Thursday, March 29, 2007

Safer swing sets, more injuries

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gas price conspiracy? Revisited

I suppose that I should have expected it. I was at a gas station today, and the price was about $2.60 per gallon. Two of the other customers were extremely upset arguing that the pump price was going up at the same time that the crude oil price was going down. They were claiming that the price had nothing to do with the cost of gas to the gas company. Well, I tried to argue with them, but it was obviously futile. Just on the microscopic probability that these two gentlemen actually read my blog, the figure from shows that the price at the pump is closely related to the price of crude oil. The most obvious difference is that the price at the pump doesn't vary as much day to day as the price of crude because gas companies bear inventory costs to smooth out these price swings for their customers.


What do high infant mortality rates really tell you?

The US and the UK have high infant mortality rates. As the points out:

THE new UNICEF report on children in industrial countries is out. Readers will be shocked, shocked! to find out that the United States and the UK are indisputably the worst places to have been a child.

The problem with all of these reports, of course, is what computer programmers call GIGO—Garbage In, Garbage Out. They are extraordinarily sensitive to the chosen metrics. So if you think that the most important thing is for children to be as close to each other as possible in income distribution, you will decide that Danish children are living in paradise. On the other hand, if you peg material items like dishwashers, computers, and so forth as major contributors to child welfare, then the United States might be more to your taste; as the Heritage Foundation points out, the Census Bureau finds that . . .

Yet neither income inequality, nor the abundance of colour televisions, tells me what I want to know which is how happy and healthy are children in these various countries?

Even things like health statistics are fraught. African-Americans have, for reasons no one quite understands, higher levels of premature birth, infant mortality, and low-birth-weight babies, and birth complications. This is true even when obvious factors like income, prenatal care, and maternal health and age are controlled for, and substantially lowers America's performance in the statistics.

Similarly, the UN has somewhat inexplicably decided to use "deaths from accidents and injuries, 0-19", as a proxy for health among that age group, rather than the more obvious "deaths, 0-19". This statistic makes America look awful, almost entirely due to the fact that American children spend a lot of time in cars. Yet the differences run from 10 per 100,000 to 20 per 100,000, meaning that 99.98% of American children lead lives blissfully untouched by accidental death. . . . .

There is also the possibility of what is known as the Peltzman effect. Making something safer can actually encourage more dangerous behavior. Suppose that you make riding a motorcylce completely safe. What would happen to how fast that you drive? I bet that people would drive a lot faster. In general, safety features may increase or decrease the number of deaths. Airbags might reduce the number of deaths per accident, but they might also increase the number of accidents because people feel that they can drive more recklessly. You might also be more likely to accidentally kill a few pedestrians. There is always the risk that improved health care might generate a similar response. Some groups of people might respond to these changing costs more than others.

Of course, some people might engage in risky behavior generally because of the social safety net. People might be more willing to risk getting hooked on drugs because there are so many potential protections for them. But getting hooked on drugs might also mean more premature births and thus greater child mortality.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Roanoke Times publishing list of Virginia permit holders

About 2 percent of Virginians, 135,789 of us, have concealed handgun permits. . . .

As a Sunshine Week gift, The Roanoke Times has placed the entire database, mistakes and all, online at You can search to find out if neighbors, carpool partners, elected officials or anyone else has permission to carry a gun. . . . .

One of the benefits of concealed handguns is that criminals don't know who is going to be able to defend themselves, so even those who have no plans of carrying a concealed handgun benefit from the fact that others do so. Now if a criminal wants to attack someone all a criminal has to do is look up the name of a potential victim and see if they are able to defend themselves. I have one question for Christian Trejbal (the writer of the piece): Does he put a sign up in front of his home reading "This is a gun free home"? Probably not, and for good reason.

Thanks to William Taggart for alerting me to this newspaper article.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Proposed Credit Card Regulations

Listening to the news this morning I heard a report about how horrible it is that credit card companies are allowed to change the terms of their agreements with customers without notice. Apparently, there is a move to pass a law requiring that credit card companies give notice (60 days) for customers before any change can occur. I was quite upset with the Foxnews interviewer. I wished she had asked two questions: 1) Won't that mean higher interest rates? 2) Couldn't the credit card companies offer that now? Doesn't it mean that since they aren't doing that that the customers do not value the benefits from this as much as the costs?

Here is apparently some news coverage of the hearings that took place this past week:

They only discover later that, buried somewhere in a dense, multi-page contract in small print, the lender reserves the right to change the terms - including the interest rate - at any time.
Getting yanked around like this understandably makes customers furious. And they're letting Congress hear about it.


Friday, March 9, 2007

Unions spending $10 Million to $20 Million to Attack Wal-Mart

The union-backed campaigns aimed at criticizing Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s wages and health benefits are having a "meaningful" impact on the giant retailer's operations, according to a Bank of America Securities analyst.

Wal-Mart on Friday disputed that finding. "Union leaders are wasting millions of their members' hard-earned dollars every year attacking Wal-Mart," spokesman David Tovar said. "Published reports and our own internal tracking consistently show that the critics' efforts are having minimal impact on the company's reputation."

Bank of America analyst David Strasser wrote in a note distributed Thursday to his firm's clients that the union groups have $20 million in financial backing from their national organizations and contributions from their local divisions. He estimates that Wal-Mart, in turn, employs 100 people tasked, at least in part, with countering the union group's criticisms, amounting to a $10 million expense in salary and benefits. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman called that estimate off-base and "simply absurd."

The Wal-Mart workers apparently don't want to be unionized. They won't vote to elect union representation. The union strategy seems to be to force the company into initiating unionization.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Incentives matter even among birds: threats to destroy nests ensure that other birds raise cowbirds' offspring

Raise my kids, or else! People have long wondered how cowbirds can get away with leaving their eggs in the nests of other species, who then raise the baby cowbirds. Why don't the hosts just toss the strange eggs out? Now researchers seem to have an answer _ if the host birds reject the strange eggs, the cowbirds come back and trash the place.

The so-called "Mafia behavior," by brown-headed cowbirds is reported in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's the female cowbirds who are running the mafia racket at our study site," Jeffrey P. Hoover, of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Illinois Natural History Survey, said in a statement.

"Our study shows many of them returned and ransacked the nest when we removed the parasitic egg," he explained.

Hoover and Scott K. Robinson of the Florida museum studied cowbirds over four seasons in the Cache River watershed in southern Illinois.

While cowbirds leave their eggs in many other birds nests, the researchers focused on warblers in the study because warblers usually accept and raise cowbird eggs.

To see what would happen, Hoover and Robinson watched where the cowbirds left eggs in warbler nests, and then removed some of them.

They found that 56 percent of the nests where cowbird eggs were removed were later ransacked.

They also found evidence of what they called 'farming' behavior,' in which cowbirds destroyed a nest to force the host bird to build another. The cowbird then synchronized its egg laying with the hosts' 'renest' attempt.

"Cowbirds parasitized 85 percent of the renests, which is strong supporting evidence for both farming and mafia behavior," Hoover said. . . .


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Walter Reed Veteran Medical Care and Public Provision

When will people make the connection between the problems at Walter Reed for veterans and the lack of incentives that exist in public provision? This isn't a deep point, but I am not seeing it mentioned in the media. The question is whether any of those pushing for a single payer health care system will see the connection.

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

"Denying self-defense to GIs in Iraq"

It would be an interesting study to see what hapens to the number of troop deaths before and after the adoption of these rules. You raise the cost of defending people and it makes them more likely targets.

As part of President Bush's troop surge now under way in Iraq, he insisted that Iraqi leaders "lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces." That's an important step, but a deeply ironic one, because it overlooks other unreasonable restrictions imposed on US soldiers – by the US government.

In 2005, the Pentagon amended its Standing Rules of Engagement (ROE). The new rules make it harder for US troops to boldly counter hostile acts, and they specifically allow commanders to limit the right of soldiers to defend themselves!

The United States seeks to bring peace to Iraq by winning the "hearts and minds" of the civilian population. Unnecessary collateral damage and innocent civilian deaths undermine this effort. Presumably, the new ROE, which allow unit commanders to "limit individual self-defense by members of their unit" after notifying the secretary of Defense, were adopted with a noble purpose in mind: to lessen civilian casualties. However, limiting the right of self-defense is too drastic and it puts soldiers at risk.

Commanders take these restrictions seriously. Newsweek magazine recently quoted Marine Capt. Rob Secher, who complained that "anytime an American fires a weapon there has to be an investigation into why there was an escalation of force." . . . .

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Saturday, March 3, 2007

Teacher's union is trying stop Utah Voucher Law

Surprise, the Utah teacher's union is trying stop the recently enacted voucher system in the state. It is understandable that the teacher's union dislikes competition. One positive note is that the teacher's union has tried petitions before on gun issues and they have failed (Utah's petition rules require that petitioners get signatures from across the state and not just liberal Salt Lake City and that lowers the chances of getting something on the ballot). Given that the union is probably more motivated this time, the odds are higher, but they still might fail. My guess is that once vouchers are in place for a while, it will be a lot like concealed handgun laws. People will wonder what all the concern was about.

Less than 24 hours after the Legislature adjourned, opponents of the school voucher program applied for a referendum petition that could land a final decision in the hands of voters in the next general election.
Utahns for Public Schools, a group formed to head up the task of gathering nearly 100,000 signatures — 91,998 to be exact — in the next 40 days, filed the application asking Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert to consider their cause.
"This is so important that the people in this state should get to vote on it," said Pat Rusk, former president of the Utah Education Association. "We are going to make sure that the citizens of Utah get to decide if they want their tax dollars going to private schools." . . . .

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