Friday, April 26, 2002

Damn Muppets
Why is Congress taking testimony from Muppets? We have men and women getting shot at in the Middle East and yet Congress has time to stage hearings with Muppets. And why was Elmo there? Not to answer important questions about Evil Bert:

His mission was to ensure that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play," he explained before joining Joe Lamond, head of an international trade association of musical instrument makers, in the committee room.

"I think Elmo, in many ways, speaks for all children everywhere that musical learning starts in that preschool age and really does help prepare children to learn more in school," Lamond said

In other words Elmo was the tool of a special interest group that wants the government to buy its products.

So when will Northrup have Batman testify so the Air Force can get more Batplanes?

Marines Vs. Navy
Marines want the VTOL version of the JSF. Navy wants more two seater F-18F's. Traditionally the Marines get Navy cast-offs. One of the exceptions was the Harrier. The Marines like it because it can base close to land and operate off the helicopter capable landing ships they use. The F-35 is a major leap over the Harrier which is a 1960's design.

At the root this is a problem of too little money chasing too many aircraft.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Strategy Page And Blogs
Strategy Page, one of my favorite sources of military data to blog about, has three blogs listed as site of the week. Way to go to: VodkaPundit, Sgt. Stryker, and of course big daddy
Posts Down, Traffic Up
Really beedy-eyed readers will note that I paid the $35 and switched to Blogger Pro. I did that mainly because I'm using Blogger on my new commercial website and that is what the Blogger rules call for. I didn't think my posting level or readership level justified anything other than the free service.

So I tripped over to my stats just now and noticed they were up- almost double. Now my traffic is, ah, low, so double doesn't mean much. But since I really haven't posted in a long while I was curious why traffic would sudden spike.

Turns out that Google has finally picked up Daley Weather and I'm now getting Google traffic. So what are people searching for? Here's my list:
  • "mail-order cigarettes" (if they wanted to buy I bet they weren't happy when they hit this page)
  • Critics on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (on page 2 for that one)
  • soda tax school ortiz obesity (again, page 2)
  • jsf f35 discussion
  • 2002 laker playoff scenarios
  • JSF fighter arguments netherlands (this one from the Dutch localized version of Google)
  • orbitz drank school (well, they really meant Ortiz I think- unless the travel site is getting into drinking and schools)
Interesting in a totally useless sort of way. The JSF is being debated in the Netherlands which is why I suspect that traffic is hitting Google. And perhaps Ortiz is back on the anti-soda bandwagon. The Laker one came up because of my Chick Hearn updates. I'll add that no one in the West looks good enough to stop the Lakers now that Sacramento can't even beat the team with the 40 year old point guard. My scenario for the playoffs is a 3-peat unless something happens to Shaq or Kobe.

Gee, good thing I had some real content further down. I'm not even going to get any Google traffic if I just write about my search engine rankings!
South Korea Picks F-15K
South Korea has chosen the F-15K over the French Rafale. Dassault, the maker of the Rafale is planning to sue to stop the deal. They didn't like the selection process.

Perhaps the South Koreans didn't allow bribes? Is that what the gentleman from Boeing had in mind when he said:

"I want to commend the ministry of national defence and the Republic of Korea (ROK) air force for running a rigorous, fair and transparent competition. This has been one of the most honourable and tough evaluations in which we have ever participated," said Jerry Daniels, the president of Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems.
Why Europe Can't Compete
That is the underlying message of a Newsweek piece entitled Europe's Dirty Secret. Though some of it has the Casablanca "I'm shocked to discover gambling" quality to it, it makes a point that corruption is an economic speed bump:

What effect all this has on European competitiveness, among other things, can only be surmised. Clearly, it substantially inflates prices to consumers, diminishes services and rewards companies and individuals on the basis of cronyism rather than economic performance. As Europe heads into the 21st century, yearning to become an economic “superpower” on a par with the United States, it faces a stark choice: clean up or falter. For the structural “reforms” that most Europeans agree are necessary to recharge their economies cannot effectively go forward without changing the way “business” is done.

The authors also take what seems to be a knock at the US, subtly implying that someone American methods are to blame:

As in politics, American-style “privatization” has boomeranged in Europe. Throughout the 1990s government services (such as the water utility) were turned over to private-sector management, even if they remained state-owned. That opened the door to even more egregious corruption: politicians still dole out the jobs, but the freshly “privatized” monopoly remains beyond parliamentary control. And unlike the relatively low-paid bureaucrats who used to run the enterprise, the ex-politicians and party hacks elevated to the board and executive positions face no limits on their salaries.

The problem isn't that "privatization" doesn't work. It is that it doesn't work if have transparent financial systems. From the sound of this, we should be looking for a couple dozen "privatized" Enrons over there. For that matter, our campaign finance laws look like rocket science compared the European donkey methods of transport:

So what are the prospects for genuine change? It’s difficult to clean up what you can’t see. Europe’s Continental politicians are as allergic as cockroaches to bright lights in the dark corners where they do their deals, and they have repeatedly voted down attempts to bare their incomes and corporate boondoggles—or even indicate all their moonlighting jobs and consulting positions. In Germany, it’s perfectly legal for a Parliament deputy to be a highly paid lobbyist as well; nor does he have to disclose his income. Few countries have passed U.S.-style freedom-of-information laws. In relatively uncorrupted Sweden, a bureaucrat must have an extremely good reason to keep any government decision from the public eye. But in Germany the law stipulates that all public procurement decisions be made behind closed doors. Vote buying, legal until 1994, still is treated only as a misdemeanor—and the law makes it extremely difficult to prove. “Thank you” payments, the most common practice, are virtually impossible to prosecute.

I wonder who the European John McCain is?

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

My anti-monorail post below drew fire from my public transportation supporting girlfriend Murphy:

Are you totally unaware that there are actual residents of Las Vegas who might appreciate having a monorail that only costs $2.50 to get to their casino job?

I think that it is quite likely the monorail will do fine.

And as far as the tourists go, I don't think they are so used to getting everything for free. Shows aren't free. Hotel rooms aren't free. Dinner isn't free.

I think your blog post is ill-advised.

So I felt it might be a good idea to research this a bit more. I used to do debate in school, and my partner in college one year during a military centered topic was clueless about military things. He always asked "What does it look like?" Somehow knowing that made him much more confident. So in his honor, it looks like this:

My gut reaction to most mass transit is that it is ill-advised and good only for soaking the taxpayers. You might blame that on my car culture Southern CA upbringing. But there is more to it than that. Urban mass transit on the whole does not pay for itself. It works well in places with a huge central population. But out here in the west we don't have huge central populations.

But rather than talk about all mass transit, lets focus on the Las Vegas system. A quick Google search turned up an independent review of the project by a group called Public Purpose. They have both a Mission Statement and a Guiding Principle:

MISSION: To facilitate the ideal of government as the servant of the people by identifying and implementing strategies to achieve public purposes at a cost that is no higher than necessary.

GUIDING PRINCIPLE: What government does for one it should do for all; What government does not do for all it should do for none.

That's so you know where they are coming from.

Their report on the Las Vegas Monorail is much more balanced than the report by the monorail backers. You know the backers are a bit biased when their report declares:

In 2000, the nine-year visionary effort to make the Las Vegas Monorail a reality was realized.

Guiding Principle's report cites many things that work in favor of the monorail system:
  • There is a large concentration of both hotel rooms and casinos.
  • The Las Vegas Strip bus route carries 10,000 daily tourist riders at a $2.00 fare.
  • There is a tendency on the part of tourists to visit more than one casino, which could translate into LLC Monorail demand.
  • Visitors have a comparatively high discretionary amounts for spending.
I too would conceed that these factors will help the system. But the system is counting heavily on fares to cover expenses and pay off its bonds. So the accuracy of their ridership predictions are critical to the feasibility of the project. Unfortunately the predictions are incredibly unrealistic. Consider these facts:
  • The experience...with high volume ridership projections has been uniformly unsuccessful. The most inaccurate ridership projections have occurred with respect to systems projected to carry more than one million annual passengers per route mile. Virtually no such projection has been close to accurate. [And they are all over-estimates]
  • The system would be 23.1% more utilized than the New York City subway system, 104% more than the London Undergound, 177% more than the Washington DC Metro, 373% more than the Chicago elevated system, 474% more than the Bay Area BART system, and over 700% more than the recent built systems in St. Louis, San Diego, and Portland (considered the most successful light rail projects in the nation).
  • The factors that differentiate Las Vegas from the more dense US urban cores are even more evident in the foreign urban areas. Urban areas outside the United States tend to be more densely populated and have more dominant centrally oriented travel patterns ("transit friendly" travel patterns). It would therefore be astonishing for the intensity of fixed guideway ridership in Las Vegas to exceed than that of Madrid, London or Stockholm or other cities that are dominated by early 20th century or even late 19th century cores.
I'd have to agree with the study conclusion:

The RTC model's rail ridership projections may be the most aggressive ever produced in the US transit industry and appear to be consistent with the particularly inaccurate experience with high volume system projections...This is of concern, because as little as a 17 percent reduction in ridership relative to projection to produce a net loss over the period of 2003 to 2034 (in such a case, LLC Monorail revenues would be insufficient to pay operating expenses and debt service from 2008 to 2027).

Translated- if they are off on their predictions they run a deficit and will require taxpayer revenue to bail them out. This sort of overly optomistic thinking is what gets mass transit programs built. The money that builds system with minimal ridership is money that can not but used to expand or even just maintain existing systems. If the monorail needs millions to keep running how many bus lines will be cut to keep it running? How many pot holes will go unrepaired?

The system is projecting 53,500 daily riders. 500 are projected to come from the current bus line that runs up the Strip. That number seems potentially low to me. I wouldn't question it. But that leaves 53,000 riders per day to account for. 1/3rd are to come from the existing MGM to Bally's monorail that the system will replace. That would be nearly 18,000 daily rides, 5,200 more (41 percent more) than are currently carried on the existing monorail. The current system is free. The new one will cost $2.50. Needless to say, when you start charging for something, use tends to decrease rather than increase. Let alone almost double.

Another 1/3rd are to be drawn from people that walk down the Strip today. The route planned runs down the eastern back side of the Strip hotels. This places the stations at least a quarter mile from Las Vegas Blvd. Hotels on the western side of the street (including Luxor, New York New York, Ceasars Palace, Treasure Island, The Mirage) will require long walks to access the system. Additionally if you ride the system you miss the Strip itself as the line runs behind the hotels and will give you views of parking lots. If you want to see the Strip, you will be either walking, driving, or taking the bus. If you are working at a hotel on the western side of the Strip you face a minimum of a quarter mile walk after you get off the system (as opposed to the current bus that drops you off on the street). Will 18,000 people a day who currently walk suddenly decide to pay $2.50 for the trip? One thing that is in the monorail's favor- it can be darn hot in Vegas and the option of riding in airconditioned comfort will be attractive on hot days.

Another 20% of ridership is to be drawn from cabs. These 11,000 people are about 15% of daily taxi fairs. The report doubts they will draw that many people. First, the monorail can not take you door to door as a taxi can. Second, taxis can lower prices to compete if the monorail is successful at drawing riders.

Because the system will be extremely dependent on tourist traffic the ratio of hotel rooms to riders is of interest. The current MGM to Bally's system serves 7,800 hotel rooms. The new system will directly serve 25,000 rooms. Based on the present monorail ridership the more expansive system would generate a ridership of 41,200. However, that is based on a free system. Unless you assume that everyone that rides for free will pay $2.50 the actually ridership will be below that number. Even the optimistic 0% loss scenario leaves the system short by 11,800 riders a day.

Finally it bears noting that the system projects a fare to expense ratio of 280%. That means they want to collect 2.8 dollars for every one required to operate the system. The extra 1.8 dollars go to paying off the bonds required to build the system. This ratio is incredibly high. Only one system in the US operates at 100%- the Seattle Monorail. The next closest system is the New York subway system at 68.7% with most systems in the 60%, 50%, or 40% brackets. But some are in the 30's or 20's. It is extremely unlikely that Las Vegas will the only US city ever to not only break even but make another almost 200% above and beyond what other systems have managed to do.

That is why I predict the system will be bankrupt and have to be bailed out by the tax payers or the casinos. It is a very expensive way to service a small number of people. It has other flaws in my opinion such as not going to the airport. So if you fly into Vegas you'll need a car or bus trip to get to the monorail. And it has 65% higher administrative costs because it is paying managers a huge salary. I look forward to going to Vegas after 2004 and riding in the new, clean, empty monorail.
Las Vegas Monorail
Anyone who has been the Las Vegas lately knows that only suckers try to drive up and down Las Vegas Blvd, better known as the Strip. Why? Because all the other suckers have it gridlocked.

Now Las Vegas is building a mono-rail to cover the strip. They will charge you $2.50 to ride.

I think this is a huge mistake. People expect to get a lot for free in Vegas. Free or cheap food. Free shuttles. Free parking. I'm not sure that anyone will shell out $2.50 to ride down the strip. I bet this thing never approaches the 19 million riders a year they are projecting and that it goes bankrupt.
Business Launch
One reason for my lack of blogging of late has been the push to launch my new business. This will be the one and only vested interest post on that subject. My new hobby venture opened for business yesterday. It sells 1:1250 scale ship models. These models are hand made in Germany and Holland.

As an example, here is the newest model from Noordzee, a Dutch manufacturer, the Slamat (NZ 20). The real ship was a 11,000 ton passenger and mail ship and the model shows what it looked like when it was built in 1924. The model is all of 5 inches long (click on the picture for a closeup).

If you have any interest in ships and things naval I invite you to check it out.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.....
Music Industry Madness
Excellent article in Salon about the failure of big music companies to pay royalties. Of course the case they discuss is a bit vague since the artist in question can't find his contract. However even if he doesn't have a contract, you'd think Sony could tell him how many records had been sold.