Monthly Archives: February 2011

I don’t fully understand the appeal. I’m not going to be one of those guys that pretends that he has (or had) “refined” (read: ridiculous) standards. I mean, she’s relatively pretty. Quite pretty, if you ran into her on the street. But by Hollywood standards, she’s rather unremarkable. Kind of odd looking. The sort of “odd” that I might have found appealing in its own sort of way in real life. But not 50 Most Beautiful People attractive.

I haven’t been this puzzled since Angelina Jolie. And Jolie had a certain mojo with bisexual or otherwise straight women that Hathaway doesn’t, to my knowledge, have.

I don’t get what makes her so remarkable.

Category: Newsroom
Learnin’? LEARNIN’?! The only LEARNIN’ you need to learn are your X’s and O’s, son.

If Alabama QB Greg McElroy is so smart, how come he didn’t know to tank the NFL’s IQ/temperament test?

Usually, leaked Wonderlic scores are embarrassingly low. Not so, however, for Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who nearly aced the test, scoring a 48 out of a possible 50 according to his hometown Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That score puts him on the high, high end of potential employees in any field, and especially among NFL quarterbacks. A 48 is twice the league average for incoming QBs, and matches the highest score for a quarterback on record, belonging to current Buffalo Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard grad. (Here is the most complete database of Wonderlic scores by quarterbacks through 2006. Only one other starter last year, the 49ers’ Alex Smith, managed a 40 on the test; only one NFL player, former Bengals punter Pat McInally – another Harvard grad – is believed to have scored a perfect 50.)

This apparently could present a problem for McElroy, because apparently while the NFL likes them to be smarter than a rock, they don’t want them too much smarter. This apparently isn’t the first nerdity has been shown in a negative light. A Florida State safety’s decision to take advantage of a Rhodes Scholarship lead many to question his commitment to NFL football:

Rolle is a man with options and that makes NFL types, some of whom would be teaching P.E. in high school if not for the pro game, very uneasy.

“We’ll have to find out how committed he is,” an NFC assistant coach said, echoing the sentiment of five other NFL types leading up to this weekend’s scouting combine. “Committed” is a euphemism for desire, care, passion and whatever other combination of emotions goes into wanting to play football enough to make it a career.

It’s a tragedy when student athletes take that “student” part seriously.

Category: Newsroom, Theater

Mark Gimein writes about The Eligible-Bachelor Paradox. It’s essentially the female equivalent to The Woman Shortage. Both of which are often nooks and crannies that our psyches hide behind in explaining Why I Can’t Find Someone That Seems To Meet My Entirely Reasonable Standards. Gimein attempts to explain this using Game Theory (as in the real kind, not the Neil Straussian version we more typically talk about):

You can think of this traditional concept of the search for marriage partners as a kind of an auction. In this auction, some women will be more confident of their prospects, others less so. In game-theory terms, you would call the first group “strong bidders” and the second “weak bidders.” Your first thought might be that the “strong bidders”—women who (whether because of looks, social ability, or any other reason) are conventionally deemed more of a catch—would consistently win this kind of auction.

But this is not true. In fact, game theory predicts, and empirical studies of auctions bear out, that auctions will often be won by “weak” bidders, who know that they can be outbid and so bid more aggressively, while the “strong” bidders will hold out for a really great deal. You can find a technical discussion of this here. (Be warned: “Bidding Behavior in Asymmetric Auctions” is not for everyone, and I certainly won’t claim to have a handle on all the math.) But you can also see how this works intuitively if you just consider that with a lot at stake in getting it right in one shot, it’s the women who are confident that they are holding a strong hand who are likely to hold out and wait for the perfect prospect.

Susan Walsh interprets it through the prism of what she calls The Carol Syndrome:

The Eligible Bachelor Paradox dovetails nicely with another game theory concept that’s been applied to dating – dubbed The Carol Syndrome, named for the author’s beautiful friend Carol. Carol doesn’t get asked out much, and she believes that she frightens men away, but she doesn’t understand why. Surely some men are willing to approach her! It turns out that game theory can explain, at least theoretically why no men do.

Let’s say that Carol is sitting in Starbucks. Cute Guy sees her and feels attraction – he would love to get her number. He figures there are three potential outcomes, listed in order of preference:

1. Approach Carol and get her number. Win!

2. Forget it and go back to texting. Meh.

3. Approach Carol and get rejected. Loser!

While Cute Guy is deciding what to do, he notices other guys in Starbucks, several of whom also have noticed Carol and are also stealing glances at her. He is a STEM guy, so he calculates his odds of success with each approach. Obviously, his chance of success with option 2 is zero. Option 1 is much more likely if he’s the only guy who approaches Carol, and Option 3 is probable if several guys approach Carol. He’d really rather not deal with the rejection. But she is gorgeous! How to know what other guys will do?

Game theory says that the better looking Carol is, the more guys will want to approach her, and the more likely that any one of them will be rejected. Since all the guys act independently, the odds are highest that each of them will conclude that it is not a good idea to approach Carol. The more admiring men there are in Starbucks, the lower Carol’s chances of getting approached at all.

Phi relates thusly:

If this analysis is true, it supports my favorite hypothesis about why pleasantness of personality is overrepresented among both the low and high ends of the attractiveness spectrum: that neither group is much bothered by excessive male pestering, in the latter case because the cost of failure times its probability is prohibitive for the majority of men.

My college tech classes were, unsurprisingly, dominated by men. Those women that were somewhat disproportionately likely to be second-career types or foreign. Out of nowhere in one class was a gorgeous blond bombshell* of appropriate age. One of the amazing things was that nobody – and I mean nobody – talked to her. At all. Women who were foreign, fat, or wore shorts with unshaved legs, got more attention. Maybe not of the romantic kind (I really don’t know), but none were so avoided and (if only for their novelty) tended to attract more attention. But you would have thought that this girl had a stink-bomb in her pocket by the way that she was treated. By (young, available, attracted-as-hell) me, included. By the end of the class, her only friend was an Asian guy who barely spoke English.

I’ve heard some attractive women say that they actually get more attention when they dress down than when they dress up. I have a friend that made an absolute science out of finding flaws with women (“If you look at her closely, her eyes are slightly too close together and the eyebrow waxing is slightly asymmetrical.”) because such things were necessary for him to believe that he had any sort of chance. The term we used was “attainably attractive,” which was something of a joke because they were not remotely attainable by the likes of us. But it gave us just enough wiggle room to think it might be so. Not enough to ever really follow up. It also brings to mind some of the complaints of Sheila. Less so for any physical shortcoming on her part, but rather a vulnerability due to class and social standing that gave guys that had no shot the illusion that they did. All of this is to say that guys very frequently look for a reason for their to be an opening. Even if it’s illusory, some will go for it. But if they can’t even get that, cause they’re looking at all the other guys eyeing her at Starbucks, they may well be more likely to move on.

So what about the weak/strong bidder distinction? Do some women succeed by putting themselves out there? Some guys argue that this is the case, that women should be more forward. Others (guys and girls) say the opposite. If they do the legwork, the guy will just use her for sex and toss her aside. I know that in the past I have said that the guy should at least be willing to meet you half way. If there is any truth to this article, that may not be the case. And I can think of a few anecdotes to where someone that ordinarily would not have been on my radar getting there through some rather aggressive bidding.

I remember Maya, my friend Kyle’s former roommate. They’d recently moved in together (platonically) and I was in town visiting him. She was kind of chubby and not remarkably impressive. But boy, she could talk. And she talked to me all night long. In a way, I was grateful because we went to a party and it saved me from having to meet anyone knew. But she told me nearly everything about herself and asked question after question after question about me. At one point (I think I was in a sour mood more generally, that night) I wanted to ask “What’s wrong with you?!” do to all of the attention she was giving me. Whether she was actually interested in me I do not know, but trickle-trickle it came out that what she was looking for in a guy (tall, thickly built, young**, intelligent) were attributes I had. Anyway, though part of me found it obnoxious at the time (in part because I think I was in a sour mood, in part because I just didn’t know what to do with this person that would not leave my side), by the next day I was really wanting to talk to her some more. A week later, I was kind of in to her. The next time I saw her, there was no “kind of” about it. Long and uninteresting story about what followed, but nothing ever came of it.

Then there was the Story of Libby. That one did not have a happy ending. At all. But her force of will made it so that if there was any chance of it working out, it probably would have. She didn’t get the marriage that she perhaps wanted, but she made something out of what – for lack of that will – would never have been anything. She’s not alone in this regard. I’ve largely attributed it to an attraction to strong-minded (or, absent that, outgoing) women, but maybe there is something more to it. Not that aggressive bidding will get them what they want, but that maybe I’ve historically been to skeptical of the possibility that it can get them something that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten?

Some of this rests, though, on the notion of a Quality Man Shortage. Which I do think exists in some contexts (such as the third quartile of functionality), but I really think is more often fueled by the same thing that fuels men to carp about The Woman Shortage. But the strong/weak bidder concept is interesting. It also makes me wonder to what extent there is a strong-weak bidder in the other direction. The general view is that persistence isn’t worth much of anything, as a guy. My experience backs this up 100%. So if there is a difference, why? Is it because men are not socialized/trained to tell women to buzz off when they are not interested, thus providing women more leeway? Are men less put off by the sense of desperation?

* – I mentioned her to a friend of mine. He, like all good friends, said “Go for it!” He asked to see a picture, which I could provide because the class involved making a website. Upon seeing the picture, he suggested that perhaps I ought to move to California and try to land an actress, instead, as that was more likely to happen.

** – Younger than her, to be precise. I was older than her, but she was shocked to find that out. So during the night in question, she thought I was younger.

Category: Coffeehouse

Arapaho is considering a vote on whether or not to do away with Daylight Savings Time. As a critic of the custom, I mostly hope they do it. I say “mostly” because, while it would be nice to do away with spring forward and have earlier sunrises, it would also be decidedly inconvenient if Arapaho did it alone. That would mean that every time we crossed state lines, we would have to deal with a time change. We go to Deseret and Shoshona periodically. More importantly, though, the last time we flew, we flew out of Deseret and decided that it might be more advantageous to drive five hours to the major airport to get a non-stop flight versus driving a couple hours to Alexandria (Arapaho) and making a two-legged flight. It’s pretty easy to imagine us forgetting that Deseret is an hour ahead of us and missing a flight.

Most likely, the vote will fail. Apparently it has been proposed before. They nipped and tucked it this time around to satisfy some of the objections (Shouldn’t the people get to vote? What if the federal government mandates DST?). But I’m a proud citizen of one of the few states applying scrutiny to this DST madness.

Category: Statehouse

Last week, Web suggested that our government does not have a spending problem but rather a revenue problem. He goes on to point out the vast concentration of wealth among the wealthiest small-percent:

Liberals are often obsessed with keeping taxes highly progressive, but let’s face it – the top 1% control more than 42% of the wealth in the US. If you go to the top 5%, then they collectively control 67% of the wealth in the US. Go to the top 10%, and they control 93% of the country’s wealth.

I don’t disagree with Web that this is problematic. But as Dave later points out, there is a difference between wealth and income. Our federal government taxes the latter. And there are limits to the degree that you can rectify this (in the long, anyway) through tax policy. And it’s even more limited that you can use this in order to bridge our current deficit because any year’s income is only a part of that huge mass of wealth, and the primary form of wealth taxation we have – the estate tax – raises some money, but not huge amounts*. In preparation for a different post, I created a spreadsheet that looks at overall tax burdens of the top earners using numbers from Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ).

For the sake of this post, I am going to make a rather key assumption or two that are probably not true but that a lot of people assume is: you can tax income more-or-less directly. You can prevent the wealthy from wiggling out of it with a good tax attorney. By raising overall tax rates, you will not see an increase of people looking for deductions or else you can account for it with heavier tax rates. And these heavier tax rates will not result in people doing less work (and thereby paying less in taxes).

The CTJ numbers are looking at effective tax rates (for households) and not marginal or accumulated tax rates from which many can whittle down their burden through deductions and the like. To the right are the numbers. TAE represents Total Annual Earnings, OFTB represents Overall Federal Tax Burden. ELTR represents effective local and state tax rates. ETR represents Effective Federal Tax Rate. All are represented as percents. On subsequent charts, you will see EFMR, which is the Effective Federal Marginal Rate, and TETB, which is the Total Effective Tax Burden.

As Web points out, our tax system is not particular progressive once you get to the top 20%. Especially when you factor in state and local taxes, which are regressive. But right now we’re looking at federal. So if we’re concerned about income inequality, and we’re concerned about balancing the budget, why not just add more progressiveness to the tax code and take care of both!

The answer is that the deficit is simply too large. If you were to double the tax rates on the top 1%, you would increase the tax-base by 25%. Now, that’s not too bad… but it’s a first step. It also means that you’re taking over 60 cents on each dollar in the top pseudobracket** if you account for local/state taxes as well. You can extend this downward, but then it starts getting really problematic for people earning money in between the low, existing tax rates, and the higher, new ones. For instance, you can close the entire deficit (almost) by doubling taxes on the top 10% and raising taxes on the next ten percent by 10% by 50%, but now you would be taking over fifty cents on every dollar made over $66,000 (if we include state and local taxes) and almost seventy-five cents of every dollar between $100,000 and $141,000 (after which, marginal rates go down again).

Of course, an odd thing about looking at it this way is that under the previous scenario, marginal rates go down again once you pass $141,000. So let’s say we fiddle with ETRs and make it more directly like a graduated income tax. This means tinkering with the bottom 80%, too, because you run into the same bump for the middle quintile, which pays more marginally than either the second or fourth, but I left their overall burden roughly the same. So if we try to restructure it so that nobody pays more per new dollar earned than those in the previous bracket, you can actually come across something that’s a little more fair in the broader sense. However, you would still have various governments coming after people for more than fifty cents on the dollar for everything they made over $100,000***. The end result of this is a smoother, very progressive system in which the average dollar over $250,000 has almost seventy-five cents taken from it;. And if you’re inclined to cut those between $250k and $1.3m (the average income in the top 1%), you’re going to have to take that much more from the top. That may be satisfying on one level, but exactly how much do we want to take from those that earn good money? Under this plan, the top would lose over 2/3 of their (admittedly, very high) income.****

I support a progressive tax code (one more progressive than the code we have now). And as I mentioned on Web’s post (and will mention again in a future post), I think that the Truman family’s taxes are going to have to go up even if the folks in Washington manage to cut government. Perhaps it’s merely a product of suddenly being closer to the income where people start thinking that we have too much money and if we’re not turning it into Washington we’re essentially hoarding it, but it’s seeming unreasonable to take three out of four dollars off the top (if you include the state’s cut). The “off the top” does matter, I should add, because I can guarantee you that should something like the above come to pass and the tax burden off of new dollars made reach two-thirds of our income (as it would in the last table), then Clancy and I do start making decisions involving her working less and my not working at all even if more permanent employment does make itself available. And the further down the income line you start the hikes, the higher the marginal rates have to be to make up the difference.

The alternative, here, is to tax wealth itself. Local and state governments do this with the property tax. The federal government does it with the estate tax. I would have to think more about this, though my main concern would be that if it’s too high, you run into a situation where people build companies that they can no longer afford because it’s an asset being taxed. So they’re having to dig into their own pockets just to keep what they’ve built. So while you could do it (and to an extent, it is already done), I don’t know how much revenue you can actually raise from it. Raising the estate tax is another possibility. However, as mentioned in * below, the estate tax doesn’t raise all that much revenue. Too few rich people and they don’t die with sufficient frequency.

This isn’t an argument against raising the taxes on the wealthy (or closing loopholes or whatever). I support the graduated income tax and, as much as we can, targeting taxes to those that can most afford it. But it’s not going to end there. My above assumptions, that we can accurately target these taxes, loopholes will not be created and exploited, and that significant numbers of high-earners will simply trade the thirty-five cents on the dollar that they would otherwise get in favor of more leisure time. Ultimately, unless our economy rebounds in spectacular fashion, the tax punch is going to have to go further than the top 10% or even top 20% of earners, spending is going to have to be cut, or we have to start confiscating wealth/assets.

Which is the main problem with looking at how much the top earners are and thinking that we could close the gap just by taxing them more. The problem is that the top 1% only qualifies as 1% of the population. The top 5% as 5. Meanwhile, the middle quintiles constitute 20% of the population a piece. It’s hard to look at the deficit without also looking at that third of the national income. And at spending. The current deficit, if it continues*****, is not a problem with a simple solution. Nor is it a problem that will be accomplished without pain, as though we can somehow cut huge amounts of spending that nobody will miss or we will simply be able to tax the other guy. (more…)

Category: Statehouse

Mark Harris explains what happened to the good movies and why we shouldn’t expect them back again any time soon:

It has always been disheartening when good movies flop; it gives endless comfort to those who would rather not have to try to make them and can happily take cover behind a shield labeled “The people have spoken.” But it’s really bad news when the industry essentially rejects a success, when a movie that should have spawned two dozen taste-based gambles on passion projects is instead greeted as an unanswerable anomaly. That kind of thinking is why Hollywood studio filmmaking, as 2010 came to its end, was at an all-time low—by which I don’t mean that there are fewer really good movies than ever before (last year had its share, and so will 2011) but that it has never been harder for an intelligent, moderately budgeted, original movie aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide. “It’s true at every studio,” says producer Dan Jinks, whose credits include the Oscar winners American Beauty and Milk. “Everyone has cut back on not just ‘Oscar-worthy’ movies, but on dramas, period. Caution has made them pull away. It’s infected the entire business.”

For the studios, a good new idea has become just too scary a road to travel. Inception, they will tell you, is an exceptional movie. And movies that need to be exceptional to succeed are bad business. “The scab you’re picking at is called execution,” says legendary producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, True Grit). “Studios are hardwired not to bet on execution, and the terrible thing is, they’re right. Because in terms of execution, most movies disappoint.”

With that in mind, let’s look ahead to what’s on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children’s book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.1

And no Inception. Now, to be fair, in modern Hollywood, it usually takes two years, not one, for an idea to make its way through the alimentary canal of the system and onto multiplex screens, so we should really be looking at summer 2012 to see the fruit of Nolan’s success. So here’s what’s on tap two summers from now: an adaptation of a comic book. A reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a TV show. A sequel to a sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a young-adult novel.2 And soon after: Stretch Armstrong. You remember Stretch Armstrong, right? That rubberized doll you could stretch and then stretch again, at least until the sludge inside the doll would dry up and he would become Osteoporosis Armstrong? A toy that offered less narrative interest than bingo?

I am going to expand on some thoughts I outlined here. Different media have different requirements. Anything that drives down revenues is going to hurt a content-producer and content-deliverer. However, depending on the media involved, the result of this for the end-consumer is going to be different.

For instance, if it ever were to come to pass that making records wasn’t profitable on a wide scale, there would still be records. Some people are born to create music. There’d be garage CDs and at least some people that eek out a living for a while playing live shows and selling a few CDs until they have kids and need a more reliable income. The consumer (or at least some of them) could still be hurt because they would lose the primary pipeline through which they are regularly introduced to music without having to seek it out. The record labels select the artists, spend lots of money on advertising to get the songs on the radio and in the ears of the populace. This would be inconvenient for most people that prefer to have music presented to them. You would also have less professional sounding recordings. There would be a lot less in the way of auto-tuning and so the singing itself might be somewhat worse. But… there would still be music. All the music you could ever afford to buy tenfold. Enough music that you would enjoy being made by some aficionado somewhere.

The same goes for the publishing industry. Even if they weren’t getting paid for it, a lot of people would still write. Enough would be competent that while the end-product might be worse than before and they may be more expensive (no economies of scale), but they would be there. While you may have to seek out books rather than having a natural pipeline to your local bookstore, books (like music) do not require all that much in the way of capital these days. Books and music can be produced with passion and a couple or a few thousand dollars.

Movies, though, are a different bird. They require huge investments. Millions upon millions of dollars. Some aficionado in Minneapolis is going to have a hard time putting together that kind of money without investors. Investors are not going to invest unless there is a good chance on a return of their investment (or, if the article’s Chris Nolan example is correct, staying in the good graces of someone that is going to deliver for you in the future). If the revenue streams dry up, nobody will invest. Of course, in this case the revenue streams have not dried up (yet), but it has become so that studios have to be really conservative as to what they greenlight. So you’re stuck with assured successes, like the next Batman movie, or movies that, if they fail, won’t have cost all that much. If the Batman movies ever cease to make a profit, we would be stuck with a product (unlike with movies and records) radically different from what we have now. Every movie is inexpensive. Every movie is Clerks.

I don’t know if this will ever happen as it seems that there will always be room for generalist entertainment. Though said entertainment will get increasingly conservative and uncreative over time. While Clerks is (in my opinion) a good movie, it’s not what I would want every movie to be. The difference in quality and scope with inexpensive equipment would be severely limiting.

On the other hand, with technology getting better and better, between now and then we could reach the point where people could make their own animated or CG productions with a more manageable level of effort and investment. There are people that make their own productions using anime footage, for instance. They are hindered by having to conform to existing footage. So consider something like Red vs Blue writ large. Red vs. Blue is a production based on footage from Halo, a first-person shooter game. Its story is constrained by its setting, but imagine a “game” specifically designed for the purpose of making movies. You actually don’t have to imagine it because it exists. The movie-making ability appears to be pretty limited, but it’s not hard to imagine someone picking up where they left off, as that program did with the ones that came before it. (Update: There is apparently an application called iClone that’s more specifically devoted to this sort of thing)

I don’t expect actual movie-quality productions to be able to be made through that any time soon, but it holds definite potential. The question would remain whether people would be that it would almost certainly be perpetually behind Pixar. On the other hand, South Park is eons behind The Simpsons. And whereas where movies like Clerks are plot-limited by where they have access to shoot and such, these movies could become far, far less limited. It would be as possible to make a science fiction movie as it would a character drama or comedy, so long as you were willing to invest the time in it.

Category: Theater

Best Buy is looking at taking a page from Walmart. A good page, though:

Shoppers at Best Buy”Every Day Low Price” is the mantra at Walmart, and now it seems Best Buy is considering adopting the concept as it tries to compete with online retailers and get consumers to shop during non-promotional events.

“We have to move rapidly in recognizing the transparency of pricing,” Mike Vitelli, executive vice president and co-head of the North America division at Best Buy told Bloomberg News.

According to a Best Buy spokeswoman, any shift in pricing strategy is in the very early stages of discussion, and there are no more details to share at this time. Why then, tell a national news agency during interviews conducted at Best Buy’s Minnesota headquarters?

I go to Safeway about twice a week and then Walmart about two weeks of every three. When I was living in Cascadia, I went to Safeway or Fred Myers once a week and then to Walmart once a month or so. A lot is made of Walmart’s low prices (some suggesting they are illusory, others that they are real, others conceding the latter point but arguing that they are low for bad reasons), but cut-throat price-point is never really why I shopped at Walmart. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s mostly about convenience. This includes price in a couple of ways. For instance, Walmart carries inexpensive options for those times when I don’t need something of real quality. But another thing is, independent of the actual price-tags, the pricing structure.

I have a Safeway card and used to have a Fred Myers card. With the Safeway card, prices on Safeway products are often competitive with – or maybe even better than – Walmart’s. However, it creates the problem where when I go to Safeway, I don’t know how much I am going to actually pay for anything. So I end up buying things based on whether they are on sale rather than whether I need them on a given trip. I have a utility room filled with softdrinks from a 2-for-1 sale from when they were really cheap, but if I were to have gone up there yesterday they would have been twice as expensive. All because of when I purchased it.

Walmart is not above that sort of thing (and somewhat recently has been getting worse about it), but at Safeway it is more often the rule rather than the exception to the rule. Walmart’s pricing has historically been blissfully straightforward. Prices fluctuate as they do with everything, everywhere. And when they are trying to get rid of something they will mark it down, but you don’t have to worry about time-consuming coupon-clipping, stocking up on things when they’re on sale and having to bite the bullet when they are not, or things like that. At least, you don’t have to worry about it nearly to the degree that you do at Safeway and the like. There is, to me, a value in (relatively) transparent pricing.

And then, of course, there is Best Buy. Never a company I hated more than nonetheless managed to get my business. And one of the big reasons I hate them is their opaque pricing. With Best Buy, it’s less to do with a “Best Buy card” (I don’t know if such a thing exists) and more to do with mail-in rebates (you can get a good deal, but only if you jump through these pointless hoops where we increase our margins by betting that you forget!) and huge markups on convenience items. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Best Buy’s way of doing things. Such things are uniform with restaurants that charge you $2 for a drink that costs them 10 cents while making considerably less margin on the food you actually went there for and with theaters that make their money on charging a lot of money for cheaply purchased and/or produced goods like popcorn and coke.

To some extent, it’s the nature of the beast. But it’s really nice to be able to buy something and so rarely notice that if I had waited a week it would have cost half as much. To be able to go in, get something, and get out without feeling like I had been ripped off because I did something wrong. It’s, perhaps oddly, something I am willing to actually pay more for. When I was in Cascadia I gave Costco a try. They had some really good prices there, but the pricing seemed particularly erratic depending on the deal they got on a particular product on a particular week. That, combined with the fact that I had to tailor what I purchased to what they had in stock, made the whole experience pretty off-putting for me.

There are a lot of things not to like about Walmart (Made in China, underpaid staff, pricing out the competition), as Web and others are quick to point out. But this (along with their generous hours and the convenience of having so many things at a central location) has definitely been a plus. And I hope that Best Buy follows through (and Walmart reconsiders its drift in the other direction). I shop there because it’s often my only (one-stop) option, but when I can I shop at Fry’s because they seem to price much more consistently and transparently. Yeah, there’s a pretty good amount of price-fluctuation (wait a week, save a bundle) because it’s technology, but there’s not nearly as much of it. And anything that makes Best Buy more like Fry’s is a winner, in my book.

Category: Market

My day was salvaged when the call-out clerk found a $7 day for me at Redstone High. Even better, it was teaching American government! A subject on which I am both highly interested and knowledgeable about!

Of course, that makes it all the more frustrating when the students couldn’t care less. They didn’t even flinch when – by way of example – I mentioned the Detroit was closing half of its schools.

There was, however, one kid who seemed very interested in what I had to say. He watched me very intently.

He kept it up even after I gave everyone their reading assignment. Just watching.

Turns out he’s mentally handicapped.

Category: School

I try to go to bed early every night so that I am ready for a 5:30am call. None came this morning, but one did come around 8. I reminded the call-out clerk that I lived in Callie, but she said it wasn’t a problem. It was a little bit of a longer drive than usual (ice on the roads), plus it involved refilling the gas tank and drive-thru breakfast (there was, fortunately, no line) so that I wasn’t dying of hunger throughout the day.

But when I got there, the principal told me that they had cancelled me because it had gotten too late. I told him that I hadn’t gotten the call until 8 and I had to drive over from Callie, but he told me that the clerk said she called at 7:30, making me look like a liar. It didn’t occur to me to look it up on the phone until I had already left, but the actual call-time was 7:54.

It wouldn’t bother me (what’s one school among 8 or so?) except that this is the school I like most. It’s the one that, if we relocated to Redstone, I would want to move into the jurisdiction of. Now I’m a bit worried that I may have burned that bridge. My hope is that the principal remembers that the last time (my first-ever assignment), I showed up quite early.

Category: Office, School

It’s not just the lack of corroboration that makes me suspicious of Logan’s sexual assault claim. It’s her own reaction, or lack thereof. Forget the twaddle about sexual assault victims being too depressed and terrified to “come foward.” That may be the average victim. But Lara Logan is absolutely not average, and certainly not a timid, powerless little nobody who has to fear the police, idiot neighbors or sneering classmates. She is a wealthy, sophisticated 40-year-old woman who has spent 10 years in war zones, who saw a soldier’s leg blown off next to her in a tank, who has a huge machine of support behind her. She’s not your 12-year-old daughter. She’s not even you. She wasn’t embarrassed about the Baghdad Love Triangle, she wasn’t embarrassed about having the baby of a still-married man with a toddler, and she wouldn’t be embarrassed about this.

Lara Logan is clearly not one of those people who feels like bad treatment is her fault. And she may be a lightweight, she may be a bimbo, but she is not a weakling and does not lack confidence. No way do I buy that she’s too traumatized to talk. She talks for a living. She exposes other people — many much less wealthy and famous than she is — to public scrutiny for a living. And we’re just supposed to swallow the minimal misleading press release that has made her a household word, wish her well, and “respect her privacy?” Any self-respecting journalist would roll her eyes at the hypocrisy.

And if this really did happen to her, she is, above all else, furious. Ever talked to a real sex crime victim? They want heads on pikes. And they talk, oh yes, given an opportunity they will talk until their throat dries out. Even kids (I have seen them testify. “How did that make you feel?” Ten-year-old witness: “I want to punch him in the nose!”) They welcome the opportunity to bear loud and angry witness.

So why is none of that happening? She has one of the biggest voices in the world right now, and the perfect opportunity to help locate and punish her attackers, reward her rescuers, and focus attention on sexual harassment and assault of women, and female reporters, in Arab countries. Yet she refuses comment.

Here’s what CBS should have sent out immediately:

This evening [because we’re not going to conceal this news while a thousand other reporters are potentially in danger!], correspondent Lara Logan suffered [major? moderate?] injuries during a mob attack in Tahrir Square. Ms. Logan was attacked when she was separated from her crew and surrounded by a mob. She was rescued from further harm by a group of female Egyptian protesters and a group of Egyptian soldiers. Her injuries required hospitalization, for which she returned to the United States immediately.

I could see where it might take a few days to sort out and figure out how to handle the sexual battery element. Logan herself should have followed up with a clarifying statement, something along these lines:

“I want to thank the public for the outpouring of support and concern I have received regarding the incident at Tahrir. I also extend my gratitude to the brave Egyptian woman and soldiers who offered their assistance. I understand their have been rumors that the attack against me was sexual in nature. Those reports are true. I was surrounded by a mob, struck multiple times, had my two front teeth knocked out [I’m making that up for example — ST], and was grabbed and battered sexually and had my clothes torn. Thankfully, I was not raped, due to the intervention of those brave female protesters. They deserve the gratitude of their countrymen and ours.

Unfortunately, as many of us who cover foreign wars know, my experience is not unique. Many reporters have suffered similar attacks. Some were not as lucky as I was. In addition, the women of may of the countries we cover suffer worse fates every day. Women’s rights, yadda yadda yadda they should be treated a lot better, I only hope I’ve increased awareness so others may be helped etc. I and my producers are reviewing tapes of the square that night and will bring forward any leads we have to U.S. and Egyptian authorities, and will be very grateful for any assistance from the public in stringing up these bastards by their balls.” [I hate press releases, but you get the idea].

Yet for some reason, Logan is choosing to act like a fictional sexual assault victim. Precious, delicate, traumatized into silence. Recovering in private. Letting the concerned public assume the worst about her condition and her injuries. Stoking the buzz. Maybe she just doesn’t want to invite the scrutiny that the other approach — the real, angry, public approach — would bring.


Update: Finally, some independent reporting, although it’s unsourced. The Times of London (through the NY Daily News, because it’s behind a paywall) indicates the mob actually attacked the entire crew, calling them spies and Israelis, and Logan was separated at that time. This should be extremely verifiable (so let’s hear from some named witnesses, dammit!). The attack doesn’t sound nearly as sexual in this story, however. Apparently some or all of her clothes were torn off, and she was beaten with fists and flagpoles, and suffered welts from “aggressive pinching.” Sounds pretty bad, but I’ll bet it’s not what all those sympathetic readers envisioned when they read “brutal and sustained sexual assault” in the CBS press release.

Category: Elsewhere