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Thursday 28 February 2002

‘Lost’ log entries

Because of an error by a sub-editor here at Tinotopia, a number of log entries written over the past few weeks were never made public. These are:

We at Tino apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. The responsible sub-editor has been sacked.

Posted by tino at 11:29 28.02.02

The Music Industry and MP3s

Ken Layne has an excellent article on the Fox News website this week. He links an enormous number of valuable tidbits on the chaos that is the American music business, and has some good things to say of his own:

What happens when an industry mistreats its customers and its suppliers? When 8,999 of 9,000 audits show shoddy accounting practices? When a core business is bungled and the marketplace shrugs and moves on? When scandals and greed lead to massive layoffs and massive disgust? I’m not talking about Enron. I’m talking about the record industry.

Well worth a read, and the links will supply material for an entire morning’s study.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the music industry as we know it is doomed. The only question is, how much damage will it do while it thrashes around on the deck?

Posted by tino at 11:11 28.02.02
Wednesday 27 February 2002

The First Step in Cutting Spending

I spent part of the afternoon today in a Virginia DMV office, and I can’t think of a better case-study in what’s wrong with government.

The state of Virginia is currently in a financial crisis; the governor has already said that this crisis will mean, among other things, longer lines at the DMV. The ‘other things’ include, of course, increased taxes, as well as things like the shuttering of the just-built Northern Virginia Community College medical campus in Springfield.

It’s hard to think of a worse plan.

The community college’s medical training programs would result in a lot of people who are now only marginally employed moving into paraprofessional positions that pay more. This would result in more income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes for the state. Having spent $23 million to build the thing, though, we won’t be able to reap any benefits from it because of a lack of $12 million for hiring staff.

The DMV, on the other hand, is crowded not because it’s understaffed, but because it’s understaffed for its constantly expanding roster of net-loss activities. The DMV’s main activity is to maintain a database. Sure, there are driver’s tests and the like, but the DMV’s primary purpose is to maintain a database of vehicle and driver information. This can be done very cheaply, and without long lines at the offices.

But the DMV is also used to enforce child-support laws, truancy laws, and dozens of other laws that have nothing to do with motor vehicles or their operation, in addition to enforcing vehicle-related laws that duplicate other laws already on the books. Once entry into the database becomes contingent on a dozen random factors, maintaining that database becomes a very complicated affair.

In any sane world, I wouldn’t have been at the DMV today at all.

It’s generally illegal in Virginia, as it is in most states, to operate a vehicle without adequate liability insurance.

I own a number of cars, including one that doesn’t have any liability insurance on it. This isn’t a problem, since the car is in pieces, and isn’t too likely to run into anyone.

I recently discovered, though, in threatening letters sent to me from the DMV, that it’s illegal for a car to be even registered in Virginia without insurance. My car was registered, and because there was no insurance on it, my driver’s license was suspended.

I had to go there to cancel the registration and provide an affidavit that the car hadn’t been operated without insurance. Because I’d delayed in doing this, I had to pay $30. Had I gone in last week, I wouldn’t have had to pay anything.

My car, sitting in my driveway, was no danger to anyone. But the state of Virginia employs someone – probably several people, and a bunch of computers – to go through the entire vehicle register, making sure that every car with a license plate is insured.

Never mind that it’s illegal to drive the car – and actually generate any potential for liability – without insurance, and never mind that getting into an accident with an uninsured car opens you up to yet more criminal and civil penalties, running into jail time and bankruptcy. It has been decided that the car can’t be registered without insurance, so there’s another thing to charge uninsured people with. And so I was at the DMV today, taking up the state’s time and money.

While I was waiting – I had failed to anticipate the wait time, so I didn’t have enough to read – it occurred to me that, in this time of state fiscal crisis, it would be better to actually reduce the government’s activities, rather than force people to wait longer for these activities to be carried out.

You could say that Virginia’s stance is defensible, and that this is in fact a good use of resources. I’m certainly in favor of liability insurance; everyone who’s ever run into me hasn’t had any. I’d support seizing all the assets of people who are at fault in accidents with no insurance, and giving the proceeds to the injured party. And then I’d support attaching the uninsured party’s wages, or throwing him in jail. I am not, to put it mildly, suggesting that anyone should be allowed to drive around without being able to meet his potential financial responsibilities. I can certainly agree with the putative aim of keeping uninsured drivers off the road

But here’s the thing: Virginia’s strategy for this doesn’t work. It doesn’t even pretend to work. When I cancelled my registration this afternoon, I didn’t have to hand over the plates. Oh, sure, the computer knew that they were invalid, but they looked valid for another 14 months. Driving around with them on a car is illegal, but then it’s illegal to drive around without insurance anyway.

And had I wanted to keep the registration valid and avoid the insurance question all together, I could just have paid the state a $500 “uninsured motorist fee” and been done with it.

That’s right. If you are so incredibly wealthy that you can come up with five hundred dollars, the state apparently assumes that you’ve got the means to self-insure. Given the cost of insurance for people with bad driving records, I’m sure that most of the worst drivers in Virginia are uninsured, and that that they’re uninsured quite legally.

And this is the case while the state is spending money to threaten me with jail because one inoperable car has a valid registration.

So here’s my suggestion for government cost-cutting. In the first round, don’t try to cut programs or departments just because they’re expensive, or politically unpopular, or seemingly optional, like art classes, vocational training, park maintanance, and the like. The very first step is to cut the expenses that are utterly useless, and that provide no net revenue to the state or benefit to the people.

Cut the activities that do nothing but cost the state money and lost productivity. Things that you want to make illegal, make them illegal only one way and not seven. The state will save money on lawyers and bureaucrats, and the state’s economy will gain by not having people waste their time dealing with idiotic regulations.

With the money thus saved, the state can think about making investments in things like vocational training; and there can be a meaningful debate on whether the state should do things like subsidize vocational training at all.

Posted by tino at 20:21 27.02.02
Friday 22 February 2002

UNLV Student-Prof Sex Regulations

I have seen this on a few other weblogs, but felt it so absurd that I decided to bring it to the attention of Tinotopia’s vast audience. At UNLV, relationships between professors and students are not allowed, because:

While consensual relationships may not always be unethical, they almost always cause problems. Some of these problems are as follows:
  • they often involve one person exerting power over another;
  • seduction of a much younger person, rather than genuine consent, may be involved; […]
  • the potential for abuse and exploitation is high;
  • the potential for retaliatory harassment is strong when the affair ends […]

Gosh. Well, I suppose that there’s something to that. A student-professor relationship certainly has the potential to be exploitative and will almost always be a pretty unequal one in terms of power. And the UNLV policy only applies to relationships between a professor (or administrator, or anyone else) and a student or other person whose work they supervise. But:

When a romantic or sexual relationship exists, both parties involved may be subject to disciplinary action. Both parties are equally responsible for reporting the existence of the relationship to the appropriate supervisor at the beginning of the relationship.

(Emphasis added by Tino.)

Look; either the student is vulnerable and has to be protected, or the student is “responsible” and the university should get out of the way. You can’t prohibit an activity based on someone’s inability to take care of him- or herself, and then punish the same person for failing to act responsibly in the same matter.

Posted by tino at 10:37 22.02.02
Tuesday 12 February 2002

Music Industry Headed Down The Tubes

This should come as no surprise to anyone paying even a little bit of attention over the past few years, but it’s official: The music industry’s attempts to replace Napster and other pirate services with legitimate music downloads have failed.

Now, this should have been obvious. It was obvious to anyone who was not required, by virtue of employment bya member of the RIAA, to ignore reality.

The record companies — and, for that matter, all the other large vendors of so-called “intellectual property” are in the manufacturing business, but they don’t want to believe it.

Record companies have been important and profitable because, for the eighty years or so, most music has been disseminated via recordings, and because those recordings required a large capital investment to produce in large quantities.

As long as you needed a large factory and specialized machinery to produce these recordings, the record companies contributed something valuable: manufacturing capacity. Until very recently, this manufacturing capability was very important in the distribution of music. Bootleg records existed, but these were almost exclusively things that the record companies could or would not, for one reason or other, manufacture and sell. Nobody in the United States would have dreamed of buying (or producing in large numbers) a pirate edition of, say, Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1992. Even though a pirate doesn’t pay royalties, there’s no way he could have churned out LPs or CDs in quantity at a low enough price to make a profit. The record companies had a natural advantage.

Now, though, the record companies have a natural disadvantage. Since “manufacturing” and distribution of music now costs essentially zero, they no longer add any value to the transaction. Record companies as we now know them are obsolete, and will disappear within a relatively short time.

And yet the record companies quite naturally are interested in their own survival. Trouble is, they’re trying to survive as fish while the seas dry up: at the moment, they’d all rather die than change into something that can survive. The ones who manage to grow feet and lungs will be able to survive in their new environment. The ones who stick to fins and gills, and who insist that the seas aren’t drying up, and whose sole strategy to refill the seas (that aren’t drying up) is to hire bucket-brigades of lawyers, will die.

Posted by tino at 01:18 12.02.02
Friday 08 February 2002

Corporate ‘Naming Rights’

According to this New York Times article, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is making noises about selling naming rights in city parks to large companies eager to have their name before the public.

(Since the Times would rather get a buck out of you than actually be the paper of record, you’ll now have to read the article here.)

I really don’t understand this, at all. I mean, I understand the bargain — if your company ponies up a few million dollars a year to slap your name on the local stadium, your name gets mentioned thousands of times in sports columns, on TV, and so forth.

It’s very cheap for the exposure you get, and that’s what I don’t understand. The current contract in Houston calls for Enron to pay the city $100 million over 30 years for naming rights. That’s $3.33 million a year, which isn’t much. There’s no other way to get your name in front of so many people so cheaply.

The stadium-builders — usually local or state governments — are selling the naming rights for less than their true value.

Not only that, but these governments never seem to take into account the value to the community of a non-commercial name.

The people involved just seem to be trying to recover, any way they can, the enormous expense that now goes into building a stadium. But I think that a sound analysis of these expenses (and income from things like naming rights) would show that none of it makes any sense, and that cities would be better off leaving the construction of sports facilities to private investors — who can then name the thing anything they like.

Posted by tino at 11:10 8.02.02
Tuesday 05 February 2002

Tino Speaks on Britney Spears’ Superbowl Ads

Unintended consequences department: Britney Spears is, under the makeup and clothes and hair, a very plain-looking girl. There’s nothing special about her body, and her face is bland.

Britney’s got very good stylists, though, and the combination of their skill and her twenty years of age allows her (them) to usually pull it off rather convincingly. When the stylists’ mission is anything other than Make This Plain Girl Look Sexy, though (e.g., Make This Plain Girl Look Like Someone In The 1950s), the plainness really starts to show.

Here are a couple of pictures of Ms. Spears dressed and made-up as her “Britney Spears” character, complete with pants down to there, tousled hair, lots of shiny, lots of leather, and heavy eye make-up:

Britney Spears pictureBritney Spears picture

We at Tinotopia are not big Britney Spears fans. The music released under her name is simply awful, and, as we’ve mentioned above, there’s nothing so arresting about her looks that we’re willing to forgive that. But we must say that she looks good here, as both down-home Britney and down-town Britney.

These pictures, taken from Pepsi’s Superbowl ad, don’t show “Britney”, though, they show some random girl:

Britney Spears pictureBritney Spears picture

In the first photo, Britney looks like some random girl who’s wearing a bra and sweater that don’t fit quite right; and her adms looks fat. She doesn’t look bad, certainly, but not how Britney needs to look. Tino doesn’t look bad, but then he doesn’t make million of dollars from his looks. Yet.

In the second Pepsi shot, she looks, well, strange. Wig, glasses, and an odd dress. Is this meant to be a comment on the fleeting nature of image-based pop stardom? Nobody would remember the actual Supremes if all they were famous for was dressing like that.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. You can increase traffic to your website by including the words “Britney Spears” somewhere on the page. It might not be high-quality traffic, though;
  2. Celebrities whose fame is based largely on the ministrations of talented stylists and on a wardrobe full of leather should tread carefully when attempting anything that trades on melding their own image with anything else.
Posted by tino at 20:08 5.02.02

Minor Tinotopia Update

A couple new things have been added to the Tinotopia site:

There have additionally been several minor updates and corrections throughout the site.

Posted by tino at 17:34 5.02.02
Monday 04 February 2002

If You Get High, You’re Funding Terrorists

The Drug Czar’s office spent millions of dollars of your tax money this weekend to run two anti-drug TV spots during the Superbowl. (You can see one of them here. Warning: Quicktime.) Of course, it’s a better bargain than that, because Fox is required to cough up additional ad time at some future date, but in any case the government spent some money on ads during the Superbowl in an attempt to convince you not to get high.

Interestingly, these are the first ONDCP anti-drug ads I’ve seen that contain any truth at all. Most of the Drug Czar ads have a certain, shall we say, lack of concern for accuracy. These ads have the simple message that drug purchases fund criminal organizations (specifically, terrorists).

It’s undoubtedly true that the purchase of anything on the black market, by definition, funds criminal organizations. In the United States, the only significant black market is in drugs.

It’s not unlikely that some of these criminal drug-selling organizations fund terrorist activities with their money. So in a way this is a ground-breaking ad for the ONDCP, as it’s not based on half-truths, outright lies, and pointless fearmongering.

But I wonder whether this will backfire on the Drug Czar, because it points out the obvious: that the problem with illegal drugs is not the drugs part, but the illegal part. Our three legal drugs in the United States are alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine: Anheuser-Busch, Phillip Morris, and Starbucks do not fund terrorism.

If the priority is to eliminate drugs-based funding for terrorism, the Drug Czar should shut down the Drug War and resign; that’s far more likely to succeed than are TV ads that attempt to eliminate a market for a product that’s in demand.

Posted by tino at 10:49 4.02.02