Yet another reason to hate Yahoo

As I’ve written in the past, I hate Yahoo. They’ve stolen money from me, and generally treated me poorly. I’ve mostly managed to avoid dealing with their awful product since abandoning my e-mail account with them. However, today I returned to check a tv listing for tonight after my primary source failed. I could report a success, because I found what I was looking for, but Yahoo is involved. They had to screw it up somehow. I should’ve expected it.

I’ve read headlines hinting at recent television news suggesting a plot spoiler for Lost. I hate spoilers and I love Lost, so I chose to avoid clicking through to the stories every time I encountered them today. Every news source complied with the logic that viewers might want to avoid knowing, so they left all the juicy details inside the story. Perfectly reasonable. Except in Yahoo logic.

On its main page, Yahoo felt compelled to give away the spoiler in its sub-headline for the story, because the headline wasn’t enough, I guess. Since they gave it away, I clicked through to see how they presented the information.

Try as the Lost writers might to keep a lid on series-shifting spoilers, when [ed. note: possible spoiler deleted].

(SPOILER ALERT: If you aren’t interested in hearing about a [possible spoiler deleted], read no further. And avoid the Internet for the next four weeks.)

A little late now, you think? The only solution now is to avoid Yahoo for the next four forevers. Idiots.

Individual responsibility should be the new social contract

Will the rose-tinted remembrance of the American social contract please stop? Caterpillar produced spectacular returns by standing up to its unions and demanding that the company move into the new economic reality. This should be applauded, but instead, we’re presented with this:

But now, having pulled off one of the most impressive corporate turnarounds in recent memory, Caterpillar — like the rest of corporate America — must confront a new question: What is the new social contract it has to offer around which a stable political business model can be built?

I think the outcome of a political business model would look a lot more political and a lot less business. We’ve already proven through experience that socialism doesn’t work. Do we need another round of handouts to unions to demonstrate that Caterpillar will see its business diminish from its current progress? Instead, we’re treated to nonsense like this:

Imagine, for example, what the public reaction would have been if [CEO Jim] Owens had announced that, in recognition of the year’s spectacular results, each of Caterpillar’s 22,000 unionized employees would get a special bonus of, say, $3,000. I can assure you it would have been widely noted in the press and praised as a significant first step toward a new social contract. And who knows how much extra loyalty and commitment it would have engendered from Caterpillar’s blue-collar employees.

Unions seek to guarantee a specific benefit for their members. When performance exceeds those requirements, why should they share in the excess? They traded risk for security. If I invest in t-bills because I don’t like the possible negative returns of the stock market, I don’t have the right to demand a higher interest payment when booming business causes federal tax receipts to soar beyond expectations.

In the author’s hypothetical example, Caterpillar should redistribute $66,000,000 from the shareholders, the rightful owners of the capital, to earn praise from the press and to create the beginnings of a new social(ist) contract. Why? And what kind blithering idiot gives away $66,000,000 for a plan that the might engender extra loyalty and commitment from employees? If you’re a “free agent”, sure, I can say that might make sense. But those employees signed an actual contract, something more explicit than any social contract could ever be. Do they no longer have to honor that, even though they’ve begged for that security and risk mitigation? Sorry, but I believe in economics and contracts. Caterpillar’s recent experience suggests I’m right.

Oh, yes, I can just hear the dismissive response from corporate types now. They’d point out that Caterpillar investors who earned a record $4.21 a share would hammer the company stock if that figure were reduced by even a penny. They’d point out that unions like the UAW have traditionally opposed performance pay, or traded it away for higher guaranteed pay or benefits. And they warn ominously that this kind of “excess” compensation would quickly render the company uncompetitive again.


But none of that really matters. Because the real world choice for the corporate elite is now quite clear — not just here in the United States, but in Europe, Latin America and Japan, as well. Either the members of the business community will have to come up with an improved social contract that allows them to run competitive companies while ensuring that the gains of globalization are spread more equitably, or they will have to face the almost certain prospect that angry and anxious voters will roll back globalization in ways that will hurt the global economy and their newly globalized companies.

Or to put it another way: It’s time for the Jim Owenses of the world to show the same backbone and ingenuity in dealing with the excessive and unreasonable demands of Wall Street that they previously showed in dealing with workers and labor unions.

The central planners should stop reading Karl Marx and start reading Adam Smith. And maybe throw in a few viewings of Wall Street without Oliver Stone whispering sweet nonsense in their ears.

Fear can sell even the inconsequential

I got a fun e-mail from the good folks at the American Family Association. They want me to take a survey:

Should Congress pass a law making BC/AD the official method of dating time?

The Kentucky Board of Education has voted to take the first step in redefining how America dates time. The board voted to include a new secular system of dating the calendar, BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era), and added it to the BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) method.

The new secular system of time dating will appear in the curriculum and other materials used by Kentucky educators. This new system is already being included in textbooks across the nation.

The new method will replace the birth of Christ as the dividing point in history. For example, the new system would change 2006 AD (Anno Domini) to 2006 CE (Common Era).

It also opens the door for the ACLU to find a liberal activist judge who will forcefully remove the use of BC and AD. The ACLU types will claim that the use of BC and AD are a violation of the First Amendment because it dates history based on the birth of Christ.

Since the emphasis in that excerpt is from the original, the absurdity of the AFA hysteria is that much more amazing (and amusing). We can worry about the big, bad ACLU and the liberal activist judges because they’re going to remove Christ from America if they can, but it’s okay to encourage an activist legislature to take action to prevent something that isn’t a threat. Before this article, I’d never heard of any movement to replace BC and AD. And I live on the east coast, away from the real Americans in Red America who the elites are trying to rule in their ivory-tower conspiracy!

On a side note, isn’t it amusing how wonderfully the conservatives have embraced “red” as their color, when fifty years ago, red was the antithesis of their goal? I know I’m not the first to think of that, but it just struck me. I’m slow, but it entertains me sometimes.

Really, though, who cares? I don’t sign my checks with 2006 AD now, and I’m not about to start signing them 2006 CE. CE is a Microsoft operating system, nothing more. And no amount of hysteria or liberal activist judges and their ACLU buddies will change that.

I did chuckle, though, so it was worth something.

I’m a fan of money. Funny money is better.

I saw the new $10 bill for the first time today. I’d known it would be revamped, but I didn’t realize it would be quite so… yellow. Have we been taken over by our apparently not-so-friendly neighbors to the north and everyone forgot to tell me? I’m always the last to know news, but really, this takes the prize as most monumental change.

Can Bob & Doug McKenzie replace George Washington when the United States of Canada Mint updates the $1 bill, eh?

Maybe Texas will buy me a patio

In a particularly egregious display of current Senate form, Mississippi’s senators proved exactly why the rush to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina should have included a little more planning and a lot more oversight (since federal dollars were involved). Consider:

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators included $700 million in an emergency war spending bill to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line that has already been rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina at a cost of at least $250 million.

Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, who have the backing of their state’s economic development agencies and tourism industry, say the CSX freight line must be moved to save it from the next hurricane and to protect Mississippi’s growing coastal population from rail accidents. But critics of the measure call it a gift to coastal developers and the casino industry that would be paid for with money carved out of tight Katrina relief funds and piggybacked onto funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If it needs to be moved now, it needed to be moved then. Why spend a quarter of a billion dollars to fix a rail line that any fool could see would face the exact same risk after repair that caused it to need repair? I think the question answers itself, considering this is the United States Senate, with solid fiscal conservatives in charge of doling out the political favors.

The $700 million in the emergency spending bill is just short of the price CSX set for selling its right of way, buying into the Norfolk Southern line, making capacity improvements on the main line and bolstering a short line railway to bypassed areas. The high price was inevitable, Appropriations Committee aides said. CSX just spent as much as $300 million in insurance payouts and its own money to rebuild the track that Lott and Cochran now want to destroy.

Susan Irby, Lott’s communications director, said safety is the senator’s biggest concern. But she added: “Senator Lott makes no apologies for trying to develop one of the poorest states in the country.”

Of course not. He’s a modern Republican. Want to take bets that this will play out exactly like Sen. Stevens’ defunded, but not really, “bridge to nowhere”? Senators Lott and Cochran are going to get their money, and we’re all going to pay for it with even more money to buy off another senator with another pet project. Is it November yet?

Winning a championship isn’t enough

I don’t care for conformity, and one of the greatest daily annoyances for me is the idea of dress codes for adults. I understand the need to be presentable according to specific audiences in a professional setting, and I’m always willing to accommodate in my work. But a push for excessive accommodation and conformity often bulldoze into the workplace. There’s no reason for employees in back-office operations, an area that sees no clients, to dress in business attire, unless that’s what the employee wants. It’s absurd. I’ve been there and I hated it. However, I’ve looked for other employment in the past when I’ve encountered such situations. Idiotic dress codes are often emblematic of other problems within a professional setting. I’m willing to react according to free-market principles.

But what happens when the workplace isn’t free-market, or even in an office? What do the employees do then?

[A.J.] Pierzynski and [Joe] Crede got the word from [White Sox] owner Jerry Reinsdorf — relayed to them by [GM Ken] Williams — that he’d like a neater appearance. Both have long blond hair sticking out from their caps, a style Crede started last season when the team was winning or he was hitting well.

“Jerry Reinsdorf asked me to tell them to get a haircut and look more presentable. So I asked them to get a haircut and look more presentable,” Williams said.

“Rules are rules and you got to follow them,” Crede said, adding he’d never had a haircut in Chicago. “If you got to cut it, you got to cut it.”

That’s ridiculous. They’re professional athletes. I can accept the notion that athletes from all sports should be presentable when the team is traveling. They’re representing the business when the fans/customers are most likely to come into normal contact with them. The team wants to set a good example. But on the field? They’re athletes.

They’re wearing caps that contain their hair. They’re going to sweat and get dirty. Should they change their uniforms after every inning if they slide, picking up a dirt or grass stain? Of course not. And has Mr. Reinsdorf looked through the average sports crowd at his [hideously ugly] ballpark lately, beyond the view from his skybox? He’s not dealing with the metropolitan opera.

Look at the 2005 Chicago White Sox, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies, or almost any other team that’s won a championship in the last decade and you’ll find a team. Not a collection of players, but a team. A team is a group of players that have bonded over the season, almost like a military unit. The players on a team experience all the frustrations and joys of a long season as a team. Killing that spirit to look more professional often ends in disaster at the first sign of trouble. The team may lose its common bond with forced conformity. Moves like this are short-sighted.

I’m just glad it’s the White Sox and not the Phillies. The Phillies need all the team mojo we can muster. If that means long hair and mullets (circa 1993), then I’m all for it. As a fan who pays for the games.

Adults should pay for their own babysitting

I can’t tell if this editorial by David Broder is supportive of what the Economist calls “soft paternalism”. Perhaps it’s from over-exertion yesterday in putting together lots of adult furniture to replace the dorm-like furniture that someone seems to believe has outlived its useful life, but I’m just not getting it. I suspect that he’s ridiculing it, but being unsure, perhaps a government-provided summary would be appropriate. No matter, though, I can still comment on a few of his points. First, this setup:

The subject of the issue’s lead editorial and a three-page special report is the threat to individual freedom the editors discern in a new movement gaining support among some politicians and academics on both sides of the Atlantic.

They call it “soft paternalism.” Its practitioners “are paternalists, because they want to help you make the choices you would make for yourself — if only you had the strength of will and the sharpness of mind. But unlike ‘hard’ paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aim only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.”

That should come as no surprise, given all the government-mandated “responsible” behavior. Whether it’s public Social Security, smoking bans, or broadcast decency enforcement, it’s clear that politicians don’t trust us to lead effective lives. I don’t see this trend slowing down until we retire these meddling politicians, and I don’t see us reversing many of the current encroachment’s, no matter what we say or do. But it’s worth trying.

The first example Mr. Broder provides is worth highlighting.

An example of soft paternalism can be found in Missouri. According to the Economist, the state has passed a statute barring some residents from setting foot in any of the 11 riverboat casinos it has licensed. Those who are caught violating the law can be arrested for trespassing and see their winnings confiscated by the cops.

That sounds pretty harsh, but the ban applies only to those who have voluntarily placed their own names on the list, in order to break their addiction to gambling. The magazine says that about 10,000 gamblers have taken that step in Missouri, seeking help for a problem in their lives.

I’m happy that 10,000 problem gamblers in Missouri have recognized that they need help. But Mr. Broder is mistaken if he think the ban only applies to those who voluntarily placed their names on the list. A quick look into how that list is enforced is enough to disprove that nonsense. Everyone who wishes to gamble at a riverboat casino in Missouri must now be screened ahead of time before being allowed in. We wouldn’t want anyone getting in who doesn’t want to get in. Yet, to achieve that allegedly worthwhile goal, every responsible gambler is, at a minimum, inconvenienced so that the state may use everyone’s tax dollars to baby-sit an adult. The ban may only apply to those who volunteer, but the enforcement applies to everyone.

On all these proposals, the Economist’s editors have one nagging concern: Will these soft paternalism schemes gradually, over time, erode individual freedom? Will soft paternalism simply be a way station on the road to a more authoritarian state, one where smoking is banned entirely or saving is required from every paycheck?

That’s a joke, right? Such is the outcome of all government paternalism. As mentioned above, look at the sweeping trend of public smoking bans, with the word “public” being defined in a broader manner with each new ban. (Not to mention that “public” bans are really bans on individual conduct on private property in which the property owner has consented.) As for Mr. Broder’s second point, I hope that he’s not serious paternalism might lead to forced savings. I’m sure he’s heard of Social Security, but I’m not sure he understands how it works (only in the mechanical sense, for I hope no one thinks it works functionally).

My worry list is not short, but this trend to paternalism increases it by one.

Progressive Tax Day propaganda

The editors at The Washington Post certainly know how to frame skew a discussion in their favor. Today, they’re trying to make a case against the Senate essentially ignoring one of its rules to get tax cuts extended. That would be a fine argument, and worth pointing out if only to further build the case of Congressional hypocrisy. But that’s not the setup the editors use. Consider:

MUCH TO THE chagrin of the White House and the GOP leadership, lawmakers didn’t get a new round of tax cuts done in time for tax day today. But when Congress comes back from its recess, it’s expected to take up a deal to extend President Bush’s capital gains and dividend tax cuts. To make their budget-busting tax policy appear less costly than it is, the lawmakers are resorting to a gimmick that is even more egregious than their usual tactics.

If they want to use the size of the deficit as the justification for their position, they should anticipate, and understand how poorly it reflects on them, the simple counter-argument that reducing spending is just as effective at deficit reduction. It’s certainly more appropriate. Instead we get terms like “budget-busting”. What’s more budget-busting, bringing in too few dollars or sending out too many dollars? One thing is easier to control than the other. I know which one it is. It’s a shame the Post’s editors don’t, or at least won’t acknowledge it since it doesn’t fit a liberal vision of American government.

Via: To The People

I’m stealing the term “definitional elasticity”

As long as it increases tax-receipts revenue, any logic is acceptable. Increasingly, states apply irrational justifications to tax iTunes and other music download services.

In Kentucky and Washington, state law does allow the taxation of computer software. Washington law defines software as “a set of coded instructions designed to cause a computer…to perform a task,” which tax officials have interpreted to include music, movies and e-books.

“We use that same rationale on other types of files, such as music files or video files,” said Gary Davis, the state’s tax information and education manager. “We view them as similar because they cause some action by a piece of hardware to play them.”

Davis recited aloud the definition of computer software from Washington’s tax law and said he believed that data files, like an executable program, cause a computer to “perform a task.” He said, “I think it’s our policy that that’s exactly what a music file does in order to hear it.”

That definitional elasticity has alarmed online retailers, which say states are interpreting tax laws in ways never envisioned by elected officials or the general public. They would rather see the issue decided openly in state legislatures than behind closed doors by tax agencies.

On what basis could any rational human being interpret an mp3 file to be software that causes a computer to perform a task? The only software that causes a computer to perform a task has an .exe extension. That stands for “executable”. It’s a bizarre notion, I understand, but it’s universal. An mp3 file has an .mp3 extension. Click that without an mp3 player on a computer and the computer will do nothing. Absolutely nothing. An mp3 is data used by a program as a set of instructions to create sound waves through computer speakers. Next, I suppose Mr. Davis will determine that a ball rolling down a hill is being propelled by perpetual motion instead of gravity.

Perhaps the music download tax question is valid. I’m all for as little taxation as possible, but I understand that politicians aren’t reasonable people. At least understand that updating legislation is the way to deal with new situations. Loose reinventing of the same language only cheapens the constitutional basis. Instead, understand that the words mean what the words say.

Networks finally understand the Constitution

Even though lawsuits like this shouldn’t be necessary, it’s about time the broadcast networks grew a set:

Four TV broadcast networks and their affiliates have filed court challenges to a March 15 Federal Communications Commission ruling that found several programs “indecent” because of language.

ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, along with their network affiliate associations and the Hearst-Argyle Television group of stations, filed notices of appeal in various federal courts, including in Washington D.C. and New York. Some were filed late Thursday and the rest Friday morning.

The move represents a protest against the aggressive enforcement of federal indecency rules that broadcasters have complained are vague and inconsistently applied. Millions of dollars in fines have been levied based on those rules.

The networks need to fight the censorship coming from the FCC more often every time. That won’t happen, but this gives hope that maybe they’re growing a spine. It’s an infant spine, sure, but it’s a start.

Personally, I like this:

The networks and affiliate groups, representing more than 800 individual stations, issued a rare joint statement Friday calling the FCC ruling “unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades of previous FCC decisions.

“In filing these court appeals we are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated _ and in some cases unintentional _ words rendered these programs indecent.”

“Unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades…” Blah, blah, blah. They should’ve just stopped with unconstitutional. Using the less severe, but equally offensive, censorship practiced by the FCC for the last two decades as a defense only invites the court to rely on tradition rather than the Constitution. Given how frequently that seems to be happening lately, I want the courts to use clearly absurd logic to insert tradition into “Congress shall make no law…” Instead, we’ll maybe get the status quo from last year. Big deal.

FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 20 years ago that comedian George Carlin’s monologue on the “7 dirty words you can’t say on television and radio” was indecent.

“Today, Disney, Fox and CBS challenged that precedent and argued that they should be able to air two of those same words,” Lipper said. “We are reviewing their filings.”

What’s to review? That ruling was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. The Constitution should still prevail over the scared, puritan hacks reading, “interpreting”, and “enforcing” it. At some point, the national mommies and daddies in the Federal government need to stop being nanny-statists.