Friday, August 08, 2003
"But I feel [the Philosophical Cowboy] has missed a very important point. That is if as he suggests the difference between yes and no is under the amount of non-UK citizens and it is a binding referendum, then the people of Britain would, I believe, react quite badly towards a government that foisted an unwanted change onto the people of Britain in this way. The government would have set it’s face against Britain in such a way that it could never recover. There is no way that moving to the Euro on the sayso of what are undoubted foreigners would be regarded as legitimate, even amongst those who themselves voted yes. It would be fatal, and therefore it would, to a sane government be impossible.
But sadly I also believe that this government misunderstands the country which they so high-handedly govern. This misunderstanding of the nation was most obvious over the fiasco o the lying in state of HM the Queen Mother. There is no sign that they have learnt from that experience, so The ‘Lord Chancellor’ will no doubt carry on with this proposal, strewing discord and antipathy wherever he goes. "
"AN UNPRECEDENTED tabloid war interrupted Washington commuters’ morning snooze this week. Confounding media critics, The Washington Post dispensed with the rather wordy style of its daily broadsheet and sent out distributors in orange vests to ply metro riders with a free, 20-page publication called Express.
A local weekly, the Washington City Paper, hit back with a spoof version called Expresso. Its message was not subtle. It showed two metro passengers hanging on to metal poles in the underground with brain-dead expressions. Above them, a bright red headline declared: “For those who will not read, we salute you.” At the top of the front page, a message promised: “Half the content, twice as free.”
In launching the tabloid, the Post is joining the quest by papers all over the US and elsewhere to attract the elusive 18 to 25-year-old market. It follows in the wake of similar efforts such as Red Streak, which is put out by the Chicago Sun-Times. These free papers are aiming for the same market, although with a racier approach, as Metro in Britain.
But the Post’s media reporter showed little sympathy for the paper’s apparent attempt to target younger Washingtonians looking for a quick read on the subway. “I don’t pretend to get it fully,” Howard Kurtz wrote in a live online chat on the Post’s website this week. “I’ve looked at it and it’s all wire copy.”
Yesterday’s edition had a front-page photograph of talk-show host and comedian Jay Leno interviewing Arnold Schwarzenegger as he announced his plans to run for Governor of California, written by the Associated Press. The same story, written by two of the Post’s reporters, appeared above the fold on the broadsheet’s front page under an almost identical image snapped by the same AP photographer.
“This (launch) was done in part to prevent another company from coming in and cornering the free-tabloid market,” Kurtz wrote. “But I wonder if it will cut into the Post’s paid circulation.”
The rest of the tabloid’s pages were filled with short reports on the top news of the day, all lifted from AP, apart from an entertainment and listing section at the end. “Express is meant to offer a quick recap to get people up to speed in the morning and entertain them a bit,” the tabloid’s managing editor Dan Caccavaro said.
The makers of Expresso (its website has the silly title of www.u-love-expresso.com) showed no mercy. The website carries the front page of the spoof daily with a link promising its readers: “To accommodate your short attention span, you will be redirected automatically in five seconds. Click here if you can’t wait.” "
The main study it examines is one that suggests that we judge our income by comparison to others, but our leisure in absolute terms. I.e. if we're offered $50k a year, and everyone else is on $25k, we'd apparently prefer that to being on $100k with everyone else on double that. Whereas offered 2 weeks holiday when others have one, vs 4 weeks holiday with others getting eight, we choose the latter.
The implication of this is that people earning more money generates negative externalities. A) it makes other people feel bad, and B) comparison with others leads people to work more than they would otherwise do (as they trade in leisure to keep up, but seem to view leisure time as good in absolute terms).
The study therefore suggests that the "distortionary" effect of taxes is desirable, and we should have 30% tax to deal with the "pollution" and 30% to sort out people's preferences to get them back to what they really want. Et voila, a continental 60% tax take...
What the Economist's said
The Economist has sensible objections (e.g. - WHY is this the right number - it could be higher, but could be much lower). It omits another one, which is that the effect on leisure time of tax rates is unclear (covered in the subscription access column of a few weeks ago, looking at the effect of changes in tax rates on work) - basically, it's been suggested that changes in tax rates don't affect many individuals, as they're on fixed week working (e.g. I'm contracted to 35 hours a week). This seems dubious to me, as lots of salaried staff work overtime without being paid for it directly (OK, I do...) but have a reasonable expectation that this will impact on future salary through promotion, raises, etc.
But I like big buts
But the analysis mainly flounders as it omits both a moral and a practical factor.
The practical issue (again, from their own column) is that cutting marginal taxes "usually means a lower average tax rate too. So people will not have to work so hard to reach the same level of income after a tax cut as they did before. If this “income” effect outweighs the substitution effect, people will work less hard and pay less tax. " Conversely, if someone nearly doubled my tax to 60%, I suspect the immediate impact is I'd have to work a lot harder to afford where I'm living, what I do, etc. I.e. the prescription may be part of the disease.
Indeed, there's some evidence of this in practice. I don't have the citation, though I'm pretty sure it's again from the Economist. But there's an idea floating about that France's 35 hour week and general restrictive labour laws are a really problem from an employee's point of view, as well as that of businesses and the unemployed. Basically, if your employer won't hire more people because of their cost, and you only have 35 hours to get things done in, your weekly work is becoming harder and harder with each new labour law brought in. Thus creating a lobby for more restrictive labour laws... This may not be entirely true, though would fit with France's very high labour productivity per hour worked. A limit on how many hours I can work has a similar effect to a limit on what I can earn for each hour worked: I work harder, just in a slightly different way.
But the main issue is a moral one. Let us stipulate that there are negative externalities from me working an extra 10 hours a week - I make X number of people feel bad, and I also substitute some leisure time I'd probably have rather not given up. So what?
Lots of rights have the potential for negative externalities. Without even being nasty, my use of my right to free speech can see myriads of your pleasing illusions shattered, destroying your happiness. I can act in innumberable ways that can make you uncomfortable or unhappy - I have a moral obligation to be a good neighbour, but the right not to (within obvious limits); I can drive you out of business by building a better mousetrap; my less reputable mates can date your daughter or woo away your significant other; I can advocate political positions you consider reprehensible (just ask me). And whilst I probably wouldn't do most of those, I pretty much have the right to, and the government doesn't get to stop me just because it would make you sad.
So why do you get to take 30% of my income just because me exercising my right to work as and where I can find useful things to do, just because it makes you want to work harder? There are certain "negative externalities" that shouldn't be compared to things like pumping oil into a river, noise next door, etc - they're not even the same ball game.
I think it's fair to say (correct me if I'm wrong) you get to complain about a negative externality if it reduces the value of your property or that you extract from some right of yours. But just because me working harder can cause you to value your leisure less, doesn't mean you should tax me - after all, on that rationale, Martin Luther should have been hit with a 90% tax to pay for the Protestant work ethic...
"Samples ... were mailed to me in small plastic baggies, which were in turn packaged in a plain brown envelope. As I opened this package, having forgotten what I ordered, possibilities buzzed through my brain. Anthrax? (That would be quite unlucky.) High-quality cocaine? (That would be quite lucky.) And then the realization that this was, in fact, dirt. (Ah, yes, that seems just about my luck.)"
Yes, of testing vacuum cleaners using "standard" dirt...
Thursday, August 07, 2003
"Every month Expeditors International of Washington, Inc. files a Form 8-K with answers to questions it receives from Wall Street analysts. What makes these Expeditors 8-Ks so unusual is that Expeditors' plainly-written answers often evince a cruel delight in skewering stupid questions.
In "Nothing Like Public Humiliation," Bill Mann of The Motley Fool explains the Expeditors phenomenon:
The company has revenues of approximately $2 billion per year, plenty of cash, no debt whatsoever, and minimal capital-investment requirements. In other words, Expeditors International has very little use for Wall Street's investment banking services. What's great for the rest of us is that they have no problem at all saying so. In public filings.
Expeditors' monthly 8-K filings are cult classics, as anxiously awaited as Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway letter or Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. OK, not really, but people look forward to them.
In its latest Form 8-K Q&A session, Expeditors answered the following question apparently submitted by a Bear Stearns analyst:
We have been trying to set up a visit to come see senior management at Expeditors in Seattle for over two months now and no one from Expeditors will return our many phone calls or emails. Are you too busy to respond to the sell side? Are you afraid the sell side’s tarnish may somehow rub off on Expeditors? Or are we having this problem for the first time in the over five years we have covered Expeditors as a result of our current sell rating?
We were surprised to get a question like this and we spent some amount of time trying to decide whether or not you really wanted an answer. It was possible, after all, that this was really just another effort to get the appointment you have been seeking. But, then as you say it has been 5 years and so could we be safe in assuming that you know that a question like this one would be impossible to ignore?
So we were left wondering whether you knew us or not. We frankly still aren’t sure and fear that we may be making a mistake, but we are going to answer anyway.
Let’s start with the fact that for a couple of months we have been ignoring your calls and emails. This is true. Your calls and emails requesting a visit have been ignored. The message is one that any seventeen-year-old boy would understand; you are not going to get your date. We were hoping not to have to give reasons, but we certainly wanted you to get the message: no date.
We could stop here, and most seventeen-year-old girls likely would, but your question sets forth numerous incorrect assumptions as to why we aren’t giving you the time and attention you seek. Each is incorrect and for the sake of other sell-side analysts and interested readers, we want to deal with each one in turn. . . ."
"BUST-UP JORDAN ARRESTED
Top heavy model Jordan has been arrested - after a jelly wrestling contest.
The busty glamour girl had been out celebrating victory when she allegedly punched another clubber in the face.
The drunken reveller had grabbed onto Jordan's artificially-inflated breasts to stop herself falling over after stumbling, the Daily Mirror reported.
Jordan, 28, went voluntarily to Sutton Coldfield police station where she was arrested and bailed to return on July 5.
The star's manager, Dave Reid, denied the allegations, saying Jordan had been attacked.
The mother-of-one had been jelly wrestling with another model at a motor show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham."
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
"This article from the Associated Press fleshes out the theory that Saddam had actually shuttered his WMD programs but intentionally kept the world guessing to produce the deterrent effect of having people believe he still had them.
He may even have put out disinformation to get people to believe the programs were still underway. Actually, it's more than a theory. The story is based on the testimony of a close aide who says this is what happened.
Who knows if this true? But I will say that it jibes with a lot of chatter I've heard back from Iraq in the last couple months. And it explains some key questions -- in particular, some supposed evidence of WMD from just before the war which it's been clear for some time was disinformation from the Iraqis. ...
Frankly, it shows that, if nothing else, Ken Pollack was right about one thing: Saddam could be a pretty big idiot. Remember, one of Pollack's main arguments was that Saddam had a propensity to miscalculate. So I think you can say that Pollack had that one pretty much right -- only perhaps with slightly different consequences than expected.
Apparently Saddam was the only person in the universe last Spring who didn't know the fix was in on regime change.
And, I've gotta ask. Those uranium document forgeries? Could they have come from ...? No, couldn't be."
"This guy could have been much better. I love the idea of a villain who's really, really absorbing. The Avengers stop him in the middle of a bank robbery or something, and he starts telling them about the band he's going to start, or something that happened over spring break, and the heroes just get really caught up in what he's saying. And before they know it, a couple hours have gone by! And they're late for something! But no, he just has the power to turn into whatever substance he touches. Feh"
"At this point, I make a gesture and smack the apprentice up the backside of the head: "Don't you SEE!?" It's all right there in front of you. Nothing is hidden."
"This is the Guide the scammers don't want you to read!
On 25th July three scammers "bought" 99 copies
of this Guide to shut me down - it's that good!
This is a regular 5 day auction,
but you can Buy It Now for £4.99 or US$8.00
See the links at the end of the description
There are major scams in progress today in
HOME THEATRE, PLASMA TV, DIGITAL CAMERAS, CAMCORDERS, MAC POWERBOOKS, MOBILE PHONES & MORE!
How much are YOU prepared to lose?
£500? £1500? £2500? More?
If you've never encountered a rogue Seller
on eBay and think you can easily avoid the scams,
if you understand why restricted bid lists are used,
if you think Western Union money transfers are risk free,
if you think that credit card companies will refund your losses
or if you think £4.99 is too much for self-protection
READ NO FURTHER!
And now I'm eating half-price ice-cream from the container, with TV offering the Bill, ER and Teachers. Yum
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Apparently, in Austria their money would already be safe:
""An Austrian court has ordered a casino to pay damages to a man who lost 2.5 million euro at their tables.
The 40-year-old, who was a regular player at Velden casino, will receive half a million euro.
He frequently spent whole nights playing at seven tables simultaneously, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports.
He lost the money during a five year spell but then sued the casino citing Austrian gambling legislation.
It obliges casinos to stop people from playing if they have reason to believe they cannot afford it.
The court ruled the casino had neglected it duties, citing an incident in which the man himself had asked to be banned form gambling, then later had the ban removed again.
Casinos Austria, which owns the Velden casino, now has to pay 499,000 euro in damages.""
"Dziennik Polski, out of Krakow, reports W Iraku bez zmian - which could fairly be translated as "All Quiet on the Iraqi Front": no recent attacks on American soldiers, just the burial of Uday and Qusay - and Paul Bremer making all that he can out of the 30 million dollar payment and whisking out of the country of the person who fingered the Hussein sons, and his (was it a "he"?) family. Twenty-six Baath Party soldiers arrested; 166 grenades, ten Kalashnikovs, 200 million Iraqi dinars (= around $120,000) and other useful military stuff captured in connection with these arrests; a special medical group sent by the American military to Iraq to investigate the outbreaks of pneumonia there, which have already killed two American soldiers and caused fifteen to be evacuated to American military hospitals in Germany.
So it's a quiet time in the Polish press, as the soldiers prepare to actually fly away. Here's hoping that it remains largely quiet; no news is probably good news. But, if there is interesting news in this area, I'll try to let you know what it is."
Via the widely linking Cecile Dubios, who seems to know the addresses of many sites...
Via the usual
"Another definition of ironic for Alanis to learn.
Reporters Without Borders reports on human rights abuses worldwide.
30 of the world's top human rights abusers are on the UN Human Rights Commission.
Today, the UN Human Rights Commission stripped Reporters Without Borders of it's consultative status with the Commission.
Decoding the profanity of James Lileks."
Monday, August 04, 2003
"Jon's theory on choosing a lady:
"You've only got one prize to pick and you know there are, say, 30 prizes on the conveyor belt. They are coming through one at a time and what makes you press the button to stop the conveyor belt and say, "I want that prize?" 'I think the mathematical way of doing it is to look at the first ten items - the first third. Then, the first thing you see out of the next two-thirds that is better than anything you have seen before, get that. Because if the first ten items are spread evenly on the good or bad scale, then you will get a couple of things in the 90 per cent area. 'It's unlikely you are going to get the 100 per cent best item in your first third of the sample. So you choose the best thing in the next two-thirds which is better than you have seen before. You're going to get something pretty good.""
Via Public Interest
"Gays are disproportionately childless, and childless people are more likely to smoke.
As a matter of fact, childless households (whether gay or straight) spend, on average, 56 percent more on cigarettes and alcohol than their childbearing neighbors. (Among households where the parents have some education, the discrepancy is even larger.) Nor is there anything mysterious about why. First, parents have extra reasons to live long and stay healthy, both so they can be there when their kids need them and so they can enjoy the company of their grandchildren. Second, parents have extra expenses—starting with diapers and continuing through college tuition—that leave less disposable income for cigarettes. Third, a lot of parents don't like the idea of smoking in front of their children.
That alone might be enough to explain why perfectly rational gays (along with perfectly rational childless straights) smoke more than their neighbors. But family size is not the only dimension in which gays—particularly those gays who identify themselves as such to pollsters—are different from straights. The openly gay face some social opprobrium. So do smokers. Maybe it's not too surprising, then, that out-of-the-closet gays and out-of-the-closet smokers are disproportionately the same people. (You can imagine the possibilities: "Now that my parents have learned to deal with my gayness, I might as well tell them I smoke.") "
What's set me off this time? Well, apparently they're considering letting citizens of other EU nations (apart from the Irish, who have the vote anyway) living here vote in any Euro referendum. The what now?
"The Department for Constitutional Affairs, which is drawing up the bill, said EU citizens were already allowed to vote in local and European elections in this country. The government has to choose whether to base the euro referendum on that model, or on the more limited electoral roll used in general elections, where people from other EU countries are excluded from the vote.
There are more than 725,000 people from elsewhere in the EU living in the UK, with the number set to increase dramatically once the union is enlarged from 15 to 25 member states next year.
Michael Howard, shadow chancellor, said: "This is a measure of how desperate the government has become in its attempts to cajole the public into the euro."
The extra voters would represent a fraction of those balloted, but any suggestion the government was trying to skew the balance would be seized on by the eurosceptic opposition. An official at the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: "We might decide to allow EU citizens living in this country to vote. But a decision has not been taken yet."
A Whitehall insider said: "They're allowed to vote in local elections. You might say Europeans do have a vested interest in voting in the European elections. The same could be said to apply for a euro referendum.""
It seems to me that the vested interest is precisely the problem. Potentially, the deciding margin could be made up entirely of foreigners, and you don't have to be xenophobic to have problems with that idea (but it helps...).
Assume that 600,000 of them are over 18, that 75% vote, that 90% vote for the Euro. They would contribute 45,000 votes against, and 405,000 for. *
There are approximately 44.4m registered voters in the UK. At the last general election, there was a 59% turnout. Let's call it 70%, on the assumption lots of people go to the polls: that's 31m voters. The net 360,000 "pro" votes I've stipulated would be over 1% of turnout.
Now, I agree that's a tiny percentage. But if there's a yes vote, it's unlikely to be by a large margin. So a reasonable turnout among European voters, with a heavy pro-Euro vote, could swing things. It's not the biggest risk out there, but it seems this a decision we should be allowed to make for ourselves.
But hey, it's not like someone hasn't written up the story in advance: the ludicrous Aachen Memorandum was based on the premise that a referendum was rigged by setting the polling machines in advance in one area to register votes the other way around. The margin? Well, the vote was 50.5% to 49.5%.... Here, have a free synopsis of the lunacy...
"May 2nd 2045.Lestoq,an overweight, asthmatic, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford,working for the Times, wakes up with a hangover and the sexiest secret policewoman in Europol. In the course of the next week he discovers that Aachen Referendum which ratified the Aachen Treaty of Complete Union and thus createdthe European superstate thirty years before,was rigged by a conspiracy within the European Commission. The Union is now xenophobic,corrupt and tyrannical. The royal family left Britain in 2016,and King William V of New Zealand is returning to London to make a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of VE day. Lestoq has to get evidence of the referendum rigging-the Aachen Memorandum-to the king for him to tell the world in a huge rally at Hyde Park. No easy task,as a dark family secret,a murdered father and meetings with the English Resistance Movement are only a few of the obstacles which stand in his way..."
* Note that I've a) assumed a heavy turnout, partly due to higher voting in many EU countries than here, though the effort of registering may discourage voting, and
b) I've assumed a heavy pro-Euro bias, on the grounds that people living "abroad" are more likely to be pro the "integration" kick. As opposed to fleeing highly regulated economies...
Sunday, August 03, 2003
The premise of Rentacoder is simple: if you need a computer job carried out — a site designed, a program written, a database created — you put it up for tender on the website. Freelance developers read your request, ask questions and name their price for completing the project. You make the choice, sign a contract and wait for the software — all online.
Rentacoder has a complex set of safeguards to prevent either side being ripped off: clients pay their money into a secure account to guarantee their good faith and there is an arbitration panel in case the buyer claims the coder did not do the job properly. At heart, though, Rentacoder is a raw, undiluted free market.
The site has certainly attracted an odd mix of potential clients. Most of the bids seem to be either teenagers trying to palm off their computer-science homework for £20, or overoptimistic entrepreneurs looking for someone to design their entire business for less than a grand. You are not going to see BP put out tenders here any time soon.
Yet, those £20 cheats and £1,000 cheapskates are finding plenty of takers for their business. Somehow, there is always one programmer around offering to do big projects for a few hundred pounds and to take the small change off the underaged.
How can this be? The simple answer is most of the bidders are from developing countries, mainly India and the former Soviet Union. Over there, £20 is a great wage for a few hours’ work and a few thousand is six months’ salary. Rentacoder may be a cheapo dive for westerners, but it is a staple income to the rest of the world. "