Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Joe Biden and the Little Creeps of Silicon Valley

(WARNING: NO BOURBON CONTENT.) This bombshell story erupted all over tech media yesterday. It was virtually the same headline and story in every instance. Many people on my Facebook feed posted it in one of its many forms. Many comments, mostly hostile to Biden, followed.

A simple Google search showed that reporting of this bombshell was pretty much limited to the tech media, though that is a very large universe in its own right. Biden made the statement during his meeting with the New York Times editorial board on December 16. The interview transcript was not released publically until this past Sunday night as part of the Times announcement of its endorsements for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Biden was not endorsed.)

Nothing prevented the Times from reporting Biden's statement back in December when he made it. If candidates make news during these interviews, the Times and other media outlets typically report that news right away, even if they don't intend to publish the full interview until later. Apparently, the Times didn't find it newsworthy. They still don't. No freestanding story about Biden's "little creeps" comment has appeared in the Times.

Because I became aware of the story from social media and couldn't find any mention of it in mass media, I was suspicious. A search for "Joe Biden calls game developers little creeps" returned dozens of nearly identical stories but did not return the original source. Therefore, it had the feel of something a Russian troll would push, an extremely negative story about a candidate aimed at a very specific audience.

It may still be that, which is the interesting part of this story. Misinformation doesn't have to be completely fake. In fact, what works best is a story that has what Stephen Colbert called 'truthiness;' "the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true."

We all know that, in social media, a large percentage of participants read and react to headlines without ever reading the underlying story, effectively accepting the story as true and the headline writer's spin as the true gist of the story. They rarely do any additional research.

In fact, Joe Biden did not "call game developers 'little creeps.'" He referred to one specific (unnamed) game developer as a "little creep," in the context of a comment about violent video games. It was the sort of unguarded frankness for which Joe Biden is famous, if not always admired.

If there is a lesson here, it is that we all need to up our skepticism game, especially in this election year. Hesitate before you comment. People who follow me know I'm reminding myself to do this as much as anyone else. This is one of the ways we participate in our participatory democracy. Let's try to do it well.

Also, it is not necessary to like or agree with the New York Times to appreciate it when they provide the unedited voice of the candidate. (Albeit behind a paywall.) They and the other mainstream media (including entities such as Fox News, which is 'mainstream' in this regard) provide direct reporting by reporters. That's different from media outlets that simply take stories reported by others and re-report them with their own spin. Think of them as second-hand news.

It isn't difficult to tell the difference. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with ideology. The Daily Kos is second-hand news just as much as Breitbart is. We  are better off when we get our news as nearly first hand as we can and make up our own minds about what it means.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Whiskey Secondary Market Doesn't Matter

I have no objection to the bourbon secondary market except for the awkward fact that it is largely an illegal enterprise. What consenting adults do with their adult beverages should be up to them. Some people are way into it, the whole buying and selling thing. They are passionate about it. More power to them. Have fun with it. You'll hear no complaints from me.

I do have one issue, however, one source of irritation. Many of the people involved in that pastime have a very inflated idea of its importance. They believe the secondary market affects the overall bourbon or broader whiskey/whisky marketplace, for better or worse.

They're wrong. It doesn't. The broader industry pays very little attention to the secondary market. The vast majority of whiskey consumers don't even know it exists.

The secondary market matters, but only to itself. It has virtually no impact on the wider whiskey/whisky industry. It doesn't affect pricing or availability except on a very small number of brands that amount to a drop in the bucket of overall industry volume. In many cases, the complaints one hears are nostalgia for a past that never was.

True, as the chart above shows, you can almost never go into a store and find a Van Winkle product on the shelf at the official suggested retail price. Because people have figured out that Weller is the same recipe from the same distillery, the Weller products have been hard to find and are often marked up. But if you actually just like drinking a well-made wheated bourbon, Larceny isn't hard to find nor, for that matter, is Maker's Mark, and they are very similar to the Weller/Van Winkle products.

Of course, the secondary market isn't about finding something good to drink. I don't play so sometimes I'm not quite sure what it's about, but it is its own thing. That's great, it's fine, have fun with it, but it's not important except to itself.

To people who argue solemnly that the secondary market accounts for the higher prices we pay for whiskey today, consider this. A bottle of Rittenhouse Rye BIB cost $11 a decade ago. It's about $25 now, a 130% increase, but Rittenhouse Rye BIB never has been a player in the secondary. It's just a product that is very good, so people bought it, and demand outstripped supply, so the producer thought the market could bear a higher price. At $25, it's still a very good value.

So if you're into the whole secondary market thing, great, have fun. It's now legal in a couple of places, including Kentucky, which should help normalize things, and take away some of the mystery. Maybe I just don't get it. Maybe part of the fun of the secondary market is complaining about the secondary market, in which case the market is thriving.