Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Exxon Valdez Ruling

I don't know very much about this, but the Supreme Court just ruled that punitive damages cannot exceed compensatory damages.  Having just take a survey class on law and economics, I know that there are some good reasons for punitive damages (the classic one is that compensatory damages should be scaled up by the inverse of the probability of getting caught for the misdeed), so this rule strikes me as slightly simplistic.  But I'm not clear on why, after paying for all the damage that they did, Exxon should be expected to pay an enormous amount in punitive damages.  

Yahoo News is covering this story from the victims' perspective.  Not surprisingly, many of them are unhappy to be getting less money rather than more.  In fact, many of them "were planning their retirements with the $2.5 billion in punitive damages that Exxon Mobil Corp. was expected to pay."  Given that these people received compensatory damages, which means that they were (at least in theory) compensated for lost earnings (and lost future productivity), is it reasonable for them to demand that Exxon also pay for their retirements?  I'm not convinced that the answer is "yes."  I'm quite sure that a lot of people do not feel that the compensatory damages were adequate, but nobody seems to care about the distinction between the types of damages.

On a lighter note, one fisherman attempted to express his indignation by saying,
It [the decision] really hurts...It gives big business the formula they need to calculate the cost of their actions when they destroy the environment.  This gives them the formula to calculate their risk, period.
Would he prefer that big business only have an unbiased estimate of the cost of their actions?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is the iPhone Misogynistic?

The L.A. Times reports that Erica Watson-Currie has trouble with using her iPhone because of her long fingernails.  And she's not the only one.
She and other women who have long nails - as well as people of all genders with chunky fingers - have real trouble typing on the iPhone.
"Why does Apple persist in this misogyny?" Watson-Currie asks, apparently unaware that some men too have long nails.  Of course, long nails interfere with a great number of productive activities, iPhone use being only one of them.  And that leads me to my claim, which is that interference with productivity is exactly the point of having long nails.  Veblen talks directly about clothing and shoes that purposefully cripple women of high standing, signaling that their families are so well off that those women need not engage in productive activity.  Long nails seem to serve exactly the same purpose.

Complaining that devices do not cater to the needs of women with long nails does make sense from the individual nail-owner's perspective, because a nail-compatible iPhone would erode the signaling value of nails.  For the woman who would prefer to signal but can't because, for some reason or other she is of inferior quality, such a device would provide a short-term boost.  But, once everyone figured out that nails no longer guarantee a crippling inability to engage in productive tasks, women and other signalers would be forced to find another way to conspicuously cripple themselves.  So maybe, Apple isn't so misogynistic after all - maybe they're saving the world from an inferior equilibrium in which products must cater to those with long nails (which is costly), and in which women must adopt another form of self-crippling fashion statement.

As a side note, the chunky fingers quote reminded me of the scene in "King Size Homer" in which Homer, having purposefully gained a lot of weight, attempts unsuccessfully to dial the phone.  "The fingers you have used to dial...are too fat.  To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad now."

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Internet That Wasn't

I was very pleased with myself for avoiding retaining Comcast's services, because they charge exorbitant "installation" fees and have incompetent customer service.  I called on RCN instead, and they sent out a very friendly, helpful tech who got the Internet running in five minutes and then got out of our way.  That was Tuesday. 

A week later Wednesday, while I was at the bureau, Mia called to tell me that the internet was down.  The (Apple) wireless router was blinking amber.  I pulled out the only trick in my bag, i.e. the "power cycle," but that didn't work, so I told Mia to call RCN.  They told her that it was a Boston area problem, and that hopefully it would be fixed soon.

Today is Monday, and we still don't have Internet.  And, much more shockingly, the people at RCN don't seem to think that this is remarkable in any way.  According to the illiterati of RCN technical support, the entire Boston area has been without service for five days.  They were nice enough to offer us a waiver for 2 days of service, which came to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

On The Eve of Beer-Making

Mia's birthday present to me was beer-making equipment. We haven't bought the equipment yet, but we have been speculating on what beers to make. Here are the three best ideas:

1. Caraway-flavored rye wine. It will be like liquid rye bread.

2. Smoked bacon-bock. You know how some bars serve blueberry beers with blueberries floating in them? Imagine a manlier version of that.

3. Old cock ale. This is stolen from the Sam Adams guy. You throw a rooster or two into the beer during the boiling, and you get a beer that's perfect for when you're home sick.

Can't wait.