Monthly Archives: March 2014

By which I mean, “The consumer market does not produce the results – and therefore the products – that I would prefer.”

It’s mildly frustrating to me when people don’t make what I consider to be the ideal product. They don’t include features that it would seem relatively easy to implement.

It’s more than mildly frustrating when I watch things move away from what I want. Or when I have what I want, and the market moves away from that.

The latest two instances I have run into have to do with Bluetooth earpieces and wireless remotes and keyboards for smartphones.

In the former case, I have recently purchased an obscene number of Bluetooth earpieces because it’s really, really hard to get a precise combination that I want (single-ear, AVRCP-compatible). And the industry is moving away from providing me what I want. So when these people stopped offering the model that I used, I ordered 20 from one of the few outfits that sold them (not exactly a wholesaler, but very much priced to order in bulk). The problem occurred when this place didn’t actually have them in stock. So they’re going to ship them as they get them.

They’ve stopped making the part in question, so it may take a while. The fact that they haven’t made it and none of the major manufacturers produce it gives me the impulse to stock up. So I found one other model that does what I want. Like the C&D, it’s low-end. It’s ironic that it only appears to be low-end makers that produce this. Indeed, I have found a number of producers that do it, but they’re all Chinese countries and I can’t plug them into US power jacks. Anyhow, so I ordered one of these to see if it did in fact do what I wanted to do. Except it didn’t work at all. It cost $12 or so, but returning it for a refund cost $6. So I only got half of my money back. Actually, I just ate the $6 and got a replacement. The replacement works, though it’s not comfortable in the ear. I have since ordered a large number of replacements.

None of this would be an issue if people would just make a point to buy the products I believe they should buy.

Category: Market

“The greatest thing about the absolute worst in advertising.”

Category: Theater

With the news that CVS stopped stocking cigarettes, it was argued by some (though not many) that they shouldn’t be able to make consumers’ choices for them. James Taranto tried to tie it in to the PPACA’s mandate:

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose Congress enacted the following statute: “Any drugstore that is part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name (regardless of the type of ownership of the locations) shall offer cigarettes and other tobacco products available for sale to its customers.” Call it the Marlboro Mandate.

You may object that this would be a foolish law. We agree, but it would not be entirely without precedent for Congress to pass a foolish law. {…}

By contemporary liberal lights, however, the Marlboro Mandate would be a legitimate exercise of congressional power. The Supreme Court has long held to a highly expansive interpretation of the power to regulate interstate commerce. Thanks to the ObamaCare decision, Congress doesn’t have the power to mandate that individuals purchase a product, though even that would have been an open question if the liberal dissenters had prevailed on that point. But a command to retailers, especially to a nationwide retail chain like CVS, clearly qualifies. In fact, we borrowed the “20 or more locations” language from Section 4205 of ObamaCare, which mandates nutrition labeling on chain-restaurant menus.

He then goes on to try to tie it to health insurance contraception requirements.

The argument fails, though not for most obvious reason that cigarettes are bad and contraception is good. There is that reason, to be sure, though that’s going to fall mostly as a matter of perception, and therein lies the rub. No, I think the most straightforward differences are that neither the contraception requirement nor nutrition labeling actually fall into the level of coercion as forced sales (and stockage) no matter what we’re forcing sale and stockage of.

In the case of the contraception requirement, PPACA doesn’t actually require contraceptive coverage. Rather, they are setting a minimum bar for what constitutes sufficient insurance to justify (a) the tax-exemption and (b) avoiding the penalty for not insuring your employees. This is a distinction with a difference because employers are still free to allow their employees to purchase their own health insurance plans on the exchanges. Which isn’t really a punishment because some employers are voluntarily doing it.

Likewise, information disclosure is not exactly novel with the PPACA.

Where I initially thought Taranto was going with his argument, though, was more interesting where he actually did. Forced stockage actually is a contemporary issue. Even more closely tying in to the Marlboro Mandate, it even involves phamacies like CVS. I speak, of course, of the proposed (and in some places enforced) requirement that pharmacists dispense birth control regardless of any conscientious objections the pharmacists might have.

There are differences here, too. The main objection to the comparison really does fall under the “cigarettes bad contraception good” though I have the same objection as I mentioned above. I believe pretty strongly that contraception serves a valuable purpose that tobacco doesn’t, but others are going to disagree with that and it’s not particularly something that can be proven as it is a matter of morals and philosophy in addition to science. And I can think of other things with health benefits or medicinal uses that we also wouldn’t require stores to carry. Including, for that matter, some contraception like condoms.

The next argument for there being a difference is that pharmacies are pretty explicitly places we go to have prescriptions filled and not to be subject to the moral whims of the pharmacist. There is something to be said for this argument, but going to a pharmacy to have your prescription filled is not the same thing as it being guaranteed that such an item will be in stock.

One of the challenges of laws trying to force pharmacies to stock contraception is that pharmacies make the decision not to stock things on numerous bases. A law in Washington State was shot down by the courts. Why? The law had to make accommodations for the fact that there were pharmacies that didn’t want to stock certain drugs for “acceptable” reasons and the court reasoned (among other things) that disregarding religion as a rationale to decline to carry drugs but allowing non-religious reasoning was de-facto religious discrimination.

My objection to these laws are two-fold. First, the same logic that can be applied to pharmacists with regard to contraception can be applied to obstetricians and abortions. When I bring this up, the response I usually get is that there is a difference between having to perform an action that is immoral and giving someone something that you believe to be immoral. It’s true that there is a distinction there, but there are also distinctions in the other direction. A pharmacy that declines to dispense contraception will not likely be an effective barrier to a woman and contraception, but the lack of abortion providers does appear to have an effect on the abortion rate. I suspect that the real difference is that people are simply more understanding of opposition to abortion than of opposition to contraception.

The second objection is the extent to which this is a solution in search of a problem that justifies it. Here is where people like to lecture me on what I don’t understand about rural America, but the number of places where there is “only one pharmacy” is not one I have actually run across and I have looked extensively. What I’ve mostly seen is that there are places with multiple pharmacies and there are places with none. You could run into a place where there are two but neither offer contraception, but that strikes me as unlikely. If these places were remotely common, I suspect that I would actually hear about places instead of theoreticals.

And beyond that, one of the costs of living in rural America is that things such as pharmacies are more of a hassle. As I said, there are places with no pharmacies. These seem to take secondary importance, however, and I’m not sure why. Though I have my suspicions. If we were really interested in trying to universalize access to contraception, we should be looking more into telepharmacies and pharmacy-by-mail so that we can not only give contraception options to that theoretical place with only one or two pharmacies that don’t offer contraception, but those who simply don’t live near pharmacies.

So what are my suspicions as to why this hasn’t been a greater priority? Honestly, because I think forced stockage has as much to do with animosity towards judgmental pharmarcists than it is the logistical problems that this is actually causing.

Category: Hospital, Market

In the run-up to the 2012 election, the Obama administration delayed rules until after the election:

Some agency officials were instructed to hold off submitting proposals to the White House for up to a year to ensure that they would not be issued before voters went to the polls, the current and former officials said.

The delays meant that rules were postponed or never issued. The stalled regulations included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls for industrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any delays until after the election were coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics. But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.

On the one hand, it’s kind of a problematic game of “hide the ball” if you’re obscuring what you want to do if your people are re-elected. What I found particularly interesting, though, was that the submission of plans was also pushed back. So in this case, it wasn’t even “We’ll do it after the election” but rather a desire not to be confronted with it. Not to have to decide. Or perhaps, not to have the administration tarred with it if it isn’t actually going to pass.

Ronald Reagan is often associated with the ketchup-as-a-vegetable incident. Which was actually simply a proposal of the sort that the administration was uninterested in hearing about. Whether you like Obama or not, it seems hard to deny the Republicans have often latched ferociously to virtually any sort of criticism as demonstrative of socialistic or coastal-overlord inclintations. Ketchup-as-vegetable stuck to Reagan because it fit his critics’ narrative.

That doesn’t negate the problem here, of course. Especially given the frequency with which Obama has been utilizing the executive to its greatest capability. Which is not to say that either report-punting or executive-expansion is new. But Obama has been, or plans to be, my most accounts more aggressive than Bush. It seems likely that Obama’s predecessor will be more aggressive than him. And then, hiding intentions becomes considerably more impotant. To them, obviously, if not to us.

WaPo White House delayed enacting rules ahead of 2012 election to avoid…

Category: Statehouse

This list of “13 Stars You Probably Wouldn’t Recognize Today” is really, really depressing.

Renee Zelweger, Jennifer Grey, and Sharon Osbourne being the partial exceptions. Unless, like Heidi Montag, it’s a remarkably flattering picture compared to some of the others I’ve seen. Or perhaps the other images are particularly unflattering one?

That the aging here isn’t natural is hardly a piercing insight. Most of it is related to plastic surgery. I confess a little vindictive part of me sees a sense of justice in this. Women artificially trying to prop up their looks paying a steep price for it. It’s honestly the sort of thing you expect to see in just fairy tails. The queen who sips the juice to stay young forever turning into a freak.

The thing is, though, that they’re not doing this in a vacuum. They’re doing this (at least in part) to maintain their careers in an industry that has a tendency to toss women aside after a certain age. Not that all female stars fade in their younger years, but the competition does become increasingly stiff.

I don’t consider it accidental that we run into far more cases of women “aging” like this than men. Partially because female attractiveness is more of a societal obsession than male attractiveness. Also because natural male aging is more accepted than female aging. Male stars don’t have to do as much to themselves to maintain their movie star looks.

Category: Theater

The value of thirty-five times x is greater than the value of 60 if x is an integer with a value greater than one.

So we made it to Vegas. We knew that Mandalay Bay, the hotel resort where we are staying, offered cribs. What we did not know is that they charged an exorbitant $35 day a fee for them. We tried to see if we could get around it, but it became obvious last night that we weren’t going to be able to. So we called to have one sent up. As an aside, you would think that if we call the front desk at 11pm and say “We need a crib” the importance of getting it sooner rather than later would be implied. It’s 11 at night, after all. But at midnight we had to call again and ask how that crib was coming. It arrived shortly thereafter.

I was expecting for $35 in a hotel where rooms go for over $200, it would at least be a nice crib. It was, in fact, roughly the same as the Graco playpen at have at home. The one that cost $60.

So, to clarify, if you’re going to “rent” a crib at Mandalay Bay for more than a single day, it’s actually cheaper to buy one off Amazon and have it sent to the hotel than it is to actually rent theirs. For three days, which is our duration, it’s much cheaper. You can have it shipped back and still come out ahead and with a new playard to boot. Or you could donate it to charity. Don’t leave it in the room, though, because they will probably charge $35 to someone else to let them use it.

Category: Road

Last summer there was some back-patting in some circles when it was revealed that famously blue cities like New York and Boston have higher rates of extreme income mobility (bottom quintile to the top quintile) than red-state cities like Atlanta and Charlotte. Proof of the blue state model!

Of course, statistics are funny things. Especially when you’re looking at a nation as wildly varied as ours. Without a doubt, it reflects well on a city if poor people raised there go on to become economically successfully. On the other hand, some places are more amenable to being in the top quintile than others. For instance, if you’re born and raised in SF or NY and you are successful it’s easier to rise to the top quintile than if you’re born and raised in Atlanta or Charlotte. One big thing that Atlanta, Charlotte, San Francisco, and New York all have in common is that if you’re born there, you have little to have to leave. So the ceilings matter.

New York and Boston are not only hubs of opportunity, but if you’re successful employers have to pay you more to keep you there because it’s so darned expensive. People from these cities often get the idea that making $100,000 a year – enough to get you into the top quintile – qualifies as “middle class” because you can make that much and still not be able to afford the better things in life. This effect is limited, though, by the decreased probability of being raised in the bottom quintile since wages at the bottom tend to be (I think?) higher as well.

If you doubt the effects these sort of things have, and if saying this comes across as statistic-denialism, consider what attaching impotance to these numbers mean. Namely, that Boston are owned by many rural towns you’ve ever heard of. Los Angeles is actually less of a hub of this sort of mobility than Dillon, Montana, home of the mighty Dillon Beavers football team, a tiny state college, and not much else. Or Butte, the economically distressed city to its north that you maybe have heard of. I’m not even talking about places like West Dakota where such mobility can be easily explained.

So what’s the deal with these places? Are they that awesome? Well, the Beavers may be awesome, but by and large they are not. They do boast, unlike rural areas in the south, the ability to educate youngsters who will disproportionately go on to make good money. Which isn’t unimportant. But ultimately what they have is a lot of people who are poor on paper but due to lower costs of living aren’t poor-poor like they would be in other parts of the country. So they look disproportionately successful.

Which isn’t nothing, of course. Such places are important despite having unimpressive economic numbers generally because the “brain drain” they experience becomes a “brain gain” elsewhere (though I don’t have access to the statistics, I doubt these people are making $100,000 in Butte). It’s also a reason to be proud, just as it’s a reason for San Francisco to be proud of their ability to generate the sorts of salaries that place it so high on the hierarchy. But without a better accounting of how this statistical mobility is happening, it’s not easy to glean much more than that.

The article does investigate the average wealth of various areas if only to dismiss it. They are right that there is more to the story than that. Some have suggested that racism and segregation are the southern issue, but as the article points out mobility for southern whites is pretty low as well and Atlanta is actually less segregated than New York and Los Angeles by some measures. Race alone isn’t the issue, as the blue cities are just as multicultural as the red-state cities. Chicago, Atlanta, and Charlotte are sufficiently outside the norm that we ought to be looking at why the mobility isn’t happening. I have a feeling it’s something that’s going to be had to address on a governmental level.

Category: Coffeehouse


The past week or two, I have been trying to manipulate the baby’s bed time to synchronize things so that we are all going to sleep and waking up together. We’e all night owls by inclination, though of course Clancy has to get up early for work. Lain seems to have taken from her parents in this regard. The books all say that the ideal bed time for a baby is early, but it’s often pulling teeth to get her to move her bed time up.

The main reason for the synchronization was in preparation for our Las Vegas trip, which we embarked on yesterday due to a professional conference for Clancy. Because we were all going to be in a hotel room, in became particularly important that we be going to sleep together so that Clancy got enough sleep to actually be awake for the reason that we’re here.

Everything kind of went off the rails the night before when the baby declined to go to sleep early, pushing back our own packing plans. I was up till midnight getting everything together. Clancy was up till 2:30. We had to leave for the airport at 5:30 (a coworker of hers was picking us up).

The entire day we were obsessed with the baby’s sleep patterns for fear of what it might have meant in the night. So much so that we forgot about a critical component: us. There was little or no sleeping on the plane due to the small seats and a baby who did not appreciate being on a plane for five straight hours. We have historically preferred non-stop flights, and figured it would become even more important with the peanut. As it turns out, a layover in St. Louis or Chicago would have done us some good.

By the time we got here, we were hungry and tired. I was so tired that I just couldn’t even think straight. Clancy was even more tired despite having gotten a little nap on the plane. (She runs bigger sleep deficits more generally, and she got significantly less sleep than me the night before.) Late naps tend not to be good for the baby, but there came a point where we just had no choice. We had to risk her sleep schedule for our sleep schedule. We ended up taking a collective nap from about 5 to 8:30. I actually only slept until six but woke up completely rejuvenated. But even at 8:30 it was tough getting Clancy and Lain awake.

As it turned out, things ended up just kind of falling into place. The massive sleep deficits prevailed and when it was time for bed again, none of us had difficulty going back to sleep. And now we’re on the schedule that we had intended to be all along. More or less.

Category: Road

The best song ever about Las Vegas:

One Hand on my chips, The other on my drink
It only comes with the waitress sees I’m gamblin
The phone near my bed, smells of wine and cigarettes
From the other night when I called you up ramblin’

And I’ve never claimed to be no broken heart mender
But I just heard Elvis sing “Love me Tender”

Meet me in Las Vegas
I’ve got to let you know
I’m not the man who left you days ago
Meet me in Las Vegas
In this city of sin and I don’t care
If I lose all my money if I never lose you again

Category: Theater

An issue making the rounds involves an applicant who was offered a faculty position at Nazareth College only to have it rescinded when she tried to negotiate. Specifically, after stating she was excited about the opportunity she asked for:

1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.
2) An official semester of maternity leave.
3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.
4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.
5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.

And Nazareth College thanked for the email and her interest but responded thusly:

The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.

Slate’s Rebecca Schulman is outraged:

How dare this “women” think she could attempt to secure a better life for herself and her family? In this market, if a university wants her to wade around in pig crap, her only counteroffer should be: “Should I bring my own snorkel?” Any beginning academic who tries to stand up for herself is lunch for the hordes of traumatized ivory-tower zombies, themselves now irreversibly infected with the obsequious self-devaluation and totalizing cowardice that go by the monikers “collegiality” and “a good fit.”

Heebie-Geebie, a professor at a small liberal arts school in Texas (and an avowed liberal) disagreed:

At Heebie U, if she made these queries, it would truly indicate that she is woefully out of touch with what kind of institution we are. I would be flabbergasted if a candidate followed up a campus visit and offer with this kind of list, because it’s so wildly outside of our financial abilities or what anyone else gets. I would think “This candidate is genuinely not interested in being at this kind of institution – she thinks she has gotten an offer from a far wealthier, more prestigious institution than we are, and she will go back on the job market very quickly if she comes here.” In other words, what the response from Nazareth said.

When we were living in Deseret, we happened to live at the doorstep of Deseret State University. A whole lot of my coworkers went there and more than a few had spouses that worked there. One person who was in touch with faculty recruited described the process as an effort primarily to weed out those who weren’t really interested in the job. They’d offer to take applicants hunting, fishing, or hiking. They’d take them to see community theater. That was as important as anything they had to say about their academic profile. If they demurred or were bored, then they probably weren’t a good fit. Among the hundreds or thousands of applicants for every openings, they felt they could find someone who was and who actually wanted to be in the rural Mountain West.

As such, I sympathize with Nazareth’s concerns here. The daylight between this applicant and the next applicant was not so great. And an offer made can be rescinded before it’s accepted (afterwards, it gets more complicated).

One of the things that crossed my mind, though, was why this email revealed something that the interview process – sufficiently extensive that they felt comfortable extending an offer – didn’t. Whose side I am on depends almost entirely on whether Nazareth is re-evaluating its interview process. Because if an email of requests can throw it off, clearly something went wrong. The nature of the job was not adequately conveyed or they did not probe the applicants enough about what they were looking for. The only other explanation is that the applicant mislead them. But if the applicant gave one impression during the interview, it doesn’t seem to me that it should be rescinded on the basis of an email. At the least, you would want to probe further, I would think.

It’s easy to look at this as a situation specifically regarding humanities academics and why did they major in that and yadda yadda, but this situation isn’t entirely unique to academia these days. Actually, though, my wife ran into a similar situation.

She was flown out twice to interview for a job. She came close to getting it and in retrospect we believe that the sticking point was that she was asking for too much. Not demanding too much, mind you, but asking for things that signaled to them that she wasn’t actually a good fit. It came as a blow when they took a pass. I hesitate to say that they were right in making the decision that they did, but I do understand where they were coming from. And it did work out best for us because the things she hated about the job in Arapaho were actually less favorable at the other job. The only benefit is that it would have been clear about six months in, rather than a couple of years in, that Clancy’s career path needed an adjustment.

So hopefully W (the rejected applicant from the article) will find the sort of job she is looking for at an institution where these sorts of questions aren’t so alien.

Category: Office, School