Cookie-Cutter Tiny Houses

You know it’s a first world problem when your efforts to curb consumption are co-opted by copycats:

Are tiny houses becoming too “cookie-cutter”?

That’s the fear of Phoenix Vo-Dinh, a tiny-house renter who fears the rise of “miniature McMansions.” And she knows from McMansions: Before her current home, she lived in a Maryland house 10 times its size. The Maryland house had four bedrooms and four bathrooms in its 3,500 square feet, with seven entry doors.

Vo-Dinh now lives with her 24-year-old son, Christopher Lollar, in what she calls a “witch’s cottage” in Portland, Oregon. Its interior walls are papered over with Trader Joe’s grocery bags and pinto bean and flour sacks (coated in linseed oil); the exterior makes use of a local pizzeria’s tomato-sauce cans; and flowerboxes are made from discarded stove hoods turned upside down and poked with drainage holes.


 “In Maryland,” she says, “the size of the house — it was too big! It was a big house with no hiding places in it! It was the weirdest thing. I didn’t know that would happen.

“And this is huge. This is 364 square feet.”

No hiding places. Now that makes me wonder about Ms. Vo-Dinh. And everybody else who thinks tiny houses are the “it” thing. Didn’t they have playhouses or the imagination to create one from blankets and a table when they were children? And just where does she think she’s going to hide from her son in that tiny, though chic and fashionable space?

And what the hell is her son thinking? Perhaps… “Well, Mom is a bit nutty, but she still controls the purse strings. And the apron strings.”

Breasts, Testicles, Prostates, Men, Women, Pain, Politics

OK, I didn’t have a good title for this post. That one got copied right into the tags field. Trolling for traffic? You betcha.

One of the bad things following the passage of Obamacare and Sarah Palin’s invocation of “death panels” is that now it’s considered necessary by some (certainly not all) conservatives and libertarians to automatically assume that any research finding that might also reduce costs is automatically some variant of “rationing” or on the slippery slope to a “death panel”.

To wit — this one by Althouse, linked last week by Instapundit following a link to Dr. Helen’s rather innocuous post on rates of prostate screenings.

No matter how I look at it, I can’t see the relationship between the rates of prostate screening, pain research, pap smears, expense, fairness, and the Buffett-rule that Glenn Reynolds apparently finds obvious. So now I’m wondering about him falling for or into mere drama where anything can be taken to be “rationing”. Or a precursor of a “death panel”.

Is stretching an idea, meme, partisan point, etc., to the breaking point the same as jumping the shark? If not, it should be!

Why Is SOPA or PIPA Needed?

Instapundit links this story: US government hits Megaupload with mega piracy indictment.

Since that action was possible under existing criminal laws, why is legislation that layers obscuring civil penalties against entities not engaged in criminal activities needed to protect intellectual property?

One might be forgiven for wondering if the push for such legislation stems from something other than the desire to prevent theft of intellectual property. Maybe these Harvard Business Review bloggers have it right: it’s a legislative attempt by big companies with vested interests to protect their downside.

On the surface, SOPA and PIPA aim to make it difficult to steal intellectual property by making it difficult to use legal tools like the internet to “fence” their loot. I’ve got no problem with that idea.

I’ve not read SOPA, but I did read PIPA yesterday and cannot find where it makes it more difficult for the criminals. It makes it more difficult only on those producing the tools by shifting the burden of law enforcement to businesses.

It makes just about as much sense to charge International Paper with the responsibility of making sure that none of the paper it produces is ever used in a ransom note. Or regulating the sale of paper to only registered users.

UPDATE: Another reason why SOPA and PIPA are not needed is that the purveyors of intellectual property most often stolen — music and movies — are not hurting economically from piracy as much as you’d think from the publicity.

…bleeding revenue to piracy is going to be a problem to the extent that your product is a hit… (rtwt)

In short, piracy is certainly one problem in a world filled with problems. But politicians and journalists seem to have been persuaded to take it largely on faith that it’s a uniquely dire and pressing problem that demands dramatic remedies with little time for deliberation.  On the data available so far, though, reports of the death of the industry seem much exaggerated.

Haphazard Links And Whatnots

I caught a cold. Maybe it would be more accurate to say it caught me because I certainly wasn’t chasing it. It morphed into a raging bull of a sinus infection and is threatening bronchitis. So I finally called my doctor today. I’ve got drugs!

Had I not really wanted to go to S. Carolina in a few days to attend a beach wedding and get to see some of my favorite people, I might have suffered in silence for another week or so until this thing clears itself up. Well, not exactly in silence. Between the hacking cough, moans, groans, and complaints of why me, why now, and… well, suffering in silence is not my forte.

Speaking of silence… remember this sound? If you do, you are either an old (but connected) fart or you live in some totally boondocks area. Or you could be younger and remember this as a sort of lullaby because Momma was going online as soon as she could get you to bed!

Boondock is an interesting word. It’s derived from Tagalog bundok, meaning mountain and came into use in the U.S. after WWII. I’m thrilled to learn another Tagolog word that I can remember other than “utot“.  

Speaking of smelly — Glenn Beck really let one go when he said that evolution is being forced down our throats because he’s never seen a half-monkey, half person. A few of the more strident “lefty” sites have ridiculed him without really laying out why he is “not even wrong“. Elisheva Hannah Levin is explaining everything clearly in a series of posts. The first two are Glenn Beck’s Monkey Show: Overview and Glenn Beck’s Monkey Show: Not Even Wrong. Check Ragamuffin Studies for the third in the series.    

From not even wrong to just plain wrong… Amity Shlaes explains the rules of the game. Will politicians ever learn to play fair?

Heck, politicians have trouble playing in tune at all. They don’t know what the frequency is any more than did Dan Rather’s assailants.

Links That Spur Questions And Thought

When theory and fact fail to intersect – Bookworm Room. Political lessons from buildings.

Who Goes Nazi? – The Anchoress, via Assistant Village Idiot. Suggested further reading: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.

Masterminds or Muddlers? – the glittering eye.

The prototype for a mastermind would be Napoleon, someone who with a combination of brilliance, insight, savvy, guile, and the urge to power was able to bring complicated plans with many moving parts to fruition.

Letting Go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life? — The New Yorker, by Atul Gawande. And… as I see it, a complete misunderstanding of that article by Megan McArdle and most of her commentariat. That misunderstanding is further displayed in this McArdle post:  Does Medicaid Kill? Though not easy to identify, there are multiple points where medicine becomes harmful rather than helpful. Part of this has to do with the way we evaluate drugs — by choosing an endpoint (ie, blood pressure reduction) without evaluating whether that leads to longer life, much less the quality of that life.

That’s enough deep thought for a while. I will now return to my regularly scheduled whining, ranting, silliness, and non-blogging.

I Really Shouldn’t Complain

Our water/sewer bill has been lower the last two months than it’s been in the last 20 years. Since every other bill we get seems to be going up, I should be happy right?

Uh no. What worries me is that we’re going to get hit with a “makeup” bill in a few months that’s going to hurt.

That’s right folks, I’m worried because our water bill has been under $10 for the last two months.

Is It Late Saturday Night Or Early Sunday Morning?

My mental clock runs  7 hours late. I won’t get into how my physiological clock runs other than to say it’s not exactly on time.

The mental clock was programmed by working for years in a 24 hour industry. Three shifts, and the last one started at 11 pm. Can we agree that it would be a mathematical and bookkeeping nightmare to be accurate and calculate the hours and pay spanning two different days rather than one?

So, a day — for minimal distress and the payroll bookkeeper’s sanity started at 7 am. Of course, a simple solution would be to start the work day at midnight, but… frankly that would be too damn simple and still confusing for the workers who headed off to work on the 2nd day of the month but didn’t clock in until the 3rd.

Also, it’s just best to not have shifts end at noon or midnight. There’s always that 59 minute question, is there not? Does morning end at 11:59 am? Does afternoon start at 12:01? Frankly, every 24 hour business would lose 2 minutes of work per day. That adds up to an entire 12 hour shift being lost every year per worker.

Business could not function under that loss, since it would be added to the 3 hours per 8 hour shift lost to surfing the internet and general goofing off.

What should be understood is whether I finally finish this post at 11:59 on Saturday, September 19 or 4:02 am on Sunday, September 20, it is still a Saturday night post.

This manner of time-keeping also comes in handy for those who have had instilled in them the idea that drinking on Sunday is a bad thing. Using this method, Saturday night parties can last much longer. An there’s no reason why one can’t drink until 2 or 3 am, then have a leisurely breakfast at Waffle House and still grab a few hours sleep before church.

Don’t think I can’t sense the rumblings of some of you disagreeing out there. Rationalization, you say? Hell yeah! Why else did we evolve big brains?

If Money Can Solve It, You Don’t Have A Real Problem

The title of this post is a saying I’ve heard from my father over the years. And it’s truth becomes more evident as time passes. The saying does not address getting the money, only the severity of the problem. If your problem is that your shoes have holes in them, money can get you a new pair of shoes. 

If your problem is poor health — say you have cancer — no amount of money can buy a cure. That’s a Real problem. Money may buy you years and because of that, a “cure” is defined, medically or statistically, in years. Five years, usually.

If your problem is a cluster of diseases possibly or probably caused by somewhere you were 45 or so years ago, no amount of money is going to buy a cure.

If you’ve got a problem that money can solve, then your goal should be to earn that money. It may seem impossible, but it probably is not. If money can’t solve your problem, ponder that infamous creek and missing paddle.

How Can You Fix It, If You Don’t Know What Is Broken?

This article — Our Epistemological Depression — makes a lot of sense. It’s been my feeling all along that the bailouts and stimuli were frantic panic motions. No, make that emotions. I don’t see any evidence that any of the 535 members of Congress really have a clue what’s happened, much less why.

Barack Obama and his advisors and cabinet haven’t done or said anything much different. Should we call it Do Something Syndrome Even If It’s Wrong Syndrome? DSSEIIWS?

I think we’re screwed because our leadership does not know how to lead, merely that they must react, even if their reactions make the situation worse.

In Too Big To Fail? Or Too Big Not To Fail? I wrote:

What about that old saying warning one not to put all their eggs in one basket? Would heeding this have helped the “too big to fail guys” in fending off disaster?

Muller explains how this strategy, when carried to extremes had “…unintended and unanticipated negative consequences. The purported virtues mutated into vices.”

There was a belief in the financial sector that diversification of assets was a substitute for due diligence on each asset, so that if one bundled enough assets together, one didn’t have to know much about the assets themselves.

Agreeing With Maureen Dowd

Well, almost agreeing anyway. She’s advocating putting the screws to Wall Street’s Socialist Jet-Setters and I have to admit I’d like to see that too. At least to the current crop of nincompoops. The problem is that stupidity is not a crime and that’s all they are guilty of. So far.

I want to see them suffer much more than humiliation and ridicule, though I’m disappointed that Ms. Dowd thinks these gentlemen would be trustworthy enough to fill an ATM with cash.

Nor would I trust most of the Representatives and Senators to do such a job either. And that’s where I’m in disagreement with Ms. Dowd. “Let the show trials begin.” she writes. The show trials we have in this country are Congressional investigations and that’s like asking the Mafia to turn over one of its own. I’m not interested in sacrificial lambs, I’m interested in actual reform. Trials before juries of their peers, with the understanding that their peers are average Americans, whether they want to believe that or not

Let’s wish Andrew Cuomo, New York’s attorney general, good luck in his investigation of the $4 billion in bonuses paid as Merrill Lynch was failing.

ThinkHost: Pretends To Provide Webhosting, Pretends To Be Green

My LittleSister can’t get to her website dependably. Neither can I. Bet you can’t either. Nobody could yesterday. The really huge problem for LittleSister is that she can’t even get into backend to point the domain name somewhere else and just move the site.

Thing is, the tech support at ThinkHost is just horrible. Back in October, she opened a support ticket about a specific issue. It was something she’d always been able to do with other hosting providers with a few clicks – additional FTP functionality. That’s so easy on the three providers I’ve used that even I can do it.

Like a good customer, she went to their Knowledge Base for information. She found they suggest using a virtualFTP thingie (whatever that is) and that ThinkHost would set it up for a fee and it would then triple her monthly hosting fee.

The funny part is that they finally answered her original question after 15 days of telling her they couldn’t. This was after a message from tech support telling her how to cancel her account if she wasn’t happy with their service.

Now, I’ve got to let you know that I would never have signed up with this hosting service in the first place. And yeah, LittleSister knows that. She’s OK with me bursting into laughter within seconds of viewing the homepage.

What made me laugh? The logo tag: powered by wind and sun. Of course that explained LittleSister’s problem! She lives in Scotland and probably hasn’t seen the sun in several days. Yes, this is nonsense, but it’s just the way my mind works. Then again, ThinkHost is based in Portland OR and I’m wondering how much sun they’ve had recently too.

The site says “we provide world class hosting powered by renewable energy. let’s change the world together — join us today.” That is misleading because it is, of course, impossible. What they are doing (and is discussed on their site, so they’re not trying to hide it) is buying renewable energy tags, which sound a lot like carbon credits which have always struck me as similar to complex financial instruments, ie., useless and worthless paper.

Not that there’s not money to be made on carbon credits — my father owns timberland and has been approached with offers to buy his carbon credits. His scam-o-meter alerted him to the fact they don’t really make sense and he didn’t sell because he didn’t want to be involved with scammers on any side of the scam.

To LittleSister, this green thing sounded good. She is a good-hearted person and wants to do things in a way that is best for the ecology. And she’s a progressive and we agree on very little politically. But durnit, she’s my sister and she was scammed and that really irritates me.

I have little doubt that the collective at ThinkHost thinks they are doing good and no doubt at all they are trying. If they want to succeed, they are first going to have to refine that little thing about “world class” hosting. It doesn’t mean leaving your customers in the dark to save electricity.

What I do not believe for one minute is that the “green” and “progressive” angles are not marketing tools. When someone signs up for hosting with ThinkHost, they are buying conscience relief; psychological carbon credits. They are paying higher (in my opinion, at least) prices for the hosting because the company is in political agreement with them, plants a tree for each customer and gives progressive non-profits discounted hosting.

OK, that’s a bit snarky, but geez… I can’t help it! (sorry LittleSister). But you agree that non-profits are not helped by poor service and technical support. I know you do.

It occurs to me that these greenies may be simply capitalists/opportunists with a niche product designed to empty the pockets of greenies and progressives. Except they picked on my sister. Nobody should pick on my sister, ya know?

I’m through. For now. If you are in the market for web hosting, please overlook ThinkHost. How green can a site be if their service increases one’s desire to throw things which will then have to be replaced?

‘Tis The Tipping Season

Yahoo has a filler article on how much to tip that’s headlined:

10 Workers to Tip This Season — When and How to Say Thanks.

Just let me say they’ve got it all wrong. They list 10 jobs where tips are customary and considered part of the salary, with suggestions on what to tip under ordinary circumstances. It’s merely a generic “help” article with a seasonal headline.

If you have a regular bartender, by all means add a few extra bucks on Christmas Eve. Same with a regular hairstylist or waitress.

But what about those people that perform a service for you on a regular basis that do not customarily receive tips? These are the ones I like to tip during this season. The first that comes to mind are those picking up the garbage at my house every week.

Imagine life in the city without them. Ugh. Gross. So put them on your Christmas list this year. We started thinking about this several years ago, beginning with a couple of bottles of cold water during a heatwave. Since then, we’ve shown up with hot coffee or hot chocolate during the winter, or a tin of cookies. Now, every year, on the last pickup before Christmas there’s an envelope (actually 3, since that’s how many man the truck).

From their reaction, and the gratitude they show us year ’round, I don’t think this happens to them very often. For example, we could get a fine for leaving our cans on the street after 7pm the day of pickup. We seldom have to worry about this, as they return our cans far enough up the driveway to keep us out of trouble.  

They feel good, we feel good. What could be better?

What I’m Reading Tonight

Assistant Village Idiot has over the past several months intrigued me with references to this author and I finally ordered one of his books.

A not-so-random quote from p. 19:

Almost no one can conceal his emotions. Behavioral scientists believe that one of the main reasons why people become leaders is not from what skills they seem to possess, but rather from what extremely superficial impression they make on other through hardly perceptible physical signals — what we call today “charisma,” for example. The biology of the phenomenon is now well-studied under the subject heading “social emotions.”

Meanwhile some historian will “explain” the success in terms of, perhaps, tactical skills, the right education, or some other theoretical reason seen in hindsight. In addition, there seem to be curious evidence of a link between leadership and a form of psychopathology (the sociopath) that encourages the non-blinking, self-confident, insensitive person to rally followers.

(paragraph break added for online readability)

Back to the book now… I’m sure I’ll find more to share with you later.

What Bernanke, the Fed, and the Treasury Should Do

They should listen to “real” people instead of Congress. (Did you ever wonder if one has to be one can short of a six-pack to be a politician?)

See Dean’s Forum Wide-Ranging Discussion of Financial Crisis, Taxpayer-Funded Rescue Bill – full video or clip from the University of Texas McCombs School of Business blog – McCombs Today.

Then scroll down the comments (7th one) and read what Economics Professor Brandl has to say:  

Bernanke, the Fed and the Treasury have to make it clear where the “bailouts” are going to stop.  This will help to put a floor under the financial markets and decrease uncertainty.  They need to be more transparent and clear as to who will be and who won’t be saved.  The piecemeal approach they are following is not working.  Also this “drawing of the line in the sand” should be coordinated with policymakers in other OECD countries as well as Russia and India.  Notice, I deliberately left out China.

Structuring the bailout as buying of assets was a mistake.  Instead the Treasury should have injected capital into the banks and taken an equity stake in return.  This would have punished stockholders in these firms by diluting their ownership stake.  This would also give the Treasury power in setting executive compensation at these firms.  Is this socialism?  No, it is a step in internalizing the fiduciary responsibility these firms have to the broader financial markets and economy.  The current “leaders” of these firms have demonstrated they are incapable of performing this role satisfactory.

The Treasury should be buying the mortgages of people and families who were truly victims and there are many.  But, the Treasury should not be using taxpayer money to bailout real estate speculators or those who should have know better as to what they were getting themselves into with these sub-prime and Alt-A mortgages.  But how does the Treasury make this distinction?  They need to set up some system, with oversight, to do this.  A mortgage-based RTC is what is needed.

Oh, yeah… remember the Resolution Trust Corporation? Why not use a model that worked fairly well?

Since the bailout has been structured as it is, Paulson should have named someone to run it, and the buying of bank assets, who has a great deal of experience and credibility.  Potential names include:

Bill Gross, Chief Investment Office at Pimco, who the Washington Post described as “the nation’s best-known bond-fund manager.”

Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors

Don Powell, former head of the FDIC and famed Texas banker

Glenn Hubbard, Dean of the Columbia Business School, former head of the Council of Economic Advisors

So who did Paulson pick?  A 35 year old former Goldman Sachs underling named Neel Kashkari. Needless to say, this was not a great confidence building move.

Once the current liquidity crisis ends the Fed, Treasury and the new President are going to have to put in place measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  Among the things they need to consider should be:

  • Overhaul of the financial regulatory system.  Paulson’s idea on this in the spring was a first (but bad) attempt to do this.
  • Ensure high quality regulators.  This means paying a decent salary to attract well educated and trained “bank examiners.”  The Fed, FDIC and other regulators need to pay salaries of say $125,000 a year to attract the best and the brightest if we expect them to correctly “oversee” sophisticated financial firms.
  • Establish the “rules of the game” for future bailouts.  If any entity is going to be labeled as “too big to fail” who is going to pay “the price” for the bailout?  What will that price be?  My suggestion is to do the following:  make it clear to the board of directors as well as the executives of financial firms, that if the firm they control receives federal government assistance these people will pay personally.  That means, if you run a TBTF firm and that firm requires a government funded bailout, the Federal Government will seize your home, retirement funds, children’s trust funds and demand repayment of your salary for the last 5 years.  This is called internalizing the externality on a personal level.

These are only a few of the things that should be done.  Here is hoping the discussion continues long after the current crisis ends.

The above is also on Professor Brandl’s Macroeconomic Updates page (for now). I think you have to be a UT student or alumni or know a secret “hook ’em” handshake to subscribe to the email list.

Sphincters Of Steel

Dominic Lawson: Democrat fingerprints are all over the financial crisis

Of all the characteristics of a successful politician, none is more essential than bare-faced cheek. Never has this been more evident than in the past fortnight, as senior Democrat members of the US legislature have sought to lay all the blame for the country’s financial crisis on the executive arm of Government and Wall Street.Neither of these two institutions is blameless – far from it. Yet when I see such senior Democrats as Barney Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Christopher Dodd, Chairman of the Senate’s Banking Committee, play the part of avenging angels – well, I can only stand in silent awe at the sheer tight-bottomed nerve of it. These are men with sphincters of steel.

Once again, have supposed “do-gooders” hurt the ones they profess to love and help?

The saddest outcome of all this within America – apart from the crippling cost to the nation’s taxpayers – is that the very people the Democrats had intended to help will be the biggest victims: for many years to come banks will demand the most stringent terms for mortgages to the least well off.

We can hope that won’t be true, but even if it is — if one cannot afford the mortgage payment, it’s better they be denied.

via Classical Values

Experts And Idiots

I’ve been asking in comments on various blogs why the raters of MBS (mortgage backed securities) were not more on the hook than they seemed to be.

If you have an expert, a supposedly unbiased expert telling you that this is a good investment, should you question their motives?

Apparently so.

Read An Expert-Induced Bubble.

I still think that while the creation of Fannie Mae was a good idea 70 years ago, it should have been phased out instead of encouraged to grow. In every instance where its growth has been phenominal, it’s been a Democrat controlled Congress that has spurred it on. Note that I am not blaming Democrat or Republican presidents, but Congress.

Note also, that neither party is capable of always getting its way even if it is in the majority. Everything is ultimately bipartisan to some extent.

Finally, this entire fiasco is a good time to review whether government programs can improve the financial well-being of poor people, regardless their color. It is also a time to examine the playing of the “race card” every time regulation, oversight, or cutbacks are called for.