They're Eggspensive

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Sorry for the pun, but… see my blog's name. Got to indulge every so often.

The WSJ editorialists also aren't above a bit of wordplay when musing on The Price of Cage-Free Eggs in California.

California is special, as it routinely proves. The latest example is the price of eggs, which have reached upward of $7 for a carton as the Golden State’s cage-free chicken law comes home to roost.

Californians pride themselves on being in the forefront of progressive political fashion. And true to form, in 2018 voters approved a ballot measure (Prop. 12) backed by the Humane Society banning the sale in the state of eggs that come from caged hens.

Californians pride themselves on a lot of things, I'm sure. Which means they have to avert their eyes from less well-to-do families looking for cheap (cheep) sources of protein; that might diminish their self-esteem somewhat.

But for more on those expensive butt nuggets, see Megan McArdle, who explains Why eggs are cheaper than you think.

The truth is that U.S. egg production is still recovering from a bout of avian flu that has devastated flocks in the United States and Europe. And while activists and senators are puzzled by how a 29 percent decline in egg production can lead to a much larger increase in the price of eggs, agricultural economist Jayson Lusk says that’s exactly what you would expect with a product for which demand is relatively insensitive to price changes. Americans do love eggs — we consume an average of 277 per person, per year — and, unfortunately, eggs don’t have a lot of close substitutes. If the price of meat rises, you can downgrade from steak to ground round, but when the price of eggs goes up, well, most people don’t want to make do with a yogurt omelet or toss a block of tofu into their cake in lieu of egg whites.

[…]

But the benefits of [modern agricultural innovation] have … been enormous. In 1905, an average male factory worker older than 16 took home $11.16 a week, enough to buy about 41 cartons of eggs. Today, the median man earns $1,176 a week, enough to buy more than 275 cartons of eggs, even at today’s elevated prices. If you can’t help cringing when you see the cashier ring up eggs that cost twice as much as they did a year ago, it might help to remember that however poor you feel, your ancestors would have taken one look at your grocery cart and declared you rich beyond their dreams.

I've recently become pretty good at cooking sunny side up eggs. And I've managed to avoid saying ka-ching every time I crack one open.

Briefly noted:

  • The State of the Union Address is tonight. Kevin D. Williamson has prophylactic commentary on the spectacle: Joe Biden as Priest-King.

    The American presidency has grown more ritualistic over the years in ways great and small. In his role as commander in chief (the title is imperator in Latin, producing emperor in English) the president has taken on more martial splendor, giving military salutes as though he were a uniformed officer, in contradiction of traditional etiquette, and increasingly accompanied by military displays of one kind or another. (Donald Trump was in the habit of referring to “my generals,” as though the Army were the staff of one of his tacky hotels.) Washington has gone title-crazy, with people referring in the most ridiculous way to “Leader McConnell” and “Leader Jeffries,” while men and women decades out of office continue to insist on being referred to as “Governor X” or “Ambassador X” or “Mr. Speaker,” or “Secretary X” as though these were lifelong titles of nobility rather than temporary job titles held by certain public servants. (People who refer to current or former surgeons general or attorneys general as “General X” should be disenfranchised and deported as a matter of civic hygiene.) We have built a sad little ersatz nobility without the, you know, nobility. Not that the so-called nobility of Europe or the United Kingdom or the rest of the world are especially noble in any meaningful way.

    And so tonight we have the State of the Union address, which is the American version of a “speech from the throne,” and it will be—as it always is—a contemptible, despicable burlesque. It is all genuinely gross: the ceremonial opening, the triumphal entry missing only chariots and captives in chains, the toadies lined up to touch the hem of the garment of the divine person as he passes, the special dispensations, the veneration of the Skutniks. The divine king, now smiling, now glowering, promising deliverance and plenty; the courtiers in their rivals factions: See who is applauding! Look who isn’t! A little bit of prophecy, a little bit of ritual oath-binding.

    And, then, nothing.

    KDW's essay doesn't seem to have one of those paywall-indicating padlocks, so I urge you to check it out.

    And for me, I plan on following the Ann Althouse strategy: I have no plans today, but I still have no time to watch the State of the Union Address..

    I set out to skim the White House press release, "The White House Announces Guest List for the First Lady’s Box for the 2023 State of the Union Address," but couldn't even skim to the bottom... though I did skim to the Bono. I don't have time for this.

    I have the time, but much better ways to spend it.

  • David D. Friedman makes Two Metapoints about the Great Climate Change Debate. And this first one is pretty good:

    The reason to believe that climate change is a serious threat is not, for most people, that they have evaluated the evidence for themselves. The reason is that they have been told by multiple respectable sources that everyone competent to hold an opinion on the subject agrees it is a threat, that that is not a matter of serious debate.

    Fifty years ago, population growth had the same status. Not all respectable opinion agreed with the Ehrlichs’ prediction of unstoppable mass famine in the 1970’s with hundred of millions dying but almost everyone agreed that unless something substantial was done to slow or stop population growth the future would be grim, especially for poor countries.

    In the fifty years since then population continued to grow. The rate of extreme poverty declined sharply. Calorie consumption per capita in poor countries went up. What happened was the precise opposite of what had been confidently predicted.

    That does not tell us whether climate change is a serious problem but it is evidence that the status of that belief as orthodoxy is at most weak evidence that it is true.

    DDF's second metapoint is fine as well, but this one is useful to remember when some climate doomster invokes "scientific consensus" as a rhetorical cudgel.

  • Andy Kessler has a should-be-obvious headline: The FTC Can’t See the Future.

    In December, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan told the WSJ CEO Council, “competition is critical to have an economy that’s thriving, to ensuring that we have robust innovation.” That’s idle chatter. Actions speak louder than words. Look at her agency’s innovation-killing actions: “FTC seeks to block” Meta’s acquisition of virtual reality app Within. Or Microsoft’s acquisition of videogame maker Activision. Ms. Khan is playing checkers while others are playing chess.

    In the early 1990s I raised money for Activision at a $100 million valuation. Last January, Microsoft offered $69 billion for the company—we’ve come a long way. Gaming companies used to sell cartridges for videogame consoles like Nintendo and Sega or floppy disks for personal computers. Over time this changed to CD-ROMs for new consoles like Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Then came handhelds. And now mobile phones. The FTC, seemingly prodded by Sony, is worried that Microsoft will “harm competition in high-performance gaming consoles.”

    That’s laughable. It’s like protecting floppy disks. While Microsoft has promised to make some games available on competing consoles, including Sony’s PlayStation for the next 10 years, I doubt anyone will be selling new consoles a decade from now as everything moves to the cloud. Why? Because while 75% of today’s televisions are Smart TVs, soon TVs will have graphics engines as powerful as today’s videogame consoles. Then it’s game over.

    Andy got this op-ed just under the wire in Monday's WSJ print edition. Later that day, the FTC declined to appeal its antitrust suit against Meta buying Within in Federal court. There's a chance the FTC could get a second bite at that apple via an administrative court. But they haven't had too much luck using that route either.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:39 AM EST

Rules of Civility

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I was completely enraptured by Amor Towle's second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. I came away saying this guy has to be Russian. But no, as it turns out.

Well, I came away from this book (his first novel, from 2011) wondering if Towles had access to a time machine that transported him back to 1938 New York City. Because, reader, I found myself wondering at his evocative descriptions of sights, sounds, smells, and (above all) personalities of that time and place.

Okay, he probably doesn't have a time machine. But I don't know how he does it.

Even more daunting, the book is first-person narrated by Katey Kontent, a female. And Towles makes that utterly believable as well.

In the 1960's-set preface, Katey and husband Val are at MOMA for the premiere of an exhibition of hidden-camera pictures taken of NYC subway riders in the 1930s. Katey is gobsmacked when she recognizes one of the subjects: it's Tinker Gray, who…

Well, that would be telling. Let's just say that Katey and Tinker had a complex relationship.

Katey tells her 1938 story with powerful observations and sparkling wit. Her friends and acquaintances, in addition to Tinker, are a colorful and multifaceted bunch. They have secrets and motives that only become apparent as the year rolls on. Surprises abound.

This isn't the kind of book I would have expected to like, but it grabbed me from page one. Towles is that good.

The title refers to the list of 110 maxims that teenage George Washington wrote in his schoolbook. (Number 55: "Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season.") They are reproduced in an appendix in this book. It could be, if I had been watching ahead of time, that I could have observed which rules Katey and her retinue obeyed and (maybe equally frequently) disobeyed over the course of the year.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

Space, Time, and Motion

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I've read a couple of Sean Carroll's pop-science books (The Big Picture and Something Deeply Hidden) over the past few years, so when this new one became available at Portsmouth Public Library, I grabbed it.

Now, science books aimed at the masses will often shy away from math. Sometimes their authors will acknowledge and excuse this by pointing out the relevant market forces: their publishers' research shows that each equation in a book will decrease sales by X percent, or something. But (I assume) Carroll successfully persuaded his publisher to let him math it up in this book, so good for him. This book is volume one of a projected trilogy; the next one will be subtitled Quanta and Fields, and the last Complexity and Emergence. I'm on board.

But this book concentrates on "classical" physics. He starts off slow, describing Newtonian mechanics, conservation laws, aided by basic calculus. Moving on to Lagrangian mechanics and the principle of least action. And then Hamiltonian mechanics. All do an approximately fine job of describing non-relativistic motion of macroscopic bodies.

But then we edge into Einsteinian insights, the interplay between space, time, mass, and energy. And then (watch out!) the notion of curved spacetime, which quickly invokes (eek!) tensor notation, the better to introduce General Relativity. And before you know it, we're hip deep in Riemann and Ricci and all that stuff. To a point where (if you've been following along, nodding your head) you can appreciate beauty of the Einstein equation (I'm not sure how this will appear on Goodreads):

Rμν - ½Rgμν = 8πGTμν

And we wind up with a good (but quick) discussion of black holes (they're hairless!), event horizons, naked singularities, accretion disks, gravitational waves and the like.

I must confess that, even though I was a physics major decades ago, I got lost at a certain point. I think to actually know this material, you have to take courses from smarter people, doing problem sets along the way. There's no shiny magic path to understanding. But (on the other hand) I learned a good deal at the fuzzy territory between "yeah, this is simple, I get this" and "whoa, what's going on here?"


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST