Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Past-Their-Prime Transvestite Prostitutes

I have to admit that reading that line from Jen's comment two posts ago made me laugh until I teared up. As I attempt to apply the "What would Vorenus do?" protocol to the situation, I realize that in Ancient Rome, they must have been fairly common.

Googling around, I came across this amusing site with various types of Ancient Roman prostitutes. My favorite is:

"Famosae -- Soiled doves from respectable families."

Leopold Rex (or is it Wrecks?) and Marketing Tests

(Pun courtesy of Robert, who said last night that he didn't realize that the rabbit's name Leopold Rex was actually a complete sentence.)

Last night, because Leo had been acting very "I'm not getting enough attention around here lately with all this idiotic school business," I decided to do some of the studying for my marketing exam in his room. I sat on the futon with my book and papers and told Leo, "If you come up onto the futon, I will pet you." Leo, despite having no apparent grasp of English in any circumstance, did jump up on the futon, bite the corner of my book (which was on my lap), and attempt to fling it out of the way. When I pulled it away from him, he got into my lap and reared up in a way that I have never seen him do before to tell me "Put that stupid thing away and pet me now!" Of course, I had no alternative put to comply, for a time, and then I gathered my things and studied in the living room. My book has scars now to attest to the encounter. Maybe it will end up on the shelf next to my social psychology textbook that has a corner totally chewed off from a previous confrontation.

My test this morning was okay, but not great, and unlike the other two tests, I don't have a good sense of how I did. 10 of the 50 problems did not have immediately obvious answers to me the first time through, which is not encouraging, but looking through the book when I got home, I found that I had selected the correct answer for many of those. (One of these was the ABCD or All of the above type, and I knew that D was correct and that A-C were possible, but would be stupid. It's encouraging that when reviewing the book, I find no evidence for the stupid options A-C.) Others, I still am not sure what he was looking for.

And the one that took me forever to decide on an answer, and in which my first instinct was correct but I think I eventually talked myself out of it, was a straightforward economics question. I had told Robert that I knew I would get an economics question wrong and last night had basically decided that the question would involve the competitive market types of monopoly, oligopoly, monopolistic competition, and pure competition. Indeed, I waffled on the issue of whether the packaged cereal industry is an oligopoly or monopolistic competition. I hope I was smart enough to go with oligopoly, which is increasingly obvious in retrospect. (And my thoughts about why the answer might be monopolistic competition seem lamer and lamer as I try to remember them.)

Getting this wrong is sort of embarrassing because I know that my professor already thinks I am an economics major (in context of my various contributions in class one particular day about elasticity of demand and other micro-economic topics, he asked me if I was an accounting major and I said "economics major"), but it would be worse if he knew that I actually already have a degree in economics.

Of course, I have never admitted to having worked in the marketing field for the last 9 years either.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Post That Makes It Out of My Head, For Once

Sorry for the silence this past week. I have kept thinking of things to write while walking to class or driving home, but nothing has made it this far. I've been sort of preoccupied by illness, preparing for a presentation, and spending my few spare moments playing Fate again. So to compensate for this lack of material, and to scare you with the content of my brain, I present the following recounting of Today, Thursday, 25 October, 2007, in the Life of Sally. (Unlike Samuel Pepys' diary, high on personal revelation and low on Great Events.)

I felt dissatisfied with the light dozing of the hour or so before my alarm went off at 6 o'clock until I actually woke up and realized how good I'd had it up to then. My banana-oat bran muffins were an odd texture, even by my super-health-muffin standard, and I felt strangely overwhelmingly full after eating them.

My car continues to be recalcitrant about moving from Park to Drive in the mornings. (Well, aren't we all.) It took several minutes for me to get it to behave this morning and I am half-dreading, half-looking forward to my 7 A.M. (!) appointment at the dealership tomorrow to have this checked out and, ludicrously, my 60,000 mile check-up done. (Yes, my car is almost 11 years old.) About halfway to school, running late already, I realized that my gas gauge had done a sudden drop from about 1/6 full to almost empty. I did not actually pray, but I hoped really hard that I would make it to the school parking lot, and I did.

I was sort of nervous about my (8 a.m.) math class this morning because I wanted to talk to the TA after class about the grading of the last quiz and basically scrounge for points without seeming like the kind of person who just always scrounges for points. The fact that I actually did want to find out whether my argument for my answer was sound and convincing gave me the confidence that I could talk to him without sounding like a dick and I think I was successful in this (and I did get my points). I also had a very enjoyable conversation with the guy in the process, on topics math related (including my inconsistent ability to remember the rules of exponents) and not (including his years as an undergrad at South Dakota State University, which will be amusingly apropos to those of you who know about my Top Secret Terminal Masters Plan I am not willing to write about much out of paranoia). The professor showed us both a nifty trick about how the digits of various fractions based on 7 repeat (try it on your calculator: 1/7, 2/7, 3/7, ...) that he likes to exploit in class, he says, while pretending that he is doing the calculation in his head. This struck me incredibly like something my dad would do. I assured the professor that the TA and I would "back his play," which momentarily made me feel like some other person, probably a character from Achewood, had suddenly taken over my brain and used this strange terminology. However, I did not subsequently light up a big joint and invite people over to my house for a bathroom party, so I guess I was okay.

I prepped in the library for my presentation for psychology at 12:30, on the topic of workplace nutrition and physical activity programs, which was perhaps infinitely more interesting than you may be thinking at this moment. My research was solid, I had at least one set of researchers to mock for their ridiculously out-of-touch with the reality of the average sedentary office worker hypothesis, I was fairly ebullient with commentary, I made fun of my own unwillingness to unsubscribe from a bunch of health-related e-newsletters I get but delete without reading as though just having this information in my inbox for a limited period of time means I am "doing something" about my health, and I was pleased with being able to incorporate some favorite old anecdotes in ways that made sense in context and seemed to be appreciated. I believe I may have actually mimed doing step aerobics at one point. (Um, I started to type 'paradigmed doing step aerobics' which is a very different thing altogether, best left to tenured professors who are beyond being damaged for life.) I had been longing for the moment this presentation was done because it represented the start of my weekend.

Walking back to my car, I was quite happy to see yet another benefit of our recent cold snap. The unexpectedly sensible students seemed, for the most part, to recognize that when it is cool enough to pull out the jacket or hoodie from the depths of the closet, it is time to put away the flip flops. The girls were wearing a quite nice array of cute shoes; along with the running shoes were ballet flats/skimmers, Chuck Taylors, Vans, the Rocket Dogs that I favor, and quite surprising to me, old-school deck shoes. Once I saw the first pair of Top Siders on someone, they seemed to be everywhere, on men and women. It really is the 80s revisited. And I have to go on record as being proud of my fellow Bobcats for almost universally avoiding the horror that is the Croc [link omitted to save your sanity; the Croc is like the Cthulhu of shoes]. One girl in a pink pair was all I saw all day long.

Today they were also doing early voting on campus and there was a guy, maybe 40 years old, standing outside the student center attempting to persuade people to vote. His method was to drone, in a voice eerily reminiscent of the science teacher on "Wonder Years" that I do not rule out as an intentional mimicry, things like (and I quote): "Today is the last day for early voting. Vote today. It will make you smarter. You will get better grades. Guaranteed." Given that the majority of students were probably in diapers when Ben Stein was doing this shtick on TV, I may have been one of a thousand listeners to get this vibe.

Earlier in the day I had noticed that people on campus never approach me with flyers, requests to sign petitions or vote for them or buy raffle tickets, and all that crap. It must be my naturally opening, welcoming bearing. How can you too reliably convince potentially annoying others that talking to you is more than their life is worth? Robert can always fall back on his ability to remove his glasses and give the full out sunken, dark-circled eye "my middle name is Wayne" possible serial killer glare, but not everyone has the face for this. For those of you needing to purposely cultivate a formidable demeanor, I recommend the following role models:

If you are interested in a kind of contemptuous disapproval that does not entirely undermine your adorable qualities that the person considering greeting you will acknowledge as existent but not at all intended for them, study of the Disapproving Rabbits on this web site will give you a good range of expressions to practice. (Even if you don't usually follow the links, this one is too important to miss.) Cinnamon (brown) often appears to almost feel sorry for what a moron you are to even be considering an approach, Hazel (black) has a grumpy old person quality any sane individual would make effort to avoid, while Latte (white) has more of the "you will die" look which, holy shit, is no doubt effected at least in part by the dark circles around the eyes.

To take this to an entirely more hard-core level, can you really do better than First Spear Centurion Lucius Vorenus from the excellent HBO series "Rome" that you should be watching on DVD anyway because it just generally rocks? (There aren't a ton of episodes and knowledge of Roman history is not necessary. The first episode is a little bit like, "Wait, who's the short one again? Some famous person" but all becomes clear enough, soon enough. Really. Try it.) I mean, the guy's disapproval exudes a promise of entirely professional violence in all situations and he makes clear that he is not a man whose attention you want to draw. In the photo I linked to, Vorenus has been told by the barista at Starbucks that they are temporarily out of espresso macchiato and wearying as it all is, honor requires that he kill her on the spot. He doesn't necessarily like this, because Vorenus dislikes pretty much everything, but this is not relevant and any attempt to persuade him to take another action will only slightly prolong the time she has to endure the fierce face of escalating disapproval before her death.

Anyway.

After school, embarking on the start of my weekend, my car made it without difficulty to the gas station and as I was feeling extremely celebratory about the small victories of my day (including feeling thankful that I can afford to fill up my tank), KSAL radio served up a new song, starting with lyrics that pretty well summed it up:

I feel so extraordinary
Something's got a hold on me
I get this feeling I'm in motion
A sudden sense of liberty

Of course, being not entirely trusting of the universe's good intentions (* see below), I had this momentary feeling as I walked in my door that I would be greeted with a dead rabbit or some other monstrously awful thing. But Leo is in fine form. I call Robert at work, half expecting some bad news from him, but he has nothing to report. Very soon after this, the phone rings and though it says my dad's name, it is a phone number that I do not recognize until I realize it's my mom's cell phone, which she never uses to call me; I'm worried about what terrible thing she has to tell me but no, she is calling from the library, where she is helping them get ready for a book sale, and because she is a nicer person than I probably even deserve to know, she is curious whether I am interested in a couple of books she has found, and I am.

I have not entirely ruled out the possibility that I will choke to death eating my turkey and wild rice soup (which is actually totally delicious, by the way, if you can withstand the taste of tarragon) for dinner tonight, but otherwise, it was a good day.

* It is no accident that I fell so hard for Stephen Crane's poetry in high school, including the one that reads in its entirety:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

Of course, I'm a sucker for short poems of all kinds. (Well, I should qualify that as "good" poems of all kinds.) The brief, poignant poems of W. S. Merwin always get to me too. Perhaps it is the koan quality that makes them so powerful. Or maybe I just have a short attention span. I hope you don't, or you won't make it this far through my "I Sing the Body Electric" length blog post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Certain Self Referential Quality

For my presentation in psychology yesterday (which had been consuming my life and is the primary reason for my not posting anything for a week), I had thought of using my favorite Garfield cartoon as an example of learning that is not based on conscious remembering, but when I googled a relevant phrase to determine whether there was a copy of the cartoon on the web, the number 6 hit was my own previous blog post about it. Oops. Even though it's unlikely that a classmate would decide to look up this cartoon that I described in class, the probability was not close enough to zero for me to take the chance that my semi-anonymous blog would be read by a fellow student or instructor. It's not that I think there is any content here that would horribly undermine or embarrass me, but the idea of some acquaintance knowing this much about me is off-putting.

In other exciting news, I just happened to check the schedule of classes for spring and they have just gone up, with registration starting next Monday. It looks like I am going to really luck out with a schedule like this:

Consumer Behavior T/Th 11:00 - 12:15
Linear Algebra T/Th 12:30 - 1:45
Statistics T/Th 2:00 - 3:15

Two days a week, classes back to back. Yes, those are sort of long days, but I prefer that to having to drive in an extra two days a week. I'm not thrilled by the lunch-over thing, but I'll figure out a way to eat in there somewhere. If the trash can in the psychology building classroom where my current psych class starts at 12:30 is any indication, people definitely do eat stuff during class. I had previously thought that eating in class was totally verboten, but that appears to only be the case in certain places, like the new business school building.

Tomorrow I will get my paperwork signed by the relevant professors and turned in to the graduate college, so with luck, I will be able to sign up for classes right away next week. Being a grad student means that I have open enrollment from the moment registration starts, which is an extremely nice benefit of being at TSU rather than UT.

Math in the Dark

Half an hour into my 8:00 calculus test yesterday, we had a campus-wide blackout that lasted until about 10:30. When the electricity went out, the TA said, "Whoever prayed for this to happen, don't tell us who you are." For about 10 minutes, we continued to work on the test in the cracks of light from some windows (on the opposite side of the room from me) and then Dr P told us that we could finish the exams Wednesday. And since there was no way to keep some people from working on the problems, he specifically told us that we should look at any problems we had not gotten to and could feel free to work on them in preparation for the continuation of the exam. We finished the exam today and I think I did quite well (even without having memorized the specific problems for extra study).

I talked to a girl in my marketing class today who told me that when she showed up for her 9:30 class, in the middle of the blackout, the professor made them do their scheduled exam even though there were no lights; he told them to use their cell phone lights to see what they were doing. The girl was pretty pissed and when she told him that she was having trouble seeing the paper, the professor and many of the other students just laughed. Given that they hadn't started the exam yet, I don't understand why he didn't just delay it until the next class session. I'm glad Dr P did not take that kind of approach.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Marketing Test #2

As I may have mentioned before, the marketing tests are 50 multiple choice questions based primarily on questions from a test bank maintained by the publisher of our textbook (supposedly 80% from this test bank and 20% written by the professor). The professor must select questions at random (and without stratifying the sample pull) because we seem to get a very strange and to my eye, non-representative-of-the-key-concepts selection of questions on the test. For instance, one question asked about a particular finding of market research done by Mattel, but the vast majority of the central concepts of market research were not touched on at all.

When I got home from taking my exam, I flipped through the chapters of the book to identify which problems I missed. There were 8 problems that I had struggled with a bit and was able to determine that I missed half of them - I had actually barely gotten one of them right but had applied multiple choice test-taking heuristics and managed to figure it out. But I also found that I had missed one question that seemed obviously correct to me at the time. So my test score prediction was 90%.

Robert was quite surprised that I could remember what the test questions were, and though I could not sit down and totally recreate the test from memory, I did remember many of the questions outright and could basically recognize relevant terms or statements from the book and then remember the question about them.

Two of my misses were totally fair - the questions that were asked about two stages of the product lifecycle wanted answers that did not match up with what I thought were the important aspects of those stages, but I should have been able to answer them and truly just did not know/remember. Another one was somewhat annoying simply because I misread the question as equating size to sales volume rather than size to number of firms in the market and thus answered the wrong question (and knew the right answer to the actual question).

The question that I confidently answered incorrectly chaps me because I suffered from both too much actual knowledge about the example being used (segmentation strategy for REI) and the book stupidly equating psychographic segmentation with the Claritas system of customer profiling based on Census block-level data. Since I know deeply that the probabilistic "lifestyle" segmentation programs like Claritas and Tapestry are not good at predicting participation in outdoor recreation, due to having used both programs to attempt that very thing, I did not pick "psychographic" segmentation as my answer, and instead chose "behavior" (which I interpreted to encompass things like participation in activities). But in one small chart in the book, "behavior" is equated to the purchase situation, not behavior of the consumer in general. Damn.

But the thing that made me full of righteous anger was a question that, when I encountered it on the exam, totally confused me. The question states: "Classification by degree of _________ divides products into the categories of nondurable good, durable good, and service." The obvious answer should be "usability over time" or (Robert's suggestion for a one word answer) "permanence." Durable goods, like a car, are used over a long period of time. Nondurable goods, like food, are used up quickly. Services must be consumed at the time they are produced (you cannot save them up). But the answer choices were:
A. I don't remember but something obviously stupid
B. Tangibility
C. Liquidity
D. Porosity (I am not making this up)
E. Price

I immediately gravitated toward tangibility because goods are discernable to the touch but services are not. But then I thought, This is not true; tangibility can distinguish goods from services but not durable goods from nondurable goods. A Big Mac is as tangible as a washing machine. (Arguably sex with a prostitute is also tangible in a sense, but I am willing to let this argument go.) I even wrote down on the test itself “Tangibility does not separate durable from nondurable goods.”

Then I thought, well given that tangibility is obviously incorrect, liquidity is the only option that I can make any kind of case for, since I can order the three types of products by typical capacity convert them into cash, and maybe the professor is meaning liquidity to have a time element to it. But when I looked through the book, I found that the test question was in the textbook verbatim; it was not some poorly worded question my own professor made up but is the official textbook line. And this filled me with that feeling (that I am sure you will recognize as a particularly Sally feeling) of “How can they say that when it isn’t true! They must know that it isn’t true!” that I am sometimes overwhelmed with and that motivates me to want to eviscerate the originators and disseminators of such blatant falsehood. Something about this kind of proclamation of manifestly incorrect information by people who are speaking from a position of authority and expertise so that they will be believed by na├»ve others seems to make me react as though my fundamental values have been violated, which I guess is actually the case.

I did appreciate Robert's observation that I tend to struggle with introductory classes because I have difficulty understanding concepts at a sufficiently superficial level.

This evening I checked the class website and our grades have been posted. I got a 90 as anticipated, barely eking out the A. I am glad to get the A on its own merits but also specifically because it relieves me somewhat of this desire to barge into the professor’s office and challenge him, perhaps not to an actual duel to the death, but to find any extant accepted definition of tangibility that can separate durable from nondurable goods that does not smuggle in a temporal element that is not inherent to the word itself. This would be extremely counterproductive.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Spanking the Trojans

OK, there have been plenty of strange upsets this season, but Stanford, a 41-point underdog, beats #2 ranked USC? I didn't see the game, so I have to wonder - did they decide at the last minute to ditch the football thing and have an academic quiz bowl contest in its place?

(Not to offend the Stanford grads in my readership, but the Stanford Cardinal is a pretty lame name. I mean, a color? WTF? The Stanford Griffins, the Robber Barons, or even the Trees, would have been a huge improvement because at least a person can easily conceive of them doing something, even if it's just standing around for hundreds of years.)

I am now sort of surprised that OU and UT, after losing to lesser teams in their previous week's games, did not manage somehow to both lose in the Red River Shootout this past weekend. Although obviously I am happy for OU to have won this game, I'm a bit disappointed that a Dallas area junior high football team did not take the field and trounce both teams simultaneously.

The Saddest Thing: Calculus Edition

Dr P warned us to be psychologically prepared when doing our homework this evening because problem #13 is the "saddest" problem we will experience this semester.

"Assume the bucket in example 4 is leaking. It starts with 2 gal of water and leaks at a constant rate. It finishes draining just as it reaches the top. How much work was spent lifting the water alone?"

160 ft-lb of work was expended to bring up zero gallons of water. (sob)

Umleitung

It was nice of the people at the university to place a sign with "Detour" and an arrow showing that I should turn right at the point where they blocked my street and the only possible way to go at that point was right. But really, after sending us off into what appeared to me, given that I have zero knowledge of any other streets in town but the ones I drive on directly to the parking lot, into the fucking boonies, it would have been really nice if any other detour sign had ever appeared. Like ever. Fortunately, I was able to use a general feeling of "the campus is that way" and my tried-and-true "when in doubt, follow another car" heuristic (which this morning became at one point "follow the university bus") to good effect. (It felt incredibly lucky to me, and I fear that I won't be able to replicate it with such ease tomorrow morning.) Which was apparently more than most people, since the parking lot was about 1/3 as full as usual. I got really turned around trying to get back to the highway after class and demonstrated that though my driving and navigational abilities are both mediocre, they are flat-out bad in combination. At least I got to learn that there are a number of mysteriously one-way streets just south of campus, but I don't find this knowledge worth the pain-in-the-ass it was to learn.

Essays Versus Multiple Choice Tests

Tam asked:

“All things considered, and in a standard classroom testing situation, would you rather take an essay test or a multiple choice test?”

I think I prefer essay tests over multiple choice overall.

Multiple choice have the advantage that it is relatively easy to do OK, but I personally find it difficult to do extremely well on them because even when I feel that I know the material pretty well, there are a few questions that it's difficult to distinguish possible answers from each other, figure out what the professor is really looking for, know what to do when all the questions look wrong, or whatever. And it’s common for a couple of questions to cover very specific facts that I don’t remember because I am not a fact-oriented person. Of course, if I had to walk into an exam semi-cold, I would definitely be glad for it to be multiple choice.

Essay tests require a significantly greater amount of preparation, but with effort and time, it is possible to get a very high grade. On these tests, you demonstrate mastery of the concepts and get to select your own facts to support them; you will not get tripped up because you did not happen to remember a specific example from the book, lecture, journal articles, etc.

My writing skills are definitely better than my multiple choice test taking skills. On m.c. tests, I have a tendency to make the questions more difficult than they are, out-think myself (e.g convince myself that the “obvious” answer is not correct), and generally guess wrong more often than I would expect. (E.g. on the marketing test, there were 4 problems I had narrowed down to two answers and I missed 3/4 instead of 2/4. I do this reliably.) I am not good at figuring out from the way the questions are asked, or by comparison to other questions on the exam, what the likely answer is.

This being said, for my marketing class, I'm satisfied with getting low A's on the multiple choice tests; it is not worth the extra time that it would take to prepare for essay tests to get a higher level of A that doesn't count for anything. I am not learning anything from this class that I won’t be exposed to again at much greater depth.

For the psychology class, getting a very high grade helps me impress the professor to write me a good recommendation down the road. (This is already happening based on the brief conversation we had after class on Thursday.) It also means that I am really learning the material more thoroughly, which is useful given the direct application of these concepts to my future plans.

I have my next (multiple choice) marketing test this Wednesday and I am hoping that I manage to at least not miss any of the questions in the chapter on marketing research given that, you know, I did it professionally for 8 fricking years.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

TGI...Whatever

I wrote the notes for this entry in the library on Thursday but only now have gotten around to posting it.

I almost never studied at the library at Rice, but I am enjoying it at Bobcat High. Lugging all my stuff with me is kind of a pain but having a huge desk not already piled up with stuff is nice and the distractions are minimal (at least when I go to one of the floors designated "quiet"; I had to move a quiet floor Thursday when a particularly confused calculus student was being helped with his homework by someone only marginally more clued in at a desk close to mine) - no Fate, golden Oreos (which I don't actually eat but that do call my name), bunny rabbits, or phone calls from Robert's girlfriend at "Gifts com."

Obviously I like Thursdays because that is the last day of my class week, but I do not actually spend all day Friday eating bon bons and watching tivo'ed episodes of "Law & Order: IRS Investigating People Who Accidentally Screwed Up Their Personal Income Tax Returns and Cheated the Government Out Of Under $200 Unit" or "CSI: Wichita Falls" because I do not have a tivo, I do not have any cable "Crime Television Outlandishly Overstretched Franchise Channel," and I am not sure what a bon bon is (chocolate candy?).

Going home on Wednesday, I was stopped at a light behind someone with a "Celebrate Diversity" bumper sticker that I stared at for a while, then looked up at the street sign for University and was like, hmmm, university, diversity, one, two. The relationship between these words is weak and ancient, but exists according to my dictionary - both come ultimately from the Latin for turn. (Uni- is Latin and Di- is Greek, incidentally).

This week in my marketing class, the professor's cell phone rang twice, thus further damaging his credibility where "professional behavior" is concerned (he had stipulated that cell phones should be turned off or put on vibrate as part of his ground rules). The second time, he commented that he was having trouble turning it off and while he was fumbling with the phone, another cell phone started to ring and a girl had to dig into her purse and try to get it to stop also. This was funnier than it might seem. (He has difficulty unlocking the door to the classroom every morning too, which always causes someone within my vision to roll their eyes at someone else. I just think we should all take the opportunity at those moments to be glad that he decided to become a college marketing professor, which he does just fine with, and not a surgeon.)

I got a 100 on my psychology essay test, demonstrating once again how much more reliably (albeit in this case with a lot more preparation) one can get a high score on an essay test versus a multiple choice test. Just now Robert gave me my mail, which included my grade report from my UT calc class. So yay, I have my A and will not have to have anything more to do with UT ... until I need to request a transcript.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Free Market Straw Man

A "straw man" argument is when you misrepresent your opponent's argument and then tear it to pieces, thus pretending that you have refuted the opponent's actual position. This is extremely common, especially in political discussions, and people often don't seem to notice it when it happens.

Tam sent me a link to an article on Slate that has the most egregious straw man I have seen recently. The author, who is an economist at the Wharton School of Business, makes this particular claim:

"After all, free-market economists have told us for decades that we should rely
on market decisions, not the government, to meet our needs, because it's the
market that satisfies everyone's every desire."

He then goes on to demonstrate that the free market does not satisfy everyone's desire, hence free market economists are wrong about the benefits the market provides, and thus the free market ecomists claims that the market is superior to the government in providing value to people are also wrong. (He has written an entire book based on this idea.)

But of course, it is not the case that free market economists claim that the market "satisfies everyone's every desire." Indeed, I seriously, seriously doubt that the author could cite a single free market economist, or free market supporter in general (no matter how otherwise batshit crazy he may seem in wanting to privatize the roads, etc.) who has said or would say that. The fact that we live in a universe of scarcity basically guarantees that everyone's every desire will not be satisfied and free market economists are well aware of this fact. After all, I do not believe that every free market economist in this country drives a Ferrari, owns a vacation home in Jackson Hole, and is fucking Jennifer Lopez. (I, for one, am eagerly awaiting a new kind of ice cream that tastes like Amy's Mexican vanilla with Reese's peanut butter cups smashed in but has the precise nutritional profile of raw spinach.)

In the free market versus government debate, it is not necessary for the free market side to demonstrate that market failures do not and cannot exist. It is merely required to show that free markets do better than the actual alternatives. (Note: the Star Trek scenario, in which scarcity supposedly no longer exists and in which we get everything we desire from a replicator, is not an actual alternative.)

As for the special sneakers that Nike is making to fit the unusually shaped and sized feet of American Indians - if they want to make these shoes, provide them to people through tribal schools, and reap the rewards that are possible with social responsibility marketing, more power to them. (I do not expect that Nike thinks this is going to be a directly profitable product.) But, 1) this is a particularly lame example of a market failure to be hanging an entire article on; 2) special shoes for American Indians have existed before now (they are called "moccasins" - I suggest the author of the article google this word for more information on this obscure product), and 3) it's kind of, well, disgusting to see someone using American Indians to make a point regarding the relative effectiveness and benevolence of the US government given American history and the continuing screwovers handed to the tribes by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Close Your Clothes"

Check out this utterly fabulous home-made book a woman sewed for her daughter's second birthday, posted on Wardrobe Refashion. This is really upping the bar.