Quotulatiousness

March 28, 2015

Is Clean Reader a form of censorship?

Filed under: Business,Law,Liberty,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow are both professional writers, both write science fiction and near-future stories along with contributing to magazines and other publications. They both have strong feelings about a new app called Clean Reader, which “sanitizes” eBooks by bowdlerizing the text on the fly to allow sensitive (or neo-Victorian) readers to avoid getting the vapours by being exposed to foul language. Charlie thinks this violates the writer’s Moral rights:

Mangling an author’s text is a clear violation of the author’s Moral rights, an element of copyright which is very weak in the United States and very strong elsewhere (primarily in civil law jurisdictions). (The moral right is the right of an author to be identified as the creator of a work, and for the work represented as their creation to be unaltered by other hands, so that the relationship between creator and created work is clear.) Mangling an author’s text may be legal or illegal in the USA, depending on whether it occurs before or after sale. After all, I can’t stop you buying one of my books and editing it with a sharpie: it’s a physical object and according to the first sale doctrine, it’s yours to do with as you wish. I may be able to legally stop you modifying an ebook, though: ebooks are not sold but a limited license to download and use them is granted in exchange for money — a fine legal distinction that was borrowed from the software business’s tame sharks — and that limited license may permit or deny such usage.

Clean Reader claim to get around this by (a) being a licensed distributor (they provide the app and sell books for it sourced from PageFoundry, a distributor who back-end onto various publishers), and (b) the censorship is performed on the reader device by the reader app, once the book has been purchased and downloaded. There’s a bunch of case law around whether or not it’s legal to do this to movie rentals or downloads, or legal to skip advertisements in recorded programming on your TiVo—it gets murky fast. But let’s suppose they’re right and what they’re doing (“protect the children! At any cost! From naughty words like ‘breast’ and ‘fuck’!”) is legal.

Speaking as an author who deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader’s blue-nosed and over-protective parents (hint: I write for adults — if you don’t think my books are suitable for your or your child’s tender eyes, don’t buy them), what can I do about this?

On the other hand, Cory also hates it but will “defend to the death your right to censor”:

It’s a truism of free expression that if you only defend speech you agree with, you don’t believe in free expression. That doesn’t mean you have to defend the content of the expression: it means you have to support the right of people to say stupid, awful things. You can and should criticize the stupid, awful things. It’s the distinction between the right to express a stupid idea, and the stupidity of the idea itself.

I think Clean Reader is stupid. I think parents who want to ensure that their kids don’t see profanity have fucked up priorities.

I think readers should be allowed to skip my foreword and author bio. I think they should be able to search out their favorite passages and read them out of order.

I think racist readers should be allowed to make an index of “scenes that racists find disturbing,” so that other racists can avoid them. I think those racists are fools and worse for doing it, and I will condemn them if they do. I just won’t say they’re not allowed to do it. A rule that says this kind of list is prohibited would also prohibit a the same list, compiled by anti-racist activists, under the heading, “Scenes with which to annoy racists.”

Shortly after putting this post together on Friday, I got a link from John Lennard to this article in the Guardian:

The Clean Reader app, launched by a couple in Idaho in the US, has announced that after significant feedback from authors, many of whom did not want their work being sold in connection with the app, it has “taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue”.

Clean Reader set out to enable customers to, in its own words, “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.

Profanities such as “fucking” and “fucker” became “freaking” and “idiot”, “hell” became “heck” and “shit” became “crap”, according to an analysis of the app by Jennifer Porter. It was not only swear words that Clean Reader scrubbed out of books: Porter, who ran a series of romance novels through the app, found that body parts were also replaced. “Penis” became “groin”, “vagina” was swapped for “bottom” and “breast” changed to “chest”. Exclamations such as “Jesus Christ” became “geez”, “piss” became “pee”, “bitch” became “witch” and “blowjob” was switched with the euphemistic “pleasure”.

Update: Added the link to Cory Doctorow’s post at Boing Boing.

March 25, 2015

Reason.tv – Sports Stadiums Are Bad Public Investments. So Why Are Cities Still Paying for Them?

Published on 17 Mar 2015

“Anybody that drives around Southern California can tell you the infrastructure is falling apart,” says Joel Kotkin, a fellow of urban studies at Chapman University and author of the book The New Class Conflict. “And then we’re going to give money so a bunch of corporate executives can watch a football game eight times a year? It’s absurd.”

When the Inglewood City Council voted unanimously to approve a $1.8 billion stadium plan on February 24th, hundreds of football fans in attendance cheered for the prospect of a team finally returning to the Los Angeles area.

On it’s face, the deal for the city of Inglewood is unprecedented — Rams owner Stan Kroenke has agreed to finance construction of the stadium entirely with private funds. The deal makes the stadium one of the most expensive facilities ever built and is an oddity in the sports world, where most stadiums require millions in public dollars to be constructed.

And while the city still waits to hear if it will indeed inherit an NFL team, the progress on the new privately-funded Inglewood stadium has set off a bidding war between other cities that are offering up millions in public subsidies to keep (or attract) pro-sports franchises to their area.

St. Louis has proposed a billion dollar waterfront stadium financed with $400 million in tax money to keep the Rams in Missouri. And the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have unveiled a plan to turn a former landfill in Carson, California, into a $1.7 billion stadium to keep the Rams from encroaching on their turf. While full details of the plan have yet to be released, it’s been reported that the financing would be similar to the San Francisco 49er’s deal in Santa Clara, which saw the team receive $621 million in construction loans paid for with public money.

Even the fiscally conservative Scott Walker is not immune to the stadium spending craze. The Wisconsin governor wants to allocate $220 million in public bonds to keep the Milwaukee Bucks basketball franchise in the area. Walker has dubbed the financing scheme as the “Pay Their Way” plan, but professional sports teams rarely pay their fair share when it comes to stadiums and instead use public money to generate private revenue.

Pacific Standard magazine has reported that in the last 20 years, the U.S. has opened 101 new sports facilities and stadium finance experts say that almost all of them have received public funding totaling billions of dollars. Politicians generally rationalize this expense by stating that stadiums will generate economic revenue and job opportunities for the city, but Kotkin says those promises are rarely realized.

“I think this is sort of a fanciful approach towards economic development instead of building really good jobs. And except for the construction, the jobs created by stadia are generally low wage occasional work.”

“The important thing that we’ve forgotten is ‘What is the purpose of a government?'” asks Kotkin. “Cities instead of fixing their schools, fixing their roads or fixing their sewers or fixing their water are putting money into ephemera like stadia. And in the end, what’s more important?”

The juggling act of mothers in the workforce

Filed under: Business,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Federalist, Nichole Russell agrees that it is nearly impossible to “have it all” (a real career and a family) … at the same time, anyway:

The conversation about mothers in the workforce seems to be at once continuous and clamoring. Rarely does a working mother nail the problem and solution without sounding too whiny or too arrogant. Yet a recent commentary in Forbes comes as close to any as I have seen recently, complete with some eyebrow-raising admissions. If more men and women — parents and CEOs — viewed this exhausting issue with such clarity, perhaps we could finally work towards a solution.

In the piece, succinctly titled, “Female Company President: I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with,” Katharine Zaleski recounts how, while employed in high-powered editorial positions at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, she regularly scoffed at the work ethic of other women just because they were mothers, either mentally or by failing to support the decisions they made related to work and family.

She reveals this penitent anecdote: “I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her ‘commitment’ even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day.”

What’s just as surprising as her admission that she evaluated a mother’s work-related achievements on a different scale than she did other employees is the equally important truth that the workforce isn’t just a tough place for moms because of their male bosses. “For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts – and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives. I didn’t realize this – or how horrible I’d been – until five years later, when I gave birth to a daughter of my own.”

Zaleski goes on to discuss how she lamented her status as a new mom and employee only briefly before she determined to find a solution, both for her daughter so she wouldn’t feel “trapped” and other moms facing the same struggle. She wound up co-founding a startup called PowertoFly that matches women in technical positions they can do from home.

While many conservatives and liberals alike might call this an abandonment of the feminist theory, I think it actually expresses the heart of feminism — not radical left-wing feminism, but one of the few Oprah gems I agree with: “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”

March 22, 2015

National Review columnist says Obama is right and his critics are wrong … about the TPP negotiations

I’m a very strong free-trader, but what I’ve heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations makes me feel that it’s less to do with any kind of free trade and much more to do with “managed” trade, where favoured companies get sweetheart deals and cronies get their cut of the action. In spite of that, National Review‘s Kevin Williamson says we should all hold our noses and follow behind President Obama and sign the TPP so we can find out what’s in it, so everyone can get their free unicorn … or something:

If there were $3 trillion sitting on the sidewalk, would you stoop to pick it up? That is the main question facing advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed treaty to liberalize trade and investment among a dozen nations including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, and Japan — and the trade-and-investment accord’s antagonists, too.

“The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy,” writes TPP critic Paul Krugman in the New York Times. That may seem a strange sentiment for a man who won the Nobel Prize in economics (*) for his work on trade — perhaps the Sveriges Riksbank exaggerated the importance of trade economics? — but Professor Krugman has a point. The effects of large-scale international accords in trade and other economic areas are difficult to forecast, and such deals interact with other economic realities in ways that are not always entirely obvious. When NAFTA was under consideration, we were warned about that infamous “giant sucking sound” by Ross Perot and other protectionists, while the free-traders predicted that the accord would prove a massive boon to the U.S. economy, as well as to those of Mexico and Canada. The reality, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office and others, is that NAFTA has had a small positive effect on U.S. economic growth. Human progress is made up mostly of small positive effects. Beware policymakers offering dramatic promises: As Daniel Hannan points out, those advocating the adoption of the euro promised that it would add 1 percent GDP growth to each participating nation in perpetuity and that it would also provide a check on political extremism — wrong and wrong.

The dispute over TPP finds Barack Obama at odds both with congressional Democrats and with progressive activists, and making uncomfortably common cause with the most reliable partisans of free trade: most everybody who hates his guts.

Some Republicans have reservations about investing the president with “fast track” authority — meaning that he would be empowered to negotiate a deal that would then get a simple yes/no vote in Congress, which turns out to have a say in international affairs after all — because they are mindful of this imperial president’s habitual infliction of violence on the Constitution and of his seething contempt of the legislative branch in which he served for approximately eleven minutes. But it is unlikely that Republicans will in the end say no to a trade deal.

Professor Krugman’s case against TPP is, in brief, “meh.” He offers very little in the way of substantive criticism of the proposed accord, instead pooh-poohing it as modest, something that might add no more than 0.5 percent, and probably not even that, to the incomes of the participating nations. Those nations represent more than one third of the world’s economic output, though. Brad DeLong of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth addresses Professor Krugman’s sniffing directly: What if the additional growth were only half that 0.5 percent number? “In a Pacific region whose GDP is now approaching $30 trillion/year,” he writes, “that is $75 billion/year. Capitalize that at 4 percent/year and we get a net addition to world wealth of $3 trillion. That is indeed a very small number relative to the wealth of the world both now and discounted into the future. But that is a rather large number compared to other things the U.S. government might do this year. So why not grab for it?”

March 13, 2015

US corporate welfare by state

Filed under: Business,Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Reason posted an infographic showing which corporation gets the most state support for every state in the union:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

March 11, 2015

“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background”

Filed under: Business,Gaming — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

I’d expect some legal action is pending over this little contracting embarrassment for Undead Labs:

Undead Lab’s State of Decay became a cult hit when it released back in 2013. Last year, the developer announced State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition. This updated iteration packs in previously released DLC along with a 1080p graphical overhaul. And once the visuals became clearer, developer Undead Labs realized their contracted help for the game hid an abundance of phalluses in the game.

While working on State of Decay, Undead Labs hired contractors to help build some of the backgrounds. For reasons unknown, those contractors scattered a collage of genitalia across the backgrounds. However, the original version of the game was a low enough resolution that the naughty bits flew under the testing radar.

“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background,” says Geoffrey Card, senior designer at Undead Labs in an interview with XBLA Fans.

H/T to John Ryan for the link.

March 9, 2015

Net neutering … now it’s time to repent at leisure

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Business,Government,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Matt Walsh has a message for all those net neutrality warriors doing their fist-bumps of triumph:

Dear Net Neutrality Proponents,

You dear, sweet buffoons.

I know you’re quite impressed that the Federal Communications Commission just passed a sweeping set of regulations granting themselves control over the Internet. President Barack Obama considers this a glorious victory. Liberals and Democrats across the land are delighted. Even some corners of cyber space — the ones populated by masochists and nincompoops — are cheering loudly, excited to finally be under the jurisdiction of an enormous federal bureaucracy. Hallelujah!

Now, Gullible Americans, I realize that you think you’ve just been once again liberated from the shackles of the free market and whisked away to a fanciful land where Father Government makes sure everything is nice and fair and everyone is sharing their toys like good boys and girls. I know you are under this impression. I mean, I can’t blame you. It’s right there in the title. They call it “Net Neutrality,” for goodness sake! It’s neutral! Neutral means fair! Fair Internet! Who can quibble with a fair Internet! Only big bad corporations and their right wing minions, you think. Fox News and the Koch Brothers and Lex Luthor and other scary names.

The FCC tells us that Net Neutrality will give us a free and open Internet by granting them the power to regulate it under laws that were written 60 years before the Internet existed as a common household service. Consumers need to be protected from the possibility that Internet providers will block traffic to certain sites, or set up paid prioritization systems for consumers or web services who pay more. That’s what this is all about, you think. The FCC is looking out for the little guy again.

Good old FCC, always fighting for truth, justice, and bureaucratic control.

But, see, this is where I need you to stop and think, Gullible Americans. It’s too late now, but I need you to finally try to learn something here. The government is not the knight in shining armor you think it is — even when it’s run by Democrats.

March 6, 2015

Politicians spend your money and hope some of the glamour attaches to them

Filed under: Business,Government,Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer wonders why so many states and cities are so eager to throw taxpayer money at movie and TV productions:

I am always amazed that the media will credulously run stories against “corporate welfare” for oil companies (which usually mostly includes things like LIFO accounting and investment tax credits that are not oil industry specific) but then beg and plead for us taxpayers to subsidize movie producers.

I wish I understood the reason for the proliferation of government subsidies for film production. Is it as simple as politicians wanting to hobnob with Hollywood types? Our local papers often go into full sales mode for sports team subsidies, but that is understandable from a bottom-line perspective — sports are about the only thing that sells dead-tree papers any more, and so more local sports has a direct benefit on local newspapers. Is it the same reasoning for proposed subsidies for Hollywood moguls?

Whatever the reason, our local paper made yet another pitch for throwing tax dollars at movie producers

    Notwithstanding a recent flurry of Super Bowl-related documentaries and commercials that got 2015 off to a good start, Arizona appears to be falling behind in a competitive and lucrative business. The entertainment industry pays well, supports considerable indirect employment and offers the chance for cities and states to shine on a global stage.

Seriously? I am sure setting up the craft table pays better than catering a party at my home, but it is a job that lasts 2 months and is then gone. Ditto everything else on the production. And I am sick of the “shines on the world stage thing.” Who cares? And is this really even true? The movie Chicago was filmed in Toronto — did everyone who watched Chicago suddenly want to go to Toronto? The TV animated series Archer gets a big subsidy from the state of Georgia. Have they even mentioned Georgia in the series? Given the tone of the show, would they even want to be mentioned?

When government subsidizes an industry, it is explicitly saying that resources are better and more productively invested in the subsidized industry than in other industries in which the money would have been spent in a free market. Does the author really have evidence that the money I would have spent to improve the campgrounds we operate in Arizona is better taken from me and spent to get a Hollywood movie shot here instead? Which investment will still be here 6 months from now?

Las Vegas, home to “the country’s most developed surveillance state”

Filed under: Business,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle recently visited Las Vegas and her reactions were recorded pretty much everywhere she went:

So this weekend, I went to Las Vegas for the first time. I’m not much of a gambler — I quit playing when they raise the minimums past $5 — but there’s enough of a theme-park aspect to the place that a few friends and I managed to have a terrific time. Two things immediately stand out to the libertarian visitor: In some ways, it has the most liberty of any place in the U.S. — and it also has the country’s most developed surveillance state.

First, the libertarian aspects: All sorts of things that aren’t allowed in normal cities are positively encouraged on the Vegas strip — gambling, obviously, but also things such as drinking and smoking in public. The casinos still allow smoking, and every bar is happy to give you a to-go cup if you don’t want to linger. I’m a little old for all-day drinking, but I did wander around an arcade with a frozen margarita, reveling in my newfound freedom.

[…]

Now for the creepy aspects: There are cameras everywhere. In the casinos, obviously, but also on the streetlights, the walls and every overhang. When I asked the cab driver whether there was much crime on the Strip, he laughed and pointed to the cameras. “No crime,” he said. “No point. Cameras everywhere.”

So I left Vegas with a question: Is the friendly police state the price of the freedom to drink and gamble with abandon? Whatever your position on vice industries, they are heavily associated with crime, even where they are legal. Drinking makes people both violent and vulnerable; gambling presents an almost irresistible temptation to cheating and theft. Las Vegas has Disneyfied libertinism. But to do so, it employs armies of security guards and acres of surveillance cameras that are always and everywhere recording your every move.

This is a question I’ve asked myself before, funnily enough, when arguing with anarcho-capitalists. For those who do not follow the ins and outs of libertarian sectarianism, anarcho-capitalists want to replace the state with private institutions, with insurance companies and private security forces substituting for most current government functions. But when I’ve probed into the actual mechanics of this, I’ve often found that anarcho-capitalists end up describing something unpleasantly like a police state, only not called “the government” — like giving insurance companies and private police forces the ability to perform warrantless at-will searches in order to prosecute crimes. One way or another, society is going to protect itself against theft and violence, rape and murder, and putting those tools in the hands of private parties causes much the same trouble as they do in the hands of the police.

March 4, 2015

The odd secular religion of Corporation Theology

Filed under: Business,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle on the weird things some people can believe:

I got a lot of responses to my post last week on Wal-Mart’s decision to raise the minimum wage many of its employees earn to $10 an hour next year. One variety of response stood out: the folks who said “Wal-Mart is doing this because it’s good for its business.”

It stood out because it is almost right, but not quite. The correct statement is that “Wal-Mart is doing this because it thinks it’s good for its business.” Never ignore the possibility that Wal-Mart could be completely wrong.

I remark on this because some of the arguments I saw verged upon what I’ve come to think of as “corporation theology”: the belief that if a corporation is doing something, that thing must be incredibly profitable. This is no less of a faith-based statement than the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Yet it is surprisingly popular among commentators, not just on the right, but also on the left.

[…]

This left-wing writer was evincing considerably more faith than I have in the American corporation. Corporations do dumb stuff all the time — for decades, even. Moreover, advertising has multiple purposes. It can of course induce you to consume more of a product, but frankly, no matter how much Pepperidge Farm advertises, it’s probably not going to dramatically increase America’s consumption of prepackaged cookies. So why does it advertise? Because it wants you to choose a Milano instead of an Oreo or one of them newfangled biscotti.

This is corporation theology. Of course, you also see it on the right — arguments that if some product were good or desirable, a corporation would already have provided it. The entire history of human progress argues against this theory.

As these two examples suggest, corporation theology gets trimmed to personal and ideological convenience, as all theologies often are: A liberal is capable of simultaneously believing that market failures abound in industries he or she would like to regulate, and also that Costco knows how to run Wal-Mart’s labor policy better than Wal-Mart does; a conservative, the inverse. Both are wrong. Corporations, like all human institutions, are great engines for making mistakes. The only reason they seem so competent is that companies who make too many mistakes go out of business, and we don’t have them around for comparison.

March 3, 2015

“Sugar Baby U”

Filed under: Business,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

With US university tuition on its never-ending rise, some students are taking a rather different approach to funding their education … but everyone assures us that it isn’t actually prostitution:

The average student-loan debt is approaching $30,000. That is to say, of the 70 percent of college students who borrow to pay all or some of their college expenses, the average student left college about $28,400 in the hole in 2013, according to USNews.

This alarming number has triggered a spate of news stories about female college students who are so panicked, so morally freewheeling, or both, that they are seeking the services of “sugar daddies”: older, well-fixed men who yearn to sponsor the academic careers of young college-age women in return for the sheer pleasure of spending time in the company of one of those youthful but impecunious “sugar babies.” (No, it’s not prostitution, everyone involved insists!)

[…]

Nonetheless, would-be Holly Golightlys ought to be wary of claims that the sugar-baby lifestyle will make pursuing that B.A. in art history entirely cost-free. For one thing, the entity that seems to the biggest promoter of the sugaring-one’s-way-through-college phenomenon is none other than SeekingArrangement itself, apparently the world’s largest sugar broker, with a claimed 3.6 million members. A promotional video uploaded onto YouTube by Seeking Arrangements in January 2015 touts “Sugar Baby University” with images of gorgeous young ladies who seem to be majoring in mascara, one of whom is being handed a sheaf of C-notes as she sits at her laptop. “Take out loans and eat ramen,” says the voice-over, “or get a sugar daddy and live the life you’ve always wanted. Sugar Baby U. is the place “where beautiful, ambitious people graduate debt-free,” the voice continues.

SeekingArrangement’s motives in seeking maximum numbers of enrollees in Sugar Baby U. who are also enrollees at real universities are blindingly clear: College-age women — almost always in their early twenties — are the most desirable age group for men seeking less-than-serious liaisons. (Google “coed porn,” and you’ll see what I mean.)

But the competition for those well-heeled older men willing to foot the bill for a lovely young thing to “live the lifestyle” she’s “always wanted” turns out to be quite stiff. SeekingArrangement’s home page advertises that there are “8 sugar babies per sugar daddy” — not a hopeful-sounding ratio.

“Residual” racism and the breakdown of the African-American family

Filed under: Business,Law,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Reason, Steve Chapman looks at the tangle of issues still causing problems for African-Americans in the United States:

The breakdown of the black family is a sensitive topic, though it’s not new and it’s not in dispute. President Barack Obama, who grew up with an absent father, often urges black men to be responsible parents.

Nor is there any doubt that African-American children would be better off living with their married parents. Kids who grow up in households headed by a single mother are far more likely than others to be poor, quit school, get pregnant as teens and end up in jail.

[…]

It’s true that whites don’t force blacks to have children out of wedlock. But it’s wrong to suggest that whites bear no responsibility. Poverty is often the result of lack of access to good jobs or any jobs, and discrimination by employers didn’t stop in 1965 — and hasn’t stopped yet.

The impact of drug laws, and the harsher treatment black men get from the criminal justice system, means that many have records that scare employers away. But research indicates that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to get interviews than blacks without criminal records.

A lot of the well-paid blue-collar jobs once abundant in cities have vanished. Moynihan lamented that unemployment had long been much higher for black men than for whites, and the gap is bigger today.

Without decent jobs, these men are not likely to be able to find wives or support families. They are not likely to get married or stay married. If family breakdown causes poverty, poverty also causes family breakdown.

African-Americans often find it hard to leave blighted neighborhoods. They can find themselves steered away from white communities by real estate agents or rejected by landlords. The Urban Institute reports a fact that ought to shock: “The average high-income black person lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the average low-income white person” (my emphasis).

March 2, 2015

QotD: The environmental sins of ethanol

Filed under: Business,Government,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ethanol, produced by corn, “biomass,” cane sugar or other plant matter, is considered by many to be a great alternative to fossil fuels. They consider the origin to be more renewable (plants grow rapidly), the fuel to produce less pollution, the production to release fear “carbon emissions,” and as a bonus, it costs more so people might drive less.

Ethanol is so beloved by some that legislation to subsidize farmers who grew crops for biofuels was pushed through in many countries including Germany and the United States. It would save us from dependence on foreign oil, it would reduce pollution, and cars can run on plants, won’t that be wonderful? Some even argue that it would reduce gas prices because we could shake that oil addiction from the middle east and produce it here cheaply and efficiently!

The truth is, ethanol has its advantages. When burned, it pollutes less than straight gasoline, and it actually has a higher octane rating, making it produce more horsepower per weight than gasoline. It also burns somewhat cooler than straight gasoline.

These days ethanol is less popular, and you don’t hear so much about how great it is. BP isn’t running bright green ads with happy cars driving around on corn any more. But the legislation is still in place, the farmers are still growing corn to turn into fuel, and any attempt to stop this or repeal the legislation is met with exactly the same environmental claims and protests.
So what about these fuels, are they really that great? Are people who oppose ethanol just oil company stooges?

Greg Giraldo is dead now, but he was a very brilliant, very funny comedian. He was one of those comedians that all other comedians loved and thought was so hilarious but for some reason never really caught on or broke big.

He had a bit on biofuels in which he pointed out that for every gallon of corn ethanol, it requires two gallons of gasoline to produce. He noted the only reason corn ethanol is even pushed is because corn farmers want that sweet subsidy money. Al Gore not long ago admitted it wasn’t about the environment, but about kickbacks to farmers for political gain:

    First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small. […] One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.

Every so often a politician will be honest.

The truth is, ethanol is not just a failure in every single category it was supposed to succeed, but a disaster. From food shortages to riots, to slavery and beyond, ethanol in all its forms is a horrific failure. Let us count the ways.

Christopher Taylor, “COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Ethanol and Biofuels “, Word Around the Net, 2014-04-25.

February 26, 2015

Free trade is for consumers, not producers

Filed under: Britain,Business,Economics,Europe,History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Matt Ridley gives a potted history of the rise of free trade in the nineteenth century, bringing great benefit to workers and consumers:

… the point about free trade is and always should be that it is good for consumers. “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production”, said Adam Smith. The genius of the Corn Law radicals was to turn the debate upside down and give the consumers a voice. Between 1660 and 1846, the British government passed 127 Corn Laws, imposing tariffs as well as rules about the storage, sale, import, export and quality of grain and bread. The justification was much like today’s opposition to TTIP: maintaining our supposedly high standards against foreign, cheapskate corner-cutters.

In 1815, Parliament banned the import of all grain if the price fell below 80 shillings a quarter — to protect landowners. Rioters vandalised the house of Lord Castlereagh and other supporters. David Ricardo wrote a pamphlet against the laws, but in vain. It was not until the 1840s that the railways and the penny post enabled Richard Cobden and John Bright to stir up a successful mass campaign against the laws on behalf of the working class’s right to buy cheap bread from abroad if they wished.

Cobden did not stop there. Elected to parliament but refusing office and honours, this pacifist radical was as responsible as anybody for accelerating global economic growth. He persuaded Gladstone to abolish many tariffs unilaterally, and personally negotiated the first international free trade treaty in 1860, the so-called Cobden-Chevalier treaty with France, which established the unconditional “most-favoured nation” principle, leading to the dismantling of tariffs all over Europe. “Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less,” he said.

Only when Bismarck began rebuilding tariffs in 1879 did the tide begin to turn, and competitive protectionism slowly throttled free trade, eventually contributing to half a century of war. Britain held out longest, enacting a general tariff only in 1932 under Neville Chamberlain as chancellor. Trade barriers undoubtedly helped precipitate war: they shut the Japanese out of resource markets that they then decided to seize by force instead, while Germany’s Lebensraum argument would have carried less force in a free-trading world.

The argument for free trade is paradoxical and much misunderstood. Free trade benefits consumers because it is the scourge of expensive or monopolistic national suppliers. It benefits both sides: yet it works unilaterally. Your citizens benefit if you let them buy cheap goods from abroad, while foreigners are punished if their government does not reciprocate. This creates more demand for local services and hence more growth and jobs in the importing country.

QotD: The basis of the music industry

Filed under: Business,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Bad players buy expensive guitars over and over because they figure it will make them better players. The entire music instrument industry is based on it. There’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, poised to be something more, but still a spare part on his more notable brother’s stage, with a borrowed Telecaster, a guitar as useful as a boat oar, putting the lie to that whole idea. People take drugs because they think it will make them as interesting as interesting people that take drugs. The entire drug industry is based on it.

Sippican Cottage, “Mind If My Little Brother Sits In?”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-06-15.

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