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Bush Loses The Pretentious Vote

"Offering young workers a 1930's-era retirement system is like trying to persuade them that vinyl LP's are better than iPods," Mr. Bush said. "Creating accounts will give children and grandchildren a chance to replace a burden of uncertainty with new opportunity."
So quoteth, the Times. Has nobody told the President that there's a small army of pretentious hipster types who do, in fact, believe that vinyl LPs are better than iPods? And though I really shouldn't nitpick the grammar of others, who decided that "LP's" should be spelled like a possessive instead of a plural? And all joking aside, the reality of the situation is that the relevance of iPods to the Social Security debate is that this is the rationale for wage indexing rather than price indexing. As general living standards improve, so do one's reasonable expectations of what constitutes a dignified retirement. Today, we have iPods. By the time I retire, there'll be all sorts of new cool shit out there. I shouldn't be stuck, à la price indexing, with 2005 living standards when I'm retired in 2055.

April 22, 2005 | Permalink


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Spelling "LPs" with an apostrophe -- LP's -- harks back to a rule that said that plurals of acronyms required the apostrophe. It's an old rule, much honored in the breaking, and not wrong, even if we mostly ignore it.

How many LP's do you own?


Posted by: Ed Drone | Apr 22, 2005 10:42:12 AM

Sorry, but I'm a pretentious grammar snob, and I welcome the acronym apostrophe. It really makes things a lot clearer, and is especially helpful when used with lower-case acronyms or other uses of lower case letters.

Posted by: infirm | Apr 22, 2005 10:48:35 AM

I've said this before, so I won't belabor the point, but Matthew's understanding of price indexing is incorrect, since it doesn't account for the fact that the basket of goods on which we judge prices changes over time.

Posted by: Al | Apr 22, 2005 10:49:33 AM

Damn, Ed beat me to it, but: I was taught that the plural of a single letter is always written with an apostrophe, as in "there are two a's in my first name," which makes pracical sense because it otherwise has a very different meaning. The question is when you have something else that's pronounced as a series of letters (or an acronym), like "ATM" "LP" etc, should you use the rule for single letters because they're pronounced as letters, or should you punctuate them like an ordinary word, since it doesn't change the meaning?

Posted by: flip | Apr 22, 2005 10:50:15 AM

"It's an old rule, much honored in the breaking, and not wrong, even if we mostly ignore it."

Rule's are made to be broken.

Posted by: Grumpy | Apr 22, 2005 10:56:54 AM

Actually there would be nothing wrong even if pluralized acronyms did not require apostrophes. We all know that those people are owned by their record colections.

Posted by: Njorl | Apr 22, 2005 11:07:30 AM

The question is when you have something else that's pronounced as a series of letters (or an acronym), like "ATM"

Well, "ATM" is a bad example, since we all know we're supposed to say "ATM machine", the plural of which would be "ATM machines".

Posted by: Al | Apr 22, 2005 11:20:32 AM

Adding to Al's point, which is correct, should the point of something that Matt seems to think of as social insurance be tasked with providing advancing gadgetry? Social insurance that's funded by transfer payments, if you aagree with it in principle, should be about basic living expenses. If you want to buy cool shit, use your own damn money.

This is just an absurd argument against price indexing.

Posted by: brooke | Apr 22, 2005 11:21:21 AM


ATM Machine is absurd, since ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine. Are we to speak of Automated Teller Machine machines?

Posted by: Abby | Apr 22, 2005 11:26:27 AM

So Bush goes from claiming to love Social Security to calling it a relic of the 1930s. There is no difference between him and those Pennsylvania college students who chanted "down with Social Security," to Rick Santorum.

Posted by: mysteve | Apr 22, 2005 11:27:25 AM

Stocks and bonds have been around for centuries!!! We need to move beyond these anti-bellum ideas and into teh 21st century!

Posted by: Rob | Apr 22, 2005 11:37:38 AM

Wow, Bush is trying to be a commander of an army of hipsters, talkin' LP's and Ipods n'shit. word.

And vinyl lp's and ipods should not be pitted against each other, it's not nice. That's just the attitude of divide and conquer that the bushies and others like to use. :>

i personally like to dj with both vinyl lp's (can't always substitute the sound and scratching with vinyl) AND ipods/cds/digital music (lots of freedom with digital music). Embrace and conquer, yeah.

Posted by: Anjali | Apr 22, 2005 11:39:16 AM


Are we to speak of Automated Teller Machine machines?

Yes. Yes we are.

Where else would we type out PIN numbers?

Posted by: Tripp | Apr 22, 2005 11:58:41 AM

it seems to me that this problem can be resolved if apple introduces the appropriate filter. you know, so my mf doom albums get that scratchy, warped sound going on.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 22, 2005 12:02:32 PM

ATM Machine is absurd, since ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine. Are we to speak of Automated Teller Machine machines?

Sarcasm is lost on the internet. (OK, that's not a universal truth; Tripp got it.)

Posted by: Al | Apr 22, 2005 12:07:26 PM

Pretentious hipster types and unpretentious audiophile types.

(Why has it become so fashionable to hate on hipsters, anyway?)

Posted by: cerebrocrat | Apr 22, 2005 12:11:05 PM

1930's is wrong. It should be "1930s." Similarly, abbreviated decades, like "the 30's" should be the "the '30s."

Posted by: Kiril | Apr 22, 2005 12:25:00 PM

Bush Loses The Pretentious Vote

What about the vote of the great unwashed masses of technologically ignorant who have no idea of what the iPod is? Nah, no one is listening to his crap anyway.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 22, 2005 12:32:46 PM

i acually just copied a bunch of LP's to my iPod. now i have the golden sound of vinyl, complete with pops and scratches, and the high-end distortion of MP3 compression. back to the future!

Posted by: cleek | Apr 22, 2005 12:42:38 PM

I'd imagine that not many of these pretentious hipster types were Bush voters in any case.

Posted by: Matthew Longo | Apr 22, 2005 12:51:53 PM

This comment board seems to be a catchall for several unrelated threads, so I'm surprised to see no one has taken up the issue of sound quality of vinyl vs. digital vs. compressed digital. I don't feel I've ever heard an authoritative opinion on this (and nobody ever steps up to defend the plethora of analog cassette technologies--different oxides and what not--that were once popular, but I digress).

Clearly, digital imposes a fixed resolution limit. Analog does as well, it's just not as clear how to measure the limit. Digital media doesn't suffer from physical damage, provided that the bits are recoverable, whereas any damage to vinyl is going to spoil the sound fidelity however slightly.

Here's where I'm skeptical about the claims made for analog. Even though a digitized wave form "looks" like a step function, there is no reason that it cannot be interpolated to match the most likely input wave form that might have produced it. There is loss in the form of error, but the same is true of analog media. By the same token, by the time it gets to the speaker, the actual sound waves are as dependent on physical properties of the magnet and speaker cone as on the input signal. You will definitely have some unpredictable distortion no matter what you do.

Based on that, I see no reason why vinyl would ever be preferred to sufficiently high resolution digital with sufficiently smart software to restore the wave form from digital. So the question is just whether 16 bit/128kps sampling or some other resolution is sufficient.

Another question is whether lossy MP3 compression is destroying sound quality or merely smoothing out artifacts inaudible to the human ear. That depends on the compression rate, and I suspect it's a harder question. But it is clear that the uncompressed signal has a lot of redundancy--most of it consists of repeated wave forms, and you are only interested in those compatible with every other part of the chain: speakers, air, human ear. I bet it's substantially more compressible than what our best algorithms now attain.

This isn't a completely theoretical question for me. I just got an MP3 player for my car. I was extremely happy to be able to put about 30 audio CDs (that I bought--fair use! fair use!) on two digital CDs. Then I got really paranoid listening to some albums I hadn't heard in a while that it was really poor quality (e.g. I was sure the bass was drowning out the vocals--but, wait, I checked and it does that on the audio CD too). I'm still not sure if I am losing anything that I'm actually capable of hearing with my untrained ears.

Is there scientific evidence of loss in uncompressed digital vs. analog? Of course, vinyl advocates might be hearing something "better" that is really a distortion intrinsic to the vinyl medium. In that case, you ought to be able to trick vinyl advocates by remastering the digital back on to vinyl and playing it. If they could not tell the difference, that would put to rest any claims of vinyl as a recording medium.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 22, 2005 1:11:55 PM

Anybody ever tried to rock a dance floor with an iPod? Feh.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Apr 22, 2005 1:22:37 PM

ATM Machine is absurd, since ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine. Are we to speak of Automated Teller Machine machines?

Sarcasm is lost on the internet. (OK, that's not a universal truth; Tripp got it.)

Are there any other lefty Yglesias readers out there that like Al? 'Cuz I just don't get the 'troll' comments.

Posted by: max | Apr 22, 2005 1:32:40 PM

Are there any other lefty Yglesias readers out there that like Al?

I wouldn't say that I "like" Al, and I disagree with nearly everything he posts, but it was pretty obvious that he was making a joke and was aware that "ATM machine" is redundant when he wrote the comment. The reply about "PIN number" was also clever.

However, the fact that the other reply missed Al's facetiousness just illustrates that people tend to assume the worst in those outside their group loyalties. This is a fact of human nature that a reasonable astute person figures out in the playground.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 22, 2005 1:44:37 PM

Paul - this is signal processing 101 stuff (or, for the MIT types in the audience, 6.003). The "sharpness" of the step function in a digital reconstruction is a red herring; you just apply an appropriate low-pass filter and those sharp edges disappear (because a square wave is a sum of odd harmonics, so filtering out the higher frequencies leaves you with the original sampled sine wave). If you sample at more than twice the frequency of the input signal, you can completely reconstruct the original (Nyquist's theorem). There are also effects introduced by the quantization of the amplitude of each sample, but you can make those as small as you like, too.

Short version: (uncompressed) digital is just fine. The problems of quality that have existed in the past have a lot more to do with the details of the systems we build (like the lousy filters used in early CD mastering) than the abstract digital vs. analog debate.

Posted by: Nathan WIlliams | Apr 22, 2005 1:45:28 PM

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