Archive for August, 2010



23
Aug
10

Miscellaneous Monday motorsports mumblings, vol. 27

Can you believe it’s been the whole racing season to date since I wrote the last one of these?

——

First of all: Road America.  If you neglected to watch this weekend’s ALMS race, drop what you’re doing, find a torrent, and watch.  It’s only three hours, and totally worth it.

Congrats first of all to Drayson Racing for their maiden victory, and second to the American Le Mans Series for their incredibly successful prototype rules.  Fans of the series will recall that, due to flagging interest from factory teams, the ALMS ditched the ACO’s LMP1/LMP2 classification and combined both categories into a single heterogeneous “LMP” class, with weight penalties and engine restrictors and such to achieve some sort of parity.  What that meant this weekend was that Drayson Racing (and its Judd V10-powered B09/60) stacked up against Patron-Highcroft’s Acura ARX-01 and Team CytoSport Muscle Milk’s Porsche RS Spyder — both LMP2 engine/chassis combinations revamped for the new regulations.

You’d expect the much faster and slightly heavier LMP”1″ cars to run away from the lighter, slower LMP”2″ cars on Road America’s three long straights.  You’d be wrong.  While pole-sitter Johnny Cocker ran laps five seconds faster than the RS Spyder in clean air, he also burned far more fuel doing so and was forced to pit under green with less than half an hour remaining.  In the end, he passed David Brabham’s ARX-01 for second with only a few laps to spare and took the lead from Klaus Graf’s Porsche through Thunder Alley on the last lap, as the German slowed to make it across the finish with only fumes left in the tank.

This, folks, is racing. All of the LMPs were competitive, but in different ways and at different points in the track.  Team Autocon Motorsports’ jarringly orange Lola/AER (“LMP1″) was by far the fastest car on track, and held the lead until it broke a shift linkage in the first hour, but the Dyson Motorsports Lola/Mazda (“LMP2″) and of course the RS Spyder were damn quick from T6 through the T9 carousel and dangerous under braking.  Patron-Highcroft brought a modified “Le Mans” package for a bit less downforce and a bit less drag and split the difference between speed and quickness, giving them opportunities to attack all over the track but less margin for error.  (This is the sort of thing you can do when you have Simon Pagenaud and David Brabham driving for you!)

It was glorious.

——

Speaking of glorious racing: next weekend is going to be a good one.  We’ll have the Belgian Grand Prix and ALMS at Mosport.  If your mantra leans more toward “four wheels good, two wheels better“, you’ll be pleased to watch Ben Spies and Valentino Rossi at the Indianapolis GP.  Actually… just book off your whole Sunday.

——

And speaking of Formula One and dubious segues, this is why Korea is cool:

A business park inside a Formula One track, with a Satriani soundtrack.  Yeah.

——

Finally, we find that Jalopnik have distilled their thread of epic win into ten illustrative (and illustrated) examples:

It’s… vindicating, in a backhanded sort of way.  And the comment thread is likewise full of win.  (And with that link, this post gets tagged “haterade” — for the jerkoffs who inspired #7 and #3.)

22
Aug
10

More linky, less thinky

(Should I start numbering these posts?)

We begin with an ominous post from Megan McArdle on the subject of investment-funded pensions:

Here’s the cheery news:

Private pensions are heavily regulated to protect workers. But regulation hasn’t stopped the plans from being underfunded, in part because the regulators, who worried that companies would use pensions as a slush fund to smooth their earnings, kept them from overcontributing in flusher times. Even before the latest financial crisis hit, the government-run pension insurer estimated that, on average, plans had less than 90 percent of the assets needed to meet their liabilities. Now those figures are much worse, and workers who have been depending on those pensions may see them slashed if their companies go under and the government takes over their plans.

The idea of regulators preventing companies from “overcontributing” reminds me of mortgage-backed investment risk being rated based on the chances of homeowners paying down the principal “too soon”.  But at least this terrible fortune is confined to the private sector, right?  I mean, we can still construct a fairy tale where they got what they deserved because, um, profit and greed?

And yet the private plans are in good shape compared with state and local pension funds. For decades, politicians have promised lavish pension benefits in return for the support of the public-sector unions—promises that they, unlike their counterparts in the private sector, did not have to cover by setting aside a reasonably large asset base. Now the bills are coming due, and many funds are disastrously underfunded. The California state pension system, for example, has only 60 percent of the assets needed to pay its obligations through 2042. With a $19 billion budget deficit, the state is unlikely to be able to make up the shortfall unless the stock market starts zooming again.

I don’t know about you, but I stopped expecting to be able to retire when I was… twelve or so.

——

Next we have some vitriol from David Henderson:

No points for guessing.  This is all about the Cordoba Center, of course, and I’m mostly linking it for this excerpt:

The headline, “Obama Defends Plan to Build Mosque Near Ground Zero” is inaccurate. At no point in his speech on that Friday night did he defend the plan. Instead, he defended people’s right to carry out the plan.

It’s not really surprising that neither Shields nor Gerson nor the headline writer understands the difference between defending someone’s right to do something and defending the doing of it.

(Emphasis added.)

Well, they have plenty of company.  Sadly, the distinction between the two is only obvious if you have some idea of what negative liberty means; positive liberties imply endorsement.

I also linked to Henderson’s article for the phrase “politics between the 45-yard lines“, which (a) is an outstanding use of metaphor and (b) reminds me how happy I am that college football season is right around the corner.

——

Finally, we have a pair of good posts by Arnold Kling.  First, giving a dead horse a few more whacks:

He notes this, which makes me think I wrote unfairly of him:

But if you read chapter one of Shoup’s book, it seems that what ticks him off is the fact that people use cars. Hence, the relevant margin is the mode of transportation. But peak-load pricing, by ensuring drivers that parking spaces will be available, might increase the use of cars. When I have to get to a meeting in the area, I am more worried that parking lots will be full than that they will be expensive. That is one reason I usually take the subway.

Shoup strikes me as one of those people who would like to see American locales looking more like Berlin. As I wrote here, it is not clear that taking away public parking will generate that outcome.

(The comment thread might provoke some good discussion on free-market mass transit if the commenters involved remove the chips from their shoulders.  Yeah, yeah; like I’m one to talk.)

Next, this delightful nugget of carnassial observation:

Pretty much every policy undertaken in the name of “affordable housing” does little or nothing to help the intended beneficiaries. Instead, these policies have major adverse unintended consequences and persist because of the large rents they give to industry participants. If there were any justice in the world, anyone who came to this sort of conference and uttered the words “affordable housing” would have their clothing instantly disappear and be replaced by a huge sandwich-board sign that says, “I shamelessly exploit sympathy directed toward poor people for my own profit and self-aggrandizement.”

It flabbergasts and astounds me that this isn’t more obviously credited in Vancouver.  We have a dismayingly large homeless population, but no matter how much money the municipal, provincial, and federal governments throw at community activists and well-credentialed consultants and advocacy groups and special contractors we just can’t seem to build any — I’ll risk a sandwich board — affordable housing for them.

21
Aug
10

Keep your heads down, the roflcopter is about to take off

Thus, from Russ Roberts:

In particular:

“On Nov. 3 … there will be in Washington, D.C., a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate. That will be the case,” Biden said in a speech to the Democratic National Committee. [...]

“If it weren’t illegal, I’d make book on it,” Biden quipped.

Would someone please let the Vice-President know about InTrade?

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but, er… I do have an internet connection.  To be fair, I’ve only known about InTrade since it became an internet sensation during the — when was it? — oh yes, the 2008 election, where it did a better job of forecasting the result than fucking CNN.

So if Biden knows better than InTrade, he could clean up right about now.  And, I dunno, put his winnings towards paying down the debt.  I’m sure Biden’s a fine upstanding citizen with a keenly-honed sense of self-sacrifice… and of course every little bit helps, doesn’t it.

20
Aug
10

Measure what you want to improve

So this story from the LA Times is making its way all around the big truck, but I figure it (and its implications) need a bit more coverage — thus, this post.  I particularly like Ken’s Patrick’s take on the matter:

The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.“You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.

Forgive me, as I’m not a teacher, and I’m childless, but if I’m asked to judge the quality of a teacher at all, by what metric should I judge if not by student performance? By how nice a teacher is during parent-teacher conferences?  By whether she’s a union delegate?  By her students’ self-esteem, even if they can’t multiply 11 by 12?

The Times study allows for, and takes into account, that teachers in different schools are given students of varying preparation and ability, by measuring teachers within individual schools and by using student improvement, as opposed to simple scores, to gauge effectiveness.

Pretty incisive stuff, and quite similar to what I’d have written (though I’d probably have said “fuck” a lot).  Ken Patrick deviates from my take in only one detail:

Why is it that the only people, seemingly in America, who oppose judging schoolteachers by the performance of their students, are … teachers?

(Emphasis added.)

It is of course teachers’ unions that object so consistently and so strenuously to measuring teacher performance.  Much like judging a nation’s people by their government, it’s misleading — bordering on invidious — to judge a population of teachers by the bellicose bloviations of their union leaders.  I rather suspect that a lot of hard-working and terrifically able teachers resent the fact that not only is their performance being deliberately ignored, but that this policy is enforced by people who purport to have their best interests at heart and with whom they are contractually forced to associate.

And yes, I know: teaching to a test is not the same as teaching the material; there are many factors beyond teacher performance in student performance; blah blah fucking blah.  None of that is any excuse willfully to avoid gathering data to improve student outcomes, and as far as I’m concerned A.J. Duffy’s position is tantamount to child abuse.

I don’t often say this about the legacy media, but go give the LA Times some ad views.

19
Aug
10

Links to greatness

First, a well-phrased, even-handed, and insightful post from Brad Warbiany comparing progressivism, conservatism, and libertarianism with if anything a bit too much charity:

Outstanding.

Next, some wharrgarbl:

I get some of this shit about computers (“Hey, you’re doing a PhD in computer graphics?  I need to make a web site, can you teach me Photoshop?”).  I get a lot of this about other topics of interest:

The single most annoying thing non-car people say to me is “How do you know all this stuff?” And not in a “Wow, you’re knowledgeable about this subject” sort of way, but with an inflection that implies you knowing something about cars means you can’t possibly understand anything else. Even worse, it’s not when you’re trying to explain how mechanical fuel injection works — it’s when you mention the simplest concept. Like when I saw a bunch of people trying to get a big heavy SUV out of the snow by putting cardboard boxes underneath the front tires and I just told them all to climb in the back. Rather than thanking me, the owner gave me the old “How do you know all this stuff.” I just laughed it off, but I wanted to reply “Because I understand how physics works, dumbass. You have a RWD truck.” End rant.

18
Aug
10

lol wut

I repeat:

Source: Ursula Vernon.  Learn something new every day, huh.

That’d be a reaction to this:

(Memeorandum: reading dreck like WND so I don’t have to.)

For some time now, principled small-cee conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and Skippystalin and Ted Olson have looked at gay marriage prohibitions and wondered what the blue throbbing fuck business any government has denying couples the right to marry on the basis that their plumbing’s a bit too similar.  The Tories, part-governing party in Great Britain, are gradually getting on board with the idea that, if stable and loving families are such wonderful assets to society, maybe stable and loving LGBT couples ought to be treated as wonderful assets to society rather than OMG WTF TEH GHEY.  Rather recently, Glenn Beck has not only promoted Hayek for a number of reasons (some of which are good) but decided that same-sex marriage is basically a good idea.  I can’t believe I’m quoting Glenn Beck approvingly, but here we are:

O’REILLY: Do you believe — do you believe that gay marriage is a threat to the country in any way?
BECK: A threat to the country?
O’REILLY: Yeah, it going to harm the country?
BECK: No, I don’t. Will the gays come and get us?
O’REILLY: OK. Is it going to harm the country in any way?
BECK: I believe — I believe what Thomas Jefferson said. If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?

Holy fucking shit, man.

And now we have this:

Ann Coulter.  The right-wing Judy Garland.  Words fail me.

No they don’t.

Fucking LOL!

The Coultergeist excuses herself thus to “the base”:

Asked by Farah why she was speaking to GOProud, Coulter said: “They hired me to give a speech, so I’m giving a speech. I do it all the time.”

[...]

“I speak to a lot of groups and do not endorse them. I speak at Harvard and I certainly don’t endorse their views. I’ve spoken to Democratic groups and liberal Republican groups that loooove abortion. The main thing I do is speak on college campuses, which is about the equivalent of speaking at an al-Qaida conference. I’m sure I agree with GOProud more than I do with at least half of my college audiences. But in any event, giving a speech is not an endorsement of every position held by the people I’m speaking to. I was going to speak for you guys, I think you’re nuts on the birther thing (though I like you otherwise!).”

“It’s just another gig.”  Right.  Riiiight. Ann Coulter is a world-class expert in promoting the welfare of Ann Coulter.  She can see the writing on the wall just as well as Glenn Beck, and that writing says “fagbashing gets you gigs in shitty bars; Jeffersonian equanimity gets you a national stage”.

I’ll leave you with this:

I guess gay marriage isn’t scary any more.  Good.

17
Aug
10

All linky, no thinky: special issue on parking prices

Work on The Fucking Dissertation proceeds apace, and the local liquor store has Pilsner Urquell in stock once again.

My reaction to “we’re out of stock on that” tends to be “raise prices, then”.  As a first approximation of a workable solution, “raise prices” seems to work for any shortage, whether it’s Czech pilsners or seats on the bus or post-secondary education.  And, you would think, parking stalls.

Thereby hangs a tale that has produced volumes of well-reasoned output from some of my favourite economists and has utterly failed to excite my giveashit.

First, Tyler Cowen writes a column questioning the utility of free parking.  I guess building codes in some cities mandate the provision of a certain amount of free(-to-the-motorist) parking, and if only drivers had to pay to park they’d take the bus more and we’d all be sweaty and miserable with triple the commute Much Better Off™.  This will take a bit of social engineering to achieve, but on the face of things it looks like a reasonably Pigovian idea.

Arnold Kling replies skeptically, wondering about how well arguments applied to fixed costs (Tyler, quoting Donald Shoup: “Who pays for free parking?  Everyone but the motorist”) translate to the marginal costs of a driver actually using a parking space for an hour or so.  Then he wonders whether an increase in the number of empty parking spaces is “welfare-improving”.  Huh?  I thought that was the point — price parking spaces high enough that anyone who really wants one can find one.  (It sure improves that driver’s welfare!)  What’s all this social-engineering shit doing in my econ?  If I wanted fatal conceits I’d read Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein.

Then Robin Hanson chimes in with what first looks like a sorely-needed Whiskey Tango Fucktrot, but quickly turns into ad hominem accusations of status-quo bias.  Maybe?  I guess?  At this point I start wondering if this is all a pissing contest between car-hating East Coasters and car-hater-hating Everywhere Elsers.  Dilligaf flux rises.

Cowen, for his part, clarifies his position with an eminently-sensible lead-in (“Don’t abolish free parking; rather, abolish minimum free-parking requirements”), then goes off on a recalculation-and-public-choice story.  At this point I start reverting to my Rothbardian roots and yell at the monitor about property rights.  Let the people who own the parking lot figure out how to price it.  Why is this controversial?  By now Pigou has gone right out the window, and I’m close to defenestrating Coase as well.

Kling, unsatisfied, replies to Hanson with a cheerfully anarchistic thought experiment (“Imagine there’s no state provision of parking spots / It’s easy if you try”) which ends up somehow “warning” about a (implied) “worst case” where

[B]usinesses agree to each provide a minimum number of parking places and housing developers agree to provide streets wide enough to allow parking.

Okay, I was wrong.  This isn’t a pissing match between car-haters and car-hater-haters, it’s a circle-jerk among car-haters where some of them are playing “open-minded” Devil’s Advocates.  By now I’m praying for the San Andreas Fault to relocate to the other side of the continent.  Oh wait, I do that every day.  Sorry Vermont.

Next, Kling uncorks a thoroughly useful post exploring the different marginal costs associated with the provision of free parking.  The question of whether the state does in fact force the provision of free parking — which seems central to me when I can muster some interest — is relegated to the last paragraph.  I’m almost numb to the whole thing now, even though I dearly enjoy marginal arguments (marginalia?  See, that’s how I cope: I make silly puns).

Finally, Ryan Avent joins the party with a tight focus on the government-intervention question.  He’s writing everything I wish had been written the day before (yes, this eternity of a debate has only taken a day to unfold) but by now all I care about is stringing these articles together into a putatively-funny blog post.

16
Aug
10

Beers of Vancouver, vol. 17

It is bloody hot* here in Vancouver.  Bloody hot weather calls for a particular kind of beer: a Czech pilsner.  So after spending the day in an air-conditioned computer lab (bloody hot weather also does wonders for my productivity — my supervisor ought to consider moving our lab to New Mexico), I stopped in at the local liquor store for some Pilsner Urquell.

Disaster!  Infamy!  Despair and ruination!  They were all out of the stuff — presumably because other people noticed the same thing I did about its suitability to bloody hot weather.

As I cast about the beer fridge for another pilsner from somewhere near Plzen, I came across a row of cans of Tree Brewing’s Kelowna Pilsner.  Now, north american pilsners have a well-deserved reputation for sucking dead bunnies through bent straws, but Tree is usually pretty reliable.  I hoisted a can and asked the beer nerd behind the counter if it was any good.

He shrugged.  “Well, Tree ought to be okay.”

I bought three.  They were cheap.  Not an auspicious sign.

The flavour text on the can describes the beer as “a crisp refreshing Pilsner with a mild hop flavour”.  One bonus point for spelling “flavour” properly.  However, describing a beer of a genre infamous for being sex in a canoe as “crisp”, “refreshing”, and “mild” is not at all auspicious.

The beer is a medium gold colour with a thin head that sticks around surprisingly long.  Its appearance seems to announce: “Hi!  I’m a north american pilsner!”  Not an auspicious sign.

Weighing against all of these portents of mediocrity is the fact that Tree tends to brew damn good beers.  This allows an absurd hope to creep in as one brings the first pint to one’s lips.

It turns out that Kelowna Pilsner is an excellent mediocre beer.  It’s almost identical, in fact, to Okanagan Springs’ 1516 lager, but where 1516 has an endearingly honest grainy flavour to it, Kelowna Pilsner has a complex and ineffable character that whispers vaguely to the palate before disappearing in the mercifully-short “Hi!  I’m a north american pilsner!” aftertaste.  If 1516 is a beige Toyota Camry slushbox, Kelowna Pilsner is a beige Toyota Camry slushbox with a brace between the front strut towers and decent summer tires.  It’s much akin to Kokanee, but without the puzzling sense of regret.

Actually, per unit volume this stuff might be cheaper than Kokanee, and it’s definitely cheaper than 1516.  I guess we can call that a victory.

——

* Yeah, I’m a wimp when it comes to heat.




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