April 29, 2006
Maybe, maybe we do. But we don’t need to pay for it with government funds. The below story suggests Amtrak might get knocked off the public teat, but I won’t believe it until I see it…
Last year, President Bush proposed no federal aid for Amtrak. Its highly touted high-speed train was sidelined for months with brake problems and its president was fired. Still, the passenger railroad chugs on toward its 35th birthday Monday.
To mark the occasion, a group of analysts who have followed Amtrak’s woes over the years will gather in Washington to discuss what critics call Amtrak’s “35 years of subsidies, waste and deception.”
“Amtrak keeps making promises that things would get better, one promise after another,” said Joseph Vranich, a former Amtrak spokesman and former member of the Amtrak Reform Council. “But people fall for the promises, and Amtrak survives.”
David Hughes, Amtrak’s acting president, said the railroad’s future is bright. It has begun a host of initiatives to revamp some long-distance routes, streamline its finances and boost customer service while looking at several cost-cutting initiatives such as revamping its food and beverage service.
Hughes said one important thing Amtrak has accomplished was agreeing on a mission statement with its management, board of directors and the Transportation Department. The mission is to provide the country with “safe, reliable intercity passenger service in an economically sound manner that will exceed customer expectations.”
The real question, though, is whether intercity passenger rail service is even necessary. The railroads are tremendously important to this country for shipping goods, but there are much easier and cheaper ways to travel as a passenger.
As a quick test, I looked up train fare from Atlanta to Chicago. Since I regularly travel there to see family, I wanted to see how it compared to airfare. Well, Amtrak doesn’t run a direct route between the two. So a round-trip ticket cost about $380, with a stop each way in Washington, DC. And due to the extra time of those trips, the total travel time was about 30 hours each way.
Compare that to an airline flight. The same trip, by air, costs about $200 and takes about 2 hours each way. Hell, to get to Chicago is only about a 11-12 hour DRIVE, and wouldn’t cost more than about $100 in gas each way. I even checked Greyhound, and it was about a 15-hour trip, at a cost of $130 round-trip.
Of course, I’m sure I can be accused of cherry-picking the data with an Atlanta -> Chicago trip. I’m sure some other routes are more competitive in cost. In all honesty, it was simply the first choice I thought of, as it’s two major cities I’m familiar with for both auto and air travel. But if you’re going to offer intercity travel, without any direct service between the largest city in the Southeast and the largest city in the Midwest, aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot?
It’s very simple. For any long trip, it’s much more worthwhile to fly. For shorter trips, though, it might be profitable and convenient… IN WHICH CASE PRIVATE ENTERPRISE CAN TAKE CARE OF IT. And where rail lines aren’t available, bus service is.
There is absolutely no reason that American taxpayers need to continue wasting money on passenger rail service. If Amtrak can’t get themselves to profitability, it’s time for them to disappear.
A Stitch in Haste linked with Two Anniversaries
April 27, 2006
Senate Republicans proposed a $100 fuel-cost rebate for millions of taxpayers. Democrats talked of a two-month suspension of the 18.4-cent per gallon federal gasoline tax.
Wait… Let me get this straight. Republicans want to give people free money, and Democrats want to cut taxes??? The Eagles are touring again! Maybe this is the year! The Cubs are gonna win the pennant!!!
(Time for another Xanax, huh?)
“While Exxon Mobil executives are popping champagne and celebrating their record profits, American families are popping antacids under the strain of searing gas prices,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
And did you hear? Exxon Mobil execs kill bunnies, while Tiny Tim weeps.
Despite the jockeying for political advantage, economists and energy experts generally agreed that the government has few, if any, immediate powers to drive pump prices down for their $3-plus perch.
I’d settle for a good start. I’d settle for an admission of guilt. Their own policies, failing to allow any increase in domestic exploration, stalling new refinery capacity at every turn, mandating ethanol and the “boutique” blends for individual states, restricting things like nuclear power which might forestall some supply, and their absurdly high taxes have all had quite a hand in ensuring that gas is expensive. They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that you are the problem.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Atlas May Shrug
A 53-year-old German woman who was driving her dead mother across country to save on mortuary transportation costs was fined by police for disturbing a dead person’s peace.
“You’re not allowed to transport dead people in your private car,” said Ralf Schomisch, police spokesman in Koblenz, where the car was found after a tip-off from a mortuary.
“The corpse was on the back seat without a seat belt, which in this case didn’t really matter. But it was covered up with clothing. It is a misdemeanor.”
He said the woman, who was not identified, was charged with violating burial laws and disturbing a dead person’s peace. She would face a modest fine, Schomisch said.
So what’s really different between a private car transporting the body, and a mortuary vehicle transporting the body? Does not a mortuary “disturb a dead person’s peace” when they transport the body?
I think I pretty much know what happened here. I’ll bet that in Germany, the mortician’s lobby has pretty well ensured that only licensed mortuaries can transport bodies, and use that government protection to charge outlandish sums to do so. It’s the same thing you’d see with any government-created monopoly. The mortuary tipped off the cops— not out of concern for anyone’s “peace”— but out of concern for their own profit…
Hat Tip: Uncle Jack
April 26, 2006
Over at The Liberty Papers, I asked myself why I voted for President Bush. Every day, I find myself more and more regretful for that vote.
Bush’s 27th veto threat put me over the edge. Bush’s administration is the worst-run of my conscious lifetime (that doesn’t count Carter, as I was born in ‘78), and only my support for his handling of the War on Terror still stands. Even that, though, his mishandling of public perception of that war is atrocious.
OK so I'm not really a cowboy. linked with Why Neolibertarians Voted For Bush
Mike’s talk of FORTRAN modeling in this comment brought a joke to mind… You don’t need FORTRAN modeling when a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation will do!
Psychology professors bring in a mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer for an experiment. At one end of a long room lies a beautiful, sultry naked woman. The three subjects sit at the other end. The professors tell the subjects:
“If you reach that woman at the other end of the room, you will be allowed to have sex with her. But the catch is that you can only move every 10 minutes, and each move will be only half the distance from you to the woman.”
Well, the mathematician pulls out his notebook, sits down scribbling furiously for a few minutes. He gets up and walks out. At the door, the professors ask him why he’s leaving. “It’s a simple problem. No matter how many iterations of the 10 minutes occur, I will never reach that woman.”
The physicist, of course, is a born empiricist. He moves halfway across the room, measuring as he goes. 10 minutes later, he moves another half the distance. 10 minutes later, he moves again. The whole time, he’s also furiously scribbling into his notebook. After 30 minutes, he decides it’s time to leave the room. At the door, the professors ask why he’s leaving. “I’ve done some experiments, and my findings are exactly those predicted by the mathematician’s theory. No matter how many times I proceed, I’ll never reach that woman.”
The engineer, this whole time, has been advancing every 10 minutes. After the physicist leaves, an hour passes. He’s still advancing. Another hour passes, and he’s still advancing. The naked woman (who didn’t sign on for this possibility) is starting to get concerned, cautiously eyeing his protruding— pocket protector. The professors, unsure of how to proceed, ask the engineer what’s going on. “After all,” they say, “the mathematician and physicist have both shown that it is impossible for you to ever reach that woman!”
The engineer smiles, and replies, “True. Very true. But pretty soon, I’ll be close enough for all practical purposes.”
April 25, 2006
Engineers solve problems. In the below clip, for example, you will see the full breadth of human ingenuity at work. This is an engineer and an entrepreneur, working to fill a need in the market.
April 24, 2006
Here in Vegas, the wife and I got to visit as some of her family friends renewed their vows after 28 years. Tonight, we had a nice dinner with them, hanging out at a nice Italian restaurant, swilling incredible wines, and listening as one of the other attendees entertained us with jokes, jokes, and more jokes.
Well, the jokes kept getting interrupted, by a live musician 100 yards away, playing popular songs. James Taylor!
(my apologies for the crappy photo, it was done on the cell phone)
April 22, 2006
When my company hits certain sales targets, we get little rewards in the form of gift cards/etc. March was a very good month, so we each received $150. I chose Borders Books, which is now associated with amazon.com, and went hog-wild on the stuff on my wishlist (since nobody seems to buy stuff for me, that is)…
So here’s what I currently have on deck. I have a feeling I’m going to be very busy…
Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
-Stephen D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
The Wealth of Nations
The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
Restoring the Lost Constitution : The Presumption of Liberty
And on DVD:
Michael & Me
April 21, 2006
I’ve said, now that I’m getting more and more experienced in Linux, that I don’t believe Linux is quite ready for prime time. It’s not that I think Microsoft is a good product, but for normal end-users, it simply works. Most software vendors and hardware vendors don’t do much to support Linux, on the other hand, because there are so many flavors and issues to be supported that it would take too many resources. Until now.
In a move to make the freely distributed Linux operating system a stronger alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, a group of major Linux distributors announced Friday they have united on a standard set of components for desktop versions of Linux.
The standard created by the Free Standards Group should make it easier for developers to write applications that will work on Linux versions from different distributors.
Linux has a firm foothold as an operating system for servers â€” it’s popular for hosting Web sites, for instance â€” but has only a few percent of the desktop market.
That’s partly because, Linux, created in the early 90s by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds, is really just the kernel, or core of an operating system. For a Linux computer to perform meaningful tasks, more software needs to be added that does things like presenting a graphical user interface.
Unfortunately, those added software libraries differ among Linux distributors, making it hard to know if an application like a word processor will function on a particular Linux computer.
“One of the big things that’s difficult is consistency, and that’s Window’s biggest strength,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group.
If you buy a Windows program, you know it will run on a Windows computer, and Linux needs to work the same way, Zemlin said.
“If you really want to become a broadly adopted and used technology, you have to have that degree of standardization,” he said.
Linux is close to being where it needs to be. Linux is secure, powerful, configurable, and has certain features (such as a package management system) that blow away Windows. That so far has made it a wonderful operating system for power users. But the average computer user doesn’t want to be a power user. They want a computer that turns on and works. They want everything done for them. That is where Microsoft has been able to make strides, even if they’ve lost in the security and features realm.
Either way, though, this is good news. As with any natural monopoly, Linux may not beat Windows, but it’s growing strength in the market will force Microsoft to innovate again. Whether Linux wins or not, it’s entrance as a viable competitor will raise the level of both systems, which is only good for the consumer.
April 20, 2006
I don’t blog on this sort of thing very often, but I wanted to explain a little bit about how I came to be an atheist, and what it would take for me to change that. I got onto the subject as a part of this post by Kay of Left Brain Female. Her post is regarding the power of prayer, and how a recent scientific study has “debunked” the idea that prayer works. Part of what Kay said:
Having people from a number of different religious backgrounds praying for people whom they donâ€™t know cannot be expected to show much – except that God is not the author of confusion, and we have more than enough of that going around.
My own personal belief – and it is through first hand experience – is that while we who are believers should pray for others, and our country, the world, etc. the area where weâ€™re going to see the most effectiveness is in our prayers for ourselves. Does that sound egotistical? Itâ€™s not – itâ€™s what weâ€™re commanded to do – to pray to the Lord, to have a real connection with Him, and to humble ourselves enough to say that we need Him. And, when He has answered our prayers, we need to acknowledge to Him that we understand that all things good have happened because He ordained them.
In all honesty, I can’t say whether prayers are answered, and I can’t say whether there is a God. In my own mind, I have a lot of questions about the possibility of God’s existence and his nature (if he exists). There are too many questions.
I enjoy learning about it, though. One of the issues that’s always troubled me is when I see good people suffering. I ask how a just God can allow it to happen. When I get the standard answer, that “God has a plan”, I just want to retch. I’m sorry, but if someone in my family succumbs to terminal cancer, I don’t want to hear that some asshole of a supreme being is trying to work out his “plan”. That’s a recipe for anger, not for reverence.
But I got a different viewpoint recently. My wife and I have been attending one of these big-box, nondenominational churches, where we have Creed-like rock music. It’s the kind of place where they welcome non-Christians, and really seem to try to open their arms and welcome people. A few weeks ago, they gave me a whole different perspective. The entire sermon was about the theme of the Bible, and that it was a miracle that one book, written by 40 authors over the span of 1500 years could fit together so well. In the story of the Bible, from the start of creation, to original sin, to numerous times in which God explains that he will forgive us and accept us back, culminating in the final act, in which he creates a world without pain and sin.
Original sin is the key point there. The pastor explained that God gave us free will, and offered us a perfect world if only we wouldn’t eat from one tree. We defied his authority, and in doing so, broke the world. Why do bad things happen to good people, and vice versa? Not because God has a plan, but because we are living in a broken world. That, at least, I can accept. I know I’m a flawed person. There are parts of my own behavior and my own head that I don’t like. I can understand the idea that the world is broken, even if it’s postulated that it is humans that broke it. I’m not ready to follow the rest of the narrative down the rabbit hole, but at least that’s not someone trying to tell me that God’s causing wonderful people to exit our world in pain as part of his “plan”.
Over the years of debating the existence of God, though, I’ve learned something. There is no compelling proof either way. There are no conclusive arguments either way. When I studied philosophy at Purdue, I took a class on Philosophy of Religion. We spent the first half of the semester going over the arguments for the existence of God, and the last half was spent going over the arguments against. Every one of those arguments had a flaw or a hole somewhere. And some, such as Descartes’, were filled with so much circular logic and faulty premises to make your head spin.
But at the same time, I look at some of the believers I know, some of those who may have been atheists in the past, or who are critical thinkers who question the world to the extent that I can at least trust their judgement. What makes them believe?
I can only think it is faith. There is a point at which you make the jump from what you can prove to what you know in your heart is true. How did they get this faith? What path got them there? Why did it find them and not me?
These are more questions I cannot answer. All I know is that inside of me, I don’t have that reassuring feeling that God exists. I can’t make that leap of faith. There are days where I wish I could, but I’ve already talked about the line of BS that is Pascal’s Wager. Any manufactured faith is a lie to myself, and I do my best not to lie to myself.
What I know of myself, though, is that I have looked places for that faith. I’ve never found it in organized religion, or in a church of any form. I really think that most religion causes more problems that it solves. The times that I feel closest to having that faith, though, is when I start to experience profound wonder at the world. Back in California, I used to regularly take trips up into the mountains on my motorcycle. Up there was a level of majesty that was just awe-inspiring. Something about being up there just seems special. When I experience the growth of spring, or when I met my new little nephew last weekend, I am filled with happiness. But then I come back to the pettiness, the stupidity that I see in much of humanity, and it spoils that awe.
Again, as I said when I started, I don’t blog about this sort of stuff very often. Because I usually try to act like I’ve got all the answers, and this post is full of questions. But I guess Kay’s post got my mind going on the subject, and that was coupled with the experience of attending a funeral yesterday, to support a coworker whose father just succumbed to cancer. There a lot of unanswered questions rolling around in my head, and sometimes things like this just need to be written down.
April 18, 2006
Conservative Culture linked with The Easter Bunny Revealed!
Below The Beltway linked with Who Knew The Easter Bunny Was This Evil ?
Some of my favorites:
OK so I’m not really a cowboy: On Human Rights
The Pubcrawler: Government Price Fixing
Combs Spouts Off: Fiscal Optimism
Homeland Stupidity: Government drives milk prices up again
April 17, 2006
Time to kill a metaphor.
When I started blogging, I did so because my coworker, Wilson, had stopped blogging. I had started reading his site for the little amount of time he was writing, and got hooked on blogging. After he stopped, I constantly got on his case to start again; when that proved unsuccessful, I started The Unrepentant Individual.
So Wilson would be the best description of a “blogfather” I may have had. But he was a deadbeat dad, an absentee who had shirked his responsibilities. I was an outcast, looking for attention and support, having been abandoned to fend for myself. Eric, from Eric’s Grumbles, became Wilson’s replacement. In essence, while he isn’t a “blogfather”, he became my blog foster parent.
Why have I chosen today to beat this metaphor to a stinking pulp? Because Eric is leaving the blogosphere. He’s making a big career change which will make his job much more public, and will be unable to continue blogging. While we’re sad to see him go, at the same time, some congratulations are in order. A career is more important than a hobby.
Eric has done a lot to advance liberty in the blogosphere. Eric started the Life, Liberty, and Property blog community. Eric started The Liberty Papers. Eric managed the Carnival of Liberty for most of its existence. And now, he is passing the torch. I’ll be taking over The Liberty Papers, and Doug from Below the Beltway will be taking over most of the LLP community.
Below The Beltway linked with Losing A Good One
Hey folks. Easter was a grand time, and the wife wowed everyone with her Martha Stewart-esque party planning skills. Now I just need the wife to find a way to make big money in shady stock deals! As usual, I was worth little more than manual labor, but I’m content with that. After that little holiday, I need a vacation. Thankfully, next weekend I’ll be in Vegas, so that will be good timing.
April 12, 2006
We got a nice Easter care package from the grandparents-in-law. Part of that care package was two toys for the dogs. After some nice time when they each played with their own toys, Spanky (as is always the case) managed to consistently corner both. So we put the toys away in the pantry. And this is what we have to show for it.
They’ve been waiting there for quite some time, with an occasional bark or yelp, because they want in. The wife had to hide the toys somewhere else just to get us a little peace. If kids are harder than dogs, I don’t know what I’m gonna do!
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