"Smart Guns" -- Give them a fair shot

First a caution. I'm not offering any opinions on "gun control" or 2nd amendment rights here. If you want to discuss those issues, find another soapbox.

As part of this week's "Now is the time" executive actions, the White House released a memorandum entitled "Memorandum -- Promoting Smart Gun Technology" The concept of a "smart gun" seems great in theory. Collapse )

Why no US High Speed Rail?

I guess it's that time again.  Everyone seems to be asking, "Why can't we build a high speed rail network?"  In at least three different venues, I've seen people either asking that question or linking to articles such as the one from Brookings claiming it's due to a lack of political will.

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Memes

This is not a post about gun laws.  It's about memes.  If you want to debate gun laws, please do so elsewhere.

The following Meme was shared by some of my Facebook friends, having gotten it from those bastions of integrity, Occupy Democrats and/or Being Liberal:

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In summary, not a single assertion of the meme is more than half-true.  No matter where you stand on the issue, posting a meme like this one doesn't persuade anyone and provokes the usual (and equally bogus) knee-jerk reactions.  For anyone who actually pauses to think about the meme, it just comes off as dishonest and silly.


The Conflict Between Golf And Evil

I sometimes wonder how people pick their villains.  The California drought is, to my mind, a great example of this.

At least in my circles on Facebook and other places, the favorite villain in this saga is Nestlé.  They are, by their own account, drawing 725 million gallons of water a year for their 5 California Bottled water plants, which is actually more than the oft-quoted figure of 400 million gallons.  They then have the audacity to sell this water to willing buyers for a handsome profit.  Oddly enough, those buyers are also mainly in California, and most of those buyers have ready access to tap water.  So it's safe to assume that each gallon of water sold by Nestlé and consumed in California means that a reduction in consumption of just under one gallon of tap water.

That doesn't mean bottling water in California, is, well, a wash.  According to the bottled water trade group, it takes 1.4 gallons of water to produce a gallon of bottled water.  I believe that the actual number should be higher, since it doesn't such things as the water consumed by workers at the plant.  It also requires more energy to move water by truck or rail than by pipeline.  And when you're done with the product, you're left with a bottle.  Recycling a plastic bottle does keep it out of a landfill, but from what I can tell it actually takes more water to recycle a water bottle than to produce the same amount of "virgin" plastic.

So it's pretty clear that on the supply side, bottled water is an ecological loser, especially in a drought area like California.  But given that people are freely chosing to buy the stuff even when tap water is readily available, what are the alternatives?  Does it really make more sense from an overall environmental standpoint to send water by, truck, train or boat, from, say, Fuji, France, Maine or even the Olympic Peninsula?  So if Nestlé is evil (and at least for this essay, I'll accept that they are), it's the same evil as a drug pusher.  They are selling a product which people buy and consume far more than is rational for them to do so.

How about other beverage companies?  Budweiser has two mega-breweries in California, MillerCoors has one as well, and there are perhaps 500 other smaller breweries.  Beer is water intensive; not counting water used to grow hops or grains it takes about 4 gallons of water to produce a gallon of beer.  All of the major soft-drink companies have bottling plants in California as well, and it takes about 2 gallons of water to produce a gallon of soda.  Wine?  I'd rather skip that one for now; it raises the ugly issue of agricultural versus urban use.  So if Nestlé is evil, why isn't there the same rancor about other drink companies?

All of which brings me to golf.  According to the Washington Times (not exactly a liberal rag), each 18-hole golf course consumes (conservatively, naturally) about 90 million gallons of water a year.  So Nestlé uses about as much water as eight golf courses.  The article also states that there are about 860 golf courses in California.  So as an industry, golfing uses about 100 times the California water as Nestlé.

Golf should be an easy target.  It's a recreation of the well-to-do; the average golfer has a household income of $95,000 and spends about $3000 a year on the game.  The people who play it are predominately white (~87%) and male (~78%).  Nor do golf course operators exactly endear themselves to the general populace; threatening to sue local artists for offering a painting of a tree for sale is not a way to win friends.

So hence my bewilderment.  While I understand the need for simple "answers" for such complex problems as the politics of water, why are so many electrons spent vilifying Nestlé when there are so many attractive alternative villains out there?

Massachusetts Tax Dollars at Work

I'm buying a new car.  Today I wanted to order replacement license plates so I could retire 12-year old, beat-up ones when I take delivery.  Massachusetts offers them at a fairly modest $10 per plate.  They also offer ordering by phone.  So I called to place an order.  The automated system told me the wait time would be over an hour and offered a callback service.  I elected this option and was told the call would come in "over an hour."

Just under 2 hours later, I did get a callback.  But apparently it was not possible to place an order for 2 replacement plates. Instead, I had to place two orders -- one for each (identical) plate. The agent required me to read off my credit card number once for each order, then read off the CVV once for each order, then gave me a confirmation code for each order and then made me listen to the identical boilerplate language about receiving a temporary in 3-5 days and the plates arriving in 4-6 weeks.  In other words, the transaction took more than twice as long as it should have and probably resulted in the Commonwealth paying higher transaction fees to the bank.

I refuse to believe that this sort of thing happens by accident or neglect.  This had to be a deliberate decision by RMV management.  I'm willing to bet it was justified by some concerns over accidentially overcharging people.  But all it really does is create busy work for the agents.  That means that the RMV has to hire more agents and more people to manage them.  In other words, bureacratic empire building at its finest.

So if you wonder how come the Massachusetts RMV had to raise fees last year to close a $53 million budget gap or why the queues are so long, I think I found part of the answer.
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