Email notification to Brandon Starr's blog has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol in two-toed sloths, and has been used as an effective exfoliant.
Monday, April 05, 2004
Philip Morris, EU close to $1 billion settlement over cigarette smuggling charges
The makers of Marlboro aren't being charged with doing the actual smuggling. But they are about to be charged a load of money over something nearly as scuzzy. They sent additional cigarettes to neighboring countries, knowing they would then be smuggled.
Having harangued Philip Morris, however, let me say this: the EU brings the smuggling down on its own head. The cigarettes are being smuggled from countries with 10% excise taxes to countries with 200%+ excise taxes. It doesn't take an Adam Smith to figure out that someone's going to try to figure out a way to make a profit off of the difference.
Heck, even in the U.S., with differences between various state excise taxes and Native American reservation excise taxes, smuggling does on. And the difference isn't usually 200%.
So, the socialist EU governments try to make heavy coin off of tobacco, and end up paying $1 billion per year trying to stop the smuggling, and new criminals, they themselves create.
Remember that taxes are essentially a use of governmental force. When a government heavily taxes anything, it means they want less of it in their society and are willing to send out their agents, both tax and police, to stop it. In socialist governments, they want less tobacco. They also heavily tax gas, which means they want less gasoline used. Finally, they heavily tax high incomes. This means they want less success in their society. That's right. They'd like to see everyone at home, not smoking, and having roughly the same income as their neighbor, regardless of how hard they work or how good their ideas are.
Be very careful when you cheer high taxes, even if it's of something you despise. My dad's an asthmatic, and I saw growing up in the '70s what widespread public smoking did to him. I bear no love of the tobacco industry. But I'm very leery of the high taxes levied on them.
And, by the way, I see the big multi-state settlement as a way for the tobacco companies to ensure that the states don't allow anyone to drive them out of business
. The lawyers and governments made things so bad, they saw a multi-decade, multi-multi-billion-dollar settlement as the cost of doing business.
It's scary to anyone with a love of the small-government vision this country was founded and prospered on. Let's be careful out there, people.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Saudis: OPEC not reason for high U.S. gas prices
Saudis: OPEC not reason for high U.S. gas prices
They happen to be correct.
The refinery capacity in this country is strained mightily. It's to the point where if any plant goes down, even for routine maintenance, prices rise.
The refineries are getting enough crude oil from U.S., OPEC, and other sources. They just can't turn it into gasoline fast enough. During the winter, the refineries have to also make heating oil. This winter was very cold and rough on the East Coast, so the switchover back to gasoline was delayed.
Why don't we make more refineries? Well, the incentives just aren't there. In addition to winter and summer blends, there are a few dozen local blends mandated by different states. It's one of the costs of "environmentalism"--even though presumably only a few blends at most would be needed to make environmentally-friendly gas, many localities have forced through their own special legislation. This makes gasoline hard to make in big quantities, and changes are constantly being forced on the refineries. Thus, the benefits aren't there for the refiners.
Having said that, there's another reason not mentioned in the article. Gas prices are high because the dollar is low. Oil, and in fact all commodities, are denominated in dollars. Dollar down, commodities up. Thus, the crude oil that becomes gas is in fact becoming more expensive. Reason: when they sell a barrel of oil to us at a certain number of dollars, they get less value for that number of dollars. To get the value they're used to, they need a higher number of dollars, or they will lose out. Thus, the tendency is to hold back a bit until they are getting the value they need to keep their oil-based economies going.
So, the reason really isn't OPEC. It's the weak dollar combined with a lack of refinery capacity. And neither are likely to change much soon. Now, if OPEC truly turned off the spigot, or a refinery went down hard, you'd see gas prices really rocket up.
Saturday, April 03, 2004
"God told me" child-killin' Mom found insane
"God told me" defense works, Mom not guilty by reason of insanity for killing her children
Hard to say what I think of this. True, she was insane--still is. She believes in an invisible man in the sky who told her things to do. Little things, like pray. Big things, like kill her babies, bashing their heads in until the brains spilled like lumpy gravy. She listened to the invisible man. She did as he told her.
So do a lot of other folks. Happily, the invisible man doesn't tell everyone to kill.
Or more accurately, most folks have a rationality circuit that kicks in, preventing their religion from making them do things irrationally. Most folks do enough religion to get by in society. When things get nutty, their circuit breaks, and they get out. But not everyone.
Spain reaping the whirlwind
Spain: suspects, chanting Arabic, blow themselves up, kill policeman
(the 'chanting arabic' portion comes from CNN
Also, a bomb of the type used by the same group was found and defused on a railroad track.
So, I guess Spain isn't gaining big rewards from the terrorists for their lack of spine. Following the elections, the new Socialist government did all but lick boot in saying they'd do whatever it takes to get out of Iraq, not raise Islamic hackles.
Trouble is, terrorists don't respect a lack of resolve. They take advantage of it.
No spine, Spain? Spin. Spun, spans the way back to sanity.
In other words, bullies, especially including terrorists, respect only power. You must get tough.
Powell now doubts Iraqi WMD evidence
Better late than never? Powell now doubts Iraqi trailers were weapons labs
Wonderful. Another reason we went in goes down.
As far as my own reasons for being fine with the war, the only one still on two legs is "Saddam is a sadist, a tyrant, a torturer, and a thief." Unfortunately, that same argument goes for about four dozen other leaders of backassward nations around the globe.
Friday, April 02, 2004
International Comic Arts Association
Comic Pimp: I love that there will finally be an industry association for comic books and graphic novels
The Comic Pimp, a weekly columnist I have written about before, loves the idea. It makes sense to me as an outsider to the industry, too.
Comic readership has been stagnant for years. The same people have been buying graphic novels and comic books for years, with little gain of new readership. Despite this, people in other creative areas have been hammering at the doors of comicdom for ideas, writing, and looks.
Marvel, famously, has been putting out all of its classic titles into the movie market: The Hulk, The X Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man, The Punisher. But also, other comic houses have had films made from their titles: Spawn, Hellboy, Monkey-Bone, Ghost World, and Men In Black spring to mind, even before you take in the DC titles like Batman and Superman. In addition, movies and TV shows have been taking ideas, looks, and overall cool from comics: The Matrix, Alias, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all bear the clear marks of comicdom in their look-and-feel.
And more are on the way.
Given the cool factor that comes from comics' children, it is only natural that the publishers of comics feel the time is ripe to improve the circulation of the comics themselves.
Anything that helps creative people be more creative or gain more from their creativity without harm to others works for me.
Check it out.
Thoughts on the job numbers
308,000 jobs added in March; unemployment slightly up
Yes, but what does it MEAN?
Well, without delving into the deeper numbers, here's a quickie lowdown:
1) One month of good job growth is nice, but doesn't automatically mean we're into a new jobs trend yet.
2) The U.S. population adds about 125,000 adults per month who need jobs. So, the last year or so, each time the job growth has been about zero, we've been getting behind in the number of people actually needing jobs. This month met it's numbers and made up for about a month and a half more. That's it.
3) The unemployment number went UP slightly. That's actually not a bad sign. Remember, unemployment only counts people who are CURRENTLY LOOKING for a job. A lot of folks, during a recession, give up on looking for a job. They get by however they can. When things pick up, they start looking again. So, unemployment actually has to RISE at the start of a job boom, as folks pick up on the fact that new jobs are starting to be created. Unemployment at this phase of the business cycle is OK. It's not OK when business is supposedly booming, or at the bottom of a recession. But right now, it's just fine.
4) Besides, unemployment of 5.7% is not that high anyway. According to most economists, it represents "full employment," which means the number of people you can keep in a job anyway. There will always, in a free economy, be folks looking for a better job, or industries changing, displacing some folks and creating jobs for folks with different skills. Unemployment at super-low rates is actually indicative of something wrong, something stagnating.
5) Having said all this, it only applies to the economy as a whole. It won't make you feel much better if you're the one who is unemployed.
It will be interesting to see the next few months' worth of jobs numbers. It will affect the economy. It will affect the dollar. It will affect the Presidential election. It will be doing a lot of things. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Howard Stern claims Jay Leno uses laugh track
Howard Stern claims Jay Leno uses laugh track to juice up the audience reaction during his monologues
(Note: marksfriggen.com often has adult ads)
(Note: the info is most of the way down the page, just before the headline "Las Vegas Dates Changed.")
(Note: the "Friday update" page changes weekly, thus this will no longer be a germane link after 4/8/04.)
To quote the encapsulation of the Friday show:
Howard took a phone call from a guy who told Howard that Stuttering John has been so stiff in the audience lately that they're going to move him under Jay's desk to do his announcing. That led to Howard talking about how he heard that Jay is so lame that they've been using a laugh track on the show lately. Howard said he knows for a fact that they use a laugh track on that show. He said Jay will never admit to that though because he's a complete liar. He goofed on Jay for a few minutes while Bob laughed at what he was saying. (end quote)
While I was listening to the show on headphones, and watching my son at the same time, it seems to me this was an accurate assessment of this portion of the show.
(FYI: "Bob" is Robert Schimmel, a stand-up comedian who happened to be on the show today.)
Anyway, it seemed like a bombshell to me. There are some things that are taboo in comedy. One is stealing material--and Stern often accuses Leno of taking his bits, mellowing them out a bit, and using them on "The Tonight Show."* Another is faking the laughs--using a laugh track. Even though there is an audience there, and thus part of the laughs would be real, using a laugh track, if true, would be a big black mark on Jay Leno's resume.
I'd love to have confirmation, or denial with some semblance of proof, on this issue.
* The two examples he often cites are:
"Jay Walking," a version of Stern's bits "The Homeless Game" and "The Stripper Game." All three are about asking fairly easy questions to people and seeing how off their answers are, and
wacky celebrity interviews, where the show sends someone with more guts than brains out to ask irreverent, irrelevant, or irredeemable questions of celebrities. Stern often did it with "Stuttering John" Melendez, who was recently hired away by, who else, "The Tonight Show!" But even before that, Jay was taking the idea by sending out his gay intern to do the same thing.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Gateway to close its stores
Gateway was a brand that came to be famous on the Internet and by phone. You never needed a store to buy a Gateway. I have had three Gateways, and enjoyed them all. The stores were superfluous.
I bought the last one at a store, but all that really happened was the guy took my info from the last purchase, updated a few things, put in the info on the system I wanted, and sent it--through the Internet--into Gateway's order system. I could have, and would have, done it myself if I hadn't been in the neighborhood and stopped by to see which systems they currently had in stock.
I don't know if this means the company will immediately turn around, but I think it's a start.
I do not currently have a position, long or short, in Gateway stock.
early World Trade Center video