Saturday, July 28

Egregious signs to be scrutinized

Update on Chino Hills banner insanity via Chino Hills News:
The banner design should be compatible with the surrounding architecture but only signs that are egregious would be scrutinized....
I forsee a cadre of no doubt highly paid sign inspectors scurrying around the city solemnly scrutinizing whatever signs they deem "egregious".

Breathtaking regulatory overreach

"Chino Hills News" has another item by Marianne Napoles, this one currently not available online. It begins,
Trees on privately developed property in high-fire areas of Chino Hills would be protected by an ordinance approved July 17 by the planning commission.
To me, the word "protect" here means that one's right to cut down trees on one's own property would be violated. Also, note that even though the Chino Hills area is susceptible to wildfires, the city nevertheless wants to "protect" trees in those areas. They claim that "protection" will be limited to the larger-sized specimens of the California Live Oak, California Sycamore, California Black Walnut, and Coastal Scrub Oak. This, because these are "fire resistant"--but will they actually stop fires from spreading?

So what's the rationale behind this "protection"? Apparently it's nothing other than aesthetic. Owners' rights would be violated in the case of trees "clearly visible from public rights of way, private streets, parks, or trails". Does the planning commission realize that sometimes the line of sight is pretty far?

At least Public Works Commissioner Michael Stover "had concerns about which trees meet the criteria for visibility, stating that the government's regulatory reach was breathtaking." Absolutely. Good for him.

The ordinance would also require property owners to hire a certified arborist or tree trimmer to prune trees according to the standards of the International Society of Arboriculture.
Shades of supposedly beneficial building codes.

Still no Valle Vista sidewalks

Project upgrades disabled access ramps in the "Chino Hills News" begins
Access ramps for the disabled were upgraded at 32 locations in Chino Hills over the past two weeks. The work will continue over the next decade until all ramps are in compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act, which requires a textured surface of flattened domes to be installed in the curb cuts.

The new design lets vision-impaired pedestrians know they are entering a street. Previously, blind persons were guided by grooves in the pavement.

The city also installed curb, gutter, and sidewalks for nine ramps along the Omnitrans bus route.
In the print version, there's a picture of an access ramp at the intersection of Los Serranos & Valle Vista, but no mention of the absence of sidewalks on Valle Vista between Los Serranos Boulevard and Ramona. Big surprise.

Andrew Jacobs picks up the Jackie O meme

Andrew Jacobs claims that "Admirers bragged that Ms. Gu, a pioneering lawyer who spoke fluent English, was China’s answer to Jacqueline Onassis."

I don't buy it.

Saturday, July 21


In connection with the Mature Driver Improvement Course, a note on the word "velocitation", usually used by driving instructors to mean "a condition of unconsciously driving too fast as a result of driving for long periods at high speeds", but also used by some people to refer to the contrary phenomenon of drivers taking a long time to speed up because they're not used to the fast speed. But what is the etymology? It can't be", which The Macquarie Dictionary defines as:
(in filming) a form of dolly incorporating a small crane for the camera and seats for the technical operators.
It's not in the OED. Merriam-Webster Unabridged apparently defines "velocitize", but I'm too cheap to pay to find out the definition. Intriguingly, Mr. Burns of The Simpsons refers to a car's accelerator pedal as the "velocitator" (and the brake as the "deceleratrix").

California "Mature Driver Improvement Course"

When I first heard about this, my first reaction was, "Is there an 'Immature Driver Improvement Course'"?

Anyway, according to the California DMV,

  • The Mature Driver Improvement Course provides instruction on defensive driving and California motor vehicle laws. During this course, information is provided on the effects that medication, fatigue, alcohol, visual or auditory limitations have on a person's driving ability.
  • Mature drivers, 55 or older, who successfully complete an approved Driver Improvement Course can qualify for reduced motor vehicle insurance premiums.
  • Actual classroom time is at least 400 minutes of instruction for the initial course and 240 minutes of instruction for the renewal course, not including registration time, breaks, lunch periods, and issuance of completion certificates.... The maximum fee for the classroom or non-classroom course is $30 plus a $1 charge for a DMV certificate to be presented to your insurer as proof you have completed the course.
The Traffic Violator School Unit gives the approval to firms who desire to teach the Mature Driver Improvement Course.
Presumably, the lesson plan in court-mandated traffic violator school is different from the Mature Driver Improvement Course, but it's reasonable to suppose there's a lot of overlap. Both courses are supposed to consist of 400 minutes of instruction.

How does the Traffic Violator School Unit go about approving Mature Driver Improvement Courses? They apply to the Occupational Licensing Service and Support office of the Department of Motor Vehicles, and pay a "non-refundable application fee of $500.00."

While accidents caused by aging drivers are no doubt a problem, the Mature Driver Improvement Course is an interesting solution.
  • I suspect someone like the AARP lobbied for this as a way to get aging drivers a discount on their insurance.
  • The DMV makes money by licensing the individual courses, which are apparently based on extant traffic violator courses. 
  • Traffic Violator Schools make money off the deal. Although there are apparently more places serving as Traffic Violator Schools than places offering Mature Driver Improvement Courses, that doesn't mean that they didn't have a hand in crafting this rule ("400 minutes" makes me suspicious). 
  • Even though aging drivers get a discount, they are treated like "traffic violators" and have to spend 6½ hours on the course.
  • To make up for the discount, the insurance companies will make everyone else pay more.

Friday, July 20

Altruistic concern for customers?

From Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman:
Licensure is widely used to restrict entry, particularly for occupations like medicine that have many individual practitioners dealing with a large number of individual customers. As in medicine, the boards that administer the licensure provisions are composed primarily of members of the occupation licensed – whether they be dentists, lawyers, cosmetologists, airline pilots, plumbers, or morticians. There is no occupation so remote that an attempt has not been made to restrict its practice by licensure. According to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission: “At a recent session of one state legislature, occupational groups advanced bills to license themselves as auctioneers, well-diggers, home improvement contractors, pet groomers, electrologists, sex therapists, data processors, appraisers, and TV repairers. Hawaii licenses tattoo artists. New Hampshire licenses lightning-rod salesman.” The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.
Speaking of licensure, don't forget the insistence on hiring Ph.D.'s to teach!

Friday, July 13

Spend money on me--it's for your own good.

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton write, Don’t Indulge. Be Happy.:
Imagine walking down the street to work and being approached by our student Lara Aknin, who hands you an envelope. You open the envelope and find $20 and a slip of paper, which tells you to spend the cash on something for yourself by the end of the day. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Now imagine instead that the slip of paper told you to spend the cash on someone else. Being generous is nice, sure, but would using the money to benefit someone else actually make you happier than buying yourself the belt, DVD or apps you’ve been dying to get?

Yes, and it’s not even close. When we follow up with people who receive cash from us, those whom we told to spend on others report greater happiness than those told to spend on themselves. And in countries from Canada to India to South Africa, we find that people are happier when they spend money on others rather than on themselves.
If people are happier when they spend money on others rather than on themselves, then should I ask them to spend money on me?

Greendex Calculator nonsense

I just came across National Geographic's Greendex Calculator, and was about to take the survey, but when I saw the first question, I didn't bother:
1. How often, if at all, do you consume each of the following types of food and beverages?
a) Imported foods
b) Locally grown foods (e.g. from your province/state or region)

How can they be so ignorant?

As The Economist wrote in 2006: turns out that the apparently straightforward approach of minimising the “food miles” associated with your weekly groceries does not, in fact, always result in the smallest possible environmental impact.
The article also notes, "There is a strand of protectionism and anti-globalisation in much local-food advocacy...." Maybe the National Geographic has an anti-globalisation agenda?

And in 2011, Steve Sexton wrote at Freakonomics that in a locavore system, farmed acreage, fertilizer use, fuel use, and chemical demand would all actually increase:
The land-use changes and increases in demand for carbon-intensive inputs would have profound impacts on the carbon footprint of our food, destroy habitat and worsen environmental pollution.

It’s not even clear local production reduces carbon emissions from transportation. The Harvard economist Ed Glaeser estimates that carbon emissions from transportation don’t decline in a locavore future because local farms reduce population density as potential homes are displaced by community gardens. Less-dense cities mean more driving and more carbon emissions. Transportation only accounts for 11 percent of the carbon embodied in food anyway, according to a 2008 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon; 83 percent comes from production.

It's not just the economists who argue this. Sarah DeWeerdt of the Worldwatch Institute wrote in 2009:
[A] broader, more comprehensive picture of all the tradeoffs in the food system requires tracking greenhouse gas emissions through all phases of a food's production, transport, and consumption. And life-cycle analysis (LCA), a research method that provides precisely this "cradle-to-grave" perspective, reveals that food miles represent a relatively small slice of the greenhouse-gas pie.

In a paper published last year, Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews, of Carnegie Mellon University, wove together data from a variety of U.S. government sources into a comprehensive life-cycle analysis of the average American diet. According to their calculations, final delivery from producer or processor to the point of retail sale accounts for only 4 percent of the U.S. food system's greenhouse gas emissions. Final delivery accounts for only about a quarter of the total miles, and 40 percent of the transport-related emissions, in the food supply chain as a whole. That's because there are also "upstream" miles and emissions associated with things like transport of fertilizer, pesticides, and animal feed. Overall, transport accounts for about 11 percent of the food system's emissions.

By contrast, Weber and Matthews found, agricultural production accounts for the bulk of the food system's greenhouse gas emissions: 83 percent of emissions occur before food even leaves the farm gate. A recent life-cycle analysis of the U.K. food system, by Tara Garnett, yielded similar results. In her study, transport accounted for about a tenth of the food system's greenhouse gas emissions, and agricultural production accounted for half. Garnett says the same general patterns likely also hold for Europe as a whole.

Tuesday, July 10


"Coprographic" is not a word one often sees. Here the coinage is similar to "coprolalia", although I'm guessing that coprographic could refer to using dung to write with. Now that's something that I could find "egregious" not to mention "out of character" (that's the kind of banner Community Development Director Joann Lombardo says she takes exception to.)

Friday, July 6

A humility for intervening in the lives of strangers

Russ Roberts writes from the perspective of fan of liberty, opposed to extensive government intervention.
Those on the other side of the spectrum of government intervention often lack this humility. They claim to know what is best for others–what they should eat, how they should behave in the bedroom, whether they purchase health insurance, and what is the best use of other people’s money. When these plans go awry, when they cause harm to those they would help, they fall back on their motives–after all, they meant well...

So my opposition to a minimum wage or government schools or agricultural price supports or bank bailouts or mandatory health insurance or mandatory retirement contributions or mandatory eating habits doesn’t come from my selfishness or greed. Rather it comes from respect for my fellow human beings and a belief (not a faith) that leaving people free to choose what is best for themselves usually works out better than strangers making decisions for them.
Contrast this with the attitude expressed in an old news item about a brothel case: "....regardless of whether these women were actively trafficked, they are still being exploited and these operations degrade the quality of life in our neighborhoods." Although the women were entirely willing to work as prostitutes and it's unlikely anyone polled the neighbors, government interventionists knew better.

The worst state to conduct business

Gary Shapiro notes in Forbes:
For the eighth straight year, Chief Executive has ranked California as the worst state to conduct business, pointing to excessive government regulation of businesses as one of the key reasons the state fared so miserably.

The Jevons Paradox

In a nutshell: new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption.

From Michael Giberson, quoting Joseph Tainter: technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase rather than decrease. This paradox has implications of the highest importance for the energy future of industrialized nations. It suggests that efficiency, conservation and technological improvement, the very things urged by those concerned for future energy supplies, may actually worsen our energy prospects.

Thursday, July 5

Building codes are not always beneficial

Chino Hills Councilman Ed Graham wrote that building permits are very beneficial.
By working with your local building department, you benefit from their knowledge of building codes to improve your odds that your construction project is built right, will be safe and will last.
No doubt. But I imagine plenty of people make modifications and repairs to their houses that they find perfectly satisfactory without bothering to pay the extra fees. In writing those codes, have the authorities considered the unintended consequences? What Bastiat called "what is seen and what is not seen" (Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas)? Have they considered that they're raising the costs of construction and modification? Or do they in fact just like the fees? And what about the codes? Have the authorities considered "regulatory capture"? Who wrote the codes? It would make sense to call on experts, who are themselves builders, who pad the codes with regulations that increased the costs for residents?


I might also have mentioned that contractors may take advantage of building code regulations to snitch on fellow contractors who fail to get permits. This keeps prices high, of course.

Snitching isn't necessarily for profit. Sometimes neighbors bearing grudges will snitch on neighbors whose property isn't up to code.

Tuesday, July 3

Reviewing Aaron Bobrow-Strain's “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf,” Tamar Adler writes
The story of white bread may contain rare instances of well-meaning but misguided efforts. It contains many more stories of irresponsibly deployed technology, corporate greed and public welfare placed in the hands of distant stakeholders.
She complains,
He neglects to point out industrial bread’s contemporary counterparts: governmental and business interests that collude, in whatever spirit, to manufacture both problem and solution, about whose influence on our food we must stay clear-eyed and diligent.
I wonder how much she's read about regulatory capture, which would explain more to her about how and why governmental and business interests collude.

Monday, July 2

My letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Feinstein,

Your call to prosecute Julian Assange for espionage demonstrates a horrifying hostility to freedom of the press. As an American, (and a Democrat!), you should be ashamed of yourself.

What's next? Prosecution of The New York Times and Obama officials for leaking Top Secret information?
(Inspired by the estimable Glenn Greenwald)

Sunday, July 1

Chino Hills insanity - sidewalks

The "Chino Hills News" edition mentioned below also has an item about a Los Serranos improvement project. When I saw mention of sidewalks linked with Valle Vista Drive, I thought they were finally going to put in sidewalks on Valle Vista between Los Serranos Boulevard and Ramona (at which point Valle Vista becomes Bird Farm Road), but according to the city, this is an ADA Compliant Ramp Replacement "along the existing Onmitrans bus comply with current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, thereby providing better accessibility for those with disabilities."

From that description, I'm not sure they're going to be allowed to use any of that money to make that section of Valle Vista actually walkable.

Any pedestrian who has to walk here is in danger. There is no shoulder to walk on at road level. Once upon a time it might have been possible to walk on the elevated berms on either side next to the fenced-off fields, but the berms have gotten narrower and narrower, and badly eroded in some places.

This is what that section is like now (taken from 4480 Valle Vista Drive, Chino Hills, CA on Google Maps; click to enlarge).

Looking east:

The south side of the road:

The north side:

A closer view of the erosion on the north side:

The ADA Compliant Ramp Replacement is costing a million dollars, mostly Federal money, for which price they could probably just give people with disabilities door-to-door service, and cancel the bus, which is empty almost every time I see it. But I guess it's the law.