Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Hobby Lobby Case

This week the Supreme Court accepted two cases which could become a fundamental base for a new understanding of the role of government.    The President's Senior Advisor argued in an article on HuffPost that  A Woman's Health Care Decisions Should Be in Her Own Hands, Not Her Boss's.  That is something I agree with totally.   But then Valerie Jarrett perverts her own argument by assuming that if the government mandates something it should also be able to impose its values on individual employers.  There I disagree.  The two cases accepted were  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (13-354); and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius (13-356).   The left has argued that this is a "radical" change in the way law is interpreted by adding individual rights to corporate ones.  Jarrett seems to think that the ACA should have imposed a common set of standard on employers not individuals (although there is indeed an individual mandate) and seems to ignore that the individual mandate, if interpreted in her broad reading, coercive.

Jarrett writes "Ensuring the full freedom of women as health care consumers to access essential preventative health services is a vital component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And nowhere are health decisions more personal or essential to keep in their hands, than those regarding reproductive health. The ACA was designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor, and not by her boss, or Washington politicians."   Unfortunately the ACA goes several steps further.

Could government conceivably require health insurers to add certain coverages for health policies?  Of course.  That is especially true if the government is providing the service.  But should government be able to force employers, who have formed in a corporate structure primarily in response to  our tax laws, to offer coverage which violates their religious beliefs?  I think not.

I am not an attorney.   But I believe that the four justices who voted to overturn the ACA in the courts are most likely to be joined by the Chief Justice, who wrote the convoluted opinion which formed the basis for upholding the ACA.  It is also pretty clear that the four justices who concurred with Roberts' decision are unlikely to change.  So we will be stuck with another 5-4 decision.

Ultimately, there are plenty of alternatives to the mandate and to the one size fits all philosophy of Jarrett.   I wonder whether Jarrett has ever tried to think about what Hayek called the "fatal conceit" - ultimately centralized solutions like Obamacare will fail because they ignore the rich diversity of the human experience.

This story has another twist.  What I have not seen is a set of suits challenging the President's arbitrary and capricious implementation of the law he challenged.   I am not sure where there is any authority for a Chief Executive to selectively over-rule provisions of an enacted law so blatantly.   His delay of the employer mandate and now other provisions without direct congressional authorization is a testament to the complexity of implementing this Leviathan - yet no where in the statute does he have the authority to delay those provisions that are hard to implement - especially when the delays are timed in such a manner as to sweep the problems under the rug until after the 2014 elections.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Leaders Then and Now

For the past couple of months I have been reading the last volume of the Manchester biography of Winston Churchill and Churchill's own History of the English Speaking Peoples simultaneously.   If you have the stamina they should best be read together.    Who else would attempt to explain history in a coherent manner from Roman times to the end of the Victorian age in four volumes but Churchill?   Manchester, in this volume, chronicles Churchill from the beginning of WWII to the end of his life in one big book.

If you want to know how many times Sir Winston burped in 1943 you can probably find it in the Last Lion - the detail is comprehensive.   I did not read the earlier volumes and thus cannot be sure whether this kind of detail was a result of Manchester's writing style or of his ultimate collaborator (the last volume was finished after Manchester died).    But at times the style can be mind-numbingly boring - even for a Churchill fan like me.   I think the book is at its best when he talks about Churchill's work in Parliament and especially of his Fulton Missouri speech.   There are some great quotes (Clement Atlee was described as a "sheep in sheep's clothing.")   What you find is that Churchill could be brilliant and petulant at the same time.  That being said, he had a tremendous capacity for conscientious work and clear thinking.   While he was wrong often he was also right about a lot of things.

The History of the English Speaking Peoples is a survey of great breadth.  It gets some of the history wrong (for example, I think his appreciation for Hamilton is a bit distorted) but on the whole he paints a picture on why even with a very bloody political history staffed by an interesting group of characters, there is something exceptional about our shared history.  In spite of the President's comments about lots of exceptional histories in the world - I think Churchill makes a good case that our history is indeed unique.

What I was struck with most was the comparisons of Churchill (and his descriptions of the great leaders in his history and Manchester's even) with leaders of today.   Clearly, Churchill thought he should be taken seriously and had a sense that what he was doing was important.   But the difference with today's leaders is that he also thought it was a great idea to actually accomplish something.   He could be a bitter partisan but at the same time he figured out how to actually get things done.  He tried to be at the center of things but he also tried to work collaboratively.  Churchill understood the beginnings of polling but he was never driven in his leadership decisions to be guided by polls.    Can you think of any US political leader who is not driven to consult the Ouija board of polling?

Confronting a Cliche

First, please excuse my long delay in posting.   I am tired of writing about the train wreck that is Obamacare - which is odd in itself - this is a train wreck that keeps on getting worse.    So yesterday I went up on the Trinity river in Northwest California to fish for Steelhead.

The cliche is "the worst day of fishing is better than the best day of working..."

Steelhead are an interesting fish.   They are bigger than trout (mostly) and are very spooky - the best conditions to fish for them are pretty miserable.  When the water is cold and clear, they are very tough to catch.   The Trinity is a tributary of the Klamath river and is a total of about 165 miles.   For Northwest California it has been pretty dry.  So the water yesterday was very low and very clear.   In the time that I have fished the Trinity I have averaged two fish a day - which is actually pretty good - although that average is a bit misleading between days when I landed 4 fish and days when I landed none - I've never had a so so day on the Trinity.

On Saturday, there were evidently a lot of fishermen on the river - so going into Sunday was not promising - low water, clear, pounded heavily the day before - not promising.   And indeed, the promise came true.   I got one or two nibbles but landed nothing.  At one point the outside air was cold enough so that the guides on my fishing pole were clogged with ice.   But the Trinity is very responsive - if they get some good rain before the end of the year - the fishing will come back quite well.

But was it a good day?   There is another cliche that many fishermen use - there is a difference between fishing and catching.   We had a pretty good fishing day - but a lousy catching day.   It was great to be outside in one of the prettiest rivers in the US.   I got to work on technique yesterday under a lot of different conditions.   We had a great guide (Brian Kohlman from Confluence Outfitters).   I got to go up with my son and introduce him to fly fishing - he has been a gear guy before.   And that was fun.

But was it better than the best day of work?   Not really.  It was different, fun, challenging.  But certainly not better.   But the skills you gain on a day like this are many - patience is one of the biggest.   And that then can make even the worst day of work a bit better.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An interesting twist

I have a son in law who works for Disney so we often
talk about the changing nature of the movie business.  On Monday, when I was in Mexico City, I went to a CinĂ©polis - which is a big movie chain there.  We saw Gravity in 3D which was actually pretty good.

A couple of years ago I wrote about VIP theaters - where you get very comfortable seating and a very good range of food and beverages for a premium price.   That innovation is finally coming to the US in limited cities.

But on Monday I also noticed this Kiosk.   It has digital images of all of the movies available and a patron simply slides in a credit card and makes a choice and you get your tickets.   No lines, no confusion.

The next logical step is to adapt this to a smartphone application which will simply avoid the capital cost of the Kiosk.   The difference between this and a service like Fandango is that it does not involve any service charge - although the Fandango charge is certainly nominal.

I have not seen this kind of ticket dispenser in the US - although it could well be being used in some cities.   Movie theaters need to continue to think about what will bring people into the theater - ease of entry and an enhanced experience will both keep them in business.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Some initial impressions of the iPad Air

Yesterday morning I went out to one of the two Apple stores in the region to pick up my new iPad Air.   I have some comments about the actual device but have two other comments before that.

First, Apple did something different for this upgrade.  When you went on the site (as I did at midnight) you could choose to have the thing delivered or you could use in store pickup.  When you got to the store there were two lines.   One for people who had not purchased in advance and one for those who had.   It took me about 15-20 minutes to get my device and walk out of the store.

One other interesting thing I found about this upgrade.   I decided to go to the 128 Gig model.  I thought I was outside the norm.  At least for this store, as I spoke with people in line and as I talked with the person who delivered my iPad - the 128 model with a Cellular connection seems to be pretty popular - followed by the 32 gig model.   I guess if you want capacity - you pay the extra $100 (from the 64 gig model) and get the larger model.   I wonder if those dynamics will continue as the product rolls out - I doubt it.   Two of the people I spoke with in the store were buying ones for Christmas presents and both bought the 32 gig model.   One other thing - only 1 person I spoke with wanted the WIFI model.  I will be interested to see how these numbers shake out over time.

Second, as you walk out of this particular Apple store there is a kiosk for the Surface tablet.   They also set up lines but as you can see - there was not one.  That pretty much describes the success of the Windows alternative.  (Snarky Comment)

On to the review of the iPad Air.   I have not had a chance to test things like battery life - although I believe Walt Mossberg's stress test which argued that battery life is even a bit better.   And I am in the process of deciding which Apps I want to keep on this new one.  I also am not a stickler for things like Pixels.   The screen on my now former iPad was great - this one is also great although it has more pixels per inch - but I am not sure whether I can actually see the improvement enough to care about it.

Today I will give you three quick impressions and then work with it for a week for a more comprehensive review.    #1 - Form factor - the new model is indeed a lot lighter.   But it is also physically smaller.  The Air is 9.4" X 6.6"  versus the 9.5" X 7.31" for the earlier model.  It is also thinner and lighter by about a half a pound.   Yet the screen size is the same.   That will make this a lot easier to use for things like reading a book on an airplane than my earlier model.   I think the new Air may cut into sales of the mini- simply because it is a bigger experience with only about a quarter of a pound more in weight.  In one sense this new model feels like a Kindle 2 in my hand - very comfortable.

#2 - Speed -  From my initial side by sides (I am in the process of stripping my old model down to give to my son) the Air is noticeably faster in doing everything.  Everything.  It switches between Apps better.  It loads materials in Apps more quickly.   I have read the benchmarks but many times benchmark test results are less clear when you actually use the device.   But this is simply faster, a difference that is not technical but noticeable.

#3 - Connectivity - One of the selling points of the new model was a redesign of the WIFI and Cellular antennas.   I will be interested to see when I take this out of the country but at least here, doing the things I do now - everything about signal strength seems to be better.   WIFI actually pops up quicker and in some simple tests I seem to be able to get slight (or great in some places) better WIFI signal.

When I have used it for a while I will give you some more thoughts.