Monthly Archives

May 2016


Alleged “lessons” of the West, Texas explosion

May 11, 2016

A little more than three years ago, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded, killing 15 people, injuring more than 160, and destroying a town in what was then regarded as one of worst industrial accidents in modern Texas. President Obama spoke eloquently on behalf of the victims and generously toward the town. To his credit, he did not use the moment to push his usual regulatory agenda.

The same cannot be said for his allies, who sprinted to their keyboards to draw “lessons,” all involving a lot more regulation.

Today, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made a mockery of all of that, for it announced that it had concluded that the explosion was “a criminal act.” Not an accident, not an example of insufficient regulation, but arson, murder, and possibly terrorism.

The cynic in us is forced to wonder how long ago the ATF reached that conclusion. We hope it was, oh, yesterday, or maybe over the weekend just past.

The lessons of the West explosion turn out to be quite different than those pushed by the liberal wing of the chattering classes in their rush to score propaganda points on behalf of their favorite regulators. Remember that, and apply appropriate skepticism the next time. “Journalists,” that goes double for you.

Austin controversies

Will Austin deregulate taxis to bring back Uber and Lyft?

May 11, 2016

While the righty-libertarian wing of the blogosphere is a-twitter mocking Austin for regulating Uber and Lyft out of town, the executive branch of the city government seems to be moving against the city council and the Democratic establishment. Today brings news of an “internal” memo, dated just days after the offending referendum, proposing deregulation of the taxi cartel to level the playing field with the ridesharing gig. This is good news, even if the city council does not go along, because it suggests intelligence in the actual management of the city of Austin.

Several things might be said about this idea.

First, literally the first sentence of the internal memo says that it is “an update on the effort … to provide a ‘level playing field'” for taxis, which is essentially an admission that the Austin ordinance was to protect a cartel in an industry that should die a reasonably abrupt death anyway (if ridesharing had existed before taxis, would anybody in their right mind start a taxi business that did not have a monopoly guarantee from government?).

Second, props to Mayor Stephen Adler for this maneuver. We have a new regard for his capacity to play the long game.

Third, all of this sad business might have been avoided if the city had followed the freaking brilliant advice in this letter to the editor of the Austin Statesman back on October 10:

The City Council’s proposals to burden Uber and Lyft with substantial new regulations, which may well drive them out of Austin or diminish services, are misguided. Thousands of Austinites provide these services safely, and hundreds of thousands use them. They work — and because there is real-time documentation of a specific rider getting into the car with a specific driver, the possibility of crime against one another is lower than using taxis, which have no evidence connecting driver and rider. If the problem is asymmetrical regulation with taxis, consider adopting Sarasota, Florida’s sensible solution, which is to deregulate both taxis and ride hailing. If the problem is revenue — and one gets the sense that ever-higher taxis are the real agenda here — consider a simple revenue-neutral tax that applies equally to both taxis and transportation networking companies. But do not drive out ride-hailing apps, which, as evidenced by demand, [are] solving a genuine transportation problem here in Austin.

People really need to listen to that guy.


Ugly linkage

May 10, 2016

We are jealous of our secret identity for many reasons, among them that we often laugh when it is wholly “inappropriate” — we believe that is the word — to do. Please do not condemn us for this. We bet that you also have some ugly vice that you are ashamed of.

Herewith, the evening’s ugly linkage.

So, this absolutely has to be the most laugh-out-loud correction to appear in the New York Times since, well, the invention of corrections.
nyt correction

That, ladies and germs, ain’t a mere typo. Shakespearean as it may be, no cube farm full of monkeys, or Grey Lady interns, could have come up with that randomly banging on their keyboards. The New York Times must have accidentally hired somebody with a great sense of humor and a poor handle on office politics. As so often happens.

New York City has joined San Francisco and Austin in restricting plastic grocery bags. New York has merely required retailers to charge a fee instead of imposing an outright ban, which is just as well considering this handy bit of news:

A whopping 97 percent of consumers don’t regularly wash their bags, according to a report from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University. Their researchers swabbed 84 bags for bacteria, and the findings were outright nasty: coliform bacteria in half, E. coli in 12 percent.

When San Francisco banned plastic bags, the number of E. coli infections spiked. Even worse, the number of foodborne-illness deaths rose a whopping 46 percent in the three months after the bag ban began.

We wonder if anybody has done a similar study in Austin, which banned disposable bags in 2013. We did find this report, which found that Austin’s law has not — be sure you are sitting down — produced the expected environmental benefits because of “unintended” consequences. Uh, if a consequence is obvious to a normal person, by which we do not mean a “progressive” activist, it cannot be said to be unintended.

This is totally harsh. But funny.

Context here.

If we needed more evidence that populism of the left and right are not really very different, the prosecution should rest on this bit of polling data: Over four in 10 Sanders voters in West Virginia would vote for Trump. To be fair, these are West Virginian Sanders voters, which are probably not yer usual Sandersnistas, but still…

A couple of San Francisco cops beat the hell out of a suspect for no obvious reason, and the whole thing is caught on surveillance cameras. Video here. The beaten suspect is named “Petrov” and the vicious cop on point rejoices in the name of Luis Santamaria, so the usual narrative fails, but here is my question: How is it that it does not occur to cops in San Francisco in 2016 that they might get caught because, you know, cameras everywhere? Setting aside Santamaria’s apparently defective character, how do you give somebody that transportingly stupid a state-sanctioned monopoly on the lawful use of force?

In the hunt for this suspect, don’t bother checking the dental records.

We can’t decide whether this is more weird than cool, or the reverse.
That is all.

Freedom ain't free

Gender gap is as gender gap does

May 10, 2016

There is a new Quinnipiac Swing State poll out, and Hillary and The Donald are in an apparent dead heat where it matters. The people in the important swing states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania have tasted and measured their bile in the contemplation of their vote in November, and responded accordingly.

The talking head buffoonerators on the TV above the bar in the United Club in Austin, whence your Editor scribbles, are going on about Hillary’s huge advantage among women as supposedly revealed in that poll, side by side with this graphic:


Anybody see anything wrong with MSNBC’s logic?* “Gender gap” may not mean what they think it means.


*Because the milk of intellectual honesty flows through your Editor’s veins, we might not have given MSNBC the full benefit of actually listening. Our impressions are based on a few seconds looking at the subtitles scrolling across the screen, so our assessment of MSNBC might be unfair. Then again, MSNBC is not known for putting things in context, so there is a limit to our reticence about leaping to a conclusion.

Austin weird


May 9, 2016

Love, love, LOVE the new “off leash” signs in Austin parks.


So, we’re not allowed to use a leash on the other side of this sign?

That authoritarian city council strikes again.

Austin controversies

The sad message in the Uber app this morning, and the problem with fingerprinting

May 9, 2016

We’re sure we’re not the only person to have tried the Uber app this morning…


The question that remains unanswered in the post mortem: How far apart are the Austin city council and the ridesharing companies? Positions seem to have hardened in the political fight leading up to the vote against Proposition 1.

The question comes up, why do the ridesharing companies resist fingerprinting so much? In Texas, in what seems to be a very un-Texan attitude, you need to be fingerprinted for virtually any government permission, including, until very recently, to get a driver’s license. Many of the locals your Editor engages in his neighborhood coffee shop therefore do not understand the resistance.

The answer is that fingerprinting is a huge pain in the neck in many other states. In New Jersey, for example. Your Editor has the experience of driving 15 miles through local Trenton area traffic to a particular office of the state police, and then waiting around for a particular copper charged with the finger printing of corporate executives and other miscreants who need certified fingerprints to cough up to regulatory agencies in, say, Florida. If the Austin rules were imposed in Newark, far fewer people would get their act sufficiently together to qualify. So in many places, fingerprinting is a real barrier to entry with no obvious security benefit.

And never mind that Texans who love freedom should be calling for less fingerprinting in general, rather than more, if for no other reason than we ought not feed the data hungry security state more than absolutely necessary.

But we digress. Given the foregoing, what are the odds that Uber and Lyft can agree to fingerprinting in Austin without opening up similar fights in cities across the country? We speculate that they are unlikely to concede the point, and we further speculate that this city council is unlikely to give up its hard won victory. We therefore doubt that Uber and Lyft will be back in Austin soon, which will be a great loss for both customers and drivers, even if a windfall for the opponents of “corporate greed” and their allies, the three authorized taxi corporations and their tightly rationed number of cars.