Friday, June 30, 2006

Happy birthday, Frédéric and Tom!

Blogantine reminded me that today is Bastiat's birthday. It's also shared by Thomas Sowell.

Happy birthday to two of the finest economic minds of all time. Their belief in the power of free markets is also a belief in the power of individual people, of individual freedom. What else can you call "freedom" but the ability to control your own life so long as you do not harm others?

I was thinking this morning that no collectivist society has ever approached the prosperity, let alone freedom, of free markets. The "poor" in a free market society have far more opportunity than the wealthiest members of a collectivist one. Except, of course, for the corrupt few at the top of the collectivist pyramid. Ironically, they are always more "elite" (higher than the typical person) and fewer in number than the so-called "bourgeoisie." Even at the Soviet Empire's height, breadlines were still the norm, yet no high official faced starvation. Execution, yes, if he didn't pull the Party's line, but survival (at everyone else's expense) was no danger.

The key word is "opportunity." A free market by itself doesn't guarantee that a people will be prosperous, but at least you have a chance, and that chance is based on what you put into it. If you have any ambition and talent, you can make your own instead of waiting for others to give it to you. Years ago, I was taught, by a man who I came to love like a father, that it's not just about working hard, but about working smart. It's the same principle by which the Scriptures tells us that God gives different abilities (in both variety and magnitude) to each person: are you going to use them to the maximum possible extent, or will you be like the poor servant who hid his?

I'm off for the Fourth of July weekend. Everybody take care, and be sure to root for Brazil tomorrow!

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 6/30/06

- What is it?

- Kelp buds, plankton loaf and sea berries.

- Sweetheart, I'm not a fish.

- It's very healthy. I had this for breakfast every morning when I was growing up.

- No oatmeal? Or muffins? How about corned beef and eggs?

- For breakfast?!

To win, provide the names of all characters involved, and the episode or movie name.

New blog colors

I changed the header colors in honor of Brazil's upcoming match with France. My friend Charlie, who lived for two years in Brazil, predicts 4-0. I hope that turns out to be pessimistic.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 6/29/06

Today, I am a warrior. I must show you my heart. I travel the river of blood!

The battle is mine. I crave only the blood of the enemy!

The bile of the vanquished flows over my hands!

To whom this was said is a little ambiguous (or lengthy if you list everyone there), so just give the name of who said it, and the episode name.

In Star Trek, North Korea would be the Pakleds

Remember the end of "Samaritan Snare" where the rather unintelligent Pakled shouted, "We will destroy them!"? That's what I thought of when I read this:
In Pyongyang, "hundreds of thousands" of North Koreans marked the anniversary of the 1950 start of the Korean War by "denouncing the U.S. imperialists, the sworn enemy of the Korean people," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The protesters "reiterated the firm stand of the army and people of (the North) that should the U.S. imperialists ignite another war of aggression on this land, they will mobilize all the political and ideological might and military potentials built up generation after generation ... and mercilessly wipe out the enemies and victoriously conclude their standoff with the U.S.," KCNA reported.
Let's be perfectly clear. North Korea may have a missile capable of reaching the United States (so far, Alaska and possibly Hawaii), but if they dared to fire upon American territory, we would respond in kind and then some. North Korea would see "Game over!" in the smoke signals from a mushroom cloud.

So what are Kimmy & Ko. up to? There is the danger that they might give nuclear bomb technology to terrorists, but we'd turn Pyongyang into rubble if we could trace it back to them. No, I don't think Kimmy really wants to start a war he knows he couldn't win, but he can bluff. Making noise has created quite the Pavlovian reaction in the West, because every time he threatens, Western politicians want to placate him with more food and money. But our continued aid shipments are more "Oh just take this and shut up!" than "Please don't start anything." Think Riker sending Geordi to fix the Pakleds' engines not because they're an actual threat, or out of compassion, but so they'll stop saying that annoying "We look for is broken."

The United States is trying to get North Korea into multilateral talks, but I've decided we should do the reverse. (North Korea supposedly wants to deal directly with the United States, but I personally believe that's just an excuse. The moment we agreed to direct talks, they'd come up with something else.) The U.S. and our allies should not deal with North Korea at all: cut off all aid of any form, and let 'em sweat. Yes, it would generate a humanitarian crisis as millions of North Koreans faced starvation, but it would force them into actual discussions. For years we've played their ridiculous game of giving more aid so they'll consider talks, lather, rinse, repeat.

If North Korea just "tests" the missile, I like our friend Billy Beck's proposal: "Let that North Korean punk take his missile shot. And then we'll see if the United States can show him how stolen money can be put to work with American ingenuity. I say: shoot the goddamned thing down instantly as a bead can be laid on it."


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hillary can't hold a candle to Frédéric

Our friend Josh Hendrickson e-mailed me last week about something you first think has to be a joke. Something from the the Onion, maybe, but then you see this is from Cato:
Hillary and the Candlemakers: Not a Parody

...For after all, Bastiat's petitioners noted, how can the makers of candles and lanterns compete with a light source that is totally free?

Thank goodness we wouldn't fall for such nonsense today. Or would we?

Last month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and nine colleagues (ranging from Barbara Boxer to Tom Coburn) endorsed a petition from — you guessed it — the domestic candlemaking industry asking the secretary of commerce to impose a 108.3 percent tariff on Chinese candle producers.

After the Commerce Department approved the candlemakers' petition, Clinton said in a statement:
This is a real victory for the Syracuse candle-making industry. Our manufacturers deserve a level playing field and we owe it to them to make sure that others do not unfairly circumvent our fair trade practices. Syracuse has a proud history of candle production but attempts by importers to undercut our producers have put that tradition at risk. I am pleased that the Department of Commerce heeded our call to take action against these unfair practices and recognized the importance of this decision to local producers, especially here in Syracuse. We will continue to make the case on behalf of Syracuse candle-makers as the Commerce Department considers its final determination.
But perhaps the comparison is unfair. After all, Clinton and the National Candle Association aren't asking for protection from the sun, only from Chinese candle producers who are allegedly "dumping" candles in to the American market "at less than fair value."
Protectionism at its finest. This is one way that Hillary has become so popular in upstate New York, which is considered "conservative" (meaning "moderate" at best). Ever since her 2000 campaign, she's traveled the state promising everything to everybody. And people are stupid enough to believe her.

Biting the hand that feeds you

Or as Don Luskin put it, "Being politically correct can be very expensive." When I saw the headline last night, I immediately called my friend Charlie to tell him the good news: because of how Harvard forced out Larry Summers, Larry Ellison backed off his $115 million gift that he and Summers were working on. And it appears Harvard was counting its chickens before they hatched:
In recent weeks, Harvard officials became increasingly concerned that the flamboyant billionaire wasn't going to follow through on a promise he made last year. The planned Ellison institute at Harvard laid off three workers it had hired in anticipation of the funding, a move that surprised some because institutes usually don't start spending until they formally receive the donations.
There was nothing in writing, but Harvard's attitude was, "What could go wrong?" As an astute commenter said on a USA Today blog, "Well that is a good lesson but what about the fact that Harvard failed to convince Ellison once Summers left. They had plenty of time but probably because of their usual arrogance felt it would just fall into their laps anyway."

Bravo to Larry Ellison. He didn't do it because he "hates" Harvard, but the right thing still happened even for a different reason. It's nice to see the academic elite's liberalism come back to bite them in the ass.

Attack of the crones

This morning, I forgot my MP3 player (and my Koss "Sparkplugs" that drown out exterior sound so nicely) for the second time in three days. Thankfully the Metro-North ride into the city was fine, quiet enough that I had my usual nap to sustain me throughout the day. The ride home, however, was a different story. Sheesh.

I boarded the train a while before departure, taking a seat across the aisle from a middle-aged woman. Her friend arrived a few minutes later, taking a seat directly opposite, and they proceeded to talk loudly. Then their other friend showed up several minutes later, taking a seat directly opposite from me. I cannot fathom why that hag insisted on that, when there were seats adjacent to her friends. Joining in the conversation meant yelling across the aisle, but maybe she intentionally wanted to disturb everyone else.

After a few minutes, I could no longer stand the banshees. I moved to the other end of the car, looking for an available seat. At five or so minutes before departure, the train had begun to fill up. Rather than go from car to car and risk not finding any seat, I sat next to (well, on one end of a three-seat row) a woman yakking away on a cell phone. Maybe she wouldn't talk for long, I thought, especially because she'd lose her signal once we got going in the long tunnel. When we exited into open air at 98th Street, she did make a few brief calls, as did some girl across the aisle, but not for the whole way. Though I myself have gone strictly cellular, I dislike how cell phones have become people's entertainment on public transportation, when others would like a little quiet.

Yes, it's their right to talk, but that shouldn't abrogate showing simple courtesy to others. By the time I disembarked, two of the three original crones were still going, and as loudly as ever. They were talking about some laundromat, which isn't exactly an indelicate subject, but were I to talk loudly in public, I'd at least choose a more interesting topic.

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 6/28/06

- We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.

- Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences.

To win, be the first to leave a comment with all characters involved in the quote here, and the episode or movie name.

When the other side of the counter needs to speak English

The other day, as part of a longer entry, I mentioned Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia and how it wants its customers to order in English. What about the reverse, English-speaking customers who are having trouble ordering from people who speak poor English?

Eric used to work at "the grill" station in our office cafeteria. For breakfast, it offers bacon, eggs, home fries, sausage, breakfast sandwiches, omelets, etc. For lunch, one can get burgers and BLTs, or rotating specials like Reubens and lamb kebobs. Eric was a big guy that looked a bit like Reuben Stoddard, and he was very friendly and fast with your orders. It was sad to see him leave for greener pastures, especially because of his replacements' competency.

They were a couple of Hispanic guys with heavy accents. Perhaps they were new to food service, but a business cannot tolerate such slow work. They also misunderstood our orders too often, which was the real problem. I could have brushed up on my Spanish so they'd understand I wanted bacon and two scrambled eggs, but what about others who don't want to learn Spanish? Well, the firm may have spent $20 million to convert an entire floor into a cafeteria, but it's still run like a business. I don't believe it's subsidized (unnecessary with those prices!), and I presume prices are appropriately increased to recover part of the initial sunk cost. It's therefore subject to free market principles: if these counter guys can't communicate effectively with the vast majority of your customers, something's gotta give.

I haven't seen them in a week now. I guess they're gone, and it was a sad necessity. It wouldn't have been much longer before people stopped going to the grill station altogether. The new grill man is a young black guy who is as fast by himself as the other two, and more importantly, he speaks perfect English.

Throughout April and the first week of May, I was so nerve-wracked about my promotion and prayed so hard for it. Since then, because God has shown me a lot of mercy and forgiveness, I've tried to practice mercy and forgiveness in return. They have never been my strong suit, so it is harder than I can describe. At times I was going to complain to the cafeteria manager about the two slow guys, but I decided not to raise a stink. They weren't being rude like the now-infamous AOL rep. They were only trying, just as I was trying at my job. It would be up to others, whether customers who vote with their pocketbooks or the manager, to decide if their "trying" was sufficient. Apparently not.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 6/27/06

- Everything I did was for the greater glory of Cardassia! And if you spineless scum had to be ground under, so much the better! All that mattered was Cardassia! I loved my homeland! That's what justified my actions. That's what gave me my strength.

- Nothing justifies genocide.

- What you call genocide, I called a day's work!

To win, be the first to leave a comment with all characters involved in the quote here, and the episode or movie name.

Why is health care growing more expensive?

Our friend Josh Hendrickson rightfully crititized Robert Reich (former Labor Secretary under Clinton, among whose sins are overseeing the start of the Family and Medical Leave Act). What Reich proposed is making health care more affordable by preventing its advancement, which I'm sure appeals to many Americans who'd like nothing better than aspirin being our most advanced pill.

I had my own thoughts that were mainly about insurance being why health care costs are going up:
Completely agreed on #2. What does Reich want, a return to the Dark Ages? Yeah, I suppose leeches are a pretty inexpensive treatment.

I believe I commented before that most people don't consider widespread health insurance as a factor in rising health care costs. Americans with policies figure that they might as well take advantage of them, so they consume more health care services than if they paid out of pocket. In the end, insurance companies must raise premiums in a vicious cycle: with each increase, Americans figure they'd better use their policies to the limit to get every dollar's worth.

Medicare and Medicaid are especially bad. Since they allow people to receive something at others' expense, there is no reason for the recipients to hold back at all. Reich misses the simiple solution that will save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security too: have people pay in what they get out. (I personally would abolish the programs.) The only way to guarantee that is individual accounting. So if to date you've paid $11,539.82 in the Medicare portion of your FICA taxes, then once the government pays out $11,539.82 for you, then you're on your own. It sounds cold, but anything less is taking from others whom government coerces into the pyramid scheme.

There's no way around the reality of the market. Health care is no more a "right" than gasoline, so no rational person should be surprised that the price rises with demand — particularly when it's often consumed at a fixed price.

From a business perspective, #1 is illogical, if not BS. First, "reduce the huge administrative costs of health care" pretends that health care companies don't want to reduce operational costs. Why should they NOT want to? A more efficient insurer or hospital will charge less and thereby get more customers. The actual hindrance comes from government regulations, not private sector competition.

"which include soaring advertising and marketing expenses designed to identify and sign up young and healthy people and avoid older and sicker people" Is Reich really saying it's bad that insurers avoid the most costly customers and target the most profitable ones? Which will a logical person choose: $2 to market to a young, healthy customer that will yield a $15 profit, or $1 to market to an old, sickly customer that will yield just $5? Insurers are not charities, nor are hospitals and other health care providers. Treating them as such is THE reason we're in such a mess.

On a final note, it's true that there are many Americans who pay for health insurance that they don't need in the end, but that's why it's called insurance, and it's their choice. Except in Massachusetts.

Death sentence for Bruno the bear

I always feel bad when we have to kill wild animals that are just being themselves, because they're not being evil, but sometimes we have no choice. This black bear in Germany that was so used to humans that it was even wandering through the town at one point. There was no alternative. It had slaughtered many farm animals and one of these days could have easily killed a person.

What's truly sick are the threats directed at the Bavarian hunting association, particularly death threats against the hunter (who remains anonymous) who shot the bear. Schoolchildren even got into the act, starting a petition against killing it. Would PETA's European cousins still feel the same way had "Bruno" mauled a child that got too close? The hunter deserves praise, not hate. Animal rights activists would have you think that it's a crime to drive a species out of an area, but consider the Germans who weren't killed by bears since 1835, not to mention the livestock.

Good and bad customer service

You may have heard about the idiot AOL rep who wouldn't just let the guy cancel his account. Whether or not AOL wants reps to do a reverse "tough sell,", the rep got canned, and he deserved it. Our friend William J. Beck felt that being fired "would have been an enormous stroke of luck for him, by my lights. He should have received a stout caning about the head and shoulders." That sounds good to me.

Phone jockeying is ordinarily not comparable to the rigor of military service, but if a rep blindly follows management's orders to read scripts verbatim and refuse to cancel calls, it's as bad as the soldier who claims "I was just following orders." There is a point at which you need to think for yourself and decide that what you've been told to do is not the right thing to do, let alone the tech going above and beyond in being a pure jerk.

Well, that's AOL customer service for you. I, thankfully, had two really good customer service experiences in the last couple of days.

After a bit at Saturday's Young Republican-sponsored street fair, I went to C&C Unisex at the Danbury Fair Mall for a trim and fresh highlights. Carol usually cuts my hair, and she's terrific. In fact, the last trim was so good that one of my co-workers gushed over it for two days, telling me "how cute" she thought it was. Carol doesn't do highlights, so another stylist does my highlights before Carol cuts. This time it was Carol's friend, Billy. Maya was the first to give me highlights, and she always did such a good job that I always had her do mine for a couple of years. However, she moved, and since then I've rotated through the weekend staff. There's never been a problem until this last weekend.

Instead of my usual medium blond, this time I wanted a light brown. When I woke up Sunday morning and saw myself in the mirror, I said, "Oh my God!" It was lopsided, with not enough color on the very left side. But the color was the real problem: it had turned into this awful blend of burnt orange and copper. It looked fine when I left the salon, so I don't know what happened. Perhaps the gel darkened my hair and obscured that truly horrible shade, perhaps my hair wasn't rinsed thoroughly enough and kept bleaching. So back to the salon I went on Sunday afternoon.

The woman at the counter said that Billy was off but would be in on Monday, and she asked if I wanted to come back then. No, I replied, I could never go into work looking the way I did, so I needed my hair fixed that day. Valerie did a good job. She evened out the color to a uniform blond (very yellow), then we decided to tone it down to cocoa, with a hint of red. Much, much better. The salon didn't even have to tell me there would be no charge, and in fact I might have been insulted had they said that. It should be implied, and so it is.

My other good experience with customer service was tonight with Yahoo Music Service. It's a little pricier than others, $7 per month and 99 cents per song download. However, its songs are at 192 kbps, instead of the poor 128 kbps that most use, and Yahoo has a very wide selection. For the last two billing cycles I've had a problem that, so the rep told me tonight, some others are also experiencing. My account is active, according to my Yahoo account page, and my credit card is being billed. But the service insists that my account has expired and asks me to log in. Tech support has been completely useless, blaming my computer for not accepting cookies (when in fact it is accepting cookies, because I'm logged in).

Yahoo's billing department's number is (408) 349-5151, open seven days a week from 6 to 6 (Pacific Time). The toll call was no problem since I have plenty of minutes on my cell phone. After 19 of them, the rep was able to cancel my account and refund my last two charges. It took me a bit to explain what I've gone through, and she didn't raise a fuss at any time. The only delay was that she needed several minutes to ask her supervisor to credit my card, which showed up immediately in my Yahoo billing history. I was really impressed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 6/26/06

A blind man teaching an android how to paint? That's got to be worth a couple of pages in somebody's book.

To win, simply be the first to leave a comment with all characters involved in the quote here, and the episode or movie name.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge, 6/25/06

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge for 6/25/06:

- You will never attain the twenty-four levels of awareness.

- Twenty-four? That's quite a challenge.

- Indeed. Twenty-four is the gateway to heroic salvation.

To win, simply be the first to leave a comment with all characters involved in the quote here, and the episode or movie name. Quincy won the first since I didn't make the rules too clear. Starting now, the winner will be the first to give a full one, so be careful giving partial ones as they probably will give hints.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Announcing the Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge

I've wanted to do this for a while. Someone recently left a rude comment that I should cut out the Star Trek stuff, so I decided that it's time.

Most days between 9 a.m. and noon (Eastern Time, times will vary), I'm going to post a Star Trek quote. To win, simply be the first to leave a comment with who said the quote (and to whom, if applicable), the episode or movie name, and the series (update: not necessary, really, it should be obvious from the character and name). Sources will come from TOS, TNG, DS9 and all movies. Difficulty will vary, but I won't post anything too easy or too obscure. While I can't offer any physical prizes, you can win bragging rights. I'll keep track of the winners and post a tally at the end of the month. However, if someone wins a majority of the year, I'll come up with a physical prize to recognize such Trek nerdiness.

Daily Star Trek Quote Challenge for 6/23/2006: "But sometimes you just need to trust yourself and turn it all off. Even the gypsy violins."

Today I must disqualify my friend Steve Tomer, who recently reminded me of this one. I was embarrassed at not recognizing it for several seconds. Steve and I watched so much Star Trek in junior high and high school that at one point we could quote entire scenes verbatim.

Official rules:

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Batteries, computer hardware, computer software and Internet connection not included. Some restrictions may apply. The Eidelblog shall in no way be held liable for incidental or consequential damages resulting from use of its product, including, without limitation, damages for loss of business profits, business interruption, loss of business information or other pecuniary loss. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you.

Insurance companies' right to deny you a policy

As I said last night, the fundamental nature of private property rights must include the right of companies to hire only those they want, for any reason or no reason at all, even if it's "discrimination." Another right is of companies to do business with only those they want, also for any reason or no reason at all, even if it's "discrimination." Many people challenge this, saying companies should treat everyone equally. But how can there be any argument, any complaint, when a company ceases to do business with you because you're less profitable?

When I came across this article earlier today, I couldn't believe that the quoted homeowners don't understand how insurance and risk work, or their attitudes implying they have a right to it. Marie Collins may feel it's "outrageous" that Allstate cancelled her hurricane policy, but Allstate's actuaries have reckoned that Long Island (Brooklyn and Queens are on its western end, but "Long Island" rarely is used to include them) is now a much higher risk. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant: all that matters is the insurance company's judgment. People might complain they're "paying more for less," but insurers think they've become a greater liability. Therefore, balking at higher premiums is expecting the insurance company to bear a higher risk of losing money on them.

The risk is now calculated so significantly higher that Allstate likely decided that requisitely higher premiums would drive away too many customers for the area to remain profitable. So Allstate chose to lose the revenue from those policyholders, rather than risk payouts that could well exceed collected premiums. Though a "devastating" hurricane may not have hit Brooklyn since the "Long Island Express" of 1938, it wouldn't take that or a Katrina. Insurers could lose a lot of money if a strong hurricane hit at high tide, causing severe flooding from coastal New Jersey to Montauk. Yes, they would turn to their own reinsurers, which is actually common practice, but then insurance companies' own reinsurance premiums would surge, and they couldn't afford to pay out for the next castastrophe.

The article mentions insurers' "record $43 billion profit in 2005 -- an 11.7 percent increase from the previous year and the highest net income since 1991." Did the writer really intend to admit that it took insurance companies 14 years to return to a previous level of profit? This is another of mainstream media's insinuations (a slur, really) that big companies are greedy and exploitative of their customers. If you look at Allstate's 2004 report (2005 isn't available yet), you'll see its net income in 2004 was $3.181 billion, but out of total revenues of $33.936 billion. That 9.4% is not particularly impressive compared to other industries (be sure to check that link to a page on our friend Josh Hendrickson's blog), and in fact, it's better than the previous few years. In all fairness, if you criticize insurance companies' profits, then you must also weep for years like 2001 and 2002, where Allstate's net income was only 4% and 3.8% of revenues. Similarly, no one wept for oil companies in the late 1990s, when their profits practically withered as oil prices approached $10.

A lot of people don't realize that Allstate, like any other insurer, is hardly pocketing the difference between premiums and payouts. Allstate necessarily holds tens of billions in reserves ($86 billion as of 2004) for major future payouts, like life insurance. Additionally, any insurer invests a great deal of these in a wide variety of assets, so a good chunk of people's premiums actually become fuel for the economy. This is one reason the U.S. national savings rate is higher than is commonly calculated. Insurance premium payments are treated as consumption spending, though part is turned into investments. If you pay $200 a month in policies, and $20 is invested in stocks or government bonds, you yourself aren't saving $20 more a month, but that does count toward national (total) savings.

Most fundamentally, it is Allstate's right not to renew policies, whether or not someone's genuinely an increased risk, and no matter how long Collins has been a customer. You do not have a right to others' property beyond their consent. Once the contract is up for renewal, it is not enough that one side alone wants to continue the relationship. It's utter rubbish that there should be government agencies to which people can complain. The proper way for them to complain is through not doing business with that insurer.

Ah, but other insurers would also charge them higher premiums, or refuse to give them a policy? Then perhaps the homeowners need to understand that they're higher-risk customers, and that there's a reason for what the insurers are doing. After all, Allstate, Nationwide, MetLife, et al, are not stupid. They're not going to turn down free money, no more than they'll continue insuring people that they believe aren't profitable (or at least sufficiently profitable).


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Because government know better than you

A New York City councilman wants to use zoning laws to limit fast food restaurants, another salvo from statists in their war on freedom and personal responsibility. In past years, I'd have said it's not surprising that he's a Democrat. However, Republicans have proven themselves just as bad in trying to run people's lives. Neither side can honestly claim that it only wants people to live their lives as they see fit, provided they are not harming any others. They've both made it their mission to save us from ourselves.

The Council believes itself so better informed than the citizenry that it also passed a law in March 2005 that prevented the Plaza's owners from converting some units into more profitable condos. Last August, with extensive lobbying by food service unions, the Council indirectly prohibited Wal-Mart from coming to any of the boroughs. It doesn't matter that either situation was perfectly voluntary for everyone, and that the free market would have directed the best outcome. The Council, in its infinite wisdom, must save us from liberty and prosperity for our own good.

Mitchell Moss of NYU thinks there's no way zoning laws could be specific enough. I'd rather he not tempt fate, because I could see the council specifying a list of foods (a form of legal positivism) that would quality a restaurant as "fast food." After all, Detroit's mayor proposed a fast-food tax that would have excluded his favorite restaurants, and Oakland passed a similar tax only on specific types of businesses. How would such a law affect the cafeteria where I work? It has everything from wraps and sushi to pasta and grilled meat. I had surprisingly good steak and portabello quesadillas for Wednesday's lunch, which with sour cream and french fries were certainly not the healthiest thing to eat. Naturally, I loved it. I love eating red meat several times a week and two scrambled eggs almost every morning, then getting back a pretty great result on a cholesterol test.

It is true that lower-income Americans now have "girth issues," and it's also true that many in the Third World wonder what we're complaining about. I rejoice that our country is so prosperous that our poor can afford their consumer preference of tasty fast food, which increases their overall wealth since the convenience gives them more time for other things. Additionally, a "heftier" people is also a sign of advancement, because most of us don't labor like previous generations had to, i.e. on farms from dawn to dusk.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Forcing themselves upon others' private property

Over the weekend, I read that the ACLU is investigating whether Six Flags is "discriminating" by ordering black employees to cut off their long hair. Here is a basic article from Yahoo! News. An excerpt:
"They told me I had to cut them even shorter or go home," DeLeon told The Washington Post. "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the black people. I had already cut it a lot, so I just left."

The 2006 Six Flags America handbook states that employees are not allowed to have "any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming."

Terry Prather, the park's general manager, said that the policy is not discriminatory and that exceptions are made for employees with religious and medical reasons for not cutting their hair.
Now if you read this detailed article from AZ Central, there's an interesting detail that the other article neglected to mention.

General Manager Prather, the one who's effectively being accused of discrimination, is black.

Oops. So much for the ACLU's initial claim:
"This is culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination," said King Downing, coordinator of the ACLU's national campaign against racial profiling.
Whether blacks can discriminate against other blacks is irrelevant to the real issue. The only real issue here is whether people have a right to their own private property. Since Six Flags is private property, the owners can set whatever standards they want for their employees, with whatever arbitrary details they want. If they specify mohawks, orange hair or Taliban beards, that is their choice. My employer normally requires men to wear coat and tie (though we're free to take our coats off at our desk). Khakis and other casual pants are not permitted, except during certain summer casual days. Women are not permitted to wear capris or sun dresses at any time, and I think open-toed shoes are also not allowed. If we don't like the restrictions, we can go elsewhere.

What these teenagers and their parents want is to force their will upon others; they want Six Flags' owners to dispense with their private property contrary to their wishes. Instead of taking a job at 7-11 where their hairstyles are acceptable, the "victims" want to eat their cake and have it too: they want the higher pay and what's probably a more fun job, and the ability to set the conditions of employment. So they take the old road of obtaining help from the ACLU, and the latter no doubt will initiate legal action. It's another example of people abusing government power to gain control over others' property.

Private property rights must include the right to hire whomever you'd like and set your own standards, and necessarily the right serve only those customers you would like. If we are to have real liberty, then we (as individuals or government) must not infringe upon others' private property rights, even if they are engaging in racism, sexism, etc. Few probably envisioned the slippery slope when it began in the 1950s with the desegregation of so-called "public establishments" (which is really a misnomer since they're privately owned). From then on, it was easy for government to regulate businesses more and more. "Regulate" is government's nice euphemism for control. You may have the title, but you can't really make use of your property as you see fit.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 did such wonderful things like forcing businesses to have wheelchair access ramps. I remember one small business owner profiled on the news, wondering how he would afford the $75,000 cost of adding one, though he rarely had any wheelchair-bound customers. It was also doubtful that would generate business from handicapped people, so today he may not have recouped the money. And let's not forget, for the last several years, many state and local governments have prevented people from smoking peacefully in privately owned bars and restaurants. It doesn't even matter if the businesses are open to the public or members-only. In May last year, I wrote about a federal judge who ruled that NYC's smoking ban still applies to a private club. Whatever happened to the common sense idea that if you don't like a place because it doesn't allow smoking, don't go there?

Should we worry about discrimination running rampant if government doesn't prohibit it? Not at all, because the free market has a solution. Furthermore, the beauty of this solution is that it is based on peaceful, voluntary commerce, with no need for the state to exercise force upon anybody. It was Nobel laureate Gary Becker who pointed out four decades ago that discrimination is economically unsound. Those who forsake rational criteria and decide based on prejudices will end up shooting themselves in the foot. A white employer who hires only other whites will eventually deprive himself of skilled non-white employees. (I personally wouldn't want to work for such a person anyway, so the government should stay out and thus reveal which employers are of good and decent character.) Another employer who isn't racist, or who might be extremely racist but makes that a secondary concern, will hire the skilled "ethnic minorities" and do better business.

Similarly, a business that does not want business from minorities will lose them to other businessmen. You may have heard of Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia, which now has a sign: "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING SPEAK ENGLISH." Professor Bainbridge succinctly expressed the opinion I've held for years:
Court action? In a truly free country, we'd leave this sort of thing to the market. Geno's would have the right to associate with those customers it chooses and those who are offended would have the right to stay away. We may have to give up that freedom so as to prevent some forms of invidious discrimination, but insisting on English hardly strikes me as all that invidious. Indeed, given the desirability of promoting assimilation and the clear evidence that immigrants who speak English do better, it strikes me as something of a public service.
Bainbridge is a conservative, and as a libertarian I take it further: Geno's doesn't have to supply any reason at all for what they do. They can require ordering in Esperanto, doing a Roman salute while carrying a jar of macadamia nuts in your left hand, and that should be their right. It's ridiculous for the city council to pressure the business, and even more ridiculous for people to threaten lawsuits. The would-be plaintiffs don't have a right to Joseph Vento's private property, only permission to use it as he grants it.

Geno's isn't acting out of racism. Vento has made the rational decision that it will save time when their employees don't have to spend five minutes saying "No comprendo." He probably also decided that their product is so good anyway that they probably won't lose much business to Pat's. I don't know if Vento made the right decision, but I celebrate his right to make it, and economic history teaches us that if government just stays the hell away, the free market will work it out just fine.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Evening at FEE

Last night's Evening at FEE featured Daniel J. Mitchell of the Heritage Foundation. "The Moral Defense of Tax Havens" doesn't begin to describe his terrific address on "tax havens" (his top three are Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands) as a way for people to flee oppressive taxation. As a supply-side economist, Dr. Mitchell also made an indirect case for the flat tax. Not only does it generate more revenue by encouraging people to produce more, it generates more by not discouraging people from reporting taxes. He pointed to Venezuela, where kidnappers bribe bank officials to discover what families can afford to pay large ransoms. As he said, there would be no question if he were given the choice between dutifully paying taxes and having to hide wealth to protect his family.

If your tax system is so oppressive that your citizens save money abroad, you only deprive your own economy of investment capital. But cut taxes, and the capital will almost seek you on its own. Ireland still has relatively high individual income taxes, but after it slashed its corporate tax to 12.5%, it ceased to be "the sick man of Europe" and has since attracted companies from all over the world. It's now the second wealthiest (per capita) nation in Europe, Dr. Mitchell said, after Luxembourg, which itself is a tax haven. I'll add that Luxembourg is one of the few countries with higher per capita GDP than the U.S., which is a bad comparison because of the size differences. However, Luxembourg's tax system wisely allows for what's called a "holding company" (a tricky way to get around the normal 30.38% corporate income tax rate).

Tax policy is something I try to emphasize, because it's the difference between the stagnation of the 1930s (after Hoover's and FDR's tax hikes) and American prosperity since Reagan's tax cuts. So I really enjoyed the event, particularly Dr. Mitchell's two France-bashing jokes. Did you hear of the French rifle for sale on ebay? "Never fired, dropped only once." Afterward I spoke with him for a few minutes, introducing myself with, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of Arthur Laffer."

FEE is all about Austrian economics, and the professor who influenced me the most (and introduced me to FEE) is a die-hard Austrian. However, I am a supply-sider. I don't have a problem with government debt like many Austrians do, that is, unless the central bank creates money just so the government can borrow it. What Dr. Mitchell and I worry more about is the size of government, not debt itself. In fact, the federal debt right now is in fact pretty manageable and quite easy to finance. For all the fear-mongering about foreigners losing confidence in the dollar, foreigners still love our Treasury bonds.

I explained before that the trade deficit since 1997 has exceeded the federal budget deficit, allowing foreigners to fund much of our federal borrowing by turning their dollars into Treasury bonds, and that means the Fed doesn't have to create money specifically to finance the debt. At the same time, the economy (and thus tax receipts) have grown faster than the debt. As our friend Steve Conover noted last September, federal borrowing now is 9-10% of our tax receipts, compared to 18% in the early 1990s. I actually remember 25% at one point, but that could be a matter of accounting and/or sensationalism. The big problem is the Social Security obligations that will blow up in our face starting in 2017 -- that's another story.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More boot-lickers come out of the woodwork

I really dislike deleting comments summarily
The NYPD's mission: to subjugate and harass

I participated in Usenet flamefests starting in 1994, and on old BBS systems before then. Flame wars have always been a favorite of mine, though I tried to keep them away from my blog. Now, if I will keep comments open to my readers, and certain jackasses insist on spreading their crap on my intellectual property, I'll gladly dish it out.

Well, now we know where "Paul" got all his friends. As we've come to expect from Paul and his lackeys, there are innumerable lies and half truths. (It's also no wonder they went into law enforcement, because they could never cut it in the real world where grammar and spelling skills are required.) At this time I will set the record straight.

Note how one said that I got only one thing right, but he admitted too much: that part includes "Evidently they [the NYPD] want to start recruiting thugs from an early age."

One says my hatred of cops started because of the taxi bit. Bzzt! It actually began several years ago, with two sheriff's deputies I've mentioned before. There was no crime in the least, yet they barged into my family's home and threatened to arrest me: "We can take you to jail right now!" It's that "We ARE the law" arrogance that helped me start questioning anyone with authority over me, righteous or not. Did I give that person permission, or was it bestowed by others over my protest; and is that person worthy of the authority?

Fat? I've always been beefy, and it's no secret I've put on 20 pounds since I started full-time work three years ago. However, as to the state of my appearance, I'll take the word of my friend Jackie Passey. We met for the first time in April, and one of the things she said was that I'm not fat. (Jackie, despite her worries to the contrary, is not fat in the least.) I'm certainly not fat like most NYPD you see around town -- they make Sheriff Buford T. Justice look trim.

Well, my arguments against the pigs must be pretty damn good, if all they can do is resort to playground-caliber ad hominem. And lies: "I didn't want to reduce my comments to name calling and personal attacks even though the guy deserves it." Paulie Boy left one particular message that I definitely was not going to leave.

Another said, "He contradicted himself anyway by saying the NYPD doesn't go after the real criminals, then whines he wouldn't want to be stuck for 24 hours" in Central Booking. What I in fact said was a paraphrase of Ayn Rand: "Well, when the police can't be bothered with catching real criminals, they create new ones." So where did I say that the police never go after real criminals? Are these subtle points of logic beyond NYPDs' evidently diminished intellectual capacity?

Next up, we have a classic example of how the NYPD works: "If I want any sh1t from a perp I just squeeze their heads." Wonderful, and what if the person turns out to be innocent? The guy must be Justin Volpe (who did the most abuse to Abner Louima). Then he claims, "The guy has more chin's than a chinese phonebook," and "The back of his neck looks like a pack of franks!" I find those extremely odd, considering I look in the mirror many times a day and see one chin,
and my neck all around is quite smooth. Since the pig mentioned "a pack of franks," I wonder what's on his mind for dinner tonight?

Another resorted to the common accusation that blah blah, I have no life. The reality is that if I didn't have so much going on in real life, maybe I could do the blogging I wanted. That ties into his other point: my time is very precious. Today I went out for drinks after work, wondering whether I should, because I really had to get some other things done. I kept an eye on my watch and decided to leave at a precise time, which I did, and not one minute later. So when the NYPD tell us, we who are trying to hail taxis, to go around the corner, that's a waste on our busy lives.

"Could he be the famed Star Wars Kid?" No, nor do I look anything like him. By his logic, since I'm a fan of "Rob Roy," does that make me Liam Neeson?

Then Paul whined, "For all his talk about libertarianism the loser deleted comments he didn't like and shut down his comment section. So much for freedom of expression and the freedom of two sided debate. He believes in these freedoms so long as he agrees with you." Brad explained very well in this thread why that's complete nonsense. And obviously nothing is preventing little Paulie from blathering away on someone else's property, right?

The last said, "He sounds like a mealy mouth coward and has done nothing significant in his pitiful life except to host a site." Oh brother. In my capacity as a compliance analyst, I help my manager with his particular oversight of our firm. Though our department is more "error-correction" than anything, as a whole we are creating wealth for our clients. And what does the NYPD do in the meantime, besides create more victims out of innocent people?

And he brings us back to the whole freedom of speech thing. What he forgets is that conservatives like him are just as bad as liberals in wanting restrictions on speech. I recently read a complaint that the NYPD chief won't issue a permit for gays, lesbians and transsexuals to have a demonstration at 42nd and 8th, because apparently he doesn't like them. He does, though, give permits to other groups that he does like. I'm not gay, and I believe it's sin as the Bible says, but that's my opinion. I don't use the power of government to enforce that, nor do I go around telling gays that they're going to hell, which is not the love Christ taught us to have. Gays, lesbians and transsexuals are people too, and they have as much right to march and demonstrate.

I submit my blog as evidence that I not only tolerate but support and encourage people's right to be offensive. Offensive speech is the best kind there is, especially when directed at organized religion (Christianity, Islam and any other faiths). If your faith must call upon the power of government to stop people from insulting it, perhaps it's not as rock-solid as you'd like to think.


I really dislike deleting comments summarily

...but some people don't have a clue. You have raving liberals on one side, whose entire lives are about stealing every last dollar from those who produce (or produced and handed it down to their children, which is their right). Then you have authoritarians on the other side, Mini-Me Giulianis who claim to want "law and order," when in fact they only want to make our lips as boot-blacked as theirs.

Well, Paul doesn't want to give it up. He brought a bunch of friends over to spew their propaganda, which is bad enough, but the vile words was out of hand. Frankly, I'll be damned if I'll let them turn my blog into a playground where they act out their fantasies of being jack-booted thugs. They can bow to authority all they want, but I will not, and they will never make me.

Paul left another comment, but I only had to see the first two lines to know it was time to delete it. He said I should pull up my diapers and be a man. Wow, now that's high philosophy, isn't it? So I ignored the rest, scrolled to the end, and clicked Blogger's little garbage can icon. If only it were so easy to wipe out these little tin-plated, overbearing, swaggering Denebian slime devils with delusions of godhood.

It's cops like Paul claims to be that make me wonder now how many future innocent victims are saved anytime a uniform is killed or left work-disabled. I know that sounds cold and heartless, because it is, but let's start facing the facts of police brutality and harassment against all the wrong people. And what's really sad is that Paul probably isn't even directing school traffic in a 200-person town. It wasn't until the end that he claimed to be one, and he has an awful lot of time to make his diatribes throughout the day.

I saw one NYPD at the northwest corner of 43rd and Vanderbilt this morning, leaning against the corner of the building and watching traffic go by. Don't you love this efficient use of tax dollars in keeping us safe?

Labels: , , ,

"Tide to Go" is good stuff

When I first bought a "pen" some weeks ago, I wasn't sure how well it really works. I figured a few dollars wasn't much to risk, but it's now saved me a couple of times now. This morning was orange juice on my white dress shirt, which the Tide (probably a blend of surfactants and enzymes) took right out.

It has mixed reviews on Epinions.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Betraying their own

Little Green Footballs explains how the Marine Corps is presently siding with the jihadist Council on American-Islamic Relations. LGF also quotes a ridiculous Reuters article that completely misrepresents the song, failing to mention that the Marine is being shot at.

At least this article explains a bit better what really happens in the song: "a singer who appears to be a Marine tells a cheering audience about gunning down members of an Iraqi woman's family after they confront him with automatic weapons."

That changes the story just a little, don't you think? But don't take my word for it. Watch the original video here.

Forcing others to let you use their property

Stanford Professor Sues Joyce's Estate

A Stanford University professor on Monday sued James Joyce's estate for refusing to give her permission to use copyrighted material about the "Ulysses" author and his daughter on her Web site.

In the lawsuit, Carol Shloss, an acting English professor and Joycean scholar, challenged the estate's assertion that she would be infringing on its ownership of Joyce's image by quoting his published works, manuscripts and private letters on her scholarly site.

Instead, Shloss accused Joyce's grandson, Stephen James Joyce, and estate trustee, Sean Sweeney, of destroying papers, improperly withholding access to copyrighted materials and intimidating academics to protect the Joyce family name.
So in fact, the lawsuit has little to do with the "fair use" portion of U.S. copyright law. What this professor wants is that a court force Joyce's heirs to turn over their private property.

The family cannot prevent Shloss from making scholarly quotations, since those are "fair use," but even the most broad interpretation of "fair use" cannot compel copyright owners to make physical materials available, no matter how many times they've been published. If the family wants to destroy this and that, or lock them up for perpetuity, it is their right to dispose of their private property as they wish. It doesn't matter if they do it to protect the memory of a family member or for the sheer fun of it. The papers are theirs to do with as they please, and Shloss will have to be content with the quality of whatever previously published materials she can find. I personally know how hard it is in scholarly writing to cite something when you have it only through something else that cited it. Second-hand citations are the academic version of hearsay and a definite no-no.

Through what her lawyer said, Shloss sounds like Bruce Maddox on the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Measure of a Man": "Rights! Rights! I'm sick to death of hearing about rights! What about my right not to have my life work subverted by blind ignorance?" What Picard should have countered with, and what Shloss needs to learn, is that whatever rights you have do not require others to facilitate them.

Entrapment, New York-style

I was outraged when I read this last week, but I forgot to blog about it and then couldn't find the online link. The New York Post reported that, who'd have thought, a "rogue gun dealer" in Queens (the same neighborhood where a friend of mine lives) was innocent after all, and the NYPD had to return the 247 seized guns.

Never have I heard of such pure entrapment. There's no other word for this. The shop owner kept refusing because the undercover cops' paperwork was never kosher (intentional on their part, as part of the entrapment). They finally badgered him into the sale when he agreed that if the Suffolk (Long Island) police gave approval, he'd make the sale.

Voltaire reputedly said that if there were no God, man would be forced to invent one. Well, when the police can't be bothered with catching real criminals, they create new ones. Hence one of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes:

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

Labels: ,

The finest city other people's money will buy, part II

Previous: The finest city other people's money will buy

USA Today reported yesterday that "the AFL-CIO plans to invest $1 billion to develop 10,000 affordable homes and a new downtown hotel" in New Orleans. That's an average of $100,000 per house, excluding the hotel, so actual per-home spending will be less. It's pretty smart of the AFL-CIO, which will sell the homes for a profit, and meanwhile get dues off any money used to employ its members (almost like interest).

It's also pretty smart because, like with everything else about Katrina, you can expect the federal government to give our coerced tax dollars to "help" the rebuilding. The AFL-CIO will undoubtedly make more than a tidy profit since the feds will make the rest of us shoulder some of the rebuilding costs. Who do you think will pay for the "$700 million jazz district downtown"? The same who ultimately will supply the "billions in federal dollars to buy people out of their flood-damaged homes [that] is set to begin flowing this summer." Charity is one thing, but this is some of the most blatant pocket-picking in American history.

I hate to harp that the free market is the best and only practical solution, but that's no more evident than here. Only government, by redistributing wealth, can create a scarcity of "mixed income" housing and too much "affordable housing" (which could well have the same poverty and crime as the "projects" that the War On Poverty gave us).

Labels: ,

"FEMA gets hoodwinked": big surprise?

I would laugh if this weren't so much money coerced from unwitting taxpayers, a lot of whom probably won't even hear of this fraud.
FEMA Gets Hoodwinked
Investigation Finds Agency Paid Up To $1.4B In False Hurricane Claims

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2006

(CBS/AP) The government doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, getting hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and even a divorce lawyer, congressional investigators have found.

Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address, and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to wrongly get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation's disaster relief agency.

Federal investigators even informed Congress that one man apparently used FEMA assistance money for a sex change operation.

Agents from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, went undercover to expose the ease of receiving disaster expense checks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The GAO concluded that as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in FEMA help to individuals after the two hurricanes was unwarranted.

The findings are detailed in testimony, obtained by The Associated Press, that is to be delivered at a hearing Wednesday by the House Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations.

To dramatize the problem, GAO provided lawmakers with a copy of a $2,358 U.S. Treasury check for rental assistance that an undercover agent got using a bogus address. The money was paid even after FEMA learned from its inspector that the undercover applicant did not live at the address.

"This is an assault on the American taxpayer," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee that will conduct the hearing. "Prosecutors from the federal level down should be looking at prosecuting these crimes and putting the criminals who committed them in jail for a long time."

FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said Tuesday that the agency, already criticized for a poor response to Katrina, makes its highest priority during a disaster "to get help quickly to those in desperate need of our assistance."

"Even as we put victims first, we take very seriously our responsibility to be outstanding stewards of taxpayer dollars, and we are careful to make sure that funds are distributed appropriately," he said....
The list goes on. That FEMA allowed taxpayers to be defrauded is not new news at all. I predicted fraud last September 8th, only days after Katrina hit, and I was proven correct on the 26th.

As I've said many times before, bureaucrats measure the success of their programs by numbers served, regardless of efficiency. Contrast this with how Wal-Mart and other stores truly helped Katrina victims merely by pursuing profit. Who do you trust better to help people: businesses and private individuals, or government that has no incentive to spend wisely?

A couple of related posts: it's so easy to rebuild New Orleans when using other people's money, and 9/11 widows go on luxury shopping sprees.

But let's put this in perspective: Katrina fraud is just a drop in the bucket. My own state of New York spends $45 billion a year on Medicaid, and even "The New York Times published two articles last year that detailed how billions of dollars were potentially being squandered by the state's Medicaid program." Every dollar counts, but relatively few American taxpayers will likely hear of the Katrina waste, and even fewer will hear of major programs' yearly waste.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Thought for today

Keep your libraries, keep your penal institutions, keep your insane asylums... give me beer. You think man needs rule, he needs beer. The world does not need morals, it needs beer. It does not need your lectures and charity. The souls of men have been fed with indigestibles, but the soul could make use of beer.

- Henry Miller, "Make Beer For Man" (1925)

Tonight, though, I've started drinking Tanqueray with lemon-line seltzer. Strange, really, because I've never been one for gin. However, I've been in need of something dry and crisp, as opposed to port, Saison Dupont, bourbon, and X-Rated Fusion.

Am I losing it?

My best friend at work told me this evening that I've been acting strange for the last couple of weeks -- strange even for me. I'm not sure, but it seems I have a chip on my shoulder.

The end of Nadagate, at least for Karl Rove

(You may recall that "Nagagate" is what John Tierney described this "scandal that's not scandalous."

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald won't charge Karl Rove with anything, and what does Howard Dean say?

"He doesn't belong in the White House. If the president valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago... So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it's not very good news for America."

Doesn't Howard get it? Will he ever get it?

I'd better have another cup

Coffee may reduce risk of cirrhosis

I've recently started drinking more coffee than tea, which may have benefits after all. Who knows. But as the co-author said, the easiest way to prevent cirrhosis is to reduce alcoholic consumption.

Monday, June 12, 2006

That scared me ****less just witnessing it

I've seen more than my share of boneheaded drivers. Actually, my cars and I have directly experienced them, too. But this one tonight nearly takes the cake.

Driving home along I-684, this idiot tried to change lanes from the center lane to the left. There was already someone in the lane, in the would-be changer's blind spot. It was sheer luck that the other person had great reflexes, and a shoulder to drive along until he could return to a real lane.

As I drove alongside, I glanced at the old station wagon whose driver nearly caused an accident. It was filled with a family, and it looked like the young boy riding shotgun, maybe 10 to 12 years old, was crossing himself.

Rising rent: a sign of the times

And it's not a bad thing that some people make it out to be. I'm quoting the entire article because it's worth reading in its entirety.
Rising Rents Threaten NYC Neighborhoods
Residential Development, Rising Rents Threaten Manhattan's Colorful Districts

NEW YORK Jun 10, 2006 (AP)— Inside the flower wholesalers on 28th Street lie stacks of roses in every color of the rainbow. Outside, the sidewalk blooms with pink and blue hydrangeas, zinnias, lilacs, hibiscus. The air smells of day lilies.

The flower district a short stroll from the Empire State Building has been perfuming the north Chelsea air since the 1890s. But the district is so threatened by rising rents and new residential and hotel development that it may have to be moved or disappear entirely.

"We're history," said Bill Nikolis, a third-generation flower seller who owns Bill's Flower Market with his brother, Jim. "The market has been kind of just blown apart by all this development."

It is a common refrain around Manhattan these days. Luxury apartments and chain retailers are sprouting up everywhere as colorful neighborhoods like the flower district fade. Long gone are districts for butter and eggs, leather and radio parts. The Fulton Fish Market, a lower Manhattan fixture for 180 years, moved to the Bronx last year.

As recently as the mid-1990s, the flower district took up several blocks, and walking along Sixth Avenue meant picking your way through a jungle of potted palms.

"Ten years ago this street was booming," said Rob Houtenbos, whose Dutch Flower Line offers peonies from New Zealand and lilies of the valley from Holland. "There were 40, 50 stores filled with beautiful flowers."

But the district has since shrunk to one block and will have difficulty staying there much longer.

The neighborhood, once a warren of low-rise retail and light industry, was rezoned in the 1990s to include residential uses. Condo towers have sprung up along Sixth Avenue, and more apartments and hotels are being built on the block the flower district occupies, displacing several businesses in the past year.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said he mourns the loss of unique neighborhoods as Manhattan is increasingly given over to luxury apartments and chain stores like Starbucks and McDonald's.

"There's this homogenizing steamroller that's kind of moving through the borough that's making Greenwich Village the same as Harlem, the same as the Lower East Side, the same as the Upper East Side," he said.

In Greenwich Village, several of the small theaters that gave the neighborhood its character such as the Sullivan Street Playhouse, where "The Fantastiks" played for a record-setting 42 years have been gutted to make way for condos, Berman said.

In SoHo, high rents are forcing small and medium-sized businesses out in favor of mega-retailers like Apple and Bloomingdale's. Retail space in the Meatpacking District that went for $25 a square foot six years ago now commands $125 a square foot or more, said Gene Spiegelman, a broker with Cushman & Wakefield.

There have been several attempts to move the flower district to another Manhattan neighborhood or possibly to the Bronx or Queens.

Houtenbos said his customers retail florists, party planners, big corporations are tired of Manhattan's scarce parking and would follow him to Queens. "I think it is essential for the market to move," Houtenbos said. "Every location is a compromise."

But consensus on a move has eluded the Flower Market Association, which represents about 35 storefront businesses. Manhattan sites are too expensive and some merchants believe the outer boroughs are too remote.

Berman, whose group tried unsuccessfully to help the flower district join the Meatpacking District, said a move seems unlikely.

"The attrition scenario is the most likely one," he said. "It's just going to kind of dribble away and there won't be any flower market anywhere."
After adjusting for the purely monetary phenomenon of inflation, rising rent reflects the land's increased value. When tenants are "forced out" in favor of new ones, it merely indicates that the latter place a greater value on use of the land. But the flower shops are not being subjected to real force, only market competition that ultimately is based on voluntary commerce. If the flower shops want to stay, they can offer more. If they can't because their customers wouldn't pay the resulting high prices, well, that shows the florists aren't as competitive as the newcomers. Prices are the truly fair way to allocate resources, because people must offer more for a scarce resource, thereby proving how much it's worth to them.

What's happening to the flower district already happened to the Meatpacking District, whose name was (as you can guess) derived from its once primary industry. Now filled with restaurants and bars, it's a trendy place to hang out. Sometimes consumers want nothing more than a place to live. SoHo has been undergoing gentrification (the "SoHo Effect"), and TriBeCa has changed in very recent years from an industrial base to a very affluent residential community. The obvious explanation is that the new tenants are willing and able to pay more (their businesses are more profitable, and/or they're willing to pay more for housing), but more fundamentally the changing uses are an indication of what consumers want.

Sometimes development goes in reverse. Thomas Sowell occasionally mentions Harlem, where he grew up after his family moved from North Carolina. It was a white, Christian area until the turn of the 20th century. Then it infamously became impoverished ("ghettofication") as blacks moved in, but to criticize that slide is, well, politically incorrect. Today, you can point out with pride that some parts of Harlem are becoming more affluent (old brownstones are particularly in demand), except you'd be politically incorrect to note that it's in part from whites' return.

If Manhattan flower shops must move elsewhere, it means that there just isn't enough consumer demand to keep those shops local, and that the prevailing local consumer demand is ultimately for Starbucks and Barnes & Nobles, or apartments and condos. A major realtor may also buy up a block and start leasing office space, which a firm might pay top dollar to lease because it's expanding (i.e. creating jobs and thus greater wealth than the old flower shop). Not surprisingly, there are organizations formed to preserve neighborhoods, but like I've said before about Ted Turner working to stop drilling in ANWR, the proper thing for those people to do is buy the land and buildings themselves. What they do instead is find a way to use government's power (like zoning and other restrictions) to impede landlords from renting to the tenants of their choice.

Contrary to what one of the shop owners says, there will always be a flower market -- just not what he'd like it to be. For example, I recently sent someone some roses for her birthday. I went to and ordered a dozen, assorted colors, boxed. Including delivery to her workplace, it came to $40, actually more than comparable with local florists' standard prices (some of whom are FTD's local suppliers anyway). Now, I didn't even know what they would look like, other than the website, but I really had no reason to trust FTD's website any less than a physical shop. There were no local flower shops whose reputation I was familiar with, and I would have had to call one anyway, since I didn't have time to visit one in person. Thus I bore the same risk with freshness, arrangement and timely delivery. I work one mile north of the flower district and don't go there, but even were it only several blocks away, I'm busy enough that I might have still used FTD's site. For some of us, the flower shops could be in Rochester for all we care.

People erroneously lament Manhattan's development. In the 19th century, farmland (imagine downtown that way!) gave way to industrialization, and the city's geographic location made it an important port for both immigrants and imported goods. Then it shifted to a commercial base, particularly with downtown's transformation into the world's most important financial locus of high finance. In each stage, the new users of the land created far more wealth than their predecessors. The wealth came not because the land increased in value, rather, the land's increase in value reflected the greater economic production and increased demand for land. Should we tear down all the skyscrapers and other office buildings, because it's more "noble" that families use the land for agrarian purposes? Should we not have torn down the pre-Civil War buildings that were razed for the World Trade Center, though the towers facilitated the creation of countless times more wealth?

I had explained that tenants unwilling or unable to pay higher rent is not truly "forcing" them. But if you want to talk about real force, specifically the corrupt power of government, here's something that began 13 years ago in Salt Lake City, while I was still living there. I actually haven't thought about this in years. After looking up what happened, I'm glad that in the end, Little America's owner couldn't use the city to force out a flower shop. It saddens me, though, that the shop's owner had to waste so much money in courts -- which he pointed out could have fixed up the shop from the dilapidated state the city accused it of being. Even so, the shop's outer condition didn't seem to deter customers, did it?

In the second half of the 1990s, the Salt Lake City government started pushing downtown redevelopment. In 1996, during my second year at the University of Utah, Mayor Deedee Corradini came one day to talk about the proposals. She spouted a lot of nice rhetoric about how the Flower Patch florist really should sell to the Little America Hotel, and how in return they'd get such a beautiful shop in the new hotel (which wanted to buy up the entire city block). "It would be magnificent," she boasted. But if it was really such a good deal for the Flower Patch, why was its owner refusing to sell?

What she didn't say was that the city in 1993 declared the area "blighted," opening the door of eminent domain. You can read a good write-up of the story here, and it explains why the owner of the Flower Patch's land didn't want to sell. I never read this in the newspapers or heard it on the news, only the city's propaganda that he was turning down a great offer and impeding progress. The owner paid $420,000 for the land in 1985, but he was never offered more than $250,000. It really doesn't matter how "magnificent" your new shop is when you must recoup $170,000 (and at Salt Lake City's generally lower prices). When you're ready to get mad, really mad, read this (do a search for "Flower Patch" to jump down to the relevant part) and its details of the city officials' corruption. What they did was true force, instead of allowing the market to work.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More on the NYPD's harassment and subjugation of the people

Midway through my previous post, I noted what signs are actually at the corner.

Scaredy bear

A cat in northern New Jersey scared a black bear up a tree, not just once, but twice.

At 15 pounds, that's one big cat. Judging from the picture, the bear doesn't look full-sized. It's probably a young one, perhaps just a cub. If it is indeed a cub, the cat was lucky that momma wasn't around.

Big media's "Duh" of the week

And it's only Sunday. The AP headline: "Al-Zarqawi's death may not stop civil war"
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi raised hopes that Iraq's slide toward civil war or sectarian disintegration could be arrested, but there are signs that Shiite-Sunni antagonism may now be too deeply rooted.

Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Sunni Muslim, played a key role in stoking Shiite-Sunni tensions the past three years, ordering hundreds of bloody attacks against Iraqi Shiites and issuing vitriolic tirades seeking to deepen a religious schism that dates back 1,400 years.

On Sunday, his feared terror group, al-Qaida in Iraq, said there would be no let up in its combat operations. It vowed in an Internet statement "to prepare major attacks that will shake the enemy like an earthquake and rattle them out of sleep."
For the love of heaven, that analysis is worse than a blind man examining the shades of a Gaugain. (Yes, I was intentionally politically incorrect there. Sue me.) Do reporters not pay attention to what the White House and Pentagon were saying? From the moment Zarqawi's death was confirmed, President Bush said, "Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue." He restated that in his radio address yesterday: "Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. In the weeks ahead, violence in Iraq may escalate. The terrorists and insurgents will seek to prove that they can carry on without Zarqawi." The Armed Forces Press Service story noted that "Although the terrorist's demise will negatively impact al Qaeda operations in Iraq, [Army Maj. Gen. William B.] Caldwell cautioned that this doesn't signal the end of the insurgency in Iraq."

However, let's be clear on what Zarqawi's mission was. He was far from a Sunni attacking Shiites because of some religious schism. Attacking Shiites and relying on his followers to spread propaganda quietly spread civil strife and hinder Iraq from achieving peaceful democratic rule. "Sunni-Shiite conflict," though, is a great excuse for big media, which doesn't want to acknowledge Zarqawi as a terrorist, a jihadist and an Islamofascist whose simple mission is to force everyone to "one world under Allah." Big media also likes to spread the myth that at least Saddam's rule was stable with regard to religious conflicts. But stability at what price?

Laugh and the world laughs with you; spill wine, and say goodbye to your Logitech

Last night, I was enoying a nice glass of port while merrilly typing away at a friend when I accidentally spilled my wine onto my Logitech keyboard. So, I opened it up and did what I could. I've taken apart many keyboards, whether to clean the gunk between and underneath keys, or to clean the plastic sheets within when keys are becoming less responsive. It's safe to say that I know what I'm doing, but there was apparently a short I couldn't fix. The num lock, caps lock and scroll lock keys stayed lit, and Windows kept telling me that the USB device was malfunctioning, even when I unplugged the ribbon cables for the special key banks (like multimedia and Web surfing). I gave up and decided I'd just buy a new keyboard in the morning, and temporarily use a dinky one from my other PC.

My favorite keyboards are traditionally Microsoft and IBM because of the keystroke feel. Logitechs never appealed to me, but a few years ago, I settled on this one, since it was the only non-ergonomic model with all the multimedia buttons I like. I cannot stand "ergonomic" keyboards. Curved rows with a split down the middle is useless crap as far as I'm concerned. Maybe it's because I have an unorthodox typing style, but all I want is an old-fashioned straight keyboard with certain multimedia buttons (volume, mute, play/pause, stop, etc.).

Today I bought a non-ergonomic Microsoft "Digital Media Pro Keyboard" at Staples. I settled on it, but it's not perfect for me. The hand rest feels oddly long, so I'm not using it. And I now remember that I loathe hate detest dislike certain new keyboards. My fingertips have a strong sense of touch, and the new plastic feels so rough. It takes a while for regular typing to smooth down the tops of the keys.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Who really believes Hamas abided by a "truce"?

"Hamas Militants Fire Rockets at Israel" reads the headline, with the misleading "Hamas Militants Fire Barrage of Homemade Rockets at Israel After Calling Off Truce" below.

Another article I read, which I can't find right now, said that Hamas "mostly abided" by the truce. "Mostly" is like a Catholic priest "mostly" staying celibate, or a drug addict "mostly" staying clean. The Anti-Defamation League's brief history of Hamas notes that ever since Israel's withdrawal in August 2005, Hamas has used Gaza to fire dozens of rockets into southern Israel (and the document was updated last January, meaning many more attacks have occurred since). So who really believes Hamas ever sincerely abided by the cease-fire? And when not breaking the cease-fire but claiming to uphold it, when not assisting other terrorists but claiming to uphold the cease-fire, Hamas with Iranian help has been developing a new longer-range missile to reach further into Israel.

It's a clear indication of Palestinian mentality that mere thousands attended the civilians' funeral, but tens of thousands thronged a soccer stadium to mourn a terrorist leader. Considering the attitude of Palestinian propaganda rags, I don't even have as much sympathy for the civilians as I'd like to. They were on a beach near known spots from where their fellow Palestinians perennially launch rockets toward Israel, with the intent to kill Israeli civilians. So Israel has nothing to apologize about, not until Palestinians come to terms with their blindness toward the murder of innocent Israelis, and certainly not before Palestinians acknowledge that they want terrorists to lead them. Hamas gaining power in the Palestinian government was hardly a big change for the end results: Arafat never changed his terrorist spots and never stopped calling for the destruction of Israel, and he was succeeded by Holocaust-denier Abbas.

The New York Times claimed that this "embarrassed Israel," but why should Israel give a damn about what France thinks? Let French officials issue the same condemnations of the suicide bombings, and then their opinion might be worth a nanosecond of consideration.

Things to do in Guantanamo when you're dead

Three Guantanamo prisoners committed suicide. Good -- three fewer jihadists we have to worry about.

"The remains were being treated 'with the utmost respect,' an issue important to Muslims." Throw the bodies on a garbage pile, for all I care. Where was the "utmost respect" for the bodies of Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, Paul Johnson, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, Kim Sun-il, Eugene Armstrong, Jack Hensley, Shosei Koda and Margaret Hassan?

Friday, June 09, 2006

The NYPD's mission: to subjugate and harass

"To subjugate and harass" as opposed to "To protect and serve." I expect the following will offend some of you. "Law and order" is great, but as with all things, at what cost? What price are you willing to pay to have it? I was not at all raised with a negative attitude toward police, but having encountered two corrupt sheriff's deputies several years ago, and after realizing how the NYPD works, I've really come to distrust and even hate so-called "law enforcement." In fact, my natural skepticism and cynicism of any authority is largely responsible for my libertarian leanings. There's even a religious component: one thing I enjoy about being a Protestant is that I reject the concept of a priestly hierarchy.

As my friend Charlie reminds me from time to time, courts have ruled that police do not have a duty to protect the public, only to apprehend suspects. Considering that there really never is a cop around when you need one, and that the NYPD loves to go after the most non-criminal "criminals," you're better off packing your own heat to protect yourself. Then add the additional problem of police not just enforcing the law, but "keeping people in line."

The northwest corner of 43rd and Vanderbilt is a popular drop-off point for Grand Central Terminal (across the street from the west exit). That makes it a popular spot to get a cab, since cabbies can easily get a new fare. Let me emphasize from the beginning that we've always waited there for cabs, and I personally have never seen nor heard of a problem with that spot. Except, of course, for newcomer jerks who walk up Vanderbilt to flag down a cab, which is cutting in front of those already waiting.

Yesterday morning, for the first time I've ever seen, two pigs have been stopping cabbies at that intersection. I couldn't hear what one was saying, but he was holding a ticket pad, and the cabbie was forking over documents (probably registration, medallion info, etc.). I asked the other uniform what they were doing, and he replied that because of the stop sign, there's no standing allowed at the corner, and that we have to get cabs around the corner.

Now wait a minute. Standing? If a cabbie is actually standing, then he's not making money. I started to say that we've always gotten cabs at that corner, and I would have pointed out the ludicrous notion of a standing cab, not to mention that there are no signs against passenger pick-up. However, the pig cut me off and repeated, "Go around the corner," just like his Gestapo predecessors. In other words, a cab must come south on Vanderbilt and drop people off, turn right onto 43rd, and then pick up new passengers. Why must they make it inconvenient, forbidding new passengers to get a cab right where passengers are getting off?

Update: when walking back Friday night, I noted that there is a "No stopping any time <--->" sign at the corner of 43rd and Vanderbilt. Of course, it directly contradicts the stop sign. Or would the city like to redefine "Stop" as "Pause"? I don't recall having seen the "No stopping" sign before, but I do face the other way when hailing cabs. If it is new, then depending on its age, it's morally wrong for police to give out tickets so soon when, as I've said, people have always flagged down cabs at that spot.

Part of me wanted to really confront him, but this is the NYPD we're talking about. I really didn't want to risk them arresting me on some stupid charge ("He looked like a terrorist" or "He threatened us"), or even planting shit on me. And since we citizenry are disarmed, we have no effective means to defend ourselves against this jack-booted arm of government. What good will vindication in criminal court do me, what good will come from victory in my civil lawsuit against the city, when I'll have spent a nightmarish 24 hours in central booking among the worst of the worst? And that fear of the very people hired by government to protect us, of the consequences for merely invoking our God-given right to question our government, is wrong. Brethren, these things ought not to be.

Am I imagining too much, or am I in fact drawing upon actual events? Remember Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo? Those are just prominent examples; so much more happens, and ever so quietly, that you don't realize what these thugs do on a regular basis. Look at the extremes the NYPD goes to when chasing down cyclists: just who are the "armed and dangerous" criminals now? A co-worker at my previous job told me that when he was outside a downtown bar one night, he saw two NYPD stop and practically rough up a guy on the street, without a warrant, accusing him of carrying marijuana. It didn't matter that the guy wasn't carrying any: the NYPD considers their word, and indeed their mere suspicion, to be the ultimate law and hence justification for anything they do. Many victims don't know that they can contact the ACLU and NYCLU for help with a lawsuit, which wouldn't necessarily be for damages, but an injunction against NYPD thuggery. And even when such suits are filed, the ACLU and NYCLU have already prejudiced the public with their overzealously liberal agenda.

Once upon a time, I always quickly dismissed stories of police brutality and harassment: "They deserved it anyway." The situation complete changes once it happens to you, a peaceful, law-abiding citizen on the commute to work. Now I'm starting to understand what Ice-T and Body Count were singing about. Just like in Nazi Germany "when they first came for the Jews," often a people might think a government body has become too strong and too corrupt, but it's not a sufficient matter to be worth fighting over. We'd rather ignore that it happens to others, living our lives quiety, until it happens directly to us.

I was checking the NYPD's website, and I see they have a summer youth police academy. Evidently they want to start recruiting thugs from an early age.


Another late night

I got home a bit ago. It was great to attend the Young Republicans Club (the independent one) event tonight, with Mark W. Smith and Larry Kudlow speaking. Karol and I met for the first time, and in fact we recognized each other immediately. Afterward a good number of us went to Margarita Murphy's on 39th and 3rd Avenue. I'd have liked to stay longer, but I left a little after 11:30 so I could catch the 12:08 train home.

I'll elaborate more tomorrow, but for now I'll say that Smith was pretty good. His advocation of conservative "judicial activism," however, concerned me. Naturally he wants a litmus test to retake the judiciary, but the only litmus test should be whether the nominee has a strict constructionist, originalist interpretation of the Constitution.

Kudlow was brilliant. I don't agree with his support of widespread communications monitoring, but I agree with everything else he said. He started by saying that "today [Thursday] is a big day for freedom," and I agree. My only regret of how Zarqawi died is that he couldn't have possibly suffered enough. Kudlow went on to talk about the strong economy (and that Bush just doesn't tout it like he should), the need for the Fed to strengthen the dollar, and the non-concerns of our budget and trade deficits. He's right on all counts. I'll say for now that the present increases in federal debt, properly measured as a percentage of the economy, are not as bad as the 1980s, and it is currently manageable. It's wasteful spending that's the problem, because if the federal government went into debt for useful things and not pork, that wouldn't be so bad. I cannot, though, share Kudlow's optimism that Bush "is itching" to veto spending bills.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Did progressives rewrite the Constitution?

Thanks to our friend Karol who keeps us informed of right-wing events in New York City, I attended a debate last night about that very question. Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago's law school argued in the affirmative. William Treanor, Dean of Fordham University's law school, argued that progressives are in fact the ones who follow the Constitution's original and intended meaning.

The moderator, Francis Melton, presented the theme through two questions. "Is the United States government one of unlimited powers or one of enumerated powers?" And "What restrictions does the Constitution place on the states, if any?" He pointed to the examples of the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson pushed for although he felt it may have been unconstitutional, and the federal government's attempt to create "gun-free school zones" via the Interstate Commerce Clause.

When Melton introduced Professor Epstein, he mentioned Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, at which point Epstein silently held up a copy and solicited laughs from most of the audience. Copies were available after the presentation, but unfortunately I didn't have any cash on me nor my checkbook. It would have been great to get one with Epstein's autograph.

Epstein began his opening statement by saying that he takes being called a "kook" (which Melton said some people regard Epstein as) as a term of high praise. He said that there are two ways of looking at the issue: what does the Constitution say, and what do we want out of government? We must work back to the text, Epstein said, and not the other way around. What I took that to mean is that we must look at what the Constitution says and then form a government from that, instead of forming a government and interpreting the Constitution to justify it.

As a classic liberal (which he prefers to "libertarian"), Epstein has Locke's skeptical view of government: as he put it, no one should be assumed to govern in good faith. (I'll add that James Buchanan, the economist and not the president, noted in public choice theory that public bureaucrats still act in their own self interest. Their position does not make them suddenly concerned with the public's well-being.) The Constitution hinders (my word) government by the separation of powers and a system of "competitive federalism." Should one state become too oppressive, its people can take their businesses to another state. "But," Epstein said, "land can't move, so we need protections, i.e. property rights well-defined."

Unfortunately, I took a break from this write-up to prepare some clothes for tomorrow, and now I'm far too tired to finish tonight. I'll see what I can do tomorrow at lunch. Tomorrow night I'm attending a Young Republicans event, where Larry Kudlow himself is one of two featured speakers. There will be some socializing afterward at a nearby pub, which I cannot resist, so I'm not sure how late I'll be out tomorrow.

I apologize for the light blogging in the last while. Things have been so busy, just one thing after another. Today's headache was discovering my cell phone didn't charge last night, forcing me to conserve the low battery life throughout the day. Actually, "force" isn't the right verb. I still had a perfectly voluntary choice: to use or not to use the battery. Though I had some calls to make (personal ones that I preferred not to use my work phone for), I could have elected not to make them, weighing the consequences against the benefit of conserving the battery. However, I was dealing with imperfect information, since I figured I could charge it once I got home.

When I got home, I discovered that my month-old charger is no longer working. I made a quick run to Target and bought a generic charger that's supposed to be compatible with my phone, but it's not working either. Tomorrow I'll stop by a Verizon store to determine if a "genuine" Motorola charger works, or if my phone's battery is dead. I really had wanted to call a couple of people tonight, and I'm more than peeved.