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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A seat at the table or two or four

Politico is reporting news on the Congressional reapportioning due to the new census data. It looks like Texas gets 4 more seats. in the House of Representatives. Woot! Which they are quick to point out may be trouble for Dems as Texas is a traditionally (but only recently) Republican state. What they don’t mention is that its not really that simple, as seen by the closeness of the Governor’s race. It depends on who draws the district boundaries. As it stands today, 12 of Texas’s 32 representatives are Democrats. That’s more than a third. If you look at the data, the country is much more purple than the media would have you believe that it is red vs blue.

Although the big story here really is presidential electoral votes because Texas like most states is all or nothing. And in that regard it is a very safe Republican state.

Bonus factoid: If you want to see gerrymandering in action, go check out the existing boundaries and zoom in on Austin which is in 5 different districts, the bizarre shapes of the districts around Dallas. I dare you to rationalize that to me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Move over Bill

Conjunction Junction and I’m Just a Bill are helpful to kids, but maybe we should start airing the Money Rock videos during the grown up programming in prime time.

For your viewing pleasure - Tyrannosaurus Debt

We've got to keep on servicing
Our trillion dollar pet
It's got a monster appetite
Tyrannosaurus Debt

Not quite as catchy, but ever more important today.

Try and stop me!

Today’s Libertarian Mind Wanderings of the Day is on stop signs.

First, why is my neighborhood filled with stop signs? I live in a typical low volume traffic neighborhood with a number of streets and intersections but many of them only adjoin each other or only touch a major thoroughfare at one end. The traffic is so low that the vast majority of my trips in and out of the neighborhood, I see no other cars until I get to the major streets. There is absolutely no reason to have stop signs impeding me all around. If you must, you can put up a yield sign in order to recognize the need for caution and reflect the actual behavior of everyone today. What I don’t need is to be looking over my shoulder just in case law enforcement happens to wander down my street and see me all by myself rolling through a stop sign.

In fact I’m beginning to wonder what the justification really is here because the statute regarding putting stop signs up is actually pretty limiting. It states


     (a)     The traffic engineer shall conduct studies and investigations of the public streets and highways within the city and shall determine those places on public streets and highways where a particular danger or hazard exists to motor vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic and shall place and maintain traffic control signs, signals, and devices in accordance with these studies and determinations as required under this chapter and other traffic laws.

I’m curious if there was ever a study on my neighborhood that determined there was a particular danger or hazard that warranted me to stop at these internal intersections. No, have you ever seen a neighborhood get built? The first thing in is the roads and the signs. Before anyone even lives there (when you can actually see everything around you because its not built up yet) the flow of traffic is already constricted.

I can even be persuaded that where the residential streets hit the boulevard you might want a stop sign. Although its pretty obvious that the larger busier street has has the right of way and you don’t actually change any of the behavior by putting up a stop sign. The only thing you get is a mediocre increase in local ticket revenue and a small subsidy to the sign making business.

I’m thinking that if I stood up at the city council meeting and asked for their removal I’d get a stunned look of disbelief “But….um…. you have to have them. Why? Because!”

Second, I do not (necessarily) stop for private stop signs. They have no legal basis and I treat them as an appropriate warning that I need to be aware and yield in order to allow traffic to flow as necessary within the parking lot. Wal-Mart is an excellent example of this. So please don’t get all worked up if I blow through a stop sign at the back of the lot 100 yards from the nearest car or pedestrian.

Third, stopping behind the stop sign. The traditional lore is that when there is no marking or crosswalk, you must stop behind the stop sign. I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen a stop seen near enough to the actual corner to be useful. This requires all cars to make two full stops, one at the sign and another at the street when you can see. While looking up #1 above I came across this in the TX statutes regarding stop sign use. [my emphasis]


(c)  An operator required to stop by this section shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection. In the absence of a crosswalk, the operator shall stop at a clearly marked stop line. In the absence of a stop line, the operator shall stop at the place nearest the intersecting roadway where the operator has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway.

IANAL but as far as I can find, the local city codes don’t adjust or override this, which means as long as you stop (which most people do at a busy street) you are good to go.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How much is pot going to cost?

Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if Proposition 19 in California is passed and the cost of pot goes up?

I see several reasons this could actually happen

  1. Increased in-state demand. Once legal, there is a set of the population who will begin to partake that wouldn’t risk it otherwise – this one is iffy since we presumably would have an increase in supply as well.
  2. Taxation – they are looking at a 10% tax on the stuff. Just to maintain the current price, the retail value has to go down at least 9% to allow for a 10% tax not affecting the final price.
  3. The unions are licking their chops here. Anyone every see a unionized labor force lower the price of the goods they are involved in?

    “The marriage of the cannabis-hemp industry and UFCW is a natural one,” said [UFCW local 5 president] Rush. “We are an agriculture, food-processing and retail union, as is this industry.”

  4. Increased out-of-state demand. I’ve yet to see any good discussion on how the economics of a product that is easily shipped across state lines but is black market in one state and publicly available in another will work. I could even foresee a serious pot draught in CA due to the growers wanting the best price for their product (out of state) until the CA price comes up to match it. Money follows the contours of its environment, just like water.
  5. California could impose tariffs on foreign (i.e. Mexican) pot to protect their market and subsequent revenues.
  6. The typical elevated cost due to the risk of incarceration will not go away. The DEA is still raiding medical marijuana establishments  even though Obama said they wouldn’t.

Assuming all these factors come into play, it is conceivable that the ultimate retail price of pot in the state of California after legalization could be higher than the black market out of state price just to maintain the same margins for the growers.

Get off my lawn! err.. air!

Texans tend to take their private property seriously. That also goes to someone imposing rules on us which are based on, well, nothing. Add one more bit of animosity between the Great State of Texas and the Feds to the list.

The state of Texas today sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a federal appeals court in Washington DC, claiming four new regulations imposed by the EPA are based on the 'thoroughly discredited' findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and are 'factually flawed,' 1200 WOAI news reports.

If you want more details on the whole ‘factually flawed’ part, check out Borepatch’s links to his series of analysis of the IPCC ridiculousness.

I’ve got to remember to vote for Greg Abbott next time his seat is up for election as Texas Attorney General.

Texas – you may not agree with us, but it sure makes for a good show.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

But can they actually do it?

The GOP’s Pledge to America. Some good stuff, some fluffy get-me-elected stuff, some impossible stuff.


PostRacialBSers say what?

Just… wow. So this is the post racial world? A congresswomen telling Latinos that “the Vietnamese and the Republicans are … trying to take away this seat.” Identity politics at its best.

Nothing helps your chances to get elected like stirring up your constituency's racial animosity. I guess whatever gets out the vote <sigh>

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why I hate Pizza Hut

I like to order things online if given the chance because I get a clear receipt showing what I ordered. “Hi Mr. Delivery Man, you can see clearly here I ordered this and not that and for this price.”

Quality of their product aside (there is a local pizzeria that I far prefer), I hate Pizza Hut’s website. I usually get pressured by the rest of the crew here to order from Pizza Hut and always end up saying things aloud in frustration that would make my mother deny our relationship. Usually its just about usability and speed but last night it was about borderline fraud.

I choose this deal. Clearly marked as $23.99. The primary items being 2 medium pizzas.


The next step is to customize your pizzas. Notice the price still says $23.99 in the top, but the pizza selection for both pizzas has defaulted to “Large.” Large costs extra according to the above coupon.


Now you walk all the way through each of the four items. (for this example I chose nothing and just clicked Next Item) And check out the price. Its $27.99.


Once you add on the delivery charge, tax, and door bell ringing fees its more than that. If you weren't paying attention you could easily lose those extra couple of dollars in the total price of the delivery. I wonder how many people end up with large pizzas, and think “Hey I just got one over on the man. He sent me larges by mistake for free!”

On top of this, walking through this multiple times trying to figure out the problems and the UI (there was another problem that involved cheese selection) took me 30 minutes until I finally broke down and called the place. Of course the girl on the other end of the phone didn’t know what the deal was and just took my word for it.

Forget the delivery, I want it ordered in under 30 minutes or its free!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Corn vs Cane

Just as the White House wants to rename global warming... er, climate change for better PR, the Corn Refiner’s Association is lobbying the FDA to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. apparently Mrs. Obama’s notion not to feed her kids any HFCS is having an effect on the market even as

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Science in the Public Interest, said that the fundamental issue was that people needed to consume less sugar: "Soda pop sweetened with sugar is every bit as conducive to obesity as soda pop sweetened with high fructose corn syrup."

Now I’ve seen claims from both sides and haven’t dug into the actual science of this but I tend to land in the anti-HFCS camp for two reasons

1) The only reason we get corn syrup today instead of cane sugar is because the corn industry has the clout to maintain their cheap price through federal farming subsidies and maintain the case sugar import tariffs. Drop the tariffs/subsidies and let the corn farmers compete.


UPDATE: The Atlantic has an excellent article on the science and pedigree of the reporting of HFCS

Friday, September 17, 2010

Set climate phasers to disrupt!

Originally they said there was Global Cooling – Quick, cover the ice caps with black soot!

OK, I better get my earmuffs out.

Then the said there was Global Warming – Quick, stop using aerosol cans!

But, uh, you just said cooling…

Then they said there was Climate Change – Now stop using cars, Now!

Isn’t that what climates do?

Now they say there is Climate Disruption (see slide 5)

Oh crap! Are there aliens shooting Climate Disrupter Phasers ???

This is not about facts or even weather. Its about owning the conversation.Its about owning the language. There are two facets here. The first is their failure to convince everyone to go along with their policies (of course, not being able to reproduce original data sets doesn’t help their science any). So they change the language to cover a larger set of outcomes – and by a larger set of outcomes I mean all outcomes.

(Global climate disruption is) more of a sort of generic blanket term, I guess, that can apply in all weather conditions.

The second is their contempt for everyone else’s intelligence. When the argument fails to incite the proper amount of panic and urgency, they change the language to something that sounds more terrible so that we will get scared and do what they want because they are the big smart guys in suits. Sometimes you just need a serious crisis.

<HT: GorTechie>

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burn, baby, burn

I continue to be amazed that people believe they can prevent failure. In today’s fluffy “you’re all equally amazing people” world, the powers that be have struggled to prevent anyone from failing and in doing so drag us all down together. (Maybe we are not failures as long as we are all equally pitiful).

Looks like even the New York Times is starting to come around to realizing that you cannot prop up the housing market indefinitely.

Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.

When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve.

Now urging? I’m sure I’ve heard that before now. But in any event it definitely would shift the benefit to future homeowners. That’s what happens in a correction. All the existing owners realize they have made a poor investment and try to sell. In doing so, it creates opportunity for new investors to bail them out. Although, in this case “bail out” does not mean totally relieve them of their suffering. It means partially relieve them by offering them more than zero which is better than nothing. The stability comes, but at the new price level.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Run on the banks in Afghanistan

Karzai urges Afghans not to panic as bank withdrawals accelerate

Earlier in the day, Mahmoud Karzai voiced concern over Kabul Bank's ability to withstand an onslaught of depositors demanding their money back. "America should do something," he said in a telephone interview. He suggested that the Treasury Department guarantee the funds of Kabul Bank's clients, who number about 1 million and have more than $1 billion on deposit with the bank.

Umm, how about – “No.”

First we’ll worry about the bullets, then we’ll think about worrying about your bank (maybe).