Quotulatiousness

August 31, 2015

Newspapers in the 21st century – what are they for?

Filed under: Business, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the confusion even among newspaper folks themselves on their real role in today’s society:

But the newspaper is part of a different ecosystem now. A front page is a late contribution to an ongoing conversation in a way it was not in 1963, or even 2003. Editors making decisions about what images to use had heard Alison Parker’s screams; they knew many readers had heard them. That non-graphic touch made the photo of Parker with the killer’s weapon in the foreground “graphic” — too graphic for the proverbial breakfast table. (Although I would remind sensitive editors and media critics that the “breakfast table” is an incredibly outmoded way of thinking about our jobs, much like the idea that we are presenting news in a utilitarian, isolated way to readers who haven’t heard it.)

The truth is that the minds of most newspaper creators and editors are not completely clear about what these strange flat objects are good for in the year 2015. The New York Daily News, which does know what it is for, was unflinching in its front-page treatment of the WDBJ shooting. It caught immediate hell, but its confidence in its mission is a virtue. The paper knows that it exists partly because when something happens, New Yorkers can’t wait to see what those crazy-ass bastards in the tabloids will do with it.

Does the newspaper do harm with its relative sensationalism? It seems impossible to know. But it is certainly not the infliction of harm that critics and second-guessers fear most: it is the giving of offence.

August 27, 2015

Incentives matter … but in a perverse manner for public employees

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

On the Property and Environmental Research Center website, Warren Meyer explains why the US Forest Service is cutting ties with private organizations that have been running federally owned facilities for less than the Forest Service is able to do … despite the private company’s proven higher levels of service:

Private concessionaires pay all operations costs out of the entrance fees paid by the public — and without further taxpayer subsidies. In addition, the concessionaire pays the public agency a concession fee. The resulting savings to taxpayers can be quite compelling. In a recent PERC case study, I showed how a parks agency had to supplement every dollar in visitor fees with an equal amount of tax dollars to keep a park open. By privatizing the park’s operations, the need for tax revenues could be eliminated. And in fact, the park could be turned into a money maker for the agency.

While this may resonate with the public, it’s a hard sell to the agencies themselves. The National Park Service uses concessionaires to provide some visitor services, but it has not considered private operation of entire parks. Even the Forest Service — which does allow some private park management — often seems eager to go back to running the parks themselves.

[…]

No private company would behave like this. So why does the government? Over the years, I have observed three possible explanations:

1. Government employees have incentives that go beyond “public service.” For most agency managers, their pay and prestige and future job prospects are tied to the size of their agency’s headcount and budget. Privatization savings that look like a boon to taxpayers may look like a demotion to agency managers.

2. People who are skeptical of private enterprise and more confident in government-led solutions tend to self-select for government jobs. Even in the Forest Service, concessionaires frequently experience outright hostility from the agency’s rank and file. “It’s wrong to make a profit on public lands” is one common statement.

3. Government accounting is not set up to make these sorts of decisions well. Few agencies have reports that tell them whether an individual park’s revenues are covering its full operational costs. Costs can be spread over multiple budgets, making it seem as though public park operation is less expensive than it really is.

To overcome these obstacles, we’ve learned that progress generally has to start above the agency. Some sort of legislative push is necessary. And we try to find ways to pitch our solutions as a way for agencies to free up money to address other problems, such as fixing rotting infrastructure.

August 26, 2015

Organic food recalls on the rise

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Health, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It must be a trend if even the New York Times is reporting on the increasing number of food safety recalls involving organic food:

New data collected by Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, shows a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food products.

Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture that Stericycle uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls.

In 2012 and 2013, only 1 percent of total units of food recalled were organic.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing consumer and corporate demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase.

“What’s striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label,” Mr. Pollack said. “This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren’t aware of it.”

August 25, 2015

Roger Kimball says Elon Musk is crazy

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

Oh, sorry, he actually said Musk is “crazy like a visionary“:

I am an unlikely fan of Elon Musk, the flamboyant, Steve Jobs-like (some would say Tony Stark-like) entrepreneur behind SpaceX, SolarCity, Tesla Motors, and other enterprises that seemed like starry-eyed impossibilities a scant decade ago. Musk’s two governing passions, he has said repeatedly, are “sustainable transport” to battle “global warming” and finding a way to make mankind an interplanetary species, beginning with a space colony on Mars.

For my part, the word “sustainable” has me reaching, if not for my revolver, then at least for an air-sickness bag. I regard the whole Green Lobby as a cocktail composed of three parts moralistic hysteria mixed with a jigger of high-proof cynical opportunism (take a look at Al Gore’s winnings from the industry) fortified with a dash of beady-eyed left-wing redistributionist passion. You can never be Green enough, Comrade, and if the data show a 20-year “hiatus” in global warming (so much for Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick), that’s no reason not to insist that capitalist powerhouses like the United States drastically curtail their CO2 emissions right now, today, while giving egregious polluters like China a decade or more to meet its quotas.

No, when it comes to energy, I often quote, sometimes with attribution, the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce: what the world needs now is cheap, abundant energy, period, full stop, end of discussion. My motto is: frack early, frack often. Do you want to help the poor/clean up the environment/save the spotted wildebeest? Then you need economic growth, and to achieve that you need energy, which at the moment means you need fracking. Q.E.D.

When it comes to interplanetary travel, I suspect that Musk’s passion for transforming us into “space-faring” creatures was heavily influenced by his youthful reading of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and (one of his favorites) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not that those adolescent chestnuts necessarily argue against the plausibility of his ambitions. Behind Musk’s enthusiasm for space colonization is a worry that a future “extinction event” might delete human consciousness from the emporium of the universe.

For what it’s worth, I’m very much split on Musk and his works: I generally agree with his desire to help get humanity expanding beyond our single, frail planet … I just wish he wasn’t guzzling down government subsidies to get there. I’ve read the book Kimball is reviewing (Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future), and I certainly feel I got my money’s worth from the purchase … Musk is potentially a very great man. Right now, he’s a pretty good man who still takes everything he can get from the government.

August 24, 2015

Billionaires, good and bad

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the Washington Post, Ana Swanson examines the good and bad (for economic growth) of the billionaire class:

Over the past few decades, wealth has become more concentrated in the hands of a few global elite. Billionaires like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helú and investing phenomenon Warren Buffett play an outsized role in the global economy.

But what does that mean for everyone else? Is the concentration of wealth in the hands of a select group a good thing or a bad thing for the rest of us?

You might be used to hearing criticisms of inequality, but economists actually debate this point. Some argue that inequality can propel growth: They say that since the rich are able to save the most, they can actually afford to finance more business activity, or that the kinds of taxes and redistributive programs that are typically used to spread out wealth are inefficient.

Other economists argue that inequality is a drag on growth. They say it prevents the poor from acquiring the collateral necessary to take out loans to start businesses, or get the education and training necessary for a dynamic economy. Others say inequality leads to political instability that can be economically damaging.

A new study that has been accepted by the Journal of Comparative Economics helps resolve this debate. Using an inventive new way to measure billionaire wealth, Sutirtha Bagchi of Villanova University and Jan Svejnar of Columbia University find that it’s not the level of inequality that matters for growth so much as the reason that inequality happened in the first place.

Specifically, when billionaires get their wealth because of political connections, that wealth inequality tends to drag on the broader economy, the study finds. But when billionaires get their wealth through the market — through business activities that are not related to the government — it does not.

August 11, 2015

The range and striking power of the Card and Krueger study

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer explains how one particular economic study wields far more influence in the fast food/minimum wage debate than any other similar study:

Pick a progressive on the street, and in the unlikely event they can name any economic study, that study will probably be Card and Krueger’s study of the effect of a minimum wage increase in New Jersey. Sixty bazillion studies have confirmed what most of us know in our bones to be true, that raising the price of labor decreases demand for that labor. Card and Krueger said it did not — and that a minimum wage increase may have even increased demand for labor — which pretty much has made it the economic bible of the Progressive Left.

What intrigues me is that Card and Krueger specifically looked at the effect of the minimum wage on large chain fast food stores. In this study (I will explain the likely reason in a moment) they found that when the minimum wage increased for all businesses in New Jersey, the employment at large chain fast food restaurants went up.

So I wonder if the Progressives making this ruling in New York thought to themselves — “we want to raise the minimum wage. Well, the one place where we KNOW it will have no negative effect from Card and Krueger is on large fast food chains, so…”

By the way, there are a lot of critiques of Card & Krueger’s study. The most powerful in my mind is that when a minimum wage is raised, often the largest volume and highest productivity companies in any given business will absorb it the best. One explanation of the Card & Krueger result is that the minimum wage slammed employment in small ma and pa restaurants, driving business to the larger volume restaurants and chains. As a whole, in this theory, the industry saw a net loss in employment and a shift in employment from smaller to larger firms. By measuring only the effect on larger firms, Card and Krueger completely missed what was going on.

August 10, 2015

Toronto craft brewers and beer cans

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

Ben Johnson explains the rising popularity of beer cans even among microbreweries in the Toronto area:

Whether it be memories of your dad’s garage fridge filled with industrial lager in little tins or visions of shotgunning affordable lagers at college parties, beer cans have, for the most part, gotten a bad rap as something like the poor-man’s beverage container.

But that’s quickly changing.

Increasingly, as Toronto’s craft beer scene booms and the city’s brewers seek out the best ways to sell their beer, cans are becoming the preferred option. But why?

Jeff Rogowsky, the co-founder of Session Craft Canning, has seen the popularity of cans grow in the last few years. Rogowsky’s company is a mobile operation that brings canning capabilities to craft brewers who often can’t afford their own expensive canning lines.

I spoke with Rogowsky via email and he told me that he thinks the increased popularity of cans is largely being driven by consumer demand. “Canning gained popularity,” he says, “because it allowed people to take beer to more places–golf courses, beaches, in a backpack, to a movie theatre–cans are infinitely more portable and easier to travel with.”

August 9, 2015

Toronto-area supermarkets of the past

Filed under: Business, Cancon, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At BlogTO, Chris Bateman digs up some old photos of some Toronto-area supermarket chains that have faded from the scene over the years:

Today, a trip to the supermarket in Toronto more than likely means shopping at a brand belonging to one of a small number of corporations. Loblaws owns No Frills, Valu-mart, and T&T; Metro owns Food Basics, while FreshCo, Sobeys, Price Chopper are part of the Canadian conglomerate Empire Company Limited.

In the mid 20th century, before the first of several major acquisitions and mergers, shoppers had more of a say where their grocery dollars ended up. In those days, independent chains like Power, Dominion, and Steinberg wowed customers with gleaming self-serve supermarkets, ample parking, and space age foods.

Here’s a look back at five supermarket chains that have vanished from Toronto.

My family moved to the Toronto area in 1968, but I didn’t know about some of the chains (but I recognized the distinctive architecture of this one):

Grand Union

Toronto Supermarkets-GrandUnion

Grand Union’s most famous Toronto store was at the Parkway Mall at Victoria Park and Ellesmere in Scarborough.

Toronto Supermarkets-GrandUnion-Ad

The U.S.-based company built the store with its distinctive arched roof in 1958, just five years after entering the Canadian market with the purchase of Carroll’s, a grocery chain based out of Hamilton.

Toronto Supermarkets-GrandUnion-Miracle

Just months after opening its flagship Scarborough location, Quebec-based Steinberg’s […] bought the company’s Canadian stores and rebranded the Parkway Mall location. It was later a Miracle Food Mart and a Dominion. Today, it’s a Metro. In 2009, the store became the first supermarket to be listed on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties.

August 8, 2015

Election issue – the Netflix tax, “much ado about nothing?”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Geist looks at the major federal party leaders’ reactions to discussion of a “Netflix tax”:

As part of the digital strategy discussion, I stated that questions abound, including “are new regulations over services such as Netflix on the horizon?”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed that question yesterday with a video and tweet in which he pledged that the Conservatives will never tax digital streaming services like Netflix and Youtube. Harper added that the Liberals and NDP have left the door open to a Netflix tax, but that he is 100% opposed, “always has been, always will be.” Both opposition parties quickly responded with the NDP saying they have not proposed a Netflix tax and the Liberals saying they have never supported a Netflix tax and do not support a Netflix tax.

So is this much ado about nothing?

Not exactly. First, there are groups and provincial governments that support a Netflix tax or mandated contribution to fund the creation of Canadian content. These include the Ontario and Quebec governments along with many creator groups. Earlier this year, I obtained documents under the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that showed that the Ontario government spent months working toward a recommendation to expand the regulation of new media, including Canadian content requirements and increased regulation of foreign online video providers.

Second, while the Liberals and NDP have not proposed a Netflix tax, they have called for requirements that online video providers disclose revenues, Canadian content availability, and subscriber numbers to Canadian regulators. This is a very soft form of regulation that Netflix and Google have rejected as beyond the power of the Broadcasting Act. Providing information to allow for more informed regulatory analysis does not seem particularly unreasonable, but the companies unsurprisingly fear that that analysis could ultimately lead to calls for more regulation or payments.

Third, the real Netflix tax is the prospect of a levying sales taxes on digital products such as music downloads or online video services. It was the Conservatives that raised this possibility in the 2014 budget, launching a consultation on the issue that garnered supportive comments from companies such as Rogers, which noted that Canadian-based online video services such as Shomi operate at a disadvantage since they collect GST/HST, but Netflix does not. With many countries moving toward some form of digital taxation (as I noted in a January 2015 column on the issue, the real challenge lies in the cost of implementation), it seems inevitable that Canada will do the same in order to level the playing field and recoup a growing source of revenue. The Conservatives would presumably seek to differentiate between a generally applicable sales tax and a tax or fee targeting online streaming services, though many may feel it is a distinction without a difference.

August 4, 2015

Alex Tabarrok explains the “Happy Meal fallacy”

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

Another post from last month that I’m just getting around to linking:

Some restaurants offer burgers without fries and a drink. These restaurants cater to low-income people who enjoy fries and drinks but can’t always afford them. To rectify this sad situation a presidential candidate proposes The Happy Meal Act. Under the Act, burgers must be sold with fries and a drink. “Burgers by themselves are not a complete, nutritious meal,” the politician argues, concluding with the uplifting campaign slogan, “Everyone deserves a Happy Meal!”

But will the Happy Meal Act make people happy? If burgers must come with fries and a drink, restaurants will increase the price of a “burger.” Even though everyone likes fries and a drink they may not like the added benefits by as much as the increase in the price of the meal. Indeed, this must the case since consumers could have bought the meal before the Act but chose not to. Requiring firms to sell benefits that customers value less than their cost makes both firms and customers worse off.

The Happy Meal Fallacy is fairly obvious when it comes to happy meals but now let’s consider the debate over the gig economy and the hiring of employees versus contractors. Employees are entitled to benefits that contractors are not. Thus the standard conclusion is that classifying workers as contractors “is great for employers but potentially terrible for workers.” Wrong. Employees get their wages with fries and a drink while contractors get wages only. Would a law requiring firms to provide all workers with fries and a drink help workers?

If firms are required to provide benefits to contractors they will lower the contractor wage. But how do we know the extra benefits aren’t worth the reduction in wages? If the extra benefits were worth more to workers than they cost firms, firms would have eagerly provided these benefits as a way of increasing profits. Firms can profit whenever buyers are willing to pay more for a product than its cost. Benefits are a product that workers buy from firms.

July 30, 2015

If you listen to their music, why not drink their hooch?

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

At Boing Boing, David Pescovitz alerts us that The Pogues have lent their name to a new irish whiskey:

Pogues Irish WhiskeyCeltic punk bank The Pogues have launched a signature brand of Irish whiskey. Made by West Cork Distillers, “it’s said to be Ireland’s highest malt-containing blended Irish whiskey, with 50% grain and 50% single malt liquid.”

The Pogues’ singer Shane MacGowan is well known for his adoration of alcohol. According to his memoir, A Drink With Shane MacGowan, he started at age five with two nightly pints of Guinness given to him by his parents, and never really stopped.

July 27, 2015

GMO food is safe, says … Slate

Filed under: Business, Environment, Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Slate, William Saletan on the FUD campaign that has been waged against genetically modified foods:

Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled. Whole Foods will soon require labels on all GMOs in its stores. Abbott, the company that makes Similac baby formula, has created a non-GMO version to give parents “peace of mind.” Trader Joe’s has sworn off GMOs. So has Chipotle.

Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further. Hundreds of organizations, including Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Food Safety, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are demanding “mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws to require GMO labels. Massachusetts could be next.

The central premise of these laws — and the main source of consumer anxiety, which has sparked corporate interest in GMO-free food — is concern about health. Last year, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans said it’s generally “unsafe to eat genetically modified foods.” Vermont says the primary purpose of its labeling law is to help people “avoid potential health risks of food produced from genetic engineering.” Chipotle notes that 300 scientists have “signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption.” Until more studies are conducted, Chipotle says, “We believe it is prudent to take a cautious approach toward GMOs.”

The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

H/T to Coyote Blog for the link.

July 26, 2015

The problems when you try to resolve complicated discrimination problems with laws

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer explains why he — who organized and lead an effort to legalize gay marriage in Arizona — is not reflexively in favour of using the blunt force of the law to “solve” problems of discrimination:

There are multiple problems with non-discrimination law as currently implemented and enforced in the US. Larger companies, for example, struggle with disparate impact lawsuits from the EEOC, where statistical metrics that may have nothing to do with past discrimination are never-the-less used to justify discrimination penalties.

Smaller companies like mine tend to have a different problem. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the employees who do the worst job and/or break the rules the most frequently tend to be the same ones with the least self-awareness. As a result, no one wants to believe their termination is “fair”, no matter how well documented or justified (I wrote yesterday that I have personally struggled with the same thing in my past employment).

Most folks grumble and walk away. But what if one is in a “protected group” under discrimination law? Now, not only is this person personally convinced that their firing was unfair, but there is a whole body of law geared to the assumption that their group may be treated unfairly. There are also many lawyers and activists who will tell them that they were almost certainly treated unfairly.

So a fair percentage of people in protected groups whom we fire for cause will file complaints with the government or outright sue us for discrimination. I will begin by saying that we have never lost a single one of these cases. In one or two we paid someone a nominal amount just to save legal costs of pursuing the case to the bitter end, but none of these cases were even close.

[…]

To make all this worse, many employees have discovered a legal dodge to enhance their post-employment lawsuits (I know that several advocacy groups in California recommend this tactic). If the employee suspects he or she is about to be fired, they will, before getting fired, claim all sorts of past discrimination. Now, when terminated, they can claim they where a whistle blower that that their termination was not for cause but really was retaliation against them for being a whistle-blower.

I remember one employee in California taking just this tactic, claiming discrimination just ahead of his termination, though he never presented any evidence beyond the vague claim. We wasted weeks with an outside investigator checking into his claims, all while customer complaints about the employee continued to come in. Eventually, we found nothing and fired him. And got sued. The case was so weak it was eventually dropped but it cost us — you guessed it — about $20,000 to defend. Given that this was more than the entire amount this operation had made over five years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to us walking about from that particular operation and over half of our other California business.

QotD: The bicycle – advertising versus reality

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

“What bicycle did you say this was of yours?” asked George.

Harris told him. I forget of what particular manufacture it happened to be; it is immaterial.

“Are you sure?” persisted George.

“Of course I am sure,” answered Harris. “Why, what’s the matter with it?”

“Well, it doesn’t come up to the poster,” said George, “that’s all.”

“What poster?” asked Harris.

“The poster advertising this particular brand of cycle,” explained George. “I was looking at one on a hoarding in Sloane Street only a day or two before we started. A man was riding this make of machine, a man with a banner in his hand: he wasn’t doing any work, that was clear as daylight; he was just sitting on the thing and drinking in the air. The cycle was going of its own accord, and going well. This thing of yours leaves all the work to me. It is a lazy brute of a machine; if you don’t shove, it simply does nothing: I should complain about it, if I were you.”

When one comes to think of it, few bicycles do realise the poster. On only one poster that I can recollect have I seen the rider represented as doing any work. But then this man was being pursued by a bull. In ordinary cases the object of the artist is to convince the hesitating neophyte that the sport of bicycling consists in sitting on a luxurious saddle, and being moved rapidly in the direction you wish to go by unseen heavenly powers.

Generally speaking, the rider is a lady, and then one feels that, for perfect bodily rest combined with entire freedom from mental anxiety, slumber upon a water-bed cannot compare with bicycle-riding upon a hilly road. No fairy travelling on a summer cloud could take things more easily than does the bicycle girl, according to the poster. Her costume for cycling in hot weather is ideal. Old-fashioned landladies might refuse her lunch, it is true; and a narrowminded police force might desire to secure her, and wrap her in a rug preliminary to summonsing her. But such she heeds not. Uphill and downhill, through traffic that might tax the ingenuity of a cat, over road surfaces calculated to break the average steam roller she passes, a vision of idle loveliness; her fair hair streaming to the wind, her sylph-like form poised airily, one foot upon the saddle, the other resting lightly upon the lamp. Sometimes she condescends to sit down on the saddle; then she puts her feet on the rests, lights a cigarette, and waves above her head a Chinese lantern.

Less often, it is a mere male thing that rides the machine. He is not so accomplished an acrobat as is the lady; but simple tricks, such as standing on the saddle and waving flags, drinking beer or beef-tea while riding, he can and does perform. Something, one supposes, he must do to occupy his mind: sitting still hour after hour on this machine, having no work to do, nothing to think about, must pall upon any man of active temperament. Thus it is that we see him rising on his pedals as he nears the top of some high hill to apostrophise the sun, or address poetry to the surrounding scenery.

Occasionally the poster pictures a pair of cyclists; and then one grasps the fact how much superior for purposes of flirtation is the modern bicycle to the old-fashioned parlour or the played-out garden gate. He and she mount their bicycles, being careful, of course, that such are of the right make. After that they have nothing to think about but the old sweet tale. Down shady lanes, through busy towns on market days, merrily roll the wheels of the “Bermondsey Company’s Bottom Bracket Britain’s Best,” or of the “Camberwell Company’s Jointless Eureka.” They need no pedalling; they require no guiding. Give them their heads, and tell them what time you want to get home, and that is all they ask. While Edwin leans from his saddle to whisper the dear old nothings in Angelina’s ear, while Angelina’s face, to hide its blushes, is turned towards the horizon at the back, the magic bicycles pursue their even course.

And the sun is always shining and the roads are always dry. No stern parent rides behind, no interfering aunt beside, no demon small boy brother is peeping round the corner, there never comes a skid. Ah me! Why were there no “Britain’s Best” nor “Camberwell Eurekas” to be hired when we were young?

Or maybe the “Britain’s Best” or the “Camberwell Eureka” stands leaning against a gate; maybe it is tired. It has worked hard all the afternoon, carrying these young people. Mercifully minded, they have dismounted, to give the machine a rest. They sit upon the grass beneath the shade of graceful boughs; it is long and dry grass. A stream flows by their feet. All is rest and peace.

That is ever the idea the cycle poster artist sets himself to convey — rest and peace.

But I am wrong in saying that no cyclist, according to the poster, ever works. Now I come to reflect, I have seen posters representing gentlemen on cycles working very hard — over-working themselves, one might almost say. They are thin and haggard with the toil, the perspiration stands upon their brow in beads; you feel that if there is another hill beyond the poster they must either get off or die. But this is the result of their own folly. This happens because they will persist in riding a machine of an inferior make. Were they riding a “Putney Popular” or “Battersea Bounder,” such as the sensible young man in the centre of the poster rides, then all this unnecessary labour would be saved to them. Then all required of them would be, as in gratitude bound, to look happy; perhaps, occasionally to back-pedal a little when the machine in its youthful buoyancy loses its head for a moment and dashes on too swiftly.

You tired young men, sitting dejectedly on milestones, too spent to heed the steady rain that soaks you through; you weary maidens, with the straight, damp hair, anxious about the time, longing to swear, not knowing how; you stout bald men, vanishing visibly as you pant and grunt along the endless road; you purple, dejected matrons, plying with pain the slow unwilling wheel; why did you not see to it that you bought a “Britain’s Best” or a “Camberwell Eureka”? Why are these bicycles of inferior make so prevalent throughout the land?

Or is it with bicycling as with all other things: does Life at no point realise the Poster?

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

July 16, 2015

“Biodynamic” wine-making – New Age woo-woo marketing bullshit … that sells

Filed under: Business, Science, USA, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On a recent wine tour in the Beamsville Bench region, I watched a fascinating interaction between a winery representative and a potential purchaser. Out of respect, I won’t identify the winery (although there are a few in both Beamsville and Niagara who profess to be “biodynamic” wineries), but the question was asked and the poor winery employee had to fight against her own clear instincts and try to describe in positive terms the utter bullshit that is “biodynamic” theory. Kindly, the questioner allowed her off the hook quickly and our group moved off to taste some other wines.

At Boing-Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker links to an older article at the SF Weekly saying:

[…] biodynamic farming is, essentially, organic farming … plus a heaping helping of astrology, mysticism and some delightfully medieval-gothic growth preparations. (One involved taking fresh cow skulls, stuffing them with oak bark, burying them at the fall Equinox, unearthing in spring and adding minute amounts of the resulting goop to compost piles. Ostensibly to promote healing in plants.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, large, independent, peer-reviewed studies haven’t found much of a difference between biodynamic and organic grapes. Now, some folks like biodynamic wine, and that’s cool. I just think people ought to know what it is they’re paying a premium for.

The link is broken, but from the old URL, it’s probably this one:

When asked just what was going on, Eierman shot a glance at Jessica LaBounty, Benziger’s marketing manager, who closed her eyes and gave a quick nod. The gardener proceeded to explain that the severed heads were a vital ingredient in Biodynamic Preparation No. 505: Finely ground oak bark will be placed into the cows’ fresh skulls and stored in a shallow, moist hole or rain bucket throughout autumn and winter. The resultant concoction is then applied, in nearly undetectable quantities, to the gargantuan compost piles; Benziger’s promotional literature claims it “stimulates the plant’s immune system and promotes healing.”

Light-years from the surreal scenes at the Sonoma winery, glasses tinkled and forks hit plates of house-marinated olives in a dimly lit San Francisco storefront. Sharply dressed men and their attractive dates laughed over full pours of red and white at Yield Wine Bar in San Francisco’s up-and-coming Dogpatch neighborhood. Nearly half of the 50 wines served that night were grown Biodynamically — a fact prominently displayed on the bar’s menu. When asked what, exactly, this means, bar co-owner Chris Tavelli described Biodynamics as “the highest level of organics, you know, organic above organic.”

Among those who earn a living selling wine to the general public, this was a typical answer. Those with a vested interest in moving Biodynamic wines almost invariably use the words “natural” and “holistic” — terms that are malleable and vague, but near and dear to every San Franciscan’s heart. Its producers and sellers describe the process as “organic to the nth degree,” “the Rolls-Royce of organic farming,” or, simply, “the new organic.”

It’s an explanation Tavelli and fellow wine merchants have to make — or, more accurately, not make — now more than ever. Winemakers recently began aggressively marketing their Biodynamic status as a selling point, claiming their product to be both the “greenest” and most distinctive-tasting available. In San Francisco, Jeff Daniels of the Wine Club has added 10 new Biodynamic labels in the last year alone; Kirk Walker of K & L Wine Merchants says customer queries about Biodynamic wines have jumped in the past few years from roughly one a week to more than 30. Dozens of other San Francisco winesellers concur that they’ve augmented the number of Biodynamic wines they carry by four, five, or even 10 times of late. National chains report the same, and rank San Francisco as perhaps the nation’s top consumer of Biodynamic wine.

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