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|Thursday, December 12th, 2013|
|Georgist Conference in Pittsburgh, Part Seventeen
To continue with the panel on "The Politics of Assessment," we next heard from Mike Curtis, from Arden, Delaware. Arden, in case you didn't know, is a Georgist community; it charges people who lease land there for (some of) the value of their land, and uses that to pay the local government's property tax (which falls on land and buildings). Mike Curtis talked about rent assessments in Arden. Assessors take an oath to assess full rental values. He found that the people on the Board didn't know what they were doing, and didn't care. They interpreted "full rental value" to mean the amount they wanted to collect.
Mike Curtis is a high school dropout (not that I would have realized it; he knows a good deal, and is articulate), and he was nervous at first, rubbing elbows with Arden Board members who have graduate degrees.
He talked about annualization of rent, etc. He talked about how he assessed land rent. There are different sizes of houses, with different numbers (house area, house value, land area, etc.). Assessments are supposed to be for the highest and best use, which does not necessarily mean the largest house. People might want a smaller house and a fair-sized yard.
To be continued . . .
|Sunday, December 8th, 2013|
|Where Gratitude Is Not Due
The Washington Post
printed a letter of mine on Saturday the seventh, which they edited a little bit. Here it is, as they published it:
In his November 28 Econ Agenda column ["Cheer up: Here are five economic trends to be thankful for," Economy and Business], Neil Irwin thought that we should be thankful for rising home prices, which mean higher wealth levels for Americans. I think otherwise. Higher real estate prices don't make us all richer; they enable some people to charge more money to other people for places to live and work.
Producing more valuable items, and getting them to those in need, make us better off. Higher housing prices may make some Americans feel richer, and more inclined to spend, but even if that's good, what about the people who have to scrimp to buy a home or to make the mortgage payments once they have bought one?
More people truly understanding economics might be something for which to be thankful.Nicholas D. Rosen
This doesn't agitate for Georgist remedies, but may help some people think about what's going on.
|Saturday, December 7th, 2013|
|The Red Queen's Race
No new amendments appeared this week, and I wrote Office actions on two existing amendments, bringing me down to just one, and I've started on that as well.
I also dealt with my oldest Continuing New case.
|Thursday, December 5th, 2013|
|Nelson Mandela RIP
Sometimes we see a man whose character exposes the rest of us for what we are, and yet may inspire us with a vision of what we could be. Such a man was Nelson Mandela. No doubt he had his faults, and was great despite or even because of them
. No doubt South Africa today is a mess -- what country in the world is not a mess? -- with high crime rates, severe poverty, AIDS, and social tensions.
Nonetheless, this man who had been imprisoned for twenty-seven years reached out to his people's oppressors, forgave his enemies, and assured whites that they could have a place in the new South Africa. When I compare this to my own grudges over far smaller wrongs, I feel ashamed.
Let us also remember that Mandela served as President for a limited term, and then, like George Washington, left office. That is an admirable precedent that offers hope for his country. When I thinks of how many Presidents-for-Life Africa has suffered under, I must say that the people of South Africa, black, white, and of intermediate shades, have been blessed to have a Mandela rather than a Mugabe or a Mobutu.
Rest in peace, old hero, and may others strive to follow your shining example.
|Wednesday, December 4th, 2013|
A few months ago, I celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of beginning my employment at the Patent Office. Today, He Who May Not Be Named came by with a plaque for me, signed by the recently-former Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and noting my fifteen years of government service. I was given a lapel pin as well as the plaque.
I wonder how much government employment actually qualifies as service. Some does, and I hope that I'm not making too many blunders in ruling on what is and is not patentable. Some activities of some federal employees seem to be public disservice.
|Monday, December 2nd, 2013|
|Millennials and Helicopter Parenting
There's an article in Slate
by a psychotherapist, on the problems suffered by the children of helicopter parents
. Millennials who have had their lives carefully managed by their parents turn out to be unable to manage by themselves when they finally leave the nest, or suffer romantic breakups and other vicissitudes of life. I wouldn't assume that this is true for all Millennials, or even all offspring of helicopter parents, since people who see a psychotherapist, and provide her with fodder for an article on how seriously messed up some young adults are these days, are not a random sample.
Nonetheless, I do think that there is some truth in what she says. If my parents had been more successful in their attempts at helicoptering, I might have made better grades in high school, and on the other hand, I wouldn't have read so many worthwhile but unassigned books from my parents' shelves, the local library, and the Penn State University library. I don't know how I might have turned out psychologically -- probably not like "Amy," but how can I be sure?
|Sunday, December 1st, 2013|
You may wonder what a vegetarian eats for Thanksgiving dinner. I might have posted about this earlier, but I had some problems with LJ and/or my Internet connection. In my case, I ate a slab of Field Roast
Hazelnut Cranberry Roast. This is a loaf of wheat gluten, hazelnuts, cranberries, and other ingredients in a puff pastry shell. I ate it with roasted carrots and cranberry relish. (I had made the cranberry relish myself.) I also opened a bottle of hard cider (Orchard Gate Gold), and drank a glass of that with dinner.
|Friday, November 29th, 2013|
|The Red Queen's Race
I got one new amendment this week, and I dealt with one of my old ones, so I'm back to a total of three.
I've also been working on my oldest (or at least highest priority) Continuing New case. I'm not finished with it yet, but I hope to have an Office Action out by Monday at 3:00 PM.
|Georgist Conference in Pittsburgh, Part Sixteen
To continue with the August 7 presentation on "The Politics of Assessment," Bill Batt showed us land value maps of Cohoes, NY, and New London, CT. They showed -- supposedly -- plots of high-value land scattered among low-value land, which means that the assessments are inaccurate. Total assessments may be pretty good, he said, but if so, the allocation between land value and building value is messed up.
Dr. Batt then talked about Albany, New York. You would expect high-valued parcels where the lawyer-lobbyists have their offices, or on the main strip. It doesn't look that way on the map!
The Twin Towers of Albany, right across from the State Capitol, are on extremely valuable land (the address is 111 Washington Street). The official assessment is that the building is worth $10,355,200, and the land is worth $365,900, or 3.4% of the total property value, which is obvious nonsense.
Is this due to incompetence or corruption? Building values depreciate, and depreciation can be written off when paying Federal taxes. Land doesn't depreciate, so real estate owners have an incentive to have as much as possible of their property value assessed as building value. Assessors may be nudged to accommodate influential local people, with or without actual bribery.
|Wednesday, November 27th, 2013|
|The FDA vs. 23andme
There's an online petition to the FDA
and its Administrator, Margaret Hamburg, against the FDA's letter warning 23andme to shut down, and I have signed it. (Or at least, I hope I have; I'm not sure whether my click was counted properly.) I urge others to join the petition, and perhaps speak up in other ways.
I think that this is arrogant paternalism, going beyond what the FDA is authorized to do. In particular, I believe that there is a First Amendment issue. 23andme is not selling medical devices, like pacemakers or surgical stents, nor selling chalk as an alleged medicine; it is providing information to its customers, and the information is not demonstrably fraudulent, libelous, an incitement to riot, or otherwise not under the First Amendment's protection. Therefore, I believe this bureaucratic power grab to be unconstitutional, in addition to the other things that can be said against it, and I hope that a court will agree with me. We'll see what happens.
|Monday, November 25th, 2013|
|Schalkenbach Meeting This Weekend
I'm back from a weekend Board meeting/members' meeting/retreat of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
at The House of the Redeemer
, a former mansion in NYC, now an Episcopalian retreat.
We passed some resolutions, amended our by-laws, made some decisions, and were unable to agree about some matters. It's good to see old friends again, even if I wold rather not have shared a room (not that my roommate did anything horrible, but I like my privacy).
At some point, I may have more to say specific to Schalkenbach, but for now, I'll steer you to a good article at The Progress Report
, about Karl Marx and Henry George.
Here's the first paragraph: "Why do American children study Karl Marx, the villain we love to hate, in school? Yet Henry George, whose views on land and tax reform gave rise to the Progressive and Populist movements of the 1900s, is totally absent from US history books. During the 1890s George, author of the 1879 bestseller Progress and Poverty, was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. In 1896 he outpolled Teddy Roosevelt and was nearly elected mayor of New York." Current Mood: tired
|Friday, November 22nd, 2013|
|The Red Queen's Race
No new amendments this week, and I dealt with one of my older ones, bringing the docket of amendments down to three.
I also did an Office Action on my oldest Continuing New case. There's a push to deal with Requests for Continued Examination, which are classified as Continuing New; these are a special kind of amendment, so to speak, but they don't appear in the Amendments dockets.
|Sunday, November 17th, 2013|
There are no more great heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' market, but I do get Goldrush apples, which are wonderful. Suncrisps are nearly as good. And then there's apple cider, much better than the supermarket version.
|Saturday, November 16th, 2013|
|Georgist Conference in Pittsburgh, Part Fifteen
To continue with the afternoon of Wednesday, August 7, we had a session on "The Politics of Assessment," with Ted Gwartney, Bill Batt, and Mike Curtis. Ted Gwartney spoke first; he is now retired, but has served, in order, as the Chief Assessor of Southfield, Michigan; the Province of British Columbia; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Greenwich, Connecticut.
Mr. Gwartney said that an assessor should explain things to the public, and talked about the 2010 reassessment in Greenwich. Then he talked about how real estate is valued. Sales enable the assessor to determine the relative importance which buyers place on different features. Land is assessed, and then what remains is attributable to the value of buildings. (He didn't say it, not on this occasion, but there is controversy over whether assessors should use the "land residual" or "building residual" methods; I respect Ted Gwartney, and believe in his view of the matter.)
Then Bill Batt spoke. He mentioned someone paying $197 million for oceanfront property, and then proceeded to his PowerPoint presentation, mostly GIS maps. He said that back in 1995, he had tried to make a land value map of Ithaca and Tompkins County, New York. It wasn't very good, although it shows the basic idea. That area has sprawl development, with nice houses on cheap land out in the countryside, mostly owned by Cornell professors. To make these maps, it's better to collaborate with a professional.
Next, he showed a land value map of the New York City area. Someone looked at arm's-length sales of vacant lots. The map shows high land values in central Manhattan, getting lower elsewhere in a roughly concentric way.
|The Red Queen's Race
I got two amendments this week, and did actions on three amendments, so I'm down a little to four on my Amended docket.
I also did an Office Action on my oldest Continuing New case, and I picked up my oldest Regular New case. which I hope to deal with next week.
|Sunday, November 10th, 2013|
To any veterans reading this, thank you for your service, and raise that to the nth degree if you were actually in combat.
|Saturday, November 9th, 2013|
|The Red Queen's Race
I got three amendments this week (well, one of them was a Printer's Rush that showed up on my Expedited docket, but close enough). I dealt with three amendments, so I'm back to a total of five amendments, all of them on my (regular) Amended docket.
I also did a first action on a Special Programs New case (not the Special Programs New case I was working on last biweek), and now I'm working on another amendment. After that, I hope to do a Regular New case and a Continuing New case, or at least one of them.
|Polywater and Derjaguin
Slate magazine has an article about polywater
. I had read about polywater before, but, besides thinking that the article may be of interest to people, I have a minor personal connection.
Back from 1987 to 1992, I was a graduate student in Materials, working on chemical vapor deposition (CVD) diamond films (after that, I worked on other stuff). One pioneer of low-pressure diamond synthesis was the Russian chemist Derjaguin (or Deryagin), mentioned in the Slate article. I remember someone, I think Professor Rustum Roy, saying that after the polywater fiasco, Derjaguin wasn't given much respect when he talked about that other kooky idea, low-pressure diamond synthesis.
Anyway, the great Derjaguin paid a visit to the Materials Research Lab at Penn State, and saw my setup, which I described to him, speaking in English. Andrzej Badzian, who was from Poland, translated my words into Russian, and Dr. Derjaguin said "Spasibo" to me, which Dr. Badzian translated as "Thankyou" (unnecessarily, since I did know that much Russian, along with "da", "nyet", and "pjyalst").
So I have a small link to Derjaguin and thus to polywater. Current Mood: Worldly
|Friday, November 8th, 2013|
|Georgist Conference in Pittsburgh, Part Fourteen
To continue with the afternoon of Wednesday, August 7, Mayor Richard Lattanzi of Clairton was gracing the conference with his presence. He said that Clairton had run deficits for four years; 2012 was its first surplus.
Then there's land banking; Clairton can't do land banking, since that requires a population of at least 10,000, and Clairton has fewer, but perhaps Clairton could partner with some other city to do it.
Mayor Lattanzi expressed concern about American decline.
He also said that while Clairton can't do land banking, it can do tax sales if taxes are too far in arrears. It also has its own Redevelopment Authority, and can use eminent domain. Clairton is on pace to do tax sales of derelict properties; there are rules for when and how notice must be given, and at what time of year the tax sale must take place.
Then Mr. Lattanzi finished his talk, and there was a question and answer session.