Three Annoying Articles

Bathroom FireBecause I was bored, I spent far too much time over at FARK. As a result, I found three unrelated news items that annoyed me for different reasons. But it just may be my mood. Also: I’m losing my grip on reality. I’m writing this Friday evening, but I know it won’t be published until Monday evening. (That’s right, I’m that far ahead for no particular reason except that business was slow this last week.) Thus, I want to blame this on a bad Monday, but that wouldn’t be accurate. And last (This?) Friday wasn’t any worse than usual.

The first story comes to us from Foodbeast (which has a badly designed website), Why McDonald’s Built a Drive-Thru Exclusively for Cyclists to Bike Through. You would be mistaken if you thought that the article would answer the question of why McDonald’s built a drive-thru exclusively for cyclists to bike through. That is, you would be mistaken, unless you thought that the reason was that it is part of McDonald’s #ImLovinIt24 campaign where “24 cities around the world have been doing random McDonald’s things…” But this is not even what annoys me the most.

This McDonald’s, which is in Copenhagen, has specially designed “bike-friendly boxes” with “McBike” printed on them designed to hang from the handlebars. Have these people never ridden a bike? It is a spectacularly bad idea. First, it will slip and then most likely fall. If it doesn’t, it will swing, hit another part of the bike, slip, and then most likely fall. Or it will rain, the cardboard will tear, and it will definitely fall. Trust me: something will not work. I know.

Baby 12My real question is whether this “bike-thru” will allow walkers. When I was a kid without a car, the fast food places would not serve us on foot. They claimed that it had something to do with their insurance. I’ve never been to Copenhagen, but if it is anything like Davis, then walkers have as much to worry about from bikes as they do from cars. The whole thing makes me wonder why they didn’t just make a “walk-thru.” The bicyclists could still use it. The reason for having a drive-thru is because most drivers are lazy bastards who don’t want to get out of the car. That isn’t an issue on a bike. You are already outside, which you will notice when your “McBike” container splatters all over the ground.

The second story comes to us from Metro (another badly designed website), Baby Born With 12 on His Forehead, What Could It Mean? It’s a UK publication, but God knows where the little brat was born. The intentionally cheeky article mentioned that the parents were from South Africa, but maybe the kid was born in the UK. Who cares, right? I mean the kid has a birthmark in the shape of a “12” on its forehead. Having been told it is a “12,” I see it very clearly. But if I hadn’t been told, I’m sure I would have seen it as a smudge. Or a parrot landing on a tree. Whatever. It’s meaning, however, is clear: slow news day at Metro.

Cheeseburger Ball GagThe third story comes to us from sort of an actual newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. But you wouldn’t know it from this important article, Revealed: the Most Dangerous Time To Be in Your Home. I swear I am not making this up: the most dangerous time to be at home is Saturday at 6:30 pm because that’s when a lot of people are home. Not only that, but people spend that time cooking. Another revelation in the article is that people often hurt themselves while cooking. Apparently, fires are much more common in the kitchen than the bathroom. Also: don’t fix appliances when they are still plugged in. And finally: jumping in front of speeding trains can result in injury or even death.

FARK is a very useful website, but on slow days, it can be horrible. But it does remind me just how many useless websites exist that get lots and lots of traffic. I mean, Foodbeast is quite popular and it features articles like, This Team Is Introducing Mashed Potato Chicken and Waffle Cones, The Cheeseburger Ball Gag Is a Thing That Exists, Here’s What We Know About It, and This Bloody Mary Has an Entire Pizza Slice As a Garnish. Yeah, we’re doomed.

Love Is Blind and Stupid

Aunt Julia and the ScriptwriterBecause the daughter of his brother Robert was as perfect a specimen of young womanhood as Richard was of young manhood: one of those beauties who do honor to the species and who make figures of speech comparing teeth to pearls, eyes to stars, hair to flax, and complexions to peaches and cream sound far too pedestrian. Slender, with dark hair and very white skin, her every movement graceful, even her manner of breathing, she had a tiny face with classic lineaments, and features that appeared to have been designed by an Oriental miniaturist. A year younger than Richard, she had just finished secondary school; her one defect was timidity — so excessive that the organizers of the Miss Peru contest, to their despair, had been unable to persuade her to enter — and everyone, including Dr Quinteros, was at a loss to explain why she was getting married so soon, and above all why she was marrying Red Antúnez. There was no denying that young Antúnez had certain things going for him — his good heart and his good nature, a degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, the fertilizer company he would one day inherit, sereral cups he’d won bicycle racing — but among the innumerable boys of Miraflores and San Isidro who’d courted Elianita and who would have committed murder or robbed a bank to marry her, Red was beyond a doubt the least attractive and (Dr Quinteros was ashamed of allowing himself to harbor such an opinion regarding someone who within a few hours would become his nephew by marriage) the dullest and most dim-witted.

—Mario Vargas Llosa
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

Minimum Wage and the New Borderlands Books

Borderlands BooksBack on the first of February, Alan Beatts announced that he was closing up his store, Borderlands Books. The proximate cause was the recent minimum wage increase in San Francisco. He didn’t see how the business could survive. It’s not hard to understand. Unlike most businesses, book stores can’t raise prices — people will just go to Amazon. And the minimum wage isn’t even the major issue. Borderlands is located in the Mission district, which has been seeing rents go up steadily for the last two decades. It was a sad announcement, but it actually didn’t have much to do with the minimum wage. And indeed, Beatts is a supporter of the new minimum wage.

But when the announcement was made, the conservative world went crazy. The Washington Free Beacon incorrectly reported, San Francisco Bookstore Closing Due to Minimum Wage Increase. No mention was made of the specialized nature of the store — it is a science fiction bookstore — or the macroeconomic forces that are hurting the store. But why would the article mention these things? Conservatives know that the minimum wage always destroys jobs and is just terrible. A bookstore was closing and that was all the “proof” they needed. What to be done? Every conservatives knows that liberal policy always fails.

Apparently, there was something to be done. Even in Beatts’ announcement, he mentioned that they were looking at other alternatives. They were, for example, looking for some way to lower the cost of their rent, which went up 100% in 2000 alone. (That was the result of the dot-com bubble. But of course, after the bubble burst, landlords didn’t lower their rents.) But on 19 February, Beatts announced, An Opportunity for Borderlands to Stay Open. Customers had proposed a sponsorship program. So it came down to this, “Each sponsorship will cost $100 for the year and will need to be renewed every year. If we get 300 sponsors before March 31st, we will stay open for the remainder of 2015.”

How did it go? On 19 March, Beatts posted, Our Sponsors for 2015. The required 300 sponsors was met within 48 hours. As of the time of the post, Borderlands Books had 753 sponsors. It’s an impressive outpouring of support. But it isn’t too surprising. Groups like the science fiction community tend to be self-supporting. This kind of thing is much more likely to happen with a specialty store than with a general one.

It’s important to note that this alone doesn’t counter the conservatives’ criticism. But now that the bookstore is safe, I can say what was always clear: Borderlands Books did not have a viable business model. Even Beatts himself only made $28,000 last year — that’s $14 per hour, assuming he worked full time (and he probably worked more than that). The bookstore clearly was not taking in as much money as it was delivering to the community. For example, the bookstore does a lot of events and provides a place to hang out. The immediate support for the sponsorship program shows that the bookstore was worth more to the community than it had been charging. If the store hadn’t survived in this way, it could have found other ways to monetize its services. In other words: Borderlands Books was never going out of business because of the minimum wage increase.

Under normal circumstances, conservatives would not morn the loss of something like Borderlands Books. It would have just been another bookstore destroyed by more efficient larger bookstores. Creative destruction, am I right?! The fact is that with or without government, workers must earn a living wage. When Walmart employees must depend upon government programs, it is the owners of Walmart and not the workers who are getting welfare from the government. And that applies to the old Borderlands Books to a lesser extent. But now the company is in a better situation — providing fairer compensation for workers and owner.

Obamacare Helped Me and Many Cathy McMorris Rodgers Followers

We Heart ObamacareIn 2008, I stumbled into a hospital emergency very close to death. I don’t much remember the first month I was there and in total, I spent seven months before they finally let me go. Other than some minor but permanent damage to my heart, I appear to be more healthy than I have ever been. I’m also in debt to the tune of about a quarter million dollars — money I will never be able to pay back. For the previous year, my employer had been promising healthcare to the entire staff. It never came. In fact, I checked with an employee a year later and the firm was still not providing healthcare, but still promising to do so.

Today, thanks to Obamacare, I have insurance. I have a serious preexisting condition. It is doubtful that anyone would have sold me insurance in the old system. So things are far better for me now. Of course, I haven’t had cause to use my insurance. But having it provides me with an amazing amount of peace of mind. And I do plan to use it soon. I could use a check-up.

But the Republicans continue to try to destroy Obamacare. It doesn’t matter how many people like me are better off, they hate the law. I don’t think that there is a better example of villainy in politics. Just the same, I’m pretty sure these politicians actually believe that Obamacare is the spawn of Satan. The modern Republican Party comes out of that John Birch Society tradition that just knows that this is communism and that therefore it can’t work. Damn the facts; they have ideological certainty!

A good example of this comes via Matt Yglesias last week, A House GOP Leader Asked for Obamacare Horror Stories. Instead, She Got Love Letters. The GOP leader was Representative and late model Stepford wife Cathy McMorris Rodgers. On Facebook, she wrote, “This week marks the 5th anniversary of #Obamacare being signed into law. Whether it’s turned your tax filing into a nightmare, you’re facing skyrocketing premiums, or your employer has reduced your work hours, I want to hear about it.” Not even any faux objectivity. What happened next was entirely predictable. As Yglesias noted, “As many brands have discovered, opening yourself up to this kind of dialogue is basically an open invitation to get trolled.”

But mostly she didn’t get trolled. She just got a huge number of responses from people like me who like Obamacare. But there was also stuff like this from Matthew Root:

Employee insurance premiums for my small business were up only 6% this year. That is the smallest increase in the 16 years I have been in business. The ACA has been very good to my employees and has contained costs for my business. Please stop trying to take people’s insurance away by repealing the ACA…

That’s one thing that is really interesting about Obamacare: it is good for business. One of the big problems that manufacturers have is that many of the companies they compete against don’t have to provide their employees with healthcare because their governments do it. Obamacare is about the most free market solution to the problem imaginable. But because it raised taxes on the rich, the Republicans just can’t abide it. That and the fact that a Democrat with cooties got it passed.

I think we should stop thinking of the Republican Party as being pro-business. It really isn’t. It is pro-rich. It is interested in making sure that the lives of the rich are as good as possible. And that’s fine. But people shouldn’t vote for the Republican Party because they think it will help business and the economy. All indications are that it just pushes money from the poor to the rich and this has the ultimate effect of weakening the economy. Certainly destroying Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare would devastate the economy — in addition to causing great direct harm to the non-rich. But if that is what the American people want to vote for, fine. Let’s just make sure that they understand that that is what they are voting for when they vote Republican.

In the mean time, millions more people have health insurance than they did before. I’m one of them. But if you want more evidence, Cathy McMorris Rodgers set up this great webpage where people tell their own stories…

Morning Music: Gang of Four

Entertainment! - Gang of FourOne of my favorite albums ever is Gang of Four’s first album, Entertainment! It holds up as well today as it ever did. Musically, it is hard to beat the driving rhythms of that tight-knit trio. You don’t need anything more than guitar, bass, and drums. And as I’ve discussed, the synthesizer destroyed a lot of music from that period, so in a sense, Gang of Four was lucky.

The other side of Gang of Four was the explicitly Marxist lyrics of Jon King. But more than that, there is an explicit rejection of common pop music tropes, such as the long song. But the main thing about the band was that they really didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard. Since then, of course, there is Red Hot Chili Peppers, which has always sounded to me like a pretty direct ripoff of the band. (Not that they aren’t great.)

Gang of Four is still performing. Kind of. There is only one remaining member — the amazing guitarist, Andy Gill. The music is good (I just listened to their/his latest album). But it isn’t like the old stuff. For one thing, it isn’t political like it used to be. I think if Jon King isn’t in the band, you really can’t call it Gang of Four.

Here is the band at the time performing “To Hell With Poverty” off that first album:

Birthday Post: Jeopardy!

Jeopardy!The game show Jeopardy! is 51 years old today. But it hasn’t been on all that time. It started on NBC and ran from 1964 through 1979, with a two year absence from 1976 through 1978. During that period, it was hosted by Art Fleming. Then, after four years off the air, it was brought back in syndication with the new host Alex Trebek. It was created by Merv Griffin, who created pretty every “normal” game show you can think of. (All right, that’s a vast exaggeration.)

When I was a kid, I loved game shows. But I hated Jeopardy! There are good reasons for that. Now I kind of like it because I’m good at it. But it is just a quiz show. Providing the questions for the answers is very slightly clever. But it is designed this way simply to hide the fact that it is a boring quiz show. Eight year old Frank was no fool.

I’ve written three articles about the show. The first was simply, Jeopardy! In it, I explained why I would never try out for the show. Short answer: the up side is not compensation enough for the potential that I would humiliate myself. The second article was, “Power Players” on Jeopardy! Out of Touch. I was shocked that media figures were so ignorant and I commented on how the questions were easier for these elites than they are for normal contestants. And the last one was my finally getting around to answering a question that has been on my mind for years, Maximum Possible Win on Jeopardy! How much money could you walk away with on a single episode if you got every question right and maximized the “daily doubles”? $566,400. But the most anyone has ever won on a single episode is only $77,000. Only ten people have ever made more than $50,000.

Happy birthday Jeopardy!