Three weeks ago, I started a new job: QA engineer with Borland Software. I couldn’t be happier. The group that I’m working with is implementing a full-blown agile/scrum process. When I was interviewing with Borland, I told my interviewers that I’d used some agile methodologies in previous jobs. But now that I’ve been participating in a real agile methodology, I realize that there’s a fundamental difference between adopting some of the methodologies and adopting the philosophy of agile/scrum: it’s all about respect, truthfulness, collaboration, visibility, continual feedback, putting individual egos aside for the greater good, etc.
The high cost of the Iraq war
In a short report (audio only) this morning about the high cost of gasoline, the KUT reporter interviewed a UT economics professor who estimates that the instability and uncertainty caused by the war in Iraq accounts for about $7-10 of the rise in the cost of a barrel of oil.
So, the American taxpayers aren’t the only ones paying for the war. Oil consumers the world over are paying the price as well.
Odds and Ends
Brushes with fame
Jeff Gates muses about running into a John Bolton lookalike on his morning commute. I remember when we bought our house just over three years ago. After meeting the next door neighbor, I wondered, excitedly: is he THE Cyrus Vance? Alas, a quick Internet search revealed that he isn’t THE Cyrus Vance.
(In high school, I read the three major news magazines cover to cover each week (I know; what a geek) in preparation for informative and persuasive speaking contests, so I was familiar with all the major members of the Carter administration.)
Odds and Ends
The hard facts about hybrid autos
As I’ve expressed before, I’m skeptical of the current craze for hybrid cars. As I understand it, they were initially developed for their low emissions; better gas mileage was a bonus. But now, a lot of people are buying them for their general ‘green’ fuzzy feelgood value.
This New York Times editorial confirms my suspicions regarding some people’s relatively unconsidered reasons for buying hybrids:
Lately, people have been calling me and telling me they’re thinking about buying the Lexus 400H, a new hybrid SUV. When I tell them that they’d get better mileage in some conventional SUVs, and even better mileage with a passenger car, they protest, “But it’s a hybrid!” I remind them that the 21 miles per gallon I saw while driving the Lexus 400H is not particularly brilliant, efficiency-wise – hybrid or not. Because the Lexus is a relatively heavy car and because its electric motor is deployed to provide speed more than efficiency, it will never be a mileage champ.
The article also offers some useful advice on when a hybrid is and isn’t a good choice. For example:
Indeed, [with highway driving] the [Prius’] gasoline engine worked so hard that we calculated we might have used less fuel on our journey if we had been driving Toyota’s conventionally powered, similarly sized Corolla – which costs thousands less.
The article concludes with a warning about the government’s current penchant for supporting hybrid purchases:
So the ideal hybrid car is one that is used in town and carefully disposed of at the end of its days. Hybrid taxis and buses make enormous sense. But the market knows no such distinctions. People think they want hybrids and they’ll buy them, even if a conventional car would make more sense. The danger is that the automakers will co- opt the hybrids’ green mantle and, with the help of a government looking to bail out its troubled friends in Detroit, misguidedly encourage the sale of hybrids without reference to their actual effect on oil consumption.
Pro-hybrid laws and incentives sound nice, but they might just end up subsidizing companies that have failed to develop truly fuel-efficient vehicles at the expense of those that have had the foresight to design their cars right in the first place. And they may actually punish citizens who save fuel the old- fashioned way – by using less of it, with smaller, lighter and more efficient cars. All the while, they’ll make a mockery of a potentially useful technology.
So, I’m definitely going to hold onto my eight-year-old Corolla. She’s homely but she gets the job done quite efficiently.
An effective flat tax
As a firm believer in progressive taxation, I find this article really disheartening. The heart of the matter:
A decade ago, when publishing magnate Steve Forbes ran for president, he vowed to deliver a new era of prosperity with just a simple change in the federal income tax: Instead of people with more money paying higher rates, all would pay the same “flat” tax rate — unleashing “the fantastic growth waiting to burst forth in our economy.”
Forbes’ “flat tax” plan was dismissed as simplistic by many mainstream economists and viewed with horror by the legions of special interests that benefit from all the deductions and loopholes that flat tax advocates would eliminate.
But this weekend, as millions of Americans faced the perennial deadline for filing their federal tax returns, most of them were operating in something very close to the world Forbes and other flat-tax visionaries proposed. Without any fanfare or philosophical debate, millionaires and middle-class Americans now pay taxes at almost the same rates.*
In addition to outlining briefly the history of U.S. federal taxation and explaining how we’ve gone from sharply progressive taxation to the current situation, the article asks the most important question: What have we gained from this change?
Advocates of the flat tax have long argued that it would stimulate economic activity and thus ultimately benefit everyone. Bush shares that view, though he has not officially advocated a flat tax.
And in recent years lower tax rates do seem to have contributed to healthy economic growth. The economy has been producing goods and services at a rising pace since the end of the 2001 recession. Unemployment is a low 4.7 percent.
But the health of the economy as a whole has not translated into gains for most workers. Because of global competition, the decline of manufacturing, weaker labor unions, immigration and other factors, most workers have not been able to obtain higher pay.
Instead, “flatter” income tax rates have contributed to an economic landscape that David Kelly, economic adviser to Putnam Investments, likens to an hourglass. Some from the traditional middle class are rising into the top, while others are being squeezed out into the bottom.
Average family net worth has continued to grow, in large part because of rising home prices, but at a rate that sagged from 29 percent between 1998 and 2001 down to 6 percent between 2001 and 2004. And for most Americans, whatever nominal pay increases they got in the last three years were more than offset by higher costs of things such as health care.
Meantime, the disparity between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has grown.
Okay, so that bit is not a direct cause and effect analysis, but the general gist is that this flattening of effective taxation rates has been one contributing factor to the trend of the rich getting richer of the last few years.
* The article mentions income tax, dividend taxation, and social security and medicare taxes, but it’s a little too general on the details for me. I’d like to see a more detailed breakdown on the types of taxes paid by each income group.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
I just completed the Librivox public domain audiobook of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a good tale, plus it contains large doses of political science and social and political commentary.
Referential vs. experiential bloggers
Over at kottke.org, guest blogger Greg Knauss proposes that bloggers fall into two categories:
The referential blogger uses the link as his fundamental unit of currency, building posts around ideas and experiences spawned elsewhere: Look at this. Referential bloggers are reporters, delivering pointers to and snippets of information, insight or entertainment happening out there, on the Intraweb. They can, and do, add their own information, insight and entertainment to the links they unearth — extrapolations, juxtapositions, even lengthy and personal anecdotes — but the outward direction of their focus remains their distinguishing feature.
The experiential blogger is inwardly directed, drawing entries from personal experience and opinion: How about this. They are storytellers (and/or bores), drawing whatever they have to offer from their own perspective. They can, and do, add links to supporting or explanatory information, even unique and undercited external sources. But their motivation, their impetus, comes from a desire to supply narrative, not reference it.
I’m definitely primarily a referential blogger. The primary reason for this is that I’m introverted and am therefore reluctant to share my personal life with people whom I don’t know well.
But Greg’s observations are timely for me, as I wrote an experiential blog post just last night. Writing that post felt kind of strange to me. Now I see why. But, I do think I’ll try to write more experiential posts.
We had a crazy weekend. Katie’s mother and aunt had been scheduled to move on Saturday, so we had planned to go to San Antonio to help with that. However, their move got postponed until Tuesday, so we drove down to help prepare for the upcoming move.
On Saturday evening, we celebrated a belated Passover Lite with Katie’s dad’s cousin and his wife, Bob and Paulina Polunsky. Hannah spent the night at the Polunskys’, and Samuel, Katie and I stayed in a hotel (we’d planned for both kids to stay with Polunskys, but alas, that didn’t work out).
During the night, the Easter/Passover bunny visited the kids at the Polunskys, so after an Easter breakfast of fried matzah at their house, we wrapped up our work for Mawmaw and Allie and hit the road home. I have to return on Tuesday to help with the rescheduled move.
Odds and Ends
I’m in the midst of deploying a blog redesign (blue=old, purple=new). If you see any problems with purple pages, plesae let me know in the comments of this entry.