Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, March 30, 2018

Putting Pressure on Advertisers

Laura Ingraham, a typically horrible right-wing Fox television host, expressed glee when David Hogg, a Parkland student who has become an outspoken gun control proponent, was rejected by UCLA. Hogg responded by urging his supporters to contact Ingraham's advertisers and pressure them to drop her. (I did so.)

Ingraham has now apologized, but advertisers continue to drop her show. This brings up tricky questions about how this kind of pressure is supposed to work, and how it can best be deployed.

There are two key points here. The first is that advertisers actually make two relevant decisions: the choice of whether to advertise on a particular show in the first place, and then the choice whether to withdraw advertising (usually under pressure). Lowe's famously pulled advertising for "All-American Muslim," which had come under fire for its positive portrayal of Muslims. The difficulty is that one wants to punish Lowe's for giving in to bigotry, but on the other hand, what about all the advertisers who were never willing to advertise on "All-American Muslim" to begin with? Are we really going to direct our business to them? (Maybe.)

This ties in to the second point, which is that once an advertiser has been burned by its association with a show, it is not in a good position to adjudicate the resolution of the particular dispute that has inflamed passions. Partly that's because these disputes tend to be complicated and to be perceived very differently by people with different ideologies (all of whom the advertiser may see as potential customers). But on top of that, a show that becomes controversial once is likely to be a repeat offender. By celebrating a personal setback for a teenager, Ingraham revealed something about herself that is unlikely to change once we've moved on from this controversy.

Anyway these dynamics are at play in all of these cases, and they bear thinking about. None of this means that we shouldn't hold advertisers accountable for their decisions (as I mentioned, I contacted one of Ingraham's advertisers after I saw what had happened), but you can be misled if you look at an advertiser's decision in isolation and ignore the broader context.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Wealth Transfers and Citi Bike

One aspect of today's economy is that startups can attract billions of dollars while losing large amounts of money year after year. The result is a kind of wealth transfer from investors to consumers, as companies like Uber subsidize cheap taxi service by running billion-dollar losses quarter after quarter. It's not all fun and games, of course—there has been a rash of taxi driver suicides as Uber destroys their ability to make a living. But for consumers, it's a hell of a ride.

Anyway I'm a little worried Citi Bike might be engaged in the same kind of game. There is a program called "Citi Bike Angels," which rewards users for picking up bikes at stations that have too many bicycles and dropping them off at stations with too few. In a couple of months I've racked up nearly 100 points. That's earned me several free weeks of Citi Bike membership as well as a few free day passes.

But that's peanuts. When I hit 250 points annually, I get a free "Citi Bike Angels" pin. And at 500 points I get a coveted white Citi Bike key (the normal ones are blue). They're giving this stuff away like candy! I'm going to have a pin before long (unfortunately the Citi Bike year runs from April 1 to March 31, so my annual points will reset before I get a pin based on my current points). And a white key can't be far behind.

I mean, I'll take it. I just hope the investors who are subsidizing this bounty know what they're doing.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dangerous Traffic

There has been terrible news lately about pedestrians being hit by cars. Maybe this has made me more alert to the issue, or maybe it's coincidence, but I've personally seen a lot of terrible driver behavior (or signs of terrible driver behavior) lately. I was walking down a relatively quiet avenue in my neighborhood when a van simply pulled into the intersection even though the light was red. A car coming from its left screeched to a stop and there was no collision, but it was some of the craziest behavior I've witnessed on the road. Later that day, I saw another car run a red light, although in that case it was the more usual situation where it had a yellow light and went for it even though it didn't really have time. There wasn't any near-collision, although the way cars speed up in that situation is a bit scary.

Then a few days later I was picking up a Citi Bike from a station on Fourth Avenue and I saw that a car had clearly hit the station at non-negligible speed. It had twisted the metal of the sign and shattered the glass. The scary part is that although the station is adjacent to the road, it is highly visible and a driver would have to be drunk or out of control to hit it. And imagine if someone had been using the station!

And then over the weekend I saw workers removing the wreckage of a light pole at Grand Army Plaza that had clearly been knocked over by a car or truck. This wouldn't have been a little bump, the vehicle must have hit the pole at significant speed. The vehicle would have had to jump a curb to hit the pole, so once again we've got an out-of-control car or truck intruding on what is supposed to be safe pedestrian space.

Anyway I don't really have a point, except that it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when walking in areas cars aren't supposed to go. Obviously streets should be designed to be safer, but I wonder what design features would have prevented the flagrant red-light running I saw. (Grand Army Plaza, by contrast, is an unmitigated clusterfuck and I have no doubt its design could be dramatically improved, perhaps at some cost to traffic capacity.)

[Update: I guess a driverless car just killed a pedestrian for the first time.]