Life's Better Ideas

Occasional links to, and comments on, ideas that I think will make this a better world, and remarks about things that need fixing, too.

Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Words fail me

here. HT Kevin Drum.


The quantity of spam I receive is down about 80 percent since last week. My isp sends me a daily list of all the spam it trapped during the previous 24 hours which I can review or just delete. Now that it's down to a reasonable number (64 this morning) I can actually review the list and see if there's a message I want. I wonder if it's due to this?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Miscellaneous stuff

Cartoon Laws from Snark Patrol via Carnival of the Vanities. Here's more hypocrisy about war. I bet Roy Romer is pleased to read this. NOT! Garbage control. Let's see. You can get the first 5 digits of someone's social security number from Lexis-Nexus and the last 4 from probably lots of other places and the whole thing is only 9 digits long ... here. That's enough random blogging. Thank you Carnival of the Vanities. More: The Robot Guys. HT InstaPundit.

Monday, March 28, 2005

File sharing

Michelle Malkin talks about some really scary file sharing that you might be doing without even knowing it. HT: instapundit

Sunday, March 27, 2005


It looks like we will be voting in November to decide whether to exempt the state of Colorado from the limits of TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (pdf page 133). Here are some of the key provisions of TABOR.

Section 20. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. (1) General provisions. This section takes effect December 31, 1992 or as stated. Its preferred interpretation shall reasonably restrain most the growth of government. …

(2)(c) “Emergency” excludes economic conditions, revenue shortfalls, or district salary or fringe benefit increases.

(5) Emergency reserves. To use for declared emergencies only, each district shall reserve for 1993 1% or more, for 1994 2% or more, and for all later years 3% or more of its fiscal year spending excluding bonded debt service. Unused reserves apply to the next year’s reserve.

(7) Spending limits. (a) The maximum annual percentage change in state fiscal year spending equals inflation plus the percentage change in state population in the prior calendar year, adjusted for revenue changes approved by voters after 1991. Population shall be determined by annual federal census estimates and such number shall be adjusted every decade to match the federal census.

(7)(d) If revenue from sources not excluded from fiscal year spending exceeds these limits in dollars for that fiscal year, the excess shall be refunded in the next fiscal year unless voters approve a revenue change as an offset. …

HB05-1194 (pdf) by Rep. Romanoff and Sens.Johnson and Groff is the bill that takes the exemption to a vote of the people. As of this writing, it has not been signed by Gov. Owens, but he talks like he will sign the thing. UPDATE: It doesn't need to be signed by the governor, but he supports it. Political reality or something.

This bill does not address Amendment 23 (Article IX, section 17) (pdf p120) one of the other sections of the Colorado constitution that significantly impacts state spending.

Section 17. Education - Funding. (1) Purpose. In state fiscal yer 2001-2002 through state fiscal year 2010- 2011, the statewide base per pupil funding, as defined by the Public School Finance Act of 1994, article 54 of title 22, Colorado Revised Statutes on the effective date of this section, for public education from preschool through the twelfth grade and total state funding for all categorical programs shall grow annually at least by the rate of inflation plus an additional one percentage point. In state fiscal year 2011-2012, and each fiscal year thereafter, the statewide base per pupil funding for public education from preschool through the twelfth grade and total state funding for all categorical programs shall grow annually at a rate set by the general assembly that is at least equal to the rate of inflation.

(3) Implementation. ... Such appropriations and expenditures shall not be subject to the statutory limitation on general fund appropriations growth, the limitation on fiscal year spending set forth in article X, section 20 of the Colorado constitution, or any other spending limitation existing in law.

Comments: Seems to me that the politicians always turn to the easy way out - Taking more of your money.

There are a number of things that politicians could do to cut spending. Priority Colorado (pdf) is a 26 page report about waste and inefficiencies in the Colorado budget published by the Independence Institute. It identifies numerous ways to save millions of dollars.

More than 20 percent of Colorado's 19,000+ prison population is drug offenders. The 2004 budget for the Department of Corrections was $469 million (pdf p7), so releasing the non-violent drug offenders (assume half of 20%) might save close to $47 million.

Some anti-TABOR people use specious arguments to convince you to vote in favor of letting the government keep more money. Let's look at a couple.

1) "State governments spend much of their money on education and health care, which typically have cost increases greater than the general rate of inflation." True, but these services are usually run or controlled by the government, which means they do not use effective means of holding down costs. Why should that give them a pass? Let's require them to use their existing funds more effectively, which is what TABOR does.

2) "The subpopulations that state governments serve tend to grow more rapidly than the overall population growth used in the formula. For example, while total population grew by 15.4 percent from 1990 to 2002, total state prison population grew by 83 percent, disabled children in schools grew by 35 percent, and the number of elderly and disabled persons on Medicaid grew by 70 percent. Over the next 40 years, the elderly population will grow at twice the rate of general population growth." True, but why should these populations be served by the government? If we are a nation of free people, aren't these indicators that something else is terribly wrong? Instead of accomodating these increases, let's look for root causes and solve them.

3) "The rigidities of formula-based budgeting, such as a population-plus-inflation growth factor, do not allow funding of new priorities that may be embraced by the public, such as reduced class sizes or more stringent corrections policies." If there are new priorities, then let's cut the old ones. All of us have to live within our means and make choices about what we spend our money on. TABOR helps us make that decision.

Even if the exemption does NOT pass, Colorado's budget will grow at the rate of inflation plus population growth. Unlike businesses, government has no pressure to do things more efficiently and save money. Until Colorado's politicians are willing to do the really hard work of cutting spending, I'm not willing to give them a pass. Vote NO. There's a permanent link to this on the left side in red.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Condi speaks

Over at Captain's Quarters.

Vote buying

Looks like the Democrats have been buying votes in East St. Louis. HT Les Jones via the Carnival of Cordite!

15 seconds 2

The Rocky Mountain News printed my letter on the civilian death toll in Iraq.

A letter in Saturday's paper by Henri E. Stetter repeated the false claim that there have 100,000 civilian deaths since the Iraq war began two years ago.

That number is the midpoint of an estimate that ranges from 8,000 to 194,000, which is the 95 percent confidence interval. The wide range should tell you that the number is meaningless, and any statistician will confirm that., a Web site that counts "individual or cumulative deaths as directly reported by the media or tallied by official bodies (hospitals, morgues, etc.)" puts the number at between 17,061 and 19,432.

Flat earth politics

The Advocates for Self-Government reports that many political science and government classes teach the flat earth theory of politics. Absolutely NO mention of libertarianism. So they're raising money to introduce the World's Smallest Political Quiz to high school and college teachers. They're planning to run ads in Social Education, Homeschooling Today, and Learning & Leading with Technology. The last one already did an article called Virtual Ideology: Using Online Quizzes to Help Students Develop Personal Political Values (only available to subscribers), which featured the quiz. The three magazines will reach a combined total of 66,000 teachers. I sent the Advocates a check.

Friday, March 25, 2005


The US takes a beating over its response, or lack thereof, to Darfur. Isn't this what the UN is for? A lot of people have died there, probably more than anyone knows. Would it be worth having one of these take a short detour and encourage the Sudanese government to lighten up? Some people don't understand anything but force. Seems to me that might go a long ways to improving our image. HT: Vodkapundit.

Labor pains

Over at Labor Blog they discuss some lightly penalized corporate behavior. Some of these fines are ridiculously low; maybe we ought to standardize fines for death or injury to people from irresponsible corporate behavior at, say, 1 percent of revenue. Since the average corporation makes about 5 percent profit. That's a 20 percent hit to the bottom line. They would notice that, for sure. The fines for cases which do NOT involve human injury sound more reasonable. HT: American Constitution Society Blog and Julie Saltman.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Environmental question

goyishekop has a good question for environmentalists.

The UN's latest pronouncement

New Sisyphus takes apart the UN's latest pronouncement of how it wants things to be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gender Bias

There's been a fair amount of commentary lately about the differences in male/female accomplishments lately, particularly with the Larry Summers flap at Harvard and the Susan Estrich/Michael Kinsley dustup at the LA Times. Today I read an article by Amy Sullivan at Washington Monthly that thoughtfully explains some differences that occur in grade school that might help explain why there are fewer female columnists, for example.

What researchers found should track closely with memories of your second-grade self. Those are the years in which children learn how to participate in group discussions. The teacher explains that to maintain an orderly conversation and allow everyone to speak, students should raise their hands when they have something to say and wait to be called on. Simple enough. But what happens next? Usually, the teacher poses a question to kick off the discussion, and several children raise their hands with answers. As the conversation continues, one or more of the boys, either overly enthusiastic about his point or merely impatient, calls out his comment without waiting to be chosen by the teacher. She might stop him and remind everyone of the rule—raise your hand and wait to be called first—but often she just lets him go ahead. It is less disruptive, after all, than letting him jump up and down, waving his hand, and yelling, “Oooh, ooh, me!” But if a girl bursts out with a thought, the teacher's response changes. The Sadkers report that teachers almost always chastise girls who violate the rules. After all, teachers rely on girls—their “good students”—to remain quiet and maintain order in the classroom while teachers focus on the boys, keeping them in line by drawing them into discussions. And so, as the conversation races around them, girls sit, waiting to be called on, first holding up their tired arms with the other, then lowering them, and finally not bothering to raise their hands at all.

I guess that's the way I recall it, too. It's my perception that most grade school teachers are women. I wonder if the tendency of most teachers at these grade levels is peace-at-any-price and an unwillingness to, or difficulty in, maintaining order. I suppose a teacher could lay down some ground rules like, for example, alternating girls and boys for discussion. That way everybody gets a chance to comment.

Update: Ruth R. Wisse has some strong words about the Larry Summers flap. HT: PowerLine.

Monday, March 21, 2005

War, Crime, and Responsibility

Voices of Reason has an interesting post on History, Victors, and Democrats with some implications for those opposed to the Iraq war. I used to be opposed to it, but I've been rethinking my position, in part because of the apparent success of the policy and in part because I think at some point you've got to draw a line.

Like it or not, the we ARE the world's policeman, and like any cop, sometimes we have to take the bad guys down. Maybe we've been too laissez faire with the world's bad guys, and maybe the only way out is to adopt the broken windows theory of policing on a global scale to make liberty a real possibility. I'm not real happy about that, but responsibility does have its burdens. Other folks have explored this idea, here.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Double standards

A motherlode of double standards is here. HT: Betsy's Page.

One voice

There's only about 23 million people who have a legitimate right to comment on whether the Iraq war was worth it and almost none of them live in the United States or Europe. Here's one of them. HT: InstaPundit.

Steyn on Bolton

It's too funny not to read the whole thing. Talk about inserting the knife! HT: little green footballs.

Home Schoolers Win Again!

Josh Hamill, of Franktown, won the 65th annual Colorado State Spelling Bee. He's 12. Here's the Denver Post article.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Faux news?

The New York Times reports that some of the "news" stories you see on your local news program may actually be produced by government bureaucrats. Is this faux news or just another side of the story? Given the overt hostility to the current administration by the mainstream media, perhaps it's not surprising, and perhaps, it might be a good thing. Better to have two sides of the story than just one. HT: commonblog.

PC Absurdity

The pc business has gotten, well, so pc that you can't even start a business helping students clean their rooms. sheesh! HT: ombudsgod.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is undergoing a much needed facelift. Bush finally woke up and smelled the coffee. His budget will allocate a billion dollars less for the WOD according to a news release from the Drug Policy Alliance.

Transitions Followup II

DrTony criticizes me for advocating more oversight of corporations in my Transitions post. I admit to having mixed emotions about this proposal. I worry that I am opening a can of worms that would lead to significantly more regulation. I used to believe, as DrTony does, that the marketplace would solve the problem, but I'm thinking about changing my mind and am trying to explore some options. At this point, however, utopia is not an option. There are a few people who run corporations who are not considerate of the community, the environment, or their employees. Most are, but Enron comes to mind.

My post was titled Transitions and attempts to raise the question of how we get from here to liberty. In that section on corporations, I said
Change corporate governing documents to put the environment, community, and employees on an equal footing with shareholders. Eliminate corporate subsidies and the corporate income tax. Ask for a 10 percent reduction in prices to compensate. Rationale: Corporations are created by government, so government has the responsibility to see that they act in a responsible manner. Changing the corporate charter expresses that thought to the owners and managers. The corporate income tax is, in reality, paid by the people who purchase the corporation's products, so eliminating it and asking for a price reduction helps make products more affordable.

Getting from here to liberty cannot be done in one bold move, much as many people might like. It's fun sometimes to make bold statements like "abolish the IRS", but it ain't gonna happen in one fell swoop. So, How Do We Get There without upsetting the applecart and creating chaos? I should also point out that there are likely to be many more steps than those mentioned above to complete the process. But you have to start somewhere.

Corporations were and are created by government. They have limited liability, which means, generally, that you can punish the corporation, but not the individuals who own or manage it. Usually the marketplace does a good job of punishing those that do not provide what their customers want. There is, in my opinion, more pressure to cut costs and turn a profit, than there is to do so without harming the environment, the community, or employees. It's part of a free market system. It seems, though, the larger the corporation, the less likely that anyone will pay the price for the harm they do.

There are at several questions to consider. 1) Are these issues part of the "general welfare" mentioned in the US Constitution? 2) Should we, as a society, attempt to raise the awareness of corporate owners and managers on these issues? 3) if we should, how should we do it? 4) are there other issues that we should consider first, like establishing property rights in the commons or doing a better job of defining and prosecuting trespass, etc?

If there are other steps which, if taken before imposing these new requirements on corporations, would remove the need for them, I would gladly withdraw my suggestion and substitute those other steps. If you have suggestions, please post a comment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I want my own Lockbox!


Carnival of the Vanities

The Carnival of the Vanities is up! Check 'em out!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ethics and the Pharmacy

Most pharmacists dispense the drugs your prescription calls for without question. But here's one who didn't. "The administrative law judge recommended that the pharmacist, Neil Noesen, be reprimanded for violating the code of ethics for pharmacists and spend six hours in ethics education." Fitting. HT: diddisdia.

Corn or Oil?

Kathleen Bader makes plastic from corn instead of oil. With oil at $53 a barrel, that's a savings of 70 percent, and it's biodegradable, too. But it's a tough sell. Read the whole article from Forbes.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Are You Biased?

I've been reading blink by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a fascinating book about our ability to make snap decisions. In it, he mentions the Implicit Association Test which you can take at Harvard's website. I've taken 4 so far and found that I have a slight preference for young over old, a strong association for male and science, a slight preference for African-American over White, and a slight preference for Bush over Kerry. There are 7 or 8 more tests. They warn "If you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, please do not proceed further." I believe that this test imposed a fair amount of stress on me as I sense an elevated heart rate. If you're willing to challenge your beliefs, you might want to take this test.


Here's a story that made my blood boil, from HedgehogCentral. This is a thorny issue, for sure, and there are possible plans here (post by Steve White, not sure comment link works), and here (post by Zainuddin Banatwala, not sure comment link works) from the comments section. I need to give these proposals more thought before I agree with them. But at least some people have gotten beyond the rhetoric and are thinking seriously about the issue. HT: InstaPundit.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Transitions Followup I

One of my friends, Jeff Haemer, sent me an email with some useful comments about my Transitions post. He was going to post it to the comments section, but Blogger didn't like it.

Rethinking our troop deployments makes good sense, and we keep doing that, but I think there are a few problems with the solution you propose.

First, the primary role of the military is prophylactic. If we weren't a world power (these days, *the* world power), stakes would be different. Today, doing away with world-wide deployment would be like removing the police from Boulder because it isn't a high-crime area. Guess what would become a high-crime area.You might not like the idea that we have become "the world's policeman," but here we are.

Second, deployment takes time. Civilians often underestimate just how big a deal it was to handle the logistics for the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.Having feet on the ground in the neighborhood of potential hot-spots is integral to our military strategy. We're not physically or politically isolated enough to avoid this reality in the XXIth century, and our intelligence isn't good enough to let us predict where those spots will be with as much precision as we'd like.

Third, the military isn't a police force (despite the phrase "world's police"). The USMC is a truly great military unit. I can't top the quote I use in Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue.

But we're no better at being Barney Fife than we are at being Fred Astaire or Marcus Welby. If we spend more money on the border patrol and less on the military, that's one thing, but "scratch out machine gun and write in typewriter," as someone says in M*A*S*H, won't work.

I'm glad Jeff made these comments; it's made me rethink my position. I will probably move this step to much later in the overall plan, probably phase 3 or 4, and make some changes as well because I see that this step is dependent on having a world that is more free.

Property Rights and Identity Theft

Kevin Drum suggests that 'Individuals should be invested with property rights in any commercial collection of personal data about themselves that's assembled from multiple sources. In a modern society, any such collection really is "your" identity. You should have the right to control it.' Sounds like a good idea to me.

Friday, March 11, 2005

I signed

the petition to the Federal Election Commission to protect the First Amendment rights of bloggers. Here's the meat of it:

As bipartisan members of the online journalism, blogging, and advertising community, we ask that you grant blogs and online publications the same consideration and protection as broadcast media, newspapers, or periodicals by clearly including them under the Federal Election Commission’s “media exemption” rule.

In order to ensure that there are sufficient measures taken, we also request that the FEC promulgate a rule exempting unpaid political activity on the Internet from regulation, thereby guaranteeing every American’s right to speak freely and participate in our democratic process.

You should sign too.

Update: The insurrection is here.

Who Reads Them?

Almost everything you wanted to know about who reads blogs can be found here.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


I've been going to a weekly discussion group for a couple of months now, and we discuss a wide range of topics - everything from current events, politics, history, and a whole lot more. Everyone knows I'm a libertarian and at the last meeting I was asked "how would you get to a libertarian society?" That's a question I've been pondering off and on for a year or two, possibly more, and I'm beginning to have some ideas about how to approach it. I mentioned the 4 ideas below, which would be among the first things I would do, if I could wave my magic wand.

I am intrigued enough by this whole exercise that I will probably pursue it in some depth. That means, to me, determining a logical transition plan that has minimal impact on people. I will attempt to define what steps should be taken in what order in what areas. I've even thought of planning it like a manufacturing project, complete with time frames and prerequisites, but I probably won't; too much work at this time.

1. Corporations: Change corporate governing documents to put the environment, community, and employees on an equal footing with shareholders. Eliminate corporate subsidies and the corporate income tax. Ask for a 10 percent reduction in prices to compensate. Rationale: Corporations are created by government, so government has the responsibility to see that they act in a responsible manner. Changing the corporate charter expresses that thought to the owners and managers. The corporate income tax is, in reality, paid by the people who purchase the corporation's products, so eliminating it and asking for a price reduction helps make products more affordable.

2. Social Security: Shift from wage indexing to price indexing. Begin raising the retirement age by 3 months each year. Move non-retirement benefits to the general fund and the associated taxes to the income tax and reduce the payroll tax. Rationale: Because retirees, by definition, don't work, their benefits should be indexed to prices, not wages. At some point, social security is going to start paying out more than it takes in. You can either raise taxes, cut benefits, or increase the retirement age. Moving the non-retirement benefits out of the social security system will help us focus on the real problem.

3. Federal Government Waste: End those programs listed in the Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual Pig Book. Rationale: Everybody talks about getting rid of waste, so here's the bible.

4. National Defense and Immigration: Bring home those troops who are stationed in nations where there is no military action. Station those troops in the US along the border where illegal aliens are known to trespass across private property adjacent to the border as a first priority, government lands second. Implement some sort of registration process at the border to insure that criminals and terrorists can't enter the country. Rationale: We're kind of killing two birds with one stone here. Reducing our committments abroad and increasing our security at home. Seems common sense to me.
Update: Followup.

This, obviously, is just a beginning. I've been going through the Libertarian Party platform and pulling out those things that I think we should start with, mostly simple stuff that people can relate to and that will begin to help solve the problems we face.

Picking Judges

Coyote Blog has probably the best explanation I've read of what's wrong with our political system here. HT: Carnival of the Vanities.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Reforming the Liberty Movement

Just finished reading a fascinating account of the internal workings of Whole Foods Markets, Inc here. I got to this story because the CEO, John Mackey, spoke at FreedomFest 2004. I wasn't there, but got a tape of one of his speeches as a premium from The Advocates for Self Government. I'm impressed enough to order a copy of his other speech given at the same event (cheap at $5 + shipping). Mackey has a much different perspective on how supporters of liberty need to proceed.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Political Blogging Dead?

Captain's Quarters blog says that McCain-Feingold could shut him down (and everybody else as well). If you link to a political campaign, you may wind up having to calculate the value of that link. If you go over the contribution limits, you're a criminal. Read the whole thing.
Update: A radio station in Texas says they'll issue press credentials to bloggers if this comes to pass. Here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Two Books

I went to hear author Malcolm Gladwell this evening at the Tattered Cover. He's the author of two books, The Tipping Point and blink, both of which I bought. He's an interesting speaker and there was quite a crowd, probably 200 or so. The introduction was made by Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. Gladwell made 4 points in his talk: 1) snap judgements are far more prevalent than we think; 2) we are not aware of our biases; 3) we can improve our decision making by reducing the amount of information we have; and 4) change the decision making environment.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Stupid Laws

Classical Values is giving the new Alabama law against sex toys the respect it deserves. HT: InstaPundit. The cops in Alabama must be loafing on the job if they've got time for this. And a big razzzzzzzzzzberry to the US Supreme Court for letting it happen.