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Wow, I have seen exactly *zero* of the 100 worst movies of the 2000s, per Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, my moviegoing has dropped to pretty much zero since 2004, but even so, I haven't even seen these on TV. Well, except for maybe 20 minutes of "Ballistic: Ecks v. Sever," which didn't seem that bad to me. I mean, it wasn't good, but the worst movie of the decade?
The New York Times has an editorial today against the death penalty that reiterates what seems to me to be the best argument against capital punishment: its cost. As the Times notes:
Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs
taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts
for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of
about $250 million per execution. This is a state whose prisons are
filled to bursting (unconstitutionally so, the courts say) and whose
government has imposed doomsday-level cuts to social services, health
care, schools and parks.
I find the fiscal argument quite compelling. But why does it cost so much to try to execute someone? There are penalty phase trials (to decide whether the sentence should be life imprisonment or death), there are statutory rights to appeals and post-conviction relief, and there are rights to counsel. What I found puzzling in the Times editorial was this observation:
There is also a 15-to-20-year appeals process, but simply getting rid
of it would be undemocratic and would increase the number of innocent
people put to death.
Did the Times mean that it would be undemocratic for a state government to abolish the right to appeal death sentences by fiat? Or that it abolishing the right to appeal would be undemocratic no matter who decides to do it?
Neither possibility fits "democratic" very well. If duly elected state legislators abolish the right to appeal (putting aside whether that's constitutional), why isn't that democratic? I don't imagine the Times means that it's not democratic because it wasn't the product of direct democracy. I mean, technically, it would be true that if the legislature did it, it would not be democratic so much as "democratic republican" . . . but that distinction doesn't make sense in the context of the anti-death penalty argument that the paper is advancing.
And if the right to appeal death sentences were abolished by, say, a voter initiative, what could be more democratic than that? (Note: I don't mean to suggest that voter initiative democracy is necessarily a good thing.)
So what does the Times mean by "democratic"? Does it mean "humane," "moral," or "appropriate"?
President Obama is calling for more school for kids -- a longer calendar, and a longer school day. One can only assume that he is speaking aspirationally, as opposed to setting a new federal agenda. Then again, maybe the Commerce Clause is broad enough to allow Congress to regulate public school hours and calendars. After all, poorly educated kids make for poor workers, which when aggregated makes for a less effective national workforce, which impacts the national economy. Oh, wait.
Is this a good idea? There's something not quite right about our secondary school educational system, since we have the best universities in the world, but our high school students don't do very well in comparisons against our peer nations. But running the school day to 5 pm seems a bit much. The longer calendar makes more sense to me, at least if we're talking about primary school -- as it is, this last summer, we sent my older son (who just started Kindergarten) to a bunch of summer daycamps (nature, science, zoo, safety, etc.) for the enrichment and educational value. I could see how more school would fill that role.
Around the time I was deciding whether to move to Oregon, I read a story about a trend among some Oregonians to give up their refrigerators(!). The theory is that a refrigerator is one of the biggest energy eaters in a house. You can replace a fridge with frequent trips to the supermarket, a small freezer for ice, and a cooler for milk, etc. (kept cool with ice from the freezer). Of course, whether this is actually a carbon reduction depends, I guess, on how much gas (if any) is used for those frequent supermarket trips.
Anyway, it seemed kind of crazy to me, but now I'm going to get to experience it. We decided to replace the old fridge in our house with an EnergyStar model that will also provide chilled and filtered water and ice, etc. Even better, an Oregon state entity, Energy Trust, was willing to pick the old fridge and give us $30 in the process for improving our energy use. However, both Energy Trust and the appliance store would only give 4 hour pick-up/delivery windows, and we couldn't risk having the new fridge delivered before the old one was taken, so we scheduled the pick-up for today (Friday) and delivery on Monday. In retrospect, it would've been better to have those pushed off to Monday/Tuesday, but oh well . . .
So this morning, we cleared out the freezer in the fridge and stashed all that in the upright freezer in our garage. The remaining perishables went into a big camping cooler with blocks of artificial ice. Fortunately, the nearest supermarket is just a mile away.
In the meantime, we're going to live like Oregonians!
I don't think I'll ever subscribe to Money Magazine if its "analysis" of the soundness of Social Security is an example of its journalism.
In its discussion of why you should be counting on(!) Social Security as part of your retirement planning, it notes:
Despite what you may hear about the system going broke, the funds from workers' payroll taxes will cover all retirees' payments until 2016 even if no changes are made to the current program. After that the Social Security Administration can cover full benefits until 2037 by cashing in its Treasury bonds from the Social Security trust fund. And when the bonds run out, income from payroll taxes would be enough to cover about 75% of payments for decades.
Um . . . where does Money think that the government will come up with the cash to pay off those T-bills in the trust fund? What is a T-bill, anyway? It's just a piece of paper saying that the government will pay some amount of money on the specified future date, along with interest. It's not a claim against actual assets.
Since the government does not actually segregate Social Security tax collections, it simply adds it to the federal budget sheet. In other words, the government takes in income through two ways -- income taxes and Social Security taxes. (I'm oversimplifying here, there are obviously other income sources.) Call those X and Y. The government spends its income on Social Security benefits and other spending (defense, courts, FBI, etc.). Call those A and B.
If X+Y > A+B, then yea, we have a surplus. This is what happened during the later parts of the Clinton Administration. Note that it wasn't a true operating surplus, which would be X > B. In other words, the Clinton Administration claimed a balanced budget but only by "borrowing" from the Social Security trust fund.
Our current situation, on the other hand, is X+Y<A+B. Oh no, a deficit! Call the difference between the two sides Z. This is our deficit. How do we come up with $Z? We borrow it by issuing more T-bills.
Okay, in 2016, what is projected to happen is that A > Y. Social Security will have to pay out more than it collects. According to Money, that's no problem, because for all these years, Y > A, so the federal government owes the trust fund some immense amount of money. The trust fund will just collect on that debt.
But wait a minute. That accumulated trust surplus is not in a bank account with Wells Fargo that you could just start to withdraw from. It was already spent in all those years when B > X. And unless X > B, the government doesn't actually have extra money to pay back the trust fund. So the government will have to borrow more money, call it W, to make up the gap between A and Y. Worse yet, because X >>B, and because we don't have the Social Security surplus to raid, the government is going to have to borrow even more money to make up that operating deficit. In other words, at the same time the government is borrowing W to pay for Social Security, it still needs to be borrowing Z, only Z is going to be more like ZZZZZ.
And we haven't even talked about the impact of the projected universal health care coverage!
Do you feel comfortable about the future of Social Security when it depends on the government's ability to issue T-bills to raise W while at the same time issuing T-bills to raise ZZZZZ?!? How much of our GDP is going to go toward paying the interest on that?
Just a couple of days ago, the police arrested, er, took into custody a Yale lab technician as a "person of interest" in the murder of a female Yale grad student. The TV news accounts that I saw showed the police emphasizing that the tech was not a suspect.
A Yale lab technician appeared in court and was charged with murder Thursday hours after his arrest in the killing of a graduate student whose body was found stuffed in the wall of the research building where they both worked.
Am I surprised? Should anyone be surprised? Of course not. Doesn't everyone translate "person of interest" into "suspect"?
I don't get why this is a big deal at all (other than the part about journalistic standards). . . .
A recap of the alleged controversy: during the MTV Music Video Awards, 19-year-old country star Taylor Swift won the award for the best female video for her song, "You Belong to Me." Swift got up to accept the award and started to give her speech, which talked about how surprised and pleased she was to win the award, given that she's a country singer. (I gather that country stars don't do well in this category.) Rapper Kanye West then got on the stage, took the microphone from Swift, and started blathering on about how Beyonce had made the best video of the year. Swift was stunned and unclear about what to do when West handed the mic back to her. The audience booed West. Later, when Beyonce won for the best video of the year, she graciously invited Swift up to the stage to finish her acceptance speech.
"I thought that was really inappropriate," Obama says. "What are you butting in (for)? ... The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She's getting her award. What's he doing up there?"
A questioner chimes in, "Why would he do it?"
"He's a jackass," Obama replies, which is met with laughter from several people.
The president seems to quickly realize he may have gone too far, and jovially appeals to those assembled that the remark be kept private. "Come on guys," he says. "Cut the president some slack. I've got a lot of other stuff on my plate."
This was a news feed shared between ABC and CNBC, and an ABC reporter "tweeted" about the President's remark.
I don't get the fuss about what Obama had to say. It seems pretty hard to dispute that West acted like a jackass in ruining Taylor Swift's moment. I suppose one could quibble over the difference between "being" a jackass and "acting like" one, but is that it? I mean, in the first link above, you'll see that even West admits he was "rude." Is it that we don't expect Presidents to use "jackass" instead of "rude"?
Wow, I read about Serena Williams' match-losing meltdown and then managed to catch a rerun of her US Open semi-final match against Kim Clijsters. The short version is that Williams was down 4-6, 5-6 (15-30) when she faulted her first serve, and then was called for a foot fault on her second serve. At that point, the game score became 15-40, meaning that if Clijsters won the next point, the match was over. Williams approached the line judge, shook her racquet, and said something that sounded (to me) vaguely like "shoving this ball down your ****** throat." Now, in fairness, earlier parts were not entirely audible, and the press reported the quote as "If I could, I would take this ***** ball and . . . " then the part I heard.
I have to say, on replay, it sure did not look like a foot fault to me. But that's really beside the point. You can't gesture threatening at the line judge and not expect to be penalized. The line judge reported feeling apprehensive at the time. Let's not forget that earlier in the match, Williams got so angry about losing a point that she smashed her racquet on the ground . . . and broke it!
If it was a bad call, Williams should have appealed to the chair umpire to overrule the line judge.
Due to a family matter, I had to head down to Los Angeles last week, so naturally my wife and I took our two little boys to Disneyland as well. While there, the following two possibly analogous incidents occurred that got me thinking about property rights in tickets.
The first was that we decided to go on California Soarin' (in California Adventures), which is kind of a flight simulator ride with a big curved screen and suspended roller coaster-like seats that tilt with the picture to enhance the feeling of motion. It's a popular ride, so the line gets long, and it's also one of the rides that Disney offers "Fastpass" to mitigate lines for those willing to work. The way Fastpass works is that you insert your park entry card into a machine near the ride, and the machine gives you back your entry card and a ride ticket. The catch is that the ride ticket lets you bypass the "standby" line only for a one-hour period, and that one-hour period is in the future. So, if you visited the Fastpass machine at 10 am, you might be given a return window of 12 noon to 1 pm.
Anyway, we decided to brave the approximately 45 minute stand-by line, but as we were walking up to the end of the line, a woman approached us, asked if we were going to ride Soarin', and when we said we were, she gave us her Fastpass tickets, which we about to become valid. Woo hoo! So instead of having to wait 45-55 minutes, we bypassed the long line and had about a 5 minute wait (basically for the designated simulator to clear out). I'll get to the potential issues involved in a moment.
The second incident occurred later that same day. As we were exiting the park (well before closing time), a young woman approached us and asked if we were leaving. When we said we were, she asked, "Can I have your tickets?" Naturally, we refused. It would have been pointless, since the regular Disneyland tickets require a valid hand-stamp for re-entry that day, and you can only get a hand-stamp if you've already been in a park, which of course requires that you already have had a ticket.
Nevertheless, the woman's request struck me as quite wrong for reasons beyond the pragmatic. It would represent revenue loss to Disneyland, since the only other way she could get in would be to buy a ticket. But then I started wondering about how I was able to Fastpass the Soarin' ride. The lawyerly side of me could respond that there was no revenue loss to Disneyland, since the Fastpasses are free (but you essentially can only have one active at a time). Therefore the situations are completely different. And from Disneyland's perspective, I would think that is right. On the other hand, I suppose the other customers waiting in the stand-by line might have had a complaint, since we (marginally) extended their wait, which would not have happened had we gone through the stand-by line. Then again, the customers were no worse off than if the original Fastpassing woman had used her Fastpass instead of giving it to us, and one can wonder why those customers would care who imposed the marginal increase in wait time. . . .