How right is the market, anyway?

Expensive water at a Houston-area Best Buy

As Houston lies debilitated by flooding from tropical storm Harvey, reports of price gouging have begun to trickle across the internet. The Texas Office of the Attorney General has fielded more than 700 complaints, including the exorbitant water prices at a Best Buy on Highway 290 pictured above. Best Buy has apologized, saying that employees accidentally priced the 24-packs according to the single-bottle price. Here’s spokesman Shane Kitzman:

As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We’re sorry and it won’t happen again. Not as an excuse but as an explanation, we don’t typically sell cases of water. The mistake was made when employees priced a case of water using the single-bottle price for each bottle in the case.

That explanation seems reasonable, but are we to understand that the single-bottle price for 16 ounces of Dasani water is $1.79? That also seems like a lot of money for a substance that, under normal circumstances, comes out of people’s taps at less than half a cent per gallon. But it’s what the market will bear. The price of water is not determined by its value, but by what people are willing to pay.

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A fundamental human problem at lunch

An unclaimed natural resource, freely available to all

This afternoon I met my genius fiancee for lunch at Pie Hole. Pie Hole is the best pizza in Missoula, and you should go there. We took our slices walking, and along the way she set hers on an outdoor table to look at a rack of clearance dresses. When we looked up, some guy was eating her pizza. He was not homeless; he was an ordinary-looking man in his late thirties. I said, “There goes your pizza,” and he said he was sorry. But he also kept eating the slice, adding that it was getting cold anyway. For some reason, I did not knock this man to the ground and kick him in the stomach until he threw up.

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Friday links! Donald Trump’s lawyer edition

Michael Cohen does work.

If Donald Trump lied any more often, he’d have to guard a door in a logic puzzle. He does not always lie. He’s not at the dry cleaners like, “I’m Marie of Roumania, and I’m here to pick up my dog.” But although he periodically speaks truth, he is so much more likely to disregard it that his defenders urge us not to take him literally—that is, as though his words had fixed meaning. Trump is a bullshitter. He might be the chief bullshitter of our bullshit age. So can you imagine being his lawyer? One pities such people. How much bullshit must Michael Cohen, Sheri Dillon, and the rest of Trump’s team of paid advocates wade through to convert his raw, jazz-style bullshit into something finished enough to bullshit a court of law? Today is Friday, and even the president needs fixers. Won’t you make this all go away with me?

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Moral vs. structural problems of laser tag

The sport of kings

The sport of kings

Last night, a select few observed my birthday at The Hub Family Entertainment Center, where we played laser tag and drove go-karts. It was entertaining, and they let us in even without families. Even though I love it, I am terrible at laser tag and came in second to last, probably thanks to one of those five-year-olds who is operatively a stand for eyeglasses. But in my defense, one reason I got lit up so much was that a little girl followed me around the maze at a distance of about two feet, constantly pulling the trigger, not caring if I shot her and simply waiting until her gun reactivated to shoot me again. It turns out that’s a great strategy, in terms of maximizing points. But we didn’t come to laser tag to maximize points, to walk single-file and smile meekly at the person in front of us, even after he told us to go away, even after he tried to run off on his strong adult legs. So the big, important question:

  1. Is this little girl a dickbag, deserving of our censure? or
  2. Is this a structural problem of laser tag?

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Is it wrong to be racist or to talk racist?

Donald Sterling, the false eyes he uses to distract predators, and the false friend to distract death

Donald Sterling, the false eyes he uses to distract predators, and his false friend to distract death

New York Times ethicist Chuck Klosterman recently fielded a question about why, exactly, we were so pleased to see Donald Sterling stripped of his franchise rights by the NBA. Is it because he thinks in a racist manner, as his recorded comments revealed, or is it because he said those racist comments aloud? In the question of whether it is wrong for Sterling to have racist thoughts or merely wrong for him to speak them, Klosterman opts for both. It’s a carefully reasoned answer, as usual, but it declines to address a larger question—perhaps wisely. To wit: if we accept that racism is bad, is it only unethical to express or act upon racist ideas? Or are the very thoughts themselves immoral?

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