Month: May 2005

The good ol’ days

I was pleased to see Auletta describe the 1971 McDonald’s jingle, "You deserve a break today," as a "classic of manipulation," because I was the person who sang the jingle.  Auletta rightly chalks up that ad’s success to Keith Reinhard’s copywriting talent, but credit should also go to the late composer Sidney E. Woloshin, who helped to make its music so memorable.  Woloshin was one of the many gifted composers who made jingles a part of our lives.  I had a thirty-year career singing amazing little songs like that one, and I think that advertising lost something when the industry started to deemphasize creative and original music in favor of pre-recorded pop songs [TC: que lastima, how artificial!] that bear no relation to the product.

That is a letter from Arlene Martell, to The New Yorker, issue of 9 May 2005.

Tax Reform

Hal Varian has a short article on tax reform in his NYTimes column.  I agree with him that one of the most desirable but also achievable reforms would be to expand and simplify "the current messy system of tax-deferred savings, including I.R.A.’s,
401(k)’s, 403’s and Keough plans. We do not really need all those
different plans and having one, simple tax-deferred savings plan would
make a lot of sense."

The graphic below shows how under the current system the marginal tax rate rises and falls arbitrarily.


My favorite things Georgian

The state that is, not the country.

Music: I’ll go with Otis Redding, who was born in Georgia and played in Macon early in his career.  Favorite song: Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).  Here is the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.   Most underrated might be the acoustic bluesman Pink Anderson.  And I still have guilty sympathies for pop musician Tommy Roe ("Dizzy," "Sweet Pea," "Sheila").

Literature: Here is a list, I will go with Flannery O’Connor or the poetry of James Dickey.

Cinema: Speaking of James Dickey, this one is a no-brainer, I can’t believe my parents let me see this when I was eleven or so, but I thank them.

Artist: No, Georgia O’Keefe doesn’t count.  Most of the ouevre of Outsider Artist Howard Finster is churned-out junk, but his early work was excellent.  This painting isn’t bad either, or try here.  It was, however, a mistake when he finished 67 paintings in one weekend while visiting Wake Forest University.

Architecture: I am very fond of this kind of Savannah house, if only because it reminds me of Haiti.  For my modernist readers, this is from Atlanta.

Addendum: Hey, did I forget James Brown?  The hotel TV in the background notes he is from Augusta…

Is Islam good for prosperity?

People of Arab descent living in the US are better
educated and wealthier than the average American of non-Arab descent.
That is one surprising conclusion drawn from data collected by the US
Census Bureau in 2000. The census also found that Arab Americans are
better educated and wealthier than Americans in general.

24 per cent of all Americans hold college degrees, 41 per cent of
Arab-Americans are college graduates. The median annual income of an
Arab-American family living in the US is $52,300 – 4.6 per cent higher
than the figure for all other American families. More than half of such
families own their home. Forty-two per cent of people of Arab descent
in the US work as managers or professionals, while the overall average
is 34 per cent.

My take: Islam is an excellent religion for motivating commercial success (yes I do know that many Arab-Americans are Christians).  It is less effective at supporting rule of law, democracy, and checks and balances.  For those features, the idea that Christ is an individual victim, tortured by the Roman state, comes in handy.  Here is the link for the data.

The best way to avoid torture

Spill all the beans as quickly as possible.  Here is the perspective of one interrogator.  Two key reasons: you don’t signal that torture works on you, and false information can be checked against other sources.  Here is my earlier post posing the question.

Addendum: I am discernibly outraged over torture (read here), but at this point I figure getting people to think about how terrible torture must be will be more effective than simply attacking it.

Markets in everything

Banana guards:

Are you fed up with bringing bananas to work or school only to find
them bruised and squashed? Our unique, patented device allows for the
safe transport and storage of individual bananas letting you enjoy
perfect bananas anytime, anywhere.

The Banana Guard was specially designed to fit the vast
majority of bananas. Its other features include multiple small
perforations to facilitate ventilation thereby preventing premature
ripening and a sturdy locking mechanism to keep the Banana Guard
closed. The Banana Guard is of course dishwasher safe for easy

Here is the link, and that is via BoingBoing, thanks to Jason van Bruaene for the pointer.

Addendum: Here is an extension of the first idea.

Grisly game theory: can you avoid torture?

Let us say that you have been captured and threatened with torture.  You are, for whatever reason, entirely willing to betray the information you hold.  Your primary goal is to avoid pain, and perhaps you positively want to squeal.  How should you present what you know?  I see a few options:

1. Break down immediately, beg for mercy, humiliate yourself, and spill the beans.  (If you talk right away, will they torture you anyway?  And since no further good information can be offered why should they stop?)

2. Go in acting tough, really tough.  At the first sign of serious pain, start crying and switch to strategy #1.

3. Wait until they apply their "best shot" torture, and then talk.  They will feel they have done their job and stop.

4. First offer (or make up) compromising information to show your disloyalty to the cause your torturers are fighting.  Your confession will then be more credible.

5. Say you don’t know anything, try to fight the torture, but break down when you can’t stand it any more.  You can’t fool them, so the best you can do is to actually "go through the wringer."  You are stuck in the pooling equilibrium, and trying to deviate only makes you worse off.

Which of these is the most credible signal that you have told all you know?  Can you do any better than number five?  And how does your best answer depend upon the hypothesized motives of the torturers?  Is there anything you can say to the U.S. to avoid being sent out for rendition?  I do’t see any simple answer here, the question is which behavior your torturers will interpret as an unlikely tactic from a truly determined trickster.

TV network Numero Uno

For young adults at least, often it is Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster.  And yes I mean in the United States.  On nineteen different nights (since September), Univision has ranked number one among 18 to 34 year olds.  Two-thirds of the time Univision has made it into the "big four" (the three networks plus Fox) with this age group.

My previous post on television forgot to mention Spanish-language shows, which are a superior form of bad TV.  I’ve long been a fan of Primer Impacto, despite the departure of Maria Celeste Arras.

The information is from The Wall Street Journal, 2 May 2005.

PayGo NoWork

Here is Brad DeLong’s reason number 4 to favor private accounts for social security:

We need to raise our national savings rate. But if we just raise Social
Security taxes, Congress will treat these taxes as general revenue and
spend them. Only by funneling Social Security contributions into some
vehicle that Congressional representatives cannot interpret as a
resource available to fund current spending can we raise the national
savings rate. And private accounts are the best vehicle we can find to
(a) accumulate contributions without (b) allowing Congressional
representatives to seize them as resources available to fund current
federal spending.

That reason receives new support from Nataraj and Shoven who present evidence that:

…the trust fund build-up may not help future generations due to the
adoption of the Unified Budget in 1970. The Unified Budget includes
trust fund receipts as income and trust fund payments as expenditures.
The empirical evidence suggests that attempts to balance the Unified
Budget while the trust funds were generating surpluses has led to
increased government spending and personal and corporation income tax
cuts within the rest of the federal government. There is no evidence of
increased government saving as a result of the trust fund accumulations.