Archive for June 2006

Eek! Children!

A while back Glenn Reynolds had a series of posts on European birth rates and the social costs of having children (I would link the articles but my timer on this computer in the library is running out and I don't have time to search). 

Our first few days here in the [English] countryside have really reinforced different cultural attitudes about children.  The first night here, we walked into a restaurant with our kids, and the whole place went silent, staring at us.  We were told children were not allowed.  In retrospect, it felt like that scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the townspeople are all staring at the family because in that town kids are illegal.  The next restaurant did not let kids in after 7.  The next saw us and said that they had a large group arrive and couldn't serve us (despite the fact the parking lot and restaurant were empty). 

We thought at first this might have something to do with liquor laws, since many local restaurants are also the pub.  But that first night when we finally found a restaurant that would serve our children, they said we could not sit in the restaurant but they could seat us in the bar!

Not sure I have a conclusion here, except to observe how different attitudes about children and families are here.  Kids here are also much quieter in public than American kids, perhaps because they have learned to keep a low profile in a society that doesn't always want them around.  It will be interesting to see if London is any different.

Bonus trivia question, answer below the fold:  The writer, producer and several of the actors in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also were responsible for what other quite famous series of movies?

Update:  I left off that it was in the English countryside (near the border of England and Wales).  Sorry.  I am finally on a decent Internet connection and just caught onto the confusion.

Continue reading ‘Eek! Children!’ »

Away in England

I have been in the English countryside this week, right on the border between England and Wales.  In fact, the house I am staying in has one of those great Welsh names that don't have enough vowels, something like Cwmmau or such.  Anyway, Internet access has turned out to be nearly impossible -- I finally found a library across from the Hereford Cathedral that lets me have access in 30 minute increments.  Hopefully I can blog more from London next week.

Anecdotal Science

ABCNews is asking viewers to submit stories of evidence they have found for Global Warming in their back yard.

Witnessing the impact of global warming in your life?

ABC News wants to hear from you. We're currently producing a report on the increasing changes in our physical environment, and are looking for interesting examples of people coping with the differences in their daily lives. Has your life been directly affected by global warming?

We want to hear and see your stories. Have you noticed changes in your own backyard or hometown? The differences can be large or small--altered blooming schedules, unusual animals that have arrived in your community, higher water levels encroaching on your property.

Show us what you've seen.

So I submitted my story:

I can remember that just five years ago, the summers at my house used to be relatively cool and very wet.  Our summer temperatures never got much above 80 degrees, and it would rain every few days, at least.

The last couple of summers, temperatures have soared as high as 112 degrees at my house, and we have at times gone whole months without rain.

I am terrified at these effects of global warming.  Several of my "friends" have said they think this change has more to do with my move from Seattle to Phoenix, but they are clearly in the pay of the oil companies.

I have explained to them that ABC News and their climate reporting have educated me that small anecdotal blips in the local weather are scientifically valid proof of long-term global climate changes.

For example, my Exxon-butt-kissing friends tried to claim that for over a century, hurricane activity has followed a 20-40 year cycle, and that the recent upsurge in hurricane activity is due to the return of the "busy" end of the cycle.  I know from ABC that in fact our two-hundred years of burning fossil fuels have cause CO2 to build up and lurk in the atmosphere, ready to jump out and increase hurricane activity suddenly in 2005.

Its great to see that ABC has adopted the same lofty levels of scientific proof that are used by the rest of the environmental community.

Immigration and Terrorism

For a while now I have meant to write a post on immigration and terrorism, specifically to refute the argument made by anti-immigration folks that cracking down on immigration is an important part of the war on terror.  Now, I tend to agree that we are too slow in kicking out visitors who commit crimes.  I've always thought in fact that if Mexico found itself send millions of productive workers to the US only to get back a stream of the small percentage who were thugs and criminals they might finally address the root causes of why their own country can't offer productive people any opportunity.

But the guard-the-border folks go further than this, arguing we must stop all immigration with troops and "minutemen" at the border as part of the effort to defend ourselves from terrorism.  I've always thought that this was a fabricated argument, since its so easy to prove that fear of terrorism is not their real motive for troops at the border (if it were, then why are all the troops going to the Mexican border - shouldn't the long stretches of empty land on the Canadian border be just as vulnerable to terrorists?  In fact, it is Canada and not Mexico where Islamic terrorist cells have been found in the last month).

Open and legal immigration would make finding illegal entry of terrorists much easier.  Right now, by pushing Mexican immigrants out into desert, rather than marked border crossings, one gives terrorists a very large haystack to hide in.  Terrorists with violent intent must somehow be sorted out from millions of perfectly peaceful immigrants looking for work.  Arizona Watch quotes James Valliant:

If every person who wanted into America in order to find work was legally
permitted into America, I'll bet they'd be happy to stop by the front gate, show
some i.d., get checked against a terrorist watch-list, etc. Only those with
criminal records, or reasons to flee justice, those with contagious diseases,
and, well"¦ terrorists would have any reason to "jump the gate" at all.

This would concentrate our resources on those who actually posed a threat to
the country. Thousands of border patrol agents would, then, not be going after
thousands "“ ultimately, accumulated millions "“ of people everyday, but just a
few hundred "“ ultimately, a few thousands. I, personally, prefer those odds when
it comes to catching terrorists and mass-murders.

Bureaucratic Nightmare

I have written before about the silliness of the liquor licensing process.  A regulatory procedure perhaps necessary when the government was trying to drive organized crime out of liquor in the 1930's, its insanely useless today.

For example, last winter we replaced a store building at the same address with a brand new building.  It did not even occur to me that I might have to make any changes to my liquor license.  Surprise!  Here is the paperwork required to activate my existing, already paid-for license at the exact same address, only in a newer building:


Its hard to tell from the picture, but we are talking lots and lots of detail, much of it repeated several times through the application.  And most every page has to be notarized.  How much of this is new and not already on file with my current license?  Just one-half of one page, down in the lower right where I draw the floor plan of the new building.  Everything else is a total repeat of the information on file.

My favorite question I had to answer to move my liquor license to a new building?  They require I give them the date and location of my wedding.

Update: Oh, and it has to be approved by the County planning department, who for several days now have not returned my calls.  And it may have to go in front of the county commisioners.  And I am pretty sure it will have to be publicly posted on the new building for a 30-day comment period, and I will have to pay for an announcement for three weeks running in the local paper.  And then it will probably be approved, just about when it will be time to close for the season.  For those who have not been there, though, McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is gorgeous, and, if I can brag, I think our new building is a big improvement as well.

Big Ben and the Nanny State

By now, most will have heard that the young star quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Rothlesburger, crashed his motorcycle and sustained head injuries in part because he was not wearing a helmet.  You can bet that someone in the legislature will introduce a helmet law in the next week, since most nanny-state legislation of this type usually gets passed in reaction to one high-profile incident where some legislator can grab some press.

Here is what really upset me yesterday:  Listening to a sports-talk radio station yesterday talking about this accident, I heard a number of people call in and say the following:

"I don't blame Ben for riding without a helmet -- that's legal in Pennsylvania.  I blame the state for not having a helmet law"

Wow - you don't see the death of individual responsibility highlighted any more starkly than that.  Much more on the topic here.

By the way, helmet laws are a particularly interesting bit of nanny-statism, since motorcyclers are such a small percentage of the population.  In most states where this law gets passed, the votes of people who will never ride a motorcycle and for whom the law will always be irrelevant generally overwhelms the wishes of motorcyclers themselves.  I wonder how many women who piously preach that the government can't tell us what to do with our bodies typically vote for helmet laws that tell people, uh, what they can do with their bodies.

Increasingly, you hear people justify helmet laws by saying "well, taxpayers have to pay the medical bill if someone gets hurt riding without a helmet."  I addressed this argument that public health care justifies total control of our lives in this post on health care as a Trojan horse for fascism.  (and here)

Statism Bites its Creators

A while back, I observed that liberal statists and technocrats were upset that conservative statists were using the machinery of big government they created for the "wrong" ends:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

Suprisingly, James Taranto in Best of the Web, who I sometimes find too partisan and socially conservative for my tastes, makes a similar point:

Liberal Democrats take credit for creating an enormous government, which, according to them, doesn't work--but would work just fine if only the populace were smart enough to elect liberal Democrats.

In sum: Republicans favor small government but embrace big government when they have the power to control it. Democrats favor big government but insist that it can work only when they have the power to control it. Politicians in both parties, then, seem to see government as a means to the same end: their own political power. Little wonder that voters are suspicious of government.

Eminent Domain, But Without the Compensation

Our brave city of Scottsdale has come up with this pioneering idea:

Scottsdale's Historic Preservation Commission wants city staff to look
into designating '50s-era garden apartments as an entire historic

For those who have not struggled with this, being named a historic building or site can be the kiss of death - basically it means that the government has restricted your ability to do anything with your property.  You certainly can't tear the sucker down and put something more modern on your own land and you have to go through mind-numbing approvals and use special super-high-cost contractors even to do the smallest amount of work on the structure.  In some of the public parks we run, I know of several historic buildings that are falling apart because they have been named historic buildings and the bureaucratic headaches to even stabilize the roof and stop leaks is insurmountable.  (A few years ago I nearly got arrested for putting some tar paper on the roof of a historic cabin to try to stop the rain from getting in and ruining the building.  I was told that they would rather the building crumble to dust than let any non-authentic work be done on it).

Can you imagine having your dated 50's-era ugly home or condo designated so that you can't tear it down?  Does this mean that you can't even update it, to get rid of the avocado appliances? Apparently so:

Valarie Hartzell of Park Paradise, 6936 E. Fourth St., said condo
owners there also are making improvements, but city-approved
contractors balk at installing authentic, and perhaps hard-to-get,

The woman driving this effort reveals the thinking so typical of these efforts:

Preservation Commissioner Nancy Dallett said the rare configuration of
the apartments in a single neighborhood may qualify them for a
geographic designation.

"The strength of our district is in the clustering of the apartments,"
Dallett said at Thursday's commission meeting. "I wouldn't want to let
go of any of these within the boundaries."

Don't you love that last line?  Look Nancy, if you want something specific done with this property, buy it yourself.  But don't try to manage property you don't own at costs you don't bear for an outcome you desire.

In a nutshell, such efforts result in the effective taking of the private property to meet some public good, without any compensation.  This is eminent domain without any payment at all, thereby taking Kelo even one step further.

By the way, this means you have about 20 years before your 1970's style house is declared a landmark, and you will be stuck forever with the orange deep shag carpet and mirrored walls, so move quickly on that renovation.

The Obesity Obsession

Via Liz Lightfoot in the Telegraph:

Nearly 60 per cent of girls aged 12 to 15 described themselves as
overweight when only 15 per cent met the medical criteria for excess
body fat.

The findings prompted the Schools Health Education Unit, which carries
out the annual survey, to issue an appeal for an end to the "obsession"
with skeletal body shapes in the media and fashion industry.

Yeah, I know this is the UK, but I bet you would get similar results in the states.  While the article points the finger at the media and fashion industry, how about government and academic know-it-alls who with their recent obsession on teenage obesity are reinforcing this message?  For example, remember this previous post about the Arkansas governor's new program:

I get email and comments from time to time that my language deriding
government's intervention into every aspect of our lives is overblown
and exaggerated.  My answer:  Oh yeah, well how about this:

Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas, now
requires annual fat reports. These are sent to the parents of every
single child aged between 5 and 17; a response, he says, to "an
absolutely epidemic issue that we could not ignore" in the 1,139
schools for which he is responsible.

just cannot craft any reasonable theory of government where this is the
state's job.   The "obesity" crisis in this country just amazes me.
"Experts" every few years broaden the definition of who is overweight
or obese, and suddenly (surprise!) there are more people defined as
overweight.  Even presuming it is the state's job to optimize our body
weights, is it really the right approach to tell everyone they are too
fat?  Having known several people who were anorexic, including at least
one young woman who died of its complications, is it really a net
benefit to get young people more obsessed with looks and body style?
And what about the kids that are genetically programmed to be
overweight?  Does this mean that years of taunting and bullying by
their peers is not enough, that the state's governor wants to pile on

It is interesting to note that governor Huckabee apparently started
this initiative after his own personal battle with weight loss:

[Huckabee] lost 110lb after being warned that his
weight, more than 280lb after a life of southern fried food, was a
death sentence. A chair even collapsed under him as he was about to
preside over a meeting of state officials in Little Rock.

all have friends who have lost weight or gotten into homeopathy or
became a vegan and simply cannot stop trying to convert their friends
now that they see the light.  Now we have the spectacle of elected
officials doing the same thing, but on a broader scale and with the
force of law, rather than  just mere irritation, on their side.  One
can only imagine what report cards kids would be carrying home if
Huckabee had instead had a successful experience with penis
enlargement.  What's next, negative reports for kids with bad acne?
For women whose breasts are too small?  For kids who are unattractive?

New Google Products

Apparently Google is about to announce a new online spreadsheet product.  My first reaction was - that's stupid, who would want to have their spreadsheet app. online -- its slower and probably less secure.  Online applications strike me as a step back to the bad old days of mainframe-terminal applications.

But then I thought about my 30 managers who send me excel spreadsheets each week with their revenue data, and it occurred to me that this might be exactly what we need.  Its a constant headache keeping everyone on the right version and managing all these submissions.  Also, it would be nice if we can eliminate buying 40 copies of MS Office.  Currently we are implementing OpenOffice 2.0 to eliminate the MS Office expense, but a real online collaborative spreadsheet solution at Google type pricing (e.g. zero) might be cool.

I don't see it up on their site yet, but they have a lot of cool stuff in Beta I had never played with before.  Check out Google Labs here.

Oh, Those Sophisticated Europeans

Per the NY Times:

As he left the soccer field after a club match in the eastern German
city of Halle on March 25, the Nigerian forward Adebowale Ogungbure was
spit upon, jeered with racial remarks and mocked with monkey noises. In
rebuke, he placed two fingers under his nose to simulate a Hitler mustache and thrust  his arm in a Nazi salute.

In April, the American defender Oguchi Onyewu, playing for his
professional club team in Belgium, dismissively gestured toward fans
who were making simian chants at him. Then, as he went to throw the
ball inbounds, Onyewu said a fan of the opposing team reached over a
barrier and punched him in the face....

Players and antiracism experts said they expected offensive behavior
during the tournament, including monkey-like chanting; derisive
singing; the hanging of banners that reflect neofascist and racist
beliefs; and perhaps the tossing of bananas or banana peels, all
familiar occurrences during matches in Spain, Italy, eastern Germany
and eastern Europe.

I am sure many American black athletes still have stories to tell about encountering racism, but didn't we at least climb out of this kind of pit of overt racism forty years ago or so?  While European sophisticates have looked down their noses at US racial problems, European monocultures seem now not to be ahead of us but behind us in dealing with ethnic diversity.  Though there do seem to be plenty of Americans who long to take our country back to being a monoculture.

Gasoline and Time

A few days ago, I posted that people seem to make strange tradeoffs between the cost of gasoline and the value of their personal timeDon Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek makes a similar observation about recent calls to reinstate the 55 MPH speed limit, pointing out that slower speed limits may save gas but they cost people time, and time is one resource that is truly finite:

In short, for every 75-miles covered on a highway, reducing the speed limit from
75 MPH to 55 MPH will save a driver $2.58 in fuel cost -- and this assuming that
the increase in fuel efficiency of the average car caused by the lower speed
limit is a whopping 10 mpg.  But the resulting greater time on the road will
cost a driver earning the average non-supervisory wage $5.82 worth of his or her
time per 75-miles driven.

By the way, it is no surprise that this always seems to be proposed by Easterners who have no conception of the travel distances out west.

Emminent Domain Battle in Iowa

After the Supreme Court in Kelo gave its imprimatur to local authorities using eminent domain for economic development (which is a fancy way of saying the government can take your home and give it to real estate developers) many states have passed limitations on such activity. 

Apparently, the Iowa legislature passed just such limitations, but governor Tom Vilsack has chosen to veto it (via State 29).  Apparently the governor echoed this pro-Kelo thinking:

Cities, chambers of commerce and other development agencies argued [the legislation]
would shut off opportunities to develop businesses and create jobs.

Aaarrgghh.  Can anyone imagine their local city councilman actually creating a viable business?  In point of fact, most of these cases are not job creation but job transfers, from a less-preferred person to a more-preferred person.  Preferred on what standard?  By the standard of campaign support, of course!  Many other related posts here.

111 in the Shade

But its dry heat.


As a public service, Arizona is taking onto itself all the worldwide effects of global warming, thereby saving polar bears in Greenland and archipelago-living indigenous peoples.  Once it gets over about 108 you don't really notice the difference anyway.  Picture taken at 4:50PM MST today in the inappropriately-named (at least for today) Paradise Valley, AZ.  For all those who want to compare this to hell, I would remind you that the core of Dante's hell was frozen and cold, not hot.  Dante knew what he was talking about.  It may be hot but there is nothing to shovel off my driveway.

By the way, when people laugh at Arizona for not observing Daylight Savings Time, this is why we don't.  At nearly 5:00, we are hitting our peak temperature.  If we observed DST, we would not be hitting this peak until 6:00.  Temperatures here will cool over the next two hours by 20 degrees  (its already fallen nearly 3 degrees in the 20 minutes since I took the picture, and the sun is not down yet).  With this fast temperature drop typical of the desert combined with evening shade, it will be nice enough to be outside, eating or relaxing or watching a little league game by 7:00.  If I had my druthers, I would observe reverse daylight time, going back rather than forward an hour in the spring.  More observations on DST from myself and Virginia Postrel here.