Wednesday, September 30, 2015

As bizarre as tax law... a recent move by the NHTSA that accuses Fiat-Chrysler of failing to report fatal accidents to the government.  Why so?

Because in any sane world, and I believe even in the world we inhabit, cities, counties, and states would be required to report the vehicle make, year, and model (among other information) about each motor vehicle accident that comes to their attention to the NHTSA and the manufacturer.  Hence there would be (is) no more need for automakers to report fatal accident data than for me to report my income to the IRS.  It's data they already have.

Congratulations, U.S. government, for once again changing what ought to be an opportunity for peaceful collaboration into an occasion for conflict, lawsuits, evasion, and more.

How to prevent drunkenness and alcoholism

According to a recent study, kids from intact families (raised by married biological mother and father) who learn to drink at home have the lowest rates of alcohol-related problems versus those who are not allowed to drink at home at all, and versus those who are allowed to drink at home, but are not from intact families (single parents or parent married to stepparent). 

It is as if parents don't have any wish to see their kids passed out on the couch (or vice versa), and as if kids won't be so enamored of Falstaff and Boone's Farm after they've had something drinkable. I know that Bugweiser had no appeal for me when I returned from Germany, for obvious reasons.

Maybe instead of fighting to keep the drinking age at 21, end the drinking age altogether and stop government policies that effectively promote single parenting and divorce.  Might do us some good.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Another reason to defund Planned Parenthood,

...and believe it or not, it's not related to abortion.  Now we can go back and forth all day about the fungibility of money and how it's improbable that federal funding for contraception and women's health services doesn't end up benefiting the abortion side of the business--through referrals, buildings, and the like--but in reality, there is a much more important reason to stop this kind of aid to Planned Parenthood.

Specifically, when a woman (or occasionally a man) goes to Planned Parenthood for contraception, a referral to a mammogram, an STD test, or a pregnancy test, they are simultaneously....not going to see a doctor of even a physician's assistant for a regular checkup. 

Now certainly STDs kill (starting with about 13000 deaths annually from AIDS), and certainly breast and cervical cancers kill, but these pale before the realities of things like heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases--diseases that are likely to be detected if a person gets their contraception, STD test, or early pregnancy examination through a doctor, but not at Planned Parenthood.

So do you really value access to health care for women?  Great.  You'll be in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood, no matter what your stance on abortion.

Unless, of course, you know that the Planned Parenthood subsidy actually is in large part a subsidy for their abortion business, in which case I challenge you with another moral precept; why is it right for you to pick the pockets of the 50% or more of Americans who object to abortion to pay for it?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Repeat after me....

....regarding Donald Trump:  Four bankruptcies, three wives, two political parties, one big problem.  Do we really need a guy who has thrown his colleagues under the bus in four bankruptcies, thrown his family members under the bus in two divorces, cast his lot in with both major political parties in the past decade, and the like in the White House?

Don't we know what it's like to have an egomaniac President who throws long-term friends, colleagues, and even family members under the bus already?

H/T Powerline.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

Weekend Levity

...straight from the Scottish version of "Deliverance", I guess.  Enjoy!

And what shopping trip would be complete without a flash mob in the food court?

One has to wonder....

...if anyone in the Obama administration is using government email and complies with open records and FOIA laws.  Latest news is that Chicago mayor (and former Obama staffer) Rahm Emmanuel has been sued by the Chicago Tribune for his use of private email and failure to disclose public business.

As I've noted before, it's really not that complicated an issue unless you've got something to hide.  Your employer has the right to know how you've been handling your communication on the job, and that's why every one of my employers has had a record of my email use.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

More thoughts on oil use and subsidies

First of all, with about ten million medium and heavy duty trucks, as well as a number of buses and "oil-burning" cars--meaning diesels and not old Subarus with worn piston rings driven by "environmentalists" of course--it strikes me that even 95 million gallons of diesel fuel burned per day is awfully low--really only about ten gallons per vehicle at most, meaning that the average distance traveled per day by a diesel vehicle is 100 miles or less.  In other words, most of our diesel fleet spends most of its time idle.

Next, regarding subsidies, it's worth noting that there are tax credits for ethanol totaling about fifty cents to a dollar per gallon--far exceeding the excise taxes imposed on fuels.  In contrast, the total broad definition "subsidy" for petroleum (those subsidies that really aren't) total about a nickel to a dime per gallon.

In other words, alternative fuels are indeed heavily subsidized, but petroleum is not.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Subsidies for oil companies

I've heard a fair amount of talk lately (some from ethanol enthusiasts) about the "subsidies" that are given to oil producers, and here are a couple of articles that discuss them in case anyone else is interested.  First, from Forbes, and second, from Mother Jones.  What is notable is that they are using an interesting definition for "subsidy" to mean anything that would make it cheaper to produce petroleum products.  I would, however, tend to use a tighter definition: tax credits not available to those not producing petroleum and direct payments to petroleum producers.

Along those lines, the general categories of the "broad" definition of "subsidy" are heating assistance to the poor (HEAP), fuel tax exemptions for farmers (who are not using that fuel on the roads), the "Strategic Petroleum Reserve", depreciation schedules, expensing allowances, and an interesting provision called the depletion allowance in the tax code.  It's supposed to compensate for the loss of value of a well due to the oil being pumped out.

There are some actual tax credits there, but no real direct payments, and by and large, the biggest chunk of the supposed "subsidies" consist of not charging farmers and pilots for using fuel away from the roads (hence the fuel tax is inappropriate), welfare programs, and tax provisions available to all companies in all lines of business.   About the same thing goes for coal; there are depreciation schedules and a few tax credits, but really no subsidies, strictly speaking, in the way that one receives a large tax credit for buying a hybrid or electric vehicle.

So while one may debate the soundness of these tax and spending provisions, let's do ourselves a favor and stop calling them subsidies, because they aren't.

Dangers of Cross Country, continued

A couple of pictures from last night's meet.  Not to brag or anything, but my daughters' team won, as did the boys' homeschool varsity, and I'm pretty sure the junior high boys, too.

Never mind.  Of course I'm bragging.  

Some more things we ought to agree on.....

...beginning from my earlier post, let's build on some other things that all Americans, liberal or conservative, ought to agree on.

11.  Crimes committed by the government--be it the EPA's pollution of the Animas River or the BATFE's infamous "Fast and Furious" program that got 300 Mexican citizens and at least one border patrol agent killed--need to be prosecuted with the same vigor as those committed by non-government employees.

12.  Whether our medical expenses are tax deductible or not should not depend on whether an employer is paying them for us.  Either all are fully deductible, including FICA, or none should be.

(easy way to implement this would be to expand HSAs)

13.  The poor and middle class ought not be forced to subsidize hybrid and electric vehicles for the upper middle class and the wealthy.

14.  The poor and middle class ought not be forced to subsidize child care for the wealthy. 

15.  EPA regulations ought to consider the overall contributors to pollution before singling out one contributor--a great example is proposed ozone regulations that set limits at the environmental background level

16.  Calculations of ROI for public transit projects ought to include the capital cost and reasonable opportunity cost/interest, and efficiency calculations ought to include a factor for depreciating the capital necessary to build the project.  This is especially important for light rail projects, where a lot of concrete and steel doesn't move very many people.

17.  Electric car "eMPG" ought to include the conversion efficiency of the power plant, which is typically 30-40%.  (in other words, the Tesla's eMPG is not 89; but rather 30, or really about 20 when you account for the fact that nighttime power generation is done with coal)

The VW TDI debacle in perspective

A really short summary here; more or less, the high compression ratio of diesels causes nitrogen to bond with excess oxygen, which does not occur as much in gasoline engines because they burn almost all of the available oxygen.  VW's claim to fame was that they could reduce NOx emissions without a urea catalyst, and whatever workaround they had was something to make the engine operate somewhat cooler--I am guessing by changing the amount of fuel injected.  Hence they only passed when the engine was incapable of generating maximum torque and horsepower, and I would guess that someone "in the know" might be able to figure out that something was going on from the time it took the engine to achieve test rpms.

What's the impact?  Well, half a million vehicles with the TDI would emit about 0.7 grams of excess NoX per kilometer, or about a gram per mile.  So if we assume TDI-equipped vehicles are fairly high mileage--say 20,000 miles per year--we then would guess that those half million vehicles are releasing an extra 10,000 metric tons of NOx per year.  Scale it for worldwide diesels, and you have maybe 200,000 metric tons of excess NOx per year released.

In contrast, power plants release approximately 1.5 million short tons of NOx annually in the United States alone.  Well, they're not near city centers, right?

Nope.  As anyone familiar with the term "transmission losses" might infer, a lot of them are in the city.   I'm going to dare to suggest that the EPA is having some serious trouble with the "Pareto Principle" in their regulation of NOx, and that Volkswagen is the least of our concerns in terms of pollution.   Concern #1 is, of course, the guys who dumped a few million gallons of polluted water into the Animas River a few weeks back.

Note: total diesel fuel consumption is about 12 million gallons per day, presumably predominantly by the nation's 5.6 million heavy trucks, buses, and the like.  This would put total NOx emissions under the old rules at around 131,000 metric tons annually--again, a clear #2 or less on the Pareto.

Note 2: although I thought that I'd read the EIA statistics on diesel fuel correctly yesterday, a mere 12 million gallons per day for the nation's 5.6 million semis (not to mention other heavy trucks, buses, and the like) seems "a bit low."  This link indicates about a 2:1 ratio between gasoline and diesel fuel, indicating about 70 billion gallons per year (191 million gallons per day), and this link indicates that on highway consumption of diesel was about 36 billion gallons in 2012, or about 95 million gallons per day.  This would indicate about a million metric tons of NOx from highway diesel under the "old rules" annually, putting it in the same ballpark as power plant emissions.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Big problems in Minnesota?

Both Mr. Dilettante and Powerline have linked today to a very interesting report from the Census Bureau that suggests that median household income among black families declined about 15% in 2014 vs. 2013 levels.  Now the Star-Tribune article addresses the matter predominantly as an issue of "government isn't doing enough to help blacks", and Powerline addresses the matter as a consequence of an influx of Somali refugees, but there is a problem with both hypotheses; neither factor is big enough to account for a sudden drop in income among blacks.  For that matter, even Adrian Peterson's suspension last year would not move the median significantly.  Nor is it sufficient that a number of charities were recently found to be corrupt--those operate on "lower incomes" and have little effect on the median.

So what is going on?  Here are some hypotheses:

  • Nothing.  Census data here are just flawed for whatever reason.
  • Minnesota companies suddenly decided that Klansmen made the best HR managers, black people paid the price, and nobody at the Star-Tribune or Pioneer Press noticed the shift in employment numbers.
  • Black Minnesotans decided to start underestimating their income when polled by Census.
  • Black Minnesotans responded to the Michael Brown tragedy by quitting their jobs, and nobody at our state papers noticed.
  • Hiring managers responded to "Black Lives Matter" by refusing to hire blacks.  (but how would this get a 15% shift in only four months?  And the Strib didn't pick up on this?)
To be blunt, none of these hypotheses is very appealing, and most are just ludicrous.  However, the fact of the matter is that, since a median household income is simply about $15/hour for 40 hours per week, or a little above the wage of one person's factory or retail job, the big thing that could shift this level for real would be mass unemployment among blacks--and we haven't seen that.

In my view, the most likely issue at hand here is that there is something wrong with the Census Bureau's numbers.  Perhaps their sample is too small, and they stumbled into a bunch of low income people.  Perhaps they made some other error with their method.

However, whatever the real issue is, somebody needs to take a good look at these numbers, how they were collected, and what other numbers indicate about the status of blacks in our state.  If it's not just error on the part of the Census Bureau, we're not talking about something that can be fixed with a governor's initiative, but rather something that just might involve prosecution.

If it is mostly an error on the part of the Census Bureau, then it's yet another example of how we may need to be very cautious when using government derived statistics--a famous example being how employment numbers for the past six years have been "unexpectedly" low.  And that says a lot, I hope, to those politicians who would use government numbers to "manage" the economy.

A warning about Cross Country

This is the horrible reality in my home. 

My 13 year old is already running faster than I was as a sophomore in high school....

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A warning on antidepressants

Fox News carried two very interesting, and sobering, articles on psychotropic drugs today.  Now not being a psychiatrist by trade, I can't totally speak to the reality, but if the sources here are indicative, we ought to be sobered.  This is especially the case when one realizes that fully 10% of the U.S. adult population is taking antidepressants, and the overall "dosage" in our country is far higher.

First, Dr. Manny Alvarez (an obstetrician by training) notes that there is a very real danger of side effects when one takes antidepressants hastily.  Not being a psychiatrist, he is admirably trained to realize something very important; that he's not trained to recognize the signs of counter-indicators like bipolar disorder, a mistake that can lead to any number of consequences, including suicide.  Would that more general practice and family practice doctors had this humility.

(keep in mind, by the way, that obstetricians DO come in contact consistently with depression, specifically post partum depression....this is not just an academic issue for Dr. Alvarez)

Fox also presented what may be an infamous example of the side effects of hasty depression diagnoses; Suzy Favor Hamilton's double life as a Las Vegas prostitute.  Now of course we don't have her full medical record before us, and I wouldn't be able to make sense of it if we did, but her testimony is sobering; a misdiagnosis of depression (vs. bipolar disorder or "manic depression") led to the wrong prescription and a result of hypersexuality. 

Now if you're on SSRIs or other drugs, don't drop them, because they DO affect your mind and behavior.  But you might do well to consult a psychiatrist to make sure that you're getting the right mix of counsel and the right set of prescriptions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Here's a shocker

The committee in Oslo that gave Barack Obama his 2009 "Participation Trophy" is now surprised that it didn't give him the "boost" they had hoped.

Well, duh.  Every kid past the age of seven understands the difference between a real trophy and a participation trophy.  And now, everybody will understand that the Nobel Peace Prize is  a complete farce, issued by the kind of kids in adults' bodies who have never learned that difference.

On the bright side, Obama was at least a better choice in 2009 than Yasser Arafat was in 1994, since at least he hadn't done anything yet.  Probably the best match for Obama is Rigoberta Menchu (1992), whose autobiography, like Obama's, is a complete fraud.  Another good match is Mikhail Gorbachev, who got credit for more or less the collapse of his country with the 1990 Nobel.

The blank page bumper sticker....

.....might be the only thing that is acceptable at a Christiansburg, Virginia high school, where apparently all symbols and flags that "are deemed offensive to any race, religion, ethic group, or sexual orientation" are prohibited.

Let's see....the cross is offensive to Jews, the Star of David to Muslims, the battle flag to blacks, the rainbow flag to Christians, the name "Christiansburg" to radical secularists....all that is left would be, I guess, a plain white bumper sticker....

.....wait a minute, never mind.  That symbol of surrender is of course offensive to the French. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

She's got the right idea

Genora Hamm Biggs of Elberton, Georgia, has been expelled from her lifelong church (she became a member at age 11) because she objected to the pastor's use of Holiness Church methods in preaching, which apparently include a fair amount of hootin', hollerin', and something that might be called "holy fainting".  Now no disrespect intended to those who tend to a "Holiness" perspective, but Mrs. Biggs is correct that Baptists do not historically allow Charismatic distinctives in their assemblies, and those that do tend to hold those expressions in what they consider a fairly strict Biblical context--meaning that prophets who say things that aren't true find themselves disciplined, tongues must be interpreted, and the like.

Now I am certain that this is tough for Mrs. Biggs--apparently her family physically moved the original building to its current site and contributed greatly to its upkeep and improvement--but theologically speaking, she's got the right idea.  If you disagree with Baptist distinctives, that's fine, but please have the decency to do so in a church that agrees with your position.

And for that matter, this case shows a very real problem in "fundagelical-pentamatic" circles in general; the tendency to use emotional appeals in lieu of actual discipleship.  These emotional appeals can generate a lot of decisions and temporary numbers, but it does not have the multigenerational staying power of a more reasoned approach--note that Billy Sunday's sons both rejected the faith and became a huge embarrassment to Sunday and his organization. 

Can we agree on some things?

In today's political environment--endless grandstanding and clamoring for attention and the like--it strikes me that what is needed is for someone to come up with some things we can agree on.  Something where we can sit down and start thinking about where we are, and how we got there.  To this effect, I submit the following list.

1.  I would hope that we would all agree that when immigrants--legal or illegal--commit certain serious crimes (e.g. violent felonies), we ought to show them the door when their sentence is completed.  Those who harbor them and give them sanctuary ought to be subject to criminal and civil liability. 

2.  I would hope that we would agree that our borders ought to have at least a vehicle barrier so that those who would immigrate without permission at least need to walk a few miles to do so. 

3.  I would hope that we would all agree that we ought not use the government as a piggy bank for our own pet projects, whether that's farm subsidies, subsidies for electric cars and solar panels, grants to Planned Parenthood, or whatever.

4.  I would hope that we would all agree that given history, we need to take things like Holocaust denial seriously, especially when the conference is being led by Iran's head of state.

5.  I would hope that we would all agree that when negotiating with nations that sponsor terrorism, that sponsorship is on the table no matter else what is being negotiated.

6.  I would hope that we would agree that in our foreign policy, we ought to consider who is going to ultimately receive the money we're talking about.  If a terrorist state (e.g. Iran) is going to spend billions buying weapons from our chief geopolitical opponents (Russia and China), we ought to consider the implications of that.

7.  I would hope that we would agree that if our government is suing nuns to force them to buy birth control coverage, we have seriously lost our way as a nation.

8.  I would hope that we would agree that public records ought to be retained by the public in a secure form that can be easily searched by investigators when need be.

9.  I would hope that we would agree that public servants who withhold public records and store them on unsecure servers ought to be promptly prosecuted for that.

10.  I would hope that we would agree that when regulations and taxes are used to harass political enemies of the party in power, then the structure is too big and ought to be reevaluated.

Probably a few more things to be said here, but it strikes me that a renewal of who we are as a nation might just rely on some things we ought to be able to agree on like this.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A Christian "Mr. Money Mustasche"

I've been doing a little bit of thinking about, and reading, in the "Mr. Money Mustasche" site I profiled earlier, and it struck me that it might be of interest to present what a young Christian couple might have attained.  For reference, "Pete" is an apparently unreligious man (except for his views on money) who managed to save about $800,000 in assets over the course of less than a decade, and then decided to quit writing code and do whatever he wanted to do.  Sometimes it pays, sometimes not, but all in all, his value is on liberty, even to the exclusion of creature comforts and even having more than one child.

OK, so how does faith impact this?  Well, for starters, if a couple tithes, that takes an instant $100k off that final number, and if a couple believes that God really does command His people to be fruitful and multiply, that translates to (a) higher living expenses and (b) fewer hours worked by the mother.  I remember calculating what Mrs. Bubba's take-home pay would have been after daycare, car expenses, eating out, formula, taxes, and tithe after our first child was born, and it worked out to be about $1/hour; not worth the time.

So if the couple had had children starting a few years into their relationship (something I think all Christian couples ought to be open to), they would have had probably at least a 25% reduction in their post-tax income as a result--either by daycare + formula, or by the wife quitting work altogether.  That is an additional $200k reduction in overall wealth.

Still not too shabby--we would be talking about $400-$500k instead of $800k--but that against expenses which would probably be about twice those experienced by our friend in Longmont.  So for all but the most motivated (or barren) and prosperous Christians, the "miracle story" of Pete and his family will be out of reach....especially if God blesses the family with three or more children, and the family is "forced" to get a larger vehicle like a minivan or SUV, something abhorred by "Pete".

Too bad for us?  Of course not.   It's simply that our priorities--"Be fruitful and Multiply", "Do not wear yourself out to get rich"--are somewhat different.  That noted, he's got a wonderful bit of advice relating to Exodus 20:17--"You shall not covet"--and we really ought to listen.  Listen Biblically, but listen nonetheless.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Why life in Haiti hasn't improved

At the church I now attend, there are a number of members of Haitian descent, some of whom make trips back to Haiti for ministry, and many more of the non-Haitian members go with them.  One thing they note is that things are still pretty bad there.  Now to an extent, that's what the poor country has experienced for well over a century, so it's not completely surprising, but one would have hoped that the combination of the end of the Duvalier dynasty, along with a huge amount of help from around the world in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, would have created noteworthy changes.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case, and one possibility for the cause of the problem appears to be that a--the?--major player in reconstruction is the Clinton Foundation.  Family members of Clinton staffers and friends have gotten plum jobs, funds have been diverted to projects of dubious significance (remember "Whitewater" and "Castle Grande"?), and the like. 

It is exactly what you would expect, I guess, if big and important projects were given not on economic grounds, but on political grounds, and it's an extreme example of the objection many on the right have had to foreign aid for decades.  Specifically, politically directed resources tend to go to politically connected recipients--read "the guys  who caused the problem".

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Naming mountains after Presidents

Apparently the renaming of Mt. Denali as Mt. Denali, as opposed to Mt. McKinley, in Alaska by the President has many people up in arms.  What is less known is that there has been a Mount Obama outside Milford, Nebraska since before the President was even in the Senate.  Here's a picture:

Scenic, no?  Well, not according to the neighbors