Monthly Archives: March 2011

I actually went up to Redstone without a substitute teaching gig. I was looking forward to actually having time to spend up there rather than spending most of my day at school. On the agenda was a stop at the Copper Cafe, a trip to Walmart to pick up a Site2Store order and fill a new glasses prescription, and heading over to to Snippy-Snip to get a haircut. As it would turn out, I arrived at about the time I would have gotten out of school anyway. I figured that since I didn’t have to get up at 5:30am and didn’t have a day full of trying to manage a classroom, I would not need as much time at the Copper Cafe to unwind. As it would turn out, I didn’t care and stayed there until close anyway. So that had me getting out at 6pm and rushing to try to get everything done.

When I got there, I looked at the hours of the eye center and the hair cut place. I don’t typically get my hair cut at Walmart, but figured I might this time just to consolidate my chores into a single location. The eye center was open until 8 (an hour later than usual) and the hair place until 9. Perfect. I went to Site2Store first, where there was nobody managing the station. I waited there for about twenty minutes before someone coming off break noticed me there and (though it wasn’t her department) kindly offered to help me out. She didn’t know what she was doing, though, and so it took me half an hour to realize that the stuff hadn’t arrived yet. By and large, Walmart was not living up to the convenience that I have come to expect from it.

This was compounded by the fact that the eye-center was not open until 8, but rather was closing at 7. Fortunately, the lady there was really nice and stayed after to help me order the new pair of glasses. I had initially intended to get two pairs, a regular pair and prescription sunglasses. My current glasses are transition lenses, which I like okay but Clancy thinks looks impossibly goofy. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my sensitive eyes really do need all the help I can get to protect them from the Giant Ball of Torment in the sky. So I got another pair of transition-lensed glasses. Maybe a pair of prescription sunglasses at a later date. The cool thing was that the frames I chose were all of $9. It came down between a $9 pair of Puritans vs an $84 pair of Wrangler (apparently, they make glasses frames). I prefered the latter, but not to the tune of $75. We’ll see how reliable the Puritans are. Puritan actually makes pretty decent slacks. They outlast Dockers so long as the button thread doesn’t become loose.

There was a 30-45 minute wait at the hair-care center, so I took care of some shopping while I waited. Apparently, they don’t sell my prefered boxers anymore. I wasn’t sure if they were Hanes of Fruit-of-the-Loom, but I previously got one of those two and liked them and then the other and didn’t like them. I felt inside the bags to see which ones were the more clothy, but both were made of the same stuff from the ones I didn’t like. And none of them had the neat designs (both now only offer plaid and camoflouge, it would seem). I’ll live. I got a couple grocery-type items that the Callie Safeway was without, saving quite a bit along the way (even accounting for the Safeway card). I don’t shop at Walmart for the low prices, generally, but it’s a nice benefit. On groceries in particular. With that, a huge container of laundry detergent, some toilet paper, and a poster frame, I was done and ready for my haircut.

Having never gotten my haircut at Walmart before, but having been an off-and-on Walmart shopper for some time, I expected two things from my haircut: it would probably not be very good, but it would probably be pretty cheap. I was wrong on both counts. It was a full $2.50 more than I would have paid at Snippity, and it was actually a really good hair cut performed with minimal guidance on my part (I usually have to request more be taken off the back at least once and that my sideburns be evened out, she did both without prompting). With the tip it was $18.50, but I’ll take that over a bad hair cut for $15.

Category: Market

Unfortunately, I can’t link to the original article, but a long while back Joan Didion wrote a blockbuster piece on the creation of HOV Lanes. From Jon Last:

Caltrans decided that it would prefer to eliminate 7,800 of those vehicles—that was, literally, their precisely-stated goal—by forcing people to carpool. Thus the Diamond Lanes reserved 25 percent of the available highway space for 3 percent of the vehicles. As you might imagine, pandemonium ensued.

Traffic on the Santa Monica ground to a halt. The number of accidents increased by about 400 percent. The public flipped out. Lawsuits were filed; people scattered nails in the Diamond Lanes in protest. Apparently, people thought that Caltrans was trying to surreptitiously make their lives harder to achieve some statist social-engineering target. Why would they have ever gotten that idea?

Well, for starters, Caltrans leaned on the municipal engineer of L.A.’s surface streets. They didn’t have jurisdiction over these local roads, so they wanted him to create a “confused and congested situation” (their words) on the surface roads so that drivers would be forced onto the gridlocked freeways. And Caltrans knew that the freeways would be gridlocked, because that’s the way they wanted them.

From the other coast (and thirteen years ago), Joe Sharkey wrote:

In New Jersey, many motorists are annoyed because they’re suddenly faced with longer commutes on Routes 80 and 287 and in the newly opened stretch of the Turnpike where the HOV lanes opened in December. But often, their ire is directed at the next lane, not the highway planners.

”People punish others for using the HOV lane,” Mrs. Sanchelli said with a nervous laugh. ”In the HOV, you’re all the way over in the left. And a lot of times, they won’t let you back in. They’re brutal! Usually, I get off at the Morristown 287 exit on 80, but when they don’t let me over, I have to go down to the Lake Hiawatha exit a mile down, which throws me off by 10 to 15 minutes.”

She said she would join a real car pool but, ”I don’t know anybody around me whose hours fit. I couldn’t even car pool with my husband, who goes in at 7 A.M.”

Which really is the biggest problem with carpooling. Especially sprawling cases like Colosse where husbands and wives leave in different directions at different times. Back when I was living in Cascadia and commuting through awful traffic to get from Soundview to Enterprise City, I seriously considered looking into joining a carpooling club. But ultimately, I couldn’t because my hours varied too much. Even in jobs with more standard hours, sometimes I would want to hang around work city a while before going home. There are a whole lot of reasons that our lives cannot revolve around carpooling.

There has been a recent shift away from HOV to HOT (High-Occupancy Toll) lanes. Combining the two seems like a pretty good fit. Allowing those willing to pay more to get through quicker seems like a reasonably good “voluntary tax.” When I was working at Wildcat back in Colosse, my commute involved either driving on a toll-road or sticking to the free access road. Most of the time I did the latter, though when I was running late or in a hurry, it was really nice to have the former option. I am pretty indifferent to the notion of HOV lanes, but if we’re going to have them, stuffing them in with toll lanes seems like a good way to go.

Category: Road, Statehouse

In my previous post about sports in LA (and elsewhere), Maria commented:

LA is an overwhelmingly Mexican town and they are not especially fond of hockey, although they love baseball and soccer.

No doubt about soccer, but I’m not as sure about baseball.

Back when I was living in Estacado and working at Monmark/Soyokaze, some local businesspeople were getting together to try to raise money to buy an NFL team and relocate it to Santomas. I commented to a couple of coworkers that it seemed to me that if the city were able to support a big-league team in any support, it would be baseball.

Why? My coworkers asked.

About half of my coworkers were of Mexican descent (parents or grandparents). It was a bit awkward. The reason was obvious to me: the city has a huge Hispanic population. Hispanics love baseball, no? And Mexicans are Hispanic, so…

They had no idea what I was talking about. They understood what I meant when I said that Hispanics love baseball and didn’t take any offense at that observation or anything, but they basically said while it’s big in South America and elsewhere, it’s not so big in Mexico (or at least among Mexican-Americans).

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the latinization of baseball isn’t occurring from Mexico as much as other Hispanic countries. Comparatively few baseball players are from Mexico. The Hispanic players that come to mind tend to be from the other Hispanic countries (and country-equivalents). It turns out that Mexico isn’t even in the top 5 and if you look at the number of players as a portion of each country’s population, they aren’t even in the top 10. Also, at least a couple of high-profile Hispanic cities either don’t have a minor league team or have one in a lower division than you would expect given the city’s population.

Incidentally, without looking it up, can anyone guess what the top 5 countries are? Since the as-a-portion-of-the-population is skewed by a few players in sparsely-populated countries, we’ll go with straight numbers. Non-country countries, like Puerto Rico and Taiwan, count as countries.

-{Note: This post is about Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Hispanics, and sports. Nothing beyond that.}-

Category: Theater

The Sacramento Kings are apparently moving to Anaheim. Kris Hughes apparently thinks that this is doomed to failure because the Kings are failing, the Clippers aren’t really succeeding, and LA has enough teams.

As I have mentioned previously, I think that the professional sports leagues are past-due for an expansion and I think that expansion includes second and third teams in some cities. But I find it hard to disagree with Hughes on this. My only criticism* is that they’re really less a third Los Angeles team and more an Anaheim team. When it comes to baseball and basketball, intra-city regional designations matter. The teams play 82 or 162 games a year. It’s not like football where it’s worth driving two hours from Milwaukee to Green Bay or making the trek from New York to New Jersey is going to be worth it because it’s one of only 16 games, all of which are somewhat important (albeit not important enough). Accessibility matters more because you need fans to come out to more games. Really, it seems to me that the Clippers ought to be moving out to Anaheim rather than pulling in a team from somewhere else.

It’s also worth noting that football, baseball, and basketball have different fan dynamics more generally. Baseball, due in part to the sheer number of games, needs to be in as major of urban areas as possible. And so when you look at the MSAs, it’s easily baseball that sticks most to the most urban of areas. In football, you don’t need population so much as a fanatical fanbase. So Green Bay (with some help from Milwaukee), Buffalo, New Orleans, and Jacksonville get teams while they’re not big enough to in (most) other sports. Revenue-sharing has also probably played a role in Buffalo continuing to host the Bills. Basketball, on the other hand, tends to do really well where there is little competition**. Some of the smallest cities to host professional sports, such as Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City, do well enough with an NBA team (and the NBA touched ground first on cities that have since gotten teams in other sports). But erstwhile middle-large cities with teams in the other major sports, such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Kansas City, go without.

Los Angeles (and Anaheim) is(/are) famously without a football team, but they have two baseball teams, two other basketball teams, two hockey teams, and a lot of other things to do. It does seem like a stretch. I would think a greater likelihood of success in some other area without other teams. Or, if you really want to be in a large city with other sports teams, San Diego remains the largest city in the country without a team in each of the three major sports.

But I guess Los Angeles has its own appeal. I wonder, to some extent, whether this is at all related to the Angels’ attempts to disown Anaheim in favor of being the most awkwardly-named team in professional sports since the Bossier City/Shreveport Battle Wings. Who wants to be associated with some bush league city when you can be associated with Los Angeles!!. Or, since they would be calling themselves the Anaheim Royals*** rather than Los Angeles somethings-or-other.

* – Okay, I would also criticize the notion of the Dodgers as a “national team.” The Raiders, too, though they were more of a national team when they were in Los Angeles. I’m not sure of causation there, though, because Bo Jackson helped a lot with that.

** – The NBA has six teams in cities without any of the other Big Three (seven if you include Orlando), the NFL has three (four if you include Green Bay), and Major League Baseball has none.

*** – I have to think that they’re the Royals to avoid confusion with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. One wonders how St. Louis managed to have two Cardinals at the same time.

Category: Elsewhere, Theater

The Trumans are now a two-car household again. I didn’t sell Cray, the 2-door late 90’s Escort that carried me through Cascadia. We didn’t trade it in when we purchased the Forester because I didn’t really want to complicate the sale and that I could do better selling it myself. Also, we didn’t know where the title was. But then I found the title and… every time I was going to sell it, something prevented me from doing so. Typically, it involved a problem we were having the Camry door. Between the constant battery problems we were having with Cray and the Camry’s door problems, we had three cars between us and I was still sometimes having to drive her to and from work. We got the Camry’s door fixed, but even then wanted to wait until the next freeze to make sure that the door was fixed as advertised.

Then the pieces fell into place and the sale began. I put a sign on the door with FOR SALE and $900 OBO in big type as well as more information in smaller type (CD/MP3/Aux player, 120k miles, needs new battery). I just parked it in front of the house, figuring that if it didn’t sell soon I would park it on Main Street. I was about at the point when I got a call about it.

I had envisioned selling to car to either a high schooler as their first car or a struggling college student. The potential buyer was more of the latter, minus the college bit. She took it for a test-drive (the battery fortunately worked) and then a few days later had her boyfriend take a look at it. She didn’t have the money on hand. I told her that if she could put down $100 deposit, I would hold it for her. She was very much the type of person that I wanted to sell the car to. She and her boyfriend looked at the car as though it were positively new.

They gave me the deposit on Sunday and it was as though a switch went off. Suddenly I was getting calls right and left on it. Offers for $900 on the spot rather than $750 as soon as she could scrape the money together. One guy who wanted to buy it for his grandson. Another whose wife apparently knows Clancy. A couple that I didn’t return. But… I’d told the girl that I would hold it for her. It was looking a little spotty there for a while, but she came through by the middle of the next week.

So now Cray has a good home with someone that will appreciate it. I felt better about that when I talked to the guy who was going to buy it for his grandson and he said that his grandson wasn’t interested in anything old or smaller than a pickup. So if I’d sold it on the spot, it would have gone to someone that hated it. I don’t know why such things matter to me, but they do. So long as it actually works. I’d rather give it away to someone that can’t afford it and won’t appreciate it than sell it to someone that would dismantle it. Which is why I have 8 or so desktops in the computer room and a couple of working but not particularly useful old laptops.

Category: Road

So the United States has performed its first full facial transplant:

Dallas Weins and his family have documented his journey from injury to face transplant on his website,, including photos that show Dallas prior to the accident, and his recovery from the injury, through skin grafts and ultimately, the face transplant.

No photos have been released of Weins post surgery, but as he recovers it is likely that he will be seen in photos and interviews. He won’t look like he used to, and he won’t look like his donor, but he will be a unique combination of the two. While the surgery won’t restore his vision, his goals are far more simple: smiling and feeling kisses from his young daughter.

At least a few people have responded that it’s a waste of resources. I tend to disagree. I mean, right now it’s ridiculously expensive because it’s groundbreaking stuff, but this is how a lot of things start. And it’s not like he’s doing it to go from okay to great looking. He’s going from terrible looking to less terrible looking. It’s a big difference that I doubt the normal looking among us can really appreciate.

It does bring to light the question of who is footing the bill. I’ve heard a couple of different stories. The local paper cited the PPACA (also known as Obamacare):

Wiens had no health insurance when he was injured. Medicaid paid for several surgeries after the accident until his disability payments put him over Medicaid’s income limit.

But because of the reform law’s dependent coverage requirement — which says dependent children are eligible for coverage under a parent’s employer-sponsored plan until they reach the age of 26 — the 25-year-old Wiens was able to obtain health insurance under his father’s plan.

But a couple of sources have said something different:

The surgery is being paid for by a $3.4 million Defense Department grant intended to advance research into the procedure for use on wounded military members, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

Category: Newsroom

So apparently AT&T is looking to buy out T-Mobile. A while back I wrote that the cellphone industry was actually a good example of mergers benefiting the customer. Having four national carriers is better than having a whole bunch of regional ones with roaming fees and spottier coverage. Jack Shafer makes a similar argument in favor of the merger:

Before you start howling—”Now there will be just three wireless companies to screw me instead of four”—calm down long enough to read this July 2010 57-page report published by the Government Accountability Office. It found that a decade of industry consolidation had brought lower prices to consumers—”approximately 50 percent less than 1999 prices”—and better coverage. Also, the GAO found, consolidation provided “smoother, more uninterrupted service” in some areas and reduced roaming fees for many customers.

Plus, today’s wireless devices can do things the 2000 versions couldn’t dream of. Over the past decade, as the industry winnowed itself down through mergers and acquisitions, wireless phones became all-purpose devices, able to run thousands of applications and make speedy connections to the Internet. Many smartphones stowed in consumers’ pockets and purses are more powerful than the desktop computers of just a few years ago, making them so popular that Deloitte predicted last year that sales of smartphones in 2011 would just about equal those of desktop and laptop PCs. The appeal of fancy handsets—not underlying networks—drives competition in the wireless industry now, the GAO study states.

And yet… and yet… I still can’t bring myself to viewing it as a pretty bad idea.

Pursuant to my previous post on the matter, I’m still not opposed to mergers. Arapaho is actually getting a boost as AT&T buys out one of the regional carriers. AT&T will be able to offer better service at an equivalent price. It’ll be a win, as far as I am concerned, as AT&T customers will be have more access to the state of Arapaho and Galaxy’s customers will get to be a part of a national network. But AT&T and T-Mobile are both national networks. Two of the only four. The only two GSM carriers. If T-Mobile users wanted to be a part of AT&T’s network, by and large they can simply join AT&T. If AT&T customers want cheaper plans, they may have the option of switching to T-Mo if they’re in an applicable area.

Given the nature of the business, it’s a lot to ask for if you want more than a handful of major competitors. But for markets to work, you need choices. More than two. More than three if possible. And in this case, it is possible. T-Mobile is making money.

On the other hand, here are some reasons I might be wrong:

    While the consolidation used to be good for the nationalizing of networks, it could be good now due to spectrum scarcity. AT&T has the nation covered, but they (like Verizon and the others) will be upgrading to 4G. That, combined with more users, may mean that there isn’t really as much room for four as I would have guessed.

  1. The government could lean on AT&T to make some much needed changes about contracts and phone carriage agreements that could be for the betterment of the industry.
  2. Though pretty much everybody is saying that this dooms Sprint, they could end up a winner in all this. They’d be the only national discount carrier standing. If they can get out from under their customer service reputation, it could me three major carriers rather than two major, one B-minor, and one C-minor national carriers, which is what we have now.
  3. It gives me another reason to hate Apple and the iPhone.

Category: Market

Last week Web wrote about a case of a bully fighting back and getting punished for it. This brings up a subject that I’ve written about in the past. I thought I had written a post about it, but if so I can’t find it.

It was the policy of my school system that anybody participating in a fight, regardless of who started it and who “won” it, was to receive equal punishment. The policy in the Redstone school district seems to be similar, though it does appear to leave more discretion in the hands of the administration.

When I was in the 6th grade, I was the target of a 7th grader. In the ebb and flow of growth spurts, I was not at my largest at this point. I was bigger than this kid, but he was taller. He was relentless in the psychological taunts. At one point, I said something relatively meager in response and the next thing I knew I was Target #1. It wasn’t long before I was goaded into what would have been a fight. In the hallway outside the PE room, he and I were lined up and it was obvious what was going to happen.

It was then that red flags started going up in my mind. I realized that, at the core, I couldn’t do this. It wasn’t that I was afraid of getting beaten up. I had no idea who would win. If anything, I was more confident that I could win at the time than I am in retrospect. My main concern was getting in trouble. Getting in trouble with the school, but more importantly getting in trouble with my parents. The notion of the adverse effect it would have on my future was, while not central because what sixth grader is really thinking about such things, nonetheless on the borders of my consciousness.

And that’s the effect of these policies. For good and for ill. Here we had one kid that had no real future to speak of, and you had me. You had one kid whose parents probably didn’t care all that much, and you had parents like mine who would have freaked out. You had one kid for whom suspension is a three-day vacation, and you had me to whom suspension was unthinkable. And, of course, he had friends willing to throw in and I didn’t. In the end, regardless of courage and who would win, he held all the cards. And he knew it.

And it’s this that makes the policy so grossly unfair. It gives one party all of the leverage. Worse than that, it gives the wrong party all the leverage. It places all of the responsibility of avoiding a fight on the kid that is (a) not the instigator and (b) the one more inclined to follow rules.

Yet while the policy was grossly unfair, it had a certain effectiveness. Because I knew that I couldn’t get into a fight, I walked away and paid the social price for it. And I walked on friggin’ eggshells never to be put in that situation again. I took body gloves*. I took depantsing. I took stolen caps, stolen pencils, and all manner of other torment. While that absolutely, positively sucked for me, no fights occurred. Without that policy, they would have. And while it is completely unfair to do so, placing the burden on the more responsible party is effective insofar as the responsible party can be more relied on to defuse the fight. To walk away. To be a coward. What I discovered was that there was almost always a way to avoid a full-on fight, so long as you checked your self-respect at the door. Of course, it also lead me to things which the district would not approve of.

And from the administration’s standpoint, what’s the alternative? Most fights occur outside eyesight, so you take one kid who says “he hit me” and the other saying “no, I didn’t” or “he tried to hit me, first!” and what do you do? Common sense may tell you that Kid A is a generally good kid with good marks and good conduct scores while Kid B is always in trouble, but do you punish kids based on supposition? In my first substitute teaching assignment, I had a first grade class with a particular troublemaker. When the main teacher was there and I was observing and waiting to take over, I saw a couple of occasions where the troublemaker hadn’t actually done anything wrong but was blamed anyway because… well… he was a troublemaker. I felt sorry for the kid right up until I took the reins and discovered exactly why teachers were targeting him.

Back on the first hand, the policy excuses administration/teacher response considerably. They don’t need to stop fights because they don’t have to worry about the fallout. The punishments are send down from on high. No need to figure out the circumstances. No need to figure out who started it and who wasn’t able to walk away. So all of those things that lead up to fights, like verbal taunting, one-off assaults, and so on can be simply ignored or merely tut-tutted. In PE, the body gloves occurred in full view of the coach, who would simply tell the kid to cut it out (which they wouldn’t) and commence. And in a perverse way, you were thankful for this, because the alternative was that the coach would punish the entire class with pushups or laps. And when that happened, who do you think the more powerful within the class targeted? The big kid whom nobody wanted to cross) or the kid who had the temerity to say “ouch”?

And so it becomes a bureaucratic thing. It allows teachers to ignore that which can be ignored. And it absolves them of any involvement (except meting out standardized punishment) of that which cannot be ignored. But it does manage to cut down on the actual number of fights, on the whole. If you’re willing to overlook everything else.

This is where a whole lot of Casey’s support comes from, I think. Having been in the situation that I describe above. I had a pretty good friend in high school, Sam, who became our Casey. One of the more notorious bullies assaulted him (discovering later that his arm was broken in the process). Sam retaliated with a pencil jab near the eye. The bully wore an eyepatch for a couple months after while Sam had to wear a cast for a while. Both were suspended for three days and made complete physical recoveries (though the bully stopped being much of a bully after that). When my friend’s parents objected to his punishment, they actually used the fact that Sam didn’t know that his arm had been broken when he retaliated, and that he didn’t know that the pencil wouldn’t kill the bully (a fairer point).

* – Body gloving is where, when someone is shirtless, you slap them across the back with fingers spread and an open palm. It leaves a hand-shaped mark. And hurts like hell. Needless to say, in any shirts/skins game, I cringed whenever I was put on the skins team.

Category: School

Are Amazon’s days as a (mostly) tax-free merchant coming to an end?

Retail analyst David Strasser, a managing director at Janney Montgomery Scott, suggests that they could be. “There’s a lot of momentum building,’’ he said Friday. “(Amazon founder) Jeff Bezos has built a company strategically around avoiding sales tax. But they’re going to have to deal with this,” he added.

Wait a minute. Hasn’t Amazon successfully fended off pesky state tax collectors for 16 glorious years? Yes, but the battle has entered a new stage as Amazon builds warehouse/fulfillment centers in more locations, states grow hungrier for revenue, and a rising sales tax rate (it now averages 9.64% nationwide) puts retailers who do collect tax at an ever bigger disadvantage.

There was a time when I would have scoffed at the notion. And truthfully, I think that it’s great that online retailers got that benefit when they were just starting out so that we would get used to buying things online (which was once considered scary by some and foolish by others). Besideswhich, it seemed that what you saved in sales tax you lost in shipping (wherebouts). These days, though, you can almost always get something cheaper online with or without sales tax. When I lived in a state that did collect sales taxes from Amazon sales, I still purchased from Amazon.

But what started off as a perhaps-needed inducement to get people to shop online has basically become a tax loophole. It has also incentivized inefficient behavior, purchasing something from across the country rather than from down the street. And it puts some states at a real disadvantage. People who live in Pullman, Washington, for example, have to pay the sales tax while people who live six miles down the road in Moscow, Idaho, do not. And whenever I am on eBay, I remain glad that I am not a Californian because it seems that most of the stuff I order is from California. And, of course, Barnes and Noble’s early online push had to compete with Amazon while the former (generally) had to collect sales tax and the latter (generally) did not. Does it make sense to punish B&N for having storefronts and reward Amazon for not having them?

Of course, there are three things stopping us. First, people like the idea of tax-free and so it’s often an unpopular thing to do. I don’t think I am completely alone in coming around on this, though. And there has been movement in many states to see if they can find a way to collect it. That brings us to the second problem:

The back story is well known: In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Quill v. North Dakota, that only sellers with a physical presence (“nexus” in taxspeak) in a state are required to collect that state’s sales taxes. Just shipping into a state by say, FedEx or UPS, isn’t enough to establish nexus. Consumers still owe “use” (meaning sales) tax to their states, but few bother to pay.

Several years back, there was a big to-do in Delosa when the State Treasurer went after the State Insurance Commissioner (both were expected to be vying for the same job in the next election) for not paying sales taxes on some furniture he bought from abroad. It was expected that the Treasurer was trying to make his potential future opponent look bad as a “tax-dodger” but instead it just reminded everyone that they’re “tax-dodgers” too, in this regard. About the only place this is regularly enforced is with cars, because they can easily verify what they need to when you go to register it.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. So the second problem is that there is a jurisdiction problem. I guess it’s hard to make a company that doesn’t have so much as a business license in your state pay taxes to it, though I’m not sure how this differs from income taxes. I know that as the resident of a state with an income tax and as an employee of a company without one, my employer is still legally bound to take withholdings for my home state. It’s one of the things that has been holding up my contract. I suppose they make some sort of distinction between collection and withholdings, or employees and customers. But the courts have spoken.

So then we have to the third problem, which is that the entity in the best position to do anything about it is not the one that would reap the benefits. Congress would be essentially seen as “raising taxes”, which is a political liability, without actually getting any of the revenue that comes with it. If they’re going to be tax-raisers, they might as well have an interstate sales tax that they collect themselves, if that’s constitutionally permissible (just about everything else is under the commerce clause).

So what happens now? Amazon relies pretty heavily on its affiliates. When one or two states threaten to collect sales taxes, Amazon can write off that state’s affiliates. But when every state does it, they could lose all of their affiliates and a lot of their utility. That would leave an opening for an affiliate-based rival to offer nearly as wide a selection as Amazon, but with sales tax. Amazon might indeed win such a war based on price, but it would hurt. Or Amazon and Affiliazon could both lose to eBay, which has an amazing selection, good prices, and is nearly impossible to tax, though also has a chaotic marketplace (hard to find what you want) and trust issues.

Of course, even if Amazon itself throws in the towel, the overall inefficiency problems are not solved. It still makes sense to order something from across the country on eBay than buy something across the street. It would ultimately just put Amazon in similar footing with B&N, Walmart, and so on. Which would be good for the competitors, though it doesn’t really solve this problem:

State officials have long lamented the shortfall and sought ways to collect a bigger portion by using a mix of education and threats. California, for instance, expects to be shortchanged $1.15 billion in 2010 from e-commerce and catalog sales, according to estimates from the state Board of Equalization.

Amazon is surely responsible for some of that, but so are a lot of others, who are not such easy targets.

Category: Market, Statehouse

When I was in high school, my favorite (in the sense that I kind of liked him and was indifferent to or detested the others) was Mr Holt. Holt was a retired chemical engineer who struck it big with his employer’s IPO and decided that he wanted to teach.

His opening lecture had us take a simple sort of test. We were supposed to follow the instructions on a worksheet. The first of which was “Read all of the instructions first.” The last of which was “Disregard all instructions but the first.”

Nobody did that, of course. And so when instruction number two said “raise your hand,” most of the class did. Same for stand up for three seconds then sit down. One by one, we began to notice fewer people doing these odd little things. We went back to the first instruction, followed it, then saw the last instructions. Towards the middle of the document the commands became verbal “Say ‘This room is hot.'” By the end, you were to be saying things like “I cannot follow instructions precisely.” Only a couple got that far. Most had, by simple way of noticing what their peers were not doing, figured it out.

As someone that never got “in” to science, it was one of the most instructive lessons ever. Partially the social aspect of it. You noticed what others weren’t doing and then tried to figure out why. But mostly, it was a good lesson on understanding the importance of following instructions. Kind of important for a chemistry class. Kind of important for life.

On the other hand, going through the training manual for my (hopefully) coming job, it’s apparently a lesson I forgot. It said, quite clearly, “Do not do anything that is not specified in the instructions, no matter how obvious it may seem.”


Category: Ghostland, School