June 2003 Archives

Last Thursday was pretty rough on Rhye because she got fired from her job. She openly admitted she really wanted to smoke a lot that day (because she was very upset and stressed). I'll have to give her a lot of credit - she resisted the urges and stuck with the program.

Rhye is now down to about 5 days left before she is supposed to be "smoke free". The interval between is smokes is fairly long - somewhere between 3 1/2 and 4 hours. Sometimes she gets bored and wants to smoke a cigarette before the timer says she can, but she is not crawling the walls.

Finally up on new Blogger!

After being down for hours yesterday and this morning (as well as a week late), Blogger finally got me migrated over to Dano. Tomorrow, I can finally play with my new w.bloggar software and see if it's any good.

Update: w.bloggar is out. It's not 100% compatible yet with the new Blogger. I can't really blame them for that though. Maybe later. On a positive note, the new Blogger has let me fix some things I've been wanting to fix for a while.

Kathy Kinsley wants future comments about Movable Type licensing e-mailed to the folks at Six Apart. I can't say that I blame her - none of it helps her situation at all and I bet she just wants to move on.

Mena Trott, co-founder and CEO of Six Apart, has posted some comments to Kathy's comment thread (scroll down towards the bottom of the page to see them). She would like e-mail comments about a possible "Developer and Service Provider Network". I disagreed with an assertion Mena made in one of her comments, she replied, then Kathy indicated that she wanted to end the comment thread.

Respecting Kathy's wishes, I will post my last comments here instead of on her blog. And since Mena seems most interested in developer / service provider / volume licensing, it doesn't seem to me that she would be that interested in my comments. Especially since I am not an MT user and have zero intention of purchasing a commercial license.

So here it goes.....

In the midst of a long post expressing Mena's views on this situation, Mena said the following:

It is not true that you can not offer for pay Movable Type support services. The payment of the $150 commercial license (by either the client or the contractor) entitles you to charge for support (installation, customization, design work).

Based on my reading of the license agreement, I thought that was just wrong. So I posted a short reply:

That is not what the MT license says, and what the license says is what counts. If MT's licenses do not reflect the desires and intentions of Six Apart, then the licenses need to be sent back to their lawyer for a rewrite (not that this is the only reason that the licenses need to be re-done).

Mena posted a lengthy reply to my post:

David, this clause is for those who want to offer support services:

"Web Developer Installed Website. If you are a web developer and want to install one copy of the Software on one web server as a publishing system for a single website that you are designing for a client. The client website must be either one of the two types of websites described above for which a Limited Use License is available, or a website license under Licensor's Personal, Non-Commercial Use License. A single License Fee shall be payable by either you or by the client, with the license issued to both you and the client."

Yes, we do need to refine that clause and state that installation services does include design, template customization etc.

If you look at the FAQ, we also have an answer under the "can I charge for installations" question that says "If, however, you represent a client and you or the client purchase a commercial license, you may charge for support services for that one client, as described in the Limited Commercial Use License."

We will certainly try to clarify this issue.

And yes, I've stated here that we will re-evaluate the license and seriously explore the idea of a Developer and Service Provider Network. We want to make changes to make this work (based on your suggestions and idea). We read this thread and are listening to our users.

I'm sure that we can go back and forth about the existing license and its restrictions. However, since we want to move forward and change the way it works, I think it's less helpful to point out technicalities on something that we said will change. As I posted above, please feel free to email us specifics about how a Network could work for you.

I agree that, according to the paragraph Mena cites, purchasing a commercial license authorizes a "web developer" to perform "support services". And yes, that paragraph could use some refining and definition of terms. But that is not the paragraph that contradicts the MT FAQ. The paragraph that applies here is "Restrictions on Use":

"Without limitation, uses which are prohibited under this Limited Commercial Use License include.....receiving compensation for any service that uses the Software, including support services."

This paragraph applies to all licensees, whether they are "web developers" or not, as there are no exceptions anywhere in the MT license. "Web Developers" who purchase a commercial license are thus authorized to perform "support services", but they cannot receive any compensation for it.

Regardless of what any officer of Six Apart says, and regardless of what is posted in MT's FAQ, what the license says is what counts: "This Agreement constitutes the entire understanding of the parties....." and "This Agreement shall take precedence over any other documents that may be in conflict herewith." (from the "General" section near the end of license).

If I am an MT "web developer" who charged for my services, I would sleep a little better at night but not easily, based on what Mena has said. Technically, I would be in violation of MT's license, but Six Apart would not enforce that portion of the license against me. I don't know of any person or business that would be happy in this situation, as it totally depends on the goodwill of Six Apart. Six Apart could, at any time, assert that I was in violation of their license and demand compliance (money) or revoke my license.

Why am I beating a dead horse after Mena says, "I think it's less helpful to point out technicalities on something that we said will change."?

I guess what irked me was when Mena and I disagreed on what the license says, Mena points to the MT FAQ, which carries zero legal weight. That's more than just a technicality to me. If Six Apart is not fully aware of of what their licenses say as well as the weaknesses and problems in those licenses, I don't see how they can avoid creating new licenses that don't have problems as well.

I think it is great that Six Apart participated in the discussion and explained their point of view on the licensing issues. I hope that Six Apart will be able come up with a solution that is a win for them as well as MT's users.

Update:
Mutated Monkeys comments
Kevin Whited comments

Update 24-Jun-2003:
MovableBLOG comments

Update 26-Jun-2003:
Tim Swanson has a [thread]http://tim.movementarian.com/archives/000077.html) on this from Apr 25, with one recent commenter.
BurningBird comments

Steven Den Beste has weighed in with a post of his own on the issues with Movable Type's licensing.

A small nit-pick:

I think it's important to make clear that I believe that everything that Six Apart did was legal. MT is their property, and they can write whatever license agreement they want. They can place any terms and restrictions in it that they want. It's their business to run as they will, and they make their own decisions.

It is true that MT can write whatever license agreement they want. This does not necessarily make those terms legal or enforceable.

Kathy Kinsley's personal blog has even more good comments on this issue as well.

Tweezer's Edge now has comments!

When I set up this blog, HaloScan was not accepting new users. I was goofing around on the Web earlier today and decided to see if the situation had changed over at HaloScan. To my surprise, HaloScan has been open to new members since June 1. I signed up for a new membership, added the comment code to my blog template, and now all 2 of my readers can post comments! Post wisely!

Next task: TrackBack links?

Kathy Kinsley set up Blog House to offer hosting services to people who want to migrate their blog to another host, use different blog software, or both. As a part of her service, she offered free installation of Movable Type (MT), one of a number of blog publishing software packages.

Kathy received an e-mail from the MT people a few days ago, alleging that she was in violation of her MT license. She posted the issue in her personal blog, seeking advice:

I just got a letter from MT about bloghouse. It says I'm in violation of their agreement for offering to install MT for people. I thought it was only if I charged for it that it was a problem. Sigh. Anyone know how to make this legal?

Kathy has also been in contact with the folks at Movable Type; she received the following reply:

"For Movable Type, you would not be able to install it free of charge for them, but you can provide them with links to the download and install instructions for their convenience."

Movable Type has two licenses - a personal, non-commercial one and a limited commercial one. The crucial section in both licenses is the "Restrictions on Use".

From the "Commercial License":

Without limitation, uses which are prohibited under this Limited Commercial Use License include receiving compensation from others for copies or modified copies of the Software; hosting, or offering to host, the Software, on any basis; receiving compensation for any service that uses the Software, including support services.

From the "Personal, Non-Commercial License":

Prohibited uses include, without limitation, using the Software on commercial websites; providing, or offering to provide, any service using the Software; using the Software to provide web design or other services to commercial and non-commercial websites; receiving compensation from others for copies or modified copies of the Software; hosting, or offering to host, the Software, on any basis; receiving compensation for any service that uses the Software, including support services.

There are a number of issues just in these sections of the licenses.

1. No user is permitted to help any other user, for free or for pay, unless a "Commercial License" is purchased.

I don't see how else the phrase, "Prohibited uses include.....providing, or offering to provide, any service using the Software" (present in the "Personal, Non-Commercial License") could be read. "Service" is not defined, but later in the same paragraph, "service" is defined to include "support services". The people at MT seem to interpret this as including installation, configuration, and troubleshooting. This restriction is removed in the "Commercial License", so it would appear you have to buy a commercial license in order to help ("provide service to") any other MT user.

2. A person / company can be a host, or be an MT licensee, but not both.

Anil Dash, a vice president at Six Apart (the company behind Movable Type), explains this by saying, "We just don't want preinstalled MT on hosting plans."

The question that first comes to my mind is, "Why?". Rick Ellis posts a possible answer in Kathy's comments:

"This is very different than, say, AOL, announcing that all their hosting accounts will come with pMachine Free or MT pre-installed. In this fictitious scenario, AOL would be leveraging a product that they did not develop, pay for, nor own the copyright on, to generate more business and provide more value to their clients.

Should AOL be allowed to do this? For those of you who say yes, would you also assert that AOL should be allowed to use someone's music on a TV commercial without paying a royalty? Or to quote from someone's story in a print ad without paying a reuse fee? Or to use photographs on their website that they didn't commission? In these scenarios it's easy to come down on the side of the musician, writer, photographer, and even the software developer.

Now, if we extrapolate down to a small hosting company, the same rules should presumably apply. If AOL can't offer pre-installed software, then no one else should be able to either.

I think the proper answer to the hypothetical AOL situation, as well as Kathy's all too real predicament, is a commercial volume license agreement that scales the total cost with the size of the host (the total number of users who would be licensed to use MT on the host). AOL should have to pay a whole lot more than Kathy would.

3. No one is allowed to make any money for any service provided in relation to MT software.

I don't believe this one is legal. MT will install their software for you for $40. If you perform the exact same installation for someone else, you are not allowed to charge anything at all for your time.

Anil's reply contains at least some of the justification for the license terms:

FWIW, we've let hundreds of thousands of people download the software for free, with a significant portion of the development effort being funded by our paid service installing the program for people who found the process too difficult. I don't think that's a terrible thing that we did, and I don't think we're wrong to protect the part of our business that pays for so many people to use MT at no cost at all.

MT's licenses protect MT's business by imposing a monopoly on providing services for pay (only MT can charge for an install) and demanding slavery (free labor) for all services provided by anyone else. That doesn't seem legal to me for at least two reasons:

A. Contract rights: If I agree to perform an installation for a fee for another MT licensee, the fact that MT's software is being installed does not make MT a party to the agreement. Thus, I don't see how MT has any right to dictate what I will or won't charge for my services. MT's licensing terms illegitimately force MT into such an agreement as another party that dictates terms to the other parties.

B. Personal Rights: A person who wishes to provide MT services to another MT licensee generally is providing knowledge, skills, and time. Considering that there is not an employer / employee relationship here, a software license that tries to assert rights in this area is reaching way too far. MT does not have any right to limit what a person does with the knowledge and skills in their head, what a person does with their time, and what a person charges to use their knowledge, skills, and time. It is not really any of MT's business.

Paul (an ISP and a software developer) posts the following in Kathy's comments:

And on a highly personal note I find it really freaking nervy that people who get this software for free (or donate a pittance) have the freaking nerve to bash the guy that gives it to them free.

Write your own damn software!

OH-- You don't know how???? That's why he gets paid.

Nobody here would work for free but they'll bash others when they won't.

Nervy-- Real freaking nervy.

The problem is not the software or its price - it's the license terms. "Nobody here would work for free but they'll bash others when they won't." That statement does not reflect the situation here. No one expects the people at MT to work for free. The problem is that MT's licenses require everyone else to work for free.

Kathy did what she had to - she stripped Movable Type from the BlogHouse web site and is looking for an alternative. My advice to the MT people: You might want to look at your licenses with respect to the points I raised above. You can only protect your business so much; beyond that, you have to compete. Consider offering a volume licensing option so hosts such as Kathy have an option to provide a good service to her customers.

I started this blog about 6 weeks ago. As you can probably tell, I am using Blogger, and hosting it on my web space provided with my Earthlink DSL account. Before I went with Blogger, I had looked into Movable Type, but from what I could tell, Movable Type won't run in Earthlink personal web space (no cgi scripts, I think). I didn't really need a lot - the only readers I have are me and my girlfriend. As great as Movable Type appears to be, their licensing terms will put me off from ever using it.

Hat tip to Jeff Jarvis for linking ("Movable Type PR Crisis") to Kathy's discussion on this issue.

Not my week for Blogger

I downloaded w.bloggar this past Monday just to see if it would be a nicer interface to create blog posts with. The software hasn't worked since I installed it. Blogger said that it was upgrading all users to a new version and programs like w.bloggar won't work until the migration is complete.

They said it should only take a day or two - it's been four and this blog hasn't been migrated yet. And no word on what the holdup is. I'm not sure if I'll like w.bloggar, but I'd sure like a chance to try it out. Grrrrr!!

The secret of Google's success

I would have never guessed! (Link via Josh Chafetz.)

In today's SF Chronicle, David Lazarus takes Wells Fargo to task for assuming that it's okay to share customer personal information with other companies unless the customer tells them not to (by "opting out"). Wells Fargo is by no means the only company that does this, but the article does provide an opportunity to comment on the problem.

Companies such as banks, credit card companies, credit bureaus, phone companies, etc., justify the selling of customer information and opt-out policies by relying on a number of bad assumptions:

1. Customer information is the property of the company.

This is what allows companies to buy, sell, trade, barter, or give away ("share") your information. They think it belongs to them. They are wrong. My name, address, phone number, social security number, annual income, credit report, etc. is my information. The company does not own it - they are only custodians of it, so the company and the customer can do proper business with each other. Beyond that, the company should have no right whatsoever to do anything else with a customer's information.

I might be willing to consider allowing customer information to be shared if two conditions are met: a) In addition to the customer data, the same information must be provided for every owner, stockholder, executive, and employee in the company. b) The information must be provided in such a way that for any particular data record, it is not apparent whether the record belongs to someone associated with the company or to a customer. Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Another alternative: When a customer's information is shared, that same information for the owners, stockholders, executives, and employees of the company would have to be provided to the customers.

2. Sharing customer information is in the best interest of the company's customers.

A company's duty is first to its owners/shareholders, the business itself second, then the employees. The customers come after all of those. Any company that presumes to act in the interest of its customers (especially without asking them) is being extremely arrogant and somewhat dishonest. The only person who knows what's in my best interest is me. When a company says they are doing something in my best interest, my instinct is to hold my wallet tight and read the fine print to see what the catch is. (There is always a catch.)

3. Companies complain that if they asked customers to opt in, the customers might never see the opt-in notice, and then the customers would miss out on new discounts and values that the companies offer.

Oh, boo hoo! Those poor customers!

Seriously, customers tend to overlook both opt-out and opt-in notices for a number of reasons: a) Companies mail so much crap as it is that the notices get lost in the pile. b) The notices are printed in legal-ese, so sometimes it's hard to determine exactly what it is, what it means, or what the company wants. c) Many companies require that the notices be signed and mailed back to the company (at the customer's expense) instead of providing a toll-free phone number or a web site that the customer can use to inform the company of their wishes.

As far as missing out on the new products, discounts, and values, this would actually be a good thing. Over 90% of what is marketed is over-priced or crap. These offers are just some new way to get customers to part with even more of their money. The "value" of these offers exists solely in the imagination of the company's executives and marketing department.

Companies want to be able to share customer information for a couple of reasons:

1. Companies can make more money by sharing its customer information.

Companies do need to make money, but this isn't one of the ways that should be an option. The information that is being shared belongs to the customers, and the customers are not compensated at all for each and every time their information is shared. It is often questionable whether the company even has explicit permission to share a customer's information (as is the case with an opt-out policy).

2. A marketer's job is made much easier by gaining access to shared customer information.

It is much easier to get a shared list of names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., than to have to work to get that information yourself. Considering the poor ethics of marketers and the sheer volume of crap they try to sell, I am not very sympathetic to them and if they were to complain that their job would be harder or even impossible without being able to get shared customer information, my reply would be, "So?".

Companies have done a good job of convincing people that customer information sharing is essential to their business. I don't buy it and never have. Companies are trading in information that does not belong to them just to turn a buck. They make it hard for customers to have their information excluded from being shared, and once it is, it is virtually impossible to track down all the places where the information has gone and have it deleted.

Sharing of customer information should be illegal, plain and simple. Whatever difficulties this would pose to companies, they would have to just deal with them. I do not see any "right" for them to make money or to make their job easier by trafficking in my personal information.

LifeSign update - 15 days left

The LifeSign is imposing a little more delay each morning before Rhye can have her first cigarette. I found out this morning that this first interval is 1/2 of whatever the current interval is. When Rhye turned on the LifeSign, she had to wait 47 minutes before having her first cigarette. After her first cigarette, the timer interval increased to 1 hour 34 minutes - exactly twice the length of the 47 minute interval.

Rhye was not a happy camper when I told her she had to wait 47 minutes after I woke her up to have her first cigarette. I don't know that I would be either. I suggested that she go ahead and get ready for work, and that by the time she was done, the timer would go off and she could have her cigarette. I think Rhye was watching the clock, because she finished and sat down in her chair exactly one minute before the timer went off. And boy, was she itching for that first cigarette. Hopefully it will get better as the days count down.

Apparently, Scott has attracted dozens of female admirers who are writing to him in prison. Sheesh.

Update 05 Jan 2005: I have been contacted by E! Entertainment Television regarding the comments on this post. They are producing an "E! True Hollywood Story" episode about women who fall in love with prisoners - especially those on death row. The working title of the episode is "E! True Hollywood Story Investigates: Love Behind Bars" and is expected to air sometime in March, 2005.

E! is looking for Scott Peterson admirers who would be willing to be interviewed on camera for television broadcast. Comments have been re-opened on this post in the interest of finding potential interview subjects for their program.

If you are interested in participating in their program, contact E! by sending an e-mail to Melissa Rafford at mrafford -at- eentertainment -dot- com.

The deadline for being considered as a possible interview subject is January 31, 2005

Related post: Tweezer's Edge to appear on E! True Hollywood Story.

Update 18 Apr 2005: The program premiered last night - see follow-up post for details.

This post is made to support the allegation I made here. Rhye placed an order over the weekend to Safeway.com for 50 distinct items. (Order total was approximately $175.) Of the 50 items that were supposed to be delivered yesterday:

A. 9 items were not delivered at all ("Not available").

This isn't the first time we've ordered stuff from Safeway and a significant number of items were "not available". It is very aggravating to go to the trouble of placing an order online and not receive almost 20% of it. One of two things is happening here: 1) Department managers are trying to keep their inventories too low, or 2) the people who pull the orders don't know the products, don't know the layout of the store, or don't put much effort into locating every product listed in an order. (I vote for #2.)

B. 6 items were substituted. (We got something, but not what we wanted.)

I don't have a problem with substitutions in principle, but Safeway needs to do more to make sure the customer will be happy with the substitution. When practical, Safeway should call the customer and ask them if they want a substitution for a product that is not available (they currently do not). If a substitution is going to be made, some common sense should be used. If a customer asks for roll-on antiperspirant, I don't think it's very likely that the customer is going to be happy with a substitution of solid antiperspirant. Also, don't substitute a product that costs 70% more than the original product. (Yes, this actually happened with two substituted items in this order.)

C. 6 items had poor estimates of price due to poor estimates of weights.

When ordering meat and produce from the web site, there is usually a weight estimate of what "1" of that particular product will weigh. The weight estimates on these products were off by a factor of 2, 3, 4. One was off by a factor of 10. If the weights on the web site are not based somewhat on reality, the estimated prices are useless. Until this problem is addressed, Safeway's web site can not be relied upon to give an accurate estimate of what meat and produce items will cost.

D. 1 item was charged as wrong (higher priced) product

The item was cherries that were on sale. The cherries were bagged and labeled at the time our order was filled. Either the wrong cherries were selected, or they were labeled incorrectly. Either way, someone did not read our order very closely. What's the point of specifying exactly what you want if the store is not going to read the order and follow it?

E. 1 item was charged wrong price by web site

This item was a gallon of milk at an odd price - 2 for $3.75, or 1 for $3.07. Safeway's web site did not handle this price correctly - we ordered one and the web site said it would cost us $1.88 instead of $3.07. Technically, we were charged the correct price on the register receipt, but I don't know that Rhye would have bought the milk had she seen the $3.07 price when she placed the order on the web site.

F. 1 item was charged wrong quantity.

We ordered 3 of this item. 3 of this item were delivered. We were only charged for 1 of them. The checker at the register was evidently asleep on that one.

That's 25 items - 50% of the order. Pretty impressive if you ask me. Adding insult to injury, the pricing errors, poor weight estimates, and substitutions added $28 to the total cost of the order. The "not available" items that were not delivered reduced the order total by $34.

Rhye - I gave Safeway a chance, and they failed Big Time. The numbers don't lie. Now you know why I laugh hysterically when I hear you talk about ordering from Safeway. The next time we order from Albertson's, I'll do a thorough analysis like I did here and compare the two.

CalTrans weenies

This is a story of Dumb and Dumber.

Dumb: Motorists on California highways, who can't be bothered to find a bathroom, are urinating into bottles, jars, and other containers (evidently while driving) and then throwing them out the window. These are later found and picked up by CalTrans litter crews. CalTrans crews consistently find several dozen bottles on certain stretches of highway.

Dumber: Because urine is considered "medical waste", CalTrans is calling in hazardous material teams to clean up and dispose of the mess when they find a couple of dozen bottles or more, at a cost anywhere between $400 and $8,000 per call.

Since CalTrans workers don't seem to have a problem with a few bottles here and there, why does finding 25 or more make a difference? Surely we don't need expensive HazMat teams to clean up a bunch of piss. A good pair of gloves and some common sense should be all that's needed here. Yeah, it's gross, but litter patrol was never a glamour job in the first place.

My fiancée Rhye has started working the LifeSign program for real now. Her countdown started last Saturday. I surprised Rhye the Friday night before by predicting exactly how many days the LifeSign unit would give her to quit smoking - 18 days.

On Saturday (the first day of Stage 2), the LifeSign was letting her have a cigarette about once every hour and ten minutes. By Monday (yesterday), that time interval had increased to about one hour and thirty minutes. She's dealing with it pretty well so far. It will be interesting to see Rhye can really quit smoking without suffering too much from withdrawal.

This is a letter that appeared today in the SF Chronicle:

TOBACCO TAX INCREASE
WOULD SAVE LIVES

Editor -- Kudos to David Lazarus for his column "Industry smoke screen" Lazarus at Large, June 6).

That article deserves some fisking in its own right - I may take it up later.

The tobacco industry makes millions of dollars from addicted smokers, half of whom will die from tobacco-inflicted disease.

I think I detect a little bias here. Here's a clue - the tobacco industry makes billions of dollars every year from its customers. Whether or not a smoker is addicted is not really relevant here. The half who may die would die over the next 20-30 years.

Everyone who cares about a healthy California should contact their legislators and Gov. Davis and urge them to support the $1.50 tobacco tax increase, with 20 cents earmarked to fund the state's world-renowned tobacco prevention, control and quit programs.

An interesting rationalization for a new cigarette tax. Smokers are going to die from cigarette smoking, so let's tax them to death first!

The $1.50 tax is per pack - that translates to a tax of $15.00 per carton, plus sales tax. Here in San Francisco, that would total to $16.27 per carton. Currently, the taxes on a carton of cigarettes in California is $3.90 in federal tax and $8.70 in state tax. Including sales tax, that comes out to $13.67 per carton. I'm paying just a little over $40 per carton right now. Current taxes are about 1/3 of the total price. This new tax would increase the retail price at least 40% (probably closer to 50%). Cigarettes will go from $40 per carton to somewhere around $60 per carton, with about 50% of that price just paying the taxes. Unbelievable.

This new tax would cost me $800 - $1,000 per year on top of the $650 per year I'm already paying. I honestly don't care what the money is going towards. That is too high of a tax bill to be borne by smokers.

If this tax actually passes, I would be sorely tempted to get my cigarettes in Nevada. Their state cigarette tax is only $3.50 per carton - I would save $20 per carton. Drive once a month, pick up 4 cartons - the $80 I would save would more than pay for the gas for the trip.

Those that are in support of this tax might want to think on that. Nevada is not that far away for anyone in California. And for every carton bought in Nevada instead of California, California does not collect one cent of the current tax or the new tax. California's tax revenue decreases instead of increases.

The tax increase will not only save lives, it will create more than $1 billion to help balance the state budget and fund essential services such as health care, education and law enforcement.

I have never EVER heard of a tax that saves lives. Someone is going to have to explain to me how taking money out of my wallet saves my life. If taxes need to be raised to pay for health care, education, and law enforcement - things that everyone benefits from - then shouldn't everyone have to chip in, not just a minority?

And how does funding for education and law enforcement (and everything else covered by the state's General Fund) fall under "caring about a healthy California"? If a "healthy California" is so frickin' important, how come so few cigarette tax dollars actually go towards that purpose?

The only losers would be the tobacco purveyors, and they're losers anyway.

Yeah, them and the smokers who would have to pay this outrageous tax. It's nice to know that it's okay with you to tax everyone you consider a "loser". Too bad I can't tax people I consider losers - the writer of this letter would be high on my list.

JENESSE MILLER
San Francisco

Ms. Miller - Stick to taxes that you personally are willing to pay for and stop offering to spend money out of my wallet. I don't really have $1,000 to spare. Do you?

Two weeks ago, Rhye tried to quit smoking cold turkey. That lasted all of about two days. I suggested that she try to wean herself from it slowly instead, and talked her into getting a LifeSign quit smoking computer to help her quit.

The LifeSign computer arrived last week. She decided that she would start working the program this past weekend. She started Phase 1 on Saturday morning. Phase 1 lasts for 7 days and all she is supposed to do is smoke normally and push the "Smoke" button on it to allow the machine to figure out her smoking habits.

Next Saturday, she will start Phase 2. The computer will calculate a gradual reduction in her smoking over the next 2-4 weeks and display a timer indicating how long she needs to wait before her next smoke, with the interval getting longer and longer as the days pass. It will be interesting to see what the program comes up with.

I hope she will be successful. I don't think it will be a breeze for her, and me still smoking like a chimney is not going to be a help either. If Rhye is successful with the LifeSign program, I may try it myself. When Rhye reaches the end of Phase 2, I plan to commemorate that day here on the blog. Good luck, Rhye!!

Wired magazine has an article discussing the "Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act of 2003", introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). I had a feeling something like this was coming, with many states crying about how much money they're "losing" to online cigarette sales.

The rationale for the law: "[C]oncern that contraband cigarettes contribute heavily to the profits of organized crime syndicates, especially global terrorist organizations." According to Hatch, "The Internet has 'exacerbated' the problem, as crime syndicates purchase cigarettes in states with low tobacco taxes and sell them to customers in states with high ones."

Some nice highlights from the bill:

1. Records of sales must be kept on file for 5 years. Record keeping requirements in general for cigarette sellers would become more stringent.

2. Violations of this law are punishable as a felony by up to a $100,000 fine or up to 2 years in jail. An additional civil penalty of up to 2% of gross sales of the previous 12 months may also be imposed.

3. Delivery of cigarettes through the U.S. Mail is prohibited.

4. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is charged with enforcing this law. Currently, the FBI is charged with enforcing federal cigarette tax laws.

The only "organized syndicates" I am worried about here are Congress and the state legislatures. Smokers make an easy target for taxation since they are in the minority. People are trying to evade cigarette taxes because they are too high. The obvious solution is lower cigarette taxes - not even higher taxes and more laws with jail sentences and hefty fines (as Congress and the legislatures would like to believe).

Proposition 13

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Calpundit noted that yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Proposition 13 passing in California. I remembered hearing about Proposition 13 when I was in school, but I did not realize that it still has so much impact today. That changed when I read some of the comments.

Squiddy started off with this comment:

Prop 13 is why California public schools suck...

And all the oldsters who bought in the 70's are getting a huge free ride. And gee, those same people are getting the free ride on Soc Sec, too.

Suck suck suck...

Squiddy posted this immediately afterward:

btw, not only do long-time owners reap the advantages of having their prop tax frozen, they also benefit from the rising equity by withdrawing new (tax advantaged) home equity loans.

That's having cake AND eating it, I say.

And where did the Renter's Credit go? Huh? Hello? Anyone?

This was my response to those comments:

Squiddy's comments are right on the money. I live in San Francisco (with its sky high real estate prices) in my fiancée's mother's house.

"And all the oldsters who bought in the 70's are getting a huge free ride."

"And gee, those same people are getting the free ride on Soc Sec, too."

My fiancée's grandparents purchased this house in the late 1950's. After their death in the 1990's, the house passed to my fiancée's mother, and was not re-assessed due to an exemption in the law. The market price for this house is estimated to be at least 20 times its 1950's assessed value (and could actually be closer to 30).

My fiancée's mother is in her late 70s, so yes, she does collect Social Security too. She gets perhaps 25% of her income from Social Security. The rest comes from renters. The house is a 3 story house - we live on the first floor, and my fiancée's mother rents out rooms on the second and third floors.

I think her property taxes are absurdly low, but she cannot afford to pay 20 to 30 times more in property taxes just on the re-assessed value. If the tax rate is increased too, the property tax bill would be even worse. She would be forced to move out and sell the house, which has been in the family for almost 50 years.

One thing to her credit is that she does gives back to the community (at least to her renters). She charges only about 30% of the market rental rate for rooms.

This is where my fiancée's mother got herself into trouble. If this house was re-assessed, due to San Francisco's rent control laws, she cannot raise rents to cover the taxes.

"btw, not only do long-time owners reap the advantages of having their prop tax frozen, they also benefit from the rising equity by withdrawing new (tax advantaged) home equity loans."

This house was built shortly after the 1906 earthquake, so it needs a lot of maintenance, repair, and upkeep. My fiancée's mother opened a home equity line of credit for less than 10% of the what the bank thought the house was worth to do various improvements to the house. With rock bottom interest rates, it was a very good deal for her.

Because of the low rents she charges, 10% seemed to be the safest amount to borrow. Most (if not all) of what needs to be done around here are not capital improvements, so those costs cannot be passed on to tenants.

I do think that my fiancée's mother should be paying her fair share of property taxes. But I don't think that she should have to give up her house because of it - and that's what rent control would force her to do.

Any discussion about property taxes and Prop. 13 needs to address rent control too. With Prop. 13 being a state issue and rent control a city one, that discussion should be really interesting (or frustrating).

I had hoped that someone else would weigh in on Prop. 13 vs. Rent Control, but as of this morning, no one else had. Oh well.

Executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd, heavily implicated in the Jayson Blair scandal, resigned their positions at the NY Times today. It's been 5 weeks since that scandal broke out and this action was long overdue.

The NY Times story (registration required) is here. The San Francisco Chronicle has the story here, and publisher Arthur Sulzberger's memo to the staff of the NY Times is here.

Grocery stores

This post is a reminder for my fiancée Rhye:

Safeway bad!
Albertson's good!

I love you, Sweetie!

Jury Duty

Quote from jury summons: There is no attempt to deliberately inconvenience anyone. After just 2 days on jury duty, I'd have to say that the courts inconvenience everyone equally.

Doomed without a degree?

Calpundit has been posting a lot on income inequity in America. In this post, Kevin addresses executive compensation. One of the comments to his posts drew my attention:

Unless you are a entrepreneur, no high school diploma dooms you (and has doomed you) to minimum wage jobs or joblessness. My wife's grandfather had no high school diploma -- and he was a manager for Diamond Match. No high school diploma now -- burger flipper at your favorite fast food restaurant.

This is pretty much true - if you don't have a high school or diploma or GED, there are not a lot of options open to you. I've been wondering if that's been changing though. It used to be that a high school diploma was what opened doors to new employers. Over the last 5 years or so, it seems to me that the ante has been raised to a college degree.

I only have a high school diploma. Over the last 5-7 years, the number of jobs I thought I had a reasonable chance of getting has been getting smaller and smaller. Jobs that I used to be able to walk into now have a degree requirement - employers won't even talk to you without one.

I used to think that a college degree was something I could work on if I ever had the time and money. Now I wonder if it may be necessary for survival.