Monday, December 29, 2008

Marketing and the Thought Process

Sorry for the dry well of postings, but I'm visiting the folks and stuck using a dial-up connection that, in addition to be slower than (insert funny slow things here), also likes to cut out randomly every 10-15 minutes. So needless to say, my internet use has been paired down to a minimum of "necessary" time.

But here's one for the rants no one really cares about file: as I usually do after Christmas, I was in the major box stores looking around for cheap deals on necessary items with my folks, safe in the knowledge that they'll usually go ahead and buy it for me (I'm 26 and have yet to purchase a pair of socks myself). Taking advantage of markdowns on the incongruous items that I can't believe are ever purchased as presents, I picked up a 3 pack of generic boxers.

The boxers themselves are fine, but it's the packaging that kills me. They came in a standard clear plastic bag that you tear open on the top. Except on this package, there was one of those zip-lock closing mechanisms, like you find on a bag of carrots or the eponymous sandwich bags.

Now, I've been pondering this all afternoon, but I cannot figure out the purpose of this. I suppose it is a 3 pack, so I won't be wearing them all immediately, but do I need to keep them fresh? Am I supposed to wash them and then return them to the bag, closing it tightly so they don't get stale? Or are they designed to be carefully removed one at a time and then sealed back up, so the remaining, un-worn boxers retain that fresh new clothing chemical smell?

I'm not sure there really is a reason for the zip-lock, but what blows my mind is that at some point in time someone was responsible for deciding to put it on there. I have to imagine that a standard shrink-wrap package without the re-usable zip-lock is cheaper and easier to produce. So somewhere along the line, someone (presumably in the marketing department) had to stop and say "Wait a minute everyone? What if the boxers came in a resealable bag? You know, to retain their freshness." And then, understanding corporate America as I do, this had to go through several committees and higher-up personnel, all of whom didn't understand what was going on, or thought that yes indeed, it would be a good idea to put cheap pieces of underwear in a resealable bag.

It's these kind of things I can't help but think about every time I walk past the business building on campus and realize that the marketing majors inside will earn far, far more money in their lifetime than I will. But then again, I'm not smart enough to come up with the idea of selling a non-perishable item in a resealable bag...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

World's Oldest Pot Stash Found

Via the Discovery Channel website, it seems that archeologists have found the world's oldest stash of pot. Dating over 2,700 years old (the story is quick to point out it won't get you high after sitting that long), it was buried with a shaman. The careful removal of all male plants indicates it was harvested for the same reasons it's being harvested today. Apparently the shaman thought he'd need quite a bit in the hearafter, which either speaks to a really cool or really frightening afterlife, depending on what your personal views are.

In unrelated (or is it?) news, a contestant got the showcase exactly right on the Price is Right.

So big news in both marijuana and day time television; we have apparently just gone through the stoner's best week ever.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You Know, the Reason People Used to go to College

Over at the New America Foundation, they've compiled a list of what the BCS bowl pairings would be if academics were factored in (answer: we'd be looking at a one-sided drubbing of Boston College over Northwestern).

While such worthless pursuits as learning will never be a factor in big-time college football, the article highlights some pretty disturbing trends, such as a 30% graduation rate for University of Texas football players, with only a 27% rate for African-Americans. And the vast majority of those not graduating are not going on to Vince Young-level contracts in the pros. No, most of them are going on to meaningless dead-end jobs without college degrees.

To repeat a tired criticism of the shamatuer system in college football, back in the day when powerful Southern white men used poor and uneducated African-Americans to achieve great wealth while paying nothing for services performed it was called slavery. Now it's just America's pastime...

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Last Class...Ever

The end of the semester is always a fun and exciting time, but I have to admit today is a bit more exciting than all of the previous ones combined. You see, in my short 26 years on this planet, I have been going to school for 21 of those years. And not including the one year between undergraduate and graduate school, I don't even really remember the years without school, so I pretty much don't remember a time when I wasn't taking classes.

But today it all changes, as I head to the last meeting of the final class I will ever take. Granted, being an academic I will more or less be in the classroom for the next 50 years or so, but I will be in front of the room. And yes, I know we're all life-long learners and blah, blah, blah, but this is the clear-cut end of my formal, classroom-based education.

I still have a final paper to write for the class so this is a bit anti-climactic as an end point, but it nicely marks a formal end to my years upon years of course work. And on the plus side, since it's graduate school, we're meeting half of the course in the classroom and then moving to the bar for the second half, so it's a proper send off.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Support Chicago's Factory Occupation!

As I write this, workers of UE Local 1110 in Chicago have occupied their factory to prevent its imminent closure. Here's a good write up on the situation

Workers occupying the Republic Windows & Doors factory slated for closure are vowing to remain in the Chicago plant until they win the $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them by management.

In a tactic rarely used in the U.S. since the labor struggles of the 1930s, the workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, refused to leave the plant on December 5, its last scheduled day of operation.

"We decided to do it because this is money that belongs to us," said Maria Roman, who's worked at the plant for eight years. "These are our rights."

Word of the occupation spread quickly both among labor and immigrant rights activists -- the overwhelming majority of the workers are Latinos. Seven local TV news stations showed up to do interviews and live reports, and a steady stream of activists arrived to bring donations of food and money and to plan solidarity actions.

Management claims that it can't continue operations because its main creditor, Bank of America (BoA), refuses to make any more loans to the company. After workers picketed BoA headquarters December 3, bank officials agreed to sit down with Republic management and UE to discuss the matter at a December 5 meeting arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill), said UE organizer Leah Fried.

BoA had said that it couldn't discuss the matter with the union directly without written approval from Republic's management. But Republic representatives failed to show up at the meeting, and plant managers prepared to close the doors for good -- violating the federal WARN Act that requires 60 days notice of a plant closure.

The workers decided this couldn't go unchallenged. "The company and Bank of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we're in the middle," said Vicente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local 1110.

Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of business -- and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.

Furthermore, while inventory records indicated there were plenty of parts in the plant, workers on the production line found shortages. And the order books, while certainly down from the peak years of the housing boom, didn't square with management's claims of a total collapse. "Where did all those windows go?" one worker asked.

Workers were especially outraged that Bank of America, which recently received a bailout in taxpayer money, won't provide credit to Republic. "They get $25 billion from the government, and won't loan a few million to this company so workers can keep their jobs?" said Ricardo Caceres, who has worked at the plant for six years.

Please do all you can to help. If you'd like to donate some desperately needed money, you can do so here:

For more information on what's happening and on what you can do, click here:

There's also extensive coverage of the occupation here:

And if you're the petition signing kind, please go here:

Friday, December 05, 2008

Slow Week and All of That

On Tuesday morning I arose at 7 a.m. and donned a shirt and tie (two things whose monumental significance cannot be overstated) to defend my prelim. The prelim is basically a big test in the form of a paper we spend 6 months writing and then have to defend in front of our committee. By passing it, I've more or less passed the last big hurdle on the way to getting my Ph.D. Except for that whole dissertation thing, but how hard can that be?

Anyway, tuesday was the culmination of a looooooooong and draining process, so I've mostly spent the last week in a mixture of partying and recovering. Not that I don't have a great deal to do before this semester's over, but the nature of academia is such that you so rarely get an objective milestone to meet and pass. And when one of these rare events presents itself, one has to milk it for all of the congratulatory partying and time off that one can...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Economists Couldn't See This Coming, Which is Their Only Job

This is from a New York Times interview with Jamie Galbraith:

Do you find it odd that so few economists foresaw the current credit disaster?

Some did. The person with the most serious claim for seeing it coming is Dean Baker, the Washington economist. I saw it coming in general terms.

But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis?
Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science?

It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless.

You’re referring to the Washington-based conservative philosophy that rejects government regulation in favor of free-market worship?

Reagan’s economists worshiped the market, but Bush didn’t worship the market. Bush simply turned over regulatory authority to his friends. It enabled all the shady operators and card sharks in the system to come to dominate how we finance.

As a social scientist, it irks me when the opinions of economists are given such a great weight in public and political discussions, yet the opinions of people like me who actually do research rather than just spout the same ideology over and over are relegated to the dustbin of ivory-tower eggheads who don't know anything.

But what makes it even more insulting, is that economists are usually wrong, and often in spectacular ways such as this. And yet, they're still the highly-paid experts everyone listens to. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose...

Where Your Tax Dollars Go

So it turns out the fine folks at the St. Paul Sheriff's department spent over $300,000 spying on people in the run-up to the RNC.

Even ignoring the horrible things this says about our democracy, is there not something better we could be doing with a third of a million dollars in the Twin Cities? Last time I checked, we've got a bunch of homeless people who need places to sleep and food to eat, bridges that keep falling down, rising tuition costs at our universities...I could pretty much keep that list going all day. And everything on it would be a better use of a giant chunk of money than is spying on our citizenry who are doing nothing more than exercising their constitutionally-protected right to organize.

And really, what did this horrible breach of legality get us? It was already clear this small group was not going to be able to shut down the convention. All of the "intelligence" suggesting there was going to be violence was either made-up or based on a laughable and clearly incorrect informants (do we all remember how Mike Whalen's house was raided for shipments of weapons that turned out to be pamphlets about vegetarian recipes?).

For me, the timing of such a story couldn't be more perfect, as tomorrow morning I defend a prelim on how the police, both historically and contemporary, have existed far more to preserve the existing status quo than to protect the citizenry or prevent crime. I think any question I get about my central thesis can simply be directed to the reports of the police spending a third of a million dollars to spy on the anarchists based on the fact that people who look different are surely up to something...