Quotulatiousness

March 25, 2017

QotD: Why I hate Big Oil

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

For many years now, I – and many sceptics like me – have been accused by climate alarmists of being “in the pay of Big Oil”. But even though we deserve it for promoting fossil fuels so enthusiastically and fighting their critics so heroically, few of us have ever received even a penny for our troubles. That’s because Big Oil is far too busy trying to greenwash its image – as Shell itself did by sponsoring the Guardian’s environment pages for many years – to waste time on the plucky, outspoken heroes who do a better job for Big Oil’s PR than the Big Oil’s paid PR departments do.

Mainly, though it’s disgust. Big Oil has this public image of being an industry for fearless, no-nonsense manly men who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty or braving the environmentalists’ wrath in order to do their ugly but important work supplying the world with much-needed energy.

Yet it’s an image almost entirely undeserved.

Almost everyone at a senior level in Big Oil is a craven, simpering, politically correct, spineless, surrender-monkey corporate shill. They’re cowards who are scared of free markets, won’t speak up for capitalism, won’t even defend their core business.

James Delingpole, “Why I Totally Hate Big Oil – And Why You Should Too…”, Breitbart.com, 2017-03-14.

March 24, 2017

The LCBO “phones in” their Ontario VIP selections

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Michael Pinkus on the odd choices of wines to celebrate some Ontario wine luminaries:

Let’s be honest, the LCBO is lackadaisical, at best, when it comes to promoting Ontario wines, and they do it with such a blasé attitude it is embarrassing in the way they continue to absolutely fail the people of Ontario … let me explain and expand.

The main feature of the April 1, 2017 release is “Visionaries, Innovators and Pioneers” (VIP) – on a global scale – here you’ll see names you recognize and wineries that are household names (or one’s that should be) – people like Angelo Gaja (Italy), Ben Glaetzer (Australia), Ken Forrester (South Africa), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Nicolas Catena (Argentina) and for each they pair a wine to go along with them … I question the wine selection for these iconic wine luminaries, but what the hey, sometimes those iconic wines are sold out (icon wines do that) and you then have to go for secondary wines by those producers.

Then I reached the part with our local VIPs: Moray Tawse (true, a more recent member of the VIP club and in my opinion kind of an easy choice by the LCBO), even more lazy are the wines selected, far from what I would call his “iconic” ones; but that seems to be par-for-the-course in this release. Tawse makes single vineyard / single block wines that are “the bomb”, yet the LCBO chose a “Growers Blend” and a “Sketches” wine, seriously?

But the one that incensed me the most was Chateau des Charmes, not for the man they named, Paul Bosc Sr., who is a Visionary, Pioneer AND Innovator in Ontario, but the wine that was chosen to represent him: Cabernet Icewine? When I saw that, you could have knocked me over with a feather; what happened to Gamay Noir Droit? Single vineyard varietal offerings? Sparkling wine? Or even Equuleus? But instead of showing off these iconic / original table wines the LCBO goes for the easy layup of Icewine; which isn’t even what Bosc is known for (though he makes excellent versions of it), that honour should have gone to Inniskillin (Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser)

March 23, 2017

The rent is too damned high? I know – let’s kill the rental market!

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Toronto’s real estate market has been insane for years, with prices for utter wrecks still approaching a million dollars. This has a knock-on effect for rental housing, with insufficient supply guaranteeing that rents will also go higher and higher. The Ontario NDP thinks they’ve got a silver bullet to fix the rental market: rent control! Chris Selley explains why this won’t work out the way eager would-be renters in Toronto might hope:

The NDP’s solution: rent control. MPP Peter Tabuns tabled a private member’s bill Monday that would extend limits on annual rent increases to units built after 1991 — thus closing a so-called “loophole” the Mike Harris Tories introduced in hopes people would build more new units. The Liberals followed quickly behind, with Housing Minister Chris Ballard promising “substantive rent control reform” — details to come.

You can see the attraction, politically. Robber baron landlords swoop in, cackling, forcing families onto the streets and auctioning off their homes, literally, to the highest bidder. The government can stop it. Why won’t the government stop it?

No doubt there are some very sympathetic stories out there. But we in the media tend to be very good at finding those, and it’s hard not to notice the preponderance of “victims” who could afford very high rent in the first place, and didn’t do their homework with respect to rent control or the lack thereof. A typical example: CBC introduced us to a 32-year-old who was paying $1,650 a month for a tiny one-bedroom condo, only to be sent couchsurfing by a whopping $950 increase.

[…]

The fact is, rent control would largely help high-end renters in a high-end market. The vast majority of units that aren’t rent controlled are condos. In October, CMHC pegged the condo-over-apartment rental premium in the GTA at 46 per cent for one-bedrooms, 54 per cent for two-bedrooms and 65 per cent for three-bedrooms.

The real challenge these days is finding an apartment, period: the vacancy rate in October was 1.3 per cent. Critics say the “loophole” didn’t actually incentivize building rental apartments, but closing the “loophole” certainly won’t. Indeed, it’s tough to see how it would accomplish much except transferring money from unit owners to their tenants. Many will like that idea on principle — but if owners can’t rent to the highest bidder, they are unlikely to suddenly rent for less to the youngest, most disadvantaged and most vulnerable people rent control ostensibly helps.

If you want central Toronto to be a more affordable place to live, you need to figure out how to boost supply. There are lots of different ideas out there. It’s a topic of constant discussion at City Hall and Queen’s Park alike. Rent control is nothing but a political distraction.

QotD: The Economist

Filed under: Business, Economics, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When I was living in a very remote part of the world I used to read The Economist from cover to cover, though it arrived two months late (communications in those days were not yet instantaneous). It made me feel that I was well-informed, if only in retrospect, despite my isolation. It was my window on the world.

Even then, though, I thought that it was dull and self-congratulatory, characterizing itself as of “the extreme centre.” I noticed that its reports at the front did not always coincide with the economic data at the back and that its prognostications were frequently belied by events — as, of course, most people’s prognostications are. Nevertheless, it managed to convey the impression that the disparities, insofar as they acknowledged them at all, were the fault of the events rather than of The Economist, and that the world had a duty to be as The Economist said it was and as it would be. The anonymity of the articles was intended to create the illusion that the magazine spoke from nothing so vulgar as a perspective, but rather from some Olympian height from which only the whole truth and nothing but the truth could be descried. It is the saving grace of every such magazine that no one remembers what he read in it the week before. Only by the amnesia of its readers can a magazine retain its reputation for perspicacity.

I found its style dull, too. How was it that correspondents from Lima to Limassol, from Cairo to Kathmandu, wrote in precisely the same fashion, as if everything that happened everywhere was fundamentally the same? Walter Bagehot, son-in-law of the founder of The Economist and its most famous editor, was a brilliant prose stylist and a wonderfully witty literary critic, among many other things; but The Economist has long been about as amusing as a speech by David Cameron. Its prose was the literary equivalent of IKEA furniture, prefabricated according to a manual of style; it tried to combine accessibility with judiciousness and arrived only at portentousness.

Who now reads it, and what for? I suppose there is a type of functionary who does not want to be caught out in ignorance of the latest political developments in Phnom Penh, or the supposed reasons for the latest uprising in Ouagadougou. The Economist is intellectual seriousness for middle management and MBAs. To be seen with it is a sign of belonging to, and of identifying with, a certain caste.

Theodore Dalrymple, “From Boring to Baffling”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-08-01.

March 18, 2017

Don’t just “fix” CAFE … eliminate it

Filed under: Business, Environment, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Virginia Postrel on the best idea for fixing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations:

Although Congress originally established the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards to conserve gasoline in 1975, the Obama administration justified its sharp hike as a way to curb greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. A reversal will almost certainly trigger legal challenges.

Fighting over the right level for fuel-economy mandates obscures the fundamental problem, however. The CAFE standards are lousy environmental policy. Instead of targeting the real issue — burning less gasoline — the mandates meddle in corporate strategy, impose enormous hidden costs, and encourage drivers to hang on to their old gas guzzlers. Republicans should scrap the standards altogether while they control the White House and Congress. The CAFE rules are a terrible way to achieve either fuel savings or lower carbon emissions.

For starters, measuring miles per gallon is a misleading way to think about fuel efficiency. What we need is the reverse: gallons per mile. That more clearly shows how much fuel a given improvement might save. Going from 3.3 gallons per 100 miles (better known as 30 mpg) to 2 gallons per 100 miles (50 mpg) presents a much tougher design challenge than getting from 6.7 gallons per 100 miles (15 mpg) to 4 gallons per 100 miles (25 mpg). Yet the more modest improvement saves more than twice as much gasoline. And that’s without considering the relative popularity of gas guzzlers or how better gas mileage can encourage people to drive more.

And, of course, CAFE standards affect only new vehicles, a tiny percentage of the total. Higher mandates don’t get old ones off the road and, in fact, they may very likely keep gas guzzlers driving longer. Research by economists Mark Jacobsen of the University of California-San Diego and Arthur van Benthem at the Wharton School finds that among vehicles more than nine years old, the least fuel-efficient ones stay on the road the longest. By raising the prices of new vehicles, tighter fuel regulations encourage drivers to buy used ones or simply keep what they already have.

March 15, 2017

QotD: How may I interrupt you next?

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Q: What do Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Samsung all have in common?

A: Their business models involve interrupting you all day long.

Individually, each company’s interruptions are trivial. You can easily ignore them. But cumulatively, the interruptions from these and other companies can be crippling.

In the economy of the past, companies made money by being useful to customers. Now the biggest tech companies make their money by distracting you with ads and apps and notifications and whatnot. I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, but I think this is the reason 80% of the adults I know are medicating. People are literally being driven crazy by a combination of complexity (too many choices) and the Interruption Economy.

There are days when my brain is flying in so many directions that I have to literally chant aloud what I need to do next in order to focus.

[…]

I’m wondering if you have as many distractions in your life. And if you do, can the chanting help you too? The next time you have a boring task that you know will be subject to lots of interruptions, try the chanting technique and let me know how it goes. It probably won’t cure your ADHD but it might help you ignore the tech industry’s distractions until you get your tasks done.

Bonus question: The economy has evolved from “How can I help you?” to “How can I distract you?” Can that trend lead anywhere but mass mental illness?

My hypothesis, based on observation alone, is that the business model of the tech industry, with its complexity, glut of options, and continuous interruptions are literally driving people to mental illness.

Scott Adams, “The Interruption Economy”, Scott Adams Blog, 2015-07-07.

March 14, 2017

The Real Reason Why Firefly Was Canceled

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Aug 2016

Joss Whedon’s Firefly was poised to be the next huge sci-fi series to change television. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed after one incomplete season. Let’s look back at the reasons why Firefly‘s lights went out…

A small, loyal fan base | 0:15
Marriage trouble | 0:35
Friday night fright | 0:59
The episodes aired out of order | 1:21
The promos didn’t capture the spirit of the show | 1:45
Low ratings | 2:11
An executive defense | 2:32

March 12, 2017

QotD: The waning influence of pop music

Filed under: Business, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Pop music’s impact on the greater culture is also largely over. There will never be another Beatles or Rolling Stones. That’s because “American culture” is over. Prior to the two great industrial wars of the 20th century, America did not have a unified national culture. It was federation of regions. New England may as well have been a different country from the Deep South or the Southwest. The South was very different from Appalachia. There was no unified “American” culture to which all the regional cultures submitted.

The great national project of conquering Europe and Asia opened the door for the flowering of an American culture after the war. Into it was drawn anything that could be sold as celebrating this new world power. It is why what we think of as American pop culture blew up after the war. In music, for example, producers scoured the land looking for authentic American sounds to package up and sell, in order to meet the demand of this new growing thing called Americana. It even went global, in search of spice to ad to the mix.

Like the music business itself, the great unifying national culture that blossomed in the 20th century has run its course. America is, to a great degree, falling back to its natural, regional state. Just look at the popularity of movies and TV shows by region and you see old weird America emerging again. Live acts now setup their tours to reflect the fact that they have greater appeal in some regions than in others. If you are a country act, for example, there’s no point in booking a lot of dates in the north, outside of the one-off festivals in the summer that feature a variety of acts.

That’s another lesson from pop music. The past is the actualized, the present is the actualizing and the future in the potential. Culture is that middle part, standing on the past in an effort to realize the potential that lies in the future. Once culture attains its natural end, it dies. What’s left is what it created. The grand unified pop culture of the Cold War era is now like an old factory building that has been renovated to be lofts, shops and boutique restaurants. It’s influence on what comes next is purely utilitarian.

The Z Man, “The Cycle of Life”, The Z Blog, 2017-03-01.

March 10, 2017

The two Elon Musks – the savvy businessman and the crony capitalist

Filed under: Business, Government, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Federalist, Eric Peters describes the ways Elon Musk and his SpaceX crew manage to profit from government subsidies in the process of putting their Falcon rockets into space:

Image from SpaceX website.

Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration specializes in putting taxpayer dollars into the pockets of crony capitalist chieftains such as Elon Musk, whose SpaceX operation manages to get NASA to pay him to use its launch pads and other infrastructure — all provided at taxpayer expense. He also doesn’t cut NASA in when he uses its facilities — our facilities — to launch rockets carrying private cargo, meaning he effectively gets paid for it twice.

That’s once in the check he gets from the private business whose cargo his rocket is carrying; then again in the de facto subsidy he gets for the free use of NASA’s equipment at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Why isn’t Elon paying the freight, as opposed to blowing it up?

Incidentally, that happens a lot. Over the past five years alone, SpaceX has lost the same number of rockets as NASA did space shuttles over the 30 years it operated them. And the shuttle wasn’t a money-making machine for politically connected crony capitalists such as Musk. Taxpayers funded it, but no private citizens got a check from taxpayers.

The shuttle even made some money for taxpayers. Private businesses paid NASA to carry satellites into orbit, recovering some of the cost of building that infrastructure. The shuttle also did things useful for the public, like put the Hubble telescope in orbit. It has given humanity an unprecedented view of the universe, and not on pay-per-view.

I read a biography of Elon Musk soon after it was published … and it did a good job of pushing a more sympathetic view of its subject than the linked article above.

QotD: Most “Authentic” cuisine is anything but authentic

Filed under: Business, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Americans of a certain social class love nothing more than an “authentic” food experience. It is the highest praise that they can heap on a restaurant. The ideal food is one that was perfected by honest local peasants in some picturesque locale, then served the same way for centuries, the traditions passed down from mother to daughter (less occasionally, from father to son), with stern admonitions not to dishonor their ancestry by making it wrong.

These American diners are constantly in a quest for their own lost heritage, along with the traditions of other peoples they don’t know very well. We live, the lore says, in a fallen state, victims of Big Agriculture and a food industry that has rendered everything bland, fatty and sweet. By tapping the traditions of centuries past — or other, poorer places — we can regain the paradise that our grandparents unaccountably abandoned.

And who could be against wanting a more authentic, genuine food experience? I’m so glad you asked.

In fact, authenticity is an illusion, and a highly overrated one. Most of the foods we think of as “authentic” are of relatively recent vintage — since capsaicin-containing hot peppers are native to the Americas, any spicy cuisine like Szechuan or Thai is by definition a Johnny-come-lately invention. Or take artisanal breads, like that crusty, moist peasant bread that most of us eat too much of at restaurants: Nathan Myhrvold, the mad genius of the cookbook world, says that this is a new invention. Our peasant ancestors, who got a large portion of their calories from bread, did not make these richly hydrated doughs, because they’re a pain in the butt to work with. Ciabatta, another bread that America likes because it sounds very authentic, was invented in the 1980s to compete with the baguette. (Itself a product of Industrial Revolution bakeries, not the proud local peasant.)

Megan McArdle, “‘Authentic’ Food Is Not What You Think It Is”, Bloomberg View, 2017-02-24.

March 5, 2017

The three kinds of prostitution

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Kim du Toit on the world’s oldest profession:

The problem is that there are in essence three kinds of prostitution: the age-old “selling yourself on the street kind” — i.e. to all comers [sic] — and the more formal transactions, whereby women contract for sex on a more formalized basis, or marry for money. In all cases, the motivation is the same: women are trading themselves to men for financial support, only the first kind is frowned upon by society, the second kind winked at, and the last is pretty much the glue whereby society is held together. (As my friend Patterson once commented: “All women fuck for money if they’re going to be honest about it, but they seldom are.”)

And, of course, as with all things, there is a murky area between these two extremes: the “contracted” kind whereby young women (and it seems to be mostly the young ones, for obvious reasons) rent their bodies out to wealthy men in order to pay off college loans, or get through some other adverse financial circumstance — hence the popularity of websites like Sugardaddy. This is what I call a “part-time prostitute”, and the exchange is quite cynical — as are most transactions of this kind. But this is different from the “brief encounter” or street-corner type of prostitution, because older men (usually older, because younger men don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay a young woman thousands of dollars a month just for “companionship”) set up an ongoing financial support system, buying Little Miss Hotbody expensive clothing, jewellery, cars and even sometimes a condo. (Note that I’m not saying that this is better than the street-corner kind of prostitution, just that it’s different. The process is the same — women having sex for money — but the terms of congress, as it were, are dissimilar.) If I’m going to be really cynical about it, I’d call this kind of prostitution a “halfway house” between street-corner sex and marital sex.

[…]

We can argue all day about the morality of the activity of women selling their bodies for sex, and about the disappearance of public morality which allows Sugardaddy.com to exist, nay flourish, but this is where we find ourselves today, for better or for worse. As the modern idiom goes, it is what it is, and it seems like we pretty much have to live with it.

Fine. Let us at least acknowledge that street-corner prostitution presents a greater danger to women — slavery, forced prostitution, human trafficking, violence and murder — than does the Sugardaddy – and Anna Nicole-style prostitution. (We can leave class out of it because, as with most Marxist thought, that’s just an overlay of political theory on an age-old situation, and no class warfare is ever going to “solve” or end street-corner prostitution.) I do think, however, that in this regard there is a real need for law enforcement attention, simply because of the many dangers to which poorer women are exposed. Honestly, though, I think that the law should go after the management of the street-corner prostitution industry — that would be the pimps and procurers of women — rather than the actual participants (the women and their clients), because the former are the ones who generally cause real harm to the hapless women under their control. I’m not advocating State-run brothels because both the concept and likely execution are going to be foul. (To put it in perspective: imagine a State-run restaurant, e.g. managed and staffed by the same kind of people at the average DMV office, and you’ll see why I think State-run whorehouses are a bad idea.) Nevertheless, they are the lesser evil than those managed by the (illegal) private sector, who as a rule do not have the interests of their employees at heart.

The political Trojan Horse of “Pigouvian taxes”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer used to be quite positive about the introduction of Pigouvian taxes, but recently his opinion has changed:

Here is the Wikipedia definition of a Pigovian tax:

    A Pigovian tax (also spelled Pigouvian tax) is a tax levied on any market activity that generates negative externalities (costs not internalized in the market price). The tax is intended to correct an inefficient market outcome, and does so by being set equal to the social cost of the negative externalities. In the presence of negative externalities, the social cost of a market activity is not covered by the private cost of the activity. In such a case, the market outcome is not efficient and may lead to over-consumption of the product. An often-cited example of such an externality is environmental pollution.

The Left often tries to justify new taxes based on their being Pigovian taxes. The classic example is a carbon tax — it is claimed there is a social cost to carbon-based fuel combustion (e.g. CO2 production and resulting global warming) that is not taken into account by market prices. By adding the tax, these other costs can be taken into account, likely raising the price of these fuels and thus both reducing their use and providing a higher price umbrella for alternatives.

For years, I accepted these arguments at face value. I might argue with them (for example, I think that the Left has tended to spot 10 of the last 2 true negative externalities), but I accepted that they really believed in the logic of the Pigovian tax. I am now becoming convinced that I was wrong, that the Left’s support of Pigovian taxes is frequently a front, a way of putting a more palatable face on what is really a naked grab for more taxpayer money by public officials.

Soon after discovering the concept of Pigouvian taxes, I suspected that — even if the economics were sound — no human government was going to implement such a tax in the pure form: there would always be “good reasons” to make the new tax non-revenue-neutral, because once a revenue stream has been established, it’s unlikely the government will actually shut it down afterwards. I have yet to be disappointed in this expectation.

March 4, 2017

Barcelona opens the first brothel in Europe “staffed” with sex dolls

Filed under: Business, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming (if you’ll pardon the expression):

A new brothel has opened in Barcelona that offers men the chance to fulfil all their fantasies – as long as their fantasies involve hyper-realistic silicone dolls.

Lumidolls, which operates from an apartment building in downtown Barcelona, claims to be the first sex doll agency in Europe and offers hour-long ‘appointments’ with one of its four dolls for just €80.

The dolls, which are individually crafted from thermoplastic elastomer to be unique, have three orifices and flexible limbs enabling them to be maneuvered in almost any position.

Such sex dolls have already proved a huge hit in Japan and China – especially with husbands working away from home who want to avoid being unfaithful – but Lumidoll claims to be the first such brothel to open in Europe.

H/T to Clodagh Doyle for the link.

Update: Amy Alkon on a related topic.

Men Aren’t “Dehumanized” By Vibrators And Women Aren’t “Dehumanized” By Sex Robots

People have intelligence higher than that of a cat, fooled by a laser pointer.

Yes, we are quite able to discern between, say, a microwave and a human chef and a sex robot and a woman. Despite what this hysterical numbskull writes at Prospect Magazine about the “huge problem!!!” in robotics and AI

And Maggie McNeill also chimes in:

Update the second, 23 March: It was reported last week that the Barcelona sex doll brothel has been forced to move, due to opposition from non-sex-doll prostitutes and their union:

The original location in Barcelona at 2 Baixada de Sant Miquel had been in the Spanish city’s Gothic quarter, north of the cathedral.

But the brothel, not far from La Rambla in the heart of the city has now moved to a mystery new location with a receptionist saying the address would only be given out to paying customers.

Prostitutes who work in the city with Aprosex – the Association of Sex Professionals – objected saying a doll cannot match the services of a real person and denigrates real sex workers to merely being an object.

A statement on their website read: “The sex-affection of a person can not be provided by a doll. They are different and compatible services. They do not communicate.

“They do not listen to you or caress you, they do not comfort you or look at you. They do not give you their opinion or drink a glass of champagne with you.”

Janet, a prostitute with over 30 years in the industry, who works in the city’s Raval district said: “It is another strategy of the patriarchy that presents us as objects without rights or soul. A privilege of the wealthy classes.”

February 25, 2017

James May does his Clarkson impression! EXTRAS – James May Q&A (Ep 20)- Head Squeeze

Filed under: Business, Humour, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 May 2013

James rambles about barcodes and supermarkets before unleashing his perfect Jeremy Clarkson impression!

February 24, 2017

Well it is the twenty-first century after all…

Filed under: Business, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Hey guys! I just bought marijuana for the very first time!

A thousand shares of a legal marijuana grower called Aphria, Inc. I am so conflicted — I don’t know whether I should feel counter-cultural or conformist…

I sold my last remaining Blackberry shares to cover most of the cost of the purchase, which (given Blackberry’s shrinking technological niche) was a bit of a relief.

Legal notice: Nothing in the above post should be considered in any way to be professional financial investment advice.

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