Friday, June 24, 2005

Personal use

Ctrl+c before you save (October 20, 2006)

I've been aware of Blogger's atrocious timeout/relog cycle for several months now, but in a rush yesterday morning I managed to get snared by it anyway. If you enter the dashboard and create or edit posts, after some period of time (two hours?) any attempt to save or publish will send you to a login screen requesting that you re-enter your name and password. Then it will send you back to the dashboard without saving/publishing what you have written! Trying to back out won't help you either--the stuff is simply lost. So before other users attempt to do the same after a particularly long session, ctrl+n to replicate or ctrl+c after highlighting your html text before rolling the dice on whether or not Blogger will send your afflatus into the netherworld.

After spending a couple hours messing around with some numbers for a post I'd been working on, I'd to leave for work and hit 'save' before doing either of the two suggested above. My ramblings were unrecoverable and in a fit of rage I damaged the card table chair that serves as the throne to my home workstation. Screeching in anger also caused voice strain for a day. Don't become a victim of Google's beta-syndrome like I did--copy and replicate the page before going to save or publish.


Tax-deferred variable annuity account a bad idea (October 14, 2006)

Catching the end of a mutual fund radio show this morning, I heard that there are a good number of people out there (reportedly some 70,000 with a single insurance company that escapes my name) with tax-deferred variable annuity retirement accounts.

Don't open one up. If you've a putatively trusted advisor or insurance agent who suggests you do so, boot him. His conduct is a dereliction of fiduciary duty and will earn him greater revenue through the extra cost but do you no good. If you have opened one, taking the 10% penalty now to pull it out is still likely the right move if the sum isn't enormous.

It makes absolutely no sense to open one, unless you've maxed out all your other tax-deferred options (like 401k, IRA, etc), and even then it's sub-optimal, because if life expectancies have been increased drastically by the time you retire (SENS breakthrough, for example), your monthly stipend will be infintesimal. You'll pay extra fees (in the general range of 1%-4%) on top of the mutual fund fees/commissions that the annuity provider will invest you in (or allow you to choose to invest yourself in). Then, at some point past the age of 59.5, you'll be able to begin collecting an annuity until death based on your life essentials at the time of election. So you'll pay extra to eventually enter into an annuity you would just as well enter by cashing out your 401k or other tax-deferred retirement account (without the extra fees) at the same age and sticking it into an annuity at that point.


Cutting gas consumption (July 6, 2006)

Since I've been in the process of buying a home, I've become increasingly parismonious in several areas of existence. Most of notable of those has been in the arena of driving. After looking up and coming up with ways to trim fuel usage while covering the same geographical distance, I decided to fully institute what I'd come up with to see how much I could do to stretch each drop of gasoline.

The results were quite satisfying. I've a '97 Ford Taurus with over 100,000 miles on it. On my last tank I went 372 miles on 11.73 gallons. That's 31.7 mpg. The EPA puts the car's average fuel economy at 23 mpg (I do slightly more highway, somewhere close to 60%). To bump up my efficiency 38%, I:

- Inflated all tires to 42 psi.
- Never topped 55 mph.
- Kept engine rpms under 2,000 at all times.
- Never used the AC.
- Cracked the driver's side window an inch, leaving all others up.
- Eased the accelerator slightly during accelerations to cause a premature gear shift (it's an automatic).
- Studied traffic signals assiduously as I approached from a distance, attempting to minimize the use of braking by speeding up or coasting depending on the point in the intersection's cycle.

Maybe undertaking all of that is absurd to get an extra 100 miles out of a tank, thereby saving me a whopping $12 per tank. So you're financially healthier than I am--rub it in why don't you! Particularly unacceptable to the average driver is the abstention from the AC or windows, especially in the thick of a Kansas summer (and the ride is a bit longer due to slower highway speeds, although that can be compensated for by timing traffic signals if you're zealous enough to do so).

Still, 40% of oil consumption in the US goes to passenger vehicles. Conceivably, if all drivers got a third more from each tank without driving any fewer miles, we'd be able to shave a couple million barrels of daily oil consumption--more than we import from either Mexico or Saudi Arabia.


For an astute buy? (June 9, 2006)

Is Toyota really worth fifteen times as much as Ford? Twelve times more than GM? In spite of yet another credit downgrading and a brutal session for the market, it climbed a little at the end of the week. Ford's market cap is less than $13 billion but it has $21 billion of cash and equivalents on hand. Something individual investors might want to consider. Two of the three indicators I use in my 'correlation meta-analysis' point to a recovery.


Efficient fuel usage (May 2, 2006)

American vehicles account for a tenth of the world's daily oil consumption. But even with a 17% year-over-year rise in the price of gasoline, consumption continues to grow:
In the first quarter, the real price of gasoline averaged about 17% more than a year earlier, and U.S. gasoline consumption was up just 0.3% -- fairly close to flat.
Historically, domestic gas consumption grows at about 1.5% annually. That consumption has only been reduced by 1.2% of the expected amount assuming only an inflationary price increase yields an elasticity of less than .1. Part of this stems from driving necessity. It also comes from the fact that, as psychologically painful as the gas price may be to the average consumer, it represents a small fraction of personal-consumption spending--only about 3%. On a micro level, gasoline costs are just a nuisance. But if prices rise to four or five bucks a gallon, and a couple more percentage points of discretionary income are diverted to fuel purchases, it will likely begin shaving off a couple of percentage points of GDP growth.

While enterprising entrepreneurs are taking big risks that we all stand to benefit enormously from, there are several things that can be done in the name of gasoline parsimony that require very minimal lifestyle changes:

-If able, keep your windows up and blast the vent. Failing that, drive with the windows down in the city and suburbs. Use air conditioning on the highway. The AC lowers fuel economy by about 10% irrespective of speed. Drag from downed windows decrases fuel economy by about 10% when you hit 45 mph. At 55 mph fuel economy plummets 20% or more.

-Watch the RPM. Keeping it under 2,000 when accelerating saves a substantial amount of fuel. Doing so nets me sixty miles more a tank (I drive a V-6 '97 Taurus). Yes, people will on occasion ride your tail as they honk and gesticulate wildly, but that makes the strategy all the more satisfying.

-If you drive an automatic, ease the accelerator a bit as you build speed. This will cause the auto transmission to upshift earlier than it would otherwise.

-Cruise the freeway as slowly as is affordable. Dropping from 65 mph from 75 mph reduces fuel costs 13%, and going from 65 mph to 55 mph saves another 12%.

-Keep your tires inflated to the upper limit of the recommended PSI range.

-Fill up in the early morning or at night and on cooler days during the week. It'll cut down on gas evaporation.

-City planners: Start with an understanding that every time the light changes at an intersection, deadweight loss is created, because there must be an interregnum in which the signals for all directions must be red. Minimize the number of signal changes. From this, realize that having a commuter wait five minutes at one light and then cruise through the rest of the intersections on his drive in is exponentially more fuel efficient than having him wait thirty seconds each at ten different lights. Create an almost perpetual green along main thoroughfares. Drivers will have to wait a few minutes to come from the rivulet onto the major road, but after that it's quasi-highway.

-Install countdown systems in all electronic crosswalk signal devices. This serves as an enduring yellow light that will increase traffic flow and save fuel.

-Drastically increase drunk driving punitions. I rode my bike twenty miles roundtrip to and from work for almost two years. Then a couple of years ago I was hit from behind by a car, driven by an inebriate with a blood alcohol level of .24, that knocked me within inches of my life. Now I burn a gallon of gas every weekday.

Ecoterrorists have the right to make political statements too!

I stumbled upon this gem on the website for the nationally syndicated Laura Ingraham radio show. I'm not a huge fan of miss Ingraham--the bulk of her show involves her utilization of sophomoric jokes, mockery, and name-calling while her two producers snicker a la Beavis and Butthead. The trio is rather clever and when I occasionally listen I do enjoy some chuckles, but don't expect to learn much from them.

However, this particular link is to a San Francisco Chronicle article where convicted ecoterrorist Jeff Luers is interviewed by a man named Gregory Dicum. It is, not suprisingly, a softball interview that is drenched in admiration for Luers, who was sentenced to 22 years for setting fire to three SUVs in Oregon five years ago. If you have the time, I suggest skimming through it in full to see the skewed morality of the ecoterrorism crowd and to observe how sympathetic some media figures are to this sort of violence. Luers' refusal to enter into a plea agreement landed him the harshest sentence in US history for "environmentally motivated sabotage."

I've pulled out a few of the most precious excerpts:

Supporters have organized chapters in 35 cities and 11 countries, and they say
Luers is a political prisoner rotting in prison because of the way he expresses his political beliefs.

Rush Limbaugh famously makes the claim that environmentalism is the new bastion of communism. That's probably not fair to many non-Bolsheviks who are concerned about humanity's impact on the natural environment, but it's certainly true in some cases. These supporters, for example, clearly have no regard for the concept of personal property. Destroying $80,000 of a person's assets is a legitimate expression of political beliefs? I wonder how much carbon dioxide was spewed into the atmosphere from the burning of the vehichle's synthetics, paint, and tires? Probably more than they would have ever emitted being driven for 150,000 miles each.
Q: Did you consider yourself engaged in terrorism when you set fire to those SUVs?
A: No. Really, when you look at the use of the word today, terrorism is nothing more than a way to define armed struggles that you disagree with.
How heroic. Well, I suppose that means we can go ahead and carpet bomb the Sunni Triangle. The bastards there are causing us a lot of trouble, and the US government is in an armed struggle with the Islamo-fascists it doesn't agree with. Have at it boys.
Q: Were you conscious of it being a step in a new direction for you?
A: I was trying to move into the realm of more radical actions. If you compare arson
actions that have happened in the U.S., the majority of them were quite major. That's the goal that I was working toward -- to be more of an underground guerrilla activist. The SUVs were kind of a baby step.
Only 22 years? How much more damage should we expect when this nut is released? Three SUVs appear to be small potatoes compared to what Luers has on tap.

Q: In before-prison pictures, you look like the stereotypical anarchist punk. Do you consider yourself an anarchist now?
A: Yeah, but probably not in the way that most people define anarchist. I believe in autonomous self-rule. My definition of anarchy includes the ability of other people to choose to live nonanarchist lifestyles. I think that people need to choose the lifestyle that's best for them, as long as it doesn't impinge on the freedom of others.
If only he practiced what he preached, he'd be a respectable dissenter, a legitimate non-conformist. But destroying property hurts people economically. Heaping financial burdens on business people does not allow them to live freely. It increases insurance costs, and that results in less cash for the dealership to have available for employment. People are forced out of jobs. That's not freedom either. Uncontrolled conflagrations are exceedingly dangerous. Check out the wildfires raging in the Southwest as we speak. Yet this arson jeopardized the physical well-being of countless people in the Eugene area. There's also the damage he did to the environment by releasing so many toxic fumes into the atmosphere.
Well, education and ethical debate is a powerful force for change, but it can only sway someone whose problem is that they don't know. It can't reach someone who doesn't care... There is no equality between the average person and a corporate entity. Good, solid communication cannot occur when people are not equal, and that's where we find ourselves. We need to take corporations that aren't willing to listen and force them to listen, or hurt their pocketbooks. Losing money is the only thing that ever seems to affect a billion-dollar enterprise.
There's a slew of anti-corporation bromides in the piece. Many corporations are comprised of thousands of employees, hundreds of thousands of shareholders, and millions of customers. Does he expect an equality between one person and several million? Socialism is apparent once again. And of course, there is the richness of a far-lefty rabidly imposing his morality on everyone else, a tactic that the left putatively abhors.

If you don't like the dealings of a corporation, vote with your dollar. Spread your message in a civilized manner. There's a beauty in the capitalistic system that forces companies unable to satisfy the public out of existence. Coca Cola and Yum! Corporation (Pepsi spinoff that owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut) have had to respond to these sorts of concerns recently.

One parting question: Can you imagine if Luers had been arrested for torching an abortion clinic or a welfare office? Would the media salivate all over him and trumpet his right to "political expression" with such vigor? Would they suggest he was merely a political prisoner with too harsh a sentence?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Don't forget the shadow of the Valley of Death

It's been nearly four years since the Twin Towers came down--the fire, the smoke, the planes, the frantic news coverage, and the chilling pictures of those who chose free-fall over fire. In our world of three-minute ditties, that is an eternity. Most people can hardly remember what they were doing last night. We are, however, quite perceptive (and overly emotive) when it comes to things happening in the here-and-now. We hear something infuriating, our blood pressure rises, and we make a mental note against the source of our anger. We file the irk, and we move on until some new stimuli is received that alters our feeling (which tends to lose intensity over time).

On 9-11, we collectively made note of the extreme Wahhabi and Salafist Islamo-fascist wolves bent on the destruction of all infidels (everyone but themselves). Fast-forward four years. No longer united, many within see the US as far more dangerous than the aforementioned killers. Enter the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, and Amnesty International to lead the charge against aggressive policies aimed at beating global terrorism in an attempt to have us redirect our anger and sadness from 9-11 towards America and away from the jihadists. These groups despise President Bush and advocate the death of the West. The most visible object of their disdain is the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Willingly, they are useful idiots:
Although Red Cross employees did not personally witness any mishandling of
Qurans, Schorno said, they documented and corroborated enough reports from
detainees to share them with Pentagon and Guantanamo officials in confidential
reports. Schorno said the Red Cross would not have raised the issue if it had
been an isolated incident, but he would not offer specifics about the number of
complaints.
Of course he wouldn't. He'd be exposed if he did so. A common thread running through all these complaints is that they are based almost exclusively on allegations (which we'll get to shortly). There are a few confirmed cases of "mistreatment", but even these sparse cases cannot honestly be considered abuse:
They include a guard deliberately kicking the holy book as well as someone writing an obscenity in a Quran. A guard's urine also splashed on a prisoner's Quran... In another confirmed incident, water balloons thrown by prison guards caused an unspecified number of Qurans to get wet.
Their holy book has been disrespected by US personnel in isolated cases. Of course, the prisoners have desecrated some of the 1,600 copies generously given to them by the US military:
White House officials note that the investigation also found 15 cases of detainees mishandling their own Qurans.
So three times as many Korans have been damaged by the detainees as by US military personnel, and no hard abuse has been substantiated. There is no reason to continue to harp on the fact that the US treats these enemies of civilization with respect and dignity, even while free citizens in the Middle East can be brutalized for simply carrying a Bible. The previously mentioned anti-American groups are comprised of nihilistic Marxists who take moral equivocation to its extreme and will ally with the Islamo-fascists without hesitation to forward their own agenda. What we need not forget is that the jihadists are trained to allege abuse as soon as they are captured. An Al Qaeda training manual reads:

At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by State Security [investigators] before the judge. Complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison... Take advantage of visits to communicate with brothers outside prison and exchange information that may be helpful to them in their work outside prison [according to what occurred during the investigations]... Victory is achieved by obeying Almighty and Glorious God and because of their many sins.

The anti-American groups are more than happy to grant credence to the jihadist's allegations. Of course, the jihadists do advocate and employ the use of torture for their own purposes (under the section "Guidelines for Beating and Killing Hostages"):

We find permission to interrogate the hostage for the purpose of obtaining information. It is permitted to strike the nonbeliever who has no covenant until he reveals the news, information, and secrets of his people. The religious scholars have also permitted the killing of a hostage if he insists on withholding information from Moslems.

We are fighting a war two fronts. Our military, the best in the world, will eradicate the Islamo-fascist vermin on the battlefield. But the other front is waged in the realm of public opinion, and each one of us is involved in that fight. In Sleeping with the Devil, former CIA agent Robert Baer tersely describes the mindset of the enemy (p105):

Promising revenge; placing family, allies, and pawns in positions of power and influence; and above all, never compromising.

He was talking about the jihadist culture, but he might as well have been describing the anti-American groups noted earlier. Appeasement has never worked. We should not be fooled into buying the tripe the anti-American groups try to sell us, and our leaders should not have to bend to these group's destructive will. Keep in mind who these threats are, how they operate, and most importantly, what they are trying to do--destroy civilization as we know it.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Successful minorities need not apply

Just days after winning the EW Scripps Co. annual spelling bee, Anurag Kashyap is on the media circuit, rehashing how he knocked the word "appoggiatura" out of the park. And he should be honored for the feat. Thankfully intellectual development is still glorified in some small way between presentations of vogue American Idol and Survivor winners.

Interestingly, the media do not mention Kashyap's nationality. At least the American media do not. To verify that he was of Indian heritage, as his name and appearance suggests, I had to go to an Indian news service. That Kashyap is Indian is not an anomaly:

He beat 272 others, including three other Indian American students in the final
four... keeping with the recent trend, that Indian American students yet again
dominated the contest. The last surviving four were Kashyap, Patel, Rajiv
Terigopula and Deri.

This throws a wrench into the putative popular belief that there is no significant differences across various cultures and races. Indians coming in from abroad to a foreign culture do well? What about the incredible success of Jews despite suffering quite possibly the worst perpetual persecution of any group in the history of the world? Eep. We can't have all that. What about European white male hegemony and exploitation? Consequently, our media sweep these minority successes under the rug and pretend they do not exist (Grrr, why is Israel still around?). But if a problem or failure happens to involve a minority, I don't need to tell you that you'll hear about it. The debacle involving Jai-isha Akins, the five year-old urchin who was handcuffed in Florida for attacking her teacher, climbing on furniture, and damaging school property is one of countless examples. Discussing the situation on the O'Reilly Factor was Akins' attorney, CK Hoffler, who said:

I would be naive if I didn't mention that, certainly, I wonder, I question whether if this had not been an African-American child the same thing would have happened.

In the blogosphere it becomes even more conspicuous, as this tendentious piece makes apparent:
I am almost physically ill after watching U.S. television news video of a 5 year old child - a little girl who "just happens" to be Black - first, being set upon by two women - both white - who purportedly are her teachers; then later as the little girl sits quietly - being surrounded and handcuffed by 3 police officers - every one of them also "just happens" to be white.

The plight of select groups is well-documented and tirelessly harped on. When one member of this group succeeds, they may selectively be spotlighted for their achievement against the odds or they may not. Fantasia Barrino, the American Idol winner who is also a single black mother, has been glorified for attacking the stereotype about single mothers. Of course illegitimacy is overwhelmingly linked with poverty and pathological behavior, but that's beside the point. Judge Janice Rogers Brown, on the other hand, has not been held up as a minority who has made her way. Most people are not even aware that she is black. Instead she draws criticism (though some, like myself, consider this praise!) from people such as Senator Ted Kennedy:

She has criticized the New Deal, which gave us Social Security, the minimum wage, and fair labor laws. She's questioned whether age discrimination laws benefit the public interest... No one with these views should be confirmed to a federal court and certainly not to the federal court most responsible for cases affecting government action.
And we wonder why we have a solvency problem or that corporations want to outsource. Basically, if a member of the disadvantaged group succeeds by embracing the culture that tends to fail, they become heroic. If they abandon the said culture to better themselves, they at least lose that special "disadvantaged" tag, and often become called turn-coats and Uncle Toms.

These examples are microcosms of the larger social climate. When talking about the unfair difficulties that minorities face, the media are really only referring to select groups. Those that do astoundingly well (and in fact outperform native whites) are usually excluded from analysis. As the Census link shows, Hispanics and especially blacks do not do as well as their white counterparts. However, Asian Americans consistently do better than whites. As this graph shows, the differences in income have been remarkably static, showing that some minorities have been able to consistently outperform the majority.

It is virtually impossible to find data on income by country of origin in the US, but Japanese, Korean, and Chinese American immigrants (as a group) earned 110% as much as their native counterparts. That is exceptional given that immigrants as a whole earned 11% less than natives during the same year, irrespective of nationality. Asian Americans also have a greater affinity for obeying the law than other minorities and whites. From Steve Sailer:

Nationwide in 1997, non-Hispanic whites comprised 34.8 percent of the prisoners, African-Americans 46.9 percent, Hispanics 16.0 percent, and others 2.3 percent. Overall, the study found that 2.6 percent of the African-American adult population was imprisoned in 1997, compared to 1.1 percent of Hispanics, and 0.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The report does not break out imprisonment rates for Asian-Americans, but most experts believe Asians tend to be imprisoned the least of all major groups.

They would almost certainly have to. Asian Americans made up 4.2% of the US population in 2000 (the Census defines Arabs as separate from Asians). So in that 2.3% "other" category is contained Arabs, native Americans, people of numerous different races, and groups with very small populations in the US in addition to Asians. Maybe Asians are 1% of that? If so, they are only about 25% as likely as the average American to end up in the slammer, and about half as likely as their fellow whites.

Asians are the best example of minorities succeeding and subsequently being ignored by the media machine. As Randall Parker summed in one his recent posts:

What is missing from the above report? Asians. South Asians. East Asians. They live in the United States. But to the leftist intellectuals who write about ethnic groups in America they are largely invisible. Why? They are inconvenient. They do at least as well as whites economically and yet they are not white.

But it is not just Asians. Within large categories there is huge variation in the amount of success that different subgroups attain. A recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center showed that Cuban Americans have a net worth about fifteen times greater than Hispanics from Central America and the Caribbean.

Why the differences? Cultural and genetic differences come to mind. Indians, for example, place an extraordinary emphasis on education. From Confucian morality, the East emphatically stresses a respect for superiors. If a student in Harlem mouths off to a teacher, he's likely to become a class hero. If the teacher tries to discipline him, she may end up facing a lawsuit or getting a fist from the boy's father. In Singapore, however, the little whelp will be ostracized by his peers and receive a caning from the teacher. The hip-hop culture promotes misogyny, anti-social behavior, violence, irresponsibility, and drug-use. Couple that with a home environment where no father is present, and you have the recipe for an out-of-control kid who is not going to be able to compete with Anurag Kashyap.

Genetics is another factor that is often dismissed. Just for suggesting that something so obvious has an effect often leads to one being branded a racist. But we know genes are hereditary, and race is nothing more than an extended family. Here are the estimated average IQs for a few countries that may shed some light:

Hong Kong--107
South Korea--106
Japan--105
Italy--102
US--98
Argentina--96
Peru--90
Mexico--87
Iraq--87
Zambia--77
Uganda--73
Nigeria--67
Ethiopia--63

It is much overdue for the public discourse to move from the blank-slate, egalitarian belief that people (and groups) are all the same beyond the pressures of their external environment to face the realities of human nature. It is also past time that the politically correct belief in moral equivalency be discarded. Hip-hop and classical music are not different but equal. Nor is liberal democracy as a political philosophy equal to theocratic authoritarianism. Finally, laying the failure of some select groups on the shoulders of the majority is self-defeating and illogical, as many other minority groups surpass the majority in a host of ways.