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January 4, 2014

shutting up about uber

That nonsense is out of the way, so now let's talk about Uber.

Uber, unfortunately named as it is, is an app through which the user orders a car service.  "How is that different from just calling a car service?"  Two things:  One, if you live in an urban center, you no doubt have once or twice spent more time than you'd like hitting redial for the car service number.  Presumably, Uber eliminates that hassle.  And two, and this is the controversial part, Uber handles the changing-hands part with the money.  However, as part of that, it engages in what it calls "surge pricing."  And the surge pricing is what blew up in Uber's face a couple weeks ago.

See, the surge pricing is where, in times of higher car service demand, Uber throws a multiplier on the fare — times two, times four.  And during a particularly nasty rain storm, the multipliers went up to times seven, which left some of the digerati paying two or three hundred dollars for a car ride.

Not only did this lead to grousing by those forking over the cash, it led to a sizable campaign of antipathy towards Uber, decrying what is basically price gouging (or profiteering, if you will).  But then came the backlash, as many smart smart people of a more capitalist bent protested that surge pricing was not much different than airline flights and hotel rooms and their seasonal pricing schemes.

So, as I was one of the initial wave of people hating on Uber, I'd like to take a step back.  Uber has the right to price its car rides however they want, just as customers have the right to elect to pay or not pay $300 for a ride on a rainy night.  But I want to add that, while the business practices are what they are, the rationale cited by Uber is nauseating:

"This is the busiest time of year for Uber. Surge pricing helps get more cars on the road quickly when demand outstrips supply, helping to guarantee that New Yorkers can get a ride when and where they want," the company said in an e-mail statement. "As soon as demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices return to normal."

OK, let's rephrase that, assuming that this surge pricing applies to, say, food during famines:

"Famine season is the busiest time of year for Uber. Surge pricing helps get more food to starving people quickly when demand outstrips supply, helping to guarantee that starving people can meet basic nutritional and caloric needs when and where they want," the company said in an e-mail statement. "As soon as demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices return to normal."

It's just a bunch of pretty words designed to mask basic greed, is all it is.  Everyone knows how supply and demand works.  (See also: crime.)  All Uber is is an end-run around regulated markets.  Sure, cabs may be hard to find on New Year's Eve, but they're equally hard for everyone to find, and everyone pays the same price (and I'm guessing tip much more than usual, incentivizing those cars that Uber thinks avoid the road during peak demand).

Nothing in the world stops some rich person from flagging down a cab and offering a bribe.  That's how the market works.  Uber just wants to institutionalize.

Basically, Uber it up all you want, but all this Ayn Rand bullshit is just low moral character in effect.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

December 31, 2013

end of the year post

Well I was gonna prattle on about Uber (not from NYC? don't ask), but why waste ones and zeroes on that?  We're in the chute for this 2014 thing, so let's get emo.

It's been a shitty year.  Can't go into the specifics, but 2013, especially Q4, is right up there with the worst of the worst.  And the shitty continues unabated.

But I can say that through the shitty I learned some things.  First, I learned that my friends and my family are there for me.  They're there for you too!  Let 'em in.

And second I learned that this silly writing thing, whether it's here or for the Awl or maybe for some new place someday is a total gift.  Dunno if it's ever gonna make me rich or famous or beloved or looked up to or any of those dimestore daydreams, but the fact that I'm read by people, read by people that know me, read by people that don't know me, improves my life.  So my message to you people, on this New Year's Eve, is that I remain grateful for you.

Thanks for sticking with me, and I promise to try harder in the next twelve months.

Let's get it over with.  Safety and success to you in the new year.

Brent Cox

Posted by mrbrent at 1:40 PM

making sandcastles with david brooks

One more day you reprobates!  Get your head out of 13 and prep for yet another trip around the sun.

And do so with the knowledge that today, the last day of the year, is the day that David Brooks decided to share with us all how exactly it is that he writes all those columns:

For what it's worth, I structure geographically. I organize my notes into different piles on the rug in my living room. Each pile represents a different paragraph in my column. The piles can stretch on for 10 feet to 16 feet, even for a mere 806-word newspaper piece. When "writing," I just pick up a pile, synthesize the notes into a paragraph, set them aside and move on to the next pile. If the piece isn't working, I don't try to repair; I start from scratch with the same topic but an entirely new structure.

I know, that's not exactly laugh out loud funny or bad or Schadenfantastic, but reread it.  David Brooks writes his columns by basically playing army men on his living room rug.  What does he do when he writes a book?  That's a whole lot of living room rugs.

Maybe my 2014 should involve a lot less making fun of David Brooks.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:28 AM

December 30, 2013

do not go to work

Seriously, my friends, do not go to work today.  I know that some of us have no choice, but *cough cough* I did hear that there is this very nasty flu bug going around and there's an excellent chance that you just may catch it just by reading this.

Maybe some of you work a really really important job, like running the power grid or making buffalo wings — I understand why you would need to work today, as we need constant supplies of both power and buffalo wings.  But I do not have a really really important job, and what's worse is that the entire industry I work in is closed last week and this week.  So I am as useful as a dog barking at a mailbox right now.

Do yourself a favor.  Don't be like me, pretending to focus as I watch the receptionist (poor thing) slowly nod off from boredom.

Stay home, for Chrissakes.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:36 AM