Monday, December 12, 2005

The British Ambassador to Poland...

...wrote probably the best email ever. Unfortunately, this diplomat was decidedly undiplomatic when he wrote it. Please read the whole thing, but here's a tidbit:

I am being asked to give more UK taxpayers money to an EU which for years can not produce properly audited accounts. Mon ami Jacques with the support of most of you is nagging me to give the EU more money while the refusing to surrender an inch or even a centimetre on the CAP - a programme which uses inefficient transfers of taxpayers money to bloat rich French landowners and so pump up food prices in Europe, thereby creating poverty in Africa, which we then fail to solve through inefficient but expensive aid programmes. The most stupid, immoral state-subsidised policy in human history, give or take Communism.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Wal-mart and political economics

Here's what you've heard about Wal-mart:

Wal-Mart alone is responsible for driving down American wages by 2.2 percent

Here's what you haven't:

Wal-Mart does not merely save consumers money. It's also responsible for pushing down consumer prices in America by 3.1 percent...

Since Wal-Mart has driven down prices more than wages, real disposable income -- the purchasing power of what's in the average person's wallet -- is up .9 percent.

So why exactly do so many Americans oppose Wal-mart? Here's some speculation:

...the vanguard of the Wal-Mart haters is composed of unions that have for decades kept retail wages and prices artificially high, especially in the supermarket business. Those unions have had next to no success organizing Wal-Mart employees and see Wal-Mart's push into groceries as a direct threat to their market position. And on that one score, they may be right.

But seen in that light, it becomes clear that much of the criticism is simply a form of special-interest lobbying in socially conscious drag. And why an outside observer should favor the interests of unionized supermarket employees over those of Wal-Mart shoppers and employees is far from clear (unless you're a politician who gets union contributions).

The lies of a salesman

This is what happens when you let someone like me analyze a salesman's claims:

To uniformly transfer the heat, the cookware is made from 5-layers of metals sandwiched together. Outer layers are T304 stainless steel, then 1145 aluminum, and the center layer is 3004 aluminum-alloy.

That was lie number 2.

Since thermal conductivies of T304 stainless steel (16.2 W/m-K), 1145 aluminum (230 W/m-K), and 3004 aluminum-alloy (163 W/m-K) are different, sandwich them together would not improve thermal conductivity, rather it will create thermal gradients.

It gets even better:

One other claim Classica has on their website is that their cookware will decrease energy usage. Also, some readers have commented that cookware with layered construction does improve uniform surface heating.

Since I personally do not own any cookware that is constructed in such way, I can only rely to a textbook called “Heat Transfer, A Practical Approach” by Yunus A. Cengel, ISBN 0-07-011505-2.

Steady one-dimensional conduction heat transfer is simplified to Thermal Resistance Concept (pg. 131):

Q = (T1-T2)/Rtotal;

R = L/kA

For this calculation, a positive Q value is the energy used to increase maintain a set temperature; T1 and T2 are the temperatures at inner and outer surfaces of the cookware, R is the cookware’s thermal resistivity, or conduction resistance, L is the cookware’s thickness, k is thermal conductivity, and A is the cookware heating surface area.

Assume we have two pans; both are 12” (30.48 cm) in diameter and 5 mm thick. One is made from the 5-layer construction described via Classica cookware’s website, with each layer 1 mm thick, and the other is a plain T304 stainless steel.

Let T1-T2 equal 10 C. In other words, we are looking for how much energy is needed to maintain 10 C in the pan.

From my own calculation, approximately 2,400 W of energy is needed to maintain 10 C in the plain stainless steel pan. Close to 5,300 W of energy is needed to achieve the same result in the 5-layer pan by Classica cookware.

Therefore, to maintain same temperature, Classica’s cookware requires more than double the energy than an ordinary stainless steel pan.

Miscarriage of Justice

I'm still working out my position on the morality of the death penalty, but the fact that the judicial system can allow this to happen is a strong argument against it:

Over the course of researching my paper, I came across the case of Cory Maye. Maye today sits on Mississippi's death row, convicted of capital murder for shooting police officer Ron Jones. It's probably worth mentioning that Jones is white, and Maye is black. It's probably also worth mentioning that at the time of his death, Jones' father was police chief of Prentiss, Mississippi, where the shooting took place. It's probably also worth mentioning that the jury who convicted Maye was white...

Let's summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frigthened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

You expect this sort of thing in a dime-a-dozen mystery novel, not real life. If this is truly the way things happened, I pray to God this guy gets acquitted on appeal.

UPDATE: The Agitator is all over this story if you want (or feel compelled) to hear more.

China and Suppression

This can't be good:

The situation at Dongzhou Town, Red Bay, in the city of Shanwei, Guangdong Province is rapidly deteriorating. According to the villagers, the government has not only arranged tanks to occupy the city, machine guns have also been set up, ready to strafe villagers on the street at anytime. Up to now, 70 people are known to have been shot to death. Most of the dead are young people in their twenties. The dead bodies were buried to destroy any evidence of the shootings. Families are not allowed to claim the bodies of their relatives. Sound of Hope Radio has phone-interviewed villagers of Dongzhou Town regarding the case.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Anti Anti-Christmas Tirade

Well, if you want to listen to a hilariously profane tirade by an animated squirrel about how he hates "Neo-yuppies" that hate Christmas, follow this link. If not, you're probably more mature than I am...

Food for thought on Gas prices

Another lesson in basic economics, courtesy of Steve Chapman (Chicago Tribune):

Still, a lot of people think the reason gasoline prices soared in September is that oil companies are greedy. But if that's true, why didn't they raise prices a year ago? For that matter, why don't they raise them now? The critics on Capitol Hill don't seem to notice that pump prices have fallen by 92 cents a gallon since Labor Day, a 30 percent decline.

That happened mainly because of a couple of minor factors known as supply and demand. Consumers curbed their driving when prices peaked, and in recent weeks, Gulf Coast oil refineries have increased their output. Both factors helped to loosen a tight market. And the big oil companies were somehow powerless to keep prices up.

They usually are. For all we've heard about their "record" profits, it's not that lucrative a business. Over the last five years, the American Petroleum Institute points out, the oil and natural gas industry netted 5.7 cents on every dollar of sales, compared to 5.5 cents for all U.S. companies.

For every boom in the oil patch, there is a bust, which usually lasts longer than the good times did. During much of the last quarter-century, the industry has grappled with glut. Measured by its return on investment capital, report Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute in Washington, "the oil and gas sector has been less profitable than the rest of the U.S. economy over the past 33 years."

That will come as a surprise to most people. We remember the high-price periods with bitter tears, but we take the low-price periods as part of the natural order.

The $100 Laptop - a Good Thing, Right?

Over at TCS, some insight into why the upcoming $100 laptop may not be such a great idea. First, a look at the distribution of these laptops, which will be through sales to countries' governments:

In reality, two things will happen, one bad and one good. First, the bad outcome. As development economist Jeffrey Sachs used to recognize, poor countries tend to have governments with a lot of power (see his "Growth in Africa: It Can Be Done," The Economist, June 29, 1996, pp. 19-21). That's one main reason they remain poor. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out in his classic cautionary book, The Road to Serfdom, in countries where governments have a lot of power, the worst tend to get on top. Thus, the powerful bureaucrats who are charged with distributing the computers are not likely to be particularly ethical or caring, as maintaining their power is more important to them than raising their people out of poverty. In fact, these bureaucrats are likely to give the computers to their friends or to others who are politically powerful. In many countries, the bureaucrats may even try to sell them and pocket the proceeds.

Then, couple that with some basic economics:

Many people in those poor countries -- the vast majority, I suspect -- would not be willing to spend even close to $100 on laptop. What that means is that they would prefer to spend $100 on other items -- food, iodine pills for water, DDT to protect them from malaria, basic generic drugs, maybe even a sewing machine. And if their governments are buying laptops for them, the governments are getting the revenues from somewhere. Possibly, Negroponte will be able to persuade Bill Gates or others to cough up many of the funds. But the vast majority of the funds are likely to come from the governments of poor countries, which means they will come out of the hides of those countries' citizens, all but the richest of whom are fairly poor. So what started off as a completely innocent, let's-help-the-poor-in-poor-countries proposal will end up, with government involved, as just one more way of government using force against its own people to buy goods for them that they regard as luxuries, preventing them from buying the goods that they need to make it to next year.

There is no way to avoid the fact that many, if not most, of these laptops will end up on the black market. First, they're being funneled through basically corrupt governments. Some of those will be sold simply to line the pockets of the powerful. But even the ones that do make it into the hands of the very poor children they were intended for may end up there. Let's face it: if it's a choice between a luxury item like a laptop and the money needed to buy next week's dinner, they'll sell it to get the cash. There's no way around it. Just give each family $100 and the option to buy the laptop with it and see what happens. You may be surprised. I certainly won't be.

Some call it "Capitalism"

I don't remember where I found the link, but someone directed me to this Yahoo! news story sympathizing with music students up to their eyebrows in debt:

With the cost of tuition rising every year and conservatory students spending as much as six years in school, many... are swamped in debt as they enter a field in which jobs are scarce and salaries often low.

Jory Fankuchen, a graduate student at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, said he feels "lucky" to owe only $20,000. "From the time you are 6 years old, you've studied music more than a brain surgeon studies for class," he said. "But you still can't make a living half the time."

This article presents the students' debt and poor job prospects as if it were some sort of a tragedy. Admittedly, I never like to see people unable to do the work they love, but the world only needs so many concert violinists. This is exactly how a capitalist society works. If we don't need any more musicians to fill the jobs that are out there, the salaries will plummet. As more people try to get into music schools, their price will rise. And once again, Adam Smith's invisible hand will restore some sort of equilibrium to the system by monetarily encouraging would-be musicians to get a job as something else:

Jennifer Myung owes $55,000 to the U.S. government, and for the first time, she isn't worried about paying it back. That's because she has swapped a budding career as a concert violinist for an investment banking job.

Amusement about propaganda

In response to a serious discussion critical of the morals and merits of propaganda in Iraq, this commenter (12/1 7:04 PM) certainly has an opinion:

Good God! We're talking about propaganda, right?!? Not carpet-bombing, or summary executions, or napalm, chemical and biological weapons, concentration camps, forced marches, slave labor...??? Propaganda!! PROPAGANDA!!!! Are you people insane? Tell me one war where both sides didn't use propaganda as much as possible. No, no, NOOOO! We don't want to win using PROPAGANDA! We'd much prefer having to kill thousands more than to win anyone over with PROPAGANDA! The funniest thing is the guy supporting propaganda by saying we want a level playing-field. WRONG!! I want the playing-field tilted as far as possible in my favor. Period. If propaganda gives me an advantage, then give me as much as you've got. But, no, no, no. We don't want to sully our names with THAT!! What will people think of us?? No. Let's stick to bullets and bombs. At least that way we can keep our dignity.