Assorted Links 9/6/09

Rapping Through The H1N1

  • Understanding Congressional Budgeting and Appropriations, September 9, 2009
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, September 23-25, 2009
  • Obama, the Mortal – “But forget the character witnesses. Just look at Obama’s behavior as president, beginning with his first address to Congress. Unbidden, unforced and unpushed by the congressional leadership, Obama gave his most deeply felt vision of America, delivering the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president. In American politics, you can’t get more left than that speech and still be on the playing field.

    In a center-right country, that was problem enough. Obama then compounded it by vastly misreading his mandate. He assumed it was personal. This, after winning by a mere seven points in a year of true economic catastrophe, of an extraordinarily unpopular Republican incumbent, and of a politically weak and unsteady opponent. Nonetheless, Obama imagined that, as Fouad Ajami so brilliantly observed, he had won the kind of banana-republic plebiscite that grants caudillo-like authority to remake everything in one’s own image.
    . . .
    Obama fancies himself tribune of the people, spokesman for the grass roots, harbinger of a new kind of politics from below that would upset the established lobbyist special-interest order of Washington. Yet faced with protests from a real grass-roots movement, his party and his supporters called it a mob — misinformed, misled, irrational, angry, unhinged, bordering on racist. All this while the administration was cutting backroom deals with every manner of special interest — from drug companies to auto unions to doctors — in which favors worth billions were quietly and opaquely exchanged.”

  • Labor’s missing issue: right to work – “[O]rganized labor, despite having spent something like $400 million to elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, is not seeking what was once its number one goal, repeal of Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act which allows states to pass right-to-work laws. Those laws bar unions and businesses from requiring that employees join a union.
    . . .
    Currently 22 states have right to work laws, including every Southern state except West Virginia, plus several states in the Great Plains and Mountain West. Twelve of these states passed such laws in the 1940s, six more followed in the 1950s, one in the 1960s, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (though it references Texas’s 1993 update of its right to work law rather than the original 1947 law). The most recent such law was passed in Oklahoma by a 54%-46% margin in a referendum in September 2001.
    . . .
    Since the 1960s right to work states have had greater economic growth and greater economic growth than non-right to work states. A convenient metric is the number of electoral votes of the right to work states in each presidential election starting in 1948, which shows that in the six decades since the proportion of electoral votes and population in right to work states has almost doubled. ”
  • Critically Underfunded Unemployment Insurance Plans – “Eighteen states have critically underfunded unemployment insurance plans. This issue has yet to come to a head, but it soon will.”
  • How Not To Do Things: Redskins Suing Over 100 Fans – “If you want a lesson in how not to treat fans, check out the Redskins.”
  • Not This Pig – “Our environmentally-correct czar believes that we were behind 9/11, that whites pollute poor neighborhoods on purpose, that American agriculture is pathological, that Republicans are ‘assholes’ and so on. He is the ideological version of the buffoonish Robert Gibbs. What do they teach at Yale (and Harvard) law school? Is admission there synonymous with graduation?

    The new Supreme Court Justice thinks that some judges are better than others based on their gender and race. The Attorney General (we are ‘cowards’ afraid to talk about race) wants to try agents of the CIA, not hunt down terrorists that plotted to destroy America. No wonder, in a past incarnation he helped to pardon terrorists from Puerto Rico for similarly careerist purposes.”

  • Is College a Scam? – “Career counselor Marty Nemko calls the bachelor’s degree ‘America’s most over-rated product.'”
  • The Tragic Flute – “Is the flute yours because you provided the materials (which were yours) and paid the kid who made it? If so, you can give it to anyone you want, or you can keep it. It’s yours! Did you steal it from the kid who made it? Then you should give it to the kid who made it. It’s hers! You’ve got no right to redistribute her flute.

    Anyway, I find this thought experiment, and the not uncommon practice of assuming away the relevance of property rights when considering questions of distributive justice, confusing. A settled scheme of property rights is the main solution to the problem of distributive justice.”

  • A Different Sort of Health Care System – “At any rate, learning from a country doesn’t mean copying it wholesale. It means adapting the things it’s doing right to a different social context — by, say, reducing our reliance on insurance and eliminating our artificial restrictions on the supply of medical providers. There’s an unstated assumption that the institutions that have grown up around the American and European medical systems are a cause of our higher standard of living. But what if they’re a product of that wealth: vast bureaucracies that no nation needs but only the richest can afford? India is already a destination for medical tourists seeking more affordable care. If we could combine our wealth with Bangalore-style competition, they wouldn’t need to travel: Prices would come down and doctors would be much more responsive to consumer demand, this time in a country where far more people can afford to participate in the medical marketplace.”
  • Swine flu goes to college: Here’s what you need to know – “Influenza viruses are spread primarily through tiny respiratory droplets produced by coughing and sneezing. The best way to prevent the flu’s spread is to stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue–or a sleeve or elbow if necessary–and washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, though hand sanitizer sanitizers such as Germ-X, Purell, or a generic store brand product with an alcohol content of at least 60 percent will do in a pinch.

    Once those respiratory droplets land on a surface, the flu virus can stay alive for hours. So frequently touched surfaces in common areas, including doorknobs, refrigerator handles, remote controls, keyboards, faucet handles, countertops, and bathroom areas, can also be a means of infection. Clean them often, especially if someone in your household is sick. Likewise, heavily trafficked areas, such as computer labs or classrooms, keyboards, desks, tables, and chairs may become infected.”

  • Simon Newcomb – “There is at the present day too great a disposition to regard the will of the majority as that of each individual of the community.” ht MarginalRevolution


  • Smule + T-Pain + Antares + iPhone = madness – “If you haven’t heard about it when it was in the making, it’s basically a brilliant concept–transform the iPhone’s microphone into a mobile recording studio and get Antares’ Auto-Tune technology infused on top.”
  • America’s Power System Is Powerless – “Why ‘smart grid’ technology is still dumb.”
  • Housing Bailouts: Lessons Not Learned – “The housing boom and bust that occurred earlier in this decade resulted from efforts by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the government sponsored enterprises with implicit backing from taxpayers — to extend mortgage credit to high-risk borrowers. This lending did not impose appropriate conditions on borrower income and assets, and it included loans with minimal down payments. We know how that turned out. Did U.S. policymakers learn their lessons from this debacle and stop subsidizing mortgage lending to risky borrowers? NO. Instead, the Federal Housing Authority lept into the breach.”
  • Tax Credit: Mercury News Advocates Taxpayers pay $60 Thousand per Additional Home Sold – “Do the math. $30 billion for an additional 500,000 sales equals $60,000 per house. Ouch. And forget the 500 thousand additional sales. The evidence suggests that interest is already waning (although there will be a flurry of activity at the end just like Cash-for-clunkers). My estimate is the program will cost taxpayers $100,000 per additional home sold.”
  • Lowest Cost Solar Power At Coal Plants – “Effectively this avoids lots of idle electric generator capital equipment at night.”
  • Books Are A Load of Crap – “Far be it from me to say no to a little Google Hate. But my initial experiences with Google Books have led me to say nothing but ‘Thanks for this good if imperfect thing that never existed before in human history.’ I mean, really, of all the things to worry about going into commie Labor Day Weekend. And yet, I just know I will be worrying about bad metadata all weekend…”
  • College for $99 a Month – “The next generation of online education could be great for students–and catastrophic for universities.
    . . .
    Colleges are caught in the same kind of debt-fueled price spiral that just blew up the real estate market. They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows.
    . . .
    Colleges charge students exorbitant sums partly because they can, but partly because they have to. Traditional universities are complex and expensive, providing a range of services from scientific research and graduate training to mass entertainment via loosely affiliated professional sports franchises. To fund these things, universities tap numerous streams of revenue: tuition, government funding, research grants, alumni and charitable donations. But the biggest cash cow is lower-division undergraduate education. Because introductory courses are cheap to offer, they’re enormously profitable. The math is simple: Add standard tuition rates and any government subsidies, and multiply that by several hundred freshmen in a big lecture hall. Subtract the cost of paying a beleaguered adjunct lecturer or graduate student to teach the course. There’s a lot left over. That money is used to subsidize everything else.

    But this arrangement, however beneficial to society as a whole, is not a particularly good deal for the freshman gutting through an excruciating fifty minutes in the back of a lecture hall. Given the choice between paying many thousands of dollars to a traditional university for the lecture and paying a few hundred to a company like StraighterLine for a service that is more convenient and responsive to their needs, a lot of students are likely to opt for the latter–and the university will have thousands of dollars less to pay for libraries, basketball teams, classical Chinese poetry experts, and everything else.
    . . .
    Which means the day is coming–sooner than many people think–when a great deal of money is going to abruptly melt out of the higher education system, just as it has in scores of other industries that traffic in information that is now far cheaper and more easily accessible than it has ever been before. Much of that money will end up in the pockets of students in the form of lower prices, a boon and a necessity in a time when higher education is the key to prosperity. Colleges will specialize where they have comparative advantage, rather than trying to be all things to all people. A lot of silly, too-expensive things–vainglorious building projects, money-sucking sports programs, tenured professors who contribute little in the way of teaching or research–will fade from memory, and won’t be missed.”

Sold Right Away: Zoomdoggle’s Buckyballs

  • Design a Fiat, Even if Your Name Isn’t Bertone – “Fiat Brazil’s Style Center is crowdsourcing the design of the FCC III concept, the third concept from the company’s designers in that country. Far from a run-of-the-mill design contest, Fiat says that Mio is the first car designed under a Creative Commons license.”
  • “Resetting” State Governments – “How will state governments recover from the catastrophic collapse in revenues?”
  • Extreme steel ‘Velcro’ takes a 35-tonne load – “A square metre of the new fastener, called Metaklett, is capable of supporting 35 tonnes at temperatures up to 800 ºC, claim Josef Mair and colleagues at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. And just like everyday Velcro it can be opened up without specialised tools and used again.”
  • Uninterrupted Power Supplies: Boring, but necessary – “Ever since I put any of my external drives and USB hubs on a UPS, I have not received a single delayed write error!”
  • University of Oregon Football – “LeGarrette Blount, a running back at the University of Oregon, punched a player of the opposing team last night after Oregon’s loss on national television. Afterward, he pushed around teammates and tried to fight Boise State fans before being forced off the field by police. Upon hearing about this chain of events we went to Youtube to see what actually happened.”
  • Personal Media Players: The 5 Best Alternatives to the Apple iPod – “There are many reasons to look beyond Apple–perhaps you want features iPods don’t have, play files iTunes doesn’t support, or perhaps you just hate Apple–in any case, below is a list of alternatives that are actually pretty good.”

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