Thursday, February 28, 2013

Unions should number their days . . .

From the American Interest:

According to Sheet Metal Workers Local 85 Union in Atlanta, Obamacare’s requirements “will add between 50 cents to $1 an hour to the cost of members’ compensation package,” making them less competitive than non-unionized contractors with fewer than 50 employees, who can forgo health care for their workers without fear of a penalty. Unions who once thought Obamacare would save them money are now aggressively lobbying the Obama administration to fork over federal subsidies. This request has caught Obama in a bind.

I'm guessing that Obama does not feel himself particularly bound, because he doesn't actually regard beefy white guys in windbreakers as long-run members of his coalition. His plan has always been to string the unions along until such time as non-white immigration makes them irrelevant.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Home Theater Review

After about a year's worth of half-hearted shopping, I finally pulled the trigger on a family Christmas present: a new home theater system. The principal components are: a Panasonic P55ST50 3D Plasma television, a Boston Acoustics 5.1 sound system with a Denon AVR-1513 receiver, a Sony BDP-S590 3D Blu-ray player, and (compliments of Time Warner) a Samsung SMT-H3270 HD DVR.

I'll give some details about the operation of this system in this and subsequent posts, but I want to start with this: 3D Blu-ray ROCKS!!! Really. I can't imagine why anyone would watch an action-adventure or animation movie any other way, and I say this as someone who doesn't normally get excited by action-adventure movies. I had read reviews by people less than enamored with 3D. Some of my extended family doesn't like it, and even I thought it was a little gimmicky watching it in the store. But now that I can see it in a darkened room across a 55" screen, I am not ashamed to say that I am enrapture by the visual experience it delivers.

For some reason, I had got in my head early on that LED was the better technology, but my experience in the showroom didn't support it. The 120Hz and even 240Hz televisions (about my price range for LEDs) would show noticealbe screen jitter during dramatic camera pans. Happily, our 600Hz plasma shows none of that. The tradeoff is that the TV pulls almost 3 amps and kicks out a fair amount of heat -- not an issue in the winter, but I'll have to let you know about summer. Also, plasma screens aren't as bright as LED screens, and are only suitable for darkened rooms. But with these caveats, Plasma delivers far better viewing quality for the dollar.

And while I'm at it: 5.1 surround sound ROCKS!!! Yes, I know that I'm about 20 years late to this particular party. Again, my earlier experience was . . . well, not "meh" exactly -- I thought it was cool enough -- but it wasn't until the good salesmen at Best Buy cranked up their demo system during the final battle of The Avengers that it became something I wanted for myself. Now that it's in my media room . . . more superheros, please.

Content is tricky. 3D Blu-ray disks sell at a premium. Netflix doesn't carry them, and I've watched every 3D disk that Family Video has that isn't a horror movie. There are some streaming services -- I think PS3 owners can buy and stream them through their consoles -- but they don't have quite the quality. Time Warner gave a few days worth of free premium cable when I swapped out my box, and HBO and Showtime have on-demand 3D content. But it only works well during low-bandwidth segments; once the images start to change quickly, it becomes difficult to tell exactly what's happening.

Blu-ray quickly ruins you for lesser formats. I happened to catch a few minutes of a Harry Potter DVD my kids were watching, and not only did the images seem flat, but I started to notice the compression artifacts around the edges. I never would have thought that I would ever look at DVDs and think "poor quality".

I am vaguely curious if the complexity of the interface has run away from the average person. For instance, each of my devices -- the TV, the receiver, the Blu-ray, and the cable box -- came with its own remote control. The receiver and TV remotes are single-device remotes. The Blu-ray remote can turn on the television, but this doesn't help much without controlling the receiver. Only the cable box remote can be programmed to operate all the devices to a limited extent.

To help us overcome these limitations, the good salesmen at Best Buy sold us a fifth remote: a Logitech Harmony 650. This remote is fully programmable via USB cable. Via the accompanying software, the commands for any set of devices can be loaded. But don't worry if any command is missing: the remote has a receiving antenna on the back that can store and save any IR signal from any remote and assign that command to any button, either on the body of the remote or in the menus on the LCD screen. Sets of commands are wrapped into single buttons named "Watch TV" (turn on the TV, receiver, cable box) and "Watch a Movie" (turn on the TV, receiver, and Blu-ray).

Now, all this functionality is about as simple as anyone could expect. But let's face it, this is all a long way from even my now-retired 10-year-old CRT, let alone the televisions of my youth. And on at least two occasions, the complexity kicked my ass. The first was in setting up the sound system. The dozens of settings on the Denon on-screen menus didn't seem to match up with spec sheets for the Boston Acoustic speakers that came in the same box! So with the exception of entering the room dimensions and picking a listening "sweet spot" therein, I pretty much left it on the default settings. Like I said, it sounds awesome, but I'll always wonder if there is something I'm missing.

The second ass-kick was the bad picture I was getting from standard Blu-ray. The tech support technician had me change a bunch of settings on the TV, and now it works. But I had only a limited understanding of what those settings were, and there was no way I was going to figure out on my own what they should be. And if screwing with them keeps you from playing Blu-ray, then why on earth make them adjustable, let alone not making them the default settings. Blu-ray isn't that new a technology.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Link Love XVII

A survey of scientists is not the same as science. Still, considering that AGW tub-thumpers long relied on such surveys as a cudgel on skeptics, they're hardly in a position to complain now that the surveys are turning against them.

Immigration plus prohibition turned out to be a boon to organized crime. But when it comes to prostitution, immigration plus decriminalization doesn't work out so well either. Guess which one will be thrown under the bus.

Fun fact: according to the Census Bureau, 45.3% of Mexican immigrants are on food stamps. 24.1% of all immigrants get food stamps, compared to 13.9% of native-born Americans. Any predictions about which of food stamps or welfare will get thrown under the bus?

Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but this NYT article is the first notice I've seen the press take, or the President mention, of the non-DoD share of the budget cuts. My idle speculations is that the Left is leading with the DoD cuts to generate pressure on Republican lawmakers from their own constituents to cave on whatever Obama is demanding. Seeing as how that doesn't seem to be working, we may be watching a shift in strategy.

Panetta made the required Congressional notification that we'll be furloughed one day per week starting in April. Money's tight, so the DoD is cutting back. Except when it's not.

On a related note, I got a kick out of this bit of Navy propaganda:

Key attributes which will sustain a successful repeal of DADT:

  • Leadership: DADT repeal was a major policy change. Focused leadership will continue to ensure a positive impact on unit cohesion, readiness and the effectiveness of a given unit. Front line leaders are tasked with building unit cohesion and maintaining readiness in a diverse force to meet mission requirements.

  • Professionalism: As members of the Naval Service, we have taken an oath as military professionals to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and have made a commitment to our Navy Core Values. Emphasizing these professional obligations in a post-repeal environment will reinforce expectations of personal behavior.

  • Discipline: The Uniform Code of Military Justice remains our legal foundation of good order and discipline; and provides for enforcement of standards of conduct and laws, and prohibits harassment, sexual assault or other violence. Accountability is a cornerstone of good order and discipline and will continue to guide standards of acceptable behavior.

Right. Because all this worked out so well integrating women into the armed forces. Right?

Speaking of which, the movie The Invisible War took a moment to make sport of military propaganda urging women to be proactive in avoiding sexual assault. Yet when the subject turns to gun control, Colorado Democrats suddenly have new respect for the buddy system.

On a related note, the NRA has pointed out that gun control doesn't reduce crime, and in the context of the AWB, the Justice Department agrees. Of course, the Justice Department also thinks the solution is even more gun control.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why are we just now learning about this . . .

From a article on Panetta's farewell:

At the indoor farewell ceremony at Joint Base Fort Myer-Henderson Hall next to the Pentagon, Obama told Panetta that "you've led with heart and you've led with humor," a reference to Panetta's liberal use of salty language and jokes that sometimes ruffled feathers overseas.

That's the most interesting thing I've ever heard about Panetta. Which is probably why it's only being noticed now that he's leaving.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Power of Positive Thinking

Steve links to a WaPo article on Myers-Briggs:

There’s another problem: Not all the personality traits delineated by the Five Factor theory are positive. One of the traits in this framework is neuroticism, for example, which has undeniably negative associations.

One of the major selling points of Myers-Briggs is that it is unequivocally positive. No personality type in its framework is better or worse than any other; each is billed as having unique and constructive strengths. 

I'll go further than this. Most of what I know about the Big Five comes from Geoffrey Miller, and in his telling, only openness, agreeableness, contientiousness, stability, and extraversion are unequivocally good. Their opposites are all bad.

As an introverted, not-especially-open individual, I bristle at this characterization. But that aside, I will remind readers of the singular virtue of intelligence tests over personality tests: they cannot be gamed (much). If, say, employers started using high-stakes Big Five questionaires, job seekers easily discern how to use their answers to indicate "good" traits over "not good" traits. Myers-Briggs, in happy contrast, provides little incentive to do this.

Friday, February 15, 2013

After the Cameras Left: William Frantz Elementary

From Wikipedia:

Ruby Nell Bridges Hall (born September 8, 1954) is known as the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.[1] She attended William Frantz Elementary School at 3811 North Galvez Street, New Orleans, LA 70117.

William Frantz Elementary isn't listed on, and the pictures on Google are not encouraging:

Here is the profile of the 70117 zip code today.

Here are the demographics of the Louisiana Recovery School District, which surrounds that location.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Real Purpose of Regulation

Matt Yglesias discovers bureaucracy.  The American Interest gloats:

As Yglesias’ experience shows, the move for government reform does not need to be an ideological or partisan issue: liberals should fight pointless, expensive, poor-exploiting and opportunity-killing regulation as hard as conservatives.

But it has, to some degree, become a partisan issue because upper middle class progressive intellectuals often know nothing about the real effect of the regulations they do so much to promote. The reason for this is simple: they are almost never in the position of running businesses.

It’s touchingly naive to assume upper middle class progressives, or the upper middle class in general, spends much time worrying about the effect of their regulatory policy on the poor.  I propose an alternative explanation:  local regulatory policy helps liberals avoid the consequences of their stated beliefs in immigration and Civil Rights.

Immigration swells the population and, with it, the demand for housing and government services.  Regulating the supply of housing and, more importantly, enforcing occupancy regulations slows the increase in population and increases the value of the existing housing stock, to the apparent benefit of existing residents.

Civil Rights laws with respect to housing makes it relatively difficult to defend against minority encroachment in a straightforward way.  It can be done – my own community does it through mechanism I only partially understand – but it helps to be upper middle class.  But working-class neighborhoods are in constant churn:  minorities move in, whites move out, the neighborhood declines and becomes a slum, then in some cases it gentrifies depending, presumably, on location.  But regulations written, not in the interest of development or “the poor”, but to raise the cost of movement, can arrest this process.

On the other hand, DC is in the process of gentrifying, an eventuality that upper middle class progressives would want to encourage to the extent they have political power.  I don’t actually know whether the particular regulations Yglesias finds so odious help or hinder it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Class-Action Highwaymen

After reading through that email inviting me to “participate” in a class-action lawsuit against Facebook, I figured it was a shyster scam.  But it’s actually worse than I thought:

First, the most anyone can receive is $10. Getting the $10 requires a rather complex process of filling out forms. Why would anyone take the trouble? The lawyers behind the suit know perfectly well that hardly anybody will; the $20 million is just sitting there to be siphoned off elsewhere.

Second, the lawyers haven't yet bothered to locate the people whom they say were damaged. The notice says, "No one knows in advance how much each Authorized claimant will receive" because nobody knows how many there are. If it wasn't worth the lawyers' time to find out who the plaintiffs even are, just how much merit could this case possibly have? At least ambulance-chasing lawyers have to catch the ambulance and find out who's inside so as to file a claim in their name.

Third, . . . if too many people try to benefit from the class action suit, none of them will get any money at all. Facebook's $20 million will be given to various not-for-profit organizations instead of benefiting the people who were harmed.

This is a perversion of the stated purpose of class action lawsuits. The design of the suit and the settlement virtually guarantees that nobody "harmed" will receive any relief whatsoever.

. . . .

The lawyers get their cut first, other hangers-on get paid, and claimants' payments will be cut pro rata if lots of people write in asking for $10. If anything's left - a big if - it'll go to "charity."

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Hagel Nomination a Snoozer

From the LA Times:

As former Sen. Chuck Hagel seeks to fend off critics aiming to derail his confirmation as Defense secretary, he has an incongruous ally: a Pittsburgh philanthropist who made his fortune as one of the world's top horse-race bettors.

Bill Benter, a prolific donor to Democrats and liberal groups who keeps a low public profile, financed an ad campaign by a group of centrist national security veterans who hailed Hagel's "bipartisanship and independence of conscience and mind."

A cluster of opaque groups, some of which recently sprang into existence, have run television ads blasting Hagel as weak on Israel and hostile to gays. His critics include some of the conservative advocacy organizations that fought vigorously against President Obama's reelection, such as the Iowa-based American Future Fund, whose donors remain a mystery.

Good grief.  This spectacle is shaping up to be an intramural struggle between one group of billionaire Israel-firsters and another group of billionaire Israel-firsters who think the first group is insufficiently warmongering.

Somebody wake me when we actually have a discussion about what’s in the interest of the American nation.

Monday, February 04, 2013

It's all in the wording . . .

From the AP (via

American Deaths in Afghan War Drop to 4-Year Low

. . . which could be reworded as:

American Deaths in Afghan War Remain Higher under Obama than during Bush Administration

. . . but it doesn't have quite the same spin, does it.

Legit Pickup

I've watched the first few episodes of the new FX series Legit, starring British comic Jim Jefferies, playing himself.

I hesitate to recommend the series; I'm reasonably confident that the show is the dirtiest thing I've ever seen on basic cable. But I wanted to write a post about episode #3, wherein Jim gives his two American friends advice on how to attract women (clip SFW if I set the brackets correctly):

The episode handles this topic pretty well. It starts by showing Billy and Steve bungling the execution, which I think is fair. The concept of the "neg" leads a lot of people astray.

Billy, who has muscular dystrophy, wants to use these techniques on the internet to develop a "real relationship", a concept that mystifies the more, um, goal-oriented Jim.

What surprised me was that the episode then shows the techniques actually working. Better, in fact, than expected: Steve has to sneak a call to Jim in a panic as a pretty coworker starts to show interest. (I can certainly relate to the sheer terror of finding myself inexplicably out of my depth in social situations involving women.)

But watch at your own risk, but put the women and children to bed first and keep a pillow handy to bury your face in during the cringe-inducing parts.