Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 Southside Sprint

The intersection of Chicago Ave. and 48th St. in south Minneapolis was the epicenter of Minnesota cycling on Sunday, June 22.  Large fields circled the three quarters of a mile criterium course that wound through a neighborhood shopping district and nearby residential streets in front of smaller crowds than the first edition of the event a year ago.  The mens' pro-1-2 classification was won by North St. Paul native Colton Barrett, now riding for national powerhouse Optum Pro Cycling.  The top level women's race was won by former NCAA Div. III national champion Emma Bast.

DSCN0606 Local rider Tara James shows the results of a mishap on the velodrome Thursday night. DSCN0608 Velodrome star Linsey Hamilton provided  race mentoring to some of the lady riders of the future. DSCN0620 Last year's victor in the elite ladies competition Teresa Moriarity shares a giggle with this year's eventual winner Emma Bast. DSCN0626 Teresa Moriarity leads the women's peloton into a corner on a tree-lined street in south Minneapolis.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Great Quote

This quote from Don Boudreaux and Russ Robert's Cafe Hyek is taken from a work by the outstanding University of Minnesota anthropologist E. Adamson Hoebel.

 Quotation of the Day…

by DON BOUDREAUX on JULY 16, 2012 …

 is from page 234 of the 1983 Atheneum Press edition of E. Adamson Hoebel’s classic 1954 book, The Law of Primitive Man:

" The functionaries of the Ashanti legal institutions had come to forget that the institutions had been created for the benefit of society; they had come to think that they existed to serve their own selfish interests. They had succumbed to the eternal danger that besets any institution that has become so complex that its services require full-time experts. Experts are tempted to treat the institution as existing to support them rather than perceiving that they themselves exist as servants of the institution and of the people who created and sustain it. The Ashanti elders had become shysters and fee-grabbers."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Hugh Joyce, owner of James River Air Conditioning. displays an original version of the Affordable Care Act in a conference room at his firm.

This article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch tells us a little bit about the situation that employers are facing as socialized medicine becomes a reality in the US.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Two Stars

teresa & dan What do two of Minnesota's most accomplished cyclists do on a Sunday when they're not riding in a race? They get on their bikes and ride over to watch one. On Sunday, June 17 Dan Casper, World Master's Individual Pursuit Champion, and Teresa Moriarity, perennial Minnesota elite women's road racing champion, bumped into each other on the course at the NVGP Stillwater criterium and took time to pose for this photo.

Dog Attack

This Pioneer-Press article describes an event that is so wrong in so many ways it almost defies analysis.  But we'll try.

First of all, if contemporary law enforcement requires, as it does, trained professionals to administer it, how can authority be delegated to lower orders of the animal kingdom?  It's pretty obvious that even a trained dog can't tell a suspect from a bystander.  The human cops themselves can't do that.  Or internalize the concepts of "innocent until proven guilty" or "excessive force".  Dogs are trained to use excessive force.  Human cops aren't allowed to bite people, or at least the practice is discouraged.  In any event, how much force, how much physical effort, is correct in making an arrest?  Remember, this isn't punishment, nobody has been convicted of anything.  How much injury to a suspect, not to mention an innocent bystander, is acceptable in making an arrest?  Particularly one in which the suspect is attempting to flee, rather than physically resist?  Well, we know the answer.  There is no limit.    

Friday, July 6, 2012

Northstar Cuts Fares To Lure Riders

Three years ago Metro Transit, the public agency that runs the buses and passenger trains serving the Minneapolis-St.Paul area of Minnesota, launched the Northstar commuter rail line, a normal size train that travels on existing tracks 45 miles between the baseball Twins new home, Target Field, and the hamlet of Big Lake, an exurb of St. Cloud, five times a day each way during the week and three times a day on weekends.  While fares range from $3.25 to $7.00 per trip, the cost is more like $24.  Read the dismal details here.

The Remorse Role

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

"Amy Senser has displayed only "hollow excuses," not remorse, for the hit-and-run crash last August that killed a popular chef and deserves the maximum-allowable sentence of nearly five years in prison, a prosecutor argued Thursday in response to a defense motion requesting leniency.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell's memorandum claims that Senser tried to downplay her responsibility for the Aug. 23 crash that killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, of Roseville. She urged Judge Daniel Mabley to sentence Senser to 57 months following her conviction in May on two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide -- one for leaving the scene, another for failing to call for help.
Senser, 45, of Edina, is scheduled for sentencing Monday. State guidelines call for 41 to 57 months in prison.
Senser "has not shown remorse for her criminal choice to drive away after crashing into Mr. Phanthavong. She has not shown remorse for her choice not to call 911 immediately after the crash, and she has not shown remorse for her choice not to report the crash the next day -- even after she realized that she had killed Mr. Phanthavong and for 10 additional days thereafter," Russell wrote. "Instead, [the] defendant has continually minimized her criminal choices with hollow excuses."
Read the whole article here.
Of course, Mrs. Senser, the wife of a well-known ex-pro football player and successful restauranteur, is being punished for what she didn't do after the incident, more so than for whatever it was she may have done to bring the crash about.  What she did not do was both illegal and simply wrong and if those omissions are punishable, she deserves punishment.  But lack of "remorse"?  First of all, no one can read Amy Senser's mind.  We have no way of knowing what her level of remorse might actually be, other than through her verbalizations.  I'm pretty sure that she's very sorry this whole affair ever happened, even if she's never explicitly indicated that to the court.  But the court wants her to grovel, to beg for institutional forgiveness, and since they have no way of knowing how sincere her groveling might actually be, what they're really requiring is that Amy Senser be a good actress.  How, exactly is she to demonstrate her remorse?  Maybe she could give everything she owns to the family of the victim.  Or personally clean their house once a week for the foreseeable future.  Joining the Peace Corps might be an option since taking vows doesn't seem to be a modern tactic.  In reality, this whole thing is just posing by the prosecutor, she got her conviction, the sentencing is another matter.  She gets to cut another notch in her belt.  But her voice is just one of many the judge will hear before he pronounces sentence.  Deborah Russell has had her name all over the local media, she'll be running for office soon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Can You Afford It?

This quote from PJ Tatler:

President Obama’s campaign spokesman said on CNN this morning that his boss disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling on the individual mandate.
When prodded by host Soledad O’Brien, Ben LaBolt said that the Obama specifically believes that the mandate consists of a penalty.
“You saw our arguments before the Supreme Court. You see what the president has said over the past several years that it’s a penalty for that 1 percent of the population who can afford health insurance but hasn’t chosen to get it,” LaBolt said. “Because the fact is that has led the rest of us to pay a hidden tax of $1,000 a year, folks already covered. It drives up our premiums.”

Who, and how, determines if somebody can "afford something"?  Wouldn't that be an individual decision based upon any number of idiosyncratic factors?  A person might have enough money stuffed in his mattress or even stored as pixels in his bank account to put a down payment on a new Prius.  He can "afford" it.  But he might believe that keeping a reserve of liquid funds in a bank account or mattress might save him from destitution if he gets fired from his job or his border collie needs surgery.  Following that line of thinking, common in America for most of its history, he can't afford a new Prius, even  with a liberal payment policy.  The idea that some other party can determine if an individual can "afford" anything is preposterous.

Paul Craig Roberts Vents

Former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, Paul Craig Roberts isn't happy with the situation in DC.  In this short article he points out some serious issues in US foreign policy.  Some of the things he says are statements of the obvious, others are more open to other interpretations.  For instance:  What the US is bringing is civil wars and the breakup of countries, as President Bill Clinton’s regime achieved in former Yugoslavia. The more countries can be torn into pieces and dissolved into rival factions, the more powerful is Washington.  OK, that's true, in a way.  But who says that Iraq must remain in the geographical configuration that the British and French agreed upon many, many years ago?  The Kurds, who've wandered around the area now occupied by Turkey and northern Iraq for centuries might like to see central power in Baghdad disappear.  In that particular instance, how powerful has Washington actually become?  Prisoners in their own compounds, American troops have less integration into Iraqi society than the Hessians did in revolutionary America, their most effective means of subjugating the Iraqis being the delivery of pallets full of shrink-wrapped hundred dollar bills to the sheiks and emirs that really run the country.  The state of the art, high-tech military equipment that enables a non-com in Missouri to rain death onto a meeting of tribal leaders in a remote desert province on the opposite side of the globe is unlikely to convince the witness residents that they should hang the stars and stripes outside their beyt.  While Washington's adventures in the middle east have certainly had an effect on those living there, they've also had a truly negative influence on life in the US itself, as anyone that's taken a plane ride can attest.

  Several years from now, the Chinese economy is expected to exceed in size the US economy, with an Asian power displacing a Western one as the world’s most powerful economy. So what?  If the Chinese economy becomes measurably larger in some way than that of the US, does that mean that we go to the end of some line?  And then have to work our way back to the front?  Are measurements of the GDP of nations akin to the scores of NBA playoff games, where eventually a temporary winner is crowned and allowed to hang a pennant in its arena?  That's nuts.  On the day that the Chinese economy slips past that of the US in some probably impossible to verify statistic, no one in America will even be aware of it.  No one will come to the door, demand our forks and then replace them with chopsticks.  Can Americans possibly believe that citizens of lower rung countries like Argentina and Thailand are perpetually miserable because they're not on the top of the economic heap?  Maybe they are, actually, since they, too, have governments intent on regulating their lives.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Investment in Sociopolitical Complexity as a Problem-solving Response Often Reaches a Point of Declining Marginal Returns.

That's the pay-off line in anthropologist Joseph Tainter's 1988 book, The Collapse of Complex Societies.  Before and after its publication, others, like Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel, have advanced theories for the success or failure of civilizations that are based on geography, environment, politics, military success and other factors.  Tainter analyzes 24 different societies that have disappeared through history, three of them extensively, the western Roman Empire, the lowland Mayans and the Chacoans of Chaco Canyon in the San Juan River basin.

His research indicates this:

1.  human societies are problem-solving organizations;
2.  sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
3.  increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
4.  investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.

In the case of the western Romans, their empire reached its apex in the Augustan era, from then on the agricultural complex that made up the Roman pre-industrial economy was forced to produce a surplus to support an ever-growing horde of tax collectors and bureaucrats and a huge army to protect its far-flung borders that didn't merit the expense.  The Roman occupation of Britain, for instance, was a net drag on the treasury, they never got as much out of the British Isles as they spent on them.  Rome wasn't really defeated by the barbarians, the legions were always more than a match for their less organized opponents.  In fact, Roman citizens in the outlying provinces welcomed the Goths, Vandals, Franks and others because their rule was less onerous, and cheaper, than that of Rome itself.

The concept of marginal utility, intuitively known for centuries, was first explained in economic terms by Austrian economist Carl Menger.  In Wikipedia:      " In economics, the marginal utility of a good or service is the gain (or loss) from an increase (or decrease) in the consumption of that good or service. Economists sometimes speak of a law of diminishing marginal utility, meaning that the first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units.[citation needed] The marginal decision rule states that a good or service should be consumed at a quantity at which the marginal utility is equal to the marginal cost.[1]

The concept of marginal utility played a crucial role in the marginal revolution of the late 19th century, and led to the replacement of the labor theory of value by neoclassical value theory in which the relative prices of goods and services are simultaneously determined by marginal rates of substitution in consumption and marginal rates of transformation in production, which are equal in economic equilibrium."

An example of this, as applied to problem-solving organizations, would be law enforcement.  If a community has a dozen patrolmen, adding one more patrolman, with his wages, benefits, retirement, etc. probably won't increase public safety a little over 8%, as might be expected by mathematical calculation.  While the added expense of this patrolman will be the same or more than those already in the force, the benefit will be less, the marginal utility of each patrolman, and the police force as a whole, will have decreased.  

Initially, increasing complexity may be beneficial.  Hiring those first 10 cops leads to a more peaceful community both from the standpoint of crime prevention and the arrest of criminals.  However, as the department becomes more complex, with additional personnel having specialized duties, the marginal utility of the complexity decreases, the benefits of this complexity, paid for by an increasing per capita levy, become less.  In law enforcement, here is a good example:  

The states of both Alaska and Wyoming will have spent a considerable sum on this affair when it's all over but the benefits to the citizens of either state are non-existent.  And Wyoming will spend even more of its citizens' funds incarcerating this individual.  It's a great example of negative marginal utility, the sort of thing that led to the fall of the Roman Empire.

According to Tainter, decreasing marginal utility doesn't necessarily result in the collapse of a society.  This can only occur if the society is geographically isolated and not adjacent to another society capable of absorbing it.  The world is now so interconnected that collapse will not be limited to any one unique society but will be more likely to affect the entire globe.