Where Are the Environmentalists in the Democratic Party?

Despite the current demagoguery about gas prices, it turns out that gas prices aren’t really at their highest level ever if you account for inflation. However, they are rising, partly due to the annual price rise as refineries switch to EPA-mandated summer reformulations, partly due to gas taxes, and partly due to increased demand from China and other countries coupled with a reduction in supply by OPEC.

So Kerry plans to pressure OPEC and invade the national strategic oil reserve (by halting additions to it) to reduce US demand, a dubious strategy. But he does want to lower prices. So why aren’t environmental groups protesting?

In the past, environmental groups argued for higher gas prices. Sure, they prefer taxation to market rises in the price, but nonetheless, they want it. As a way of reducing oil consumption, they’re right: gasoline demand may be inelastic, but that doesn’t mean it never changes. Higher prices will cause people to conserve their trips and buy more fuel-efficient cars. It happened in the late 70s and early 80s when Japan’s econoboxes became popular cars due solely to gas mileage.

In the recent past, we’ve actually had some of the lowest gasoline prices ever, and that has fueled the popularity of gas-guzzling SUVs, also much decried by environmental groups. I share their antipathy toward SUVs, though not their desire to use the government to force manufacturers to stop making them. I’d much prefer that the government simply cease subsidizing them by giving them preferential treatment under fuel economy and safety regulations. This is what many environmental groups have called for, but many of them would go further, and I wouldn’t.

So now price increases are hurting the poor soccer mom and her monster SUV that she uses to take her 80-pound son to soccer practice along with is one-pound soccer ball and nothing else. Awwww. As Nelson would say, “Ha-ha!” Screw you and your asshole driving habits, SUV lady. Eat high gas prices.

But apparently I’m alone in celebrating this and criticizing Kerry, who is supposed to be a member of the party that is friend to the environment, for supporting continued SUV subsidies through artificially cheap gas prices. So where are they? I haven’t seen a single word in the major press from them.

Now it could be that none of the factors I’ve mentioned above are responsible and all the price rises are due to Dick Cheney’s friends screwing the American consumer for their own greed. Still, whatever the reason, environmental groups should welcome anything that will take SUVs off the road and make people drive less. It doesn’t matter why, as long as it happens.

I Admit It, I’m Being Disingenuous

Now obviously these groups think they will get more with Kerry than they will with Bush, so they want to remain silent in the hopes of getting him elected. But couldn’t he pound Bush for saddling people with SUVs by refusing to regulate them as passenger cars instead of saying “I’ll lower your gas prices more than Bush will! I’m a bigger Republican than he!” Surely some environmental group could at least release something blaming SUV popularity for the negative effects of gas price increases, adding a nice little “I told you so,” as I have above.

Still, it would be very nice to see a little ideological consistency out of them. If I can’t count on Democrats to be Democrats when it counts, then how can I count on them the rest of the time?

And Another Thing Or Two About Bundling

I totally missed another couple of fallacies in Alex Tabarrok’s Marginal Revolution post on Microsoft and bundling.

First, let me start with his take on the EU ruling against Microsoft:

This explains why the European directive requiring Microsoft to sell two versions of its operating system, one with and one without the media player, is pointless. Microsoft will simply sell the two versions at the same price – then which one would you choose?

The one on the cheapest PC.

The PC market, unlike the Mac market, is heavily price-driven. People generally buy the least expensive system they can get away with per feature. Also unlike the Mac market, most operating system sales are from preinstallations on hardware sold by hardware makers/assemblers who license the software from Microsoft, rather than people popping into CompEU and picking up a copy of Windows 2004 — This Time It Really Won’t Crash, We Promise.

So in Europe, a manufacturer will have the ability to install another media player besides Windows Media. So if someone has to use RealPlayer, which still is the choice of more commercial sites, or QuickTime, which is still the choice of more artistic and hobbyist sites, they probably won’t care that Windows Media isn’t bundled with the machine.

Second, Alex’s take on monopoly incentives, in addition to not reflecting the reality of the market since 1997, as I argued in my last post, doesn’t pass the common sense test. If I have a monopoly on not one but two systems, and can easily make small changes to keep out competitors (and have reduced the market value of any competition through bundling), why should I invest in R&D to improve my product absent serious competition? I can simply collect fees on my operating system, and if I want to upgrade the browser to IE 7, I make people buy a whole new operating system that they may not want or be able to run on their current hardware (see my point above) to get it.

Indeed, this is exactly what Microsoft has done. They have stopped innovating on the browser entirely, and they haven’t taken advantage of their ownership of both the OS and the browser to integrate the two in any useful way. The only thing they’ve done is mix up the user interface of the file browser nad the Web browser, causing much customer confusion. If this “integration” has resulted in any new efficiencies, productivity, or has enabled new things that can be done with a computer, I and most observers have been completely blind to them. That’s not impossible, but it’s not bloody likely.

Third, I’d point out that the likelihood of a market “naturally” moving to a monopoly depends on the monopoly being good for something. Since it’s not good on the desktop, has it helped Microsoft integrate with servers? Or has it helped Microsoft get its servers out into the market ahead of the competition?

That’s a resounding no. In fact, Microsoft has been losing market share in Web servers ever since it won the browser installation monopoly. So despite controlling both the desktop OS and the browser, it was unable–despite a huge effort–to monopolize the server market. Indeed, the only thing it may have done is prevent itself from losing market share to other OSes and Web servers.

Here, ironically, is the area that Alex might have the best argument–Microsoft’s browser monopoly hasn’t enabled it to inflict its insecure, bug-ridden servers on the rest of the world the way its desktop monopoly has allowed it to inflict its insecure, bug-ridden e-mail client and server on much of corporate America. So when you get the next virus in your e-mail that cripples your corporate network, just think that it’s not Internet Explorer’s fault.

And that’s the best thing I can say about Microsoft’s browser installation monopoly.

How Netscape 4 Won the Browser War

Alex Tabarrok bravely, but mistakenly, tries to make the case that Microsoft’s leveraging of its desktop monopoly to monopolize the browser and other markets is a good thing.

He’s wrong on two points.

First, the less obvious one, which will explain why he’s wrong on the more obvious one.

Microsoft didn’t win the browser war

Oh, sure, odds are you go to the Internet by clicking on a blue “e” (for Enternet?) and don’t think once about it. But if the browser war is defined as who people design sites for, Internet Explorer is a distant finisher.

The winner of the browser war is Netscape 4. Not Netscape, certainly not Mozilla, not AOL, and definitely not Web Standards. Netscape 4 is the browser that was the most popular Netscape browser when IE essentially won the browser installation war by releasing Internet Explorer 6, well over three years ago. At that point, except for some rump action by the open-source version of Netscape and the Netscape parasite versions (6.0 through 7), innovation ceased in the browser market. Microsoft recently made it official, stating that they have no intention of releasing updates to Internet Explorer. For anything new, you’ll have to buy their next operating system, due in 2006 or later. Unless they release OS updates, you won’t see any changes in the behavior of this browser, and you won’t be able to download a newer version of it.

So, why do I make the claim that Netscape 4, a browser everybody regards as fairly crappy, actually won?

It’s the browser you can target and ensure your code looks good on every browser in use on the planet today. Bar none.

When clients come to me and say that they need to support older machines that can’t be updated and they don’t have a lot of time for development, I haul out Netscape 4 and start coding.

I could do it with IE 6, but IE 5 and 5.5 don’t support everything, and there are just enough Mozilla or Netscape users to make life difficult. But if it looks good in Netscape 4, odds are it will look good in every browser with just a little tweaking.

Sure, the standards fanatics will say that since IE 6 supports (*cough*some*cough*) Cascading Style Sheets and XHTML, I should use that and let the browsers degrade, but that’s not a realistic thing to tell a client on his old iBook running Mac IE 5.2.

Netscape 4 was released officially in June of 1997. That’s almost seven years ago. The rendering model it put forward then, quirks and all, is supported with only limited deviation by every browser currently available. It is more consistently supported than CSS 2 in modern browsers, which brings us to the second thing Alex is wrong about.

Continue reading

More Fun With Virus Writers

The subject was “Re: Question”. Here’s the raw code, so you can see stuff hidden from you normally, like whether that’s really a Word document:

Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

I have attached the sample.

+++ Attachment: No Virus found
+++ Bitdefender AntiVirus - www.bitdefender.com


Content-Type: application/octet-stream;

Yeah, I wonder why it wasn’t in ISO or Mac encoding. But at least it tells you that it scanned itself, and honest, there’s no virus! Eat Worm, suckers!

But I Don’t Have a Garage

So, I finally went and bought iLife, or as I call it, GarageBand. I may, at some point, make use of iPhoto, but mainly I considered it spending $50 on a well-reviewed entry-level sequencer/loop/recording app.

I haven’t yet had much time to truly test its capabilities by hooking up my keyboards to it or recording anything from them, but it looks fairly capable for something that’s $50 bucks.

It clearly rewards those who like dance music with lots of loops. In fact, much like the people who produce the music Schnippy listens to, you need not have any musical talent. Just throw some loops on there, maybe, if you’re clever, do a bit of editing.

GarageBand keeps you out of trouble by adjusting everything to your current tempo and key. You can transpose, shorten, or loop a sound you put in. However, you can’t elongate, slow, or speed up a sound. Editing controls quantize to the nearest measure, to 16th, but no triplets.

How easy is it? Well, the last time I saw the inside of a recording studio or did sequencing or audio editing on a Mac was 12 years ago, and I did this:

Dit-dit, duh duh

That consists of me using the mouse-activated keyboard and the rest messing with loops. I tried creating a loop using Apple’s free Loop creation SDK, but GarageBand sped it up horribly on import, and trying to import it again lost the file. If anybody knows how to uninstall and reinstall a loop, let me know.

That took me maybe 3 or 4 hours, much of it just messing around with the library.

So it’s great for hobbies. I suspect as I get into it I’ll find out that it’s really capable for something that costs $50 bucks, but too limiting.

Just what I need, more things to spend my money on.

P.S. Go easy on the downloads, I don’t have unlimited bandwidth.

Shock Therapy–Good for the Heart

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cohen cites a paper that contrasts health data in Russia and the former Soviet Union with Poland and the Eastern Bloc countries that were essentially captured by Russia at the end of the Second World War.

The results are somewhat surprising. Given Poland’s greater growth, one might expect people at the margins to be healthier, such as the elderly. But it is among young males that the difference is most stark, as Russia has exploded in violence, alcoholism, unsafe sex, and smoking. This despite the fact that Poland opened its markets more completely to cigarette and alcohol advertising (advertising in general is more prevalent in Poland than in Russia).

The conclusion is that democracy and free markets are healthier than unfree markets and despotism, despite the relative availability of things to damage ourselves with.

I point to this mainly because the argument against shock therapy as opposed to gradualist reform has been that a sudden transformation to a free market is too hard on people. I have no doubt that it is in the short term psychologically harder than gradualism, but the data both within the two groups of countries and between supports the hypothesis that any delay in reform hurts far more than it helps.

I can assure you that despite the smaller moves toward a free market, even by 1993 Russians I met were far more distressed and discombobulated by changes than Poles I met. This also cannot be accounted for simply by arguing about relative wealth–the health statistics before transformation were roughly equivalent between Poland and Russia.

My hypothesis at the time was that the degree to which a country implemented and stuck to shock therapy was proportional to the amount of progress they made by the mid-nineties. Recent policy changes in the Eastern Bloc countries has damped the affects, but it still appears to be roughly true.

Shock therapy may cause you momentary mental distress, but in the long run, it’s much better for you.