Pop goes the market.

I’m not surprised:

President George W. Bush’s January, 2006, declaration that the U.S. is “addicted to oil” marked the beginning of a gold rush for corn growers: The government policies the comment helped spur have been a boon for the producers of corn-based ethanol, the all-American fuel that now displaces about 4% of U.S. gasoline supply. Over the past 18 months, farmers have rushed to plant more corn—and are set to produce a record crop this year—while small-time entrepreneurs and agricultural giants alike have built plants to expand capacity. A handful of initial public offerings have fed investors’ desire to get in on the action.

Government sets incentives outside of the market, so the market responds. In this case, farmers plant more (or switch to planting) corn. That’s no surprise. Nor is this:

Lurking behind ADM’s gloomy news are doubts about the future of corn ethanol. A growing number of analysts, once bullish on the product, are warning that an oversupply may be coming as soon as this year. On Apr. 27, a Lehman Brothers (LEH) report projected that production will outstrip demand in the second half of 2007, measuring the domestic thirst for corn ethanol at 420,000 barrels per day but supply at 445,000 barrels a day, mainly because the U.S. lacks the infrastructure to move the product to market.

“There’s tremendous capacity coming online, but the infrastructure isn’t there to keep up with it,” says Michael Waldron, an oil markets research analyst at Lehman Brothers who co-authored the report. “We need a nationwide system to pipe it, and until that happens, we’ll likely have an excess of product.”

Just a quick pause to speculate on who’s going to pay for that infrastructure. You know it’s coming.

Waldron says the problem isn’t a lack of demand for ethanol, which remains high, especially given that the federal Renewable Fuel Standard mandates at least 4 billion gallons, or about 3% of all U.S. transportation fuels, to come from alternative sources today, and nearly double that amount, or 7.5 billion gallons, by 2012. Lawmakers are expected to give the mandate a significant boost later this year. Rather, the problem is getting ethanol to consumers in various parts of the country. Ethanol requires a separate piping system from gasoline, and since Uncle Sam hasn’t appropriated funds to build such infrastructure, ethanol is now primarily transported by rail. But the rail system extends only to major metropolitan areas—not to mention the dual problems of its high cost and carbon dioxide emissions.

So, let’s see, we get energy dependence, if you count only needing oil for 96% of our gasoline, as well as increased carbon dioxide emissions to transport what the government mandates we buy. (We won’t need foreign oil if we choke to death? Is that the plan?) And we’re supposed to accept that this is because the government hasn’t provided the funds to build such infrastructure? I’m not buying that argument. If the demand were truly “high”, private entities would be building a pipeline without government subsidies. That those entities are waiting for the pipeline suggests some combination of insufficient profit motive from the pipeline’s cost structure and market infantilization.

Either way, it implies that ethanol is not ready for prime time, despite the grandiose wishes of politicians. I’m reminded that the facts, although interesting, are irrelevant¹, especially when politicians consider public policy.

Looking at the consequences of this, though, how much economic hardship will result for those who rushed to grow more corn to produce ethanol that can’t be shipped economically? I have little sympathy for those people because they ignored economic signals for the quick buck, but I’m sure a government bail-out will be “necessary” because “the market” doesn’t work. It’s amazing how consistently government creates problems that “prove” how necessary more government is to our well-being and survival.

¹ Was it Einstein who said this?

The Right to Say “No” Versus Restrictions on Saying “Yes”


The owner of an upscale steakhouse said he asked O.J. Simpson to leave his restaurant the night before the Kentucky Derby because he is sickened by the attention Simpson still attracts.

I don’t care about O.J. Simpson from the voyeuristic value of this story, which is similar to his criminal trial. I do, however, like the correlation to such recent public policies as smoking bans. If we’re to use the logic presented by politicians and advocates of such bans, that a private place of business is actually “public”¹, this restaurant owner, Jeff Ruby, had no right to ask Simpson to leave. Who thinks that makes any sense? I hope no one, so then why are smoking bans reasonable? Private property means the right to set the rules within the bounds of consent.

From a humorous standpoint:

[O.J. Simpson’s attorney, Yale] Galanter said that the incident was about race, and he intended to pursue the matter and possibly go after the restaurant’s liquor license.

“He screwed with the wrong guy, he really did,” Galanter told The Associated Press by telephone last night.

Playing the race card here is mere grandstanding, obviously, but I’m sure the (unintentional?) threat that can be read into Galanter’s statement, given Simpson’s civil conviction, is the reason Mr. Ruby ejected Simpson. Should we congratulate him on proving his opposition’s point?

Second link via Fark

¹ Presumably because a patron uses public streets to get to the private establishment? I can’t think of anything else, although that means your home is also “public” and subject to smoking regulations. Hey, wait a minute…

“Read the track listing” will have new meaning.

Why do legislators hate the environment?

Independent merchants selling and buying used CDs across the United States say they are alarmed by stepped-up pawn-broker-related laws recently enacted in Florida and Utah and pending in Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

In Florida, the new legislation requires all stores buying second-hand merchandise for resale to apply for a permit and file security in the form of a $10,000 bond with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In addition, stores would be required to thumb-print customers selling used CDs, and acquire a copy of state-issued identity documents such as a driver’s license. Furthermore, stores could issue only store credit — not cash — in exchange for traded CDs, and would be required to hold discs for 30 days before reselling them.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that some CDs that would’ve ended up in a used record store will now end up in landfills. I can assure you I wouldn’t go through the bother, not to mention the Big Brother statism, involved just to earn a few dollars of store credit. I’d find someone I know who wants the CD, or I’d toss it in the garbage. If the goal is to force incentivize people to discard their unwanted property in a sub-optimal manner, mission accomplished.

This perverse incentive to discard used CDs wouldn’t involve rent-seeking, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, [National Association of Recording Merchandisers] says it will try to help shape the pending legislation. In Florida, retailers selling previously owned videos and videogames managed to carve out a partial exemption from the law so that they do not need a permit and have to wait only 15 days before reselling the merchandise.

The article doesn’t state any more than that, but the mere existence of an exemption indicates what’s inevitably going on behind the scenes. It’s shameful.

Link via Hit & Run.

I use the terms “artist” and “art” loosely.

Here’s a not-hypothetical situation. Last week, on April 26th, an artist circumcised himself in public as art. I have no idea what he aimed at. He’s an adult, and other than the obnoxiousness that pushing such a “performance” on an unsuspecting audience implies, he’s free to cut off his entire penis. I don’t care.

Still, I can’t help thinking about this. I was repulsed by this when I first read about it, as I suspect most people would be. Why would he do that? That reaction can be instructive, I think. For anyone who finds this artist’s action mind-boggling, as I do, is it consistent to believe that infant circumcision is reasonable? The response should be the opposite. Both operations have the same level of medical necessity, which is to say none. Yet we allow what is little more than the same kind of performance art, but on a societal scale, more than one million times every year in America. That can’t be right.

The artist, Adrian Parsons, posted pictures here. They’re very graphic and most definitely not safe for work viewing.

Is a balanced diet unnecessary if you eat meat?

There is no need to be specific in placing blame when it’s possible to place guilt by association for those who are unacceptably different.

A Superior Court jury in Atlanta convicted a vegan (VEE-gun) couple of murder and cruelty to children today in the death of their six-week old, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.

Defense lawyers said the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. …

I can accept that veganism is relevant to this story as it pertains to the parents’ approach to feeding their child since the child died of malnutrition. But this child did not die because his parents are vegans. Without a varied diet full of nutrients, a human will die on any diet. Feed a child nothing but shrimp and eggs and he will become malnourished. This is not complicated. These parents were stupid and incompetent. Their son died as a result.

To the reporting, it’s helpful that the reporter included a simple definition¹ of veganism for readers, with a handy-dandy pronunciation guide to go along with it, but veganism expects more than soy milk and apple juice. Anyone capable of stringing two words together should be able to figure this out. Implying that vegans condone such nonsense is irrational.

This story is tragic, of course. A boy is dead who should and could be alive. But the reporting on this story amounts to little more than intellectually lazy voyeurism. “Hey, look at the freaks. This is what happens if you’re a freak. Don’t be a freak.” Please. Try harder or don’t bother.

¹ The word typically makes this definition wrong. Strike it from the sentence.

Are we funding computers, as well?

From a few days ago:

Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists.

There’s not much shock there, of course, as success is in the details and government doesn’t handle details well, always forgetting the law of unintended consequences. Instead, it’s more fun to follow the words of members of Congress.

“If you don’t fix this, I guarantee you this committee will,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) told James M. Andrew, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “I don’t know why it should be this hard.”

Last week, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) introduced legislation to close loopholes that allow areas that “are neither rural nor suffer a lack of service” to collect the loans and loan guarantees.

Congress shouldn’t have created this mess. It did. And now it’s blaming the USDA while implying that somehow the same people who messed this up can fix the problem now that it exists. It’s an absurd but classic move for a politician, demonstrating that politicians aren’t leaders.

Of course, the true discussion here is whether or not this program should be funded at the federal level. It shouldn’t. Broadband access to The Internets is not a public good. Still, for anyone who believes this is a public good worthy of being on the federal dole, consider:

Congress created the rural broadband program in 2002. To date, according to Andrew, 69 loans for $1.2 billion have been approved to finance infrastructure in 40 states. Only 40 percent of the communities benefiting were unserved at the time of the loan, Andrew said.

Forty percent. That’s good if it’s the success rate for a hitter in baseball. With everything else, it’s miserable. And we’re not even analyzing how successful that forty percent has been compared to what would happen with private efforts, assuming that private industry would deem it necessary. Heckuva job.

The law views children as property.

From Oregon:

A former Medford man who converted to Judaism wants his 12-year-old son to do the same. That requires circumcision — something the mother adamantly opposes.

The divorced couple has been battling over the issue for three years, including whether the boy wants to undergo the procedure. So far, Oregon courts have squarely sided with the father, who has custody.

The custodial parent has the right to raise his/her child in a chosen religion. Fair enough, and not something under direct debate here. But the obvious question exists: to what extent can parents force religion on their children? Regarding circumcision, the courts have long been blind to the obvious point that circumcision is medically unnecessary surgery that carries inherent risks. This is wrong, in this case, and in any case where a child is circumcised for religion¹.

This attorney states it well:

“You’re talking about not just religious instruction or whether you’re going to send the child to parochial school or public school,” commented Lawrence D. Gorin, a Portland attorney. “This is a matter of permanent change of bodily structure. And it’s irreversible.”

The analysis shouldn’t change just because the boy has lived for twelve years rather than twelve hours, but it does readily demonstrate the lack of respect for individual rights inherent to every human being. There should be a high hurdle to overcome when imposing surgery on another human being. The first and foremost should be medical need. Without need, no further analysis is necessary. Imposing surgery must be prevented. But our society overlooks that. Still, in the case of a twelve-year-old boy who does not wish to be circumcised, as this boy does not, the act is clearly a proposed physical assault on the child. No society can permit this and continue calling itself civilized.

“I am still of the opinion that the decision of whether or not a child has elective surgery, which this appears to be, is a call that should be made and is reserved to the custodial parent,” [Jackson County Circuit Judge Rebecca G.] Orf said in a hearing.

I wonder how Judge Orf would feel if this case was about forced elective rhinoplasty? Elective breast augmentation? Elective labiaplasty? Elective clitoridectomy? Oh, wait, federal law already prohibits parents from forcing those last two on their children for any reason other than medical need, including religion, so strike them. Elective labiaplasty. Elective clitoridectomy. Yet, we somehow believe that it’s acceptable for parents to order a boy’s genitals cut for their own reasons. Society is grossly mistaken.

But Julie H. McFarlane, a supervising attorney with the Portland-based Juvenile Rights Project, said that the child’s consent for a medical procedure is not required until he turns 15.

“I think the dad has the legal right as the custodial parent to make those kind of religious or medical decisions,” McFarlane said. “It’s not much different from cosmetic surgery.”

The bottom line, McFarlane said, is that “when you lose custody, you lose a lot of those things that go with custody — deciding whether the kids go to school and the rest of the day-to-day parenting decisions.”

This is not “day-to-day” parenting, or even “parenting”. It’s genital mutilation without consent. This is wrong. A guardian ad litem should be appointed immediately to protect the boy. It’s his penis facing the knife, after all. It shouldn’t matter what the parents want, only what he needs. In the end, the Oregon Supreme Court should protect² the boy.

¹ It is wrong in all cases where it’s not medically indicated. I want to restrict the analysis here to religious justifications, although they’re as equally flimsy as any cultural excuse (i.e. “look like daddy”).

² Every court and legislature should do the same, of course. They’re cowards, so they won’t. Yet.

Fearing to Leave the Past Behind

From Malaysia:

Malaysian doctors have declared neckties a health hazard and called on the heath ministry to stop insisting that physicians wear them.

Amen. I hate ties. They serve no reasonable purpose other than to serve as an upside-down noose. I can’t wait for the day when they’re relegated to the past.

That said, this is fascinating:

But the Star quoted a ministry official as saying it needed more proof that neckties were a danger before it relaxed the dress code for doctors in hospitals.

I find it bizarre that anyone would submit to such authoritarianism that allows the government to impose a dress code for professionals. I wonder if we can expect something like that with nationalized health care in America. I doubt it, but we should never underestimate the power of bureaucrats to embrace stupidity and abuse of power.

Via Fark.

This is how to make viewers remember a commercial.

I don’t really care if this company is a success or not. I don’t need its service, but I love the clear, perfect approach in this commercial.

Like all businesses, eHarmony is free to exclude any customer it wants, which includes pretending that gays and lesbians don’t exist have money need matchmaking services. Someone else will decide differently and seize the opportunity. Like Chemistry.com. I hope it succeeds.

As an aside, I first saw this commercial during last night’s Heroes. Seriously, if you’re not watching Heroes, you are missing out on the best show on television.

Understand the trends before claiming outlier status.

The Salt Lake Tribune discusses circumcision trends in Utah.

While Americans have been increasingly rejecting circumcision for their sons for 20 years, new international studies indicate it may dramatically cut the chances of HIV infection.

Will the findings change any parents’ decisions in Utah?

Not likely, say experts, because the state is a holdout, circumcising infants more frequently than surrounding Western states.

This doesn’t surprise me as Utah is a conservative state with a heavily religious population. Circumcising infants falls commonly into accepted practice for that audience, for some reason. There could be more in depth analysis of the religious aspect, but today it’ll be useful to focus on Mormons, since that’s common in Utah. From Moroni 8:8:

Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord, and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

That seems pretty clear to me. Of course, when digging further into the article, something just as common appears.

“If you wanted to break it down for Utah, about 90 percent of Caucasians and 2 percent of Hispanics [are circumcised],” Park City pediatrician Karen Lantz said.

Those numbers build to the 54 percent circumcision rate of newborn boys in Utah, which is approximately the national average. The state isn’t on the extreme, other than it’s as extreme as everywhere else that allows infant circumcision. The breakdown also corresponds to why states in the Northeast and West have significantly lower circumcision rates than the South and Midwest. Immigrants don’t tend to circumcise unless they’re convinced that it’s “American”.

There’s more from the article:

“It’s almost exclusively social and cultural reasons,” said Chuck Norlin, division chief of general pediatrics at University Hospital.

Ask yourself if, under that reasoning, doctors who circumcise infants without medical indication act ethically.