Sunday, February 15, 2009

Q: What is the price of a drink?

A: $36,000

The other day I had a Dim Sum breakfast with some friends in LA’s Chinatown. Afterward we decided to take a walk around the area to get a sense of the local color.

So off we went.

We came upon this big store. It was like a cross between an Asian grocery store and an Asian department store. We went inside.

We strolled past a large varieties of ginseng root and royal jelly elixir, took a turn upstairs into cookware, bowls, plates, cups and finally went back downstairs to exit. We were about to leave when I noticed a large counter displaying an assortment of liquor. I went over.

Usually I don’t go near areas where liquor is being sold. I don’t go into liquor stores. In fact, I don’t even go down the beer and wine aisle in grocery stores. Alcohol and I parted ways a long time ago in early adulthood. It was a perilous relationship that was best to terminate and one that I have little desire to rekindle. But, in this instance there was something about that counter that drew me near.

I strolled over, past the Stoli and Jack Daniels. I looked into the glass case in front of me. There it was, the $36,000 bottle of cognac:

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We’re not taking thirty six hundred dollars; we’re talking thirty six thousand dollars—a year’s salary for somebody making $18 an hour.

I had to know more.

Turns out the liquor is Remy Martin Louis XIII Black Pearl cognac:

The new release will be limited to 786 bottles, the number of decanters that can be taken from one tiercon, the type of oak barrel used by Rémy Martin to age Louis XIII. The spirit is created from 1,200 eaux-de-vie aged 40 – 100 years. The Louis XIII Black Pearl decanter is made of crystal that has a silvery gleam like polished hematite and the decanter is finished with platinum fleur-de-lis designs. Each decanter is numbered and purchasing is done by invitation only.

I was hooked. I went to the web site. There was a cute, high end, animation. In order to get anywhere beyond the introductory Flash I had to register. So I did.

And then I got this message:

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There was no more Louis XIII to be had. All 100 bottles allocated to the US market had been bought. And, it seems that one of them made it to Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA where it will be bought by somebody to whom money is no object when it comes to taking a swig of fine spirits.

So think about this the next time that you hear about GM on the verge of bankruptcy and millions of Americans being out of work—the rich really are different than you and me, always were, always will be. Just ask Louis XIII.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Q: For what did Stalin lust?

A: Twitter

One of the things that made Winston Smith special was that he could hide from the camera. Everybody else in 1984 was watched all the time, but not Winston Smith. His apartment had a unique floor plan. There was one little corner in his flat where the camera could not see him. He had privacy.

1984 was a fantasy, albeit a grim fantasy. The old Soviet Union was the real deal. Stalin went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that the government knew as much about the governed as was possible. Children ratted on their parents, students on teachers, employers on employees, neighbors on each other. Complete knowledge about, and control of the comings, goings and thinking of the population was Stalin's idea of paradise.

But that was then and this is now.

Whereas in the past people jumped barbed wire fences for the right to mind one’s own business, now we can’t wait to give it way.

We used to make it hard for the State to keep tabs on us. Now it’s just a question of buying one of the many GPS enabled devices that are available for purchase. We don’t have to worry about some neighborhood commissar reporting our whereabouts. Our cell phones will do it just fine.

The sad fact is that we really don’t mind. We’re more than happy to report what we’ve eaten for breakfast, who we’re dating, the books we’re reading, even when we’re taking a bath. It seems as if we can’t wait to tell the whole world the most trivial facts about ourselves. Yet when someone on the elevator asks us how we’re doing, we say, "fine" regardless of the true state of our condition.

It seems as if we’ve created social networks with a slew of supporting technologies without having any idea about who our next door neighbors are.

But the saddest thing of all is that our billions of bite size messages don’t mean squat. Yeah, the State wants to keep an eye on us to make sure we’re not going to blow stuff up or infect Los Angeles with The Plague. So, in a sense, those messages count. But all the other messages—where we’re going, who we’re seeing, what we’re thinking—those messages don’t count. It’s noise to the powers that be. The only messages that count are the messages that The Man overlays on our messages, and those messages are called advertisements. Because you see, in the currency of human attention, advertising is what makes the world go 'round. Just ask Google.

So think about that the next time you just gotta Twitter.