Monthly Archives

May 2016


Ugly linkage, Austin edition

May 31, 2016

Ugly linkage disclaimer here.

For the last two years, one or more bags of douche have been throwing rocks down on cars from bridges or elevated positions over Interstate 35 in Austin. More than eighty vehicles have been hit, and five people have been injured only in the last month. The police have not caught anybody, notwithstanding lots of high tech surveillance and political pressure. Regardless, if they do catch a rock-thrower it would seem that stoning would be the right punishment. Yeah, we hate to borrow from Islamic law as much as the next person, but if we don’t deter these bastards quickly it will become a thing, like graffiti and cutting, and that will suck large.

Austin’s government has imposed a moratorium on new street events in downtown Austin because congestion, or something like that. The moratorium is now set to expire, and the city is surveying its peeps to see if they support an extension. We love street events so our opposition to the street-event moratorium is self-interested, but there is a bigger issue at stake. The moratorium freezes the status quo, privileging — we used that word just to troll the lefties — incumbent events and denying access to newcomers. This strikes us as very much of a piece with killing Uber and Lyft by regulation or clamping down on short-term rentals. Austin’s current city government just loves the status quo. Don’t they realize that will kill the goose the lays the golden eggs?

The Austin cops arrested an activist who was filming them on dirty 6th. Allegedly, the dude was too close. We struggle with cases such as these, because we are a First Amendment absolutist, or as close as one can reasonably get without being a complete lunatic, and we are not big fans of either police or activists. Both have a strong busybody streak, and we do not like busybodies.

Surprising exactly nobody who is not an economic retard, black market ridesharing has popped up to replace Uber and Lyft, which famously quit Austin after voters sustained onerous regulations imposed by the city council. So reasonable regulation and corporate oversight is now eclipsed by no oversight. But we got international humiliation out of it so that’s something.

While the “Texas beer economy is booming,” the Lone Star State ranks only 42nd for breweries per capita. Thankfully, “we’re far from saturated,” or so the article says.

Freedom ain't free

The least believable thing Hillary Clinton has ever said

May 31, 2016

Back in 1994, Hillary Clinton attributed her success in trading cattle futures — she turned $1000 in to $100,000 in less than 10 months during the late 1970s — to “reading the Wall Street Journal.” Her supporters believed her, even though (1) Clinton unaccountably stopped trading even though she was apparently brilliant at it because she couldn’t handle the stress, (2) it was the single most profitable investment the Clintons had ever made up to that point, and (3) the WSJ had not actually published any articles on cattle futures during the relevant period. Her story was both mathematically and actually unbelievable (one in 31 trillion according to one academic paper).

Nevertheless, Clinton’s claim that her cattle profits were the result of her own brilliance pales in comparison to this morning’s claim:

The sexism is less virulent now than it was in 2008, she said, but still she encounters people on rope lines who tell her, “ ‘I really admire you, I really like you, I just don’t know if I can vote for a woman to be president.’ I mean, they come to my events and then they say that to me.”

Sorry, with the greatest imagination we still cannot believe that in 2016 anybody has the balls — and the implication is that balls are involved here — to go to a Clinton campaign event, get close enough to make a comment, and use that moment to say that their big hangup is that Hillary is a woman. A fortiori we do not believe that this has happened more than once. And if you do not share our hard-won skepticism, consider that nobody has ever captured one of these outrages on video, which fact we know because if somebody had done, it would have been social media gold for the Clinton campaign and its social justice warrior camp followers. Liar, liar, pants on fire, not that you will ever hear that from the putative “editors” of New York Magazine.

Can you believe that this is the person we have to vote for to avoid president Trump?

Austin controversies

Liberal death match: Nau’s Enfield Drug and the Old Austin Neighborhood Association

May 31, 2016

Take a careful look at the once grand — OK, reasonably nice — and now profoundly dilapidated house below:

611 west lynn

Yes, Virginia, it is a dump, an eyesore, and a pox on the landscape. Yet the amateur preservationists at the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, your Editor’s “own” neighborhood association, believe that the owners of this fire hazard should be deprived of the right to sell the valuable lot to a developer who might build something nice on it.

Because that would “change the character” of the neighborhood, itself a silly notion in a neighborhood that is a wonderful eclectic mix of new and old houses, apartment buildings, townhouses, and commercial buildings. The character of Old West Austin is its ever-changing diversity of architecture. Preservation for its own sake is not this neighborhood’s friend.

And, no, the house in question isn’t even “old” by the standards of much of the country, having originally gone up in 1890. The house is of no known historical or architectural significance.

Ordinarily, neighborhood busybodies destroy property rights without compunction simply because they can, but in this case there is a complicating consideration: It is owned by the same family that owns Nau’s Enfield Drug, an ancient and old school pharmacy with an actual soda fountain that everybody reveres and almost nobody patronizes. Nau’s is a genuine local landmark, having supported our neighborhood, which until quite recently was not so nice, since the 1930s. Sadly, Nau’s is now losing money, or making so little that it cannot sustain its owners (the Labay family), because much nicer places making much better food — yes, that must be said — have eroded the lunch counter trade, and other retailers, including HEB, chain pharmacies and convenience stores, have killed the rest of its business. Affluence has all but done in Nau’s, just as it has made the .62 acres underneath 611 West Lynn Street more valuable by an order of magnitude.

The neighborhood hanky-twisters purport both to love Nau’s, even if they don’t actually buy anything there, and to prefer the Labay family’s unairconditioned and collapsing house over literally anything else that might be built there. Since the sale of the latter is considered essential for the survival of the former (please do not ask us to explain that reasoning, we only report on the Austin liberal’s mind), this has put the Old Austin Neighborhood Association in to a defensive crouch. And, as everybody knows, an activist’s defensive crouch is comedy gold for normal people.

First up, one Rosemary Merriam, bold emphasis added:

“OWANA has long opposed the demolition of this house,” Rosemary Merriam, then the chair of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, told the Historic Landmark Commission on Jan. 25. “We think it has considerable historic value to our neighborhood, and we support the (city) staff’s recommendation that it be given historic status.

“I sympathize with the Labay family,” she said. “I understand the expense. We also pay taxes in our neighborhood, which are extraordinary.”

Ms. Merriam claimed the needed repairs are mostly cosmetic (something Labay disputes), and, she said, “I’ve never seen any attempts at major upkeep” on the house. Labay told the commission the family can’t afford the repairs.

Merriam knows not whereof she speaks. Or maybe she is being disingenuous. Your Editor has twice renovated — or underwritten the renovation of — old homes of roughly the same vintage (1870 and 1900), including one in Austin. It would cost at least $1 million to bring that house up to snuff, by which we mean to suitability for occupants willing to pay $1.5 million for the lot under it, the current appraised value. The house in question does not have air conditioning. This is Texas. When the hapless contractor rips off the walls to install HVAC, he will find that the wiring is dangerous, the plumbing is shot, and that raccoons have been living in the walls for seven years. It will be re-framed, rewired, and plumbed room by room, floor by floor. No doubt all of the windows will need to be replaced — we guess that expense alone would exceed all of the profits of Nau’s Enfield Drug for years. And we shudder to think what the bathrooms and kitchen will cost for a house that needs to be worth $2.5-$3 million when finished.
Point is, Ms. Merriam is either entirely ignorant of such things, or disingenuous. We suspect the latter. (And this rather brilliant letter to the Statesman agrees.)

Ms. Merriam is, however, an economic genius compared to this dude:

Alexander Shoghi, who is doing a substantial rehab work on an 1890 home across the street from the Labays’ vacant house, told the Historic Landmark Commission that allowing demolition of 611 West Lynn could “set a very dangerous precedent where a person can choose to not reinvest in one’s property, not maintain it to the point of it becoming uninhabitable and then eventually be able to sell it at a higher profit than would otherwise be available had they maintained it.”

Never mind that the trucks supporting this guy’s renovation — which we are certain has exceeded $1 million and probably $2 million — has been snarling morning traffic on West Lynn, your Editor’s regular commuting route, for at least the last year, that may be the most economically illiterate thing ever said by somebody who is not Bernie Sanders. It takes decades for a house to fall in to this level of disrepair. The economic value lost in that period would vastly exceed the upkeep, never mind the wear and tear on the people who have to manage the mess. People with once nice houses do not let them deteriorate to the point of collapse because they are long-term investors. They do so because they do not have the money to keep their house up. The argument that the Labay family let the house fall apart because they were hoping for a killing in real estate is so silly we’re surprised Milo Minderbinder didn’t think of it. And we know Shoghi is disingenuous, because he is a rich guy who used to work for Lehman Brothers. Investment bankers are first and foremost salesmen, and Shoghi is definitely selling in this case.

We have only the greatest sympathy for the Labay family. This is Texas, and ought to be a free country. They should be permitted to sell their property to a developer who will build a beautiful even if new home or homes on the land, whether or not they use the proceeds to keep Nau’s going. As for Old West Austin? We could do with fewer power-crazy control freaks.

Austin controversies

Austin and the “affordable housing” fraud

May 25, 2016

Your Editor has been very busy and hither and yon and such, and therefore away from, er, editing. We’re back, and we’ve noticed that “affordable housing” is again in the news in Austin. Or, more precisely, “mandates” that would impose on developers the requirement that they cough up some “affordable housing” in return for permission to build any housing. The motive, which will not achieve its desired result, is to fix the condition that “soaring rents have pushed poorer and minority residents out of the city.” Gentrification in this booming city with a history of segregation being a hot topic.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Here are some basically irrefutable facts.

Austin has a sad history of segregation, not unlike most cities in the country.

The people who run Austin today had nothing to do with that sad history. Nor are they descendants of such people. Since most people in Austin are fairly recent transplants, few of the people here had anything to do with the old ugliness. They nonetheless feel guilty about it.

The consequence is that Austin’s blacks and Latinos have been concentrated in neighborhoods with historically cheap housing.

The city and its moderately liberal mayor boost the shit out of the city, promoting its coolness and its hot tech-centered economy.

The city has spent a fortune on amenities that appeal to affluent people such as your Editor, including endless “hike and bike” trails, redeveloped parks and event venues, mass transit initiatives, and so forth. This has caused property taxes to soar.

Austin has a very strong economy, with an unemployment rate so low that wages are rising rapidly, especially for “new class” types around the tech economy.

Austin is the fastest growing real city in the United States. Lots of people are moving here, because of the foregoing.

So, in other words, the city has been pursuing policies with the objective of attracting affluent people who can afford Austin. Those policies have been successful, and affluent people are moving here, further driving up the cost of already heavily taxed housing. Quite predictably, the slightly less affluent among the new transplants are buying up the less expensive housing in the historically black and Latino neighborhoods. The result is that the black population of Austin is declining.

This being considered lamentable, the city’s government — or a subset thereof — is hoping to create more “affordable” housing by imposing huge new costs on developers who propose to build… housing.

It is fairly well-established that affordable housing mandates do not actually work. See, for example, this study [Word file] of the many cities in California that have experimented with “inclusionary zoning.” Money shot (emphasis added):

Using panel data and a first difference model, we test how the policy affected the price and quantity of housing in California cities between 1980, 1990, and 2000. Under various specifications we find that cities adopting below-market housing mandates end up with higher prices and fewer homes. Between 1980 and 1990, cities imposing below-market housing mandates end up with 9 percent higher prices and 8 percent fewer homes overall. Between 1990 and 2000 cities imposing below-market housing mandates end up with 20 percent higher prices and 7 percent fewer homes overall. Consistent with Ellickson’s hypothesis, the program may not be about increasing the supply of housing or making it more affordable overall.

Our question is this: Are the liberal flower and chivalry of Austin unaware that their big ticket policies designed to appeal to affluent people have succeeded wildly in both driving up costs and attracting er, affluent people? Or — and this would be the only sane alternative explanation — are our “leaders” cynically dangling a counterproductive “affordable” housing mandate to deflect the rage of the anti-gentrification activists from the politicians and to the real estate developers?

With politicians, it is always hard to know whether “stupid” or “cynical” is the dominant consideration. Given our city council’s terrifyingly poor grip on economics and reflexive preference for more regulation rather than less, we lean toward stupidity.

But we could be wrong.

Affluence amok

We are a flamboyant people

May 17, 2016

If this story isn’t the ultimate proof that we live in unbelievably comfortable and indeed flamboyant times, I don’t know what would be.

Fear of fireworks and thunder may be forgotten by your dog this Fourth of July.

A new drug is hitting the market that is made specifically for dogs that are suffering from loud noise anxiety.

We wonder whether this drug will be popular among Texans of the non-Austin variety. A dog might need this to get through the day, but a dawg is another thing entirely.


The next move in transportation engineering

May 17, 2016

We all know that ridesharing apps allow for the rating of both drivers and passengers, which system inherently disciplines the behavior of both. Along comes this idea for flying, which I would get behind. Especially if the voting power were amplified according to frequent flyer status.

This would be very bad news for extremely fat people in my row.


Ugly linkage

May 15, 2016

You guys know the drill.

Allegedly, unnamed “Republicans” have approached Mark Cuban about taking on Donald Trump in a third-party bid. This might be a case of learning a lesson too well. Regardless, the only third party bid that matters is one that can take a state or two and throw the election in the House. And if you don’t follow that last point, go read the very clear text of the 12th Amendment and hope for salvation.

Public health experts from Hahvahd strongly advise that Brazil cancel the Olympics because Zika. We know a little bit about public health, and agree with the recommendation. The rationale in the linked article, however, pains us because it in part rests on chattering class moralizing:

Dr. Richard E. Besser, ABC News’s chief health and medical editor, highlighted five things that report author Amir Attaran identifies in defense of such a drastic recommendation: Rio’s proximity to the disease; the dangers associated with this particular strain; the increase in tourism that will risk spreading the Zika virus to other countries; the short amount of time health officials will have to develop control measures; and, finally, what Attaran calls the irresponsibility in placing sports above public health. (Emphasis added.)

Two observations. First, our Western notions of individual rights really date from the antibiotic era. This is no coincidence, because fighting infectious disease involves the elevation of collective interests over the individual. If antibiotics fail or lethal viruses emerge in the West, expect to see us retreat from individual rights. It will take time and plenty of litigation, but it will happen. You read it here first.

Second, since when don’t we “place sports above public health”? Anybody look at the injury rates in football, the social consequences of poor kids chasing the dream of the NBA, the environmental impact of golf courses, or the public health consequences of lying around drinking beer and watching sports on TV? We all put sports above public health, and that is just as well, too. Maximizing life span is not the highest value, or ought not be.

This is apparently real:

Question authority, and resist stereotypes.

Who could have seen this coming?

Besides everyone, we mean. Remember, when a consequence is not only predictable but predicted, it is not unintentional. Punch back twice as hard.

Really revolting people shaking down small businesses in the name of social justice. The combination of virtue-signaling and greed is especially despicable. Don’t invite these people to cocktail parties.

Live free or die.



May 13, 2016

The lean lines of the people and the architecture to be seen from the Encore swimming pool are one of life’s great blessings. If you have the chance to do, take it.