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
($65,000)
 
 
Mullen Motors/Hybrid Tech L1X-75 GT
Mullen Motors/Hybrid Technologies L1X-75 GT Electric Roadster
($125,000)
 
 
UEV Spyder Electric Sportscar
Universal Electric Vehicle Spyder
($70,000)
 
 
Tesla Roadster
Tesla Roadster
($109,000)
 
 

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?

Biocube

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.

Discuss!

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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.

Alas…

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

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