Friday, September 28, 2007

I thought she was the one who understood economics?

Without the full context it's hard to evaluate, but this latest idea from Hillary demonstrates all the sophisticated populist economic thinking of a 4th grader from Arkansas. Or a Democrat in an election year.

Instead of giving every baby $5000 for college, what would happen if we gave every one $5000 for a car? The price of all cars would go up $5000. Everyone has $5000 more to spend that they didn't earn, everyone's willingness to pay should go up $5000, so prices can go up $5000 with no impact on unit sales volume. Car dealers all say "thanks for the extra profit". It would be little different for universities.

Yes, some folks who used to have $0 for school and hence weren't in the market would enter, creating demand at the lower end of the willingness to pay distribution. But we're essentially just adding an appreciated $5000 to the entire willingness to pay distribution for college, which just means that prices should go up accordingly, and no one is any better off, save the providers of college education, who can charge more for the same product and hence earn more money.

I'm astounded that the problems with this approach aren't obvious to everyone, including she who laid it out there.

It's her willingness to say populist and dumb things that I have to believe she's smart enough to know are populist yet dumb which makes me not like her. She's saying what she thinks she needs to say to get elected, not what she thinks is true. Which means power, not policy is her end goal. I'm not voting for that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More evil from the current federal administration

Seems that there were some very underhanded tactics used to keep CA from imposing stricter emissions standards than the rest of the nation.

The debate is being framed as whether an individual state should be permitted to pass its own regulations. When phrased this way, it seems a bad idea. MI would let cars emit nerve gas as long as the UAW could keep its rolls up. But this isn't the issue. Rather, it's about whether an individual state can impose restrictions that are tighter than those of the federal government. This is about a state's right to voluntarily do more than the minimum.

If a state wanted to hold itself to more than the minimum education standards, more than the minimum wage, or more than the minimum in construction and safety standards, no one would bat an eye. Smarter kids? More money? Safer buildings and roads? OK!

But in this case, US auto manufacturers fear that their fleets, which still skew more heavily to profitable trucks and SUVs and thus have lower weighted average fuel economy, will be less competitive in CA. Anyone driving around the Bay Are can tell you from the over concentration of Priuses shows their fleets are already woefully behind the standards of CA citizens. The regulations would probably make things worse for US manufacturers, but they've had years and years to get green. They could have led the change. Now they'll pay the price for being wrong and not anticipating customers' shifting preferences.

The EPA ought to get out of the way when a state wants to do more for the environment. And given that CA air blows east to the rest of the US, the rest of the country should be grateful. I really don't know how the people in this administration live with themselves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The other end of the bell curve


She can believe what she wants. But why the hell would anyone put her in a position in which people will listen to what she thinks? TV is crap.

Some of the commenters make the valid point prominently featuring ignorant fat black women on TV does little to combat negative stereotypes.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Yeah. Progress.

I really do wish this were all that simple. That things were clearly better, or it was clearly time for us to remove the military presence, and all would be well.

I think both are untrue. No progress, and all will not be well after we leave. I think the question is, do we make things better or worse by keeping troops there? Are we trying to hold off an inevitable deterioration? If collapse and infighting are inevitable, do we have a moral obligation to try to prevent it, since we kind of put Iraq on this new path of darkness (as opposed to the old path of darkness)?

I'm not sure I'm saying "Bring the troops home now". But I am saying that congress needs to take over and prevent more of the same. Maybe we can get the UN to try to keep the humanitarian crisis in Iraq from getting too disastrous?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back from Burning Man

This year will be remembered as the year of the dust storms. And not just the year someone burned the man on Monday night.

Thursday morning I finally got some favorable winds, and took my kite out onto the playa. I had a great time getting passers by to stop and fly it for a while, many flying a kite again for this first time in decades. I had many great interactions with other fine folk. Very much what I had been looking for.

K and I hit a yoga class around 2 PM, which let out around 3. We were at the 3 o'clock position in the city. As we packed up, the wind picked up. Dust blew. And then the wind really picked up.

We both said "Oh shit" and made the fateful choice to try to cross the playa to our camp on the 8 o'clock axis instead of stick to the city, which would have meant a longer trip home. We followed the lamp posts which lined the 3 to 9 axis of the playa. The wind was thankfully at our backs, but switching to goggles was soon required. At its worst, we couldn't see the lamp posts until they were 4 feet away. Many folks had done the smart thing and stopped where they were and took shelter by their bikes. Most were calling out to make noise, as people could be heard long before they could be seen. It became unsafe to remain on bikes, as the wind was blowing us along faster than we could see what was coming in front of us.

Both of us had little skin exposed, but where it was, the dust and small rocks stung during strong gusts. Playa exfoliation.

At many points, we had to just keep walking forwards, hoping we weren't veering too strongly given the visual homogeneity before us, hoping to find the next set of lamp posts before we got off track.

Upon reaching the other side, we stopped to help a camp hold down their shade structure, which the wind was threatening to carry away.

When we finally got back to our camp, it was a disaster.

We had foolishly left the windows on the tent open, and the fine dust had easily penetrated all the screens. Our tent's design made it terrible in a dust storm, as the rain fly served to funnel the dust laden air straight into the windows. Every exposed surface in the tent, including the air mattress, the sheets, scattered clothing, open bags, lanterns, lights, batteries was coated in dust as if a 30 pound bag of playa flour had blown up in our tent.

Outside the tent, matters were worse. The wind was threatening to tear down the tarps we had strung between shade structures to amplify our shaded space. All our gear outside the tent, including our food and cooking supplies, were also coated in dust. Most of the food was in sealed containers and packaging, but it was still an unholy mess. The air mattress we had left under the shade structure was also coated in dust.

The poor tent design made it easy for the wind to grab and yank. It was coming unstaked in several places. I grabbed my hammer and extra stakes, and re-connected the tent with the ground. I also had to cut line in places where I had tied the tarp to the tent, and allow some parts of the tent to blow free. Resistance was futile.

When the winds finally died down, around 7, everyone and everything was utterly filthy. K's usually raven hair was a grey, matted dust mop. My white long sleeve white T was light brown streaked with darker brown where the dehydrated mud in the air had made contact with unevaporated sweat.

I had been looking forward to going out that night. But all I could do then was eat vacuum packed dinner in my tent with K and my brother and start to fall asleep. I was dusty and miserable.

In Black Rock City, during mid and late morning, water trucks cruise the city streets casting a fine flow of water onto the top layer of dust to turn it back to mud, which the sun then turns to a crust of dried mud in a matter of minutes, which keeps the dust down. I had seen folks run naked after the trucks in search of a free shower last year. I found it amusing, but a bit desperate. While their bodies get clean, their feet become caked in fresh playa mud. It didn't seem to me that they were any cleaner after chasing the truck.

But on Friday morning, I had only two words form my camp: Water Truck.

The trucks tend to signal their approach by a regular "toot toot" of their horns. Who can blame the drivers for summoning naked chicks to chase them?

I heard the truck, stripped to my shorts (the same dusty shorts I had worn during the storm) and looked for the truck. When we caught sight of it, the rest of my camp (all naked) joined me jogging behind the truck, furiously scrubbing the dust into mud and diluting it with the water cascading over our heads. Run run scrub rub run rub run squeegee run.

I felt human again.

I dressed and had my day, taking photos.

Then again, this time around 5, another storm. Winds. Dust so thick I literally walked in a circle and didn't realize it until i cam upon the same corner twice.

I made my way back to camp, and along the way lost my hat, then recovered it in a camp that was continuing its full on late afternoon party. I got back to camp.

Today, the tent had been sealed. Yet there was still a new coating of dust on everything. You can't keep out the playa. I cut down the tarps again, made sure nothing was going to blow away. The wind kept up. The dust kept coming.

I grabbed my mug and headed for the party.

They had a keg of Prohibiton Ale (a barley wine - rare and amazing) from 21st Amendment brewery in SF. It was fantastic and cold.

I brought some of it back to camp for K. She arrived, and then we all headed over to the party. We met people, we brought chips to share and drank exotic beer. In a dust storm.

Thursday, I hated the dust storm. I didn't want everything covered in dust. I wanted to go out and be with beautiful burners and to not worry about myself or my camp. I was so tired from the fretting and so broken by the unpleasantness, I didn't go out on Thursday night. The playa had beaten me.

Friday, I realized the everything is impermanent. On the playa, what once was clean will soon be dusty. The only variable is how dusty it'll be and in what time frame. Yet also, what is filthy can become clean. The water trucks come, the winds die down, the day's heat subsides. I had been operating under the illusion of control. I had thought that, through careful planning and running a tight ship, I could somehow make the trip what I wanted it to be.

But I cannot control a desert, no matter how hard I try. It came to me sitting in the party camp, drinking beer: We the citizens of Black Rock City are the alpine flowers of the desert. We blossom when the opportunity arises, because we can. But we don't expect ideal blooming conditions all the time. In fact, we prepare to be buried under hostile conditions for most of our existence. But when the moment comes, we bloom and are beautiful, even though all that time and energy will have been spent for just a fleeting moment of splendor. The fleeting splendor really is worth it all.

Last year, Black Rock City taught me that whatever I am, it's beautiful and that the only person who keeps me from expressing it is me. This year, the desert taught me that sometimes it's better to be a feather than a rock, that control is an illusion, and that energy spent trying to make the illusion real can be better spent enjoying what is real.

After the second dust storm, this is the real that we got. Full double rainbow. By the time I got my camera, the second was fading. You can still see it if you look closely.