed up there so long?
And if you get him off that crane alive, I want to see a lawsuit from all the businesses interrupted by the closure of Peachtree Rd, a disturbing the peace (or whatever relevant legal statutes apply) charge, probably a charge for tresspassing, etc. If he manages to beat his murder rap, I think we need to have a backup plan for all the hassle he has caused. It’s about time that people learn there are consequences to wasting the cops’ time just because they want their fifteen minutes of fame.
Federal health officials are examining rare reports of blindness among some men using the impotence drug Viagra.
The Food and Drug Administration still is investigating, but has no evidence yet that the drug is to blame, said spokeswoman Susan Cruzan.
Something tells me, though, that most of the guys taking it are probably willing to take that risk.
sexendipity linked with Viagra blindness warning
T. F. Stern's Rantings linked with Time for an old Three Stooges Line
Perry at Eidelblog brings us a good example of the erosion of liberty at the hands of our legislature and courts.
Smoking bans at “public places” have always irked me, because most of the “public places” they refer to are actually private establishments open to the public. Now, Perry points out that the net has been cast wider.
Read it again: a judge says that a private club, meeting on its own private property, is still subject to a law that bans smoking in public places. Since when is private property a public place?
Even more pernicious to liberty and the Constitution is how Judge Victor Marrero phrased it: the members “have no fundamental constitutional right to smoke tobacco.” Really now? Where in the Constitution do we have the right to breathe? Or cross the street? Where does the Constitution give Marrero the enumerated right to go to the bathroom? After all, with his ruling, he s*** on the Constitution and wiped his a** with the Bill of Rights.
I have a clue for you, judge: the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. You should read them sometime.
Really, what’s next? That you can’t smoke in your own home? Oh, wait, they’ve already decided that. I really think that they’ve just figured out that like guns, you can’t ever make smoking illegal. You can just make it illegal to do anywhere except a one-room shack somewhere in Montana.
When I was living in California, I considered joining this club. I no longer smoke cigarettes (almost 1 1/2 years smoke-free now), but a nice cigar now and then with the guys is one of life’s little pleasures. I chose not to join because it was ridiculously expensive, somewhere around $200/month, and I didn’t really care to hobnob with the social circle of Lake Forest, California, but having it be a private club was the only way they could get around California’s smoking ban. But once the Ninth Circuit gets wind of this decision, Club Aficionado might as well close its doors.
I’ve gotta stop now. I’m starting to feel my blood pressure rise, and reading stuff like this makes me want to scream and yell at all the idiots who seem to think that government will stop with regulating smoking. Get a clue people, after they’re done with the smokers, your bad behavior is next. I definitely recommend, since my head is nearing the explosion point, reading more of what Perry had to say, because he managed to keep a nice rant flowing. If you need me, I’ll be in a one-room shack in Montana, with my good friend Arturo Fuente Flor Fina 8-5-8.
A Limey In Bermuda linked with Why Bermuda Does Not Need A Public Smoking Ban
May 26, 2005
A couple weeks ago, Yahoo! announced “Yahoo! Music Unlimited”.
That day, stock prices for Napster and Real Networks were sent tumbling, 20 to 30%. Apple also took at small hit on the market. Presumably, Wall Street thought that Yahoo’s extremely low price was going to impact the other players.
Apple’s iTunes is still the big boy on the block, thanks to Mad Dog Steve Jobs. Napster thought they had the answer with unlimited music downloads for $15 per month (remember their launch with the crappy Super Bowl ads?). Napster’s idea was to get people to pay $15/month and they would have access to any of the music that Napster had. But as soon as you let the subscription expire, all the songs were rendered unplayable. It seemed like a good concept, except a bit pricey.
Along comes internet Gorilla Yahoo with their bottomless pockets. Could they take this concept and make it work at a substantially lower price point? Their offering was access to their music database for $60 per year. Sounds pretty tempting. Other services like Napster say it can’t be sustained and it is just a gimmick. But even if they are losing money, Yahoo can hold out for a long time with all the money they have pouring in.
I have had conversations with several people about the subscription service concept. Personally, I think it works. You pay a monthly fee and get access to Yahoo’s music database from anywhere you can access the inter-web (shout-out to Principal Scudworth). Granted, you don’t actually OWN the music, you are simply renting it. But you can keep it on your hard drive and load them on your MP3 player. What else would you want to do with them? If you insist on actually owning the rights to the song, you pay $.79 for it. Not bad.
For some reason, people get caught up in the “I don’t own it” mentality. But as long as you keep up to date on your Yahoo subscription and update the file licenses each month, there’s nothing to worry about. To me, who buys maybe 5-10 CD’s per year, this type of offering makes sense. For less than what I have been spending on CD’s each year, I can have access to substantially more music. Now, if I let my subscription expire I think I’m screwed. But that’s the price you pay to have unlimited downloads for the price of 4 CD’s.
Am I going to sign up?
Not sure. I am more tempted to give the MyFi from XM Radio a whirl. Unrepentant has one and he loves the little gadget. But for those iPod users…wait…forgot to mention…Yahoo Music Unlimited doesn’t work with iPods…HA!. But for those MP3 players that have 20 GB drives, the Yahoo service makes perfect sense. A 20 GB library for the price of a dinner for 2.
You’re a Classic Cup ‘O’ Joe!
I drink a pot of black coffee every day, so I think they’ve got me pegged pretty well here.
Hat tip: Coffee with CrankyBeach
Lucy, TF, and I were emailing back and forth about motorcycles after our recent discussion of things like helmet laws. I’ve mentioned before that I’m an adrenaline junkie, so below is a picture of the sort of thing that gets my heart pounding. The picture was taken of me at the Streets of Willow Springs, exiting the “Skidpad” turn (see track map). That morning was the first time that I’d ever managed to get my knee down, which for you non-motorcyclists means that you’re leaned over so far that your knee is skimming the pavement.
Unfortunately, the day didn’t go so well after that. In my second session, I was hauling through the “Bowl” turn (again, see track map at above link), which is a turn with 20 degree banking. It’s the second-fastest turn on the track, and I was leaned over through it at probably 70-75 mph. There’s a small dip in the track, and I was too heavy on the gas. My rear wheel stepped out (i.e. slid) about 12-18″, and then all of a sudden, caught traction. This, in the motorcycle world, is called a highside, because the sudden loss and regaining of traction causes the bike to violently stand up, tossing a rider over the top of it. Despite a futile attempt to save it (hands still on the bars, body in the process of flying over the bike), I found myself sliding off the track and through gravel at high speed. But, in a testament to the relative safety of riding on a track, and to being in full protective gear, I got up, dusted myself off, and called it a day.
The bike is now gone, because I made the mistake of financing it, and didn’t have it paid off yet. Insurance companies aren’t too keen on paying for damages incurred at race tracks, so rather than continue paying the bike off while also trying to pay to repair it, I had to sell it. But now I’m starting to feel the itch again. I may not be looking at bikes again until I get out of debt, but I need to find something exciting and dangerous to do. I’m still an adrenaline junkie, and I need my fix!
Okay, I want to protest by not doing this at all, since this is the second meme this week that my good friend Eric has tagged me with. So Eric, although I am going to do this, you’ve got at least 3 weeks before I’ll respond to another one.
1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned – That’s tough to say. I’d think I’m somewhere between 300 and 400 lifetime. I’d say that’s not too bad for a 26-year old. I’m actually really looking forward to the near future, because now that I have a house, I have room for a bookshelf, and the big box of books that has been moving from garage to garage for the last 3 years can finally be free!
2. Last Book I Bought – I bought Digital Fortress by Dan Brown and the full collection of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
3. Last Book I Read – Well, last one I finished was Digital Fortress, and I’m making my way through all the books of Hitchhiker’s Guide now. The next planned books are the few that Eric has recommended, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and The Radicalism of the American Revolution. I also got Ann Coulter’s latest for Christmas, and haven’t gotten around to reading that yet.
4. Five Books That Mean A lot to Me – Hmm. Well, of course Atlas Shrugged (duh). Beyond that, it’s tough to say, because the novels I like to read and the “books that mean a lot to me” are two different things. But I’d have to also say JRR Tolkien, as those were books that I loved when I was a teen, along with Asimov’s Foundation series. For Heinlein, I was mightily impressed with Starship Troopers, actually, as I had never before seen the “duty” side of libertarianism related like that, although I always kind of knew it to be true. And of course, I have to give due consideration to Sklansky & Malmuth’s “Texas Hold’em for Advanced Players”. Great book.
5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog. – Nope. Not going to do it. Had I been tagged by someone new, I might have complied.
May 25, 2005
America is not a democracy. It never has been. Nor was it ever intended to be. And frankly, that’s the way I like it. Why do I bring this up? Because not enough people in our country realize that, and it’s getting worse.
Democracy is a good step along the route to a truly just government. After all, compared to an aristocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or a dictatorship, democracy is usually better. It is better, because as more people vote to control their destiny, it gets harder to discriminate against large groups of people. Where 10 people can oppress 10 million, there is often little reason for them not to do it. When 55% percent can oppress the remaining 45%, it is much less likely to happen, because that 55/45 split can change very easily. But it is still an option. Democracy on its own cannot be controlled, because when 50%+1 votes to do something, it does not, by any stretch, mean that the action is just.
Democracy does a great job protecting the nation from bad and unpopular ideas. But it doesn’t do a very good job at protecting the nation from bad, popular ideas. Remember Jim Crow laws and segregation? Those were very popular bad ideas. The current prohibition against gay marriage? Bad popular idea. The idea that the rich are a faucet, put there to continually water government with tax dollars? Bad popular idea.
In addition, democracy stifles good, but unpopular ideas. In fact, in unbridled democracy, you don’t want to be in the minority, because that 50%+1 can vote to persecute and oppress you. The only checks on that power are people’s own consciences. A state where that is possible is not a just society. As Adlai Stevenson said, “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” In an unbridled democracy, it is never safe to be unpopular.
It is not democracy that has created the greatness of our nation at all. It is values that founded this nation, and have allowed us to reach the heights we have reached today. Democracy is not the underpinning of those values, it is a threat to them. The closer that we, as a nation, get to direct democracy, the worse off we will be. We will be more and more ruled by the majority, and less by the values of individual liberty.
Much has been made of the rise of ‘democracy’ in Iraq. Again, while even unbridled democracy is a better idea than letting Saddam rule, democracy without a strong constitution that enshrines the freedoms and liberties we have in the USA doesn’t get them where they need to be. Unbridled democracy won’t get them any closer to tolerance of Christianity, much less Judaism, only constitutional protections for freedom of religion can move them that direction.
Thankfully, some of you say, we are not a democracy, we are a republic. To that I say “Bah!” A republic is simply a collection of somewhat independent states that have banded together based upon mutual interests. A republic of democracies is as dangerous as one big democracy. A republic of communist states is just as intolerable to its citizens as a centrally-controlled communist state. Being a republic purports to offer greater insulation from the dangers of an overbearing federal government, but that does not make those individual states any more just.
No, democracy is not inherently just, and a republic is no more just than its member states. A truly moral government comes from the rule of law, and only then when it is the rule of just laws. I think our founding fathers came about as close with the Constitution to hitting the bullseye 200 years ago as anyone in the history of Western civilization. But anyone who saw the three-fifths compromise knows that it wasn’t perfect (political necessity of that compromise notwithstanding). An understanding of the founding of this country, with its good points and its bad, is necessary if we want to continually improve it. And the growing trend of referring to America as a ‘democracy’ is a bad sign, not a good one.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Democracy is NOT enough!
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