Friday, July 31, 2009

IRL Pulls Out of Richmond/IRL to Announce 2010 Schedule Today

Bad news for those Virginians, like me, who are fans of the Indianapolis Racing League. Today the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that, after nine straight seasons, there will be no IRL race in Richmond next year. Falling attendance, and Suntrust's decision not to sponsor the race were apparently significant factors preventing the IRL and the International Speedway Corporation, which owns the Richmond track, from reaching an agreement to hold the race in Richmond. Here is the story.

Why the falling attendance ? Two reasons, perhaps. First, the economy is quite weak, with Virginia' unemployment rate reaching its highest in years last month. Second, and as your humble blogger can confirm, the most recent IRL races at Richmond have not been particularly exciting. The oval track is relatively small --- about three quarters of a mile, compared to 2.5 miles at Indianapolis, and 1.5 miles at the Kentucky Speedway, for instance. The short straightaways at the track make it very difficult for one car to pass another or, for that matter, for the cars to run two wide. As the Times-Dispatch article puts it: "During the race, there were long stretches of uninterrupted racing with few lead changes."

For the sake of posterity, here, courtesy of the Times-Dispatch story, are the winners of the nine IRL races held in Richmond over the years.

• 2001: Buddy Lazier • 2002: Sam Hornish Jr. • 2003: Scott Dixon • 2004: Dan Wheldon • 2005: Helio Castroneves • 2006: Sam Hornish Jr. • 2007: Dario Franchitti • 2008: Tony Kanaan • 2009: Scott Dixon.

The Indy Racing League will unveil its 2010 schedule live, at 4:00 PM. Go to to watch the broadcast.

Portland Headlight "In Action," July 2009 and July 2011

Your blogger took these pictures of the Portland Head Light, in Casco Bay, from the Casco Bay Lines ferry in July, 2009. Wikipedia has a nice entry on the history and significance of the lighthouse (see here), constructed in the late 18th Century at the behest of George Washington.  Moreover, the lighthouse itself maintains a webcam, to be found here.  Click on the webcam photo to enlarge it.

Here is another photo of the same lighthouse, taken in July, 2011.


More On China's Undue CO2 Emissions

The UK Guardian reports that three electricity companies in China emit more carbon dioxide than the entire United Kingdom, the latter of which is the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world.

The report also notes that China emits less carbon per capita than various industrial nations, but omits the fact that, as a reported in a prior post, China utilizes and emits far more carbon per unit of output than the United States, for instance.

Here is the prior post:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fire at Sal's/Employee Fund Created

Many have already heard that Sal's by Victor here in Williamsburg burned down last night. Here is the most complete newspaper story on the subject to date, from the William and Mary Flat Hat:

The Flat Hat Story was updated Tuesday afternoon, to report that a fund has been created to assist the employees of the restaurant. Here is the information about the fund:

A fire fund account at Chesapeake Bank has been set up for the 48 employees of Sal’s by Victor. Those wishing to make a donation may do so in person at any Chesapeake Bank branch, or by mailing the donation to the bank, attention Sal’s by Victor Fire Fund, 1229 Lafayette St., Suite 202, Williamsburg, VA 23185. Checks should be made payable to the Sal’s by Victor Fire Fund.

WAVY News 10 also has a detailed story on its site, along with some video.

Thank God that no one was seriously hurt in the fire or in the efforts to extinguish it. Let's hope that Victor can get Sal's back up and running as soon as possible despite the devastation. Ditto for the other businesses that we affected.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Flawed Arguments For Unionization From Maine

In a recent editorial, the Portland Press Herald has endorsed pending legislation in Congress that would purportedly make it easier for employees to form unions, against the wishes of their employers. Here is a link to the Op-Ed.

Here is the core of the paper's argument for this legislation:

"For decades, middle-class wages have been stagnant and union membership has been in decline. The trends are connected. America has been losing the industrial manufacturing jobs which were once the stronghold of organized labor. The result can be felt throughout the economy. Union members are better paid and are more likely to have employer-supplied health insurance and pension plans than non-union employees. Non-union workers in communities with strong unions are better paid than similar workers in other areas. The importance of unions has been recognized in federal law since the 1930s. But organizing today's workers in service sectors, like high-tech and medical industries, will take some changes to the rules that were put in place to govern organizing factory workers many decades ago."

In other words, unionized workers earn more than non-unionized workers, so "reform" that encourages unionization over the objection of employers is a good thing. This is a very common argument for unionization and legislation that facilitates it.

There are, however, several flaws in this all-too-common argument. Here are three.

First, the observation that unionized workers earn more than their non-union counterparts may simply reflect the fact that unions are more likely to organize workers in high wage industries. Campaigns to unionize a workforce can be expensive, and unions can only recoup their expenses by charging workers who choose to organize union dues, dues that are presumably higher in high wage industries, where workers can afford such levies. As a result, unions may choose not to unionize low wage industries in the first place, thereby explaining the gap between wages for union and non-union workers.

Second, the data invoked do not, contrary to the editorial's assertion, indicate that unions make workers in unionized industries better off than they otherwise would be. While unionization may raise the wages (and benefits) of some workers, such wage increases will cause employers to substitute capital for labor, thereby employing fewer workers now and in the future and reducing overall employment. Such adjustments will be more pronounced in the longer run, as capital wears out and firms thus have more flexibility to adopt capital-intensive production processes. In some cases, industries may shut down altogether because of competition from foreign firms with lower labor costs. (Indeed, the editorial does not seem to recognize that America has been losing manufacturing jobs precisely because unionization of such industries artifically raises the cost of labor. Instead, the editorial seems to treat the failure of these industries and resulting reduction in manufacturing employment as an argument for encouraging unionization elsewhere !) Thus, while the wages of some workers may rise as a result of unionization, the wages of others may fall to zero, at least until these laid off workers obtain less remunerative employment elsewhere. Studies purporting to show that unionized workers, who are by definition employed, earn more than others, do not account for the negative impact of unionization on those who, because of unionization, are now former employees.

Third, even if additional unionization will increase the overall welfare of some employees, one still needs additional argumentation to support such legislation. Higher wages and benefits are not free. Firms and/or their customers must pay for such additional labor costs. Thus, legislation that encourages unionization may simply transfer income from one set of middle class workers and business owners to others. To be sure, unionization may in some instances increase the productivity of employees by, for instance, facilitating the negotiation and enforcement of efficient and complex contracts between labor and management. However, if the efficiency benefits of unionization entirely offset the increased wages resulting from unionization, then employers would embrace unionization, thereby obviating the need for such legislation. Absent some convincing argument that unionized workers deserve increased wealth more than employers and their customers, the editorial's argument fails on its own terms.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Top 100 Movie Lines/Some Suggested Amendments


Some of you may have seen the video on YouTube collecting what purport to be the 100 best movie lines, including the line quoted above from Planet of the Apes. The video is quite impressive, managing as it does to collect all 100 lines in under four minutes. Here is a link to the video.

At the same time, there are, in my mind ayway, some obvious omissions from the list of top 100 lines, including the following, in no particular order. Where possible, I have located and posted a clip from Youtube or another source.

1) "I'm Spartacus" from Spartacus

2) "Dodge This" from The Matrix

3) "You used up all the glue . . . on purpose." From "A Christmas Story"

4) "I'll make it." From Hoosiers.

(50 seconds into this clip).

5) "Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel." From The Godfather II

6) "Leave the gun. Take the canolis." From The Godfather

7) "I've got nowhere else to go." From Officer and a Gentleman

8) "There is no fighting in the war room." From Dr. Strangelove

9) "I get paid to be suspicious when I've got nothing to be suspicious about." From The Firm

10) "30 years from now when you are sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you 'what did you do in the great World War II' you won't have to say, 'well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana." From Patton.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

China Surpasses US Auto Sales/Could Double Carbon Emissions By 2030

Today came news that China's auto sales rose 36.5 percent in the first half of 2009, surpassing sales in the USA.

This news reminded me of a recent article in Der Spiegel entitled: "China's Greenhouse Gasses Threaten to Double." The article summarizes recent studies showing that China's greenhouse gas emissions will, under optimistic assumptions, rise by 80 percent by 2030, a date by which numerous other industrialized nations hope to have reduced their emissions significantly.

According to the article, China, is the world's 4th largest economy (behind the U.S., Japan, and Germany). (Note that other estimates place China 3rd, ahead of Germany.) At the same time, China's economy is growing faster than those it currently trails, and rapid urbanization and economic progress will increase the demand for electricity (and automobiles!) by the average Chinese citizen. Currently coal-fired power plants produce 83 percent of China's electricity, compared to 48-50 percent in the USA. While China hopes to move to alternative fuels between now and 2030, the study estimates that, despite China's best efforts, coal will still provide 70 percent of China's much larger output of power by 2030. Even under this "rosy scenario," in which China successfully moves to switch from coal-based generation to alternative fuels, China's emissions will rise 80 percent. If China is less successful at steering its energy generation toward alternative fuel sources, it's Carbon Output could double.

The article should also serve as a reminder that China, and not the USA, is already the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. According to this report by the Congressional Research Service, China had already passed the USA in such emissions by 2005. See table 1 in the report.

The report also estimates that China's GDP is less than half that of the USA. Other estimates place it at about one third of the USA's GDP. Thus, China's output is much more carbon-intensive than that of the USA. Indeed, according to this story from NPR, China's emissions grew 14 percent in 2004, a gross amount equal to the entire emissions of Germany or the UK.

Some commentators like to blame the United States and other countries for China's increase in emissions, because we and others purchase Chinese products, thereby driving the Chinese economy. I doubt, however, that these same commentators blame countries that purchase US exports for American emissions. This is ironic, because, as just explained, U.S. firms employ far less carbon per unit of output than their Chinese counterparts.

So long as China continues on its present path, efforts by G-8 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have limited, if any, net impact on the overall level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

N.b. The Photo of a Chinese Power Plant comes from Wikipedia and is subject to the GNU free documentation license published here:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Is California Collapsing ???

Over the past couple of days I have come across two articles with very different diagnoses of California's fiscal crisis. One article, by Kevin O'Leary in Time Magazine, lays the blame for the crisis on Proposition 13, a Constitutional Amendment approved by California voters in 1979 that limits the property taxes that localities may levy. Because of Prop. 13, the argument goes, the state legislature must appropriate more and more money for projects and activities, such as public education, normally funded at the local level. As a result, the state has no little money left over for projects at the state level ordinarily funded by the state legislature.

A second article, by Kevin Hasset of the American Enterprise Institute, argues that California's troubles are the result "an orgy of spending" leading to its $26 Billion deficit. Having stated this conclusion, he then argues that California's experience is a cautionary tale for President Obama and his various expensive proposals.

O'Leary's hypothesis is shared by many, but it is only that, a hypothesis. Moreover, it is subject to a simple empirical test. The theory implies that states like California would derive less tax revenue overall, because of the Proposition 13 constraint, than states without such a restraint, thereby explaining the "gap" between spending and revenues in California. (After all, if California obtains more tax revenue from its citizens that other states, then the distribution of those receipt between state and local government should not logically impact the state's ability to provide services equal to the value of such revenues.) The theory also implies a subsidiary thesis, namely, that in California, local spending would constitute a smaller portion of overall state and local spending combined than in other states.

The data are inconsistent with both predictions and thus seem to falsify the O'Leary hypothesis.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California raised $236,646,725,000 in state and local revenue in during the 2005-2006 fiscal year, when its population was 36.1 million. That's $6,555 per person. (2005-2006 is the most recent year for which data are available at the census website.)  By contrast, during the same fiscal year, Utah raised $13,275,165,000, on a population of 2.5 million, for a total of $5,310 per person.

That is, California raised 23 percent more revenue per person than Utah in 2005-2006.

Utah, it should be noted, is not idiosyncratic. During the same period, Virginia, with a population of 7.5 million in 2005, raised $44,144,819,000, or $5867 per person, a figure closer to Utah than California. Indiana's tax revenue was also less than $6,000 per person. Here is the Census website, with the data on revenues and spending. 2005 population figures come from other reliable sources, e.g., Census press releases and a report from a think tank at UVA.

Note that a different source puts California per capita taxes in 2005 at $7,253.00, compared to $5,889.10 for Virginia, $5,811.8 for Utah and $5,710.10 for Indiana. Again, California's per capita spending is between 23 and 27 percent higher than that in Virginia, Utah and Indiana respectively.

What about the subsidiary thesis, i.e., that California localities will collect a smaller share of overall state taxes than localities in other states ? Here again, the data apparently contradict the O'Leary thesis. According to data on the same website listed above, California localities derive a LARGER share of overall state tax revenue than the localities in the other three states mentioned. Here are the figures, i.e., the percentage of overall state tax revenue taken at the local level, in the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

California 43 percent.

Virginia 41 percent
Indiana 41.8
Utah 36 percent.

Absent some equivalent to Proposition 13 in these three states, one must respectfully disagree with Mr. O'Leary' hypothesis. Spending, not some inability to tax, is the problem in California.
Note also that, from 1992-2004, a period with relatively low inflation, total state spending in California nearly doubled, according to from $123.9 billion, to $240.2 billion. It's hard to characterize California as a low tax state.

Lobsters and More Lobsters!

Two items on lobsters --- what I call "bottom-feeding crustaceans" --- caught my eye recently.

First, on July 5, the New York Times reports: "Lobsters Race, Slowly, in Bar Harbor."

The Times reports that the idea for the Bar Harbor races originated in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. While a bystander can buy a lobster and return it to the sea ("amnesty"), most end up on a dinner table that evening.

Second, the Bangor Daily News (which apparently had no space available to cover the lobster races) reports that a man caught two orange lobsters in Harpswell, Maine. Apparently only 1 in every 30,000 lobsters is orange, though other recent sighting are reported as well.

Believe it our not, one can also find video of lobster races on Youtube. Just search "lobster races." 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

F-150 Still Number 1 !!!

We're Number 1 ! reports that Ford's F-150 (known on this Blog as the world's greatest truck) outsold the Toyota Camry in June, 2009, thus returning to its rightful place as best-selling vehicle in the USA.

The same story also reports that the Camry has edged out the F-150 as the car that is the most "American made" according to a study by, reported here:

The F-150, which was number one in the "American made" category last year is now number 2. Note that the truck is manufactured in Michigan and Missouri, but 20 percent of its parts are manufactured outside the USA, according to this other article on
The photo above, from Wikipedia Commons, is of a 2007 F-150 Supercrew, Harley Davidson edition.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Some Patriotic Music !

In honor of our nation's birthday, here is a link to Whitney Houston's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, performed before Superbowl XXV at Tampa Florida, during the first Gulf War. At the very end, you will see a flyover by four F-16 "Fighting Falcons."
If you are an American and don't get goosebumps watching and listening, then you should probably move to Canada.
Here is "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

As an added bonus, here is John Mellancamp's "Our Country," originally aired as part of an a
dvertising campaign for the world's second best pickup, the Chevy Silverado. We all know what the BEST pickup is . . . .
Finally, here is another patriotic favorite, "Only in America," by Brooks and Dunn.

Happy Fourth, Great Patriot's Roundup

In honor of our nation's birthday, here are photos of some great patriots, in no particular order: