Quotulatiousness

November 7, 2017

“Paying for” tax cuts

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the latest issue of the Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith explains why he isn’t a fan of the notion that tax cuts need to be “paid for”:

I am not an economist, nor do I play one on TV, but I know a hand-job when I see one. The mindless mutants who are mangling Donald Trump’s tax plans are dragging this nation and the world into a Da-Daesque vortex we may never get out of. (Only a “progressive” Democrat would stomp a man’s legs, break them in a dozen places, and then make fun of him because he can’t walk.) While lowering almost everybody’s taxes, they want a special bracket appended to the deal to punish people with a million dollars or more to “pay for” everybody else’s tax relief. My question, in an era when government takes too much away from us already, why the bloody hell should it be allowed to steal more?

Even from people who are supposedly hated by the “masses”? (I seriously doubt it. “The Democrat Party masses, more likely. Most right-wing masses — if there is such a thing — aspire to become millionaires, themselves.)

Half a century ago, when I was a shiny new Objectivist warrior, jousting with various statist orcs and trolls on the left, a major concern of theirs seemed to be the big, luxurious houses that rich people built for themselves or bought and lived in. Somehow, there was something evil or sinful in that — “conspicuous consumption” one famous comtard called it — and it needed to be stopped. It didn’t ever seem to have occurred to these feeble-minded pickpockets (who had likely never done an honest day’s work in their worthless lives) that the construction of a big, luxurious house (today, we call them McMansions) requires the skilled services of dozens, if not hundreds, of earth-movers, concrete-workers, framers, finish carpenters, glazers, roofers, plumbers, sheet-rock guys, landscapers, etc., most of whom have families to feed, clothe, and house, themselves.

They need rich people to build big, luxurious houses for.

In general, there are few, if any, ways the most malign “malefactor of great wealth” can spend his money without benefitting someone who needs a job. Even cocaine has to be cultivated and processed by somebody. This lesson was learned the hard way back in 1990 when Idiot-in-Chief George 41 Bush broke his “read my lips” promise and allowed a punitive “luxury tax” to be levied on yachts, big, expensive cars, and assorted other keen stuff like that. Hundreds of jobs were lost. Thousands suffered. One company went from 220 workers to 50 overnight. Within two years those who had stirred up class envy the most energetically were calling for repeal of this “hate the rich” tax. In the same way, millionaires’ money would fly overseas in an instant and vanish from our struggling economy.

September 11, 2017

QotD: Does inequality matter?

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

The central problem with the book, however, is an ethical one. Piketty does not reflect on why inequality by itself would be bad. To be sure, it’s irritating that a super rich woman buys a $40,000 watch. The purchase is ethically objectionable. She should be giving her income in excess of an ample level of 2 cars, say, not 20; 2 houses, not 7; 1 yacht, not 5 — to effective charities. Andrew Carnegie enunciated in 1889 the principle that “a man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Carnegie gave away his entire fortune. (Well, he gave it at death, after enjoying a castle in his native Scotland and a few other baubles.) But the fact that many rich people act in a disgraceful fashion does not automatically imply that the government should intervene to stop it. People act disgracefully in all sorts of ways. If our rulers were assigned the task in a fallen world of keeping us all wholly ethical, the government would bring all our lives under its fatherly tutelage, a nightmare achieved approximately before 1989 in East Germany and now in North Korea.

Notice that in Piketty’s tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book. Piketty’s vision of apocalypse leaves room for the rest of us to do very well indeed — rather non-apocalyptically — as in fact since 1800 we have. What is worrying Piketty is that the rich might possibly get richer, even though the poor get richer, too. His worry is purely about difference, about a vague feeling of envy raised to a theoretical and ethical proposition.

But our real concern should be with raising up the poor to a condition of dignity, a level at which they can function in a democratic society and lead full lives. It doesn’t matter ethically whether the poor have the same number of diamond bracelets and Porsche automobiles as do owners of hedge funds. But it does indeed matter whether they have the same opportunities to vote or to learn to read or to have a roof over their heads.

Adam Smith once described the Scottish idea as “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” It would be a good thing, of course, if a free and rich society following Smithian liberalism produced a Pikettyan equality. In fact, it largely has, by the only ethically relevant standard of basic human rights and basic comforts. Introducing liberalism in Hong Kong and Norway and France, for instance, has regularly led to an astounding betterment and to a real equality of outcome — with the poor acquiring automobiles and hot-and-cold water at the tap that were denied in earlier times even to the rich, and acquiring political rights and social dignity that were denied in earlier times to everyone except the rich.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

August 30, 2017

James May loves airships! MORE EXTRAS – James May’s Q&A – Head Squeeze

Filed under: Germany, History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Mar 2013

You asked for it! In a previous episode of James May’s Q&A, James discussed the sad demise of the airship as a popular mode of transport. And during filming we literally couldn’t get him to stop talking about them! Clearly he loves airships and loves to talk about airships. A lot! Lucky for all you people we captured it all and can present it now as Exclusive Extended Extras on the rise and fall of airships.

Original clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug5UafJFEYc

James May’s Q&A:
With his own unique spin, James May asks and answers the oddball questions we’ve all wondered about from ‘What Exactly Is One Second?’ to ‘Is Invisibility Possible?’

August 6, 2017

The allure of fine wines

Filed under: France, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Dan Rosenheck recounts his first encounter with one of those mysterious Premier Cru wines:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So say those who have never had a whiff of 1998 Château Lafite Rothschild. In late 2011 I had been an aspiring wine connoisseur for about a year, long enough to have learned the names of the world’s most exalted beverages, but not to have tried more than a handful. Like many novices, I started out on Bordeaux, memorising the 1855 classification of the region’s reds into price tiers – called crus, or “growths” – and developing a childlike reverence for the premiers crus (“first growths”) at the top. Although there were no sub-rankings within each class, Lafite was listed first because it was the most expensive tipple in the France of Napoleon III, and my drinking buddies told me it was still considered the premier premier cru today. Chinese drinkers certainly thought so: they had bid it up at auctions to stratospheric heights after deciding, for still-obscure reasons, that Lafite and only Lafite made for an impressive gift – perhaps because its name was easy to pronounce in Mandarin, or because the estate had stuck the character for the lucky number eight on the label of its 2008 vintage.

So when a friend in the wine trade snuck me into Wine Spectator magazine’s “Grand Tasting” in New York that November, I made a beeline for the Lafite table. They were pouring the 1998: a middling harvest overall for Cabernet Sauvignon, which Messieurs Primi Inter Pares had nonetheless turned into a masterpiece. As a Frenchwoman doing her best to smile sprinkled her elixir among the parched mob, I made off with a couple of thimblefuls, and scurried to the corner of the room to stand watch over my booty.

The perfume wafted into my nostrils before I had time to lift my glass. “zomfg,” began my tasting note. (The “o”, “m” and “g” stand for “oh my God”, you can guess what the “f” is, and the “z” comes out when exuberance makes you miss the shift key.) The scents were so intense, so focused, so easy to distinguish: ripe blackcurrants quivering on the branch; cedar that conjured up a Lebanese hillside; tobacco or thyme leaves floating on the wind. How could a wine be this powerful and yet this elegant? At the tender age of 13, the 1998 Lafite did not yet offer much complexity, and its firm, astringent tannins left me puckering after every sip – the punishment a fine young Bordeaux inflicts on impatient drinkers who disturb its slumber prematurely. But oh…that smell. “I smelled this across the room,” I wrote. “I smelled this at the bar afterwards. I smelled this even when I was shoving pizza down my throat at 3am. And then I smelled it in my dream.”

My first experience of a premier cru was at an LCBO tasting in downtown Toronto. I had developed an interest in wine a few years before, so I was very excited to try some of the well-known wines for the first time. Here’s what I wrote on the old blog (no longer online) in 2008: “That’s not wine … it’s an ostentatious status symbol”

At some point, an expensive bottle of wine stops being just wine and starts being primarily a status symbol. Case in point:

    Staff were delighted at the sale and the three customers were eager to taste the £18,000 magnum of Pétrus 1961 — one of the greatest vintages of one of the greatest wines in the world — which they had reserved from the cellars several weeks before.

    Unfortunately, the guests at Zafferano in Knightsbridge proved to be a little too discerning.

    As the magnum was uncorked, they declared it to be a fake, refused to touch the bottle and sent it back.

I enjoy wine, and I’m usually able to appreciate the extra quality that goes with a higher price tag … up to a limit. The most expensive wine I’ve tasted was a $400 Chateau Margaux, which was excellent, but (to my taste anyway) not as good as a $95 bottle I sampled on the same evening (a Gevry-Chambertin). Wine is certainly subjective, so my experiences can’t be easily generalized, but I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of wine drinkers would find that their actual appreciation of the wine tapers off beyond a certain price point.

If you normally drink $15-20 bottles of wine, you’ll certainly find that the $30-40 range will taste better and have more depth and complexity of flavour. Jumping up to the $150-200 range will probably have the same relative effect, but you’ve gone to 10 times the price for perhaps 2-4 times the perceived quality. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the $1,000+ wines have transcendental qualities that peasants like me can’t even imagine, but I strongly doubt it. Any wine over $500 has passed the “quality” level and is from that point onwards really a “prestige” thing.

Update: A commenter at Fark.com offered this link as counter-evidence:

    “Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating non-intrinsic attributes of goods. For example, knowledge of a beer’s ingredients and brand can affect reported taste quality, and the reported enjoyment of a film is influenced by expectations about its quality,” the researchers said. “Even more intriguingly, changing the price at which an energy drink is purchased can influence the ability to solve puzzles.”

This is why wines are generally tasted blind for comparative purposes (that is, with no indication of the wine’s identity provided). It’s a well-known phenomena that people expect to enjoy more expensive things than cheaper equivalents.

You can try this one for yourself: next time you’re pouring a beer or a wine for a guest, hide the container and tell them that what you’re pouring is much more rare/expensive/unusual than what it really is. Most people, either from politeness (they don’t want to be rude) or fear of being thought ignorant (that they can’t actually perceive this wonderful quality) or genuine belief in what you’ve said, will go along with the host’s deception and praise the drink as being so much better than whatever they normally drink.

Human beings are wonderful at rationalizing … and self-deception.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the original link.

March 29, 2017

QotD: The humble vodka soda

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

My favourite drink? Vodka soda on the rocks, no lemon. Unpretentious, dependable, easy to slap together, gets the job done. It’s basically the Ford F-150 of cocktails. And clear as rain, so it won’t stain my wife’s dress if some good-time Charlie slaps me on the back at a party. For years, it has been my odourless, tasteless, ten-ounce refuge of gastro-utilitarian sanity in a world full of foodies gone mad.

But those days are over: the vodka soda has gone the way of wine, Scotch, and gourmet hot sauce. Order one at any velvet-rope bar or restaurant, and the waiter follows up by asking your preferred brand of hooch — under the demonstrably false conceit that the human tongue can distinguish between what are effectively different varieties of windshield-wiper fluid.

Last month, when a waiter launched into an especially long list of unpronounceable Russian and Scandinavian words apparently corresponding to fashionable vodka brands, I felt as if I were in a scene from “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I really can’t tell the difference. Just give me the cheapest one on the list were the words on my lips.

Of course, I said nothing of the sort, because I didn’t want to come off as a rube. So instead, I declared emphatically, “Oh, Grey Goose, please” — recalling at random the last brand I’d seen advertised in an upscale travel magazine.

Moments later, the waiter returned with my drink, and it tasted fine. Which is to say, it tasted exactly like every other vodka soda I had ever tasted — or, indeed, that had ever been tasted by any other human in the history of fermented spud juice.

This, more than anything else, is what I have come to resent about foodie culture: Not just that it is pretentious and expensive. Not just that it makes me feel guilty about the Cheez Whiz sandwiches I put in my kids’ lunch boxes. But that it turns us all into liars.

Jonathan Kay, “Lies My Waiter Told Me: Foodie culture has invaded my vodka soda. It’s time to fight back”, The Walrus, 2015-08-17.

March 25, 2017

If Walls Could Talk The History of the Home Episode 1: The Living Room

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

Published on 21 Jan 2017

First episode about the Living Room with Lucy Worsley Give a thumbs up for more episodes! 😀

September 3, 2016

QotD: Hunter S. Thompson’s ideal breakfast

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

Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with Lunch and Dinner.

I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every 24 hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas or at home – and regardless of whether or not I have been to bed – breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon or corned beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert……. Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next 24 hours, and at least one source of good music….… All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.

Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’76: Third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous — hanging with Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and a bottle of Wild Turkey”, Rolling Stone, 1976-06-03.

May 17, 2016

Green Party policies

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In a comment on a post about the leader of the British Green Party stepping down, David Thompson explains why he finds the party’s policies to be distasteful:

Green Party policy […] advocates massive and unbudgeted state spending, crippling eco-taxes, forced “organic” food production, and a deliberate shrinking and discouragement of international trade in order to curb the evils of consumerism. Curiously, they denounce ‘austerity’ (i.e., modest reductions in the growth of public spending), while envisioning a world in which no-one can buy anything too fancy, or from too far afield. And they see no need to retain an army or navy or air force, all of which they dismiss as “unnecessary.”

In policy NY203, the party says its goal is “to see the concept of legal nationality abolished.” Apparently, they want a Citizen’s Income, in which everyone is subsidised simply for being, while abolishing any notion of actual, legal citizenship. They imply that a country, a society, having some control of its borders, however partial, is racist, and that the world and its wives should be free to breeze into Britain and avail themselves of our already overstretched benefits system.

This dissolving of our territorial and cultural boundaries, and the abandonment of our ability to defend ourselves or anyone else, along with uncontrolled mass migration from the shitholes of the Earth, and the subsequent collapse of our welfare infrastructure and general economy, to say nothing of social unrest, riots and other unpleasantness… all of this would, we’re told, create “a world more equal, more balanced.”

And yet they ask, “What are you afraid of, boys?”

I think this may be where entrenched, impervious idiocy becomes… well, something close to evil.

April 11, 2016

QotD: What can a billionaire buy that most people can’t?

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

In a way most of us don’t really understand how differently we live from even a very short time ago. Read the comments in this excellent piece from Sarah Hoyt.

http://accordingtohoyt.com/2016/01/08/burning-rousseau-in-effigy/#comments

The fact is that right now just about everybody in the Developed nations can afford products that are better and cheaper than anything has ever been made. For instance my car is almost ten years old and has never required major maintenance and the body is as free of exterior rust as when it was new. The computer I’m writing this on is more powerful than ANY computer that you could buy in 1980. The clothes I’m wearing are more durable and sewn better than anything you could buy in 1950. And everything is essentially so cheap that just about everybody can afford it.

The fact is that, because of the constant improvement of manufacturing techniques the difference between the highest quality and lowest quality goods has become essentially nonexistent.

[…]

The great gap in lifestyles due to wealth is by and large gone, which begs the question, what can the wealthy buy with their money? The answer isn’t very pleasant.

What they buy is access and power. You don’t have to look much further than Warren Buffett, George Soros or Tom Steyer to see that. Or the Koch Brothers for that matter. All of these people and other have created large influence building organizations for the sole purpose of influencing the rest of us stupid schmucks to do what they want us to. What they want us to do all too often is to give up the liberties and standard of living that our parents and grandparents worked so hard to build and retreat back to a lifestyle that will not compete with our “betters.” Sorry, but I’m not going for that.

J.C. Carlton, “What Can A Billionaire Buy That Most People Can’t?”, The Arts Mechanical, 2016-03-30.

February 3, 2016

QotD: The wealthy and their status-signalling spending habits

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

If you want an illuminating example of the fact that there is more to the way that prices work in a free market than can be captured by the pragmatic calculations of cold-eyed util-traders, consider the luxury-goods market and its enthusiastic following among people who do not themselves consume many or any of those goods. One of the oddball aspects of rich societies such as ours is the fact that when people pile up a little bit more disposable income than they might have expected to, they develop a taste for measurably inferior goods and outdated technologies: If you have money that is a little bit obscene, you might get into classic cars, i.e., an outmoded form of transportation; if your money is super-dirty obscene, you get into horses, an even more outmoded form of transportation.

Or consider the case of fine watches: Though he — and it’s a “he” in the overwhelming majority of cases — may not be eager to admit it, a serious watch enthusiast knows that even the finest mechanical timepiece put together by magical elves on the shores of Lake Geneva is, as a timekeeping instrument, dramatically inferior to the cheapest quartz-movement watch coming out of a Chinese sweatshop and available for a few bucks at, among other outlets, Wal-Mart. (To say nothing of the cheap digital watches sold under blister-pack at downscale retailers everywhere, or the clock on your cellphone.) But even as our celebrity social-justice warriors covet those high-margin items — and get paid vast sums of money to help sell them, too — they denounce the people who deal in less rarefied goods sold at much lower profit margins.

If economic “exploitation” means making “obscene profits” — an empty cliché if ever there were one — then Wal-Mart and the oil companies ought to be the good guys; not only do they have relatively low profit margins, but they also support millions of union workers and retirees through stock profits and the payment of dividends into pension funds. By way of comparison, consider that Hermès, the luxury-goods label that is a favorite of well-heeled social-justice warriors of all sorts, makes a profit margin that is typically seven or eight times what Wal-Mart makes, even though, as rapper Lloyd Banks discovered, its $1,300 sneakers may not always be up to the task. If Wal-Mart is the epitome of evil for selling you a Timex at a 3 percent markup, then shouldn’t Rolex be extra-super evil?

Kevin D. Williamson, “Who Boycotts Wal-Mart? Social-justice warriors who are too enlightened to let their poor neighbors pay lower prices”, National Review, 2014-11-30.

January 24, 2016

QotD: There are no Veblen goods at Wal-Mart

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

People buy Rolex watches for reasons other than their timekeeping excellence, just as people buy Ferraris and horses for reasons other than going to the store to pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. Economists talk about “Veblen goods,” which are more valued because of their high prices rather than in spite of them, coveted not for their conventional utility but for their exclusivity. Owning a Rolls-Royce isn’t about the car — it’s about you. Which is why you see magazines such as The Robb Report — one of those glossies full of “bland advertisements for being wealthy,” as the novelist William Gibson put it — for sale in places such as Wal-Mart, where the typical customer is not actually in the market for a yacht or Kiton overcoat. If you’ve ever seen the heartbreaking sight of a young woman stopping a Wal-Mart checker three-fourths of the way through ringing up her purchases — because she does not have enough money to pay for what’s left in her cart — then you can be pretty sure that what’s going in her sack is more or less the opposite of Veblen goods.

Ironically, the anti-Wal-Mart crusaders want to make life worse for people who are literally counting pennies as they shop for necessities. Study after study has shown that Wal-Mart has meaningfully reduced prices: 3.1 percent overall, by one estimate — with a whopping 9.1 percent cut to the price of groceries. That comes to about $2,300 a year per household, savings that accrue overwhelmingly to people of modest incomes, not to celebrity activists and Ivy League social-justice crusaders.

Ultimately, these campaigns are exercises in tribal affiliation. The Rolex tribe, and those who aspire to be aligned with it, signal their status by sneering at the Timex tribe — or by condescending to it as they purport to act on its behalf, as though poor people were too stupid to know where to find the best deal on a can of beans. Or call it the Trader Joe’s tribe vs. the Wal-Mart tribe, the Prius tribe vs. the F-150 tribe.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Who Boycotts Wal-Mart? Social-justice warriors who are too enlightened to let their poor neighbors pay lower prices”, National Review, 2014-11-30.

January 19, 2016

Non-conspicuous consumption of quality

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

Don Boudreaux on the amazingly thin line that now separates many of the quality consumption goods of the ultra-rich from the nearly as high quality goods of ordinary North American consumers:

This list includes also non-prescription pain relievers, most other first-aid medicines and devices such as Band-Aids, and personal-hygiene products such as toothpaste, dental floss, and toilet paper. (I once saw a billionaire take two Bayer aspirin – the identical pain reliever that I use.) This list includes also gasoline and diesel. Probably also contact lenses.

A slightly different list is one drawn up in response to this question: When can median-income consumers afford products that, while not as high-quality as those versions that are bought by the super-rich, are nevertheless virtually indistinguishable – because they are quite close in quality – to the naked eye from those versions bought by the super-rich? On this list would be most clothing. For example, an ordinary American man can today afford a suit that, while it’s neither tailor-made nor of a fabric as fine as are suits that I suspect are worn by most billionaires, is nevertheless close enough in fit and fabric quality to be indistinguishable by the naked eye from expensive suits worn by billionaires. (I suspect that the same it true for women’s clothing, but I’m less expert on that topic.)

Ditto for shoes, underwear, haircuts, corrective eye-wear, collars for dogs and cats, pet food, household bath towels and ‘linens,’ tableware and cutlery, automobile tires, hand tools, most household furniture, and wristwatches. (You’d have to get physically very close to someone wearing a Patek Philippe – and you’d have to know what a Patek Philippe is – in order to determine that that person’s wristwatch is one that you, an ordinary American, can’t afford. And you could stare at that Patek Philippe for months without detecting any superiority that it might have over your quartz-powered Timex at keeping time.) Coffee. Tea. Beer. Wine. (There is available today a large selection of very good wines at affordable prices. These wines almost never rise to the quality of Chateau Petrus, d’yquem, or the best Montrachets, but the differences are often quite small and barely distinguishable save by true connoisseurs.)

I’ve made this point about the wines before (I’ve tasted each of those wines, but don’t believe the price difference justifies buying them over nearly-as-good equivalents that lack the prestige factor), but Don is talking a much wider range of goods and services where there’s barely any real quality difference between “ordinary” and what the very richest among us can obtain.

January 14, 2016

Conspicuous consumption, firearms division

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

Cabot Guns is planning to forge a matching pair of 1911 pistols from a fragment of a meteorite:

meteroite-gun-header

It may have plummeted to Earth over prehistoric Namibia, but the Gibeon meteorite has had quite a bit of interaction with modern humans. In the years since it was found in 1836, fragments of the giant space rock have been formed into just about everything: from jewelry, to knives, to works of art. Now, a luxury firearms company in Pennsylvania plans to build a mirror-image pair of pistols from a 35-kilogram (77-lb) piece.

Tentatively called the “Big Bang Pistol Set,” the builds will be a first for Cabot Guns, a company that specializes in 1911-style firearms. “We wanted to raise the bar again,” says founder and President Rob Bianchin. “The pistol set will be a modern work of functional art.” Cabot rolled out pistol grips constructed from meteorite several years ago (pictured below), but the new set will be formed completely from the interstellar metal – something that has (according to the team) never been done before.

We estimate that the original, uncut fragment, which Cabot acquired from a private meteorite collector, would fetch around $110,294 at auction. Once completed, the company hopes to get anywhere from $500,000-$1,000,000 for the pair of pistols. “Meteorite is hardly an optimum material for firearms, so numerous technical matters have been overcome to construct the pistols using advanced aerospace techniques to make the pistols fully functional,” explains Bianchin. “The construction of each component has been a science experiment but we are confident they will be fully completed.”

H/T to ESR for the link.

January 10, 2016

The aircraft carrier as status symbol

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While I was offline, Colby Cosh discussed the status signalling power of the modern aircraft carrier:

Aircraft carriers are such fascinating objects. With the exception of manned spacecraft, there is probably nothing that signifies national prestige quite as boldly as a flattop. It is almost the best single marker you can identify of the difference between states properly called “powers” and those that are just — well, will I be forgiven for saying “Canadas”? They attract enormous amounts of attention and analysis from military experts and amateur opinionators.

And, in a sense, this is disproportionate nearly to the point of self-evident unreason. The age of battles between aircraft carrier groups began with the commencement of the fight in the Coral Sea: May 4, 1942. It pretty much ended when the Americans sent four Japanese carriers to the bottom at Midway, 30 days later.

Since that abbreviated epoch, the countries capable of operating aircraft carriers have mostly avoided hot wars with each other. American ones have the run of the seas and find no trouble. Others constantly leave their owners wondering if they are worthwhile.

Perhaps this means that on the whole carriers have done their job. But a constant theme in their history is the fear that they make nice fat targets for the weaker side in a conflict. India’s carrier Vikrant played a key role in blockading Bengal during the 1971 war over Bangladeshi independence, but the Indian Navy was nervous about a seemingly foreordained single combat with Pakistan’s diesel submarine Ghazi (formerly USS Diablo), and got lucky when it sank in an apparent accident. The U.K., whose remaining scraps of empire pose a unique defence problem, sent a carrier, HMS Hermes, to the Falklands — and then the Royal Navy held it off, wincing all the while, at the edge of the theatre, barely within Harrier range of the islands.

Hermes is still on duty today as INS Viraat, a successor to Vikrant; one of the interesting things about carriers is that, as with submarines, their lives will often have two acts in different navies. That is the case with China’s existing, first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. She was christened Riga in Soviet days and inherited by independent Ukraine as Varyag. A Hong Kong travel agency bought the hull, claiming it intended to turn it into a floating casino. (Getting the ship out of the Black Sea under the nose of Turkey might otherwise have been tricky, and wasn’t easy anyway.)

December 14, 2015

QotD: Veblen goods

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

… the point about a Veblen Good is not that sales rise when prices do. Rather, it’s that a Veblen Good is desirable because it is expensive. It is a way of showing that you can afford to buy something expensive. That you can afford something expensive is a sign of social status (well, it is in our society, where having lots of money and thus being able to buy something expensive is a sign of social status. It’s possible to imagine other societal forms which don’t include this).

The archetypal example was certain of the Vanderbilt women who would have diamonds implanted into their backs, where they would be visible to people at parties given the low cut backs of dresses at the time. The point of such implantations simply being to show that one had enough money (and perhaps little enough sense in a pre-antibiotic era) to have a diamond implanted over one’s spine. There’s a story that Mick Jagger had a diamond implanted into one of his teeth for the same sort of reason at one point (removed when it promoted caries).

The point being that a Veblen Good does signal something, and as such the greater the price the more desirable the ability to transmit that signal. But it doesn’t go as far as stating that the more the price rises then the higher sales go.

Tim Worstall, “Being Quoted In The New York Times Is Great But…”, Forbes, 2014-11-22.

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