Quotulatiousness

January 17, 2016

Tabatha Southey is getting nostalgic for plates

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

Perhaps I’ve been lucky to have (mostly) avoided this restaurant serving trend:

I’ve been away seven weeks now, travelling, working, researching a book, seeing friends, but it’s time to come home; I miss plates.

I’ve been staying in London mostly, visited other cities from there, and then I was in Dublin for a while. In all these places I ate out a lot, and I can report that the restaurant industry is in the midst of a tableware crisis. There’s barely a plate to be found any more, and the first time you’re served a dry-aged rump of beef with celeriac gratin, chanterelles and red wine jus on a cutting board, it’s possible to be charmed.

After all, you are not a tablecloth, but soon the tide of things being served on other things that were just not meant to be served on starts to wear on you.

I have a high whimsy-tolerance. Doctors have often remarked upon it. Sometimes half an hour into a puppet show involving a talking reflex hammer and a musical stethoscope, a doctor will say, “This is very unusual,” and make a note on my chart, but recently my whimsy-tolerance has been tested.

I miss plates. Why, in one day on this trip, I was served breakfast on a chalk slate, lunch on a clip-board and dinner on a wooden cutting board shaped like a clover leaf. I’ve been served frites in a beer stein, and the ones I could reach were delicious, and so my verdict was a resolved “Fun!” – until my slow-baked quince, wild honey ewe’s yoghurt, bee pollen and almonds arrived in a vintage teacup balanced on a strip of artfully weathered barn board, and then the next morning at breakfast, I was served a waffle on another waffle with maple syrup in a stem vase.

What was under that waffle I do not care to know, but everything I’ve been served of late suggests that that non-plate waffle presenting item was handcrafted from a substance that Dwell magazine would call “reclaimed ash flooring from a demolished church in Ohio,” and the rest of us would call “wood.”

I miss plates.

January 16, 2016

Introduction to Price Discrimination

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

Published on 7 Apr 2015

Price discrimination is common: movie theaters charge seniors less money than they charge young adults. Computer software companies sell to businesses and students at different rates, often offering discounts to students. These price differences reflect variations in the elasticity of demand for these different groups. When demand curves are different, it is more profitable to set different prices in different markets. We’ll also cover arbitrage and take a look at some examples of price discrimination in the airline industry

December 14, 2015

The Monopoly Markup

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

Published on 18 Mar 2015

Ever wonder why pharmaceuticals are so expensive? In this video, we show how low elasticity of demand results in monopoly markups. This is especially the case with goods that involve the “you can’t take it with you” effect (for example, people with serious medical conditions are relatively insensitive to the price of life-saving drugs) and the “other people’s money” effect (if third parties pay for the medicine, people are less sensitive to price).

December 12, 2015

The US government’s no-fly list

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Kevin Williamson on the travesty that is the no-fly list:

There are many popular demons in American public life: Barack Obama and his monarchical pretensions, Valerie Jarrett and her two-bit Svengali act, or, if your tastes run in the other direction, the Koch brothers, the NRA, the scheming behind-the-scenes influences of Big Whatever. But take a moment to doff your hat to the long, energetic, and wide-ranging careers of three of our most enduring bad guys: laziness, corruption, and stupidity, which deserve special recognition for their role in the recent debates over gun control, terrorism, and crime.

The Democratic party’s dramatic slide into naked authoritarianism — voting in the Senate to repeal the First Amendment, trying to lock up governors for vetoing legislation, and seeking to jail political opponents for holding unpopular views on global warming, etc. — has been both worrisome and dramatic. The Democrats even have a new position on the ancient civil-rights issue of due process, and that position is: “F— you.” The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans (like it or not) the right to keep and bear arms; it also reiterates the legal doctrine of some centuries standing that government may not deprive citizens of their rights without due process. In the case of gun rights, that generally means one of two things: the legal process by which one is convicted of a felony or the legal process by which one is declared mentally incompetent, usually as a prelude to involuntary commitment into a mental facility. The no-fly list and the terrorism watch list contain no such due process. Some bureaucrat somewhere in the executive branch puts a name onto a list, and that’s that. The ACLU has rightly called this “Kafkaesque.”

Here’s where our old friends laziness and stupidity play a really prominent role: The no-fly list is not composed of identities, but merely names. Lots of people share the same name. So, for instance, the late Senator Ted Kennedy ended up on the no-fly list, because somebody had used his name (or a similar name) as an alias. Among people called “Kevin Williamson,” we find myself, the famous Scream screenwriter, a notable Scottish politician and political activist (he is also the author of Drugs and the Party Line), a Canadian entertainment journalist, a fine woodworker who sells his wares on Twitter, and a famous underwear model for whom I am unlikely to be mistaken. If a trip to the DMV or the IRS one day eventually sends me over the edge into full-on barking mad durka-durka-Mohammed-jihad territory, those other Kevin Williamsons are going to suffer simply because we share a name.

And, of course, every third actual dirtbag terrorist has the same name as a million other ordinary schmoes, because Arabic names tend to be a little repetitive. (Is there a Mohammed al-Mohammed in the house? Seriously, go to LinkedIn and see how many graphic designers and accountants walking this good green Earth share that name.)

October 3, 2015

The TSA and the transgendered traveller

Filed under: Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scott Shackford on the special hell the TSA reserves for transgendered air travellers:

When Shadi Petosky began tweeting about her terrible treatment at the hands of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at Orlando International Airport on Sept. 21, she detailed an experience of being ordered around, patted down, dehumanized, and threatened. She was describing a situation familiar to anybody who gets caught up in the agency’s airport security theater.

Petosky is also transgender, and that played heavily into her experience. But being transgender and tripping up alerts at airports and getting taken aside or treated poorly is also not a new problem with TSA screening, though it was the first time Petosky, a writer and producer, had an encounter this bad. While she was tweeting her experience, other transgender people on Twitter responded about having similar problems.

What’s new is that Petosky’s encounter ended up getting significant news coverage, from The New York Times, to the Los Angeles Times, to Vox.com, along with television networks. The coverage highlighted a problem that has persisted for a while: TSA agents are not well-trained to deal with transgender travelers, leaving these flyers uncertain of what to expect when going through airports. Furthermore, the screening technology used for scanning bodies passing through the airport has no real mechanism for recognizing the biology of transgender travelers, prompting confusion to trigger completely unfounded security fears.

Many travelers may not even realize it, but as they’re forced in to spread eagle for body scanners in security lines at the airport, a TSA agent is pressing a button telling the machine whether the person inside is a male or female. They don’t ask—they just look and decide. In Petosky’s case, the TSA employee saw a woman and pressed the appropriate button. And then the employee declared there was an “anomaly,” which Petosky bluntly explains to Reason, is her penis.

July 19, 2015

QotD: Virtue vs. temptation, touring version

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

We did not succeed in carrying out our programme in its entirety, for the reason that human performance lags ever behind human intention. It is easy to say and believe at three o’clock in the afternoon that: “We will rise at five, breakfast lightly at half-past, and start away at six.”

“Then we shall be well on our way before the heat of the day sets in,” remarks one.

“This time of the year, the early morning is really the best part of the day. Don’t you think so?” adds another.

“Oh, undoubtedly.”

“So cool and fresh.”

“And the half-lights are so exquisite.”

The first morning one maintains one’s vows. The party assembles at half-past five. It is very silent; individually, somewhat snappy; inclined to grumble with its food, also with most other things; the atmosphere charged with compressed irritability seeking its vent. In the evening the Tempter’s voice is heard:

“I think if we got off by half-past six, sharp, that would be time enough?”

The voice of Virtue protests, faintly: “It will be breaking our resolution.”

The Tempter replies: “Resolutions were made for man, not man for resolutions.” The devil can paraphrase Scripture for his own purpose. “Besides, it is disturbing the whole hotel; think of the poor servants.”

The voice of Virtue continues, but even feebler: “But everybody gets up early in these parts.”

“They would not if they were not obliged to, poor things! Say breakfast at half-past six, punctual; that will be disturbing nobody.”

Thus Sin masquerades under the guise of Good, and one sleeps till six, explaining to one’s conscience, who, however, doesn’t believe it, that one does this because of unselfish consideration for others. I have known such consideration extend until seven of the clock.

Likewise, distance measured with a pair of compasses is not precisely the same as when measured by the leg.

“Ten miles an hour for seven hours, seventy miles. A nice easy day’s work.”

“There are some stiff hills to climb?”

“The other side to come down. Say, eight miles an hour, and call it sixty miles. Gott in Himmel! if we can’t average eight miles an hour, we had better go in bath-chairs.” It does seem somewhat impossible to do less, on paper.

But at four o’clock in the afternoon the voice of Duty rings less trumpet-toned:

“Well, I suppose we ought to be getting on.”

“Oh, there’s no hurry! don’t fuss. Lovely view from here, isn’t it?”

“Very. Don’t forget we are twenty-five miles from St. Blasien.”

“How far?”

“Twenty-five miles, a little over if anything.”

“Do you mean to say we have only come thirty-five miles?”

“That’s all.”

“Nonsense. I don’t believe that map of yours.”

“It is impossible, you know. We have been riding steadily ever since the first thing this morning.”

“No, we haven’t. We didn’t get away till eight, to begin with.”

“Quarter to eight.”

“Well, quarter to eight; and every half-dozen miles we have stopped.”

“We have only stopped to look at the view. It’s no good coming to see a country, and then not seeing it.”

“And we have had to pull up some stiff hills.”

“Besides, it has been an exceptionally hot day to-day.”

“Well, don’t forget St. Blasien is twenty-five miles off, that’s all.”

“Any more hills?”

“Yes, two; up and down.”

“I thought you said it was downhill into St. Blasien?”

“So it is for the last ten miles. We are twenty-five miles from St. Blasien here.”

“Isn’t there anywhere between here and St. Blasien? What’s that little place there on the lake?”

“It isn’t St. Blasien, or anywhere near it. There’s a danger in beginning that sort of thing.”

“There’s a danger in overworking oneself. One should study moderation in all things. Pretty little place, that Titisee, according to the map; looks as if there would be good air there.”

“All right, I’m agreeable. It was you fellows who suggested our making for St. Blasien.”

“Oh, I’m not so keen on St. Blasien! poky little place, down in a valley. This Titisee, I should say, was ever so much nicer.”

“Quite near, isn’t it?”

“Five miles.”

General chorus: “We’ll stop at Titisee.”

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

July 11, 2015

Reason.tv – The TSA’s 12 Signs You Might Be a Terrorist

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

Published on 9 Jul 2015

Traveling this summer? Avoid these officially terrorist-y behaviors—or you might get detained.

July 1, 2015

Riding the “Budd cars” from Sudbury to White River

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Malcolm Kenton reports on his recent trip on VIA Rail’s unique passenger service between Sudbury and White River, Ontario:

VIA Rail Canada’s Sudbury-White River train (formerly known as the Lake Superior), consisting of two (sometimes three) Budd-built Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) that operate three days a week in each direction along a 301-mile section of Canadian Pacific’s transcontinental main line, is the only passenger train of its kind in North America for several reasons. It is currently the only regularly scheduled intercity passenger service using Budd RDCs (the only others being used as backups on two commuter lines, Tri-Met’s Westside Express in Oregon and Trinity Railway Express in Texas, and on a handful of excursion trains). It is the only intercity passenger train in Canada that uses Canadian Pacific trackage for a significant stretch (western Canada’s privately-run Rocky Mountaineer excepted). And it is one of three passenger train routes in northern Ontario that delivers people, supplies and equipment to points along the line that are not accessible by road (except for a few dirt logging roads) or air (except for a few wilderness lodge sites that have small landing strips for bush planes). I had the opportunity to travel aboard this service — whose parallel cannot be found on this side of the 49th Parallel — last week (June 18 & 19).

VIA refurbished all three of the RDCs within the past year, giving them new seats, electric outlets at each seat, restrooms, heating & air conditioning systems, and wheelchair accessibility features. One car has a large restroom whose doors slide open or closed and lock with the push of a button. A crew member on my trip referred to it as “the Cadillac bathroom.” Next to the engineer’s cab on each coach is an area that doubles as a baggage area and a crew break area, with refrigerator, sink and coffee maker. The highest passenger train speed limit on the route is 75 mph, reached for just a brief stretch between Sudbury and Cartier. Otherwise, it generally tops out at 60 — though on rare occasions where the train has had to run with just one RDC, it is limited to 45 mph — meaning the trip is usually completed just barely within the engineers’ legal limit of 12 consecutive hours of service, between which periods crews must be given at least eight consecutive hours of rest.

The vast majority of passengers on “the Budd cars” (as most locals refer to the train) — usually only a handful on each trip, though occasionally all 48 seats on both cars are occupied for a portion of the trip — are visiting remote cabins along the line to fish, hunt/trap, canoe or kayak, mountain bike, or otherwise enjoy the great outdoors. There are also year-round residents of the mid-route communities of Ramsey and Chapleau who use the train to visit family and friends and go to medical appointments in Sudbury (as there are no medical specialists in their hometowns). Passengers bring aboard an array of gear for wilderness expeditions — canoes, fishing gear, coolers, etc. — which is loaded into the baggage section of one of the RDCs (in the busy season, a third RDC car is added that is solely a baggage car, as was the case on my jaunt). And owners of cabins and retreats near the line use the train as a parcel service, having others buy groceries and supplies at one of the endpoints and drive them to the train, to be loaded into the baggage hold and unloaded at the stop nearest their outpost.

Eastbound train 186, with the RDC baggage car in the lead, passes a CP freight train carrying backhoes at the small White River, ON yard on June 19, approaching the station to begin its run towards Sudbury. (Photo by Malcolm Kenton)

Eastbound train 186, with the RDC baggage car in the lead, passes a CP freight train carrying backhoes at the small White River, ON yard on June 19, approaching the station to begin its run towards Sudbury. (Photo by Malcolm Kenton)

June 24, 2015

QotD: Surge pricing

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

New York just killed every economist’s favorite thing about Uber: surge pricing. Sure, many economists also love convenient car service at the touch of a button. But black-car services have been around for a long time. Explicit surge pricing — which both creates new supply and rations demand — has not, but it’s long been a core feature of Uber Technologies Inc.’s business model. While it can be annoying at times (during a recent rainstorm, I noticed a sudden epidemic of drivers canceling rides, which I suspect was due to the rapidly rising surge price), it also allows you to be sure that you will be able to get a taxi on New Year’s Eve or during a rainstorm as long as you’re willing to pay extra.

Sadly, no one else loves surge pricing as much as economists do. Instead of getting all excited about the subtle, elegant machinery of price discovery, people get all outraged about “price gouging.” No matter how earnestly economists and their fellow travelers explain that this is irrational madness — that price gouging actually makes everyone better off by ensuring greater supply and allocating the supply to (approximately) those with the greatest demand — the rest of the country continues to view marking up generators after a hurricane, or similar maneuvers, as a pretty serious moral crime.

Megan McArdle, “Uber Makes Economists Sad”, Bloomberg View, 2014-07-09.

May 21, 2015

Jonathan Kay, ebike martyr

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):

City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.

It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.

In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.

Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.

Jonathan Kay - ebike ad

May 10, 2015

QotD: The German love of order

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

In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box, and to regard with contempt the few uncivilised outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges. In course of time every German bird, one is confident, will have his proper place in a full chorus. This promiscuous and desultory warbling of his must, one feels, be irritating to the precise German mind; there is no method in it. The music-loving German will organise him. Some stout bird with a specially well-developed crop will be trained to conduct him, and, instead of wasting himself in a wood at four o’clock in the morning, he will, at the advertised time, sing in a beer garden, accompanied by a piano. Things are drifting that way.

Your German likes nature, but his idea of nature is a glorified Welsh Harp. He takes great interest in his garden. He plants seven rose trees on the north side and seven on the south, and if they do not grow up all the same size and shape it worries him so that he cannot sleep of nights. Every flower he ties to a stick. This interferes with his view of the flower, but he has the satisfaction of knowing it is there, and that it is behaving itself. The lake is lined with zinc, and once a week he takes it up, carries it into the kitchen, and scours it. In the geometrical centre of the grass plot, which is sometimes as large as a tablecloth and is generally railed round, he places a china dog. The Germans are very fond of dogs, but as a rule they prefer them of china. The china dog never digs holes in the lawn to bury bones, and never scatters a flower-bed to the winds with his hind legs. From the German point of view, he is the ideal dog. He stops where you put him, and he is never where you do not want him. You can have him perfect in all points, according to the latest requirements of the Kennel Club; or you can indulge your own fancy and have something unique. You are not, as with other dogs, limited to breed. In china, you can have a blue dog or a pink dog. For a little extra, you can have a double-headed dog.

On a certain fixed date in the autumn the German stakes his flowers and bushes to the earth, and covers them with Chinese matting; and on a certain fixed date in the spring he uncovers them, and stands them up again. If it happens to be an exceptionally fine autumn, or an exceptionally late spring, so much the worse for the unfortunate vegetable. No true German would allow his arrangements to be interfered with by so unruly a thing as the solar system. Unable to regulate the weather, he ignores it.

Among trees, your German’s favourite is the poplar. Other disorderly nations may sing the charms of the rugged oak, the spreading chestnut, or the waving elm. To the German all such, with their wilful, untidy ways, are eyesores. The poplar grows where it is planted, and how it is planted. It has no improper rugged ideas of its own. It does not want to wave or to spread itself. It just grows straight and upright as a German tree should grow; and so gradually the German is rooting out all other trees, and replacing them with poplars.

Your German likes the country, but he prefers it as the lady thought she would the noble savage — more dressed. He likes his walk through the wood — to a restaurant. But the pathway must not be too steep, it must have a brick gutter running down one side of it to drain it, and every twenty yards or so it must have its seat on which he can rest and mop his brow; for your German would no more think of sitting on the grass than would an English bishop dream of rolling down One Tree Hill. He likes his view from the summit of the hill, but he likes to find there a stone tablet telling him what to look at, find a table and bench at which he can sit to partake of the frugal beer and “belegte Semmel” he has been careful to bring with him. If, in addition, he can find a police notice posted on a tree, forbidding him to do something or other, that gives him an extra sense of comfort and security.

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

March 29, 2015

QotD: Writing about scenery

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

Lastly, in this book there will be no scenery. This is not laziness on my part; it is self-control. Nothing is easier to write than scenery; nothing more difficult and unnecessary to read. When Gibbon had to trust to travellers’ tales for a description of the Hellespont, and the Rhine was chiefly familiar to English students through the medium of Caesar’s Commentaries, it behooved every globe-trotter, for whatever distance, to describe to the best of his ability the things that he had seen. Dr. Johnson, familiar with little else than the view down Fleet Street, could read the description of a Yorkshire moor with pleasure and with profit. To a cockney who had never seen higher ground than the Hog’s Back in Surrey, an account of Snowdon must have appeared exciting. But we, or rather the steam-engine and the camera for us, have changed all that. The man who plays tennis every year at the foot of the Matterhorn, and billiards on the summit of the Rigi, does not thank you for an elaborate and painstaking description of the Grampian Hills. To the average man, who has seen a dozen oil paintings, a hundred photographs, a thousand pictures in the illustrated journals, and a couple of panoramas of Niagara, the word-painting of a waterfall is tedious.

An American friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, who loved poetry well enough for its own sake, told me that he had obtained a more correct and more satisfying idea of the Lake district from an eighteenpenny book of photographic views than from all the works of Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth put together. I also remember his saying concerning this subject of scenery in literature, that he would thank an author as much for writing an eloquent description of what he had just had for dinner. But this was in reference to another argument; namely, the proper province of each art. My friend maintained that just as canvas and colour were the wrong mediums for story telling, so word-painting was, at its best, but a clumsy method of conveying impressions that could much better be received through the eye.

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

March 22, 2015

QotD: Conveying useful information

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

I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one to read this book under a misapprehension.

There will be no useful information in this book.

Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his difficulties.

I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte. This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me by experience.

In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day. Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to what should be regarded as affording amusement and what instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to people about to marry — long, earnest advice that would, had they followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a rabbit farm saps the judgment.

We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland, and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other journals.

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

February 1, 2015

QotD: Travellers’ phrase books

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

[George] handed me a small book bound in red cloth. It was a guide to English conversation for the use of German travellers. It commenced “On a Steam-boat,” and terminated “At the Doctor’s”; its longest chapter being devoted to conversation in a railway carriage, among, apparently, a compartment load of quarrelsome and ill-mannered lunatics: “Can you not get further away from me, sir?” — “It is impossible, madam; my neighbour, here, is very stout” — “Shall we not endeavour to arrange our legs?” — “Please have the goodness to keep your elbows down” — “Pray do not inconvenience yourself, madam, if my shoulder is of any accommodation to you,” whether intended to be said sarcastically or not, there was nothing to indicate — “I really must request you to move a little, madam, I can hardly breathe,” the author’s idea being, presumably, that by this time the whole party was mixed up together on the floor. The chapter concluded with the phrase, “Here we are at our destination, God be thanked! (Gott sei dank!)” a pious exclamation, which under the circumstances must have taken the form of a chorus.

At the end of the book was an appendix, giving the German traveller hints concerning the preservation of his health and comfort during his sojourn in English towns, chief among such hints being advice to him to always travel with a supply of disinfectant powder, to always lock his bedroom door at night, and to always carefully count his small change.

“It is not a brilliant publication,” I remarked, handing the book back to George; “it is not a book that personally I would recommend to any German about to visit England; I think it would get him disliked. But I have read books published in London for the use of English travellers abroad every whit as foolish. Some educated idiot, misunderstanding seven languages, would appear to go about writing these books for the misinformation and false guidance of modern Europe.”

“You cannot deny,” said George, “that these books are in large request. They are bought by the thousand, I know. In every town in Europe there must be people going about talking this sort of thing.”

“Maybe,” I replied; “but fortunately nobody understands them. I have noticed, myself, men standing on railway platforms and at street corners reading aloud from such books. Nobody knows what language they are speaking; nobody has the slightest knowledge of what they are saying. This is, perhaps, as well; were they understood they would probably be assaulted.”

George said: “Maybe you are right; my idea is to see what would happen if they were understood. My proposal is to get to London early on Wednesday morning, and spend an hour or two going about and shopping with the aid of this book. There are one or two little things I want — a hat and a pair of bedroom slippers, among other articles. Our boat does not leave Tilbury till twelve, and that just gives us time. I want to try this sort of talk where I can properly judge of its effect. I want to see how the foreigner feels when he is talked to in this way.”

It struck me as a sporting idea. In my enthusiasm I offered to accompany him, and wait outside the shop. I said I thought that Harris would like to be in it, too — or rather outside.

George said that was not quite his scheme. His proposal was that Harris and I should accompany him into the shop. With Harris, who looks formidable, to support him, and myself at the door to call the police if necessary, he said he was willing to adventure the thing.

We walked round to Harris’s, and put the proposal before him. He examined the book, especially the chapters dealing with the purchase of shoes and hats. He said:

“If George talks to any bootmaker or any hatter the things that are put down here, it is not support he will want; it is carrying to the hospital that he will need.”

That made George angry.

“You talk,” said George, “as though I were a foolhardy boy without any sense. I shall select from the more polite and less irritating speeches; the grosser insults I shall avoid.”

This being clearly understood, Harris gave in his adhesion; and our start was fixed for early Wednesday morning.

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

January 23, 2015

QotD: Taxicab cartels

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

Around the world, the government-charted monopolies and cartels that run the taxi business responded with protests and violence to the emergence of technology-empowered competitors such as Uber, which does not undercut traditional taxis on cost — in New York, its drivers earn about three times what a traditional cabbie makes — but is much more convenient for those who do not live or work in areas that are generally well-served by traditional taxis. As in most cities, New York law imposes price uniformity on taxis and long protected them from most competition, with the entirely predictable result that consumers are the worst-served parties in the taxi business. (It does not help matters that, unlike their London counterparts, famously steeped in “the Knowledge,” the typical New York cabbie cannot find the Brooklyn Bridge without GPS or turn-by-turn instructions from the passenger.) The lack of consumer focus has some perverse consequences here in New York: The taxi fleet schedules its shift change from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., meaning that taxis all but vanish from the streets during the hours when they are most needed. The New York Times calls this an “apparent violation of the laws of supply and demand,” which, New York Times geniuses, is exactly what happens when you use regulation to take supply and demand effectively out of the equation. A platform that combined Uber’s on-demand service with Google-style driverless cars would probably put the traditional taxi out of business — assuming that the cartels are not able to use government to strangle innovation in its cradle.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

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