November 06, 2007

The Glass Is Bigger

Some time back, I posted some price comparisons from the 1980 Sears catalog as evidence that capitalism is not immiserating the working class. I ended the post with an offer to scan some images from that catalog. Today, via a link from Tam, I found a similar collection, proving beyond debate that people truly are better off today thanks to free market capitalism.

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October 30, 2007

Do The Math

Chicago police made a large drug seizure recently which, conveniently for the headline writers, just happened to have a street value of one million dollars. It is worth looking at how they reached that number. Two summers ago I got one gram of high grade cocaine from Chicago for $50. Seven thousand such would total $350,000, leaving $650,000 to cover 43 pounds of marijuana. This works out to $945 an ounce; unlikely even selling eighths to suburban kids. More likely, the assigned value includes the assumption that the cocaine would be stepped on. This is not unusual. The street value for the cocaine DeLorean was set up with was based on retail sale at 30% purity (probably not unrealistic at that time).

The problem with these sorts of "street value" estimates is that unless the individual arrested is the active manager of a multi-level network marketing pyramid, he had nothing to do with the thousands of individual transactions on which they are based, and would only have seen a fraction of that money. Such estimates, similar to valuing a bolt of fabric as fashionable clothing, enhance the image of the police, assuring continued approval of their funding and their actions. They also enhance the image of drug dealers, assuring the police that there will be more for them to arrest.


I just got a market report form Kansas City. Commercial grade marijuana can be had there for $650 a pound, 25 pounds for $10,000. I have no idea what the markup is for transport to Chicago, let alone what the high end stuff from the West Coast goes for, but these numbers give an order of magnitude feel for the level of inflation in the police "street value" report.

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October 20, 2007

Product Placement

This month, many major corporations are participating in a promotional event wherein they use the color pink to tie awareness of their product to awareness of breast cancer. Notably, Campbell's Soup has redone an entire can label in pink. For some reason they chose to do this with chicken noodle soup, a product with no connection to the disease in question. I would have gone with one of their cream soups, most likely cream of mushroom.

What will be really interesting will be what commercial products are promoted in the context of prostate cancer awareness.

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August 05, 2007

You've Been Missing Out

I would guess that most of my local readers have driven past Baylor's Melon Shop at Capital and 2tonia many times without stopping. Fact is that you could probably do as well buying watermelons elsewhere. There's been a bumper crop this year and we've bought quite a few from various vendors, but they range from awesome to anemic.

The reason you need to stop at Baylor's is for the peanuts. They roast them right there, and once you get close the aroma is irresistible. If it reached the street the EPA would be on them for obstructing traffic. One Warning. Do not open the bag until you get home or you will make a mess of the car. These are very simply the best peanuts I've ever tasted. The texture is perfect - they crunch, turn chewy and melt away. all in three bites. The red skin is mild and delicate. Those boors who eat 'em shell and all will no doubt appreciate the quality of the shells too.

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June 26, 2007

Unstall The Install

When I bought the station wagon a year and a half ago, I also bought an MP3-enabled CD player to replace the AM-FM radio. The time to get it put in has arrived.

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June 25, 2007

Outrage Found

I have commented in the past about the lack of coverage when gasoline prices fall. For the first time I have encountered a national media figure who wants the ungouging investigated.

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June 14, 2007

Quote For The Day

The young will marry and somehow will live, even in these times, but how in the world will they manage just now, especially in this great city of New York, is matter for anxious thought for people concerned about their welfare. Housing costs so much. Food is still so dear. Servants, if they have any, are so expensive.
This is from another book by Edward S. Martin, "What's Ahead and Meanwhile", published in 1927. My wee wifey and I are far from just starting out, and yet in today's economy we found that we couldn't afford to stay in a house with servant quarters even without any servants quartered there. Hard times indeed.
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June 01, 2007


We do not live in the same real estate market as the housing bubble blogger. That may be why one week after we listed our big house for sale, following the agent's recommendation that we list for 20% over the price we were willing to accept, we have a written offer of 14% over the listing price.

With more money coming in, and a contract to have the house ready for occupancy in three weeks, I am eager to deal on the items for which I have previously posted advertisements. In particular, I do not want to have to haul that big industrial-grade bandsaw, which could be converted for wood or metal, to the dump. I invite you all to review the listings, and make me offers. Since I do not want to refuse them, they will be considered reasonable.

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May 24, 2007

Collector Cruft

Yet more stuff I am seeking to unload. I'll accept a collector's pittance, if not a dealer's pittance. Note that several of the items on my three previous listings are also possible collector items. One item has already been sold. Act now, before everything else is.

Vintage Cameras: An accumulation of viewfinder 35s and roll film cameras, all from the days of metal bodies and glass lenses.

Vintage Monopoly Game: Complete. Game pieces etc. in a black box with text label smaller than the playing board.

Chinese Vase: Big. Ugly. Fake. Plaster. Painted with dragons.

Men's Magazines: Two milk crates full. Mostly "lad" mags like Maxim. A few Playboys and Playboy photo specials.

Tank Manual: TM 9-2350-215-20 Organizational Maintenance Manual
Tank, Combat, Full Tracked: 105-MM Gun, M60A1 (2350-756-8497) and
Tank, Combat, Full Tracked: 105-MM Gun, M60 (2350-678-5773)

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May 17, 2007


A third batch of objects available to my Milwaukee readers, surplus to continuing operations. Except as noted any and all offers will be deemed reasonable, and except as noted, delivery is available for further pittance.

Extension Ladder - SOLD Werner D6128-2 Fiberglass. Maximum working length 25 feet. Also a pair of ladder leveler legs I wound up not needing to install. Significant delivery charge if I have to strap this to the roof of my Toyota.

Digital Piano: Roland HP-100 disassembled to clean the keyswitches (and I have all the pieces), which is an effective repair if you have the patience. Otherwise a functional MIDI output device.

Marquette Computer: One backplane and two sets of cards, including extender boards, 68000 based, missing some socketed chips.

Channelbind Press: Great way to present your documents if you have a source for the channels. Complete with cloth carrying case.


Just happened upon a discussion recommending one of the items in my first cruft list.

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May 10, 2007


More assorted objects available to my Milwaukee readers, surplus to continuing operations. Except as noted any and all offers will be deemed reasonable, and except as noted, delivery is available for further pittance.

Air Circulator: A big (about 1 meter diameter) Patton electric fan. Used one summer, then stored. Cannot deliver, $45.00 OBO.

Assorted Old Radios: An old military radio, I've heard it called a "Jeep" radio, seperate reciever and transmitter in a case about the size of a milk crate. Two Philco floor models, in rough shape. One very old Crossley "experimenter's" radio, in good shape but requires batteries at various voltages to operate. Will separate.

Mouse Motor: Chevy smallblock V8, reportedly 400 c.i., came to us disassembled but complete. Probably best used as core for exchange.

Coffee Table: Actually a metal framed industrial pallet. Perfect for that high tech look that was trendy some time back.

Doll House: Wood, two story, handyman's special.

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May 04, 2007

Read My Lips

All new taxes will be labeled as fees.

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April 28, 2007


In the context of moving to half as big a house, I have assorted objects to unload upon my Milwaukee readers, surplus to continuing operations. Except as noted any and all offers will be deemed reasonable, and except as noted, delivery is available for further pittance.

S100 Computer System: Suitable for restraining a small watercraft or running vintage software in conjunction with a video terminal. For the latter function, it features 5-1/4" floppy and Winchester drives.

Ultimate Apple Collectable: Offered as a museum piece only, this metal cased Apple][ clone violates patent and copyright.

Trash80 Model 1: Keyboard console and monitor. No cables, no power supply.

Decor Item: Three trashbags full of vintage steel-bodied beer cans with aluminum pull-tab tops. Sorry, no tabs. Mostly PBR, some Hamms.

Lionel Stuff: Track, freight cars, steam loco, and transformer. Mostly O-27 except for a Spirit of '76 Maryland boxcar. Would like to trade for HO or N gauge 4 or 6 axle switchers, especially the Docksider in N.

Band Saw: Upright, industrial size cast frame, made for butcher use. No table, untested because the installed motor is 220V, but I reckon it's worth $125.00 to someone prepared to rebuild it. Cannot deliver.

More to follow.

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April 21, 2007

Ditty For The Day

To market, to market,
To spend dead presidents.
Jiggety jiggety
Back to the residence.

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April 10, 2007

Idled By Idol

I've got a brief contract, three nights over this week and the next, drive team project coordinator, verifying that a cellular network upgrade comes up correctly. This evening's operations will start later than originally scheduled, because allowance must be made for the measurable cellular traffic surge generated by American Idol.

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March 13, 2007

Happens Every Time

Actually it doesn't and it doesn't bother me that much when it does, but I do tend to notice it.

With my current driving pattern, I go thru three quarters of a tank of gas in about two weeks. We went out for a spin in the spring air this afternoon so I filled up before we did so, at $2.499. This price had just hit over the weekend, and even Dave's on Lisbon was no lower. By the time we got back into town, the new price was $2.439. Sest luh vay.

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February 01, 2007

Good News For Milwaukee

It doesn't look like the Spammobile is scheduled to make an appearance here any time soon.

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January 23, 2007

Not My Problem

Banks have started treating identity theft as a business opportunity. This is exactly the wrong approach. Identity theft is a crime against the person whose identity was stolen, and any debt which results is a fraudulent debt. When the law starts treating anyone who attempts to collect such a debt as an accessory to fraud, banks will start finding ways to to solve the problem.

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January 07, 2007

Locksley We Roll Along

I just happened upon an issue of the Congressional Quarterly Weekly (a non sequitur publication on the order of the monthly Australian Women's Weekly) from last October. In it there is an article regarding John Edwards' efforts in the name of the poor which suggests that Democrats are wary of being labeled as "big government Robin Hoods". This label perpetuates a popular misconception of what Robin and his band of merry men were all about. It happens to be true that in the economy of his time, taking from the tax collector and giving to the productive was synonymous with taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but in no way does taxing the productive to subsidize poverty equate with their actions.

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December 23, 2006

Not The Ultimate Rat Bike

It has enough rattiness; what it lacks is rattitude. I would hazard a guess that it was built this way to fulfill an obligation to steward the Earth.

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November 09, 2006

Who Would Benefit?

In the comments to a post by Owen, Scott is spouting the usual drivel about tax cuts which benefit "those who need them the least". I don't know if Scott understands simple arithmetic, but if you apply a tax cut evenly across the board, those who pay the largest amount in taxes will retain the largest amount in savings.

The sort of redistributionist tax policy Scott would like to see scares me as much as the possibility that the new Democratic majority will push thru more victim disarmament legislation. For the past six years I have made my living doing contract work on development projects financed by capital investment. A tax policy which makes it less profitable to invest in such projects means less work or lower wages for me. There is no reduction in my own taxes which would be better for me than properly implemented tax cuts for "the rich".

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October 31, 2006

Dem Bums

Dennis York mocks candidate John Lehman for vowing to go after "corporate tax dodgers." The real question, however, is how corporations can dodge taxes when it isn't the corporations which pay taxes.

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October 13, 2006

Real Economists

I've made it clear on occasion, while commenting on economic issues, that I have not studied the dismal science, but base my opinions on my observations while participating in the economy. I am therefore flattered to learn that Russell Roberts, PhD, Professor of Economics Communication at George Mason University, considers me to be a Real Economist.

I believe, based upon my real-world observations that:
1. Demand slopes downward--people do less of something when it gets more expensive
2. Prices respond to market forces
3. Motives and intentions do not matter. Results and actions do.

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October 11, 2006

Markets In Everything

Now they need to come out with an interchangeable standard trigger and safety assembly.

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October 10, 2006

Difference Found

My son is fascinated by competitive advantage. He likes to tell the story heard while hanging out in North Carolina about the NASCAR crew chief who had his entire team spend the off season working out at the gym. The following year all the teams were doing it.

Here's a report of a competitive advantage which somehow remained overlooked for decades, even tho it was evident in the most analyzed body of statistics in the United States.

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October 02, 2006


We are no closer now than we were when the notion was first promulgated to the development of the paperless office. I can, however, attest to the emergence of the paperclipless office.

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October 01, 2006


When making up signs to advertise your rummage sale (or yard, tag or garage sale as applies in your local dialect) do not bother describing it as "huge". This word has been used too many times to mean "a couple of tables with some stuff on them". Similarly, be more specific than "multi-family" or I will take it to mean "a couple of things are being sold on behalf of my sister-in-law".

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September 23, 2006

Mortgage Matters

One of the great strengths of the blogosphere is that we are not professional journalists. As a result one or another of us is going to be a professional in any field to become a subject of discussion. In the case of the recent allegation that mortgage approval decisions were being influenced by consideration of race, Casper is able to present an informed rebuttal. Similar charges have been raised before. Some years back Mazda's auto loan policies were called into question, and they were able to document that the difference in car loan interest rates paid by minority buyers which couldn't be explained by credit scores could be explained by relative negotioating skill. Those who are concerned about people's ability to get affordable credit would do better to educate would-be borrowers rather than criticize lenders.

My real purpose in posting about credit was something else entirely. I recently received a mortgage company's advertising video from the one person who persists in forwarding everything which hits his inbox to me. I want to share it, and had no trouble finding it at Youtube.

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September 10, 2006

It's Happening Again

I can't complain about a lack of outrage this time, because the upswing didn't provoke as much, but it certainly is suspicious how little coverage the downswing is getting.

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September 08, 2006

Deck Heck

I was greatly concerned when I heard about the major recall of brand name laptop computers (the corporate brand, not the addictive one) because I spend up to eight hours a day with one on my lap. Given how uncomfortably hot they get, I very much want to believe the client's IT guy when he tells me that the particular model we are using is not at risk of catching fire.

The fact is that the so-called laptop computer is not really intended for laptop use. In the years I've worked with them I have encountered several display failures resultant from the flexing which results from the screen swinging back and forth, and more than one hard drive failure which had to be cumulative because they never took serious shocks. On this job the biggest problem I've had, other than continuous discomfort, is printer port failure. After ten weeks, I am on my third computer because the test hardware with which the computer communicates gives the port more of a workout than an occasional spreadsheet would, and it simply can't take it. The manufacturer of the test gear reports that they hear of this often with these top-name laptops. I'm not sure what the solution is. Industrially hardened portable computers would be overkill, both in cost and in load on my knees, and it will take more complaints than blue-collar users such as myself can generate to get the manufacturers to toughen up the mainstream product.

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September 07, 2006


There is a movement afoot to boycott Miller beer because of a recent corporate sponsorship. Glenn suggests that the best way to do this is to support your local brewery. Miller is my local brewery; a few years back I used to walk thru Miller Valley on my way to work.

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August 31, 2006

Quote For The Day

"It's sometimes called 'population thinking,' Kennesaw. A pity you never learned to apply those methods. Instead, you made the classic mistake of categorizing people into abstract types instead of recognizing their concrete variations."
Anton Zilwicki, speaking to the genetic superman he is about to crush, in Eric Flint's Honorverse story From The Highlands. It also applies to people who base claims of immiseration on the near-stagnation of the median income, ignoring the fact that any individual's situation changes over time, more often than not for the better. Optimistic fanboy that I am, I take the fact that the median, a statistical artifact, is holding steady while the rich get richer, means that large numbers of people are finding employment, at the low-paying entry level where they start, and have every confidence that those who apply themselves will move up as I have.


Here's some simple math supportive of my assertion that the "stagnant" median is not bad news.

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It's Not Just Wal-Mart

Don Boudreaux posted an excerpt from a report on a study which found that the arrival of a Wal-Mart can benefit the overall economy of a community. Among the supportive evidence offered by commenters is a description of how the Safeway which had been the only grocery in his town improved their quality and service when faced with competition. Part of the store's focus has been at the high end, where it is easy to compete with the big box.

When Jewel, part of the national Albertson grocery chain, entered the Milwaukee market, the usual suspects raised the same sort of objections Wal-Mart generates, but in fact Jewel's arrival produced the same positive results. The little mom & pop groceries which serve a walk-in trade appear uneffected. The groceries driven out were the Kohls (a different corporation than the department stores; now strictly wholesale). Their most profitable stores had reportedly been the ones in the black community, like the one near my house where we shopped only in an emergency, having found, despite the dim lighting, mouldy bread, squishy fruit, and past-date dairy products. The black-owned Lena's grocery chain has acquired a couple of former Kohls locations. By focusing on a narrow selection they are able to be quite price-competitive on what they sell (we buy most of our meat there; once you note that it is never brine cut it is a much better deal). They have also acquired a fleet of mini-vans and provide free rides home with a $40 purchase, thus making them more of a threat to the corner stores than the big boys are. Hopefully they are doing well enough to expand into that Kohlspace down the street from us now that the discount mall that opened there has folded. I haven't tracked El Rey's success as closely, but their stores serving the south side's Hispanic community has clearly survived big bad Jewel's entry into the market.

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August 17, 2006

Math Question

What do yoou get as a total if you add ne plus ultra?

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August 01, 2006


When I got to the end of my street this morning and was waiting for the light to change, my attention was caught by an unusual 18 wheeler coming up to my left. The tractor was a recent long-distance model, with a unified cab, sleeper and air deflector, and it was painted a solid luxury car metallic, with the truck line's name (a supply chain MBA sort of thing) and ICC required data on the door in a light sans serif face. The trailer was solid white with only the truck line's initials and a tracking number showing.

The understated information conveyed information to me, and I was not surprised to see that the truck was going to Harley Davidson. It is possible that this approach discourages the impulse thief, but I would expect that the professionals know just how valuable that load of specialty cargo was.

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July 16, 2006

100% Of Nothing

Venomous Kate put it perfectly when she linked the story in one of her asides:

Yet another Sony proprietary tech looks ready to bite the dust. Will they ever learn?
One of the commenters to the core story noted that Sony had already made this mistake 15 times. I hadn't been aware of most of them, but the saga of Beta in the home videotape should have been enough to teach them the lesson. The Beta recording format has significant technical strengths compared to VHS (I know film buffs who cling to it and it is still used on different tape for professional applications) and could have ruled the market if sold correctly. The Sony Corporation could have had 30% of the market for their own and a pittance of royalty from the rest. Instead they are currently keeping all of the profits from the sale of no Beta home video products.

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December 09, 2005

Laffering All The Way...

The relationship between tax rates and tax revenues commonly referred to as the Laffer curve could be more correctly graphed as a surface. There are several possibilities for the other axis; mobility of taxpayers suits my worldview. In any case, the graph noted by TaxProf appears to depict the effective location of a region of that surface.

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December 05, 2005

The Kringle Ploy

Here is a businessman who understands the difference between "competing with" and "competing against".

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December 03, 2005

Boom And Gloom

The ongoing effort to conceal the success of the United States economy has been getting attention lately in the blogosphere. Bizzyblog reports on a survey which shows that Americans tend to think we are worse off than we actually are. Even more interestingly, he notes in the comments that those surveyed think we are worse off than their own crcumstances would indicate, proof that the nattering nabobs of negativity are having their intended effect.

Professor Althouse finds the effort to cast positive news as negative to be comedic. Several of her commenters strive to find bad news, and go off in odd directions to do so. One insists that the obsolete establishment survey is the only source for employment data. I have, in the past, asserted that over the past 55 years the income, first my father's and then my own, which has supported me has never come from a job which would show up in that survey. I need to correct that slightly. For a few months 33 years ago I was a direct employee of a tiny little branch of the Teledyne conglomerate. Interestingly, there is now zero market for that particular work.

Another seeker of emmiseration commenting there insists that inflation is being understated by means of "substituting hamburger for steak". I am not as extreme as one man I worked with who told his wife he would divorce her the next time she served him steak instead of chipped creamed beef, but I've never seen the point in paying more for meat when they don't even grind it for you. I am pleased to report, for those who need to grind their own meat, that altho in the 1980 Sears catalog a heavy duty electric meat grinder cost $399, they now list a similar one for half that price, and until tomorrow Farm & Fleet has a lighter-duty one marked down from $79 to $49. Other than energy and land, both determined by supply, the only thing on which I've seen prices climbing is automobiles, and you have to consider the fact that today's cars are not only far more regulated but also far better.

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December 01, 2005


Karl Marx's notion that capitalism emmiserates the working class is the basis of the argument for Communism. The more workers become better off under capitalism, the more desperately its foes try to convince them they are in fact miserable. One of their tools is envy - it doesn't matter how much better off you are, the lot of the people at the top is improving faster, and that is supposed to mean you are somehow suffering, tho I've never figured out how. Another of their tools is the magic word inflation. Merely invoking it is supposed to prove people are worse off than they were, which would be true if in fact the cost of living were going up faster than incomes.

I was digging out the basement of the you know house today; the wee wifey expects us to actually be living there within a month. In one of the torn cartons of left-behind junk I happened upon a Sears catalog from the spring of 1980. Comparing prices from then to now makes for an interesting look as to whether today's consumers are actually well off.

Everyone knows about the massive improvement in computer power, but we tend to forget that the thousand dollar home computer of 1980 did not come bundled with all the peripherals. The printer was another $599, and printed 40 characters across on cash register roll paper. The external disc drive was a big improvement over the bundled tape deck, but it was single sided, single density, and cost $749. The same factors which make these prices so extreme also impacted other electronic products. The VCRs Sears offered then used the technically superior Beta format, but the base model was $735 and the deluxe was $985. They offered TV cameras you could attach to the VCR to "create your own home movies", black and white for $297.50, color for $799.95, and color zoom, with a black and white electronic viewfinder for $1145. I've never shopped for a camcorder, but my understanding is that these sort of prices would pay for serious professional gear today. Semiconductor technology has even brought down the cost of flourescent lighting. In 1980, a 20 watt screw-in ring light cost $12.98; right now a 20 watt compact flourescent (marketed as equal to a 75 watt incandescent) is one buck at Ace after in-store rebate. It's hard to compare car stereos, since none in 1980 were able to play MP3s off a CD-R/W or USB memory stick like the one I just got for $109, but even the $239 cassette players can't match the digital tuning capability or power output.

Even more significant are price comparisons on items not influenced by Moore's Law. Right now Aldi's is offering a sewing machine and a blender which are roughly comparable to the cheapest ones Sears offered in 1980, for just about the same price. Because of the season, right now Sears themselves are closing lawn tractors which, with what were options now included, are half what the same function would have cost. Today's high end bicycles hadn't been developed back then, but basic kid's bikes have come down in price. Steel-belted radials, on which Sears was an early market leader, haven't quite held steady on pricing, but a 44,000 mile warranty wouldn't cut it for a premium tire today. Blue jeans were less expensive then, even with all the extra fabric they had below the knee, but not by that much, running $12 to $15 a pair for their private label brands, and men's cotton briefs, at $4.95 for a 3-pack were more than I pay now.

It is actually quite easy to make the case that consumers are better off today, even if wages at the median aren't going up as fast as those at the top. If the numbers I've cited aren't enough to prove this, let me know and I'll scan and post images of the Whimsical Frog Family Coordinates for your kitchen and the Shirts and Shorts for Contemporary Guys.

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November 26, 2005

Aiding And Abetting

Wisconsin has a long tradition of Socialism. Rural grange socialism and urban "sewer socialism" held to the simplistic notion that "labor creates all wealth" but there was an understanding that commerce and industry were the framework in which this wealth was created.

This is not the case with today's Wisconsin leftists. Madison is a college town, but it is also the state capitol, so the townies aren't far behind the students. Nowhere else would I have seen a bumpersticker as unparseable as "Fight Poverty, Not War". The local attitude toward business is evident in the implementation of the local smoking ban, with the mayor and council totally unconcerned about the financial impact upon local employers. Hopefully their heads will explode when they learn that they have in fact been tools of corporate greed.

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November 11, 2005

Still It Continues

The price of gasoline in Milwaukee is now fully 9% lower than when I began posting about the ongoing decrease. It has fallen now to two thirds the peak price I saw before Katrina damage to the petroleum infrastructure had been assessed. The major media, which was all over the shift in the other direction, continues to ignore the drop.

Dean has pointed out an article which reveals that the coverup actually extends beyond the price of gasoline. A commenter to my previous post on this subject has a theory as to what the coverup is about; the fact that the invisible hand of the marketplace is doing just what the capitalists claim it will.


Link corrected in response to comment.

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November 07, 2005

No End In Sight

In the week and a half since I noted the lack of outrage, the price has plummeted another six percent. The news media continues to ignore the story. Who is behind the coverup, and what are they trying to hide?

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July 19, 2005


Back in our younger days, we were, for a considerable stretch of time, broke. Seriously broke. I remember when the deposit on glass pop bottles went from five cents to ten cents. We had about ten six packs we hadn't brought back. That sudden extra three dollars was squander money. Some time later we once asked the phone company to turn off our service for a couple months because we knew if we waited to be cut off for non-payment we'd face an extra service charge to get turned back on.

We were never as broke as Velociman has been, but I have made the same statement he has. We have never been poor.

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July 09, 2005

Big Mistake

A cashier at a Milwaukee Home Depot made a minor mistake, and failed to ring up one item on a customer's cart, the customer having stepped away to deal with a cracked piece of molding he had selected. When he wheeled his purchase out of the store, the alarm buzzer went off, but the cashier assured him everything was okay. It wasn't; store security determined that he had shoplifted the item, and the manager on duty insisted on pressing charges. Evidently whoever made that decision was so out of touch as to not realize that nowadays the news gets around.

The people at the rival Lowes chain of home improvement stores who made the decision to enter the Milwaukee market this year must be thrilled.

Posted by triticale at 03:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

Me Three

It appears to be the official blogosphere Complain About Obtrusive Questions At The Checkout Counter Week. The Vodkapundit has a discussion of what noted shopper James Lileks has to say on the subject, and Kim du Toit (whose professional background is in in Customer Loyalty Marketing; he has the personality for it) has a discussion of what the Geek With A .45 wrote about it. It all centers around Best Buy, and the comment threads contain more complaints aboout them, but they are merely the worst of a bad lot. I encounter such an intense "we exist solely to collect your money for corporate" vibe when browsing there that I have no tales of interacting with their cashiers, but I certainly run into the same issue elsewhere.

Like the dozens of people who have commented in these threads, I do not choose to provide information which is not relevant to the transaction. When grocery stores in Chicago first started asking for Zip codes, I tried responding with the postal code for an industrial suburb of Toronto (no, I no longer remember it), but the cashiers were unable to input it and got all flustered. I then started telling them I don't have one. Most just input something (probably the local one) and the ones who insisted I had to got the paranoid paleocon rant about an unconstitutional Federal District scheme. Since we moved to Milwaukee I simply give the old Chicago one. The Zip code question is purely demographic; if mine identified me as inner city but didn't include downtown I would provide it proudly. Data specific to me as an individual they simply do not need and do not get.

I recently bought a replacement processor fan for the wee wifey's computer from a local white-box chain. The geek at the counter asked me if I had bought from them before. I hit him with a bit of my lack of gruntle over earlier events of the day. "Yes I have, not that it matters. I'm paying cash for something not worth coming back with when it fails." He didn't get it, and asked for my name. "Cash." He understood that enough to go ahead and enter the sale that way. He still insisted on telling me to have a nice day, and got a response somewhat more hostile than my usual "Oh, OK."

Another stupid question I get at the checkout quite often is "Did you find everything you are looking for?" Answers range from "No, thank G-d" to "Once I do I'll never come back." Some actually get it.

One thing which doesn't set me off is the customer loyalty card, as long as it is free. Barnes and Noble want's $25 for theirs, and then gives back ten percent. I simply keep my purchases there under $250 per year so as to come out ahead on the relationship. There are anti-card activists who insist that you don't save money using the regular grocery cards. They are so tied to this notion that my documentation of comparison shopping was rejected as erroneous. They also seem to believe that these cards are part of the same Big Brother operation wherein some clerk is analyzing why we have Mennonite and Christmas cookbooks and a book on the massacre of the Nepalese royal family checked out of the library right now. They are either getting obsolete information (only one Jewel checker had ever seen my 30 year old card before; it isn't even in their training literature) or the information for the people who dropped cards in the parking lot, which doesn't much matter because I really doubt they track that closely.

Posted by triticale at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2005

Stern's Gallery of Stereotypes

David's Mediankritik is a German blog specialising in German media coverage of the United States, and this time they have found for us a masterpiece. Leading German news magazine Stern ran a photo essay depicting the USA as a divided land.

The only black face in the collection is of a prison lifer. There is no discussion of why he's behind bars. He could be a victim of past injustice or a heartless vicious murderer. If they had come to Milwaukee I could have introduced them to the owners of a grocery chain who would have been glad to pose for them. The only Latinos they depict are working a hard and dangerous job, but there is no mention of what kind of wages they are earning. If they had come to Milwaukee I could have put them in touch with the owners of a grocery chain who would have been glad to pose for them. I don't do as much shopping at El Rey's as I do at Lena's but I think it worth mentioning that the one bank officer who was willing to take a chance lending startup money for the city's first Mexican grocery is now a senior vice president largely because of the business the community brings to the North Shore bank.

The picture I found to be most stereotypical is the one of Snailtrail and Usnea. If there is one place in the country where you could count on finding anarchist vagabonds without checking the calender, it is Garberville, California. I would love to get a look at those kids' teeth. Emrack tells me that is the sure way to spot the trustifarians, who make up about thirty percent of the scene.

I'd have been glad to pose for them too. Elbow-length hair, business casual attire, live in the inner city in an integrated neighborhood, own far fewer than 75 guns but will be buying more, voted for Bush but don't always agree with him. I could pose in one of the parlors of our 100 year old home, with the hardwood paneling and molded plaster trim, and give them a pithy quote about the time we had to choose between our phone bill and our mortgage payment, but somehow I don't think they'd be interested.

Posted by triticale at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2005


Professor Bainbridge links to some fascinating data graphed by the pollster Zogby which shows that across all sorts of demographics (the Professor is particularly interested in how it graphs among the traditionally Democratic) people who self-identify as investors are more likely to vote Republican. The numbers are striking, and will bear watching over the upcoming interesting times.

When you compare how people behave with how they identify themselves, you run into a chicken and egg problem. It could be that people who are inclined to vote Republican are more inclined, as a consequence of their worldview to invest, or even just more inclined to think of their holdings as investments and themselves as investors. Conversely, it could be that rising home values are causing people who bought simply for secure shelter to think of themselves as investors, and to look at things as Republicans do. If we are in fact in a housing bubble (which I doubt) this latter effect may be fragile.

Regardless of the cause of this shift, the Democrats must respond to it if they are to retain political significance. They can either discourage people from thinking of themselves as investors, which may be what the Social Security battle is all about, or they can change their platform so as to be more attractive to investors. This will mean abandoning the class warfare position so attractive to the leaders of organized labor (if not their members) and to the activists who see themselves as the new core of the Party, and will require a considerable intra-party power struggle. Hillary Clinton has done a pretty good job of presenting herself as moving to the center, but I really don't see her campaigning on her own record as an investor.

Posted by triticale at 11:42 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2005

Corporate Welfare

Owen has a post on how a Wisconsin politician is telling the farmers he did it all for them. The rest of us are told fuel ethanol is for the environment (it isn't) and thus for us. In actuality the benificiary of fuel ethanol is the huge agribusinesses who process it amd spend some of the proceeds on campaign contributions.

There is a lesson here for others in government. Let us imagine for the sake of discussion that you are one of the people holding the reins, and want to transfer taxpayer dollars to a company whose core competancy is in engineering services to the oil industry. There are those who would suggest that the way to do this is to take advantage of a contracting procedure established by the previous administration, and spend billions of dollars liberating millions of people as an excuse to grant said company contracts on which they make a predetermined moderate profit. Not only would this be politically risky, it is also inefficient. If people in government wanted to transfer taxpayer dollars to a company whose core competancy is in engineering services to the oil industry all they would have needed to do is set up a bogus "alternative energy" program similar to fuel ethanol whereby extraction of shale oil is made price competitive at taxpayer expense. The voters would love it.

Posted by triticale at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2005

IP On You

The recent report of aircraft companies seeking oppresive royalties from model manufacturers has been getting some attention in the blogosphere. Railroad modelers are facing similar issues, but with some twists of interest to anyone who cares about Intellectual Property issues.

The Chessie System has product value worth protecting in the sleeping kitten trademark, and hobbyists understand this. At one point their lawyers got the notion that in order to protect a trademark you had to charge per usage of it, and they went after the producers of model railroad decals and collectables. The first time this happened they backed down, but now they corporation is again talking of making it more expensive to model the Chessie and its predecessors than to model other railroads.

The Union Pacific is taking things farther. Along with royalties set about right to take the profit out of producing UP model products, they are claiming extraordinary IP rights. Upon completion of production of any model of Union Pacific rolling stock, locomotives or structure, they insist that the tooling revert to the corporation. This could have repercussions if used as a precedent in other fields of endeavor.

These railroads are being foolish. Altho, lucky for them, model railroaders are not political enough to rise up and organise a boycott, it is wondrously easy not to model the Union Pacific. Aside from the many competitors who see no need to resort to such measures, there is also a glorious tradition known as freelancing. One of the first truly great model railroads was the Gorre and Daphetid and I can expect as much acceptence and nearly as many contest points for models of Phoenix - Durango rolling stock as for those with known prototypes. There is also a trend toward starting over in a new scale and/or gauge; there may well be a disproportionate number of HO scale UP models cut up by people switching to On30.

The biggest reason that the Union Pacific is foolish for being so anal about trademark and IP is that altho their business is booming right now they are in competition with other railroads and with other forms of transportation. There are demographic reasons why antagonizing model railroaders and railfans is likely to be detrimental to the marketing of transportation service. Adverse publicity could cost more in core revenue that might me gained in fringe royalties.

Posted by triticale at 11:55 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

Et Sequelae

When a movie hadn't been created as the start of a series we don't tend to expect a sequel to be as good. Some movies simply shouldn't have sequels; do we really want to see Rick and Louis take on Rommell in the desert? How about Freddy Meets The Wolfman?

Sometimes a sequel turns out not only better than expected, but better than the original movie. Futureworld was a total flop, based on what people thought of Westworld, but should have become a cult film on its merits. Peter Fonda's final gesture is one of my all-time favorite movie lines.

The reason I'm thinking about sequels right now is that it is the season for Christmas movies, some of which other people like far better than I do. I love the original Miracle, and like most of the Christmas Carols (especially Fonzie's), but I could do without all of that Christmas Story but the sight of the little brother paralyzed by his winter gear. What I would really like to see is a sequel, set in the '80s, wherein the town's economy is saved by the solidity of the area bancorp after the Building and Loan follows so many of its ilk into real estate speculation and collapse.

Posted by triticale at 07:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Markets In Everything

Ten Year Old Virgin sold on Ebay

Posted by triticale at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2004

False Premise - Failed Book

James R. Rummel has spotted copies of Bellesisle's work of historical fiction, Arming America, selling for not much more than any random hardcover at a yard sale.

I had a thought just the previous day about the notion the book espoused, that the weapons industry which sprung up during the ACW created a gun culture so that they could keep selling their products. Manufacturing capacity can actually be redirected more easily than a nation's culture. Artillery manufacturers didn't convince ranchers to buy cannon. They took their boring lathes and used them to produce steam engine cylinders. Mason and Rodgers, two Civil War cannon makers which made this transition, produced some of the best looking locomotives of the late 19th century. This same pattern continues to this day. Husqvarna, initially a firearms maker, now produces chainsaws and lawnmowers. Heckler and Koch, once a sewing machine manufacturer, now produces firearms. It is only in leftist managed economies and leftist fantasies of how capitalism works that factories can pump out product which nobody wants.

Posted by triticale at 07:44 AM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2004

Hope Is On The Way

Gloom Dispair and Agony on Me, Deep Dark Depression, excessive misery
If it werent for bad luck I'd have no luck at all
Gloom Dispair and Agony on Me!!!!!!

As for that '68 Nova, I'll bet that whether it was a beater or a state of the art g-machine it was somebody's pride and joy.

When I hear certain candidates telling the voters how bad things are, I wonder why they would dare do such damage to their credibility. A year and a half ago, most people hadn't noticed the recovery yet. I posted as evidence "Drivers Wanted" ads on the backs of hiway trailers. Now the ads are competitive, to lure drivers over. One company promises to rollover seniority. Must be a lot of freight travelling if there aren't enough drivers to haul it. Back then, I posted that Goodwill, an employer of last resort, was advertising for store help. Today I happened upon one of their locations advertising for an assistant manager. Could it be that the people coming up thru the ranks found something better?

We have an old house in the inner city of an area rooted in the old economy. Unlike Frank, on the cutting edge, we've only seen our house double in value in the seven years since we bought it. Southeastern Wisconsin draws its income from farming and manufacturing, sectors beloved of the gloom-meisters. Extrapolating current trends, where a few specialty machine shops are already turning away work because of labor shortages, analysts are projecting seventy thousand more new jobs wll be created here over the next 25 years than there will be people to fill them.

They tell us "Hope is on the way." We don't need their hope any more than we need their despair.

Posted by triticale at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2004


I'm sure I skimped on the logical symbols up there, but what I'm trying to say is that map is to territory as numbers are to the economy.

I'm not an economist, but I've spent a lot of time interacting with the economy and paying attention to how it has changed. Actually, I don't like to speak of the economy as an entity. There are many economies, sectors if you prefer, and altho they interact, they do not all behave the same way. The various economies do of course have tangible effects on one another. My son takes great amusement in the large SUVs with tinted glass and twenty seven inch spinnaz, but the fact is that there has probably been as much drug money has been spent on farm tractors and combines thru the years.

The discrepancy between the job numbers produced by the Establishment Payroll Survey and those produced by the Household Survey has finally been getting attention in the last few months. I never payed attention to the Establishment survey because I never worked directly for an establishment. In fact there has never been a time when the money which supported me came from a countable job. Those whose premises are supported by the lower Establishment numbers tend to dismiss the new ways of earning a living as not being "real" jobs. I have no doubt that some of the tens of thousands of people who now support their families would really rather be back in that nice warm foundry, or working rotating shifts at the tire plant, but not many of them.

From the time Ford wanted to Whip Inflation Now into Clinton's second term, I was creating and selling specialized equipment to heavy industry. Customers manufactured primary metals, farm equipment, rail cars, machine tools, and components for suchlike items. In that time I could see for myself how things were going as compared to what the numbers said. None of them was more accurate than the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index. When it has been up for sixteen months, the overall economy may be in transition or turmoil, individual sectors may be up or down, but there is no way things are in bad shape.

Posted by triticale at 09:37 PM | Comments (1)

September 26, 2004

Entry Level

Joe G, guest blogging at Deans World, linked to this essay, but missed the sociopolitical significance of it. Any job, even the lowliest, has something to teach a person who is looking to learn and advance himself.

Posted by triticale at 07:16 PM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2004

Yet Another Reason

If Kerry is elected President, this problem will become worse as soon as he moves into the White House. This probably won't change anyone's mind. Those who think that inequality of outcome, even if influenced by inequality of input, is a problem are the same people who think that Kerry is the solution.

Neither of us ever finished college, but after we had been in the real world for a while we both went to trade school for saleable skills. Her union priced my wee wifey out of the job market two years after Emrack was born, and we soon found that any other work she could get would pay for little more than his child care. We decided that it was the right thing to do to educate him at home, and the result was that we were close to broke for the next fifteen years. Broke, but never poor, because in this country poverty is a state of mind.

It was the so-called tax cuts for the rich of the Clinton era which brought us into the middle class. It allowed us to put our hands on the wealth which we had accrued by keeping our home from falling down while the neighborhood around it appreciated. By moving from the hottest area in Chicago to an area in Milwaukee which was just turning around, we were able to buy twice the house in twice the condition with half the money we got for the old one. Now that our son is independent and we are both working we are living large on an income below the national median. Those who care about the above problem would look at the numbers and think we are still victims.

I will admit it. We had help from the government along the way. We had stability and a modicum of security (petty crime now and then but we never lived in fear). We had functioning roads (but construction delays), trash removal, sewers and running water (altho we had to haul it from the hose tap for a while when we couldn't afford a plumber). We paid less than the true cost of the trade school education which facilitated our earnings, such as they've been. I am by no means one of those anarcho-capitalists, even tho I am of libertarian temperment. I believe that government and taxation are a reasonable way to provide for the public good, and that all of these are public goods.

Note that I said nothing about the so-called common good. Everything I listed which came from the government made my life better only to the extent that I made the effort to take advantage of them. We bought our first home in 1978, back when inflation was driving interest rates toward the sky. We got the benefit of a below market 7.99% mortgage financed by municipal bonds. The money came from investors. The government paid for their incentive to invest, and the public good of protecting the value of the city's housing stock in difficult uncertain times. These mortgages were made available to any city resident buying their first home who had enough income to qualify for a mortgage but not so much as to buy at the high end of the market at market interest. No consideration was given as to whether at some time under some circumstance people who resembled me with regard to some particular detail had encountered difficulty obtaining a mortgage or buying a home. We got the mortgage, but after that it was up to us. If we had failed to make our mortgage payments, if we had failed to pay our property taxes, or if we had ignored the court order to fix the visible building code violations, we would have lost the house. If we had neglected to observe the trends in the real estate market, and bought in a different market, we would not have profited as handsomely. This is as it should be. To secure these ends, governments are constituted among men. Government is the logical means for providing an environment in which people can benefit from their endeavors, and thereby benefit others. It is not illogical for government to provide the means for people to pull themselves out of holes they have gotten themselves into. The belief that it is the duty of government to lift people out of holes they have dug for themselves, holes that they insist on digging for themselves, and that it is proper to pull downward on those who build upward in order to do this lifting, is utterly foreign to my view of how the world ought to work, and indeed to my understanding of how it does work.


On one point I did not express myself quite as I meant to. It is not illogical for government to be the structure thru which we provide the means for people to pull themselves out of holes they have gotten themselves into. There are certainly other structures, some of them "faith-based" which can also cover parts of this goal quite effectively.

Posted by triticale at 11:16 PM | Comments (3)

June 15, 2004

The Cure For Poverty

I have believed, since I first entered the workforce and was living pretty nearly hand to mouth, that the only cure for poverty is wealth. Giving money to people like the middle aged man I had to supervise when I was 22, who proclaimed that his motto was "The least G-ddamn work for the most G-ddamn money" and was sweeping a warehouse for just above minimum wage would at best treat the symptoms of poverty. Only in an economy so booming that only people like him are left to hire could enable him not to be impoverished.

I recently became involved in a debate wherein it was pointed out that the United States has an annual "trade deficit" with China of $124 Billion. After thinking about this for a while, I realised that what this actually means is that the U.S. economy produces so much wealth, is such a great engine of wealth creation, that we can have that much money come back from China as merchandise rather than reciprocal trade, to the benefit (on average; the greater good for the greater number) of the American consumer. It is not that different from saying that I am not suffering from a trade deficit of $4000 a year at the grocery if I can afford to buy the food I prefer for my household.

Further evidence of the U.S. economy's ability to create wealth is the news that "The US had the largest gain in the number of millionaires of any country." I have no doubt that the money flow which results from this wealth creation means an upturn in day labor opportunity for the current crop of skid row stumblebums.

Note that I have nothing against day labor. I worked that way myself for a time in my younger days, when I got laid off just a few weeks before I was to begin the trade school program which was my first major step up in the world. It's just that the people I sat alongside of in the hiring hall tended to be more like the man I heard say "If they don't call me for something I feel like doing I can always roll a drunk in the alley" than like myself.

Posted by triticale at 08:40 PM | Comments (4)

April 04, 2004

No, Really, Things Are Terrible

Owen has linked to this article (I won't) about an upcoming report which was deliberately designed to show that nearly half the population of Milwaukee is out of work. Before even considering what is wrong with his analysis, I would like to point out that it is the job of the director of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Center for Economic Development to make Milwaukee attractive to business. Given his efforts to do the opposite, he should be summarily fired for cause.

The study gives percentages of Milwaukee residents who are employed, by race, and compares that to a national average, which by my calculation is about 5% better. This tells us next to nothing. How does Milwaukee compare to industrial cities of the same size, and how does it compare to wealthy Sunbelt retirement communities?

Without having read the study I cannot know how the data was collected, but I have reason to question its accuracy. Although I live in Milwaukee and work out of an office in suburban Waukesha county, I am, as far as the paperwork is concerned, employed in Illinois. Since no job I've ever held would have shown up on the BLS Establishment Survey, I have no idea what impact this fact would have on the study. Because my son's legal address is under our roof, he would count as being jobless in Milwaukee. He has in fact chosen to take a leave of absence from his job to enjoy a hippie wanderjahr and at the moment is helping my sister in California around the house in return for room and board.

It will be interesting to review the study once it is made public, but I fear both the deliberate representation of immiseration and the grains of salt with which it all will need to be taken will be bad for my blood pressure.

Posted by triticale at 09:15 PM | Comments (2)