May 2008

In the past, we Angry Men have been rather rude to hybrids. Not without reason, of course (and not without provocation–as anyone who’s been nearly suffocated in the cloud of Smug produced by the Prius crowd can appreciate).

Still, the mark of any rational man is to realize when he may have been unfair, and since it’s Friday and we Angry Men traditionally want to have a bit of fun today, let’s take a look at some hybrids and electric vehicles that we might all actually want to drive:

Hybrid Technologies AXP Sports Car
Hybrid Technologies 220mpg AXP Entry
Mullen Motors/Hybrid Tech L1X-75 GT
Mullen Motors/Hybrid Technologies L1X-75 GT Electric Roadster
UEV Spyder Electric Sportscar
Universal Electric Vehicle Spyder
Tesla Roadster
Tesla Roadster

Why, you may ask, are we spending time looking at these toys for the idle rich? Well, mostly because they’re awesome, of course (this is Friday). But, also, it’s been so long that we’ve all probably forgotten that roadsters were one of the original driving forces in automotive development and adoption. Back when cars were far too expensive for just anyone to have one, commercial vehicles and roadsters helped pave the way—two markets where bottom line price is usually not as important as other factors. Here’s hoping this is the start of a whole new way to drive!

But, on to the discussion: What will make you switch from the good old fashioned internal combustion engine? Price? Performance? Street Cred? Geek Cred? What will it take to persuade you to drink the Kool Aid?


Strategically placed on the University of Illinois campus are “biocubes” which are boxes constructed of oriented strain board (OSB) approximately 2′ X 2′ X 2′ and containing a little soil and a plant or two. Given that these are f**ing ugly pieces of work, I am impressed that they received the approval of the facilities site committee. This is the brainchild of Raffaele Stuparitz (no kidding – I couldn’t make this up!). Apparently this is some kind of an effort to raise awareness of environmental sustainability, for which participants will be able to receive a “Biocube T-shirt (american apparel, organic cotton, sweet design, super comfy).”

Structural panels such as OSB use phenol or urea formaldehyde and isocyanate resins as an adhesive in their construction. OSB panels are waterproof only for moderate exposure and soon degrade. Hydrolysis of the resins, especially urea formaldehyde, in a hot and humid (Hello! east central Illinois!) environment, evolve free formaldehyde. Only OSB constructed with PMDI (polymeric diphenyl methylene diisocyanate) binders are considered “green”.

So it is always amusing to see what the eco-activists select in their quest for “making a statement”. OSB was clearly selected because it is cheap! But sustainable — no probably not — unless the much more expensive PMDI version was obtained, or they planted palms or spider plants instead of grass.

The O’Reilly Factor recently went visiting Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of the University of Syracuse, and former Chancellor of the University of Illinois. At issue is whether business professor Dr. Boyce Watkins, and his comments regarding NPR’s editor Juan Willams, who in public, supported Bill O’Reilly in an earlier controversy, were appropriate coming from the forum of Syracuse University.

O’Reilly’s contention? That such comments, if made by a white professor, would have resulted in, at a minimum, a mandatory appearance before a professional review board for appropriate academic behavoir and academic standards of integrity, and more likely dismissal from the faculty. Clearly, O’Reilly argues, Dr. Watkins is pursuing a race based agenda under the guise of academic freedom.

For those of us in Champaign, the home of the University of Illinois, this is not a surprise. It is a well known tenet that organizations are informed by the attitudes of the senior leadership. Nancy Cantor’s attitudes are well known here, and frankly it was Syracuse’s loss and our gain when she moved on. People are still trying to patch up the disaster that was her administration.

It was, of course, the Cantor administration which supported the demise of the “Chief” and legitimized the small minority voice who found racism in the University’s athletic symbol. Moreover, Cantor’s attitude became evident when a group of protestors invaded the Swanland Administration Building and prevented employees from accessing the building. Rather than promote the security and safety of the staff, Cantor legitimized the group by decending from her office and sitting down with the protestors for discussions of racism, while employees, unable to get to their work place, or trapped inside, were forced to wait.

The issue gave the NCAA, always on the look-out for ways to punish the University of Illinois, a means to sanction Illinois for “hostile and abusive” practices, even though the Florida Seminoles got a free ride. The University, however, will carry on, without its halftime dance and mascot; and thankfully without Nancy Cantor.

Still, watching Dr. Cantor, trotting and attempting to duck The Factor’s representative’s questions was a highlight of Memorial Day.

To all those who have died so that we may be free: Thank you.

For the families with a neatly folded flag instead of a child or spouse: Thank you.

To everyone else: Remember to visit a memorial in honor of the day.

The Honorable Ronald E. “Dr. No” Paul, Representative of the Texas 22nd House District and candidate for the Republican nomination has “made it”: His candidacy and, more particularly, its followers has made the New York Times Style page. The profiles of the followers are quite amusing. The guy who keeps half his savings in silver is probably the best. Paulville gets a mention, too, and it doesn’t (yet) appear to be a scam. Can you imagine the people who frequent bars in Lower Manhattan moving to West Texas? What about white guys who wear Rasta hats? It’d be an awesome thing to behold but Angry New Mexican better watch out, they’ll be in pissing distance of him.


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ObFascismTag: Sorry, not this time. I can’t blame this little bit of madness on discredited European nationalistic philosophies of the inter-war period of the 20th Century. It’s entirely home-grown.

Last year I bit….

I got a Mac.

The iPod wasn’t the gateway drug for me. I was buying a new computer and wanted a high end laptop to run big nasty software I need for my research on the go. A friend suggested I get a 17″ MacBook Pro. I’d been rather hesitant about Apple for a while due to things they’d been doing back in the Steve Jobs interregnum, but my friend—who knows and cares a lot more about such things than I do—was persuasive, so I figured I’d spent grant money as he said. Costing it out it wasn’t a bad deal. Apples may be expensive, but feature for feature they are competitive on price. The difference is that Apple simply doesn’t sell the low end (under $1000), but I wasn’t looking for anything like that.

I’ve long disliked Windows and I’m sure I’m not alone. Does anyone really like Windows? There are some nice things about it, but its countless irritation factors rapidly overwhelm what good feelings one might have had. However, I am stuck needing Windows because there is a lot of software I need that exists only on Windows, kind of an inverse of what kept the Mac platform alive during the 1990s, when multimedia people needed to run things like Video Toaster and the only really good platform for it was Mac. In my case this is scientific and statistical analysis software. Numerical integration, nonlinear optimization, 3D graphics, big data files, etc., all really like a powerful machine, for exactly the same reasons multimedia machines do: Floating point calculation and big data files. Unlike multimedia, most of these programs are written for Windows. Now that the market is trending towards Apple having a much larger share than “pathetic,” particularly at the medium to high end where the miserable failure of Vista has left a gap, the software vendors are starting to trend back too, but it will be a while before I get to run everything I need.

I’m not a classic stereotypical Mac user. Profession aside (hardly diagnostic, believe me), I’m not a Whole Foods shopping, latte-sipping hipster. I listen to music that—while often off the beaten path—is generally twenty or thirty years old. I dislike nouveaux cuisine, have middlebrow taste in movies and TV (favorites: police procedurals, detective shows, historical dramas and nonfiction) and reading (mostly nonfiction or historical novels). In short, I’m pretty skeptical of things bobo. I am, sadly, spiteful enough to be able to understand anti-Obama votes that come from the same basic motive (as opposed to genuine motives, whatever those are), a defiant desire to crank some good old fashioned headbanger rock rather than hear the pathetic wailings of the new wretched indie rocker that none of your friends have heard of quite yet, or a desire to avoid Apple products because of the jackoff Apple-is-my-life advocates on the intarweb.

So what is that I like about the new Apples? The ideal OS to me is very much unlike the Mac-as-lifestyle marketing: In a nutshell, the less I have to acknowledge its existence the happier I am with it. OS/X comes as close as I’ve found in two decades of heavy computer use in which I spent a lot of time on DOS, Windows 3.X, OS/2, Windows NT/2000/XP, and Unix of various flavors, as well as Mac back in the old days, which was obnoxious. Linux isn’t really an option for me—I have to do too much sysadmining, which means I have to know stuff about the OS, ergo be aware of its existence; it also doesn’t easily run the apps I need. For me, Linux is only free if I don’t value my time.

OS/X is not perfect: It has a few annoying quirks and I don’t like Mac keyboard layouts, but otherwise it meets my ideal because, 99% of the time I do absolutely nothing with it but run the apps I want. I may be fighting with them (this means you, Office 2008), but that’s not Apple’s fault. Mostly I don’t think about the OS at all, with the occasional exception when Apple Software Update wants me to type in my admin password or I need to change some setting or another, a task which is similarly refreshingly easy. Unlike Windows Update, Apple Software Update is very much a piece of the rest. It does its thing—after asking permission—and goes away. It’s not an “adventure” and it doesn’t leave its crap on the hard drive like a bunch of sloppy workmen who abandon their take-out wrappers and track mud on your carpet after fixing the bathroom. The Intel Macs were a brilliant idea and are what pushed me over the edge. People like me who have a fair number of Windows-only applications to run can do that with minimal fuss with Parallels or VMWare—and, since Windows in that case is just another program, when virtual Windows blue screens, it just gets killed like any other hung application. Sweet.

The transformation from Disneyland (OS/9) to libertarian paternalism (OS/X) is an amazing shift of philosophy. XP was bad enough but Vista from what I hear has become downright Disneyland totalitarian. That was a bullet that Apple dodged ten years ago when the original design for OS/X, which sounds downright Vista-ish, died under its own weight and Steve Jobs returning as CEO brought OPENSTEP in as a replacement.

A few random points to conclude:

The Apple Stores look like absolute chaos inside, but I will give them this: They are efficient. They may hire body-pierced twentysomethings, but don’t seem to put up with much BS from them.

Oh, in case you’ve not seen it, here’s an updated version of the classic “if your OS was an airline.”

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ObFascismTag: With OS/X I am living in New Hampshire rather than Mussolini’s Italy. 😛

On April 15th this year, Angry Overeducated Catholic posted on a subject dear to all of us (on April 15th at least): the Income Tax. By way of some simple math (actually simpler than that needed to complete a 2007 Schedule D), a flat tax with a single or at most two rates, and sufficiently high exclusions, becomes progressive in the “traditional Democratic sense.” My subsequent post explored some considerations involving the taxation of capital gains, for which, I might point out, AOC’s methodology would also provide an acceptable solution. Angry New Mexican in his comment suggested that we ‘crunch some numbers’ to see if this would be revenue neutral.

Since I am more than slightly interested in living to witness the elimination of the IRS, and the tens of thousands of pages of incomprehensible tax code, I decided to research the problem myself. Interestingly, multiple others have looked at income distribution, taxation and policy impact. Just to reference a few:

Income Distribution: Stagnant or Mobile?
Further Analysis of the Distribution of Income and Taxes, 1979-2002
Income, Earnings, and Poverty Data From the 2006 American Community Survey
Income Mobility in the U.S. from 1996 to 2005
U.S. Treasury Distributional Analysis Methodology (1999)
Census Bureau: Source and Accuracy of Estimates for Income
Current Population Reports: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006
Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-2002 (Berkeley)
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring 1997,

What I was after was (a) a source of data for the income distribution in the United States; (b) the current revenue from the income tax; and possibly (c) the revenue broken down as ordinary income vs. capital gains. I figured that these base data would allow me to apply AOC’s methodology and see what rates would be needed to provide a revenue neutral model. (By the way, the Census Bureau has a wonderful tool called the DataFerrett that allows you to import data from various web based databases: the DataWeb.)

Unfortunately, after looking through the various papers, including a very good one from Berkeley—Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-2002 by Thomas Piketty, EHESS, Paris and Emmanuel Saez, UC Berkeley —hardly the bastion of conservative fiscal policy—, I am forced to conclude that a fair, progressive (or otherwise), revenue-maximizing income tax is not at all likely. The problem is that the strategic objective of the income tax is not to be revenue-maximizing, not to be fair in any sense, and not to be particularly progressive, although these are certainly the words mouthed by politicians. The primary motivation for today’s bizarre income tax policy is quite simply “income redistribution”.

The first clue is in the source papers themselves where the economic distribution of income appears as a principal part of the title in many documents. The problem is that some people cannot look at a person who is making more than a specific amount and not see an inherent evil. It doesn’t matter how many jobs, or how much wealth for everyone this income generates, only that any one person, corporation or entity, is “indecently wealthy” or has “wind-fall profits”. And in the case of the Oil Companies (Shell, BP, Exxon, etc.) it’s not about what the percent profit-to-revenue is, but only the absolute dollar amount. Big companies have big revenues and consequently big dollar profits — that’s a consequence of ‘big’. As a percent of revenue, Oil profits are in the 7% range which is hardly excessive. In fact, your typical corner ice-cream store probably generates a higher percentage profit than this.

The same with high net worth individuals, CEOs of corporations, and others with high dollar market driven compensation. It’s a simple fact that the market sets the value of the compensation — Congressional limits on the deductibility of CEO compensation (at $1 million) only forced the creation of other forms of compensation. But this goes whooshing by the hair of the typical redistributionist — inherently evil is any compensation over $1 million.

But how does this ‘redistributionist’ philosophy result in the morass of current tax regulation? After all, there are ( I presume —er, hope) some Senators and Congresscritters who have a brain. I can only conclude that the redistributionist philosophy has permeated the policy environment and legislative ‘language’ to the extent that most reasoned tax policy writers throw up their hands in disgust; and if they can’t fix the damn thing at the base through fundamentals, then at least they can carve out a little loophole for their constituents providing some relief from the redistribution. The result is the current mess.

The redistributionist philosophy also dovetails nicely with the ability to ‘take’ from those who have and redistribute to those the Congress deems worthy — i.e., to those who will support their bids to remain in power. It’s so nice to deliver benefits and charity when you personally don’t have to bear the cost.


“The American Republic will survive until the day the Congress discovers it can bribe the people with the people’s money.” -Alexis de Tocqueville .

Every so often something from our ultra-secret internal mailing list is so riotously hillarious, that we feel the need to share. Today is one of those days

Angry Immigrant
Now for something completely different: 14 tons of om nom nom nom nom

Angry Overeducated Catholic
Man, in the old days, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all. Give it 2, 3 hours tops, and the Cookie Monster would be out there hoovering up all those tasty cookies. The road would be clear in no time…

But now, ever since the treatments and drugs to convince him that cookies are a “sometimes food,” he’s just a scrawny, twitchy, frightened, confused shadow of his former self…

Poor, poor, Cookie Monster…

Angry New Mexican
So who exactly sent the Cookie Monster to Abu Ghraib anyway? 🙂

Angry Overeducated Catholic
It’s a common misperception that Cookie Monster was “re-educated” by a secret cabal of the U.S. Government (or accidentally due to a paperwork error involving a number of overweight Al Qaeda operatives). The tragic reality is that it was the Holistic Whole-Earth Homeopathic Healing Center in Berkeley. At the (probably innocent) suggestion of Big Bird, Cookie Monster had checked into the center to deal with some moderate weight gain issues related to Internet sales of Mrs. Fields cookies.

He disappeared for six months.

When he returned, he was a 40% of his former weight, a shattered wreck psychologically and would interject random statements about nutrition (“cookies are sometimes food—but only carob cookies”, “organic food important, but cruelty-free food more important”, “every time you touch corn syrup Gaia scream in pain”) and the environment (“Gaia shudder under touch of rapemaster Cheney”, “human footprint like kick to Gaia’s head”, “earth like big, friendly dog, gentle and kind…humans like fleas—should be exterminated!”)

Apparently, his lines are now largely dubbed on Sesame Street, as his first few unedited appearances terrified the child audience, and apparently led to a few being permanently committed…

But, hey, man, it’s all for Gaia, so it’s good!

I’ve long thought that the death penalty as implemented here in the U.S. is expensive, unpopular, ineffective, inaccurate, and ought to, itself, be put down. It’s popped up in the news again lately, and parts of the recent flurry of comments are interesting to note.

It looks like I may have to revise my opinion of ‘ineffective’. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings have a few papers investigating links between executions carried out vs. future homicides committed. They finds that executions cause fewer homicides, while commutations of sentences cause increases. Their second paper finds that crime may be preventable with the proper conditions that produce incentives to work for gain legally.

From the AP:

“Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect. The results are robust, they don’t really go away. I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty [deters] — what am I going to do, hide them?”

I have to applaud Prof. Mocan for sticking to his observations when they fly in the face of his personal views. Parts of both papers show the echoes of reviewers and emotionalists attempting to chastise him for publishing findings that are inconvenient to their pet causes:

“Although these results demonstrate the existence of the deterrent effect of capital punishment, it should be noted that there remain a number of significant issues surrounding the imposition of the death penalty. For example, although the Supreme Court of the United States remains unconvinced that there exists racial discrimination in the imposition of the death penalty, recent research points to the possibility of such discrimination. Along the same lines, there is evidence indicating that there is discrimination regarding who gets executed and whose sentence gets commuted once the death penalty is received. Given these concerns, a stand for or against capital punishment should be taken with caution.”

The fact that Prof. Mocan has to add that to his papers is a sad demonstration that his colleagues are no longer scientists (even when loosely applying that term to a science as soft as economics), but activists — determined to further their cause regardless of the actual empirical data. Nearly a full page of his second paper is spent explaining that ‘just because his findings show a deterrent effect, that doesn’t mean that everyone should drop what their doing and kill a death-row inmate.’ This shows that his colleagues, newcomers to the world of moral reasoning, are still adjusting to how to deal with research that conflicts with what they decided the result “must be”.

So capital punishment is apparently slightly effective. It’s still expensive, unpopular, and ridiculously inaccurate. (Way to Go, Illinois! You’re #2!) It will be interesting to watch the lawyers-cum-researchers stretch their pundit wings and opine back and forth about this for a few years before deciding to sue each other into silence. The flurry of comments this year are significant because the author is stating the unfashionable opinion (but still distancing himself personally from it). The real state of the practice in this country will likely go untouched by these numbers, as most people approach this question emotionally and morally; they are usually immune to statistics-based arguments from either camp.

So for those of you scoring at home, that’s +1 for Prof. Mocan — he gets his little attention-boost like a good news-seeking lawyer/researcher. ‘Law and Economics’ reviewers get a -1 for demanding all results be fashionable. But overall, capital punishment in the US still gets a really really low score.


The world is not linear. No matter how much we would like to believe that B follows A in some simple predictable manner, it has been my experience that the best that can be observed is some sort of first order differential equation where B is dependent on A but also on itself (B), when it is not dependent on C, D and E. In fact most of my observations fall into the second order non-linear camp. This is true for tax policy (Laffer curve), population dynamics, and global warming just to mention a few.

The lack of Congressional strategic planning ability or the ability to even somewhat accurately project the consequences of policy is annoying. Without even going to Washington DC, you also can observe the problem, which appears to be endemic, in the corporate world. People want simple answers and typically want them in time for quarterly earnings reports or next year’s elections.

Some time ago I wrote about a hit-and-run involving my daughter. That missive was based on the report from a bystander that the driver of the other vehicle (my daughter’s vehicle was parked and she in bed) was “Mexican looking” and presumably illegal.

Now my daughter has been involved in three hit-and-runs and two comprehensive claims where her windows were smashed out. Not one of these were her fault, and in four out of the five claims she was not even present. As a result of these “excessive” claims, my unnamed insurance company sent me a notice that they were dropping insurance on both my daughter and her vehicle. Now as it turns out, on her way to Seattle she did encounter a revenue-needy jurisdiction in Wyoming. After a 200 mile stretch of 75 MPH highway, Lovell has strategically placed 35 MPH speed limit signs with 35 MPH AHEAD signs well short of the necessary typical stopping distance for 75 MPH. Considering that the mimimum fine was $100 for a 1-10 over the limit offense, this burg needs to be listed. So we have five claims and one instance of a seriously dangerous driver at 1-10 over the limit.

It is to no one’s surprise that small towns derive a significant portion of their revenue from speeding tickes. Some juristictions, fondly mentioned in other Angry Man entries, also seem to use tickets as an extended revenue source. So we have the situation where insurance companies are rating driver and vehicles on moving violations, and jurisdictions using those same violations as a major source of revenue, and using the insurance rating process as a justification for setting fines higher and higher. We even have the absurd situation where the legal jurisdictions offer non-permanent settlements, at a higher cost, for clearing the violation. (See Illinois and Missouri DMVs).

So the jurisdictions view the problem as one of revenue with the insurance companies providing a means for extorting higher fines. The insurance companies, looking to next quarter’s revenues, see their policy as a loss control mechanism. Dumping drivers with “bad” records is a loss stopper. Dumping good drivers with excessive claims without regard to fault is a loss stopper. States who pass no-fault laws in auto accidents have succeeded only in changing the limits from x number of at-cause claims to x number of any claims. States have made it illegal to drive without insurance, yet also apply financial responsibility taxes to violations. This is all enabled by the fact that America is now a mobile society rather than a stationary one. (The milkman used to deliver to you.) So to recap:

  • America is mobile – driving is more or less a necessity
  • States require insurance by law
  • Insurance companies attempt to stop loss by cancelling policies with excessive claims
  • Jurisdictions use moving violations as a source of revenue
  • Jurisdictions use the potential loss of your policy as a means of extorting additional revenue by offering cash alternatives to permanent violations on record

Insurance companies offer policies with uninsured/underinsured driver coverage. In my daughter’s case, even though she was not at fault, since the other driver could not be located, the company was responsible for the loss. That this is an endemic problem can be deduced by the fact that comprehensive and under/un-insured motorist coverage now comes with a deductible as high as collision, and the liability limits on this coverage are now as high as on the vehicle underwritten. Translation: There are a lot of accidents involving hit-and-runs or uninsured motorists.

So here is where the strategic planning comes in, or lack thereof. Insurance companies by promoting their loss policies are, in fact, limiting their losses in the short term. People who are dropped from coverage, and cannot afford the “high-risk” coverage, naturally drive without insurance. As their numbers increase, and they will because of the requirements imposed by a mobile society, the pool of potential long term customers shrinks. Further, jurisdictions using the same instrument the insurance company uses as a risk metric (tickets) as a revenue source, drive the number of excessive claims cancels and further limit the pool. Overall, the probability of non-insured-vs-insured collisions increases. This of course flows into the loss limit which further exacerbates the problem. The end result is either a stable phase point of no revenue, or of no market for insurance.

In fact, this is nearly homologous to the dog-flea problem, an example of two first order coupled differential equations in its simplist formulation. In that problem, if there are too many bites, the dogs die out. Too many fleas and they starve for lack of dogs and die out. Stable solutions exist trivially with no dogs and fleas or non-trivially in stationary points in phase space or phase-space limit cycles.

Unfortunately, none of this phase state analysis makes it to the policy makers at the local government or to the risk analysts at the insurance companies. Each is acting as if the problem were purely linear and totally decoupled. At the very least, both should acknowledge that actions taken effect the other and at least jointly consider the long term consequences.

The short term consequence to the particular insurance company mentioned in this specific case was the loss of all policies held with that company (6 or so policies); the douchbags.

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