Friday, September 29, 2006

Legal highs
Tom Smith

There are scores, and potentially hundreds, of psychoactive substances, many plant based, that are legal (for now) and said to be gaining in popularity.  Apparently there is some at least suggestive evidence that legal recreational drugs reduce the demand for illegal drugs. 

September 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The Irish Economic Miracle
Mike Rappaport

What caused the Irish economic miracle?  Reuven Brenner explains:

Here’s what Ireland did — or had to do — to attract this wave of talent and ambition to its shores.

To begin, the obvious: In 1986, Ireland slashed spending in areas such as health expenditures, education, agricultural spending, roads and housing, and the military, while abolishing agencies such as the National Social Services Board, the Health Education Bureau, and regional development organizations. By 1993, government non-interest spending declined to 41 percent of GNP, down from a high of 55 percent of GNP in 1985. Subsequently, it significantly lowered corporate tax rates to 12.5 percent, at a time when the lowest corporate rates in Europe were 30 percent and U.S. rates stood at 35 percent. Since 2004, Ireland also has offered a 20 percent tax credit on research and development.

But the true miracle came when, due to these policy changes, Ireland attracted capital and pools of ambitious young people from around the globe. By now, Ireland has one of the youngest populations in the Western world.

Between 1995 and 2000, 250,000 people migrated to Ireland (about half of Irish ancestry), which had in 1996 a population of only 3.6 million. Ireland later allowed, along with Britain and Sweden, unrestricted migration to its labor markets from the 10 countries which joined the EU in 2004.  Since then the number of people of Irish origin migrating to Ireland has diminished. However, more than 130,000 Poles now live there and, according to recent reports, 10,000 Eastern Europeans arrive every month, on average. A young Polish immigrant to Ireland was recently quoted saying, “If you have ambition in Poland, you come to Ireland.”

I remember being in Germany in the 1980s, when Irish kids would go there to try to get jobs.  Now the travel goes in the opposite direction.  Every Democrat (and many Republicans including President Bush) should be asked about the Irish miracle and how their own policies compare with these.

September 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What Does Carl Icahn Have In Mind for Federated Department Stores (and Marshall Field's)?
Gail Heriot

Well, I wondered if something like this would happen.  No retailer in the history of the world has ever prospered by enraging as many of its customers as Federated has over the last year or so.  There is no reason to believe that Federated will be an exception.  Now well-known "corporate raider" Carl Icahn has notified Federated that he "plans a filing under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act for clearance to acquire $113.4 million to $500 million of additional shares in Federated."

What does this mean?  I'm certainly no expert on these things.  (If you are, I'd love to hear your take.)  Maybe it doesn't mean squat.  He isn't obligated to follow through with his plan to obtain 5% of the corporation, much less obtain a controlling interest.  But if Carl Icahn is trying to gain control of Federated, it isn't because he thinks Federated's management is doing a wonderful job.  This is a man who became the 24th richest man in the country by figuring out which corporations are run by fools and self-dealers and moving in on them.  Now it looks like he may be gearing up to tap Federated for that honor. 

Loyal Right Coast readers know that I (not to mention thousands of other Marshall Field's shoppers) have been horrified by Federated's transformation of the profitable Marshall Field's into just another part of Macy's.  The transformation of Field's State Street Store--Chicago's grand cathedral of commerce--into a Macy's is especially dismaying.  Field's and Macy's are simply not equivalent--not in quality or in historic importance.  And certainly not in the hearts of Chicagoans and other Midwesterners.  I was also puzzled as to how Federated could hope to prosper by turning nearly every department store chain in the country into a Macy's--Filene's, Hecht's, Foley's, Robinsons-May, Famous-Barr and others, just in this latest round--even when it would mean that many malls across the country would have two Macy's.  As the Wall Street Journal reported it, Federated didn't seem to think this might be a problem.

I suppose it's possible that Carl Icahn is aware of the protests against the Macy-fication of Chicago, aware of the huge number of customers who have returned their shredded new Macy's cards to Federated, aware of the turmoil within Federated, aware of the empirical evidence that previously-loyal customers are staying away even in markets like Memphis, Atlanta, Seattle and Columbus where  Macy-fication had been thought to have been successful, and aware of CEO Terry Lundgren's reputation for being ... well ... uh ... thick-headed and ego-driven. 

One thing is for certain.  Icahn has a reputation for buying up companies and forcing them to sell off underperforming assets.  That's what he does.  Here's hoping he bundles the now-dormant Marshall Field's trademark, the leases on the former Marshall Field's stores and other Marshall Field's related assets and sell them to a retailing concern capable of restoring Marshall Field's (instead of just selling off the State Street real estate).  If he does that, he'll certainly be my white knight.

September 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Grade Inflation
Mike Rappaport

Stanley Kurtz discusses some ways to address grade inflation:

Restoring class rank is clearly one way to solve the problem of grade inflation. Under inflation, most grades are “compressed” at the top of the spectrum. Class rank would effectively restore a comparative curve. Opponents of class rank will complain that students with very similar grade averages are being pushed into different ranks. But that’s the point. Ranking defeats the strategy of bunching everyone’s grades at the top.

Yet disclosing class rank isn’t the only potential solution. Quota systems could also play a role. The could be limits to the number of A’s that could be assigned in a given class. And quotas could also be used to limit the number of honors graduates. In effect, limiting the total number of honors graduates, and keeping the usual three-level honors distinction (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude), would be a way of restoring class rank at the higher levels, without directly designating which students are in the lower ranks. If quotas for graduation honors were publicly adopted by a group of prestigious schools, it would create strong pressure on schools that refused to join the system.

Another way to defeat grade inflation is to include more information on transcripts. For example, beside a student’s course grade, a school could include the average grade in that course. This would expose and devalue the inflated grades in easy classes.

USD Law School actually does some of these things, although in recent years it has moved a bit in the wrong direction.

September 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Surveillance culture on the march
Tom Smith

Workplace monitoring of employee online activity -- there's more and more of it.

And spiders are more like spiderman than we realized, or vice versa.

September 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting paper on immigration and black employment and incarceration rates
Tom Smith

This is rather disturbing.

September 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Battle of the hermaphrodites
Tom Smith

When UCSC chose the banana slug as their mascot, they had no idea, one presumes, what they were doing.  Slugs, snails and other hermaphrodites have the most unbelievably bizarre sexual habits I can conceive of.  You can't make this stuff up.

. . . THAT darn Darwin.  He was a veritable font of politically incorrect thinking.

September 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hot world
Tom Smith

Global warming is heating up.  I'm convinced.  Ron Bailey now thinks the globe is warming.  San Diego had the third hottest summer on record this year.  The second or so was in the 1980's, but still.  I don't like hot weather.  Cool and sunny is the thing.  It's one thing to threaten the fate of life on earth, it's another to make me uncomfortable.  This has got to stop.

The answer is not for everybody to start using wind power or hamster generators.  Nor do I think American economic hari-kiri is the answer.  The answer is, yes, you guessed it, hundreds of state of the art nuclear power plants.  Hydrogen is dumb.  Ethanol is just a big conspiracy backed by ADM and subsidy drunk farmers.  But with nuclear power we could charge up batteries and keep the planet habitable for the next few thousand years.  Is it safe?  Don't ask me, but I bet it is, given that even realiably left, eco-sensitive journals such as Scientific American are now running articles with titles like New Nuclear Power Technology:  Really Safe or Really, Really Safe?  Nobody ever changes their minds, so all the old green hippie types will just have to die off before this can really move forward, but that is going to happen in the next 20 years or so.  Don't throw those sweaters out.

September 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Will the real ACLU please stand up?
Tom Smith

Showing my age with that title.  But, couldn't a strong argument be made that by squashing internal dissent, spying on employees, kicking out revisionistes, etc. etc. the ACLU is remaining faithful to its roots?  At the end of the day, my impression is that it is a hard left organization, and the Skokie affair was a deviation, which the ACLU leadership is determined not to repeat.  My one exposure to the leadership of the D.C. ACLU convinced me, back when I was a real lawyer, that those guys would be lucky to spell liberty right.  Not only that, but it had to be, and I say this with many years of Catholic education under my belt, the most humourless group of people I have ever encountered.

September 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gail Heriot

It is entirely possible that Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending as performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1972 is not the most beautiful music ever created by mortals.  But you can't prove it by me.  That it was written in 1914--not exactly a banner year for beautiful things--makes it all the lovelier.

September 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)