mess-age in a bottle

most successful scam of that last 20 years: bottled water. it went from a niche item that very few people bought to something millions of people a day are consuming, without a thought. if your municipal water is really that bad you should lobby to have it improved, which will cost more, but less than water bottled in plastic made from petroleum that probably won’t be recycled and hauled in trucks burning petroleum fuel. but in many cases you probably can’t tell the difference between bottled and tap. if you can, try a charcoal filter system for your water.


remember the maine? i thought not

believe it or not, the first telephone tax was an indirect result of the sinking of american battleship Maine, which precipitated the spanish-american war. the tax was created to help pay for the war. during the great depression a tax on long distance service was created to supplement falling income tax and was subsequently applied to local service as well. we’ve been paying it ever since. good news, however, came in 2006 when the IRS (after losing multiple court cases) finally gave up trying to collect “toll telephone service” taxes. unfortunately, regular local service is still taxed (look at your bill). a 2011 bill to kill the tax once and for all seems to have died in committee. please, please get rid of this ancient and regressive tax.

click it or ticket

why does almost every state have a law requiring drivers to use a seatbelt? public demand? hardly. first came the federal airbag (or “automatic” seatbelt) mandate. then came the deal: if enough states pass seatbelt laws, we’ll cancel the airbag mandate. US automakers spent millions lobbying successfully to get the laws passed to avoid the mandate. except then the government reneged on the deal: the airbag mandate went forward anyway. but now we’re also stuck with unnecessary and intrusive seatbelt laws.

even worse, though most were originally “secondary” offenses, meaning you could not be stopped for it, most are now “primary” offenses, meaning you can be pulled over for no other reason than not using a seatbelt, even if your vehicle has an airbag, though airbags supposedly perform better if the seatbelt is used.

obviously this is closely related to helmet laws: both are trying to enforce what should be a personal decision, and both should be revoked.

honey, aw sugar sugar

remember when soda was made with sugar instead of corn syrup? and ketchup and everything else? so what changed? agricultural policy. world sugar prices spiked, then crashed, so domestic sugar producers lobbied congress and got sugar price supports and import tariffs. this drove the price of sugar back up, so the big sugar consumers looked for a cheaper alternative. corn was (and still is) grown in huge amounts because a minimum price is guaranteed by the government, and a process had recently been invented to create high-fructose corn syrup on an industrial scale, leading to the replacement of sugar with HFCS in every product possible. all this to coddle domestic cane and beet farmers to the tune of more than $3 billion a year. sugar subsidies and tariffs should be immediately abolished, thus returning the sweetener market to an open and free one.

you might recall a few years ago that the price of honey was relatively low, but it’s sky-high now. guess how that happened. china started exporting cheap honey and domestic honey producers, already hit by colony collapse disorder (CCD), couldn’t compete, so they begged the government to intervene. the result was a 5 year import tariff on chinese honey, thus keeping prices high. the USITC is considering ending this subsidy. they should. large-scale beekeepers will tell you that they pollinate billions of dollars worth of crops; true enough. does this mean we should subsidize them? no. if they can’t compete with imported honey then perhaps they should charge more for their pollination services.

the most convoluted way to elect

much has been written about the electoral college, more so since the contested 2000 election. it actually was a good idea at the time it was created: it spared governments and voters the great trouble of a runoff election in the event that no candidate achieved a majority, in an era when late-year travel was slow and difficult and the populous was mostly rural. but its usefulness has long since passed. Not achieving a majority is unlikely due to the 2 party system, but if need be a runoff could be done; other countries have them as a matter of course.

another issue is that the system is unfair: it gives small (in population, like wyoming) state voters undue electoral power. this is undeniably undemocratic. but the worst of it isn’t even part of the constitution: it’s the winner-take-all method that almost all states employ to assign their electors. this has 2 effects: it maximizes disenfranchisement of voters by obliterating the vote of (literal) minority voters, and it creates “safe” and “swing” states in which a state’s voters either get too much attention (and money) from campaigns or none at all.

let’s put this antiquated creation to rest and amend the constitution to a direction popular vote in which every voter’s choice has equal weight.


the federal senate was a necessary compromise to get small states to form a union with large states. but the difference in size between small and large then is trivial compared to what it is now. the idea that states need equal representation is antidemocratic; people need representation, not governments. the US senate gives unfair power to small state voters and should be eliminated. then i won’t have to write another screed on the filibuster, which doesn’t even require the effort of holding the floor as in “mr. smith goes to washington”.

compounding the error is almost every state legislature, which are unnecessarily bicameral (“two cameras”, as if they are legislating in 3-D). state senates serve no purpose and never did. they should all go the way of the dodo.

DST in the wind

making the clocks wrong for half the year is pure idiocy. we now have so many devices with interal clocks that it’s worse than ever. and don’t forget that some areas (to their credit) refuse the semiannual ritual, adding to the confusion. no, it doesn’t reduce electricity usage. if businesses want to have “summer hours” they are free to do so.