Monday, December 20, 2004

Sound business practices

Wednesday night, my DSL line quit working. Not just an inability to log on - the blinkenlights on the DSL modem were indicating problems even establishing a connection.

Called Earthlink support line on Friday, and we established there was no dial tone on the DSL line, and that I should contact my local phone company to have them fix the line.

Now, here's the problem: My "local phone company" doesn't provide my DSL line. See, the deal originally offered by Mindspring (before Earthlink bought them out) was $50/month to cover both the physical DSL line and the ISP service. Granted, I assume they contract the physical line out to local companies, but I've never dealt with that local company, whoever they might be. My payment goes direct to Earthlink. Someone from Covad originally installed the line, but now (4 years later), there's no listing for Covad in the local phone book.

I explained this to Earthlink service reps. Repeatedly. In no uncertain terms. I probably talked to 8-10 different people. Most of them didn't understand what I was telling them (that, from my point of view, Earthlink is both my ISP and the telco that provides the DSL line itself), and the ones that did understand it refused to believe it. I did finally get someone who somehow figured out that they needed to get their local installation techs to deal with the problem. They said they would call me back Saturday morning (it's Monday - still haven't heard from them), but also transferred me to talk to someone right away. Of course, the nice electronic hold lady voice told me that "right away", in this case, meant after a wait of "greater than 30 minutes".

Unfortunately for them, in the time it took to get to this point (actually half the time, since she started about midway through the call), Brenda had gotten Time-Warner on her cell phone and arranged for them to set us up with cable modem service, at a better price. Which made it sort of pointless to sit there on hold for half an hour, beyond the hour or so I had already been on the phone, getting increasingly frustrated and irate.

It's a shame: Earthlink has been a perfectly good ISP for four years, up until we actually had a problem. Their tech support line pissed away that good will in an hour and a half. Basically through a stubborn inability to deviate from their pre-written scripts, which weren't written to cover my specific situation.

Anyone care to hazard a guess as to whether that support was in-house or outsourced?

Unfortunately, this does mean I'm without internet access at home until the 31st or so, although since we'll be out of town for most of that time, it's not as bad as it could have been. It did make for a somewhat tense weekend.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Great Moments in Unbiased Journalism

Nope, no liberal bias here.

In this article, "Preserving Family Peace at Holiday Dinner", about what to do when a family member makes an offensive remark at dinner, Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Gayle White inexplicably takes the opportunity to remind everyone about that time Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond:
Some of the country's top political and religious leaders have had to decide what to do since Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) made a statement that seemed to support segregation to a room full of partygoers.

So in the middle of an article about how to handle awkward comments during holiday visits with the family, the author takes a 3-paragraph detour to bash a former Republican Senator.


Holiday Fun Pack

Every year-end wrap-up list you're likely to need, all in one place.
Particularly fun are the Top 10 Web Diversions (as well as her 2003 Top 10 Web Diversions).
It's a Wonderful Life, In 30 Seconds, And Re-Enacted By Bunnies
"Did you check the list?"
(Terry Pratchett, Hogfather)

Friday, December 10, 2004

"Jesus didn't turn people away"

CBS and NBC have refused to broadcast a 30-second commercial produced by the United Church of Christ, because it's "too controversial": It basically points out that the UCC, unlike many other denominations, welcomes gay couples. So the UCC has filed petitions with the FCC to deny license renewal to a couple of CBS/NBC affiliates in Miami.

Now, I like the UCC commercial, and I agree with their message. I don't particularly like the idea of forcing networks to sell commercial time and air ads they don't want to air.

I do find CBS's policy a little baffling: They say they won't accept "advertising that touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance" (funny, I could swear I remember seeing ads fitting that description on CBS in the weeks leading up to the election). I also find it hard to believe they never run "advertising that proseletyzes on behalf of any single religion".

So it seems to me that they're being rather arbitrary in refusing to accept this particular ad. In a perfect libertarian utopia, though, they would have the right to be arbitrary. And the fact that you're reading this is an example of how that would be OK - the UCC is still getting their message out through other means, and the CBS/NBC refusal to air even generates publicity itself.

In our non-utopian world, the legal argument might have some merit. Basically, in earlier rulings, the USSC relied on the existence of the fairness doctrine to say that although there is some requirement that FCC licensees (TV stations) serve the public interest, including discussion of issues of public importance, networks couldn't be forced to sell air time. But the UCC argues that the FCC has stopped enforcing the fairness doctrine, so the court needs to re-examine the issue, which I would agree with, based on the case law cited in the petition.

I don't think TV stations should be under any obligation to "serve the public interest", but if we're going to insist that they are, then I agree that rejecting an ad specifically because it takes a position on an issue of public importance fails to uphold that obligation.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Bad Santa!

Sex offender playing Santa accused of indecent act with girl portraying elf
"You live and learn, even with Santa," Withrow told The Daily Courier of Forest City. "We'll have to do criminal background checks on whoever plays Santa."

"Live and learn," indeed. There was certainly no reason to do criminal background checks before now. After all, who could have predicted that a child molester might try to get a job as a department-store Santa?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Tangible Disproof of Marxism

In a comment on my last post, Kwik2Jujj provided a link to a site that sells Origami Boulders. I find this particularly interesting, because I have, for years, used a thought experiment employing essentially this very thing as a disproof of the labor theory of value upon which so much of Marx's economic theory is constructed. Simplifying greatly, the labor theory of value says that the value of any commodity is ultimately determined by the labor that went into producing it.

So: Imagine a famous artist. This artist locks himself in his ivory tower for a year, and, at the end of that time, emerges with an Origami Boulder (i.e., a crumpled-up sheet of paper), which he then offers for sale to art collectors. The artist claims that he spent the year in his ivory tower meticulously folding this Origami Boulder into this precise configuration, one painstaking crease at a time.

How do the art collectors place a value on this item? According to the labor theory of value, if the artist is telling the truth about how he produced it, its value would be one person-year of labor. That is, one person expended a year of labor to create it.

But what if the artist is lying? Suppose that upon locking himself in his ivory tower, he took a sheet of paper, crumpled it up randomly, and then spent the next year in his tower playing videogames? By the labor theory of value, this Origami Boulder has virtually no value whatsoever (say, ten person-seconds of labor).

And even worse: Suppose the artist emerges after his year of isolation with two identical, indistinguishable Origami Boulders. One of them, he created on the first day in the ivory tower by randomly crumpling up a sheet of paper. The other one, he created by carefully examining the randomly crumpled sheet, and painstakingly reproducing it fold-by-fold. When it was complete, he put the two Origami Boulders into some sort of opaque rotating-drum apparatus and then pulled them out, so that not even the artist knows which Origami Boulder was randomly crumpled, and which was meticulously folded. Can they now have equal values, even though one required vastly more labor to produce than the other?

Personally, I tend to agree with the more Austrian-school theories about value being subjective, and that in any exchange, each party exchanges something of lesser (subjective) value for something of greater (subjective) value, so that (subjectively) each party to the exchange benefits, or else they would not have carried out the exchange at all. And I recall someone somewhere, discussing the value of "collector's" items, saying that any such item is worth exactly what someone will actually offer to pay you for it, no more, no less, regardless of what an appraiser might say.

Applying that to the Origami Boulder, it should be easy to see that they are worth precisely what people are willing to pay for them, which would depend on variables such as how popular/respected the artist is, how well it is marketed, etc. In the final hypothetical of two identical boulders, they would likely be valued identically by the market, except that both of them together would probably be worth more than twice as much as either by itself, because they are more interesting as a set.

It all sort of makes me want to add an Origami Boulder to my list of things I want for Christmas. Which, of course, by increasing the demand for them, increases the "value" of the things themselves...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Book Report

(plus some filler that's bound to offend someone)

I don't actually remember To Kill a Mockingbird as having quite this many ninjas and laser swords in it, although I always did like the climactic space battle between the pirates and the Mockingbird Armada.

And, with the holidays all up on us, you may want to order a S'Mores Nativity Set. Then the whole family can gather together, sing Tom Waits songs, and ask each other, "Hey, who ate Baby Jesus?"

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The New New School Prayer

Rush Limbaugh the other day read to his listeners the "New School Prayer" that the high school principal got in trouble for reciting to his school in Athens, Georgia recently.

For the benefit of Mr. Limbaugh, and others who may have trouble grasping why some people might object to that poem being read by an official to students in a public school, I present a slight rewrite. Would you mind a high school principal reciting the following to his students?

Now I sit me down in school
Where [goat-slaying] is against the rule
For this great nation under God
Finds [devil worship] very odd.

If [the Litanies of Satan] now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
And [any creature I disembowel]
Becomes a Federal matter now.

Our hair can be purple, orange or green,
That's no offense; it's a freedom scene.
The law is specific, the law is precise.
[Demonic conjurations] spoken aloud are a serious vice.

For [blasphemy] in a public hall
Might offend someone with [any] faith at all.
In silence alone we must meditate,
[Lord Satan’s] name is prohibited by the state.

We're allowed to [be polite] and dress like [Jesus] freaks,
And [leave un-pierced] our noses, tongues and cheeks.
They've outlawed guns, but [kids can still carry the] Bible.
To quote the [Necronomicon] makes me liable.

We can elect a [chaste] Senior Queen,
And the [Platonic friend], our Senior King.
It's "inappropriate" to teach [soul-selling contract law],
We're taught that such [moral education should be left to Ma and Pa].

We can get our condoms and birth controls,
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
But [*real* occultism is] not allowed,
No word of [Crowley] must reach this crowd.

It's [not scary enough] here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the school's [blessed].
So, [Beelzebub], this silent plea I make:
Should I be shot; My soul please [drag below to crew an infernal trireme in the sulfurous lake]!


Note that I left uncorrected most of the idiotic misunderstanding of Constitutional law and history from the original. I think it's sufficient to point out here that students can do all the praying in school they want to, silently or aloud, to the entity of their choice. They just can't make it part of an official or mandatory school function.