Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Author Complains of Lousy Kids

Larry McMurtry (if you had to say, "Who?" you're not alone. Wikipedia here; basically he wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain) complains of kids these days not reading:

[I will be discussing t]he end of the culture of the book. I’m pessimistic. Mainly it’s the flow of people into my bookshop in Archer City. They’re almost always people over 40.

I don’t see kids, and I don’t see kids reading. I think little kids love to have stories read to them, but when they get to 10 or 11 or 12, they run into this tsunami of technology: iPod, iPhone, Blackberries.

They don’t resist it, and it’s normal that they wouldn’t; it’s their culture. I’m not so sure they ever come back to reading. Some will, but most won’t.

"Those damn kids and their technology. I wrote that screenplay on a typewriter. Why don't kids use typewriters these days? That's what wrong with them - staring at their damn screens." As for kids not reading, tell that to J.K. Rowling. People stood in line at bookstores for the release of those books. But shh, don't ruin his point. Let him do that.

Q: What are you reading these days that excites you?

A: I’m reading this book (of essays) by the late David Foster Wallace called Consider the Lobster, which is a pretty good book. Mostly I reread books.

He rereads books? In part, probably because he has a terrible memory, but still, why not read anything new? Anything at all? Is he convinced they're all bad? Perhaps what he's trying to say, or should have said if he wasn't a retard, was that books these days suck, and the kids are all right, hell they're honest enough to tell us that by listening to crappy music on their iPods.

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Monday, October 13, 2008


McDonald's Monopoly Contest

Ok, so here's what I want to know: how come McDonalds doesn't put those Monopoly pieces on their salads? Seriously they never do it. The fries, the drinks, the coffee, the hash browns, and select sandwiches get the pieces, but the healthiest thing that has it are the grilled chicken premium sandwiches, which cost a bit over $3 apiece by themselves ($4 for the grilled chicken club, my favorite).

Now look, I'm no health nut, but one has to wonder why McDonald's would use the contest this way. Why not put those pieces on their side salad, fruit & walnut salad, or any of their $4-$5 entree salads?

Here's a guess - demand elasticity is higher for the other stuff. Even though there is officially "no purchase necessary," most people don't bother to pay attention to that. If you give a little bit of an incentive, people will go for a little bit of extra stuff (let me make that a large fries, and I'll get your expensive sandwich). They're trying to convince customers who would normally get something off the dollar menu to try the fancier, more expensive stuff on the regular menu. There isn't really a way to upgrade a salad; what would you do, besides add more meat? Super size it? Add fries? Salad meals stand alone.

There's also an adverse selection issue - the type of person who would play a fast food lottery would be more likely to be just as reckless in eating less healthy food. Along the same lines, salad eaters tend to be more disciplined in their eating habits, and part of that involves avoiding McDonalds.

The purpose of the contest is to make money, and this method will likely prove more profitable for McDonalds than promoting its salads. McDonalds does not have a social agenda to consider in pushing healthy foods, only the bottom line. And even then, it's doubtful that would even advance a socil agenda, it would only make some corporate executive and idiotic observers feel better that McDonalds is fighting obesity.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Price Gouging

I work at a truck rental counter, and at the end of the month, or anytime we're really busy, we'll boost our prices up. Part of the reason we do this is that our competitors don't, so they won't have a truck for people who walk in needing one. Worse, some will get stiffed on a reservation, and their only compensation might be $50, and the difference could be a lot more.

Arnold Kling discussed in his commentary on Russell Roberts' forthcoming book that it is particularly frowned on for people in catastrophic situations to find themselves faced with having to pay more for their circumstances. That's the easy way to make the convincing case, but the case is just a lot weaker as a result anyway.

There are a few problems with this. In the first place, those who are in the greatest need by definition have the most inelastic demand, and therefore will most likely have the greatest willingness to pay. If someone is willing to pay, then, it seems as though it should be fair for them to do so. Those who can do without, can wait until the supplies come in, or can make it a few towns over to get the supply should do so - not only will they save money, making them better off, but they free that supply for the more desperate. The one who has whatever is in such great need is really doing quite a favor for those individuals, and it makes sense to reward him accordingly. That's the standard economist response, and it will appease most people who already agree with it.

Another fundamental problem would be one of lying and cheating. Those who are not willing to pay more reveal a preference different from those who are. If everyone who came up with a sad story got a truck for the same normal weekday rate, then everyone would make up such a story for their discount. When you consider this, allowing for need would lead to either:
That gets you back to square one where you simply have to make it first and hope that you can get this sacred scarce good.

It also should be acknowledged also that there are planning considerations to be made. A month ahead of time, more of a good can be ordered, etc. In truck rental land, this means that one way trucks leaving busy inbound locations can be practically given away to outbound locations. A week ahead of time, trucks can be picked up from nearby locations that do not need them. Both of these are to some degree costly, and often they will be done in anticipation of future reservations. When someone walks in on the last Saturday of the month and needs a truck with no reservation, more trucks can not simply be picked up - this is where there is rationing. One has to think, though, why would anyone just realize that they have to move and need to get a truck? People generally know when their apartment lease is about to end, and moving is something that should require ample preparation. Reasons for people to move suddenly generally have to do with either suddenly separating/divorcing/breaking up with a wife/girlfriend, going to jail, and eviction, all of which are they types of things that one can avoid. In fact, it seems as though these things make certain events more costly, and given that these are undesirable events, that should be a good thing.

It strikes me, though, that if I'm renting a truck, I don't want the guy at the rental counter to pass judgement over me, I just want him to do his job and get me what I want. Isn't there some information that should be left private, and why not let them charge more for me to not have to divulge too many private details? If you want to divulge that information, that's fine, but should you really expect a business to do you a favor when you are down on your luck? It is a fine and noble thing to give with one's own money, but it is quite damnable to give what is not your own, as that is really stealing.


Thursday, May 01, 2008


Supply and Demand In Action

Two and a half years ago, I pondered the following:
Because the only way to cut consumption significantly, short of a move and/or a lifestyle change, is to drive more efficient vehicles, gasoline demand is said to be “price inelastic”. One of the determinants of price inelasticity is the time it takes to change prices. Numbers never mean anything without a frame of reference, and so our frame of reference would be the time to act on changing consumption of gas. Coming up with a new route, carpooling, spending less time driving around, knowing where we're going in the first place, and never driving at rush hour are ways we can adjust the quantity we demand, but as we see, it takes a little while (a week to a month sometimes) for us to adjust these short term measures, especially when some of them, like carpooling or changing your work hours, are harder to change back if the mere gas spike falls.

What if gas prices never again stabilize below $2.00 a gallon? Suppose the new standard price is $2.09? Well, decisions about which new cars to buy will change a bit; rather than anticipate an average price of $1.20 or whatever it was then, we'll realistically expect gas to stay at $2.09, and thus buy more fuel efficient cars. That's not to say everyone will necessarily get a smaller car, as is the case in Britain. But if fuel prices do not decline, automakers will have greater incentive to redesign models with greater fuel efficiency.

The most hillarious line - what if gas prices never stabilize below $2.00 a gallon? We are now starting $3.50 gas in the face, and it'll go up. Price up equals quantity demanded down! Congress doesn't trust the market, but we're already seeing a response.

"Consumer preference is shifting, and we're shifting with it," said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of North American sales. Sales of GM's midsize Chevrolet Malibu shot up 40 percent, but the long popular Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV saw sales dip 73 percent.

Ford Motor Co. said its SUV sales were down 36 percent in April compared with the same month last year. Car sales were down only 1 percent, buoyed by sales of the Ford Focus small car, which saw a 44 percent jump in sales. The Focus gets 24 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway. By comparison, Ford's largest SUV, the Expedition, gets 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway, according to federal statistics.

Well who would have thought. Small car good, big car bad. The Focus gets double the gas milage of an Expedition. And that's Ford's biggest SUV now. Remember the Excursion? The one that was bigger than the Suburban? Well, it's dead. Forever.

Now, the last time gas was less than $1.50 a gallon was before the Iraq War. It's about 5 years after that, and at a point where people are transitioning to replacing their old cars. Over the next year in the US, expect a few changes:

Now let's set the baseline for gas at $3 per gallon, to be optimistic. If you're driving an SUV that gets 15 MPG overall and you drive 20000 miles per year, replacing it with a Ford Escape Hybrid that gets 30 MPG overall, you will save $2000 a year on fuel, and your savings will be greater as the price of fuel goes up. You will save, then, $10,000 on fuel over a five year period on an Escape Hybrid vs a regular SUV, making it a worthwhile move. When you compare smaller cars, you'll notice that a Ford Focus could go for around $16,000 and gets about 27 MPG, while a Toyota Prius gets around 50 MPG. That will save you about $1000 per year, but that may not make up for the price difference in the Prius. The Corolla is even more fuel efficient, making the Prius less desirable, although still potentially worthwhile.

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Monday, April 28, 2008


Political Affiliations

Often my political opinions would be categorized as conservative in the US. That doesn't match my stance on immigration, the legal drinking age, "faith-based initiatives", etc. I'm also apathetic on the war in Iraq, because it's a mess now, but it wasn't exactly Disneyland under Saddam Hussein either. But I don't call myself a conservative, maybe a lower-case L libertarian or something. Conservative and Liberal are relative terms, which make them, like most other labels in American politics, worthless. If it's very easy to read too much into a label, it's probably a terrible label.

What is conservative? Is George W. Bush conservative? He oversaw a huge expansion of government, including a new entitlement program. If he's a conservative, is Ronald Reagan a liberal? If cutting taxes made Bush a conservative, and thus Clinton a liberal, was Bush Sr. a liberal? And was JFK a conservative? If supporting free trade is conservative, is George W Bush a liberal for supporting steel tarriffs? I could go on forever, but I don't want to.

Then there's the abortion debate. Pro-Life and Pro-Choice are propagandist labels; Pro-Abortion or Anti-Abortion would be more accurate. Think about it - how many of those who are Pro-Life truly oppose all taking of life from others, including war, capital punishment, the FDA, mandatory indefinite life support, and other sources. For that matter, though, how many people who call themselves Pro-Choice support school choice, freedom from closed or union shops, free trade, eliminating the FDA, assisted suicide, and other libertarian positions? Again, there are people in both camps - but those are not the only ones who bear those labels.

Further, the opposite of Pro-Life is not Pro-Death or Anti-Life, but Pro-Choice. Isn't this odd? You have to choose whether you live or get to choose something. Why can't people just say pro-abortion and anti-abortion? That's all it is. Not much to read into that. For that matter, why can't we just use our coordinates on the political compass? As they write
There's abundant evidence for the need of it. The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left', established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape. For example, who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher?
I'm (7.75,-0.36).

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Are these people really freaks?

Gold Prices get higher, up to near $1000 an ounce. That of course can only mean one thing: get your metal detectors!
Piles of gold have been pouring into beachside pawn shops in recent weeks, Local 6 has learned. Some residents are selling items they already have for cash. "The jewelry was a luxury to have, but I'm selling it for necessity reasons," resident Marie Savickas said. Experts said the previous high-water mark for gold was $800 an ounce in the 1980s. They said they don't expect prices to drop any time soon.
It's like the law of supply works or something. So it's a good time to sell gold. Great. Glad I get to buy wedding bands soon.


Saturday, December 08, 2007


Here's Money! Now give me what I want!

In a free society, you are never compelled to say "yes sir" to this statement if acting on your own. If working for a corporation, you are to follow certain guidelines - those guidelines being "yes" in general, but "no" in specific cases. But to be fair, you are for all practical purposes usually compelled to say "yes sir" because you want that person's money.

NBC Rejected some rather harmless ads, claiming that the invitation to the group's website was far to politically charged and controversial. A strange guideline, considering that I have yet to see an NBC ban on political ads. Now if this were a public university, then this would be a bigger issue, since public universities are institutions which rely on the state for their funding. But for a private television network, that's within their rights.

The article also mentions the following with Fox News:

Earlier this week, the Fox News Channel rejected a television commercial from a liberal group that featured actor Danny Glover denouncing what he said were U.S. acts of rendition, torture and detention. The spot, created for the Center for Constitutional Rights, showed pages being shredded while Glover says: "The Bush administration is destroying the Constitution."

Fox senior vice president for advertising Paul Rittenberg said the network asked the group to provide backup information _ from news accounts or legal scholars _ supporting Glover's claim that acts by the Bush administration threatened the Constitution.

"In this case, saying the president is destroying the Constitution frankly sounds like a claim that is fairly extreme," Rittenberg said. "Who else thinks this? Of course Dann Glover can say that, but does anyone else say that?"

Again, this is well within Fox's rights. It just happens to be very weird, and one has to wonder if they hold their other advertisers to task on that. Remember that if you ever see an ad for weight loss drugs or exercise equipment on Fox News.

Now, had NBC taken FreedomsWatch's money, they should air the ads, but that's not what's in question. It just seems like a questionable move that cost them some money.

But it doesn't end there. Newt Gingrich wants to boycott NBC (for a more favorable and enjoyable clip of Newt, see his appearance on Da Ali G Show here). Seems a bit extreme, but maybe the message is that freedom isn't free. For what it's worth, I'd like to see who would boycott Fox News, given its viewers are mostly conservatives anyway. I also wonder how many people would follow Newt's advice, and then change their mind when new episodes of The Office are on.


Sunday, November 25, 2007


Month old story that needs commentary

I thought it was just sportswriters, but now apparently anyone that writes for newspapers can be stupid (HT: Tim).
My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or the fact that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are, absolutely and without reservation, short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.
Cell phones? What have cell phones done to destroy the intellectual makeup of young people? Because they can't sneak away from their parents as easily? Oh, I get it, they use abbreviations instead of write out entire words in text messages. MaB if U tried 2 txt real fast u wood 2. At least they're efficient. Sometimes.

As for TV exposure, that's arguable, because you can find some links, but merely watching TV doesn't make one that much dumber. But the iPod thing, that's clearly the sign of an old man ranting. "Those dang kids listening to their music all the time! Back in my day, you listened to the same songs everyone else did on your transistor radio, and that's if you were lucky."

Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don't spend enough time outdoors and don't get any real exercise and therefore can't, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new.

No, my friend takes it all a full step — or rather, leap — further. It is not merely a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that.

So kids don't do scouts anymore? That seems to be your complaint. But what about this stuff, identify basic plants? How basic do you mean? Poison Ivy (that sounds more like a cry for us to all be boy scouts)? Handle a tool? Yeah, why don't those kids take shop class? And they can't build anything. These are the children of today, look at that crap! But here it gets good, on why the system is broken.
Hell, why should they? After all, the dumber the populace, the easier it is to rule and control and launch unwinnable wars and pass laws telling them that sex is bad and TV is good and God knows all, so just pipe down and eat your Taco Bell Double-Supremo Burrito and be glad we don't arrest you for posting dirty pictures on your cute little blog.
Amazing how people believe their own hyperbole. Fast food loses its appeal as tastes mature and kids appreciate better food, particularly after college life. As for ruling a stupid class of subjects, that actually is harder, because there is the difficulty on their part of actually executing your commands. The War in Iraq could have turned out differently if the occupation was better planned before the start of the war - the invasion itself was brilliant, but while we've gotten better at military conflict, we haven't gotten that much better at occupation and establishing new governments. As for passing laws telling them that sex is bad, that was done centuries ago, actually, and striking down anti-sodomy laws is really a rather recent phenomenon. And I can't remember any laws suggesting that TV is good, or for that matter that God knows all. Again, secularization is a recent phenomenon, as religious education was actually a significant motivation for the first public schools. But enough about facts. Let's look at a Jayson Stark style argument.

Hell, some of the best designers, writers, artists, poets, chefs, and so on that I meet are in their early to mid-20s. And the nation's top universities are still managing, despite a factory-churning mentality, to crank out young minds of astonishing ability and acumen. How did these kids do it? How did they escape the horrible public school system? How did they avoid the great dumbing down of America? Did they never see a TV show until they hit puberty? Were they all born and raised elsewhere, in India and Asia and Russia? Did they all go to Waldorf or Montessori and eat whole-grain breads and play with firecrackers and take long walks in wild nature? Are these kids flukes? Exceptions? Just lucky?

My friend would say, well, yes, that's precisely what most of them are. Lucky, wealthy, foreign-born, private-schooled ... and increasingly rare. Most affluent parents in America — and many more who aren't — now put their kids in private schools from day one, and the smart ones give their kids no TV and minimal junk food and no video games. (Of course, this in no way guarantees a smart, attuned kid, but compared to the odds of success in the public school system, it sure seems to help). This covers about, what, 3 percent of the populace?

As for the rest, well, the dystopian evidence seems overwhelming indeed, to the point where it might be no stretch at all to say the biggest threat facing America is perhaps not global warming, not perpetual warmongering, not garbage food or low-level radiation or way too much Lindsay Lohan, but a populace far too ignorant to know how to properly manage any of it, much less change it all for the better.

Let's just take his word for it, despite the fact that you may actually have evidence to suggest that the future isn't completely full of idiots, or at least that it's not more full of idiots than before. I mean, it's not like you could actually do research and determine whether a random sample of young successful people had a public school education, etc. You're a newspaper columnist, your job is to give the people what they want. And what they want is for you to bash the kids, because the kids have better things to do than waste time reading a newspaper. What a load of garbage.

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Friday, September 07, 2007


From the Department of Big Surprises

An Actual Headline:

Pope says abortion "not a human right"


Sunday, August 12, 2007


Monica Hesse

Decided that it was necessary to make a bizarre ad hominem attack on the name Fred. I don't know what's more bizarre - the fact that she thought to write this, or that the Post's standards are so low they would publish such drivel. This is the kind of thing I expect to see in the Sports pages, but not the serious news. I mean, really, the Washington Post published this:

In the swampy soup of hopefuls for the 2008 presidential election, there is
a man with a funny name. (No, not that one.)

We're thinking of the one named Fred (Thompson).

Say it out loud. Do it. Fred. Fred. In the South, Fray-ud.


It has the tonal quality of something being dropped on the floor, something
heavy and damp-ish.

Waterlogged paper towel.


This lady also seems to borrow from the poetic stylings of Bill Plaschke. But it doesn't stop being awful right there.

There has never before been a major presidential candidate named Fred. There
were two Alfreds, in 1928 and 1936. But Alfred, being all British and Batman-y,
is not the same.

Wow, so you did research. This is where she goes on her rant about how Fred sounds like it should end in Rogers or Flintstone. Just for fun, here are all of the Presidential first names:

James (2)
John (2)
John (3)
James (3)
James (4)
Andrew (2)
James (5)
William (2)
William (3)
Franklin (2)
John (4)
Gerald (Gerry)
George (2)
George (3)

There has also never been a president named Joseph, David, Jacob, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Noah, or Adam. Rutherford and Jimmy sound more presidential though. Idiot.

Then there's this bit:

But is it, Dr. Smith, a sexy name?


"I would not say that. The name Fred does not suggest blatant sexuality at

This from a chick named Monica. Monica. Sorry, it's been a couple of years, but go ahead and click here for a reminder of what comes to mind when you think Monica (picture is clean, SFW, etc). Sorry Ms. Hesse, we can't all have names that conjure up dirty images.

Wag of the finger to Monica Hesse and the Post. But that still doesn't answer, why is Monica talking about what's in a name? Clearly, she had a deadline and some writer's block. Or maybe this is really the Onion. I don't know, but wow.

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