Unintended Consequence du Jour

2008-04-23

Longtime treehugger Lester Brown op-edded at the Washington Post with Jonathan Lewis for Earth Day on "food-to-fuel mandates", specifically ethanol policy. I mainly admired this paragraph for its diplomatic way of saying oops, guess we screwed up:

Food-to-fuel mandates were created for the right reasons. The hope of using American-grown crops to fuel our cars seemed like a win-win-win scenario: Our farmers would enjoy the benefit of crop-price stability. Our national security would be enhanced by having a new domestic energy source. Our environment would be protected by a cleaner fuel. But the likelihood of these outcomes was never seriously tested, and new evidence has shown that the justifications for these mandates were inaccurate.
Emphasis, as always, added.

Over at Knowledege Problem, Michael Giberson quotes that paragraph as well, and wonders out loud:

I must have missed the analysis indicating that ethanol was intended to create crop price stability. I thought the hope was always that the policy would push food prices up. Isn't that how increases in demand work?
And there's lots more.

One would hope that the long track record of failure, rent-seeking, and lies would force energy policymakers to be even a smidge more humble in designing their next grand scheme. Unfortunately, I don't see any evidence whatsoever that's going to happen. We're always on the road to the next set of unintended consequences.


Last Modified 2012-10-12 9:25 AM EST

RiffTrax

Although I was never a True Fan, I enjoyed watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 when I could. (Telling Factoid: the MST3K page on Wikipedia is over 55K. In comparison, the Jane Austen page is slightly under 40K. You lose, Jane!)

There was a lot of peripheral daffiness in MST3K, but its core concept was to play a cheesy movie, overlaid with ongoing humorous commentary from the show's cast, heavy on sarcasm and pop culture references. It was like a DVD commentary track where the commenters were very bright college students trying to comically one-up each other. At its best, you were flirting with disaster if you tried to drink anything during the movie.

The onetime star and head writer of MST3K, Michael J. Nelson, has extended this idea to Rifftrax. Mike, his co-stars, and occasional guest stars provide an MP3 audio commentary on existing DVD-available movies; you simply play the DVD and the MP3 together, and voila! Pretty close to the original MST3K experience!

I was pointed to the site by Mr. James Lileks who was the RiffTrax guest commenter for Spider-Man 3. The Lileks name was good enough for me to plunk down my $3.99.

There are a number of different ways to do it. I downloaded the "RiffTrax Player", and purchased and downloaded the Spider-Man 3 .riff file; it was about 48 Meg. And then I picked up the Spider-Man 3 DVD from Blockbuster.

There are a lot of (potentially confusing) tweaky bells and whistles in the player, but it wasn't necessary to futz with any of them. It was basically: load the DVD, run the player, load the .riff file, hit play. There are separate volume controls for the RiffTrax and DVD audio. (I found myself confused because it was so simple. That's it?!)

(You can also use the player to extract the MP3 track from the .riff file, play the DVD on your normal TV, and play the MP3 on … uh, whatever you can play MP3s on. I didn't try this myself, but it might be a hassle to get the players synched up, and to maintain the synchronization through bathroom/kitchen/phone interruptions. Especially if you're as uncoordinated as I.)

A couple of your-mileage-may-vary questions:

  1. Is it funny? Well, sure it was; for me, it was slightly over two hours of near-nonstop chortling.

  2. Is it "worth it"? Yes. I'll probably do it again. (Specifically: they have Cloverfield, and that's on its way from Blockbuster.)

It's not a huge investment to check RiffTrax out, and if you're at all interested, I encourage you to do so.

Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:34 AM EST