Monday, October 17, 2005

"strong turnout"

"Iraqi election officials said today that they were investigating what they described as "unusually high" vote totals in 12 Shiite and Kurdish provinces, where as many 99 percent of the voters were reported to have cast ballots in favor of Iraq's new constitution, raising the possibility that the results of Saturday's referendum could be called into question."

This crude, amateurish election rigging shows how young Iraqi democracy is. Hopefully under American guidance, Iraq will learn about and adopt America's slick, professional election-rigging techniques like gerrymandering incumbants into uncontestable districts.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The retractions roll in

Reason has yet another article on the exaggeration of violence in New Orleans. It includes several links to corrective articles from major news sources.

Something's fishy...

In response to skepticism after this speech, the White House has released a list of terrorist plots disrupted since 9/11. I (like everyone else) don't know anything about most of them. However, I do think that "ten" plots is a suspiciously nice round number, and "five" casings is too. That could of course be coincidence, but both "ten" and "five" together seems a bit much, and this is not an administration that has earned the benefit of the doubt in these matters.

Who knows what this means, though. It could mean that there are fewer plots, and some of them are padding. (In particular, the Padilla case is rather notorious--the government won't prosecute Padilla but is instead holding him without trial. Many people suspect the case against him must therefore be thin.) Or it could mean that there were more plots, and they're just releasing as little information as possible to appease the media. Both seem in character for this administration.

Via Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Back early

Camping looked much less appealing in the huge rainstorms that went through much of New England this weekend.

The race went well, in spite of the rain. It was my first road race ever. In spite of the rain, I felt like I ran about the best race I could have. My finish was in the top 20%. I ran with my girlfriend, whose rank in the women's category I don't know yet but I'm sure was absurdly high.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Vacation!

I'm leaving early tomorrow to run a half-marathon this weekend, then going for a quick camping trip. I won't be back until Tuesday.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Home Economics

Cooking can be done in efficiently in a centralized location than in individual homes. You save on labor costs by having one (or a few) chefs making large meals and subdividing them, rather than having individual family each make their own food. Ingredients are cheaper when they're bought in bulk. A full-time chef will be more skilled than people who cook for themselves are. You can get more variety.

Consider a hypothetical two-income family with two kids where each parent earns $20/hour, which is about the median wage in many cities. If a parent takes one hour for cooking and clean up, then the opportunity cost of cooking was $20. Tack on ingredient costs, energy costs and so on and you're probably up to $30. You could quite easily feed the family at a cheap restaurant, or get delivery, for that less than price. So if the parents in this family cook, this "work" is something they're being substantially undercompensated for.

Obviously this argument applies only to the relatively affluent. But even among that set, the majority of meals are home-cooked by individuals. Why? Obviously most restaurants aren't appropriate for everyday eating, but that just shifts the mystery to why restaurants haven't filled this niche. Some proposed explanations:

1) Social incentives. People feel like they need to cook meals for their kids in order to be good parents, or feel that going out is an extravagance. Or perhaps the economics of home-cooking was better in the recent past, and society hasn't caught up yet.

2) People don't really internalize the idea of opportunity cost, and think of themselves as saving money by cooking, as opposed to thinking of themselves as working for an hour to produce goods without much monetary value.

3) People like cooking. However, I don't think this is very many people. Even those who like cooking, I think, only like making special dishes: they don't like doing it every single day.

4) Nutrition. You don't know what goes into the food you buy from a restaurant. If this was significant, though, you'd expect to see a shift toward healthy entrees along with nutritional information. I don't think that's occurring.

5) Customizability. You get tired of most restaurants pretty quickly, but somehow you never get tired of Mom's cooking. However, I think that this is because we've shifted the burden of doing "cooking research" onto the individual. Everyone builds up a storehouse of cooking knowledge over decades, but that knowledge took work to acquire. If this explanation is correct, then centralization would again be more efficient.

6) Travel is expensive or (equivalently) time consuming. This seems like a good reason in rural areas, but it doesn't work in denser cities.

7) Mass-produced food is worse for some reason. I don't know anything about cooking, but I suspect the reason for this is that the people who have historically eaten mass-produced food (students, soldiers) have had no power to demand anything better.

If I had to guess, I'd say 1 and 2 are the big ones. For me personally, 4 is important as well, but I'm the sort of person who eats brown rice with tofu and vegetables. I don't think most people care *that* much about health.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

There are far too many lobbyists

This is a fairly standard story about a FEMA screwup. After Katrina, they ordered $100 million of ice (over 200 million pounds), most of which wasn't actually needed. So the majority of it got shipped around the country in circles until finally it ended up going back into government freezers. Just your standard enormous FEMA screwup, nothing special really, until I hit this paragraph:

Archie Harris, a Wilmington, N.C., ice merchant who serves as disaster preparedness chairman for the International Packaged Ice Association, said that while FEMA had been criticized mostly as being underprepared, on the ice question it was being criticized for being overprepared. "FEMA can't win right now," Mr. Harris said. "Can you imagine what people would say if they'd run out of ice?"

Yes, FEMA can't win. The only possible options were ordering too little ice, or too much ice. The option of buying the RIGHT amount of ice is clearly ridiculous, and should not be considered.

So it's kind of scary that there even exists an International Packaged Ice Association. Next thing you know we'll be seeing the World Federation of Lemonade-Stand Entrepreneurs talking about how they need subsidies in order to be ready to maintain valuable lemonade supplies after disasters.

But what's more, the industry association is actively defending FEMA for wasting $100 million on ice. Apparently it hopes to get another similar order in the future. Shameful, really.