Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…

…a card-carrying member of the ACLU?

Well, after they got off their butts and finally mailed it to me, yes, I am.

I’d been threatening to for a few years. What finally caused me to pull the trigger? Well, it pisses off too many people I want to see pissed off, but Radley Balko’s post on how it would piss off Bill O’Reilly pushed me over the edge. I don’t think O’Reilly is the worst enemy of freedom in America, but he’ll do.

It’s time to be more active in fighting back against the loonies of left and right who are tripping over themselves to give up personal freedom to assuage fears that economic, spiritual, or physical harm will come to them. The ACLU does a fairly good job against the loonies of the right–and the loons are on the march. I thought we were in a war against theocracies. It’s no good becoming more of one ourselves. And I’m tired of trying to figure out whether the PATRIOT Act would have been more at home in early 1920s Russia or early 1930s Germany.

Of course, the loonies of the left are not exactly quiescent, either, so I simultaneously gave to the Institute for Justice. There’s no debate about the state of corporatism in America: it looks like 1920s Italy. There is simply no stopping any level of government from taking your property and giving it to a corporation, so long as they say they think it’ll be better somehow that way. Governments use eminent domain and licensing scams to prevent people of the wrong color from occupying primo real estate or getting into nice retail locations or competing with white businesses.

You need all of them: you need the freedom to pray or not as you like, without the government making you subsidize somebody else; you need the freedom to say what you like without being thrown in jail; you need the freedom for your case to be heard if you are; you need the freedom to own a place and not be thrown out the second a higher bidder comes along; and you need the freedom to buy a drink from whomever you please, whether it pleases a giant alcohol distributer or not.

You the freedom to be yourself; else freedom from jail doesn’t mean a lot.

I Didn’t See That One Coming

In my inbox this evening:

As of today, all Onion Premium accounts have been terminated, and the service itself has been deleted from the Internet.

As of Wednesday morning, a new ad-enriched web site will debut, delighting readers like yourself with its winning combination of hard-hitting news and cutting-edge corporate sponsorship.

Current subscribers will apparently get refunds for the unused portion.

Dropping subscriptions for ads? That’s one you don’t see everyday. Beginning of a trend?

Yikes (an Understatement)

Jason Lefkowitz covers the possibility that New Orleans as we remember it may not exist tomorrow. Who’s sounding such alarmist talk? Our normally weasel-worded government, that’s who. Read the alert.

(Link via Sploid)

A few choice quotes:







Usually the government saves these sorts of lurid descriptions for overstatements of the latest drug scourge. Here’s hoping this is hyperbole–but having been through hurricane Hugo, I’m afraid there will be areas of the coast for whom this is understatement.

Prepare to give a few bucks to the Red Cross or other relief agency–there will likely be people needing it.

Good TV Viewing: Over There

Over There, from Steven Bochco, the creator of Hill St. Blues and NYPD Blue, treads a pretty unenviable line. It has, first and foremost, to be entertaining. Then, it has to tread some very dangerous political ground: get it too gung-ho and Michael Moore will be all over them like a bag of McDonald’s fries; too harsh and country singers will ask him why he hates America. And of course, after all of this it has to try to be accurate enough not to garner too many criticisms from the troops.


The funny thing is, I still find it entertaining. It may be ham-fisted at times, but the dialog is good, and it’s structured well enough that you don’t find the inevitable stuck-up-officer or lieutenant versus the sargeant, etc., etc., that disconcerting. If you’ve never been in the military, like me, the inaccuracies won’t bother you so much.

The verisimilitude comes from the confusion of fighting in an area where you don’t speak the language and there’s no opposing army. It also does a good job of showing the soldiers just trying to do their job and come home alive. It also shows the strain it puts on families left behind.

In the end, I doubt it will survive. It will be tough to tread this line too long without falling down on one side or the other. In each of the cases where civilians are killed, it turned out insurgents were behind it for their own dark purposes. Given the number of young suicide bombers in the Middle East, it’s not terribly hard to believe, but it avoids the harder question of those who are simply trying to live who are caught in the crossfire.

But until then, it’s good to remind yourself that yes, there’s a war on over there, and yes, it’s tearing apart the families of those we’ve asked to go, and yes, they’re being killed or torn apart themselves, while we worry about paying too much for gasoline…that happens to come from that part of the world.

Demand for Gasoline is Elastic

How do I know?

There’s a piece in today’s Washington Post (I won’t bother linking because it will disappear behind a paywall) reveling in the woes of local transportation planners because gas tax revenue is down. Why is it down despite prices being up?

Virginia last increased its tax, to 17.5 cents per gallon, in 1987, and the District and Maryland haven’t raised their tax rates since 1992. Maryland charges 23.5 cents a gallon; the District’s tax is 20 cents a gallon.

The federal government tacks on an 18.4-cent gas tax, which pays for much of its contribution to transportation projects. State officials said the amount they receive from the federal government could shrink if drivers look to conserve gas.

That’s right, these are like poll taxes or fees–they are a fixed amount per gallon, not a percentage of the price. So if I buy premium gas, a lower percentage of my gas bill is taxes. So when people buy less gas, they get less money. How do I know people are actually conserving gas?

State officials said that effect is starting to be felt. In June and July, when prices started jumping and drivers started changing habits, total gas tax receipts dropped by nearly $1 million in Virginia compared with the same months last year.

The same was true in the District, where gas tax revenue dropped sharply in June, to a level nearly $1 million less than last year. June also was disappointing in Maryland, where taxes came in $1 million less than projected. Numbers for July from the District and Maryland were not yet available.

So price goes up, consumption goes down. According to peak oilers, this happens for every commodity except oil.

Of course, this should be a good thing for regulators, right? They have less use of the roads, requiring less maintenance and less expansion. Pollution goes down, transit receipts go up, everybody wins, right?

Oh, wait, I forgot. Taxes are an end in and of themselves, not a tool to achieve a public good:

“If trends continue in terms of gas tax receipts, we’ll be broke in several years,” said Dan Tangherlini, the District’s director of transportation. “We’ll be in a position where we have to lay off administrative staff or we wouldn’t be able to match federal highway funds.”

Egads, not lay off administrative staff! Raising taxes is the only way to go, I guess. Since people are paying more for gas, they should pay…more…for gas…or something.

But the point is, there is hard evidence that prices influence behavior. The SUV was produced by pandering policies plummeting the price of petroleum.

A further note: I also read a piece in Scientific American (already behind a paywall) that pointed out the US economy grew 21% from the late Seventies to the mid Eighties, but oil usage declined 17%. So there is precedent for this kind of contraction. Yep, there was a bad recession through part of that period, but not even the majority of it.

Bottom line: High gas prices cause people to conserve. Capping the price will increase demand and cause shortages. Hawaii, you forgot to read your history books, didn’t you?

A Little Gloat

First, a little history.

On May 12, 2004, I wrote about why I’m not worried about Indian programmers takin’ mah jahrb! (BTW, that was South Park’s episode tonight.)

However, there’s no such thing as central air there, except for large companies and hotels. Rooms are cooled by individual air conditioners, largely because the infrastructure for building houses that can be fitted with central air and the components of central air systems themselves just aren’t there. Several other services Americans take for granted, such as reliable electricity, always-on hot water, and good sewer systems are by no means guaranteed, even to comparably rich families.

Then, a little over a year later, on June 14, 2005, I presented a problem for those who believe globalization is a race to the bottom. A commenter took me to task:

Global Free Trade isn’t an absolute race to the bottom. It’s a game of last man standing. As more and more poeple get sucked into poverty, the few at the top begin to bloat. Protectionism comes back into play when they feel the pinch themselves.

Oh yeah?

“Four years ago, a typical call center employee would have earned between 5,000 to 6,000 rupees ($114- $136) a month. Now it may be up to between 7,000 to 9,000 rupees ($159 – $204) a month,” he said.

And as to the first point about infrastructure:

Unless India devises a long-term roadmap to improve infrastructure and consistently grow its skilled labor force, he said India will see some of its offshore BPO clients shift business elsewhere.

“Although India’s infrastructure is improving, it is not keeping pace with the rapid growth of the industry,” the report said.

Yeah, free-marketers are Pollyanna-ish dreamers whose ideas will never come to pass, because the magic market will never lift incomes. And stupid Google keeps raising the salary levels of tech types here.

Yeah, yeah, hand-wave renders it irrelevant and I’m not looking at the real world, because {god has spoken and the world will end soon|that won’t help politicians make everybody live like yuppies here and quaint savages there}.

Sigh… Bob Moog, RIP

Since he lived in Asheville, NC, and my folks have a place in Brevard, NC, I had wanted to meet Bob Moog, synthesizer pioneer, since at least the 10th grade (that would have been around 15 or 16). That will never happen, because he passed away Sunday.

Eerily, many of his obituaries mention Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’s electronic renditions of Beethoven and other classical works in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange–which I saw for the first time Sunday night.

One way you can still get a childish scream of delight out of me is to give me a Minimoog (or a Minimoog Voyager). Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find it to put it on my Amazon wishlist.

Thanks, Bob.