We had to unbury our driveway from over a foot of snow this morning. Just for amusement, here are a couple of pictures showing how large the snowbanks on either side have grown.

Jeff's snowbank>Cindy's snowbank

Nibor Dooh

According to United for a Fair Economy, the richest 5% of the population controls 59.4% of the personal wealth. If we include the corporate wealth that’s largely at their disposal, the numbers would be even more skewed. I just have to wonder if anybody can say with a straight face that one-twentieth of the population has three-fifths of the talent or creativity or drive. If not, then how do such disparities occur, without the complicity of government? Yes, the government does steal from people…but not the way some people think.

Free Market, not Free Lunch

Iain Murray has written a little piece about the “congestion tax” in London, entitled A free market — isn’t that what made London great in the first place? Here’s the part that got my attention:

I must say I’ve never been particularly convinced of the wisdom of congestion charges, which strike me as environmental taxes rather than an attempt to allow people to buy better services if they need them.

Actually it’s what economists call “internalizing the externalities” – where an externality is something that had previously been excluded from analysis because it’s “somebody else’s problem”. Other people might call it ending a subsidy, or making the people who incur a cost pay that cost. A true free-market capitalist would applaud an action that improves the accuracy of accounting for costs, because we all know – don’t we? – that such accuracy is a cornerstone of what makes free markets so great. Unfortunately, many people who claim to believe in free markets only really believe in their own freedom within a market that has been distorted in their favor by all manner of subsidies and burden-shifting.

congestion in old city centers like London is best dealt with by serious upgrades of the transport system

Paid for by whom, I wonder. Oh, that’s right: everybody else. The people in the city derive the greatest benefit from a system paid for out of a common pool including many who derive no benefit at all. Does that sound like free-market capitalism, or socialism? You be the judge.


Google (everyone’s favorite search engine) has acquired Pyra (makers of the most popular weblogging software). Congrats to the folks I know who work there.

Fun Science

I just found the Science Hobbyist page via a link to some traffic experiments. It’s worth a look around, not just for the local content but also for links to other weird and wonderful places. I’m trying to resist the temptation to buy either a Klein Stein or a levitating dolphin.

Win the Battle, Lose the War

Scott Forbes is, as the name of his weblog implies, an American living in Australia – something I myself have considered being. He has written an excellent article about the US war in Iraq. It’s not quite groundbreakingly new, but it’s written with unusual clarity. The section on how past presidents would – in very different ways – have secured the European cooperation that so eludes Dubya is especially noteworthy. With one article, Scott has found a place on my “check daily” list of weblogs.

Steven Den Beste also earns some much-needed karma for linking to the article even though it highlights the insanity of his own views. Here are some gems from today’s offering:

There will be no UNSC resolution authorizing war. Thus the ideal response now would be to give the order and let the tanks roll

We may not be ready to attack in Iraq, but we can attack in Europe.

Bad Vendors, part 2

Some time yesterday, my Verizon DSL line went out. As of this morning, it was still out. Personally, I happen to think that nothing short of a major earthquake or flood should cause interruptions of more than about an hour’s duration in a well-monitored and well-maintained network, but they happen with some regularity at Verizon. The second most annoying thing is that they never admit there’s a problem; go to their status page and it says everything’s just fine, even though entire cities have been blacked out for hours and they’ve lost their routes to large sections of the Internet for everyone else. These are people who think a routing table is something you buy at a woodworking store, and network partitions are something that fishermen worry about. You wouldn’t think that Verizon would have to be scraping the scum off the bottom of the talent pool in this job market, but apparently they do it out of habit.

OK, so that’s the second most annoying thing, so it’s natural to ask what the most annoying thing is. It’s their telephone customer disservice. You get to start with a voice-recognition system that apparently speaks only Sanskrit. It’s bad enough to feel like a doofus speaking disconnected phrases into the phone at work, but then you realize that it didn’t even get anywhere. Finally, the system does what it should have done in the first place and connects you to a human.

The problem is that the human is even worse than the machine. Their job, apparently, is to find excuses for blaming the customer. Here’s a paraphrased version of our dialog:

Verizon: What operating system are you using?
Me (in my head): It doesn’t matter, stupid. ICMP is not OS-specific, and I can’t ping the other end of the link.
Me (out loud): Windows XP.
Verizon:Are you using the router?
Me (in my head): Oh great, if I say yes they’ll probably say it’s an unsupported configuration or tell me I’m violating my terms of service.
Me (out loud): Nope.
Verizon: Sometimes they reset to defaults, and stop working.
Me (in my head): Yeah, I already checked that. My router’s fine; yours is the one that’s hosed.
Me (out loud): Did something change at your end? I’ve had the same settings for months, if anything got broken it wasn’t on my end.
Verizon: It might have.
Me (in my head): If it had, or if it was going to, we both should have been informed in advance, don’t you think?
Verizon: What are the indicator lights on your DSL modem doing?

In the end, this all led nowhere. Maybe they’ll realize that their router has crashed, which it has done on multiple occasions before, and reboot it. If they don’t, I’ll just continue to publicize their unprofessional behavior as I pursue alternative connectivity strategies.

Bad Vendors, part 1

For a while now, my car has been making weird noises somewhere in the back. At first they didn’t seem particularly bad (like normal road noise only louder in pulses roughly corresponding to speed) but on Friday a new note (metallic, vibrating constantly) was added. Figuring it was probably brake-related, I took the car in to have those checked yesterday.

It’s not the brakes. It’s the bearings, on both back wheels, which are worn beyond what one would expect for three-year-old car. The guy who found the problem told me that this was the second Subaru of about the same age that he’s seen just in the past week with this exact same problem. Sounds like whatever bearings Subaru has been buying aren’t very durable.

Here’s the kicker. The only part of the warranty that covers the bearings is the bumper-to-bumper part: three years or 36,000 miles. I bought the car in December of 1999; if this had happened two and a half months ago, it would have been covered.

A Weak Case for the Prosecution

I was expecting something more compelling from Powell’s presentation. I was just about ready to be convinced that we’ve done our due diligence and found that war will be necessary. What was actually said falls very short of the mark. I’m not an expert on photo analysis, and I’ll bet nobody reading this is either, but the pictures I saw looked pretty inconclusive. One had a big label saying “increased vehicle activity” but didn’t actually show any activity that I don’t see every day in a typical office park. Another one showed a building with some pretty serious blast-containment walls, but that would seem to suggest work on conventional explosives – the legal kind – more than on weapons of mass destruction. Will such walls contain or conceal a nuclear explosion? No. Will they be of any use whatsoever with regard to chemical or biological weapons? No again. Garden-variety things that go bang are not the subject of the inspections.

The evidence regarding Musab Zarqawi is certainly disturbing, but calling him a high-ranking bin Laden lieutenant is a bit of an exaggeration and the claim that Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organisation, Ansar al-Islam remains unsunstantiated. Last, and most certainly least, mere drawings of these hyper-sophisticated mobile bioweapons facilities Iraq supposedly has just aren’t evidence at all. Come back when you have pictures, Mr. Powell.

It’s still not enough…at least not yet. Apparently I’m not alone in being unconvinced, either. As of right now, 51% of 7400 votes at the BBC site1 – our staunch British allies – indicate the same sentiment, and the presentation seems to have made hardly any impression on other world decision-makers. As I’ve said before, I don’t expect that every fact be revealed to every man in the street. If the people who do get the top-secret information still seem unconvinced, though, anybody who still claims that such evidence must exist beyond our sight is making a statement of faith and not reason.

1Oddly, BBC seems to keep resetting the counts. When I first wrote this there were 7400 votes. Later there were only 900. Now they’re back up to 4800. I get the distinct impression that somebody’s under pressure to keep resetting it until they get a satisfactory answer.

Oh yeah, right

OK, maybe I’ll get in trouble for this. I don’t care. I just got email from our marketing VP, entitled “Two Minute Drill”. Here’s the intro:

We put this together for our new sales team.

It should help all of us stay on message when interacting outside the firm.

Yeah, I guess. The problem is, that after reading the attached two-pager, I know I could never say any of this stuff with a straight face. I used to go over the the business school at Michigan and drop water balloons on people who talked like that, and my attitude has only moderated slightly.