Pepsi Throwback

Have you seen the “new” Pepsi Throwback? Basically, it’s Pepsi from the ‘70s: In the old packaging but made with sugar.

It’s…sublime. It doesn’t leave a film in your mouth. It has a clean, refreshing taste. Swear to God, it actually bubbles nicer. The bubbles are sharper and more lively. I had this obsession a few years ago with trying to find soda that bubbled the way I remembered—and never could. (Returned a whole lot of fountain drinks as “flat”.)
In the mid-’80s, the soda companies switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup. One of the reasons given for this is that HFCS is “easier to transport”. Curiously, the soda companies don’t use HFCS anywhere else in the world. Just the US. In fact, one trick used by sugar soda fans is to buy sodas imported from Mexico (which I’ve heard CostCo has).
So if it’s not transportation, why would soda companies use it? Well, the Federal Government subsidizes HFCS, making it slightly cheaper than sugar. The Federal Government also jacks up the price of sugar (to seven times the world price!), making sugar a lot more expensive.
It’s probably too soon to blame HFCS for obesity, liver disease, diabetes and autism, but not to soon to blame it for screwing up the soda experience. And never to soon to blame the government for making it all economical.
We already eat quite a bit of corn: On the cob, loose, as chips and tortillas, corn bread, polenta, etc. To then HFCS in virtually every sweetened product on the market? Probably a bad idea.
Meanwhile, the Snapple Company is coming out with Dr. Pepper “Heritage"—the sugar-based version of Dr. Pepper.
And the corn folks are already in full blown PR mode. You’ve probably seen the HFCS commercials. And if you search for it on the web, the industry sites are there. The recent indications of mercury being found in it, probably doesn’t help their image.
Having re-tasted the old sodas (and having drunk a lot of "gourmet” sodas over the years), I sure bet these guys don’t want to go head-to-head with sugar.

Oh, by the way: Tomorrow is the last day for Pepsi (and Mountain Dew) Throwback. I’m gonna stock up.

In Which I Suspect The Free Market Of Not Being Entirely Free

Interesting anecdote from Reason on how Canadian health care treated one woman, or rather failed to treat her, along with a doctor who puts up a price list on his website about what things cost. I tracked the website down and noted an interesting thing.

Some of you know that my dad was in the hospital a month ago. As it turns out, they gave him angioplasty (through the femoral artery, yeow!). If you go to that site, you’ll see angioplasty costs $12,500.

That’s expensive, but not unmanageable. Presumably, one wouldn’t need a lot of angioplasty. And catastrophic coverage well, wouldn’t need to be all that huge to cover it.

Now, my dad’s two days in the hospital cost $140,000.

Frankly, that seems unpossible to me. Who could possibly afford that? How can something exist in a market that nobody could afford?

I suspect there may be market distortions at work.

If one wanted to fix the health care market, one might start by locating the distortions and removing them.

Just a thought.

The Financial Crisis Explained?

“In short, on April 2, 2009, the President signed a communiqué that essentially turns over financial control of the country, and the planet, to a handful of central bankers, who, besides dictating policy covering everything from your retirement income to shareholder rights, will additionally have access to your health and education records.”

–Bruce Wiseman, “Hitler’s Bank Goes Global”

My dad sent me a link to this guy (of whom I’ve never heard) who lays out the banking crisis as a plan to unseat the U.S. dollar as the basic unit of international money. It’s not a long read, and interesting as it maps how what might be considered typical banking and political shenanigans were exploited.

The quote above comes from the second article in the series and is of particular interest to me (and I’d think to anyone who values our Constitutional Republic). The President basically gave the keys to the country to a foreign bank. (And this is not a political issue; Bush would doubtless have done the same thing.)

Much like socialism, it’s come to pass that having a group of ultra-powerful private bankers run a country’s economy is just the norm for the world today. Politicians, of course, just want to spend money, not think about it, so they just let someone else do the thinking for them.

The question of whether or not the President’s actions are legal and binding is a separate one, and the crucial one for all of us: Wiseman issues a call to action for everyone to make sure their representatives know that what the President signs is essentially a treaty and needs to be ratified by Congress.

Anyone have Glenn Beck’s number?

Inappropriate Advertising

Far from being intrusive, I’ve actually found that I enjoy Google Mail’s targeted ads. (And yeah, I know they’re evil. A company who’s first motto is “don’t be evil” virtually had to turn out that way, didn’t it?)

I’ve written about the spam, for example, and it’s sort of interesting trying to figure out what the targets in this so-called targeted advertising is. But now Gmail has presented this ad for the Baader-Meinhoff movie with the tag, “The revolution is reborn!” Er, maybe it was “reignited”. (I don’t know what caused Gmail to put that ad up, but it changed and I can’t get it back now.)

Wait, what? Nooooo. I hope the point of that movie was that revolutionaries were dumb thugs using political ideology as an excuse for bad behavior.

I mean, even if you’re an ideological fellow traveler, I would hope this movie served more as an embarrassment than a rallying cry.

“The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” -V.I. Lenin

I tend to agree of late that the very term “Capitalism” is Marx’s socialist framing of what is, in essence, freedom, and that we’re poorer for using the term to describe free markets.

By the way, it was Marx who infected economics—by all rights a hard science with immutable laws—with politics and turned it into the morass it is today.

Jerky jerk-face.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Wages (and Prices) Of Sin

The beauty of the Apocalypse is that it comes in so many flavors, to appeal to so many people. Ya gotcher Rapture, your Ragnarok, your Mayan 2012, and of course such modern classics as nuclear holocaust, zombie-or-zombie-like contagion, overpopulation or just good old famine. Something for everyone to enjoy.

But, of course, the end of the world is more likely to come in a more banal way, or at least always has in the past. Which brings us to Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls, a book written 30 years ago, in the wake of Nixon’s (et al.) disastrous experiments with wage and price controls.

Schuettinger and Butler show us the decline of great civilizations that followed those civilization’s “elite” tampering with the free market. From Hammurabi and the Pharaohs to the Soviets and Weimar, the drives are similar and the results always the same.

Despite this, these “experiments” are repeated over and over again. Keep that in mind next time you talk to someone calling himself a “progressive”.

Seems like the only truly progressive idea is that man should be free to govern his own affairs.

Wherein The Boy And I Have “The Talk”

No, not the Birds and the Bees talk. That’s what the Internet is for.

I’ve been musing about the difference between free markets and Capitalism. I’m very for free markets: People + stuff = trade. That’s pretty much how things work, and the closer we keep to that, the better off things seem to be. I don’t see the struggle we’re undergoing now as “Communism versus Capitalism” but “Slavery versus Freedom”.

Capitalism arises as organically from free markets as free markets do from people + stuff. Naturally some people are going to want to trade money for more money. And just as naturally, some people are going to end up just trading money for money. This leads to people saying “Hey, those guys aren’t doing anything but making money offa us!”

This, in turn, leads to upsetting or compromising the free market, even revolution.

Well, I was trying out this logic on The Boy, and he would have none of it. He pointed out that problem wasn’t Capitalism, but envy. Or ignorance. And I pointed out that Capitalism had always failed, ultimately leading to less free markets. And he pointed out that the State was always involved in the failure.

And so I said that if the system always failed, how was that different from Communism?

Well, The Boy wasn’t having any of it. He was quite deftly arguing his point, puncturing my arguments and standing his ground. But I didn’t let on that I basically agreed with him.

An hour or so later, he emerged from his man-cave and said that he’d always thought I knew everything and had all the answers magically. Now, of course, I’ve done everything I can to discourage that notion, gently, and he’s been coming ‘round to my less-than-divine status for years, but I’m not sure it fully dawned on him until that night.

It’s a very good thing.

He did reassure me I was still magical, though, just in a different way.

sniffI promised myself I wouldn’t cry…

The Math Of Political Ideologies

As a geek, I tend to get excited over the possibility of applying logic, math and science to the mooshy topics of politics. We’ve talked about “test-driven” government (borrowing from programming), where any change to policy would have to be run through a series of rigorous tests to determine effect and unintended consequences.

But chatting with a friend today I began to realize that you can express the two main warring ideologies in politics with mathematical formulas. And it’s kind of interesting. At least to a geek like me.

Let X = resources available
Let Y = cost of resource
Let Z = number of people
Let $= cost per person of resource

X × Y ÷ Z = $

This is a simple way of looking at a situation where resources are limited and are to be divided evenly among a group of people. Note this works both ways: For distributing resources and for distributing the cost of a resource.

This is, more or less is how collectivists and statists view problems. “If only,” they think, “I—or some suitably clever person who shares my values—were in charge of collecting the money and distributing the service, then we could make sure everything was fair and equitable and just.”

They fret because Y seems to go up all the time, as does Z, while X dwindles or doesn’t seem to grow fast enough to cover some ultimate disaster. The whole “overpopulation” scenario is based on Z increasing exponentially while X flattens or decreases. This becomes the justification for a centralized planning system. To avert crisis.

But, of course, the system tends to reinforce itself: X dwindles while Y skyrockets. Z tends to flatten but can’t keep up (down?) with the issues created by X and Y.

And you can tell when someone is really married to this mindset, because they can’t see the problem any other way. (They’ll even see the surrounding issues as relatively simple variables: if only everyone adhered to the orthodoxy in terms of diet, exercise, home size, whatever, all our problems—the ones they’ve very often created to justify their takeover of whatever—would be solved. This is actually true for them, because their ultimate problem seems to be that people are just too numerous and unruly.)

To someone with an appreciation for the complexity of human interaction, X can go up wildly, Y can drop crazily and Z going up is a good thing—because only people have the power to change X and Y in unforeseen ways.

In a larger sense, in Communism (including Socialism, which I think is pretty apparently a stepping stone), X is just a short-hand for wealth. A lot of people seem to operate under an even simpler formula:

X ÷ Z = $

Divide total wealth by the number of people and that gives you how much wealth everyone should have.

You can see the mentality, too: There’s a fixed amount of gold, therefore why shouldn’t we all share it equally? As if all the wealth in the world were just lying on the ground and—and this is not far off from what is actually said—disparity only occurs because some guys took away our wealth and made it their wealth.

Wealth is theft, in other words. Now, virtually everyone who utters this sentiment has some form of wealth. So you can safely assume that they mean your wealth is theft. They might be talking about someone else now, someone richer, but they’ll get around to you.

But let’s backtrack a bit: Is there a fixed amount of gold? (This goes back to my original X.) For that matter, is there any gold until someone pans for it/digs it up/picks it up off the ground, even? And then refines it?

Even real estate, which is considered to be fixed and finite, has to be explored, tamed or cultivated or exploited in some fashion before it becomes wealth. Finite? Even in this day of mapped out terra, there’s building up—and almost completely undone: building down, building on the sea, building under the sea, given an anti-grav tech you could build in the sky. And that’s just this planet.

Science-fiction, now, just like skyscrapers were sci-fi not too long ago.

It’s all potential wealth, just waiting for someone clever enough, industrious enough, persistent enough to exploit it. And all wealth is created and must be maintained.

But in some philosophies, wealth, once created becomes everyone’s. In practice, what happens at that point is that wealth ceases to be created. Worse, the wealth that already exists is left to rot.

This is often clucked about as selfishness and greed, which it can be. But the wild variable not considered is that wealth is also highly subjective, and any system which purports to distribute wealthy “fairly” must first evaluate that wealth. The Y in that first equation—the cost (or value) of the resource—is not uniform from person-to-person.

In other words, before you create anything in one of these “fair” systems, you have to confront the fact that an arbitrary person or bureau is going to set Y, that is, evaluate whatever it is you create.

Children are transparent when it comes to this sort of thing: If you want to kill a child’s creativity and work ethic, simply evaluate whatever they produce. Obviously, trashing someone’s output can make them stop producing, but even praise can have a deleterious effect. This is the pernicious side of testing and grading (and a mine field for parents).

Adults really are the same way. Even if you plan to give something away, creating it with the knowledge that not only will it be taken from you, but it will then be valued arbitrarily by someone who isn’t going to consume it?

That’s a joy killer. And, not coincidentally, a wealth killer.

And eventually you end up with this:

$ = 0

MMA Bonus: We are devo.

I follow Steve Simon on Twitter; he’s one of the guys I followed early on in my far less discriminating days. But he has interesting stuff, so he survived the big purge I did when I realized there was no way I could keep up with all the tweets.

A few weeks ago he talked about retiring, and then about cutting costs by doing a variety of tasks–lawn care, oil change, etc.–on his own. Nothing wrong with that, especially if these are things he derives some pleasure out of.

But at a social level, it’s a symptom of poverty: We specialize because it’s more efficient. An expert with the right tools can do something better and more cheaply than you can at home. This is not really a different discussion than the previous one on fast food. Economies of scale, expertise and specialization (why even fast foods are usually separated by variety of slop: chicken, burger, Mexican, sandwiches) both result from and drive wealth.

One thing Americans don’t get about European countries is that it’s kind of a big deal to go to lunch. Even Canada, with its $9 Subway footlongs–which must suck given they can see the $5 footlong ads from America.

It’s sensible–necessary, even–to do more for yourself if it saves money. And there are good non-monetary reasons to do things, too: Just so you know you can fix the pipes, change the oil, etc.

But it’s better if that’s a luxury you do because you like or want to, not because the economy is such that you can’t get paid more at your specialty than it would cost you to do on your own.

You vs. MacDonald’s

One of the homeschoolers I follow on Twitter linked to this analysis of home cooked versus McDonald’s burgers on a cost basis, coming to the conclusion that you could make McDonald’s burgers more cheaply at home.

In fairness, the guy breaks it down correctly enough to say that you could make 16 burgers more cheaply than you can buy 16 burgers from McDonald’s. But then you have to eat 16 burgers. Granted, at that size, you probably could, or a family of six could, anyway–but would you want to?

There’s a dual edge to this, too, that makes it kind of a pointless effort. On the one hand, if you’re making burgers, why are you making them MacDonald’s style? Could you, really? Wouldn’t you be tempted to get a slightly better cut of meat and use a little more of it? Put on a crisp slice of lettuce and beefsteak tomato (instead of just catsup)?

What’s more, if you really are going for Micky D’s style, you won’t make it. Your children will tell you all the ways your burger is inferior to one of those enriched-flour encased quarter-sized patties. Or, at least, that’s what kids did back in my day. (They’d also trash your ravioli if it weren’t Ravioli-Os.)

You’ll eat (at least figuratively, maybe literally) any mistakes you make, too. And the amount of time you spend prepping, cooking and cleaning up is going to well exceed the cost in time of going to the nearest franchise.

These days, you’re unlikely to be able to beat a fast food franchise for overall cost. The exception might be El Pollo Loco, because they’re rather expensive. (Their chicken is a lot closer to real food, which doubtless factors into it.) There is something to economy of scale in this case. Even if you can achieve the economy of scale that allows you to make 16 burgers at once, you’re probably not going to achieve it on the same scale as the billions of burgers.

On the flip side, you can’t hardly miss beating them in terms of quality. And you can be very selective about where you economize.

Links You May Have Missed, But Probably Would Like To See, If Only You Knew About Them

These are for me as much as you. I’ll thank me later. Mostly from Twitter.

Via Freeman Hunt : The blog of Milton Friedman’s “Free To Choose” PBS series. Funny that for all the PBS crap I got shown in school, this wasn’t among the viewing options.

Via Andy Levy via Allahpundit: Face transplant story with pictures. Amazing.

More on the voucher situation from the WSJ: “If, however, you are a pol who piously tells inner-city families that public schools are the answer – and you do this while safely ensconcing your own kids in some private haven – the press corps mostly winks.”

Also, today is not the day where I wish I sent my kids to public school.

27% of all marketers suck? Sounds a little low to me.

Funny and short: Why copywriters should be native speakers.

Cringely talks about the future of television on the Internet. It’s interesting.

Hot: Bill Whittle schools John Stewart on the history behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The beauty of being a useful idiot is that you never have to research and you never have to say you’re sorry. Because, damn the facts, you’re right, and Harry Truman was a war criminal.

Lastly, Tabitha Hale aka Pink Elephant Pundit has started doing a radio show/podcast/audio blog/whatever the hell the kids these days are calling it. Episode One is here. I was going to listen to it, but there’s, like, the entirety of “Walk This Way” at the front and that used up any time I had, plus confused me.