Archive for July 20th, 2009

Fat Tire’s first prize: an obsolete bike. The rationality of costly signaling.

| July 20, 2009 | 30 Replies
Fat Tire’s first prize: an obsolete bike. The rationality of costly signaling.

Fat Tire Beer is holding a contest, and first prize is an old-fashioned bicycle. It is a cumbersome and heavy one-speed bike that lacks most of the useful features found on modern bicycles. What does it have going for it? Nothing much worth my while. I buy my bicycles for performance, features and functionality, not looks.

Others would say that the Fat Tire bicycle has an unique style worth coveting. I know a woman who recently paid a large amount of money for a “retro” bicycle much like the one in the photo. She bragged about her bicycle only in terms of what it looked like, and seemed to get irritated when I asked her whether she would miss some of the useful features found in most modern bicycles, features such as multiple gears, high-tech gear-shifting, feather-light frame, and front or rear suspension. It appears that Fat Tire Beer is looking for customers like the woman I just described, people who are obsessed with the looks of a bicycle rather than its functionality.

I recently posted on Geoffrey Miller’s terrific new book, Spent. At page 97, Miller discusses the “signaling value” of many modern products. Miller points out that modern corporations work hard to avoid competition based upon objective features that can be compared. Fat Tire Beer, for example, did not choose to offer a modern bicycle that could easily be compared to the many other bicycles currently being sold. Instead, the company chose to offer an old-fashioned bike that would signal a certain trait for the owner and his/her friends/acquaintances. Modern corporations

Use advertising to create signaling systems–psychological links between brands and the aspirational traits that consumers would like to display. Although these signaling links must be commonly understood by the consumer’s socially relevant peer group, they need not involve the actual product at all. The typical Vogue magazine ad shows just two things: a brand name and an attractive person . . . there is a hidden rationality at work–the rationality of costly signaling. What matters in most advertising is the learned association between the consumer’s aspirational traits and the company’s trademarked brand name–the fountainhead of all profitability.

Therefore, don’t waste your time trying to figure out what obsolete styles of bicycles have to do with beer. The bicycle featured on the label of Fat Tire Beer has nothing to do with the taste or quality of the liquid in the bottle. Rather, buying Fat Tire Beer is an opportunity for a consumer to display to others that the consumer can afford a premium beer. The bicycle on the label gives consumers a further opportunity to suggest that tradition is more important than functionality. Those who buy Fat Tire Beer let the beer do their talking for them: “I’m a person who values tradition over functionality.” That’s my guess.

I wouldn’t accept that cumbersome and sparsely-featured contest bicycle even if someone offered it to me for free, because I know less-costly, less wasteful and more effective ways of convincing others that I often value tradition. It involves hard work and no gimmicks. It requires that you willingly put your life under a microscope, that you repeatedly show rather than tell, and that you show your values in ways other than through conspicuous consumption.

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What to make of eating 68 hotdogs in 10 minutes

| July 20, 2009 | 2 Replies
What to make of eating 68 hotdogs in 10 minutes

I watched this video with amazement. The winner of this year’s Fourth of July hotdog eating contest ate 68 hotdogs (and buns) in 10 minutes.

Notice, then, the post-contest interview, where winner Joey Chestnut smiles and talks in spurts. But I kept wondering whether he was about to vomit. After all, he just ate 68 hotdogs (and 68 buns) in 10 minutes. That’s about 16,500 calories of meat and 5,300 calories in hotdog buns. If Joey retained all that food in his stomach (which I doubt, but maybe I’m wrong), he gained about seven pounds in ten minutes (since every 3,000 intake is the equivalent to a pound in weight gain). If you can set aside your concerns about the contestants’ health, you can appreciate that what happens in these contests is no doubt remarkable. Athleticism? Why not? That’s what it seems like in this post-contest interview:

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Our insane drug war, revisited

| July 20, 2009 | 3 Replies
Our insane drug war, revisited

Mother Jones has hammered our drug war with undeniable facts . . . well, undeniable unless you are a government official in charge of the “drug war.” In fact, as authors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery advise us, the entire history of the U.S. “war on drugs” is actually a governmental war on truth.

[T]he drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success. (To wit: Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who’ve seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.) What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on “hard” drugs, but make enforcement fair . . . And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn’t a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos.

If you want to see a bunch of demoralized people wasting time, park yourself at your local drug court and watch a judge slapping faux sentences on marijuana users and small-time peddlers. Everyone involved knows that the system is a joke–a money sucking time-wasting absurd joke that ruins lives, because every so often someone gets ripped from his or her family, thrown into prison for years. The crime (just to remind you) is that these users wanted to feel pleasure. And sometimes its more absurd: the criminal wanted to escape stress or anxiety and he didn’t have a fancy health insurance policy that would allow a doctor to hand him legal pills that do the same thing. And maybe he didn’t want to legally rot out his liver with alcohol, which is the other way of getting a similar high.

As I’ve made clear many times, I am not promoting drug use of any kind. I just had serious surgery and I could have loaded up on narcotics that were made available to me, but I didn’t because I don’t want that or need that. I’m a lucky person in that regard. I am not interested in altering my mind through chemicals. I am trying to convince my daughters that they should strive for clean drug-free living. But I am aware that many people want or need relief from stressful lives (or from their own misfiring brains) or maybe they want the option to simply chill out. I certainly don’t want to stand in their way any more than I would tell a patient to not take those pills prescribed by her doctor.

It’s time to stop spending billions of tax dollars on a drug war that doesn’t stop drug use and only ramps up violence, destabilizes governments and steals critical services from taxpayers. The drug war is highly immoral, but we won’t be able to fix the situation until we have the courage to have an honest conversation.

Related posts:

The most harmful thing about marijuana is jail (reporting on the opinion of a conservative judge).

The Economist’s argument to stop the war on drugs. (includes the mind-scrambling statistic that the U.S. spend $40 B each year trying to stop the use of illegal drugs).

Johann Hari’s argument that It’s time to stop the drug war. (more shocking statistics)

It isn’t dangerous to use marijuana. (Really, no more dangerous than Doritos)

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Anniversary of a New Land

| July 20, 2009 | Reply
Anniversary of a New Land

Today marks the 40th anniversary of “…one giant leap for mankind.” On July 20, 1969 a human first stepped onto the moon. Oddly, there is a significant minority of people who don’t believe this. The Moon Landing Deniers (on whom I reported here 3 years ago) now have to increase the complexity of that conspiracy theory because of some recent news.

Here are some new pictures taken from lunar orbit in the last few weeks of some of the Apollo landing sites. The point of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter wasn’t to prove the doubters wrong, but rather to gather an accurate survey of the moon to aid the Chinese (and maybe ourselves) in future exploration. You may recall that Apollo 11 almost crash landed on a rock pile, and Armstrong had to manually hover the lander over to a smooth area, landing with scant seconds of fuel to spare. They don’t want to repeat that experience. Also, the orbiter should map out interesting mineral and erosion features that merit closer investigation.

As one who watched the first landing live, I like to think that we’ll be back.

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