January 17, 2006

Planned Site Outage; Tech Help Request

Filed under: General — Tom @ 8:50 pm

The web host is going to be down from 12 midnight until 6 AM, and therefore so is Bizzyblog.

The tech question I have is this: In WordPress, how do I keep trackbacks (TBs) and pings on posts that are “published” but deferred until a later time from tracking back and pinging back? The whole idea behind having published posts in the queue is to be able to walk away from blogging for a while, but if the pings and TBs get out and the pingees and “trackbackees” see nothing, it’s very annoying. Waiting until post time to put in the pings and the TBs, or deferring publication itself, defeats half of the benefits of deferring posts.

Any suggestion on this matter would be greatly appreciated. E-mail any suggestions you have. If the answer is that WordPress 2 solves this, that would be a VERY good thing to know.

Kelo Update: Now It’s Churches, Too

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:30 pm

Jan. 23 – Kelo Sands Springs Update: Double-Speak Obscures the Ugly Truth
Jan. 25 – Kelo Sand Springs Church-Taking Update

Heather Wilhelm, a Phillips Foundation fellow and serves as the director of communications for Americans for Limited Government, lays it out at National Review:

Unholy Land Grab

For seven years, Reverend Roosevelt Gildon has preached the gospel at the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. His congregation, around 50 strong, is like a small family. The elderly members, and those without cars, often walk to Sunday services.

“Rosey,” as his friends call him, figured he’d go on preaching in the tidy steel structure for years to come. That was, until the government told him they were taking his church away.

Since the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision last summer, eminent domain has entered a new frontier. It’s not just grandma’s house we have to worry about. Now it’s God’s house, too. “I guess saving souls isn’t as important,” says Reverend Gildon, his voice wry, “as raking in money for politicians to spend.” The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist — along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school — and replace them with a new “super center,” rumored to include a Home Depot. It’s the kind of stuff that makes tax collectors salivate. It’s also the kind of project that brakes for no one, especially post-Kelo. “I had no idea this could happen in America,” says Reverend Gildon, after spending Monday morning marching in the Sand Springs Martin Luther King Day parade.

This unholy takeover goes back to Sand Springs’s controversial “Vision 2025” project, which emerged in 2003. The plan includes, according to its website, the “largest set of public redevelopment projects in the history of Tulsa County.” The money earmarked for Sand Springs was supposedly meant to focus on redeveloping an abandoned industrial area for big box retailers and other stores. One problem: Centennial Baptist Church isn’t abandoned, and unlike some of the other buildings in its neighborhood, it is in pristine condition. More importantly, the church doesn’t want to sell — and they have good reasons. “After I heard the news, we started looking to see if we could move,” Gildon said. “I just don’t think we can afford it. It’s too expensive. And if we can’t move, and they take our building, what happens to the church? If we leave, who is going to minister to the black community in Sand Springs?”

….. It makes sense on one level. Churches don’t generate any tax revenue for the government to spend. They don’t “stimulate” the economy. They often, much to their peril, occupy prime, envied real estate. With the supercharged powers granted by Kelo, be very, very afraid.

What’s most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that there’s already plenty of room for development, even if the pesky church sticks around. Many community residents were happy to sell their property. Two other churches in the area decided to move to Tulsa. Other structures in the area were dilapidated and ready for the deal. The way things are now, Centennial Baptist Church could easily live side-by-side with new stores, houses, or businesses. Yet Centennial remains in the crosshairs — even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonald’s and a taxpaying O’Reilly’s muffler shop, have been left alone.

In December, Reverend Gildon joined up with Americans for Limited Government and our partner group, Oklahomans in Action, to gather signatures for the “Protect Our Homes” initiative, which will go on the ballot in November 2006. Protect our Homes is a measure designed to stop eminent-domain abuse.

….. “I hope that my story makes people more aware,” said Reverend Gildon, “and that maybe it stops other people’s homes and churches from being taken against their will.” Meanwhile, he awaits his next meeting with the planning board, where they will tell him how much his church is worth. If things don’t change, it promises to be an offer he can’t refuse.

Judge for yourself if the “visionaries” of Vision 2025, which appears to be a countywide initiative of Tulsa County, are being arbitrary with this Vision 2025 project. Although I’m not absolutely positive, here are what I believe are the Google Maps locations of the three places cited in the article (they are all within the “Sand Springs Keystone Corridor Redevelopment” area):

I’m waiting for black civil-rights leaders, many of whom are “Reverends,” to intervene on Reverend Gildon’s behalf. I think I’ll be waiting a while.

In the meantime, if you attend church, ask yourself: Is your church on a busy street, or near a retail center, or simply not liked by your community’s powers that be? Post-Kelo, as predicted by Don Sensing and many others when the decision came down, it looks like your church could be vulnerable to a taking at any time.

UPDATE, Other comments:

  • Molten Thought“Any questions as to why putting reliable conservatives on the Court matters?”
  • Larsonian“When a church isn’t safe in Oklahoma, it isn’t safe anywhere.”
  • Anchoress has a truly inspired post on churches, the potential effect their presence can have on the community around them, and what happens when the utilitarian bean-counting thought process trumps all. Made my day.
  • Todd Zywicki at Volokh“Small, minority, poor, and unpopular religions and charities would seem to be especially vulnerable to the wrecking ball.” Bingo. He also has a number of other good links.
  • Michael Wiliams at Master of None“Yet another reason that the power of government should be limited.”
  • Christine Hurt at Conglomerate — “What’s Liberal About Eminent Domain?”
  • The Electric Commentary — “You better start producing some tax revenue”
  • Don Singleton — “Another step toward trying to secularize the United States, like has already been done in Europe.”
  • Redneck Peril — “A despicable Supreme Court decision bears predictable fruit”
  • Pro Ecclesia (who also called it six months ago) — “Coming soon to a parish near you.”

UPDATE 2: New York Times headline — “Developers Can’t Imagine a World Without Eminent Domain.” Hey, supposedly you all WERE living without it, or should have been until June of last year.

Selected Previous Property Rights Posts:

McEwen Election Law Claim Update:
Probable Cause Finding Letter

Filed under: OH-02 US House,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:34 pm

A formality — I received a letter today from the Ohio Elections Commission that says, in part:

Re: OEC Case NO. 2005E-087

Dear Mr. Blumer:

The Ohio Elections Commission reviewed the complaint filed by you at a Probable Cause panel meeting on January 11, 2005. ….. After due consideration of the case by the panel, the following finding was made in the referenced case:

    The Probable Cause Panel determined that there was probable cause of a violation of Ohio Revised Code §3517.21(B)(1). The matter will be set for hearing before the full Commission at a date to be determined by Commission staff.

Parties have the right to subpoena witnesses, make an opening statement, question any witness called to testify, offer exhibits and make a closing statement at this hearing. Please review the Commission’s Rules of Procedure for additional information regarding the hearing process.

No hearing before the full Commission has yet been scheduled.

Between now and when that hearing occurs — In case Messers McEwen or Saxbe are wondering, the answer to the question Mr. Saxbe asked me before the probable cause hearing is still “No” …. (sitting in silence, hoping that questioner comprehends meaning of the word and goes away, finally concluding that he must need to hear it again) ….. “No.”

Inquiring (“Enquiring”?) minds might want to ask what that question was at Mr. McEwen’s press conference tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Though I would probably otherwise do so, I will not be attending it because of the pending OEC matter.

I’m not an attorney, elections Commissioner, or prosecutor, so I could be wrong, but go to this link at the top of Page 4, Item (V) to see what could possibly be involved in this case.

Previous Posts:
- Jan. 11 — Probable Cause Hearing Held
- Jan. 3 — Probable Cause Hearing Scheduled
- Dec. 29 — Election Law Complaint Filed

New England Journal of Trial Lawyer Supporters

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Economy,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:45 pm

Speaking of tarnished brands, the image of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) as an objective purveyor of medical and research information has been badly damaged by the Merck-Vioxx trial flap.

In an editorial Monday, The Wall Street Journal explains (requires subscription; bolds are mine):

Merck scored a court victory late last month, convincing all but one federal juror that it acted responsibly in developing and marketing its Vioxx painkiller. What makes the outcome more notable is that it came despite the efforts of Merck’s latest accuser, the New England Journal of Medicine.

Accusations aren’t the usual fare of august medical journals, so it’s worth trying to understand the publication’s self-insertion into the Merck litigation. Its extraordinary decision to publish a critical statement about a Vioxx study it ran years ago is being hailed by trial lawyers as the best evidence yet that Merck played fast and loose with its data. Another way to say this is that the New England Journal is joining the ranks of academic publications risking their reputations as non-partisan arbiters of good science in order to rumble in the political tarpits.

The facts and timing of the Merck ambush certainly suggest as much. Late last year the New England Journal published an “Expression of Concern” about a Vioxx study it carried in 2000, baldly accusing researchers of omitting key data to make the painkiller appear more safe. The statement curiously appeared just as jurors began debating the latest Vioxx verdict. In case anyone missed the point, Executive Editor Gregory Curfman followed with his own attack on Merck, telling reporters he was “stunned” that the researchers had “allowed” his journal to publish a “misleading” article. In response to Merck’s explanation, Dr. Curfman bluntly noted: “We’re not buying into that.”

….. What has Dr. Curfman in a dither is the fact that three more participants also suffered heart attacks — though only after the cutoff date that had been determined by an outside safety panel for the study. The three heart incidents were included in an early draft of the paper, but they had disappeared by the time it went to press. The not-so-subtle accusation is that Merck manipulated the data.

In fact, as prominent scientists have since attested, the authors were simply following the rules of science. “If the outcomes truly occurred after the close of the study, then they don’t belong in the study,” Brian Strom, an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told Nature magazine. As to a grand Merck cover-up, the company provided the additional information to the Food and Drug Administration, publicly released it not long after the journal’s article, and included information about the additional heart attacks when it sent out marketing materials that included the published study.

The New England Journal clearly knew all this, and as an esteemed professional body presumably understood the scientific rationale behind the omission. Yet it nonetheless chose to use the Vioxx trial as an opportunity to join in the latest political and legal tarring of Big Pharma as greedy profiteers.

….. Unfortunately this attack on Merck isn’t isolated, but is part of a growing trend among scientific journals that have joined business-bashing and other liberal campaigns. Last year a group of medical-journal editors joined in a partisan battle over “disclosure,” refusing to publish studies unless companies had first registered at a federal clinical trial Web site.

As FDA Deputy Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted in a September speech, this is ironic considering that the journals “bottle up” important research in overly long peer-review processes and enforce their own “strict embargoes” on key studies so as to elevate their own publishing franchise. There’s also the question of proprietary drug data that no company is eager to share with competitors. “Disclosure,” after all, counts for little if no company sees a financial reason to explore a drug in the first place.

….. The worry here is that the health community and broader public will soon have one less place to find legitimate “science.” These publications have viewed themselves as the gold standard in research, using their peer review processes to build reputations for careful and unbiased science on the leading issues of the day. Any suggestion that these publications have an axe to grind — whether against corporate America, private markets, or specific drugs — undermines their standing as neutral arbiters. That in turn makes it that much harder to separate good science from the “junk” version. And that truly warrants an “expression of concern.”

I for one will not take anything I hear from the NEJM with the same level of faith I have previously had. They do not seem to appreciate the potential destructiveness of the fire they are playing with.

UPDATE: Another one that got past peer review, courtesy of EU Rota and Amy Ridenour (don’t remember who I saw first; in case of ties, both places get links).

Previous posts:

FINALLY: Somebody Calls Oprah on the Carpet for Condoning Frey’s Lies

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 1:25 pm

Yesterday, just when I thought everyone in the creative community had lost their bearings or was just too afraid to speak, along came Scott Donaton, Editor of Advertising Age, at AdAge.com’s MediaWorks site (requires registration; bolds are mine):

Oprah, Doubleday Are Tarnished by ‘Million Little Pieces’

Memo to those in the media who worship at the altar of Oprah: It is not OK for James Frey to have passed off his fictionalized life story as nonfiction just because a talk-show host says it is.

In all of the coverage of the controversy over the truthiness of “A Million Little Pieces,” perhaps the most disturbing element of all is how the media reacted to Oprah’s continued endorsement of the book — treating it as somehow the last word, one that in effect excused the lies and ended the controversy. She was lauded for riding to the rescue of the publishing business, rather than called out for trying to minimize the damage to the businesses involved, including her huge and profitable empire — one whose continued growth relies heavily on maintaining her power to move products as well as people.

What few have dared to suggest
Most of the coverage ignored the fact that Oprah has something at stake, as much actually as Frey and the book’s publisher: the credibility on which her brand is based. Few have dared to suggest her continued endorsement may have been driven by commercial considerations, not just altruistic motives.

The response by all interested parties to The Smoking Gun’s revelations about the book has been a carefully orchestrated marketing strategy that relies on an artful dodge. No one involved in this mess apologized or took accountability. Read the coverage and transcripts of the “Larry King Live” interview and Oprah’s statements; The core issues are never addressed head-on, just skirted. Yet it’s clear that many readers — this one included — feel betrayed.

We could argue endlessly over Doubleday’s insistence that “the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story.” The power of the book, for me, emanated from its presentation as truth. Frey’s redemption was so moving precisely because these seemingly unbelievable things had all really happened to one human being, and yet he had found the strength to endure and triumph over them. If many of those things didn’t happen, or even some of them didn’t happen, that power is sapped.

My call to make
I loved “A Million Little Pieces,” and while I may have read and enjoyed it if it were labeled a work of fiction, it wouldn’t have resonated in the same way. In any case, that’s beside the point — that should have been my call to make, not the publisher’s. But I read his story as truth, accepted it as truth, gave my trust and respect to Frey for that same reason. More importantly, I gave over my money to his story and encouraged others to do the same, buying the book and its sequel and strongly recommending them.

….. Frey wrote the book as much to make money from it as to inspire others. Doubleday published it to make money. Oprah’s empire exists to make money.

They’re all brands, and a brand is a promise to the consumer. This consumer feels that promise was betrayed — and worse, that when the betrayal was revealed no one held themselves responsible or offered so much as an apology.

These brands are tarnished, Oprah’s included, and they don’t deserve any more of my time or money.


UPDATE: Richard Cohen has choice words for Oprah in today’s Washington Post:

Here is where Dr. Phil steps in. He might tell his friend and mentor that there is no redemption without honesty. Treatment, as one expert told me, begins with “owning your life” and not embellishing it for the sake of others or yourself. It was one thing when Frey’s tale was believed to be 100 percent true. Now that the lie has been exposed, the message can no longer be about redemption but about concoction — the lies that addicts tell others, the ones they tell themselves.

As for Doubleday, the liar’s publisher, it uttered all sorts of nonsense about different rules for memoirs but had no real explanation of how an hour or so in jail could be recollected as three months. In this vast corporation, there seemed to be no one who knew the difference between fact and fiction, truth and a lie. (Fiction packaged as fact is a lie.) Doubleday did not seem even a tad embarrassed that it had been snookered …..

….. Whatever happens to Frey’s book will not make her richer or poorer. But fame and wealth has lulled her into believing that she possesses something akin to papal infallibility. She finds herself incapable of seeing that she has been twice fooled — once by Frey, a second time by herself.

Does Dr. Phil make house calls?


UPDATE, Jan. 20:An AdAge reader reacts (requires registration, text is halfway through link) — “Your article was a solid, insightful synopsis of this literary soap-Oprah.”

Previous Posts:
- Jan. 10 — Another “Alleged” Fraud in the Literary Community: JT Leroy
- Jan. 10 — Three Monumental Hoaxes, One Common Thread

Comparing Public and Private Sector Pay and Benefits:
Who Gets More? (Who Do You Think?)

Filed under: Economy,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:25 am

Here’s something to come back to the next time there’s a discussion of who gets more:


Keep in mind that the people in the first column are the primary contributors to the people in the second and third columns, and are the ones who do the things that make the economy grow and life improve.

Related articles (both from USA Today, Jan. 16):
Pension funds fall short of guarantees
Public workers’ pensions swelling

The first article is where the chart came from, and leads with the story of a 61 year-old retired assistant high school assistant principal and his wife, a retired teacher, receiving combined pension benefits of $8,500 a month, or over $100,000 per year. It didn’t address what I believe is the case: that their pension benefits are indexed to or increase as a result of inflation, while private-sector pension benefits are almost always fixed (i.e., they never increase once you have retired).

That article also contains the understatement of the day: “The belief that government offers good benefits to make up for lower wages appears to be a myth.”

Appears? There’s one word for all of this, folks: unsustainable.

First two paragraphs from second story:

Public employee pensions have become increasingly generous since 2000, promising a more comfortable retirement for civil servants but a serious financial challenge for future taxpayers.

The beefed-up pension benefits come at a time when the pension funds’ financial health has deteriorated and private pensions have been scaled back.

The beefed-up benefits also came at a time when the states were pleading poverty and received aid from the federal government. It looks like the people in the first and third columns of the chart above got scammed by the people in the second column.

UPDATE: Interesting that I would see this paragraph at the end of an Arnold Kling column at TCS Daily after posting the above:

Liberals see the market as an arena in which evil corporations inflict their greed on innocent victims. I wish you would see that motives matter less than consequences. I wish you could see that greed is at work when laws are passed that regulate markets, because regulations always produce winners and losers. I wish you could see that those winners and losers are often not who you think they are. I wish you could see that competitive behavior and free choice are forces that operate in the market as a check against greed. Finally, I wish you could see that greed is most difficult to restrain when it is exercised through the medium of government.

Quote of the Day: On the Importance of the House Majority Leader Race

Filed under: Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:55 am

The last paragraph from “The Keepers of K Street” in The Wall Street Journal (requires subscription):

Too many Republicans are living in a political fantasy that they can purge the Abramoff taint merely by banishing Tom DeLay and making it harder for lobbyists to pay their links fees. Voters aren’t as dumb as they think.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (011706)

I’m going to try something different this morning, namely, providing most links without commentary unless some commentary is called for, in which case it will be minimal. I’m hoping this will enable me to make the AM links a near-daily feature, and to “get by” with two or so other posts during the rest of the day.

Interesting and relevant things I came across:

  • Kids’ ID Theft: A Growing Problem (related link: Identity Theft Prevention Tips for Teens)
  • Big Government is Even Bigger Than You Think (HT Cam Edwards and Club for Growth) — nominally about 40% of our entire economy; including hidden costs and unfunded mandates, more like 55% or so.
  • Accounting Changes May Squeeze Pensions (a private-sector story; previous related BizzyBlog private- and public-sector posts are here, here, here, and here)
  • Credit Cards Dominate Young Consumer Spending (interesting story, but misleading — debit card trasactions make up 1/3 of plastic spending if young-breakdown is the same as for general population)
  • Alcoa Drops Traditional Pension for Most New Hires
  • Greenspan Plans to Hit Speakers’ Circuit: Report (will make in two speeches more than he made in one year as Fed Chairman)
  • Microsoft to Stop Supporting Media Player for Mac (will instead provide free software to make Windows Media files compatiable with QuickTime)
  • Teens Optimistic about Innovation: ” The teens queried also said new inventions – over any time frame, not necessarily by 2015 – can solve such global problems as unclean water (91 percent), hunger (89 percent), disease (88 percent) and pollution (84 percent). Adults were less optimistic about hunger, with 77 percent saying technology will play an important role.” Heartening: It looks like the doomsday greens like these haven’t gotten to most of them.

Positivity: Medics Save Lives of Four Tourists

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:05 am

Five Australian interns were on vacation in Thailand before their hospital jobs were to begin, and got started on their lives’ work early: