Quotulatiousness

December 25, 2016

Repost – “Fairytale of New York”

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

Time:

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

Repost – The market failure of Christmas

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Not to encourage miserliness and general miserability at Christmastime, but here’s a realistic take on the deadweight loss of Christmas gift-giving:

In strict economic terms, the most efficient gift is cold, hard cash, but exchanging equivalent sums of money lacks festive spirit and so people take their chance on the high street. This is where the market fails. Buyers have sub-optimal information about your wants and less incentive than you to maximise utility. They cannot always be sure that you do not already have the gift they have in mind, nor do they know if someone else is planning to give you the same thing. And since the joy is in the giving, they might be more interested in eliciting a fleeting sense of amusement when the present is opened than in providing lasting satisfaction. This is where Billy Bass comes in.

But note the reason for this inefficient spending. Resources are misallocated because one person has to decide what someone else wants without having the knowledge or incentive to spend as carefully as they would if buying for themselves. The market failure of Christmas is therefore an example of what happens when other people spend money on our behalf. The best person to buy things for you is you. Your friends and family might make a decent stab at it. Distant bureaucrats who have never met us — and who are spending other people’s money — perhaps can’t.

So when you open your presents next week and find yourself with another garish tie or an awful bottle of perfume, consider this: If your loved ones don’t know you well enough to make spending choices for you, what chance does the government have?

December 24, 2016

“Ebenezer Scrooge is underrated”

Filed under: Books, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last year, Tim Harford sang the praises of poor old Ebenezer:

Ebenezer Scrooge is underrated. Literature’s most notorious misanthrope gets no respect from anyone. He’s a miser, a bully and a sociopath. Only with the most strenuous pleading from three supernatural mentors does he embrace the spirit of Christmas and, in so doing, join the human race. Dickens’s story is viewed as a journey of redemption; I am not so sure.

In his original, miserly form, Scrooge actually gives us much to admire. He was a model of inadvertent benevolence. He earned vast sums and avoided spending so much as a farthing if he could help it. The economic implication of this? Regardless of Scrooge’s motives, because he spent little, everyone else enjoyed more, as surely as if Scrooge had divided his fortune and sent a few coins to everyone in the country. As the economist Steven Landsburg once wrote: “There is nobody more generous than the miser — the man who could deplete the world’s resources but chooses not to.”

[…]

It is hard for us to grasp the discrepancy between how we see the world when giving gifts and when receiving them. Recipients may appreciate cash or presents from a list and not fuss too much about expensive gifts; gift givers, in contrast, imagine that the ideal present is an expensive surprise. It isn’t. All this suggests we should probably be spending less on presents, and thinking a lot more about the presents we do buy.

Which brings us back to Scrooge himself. When he finally did decide to embrace the conventional spirit of Christmas, he didn’t waste his money on demonstrative extravagances for people whose desires he didn’t really understand. Instead, he gave three superb gifts. First, a prize turkey that he knew — thanks to a ghostly premonition — was much needed by the Cratchit family. Second, the gift of his time and attention, playing games and making merry with his nephew. Finally, he gave Bob Cratchit the greatest Christmas gift of all: a pay rise.

As I say: underrated.

Repost – Hey Kids! Did you get your paperwork in on time?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

If you hurry, you can just get your Santa’s Visit Application in before the deadline tonight!

December 23, 2016

A tribute to the real hero of It’s a Wonderful Life – Old Man Potter

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

Tom Mullen explains why Mr. Potter is the hero, rather than the villain, in the traditional Christmas-time movie, It’s a Wonderful Life:

December is upon us and that means plentiful opportunities to watch the enduring classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of viewers completely misinterpret Frank Capra’s dystopian nightmare as a heartwarming Christmas tale.

The emotional appeal of angels getting their wings is undeniable. Crying out for correction, however, are the vicious slanders regarding the film’s real hero, Henry Potter.

We first hear of Potter from George Bailey’s father, Peter Bailey, who badmouths Potter with the usual falsehoods about businessmen. But during Bailey’s envious rant, we learn something important: Henry Potter is a board member of the building and loan. We later learn Potter is, in fact, a stockholder.

That puts a somewhat different light on his subsequent motion to liquidate the business upon Peter Bailey’s death. Yes, we hear George Bailey repeating the familiar socialist tropes his father did: that Potter only wants to close the building and loan because he “can’t get his hands on it” and considers the little people cattle, etc.

But Potter responds with some rather inconvenient facts: the building and loan has been making bad business decisions, providing what we’d now call subprime loans to people who can’t pay them back.

Repost – Kate Bush – Christmas Special 1979 (Private Remaster)

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

Published on 5 Oct 2013

I know there’s a good few copies of this out on YouTube, but here it is, again! The other copies were either split up into individual tracks, the best complete one (from BBC Four’s rebroadcast in 2009) had the wrong aspect ratio, which annoyed the hell out of me! So, here this is…

Video and audio have been tidied up very slightly, not much was needed!

Kate Bush – Christmas Special
Tracklist:
(Intro) 00:00
Violin 00:29
(Gymnopédie No.1 – composed by Erik Satie) 03:44
Symphony In Blue 04:44
Them Heavy People 08:20
(Intro for Peter Gabriel) 12:52
Here Comes The Flood (Peter Gabriel) 13:22
Ran Tan Waltz 17:02
December Will Be Magic Again 19:43
The Wedding List 23:35
Another Day (with Peter Gabriel) 28:05
Egypt 31:41
The Man With The Child In His Eyes 36:21
Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbreak 39:24

“I was recently asked about this BBC TV special and I thought I’d share my comments here. Kate: Kate Bush Christmas Special is a stage performance by Kate Bush with her special guest Peter Gabriel. Though most of the songs are not holiday ones, they come from Bush’s first three albums (Never for Ever her third album would be released in 1980 after this 1979 TV special was taped). The performances include costumes, choreographed dances and a wind machine, creating an eclectic music TV special to say the least.

This is one of the programs that makes my research quite difficult — because it calls itself a Christmas Special yet it contains only one performance of a Christmas song “December Will Be Magic Again” (a song that wouldn’t be released as a single by Bush until the following year, in 1980). TV programming that calls itself a Christmas Special and yet contains little to no Christmas entertainment is actually quite common — especially on the BBC.

Between the end of November and the end of December each year, there is quite a bit of special programming on television. Remember Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special — it aired in December that year and includes only one holiday song, a performance of “Blue Christmas.” Is it considered a Christmas special? No, not really. And so, despite its title, the lack of holiday programming in Kate Bush’s 1979 TV special means it shouldn’t be considered a Christmas special either. But the Kate Bush Christmas Special is certainly worth watching!”

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

December 22, 2016

The Libertarian Holiday Gift Guide

Filed under: Humour, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on Dec 20, 2016

Don’t know what to get the libertarians on your holiday list? We’ve got you covered!

“Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” versus “Happy Midwinter Break”

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

L. Neil Smith on the joy-sucking use of terms like “Happy Midwinter Break” to avoid antagonizing the non-religious among us at this time of year:

Conservatives have long whimpered about corporate and government policies forbidding employees who make contact with the public to wish said members “Merry Christmas!” at the appropriate time of the year, out of a moronic and purely irrational fear of offending members of the public who don’t happen to be Christian, but are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Rastafarian, Ba’hai, Cthuluites, Wiccans, worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or None of the Above. The politically correct benediction, these employees are instructed, is “Happy Holidays”.

Feh.

As a lifelong atheist, I never take “Merry Christmas” as anything but a cheerful and sincere desire to share the spirit of the happiest time of the year. I enjoy Christmas as the ultimate capitalist celebration. It’s a multiple-usage occasion and has been so since the dawn of history. I wish them “Merry Christmas” right back, and I mean it.

Unless I wish them a “Happy Zagmuk”, sharing the oldest midwinter festival in our culture I can find any trace of. It’s Babylonian, and celebrates the victory of the god-king Marduk over the forces of Chaos.

But as anybody with the merest understanding of history and human nature could have predicted, if you give the Political Correctness Zombies (Good King Marduk needs to get back to work again) an Angstrom unit, they’ll demand a parsec. It now appears that for the past couple of years, as soon as the Merry Christmases and Happy Holidayses start getting slung around, a certain professor (not of Liberal Arts, so he should know better) at a nearby university (to remain unnamed) sends out what he hopes are intimidating e-mails, scolding careless well-wishers, and asserting that these are not holidays (“holy days”) to everyone, and that the only politically acceptable greeting is “Happy Midwinter Break”. He signs this exercise in stupidity “A Jewish Faculty Member”.

Double feh.

Two responses come immediately to mind, both of them derived from good, basic Anglo-Saxon, which is not originally a Christian language. As soon as the almost overwhelming temptation to use them has been successfully resisted, there are some other matters for profound consideration…

Repost – ‘Tis the season to hate the senders of boastful holiday letters

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

Gregg Easterbrook receives the perfect, perfect holiday letter:

Don’t you hate boastful holidays letters about other people’s fascinating lives and perfect children? Below is one Nan and I received last week.

Dear Friends,

What a lucky break the CEO sent his personal jet to pick me up from Istanbul; there’s plenty of room, since I have the entire aircraft to myself, to take out the laptop and write our annual holiday letter. Just let me ask the attendant for a better vintage of champagne, and I’ll begin.

It’s been another utterly hectic year for Chad and I and our remarkable children, yet nurturing and horizon-expanding. It’s hard to know where the time goes. Well, a lot of it is spent in the car.

Rachel is in her senior year at Pinnacle-Upon-Hilltop Academy, and it seems just yesterday she was being pushed around in the stroller by our British nanny. Rachel placed first this fall in the state operatic arias competition. Chad was skeptical when I proposed hiring a live-in voice tutor on leave from the Lyric Opera, but it sure paid off! Rachel’s girls’ volleyball team lost in the semifinals owing to totally unfair officiating, but as I have told her, she must learn to overcome incredible hardship in life.

Now the Big Decision looms — whether to take the early admission offer from Harvard or spend a year at Julliard. Plus the whole back of her Mercedes is full of dance-company brochures as she tries to decide about the summer.

Nicholas is his same old self, juggling the karate lessons plus basketball, soccer, French horn, debate club, archeology field trips, poetry-writing classes and his volunteer work. He just got the Yondan belt, which usually requires nine years of training after the Shodan belt, but prodigies can do it faster, especially if (not that I really believe this!) they are reincarnated deities.

Modeling for Gap cuts into Nick’s schoolwork, but how could I deprive others of the chance to see him? His summer with Outward Bound in the Andes was a big thrill, especially when all the expert guides became disoriented and he had to lead the party out. But you probably read about that in the newspapers.

What can I say regarding our Emily? She’s just been reclassified as EVVSUG&T — “Extremely Very Very Super Ultra Gifted and Talented.” The preschool retained a full-time teacher solely for her, to keep her challenged. Educational institutions are not allowed to discriminate against the gifted anymore, not like when I was young.

Yesterday Rachel sold her first still-life. It was shown at one of the leading galleries without the age of the artist disclosed. The buyers were thrilled when they learned!

Then there was the arrival of our purebred owczarek nizinny puppy. He’s the little furry guy in the enclosed family holiday portrait by Annie Leibovitz. Because our family mission statement lists cultural diversity as a core value, we named him Mandela.

Chad continues to prosper and blossom. He works a few hours a day and spends the rest of the time supervising restoration of the house — National Trust for Historic Preservation rules are quite strict. Corporate denial consulting is a perfect career niche for Chad. Fortune 500 companies call him all the time. There’s a lot to deny, and Chad is good at it.

Me? Oh, I do this and that. I feel myself growing and flowering as a change agent. I yearn to empower the stakeholders. This year I was promoted to COO and invited to the White House twice, but honestly, beading in the evening means just as much to me. I was sorry I had to let Carmen go on the same day I brought home my $14.6 million bonus, but she had broken a Flora Danica platter and I caught her making a personal call.

Chad and I got away for a week for a celebration of my promotion. We rented this quaint five-star villa on the Corsican coast. Just to ourselves — we bought out all 40 rooms so it would be quiet and contemplative and we could ponder rising above materialism.

Our family looks to the New Year for rejuvenation and enrichment. Chad and I will be taking the children to Steamboat Springs over spring break, then in June I take the girls to Paris, Rome and Seville while Chad and Nicholas accompany Richard Gere to Tibet.

Then the kids are off to camps in Maine, and before we know it, we will be packing two cars to drive Rachel’s things to college. And of course I don’t count Davos or Sundance or all the routine excursions.

I hope your year has been as interesting as ours.

Love,
Jennifer, Chad, Rachel, Nicholas & Emily

(The above is inspired by a satirical Christmas letter I did for The New Republic a decade ago. I figure it’s OK to recycle a joke once every 10 years.)

December 21, 2016

Repost – The Monkees – “Riu Chiu” HD (Official Music Video) – from THE MONKEES – THE COMPLETE SERIES Blu Ray

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

Uploaded on 15 Dec 2015

The Monkees perform “Riu Chiu” from Episode 47, “The Monkees’ Christmas Show”.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

December 20, 2016

Ghostly apparitions terrorize elderly businessman at Christmas

Filed under: Books, Britain, Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tom Mullen discusses the leftist apparitions who tormented poor Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, leaving him permanently damaged financially and intellectually:

[Scrooge’s] only weakness seems to be sentimentality towards the whiny, presumably mediocre-at-best Bob Cratchett. We know Scrooge was paying Cratchett more than anyone else was willing to or Cratchett would surely have accepted a higher-paying job to put additional funds towards curing Tiny Tim. But we really don’t have any evidence anyone else was willing to employ Cratchett at all, at any salary level. Still, we must defer to Scrooge’s judgment on this and perhaps even laud him for finding a way to employ a substandard employee without jeopardizing the firm as a whole.

Thus, all was as well as it could have been on December 23. Scrooge’s customers were happy, Bob Cratchett was at least employed, thanks to Scrooge, and Scrooge himself was as happy as he could be, considering the ingratitude with which his genius had been rewarded and all the panhandlers constantly shaking him down.

Everything changed on Christmas Eve, when Scrooge was terrorized – there really is no other word for it – by three time-traveling, left-wing apparitions. It wasn’t enough to frighten an elderly man with the mere appearance of ghosts. They took him on a trip through time, scolding him for supposed mistakes made in the past and blaming him for the misfortunes of others in the present and future. And let’s not forget the purpose of this psychological waterboarding. They are not, as Shaffer observes, pursuing Scrooge’s happiness, but his money. They are William Graham Sumner’s A & B conspiring to force C to relieve the suffering of X. Politicians A & B use the polite coercion of legislation; the spirits make use of more direct and honest threats of violence.

Their plot was successful. Scrooge awoke from his night of terror obviously out of his senses and began making one poor financial decision after another. Perhaps buying the largest turkey in the local shop could be excused on Christmas Day. But then, without any evidence of improvement in performance, he raised Bob Cratchett’s salary and promised to take on the Cratchett family’s medical expenses.

After that, we are told Scrooge was “transformed” completely, which we can only interpret to mean he no longer made the kind of decisions that had previously benefited so many. We are told Scrooge’s subsequent behavior was so foolhardy that some people laughed at him. But even this wasn’t enough to snap him out of the permanent delirium with which the spirits had inflicted him.

December 15, 2016

Science-based gift-giving advice

Filed under: Randomness, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the New York Times, John Tierney says most of us are trying too hard and should just relax about our gift-giving efforts:

Social scientists bear glad tidings for the holiday season. After extensively observing how people respond to gifts, they have advice for shoppers: You don’t have to try so hard.

You’re not obliged to spend hours finding just the right gift for each person on your list. Most would be just as happy with something quick and easy. This may sound too good to be true, but rest assured this is not a ploy by some lazy Scrooges in academia.

These researchers are meticulous analysts of gift-giving rituals. Whether they’re drawing lessons from Kwakwaka’wakw Indian potlatches or Amazon.com wish lists, I’ve always found them the wisest mentors for the holidays, and this year they have more data than ever to back up their advice:

Don’t aim for the “big reveal.” Many shoppers strive to find a sensational toy or extravagant piece of jewelry that will create drama when it’s opened. But drama is not what recipients want, according to a new study by Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University.

He and his colleagues have found that gifts go wrong because the givers are focused on the moment of exchange, whereas the recipients are thinking long-term: Will I actually get any use out of this?

Don’t “over-individuate” your gifts. People too often give bad presents because they insist on buying something different for everyone.

In experiments using greeting cards and gifts, psychologists found that people typically feel obliged to choose unique items for each person on their list even when the recipients wouldn’t know if they got duplicates — and even when one particularly good gift would work better for everyone.

The more gifts you select, the more likely you’ll pick some duds. If you can find one sure thing, don’t be afraid to give it more than once.

December 6, 2016

Alex & Tyler’s Economist’s Christmas

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Dec 2016

This week: Let’s get in the holiday spirit! What would an economist do about Christmas gifts?

What do you really want for the holidays? And how can you be sure you’re giving the perfect gift to someone else?

Of course, you want to get your loved ones something they will appreciate, but you face a knowledge problem: you don’t know everything about their wants and needs. You also have an incentive problem: oftentimes people aren’t quite as careful choosing a gift for others as they would be if buying something for themselves.

We’ve all received a present that we didn’t really want. When that happens, the value that we place on the gift can be less than its cost. According to research by economist Joel Waldfogel, gift givers spend an average of $50 on gifts that recipients only value at $40. Given that Americans spend around $100 billion on Christmas gifts, we’re wasting $18-20 billion every holiday season!

Is there a solution to this costly problem? Well, you can always give cold, hard cash! Many gift recipients would prefer it. But if you know the recipient’s tastes very well, you do have the opportunity to give them a non-cash present that they’ll love and that creates value by lowering their search costs.

There are, of course, occasions where the gift of money doesn’t make sense. Perhaps you want to signal that you care in a different way, or maybe there’s a custom you want to follow. You’ll just have to risk it in these situations.

Around the holidays, there’s also a spike in charitable giving. If you face knowledge and incentive problems in giving gifts to loved ones, you can imagine that these issues increase when you’re giving to someone you’ve never met. To combat this problem, some charities, such as GiveDirectly, give cash to people in need so that they spend charitable donations however meets their needs.

The efficiency of an economist’s Christmas may feel less warm and fuzzy, but the value creation is no less generous!

December 5, 2016

Seasonal beers – Yule Shoot Your Eye Out

Filed under: Media, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

It’s from a brewer in Houston I’ve never heard of, so the chances that it’ll appear in the government monopoly liquor stores here in Ontario are pretty small:

A Christmas Story is such a staple of the American holiday season that in 1997, Turner Broadcasting’s TNT or TBS networks began running “24 Hours of A Christmas Story.” All day long on Christmas Eve and all day long on Christmas Day, you can turn on the TV and catch A Christmas Story. When the screaming kids have finally gone to sleep, and you’re done with all your wrapping, you can sit down and catch a true American classic that will let you unwind, make you laugh, and remind you of the Christmas frustration of kids everywhere.

When you sit down to watch the movie, grab a beer. It will undoubtedly help you relax. Christmas is stressful, especially as a parent. You can see this in the character of “the Old Man” in Ralphie’s story. His father is always trying to balance a battle against his angry furnace, the neighbor’s wild and hungry dogs, and the stress of balancing life with his kids and his job.

In the mid-twentieth-century, middle-America setting of A Christmas Story, “the Old Man” probably drank some pretty boring beer to relax at the end of a long day. You, my friends, have many more options. There are plenty of Christmas beers, and we’ll get into them in the coming weeks, but there is one you just can’t pass up if you’re a fan of A Christmas Story (and let’s admit, you all are).

Karbach Brewing Company out of Houston makes a beer called Yule Shoot Your Eye Out. With a wonderful reference to the classic line from A Christmas Story, the gang at Karbach take it one step further with a representation of the famous leg lamp on the can.

yule-shoot-your-eye-out

March 24, 2016

QotD: The Cheerleader Effect

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

The cheerleader effect describes a human perception issue where pictures of any woman in a group are often considered more attractive than a picture of that woman alone (this may apply to men as well, but I have always heard it referred to women). Apparently women exploit this effect by posting pictures on dating sites that show them in groups of their friends rather than alone. Anyway, I have developed two corollaries:

    Polo Shirt Effect: Polo shirts in a store appear more desirable when grouped with other similar shirts in an array of colors than when presented alone. This effect is strong enough to trump the paradox of choice, where offering consumers more choices can tend to flummox them and cause them to buy less. I believe arrays of multi-hued polo shirts presented together increase purchases of these shirts.

    Christmas Tree Effect: We almost never buy ornaments for our tree. 95% are individually ugly, but meaningful, constructions by our kids over the years. The rest are what remain after breakage of some commercial ornaments we bought 20 years ago on deep discount in the after-Christmas sales. But a tree constructed of these ornaments is beautiful. So ornaments look far better when massed on a tree than they look individually.

Warren Meyer, “My Contributions to Social Science”, Coyote Blog, 2015-01-06.

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