Quotulatiousness

September 11, 2017

Harvey, Irma, and Frédéric – the “Broken Window Fallacy” returns

Jon Gabriel tries to set the record straight on what a natural disaster means for the economy (hint, ignore anyone who says the GDP will rise due to the recovery efforts):

Ever since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas two weeks ago, we’ve seen countless images of heroic rescues, flooded interstates and damaged buildings.

As awful as the human toll was, it was not as bad as many of us feared. But it will take months to repair the homes, businesses and infrastructure of Houston and the surrounding area. The same will be true in Florida after Hurricane Irma.

The economic impact could be felt for years, but many economists and financial experts think there’s a silver lining.

The Los Angeles Times crowed that Harvey’s destruction is expected to boost auto sales. CNBC reported that Harvey “could be a slight negative for U.S. growth in the third quarter, but economists say it may ultimately provide a tiny boost to the national economy because of the rebuilding in the Houston area.”

Even Goldman Sachs is looking at the bright side, noting that there could be an increase in economic activity, “reflecting a boost from rebuilding efforts and a catchup in economic activity displaced during the hurricane.”

Economically speaking, it’s great news that all this damage in Texas and Florida needs to be fixed, right? Not only does this mean big bucks for cleanup crews, but think of all the money that street sweepers, construction workers and Home Depots will rake in.

And what about all those windows broken by the high winds? This will be the Golden Age of Texas Glaziery!

Not so fast.

All of this is based on a misunderstanding of what the GDP actually measures. It’s a statistic that often gets mentioned in the newspapers and on TV, but it is almost always used in a way that misleads people about what is happening in the economy. GDP — Gross Domestic Product — is intended to show the approximate total of goods and services produced in a national economy. Thus, when the GDP goes up, it means that the current period being measured recorded more goods and services produced than in the previous period.

When a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, flood, or tornado strikes a city, state or region, all the work required to fix the damage will artificially boost the recorded GDP for that year. But the affected area isn’t that much richer than it was before, despite the GDP going up, because the GDP does not measure the losses suffered during the natural disaster.

This is where Frédéric comes in. I’m referring to the French economist and author Frédéric Bastiat, who brilliantly illustrated the GDP misunderstanding in his essay “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen“:

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

The GDP problem I identified at the start of this post is a general case of what Bastiat called the “Broken Window Fallacy”:

Have you ever been witness to the fury of that solid citizen, James Goodfellow, when his incorrigible son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at this spectacle, certainly you must also have observed that the onlookers, even if there are as many as thirty of them, seem with one accord to offer the unfortunate owner the selfsame consolation: “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?”

Now, this formula of condolence contains a whole theory that it is a good idea for us to expose, flagrante delicto, in this very simple case, since it is exactly the same as that which, unfortunately, underlies most of our economic institutions.

Suppose that it will cost six francs to repair the damage. If you mean that the accident gives six francs’ worth of encouragement to the aforesaid industry, I agree. I do not contest it in any way; your reasoning is correct. The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

But if, by way of deduction, you conclude, as happens only too often, that it is good to break windows, that it helps to circulate money, that it results in encouraging industry in general, I am obliged to cry out: That will never do! Your theory stops at what is seen. It does not take account of what is not seen.

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

Let us next consider industry in general. The window having been broken, the glass industry gets six francs’ worth of encouragement; that is what is seen.

If the window had not been broken, the shoe industry (or some other) would have received six francs’ worth of encouragement; that is what is not seen.

And if we were to take into consideration what is not seen, because it is a negative factor, as well as what is seen, because it is a positive factor, we should understand that there is no benefit to industry in general or to national employment as a whole, whether windows are broken or not broken.

Now let us consider James Goodfellow.

On the first hypothesis, that of the broken window, he spends six francs and has, neither more nor less than before, the enjoyment of one window.

On the second, that in which the accident did not happen, he would have spent six francs for new shoes and would have had the enjoyment of a pair of shoes as well as of a window.

Now, if James Goodfellow is part of society, we must conclude that society, considering its labors and its enjoyments, has lost the value of the broken window.

From which, by generalizing, we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: “Society loses the value of objects unnecessarily destroyed,” and at this aphorism, which will make the hair of the protectionists stand on end: “To break, to destroy, to dissipate is not to encourage national employment,” or more briefly: “Destruction is not profitable.”

Related: Shared by Thomas Forsyth on Facebook:

September 5, 2017

“So, let’s consider the concept of a ‘500-year flood'”

Filed under: Environment, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin explains how it’s possible to have two “500-year floods” in less than 500 years:

There have been a lot of people suggesting that Harvey the Hurricane shows that “really and truly climate change is happening, see, in-your-face deniers!”

Of course, it’s possible, even though the actual evidence — including the 12-year drought in major hurricanes — is against it. But hurricanes are a perfect opportunity for stupid math tricks. Hurricanes also provide great opportunities to explain concepts that are unclear to people. So, let’s consider the concept of a “500-year flood.”

Most people hear this and think it means “one flood this size in 500 years.” The real definition is subtly different: saying “a 500-year flood” actually means “there is one chance in 500 of a flood this size happening in any year.”

It’s called a “500-year flood” because statistically, over a long enough time, we would expect to have roughly one such flood on average every 500 years. So, if we had 100,000 years of weather data (and things stayed the same otherwise, which is an unrealistic assumption) then we’d expect to have seen 100,000/500- or 200 500-year floods [Ed. typo fixed] at that level.

The trouble is, we’ve only got about 100 years of good weather data for the Houston area.

September 1, 2017

The complex dance of supply, demand, scarcity, and price

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Government, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Tim Worstall explains why laws against “price gouging” are denials of economic fact and actually work against getting urgently needed items to the people who require them:

Those little diagrams at the start of the Econ 101 class (supply, demand, price) are not optional extras to our universe, they are instead accurate descriptions of how we humans interact with it. If and when demand rises then price rises, this in turn encouraging an expansion of supply. Thus why we desire to have price flexibility in the face of either changes in supply or demand.

Consider Houston right now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It seems a good bet that the tapwater supply is disrupted — flooding has a tendency to do that. We would therefore assume the demand for bottled water has risen – the sensible who normally hydrate from that wondrous invention, the municipal water supply, will not be able to do so, thus increasing the demand for the bottled stuff. Equally, on the other side, there’s going to be a certain difficulty with supply at present — roads 5 feet underwater don’t exactly help trucking.

We thus desire to do two things simultaneously. We want to restrain demand to only the really important things and we want to incentivize greater supply.

Which is exactly what a price rise does for us.

With water at (just to make up a price) $99 a case, people are only going to buy it for drinking water, perhaps only in sippy cups. Which is excellent — we want whatever limited supply of potable water (we’ve really plenty of non-potable around, that’s the basic problem) there is in place to be used for that most valuable use, being potable. We’ve achieved one of our goals therefore, by allocating that scarce resource to its most valuable use: keeping people alive.

We also want to increase supply, though, and being able to sell in Houston for $99 something bought for $9.99 in Beaumont (again, just to invent an example) might well get a few boats carrying loads in – although quite possibly not from Beaumont. Thus, by allowing prices to rise, we’ve at least potentially increased supply.

Our price system, operating without constraint, is thus achieving the two things we desire, a curtailing of demand through rationing to only truly important uses, and a rise in supply.

“But,” goes the cry, “this isn’t fair!”

Indeed it isn’t, and ain’t that a shame, fairness not being a notable feature of this universe we’re struggling to inhabit. All we can do is the best we can. Which is, again, why I insist that there should be variable prices, why there should be no laws against price-gouging. Because this really is a disaster, there really are significant shortages in Houston right now, we really do want to solve them. Which means that we should be using all of the tools at our disposal.

August 31, 2017

“Harvey is not Katrina”

Nicole Gelinas on the crucial differences between the situation faced by New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and that currently faced by Houston after being inundated by Hurricane Harvey:

The Houston region has received record rain, more falling in less than a week than it usually does in a year, and at least 30 people, including a Houston police officer, have died. Harvey, however, is not Katrina. One measure of this difference is in electricity provision. After Katrina, New Orleans was almost entirely without power for weeks. In Houston, by contrast, 94 percent of customers still had power as of early Wednesday.

Though we won’t know for sure for a while, the fact that Houston has kept the power on is likely in part a legacy of infrastructure investment after previous storms. Five years ago, Hurricane Ike actually cut power to 95 percent of Houston. But, as NPR reported after the storm, the city’s power company, CenterPoint, took steps after Ike, as well as after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, to upgrade the grid, spending $400 million. Houston, helped by $50 million in federal money, cut down tens of thousands of trees along power lines and outfitted poles with the ability to re-route electricity away from damaged routes toward undamaged ones.

With power, hospitals can continue to operate; even Ben Taub Hospital, surrounded by water, kept the power on. Stores, too, have quickly begun to reopen. Power also means that people whose homes didn’t flood can stay put, lessening the burden on police to keep neighborhoods safe from looters. If the power stays on — as it should, now that worst of the storm is over — Houston should do well. If it goes out, the city will have far more serious problems.

[…]

Empty neighborhoods and business districts invite looting. Houston had already arrested 15 people as of late Tuesday for allegedly trying to steal everything from liquor to an ATM, and for attempted robbery, as well. These arrests, plus a nighttime curfew, are a good sign; after Katrina, New Orleans police officers failed to keep control over the city, both because of the severity of the damage, which left most of the city empty and dark, but also due to their longstanding poor performance. Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg and Houston police chief Art Acevado have already set the right tone to deter wrongdoing. Ogg said Tuesday that thieves “are going to feel the full weight of the law,” and Acevedo said he would push for tough sentences for people convicted. In New Orleans, by contrast, state and local officials’ apocalyptic invocation of “martial law,” rather than calm reliance on the rule of normal law, only exacerbated the sense of chaos.

With some, though not most, Houston neighborhoods now deserted, state law enforcement have a role to play here, as well, with federal support. A competent local police force will be busy, after a storm, in helping still-populated areas. In turn, state police and the National Guard, who have less experience interacting with people on a neighborhood level, can help by patrolling and securing empty areas. To that end, Texas has already activated the National Guard, adding 12,000 people to safety efforts, as well as for rescue and food distribution.

Oh, and as Caroline Baum points out, don’t be misled by idiotic claims that hurricane damage is somehow good for the economy:

You will no doubt hear assertions that the rebuilding effort will provide a boost to contractors, manufacturers and GDP in general. But before these claims turn into predictable nonsense about all the good that comes from natural disasters, I thought it might be useful to provide some context for these sorts of events.

The destruction wrought by a hurricane and flooding qualifies as a negative supply shock. Normal production and distribution channels are destroyed or disrupted. Producers have to find less-efficient (i.e. more expensive) ways to transport their goods. The net effect is lost output and income, and higher prices.

Over the years, I’ve observed a tendency among economists and traders to view such events through a demand-side prism. They see lost income translating into reduced spending on goods and services, which might even warrant some largesse from the central bank.

Of course, that is precisely the wrong medicine. Supply shocks reduce output and raise prices. The Federal Reserve’s interest-rate medicine affects demand. Lower interest rates will increase the demand for gasoline, among other goods and services, but they have no effect on supply. An easing of monetary policy under such circumstances would increase demand for already curtailed supply, raising prices even more.

But wait. What about all the new construction and investment necessitated by the devastation? Homeowners will have to rebuild. Businesses will have to replace destroyed or damaged plants and equipment. Pretty soon, we should start to hear about a boost to GDP growth.

In the short run, yes. But focus on the prefix, “re,” as in re-building and re-placing. After a natural disaster, housing starts are bound to increase, but there will be no net addition to the supply of homes. Capital spending will increase as well, but it will not expand the nation’s capital stock.

She also provides a link to this very topical essay by Frédéric Bastiat: That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen. In short, we see the spending caused by the need to repair damages (in this case from the flooding), but we don’t see what might have been done if the money hadn’t needed to be spent just to replace existing stock.

August 30, 2017

“Houston is built on what amounts to a massive flood plain”

Filed under: Environment, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While nobody expects 50 inches of rain to fall in one storm, Houston is still badly situated to withstand flooding even from lesser weather events due to its location on a flood plain:

Houston is built on what amounts to a massive flood plain, pitted against the tempestuous Gulf of Mexico and routinely hammered by the biggest rainstorms in the nation.

It is a combination of malicious climate and unforgiving geology, along with a deficit of zoning and land-use controls, that scientists and engineers say leaves the nation’s fourth most populous city vulnerable to devastating floods like the one caused this week by Hurricane Harvey.

“Houston is very flat,” said Robert Gilbert, a University of Texas at Austin civil engineer who helped investigate the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “There is no way for the water to drain out.”

Indeed, the city has less slope than a shower floor.

Harvey poured as much as 374 billion gallons of water within the city limits, exceeding the capacity of rivers, bayous, lakes and reservoirs. Experts said the result was predictable.

The storm was unprecedented, but the city has been deceiving itself for decades about its vulnerability to flooding, said Robert Bea, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and UC Berkeley emeritus civil engineering professor who has studied hurricane risks along the Gulf Coast.

The city’s flood system is supposed to protect the public from a 100-year storm, but Bea calls that “a 100-year lie” because it is based on a rainfall total of 13 inches in 24 hours.

“That has happened more than eight times in the last 27 years,” Bea said. “It is wrong on two counts. It isn’t accurate about the past risk and it doesn’t reflect what will happen in the next 100 years.”

Some of the blame (a lot of the blame) for locating vulnerable properties in flood-prone areas is due to the US government’s flood insurance program:

Texans, watch out. An aftershock is following behind the catastrophic flooding produced by Hurricane Harvey in coastal Texas: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is coming up for reauthorization.

The main lesson that the public and policymakers ought to learn from Harvey is: Don’t build in flood plains, and especially don’t rebuild in flood plains. Unfortunately, the flood insurance program teaches the exact opposite lesson, selling subsidized insurance whose premiums do not come close to covering the risks home and business owners in flood prone areas face.

As a result, the NFIP is currently $25 billion in debt.

Federally subsidized flood insurance represents a moral hazard, Kevin Starbuck, Assistant City Manager and former Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Amarillo, argues, because it encourages people to take on more risk because taxpayers bear the cost of those hazards.

Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows that from 1978 through 2015, 3.8 percent of flood insurance policyholders have filed repetitively for losses that account for a disproportionate 35.5 percent of flood loss claims and 30.5 percent of claim payments, Starbuck says. Most of these properties were grandfathered in before the NFIP issued its flood insurance rate maps. The NFIP is not permitted to refuse them insurance or charge them rates based on the actual risks they face.

Clearly, taxpayers should not be required to subsidize people who choose to build and live on flood plains. When Congress reauthorizes the NFIP, it should initiate a phase-in of charging grandfathered properities premiums commensurate with their risks. This will likely lower the market values of affected homes and businesses and thus send a strong signal to others to avoid building and living in such risky areas.

October 10, 2016

Houston Texans come up short against the Zim Reapers, 31-13

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Going into an early bye week, the Vikings dominated the J.J. Watt-deprived Texans in every phase of the game until late when the Texans finally managed a first down (other than by penalty) and scored their lone touchdown of the day. In four total meetings between the teams, the Texans are still winless (they’re the only team in the league without a win against Minnesota). At one point, the Texans had more yards on penalties (mostly against cornerback Xavier Rhodes) than they did in combined offence, making this tweet rather appropriate:

Before the game started, Minnesota’s leading receiver was ruled out with a groin injury. Without Stefon Diggs, could the rest of the Vikings receiving corps step up to replace him? Yes, both Adam Thielen (7 for 127 yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson (4 for 39 yards) scored receiving touchdowns, along with a 79-yard punt return touchdown by Marcus Sherels (the fifth in his career, extending his team record), and a rushing touchdown from Matt Asiata. Tack on a perfect day from kicker Blair Walsh who made a field goal and all four of his conversion attempts, which at least keeps him on the roster for another week…

(more…)

October 16, 2013

US wages and personal mobility

Filed under: Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

Coyote Blog looks at the widely touted flattening of income growth in the United States and wonders how much mobility (people moving from one state to another) might play a part in the overall picture:

All of this is a long introduction to some thinking I have been doing on all the “Average is Over” discussion talking about the flattening of growth in median wages. I begin with this chart:

Click to see full-sized image

Click to see full-sized image

There is a lot of interstate migration going on. And much of it seems to be out of what I think of as higher cost states like CA, IL, and NY and into lower cost states like AZ, TX, FL, and NC. One of the facts of life about the CPI and other inflation adjustments of income numbers is that the US essentially maintains one average CPI. Further, median income numbers and poverty numbers tend to assume one single average cost of living number. But everyone understands that the income required to maintain lifestyle X on the east side of Manhattan is very different than the income required to maintain lifestyle X in Dallas or Knoxville or Jackson, MS.

Could it be that even with a flat average median wage, that demographic shifts to lower cost-of-living states actually result in individuals being better off and living better?

For some items one buys, of course, there is no improvement by moving. For example, my guess is that an iPhone with a monthly service plan costs about the same anywhere you go in the US. But if you take something like housing, the differences can be enormous.

Let’s compare San Francisco and Houston. At first glance, San Francisco seems far wealthier. The median income in San Francisco is $78,840 while the median income in Houston in $55,910. Moving from a median wage job in San Francisco to a media wage job in Houston seems to represent a huge step down. If you and a bunch of your friends made this move, the US median income number would drop. It would look like people were worse off.

But something else happens when you take this nominal pay cut to move to Houston. You also can suddenly afford a much nicer, larger house, even at the lower nominal pay. In San Francisco, your admittedly higher nominal pay would only afford you the ability to buy only 14% of the homes on the market. And the median home, which you could not afford, has only about 1000 square feet of space. In Houston, on the other hand, your lower nominal pay would allow you to buy 56% of the homes. And that median home, which you can now afford, will have on average 1858 square feet of space.

December 24, 2012

Houston Texans accomplish one goal: keeping Adrian Peterson in check

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:54

Unfortunately for the Texans, the rest of the Vikings showed up on the field, too. Houston did everything they could to clog the running lanes and get Adrian Peterson running sideways, and with remarkable success. Peterson got a few good runs (25 carries for 86 yards on the day), but generally was not able to find running room. Earlier this year, you’d then assume that the Vikings lost the game by a couple of touchdowns, with a disproportional share of the time-of-possession for Houston, but both assumptions would be incorrect.

Minnesota’s defence looked better than they’ve been in years (according to one Twitter update, this is the fewest points they’ve allowed in a regular season game since the 2007 season opener). The Vikings passing game was not stellar, but it got the job done — especially on the opening drive with some excellent work by Christian Ponder and his receivers (who also had a much better than average game).

My favourite tweet from the end of the game:

While Adrian Peterson didn’t set the NFL rushing record today, The Blair Walsh Project did set a record: “Minnesota’s Blair Walsh kicked a 56-yard field goal against the Houston Texans to set an NFL record with nine field goals of 50 yards or longer this season. […] The record was held by two players who had eight in a season. Jason Hanson of Detroit did it in 2008 and Morten Andersen had eight in 1995 with Atlanta.”

Andrew Garda for Bleacher Report:

The stats aren’t huge or anything, but Ponder played one of his better games all season and certainly his best game in the last two months.

Ponder avoided mistakes and, while he regressed for a bit in the second half, made very smart decisions. The offensive line, normally better at run blocking than pass blocking, did a great job of keeping defensive player of the year front-runner J.J. Watt in check, limiting him (and the Texans as a whole) to just one sack.

[. . .]

For a defense which struggled to tackle well and wrap up quarterbacks and running backs alike in the backfield, the four sacks were a big step forward. They assaulted Matt Schaub and kept him from getting anything going. Rookie Harrison Smith was tremendous in the secondary, showing great instincts, hard hitting (which caused a fumble) and a nose for the football.

July 9, 2012

Adrian Peterson on his arrest, sort of

Filed under: Football, Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:06

The first word directly from Adrian Peterson after his arrest in Houston this weekend:

H/T to Christopher Gates at the Daily Norseman.

July 8, 2012

Apparently in Texas you can be arrested merely for “resisting arrest”

Filed under: Football, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:09

In what must be the worst kind of news for Minnesota Vikings fans, star running back Adrian Peterson was arrested early Saturday morning for … resisting arrest. ProFootballTalk has the report:

A source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the incident culminating in Peterson’s arrest was captured by one or more surveillance cameras. Multiple persons also witnessed the event.

According to the source, Peterson, his girlfriend, and some family members were at a nightclub in Houston. At closing time, a group of police officers entered the club, and they began instructing the remaining patrons to leave.

Peterson wanted to get some water before he left, but an officer told Peterson that he needed to leave. Some words apparently were exchanged, but Peterson eventually walked to the exit with one of the club’s bouncers.

It’s believed that one of the officers then jumped on Peterson’s back from behind and tried to take him down. (Key word: “tried.”) Other officers then joined the fray and completed the arrest.

Peterson was charged with resisting arrest, which implies he was being arrested for something else. He is charged for now with no other crime.

I was under the vague impression that to be charged with “resisting arrest” you’d have to already be wanted by the police for doing something that warranted arrest. Based on the initial reports, it doesn’t sound like Peterson did anything before he was arrested to justify arresting him … unless it’s a case of a police officer deciding that he’d been disrespected. We’ll have to wait until more of the information becomes available.

Update: Contrasting with the initial report, Dan Zinski of The Viking Age says Peterson was “heavily intoxicated” at the time:

More on Adrian’s incident, and this isn’t flattering. The general manager of the club where Adrian Peterson was arrested after allegedly pushing an off-duty cop has told website TMZ that the running back was “heavily intoxicated” at the time of the incident. A police report says Peterson became belligerent after he and his companions were told the leave the bar, and ended up being subdued by three officers.

Live at Bayou Place general manager Daniel Maher says Peterson tried to order one last drink after being told to leave, and after being denied, tried to intimidate the bartender into giving him the drink anyway. It was at this point that Maher himself intervened, but Peterson refused to listen to him. The off-duty cop then broke in and was shoved by Peterson, leading to the Viking being hauled in for a misdemeanor A count of resisting arrest.

Update the second: At Viking Update, John Holler provides a bit of background (which may or may not be relevant to this particular case, but is interesting anyway):

The interesting aspect of the Peterson incident is that the only charge he was hit with was resisting arrest. He wasn’t charged with assaulting an officer. Had he actually shoved a policeman to the point that he “stumbled,” it would seem logical that charges of assaulting of an officer would also have been leveled. Therein lies the need to hear both sides of the story.

I come from a different perspective than most on this type of subject. I have been involved with “bouncer dust-ups” on the wrong side. Yet, three of my best friends are or were cops. I could accurately be accused of being “cop-friendly.” Of the numbers saved in my phone, a half-dozen of them are cops. When they’re “moonlighting,” it’s a night off for them. The odds of them getting shot as the result of a meth-addled domestic abuse call are out of the question. In those situations, they are truly “in charge.” And they like it that way.

When a bouncer (cop or otherwise) is working “his turf,” he can be aggressive. Very aggressive. As tenuous as life is in the NFL, the reality is that “hired muscle” at a nightclub can’t lose if he gets in a dust-up with a drunken patron. Whether an off-duty policeman, a local college football player or just a big guy who casts an imposing shadow, “security” at a big-time nightclub is expected to quell all problems — exceptions not allowed.

In order to do so, off-duty cops (trust me when I tell you that they’re never truly off-duty) aren’t going to take any guff from anyone. They have the experience. They have the sobriety advantage.

If the Peterson matter actually goes to court — the smart money would say that only a hard-core prosecutor would push the case — it will be destroyed by competent legal representation on Peterson’s behalf.

July 3, 2011

Separation of church, state, and common sense

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:11

The notion of separating church and state has been a good one: religion backed by the power of the government is a dire situation for non-believers and believers in other faiths. This, however, is just stupidity:

Veteran groups are taking legal action after they say they were banned from saying the words ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ during funeral services at the Houston National Cemetery.

Three veterans organisations are to take the Department of Veteran Affairs to court over claims that they have censored prayers and demanded that words be submitted in advance for government approval.

Cemetery officials ordered volunteers to stop telling families ‘God bless you’ at funeral and said that the words ‘God bless’ had to be removed from condolence cards, according to court documents filed this week in federal court.

H/T to Iowahawk, who commented “Apparently, the only person now allowed to say ‘God’ at a military funeral is Fred Phelps”.

April 22, 2011

Houston loses space shuttle sweepstakes

Filed under: History, Space, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 16:26

Houston has a problem with the allocation of the soon-to-be retired space shuttles:

Which city, in the whole of the United States, would the average person associate most clearly with America’s towering achievements, and no few sorrows, over the past half century of sending men and women into space? Why, Houston, of course — home of the Johnson Space Centre, where NASA’s mission control is located. We know this from all that has been said and done in the past. The first words Neil Armstrong uttered as Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon in 1969 were: “Houston, Tranquility base here — the Eagle has landed.”

The name of Houston will forever be associated with the manned exploration of space. No astronaut ever radioed laconically back from a crippled spaceship, “Manhattan, we have a problem”. Yet, in NASA’s recent selection of the final destinations for its four extant space shuttles, now that the last operational ones are about to be pensioned off, New York City will get Enterprise, the first of the shuttles that was rolled out in 1976, while Houston gets snubbed.

A score or more of museums and other institutions around the country competed for the honour of having a shuttle in their permanent collection. Apart from offering an appealing display, each had to be ready to stump up $28.8m to cover the cost of preparing and transporting the winged spacecraft to its new location. Of the three other remaining shuttles, Discovery is destined for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum annexe outside Washington, DC. After the launch in late June of the 135th (and last) mission in the shuttle programme, Atlantis will remain in Florida to be exhibited at the Kennedy Space Centre’s visitor centre.

Meanwhile, after its own final mission later this month, Endeavour, the youngest of the shuttles, will be ferried to Los Angeles to end its days in the California Science Centre, alongside existing exhibits of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and close to the old Rockwell plant in Palmdale where the shuttle was developed. Meanwhile, just up the road, at Edwards Air Force Base, is the runway where nearly half of all shuttle flights touched down.

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