Category Archives: economics

asian market of kickass

The Lady Friend and I recently decided to jump into the world of Asian supermarkets. We did this because we like Asian food and because we are adventure-seekers, but also because we are jobless hobos who wake up at noon and therefore miss things like actual farmers’ markets.

So we scoured the internets and found that Yelp is pretty postive about California Market near Western and 3rd. It’s a pretty cool place — when you pull into the parking lot, young ladies in paramilitary garb and red neckerchiefs try to hand you literature. Well, not us, because we’re white, but if you’re Korean you can go down there and find out what that’s about.

And the inside is pretty cool, too. It’s where old Korean ladies go to find things like coarse salt for pickling cabbage and where young Korean ladies go to buy prepackaged pickled cabbage. It’s also where discriminating young white hobos go to find the really good ramen.

But of course the Lady Friend and I like to cook, so we were there primarily for the raw ingredients. And here’s where my hippie paranoia began to spiral out of control, because as soon as I saw the GIGANTIC (and surely genetically tampered-with) Fuji apples on display, like a gang of grapefruits trying to get into an apple party, I began to feel like I had fallen out of my carefully cultivated bubble of organic-food wholesomeness and into a dystopic nightmare of Frankenfood imported from the Third World. Why is all this food so cheap? It’s never this cheap at Whole Foods. What’s wrong with it?? I began sifting through all the fruits and vegetables that had labels, confirming my own worst fear: many of them were from China.

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Posted in adventure, America, California, community, economics, filmmaking | 3 Comments

the state of the state

So the recession of the 1970s led to a throw-the-bums-out dismantling of the government in the 1980s, fuelled by a surprisingly robust collective resentment of government’s most visible institutions — the DMV, the IRS, and the school system. I’m not convinced that most Americans really understood the economics of trucking regulation or savings-and-loan oversight. But they did understand their own personal experiences with public institutions, which by the late ’70s and early ’80s had become unpleasant, frustrating, and often quite costly. So voters gave fairly sweeping authority to President Reagan and, later, Newt Gingrich, allowing them to deregulate and privatize all kinds of things, not based on whether it made good social and economic sense to do so, but based on a highly personal anger towards a system seen as both hopelessly incompetent and full of knaves.

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a bicycle built by two

The Bicycle Kitchen is one of those things that makes me glad to be living in L.A. A not-for-profit “educational center,” the Bicycle Kitchen will not — as I heard the employees patiently explain perhaps half a dozen times while … Continue reading

Posted in adventure, California, community, economics | 2 Comments

the future sound of television

Alex Epstein complains that TNT’s web viewing capabilities are frustrating, cumbersome, and really not worth the bother. This reminds me that I’ve been wanting to write about how I watch TV now — which is, entirely digitally — and examine … Continue reading

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al gore gets it almost right; eating your way to a cooler planet

Pollan’s prescription is simple — go back to actual farming. Create “polyculture” farms that plant a diversity of crops, rotate those crops, plant all year (most farms in the Midwest now lie unused for about half the year), and bring animals back to fill their natural function — eating pasture and making fertilizer. And rebuild local and regional food economies so that food doesn’t need to travel so far. Pollan points out that the president can take a lot of steps to make this happen. Some are symbolic — he suggests devoting a portion of the White House grounds to a “victory garden,” as Eleanor Roosevelt did during the war — while others are basic but eminently practical — direct military bases and schools to purchase locally-produced food, and give them assistance and an infrastructure through which to do it.

Of course, reform of farm subsidy is critical, but Pollan points out that this need not be bad news for farmers. Instead of simply throwing over the subsidies and letting farmers fend for themselves, Pollan proposes that we retrench our land-grant universities and begin teaching a whole new method of farming — highly scientific in approach, yet based on working with the natural order rather than trying to dominate it. He argues that agriculture can become one of the “green industries” everyone wants to promote. Careful, scientific polyculture is labor-intensive, requiring constant monitoring and oversight, not to mention a certain amount of sheer hard work. In other words, it creates jobs at all levels, from basic manual work for high school students and new immigrants to highly advanced technical work for college graduates.

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Posted in economics, the environment | 3 Comments

when the pros fail us

HBO has no real interest in putting out this podcast except as a kind of ad for the TV show and HBO generally. Whereas podcasts like The McLaughlin Group have lengthy ad segments mixed into them, and NPR’s shows are funded by the public and therefore ought to be available for free in every medium possible, there’s no revenue stream to pay for Bill Maher’s podcast. Like Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s famous show, it’s just a gift to the public.

This is jolly nice of them, of course, and as advertising it works — I would be interested in subscribing to HBO if (1) I had a TV and (2) I could afford cable. But the fact is that I’m neither paying for the show nor generating ad income for them. So why should they care if it’s plagued with technical problems?

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the indie elephant in the room

What Just Happened?, on the other hand, is being financed by oddball 2929 Entertainment, a sort of quasi-studio based in, of all places, Dallas. 2929, like a big studio, has two divisions: 2929 Productions, which produces features in the $10-40 million range, and HDNet Films, which produces smaller-budget, niche works in HD. As you can probably guess from the name, HDNet’s movies are partly a content stream for its HDNet cable channel. But what’s interesting about 2929 is that it was created by a couple of guys who started out doing sports broadcasting over the internet during the dot-com boom. Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban are a couple of internet billionaires (among the few who made it to the other side of the bubble), businessmen and tech entrepreneurs, not film geeks. So why are they so committed to Steven Soderbergh’s video experiments? Why are they releasing Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim, the odd new companion piece to his classic Henry Fool? (If ever there was a money-losing venture….)

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witch just goes to show….

But whether it was God or some clever ancient lawmaker who first outlawed witchcraft, there are surely very good reasons for it — reasons that ought to appeal to the stoutest and most scientific skeptic. Namely, witchcraft is fraud, pure and simple. Witchcraft was to the ancient world what astrology, homeopathy, “energy work,” Scientology, and the Atkins diet are to our own era — a dishonest attempt to use confirmation bias and other psychological effects to convince people that they can have something for nothing, that the world doesn’t work the way it appears to, that there’s a “secret knowledge” that’s available only through initiated practitioners and that can enable one to step around the rules that apply to everyone else.

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Posted in economics, religion, women | 1 Comment

numbers don’t lie, but they’re not always good at explaining why grandma has to live with us

But I.O.U.S.A isn’t just concerned about today’s debts. As becomes clear towards the end, the real killer isn’t what we owe now; that’s salt peanuts compared to what we will owe in the next forty years or so as the population ages and we’re forced to spend more and more on pensions, medical care, and prescription drugs. Here’s where I sat up in the theater, gooseflesh all over. Because today’s total national debt is already more than half our GDP, and this film’s projections, if they’re in any way remotely accurate, predict a national debt in the coming decades that will actually completely dwarf our GDP, many times over. Remember when you were a kid, and they had those diagrams — “How many Earths could fit in side the Sun?” This is like that. And when that happens, we will literally have no more money left for anything but paying Social Security and the national debt. No national defense. The fucking Canadians will just come across the border and make us all wear flannel and replace our table sugar with maple syrup. Jesus.

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Posted in economics, filmmaking | 1 Comment