Monday, January 30, 2012

Bad Calories in Poster Form

Consider this a postscript to my review of Good Calories, Bad Calories. I've been on a mostly low carb diet since reading that book almost a year ago. Its sometimes a struggle to find interesting foods that are low carb, but other than that I'm enjoying all the other benefits of the diet: some weight loss, more muscular, more even energy throughout the day, easier to go without snacks.

GCBC in poster form from

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged

I saw the documentary Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged last night with some friends and at least one fellow SLOB. It was ok.

The documentary covered several topics: the early life an Ayn Rand (born in Tsarist Russia, moved to the U.S. for its individualism), the publication of her 3 novels (what they were about and how they were received), the radicalism of her morality of selfishness, the plot of Atlas Shrugged and its parallels with today's economic/political crisis, and the appeal of Atlas Shrugged to young readers.

It definitely had its high points. There were observations that were surprising to me even as a long-time Objectivist. The interviews with Yaron Brook and Harry Binswanger were excellent. And of course the footage of the various Ayn Rand interviews was fantastic, with her piercing eyes and philosophic precision. It also did a decent job in outlining Rand's philosophy for non-experts.

But it fell short in tone and lack of integration. If it had concentrated on one subject, like Rand's life, or the publication and reception of her books, or the prophetic nature of Atlas, it could have done much better than it did only touching on each of these.

Personally, I was hoping for the last. I was expecting descriptions of elements in the book, followed by visuals of headlines from 2006-2010 with suitably ominous music. Like taking the scene when in the midst of a collapsing economy one of the bureaucrats whines "I can't help it, I need more powers" and telling the story of the financial meltdown (I think it was about when AIG was bailed out) when one of the regulators was whining to Congress that in order to fix the mess he needed more powers. Or tell the story of the men going on strike and discuss the restaurant owner from Martha's Vineyard or the coal mine owner who did just that for the same reasons.  Or talk about the producers in the novel compared to Steve Jobs. Or talk about the businessmen who are better at running to Washington than making things work and GE's Emelt. Or discuss the spreading incompetence when no one is willing to take responsibility and the electricity blackouts in the northeast a few years back. Or the corruption of science when it becomes government funded and the sham of government funded global warming "research". Or the parallels, perhaps intended, between John Galt and Rand. I could keep going, but you get the idea.

Instead the documentary was spread over several topics and further diluted by more irrelevant anecdotes, like those from an f-bomb dropping movie producer that tried to make Atlas, but wouldn't give Rand script approval.

I further felt that the tone was marred by the voice actors, especially the female ones, who read the passages of Atlas in a very condescending or overly dramatic manner, when the delivery should have been even, forceful and with just a touch of emotion. They shouldn't have been trying to induce shock or surprise in the listeners by means of their intonation, the meaning of the passages and the cognitive/emotional abilities of the listeners is sufficient.

I know nothing of the author Anne Heller, who was interviewed extensively for the movie, but it was hard to watch her beaten down face and dead fish eyes.

Lastly, the documentary really starts off wrong: using the scene from Atlas when Eddie Willers discovers metaphorically the emptiness of strength in the collapse of an oak tree, eaten out and hollow. The written scene is powerful. But to show it on the screen with a tree that isn't big, i.e. doesn't give the impression of strength, and isn't hollow?! With repeated close-ups of the not hollow core...I've seen the kind of tree Rand wrote about. The producers should have found one or skipped the gimmick.

Do I recommend seeing the movie? Only if you want to know everything you can about Rand and Atlas or if you want to know very little. In the latter case the movie will give you a smattering of information on several aspects of Rand's life and the book with little effort. But you really should just read the book.

Note: my apologies for the lack of links in that fifth paragraph, perhaps I'll come back and fill it in.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Right-to-Work is a Bandaid

Update (2/2/2012): Welcome RedState readers and thanks for the mention LaborUnionReport. LaborUnionReport is my go to newsfeed for everything union. Please check out my other posts on compulsory bargaining. 

There's been a lot of discussion lately about "right-to-work" states. These states, 22 at present, have "right-to-work" statutes that prevent non-union workers at a unionized company from being compelled to join the union. The statutes derive from the Taft-Hartley act, passed in the 40s in an attempt to weaken the pro-union provisions of the National Labor Relations Act. (If only conservatives had had the guts to repeal the NLRA then...)

The NLRA institutes "collective bargaining rights", requiring employers to allow unionization, negotiate with the unions, and to not recognize competing unions. In other words, the NLRA obliterates the rights of employers, primarily the right to walk away from the negotiating table and the right to fire employees. As a result of the NLRA, unions obtained agreements contracts with employers that required the employer to fire employees that refuse to join the union or pay dues. These agreements resulted in "closed shops." All existing employees were union members and new employees had a limited time to join the union.

Facing the awful consequences of the NLRA, especially a sharp rise in strikes after World War II, congress decided to tinker with it. Sound familiar? Kinda like many Republican's want to repeal and replace Obamacare with something less bad. What they should have done is repeal the NLRA, recognizing that "collective bargaining" is coercion. Right-to-work was part of this package of amendments.

I don't think right-to-work is entirely bad, but it misses the point. First of all its terribly misnamed. It refers not to a right to "work," but a right to an open shop. Second, as implemented it represents a abridgment of legitimate rights, added on top of the injustice of collective bargaining. Right-to-work laws prohibit employers and employees from making a certain kind of agreement. On what grounds? The only reason for that prohibition is that employers are already compelled to negotiate with unions and we find the consequences of that intolerable. But if the consequences of collective bargaining are intolerable and the concept of collective bargaining an assault on property rights, it is collective bargaining we should eliminate.

The evil is collective bargaining. If collective bargaining was recognized for the absurdity it is, then no further restrictions on employers or employees or employee organizations would be necessary.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jim Rickards on the War with Iran

Here's an excellent interview on King World News with Jim Rickards discussing what describes as an already begun war with Iran that is going to escalate soon.

Fair warning, Jim Rickards is an advocate of hard money but still believes (like the monetarists) that money should be controlled by the government. He rightly criticizes fiat money policies, but only goes so far as to suggest that things would be better if only his sympathizers were in power, which never lasts beyond a single administration. Other than that, he tends to be dead on, is incredibly intelligent and clearly has access to government intelligence no one else does. As he shows in spades in this interview.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Montanans Attempt Recall of Senators Over NDAA

Blogger in Chief alerted me to this item. Montanans have initiated a recall petition drive to remove Democratic Senators Max Baucus and Jonathan Tester over their votes for the NDAA. Montana is one of nine states that allows recall of federal officials, in this case under the heading of "violation of an oath of office."

The petitions read, in part:
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees all U.S citizens:
"a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed..."
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 (NDAA 2011) permanently abolishes the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, "for the duration of hostilities" in the War on Terror, which was defined by President George W. Bush as "task which does not end" to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001.
Those who voted Aye on December 15th, 2011, Bill of Rights Day, for NDAA 2011 have attempted to grant powers which cannot be granted, which violate both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
The Montana Recall Act stipulates that officials including US senators can only be recalled for physical or mental lack of fitness, incompetence, violation of the oath of office, official misconduct, or conviction of a felony offense. We the undersigned call for a recall election to be held for Senator Max S. Baucus [and Senator Jonathan Tester] and charge that he has violated his oath of office, to protect and defend the United States Constitution.
 Well said. I wish them well.

For more details, check out this article in the Winston-Salem Journal:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Don't close the parks, privatize them!

Jerry Brown, governor of California, has promised to close state parks to anger voters into supporting big government spending. He's betting that people will so sorely miss their parks that they'll keep feeding the beast. The problem, of course, is that the parks have nothing to do with California's budget problems. Our budget problems come from two things: entitlements and unions. Actually that's one thing, entitlements for the sick/unemployed and entitlements for the working. 40% of the state budget is education spending (teachers and administrators salaries and pensions). As I've blogged about before the entire mess could be cured by abolishing 'collective bargaining', that absurd principle that forces schools and local governments to recognize and negotiate with unions. Let them negotiate freely (i.e. walk away from the table when they want) and you'd see those salaries come down, pensions become manageable and the incompetents and pedophiles out of a jobs.

But governor Brown has decided to make it about parks instead. Well, Jerry, I see your bet and I raise you... Lets not close the parks but sell them! To investors, developers, HOAs, conservation groups.

This is not as radical as it sounds. Say we attempt to recapitulate what should have happened when our cities and state was built. Presumably many communities and organizations would have bought land and/or established parks, parks for private, community or pay-to-play use. So how about selling the parks to the highest bidder but give a discount to the local HOA or perhaps a conservation group that would stipulate open use in the title? Then the people who selfishly want to use the park could pay for it, as part of an HOA, a preservation society, conservation group, hunting group, surfing group, etc. You know what? I bet they could hire gardeners and groundskeepers to take care of those parks at a fraction of what California is paying park rangers. I doubt parks would disappear entirely, but if they did that would be because of the choices of individuals in how to spend their money. And noone should be forced to supply someone else's supposed values, including parks.

Instead of California skimping on parks, it could cut them entirely out of the budget and pocket the money from the sales to boot. And when that works much better than anyone expected, we could do the same for schools.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

So We Bought a House

Despite believing that the housing market could continue to fall for several years, my wife and I recently bought. The following are my thoughts on the process.

1. Educate yourself about the housing market, government involvement, how credit works economically. Try (though he's gotten too progressive for my tastes), the Irvine Housing Blog, Peter Schiff's books and podcasts, Piggington's Almanac. Your knee-jerk reaction should be skepticism regarding anything from anyone in the housing industry, including your agent. They've been wrong for decades and they haven't learned much.

2. Valuation: use comparable rents, not sales. Because if you lose your job and have to move, you'd rather count on rental income covering the mortgage and repairs rather than the resale price being high. And anyway, the alternative you face is renting or buying, so it should be at least the same to buy if not cheaper. You can use craigslist to find nearby similar rentals, or simply drive around. We believe we did find a place and a mortgage that costs about the same as similar places we were renting. We started looking in late 2006 and it's taken a while to fall sufficiently to be equivalent to renting. Many areas haven't yet fallen enough and in some places its much cheaper to buy than rent.

3. Find a good agent. There is quite a lot of stuff between the initial offer and closing that an agent is very helpful for. They'll have names for mortgage brokers, inspectors, plumbers, handymen, termite inspectors, mold inspectors. They'll also be able to inform you of issues that you'd not think of. Still don't swallow everything they say whole.

4. Use online MLS services, like redfin, to find and compare houses. They're much better than what your agent can find or will send you. The agent might not like that your muscling in on her job, but you're more likely to find something you like. And you'll be able to do price comparisons yourself.

5. Probably goes without saying that you need to decide on your max price very early. Stick to it. Both the listing agent and your buyer's agent will be working to make you pay the max you're willing to. They'll be good at reading your body language too, so if you're not firm in your mind on your max price, and willing to walk away, then you will be paying more than you want.

6. We kinda blew our final walk through. We were so star struck at buying a house, that we just walked around admiring everything and missed a few items that we really should have the sellers take care of: broken sprinkler system (agent says it works, why check it?), water damage in the living room (minor repair, unnoticed when the furniture was in), gate that's falling over (so that's why it was locked every other visit!).

7. We've lived in the same area for the last 6 years, in 3 different rentals. I'm very glad we rented for as long as we did since it gave us plenty of time to learn about the various local neighborhoods, different commutes, restaurants, shops. We also got to dabble with gardening and repairing, which will prevent some false steps when we start modifying our own home. E.g. butterfly gardening was cool, but only one of the plants we tried really took off and attracted lots of butterflies. Will try edible gardening here. If you're young, or vacillating, try renting for a couple years in the same neighborhood you'd like to buy in.

8. Lastly, I'd only buy if you have sufficient cash for the down payment that you don't want to invest elsewhere or hold. Don't jeopardize your retirement or unemployment nest egg or investments to buy a house. Its not a good or safe investment.