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31 July 2006

I owe my sanity to alternative media

I saw an interesting case study in information theory this morning.
It was interesting enough, in a human interest sense, to justify
attention from the media. For this particular informational
phenomenon the most imaginable of outlets for such information would
be the bottom feeders of the communicating arts' intelligence as well
as SNR scales... the local TV news crew.

Basically, a gas station we passed in the course of certain routine
errands read 2.989, but (as synchronicity or station policy or
whatever) the `2' was half blown away in the morning wind, and there
was clearly visible a (as of yet `unblown') 1 over which the 2 had
obviously been pinned up.

Fortunately[?], the only TV station number I happened to have on speed
dial was WHPR, channel 33 (and FM 88.1) in Highland Park, MI. Not
that they wouldn't necessarily take an interest in such information,
but their focus is talk TV, talk radio and TV-radio simulcasting, not
brain=dead quasi-journalism embedded in large amounts of (increasingly
blaring to easily 30+dB over `signal') noise. Nevertheless, I had no
other apropos phone numbers handy, so I decided to give them a shout.

I had no idea what I might say to whoever might answer the phone at
WHPR. As I struggled with the bizzy signals I was rehearsing and
scripting an improv. It went something like this:

I understand you most likely don't have truckfuls of news crews and
their gear zooming around the metro area as do your main$tream
colleagues, but you're the only TV station I happened to have on speed
dial and I don't have a phone book on me at the moment and I'm to
cheap (ie poor) to call directory assistance, and I just couldn't
bring myself not to tell someone, and you're the only seemingly
apropos someone I've got, so here it is: At 13-Ryan is (or was,
anyway) a typical graphical error containing a humorous mensaje about
humyn nature, as well as about the energy situation. To my continuing
disappointment with myself, I went out without a camera again. Since
you're in the TV biz, I figured you might have one.

As it turns out, my call was answered not by a `person' (which in
general and also in this instance bothers me not in the least) but by
(apparently) the call-queueing system for a call-in talk show. I
don't know whether the number I dialed in on was for call-in or just
listening, but I elected to do the latter for a minute or two, even
though I didn't even begin to have a script handy for an impromptu
talk radio (but on-air nevertheless) appearance.

After listening for about 10 seconds, I certainly resolved that if
someone did say `caller you're on,' I wouldn't talk about anything
nearly so trivial as the price of gas, let alone humorous anecdotes
about the same.

The subjects under discussion during the (maybe not even) all of two
minutes that I heard were numerous, as the discussion was very
fast-paced and about subjects that interest me a great deal. In spite
of this shared interest (or perhaps because of it), I virtually
cradled my $ell phone and resolved instead to blog an entry about this
anecdote at such a time as I might get a round tuit. As can hopefully
be seen, that time has arrived and is now here, and I am now here at a
computer. Perhaps as soon as Friday (or as not-so-soon as a couple or
three months from now), you (whoever you might be) will be reading the
present text. Perhaps not.

There was something said about `politricks,' specifically the brand of
politricks centered around conspicuous hiring, or what I call
`publicity hires.' I can't be sure, but I imagined it was a reference
to one of Governor Granholm's recent spammercials in which she is
pictured with what seems like a few hundred new hires with the highway
department. From what I was able to gather based on `news' coverage
of the `event,' I was actually (mostly pleasantly, suggesting possible
red-over-black prioritization?) surprised that the jobs, while not on
the state payroll, were mostly nevertheless in the public sector at
the county or local levels. I'm actually largely undecided on
questions involving government de/centralization. In -general-, I
like to think of myself as a radical decentralist along the lines of
Paul Goodman (as well as of course Emma Goldman). In general, I like
to think of myself as someone who regards debates over centralization
versus decentralization of the public sector as akin to debates over
optimal rearrangement of deck chairs on doomed vessels. BTW, the
front page of today's detnews.com had some stark numeric data (in many
point type) regarding the only-so-recent tragedy aboard Ethan Allen on
Lake George.

At any rate, I just wanted to shout out to cypherspace (whether it
matters or not) that I appreciate to a considerable degree the hard
work of people in alternative media. It's some of the most thankless
work imaginable, due I think mostly to the tradeoff-oriented nature of
the humyn condition. The media industry in general seems to have a
higher SQ (salescrittership quotient) than most industries, which is
kind of [sic] ironic given the media's reputations for flagrant
liberalism as well as the $ale$ community's reputation for nearly the
opposite. Add to that the fact that the pressure to wax salesy is
invariably more burdensome (which is nevertheless seen as good news by
some) to small as contrasted with large places of business. Yet so
many toil so patiently in the world of micromedia.

Perhaps another world really is possible.

One small step for market transparency...



On 14 July 2006 I saw the Channel 7
Editorial presented by Chuck Stokes. The subject for that day was the
unnveiling of the web site michigandrugprices.com.



Imagine a database of no less than 30 often-prescribed medications
are tracked by price and vendor at the above website. A price
instance database
of 30-some medications and maybe 30 or so (as is
so often the case) chain pharmacies and pharmacy departments. As
Stokes said, it's a start. Nevertheless, I would imagine such a
database (perhaps even in the proprietary ".mdb" or Access�
format) could fit easily on a 1.44MB floppy. When I get a round tuit
I will visit the Michigan drug prices website and see how webstacled it
is.



Michigan law for some time now has entitled people to prescription
price quotes in person and over the phone. The mechanization of the
process using a website is important in that people now need not worry
if their requests for quotes are holding up the line at the pharmacy
counter. A website also has the potential to warehouse empirical
microeconomic data (price quotes) for a large number of medications,
and hopefully also a large number of pharmacies, both chained and
otherwise. The potential also exists to build a veritable
informational lens for the drug-using public. Perhaps some of the
techniques of modern portfolio theory can be used to match optimized
portfolios of pharmacies to consumers' portfolios of prescriptions. This is a
more computationally intensive task than determining which particular
pharmacy has the lowest total price for a given individual's market
basket
of prescriptions. Such market baskets (or bundles) are
all-too-familiar to persons who have recently used online `databases'
set up for the purpose of matching Medicare Part D `recipients' and
their vouchers to single insurance companies. When Part D was first
announced, the AARP was for it because they saw it as the best thing
for health care that also has short to medium term political
feasibility in the United States. I saw it as that, but more
essentially as a small step for the cause of
transparency
and a giant leap for the cause of privatization, not
just of Medicare but of information.



Markets (in the sense of "the market for X" or "the going rate for X")
are described (rightly or wrongly) as being on a scale
(depending on which "X") from "monopoly" to "perfect competition."
The former is characterized, according to theory, by
market opacity, price discrimination and high entry and exit costs.
The latter is characterized by transparency (understood to mean
both buyers and sellers are street wise regarding prices),
the "law of one price," and open competition, unhampered by
(say) licensing (in either the IP or credentialing sense),
protection rackets, trade secrecy, and other barriers to entry.



Some of the least wealthy places and people have been getting some
medications at reduced prices, which is location-based (I forgot which
degree that's supposed to be) price discrimination. This seems to the
pharma-ceutical industry to be more palatable than compromising their
strongly held political views on the subject of patents-in-perpetuity.
I speak as one who applauds price discrimination in favor of people
who need it badly, yet I am also a militant advocate of extreme
transparency, especially in consumer and labor markets. This
phenomenon is called "conflicting wants," and is a disease of
normativists such as myself. Perhaps a world in which people of
modest means can benefit from immodestly priced pharmaceuticals is
only possible if the pharmaceutical marketplace is managed according
to a Providian-type business model, in which empirical data points
about the supply and demand curves (which contain the relevant information
about prices and their elasticities), especially in the aggregate, are
closely guarded proprietary information, which those members of the
public purchasing "prescription (or general healthcare) discount
cards" can access a few data points at a time, which it is claimed
(with `satisfaction' guaranteed) results in smaller (`up to' 70
pct. in some cases) outlays for covered (now you're covered!) health
care products and services.
One must not misunderestimate the economic wisdom displayed by
President Bush in appointing Providian's former chaircritter
to head up whatever investigative unit of the SEC was supposed
to address transparency and conflict of interest issues in the
financial markets.

Ceramics, in relationship to commercial art, art education and more.



I have recently been strugglin' with questions about fair use. One
thing that has piqued that interest in recent weeks has been my
discovery of barcode wikia. Go look it up...learning new markup
languages is a slow process for Netizen Lorraine. Anyway, much of my
internal ethical struggle has centered around what some term
`derivative works.' Roughly speaking, these are what happens when
original content collides with unoriginal concepts.

Obviously, the most openly derivative of creative pursuits has got to
be advertising. I reminded myself of this recently by diving into my
collection of VHS� tapes (I'm a vagrant netizen in multiple
ways...) and re-watching the 2004 US Open (golf, not tennis). At
some level, this violates my own conscience, no so much in my belief
that people somehow violate the intellectual property of others by
taping stuff off the television airwaves, but more by the guilt over
using such exotic (by the austere expectations of the vagrant netizen)
technologies as VHS�-licensed media and machines, which offer
capabilities beyond the most utopian fantasies of literally hundreds
of generations of samizdateli for something as mundane as men's
professional golf interlaced with numerous golfomercials. I mean,
even if I never get around tuit and `re-constitute' that setup I once
had rigged between our VHS� VCR and our modified Minolta�
video camera with the formerly proprietary handy-dandy electrical
interface to both the 12VDC power supply and the composite A/V signal
lines of the Minolta� portable VCR which unfortunately suppliable
at the gar(b)age sale where we had bought the camera. For a few
precious months I actually had live action montage capability,
although it was a very dim and lo-res one as there seems to be
something wrong, at some level, with the camera. To make a long story
at least a little bit shorter, the untimely death of our other VCR
necessitated unplugging our surviving VCR from the breadboard and
enlist it in the dreary work of taping stuff off the free (as in beer)
airwaves. When one is in love, one gladly makes such sacrifices.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about `derivative work,' whatever that
might be. What triggered it was seeing a 2+ year old golfomercial. I
distinctly remember the 'mercial from back then, but had forgotten
whose advertising campaign it was. Re-watching the 2004 USGAMO
reminded me that the advertiser in question was Lexus�. It was
about a wintersports enthusiast and occasional hitchhiker who was
discussing with his companion his interest (an academic interest, no
less) in ceramics. The punch line of the golvert had something to do
with minoring rather than majoring in ceramics.


A (seemingly) more recent incarnation of the witty deployment of the
concept of a `ceramics major' as a concept in advertising is a recent
radio advertising insertion bankrolled by or for the National
Fatherhood Initiative. It's part of their `be a dad' campaign and
implores the audience "have you been a dad today?" The NFI blitz
describes many ways in which people[?] can earn their dadhood, at
least for a day. One is by driving home the point that a dad worthy
of the job title will evaluate investments in the education of his
offspring based primarily on direct applicability to careerism. In
this respect, in creative terms, the NFI advomercial is lifted
directly (and pretty much `whole cloth') from the Lexus�
golfomerical.

It must be emphasized that I am in no way accusing NFI or its agents
of any kind of wrongdoing. I simply found one of their many ads to be
an amusing case study in the recycling of advertising gimmicks.
Another interesting case study involves Daimler und Chrysler... not
the present-day business resulting from the merger of DaimlerBends and
Chrysler, but the separate entities that existed prior to the vaunted
merger of equals. Shortly before the merger a Dodge� commercial
recyled Mercedes�' cute (the first time) inclusion of rhinoceri
(or rhinoceroses) in a car commercial, the beasts in both cases
serving as an example of what's out there, traffic-wise.

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