A HOOKER'S TALE, OR: HOW I LEARNED ABOUT THE HOUSING MARKET

Posted in Rants on June 30th, 2008 by Ed

This is going to be a bit odd, but I want to walk the reader through a recent CNN story, sharing my reactions along the way. The "news" item in question: "Homeowner offers house and her 'love' for sale." It deals with this craigslist ad. By the end of this post, we will have learned some important lessons, such as that there are much less dignified alternatives to eHarmony or staying home and masturbating to Adrien Brody movies.

She's tried nightclubs and online dating sites, but now a 42-year-old single mother is looking for love where everyone else's heart is breaking: the real estate market. After a year of trying to sell her four-bedroom home and eight years of singledom, Deven Trabosh is offering her South Florida home and a shot at marrying her on the Internet.

I don't see what could go wrong with this premise.

"I figured, let's combine the ad, because I'm looking for love and I'm looking to sell the house," said Trabosh, a Barbie-esque blonde who teeters around the nearly 2,000-square-foot house in patent leather heels.

"Barbie-esque blonde who teeters around the house in patent leather heels." Mister, you just made a sale. Where do I sign?

"Marry a Princess Lost in America," Trabosh wrote in the ads she posted on eBay and Craigslist last week.

Interested in learning more about her noble birth, I did some research and found out that she is the eldest daughter of King Leathery II of the Land of Sadness. She is indeed next in line for the throne and therefore not misrepresenting herself as a Princess. Carry on.

Trabosh, a licensed real estate agent who hasn't practiced in years, knew that she would struggle to sell the home in the troubled real estate market but insists that her fairy-tale ad isn't just a sales gimmick.

Hmm, she hasn't worked in years. So this is apparently a very straightforward and ancient transaction: a financial Knight in Shining Armor agrees to rescue her in exchange for 6-8 years of dry, unenthusiastic fellatio. But hey, if you're a millionaire with a lifelong dream of fucking a woman who looks like a catcher's mitt, this is your chance!

"I'm struggling. … I don't want to lose my house, and I want to find somebody,"…"So I came up with this dream plan, because I've always dreamed about being a fairy-tale princess."

"Did I mention yet that my home is going to be foreclosed? Yeah, that's kinda relevant I guess. I also have a stunningly misguided conception of what being a Fairy Tale Princess entails. The only Fairy Tales my parents read to me were the screenplays to Pretty Woman and Hard Anal Sluts #19: There Will Be Sluts."

She listed the home for $340,000 on a sell-it-yourself Web site but upped the price, adding a $500,000 shipping fee to include her companionship on eBay.

I missed the part where this is not straightforward prostitution.

Trabosh says eBay removed her ad, though she planned to change the wording and repost it.

I wonder why eBay doesn't want to go down the path of allowing people to sell "companionship." I'm pretty sure it is because the prohibition against prostitution is the last remaining difference between eBay and the darkened alley behind a Laotian pai gow parlor at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning.

Trabosh hasn't received any serious offers but says she's had nearly 500 responses, mostly positive, including one from Ottie of Surrey, England, who e-mailed to say, "You are offering the perfect life with the perfect American princess."

"I can tell from your 100-word Craigslist ad. Also, I've never spoken to a woman without having to give my credit card number first."

She whips out her laptop to show off a picture of Claudio, a handsome Italian wine and cheese taster who she's been corresponding with since he responded to the ad. Seated on a white leather love seat in her living room, she giggles almost girlishly about him. They're hoping to meet in Miami in a few weeks.

Who wants to bet that "Claudio" is a 47 year-old laid-off welder who panhandles in Rome for hair gel money? I find it hard to believe that an attractive "Italian wine- and cheese-taster" is not hip-deep in pussy, and even harder to believe that he would need to troll Craigslist for pathetic Americans. If he wanted to nail vacuous blond Americans he would hang out at tourist sites in Rome and look for Lonely Planet books and Rutgers t-shirts.

"I'm not selling myself. I'm selling love … to meet that true love,"

I am going to call up a professor I know. She is the tenured chair of the Department of Love at Romance University. She will tell me if it is possible to sell love.

(phone rings)

(indistinct conversation)

No, she says it isn't.

"Of course, it's gonna take more chemistry and connection. It's not going to be instantaneous that I'm just going to be automatically for sale. … It's a package deal for true love."

(hits speed re-dial)

"Hi. Can 'true love' ever be a part of something described as a 'package deal'?"

(hangs up)

No. No, it can't.

"There is a plethora of quirky ads on craigslist that pop up on craigslist every day, and this appears to be one of them," spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said in an e-mail.

This is what separates craigslist from eBay. Their "quirky" is our "appalling."

Ideally, Trabosh hopes a European man will close the deal and says she's willing to move overseas.

That this will make it difficult-if-not-impossible for creditors to find and collect on her is incidental. Purely incidental. This is about true love. And someone buying an idiotically expensive house that was bought in 2001 and has since lost half of its value. And pony up an extra $500,000 (for her credit card bills, I presume) for the privilege of being married to someone who bathes in spray-on tanning fluid and shame.

"I know I'm putting myself out there. I'm sincere. I believe in true love,"

That has been proven.

"I want to get married again."

Did she mention the imminent foreclosure? Good. That's important.

Craigslist used to be a happy place people where people could find an old couch, fence stolen goods, and find a like-minded person with whom to sever and consume one's penis. Don't go changing on us.

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WEEKEND BONUS: NOT ACCIDENTAL

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28th, 2008 by Ed

The Yankees' decision to import Taiwanese superstar Chien-Ming Wang in 2005 has been a bonanza for puerility, giving us headlines like "Lee beats Wang in duel of perfect pitchers" or "Reds beat Wang" (which conjures images of masturbating Communists, and I really dread the kind of Google-search traffic I'm going to get with the phrase "masturbating Communists")

If sportswriters weren't doing this intentionally, I wouldn't have seen those headlines 101763916 times in the past 3 years.

LITERALISTS

Posted in Rants on June 27th, 2008 by Ed

(NPF is cancelled on account of Thursday's high-profile Supreme Court decision)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

I further submit the words of the Original Originalist, Mr. No-Interpretation-Permitted Scalia himself, in the majority opinion in the DC Handgun case (DC v. Heller):

"The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

Now, can anyone point to the part of the 2nd Amendment which deals with "self-defense"? Take your time. I'll wait.

It is neither new nor particularly noteworthy to engage in very selective readings of the 2nd Amendment. The pro-gun folks always conveniently forget the "well-regulated Militia" part whereas their opponents forget the second half of the Amendment when doing so is politically expedient. My personal belief is that the Amendment obviously enshrines some sort of right of firearm ownership to American citizens but the oft-forgotten "well-regulated Militia" part is a key qualifier. It means that state (or Federal, as the Amendment does not specify) laws may regulate firearm ownership short of banning it. Since the DC ordinance banned handgun ownership, I have no problem with the Court's decision. The language of the Amendment does not permit the right to be legislatively rescinded.

What I do have a problem with is the "Goddammit, we read the Constitution literally, like the Bible!" crowd and its patron saint talking about a constitutionally-enshrined right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense. From which asshole was this enshrined right yanked, and with how much force? Nowhere in the language of the Constitution or in Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention is an expression of the need to keep guns in our bedroom to plug burglars (or, more accurately, to accidentally shoot our family members whom we think are burglars, which statistics show is about 50 times more likely than actually shooting a burglar).

The 2nd Amendment was not written because the Founders wanted to make sure that we could go Wyatt Earp on street thugs. Perhaps this is a legitimate reason in defense of private firearm ownership, but it's not a reason given in the Constitution. Steven Breyer's dissent speaks to this point in detail: "The Second Amendment's language, while speaking of a 'militia,' says nothing of 'self-defense.' " I thought Scalia was supposed to care about this sort of thing. He does, of course. On occassion.

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VICHY LIBERALS

Posted in Rants on June 26th, 2008 by Ed

By what stretch of the imagination is David Brooks a "liberal?" He isn't, by his own admission. But for the media, he counts. That is, he's to the left of Scalia on a couple of issues ergo he is a liberal in the contemporary political/media landscape. His tired schtick of pretending he's Objective and Serious and Just Being Realistic, qualifiers that immediately precede an argument of the unassailability of neocon talking points, has enabled him to carve out a nice little career. See, America? Here's a guy who's not a Republican – he's just an honest, Serious guy who's able to transcend partisan hackery to act like a grown-up and realize that neoconservatism is the only way. Anyone who's willing to be Mature and Serious has to admit that The Surge has been the most resounding success since the 1985 Chicago Bears. God are we lucky to have President Bush!

He's not the only person selling this ration of shit. Joe Lieberman, Harold Ford, Bob Shrum, Zell Miller, Alan Colmes, and many others have made quite a living out of playing the "Liberal who just happens to agree with everything the Republican Party says" game. The American "left" is littered with these people, the kind who don't understand why the rest of us have to be Troublemakers when we could have such a sweet deal if we surrender to the enemy we can't possibly defeat. Conservatism is just too powerful, too right, too infallible. If we all admit that, drop to our knees, and suck enthusiastically enough, they might even let us be their house slaves. Just look at the sweet gigs they have – major newspaper columns, TV shows, $20k-per-hour speaking engagements. The life of the ideological Quisling is a good one. Very profitable, this pétainisme.

Every word that comes out of Lieberman's or Brooks' mouth sounds the same – "Gosh, I just can't figure out why liberals won't admit that these people are always right. I do everything the right says, and look how well they treat me!" Surrender, and you too could live to be patronized as the token "liberal." You could be used as scenery, trotted before the cameras to create the illusion of ideological competition. All it costs is your soul, your dignity, and your credibility.

Consider Bob Shrum kissing the establishment media's ass when Hillary Clinton says those nasty things about them, or Joe Lieberman getting hard over his status as the right's favorite liberal, or David Brooks talking about how he's not a conservative but just happens to have a lot of concerns about every fucking thing the Democrats do that doesn't mimic the GOP. This behavior is little different from those French who, convinced of the inevitability of defeat at German hands, tripped over themselves to surrender as fast and as convincingly as possible.

It is a matter of historical fact that some of Hitler's most rabid, dead-end troops were from the nations conquered by the German Army during the course of WWII. France, Belgium, and Eastern Europe had plenty of people who were psychologically incapable of fighting and turned to accomodation. They figured that if they killed enthusiastically enough for the Nazis, turning in or butchering their own neighbors, they could earn the favored treatment of their new masters. The Vichy French, the Quisling government of occupied Norway, and the Jews that were employed to beat down and round up other Jews all operated under this theory. And it was not a new phenomenon in the 1940s. The American Civil War had Copperheads and Doughfaces. The American Revolution had Tory sympathizers. The French Revolution had feuillants. The Russian Revolution had Whites.

Brooks et al would do well to read a little bit of history. Appeasement worked for the Vichy French, of course. Their willingness to slit the throats of their own friends and neighbors spared them the brutality of the Nazi regime…until its ultimate defeat. I don't recall things working out very well for Pétain or Quisling once the Nazis were crushed by the people they used such puppets to oppress.

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TIME FOR AN UPDATE

Posted in Rants on June 25th, 2008 by Ed

So a pair of astute commenters on the crack/oil post read my mind (hey! you kids! out of my mind!) and raised the question I've been itching to ask: is it time for hippies, environmentalists, and people on the left more generally to reconsider their antipathy toward nuclear power?

Moving from a petroleum to an electricity economy solves one problem but invites another. Sure, let's say that a magic wand is waved and we're all driving electric cars (Chevy's new Volt will be on the market within 2 years). Electricity generation is largely a fossil fuel-dependent process. In the majority of the United States, wind, hydro, and solar power are not options. Burning heathen quantities of coal or natural gas, and thus replacing dependency on one polluting fossil fuel with another, is a poor solution to say the least.

So why not nuclear power? Many contemporary environmentalists labor under severely outdated conceptions of nuclear power. Significant technological advances have been made, largely in resource-poor Japan, over the last two decades. Nonetheless, nuclear power does present troubling issues, some of which are unique and others that are shared by coal-burning plants. Older (Gen I – III) nuclear plants provide the worst of both worlds – serious safety concerns and prodigious generation of radioactive waste. Newer technologies limit these problems. For example, breeder reactors produce useable nuclear fuel as a waste product, and thus theoretically they can produce no waste at all. Pebble-bed reactors incorporate passively safe technologies, meaning that in the event of a failure the result is not runaway criticality but the shutdown of the reaction process. However, each new technology involves a tradeoff: safe pebble bed reactors produce enormous quantities of radioactive graphite waste whereas waste-free breeder reactors are fail-deadly.

Let's boil down the discussion to three issues: fuel, waste, and safety.

1. The nuclear industry in the United States can provide more than enough fissionable material to power an expanded nuclear power industry. Breeder reactors, as noted above, can continually produce fuel and reduce our reliance on mined uranium. Fuel is not an issue.

2. Waste is a problem. What the hell do we do with all this radioactive sludge, most of which has a half-life measured in thousands of years? The default option is deep geological repository, a.k.a. burying the shit in a big hole. This is a poor solution. Other more exotic options (space-based disposal) are hypothesized but not currently economical. Regardless, I think it is worthwhile to ask this question: is the amount of pollution involved in burying drums of nuclear waste more or less detrimental to the environment than the emissions from coal burning plants? I don't have an answer to that.

3. Safety is also a big concern. New technologies have made the process safer but let's not fool ourselves – this is fuckin' dangerous. Ensuring safety requires significant investments in physical security and containment. The Federal government has done the coal power industry enough favors over the years – why not make a public investment in nuclear power safety?

If we're going to get unhooked on oil, something is going to have to replace it. Ideally we'd rely on things like wind- and solar-generated electricity, but realistically those technologies are not (currently) able to solve the problem. Perhaps they will in the future. I'm not convinced that nuclear power is the answer, but I do believe quite strongly that it's time for us to drop the knee-jerk boogeyman reaction to it. This isn't 1969. It might be a solution or it might not. There's only one way to find out, and it doesn't include yelling "Three Mile Island!" every time someone utters the phrase "nuclear power." Given the scope of the energy crisis facing this country, it may be time to set aside our preconceived notions and allow ourselves to utter the N Word.

A BOLD PLAN DRAWN UP BY ASSHOLES TO SCREW MORONS

Posted in Rants on June 24th, 2008 by Ed

(Title courtesy NoMeansNo, "Every Day I Start to Ooze")

For the last decade I have loathed James Dobson and openly considered him to be the biggest malcontent in American politics. Nothing the Republican Party did was too small to piss and moan about, irrespective of how obsequiously GOP elected officials kissed his ass and caved to his demands. One could also concoct a brain-mutilating drinking game out of the number of times Dobson has threatened, explicitly and implicitly, to stop supporting the party (and take his followers with him) in favor of a third party or independent candidates. And then it hit me; Dobson is not an idiot, a whiner, or a malcontent. He is one of the few people in the Religious Right who understands what the party is doing to them.

First we must understand the contemporary Christian/white/conservative persecution fantasy. No matter how large their majority in Congress, how many Bush appointees are stuffed into the judiciary, or how big a messianic complex the President-for-eight-fucking-years has, the Right is always Outnumbered. Outgunned. Oppressed. Marginalized. Thwarted at every turn by the usual suspects – the liberal media, secular humanists, 60s radicals, big city folk, East Coast elitists, know-it-all Academics, PC police, the U.N., comsymps, fluoridated water, black helicopters, and so on. It never occurs to them that they essentially controlled the Federal government for a 12-year period, six of which were unified control of both Congress and the White House. The Party barely lifted a finger in that timespan to address the "social" issues so dear to conservative religious folk. But they sure did talk about them a lot!

Dobson, then, is not a fool. He is the man standing up and saying "We are being used. These people think we are fucking idiots." Unfortunately for the Doctor, those people are right. It's well beyond the majority of the Bible-wavin', queer-hatin', pro-life, creationist mouthbreathers who do whatever Hannity says to understand that the GOP has absolutely no intention of doing anything about these issues. Gay marriage, abortion, school prayer, creationism, and the rest are so much more effective as red meat to wave in front of salivating dogs who can be easily conned into blaming someone else for the inevitable failure to deliver. It's always someone else's fault – the Democrats in the minority, the nonspecific "liberals" who apparently control the legislative process, the fawning corporate media who would fuck dwarves on the air if it meant 10 additional viewers would tune in – and the only course of action is to send their Conservative Knights in Shining Armor back to Congress for a second, third, tenth, and fifteenth try. We'll get'em this time, we promise!

The simple truth is that absolutely nothing stopped the GOP from outlawing abortion, outlawing gay marriage, banning all stem cell research, or doing any of the other things that send the Brownbacks and Huckabees and Tancredos into histrionics every election year. The Senate GOP leadership proved itself capable of bullying its way through filibuster threats when they felt like it (i.e., for a few judicial nominations) and certainly wasn't shy about loading the Congressional agenda with legislation. That is, the legislation they actually care about – economic and regulatory legislation aimed at recreating 1890s patterns of income distribution in the United States.

It is the classic bait-and-switch. Vote Republican to stop gay marriage, receive a capital gains tax cut. Vote to end the horrific practice of abortion, receive a repeal of the estate tax which affects incomes over $3,000,000. Vote to stop hippies from burning the flag and taking "God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, receive lame-assed efforts to line Wall Street's pockets with Social Security dollars. Vote to end stem cell research, receive union-busting legislation. Vote to show those fucking big-city elitists a thing or two, receive a huge tax cut for big-city elitists in the top brackets. Vote to mandate Teaching the Controversy, receive a national energy policy (literally) written by petroleum producers. Vote to reintroduce prayer where it belongs, in our public schools, and receive legislation gutting the budgets and regulatory mandates of the EPA, OSHA, Department of Energy, and more.

Congratulations, Dr. James Dobson. I was wrong about you. You are actually pretty smart. It is too bad that you traffic in the kind of rhetoric bound to attract the Not So Bright. It must be terribly frustrating to know what you know and be unable to explain it – "These people are using you like the brain-dead suckers they know you are" – to the army of dolts you attract. But living by the sword means dying by it as well; appealing to the lowest common denominator ensures that, well, the lowest common denominator is exactly what one gets. It's irrational to expect an army composed of Hannity listeners to suddenly develop complex thinking skills when it would suit James Dobson to be so.

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MISSOURI: WINNING THE WAR AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE

Posted in Rants on June 23rd, 2008 by Ed

I am overt about the fact that I have negative opinions about law enforcement in general and specifically regarding the War on Drugs, which is a very poorly disguised War on Dark People We Don't Want In Our Neighborhoods. Racial profiling, especially with respect to traffic stops and vehicle searches, is a politically contentious issue for a good reason. Like many Americans, I was raised to believe that there are lots of black people in jail because black people commit more crimes. That amounts to little more than a very convenient effort to explain away the staggering racial disparities at every step in the process from "License and registration, please" to incarceration.

The Missouri Attorney General has a statutory obligation (since 2000) to produce an annual report on potential racial profiling by the state's various law enforcement agencies. Missouri deserves some credit for being forthright enough to track, report, and publicly discuss this phenomenon, which is more than most states are willing to do. As a society we tend to look for any excuse to avoid confronting the 900-pound racial elephant in the room.

If Missouri is an indication, there is a very goddamn good reason that state and local governments prefer to avoid the subject. In these summary statistics, pay particular attention to the "Disparity Index" (% of total stops / % of total statewide population):

Hispanic drivers are stopped at approximately the "right" rate – that is, they are about 2.25% of the population and 2.25% of the stops. Black drivers, on the other hand, constitute about 11% of the population and nearly 17% of the stops, whereas white drivers are 84% of the population and just over 79% of the stops. While it is not logical to expect perfect correlation (i.e. the occurence of violations meriting a stop are distributed equally among all racial groups) other statistics do more to illustrate the problem.

White drivers are subject to vehicle searches in less than 8% of stops while black drivers are searched 12% of the time (hispanic drivers, at 15%, are almost twice as likely to be searched). That could make sense if the contraband hit rates were consistent, i.e. police search black drivers more but find contraband as often as other drivers. Unfortunately, the numbers show the "hit" rate is highest for white people, meaning that if statistics were to be used to support an argument for racial profiling, it would be that white drivers should be searched more often. Cops are less likely to search whitey but more likely to find evidence of a crime when they do. Funny, right?

There are simply too many factors involved to expect perfect correlation between law enforcement and population demographics. That blacks are 11% of the population does not mean that exactly 11% of traffic offenses will be committed by black drivers. There is a big difference, though, between expecting perfect correlation and finding lopsided statistical inequality. Much like Illinois was unable to explain why whites are significantly more likely to get written warnings while minorities get citations, Missouri's Attorney General concludes by offering no explanation for the disparities. The report is a very diplomatic effort to point out the obvious facts – Missouri cops pull over, search, and arrest black drivers at rates far in excess of white drivers – while simultaneously being pressured to avoid the obvious conclusion. Sure, I suppose it's possible that black and hispanic drivers just commit more crimes (suspend comprehension of the silly contraband hit rate for a second) but, just as it is "possible" that the moon landing was filmed on a sound stage, the available evidence favors much more plausible explanations.

(h/t Matthew)

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NPF: FREQUENCY

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 20th, 2008 by Ed

Whenever I'm required to proffer reasons that baseball is compelling ("It's fuckin' boring" is frequently given as a comprehensive explanation among those who dislike it) I am going to rely on the following statistical anecdote to keep me on the moral high ground. After reading these two facts in relatively rapid succession, the comparison between the two was striking.

Since the approximate "modern" era of Major League Baseball began in 1901, fifteen human beings have thrown perfect games (out of ~150,000 games played) and twenty-six human beings have orbited the moon. For males who lived in the 20th century, the odds of orbiting the goddamn moon were about 40% greater than the odds of throwing a perfect game.

One of the most irritating games I have ever seen, Mark Buerhle's no-no (a rare feat in its own right) against the Rangers in 2007, gets even more irritating when I see stats like this. He allowed a single baserunner, a walk on an exceptionally questionable 3-2 pitch to Sammy Sosa that umpire Eric Cooper decided was outside. But while calls for instant replay will inevitably make some aspects of the game better, baseball will always contain a human element that adds to its appeal.

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BATTERED WORKER SYNDROME

Posted in Rants on June 19th, 2008 by Ed

When anthropologists reconstruct the sociology of post-industrial, post-regulation, post-globalization American labor, its defining characteristic will be fundamental disinterest. Famously the subject of 90s cultural icons like Dilbert comic strips or Office Space, the overwhelming ambivalence with which employees and employers regard one another in the contemporary economy is hard to overstate. If the employee-employer relationship of our parents’ post-War generation was a marriage, ours is a drunken hand job behind a bar.

The richest source of material for workplace satires are the omnipresent efforts of employers to make employees give a shit – “team building” exercises, retreats, do-your-best motivational talks, inoculation with a sense of belonging to the corporate family (feel free to share your own hilarious experiences with these) – while simultaneously making it unmistakable that they consider the employees utterly expendable. The pep-rally-meets-at-will atmosphere encourages employees to be subservient, powerless, disposable, fanatically devoted to the Cause, and happy about all of it. Of course the success of “the team” offers employees no benefit beyond maintaining the status quo. In other words, bust your ass and mortgage your life to do whatever the company says and (maybe) they will let you keep busting your ass and mortgaging your life to do whatever the company says.

It did not used to be so. Post-War industrial America let people without education (because we recognized that not everyone’s cut out for going to college and becoming a doctor) make a commitment to a company and receive one in return; bust your ass for us and we will treat you like a human being. We’ll expect you to work late sometimes or make sacrifices for the company, and in return we’ll give you a decent wage. Insurance. Time off to take Billy to the dentist. Sick days. Vacation. You know, things we can read about in history books.

When the nation’s top 5% decided that we would all like to live in a post-industrial economy (circa 1994) and return to 1890s patterns of income distribution, everything changed. Your employer doesn’t give a shit about you. They’ll ship your job to Mexico or Indonesia or California State Prisons at the drop of a hat. Your job is not for life. It’s not even for tomorrow. At-will, no-benefit employment is the norm and workers respond, logically, by not giving much of a shit about their jobs, which of course merely accelerates the cycle of devaluing and outsourcing employees. I wonder why we are less productive than the Japanese.

What the post-industrial economy demands, in essence, is that American workers develop some variation of Battered Woman Syndrome – the series of physiological symptoms displayed by women in abusive relationships. When the company cuts benefits, downsizes, and makes everyone work more for less, the desired response is more sacrifice, unending gratitude, and beaming smiles. Just as battered and abused women sometimes remain in abusive relationships and vigorously defend those who mistreat them, some people react as the economy desires. These are the folks who lead the anti-union campaigns, fawningly suck up to the hierarchy until (and occasionally after) the moment at which they are declared redundant, warn against “troublemakers” who might upset this sweet fuckin’ deal we have going, and steer hard right on economic issues because the rich are our betters, merely getting what they rightly deserve.

The entire corporate culture industry and its successorized nonsense inspire the appropriate response in most of us – none whatsoever. Relationships, as your dad explained when you were 15, are not a one-way street. Fifteen years of economic and political rhetoric have emphasized the fact that you are expendable and the company owes you nothing. So, quite logically, you mail it in. You waste time on the internet (hi!), you look for any reason to show up late or leave early, and you generally avoid doing anything you aren’t forced to do. That’s how human relationships work; when one partner sends out “This is casual and unimportant to me” signals, the other is supposed to respond in kind. Instead, we’re expected to remain slavishly devoted while the other person runs around the world looking for our replacement.

PRICE ELASTICITY OF DEMAND FOR CRACK

Posted in Rants on June 18th, 2008 by Ed

When economists talk about elasticity and demand they are addressing a very fundamental question in a free-market system: how do changes in price affect demand? Finding the ideal point is an important component of profitability and growth for retailers and manufacturers. For example, Ford sells 100,000 pickup trucks at $25,000 (total revenue: $2.5 billion). If they increase the price to $28,000 and sell 5% fewer trucks that's a good move (total revenue: $2.66 billion) even though they sell only 95,000.** However, if the price increase reduced demand by 10 or 15 percent it would not be profitable.

This is not a revelation. You probably already know this, even if you are unaware of the fancy name. So here is a question I would like you to ponder: from the perspective of a crackhead, what is the price elasticity of demand for crack?

This is not a question that fits cleanly into the model. In a standard economic example (trucks, tennis shoes, tuition, fast food) there are a number of important assumptions being made. First, the items for sale are "wants." We can walk away. We don't really need the truck or the Big Mac. There is a price at which we will say "Screw this." Second, there is choice. If the Ford gets too pricey but we remain interested in a new truck, try the Chevy. Honda. Dodge. Whatever. In other words, the manufacturer and retailer must be wary of the strategies of other competitors in the market when developing their pricing strategy.

If the price of a Big Mac goes from $2.50 to $7.00, it is very likely that demand would fall precipitously. Consumers would choose Whoppers as an alternative or simply avoid eating out. But what happens if the price of crack goes from $25 to $50 per unit? Or $25 to $100? This is irrelevant to the demand among crackheads. If crack is $25, $50, $100, or $250, crackheads need, want, and will buy crack. They will either cut other expenses from their budget or steal more things to sell for crack. "Rational economic behavior" is not a phrase that springs to mind in the decision to purchase crack.

Why? Because crackheads are addicted to crack. Duh. The crackhead can't walk away like a car shopper or make a substitution. He or she needs crack. Not weed, not booze. Crack. So until crack gets so expensive that it is literally unaffordable (i.e., $10,000 per gram) the crackhead's demand is going to show remarkably little sensitivity to price. Sure, he or she may buy a little less, sacrificing something in the margins. But overall that person is still going to be buying crack, whether it's expensive or cheap.

Ending extended metaphor…..now.

The media and public have been harping on the same story for the last two years – what is the "breaking point" with gasoline prices? At what point will Americans stop using so much gas or snap and demand some sort of political/military/whatever resolution to the problem? First it was $3/gallon. My, when those prices hit $3.00 Americans would seriously change their driving habits. Then it was $4.00. We tolerated $3.00 but there's no way we'll maintain our lifestyles and relative calm at $4.00. Now it's $6.00. If it hits $6.00, everything's gonna change.

No, it isn't. We are completely, hopelessly addicted to oil. People who already use very little (preferring public transit, walking, or biking) will cut even deeper while most other consumers will dabble a little bit in the margins (trying to drive a little less and usually not succeeding). If you live in the suburbs, 30 traffic-clogged and train-free miles from your job, you're driving. Period. $6/gallon gas isn't going to get you to quit your job or sell your house. You're going to pay $6/gallon and compensate with sacrifices in other areas of your budget (or, in classic American style, by simply charging what you can't afford).

Everything about our way of life, including every step of the food chain, is hopelessly dependent on oil. There simply is no "magic price" that will make everything different and usher in sweeping changes. Crackheads pay whatever price is quoted for crack because they're physically addicted to it and have no alternative except quitting, which is as inconceivable as it is difficult. Americans, for all the bitching and resolutions to drive less and can't-someone-do-something-about-this water cooler talk, are ultimately going to pay whatever price is demanded for gasoline unless it simply becomes unaffordable under any reasonable circumstances (i.e., $25/gallon). So the next time you hear someone hypothesizing or making vows regarding the price of gas, remind them that our national addiction is going to preclude any response more substantive than bitching.

**This is logically assuming that it costs less than $0.16 billion, the difference in revenue, to build 5,000 extra trucks. Since most manufacturing costs are fixed (overhead, salaries/benefits, equipment) I feel safe assuming that it would not cost $160 million to build an additional 5,000 trucks.

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