My absolute favorite comment came from mojo on the second page: “Concentrate, Ahmad! CONCENTRATE!”
December 31, 2008
So Crennel and Savage got fired for going 4-12. I’m down with canning Romeo; his decision making is terrible, especially when it comes to the end of a quarter, half, or game. I think firing Savage was a mistake. I see why Lerner did it: Savage was too much in the public eye for bad reasons, partially because Crennel has the personality of a jello mold, and I’m talking basic Jell-O, not your fancy multi-flavored Jell-Os. School cafeteria style Jell-O. On the other hand, Savage is a hell of a talent evaluator; he got us Shaun Rogers, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Brady Quinn, Joe Thomas, and so forth. Corey Williams hasn’t panned out (yet) and Donte’ Stallworth is an injury waiting to happen, but injuries gutted our wide receivers and quarterbacks this year; I can’t help but think a healthier team would have performed better. At least we now know Ken Dorsey isn’t the answer, unless the question is “Who was the quarterback for Miami when they lost to OSU in the national championship game?” He’s still in the NFL, unlike Craig Krenzel, but Krenzel is probably in med school and Dorsey’s a failure as an NFL quarterback.
The Browns asked Cowher, Cowher said he isn’t interested in coaching. He may be a no good liar; there are rumors of him going to the Jets or Bronc-fucks. Lerner, to his credit, wants the best and will pay for the best. Scott Pioli, of New England, is the leading GM candidate; he seems like a near lock to come to Cleveland. Coaches range from Kirk Ferentz at Iowa to Marty Schottenheimer to Mike Shanahan to current Pats o-coordinator Josh McDaniels to former Jets coach Eric Mangini. I’d prefer Schottenheimer, at this point, although Shanahan wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Pioli will get to choose his coach, unlike Savage. Savage will probably take another job and win a Super Bowl; he’s that good. I just hope Pioli and co. can do the same.
Bobby Jindal, in Louisiana, unveiled a Medicaid reform effort in 2007. Here is a short article on it. The upshot is that they are trying to increase the competitiveness of service providers and switch from a fee-for-service schedule (which gives incentives to maximize the number of services) to a per-patient schedule (which gives incentives to maximize the number of patients). This will cut Medicaid costs, probably in the neighborhood of 2-19% (as noted in the article).
It does not fix the structural problems inherent in Medicaid, though. But I do say that if I trust one politician to come up with a good and workable solution, Jindal’s probably that guy. So I’ll be looking forward to his next moves, as well as how this change affects Louisiana.
December 30, 2008
I’m finishing the first book for my dissertation, Peter Gattrell’s The Last Argument of Tsarism. He covers the Russian military-industrial complex prior to World War I and finds it lacking. Essentially, the Russian situation was a weird one. There were small clusters of private companies with foreign backing and technical expertise. They tended to make better products but were politically unreliable, so they rarely got the contracts before 1905. There were large state owned enterprises, who made low quality products but without the threat of foreigners gumming up the works, so they got all the contracts. I will focus on the aspects of his book that cover the navy, as that is my dissertation topic.
After 1905 and the defeat by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War, most of Russia’s navy sat at the bottom of the Pacific. They needed a new, more modern fleet, and only the private shipyards could really do it. Tsar Nicholas II had a huge hard-on for the Navy, but was afraid the growing bourgeoisie would demand even more representation, as the 1905 revolution really destroyed the credibility of the Tsar, and combined with the war, dragged the Empire into a recession. So the Tsar tried to get the best of both worlds; have foreigners finance and retool the state owned shipyards for the big projects (like battleships, his favorite) and let the private companies deal with smaller ships, like subs and torpedo boats. However, the state owned shipyards were usually in such bad shape that even foreign financing couldn’t help. The private industry got most of the ship building contracts, but gorged themselves on their new fortune, taking contracts they couldn’t fulfill and crippling their capacities in the long run for short run gains. This drove many of the smaller companies out of the market and let the bigger ones, like the Nevski Company and Noblelessner, run wild.
To make matters worse, when the private companies did get the contracts, they often sandbagged on projects, worried that once the contracts were done the workers would either organize or riot. As the Tsar poured money into private shipyards, he was getting very little bang for his buck (or rumble for his ruble, if you will) because finished battleships took a very long time to finish. The smaller ships did very well and were one of the great successes; it contributed to a definitive submarine culture in Russia that persists today.
When WWI kicked off, the Germans tore through the Baltic Fleet and the Ottomans closed the straits, leaving a considerable fleet penned up in the Black Sea. The Russian fleet was almost wiped out, again, because too many resources were spent much too thinly, with top of the line ships (relatively speaking) being operated by conscript sailors with minimal training or desire to be there.
The problem with privatizing defense, especially ship building, is that entry costs are obscenely high and every one is competing for one buyer — the government. Unlike arms or aircraft, it is difficult to find commercial applications for, say, aircraft carriers as opposed to bullets or planes. It forces the government and producer into an unhealthy incestuous relationship. Even if the firm diversifies to cover other areas, its bread and butter will be the government contracts and therefore most of their best personnel will go to those projects. By the same token, the government has little choice to go with other producers if the current firm doesn’t measure up; there usually aren’t any. Even if the government subsidizes a private company, which happens very frequently in the arms industry, there’s still a very long start up time and a long build time to finish the product.
If the firm is a really good one, like Northrup Grumman in the US, this isn’t such a bad problem to have. Northrup Grumman builds aircraft carriers, aircraft, nuclear subs, and more for the US Government and does quite well. But if the firm does a bad job, like NG did when they allegedly cut corners in aircraft manufacture in 1999, there’s no real alternative and no one to pick up the slack. NG has the biggest crane in the Western Hemisphere; it is doubtful any new company could easily build facilities to match.
How can a government break its dependence on one or two firms to build up fleets? A fully state owned enterprise may be the only real alternative here. The parts of an aircraft carrier are too big for even smaller producers to collaborate; it wouldn’t work as well as computers do, for example. If Western Digital wants to start manufacturing mice as well as hard drives, that’s easy. If Boeing wants to start manufacturing nuclear engines for aircraft carriers as well as jet engines, that’s a little trickier. It would involve a massive amount of capital and retooling to even start, and they’d have to rely heavily on outside expertise.
A fully state owned enterprise may be the best way to go. If you have to put all of your eggs in one basket, it is better to have complete control of the basket. It’s an imperfect solution — there is still the potential for shoddy workmanship. There are inherent problems with any state owned enterprise, but there is truly no free market for naval armaments. There aren’t enough competitors to justify a large scale private industry. You could have an international cartel building aircraft carriers and selling to the highest bidder, I suppose. But that cartel would have a complete monopoly and no government would fully trust them.
I’m not saying the US should nationalize Northrup Grumman. NG does a pretty good job with our navy, all things considered. There’s no need to rock the boat (pun non intended) when US naval superiority is still leaps and bounds ahead of Britain, who is the closest #2. But if the gap starts closing between the US and any other country, we will either need more shipbuilding firms to keep NG honest or state control of NG. And I don’t think the first is a realistic possibility.
Mario Rizzo has a rather curmudgeonly post arguing that the welfare state is unsustainable and so, to take a cue from our political elites, we should avoid a “disorderly” bankruptcy. But because there won’t be anyone around to bail out the federal government, we have to reform it now, before it’s too late. The end of the world is not nigh, but the end of the welfare state as we know it appears to be coming. The only good thing is that, because of demographic and productivity reasons, it’ll hit Europe and Japan before it hits us. The bad thing, though, is that I doubt the incentives will be in place to correct course, to the extent that we will be able to do so.
December 29, 2008
- Tyler Cowen criticizes Paul Krugman’s weak attack on bailout opponents. Read the comments to that as well.
- Ohio’s governor is looking for a handout. I would say the same thing to state governments that I would say to companies: hard cheese. Ohio’s in fairly dire economic straits for two reasons. First, it is one of the worst states in the union to invest in due to backwards tax rates and regulations. Second, as the article points out, Medicaid is a huge (and still growing) part of the Ohio budget. Ohio was one of the states that used its tobacco money to extend Medicaid services and now that we’re in a downturn, Medicaid payments will actually go _up_ because more individuals will become eligible for Medicaid services. This is unsustainable and a bailout won’t fix the underlying structural problems. Medicaid as it currently exists is not viable, as the incentives are structured for more and more use. For the states, they get 60% back from the federal government, so they have an incentive to over-allocate Medicaid dollars and push their Medicaid clients to use more services. But once the states have trouble covering their 40%, to scale back Medicaid expenditures means a greater than 1:1 drop in allocation for Medicaid-eligible services because that 60% from the feds gets re-allocated and used again for Medicaid services.
- Speaking of bad policy decisions involving Ohio, the John Locke Foundation gives the Buckeye State an F grade when it comes to taxpayers’ return on investment. 10 states grade out with an A and three more get a B+. Ohio is one of 10 F grades. The one place where Ohio grades out as an average state (as opposed to in the bottom quintile) is road conditions, which made me laugh. Or pity other states’ roads.
- The UAW has already thrown out their small concession that they agreed to in order to get a bailout. Let them fail. We don’t need to subsidize the UAW or incompetent managements.
December 28, 2008
Tonight marks the final night of Chanukah. Here is my Channukiyah in full glory.
Somehow, I was able not to burn down my apartment during the entire process…
Brian Knight has a short video describing how to use the Checksum function in SQL Server to determine if values have been changed. One of the applications I am working on requires determining what changed between two revisions of a form and displaying that new information specially. This seems like a nice way of doing that at the data access level rather than at the business object level.
- Deep Throat is dead. Stratfor has an essay on the long-term effects of the FBI leaking information on Nixon White House shenanigans to the media. Wretchard has more analysis. The worst part about the whole affair is that the general public didn’t have any clue (nor did Richard Nixon, for that matter) that this was all an internal political game.
- See today’s technology through yesterday’s ads. I particularly like Mr. Nokia’s Mobile Telephonic Communicator. If Queen Victoria uses it, how could it possibly be bad?
- College is ridiculously expensive. The question is, why? The answer is, there are a few reasons.
Reason #1: financial aid shifts the demand curve to the right but keeps the supply curve the same. This results in a greater quantity demanded and higher overall prices. To put it in common sense language, if everybody gets $10,000 in grants (or low-interest loans) from the federal government, what are colleges going to do? Raise tuition $10,000…
Reason #2: signaling. You need a bachelor’s degree to do almost anything nowadays, in part because of how bad public schooling is in the US. This increases the demand well above what it would otherwise be, and increased demand will, with a relatively fixed supply curve, increase prices. In addition, where you go to school does make a difference, not necessarily in terms of education, but in terms of networking and university-based prestige.
- Samuel Huntington passed away yesterday. The original “clash of civilizations” curmudgeon was featured in this Robert Kaplan piece from December of 2001. Mark Steyn, to commemorate Huntington, notes that man’s culture is more determinate than economic circumstances.
December 27, 2008
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these…
- Backups are important. I thought about appending a “but” there and continuing on with my point, but it’s important enough to stand as its own sentence rather than just a lead-in… At any rate, sometimes you need to make a SQL Server backup but you still want to keep the automatic incrementals going as before. This article shows you how easily to do that.
- I haven’t had much luck with database unit testing. I’ll give DbFit a try, but the problem is that when I do it, it just seems like there’s too much effort for not enough gain. I’m probably just being lazy, though.
- The other day, I had to remember how to change a web.config connection string that had already been set in a higher web.config. This MSDN post shows you how: <remove name=”KEY” />.
- At work, I am going to shift into a hybrid developer/DBA role (which I’m kind of in right now), but because I’ve always focused on the development end of SQL Server and not the maintenance end, I’m looking at taking some courses. Microsoft has some plans and offers, but if there are any DBAs (or hybrids like me) out there reading this, I’d be happy to get some suggestions.
- One of the things I like about SQL Server Reporting Services is how easy it is to display hierarchical data. Here is a sample article, and the key is just to group on a particular ID. Even if you have an indefinite number of levels of recursion and two “base types” (like I had), you would just create a table, insert a group for the top-level base type, and put the bottom-level base type in the details row.
- If you have to strip HTML tags from text, here is a relatively simple regular expression. If you use angle brackets in the text, you’ll have to change the regex a bit, but it worked just fine in my case.