Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spotting the Trend of Online Social Networking

This past week I have been quite busy in my day job, and the trend looks to continue this coming week most certainly.

Although, speaking of trends, I would like to use one of my more favorite segments from
The Daily Show to further what I feel are the intricate issues of online social networking. What better way to make a point, other than satire?

Demetri Martin explains:

I'll get back with another column later next week.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


For those who read Economic Principals by David Warsh, every so often Warsh will show in his pieces an ability to construct the semantic connections that show how relevant something can be. I will be honest and say that it is a fancy way of playing the “Degrees of Separation” game.

In order to retain and gain some sort of relevancy with my friends, and acquaintances whom I think should want me to be great friends with them (that’s a joke), I will try and do the same sort of semantic construct that David Warsh does, but instead of economics professors or old newspaper firms, I will be using bands and individual music artists (hey, it’s the weekend). I imagine that this exercise will feel a lot like the lyrics to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.” In fact, as the lyrics of the song go, I will also be stating this knowledge as a show of my relevancy. Whether this attempt at musical elitism will pass or fail however, I think is a matter for Picthfork, or my good friend, Will, to decide (again, joking here).

To start, we’ll leap from the line with The Breeders, whom are probably best known for their album Last Splash, which contained the single “Cannonball.” The Breeders have had lineup changes galore, however, Kim Deal has been the main catalyst of the group and its leader. Now, while Kim herself is famous – even The Dandy Warhols wrote a song about her called “Cool as Kim Deal” – I will go with Tanya Donelly, who apart from having a solo career (I always dug the track “Night You Saved My Life”), was in the group Belly.

Belly was another alternative rock band in the early 90s, which by the way, my favorite track of theirs is “Feed the Tree” from their 1993 album, Star. Donelly left Belly in 1996, after which the band disassembled, as well. Fast forward to 2005, and Tonya Donnelly was working with Mark Eitzel. Eitzel has released many albums with the band American Music Club, as well as some solo albums, his latest being Candy Ass in 2005, which contained one of my favorite tracks, “Make Sure They Hear.” Prior to Eitzel’s 2005 release, in 1998 he worked on an album with the assistance of James McNew from Yo La Tengo.

Yo La Tengo once did a music video for “Sugarcube” that featured comedian, David Cross (you may remember him from the show, Arrested Development). David Cross also worked in a music video with another of my favorite bands, The Black Keys. In 2003, The Black Keys toured with one of my favorite Washington based indie rock bands, Sleater Kinney. Sleater Kinney once toured with the Blues Explosion and were mistaken as groupies, when obviously, in fact, they were one of the acts to perform on stage.

By the way, The Blues Explosion and Sleater Kinney had somewhat similar formats: two guitars, drums, and no bass player.

The Blues Explosion through all their years of releasing albums worked with many people. In their 1998 album, Acme, the track “Blue Green Olga” featured backing vocals from Jon Spencer’s wife, Cristina Martinez, as well as Jill Cunniff, from Luscious Jackson. For those who weren’t living under a rock in the 1990s, we can remember that Luscious Jackson had many hits and transcended a genre or two during their tenure.

And what will finally bring us back to the beginning is that Vivian Trimble, of Luscious Jackson, left the group in 2001 to do an album with Josephine Wiggs, of…you guessed it, The Breeders.

Back to economics and politics next week, enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More than a Minute

Last time, I wrote about what influences there are in what we purchase on how we work, but have we ever thought about how we write, or express our thoughts?

In today’s society of 24-hour television news, 10-second online social quizzes, as well as social networking sites themselves, it’s a wonder how any observer learns of a situation, or a person for that matter, in a manner that is not merely shallow. Even in our emails, in business we have been taught that the proper etiquette is to keep things short and simple.

In the end though, the person who really has the interest has to keep prodding for more information. Why, even recently, I sent an email to a co-worker, and then had a reply telling me about policy of which I already knew. The email tried to explain to me that needed to see and sign the attached documents first. Well, those managers were on the distribution list, so there is the rub. And I find it quite disingenuous when you send something that is within policy guidelines only to have to read a reply to that very same message telling you that what you just sent has to be within policy guidelines.

Uhhh? Well, if what I sent was not within the guidelines, you could just tell me explicitly. Then again, they were within guidelines, so what would we even discuss? But people like their high horses, so let them ride.

But what if there was a different way? What if there was a better way socially, politically, and businesslike? What if thorough writing was first priority leading to encouraging – you do not have to require it – full responses that contain context?

The 24-hour news networks suffer the most. Since their goal is to keep everyone up to date almost every hour, they have to reiterate the same news pieces all day, with barely any addition to the story. And in case you thought that wasn’t bad enough, those stories get old. This situation is essentially what is meant by the phrase, “24-hour news cycle.” So, when these stories get old, they are discarded.

With that in mind, you can imagine how easy it can be for warrant-less wiretapping to lose its flavor for the average news viewer. And when you have an executive branch that can delay comment, action, and investigation, and can on top of that tell you that their executive privileges allow them do circumvent what we know as the law, or tell you that you are letting the terrorists win, I would be surprised for the story to go anywhere.

In fact, usually when news stories on warrant-less wiretapping do go somewhere, it takes a long time to come up with a report. When the report comes along weeks, or even months later, will anyone who is used to 30 second news clips bother to pay attention? Moreover, do they even know the report will be broadcast? What are the Neilson ratings for PBS’ Frontline? How do PBS’ ratings fair against NBC when it airs “To Catch a Predator?”

Some stories, no matter how important, lack the tangibility for people to provide the time out of their busy lives in order to make a difference. It may be because of this that some college students take up the cause. Unfortunately, some students are less educated then others, and you have the possibility of someone yelling obscenities for what seems to be absolutely no reason whatsoever.

So, instead of answering 10 second interviews for online social networking sites, write an essay about a topic important to you. Or, write an essay-autobiography describing what is important to you. If the paradigm were changed on what is required for giving people complete answers, we might actually get to know each other just a little better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


As I discussed in my last piece, race does not look like it will subside anytime soon as a hot button issue With so many people accusing each other of racism for taking certain positions (e.g. many citizens don’t like affirmative action), it’s a wonder how anyone even dares to explore any topics regarding race.

However, the fear of being accused a racist has yet to take hold of Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst, and Nikolai Roussanov, who wrote a paper entitled “Conspicuous Consumption and Race.” From their abstract:

Using nationally representative data on consumption, we show that Blacks and Hispanics devote larger shares of their expenditure bundles to visible goods (clothing, jewelry, and cars) than do comparable Whites….[W]e emphasize instead a model of status seeking in which conspicuous consumption is used to reflect a household's economic position relative to a reference group.
Should we get out the pitchforks and start storming university research centers? No, of course not. Remember that even though we are all American, a cornucopia of cultures exists. For one culture to be into cars or jewelry more than another should not come to a surprise.

So, Kofi et al. describe what they are observing as status-seeking. Or, as I have interpreted it, the disparity in consumption is a form of signaling.

But what leads to the disparity? Coming up with a hypothesis, I think this is part of a peer effect manufactured by the general media and black media to black culture. Using the music industry as an example, a lot of material from the rap genre glorifies and tantalizes about an excess life style. Within that life style are the visible goods that Kofi et al. describe.

An important note is to remind ourselves that to call these expenditures good or bad is judgment call that I think hardly anyone qualifies for. For example, a financial advisor may not look too highly upon such goods that hold very little equity and depreciate rather quickly. On the other hand, people’s own utility functions operate in such a manner that almost all of the time the purchases they make are for goods and services that they really want.

So, while my hypothesis above shows that a peer/media effect may explain the reasoning for what some could describe as fleeting purchases, the peer effect for work and co-workers may be an entirely different story.

In fact, according to
a paper by Jonathan Guryan, Kory Kroft, and Matt Notowidigdo, the people with whom we work may not affect our productivity. Now, we are not talking about a team project, or anything of the sort, but rather simply who works around you. The study the authors organized revolved around the pairings made at a golf tournament. Their results show that player’s scores did not falter even if paired with a player who had a considerably larger scoring handicap.

So, while trying to showcase lifestyle may be a product of observing and imitating culture (life imitating art), it seems that when it comes to making money, our influences are constrained only to what works, and in that sense, getting the job done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Forces of Habit

Recently ESPN’s Jeff Perlman wrote a piece on the University of Delaware’s reluctance, refusal, awkward excuses, and non-responses to play Delaware State University

Perlman’s piece regards the incident as purely regarding race. However, the situation may be even more nuanced than Perlman lets on.

The school came to be in 1891 only because the men running the First State wished not to allow blacks into their grand university. Under the Morrill Act, a state either could open its public educational facilities to all peoples, or start a separate-but-equal school for blacks. Hence, Delaware State.

In the ensuing 116 years, Delaware has treated Delaware State not as academic/athletic brethren, but as a piece of gum affixed to the bottom of its loafer. Del. State is where the scary black people congregate, where "those" types of folk go to college.

The problem is UD v. Del State is more socio-economic than it probably is racial anymore. Yet, so many tragedies like this start out as misguided racial solutions (starting Del State in order for UD to remain an all white institution) only to become these habitual stances on how one regards another race and its institutions.

Moreover, a large part of UD’s 6% black student body is separated by the income gap from whites and blacks. To the point, Del State’s tuition rates are far less than the University of Delaware’s. So, unless we decide to subsidize more blacks to go to college, the numbers will stay the same. Situations like these are most evidently the reason why economists continue to study the black-white achievement gap with fervor.

Perlman’s article is wasted on football. Luckily for him, that is why he writes for ESPN. The bigger issue is the admissions department of the University of Delaware. Why is higher education only for some blacks, yet most whites? What are the separating factors? Surely couldn’t the University of Delaware release some of its decision making critiques?

Other questions that I have pondered before, but Perlman did not raise himself are: If the University of Delaware’s student body is only 6% black, how many students is that actually (keeping in mind Delaware State’s student body is smaller)? How many of those students are in-state students? And consequently, the same questions can be asked for Delaware State University. Since in-state students pay less, it is quite possible that the income disadvantage minorities face makes them less apt to attend the University of Delaware, especially when other schools may be financially equal, and with a better educational reputation.

If we want to argue about racism, fine, but maybe we should really be honest about what college football is about. Along the way, some of us have to stick to our principles, and I hope that at some point in the future, it won’t only be George Will. The white – black achievement gap is bigger than football because this involves the futures of many young students. If Perlman really wanted to focus on something in football that should be changed, what about the goals of the NCAA as George Will has discussed before?

How does the NCAA fulfill its proclaimed purpose of maintaining "the athlete as an integral part of the student body"? Only 55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players at Division I-A schools graduate. The New York Times has reported that at Auburn, a perennial football power, many athletes have received "high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work." Eighteen members of the undefeated 2004 team took a combined 97 hours of those courses while at Auburn. Who believes such behavior is confined to Auburn?

My point is that the fate of Pearlman’s article was sealed before it was written. So much of what separates schools is in the price tag, and until we effectively reduce the black-white achievement gap, we will continue to bear witness to the University of Delaware’s racial composition and surreal attitude of playing Delaware State University as a…how did they say it back in the day…a peculiar institution.