December 2006 Archives

"Sir, Your Toothpaste is too Big..."


aquafresh_small.JPGKudos to the TSA screeners at Dayton International Airport!

They are the first team out of about a dozen airports to realize that my half-empty 5oz tube of Aquafresh Extreme Clean -- securely grouped with my other liquid bottles and gel tubes in the ubiqitous clear quart-sized plastic bag -- violated security regs.

Screeners at far bigger airports -- including Dulles, National, and Los Angeles -- have missed my too-large toothpaste, even during the deadest off-peak travel times. I've gone through so many times with that one Aquafresh tube, I hadn't even given its contraband size another thought. Perhaps the screeners have all missed it until yesterday it because I usually lay out the clear bag on its own tray, in full view. Yesterday, I crammed them in with other items, and the pre-screener did her job right.

Granted the TSA at Dayton missed the toothpaste last month, but hey, nobody's perfect.

Reputation Effects in Driving

I'm not sure what overall effect it might have, since the punishment mechanism seems a bit nonexistant -- save for being able to send a postcard indicating the recipient has been "wired" -- but if you run across a bad driver and have chance to record the license plate, try feeding it to PlateWire. In their own words:

PlateWire is a public repository and electronic forum of drivers by drivers. Using a drivers license plate, commuters can communicate their thoughts and feelings in regards to driving on today's roadways. Report and flag bad drivers, award good drivers, and even flirt with cute drivers.

Ok, so that last bit strikes me as a bit cloying (and ripe with potential for abuse), but I like the idea of a user-generated driving quality database. While the level of frustration (rage? of each driver is completely subjective, it might help to know not only where the most frustrating drivers are, but where you would find the most frustrated ones as well.

Pretty Pictures

I'm pretty sure Bred DeLong never called me the stupidest person on earth like he has others (or whatever he refers to people whom he disagrees with). I am pretty sure he would though if he only knew me. With that in mind, I have decided to post graphs of data because being a literal imbecile makes it difficult for me to understand anything unless it's presented as a pretty picture. I was reading this so I thought I would mention some of the tidbits it contains. Here's the first:


Nothing says "I thought about you" like a gift of cold hard cash. Seriously. It means you thought enough to say "I don't know your preferences as well as you do, and what I'd really like to give you is a little slice of selfish pleasure, so go spend this on anything your heart desires."

Don't buy it? Well, it seems like those gift cards are a big way to say "I thought of something you kinda like, but only in large, general terms, so here's a way to spend money within that broad category." But don't feel like you're doing people that much of a favor. Turns out, those things are big boons to the companies that sell them:

Retailers profit from unused gift cards - Yahoo! News

Companies are profiting from your forgetfulness, and the hope that you don't value the gift-giver's dollar the way you value your own. Why else would you let that remaining $5.43 just go to waste sitting on a gift card that's collecting crumbs under the seat of your car? Sure, Aunt Helga wanted you to spend ALL fifty bucks, but really, what can you get for a few bucks, and besides, the store is all the way on the other side of town...

Well, there is an option at SwapAGift, but then you have to be willing to consider your valuation of $100 here versus $100 there. The swap brings down the deadweight loss of Christmas, but doesn't eliminate it. I see it more as a new weapon in the quiver of people who will eat at specific restaurants because they get double mileage points on Thursday lunches when using a credit card.

The cynic in me likes to think that the gift-card sellers have simply learned a valuable lesson from big-city governments, who have long been relying on the remainders from unused farecards for riding on the local subway system as a way to keep the system solvent. Of course, that's not always enough.

Fish and Fury

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mal_party.JPG The trial of fishermen for vandalism continues:

The Criminal Court has given one month for lawyers to investigate the case of the 18 fishermen accused of vandalism of government property and obstruction of government duty. The lawyers are to spend the month given by the court in researching the incident and finding out what led to the fishermen dumping 25 tonnes of fish onto government property in Haa Alifu atoll Dhidhoo.”

Some other local news:

The Bayesian Heresy

A "fake" Marshall Jevons?

Writing under a pseudonym that's already being used in the field???

Yet I like how this name choice tries to skirt around intellectual property: since the "real" Marshall Jevons has published fiction, but nothing academic, can the minds behind the "real" fiction-writer Jevons legally stop the mind(s?) behind the "fake" serious-blogger Jevons? Would that even be a good idea? Is the "real" Jevons in any way harmed by the existence of the "fake" one?

All the attention shows that the "real" Jevons should have started a blog long ago -- it's solid marketing, and all that.

Hawker Wages

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Ever wanted to know how much those guys walking up and down the stairs at sporting events selling ice cream make? Well, now you do ( via HaloHeaven):

RHF: What is your pay rate/commission rate?

AH: We get a flat rate of 20% commission. If we happen to not make enough commission we make something close to minimum wage hourly--I'm not sure what it is because I never have made hourly. My average sales are about $700 to $800 a night game with day games often breaking $1,000.

Green Dot

James Burke--The Unknown Economisst

Lately I’ve rediscovered the television show Connections with James Burke. If you’ve added an Austrian cream to your economic Joe, you should appreciate the subtle thread of Hayek that’s run through each episode, as told from a history of science perspective (it’s basically the History Channel on acid).

The first episode of Connections1 focuses on the risks and interconnectedness involved with high levels of specialization,
... Any one of a million things could fail and cause our complex civilization to collapse for an hour, for a day, or however long. That's when you find out the extent to which you are reliant on technology and don't even know it. That's when you see that it's so interdependent, that if you take one thing away, the whole thing falls down and leaves you with nothing. (Connections 1-1 Trigger Effect)”
…all of which leads to a potential nuclear meltdown of our society by the last episode.

Connections 2 is a bit more chopped up and hap-hazard as they attempt to elucidate more multi-century connections in half the time; though the graphics are beefed up a bit and they seem to get a good rhythm by the 3rd disc.

... That's all it takes to get you back to the late 18th century. Three grandfather's lifetimes. That's how close we are to it. And, yet, that world has disappeared so totally, it's like fairyland. Thatched cottages, meadows, happy peasants. A golden age. Garbage, all that. Nasty, brutish, and short - that's what life was all about. And dirty. And boring. And it had been like that for thousands of years! And then, suddenly, the whole complex polluted overpopulated phrenetic nonstop stressful high tech rat race that is the modern world... Life was suddenly no longer as simple as it had been. And the extraordinary thing is, none of that was planned.” (Connections 2-1 Revolutions)

Despite the focus on the history of science, Burke touches on economic / political economy issues that are often glossed over by traditional historians. For those of you who would rather watch their history as opposed to reading it, this is a must see.


What American accent do you have?
Your Result: North Central

"North Central" is what professional linguists call the Minnesota accent. If you saw "Fargo" you probably didn't think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Outsiders probably mistake you for a Canadian a lot.

The West
The Midland
The Inland North
The Northeast
The South
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz
This is an odd result considering the closest I've ever come to Minnesota is living in Montana and, well, Chicago. I discount Chicago since people in that town don't seem to talk like people from Minnesota. When I was at Montana State for my undergrad there were a fair amount of people from Minnesota. I might have picked up some of their speech patterns from lighthearted mocking. The other alternative explanation could be my childhood fascination with the movie Strange Brew. That is probably the most likely explanation considering I was born and grew up in Southern California and my current love affair with beer.

In other news, I received my new ID card from the state of California. The odd thing about this is it only took 10 days which is a full day faster than the recent new ATM card I received. This event has already had me reevaluating my skepticism of what government can do. The saying that socialism hasn't worked because it hasn't been tried by the right people may be true after all. My apologies to Brink.


The New York Sun has a nice editorial online lamenting a rise in protection running through congress. Yes, some of this has occured on Republicans watch, but it is only likely to get worse under Democrats. The article specifically singles out protectionism in the airline industry by barring foreign investment. This sitaution has particularly interested me since the feds started handing out money to them post 9/11. Here's a snippet:

When historians look back on our current time, what are they going to conclude signaled the end of our current economic expansion, one of the greatest in the history of America? We're starting to have the feeling that they are going to date it with the accession of the Democratic Party via the 110th Congress. That is certainly the portent in the latest dashed hope of the Bush administration, a plan to adjust, if only modestly, a rule that hurts American airline passengers by barring international investment and involvement.

The rule bars non-citizens from owning greater than a 25% voting share in any domestic airline and requires that the top executives and a majority of the boards of these airlines be American. The federal secretary of transportation, Mary Peters, announced yesterday that her department was withdrawing a proposal to change the rule.

"It was clear from reviewing the comments that the Department needs to do more to inform the public, labor groups and Congress about the benefits of allowing more international investment," Ms. Peters said in a statement. The AFLCIO promptly hailed the Bush administration's surrender as a victory, crediting "strong and unified opposition from America's transportation unions." What it really means is that at a moment when America's air carriers need all the capital they can muster, the Congress is a roadblock to their raising capital.

Prohibition Nation


New York went trans-fat free today. And I now have a new litmus test for figuring out of if you're too much of a meddling, know-it-all, self-righteous ass to grant you any sort of assumption of intelligence: if you say you agree with government bans on trans-fats, ding, you're the next contestant on "Soft Facism TV"!

Aside from the disturbingly twisted logic it takes to think that your publicly elected officials have the right to police your favorite eating establishment's cubbards for things they don't like, let's look the effectiveness of the policy itself. How can we do that? By looking at the first country to make such a ban legit: Denmark.

Even consuming less than five grams of trans fat - the amount found in one piece of fried chicken and a side of french fries - a day has been linked with a 25 percent increased risk of heart disease.

It is still too early to tell if removing trans fat from food in Denmark has improved the country's health.

Although the Danish health ministry reports that cardiovascular disease has dropped by 20 percent in the last five years, similar reductions have been reported in other countries that are making an effort to combat heart disease by measures such as regulating the food and tobacco industries, and by educating the public about the need to exercise. In countries that are making no effort to regulate the amount of trans fat in food, heart disease rates have continued to climb.

So, if you're fool enough to lunch at KFC everyday, this might help your heart. But in the aggregate, it's not worth the greasy wax-paper it was written on. But NYC heard it, and thought it sounded like a good idea.

Something else to stick in your fryer: trans-fat is cheaper to make and lasts longer. So who does eliminating it affect? The people who consume food with high levels of processed ingredients and who do not cosume what they buy on the day they bought it, i.e., the poorer folks in society. Since the yuppies strolling through Dean and Deluca find it just a shame that people don't eat more fresh food have decided that it really is ok for people to pay a premium to satisfy their societal whims, it's now incumbent on those folks consuming fast and packaged foods to pick up more of the bill for a law that has had no demonstrable societal benefits.

Spiffy work, folks.

And if you're part of the "but natural foods are so much healthier" crowd, try this article: "Organic chicken less nutritious."

Don't want the health care system to be burdened with the costs of a generation of obese people? Then don't make me pay for what you shove down your cake-hole. Take a look at the wreck of regulation and subsidy busy-bodies akin to the ban-supporters in NYC have made of the health care system, and start cutting away the red tape.

If the people lamenting the existence of folks who adhere to the myth of creationism think so highly of natural selection and evolution, let people do what they want with whatever foods they want. After a few generations of 20-year olds having heart attacks, I'm betting people will start figuring it out.

I'll Have Whatever He's Smoking


There is a lot to say about Brink Lindsey's article proposing a Libertarian/Progressive alliance, unfortunately all of it is bad. However, I'll be brief. My question to Brink is what in the last 25 years suggests that Democrats/leftists could embrace capitalism? Haven't they spent most of that time crying and warning of impending doom every step of the way. Yeah yeah yeah, there have been a few instances when they have backed something libertarians agree with. But, what is there record on Ag subsidies? That is one where you say there is agreement. A trip down memory lane will remind you that it was Republicans who passed the Freedom to Farm Act. Also, it was Tom Daschle in a brief stint as majority leader who pushed through renewed subsidies just as they were set to expire.

Also Brink, are aware that California Democrats tried to pass single payer health care in California only to have it vetoed by Arnold. How will that go down on a national scale? Do you remember last time Democrats tried something like that? Remember what happened?

Or should we forget that many of these people embraced the most wicked ideology last century and spent most of the time apologizing for it? I could go on, but I said I would be brief. There is no way in hell that I would ever form an alliance with these people. I would rather lose election after election than help prop up a leftish party. The only thing they would ever deliver on probably is legalized pot and never on issues related to capitalism. To think otherwise is delusional.

Apropos of nothing really, via Slashdot I see that a fascinating new product to route around country-wide internet filters, called Psiphon, has been released for public download.

NB: Amusingly, the actual Psiphon site is actually blocked by a number of corporate filtering programs. To learn about a few details, take a read through either this article, or the Wikipedia entry on it.

The idea really isn't new, as pointed out by the Slashdot posting, and Psiphon is just another in a line of proxy and filter avoidance technology. Just another step in the arms race between those looking to keep tight control over internet access and those who want to get around it. Now, if only there were a good, analytical way to study the process of interactions in arms races.

Kevin, any thoughts?

T&B Banned in the Maldives?

If you were sitting on the fence about whether the current Maldivan autocracy was serious about democratic reform and respecting freedom of speech and assembly, you might start looking for a way down.

Paul sends word that, following some changes made by Dhiraagu -- the majority government-owned landline telecom provider in the Maldives -- Truck and Barter can no longer be accessed from the Maldives, and that all Google requests from the Maldivan gateway are forwarded to, the Maldivan version.

I hope this is just a temporary situation, but fear that this is just part of a larger attempt to silence independent voices promoting reform in the Maldives. [Updated] I will not be taking this up directly with Dhiraagu, for security reasons.

Of course, until the situation is resolved, Paul will be posting far less frequently.


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