Tuesday, October 30, 2007

think different

A Gizmodo commenter with the handle OMG-PONIES has a lot to say on the subject of 'consumerism' when it comes to Apple's iPhone. Not having the questionable benefit of a formal education in economics, I'm quite curious to learn if the opinions expressed are what exemplifies the contents of a mainstream education in the dismal science.
"That's not "highway robbery"; it's a sound price point. If the price was egregiously high, people would not buy it because it would be too much of a sacrifice. If the price was too low, it would lose its cachet as an aspirational good and people would not buy it. [Veblen's status goods?]

Compare it to the Freakonomics example of Magnolia Bakery in the West Village. Magnolia sells cupcakes for a couple bucks a pop. They're decent cupcakes, but each one only costs a quarter to make. They were featured in an episode of "Sex & The City", were written up in the New York times, and mentioned in a popular SNL short. As a result, at any given time, there is a line out the door for Magnolia cupcakes.

Logic says that Magnolia can raise the price even higher because there are people willing to wait 1/2 an hour for a cupcake at that price. Theoretically, there is excess demand. However, by raising the price, fewer people will be willing to wait in line. The line adds to the cachet of the product. If they lowered the price, the cupcake would become a bargain and lose its cachet. It would not be a distinctive product.

It's about finding a balance. The buyer should feel a bit of sting in the wallet to convince him/her that s/he is getting value for the money. Too much and it becomes too painful. People shouldn't worry about their rent payment to buy the iPhone; let them charge the cost and pay it off over 10 years time. By the same token, you don't want every schmo to be able to get one because then the iPhone loses its distinction.

Consumerism isn't driven by a desire to conform; it's driven by a desire to be different.

It kind of reminds me of the pointless argument of whether human action is spurred because of the actors' desire to improve his situation, or his desire to remove uneasiness as much as possible. Either way, we know action is purposely driven, and the science of economics, cannot render a valid scientific opinion as to what constitutes the psychological factors behind any action.

As such, the unscientific topic of 'Consumerism' can only be said to represent the fulmination of the collectivist creed of hubris, ostensibly lending an opponent of freedom a scientific soapbox from which he launches a diatribe against other people doing what they believe serves their best interests.

FWIW, he also thinks that "The lead proponent of free-market theory is the Chicago School of Business, which believes in absolutely no controls on the market and advocates, to a large extent, an abolition of consumer protections."

'Nuf said.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

King Pharaoh, Anarcho-capitalist

Admit one John C. Wright to the hallowed ranks of anarcho-capitalists, as this following paragraph serves as his endorsement. Witness;
"I should mention: it was not until I became a Christian that I realized how scary Christians seem to their foes. Here am I, newly vowed to a faith that says I may not lift a hand to defend myself, may not hate my deadly enemies even in my secret heart, but must to pray for them and love them even when they come to kill me; and yet perfect strangers write in to my livejournal to tell me that they quail in a perfect cold sweat of terror, stockpiling arms, because we Xtians are about to oversweep the world and install a Theocracy so tyrannical it will make the Pharaoh seem like an anarcho-capitalist. It happened more than once: people writing me to tell me they were afraid of me. Now, I assume they are not actually afraid of me, because otherwise I would merely pass their names and IP address along to the Holy Office, so that the Jesuit albino-assassins or Benedictine-built killer-robots could come beat them to death with radio-active crucifixes. I hope I am wrong, but I secretly suspect it is puffery, a pose of moral superiority. I have to be painted the aggressor, so that they can paint themselves the victim."
There is a chock-load of interesting material in that post, the author detailing his beliefs and prejudices at the time he began the series, along with the various creative techniques he employed to pen the Chronicles of Chaos trilogy. Although it's quite prolix, I heartily recommend it to those who are familiar with the novels, and were perhaps looking for more critical understanding (verstehen) of the characters' paradigms.

Friday, October 12, 2007

i, dante dilettante

Shortly before this past summer began, I began reading Mark Musa's interpretation and commentary of Dante Alighieri's famous La Divina Commedia, beginning with Inferno. To be honest, I've never read any other translation, so I have nothing to compare with Musa's work, yet I still thought it to be excellent and very well presented. Not only does Musa translate the vulgar poetry into English (vulgar here meaning Italian, rather than the ancient Latin which was the lingua franca for major works,) but he brings it to life by explaining the back story of Dante's life and the socio-political backdrop of the feuding criminal classes between which power waned and waxed for the Ghibellines and the Guelphs.

With my Jewish Orthodox upbringing, I could relate to Dante's overall theological theme, although he obviously based it upon the Christian version of events. One technique, or device have you, stands out quite clearly in my mind; that of contropasso, a very key element to interpreting his allegory. In Hebraic terms the principle is known as midah keneged midah, which is to say measure for measure.

Many people like to think that God is a mean old cosmic tyrant who likes to inflict cruelty upon his creation for sport. Far from it, the concept of midah keneged midah is not a petty game of divine retribution, but rather expresses a concept akin to Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative; the maxim that "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

In other words, God is so fair with us, that not only will he not judge us by what he expected from us, but rather according to the very same standards of justice that we ourselves judged to be correct. This is not to say that if one chooses to disobey God that there are no damaging consequences, only that God won't hold one guilty for acting according to the maxims that he or she believed to be universally true.

On Judgement Day God will scroll and scrub through this persons' life and check to see if the persons' actions were motivated according to these principles that he claimed to adhere to and flag those inconsistencies, where the man claims to adhere to moral code x, but acts contrarily to his own belief system. In that case the person is found to be intellectually dishonest, and the purpose of his contropasso is remedy his dysfunction.

One of the more enlightening chapters spoke of Dante's encounter with the level of hell reserved for hypocrites, in which the tormented are marched around bedecked in a friars vestment seemingly made of fine-woven gold. These robes however are lined with lead on the inside, making each step a back-breaking experience for the sinner.

Musa humbly explains that Dante's subtle contropasso here is as follows: The word 'hypocrite' stems from the Greek word ypo'krita, that in Latin would translate to superauratus, both meaning, "that which is covered with gold", implying an inferior non-gold substance constituting the interior portion, a striking simile to the hypocrite who pretends to be of noble stature and hides the ugly nature behind his golden veneer. A double-entendre, if I may call it that is inherent in Dante's ingenious choice of punishment.

Incidentally, I happen to think that the word krita meaning 'gold' is related to both carat and Crete, but I can't find any backup to that. And the root ypo is the opposite of Latin's super, the former like the prefix "hypo" indicating that which lies underneath, and the latter what is above, so I'm not exactly sure of how the word relates to the way Dante wants it to. Super is definitely related to Hebrew's TZa'PEh, which means to coat, or cover with an above layer, although it would have been nice if the Hebrew word for hypocrite would be a gold-coated TZaPUY-ZaHaV, the actual term is a more benign TZVoo'Ee, "the one who is painted", a reference to the same concept expressing that which haves a deceiving outer appearance.

Judgement Day™ is a registered trademark of the Libra Corporation, a Delaware registered limited liability corporation.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

an eerie caveat lector

Everyone knows what Q-Tips are for, right?

Go immediately to your makeup drawer or bathroom vanity and actually read the suggested usage on the back of the blister package. Ah-hah. You won't find anything about cleaning out your earwax, which in my circles is its raison d'ĂȘtre.

Oh wait a second-- scribed in bold text towards the bottom of is a warning not to use the product to clean your ears, and that if you insist on it, only to use it gently on the outer surface of your ears, so as to not risk damaging your eardrums.