On Solyndra

Published at 13:16 on 16 September 2011

Yes, it does show that corporate handouts don’t stop at party lines.

And yes, it was a stupid investment. Solyndra’s business plan was fatally flawed: it depended on finding alternatives to silicon for photovoltaic cells, which they presumed was needed because the price of silicon was going up, which they presumed indicated a shortage. Anyone with a few functioning neurons in his or her brain should see the flaw here: silicon isn’t a scarce strategic material. 27% of the Earth’s crust is silicon. Quartz — the most common mineral in the crust — is high-grade silicon ore.

The shortage of silicon in its refined elemental state, therefore, was purely due to a manufacturing bottleneck, not any sort of a raw-materials scarcity. The output of silicon solar cells had gone way up, but the output of refined silicon had not, creating a shortage in the latter. Any resulting spike in prices was bound to be short-lived, however, as it would merely serve as an incentive to build more refineries and open more silica quarries. As indeed it was.

However, it’s also small potatoes as government fiascoes go. The Iraq War has wasted far, far more money. Not to mention lives (Solyndra killed nobody).

And no, it wasn’t a stupid investment because it was an alternative energy investment; it was a stupid investment because it contained a flawed premise about silicon.

Immigration Hypocrisy

Published at 10:09 on 15 September 2011

First, it bears pointing out that illegal immigration only became a big issue when Dubya’s popularity started flagging, as a result of the Iraq War going badly and the economy slipping into a slump, and that the professed concern about it was whipped up by the same crowd that advocated Dubya’s policies.

Second, it bears pointing out that about 90% of the rhetoric is about the illegal immigrants themselves (who have been rebranded simply “illegals;” presumably the extra word “immigrants” had too much danger of humanizing those the Right was trying to demonize). Only a tiny fraction is about the illegal employers who give them work, despite it being every bit as illegal to employ an illegal immigrant as it is to become one. (Why aren’t those employers being called “illegals,” too?) Remember that the next time one of the anti-immigrant crowd tries to claim they principally care about playing by the rules and obeying the law.

Finally, as Derrick Jensen has pointed out, this whole obsession with tightly regulating the human crossing of borders while ignoring all the harm from inanimate objects (i.e. finished goods, raw materials, and wastes) crossing borders shows just what a bunch of xenophobic hypocrites those who rant about “illegals” typically are. This is particularly the case when they add ecological pretenses to their ranting. Unless, that is, for some reason you find it reasonable to believe that it is mere coincidence that they only raise concerns that are inconvenient to those with the least power and privilege in society.

What Farmers Insurance is Probably Doing

Published at 11:12 on 14 September 2011

I read the text of one of their spam messages before emptying my spam folder this morning, and what they’re offering to do is let you franchise an agency with them. So it’s not all that difficult to engage in a little conjecture and figure out what’s probably going on.

Franchises come with franchise fees, of course. Such fees get at least partially collected up front, regardless of how well a franchise does. (That’s supposed to serve as an incentive for a franchisee to try hard at the job of making the franchise successful.)

In Farmers’ case, however, they don’t particularly care if your franchise does all that well or not. They earn money mainly on the up-front fees, so they’ll doubtless sell a franchise to anyone with a pulse. This ensures that the landscape is literally crawling with Farmers franchises, which in turn ensures that your franchise will have a lot of competition.

Unless you’re a natural-born salesman (and most people are not), good luck. More than likely, most franchisees end up like Amway affiliates: their business is mostly limited to friends and family, who purchase based mostly to avoid the social awkwardness of saying “no” to someone who’s close to them. Thus the commissions earned (and, being a franchise, it’s all commissions; in the eyes of the law, you’re a business, not an employee) doubtless do not come close to recovering the franchise fees paid up front.

But why would Farmers care? They’ve got your money, and they’re operating under the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

That’s my theory, at least. But I’d be surprised if it’s terribly far off the mark.

Oops

Published at 09:32 on 14 September 2011

I recently applied to a job from an employer that used Careerbuilder to manage their job applications. As part of the application process, it requested my résumé and demanded that I either enter my current Careerbuilder username and password or register for an account.

So I did the former, without thinking of the possible consequences. And sure enough, Careerbuilder saved the copy of the résumé I just uploaded, which of course didn’t have the explicit message telling insurance companies to go away at its start. Surprise, surprise: the spam from insurance companies is baaaaaack.

Of course, sleaze outfit Farmers Insurance has been uninterruptedly spamming me several times per week for over a year and counting now. They’ve long since earned a spot in my spam filter, and I recommend that anyone who hates spam should avoid doing business with them like the plague.

Update: If you Google “farmers insurance spam,” it is fairly easy to see that I am not alone, and that this firm’s sleaze extends far beyond being an unrepentant spammer.

Some Notes on the Transition

Published at 17:15 on 13 September 2011

  • I decided to pay money to host the blog myself, because that option allowed me to avoid Google/Blogger’s creepy terms of use while also avoiding WordPress’ broken CMS (which the hosting site WordPress.COM forces you to use) for hosting the old entries.
  • Regarding those old entries, I eventually gave up on trying to import them into the new blog software. It’s too much of a headache to do with WordPress (which perverts imported HTML in strange and unpredictable ways).
  • Regarding the blog software, I settled on WordPress, because it’s a popular platform, and of the popular platforms it can run on the least expensive hosting services.
  • My main motivation for the transition was to join the modern world and have my blog available for syndication with RSS.

And We’re Up at Last

Published at 16:31 on 13 September 2011

It was a process fraught with difficulties, both in converting the old blog to a new format (something I essentially gave up on), and in getting this blog hosted (there were a number of hiccups in the process, you should have been seeing this message on Saturday). And there’s still a fair amount of configuring to do.

Ah, well. The main part of the deed is done at last.