Friday, September 30, 2005

The Times' new Public Editor seems to have a question.

Byron Calame asks, "Why would anybody pay $49.95 to read a bunch of OpEd writers who get their stuff from Kos and then all just repeat each other?" Or just about...

As questions about compliance with the corrections policy for The Times’ Op-Ed columnists continue to arise, Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page, told me in an e-mail Tuesday that she will “address the issue in a forthcoming letter from the editor” in the paper.

Ms. Collins’ comment came in response to my Monday query about the handling of an error by columnist Frank Rich.

That mistake has turned out to be the latest of five appearances that versions of the same “college roommates” error have made in The Times this month ... a total of four times by three Op-Ed columnists attacking cronyism -- and once in a news article.

Five times the same error is made by three op-eders and a reporter. An error that might easily be taken for one of political bias. Gee, I wonder which op-eder was so careless (or so enjoys repeating a slur) as to so err twice...

In all five instances, Joe Allbaugh, President Bush’s 2000-campaign manager and a former head of FEMA, and Michael Brown, his successor at FEMA, were described variously as college roommates, college buddies or college friends.

In fact, the two men didn’t even attend the same college....

[In addition to Rich] Paul Krugman referred to Mr. Brown as “Mr. Allbaugh’s college roommate” in columns on Sept. 5 and Sept. 9. Columnist Maureen Dowd called Mr. Brown a “college buddy of Joe Allbaugh” on Sept. 10. A Sept. 13 news article mentioned a job recommendation Mr. Brown once got from Mr. Allbaugh, “an old friend from college.”...

Why it was Krugman who thought the fib so nice he repeated it twice. Surprise.

It will be interesting to see if Ms. Collins might decide to publish one correction somewhere on the Op-Ed page that would get appended to all the relevant columns... Editors in the newsroom will do what needs to be done about the Sept. 13 article, I trust.

Meanwhile, I will look forward to Ms. Collins’ letter from the editor on corrections. I hope it will deal one way or the other with the failure of Mr. Krugman to publish other recent corrections in the paper as the current policy requires...

Uh, oh, Paul again. Looks like more for the Krugmanisms file.

In the meantime, while these op-ed writers are ever so concerned with attacking cronyism, I'm still waiting to see who will be the first among them to mention how their boss Pinch got his job.

Update: Collins' full letter is available via LuskinSelect, with commentary. And EU Rota suggests some additional items to which the new policy might be applied.

Update: YIKES, I've been Instapundited! If I'd ever thought that might happen I'd have put something worth reading on this site.

If you can't do the time ... continued.

Natalia McLennan, 1996 Canadian tap dancing champion, continues to give lessons on what not to do if you can't do the time....

Don't go on television and the cover of New York Magazine bragging about how you are #1 at doing the crime -- in this case, being New York's #1 hooker, making $2,000 an hour.

But if you do do that, then don't blow the whole $1.5 million you claim to have made annually. Save at least enough to cover your bail and pay for a decent lawyer -- one who'll tell you how to dress before a judge and what will happen if you don't make bail.

But if you don't do that, then at least don't show up before the judge for your bail hearing wearing a see-through blouse, miniskirt and stiletto heals like you are expecting to see a client immediately afterward...
Natalia McLennan, 25, sobbed uncontrollably in Manhattan Criminal Court after she was unable to post $50,000 bail and was taken away in handcuffs to jail ... [she] told the court she had no idea she would remain in custody after the hearing ... She faces up to 15 years ... [Reuters]

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I get my economics from the New York Times -- for its entertainment value. A few recent examples...

Thomas Friedman laments America's dependence on foreign oil ...
Is it possible for Democrats and Republicans to come together, to bring in the automobile executives, the oil executives, the gas executives, energy executives and sit down and say, "We need a Manhattan Project to wean ourselves off of foreign oil"?
Um, Tom, you weren't paying attention -- all those folks did say that, we had that project. It was called the "Synthetic Fuels Corporation". It was funded by Congress with 19 billion 1980 dollars. By way of contrast, the original atom bomb making Manhattan Project spent 2 billion 1945 dollars, which was 9 billion 1980 dollars.

So we had a double Manhattan project for "oil independence" -- and the effects were such that you didn't even notice.

Next suggestion?

Meanwhile, Mindles H. Dreck points to another amusing example of a Times writer following the company story line regardless of the very facts presented to illustrate the story. Nina Munk's take on this year's Forbes 400 list starts off remembering the good old days of income mobility when new people, the self-made, could make the list every year..
The first edition of the Forbes 400, dated Sept. 13, 1982, included mainline families like the Rockefellers, the Mellons and the du Ponts. But they found themselves together with self-made men, some of whom were not terribly at ease in a ballroom: William R. Hewlett ... David Packard ... Robert C. Guccione ...Saul P. Steinberg ... An Wang ... Meyer Lansky [!]...

... the Forbes 400 suggested mobility and unlimited opportunity. Every year, more of the old names fell off the list, only to be replaced by names you'd never heard of - names of people who had been inspired to build something from nothing...
Oh, but now it's different...
A few days ago, I read through the newest Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America, hoping to find many names I'd never heard of. They're not there. Through no fault of its own, the list no longer reflects a dynamic and elastic economy; instead, it reflects a growing concentration of wealth and economic power....

I felt a sudden nostalgia for the old Forbes 400 and the promise it held out...
OK, so taking a look at the data in the Times' accompanying graphic that shows the changing composition of the 400 to illustrate the story, we see ...

Self made fortunes
1985: 165
2005: 255

Inherited wealth
1985: 235
2005: 145

1985: 14
2005: 25

Etc. Indeed a fine example of facts having no influence on a story purportedly written about them.

But not done there, Nina moves on to make the famous 101 error of economic illogic...
Today, the 400 richest people in America are together worth $1.13 trillion. To put that number in perspective, $1.13 trillion is more than the gross domestic product of Canada.
... comparing a stock (wealth) to a flow (income/GDP).

At today's interest rates a $1 flow of annual income has a capitalized value of about $20. So Ms. Munk might more accurately have impressed us thusly...

Today, the 400 richest people in America are together worth $1.13 trillion. To put that number in perspective, $1.13 trillion is more than 1/20th of the wealth of a nation with a GDP about 9% as large as the US's, Canada.
... and that'd have made things clear enough, eh?

But for simplicity and elegance, avoiding all wordy confusion, one can't match the paper's editorial board as it simply asserts new laws of economics made up fresh for the occassion as desired.

Here they damn Bush for his executive order suspending the Davis-Bacon Act -- which normally mandates that above-market wages be paid on federal projects -- from applying to federally funded construction projects in areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.

We'll skip the fact that the purpose of the Davis-Bacon act was overtly racist, to block blacks from competing for work on federal projects ("colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wage rates", the president of the American Federation of Labor, William Green, had complained) -- and that to the extent it succeeded in doing so it contributed to creating the poverty in New Orleans that the Times has in all other ways suddenly become so sensitive to.*

Instead, we'll just jump to the Times' proclamation that not paying above-market wages is bad economics...

It is also bad for the economy. Without the law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors will be able to pay less, but they'll also get less, as lower wages invariably mean lower productivity.
Hello? Lower wages invariably mean lower productivity? Higher wages invariably mean higher productivity?

Huzzah! The national productivity challenge is solved! Let's just pass a law raising everybody's wage above the market rate -- doubling all wages ... no, tripling them ... quadrupling! Then we'll all become that much more productive, "invariably"!

Times-o-nomics. Makes my day. ;-)

* Mickey Kaus has a good post on why the political left should not like Bacon-Davis, plus, in response to criticism of it, a follow-up detailing why it is self-defeating for the left to support Bacon-Davis, knowing it is bad policy, in the name of the greater good of "unity".

May the editors of my hometown broadsheet read them and learn.


NASA administrator says space shuttle was a mistake

The space shuttle and International Space Station — nearly the whole of the U.S. manned space program for the past three decades — were mistakes, NASA chief Michael Griffin said Tuesday.

In a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board, Griffin said NASA lost its way in the 1970s, when the agency ended the Apollo moon missions in favor of developing the shuttle and space station... [
USA Today]

Of course there have been people saying this since the 1970s.

The Apollo project had no scientific purpose -- it had a political purpose: to beat the Soviets to the moon. The lack of scientific purpose was clearly seen by the way that once the political purpose was achieved, remaining scheduled Apollo mission were cancelled. There was simply nothing of any scientific value for human beings to do on the moon that was worth anything like the cost and risk involved in getting them there.

And from that day to this, there's been precious little to do in space that can't be done via automation at a fraction of the cost and with none of the risk attendant on sending humans up there.

NASA's experience over these past 35 years clearly demonstrates two behavioral traits of government-run organizations:

1) No government program ever ends simply because its purpose has been accomplished.

2) The quality of performance of government-run organizations declines over time.

There are systemic reasons for these ... but more thoughts on that later. For now, let's just note these behaviors carry a price.
"The shuttle has cost the lives of 14 astronauts since the first flight in 1982. Roger Pielke Jr., a space policy expert at the University of Colorado, estimates that NASA has spent about $150 billion on the program since its inception in 1971. The total cost of the space station by the time it's finished — in 2010 or later — may exceed $100 billion..."
That's 14 too many lives, plus one whole lot of money that could have been spent on real productive science. Some mistake.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Action figures for the 21st Century

On display in the store window on the corner: Action Figure Sigmund Freud ... Moses ... Jane Austin ... Mozart ... Jesus ... William Shakespeare ... Albert Einstein ... Edgar Alan Poe ... [more] ... and the leader of this new pack of super friends, Librarian with Amazing Shushing Action!

You'd think the librarians of America would be happy to have a presence on the level of G.I. Joe, the Incredible Hulk and Superman based on a real librarian hero.

But nope. Apparently they've kept their 20th Century sense of humor.

That's OK. My throwback kids still prefer toy soldiers.

Can't wait for the new John Kerry campaign movie...

John Kerry loyalists are kicking themselves for cooperating last year with filmmaker Steve Rosenbaum on "Inside the Bubble," a potentially devastating behind-the-scenes look at the Massachusetts senator's failed presidential campaign.

I'm also told that Hillary Clinton partisans are licking their chops to see the film, which "could end up being the silver bullet that kills Kerry's presidential chances for 2008," says a Lowdown spy.

Kerry spinmeister David Wade - one of the senior staffers who allowed Rosenbaum to film his private moments - tried to dismiss Rosenbaum's effort as "a childish home movie destined to be forgotten"...

Ooooh, they know it's gonna be good!

But people who've screened the documentary say it's compelling and revealing...

A press release claims the movie - which won't be shown publicly until Thursday - "turns a harsh but deeply revealing mirror on the campaign ... a disorganized, contentious, self-absorbed team that thought they could win by 'not making mistakes,' and keeping their candidate in the public eye without clarifying a position on anything."

Director Rosenbaum, meanwhile, told me: "I'm a lifelong Democrat and I supported Kerry..."
[NY Daily News]
Let's just hope the movie is more competently directed than the campaign was.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Quickly noted...

The Danish government pays to provide prostitutes for the disabled.

Is there a bubble in home prices being driven by speculation? No. Well, maybe in Dublin.

Suicide bomber Barbie. [via Emergent Chaos]

Smart supermodel of the past week, losing $7 million in contracts, illustrated.

The Chinese introduce "Clinton condoms" ("Lewinskys" too.) (And remember to brush your teeth with Crust Toothpaste before your big date, or you may not get far enough to use them.)

We previously noted the approach of the World Testicle Cooking Championships. Alas, some people show no respect -- Australians, of course.

Some people really do have too much time on their hands.

The Democrats' dream headline.

Is there really a "Dr. Nicolae Bacalbasa" ...

... or does Ananova have a stringer in Romania who's just making up stories like (ouch!) this, and this, and all these (ouch! ouch! ouch!)? [Get the expired ones via cached versions].

I mean, considering the size of Romania's population and its tenuous connection to the western press, it seems like a rather lot of stories on this, um, exotic theme. Either there's another MSM scandal brewing, or Romania's an unlucky place to be a guy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Local government seen in action, and lessons derived therefrom.

Reading the local NYC newspapers for just the last couple days one discovers ...

"Two-thirds of New Yorkers are unhappy with their public schools. By a 66 - 21 percent margin, New York City voters are not satisfied with the quality of public schools", according new poll released Friday.

But, hey, how could the schools possibly be expected to be good enough to please? Real per student spending has increased only 45% over the last eight years, to $14,642 in 2005. [NYC IBO] And city public school teachers are paid just an average $44+ an hour (compared to the average $36 an hour earned by nuclear engineers in the US, and $33 earned by computer scientists).

The important thing is, do the politicians have a solution to the challenge of getting these schools finally up to par? Why sure they do -- spending a whole lot more money of course!

Meanwhile, our judges are named by the indicted, literally.

A Daily News editorial writer visited a back room full of judges waiting to be named to the bench by indicted political bosses, and found that the soon-to-be-robed wouldn't even give their names to the press. "Why so shy?" asks the News. Were they embarrassed by something?

Then there's the rampant corruption in the state's Medicaid programs.

When the city's broadsheet of record resorted to using the Freedom of Information Act to conduct its own review of Medicaid records -- due to the lack of any such review by the government -- it found "numerous indications of fraud and abuse that the state had never looked into"...

"It's like a honey pot," said John M. Meekins, a former senior Medicaid fraud prosecutor in Albany who said he grew increasingly disillusioned before he retired in 2003. "It truly is. That is what they use it for."...

James Mehmet, who retired in 2001 as chief state investigator of Medicaid fraud and abuse in New York City, said he and his colleagues believed that at least 10 percent of state Medicaid dollars were spent on fraudulent claims, while 20 or 30 percent more were siphoned off by what they termed abuse, meaning unnecessary spending that might not be criminal. "So we're talking about 40 percent of all claims are questionable," Mr. Mehmet said - an amount that would approach $18 billion a year.
Well, when the New York Times speaks of things like that the local politicians feel the need to respond. This week the Post reported that response...

[Governor] Pataki, a Republican, and [Attorney General] Spitzer, a Democrat, have specific statutory responsibility to police Medicaid. But they say they don't have the resources to go after it. That's bipartisan baloney...

Pataki's deputy health commish, Dennis Whalen, griped that the Times' story "does a disservice to the vast majority of recipients and providers who are using this program appropriately."...

"We have prosecuted world-class white-collar cases and set national recovery records," Spitzer's deputy, Peter Pope, bragged...
... in campaign mode as his boss runs for governor as a crusading prosecutor.

Among those "world class cases" Spitzer has brought are, as we've mentioned before, his well-publicized prosecutions of the restaurant bathroom attendant industry, and of that hideous crime of the 1950s, radio payola. He has resources for those -- but not for his statutory duty of fighting Medicaid fraud.

Well, let's be honest, he wants to win an election and there are no votes in hassling anybody's Medicaid. Not for him or for Pataki either.

So, in just a couple days' casual perusal of the local papers we see school spending going up, up, up with no result but demand for more ... the judiciary being appointed by the indicted ... and a good 40% of Medicaid going to fraud and waste, with a governor and candidate for governor showing no interest at all in doing anything about it ...

Frankly, reading the local papers like this day-after-day as I've aged has by itself been quite enough to cure me of the idealistic Social Democratic dream of my youth of expanding the reach of government in all directions so that the wisdom of our politicians can bring greater justice and welfare to all. And it's had the same effect on most of my friends and associates of my age too -- no formal economic training or explanations necessary.

But then I stumble upon a blog exchange between two trained economists, the first of whom is shocked and aghast at the contention of the second that government is "inherently" less efficient at providing services than the private sector. What, the first fellow doesn't read the newspapers?

(Well, he is a big advocate of putting another 10 points of GDP or so under the government's control via nationalizing health care, so just like Pataki and Spitzer, it's not really in his interest to openly consider a 40% fraud-and-waste figure for government run medical care -- which also seems to exist in his own home state of California.)

The whole exchange seems unfair -- an argument the second fellow can't win. If the first isn't impressed by the facts in the newspaper every day, how can he possibly be convinced by abstract economic theory? (Arguing the power of natural selection to true believers in Intelligent Design is hopeless, here as elsewhere.)

It all brings to mind that old saying we've all heard -- if you're not a socialist at age 20 you have no heart, if you're still a socialist after age 35 either you have no brain or you're a tenured academic.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Why all the phones in the world will become free, thanks to "a very unusual business plan".

There's a principle in economics that the price of a product or service moves towards the marginal cost of providing it.

We've seen this principle play havoc with the old legacy airlines following their deregulation. Now the The Economist explains the implications of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) for telephone service...
[Founder Niklas Zennstrom's] vision for Skype is to become the world's biggest and best platform for all communications—text, voice or video—from any internet-connected device, whether a computer or a mobile phone ... his company is only three years old, will probably make only $60m in revenues this year, and will certainly not turn a profit. So it is the fact that his ambition is not nearly as ridiculous as it sounds that should make incumbent telecoms firms everywhere break out in a cold sweat.

That is because Skype can add 150,000 users a day (its current rate) without spending anything on new equipment (users “bring” their own computers and internet connections) or marketing (users invite each other).

With no marginal cost, Skype can thus afford to maximise the number of its users, knowing that if only some of them start buying its fee-based services—such as SkypeOut, SkypeIn and voicemail—Skype will make money. This adds up to a very unusual business plan.

“We want to make as little money as possible per user,” says Mr Zennstrom, because “we don't have any cost per user, but we want a lot of them.” This is the exact opposite of the traditional business model in the telecoms industry, which is based on maximising the average revenue per user, or ARPU. And that has only one logical consequence. According to Rich Tehrani, the founder of Internet Telephony, a magazine devoted to the subject, Skype and services like it are leading inexorably to a future in which all voice communication, near or far, will be free...

...there are 1,100 VOIP providers in America alone. But the trend is worldwide. IDC, a market-research firm, predicts that the number of residential VOIP subscribers in America will grow from 3m at the end of 2005 ...
I'm one!

Worldwide, according to iSuppli, a market-research firm, the number of residential VOIP subscribers will reach 197m by 2010. Even these numbers, however, do not include people using VOIP without subscribing to a service (ie, by downloading free software from Google, Skype or others). Skype alone has 54m users.

Even before VOIP makes 100% of telephone calls in the world completely free (which may take many years), it utterly ruins the pricing models of the telecoms industry. Factors such as the distance between the callers or the duration of a call, the key determinants of cost today, are simply irrelevant with VOIP.

Vonage already lets its customers choose telephone numbers in San Francisco, New York or London, no matter where they live. A Londoner calling the London number is making a “local” call, even if the Vonage subscriber is picking up the phone in Shanghai...
First technology does in the telephone tax, then the telephone bill itself.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Good news isn't news.

Here's an example...

... here is wonderful news regarding the end of a military missile. Yesterday the Air Force deactivated the final Peacekeeper. Peacekeeper ICBMs, also known as the MX, carry 10 nuclear warheads. No object ever made by human hands is more horrible than a Peacekeeper, because it holds so many warheads (most ICBMs carry one to three) and because its extreme power created a risk the other side would "first-strike" in order to destroy these hellhounds in their silos. With treaties signed in Moscow by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both sides agreed to deactivate their most powerful missiles. In 2002 the United States began decommissioning Peacekeepers,while the Russian Federation began decommissioning its biggest ICBMs. Soon there will be no heavy, first-strike ICBMs left on our planet.

Meanwhile, the total number of strategic nuclear warheads continues to decline as the United States and Russia dissemble bombs and work toward a treaty requirement of no more than 2,200 per country by 2012. At the peak of the Cold War, each nation possessed about 25,000 strategic warheads. So the most dangerous piece of technology ever built just went out of existence, while in a few years, 90 percent of the world's doomsday arsenal will be gone. This is fabulous news, which is why you never hear about it...
... except in a column on NFL football.

I grew up back while the cold war was serious and during my early grammar school years the school had bomb shelter practice. We'd all go down to the cafeteria in the basement and do the drill: brace head between legs, kiss butt goodbye, etc. The thing was that the school was built into the side of a hill and one wall of the cafeteria was all glass windows, a great place to be during a nuclear attack.

Some years later as an older student I got to walk around the Kremlin and Red Square. I remember thinking: the nukes aimed at me at this very moment are American! Cool.

People are going to miss experiences like these growing up from now on.

A little while back I was at a business/social function where I got to hear a number of prominent expert types go on about how the clash of civilizations that is just beginning is fueling terrorism and inter-cultural social war into a threat more serious than the world has seen. But this is patent nonsense. No threat posed by terrorists and nothing coming out of the clash of civilizations even imaginably threatens us in any way anything like having 10,000 nukes aimed at us. The world has become a much safer place for my children than it was for me.

There is a real danger in the "only bad news is news ... only pessimism is taken as intellectually serious" phenomenon. When progress that's been made in reducing problems is disregarded, what's been done right to achieve that progress will be disregarded as well. Then we may stop doing it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Today's the anniversary of the Great Northeast Hurricane of 1938.

New York City is the third most at risk area for a hurricane disaster in the US, after only New Orleans and Miami?

People sometimes forget that hurricanes can go north too -- those of us who live in the northeast tend to put the risk out of mind -- but the Great Northeast Hurricane of '38 remains the third most deadly in U.S. history, killing more than 700. It's also still about the sixth most costly in history -- even though it tore over areas of Long Island and Connecticut, and then New England, that were generally undeveloped by today's standards.

The loss of life resulted largely from the surprise factor. The storm hit with no warning near literally out of a clear blue sky, in spite of being a Category 5 as it approached and Category 3 at landfall (as Katrina was when it made final landfall on the Louisiana-Mississippi border). People had gotten up and were going around doing their business like it was just another day when the sea and winds suddenly fell upon them.

Of course there were no weather satellites then, and no national weather service as we know it now -- but the risk factor that still exists today is that when hurricanes turn north they start moving faster. And this hurricane remains the fastest moving ever seen, with a forward speed of more than 60 miles an hour that gave it it's unofficial name, the Long Island Express. That speed left precious little time to react to a warning even if there had been one. That storm would've run you down in your Packard as you tried to flee up the Connecticut turnpike.

Here's the story. And here's the part that might give some pause to New Yorkers who tut-tut their Los Angelino friends about earthquakes...
Experts now believe that after Miami and New Orleans, New York City is the third most dangerous major city for the next hurricane disaster. According to a 1990 study by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the city has some unique and potentially lethal features.

New York's major bridges such as the Verrazano Narrows and the George Washington are so high that they would experience hurricane force winds well before those winds were felt at sea-level locations. Therefore, these escape routes would have to be closed well before ground-level bridges ... The ferry services across the Long Island Sound would also be shut down 6-12 hours before the storm surge invaded the waters around Long Island, further decreasing the potential for evacuation.

A storm surge prediction program used by forecasters called SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) has predicted that in a category 4 hurricane, John F. Kennedy International Airport would be under 20 feet of water and sea water would pour through the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels and into the city's subways throughout lower Manhattan.

The report did not estimate casualties, but did state that storms "that would present low to moderate hazards in other regions of the country could result in heavy loss of life" in the New York City area...

Given public complacency, the amount of people needed to evacuate, the few evacuation routes off Long Island, and the considerable area affected by storm surge, more lead-time is needed for a proper evacuation than in other parts of the country.

However, east coast hurricanes are normally caught up in the very fast winds aloft, called the jet stream, so they can move up the coast at great speeds - much faster than hurricanes that impact the southern U.S...
... so there'd be less lead time.

OK, so when the next Category 5 'cane starts hurtling up the east coast covering 1,000 miles a day headed for Manhattan, FEMA is planning to get me out if here without using bridges, tunnels or ferries exactly how?

Oh well, I can always think of something worse. (And even find it animated on the web.) It's all only a matter of time...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Short spots

John Tierney compares the performances of Wal-Mart and FEMA in New Orleans and makes a logical suggestion, available via WorstallSelect, for free (so far).

Mickey Kaus suggests a better money making idea for the Sulzberger clan might be TimesDelete.

Jon Henke finds irony in bloggers who don't recognize themselves in the mirror.

Americans carve Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore. Italians erect a giant pink bunny on Mount Colletto Fava.

Politics free observation of the day: Maybe plastic surgery really can work!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Today we lose our Times op-eds to the martini drinkers.

Martin Nisenholtz, president of New York Times Digital, explains the new TimesSelect 'service' that effective today charges the Times' online readers $50 for previously free content, saying...
their willingness to fork over "the equivalent to buying a few martinis" for an annual subscription could be expected. [E&P]
Ah, I can just see their next local advertising slogan...
Subscribe to The New York Times -- Newspaper of Martini Drinkers.
Well, we already knew it sure isn't the newspaper of subway riders.

Social greetings of the near future.

"Oooh, you look like the walking dead."


Why pit bulls should not fight porcupines.

[via snopes]

But I thought transparency in government was good.
Bribe rates published in police bulletin

Authorities in an Indian state have ordered an enquiry after a bribe rate card was published in a police bulletin.

The rate chart in the Kolkata Police Gazette listed amounts to be paid to jail officials for services to prisoners, reports Hindustan Times.

It revealed that expensive liquor could be had for £2.50 and mobile phones could be used for £1.25.

An embarrassed West Bengal government has now 'censured in writing' Detective Chief Gyanwant Singh and is now investigating whether other members of his editorial team could be held responsible.

Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray said: "The publication of the bribe rates was not a mistake, but a deliberate act to malign the image of the force."

But he added that the government would not take any further action against the police officer because of his good record.
He bribed them.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Krugman hangs krugulant.

Byron Calame's complaint that Paul Krugman is avoiding the NY Time's publicly stated corrections policy, which as the Times' new Public Editor he has now taken public, makes it clear that it hasn't taken long for him to experience what the previous public editor, Dan Okrent, described...
I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error.

When he says he agreed “reluctantly” to one correction, he gives new meaning to the word “reluctantly”. I can’t come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism.
OK, for a helpful adverb, how about "krugulantly"? As in...

"The Pope krugulantly denied the possibility of doctrinal error".

"Pete Rose responded krugulantly to all allegations that he had bet on baseball."

"When the wife showed me the doctor's report I thought 'hang krugulant or pay alimony for the rest of your life'. And I did until she finally bought that I'd picked it up from a toilet seat..."

"Krugulant." Did I hear that somewhere or just make it up now?

Note: A Google search reveals one prior example of the word. Rats, enough to defeat my copyright.
"the Bush administration has an infallibility complex: it never, ever, admits making a mistake. And that kind of arrogance tends, eventually, to bring disaster."
-- Paul Krugman

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Chuck Schumer judges Judge Roberts but can't comprehend Law and Order.

The LA Times relates an entertaining tale of veteran Rep. George Miller (D., Ca.) showing some entrepreneurial spirit, making a few bucks on the side by operating "what amounts to a boarding house for fellow lawmakers ... known as 'the animal house.'"

Among the residents, my own Senator, Charles Schumer ..

Schumer and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) have beds in the living room.

"It's not as exotic as people think," Miller said of the living arrangement. "Sometimes we talk real business and a lot of times it's just politics and strategy. And sometimes it's just watching 'Law & Order.' "

When they do watch the NBC drama series, Miller said, Schumer often does not understand the plot.

"He has to keep asking you, 'Who is that person? Why did he do that? Why is she saying that?' I'm like, 'Shut up! We'll send you the tape.' "

So he can't figure out the goings on of a TV-courtroom show when he's not leading the Democrats' challenge to Judge Roberts' Supreme Court nomination, in his own indomitable style...

Yesterday's opening of the John Roberts confirmation hearings was a time for historic firsts. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) made 49 first-person references in a 10-minute statement that was, ostensibly, not about himself. [WaPo]
No, Senator Chuck isn't the first politician about whom it's been said "the most dangerous place to be is between him and a camera", but he may be the most apt.

But back to life at Animal House. Schumer, it seems, has a record of stealing cereal from poor children...

Leon Panetta, the former Democratic congressman ... remembers he had to protect breakfast cereal from marauding roommates — especially Schumer.

"My son was interning at the State Department one year and he stayed with us," said Panetta. "The poor kid used to buy cereal to have in the house because we didn't have much food. Schumer used to eat his cereal...."

Is this what we expect from our liberal leaders? Stealing food from kids?

Well, the cereal sellers were gouging us then, so theft was understandable. Remember?

Today Senator Chuck has moved on to calling for tariffs against China and price gouging investigations of gasoline sellers. But back then he was making a name for himself as a young Rep. by calling for Attorney General Janet Reno to lead a federal investigation of extortionate pricing by breakfast cereal makers.

One of my favorite memories of Senator Chuck is from back then -- him at a news conference railing against the outrageous mark-ups on the contents of cereal boxes, drinking bottled water all the way through...

From the Ministry of Spin.

Mansfield University's sports information director this week sent out a press release proudly headlined...

Ronnie Montgomery Sets New School Record for Kickoff Return Yards in Game...

Ronnie Montgomery set a school record with 10 kickoff returns for 266 yards. He was just two returns and 10 yards from tying the NCAA record in both categories...
The thing is, you get a kickoff return after the other team scores. So when you brag about your kick returner coming within two of the all-time record, you've found the positive in losing 88-12. [Via TMQ]

Meanwhile, this e-mail arrives in my in-box from the New York Times...

We want you to know about some exciting changes that will soon take place on

On Monday, Sept. 19, we will introduce TimesSelect, a new service from The New York Times, providing exclusive online access to Op-Ed columnists, The Archive, Web tools and more.

As a loyal member, you can sign up early for TimesSelect at a significant discount. You have until Sunday, Sept. 18, to take advantage of this offer..."
Wow! An exciting offer of a new service that will charge me $39.95 for what I'm getting for free now!

Who could resist taking advantage of such an offer?

Let's see if I can.

Maybe there's something wrong with me...

... but the thought of Heather McCartney leading a PETA-charge against J. Lo because of the latter's fur fashion line ... and then Heather having her artificial leg knocked off in the ruckus that ensues ... and J. Lo's goons not letting her put it back on, so she has to hop off in retreat ... I dunno, something in all that just strikes me as amusing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Briefly noted...

For our fuel strapped economy, an innovative renewable energy resource that gives new meaning to "put a tiger in your tank." ("Soylent Unleaded Supreme is cats, it's cats!")

Whirlwinds on Mars.

Vegas wager of the week, at
US Political Sex Scandals Futures / Next Politician Involved
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ted Kennedy
George W and Jeb Bush to be caught in a 3some

Quote of the week:

"Teaching her to act was like teaching Urdu to a marmoset."

-- Laurence Olivier on directing Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl

Another sign that most Americans are smarter than their politicians...
In Poll, Most Say Abandon Flooded Areas
More than half the people in this country say the flooded areas of New Orleans lying below sea level should be abandoned and rebuilt on higher ground...
Jack Shafer tells why they are right. Meanwhile, Sean Penn returns to the Big Easy for a re-shoot.

A blog is the searches that bring people to it. In recent days has been privileged to have visitors directed to it via searches listing it as ...
#7 on MSN search for "photos of comical grandma breast implants"
#6 on Google for "Kill Clifford the Big Red Dog"
#2 on Google for "james Gallagher had diarrhea today"
#1 in the entire Google universe for "videos of fat people doing fat people"
I am so proud!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bad news for the IRS, and good news from it.

For the eighth time a federal court has ruled that the federal excise tax on long-distance telephone service is illegal as currently enforced and collected by the IRS, and ordered the tax refunded. This time Hewlett-Packard gets a nice $6,385,000 back from the tax man -- and going forward it will pay telephone tax no more. Hewlett-Packard Company v. U.S., No. C-04-03832, DC ND Ca.

There's a total of more than $6 billion in potential tax refunds at stake here for businesses both big and small, and for individuals with large long-distance bills too. (Refunds can be claimed on taxes paid up to three years back).

The IRS has lost every case on this issue so far, including at the Court of Appeals -- most on summary judgement, meaning the judge decided it didn't even have a case worth hearing at at a trial. It continues to stonewall on the telephone tax, but it can't do that forever, something's got to give.

Remarkably, I haven't seen anything about this reported in the general press anywhere. (What ever happened to "news you can use"?)

But you can get the whole story -- and the full text of the federal appeals court decision that is now the leading legal authority on the issue -- via my first post on this subject, which has been updated with citations to winning cases as they come in.

Meanwhile, the increase in the price of gasoline post-Katrina has led the IRS to increase the standard mileage rate for deducting the cost of business driving by 8 cents per mile (to 48.5 cents from 40.5) for the rest of 2005.

That may not sound like much, but at 20 miles per gallon that's an additional deduction of $1.60 per gallon -- while Professor Hamilton notes the actual cost of gasoline rose by only about 50 cents per gallon, and that only briefly, it seems headed back down towards pre-Katrina prices right now.

So the IRS is being pretty generous here.

As an aside, the cents per mile rate for medical expense and moving deductions was increased by only 7 cents. I guess gasoline costs less for them. And the rate for driving for charity was not increased at all.

People are always talking about "tax simplification". But the government can't even set a uniform cents-per-mile rate for the cost of driving a car -- or even for just the cost of gasoline -- when driving is for different purposes.

There will never be tax simplification.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11 rebuilding update.

My children saw the twin towers fall, and they saw the tribute in light.

I can only hope that they will live long enough to see the new towers rise, what with the way the politicians are bolluxing up the rebuilding.

At this point rebuilding is five years behind schedule and counting. Only three days ago they finally began pulling down the Deutsche Bank tower -- four years after it was destroyed beyond salvage in the attacks. It's been a standing ruin on the south side of the Ground Zero pit all the time since, with the politicians, lawyers, environmentalists and community activists unable to agree even on how to tear it down, much less replace it...

Update and Correction: My mistake! It was merely announced that the plan now is to take down the Deutsche tower next spring, 2006. It and Fetterman Hall, which also still stands four years after, as a ruined "grotesque eyesore", next to what is supposed to become the new 7 WTC. Although as to whether that timetable will be met ... who knows?

Steve Cuozzo, who's done the best job covering this story in the local news media, for the NY Post, relates the current sorry state of affairs. And Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute tells of the billions of dollars these years of delay have cost in rising building costs, financing costs, and lost business.

Meanwhile, the New York Times continues its relentless campaign against the plan to rebuild the Trade Center in a fourth anniversary story, using arguments ranging from political correctness...

... the promise that culture would play a life-affirming role [at the rebuilt WTC] has proved false now that Gov. George E. Pataki has warned that freedom of expression at ground zero will be strictly controlled. ("We will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom, or denigrates the sacrifice and courage that the heroes showed on Sept. 11," he has said.)
(The Times of course thinks we should tolerate statements that denigrate America, New York, freedom, and the sacrifices of September 11 on the site of those sacrifices.)

... to a remarkably hypocritical and devious defense of the Times' own mercantile self-interest...

[Rebuilding is] justified by those who believe that any development at ground zero is good for the city's economy. If the 10 million square feet of commercial space at ground zero is not rebuilt, the thinking goes, our fragile confidence will be erased, and the terrorists will have won.

But commercial space is not what is needed at ground zero. The city is building at a frenetic pace. There are plans to transform a strip along 10th Avenue into a canyon of corporate skyscrapers with 24 million square feet of office space. More office development is percolating at the West Side Hudson Yards and the former Con Edison site overlooking the East River.

The abundance of new development in the city was a bargain chip for Goldman Sachs when it struck its recent deal with the city to stay downtown. When it threatened to abandon a site just across the street from the proposed Freedom Tower for another one in Midtown, the city was forced to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives and over $1.6 billion in federally backed Liberty bonds.

This kind of back scratching is likely to become the norm downtown...
What's devious about this "excess new development" argument is that the Times itself is the owner of a major new 52-story office complex being constructed in midtown -- a fact our 'paper of record' never manages to get into the record as it repeats this argument over and over.

This means the Times is in direct financial competition with the proposed rebuilt World Trade Center. So of course the Sulzberger family doesn't want all that office space that was lost downtown being rebuilt -- what landlord wants competition that will reduce the rents he can charge?

What's hypocritical is that the Times' new midtown building is being built -- prepare for a shock! -- with many millions of dollars worth of government assistance in the form of eminent domain proceedings that evicted dozens of going businesses from the midtown block the Times wanted, and $170 million in tax subsidies, all of which the Times extracted from local government by threatening to relocate its operations to New Jersey. (As was noted in some detail here previously, and with more amusement before that.)

So the kind of "back scratching" that the Times fears will become the norm downtown seems already pretty well established in midtown.

Hey ... where is Robert Moses when you need him? Back in his day the Empire State Building was completed in one year and 45 days, total.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Congratulations to Hawaii's gasoline price controllers!

Hawaii's astute (Democratic) politicians have gone ahead and imposed their gasoline price controls (as mentioned here previously).

Prof. Hamilton notes about the US gasoline market...

Since September 1, the retail price of gasoline fell not only in Georgia, but in every other state I checked, with the exception of Hawaii, where theory would predict that their cap on wholesale prices could easily produce an increase in retail prices.
Price controls that increase prices? Yes, the Hawaiian legislature has innovated a special kind of price control scheme, one that ties the wholesale price of gasoline to its price in three areas on the mainland -- New York, Los Angeles, and the Gulf Coast -- but without controlling retail prices. This creates two different roads to artificially zooming consumer prices.

The first is via the price controls doing what price controls are meant to do: lowering the price that producers can get for their product to below the market price level. By the law of supply-and-demand, this can't help but reduce the amount producers supply to the market -- in this case, the amount of gasoline supplied by wholesalers to retailers. And a reduction in the supply provided to retailers in a market where retail prices aren't controlled can't help but move the retail prices paid by consumers upward. Again it's just supply and demand: reduced supply = higher price, other things equal.

The second route to higher retail prices results from the fact that while the price controls tie Hawaiian wholesale prices to prices on the mainland, Hawaii actually gets its oil supplies from Alaska and Asia (not New York!). Now, imagine that gasoline distribution on the mainland is disrupted by some unforeseen event -- perhaps a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast refineries -- with the result that mainland prices surge upward, while Hawaii's own suppliers are left undisturbed. The islanders will get the higher posted prices determined by law in reference to the mainland, thanks to their legislators.

Gas on Maui now costs $4.20 for regular, and as prices fall on the mainland "the wholesale gas cap for all Maui zones will jump 44 cents next week" reports the Maui News. A quick scan through Google news finds various calls for investigations of "price gouging" by firms charging the government's own posted price.

Good work, guys!

And P.S., yes, of course I want politicians like these designing a nationalized health care system for us all.

The bankruptcy of New York Democrats

New York City's mayoral election is this year. The good news for Democrats is they get a chance to elect one of their own as mayor for the first time in 12 years -- here in this city where they outnumber Republicans by 5 to 1. The bad news is that incumbent Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be the walk-away victor in their own Democratic primary if only he could enter it, according to the latest polling. Ouch.

At a debate among the Democratic contestants this week a newsman was rude enough to ask about this: Hey, why do your own party's voters prefer him by so much over all of you? Eric Fettman covers their astute responses.

As a New York Cityer, I can tell the real answer (which Fettman notes): Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani before him have focused on quality of life issues: reducing crime, cleaning the streets, cleaning up the public parks and making them safe, improving the public schools so more students actually graduate from them, and the like. This plays to the citizenry, what voting citizens actually want.

Yet not one of the four contending Democrats has anything at all to say about any of that, each is instead playing to the wide local menagerie of narrow Democratic special interest groups. And every single one of them has promised to increase spending by a billion dollars a year or more (some by a lot more) which means raising taxes by as much (here where the citizenry already pays more in taxes than anywhere else in America) to buy the votes available through this subsidy, that social spending program and all these unions. Plus there's the standard heavy Democratic dollop of race politics, of course.

Now take a moment and think about this, it seems really extraordinary.

From Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York for generations produced the leaders who shaped the future of progressive Democratic politics. And why shouldn't it? New York City is the nation's center of business, finance and media, home to more liberal university faculties than any other city in the nation, and 5 to 1 Democrat.

Yet New York's Democratic political establishment now can't produce even a single candidate capable of winning its own mayoral primary!

(While it is currently producing a gubernatorial candidate running on the strength of his daring exposé investigations of radio payola and restaurant bathroom attendants).

What's happened?

Here's a thought: Maybe nothing. Maybe New York is still showing the future of progressive Democratic politics.

Incentives work in the public schools!

The principal of one of the city's most respected public high schools has been ousted for urging parents to lie in order to milk the National School Lunch Program for extra cash. Maurice Collins, the principal of A. Philip Randolph HS in Harlem, also threatened to withhold transportation for children whose parents didn't turn in their school-lunch applications...

Collins sent parents a letter urging them to lie about their wealth on the lunch applications — telling them that doing so would boost the school's budget.

"The lower you estimate your income, the better for the school budget," Collins, 44, wrote in a letter obtained by The Post. "If you work more than one job, only put down the income from one job on the form."

The letter went on to threaten that any student who did not return the form would not get a discounted MetroCard —- a benefit to which every city student is entitled.

"His heart is in the right place in wanting more money for the school ..." said Aida Morales, a parent on the school leadership team...

School-lunch applications are, on their face, used by local and federal governments to determine the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program.

But the forms are also used to calculate poverty rates in school districts, and, therefore, the distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid for everything from teachers and textbooks to telephone bills and Internet wiring.

For this reason, schools in high-poverty areas aggressively urge parents to complete the forms, even offering pizza parties and free tickets to sporting events as incentives.

But education watchdogs said few schools so blatantly push parents to shrug off the form's fine-print warning that "all income is reported"...
[NY Post]
So giving educators financial incentives to get students' families to lie -- and to threaten to punish the unresponsive -- works!

Imagine what the results might be if we gave educators financial incentives to teach more effectively? And students incentives to learn?

Maybe pizza parties for students who improve their reading to grade level, and free tickets to sporting events for teachers who get them there? (Dare one mention the idea of threatening some sort of accountability for teachers who fail to teach and students who won't learn?)

Nah, think how unprofessional all that would be.

It all brings to mind the episode of The Simpsons where Mrs. Crabapple hands out standardized tests while telling the kids, "Remember, the worse you do the more money the school gets, so don't knock yourselves out." It's funny because it's true.

The really early line

The NFL football season starts only this weekend, but Vegas already has the Jets as 4 1/2 point favorites over Buffalo in the week 17 game on January 1, 2006.

You can bet on anything these days. The same book giving these football odds lets you bet on "Next US Politician Caught in a Sex Scandal" (including "George W and Jeb Bush caught in a 3-some").

Anyhow, looking at the coming NFL season odds the one bet I'd take, if I was a betting fellow, would be the "under" on season wins for Atlanta at 9.5. A lot of people love the Falcons because they won 11 games last year and have the physically amazing Michael Vick -- "the greatest athlete ever at QB".

But last year the Falcons scored only 3 points more than they gave up -- they were lucky, they should have been 8-8, and season-to-season NFL team peformances notably display reversion to the mean. Moreover, Vick won't be a pro QB until he learns to pass the ball. The NFL's badly flawed passer rating system ranked Vick as 21st in the league last year. The much more sensible one at ranked him 37th -- in a league with only 32 starters.

The NFL is a passing league, teams win with the passing game above all. And for a QB in the NFL, "great athlete" is a polite way of saying "can't pass". So short them Falcons. (A similar opinion on Vick.)