In re: Automobile myths – debunked – debunked…

The Washington Post had an article with five ‘myths’ about suburban expansion, the paving of of America and car travel , namely…

  1. Americans are addicted to driving;
  2. Public transit can reduce traffic congestion;
  3. We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving;
  4. We’re paving over America;
  5. We can’t deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

The article sets to debunk these, but unfortunately the article is pretty stupid in its arguments.  The comments on the Volokh Conspiracy blog concerning this article are pretty interesting, although repetitive.


In re: The tipping debate

“Tipping didn’t take hold here until after the Civil War, and even as it spread it met with fervent public opposition from people who considered it a toxic vestige of Old World patronage. Anti-tipping associations were formed; newspapers—including the Times—regularly denounced the custom. Tipping, the activists held, fostered a masterservant relationship that was ill suited to a nation in which people were meant to be social equals.” (‘Check Please’)

The other night I was having dinner before going to the OSU/Mich St. basketball game at a restaurant/bar (Wendalls Alumni Grille) near the arena.  While sitting and eating (w/out napkins, silverware, condiments for our burgers/sandwiches) we got into a discussion on tipping.  My stance was and is that if I get bad service I will drop the tip (and I thought this was bad service), others – those who had worked as waiters thought that it might be busy (it was) and that it might be others faults, etc. and that you still couldn’t go below 15% (their baseline).

America is a bit different from some other places (continental Europe) where the service is included at a fixed rate (often 12.5% or some other interesting rate).  The tip gives us a bit of power, and also gives supposedly an incentive for prompt, courteous, service.  Of course the tip trickles down to those we don’t deal with – food runners, bus boys, bar tenders – but many of us don’t really know that or care as we basically deal with the server.  If the food is late, cold, or wrong we don’t know whose fault it is, and I blame the server – which may be unfair, but its the only person in a position that I see who can deal with it.  Others (specifically the former waiters/waitresses) argue to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Per se, Thomas Keller’s legendary restaurant did away with tipping and put in a automatic service charge – leading everyone in the restaurant to receive a fixed salary.  The reasoning?  Very legitimately I think was the idea to redistribute the income between the front of the house and the back – which according to Keller and others is woefully underpaid (although he could have just raised their wages some would say)

“Historically in restaurants, the service staff is awarded significantly higher wages than cooks and other staff who prepare the food on which a restaurant’s reputation is based,” said Per Se chef/owner Thomas Keller in a statement. “The gap in pay is so great that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young cooks to pursue their passion at the rate of pay restaurants are able to afford.” (CNN/Money)

See also ‘Mega Tips: Scientifically Tested Techniques to Increase Your Tips‘ Cornell Hotel School (PDF) and ‘Check Please‘ in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki (Wisdom of Crowds author) on the change Keller made)

In re: Intern in Iraq

Plenty of folks do summer internships, myself included. But not too many of us go out of our way to spend the summer in Baghdad, in the wake of the occupation of Iraq. I read today from the September issue of Harpers an interesting article “Misinformation Intern: My summer as a military propagandist in Iraq” by Willem Marx a NYU grad student (journalism) and graduate of Oxford, who applied for a ‘Media Analyst’.


The article really gives a sense of the chaos in Iraq from a different angle, the one that can only be encompassed by an Intern, becoming essentially the head of a media operation, that was really a propaganda machine, feeding ‘US’ stories to Iraqi papers who were being paid to run them and eventually providing advice to US commanders who believe Willem to be some sort of authority on Iraqi media. Stories like this highlight some of the reasons I opposed the war, that is some companies are piggybacking (here the Lincoln Group) on the war to make a quick buck, while soldiers aren’t making the dough.

In re: Not so global yet (at least on iTunes)

“There’s a small but ardent underground economy among Americans in dummy addresses and e-mailed scans of Japanese iTunes Cards, picked up by friends in Tokyo convenience stores or openly sold online.”

An interesting article in Slate about one way to get around the geographical limitations of iTunes, which prevents cross border sales.  I found this out a while ago when I logged into the French store, found a bunch of great stuff, but found out my money (that is US credit card) is no good.  In order to get around this some folks pick up iTunes gift cards to use in payment in Japan (for the Japanese iTunes store, which the author is all about)

Check it “The insanely great songs Apple won’t let you hear

In re: The ethics of eamond

On my second night in Belfast, I led my friend down a dark alley to a bar that defiantly wasn’t frequented by to many (normally it would have street access, but due to construction the main street was closed off).  Anyway, walking into the bar we could tell it was a far cry from the Duke of York pub we had just come from, where you couldn’t move and the place was packed like a can of sardines.  I’ll admit I had my doubts about the bar, mostly empty tables and one or two folks standing by the bar.  Walking up we ordered up our pints of the ubiquitous Guinness that was to be a mainstay of our travels in Ireland.  Quickly, as is all to common in Ireland we knew both the inebriated man – Eamond, the bar tendering, bar owner John and a few other of the regulars.  Further before we knew it they were buying our drinks, the bar was ‘closed’ but business inside kept going.  Eamond turned out to be an interesting fellow, but it wasn’t until he left in a cab that we learned the extent of his drinking.  We learned that it was standard for Eamond to have twenty or more pints (imperial pints, twenty ounces), as well as some other customers.  We also learned that apparently the UK will pay people 1000 pounds a month if you get certified as an alcoholic, something Eamond and his wife easily qualified.  So essentially Eamond is spending $100 US Dollars a day on drinking, everyday of the week.  ($30,000 a year!)


So what does this matter?  Well this night would live on as my buddy Jim and I would discuss the morality of John the bartender selling Eamond, twenty pints a day.  Of course if he didn’t sell him, someone else would of course.  But still Eamond, would go home black out drunk every night of his life.  So basically the question comes down to is it wrong for John, to be profiting from Eamond’s addiction?  To through another wrinkle into the story, Eamond owned a house in the Catholic part of West Belfast, worth over 40 thousand pounds (about $80K US), John the owner of the bar bought the house for four thousand pounds from Eamond — why?  Eamond wanted to buy a Ford Mondeo.  A Ford Mondeo?  Well aside from being the best car in Ireland (its what we rented no less) why would Eamond lose out on all that money?  It was unclear, but my buddy jim thought that it was wrong for John, who had been serving Eamond pints for 20 years (20 years of this…) to be profiting further off of his stupidity.  To go through with the sale Eamond needed as well as John to have solicitors file the paperwork, but apparently non of these people have any duty to tell him he is selling it for super cheap and this left John with a quick turn around profit.  I might have had no problem with the whole deal because John gave off the better vibe, John gave up drinking but somehow stood around watching and serving others day after day, who knows if that’s right or wrong, but it was discussed. 


In re: Tesco goes green…

If you don’t know Tesco is a massive UK retailer / grocer who garners often the same criticism that Wal-Mart does.  Tesco grew to be so large based on low prices and gets criticism to go with that, as is par for the course it seems.  On the BBC today I heard an interview that outlined Tescos new plan to reduce carbon emissions by 50% over the upcoming years, through all kinds of changes including using biodisel to fuel their delivery trucks, changing the refrigeration systems used in stores and adding windows. 
Further Tesco will indicate for each product the ‘carbon footprint’ or carbon calories, so that a consumer can see for a product the impact buying tomatoes from the local greenhouse (glass house in brit speak) versus the out of season shipment from across the globe and the canned variety.  (In the interview he pointed out that it is often less carbon emissions to ship in out of season things rather then the green houses).  Tesco also put a limit of 1% of their products being air-shipped in and will put an icon next to any product that is flown in (although flown in products often come from developing nations so there is arguments that can go both way on these).

Either-way, with Tesco coming to California it seems they may fit in as merely providing information to consumers, not to mention the effects of changing a massive corporations environmental policies will likely have a positive impact. So I say follow Tescos lead. (See BBC Story and Q&A with Tesco Boss)

In re: Photo, Galway

Taken in Galway Ireland

Thought I’d test out the linking from Google’s Picasa Web Photohosting