Friday, September 26, 2008

The Gas Shortage Spreads

It seems the lack of gasoline at gas stations is spreading beyond Nashville, Atlanta, and Tallahassee. This article beats the price gouging drum, claiming that it's price gouging if "the station is making more profit on gas than they did before the governor declared a state of emergency." How is a consumer to know how much profit a station is making? When gasoline is scarce, the price of gasoline as an input goes up. And what if the station is currently selling gasoline that it bought for $3.50 per gallon, but replacing that gasoline will cost $4.50? To what input cost should we compare the current price? Most importantly, if we limit the price that gas stations can charge for gasoline, should we be surprised when they sell out? A high price encourages consumers not to rush out and buy gasoline in a panic. 

It's still not clear why some places are having these shortages and others are not. It's no longer restricted to state capitals, so that shoots down my earlier hypothesis. I think it is very likely that price-gouging laws and enforcement are responsible, but I do not understand the geographic pattern of shortages. 

Some Readings on the Current Financial Problems

I really don't care for macroeconomics. There are so many competing theories, few of which have predictive power (when it comes to business cycles, fiscal policy, and monetary policy, anyway). Growth theory and the cause of inflation seem to be the only macro areas with a bit of consensus. I also don't like finance, because I find money boring. I'm much more interested in the social science side of economics.

Nonetheless, people keep asking me what I think of the bailout, or who to blame for the "crisis". I don't have an opinion of my own, really--that is, I haven't formulated one from the financial data. I can only read what others have wrote on the subject. Below you'll find some good reading to get you started on trying to figure out what's been going on.

On the collapse:
David Friedman does a great job explaining what Fannie Mae (and Freddie Mac, although he leaves them out for simplicity) do, and why they are now in trouble. 
Tyler Cowen tries to summarize a paper that explains the credit crisis. There are more posts on Marginal Revolution about the crisis, but frankly, they're like this one: useless for laymen. This is a blog for economists (or at least, it is when it comes to this topic). 
Robert Higgs and Alex Tabarrok question whether there really is a credit crunch.
Brad Delong has promised a post summarizing his view of how we got here, but it's not up yet.

On the Bailout:
An open letter from quite a few economists.
Arnold Kling has been posting like mad on this subject. He's adamantly opposed to the current bailout plan (the Paulson plan).  Just go read Econlog and see all his posts. 
Paul Krugman, who is, I think, more in favor of a large-scale government intervention than many other economists, is nonetheless skeptical about the Paulson bailout plan.
James Hamilton agrees that the situation is scary, but doesn't like the Paulson plan.
A group of free market-oriented economists sound off on the bailout on reason.com.
I'm having a hard time finding any reputable economics bloggers who support the current bailout plan. 

If anyone has some more good summaries from economists, send them to me and I'll link to them. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Possible Explanation for the Gas Shortages?

I can't stop thinking about what would cause these gasoline shortages in Atlanta and Nashville. Why won't retailers raise their prices? My first suspicion was threats by state governments to punish price gouging, but then, why is this happening in Nashville and Atlanta, but not Knoxville and Macon? 

Another possibility is that it has to do with the population--the more people there are, the more likely it is that someone will spot rising prices and raise a price gouging complaint. The problem with this is that it now seems that Tallahassee is experiencing a shortage, too. That is quite interesting, because Tallahassee has something in common with Nashville and Atlanta: It is a state capital. Why would that matter? Governors--the ones issuing statements warning gas stations not to engage in price-gouging--live and work in state capitals. Could proximity to the regulatory authority be the cause of reluctance to raise prices in these cities? Tallahassee authorities are certainly investigating price gouging, although I can't find any advance announcment that they would do so  (state authorities in Nashville and Atlanta announced that they would not tolerate price gouging when hurricane Ike hit). 

This is a nice explanation, since Tallahassee is smaller in population than several other cities in Florida--the "number of eyes watching for price gouging" explanation doesn't work, but the "proximity to regulatory authority" explanation does. Unfortunately, the sample size is small (only three cities have experienced shortage), so I can't rigorously test this. and I still can't explain why only these state capitals have experienced shortages. If we see similar shortages in Montgomery, Alabama or another southern state capital, then I would be nonetheless inclined to believe that this is the explanation. Montgomery would be a nice example, since Birmingham is bigger.

I've been thinking about calling some Nashville gas stations and asking why they don't raise prices, but I can't help but think they'll be unwilling to talk to me. I probably wouldn't even get the owner on the phone. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Truth About the Nashville Gas Shortage

Here it is:
http://politics.nashvillepost.com/2008/09/22/behind-the-scenes-of-nashvilles-gas-crisis/

Thanks Jonathan Nation. The original movie, Downfall, from which this footage is taken, is really good, by the way. 

More Gasoline Shenanigans

The bizarre gas shortages continue, this time in Atlanta. I was able to drive to Memphis, finding gas about 40 minutes west of Nashville (I was concerned because of the Nashville gasoline shortage), but a friend in Atlanta tipped me off that similar shortages are appearing there. 

What the hell is going on? There are no price controls in Atlanta or Nashville. Why aren't stations raising their prices? My friend in Atlanta, Andy Slack, suggested that it may be the result of social pressure--nobody wants to be the only remaining gas station with gas, and a price of $5.00. This is possible, but if it were true, how did we ever get past $3.50, or $4.00? Why didn't we end up with shortages then? And why has this only happened in Nashville and Atlanta? 

As in Tennessee, Atlanta's governor issued a warning to stations not to price gouge. So why are the problems so localized? Albama has a price gouging law, and the governor of Alabama set it into action on Friday the 12th of September. Why haven't they had shortages? Why do Nashville and Atlanta seem to have stick prices in the face of spikes in gasoline demand? 

This is a genuine economic puzzle. There must be an interesting explanation.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nashville's Bizarre Gas Shortage

Gas shortages were common in the late 1970s due to government price controls. The federal government imposed price ceilings, which meant that gas stations could not raise their prices enough to deter some buyers from buying gas, while at the same time the supply of gas was falling (due to action by OPEC) . As a result, people continued buying gas until the gas ran out.

There are no such price controls today. Yet 85% of Nashville's gas stations have apparently sold out. The reasons for this are disputed. CNN claims that a rumor started that Nashville was running out of gas, causing a run on gas stations. Other news sources suggest that a pipeline is not running at full capacity due to the recent Hurricane Ike.

Even if both these things were true, they still can't explain the shortages. The reason the shortage is puzzling is that it's not clear why gas stations didn't just raise their prices. Raising prices in the face of increased scarcity communicates this scarcity to buyers, inducing them to reduce their consumption. Some consumers who were buying gasoline "just in case" might change their mind if they arrived at the station to find that gasoline was up to $5.00 per gallon.

My first guess was that there was some kind of sabre-rattling against price gouging by the city government, that had frightened the local gas stations into freezing prices. There is some evidence of this, but it seems weak to me (the sabre-rattling was state-wide; why is this problem only in Nashville?). Even stranger, the price of gas here has apparently fallen! This is extremely weird. The gas stations are giving up an opportunity to charge higher prices and avoid shortages. Why? If there's one thing Nashville drivers need now, it's higher gas prices. If you want to learn more about the equilibrating role of prices when crises occur, you might enjoy this Econtalk podcast with Mike Munger.

I have to drive from Nashville to Memphis on Monday morning. I hope that the situation has relaxed somewhat by then, as I only have enough gas in my tank to go about 90 miles. The drive is around 200 miles. I may end up taking my wife's Prius instead of my Mazda 3.

UPDATE: Jonathan Nation informed me that Knoxville has apparently had some strange behavior recently. There was a rapid spike, followed by a quick drop--exactly what should have happened in Nashville. What accounts for the difference? I don't know.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Copyright and One-Hit Wonders

Today we discussed Intellectual Property Law in Law and Economics class, as we've been doing for several days. The students have been very active, asking a lot of questions, and critiquing various arguments for and against Intellectual Property. Intellectualy Property, of course, is the right to control one's creative works. Patent law protects  useful ideas, copyright protects the expression of ideas, and trademark protects recognizable symbols, logos, and other ideas that make up brand identity. 

Eric Hagermeyer, one of my students, had a very clever suggestion after class. It's so interesting that I have to write it down while I still have it clear in my head. 

The purpose of intellectual property law is to encourage the production of ideas. Patents encourage invention. Copyright encourages art, literature, etc. Trademark allows firms to establish a reliable identity that is useful to consumers for assessing quality. The way they do this is by giving the holders of the intellectual property right an effective monopoly over the product, allowing them to earn profits from the work. So, for example, Rush's copyright of "Tom Sawyer" allows them to collect royalties whenever it is played. The classical argument for copyright is that a longer period of copyright protection increases the incentive to create stuff like "Tom Sawyer", because bands like Rush can earn those monopoly profits over a longer period of time. Copyright protection currently lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years (that is, his heirs or assigns receive the copyright as an asset, and it can be enforced 70 years past the creator's death).

Eric pointed out, however, that it may not work like this for long copyright periods. Instead, lengthening the copyright may encourage some creators to have one big hit, and then rely on it for income for a long time. That is, really long copyright protection might create "one-hit wonders". These creators are, in a sense, substituting leisure for labor. The copyright allows them to earn so much from their hit, for so long, that they need not create anything else. This would tend to make copyright look like less of a good idea; we want creative people to keep creating, after all, rather than resting on their laurels.

But wait, there's more! On the other hand, this long period of profit may increase the incentive for people to try to create these one-hit wonders. So a really long copyright period may reduce the creations from each individual, but increase the number of people creating things. If a diverse array of one-time hits from many people is better than many creative works from a few people, then this could actually be an improvement. It depends on how much people value the diversity, and how much diversity we get.  

This is a difficult theory to test, both because it's hard to measure the value of diverse published works, and because there aren't good natural experiments to test the effect of changes in copyright law on creative behavior. I still think, however, that it's quite clever. Good work, Eric. I do wonder if anyone has investigated this before; I haven't bothered to search Econlit for related papers. Still, this could be a good idea for a senior project, if a way can be found to test it...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tech Odds and Ends

I'm a nerd when it comes to technology. (EDIT: Actually, I am a nerd in general.) So here are some miscellaneous things that I have been interested in recently.

Google Chrome is amazing. It is now my primary browser. There are a couple things I miss (primarily the ability to use the scroll wheel as a button and then slowly and smoothly scroll up and down by moving the mouse).  Occasionally I'll run into some java thingy or plugin that Chrome doesn't have. Aside from that, it's the fastest browser I've ever used. It has some nice features, too. You can search straight from the address bar. Just type in your search term. I still use Firefox for pages that Chrome won't open, but otherwise I will stick to Chrome.

There's a great Econtalk podcast on the Chevy Volt. It's not just about the neato technology of the Volt; it's also about the corporate culture of GM, and how the Volt is a deliberate attempt to change that culture. I'm not really a fan of GM, but in this case, I'm hoping that they'll pull this off. Oh, and for those who don't know what the Volt is: It is a kind of hybrid car, but it is able to go on batteries alone for about 40 miles. After that it uses a gasoline engine as a range extender, to recharge the batteries. It can also be plugged in. It is therefore likely that most people who drive a Volt will, on most days, never burn any gasoline.

I've been using Vista 64 for a couple months without problems. Because the move to 64 bits allows it, I decided to go from 2GB to 4GB (32 bit Vista cannot address more than around 3.5 GB). Initially I had two 2GB DIMMs in the computer, to run in dual channel mode, but upon the advice of a friend I decided to also stick in the two 1GB DIMMs that I used to have in there as well. So now I have a 3.2 Ghz Core 2 Duo with 6GB of RAM. The question is, what do I do with this thing? So far I've run a GAUSS program on it that crashed the computer in my office. This computer ran it successfully in less than 20 seconds. I've also done some audio editing with it since the upgrade, and found that it's a bit faster than the last time I did that

I've been trying to use Pandora to find new music. I have this problem: I'm incredibly picky about the kind of music I like. I tend to like music that is complicated, with lots of changes of time signatures and difficult to play. For this reason I've long gravitated toward Rush, old Genesis, and other Progressive Rock bands (I also like some ELP, Yes, and Happy the Man--cool video here--although I'm not into much King Crimson). For a while the only new band I really liked was The Mars Volta. I was hoping that Pandora would be able to use my preferences to find similar music. For the most part it failed. It even brought up Elton John a couple times. Elton John! Elton John is nearly the opposite of what I want to listen to. So I was working in my office, annoyed and somewhat insulted ("is the rest of my music this bad?"), when a song came on by Damiera and it quickly grabbed my attention. I'd never heard of them before. The song was M(US)IC from the album of the same name. I wish I could find a decent link to the song somewhere, but it's pretty interesting. Unfortunately it looks like they lost 3/4 of their members after that album, and their new sound is pretty different. It's no longer as interesting or complex (and of course, it's mostly this new music that you can hear on Myspace). Still, I'll give Pandora the credit for finding one new band I like. 




Monday, September 08, 2008

Why Can't Batman Seem to Stop those Darn Organized Criminals?

My wife and I finally got around to seeing the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight. It was fantastic, just as the reviews suggest

It's dangerous to take lessons from movies, which are, of course, not real. Back when 12 Monkeys came out, I was at a wedding reception and someone said that the movie demonstrated that even if one had a time machine, one wouldn't be able to change the past. My response was  that it was a movie; it doesn't demonstrate any such thing. It's tempting for me to see a movie like, say, Traffic, and say "see, drug prohibition doesn't work"--but that would be a mistake. It's fiction. 

Similarly, The Dark Knight says something about criminals and organized crime. I'm not sure exactly what it says, but it says something. 

What I'd like to bring up is that poor Batman keeps having to fight these criminal organizations. (MINOR SPOILERS:) At the beginning of the movie, Batman, officer Jim Gordon, and the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, have put serious pressure on the various gangs in Gotham. This somehow attracts a lunatic known as the Joker, who is interested in fighting Batman and sowing chaos, just for the fun of it. The movie seems to suggest that Batman can't win (or will at least have a hard time winning) because of the insanity and dedication of people like the Joker. The real question is, what about those regular, non-maniacal criminals? Why do they stick around? Why do they keep popping up? Why do they exist?

In the real world, the problem for police is not insane sociopaths who enjoy crime for its own sake. Well, mostly not, anyway. Why do actual criminal gangs exist? Why can't police stamp them out? The answer is simple: Organizations like the mafia make a profit providing illegal goods and services that people want. So long as people continue to want these goods and services--prostitution, drugs, gambling, and in the past, alcohol--these entrepreneurs will continue to enter the industry. Squeezing some of the businesses out of the market simply raises the profits of the remaining firms, just as forcing Southwest out of the airline market would make Delta and American and all the other airlines happy. 

The mafia does sometimes participate in legal businesses, such as trash collection. They use their comparative advantage in violence to reduce competition in these industries, raising their profits. I'm guessing that they also use these industries to launder profits, but that's just speculation. They may use the fashion industry to launder money. Such legal rackets are surely small change compared to their trade in illegal goods and services. Of course, the people who are attracted to these markets are those who are good at, and comfortable with, violence. With a penchant for violence, an incentive to use violence to defend their (illegal) turf, and the funds to pay for weaponry, we should not be surprised when violence is the result. 

Unless we're willing to give up the wars on drugs, prostitution, gambling, and other vices, we're doomed to keep fighting these battles over and over. Not even a super hero can prevent this. The problem isn't sadistic, homocidal clowns; it's the very real set of incentives created by the prohibitions we impose. One could make an argument that it is worth fighting this never-ending war in order to achieve some reduction of drug use or prostitution or gambling, but I would hope that the advocate of such a position would be honest enough to admit that those wars will be never-ending and violent. 

Art Carden and I had an interesting conversation about Superman this morning. Hopefully he'll write up a blog entry sometime soon on the subject. 

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Single-beer Bans

There is a movement in Nashville to ban the purchase of single servings of beer in Davidson County. The ban would apparently prohibit sales of beer involving fewer than six bottles or cans. In looking around the web for other stories of towns that have done the same, the intended purposes of the legislation usually involve reducing littering, public drunkenness, drunk driving, and alcoholism.

Let us leave aside the issue of whether or not this is even a legitimate thing for government to be doing. Will this regulation actually accomplish anything? I can't imagine how it would. Alcoholics are not going to give up drinking because of this minor inconvenience. They'll just buy six-packs, or get together with six friends and buy a six-pack together. People with a drinking problem are sick, not stupid. Yes, this regulation may, by inconveniencing some drinkers, raise the costs of buying their first-best choice of alcohol. This isn't going to stop them from buying alcohol, though; it's just going to cause them to buy differently--to substitute toward different alcohol.

This law could even make drunk driving worse. The would-be drunk need merely save up a bit more and buy a six pack, leaving him with six beers in his car, instead of one (granted, single beer portions are often of the 40-oz variety, compared to ordinary 12-oz beer bottles).

Littering could be made worse, too. Suppose six guys get together and buy a six-pack. There are six liquor containers, just as before the ban, but now there is the cardboard container used to hold the six-pack as well. Why would they be any more likely to properly dispose of the cardboard than they would individual beers?

Is there any evidence (and by evidence, I mean actual empirical evidence, rather than anecdotes) to suggest that such bans do anything at all? I will make a prediction: If this ban passes, it will do nothing to curb the problems associated with drinking. Furthermore, no one will care whether or not it worked. No one will investigate its effects, and no one will push to repeal the ban after its failure. We will have yet another alcohol regulation on the books that will sit there for decades, much like the rest of Tennessee's bizarre alcohol sale restrictions.

UPDATE: One more thought. This ban essentially legislates out of competition all the beers which come in four-packs, some of which are artsy expensive imported beers.

Also: This regulation won't affect me one way or the other, since it won't change the likelihood of beer drinkers hurting or inconveniencing me, and I don't drink beer. Personally, I think beer tastes pretty gross.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Never Trust Someone Who Wants You to Put Country First

The Republicans' new slogan is "Country First". It is intended to praise McCain as a man who put his country before himself or his political interests. It is reminiscent of Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country speech". For that reason, I am reminded of Milton Friedman's response to that speech from the introduction of Capitalism and Freedom:
The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather “What can I and my compatriots do through government” to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.
A free man doesn't put the good of the country first. A free man helps friends, family, and other people he cares about, including people who don't happen to be in this country. A fair man doesn't see people who happen to live on the other side of an arbitrary political border as being less deserving of respect, concern, and help.

As for the Democrats, I tried to search Obama's acceptance speech for a similar kind of collectivism. This is the best I could come up with:
The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together, and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America; they have served the United States of America.
That doesn't really have the same sentiment as "Country first", though. It is true that Obama comes up with a laundry list of government interventions, but he seems to avoid "you must serve the country" rhetoric. This line made me laugh, however:
You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.
I can, off the top of my head, easily think of some people who benefit from the hiring of illegal workers: The illegal workers.  A bit more thought might suggest that consumers benefit, too, but that's more difficult to explain.

UPDATE:
Never mind, someone found the John F. Kennedy angle in Obama's acceptance speech. Here it is.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Brace Yourself for Stupid (no economics in this post)

From the Fall of 1993 to the Spring of 1995, my roommate at college was James Redd. James and I selected each other as roommates because we were both into music; he played guitar and I played keyboards. He had a four-track cassette recorder and a microphone.

Over those four semesters we recorded a lot of music. I mean, a lot of music. Most of it was crap. Some of it was intentionally crap. Sometimes we would write something intended not to be crap, but it would turn out to be crap anyway. Sometimes we would write songs trying to crappily imitate the style of a particular musician (I remember we tried to imitate, or ended up imitating, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, and even Adam Sandler).

Sometimes, however, we would write something so gloriously weird that it was actually cool, in a crappy way. Or maybe it was crap in a cool way. Anway, it was.

For years this stuff languished on four-track tapes. Occasionally James and I would get together and rerecord something. We still plan on doing this occasionally (I would really like to rerecord "I'm Slowly Losing My Body Parts"). Recently, however, I dug out the old tapes, recorded them track by track onto the computer, digitally removed as much of the noise as I could, and remixed some of the songs.

The stuff I'm linking below is the interesting crappy stuff. I have not mixed the experimental stuff that didn't work out, or the songs trying to imitate real musicians (not yet, anyway). No, these are just the random, weird songs that we liked and that other people liked. Below you'll find a link to each song, along with a few words about them. They're all intended to be silly, surreal, and stupid. Many of the lyrics were assembled by literally stringing together random words. Do not look for any more meaning than is provided with each song.

Also, the sound quality is poor. There is only so much one can do to fix music recorded on a 4-track that was sloppily recorded as a joke to begin with. There are two songs in here that were digitally recorded more recently, so if the quality of the others bothers you, listen to those. Also, I mixed these using headphones, and subsequently found that they sound very different with speakers. I also forgot to check the level for consistency across tracks, so be ready to adjust your volume. These are only 128-kbps MP3s, so that may also affect quality.

In general, James is playing guitar, bass, and singing. I’m usually doing the drums (using a drum machine or keyboard) and playing keyboards, but some songs were entirely James.

A final warning. This is some F.U.S. (definition 4, also, warning: profanity).

I mean it. You've been warned. The music is not obscene, and no drug or alcohol use was involved in writing these songs. We're just weird people.

Dear Redd
The lyrics to this song were written by me and a classmate, Rebecca Jane Salter (who is now married and probably changed her last name, but I don't know what it is now). For some reason we wrote a letter to James, but we took turns writing each word. So I would write "Rutabagas" and she would write "gallavant", and so on. When I gave James the letter, he used the lyrics to make this song. The last line is supposed to say "Sincerely, Klinging Potatoes", but it somehow got cut off accidentally. You may hear some Primus influence here. This is one of many songs in which we tried to make the music as weird as possible--painful, even.

Also, this song is not from a 4-track tape. It's from a stereo mix, and I couldn't do much cleanup. Therefore this song may have the worst quality of all the ones in this batch.

Big Dog
This is yet another almost-painful song with random lyrics. You can hear James start to laugh at one point during the song (at the part about the lake on the side of the house). There is also a mistake during the song, when I screwed up the drums, and James was unsure what to do on the guitar, yet it comes out sounding like we did it on purpose (at the part about meeting the bear once in the past).

The heavy-metalish bit that appears twice in the song was part of our frequent mockery of heavy metal, with its fast half-step chords and overuse of double-bass.

Key Lime Pie
This song is actually interesting. There are augmented fourths everywhere, but it works somehow. The counterpoint between guitar and keyboard at the beginning, along with the offbeat bass, has always sounded really cool to me. Then there’s the bizarre guitar and bass during the main body of the song. My drum machine playing was sloppy here, but I still think it’s interesting.

There’s a lot of static on the vocal track, but I couldn’t get rid of it without affecting the reverb sound of the vocals. I like to think that this song is about someone who has gone insane thinking about his favorite dessert.

Some day we’ll rerecord this, and replace the “I like grunge” section at the end with something less dated. Maybe “I like salsa” or “I like hip-hop”.

At the very end of the song James makes a horrible scratching/squawking noise with his guitar. We actually ended most of our songs with this noise. I don’t really know why. For some reason, it’s not present in many of the songs linked here.

Birdy in a Tree
Remember how I said there are a lot of crappy experiments that didn’t work? I mixed one just so you could see what I mean. If anyone can think of a better word to describe this song than “stupid” let me know. Let me restate that no drugs were involved in the making of these songs.

The Polka
Having tried a variety of musical styles, we gave polka a spin. I think I have a better version of this somewhere. Our senior year we actually played in the coffeehouse on campus, and we used a computer to play many of our backup instruments (with Shelly Howerton helping out on Guitar on a few songs). Therefore we had to create MIDI files to manage a lot of the songs. I thought I had recordings with the MIDI versions of some of the songs, but maybe not. They’re higher quality and the instruments are in better sync, thanks to a click track. Oh well.

Wheels of Cheddar
This was one of my favorites. It’s fun to play, and to sing, and almost catchy. The lyrics crack me up, too, particularly the “’cuz you know what I’m sayin’” part, since no one has any idea what he’s saying.

At some point we decided that the song wasn’t weird enough, so we made up four words to say during the chorus: Zorlaf, Kipsrack, Elbleneed, Wollaf. We tried to make them sound like plausible words. Apparently that still wasn’t weird enough, because I put them in an audio editor, chopped them up, and played them at half and double speed at various points in the song.

You can also hear one of our recurring themes, “I”. For some reason many of our songs featured James saying “I”. Many of our songs also included the words “I’ve got”.

The mix suffers because some of the tracks were doubled up in order to make room for more tracks. I can’t do much with those combined tracks. Listen for the ZZ Top quote at the end.

I’ve Got
This is the song that features the most use of “I’ve got”. In fact, it’s all about things that we have, including a whale named Jerry and a field of liver. This is the second version of the song. The original was a slow-paced folk song. I think I like the original better, although I haven’t yet found the master tape containing it.

Toward the end of the song there seems to be some confusion about what exactly it is that we have. For example, we say “I’ve got a field of liver, and it has music in its dog (navel)”. This was in fact the result of an error in the original song, in which we got confused about the lyrics. The confusion resulted in two audio tracks with different lyrics. Rather than fix it, we decided it was funnier with the mistake. The same goes for the frog/house confusion.

Funky James
I think the volume is a bit high on this one, so turn it down. . James wanted to write a funk song, but we had a hard time coming up with lyrics. It’s hard to make a song out of things that rhyme with “funky”. There was a track of this song that had James rapping about how funky he was, but it is very improvised and not as funny as having him just say “funky James” over and over again, so that’s what I went with.

Orchestra in a Box, Part 2
I had an E-mu Proteus 1+xr Orchestral sound sample unit. It had tons of orchestral samples, and I wrote a stupid “classical” piece, which I can’t find at the moment. I don’t remember this at all, but apparently James rerecorded it as a rock piece. I must have participated, because I’m pretty sure that’s me playing keyboards. Or maybe I have the order backwards, and this came first, and the classical version came second. It’s embarrassing that I don’t remember this.

The sound quality is absolutely terrible. I suggest you skip it.

Satan is My Plaything
James and I recorded this a couple years ago using his professional equipment. Well, he did almost everything, really. I did help with the original version, so I guess that counts for something, right? Anyway, it’s a song that sort of trivializes Satan. He likes to play lawn darts (on your forehead), he has a secretary, and sometimes he’s out of the office.

The “fon please dle my buttock fon” thing needs some explaining. There is a Monty Python skit called The Dirty Hungarian’s Phrasebook. In it, John Cleese, playing a Hungarian with a flawed English phrasebook, tries to buy some tobacco, but instead ends up saying things like “My hovercraft is full of eels”. In another bit later in the show, another Hungarian says to a person on the street, “Please fondle my buttocks” and he is then given directions by a friendly Englishmen. James found this phrase hilarious, but it’s not weird enough. I put it in the audio editor and chopped it up randomly, and it became “fon please dle my buttock fon”. So the chorus to this song is really just an extremely obscure inside joke.

There’s More to Life than Beavis and Butthead
This was really just a stupid experiment to see if we could make a crowd by adding lots of vocal tracks, combining them, and then adding more tracks. It’s mostly Beavis and Butthead quotes, although I think it also has James and me reading from a textbook.

Flying Bears (original) and Flying Bears (updated)
I’ve saved the best for last. This song, for some bizarre reason, was really popular with my friends. I don’t know if it’s the idea of a flying bear, or the infantile voice James used, but they all loved it. My favorite part is the instrumental interlude.

The flying bear actually comes from Beavis and Butthead. James actually had a Beavis and Butthead book. In it Beavis says that his favorite animal is a flying bear. We thought this was hilarious, but what makes it even better is that in one episode, Beavis sees a bunch of dogs in a music video and refers to them as bears. So, in fact, Beavis’s favorite animal might be a flying dog.

There are two versions here. The original version is from the Spring of 1995, I think. I don’t think I actually did anything at all on this version. James even played the piano part. There is actually a third verse that is a bit off-color and not really very funny. Just as when we mixed it years ago, I cut out everything but the words “Flying bear”, but it’s hard to do this without it sounding cut off. That’s why it sounds strange toward the end.

The newer version was recorded on James’s fancy setup, and portrays some poor lounge singer who is apparently asked to play this song, and who does so using some kind of musical teleprompter, so that he is surprised by the stupid lyrics after he’s sung them. This version is, oh, about two years old.



That’s all for now. I may have more songs in the future.