stolen fancy cellphone
December 16, 2002 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Ruby-encrusted cellphone lost by professional drag-racer at nightclub. Put this item in the pantheon with the gold-plated toilet, glow-in-the-dark volleyball net, and other stuff nobody needs. Maybe it's the Grinch in it cool, foolish, or immoral to spend $20,000 on a platinum-plated gadget? (via obscurestore)
posted by serafinapekkala (47 comments total)
Cool? To some.
Foolish? Perhaps.

Immoral? Well, I can understand the argument for this. But, I would still say no. No more immoral then buying a $100k car, a $1 million house, etc. All pure (and probably needless) status symbols to show the world how much money you have.
posted by JaxJaggywires at 7:54 AM on December 16, 2002

I laughed out loud when I read this "news" item...but it also irked me for admittedly bleeding-heart liberal reasons. I spent the day yesterday at a holiday event for homeless children in Boston, and each kid got a gift from gift, that's their whole Christmas this year. Now, Christian Rado can spend his money however he wants, but it really burns my toast that we have celebrities vying for $20,000 cellphones (which, incidentally, seem to have the exact same features as my $9 phone) while I had a kid on my list who asked for a pair of pajamas instead of a toy because he doesn't have any. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
posted by serafinapekkala at 7:58 AM on December 16, 2002

How do you know that the guy who's spending $20K on a cellphone isn't also giving away $500K to various charities (or spent a day or two at a homeless charity like yourself)? Mind your own business. If you think what you are doing is right and good then do it. If he thinks what he's doing is right and good then he'll do it. Please don't get all morally superior on us because you spent a day at a holiday event for homeless children.
posted by fried at 8:06 AM on December 16, 2002

How very holier-than-thou of you. I'm a bleeding hear liberal myself, but your attitude is what gives us lefties a bad name. If buying a $20,000 cell phone is immoral, then so is buying a $50 cell phone--just to a lesser degree. Of course $20K is too much for a phone--that's why he bought it. And if he's got all that money and doesn't help those less fortunate, he's an ass. But how many pairs of pajamas (or sneakers or televisions) do you have? More than one is too many, right? You should be giving the rest away.
posted by jpoulos at 8:10 AM on December 16, 2002

More than one is too many, right? You should be giving the rest away.

how do you know i'm not? oh right, we "morally superior" folks who dare to make judgments about our culture are up in our ivory towers with our plasma televisions. how would you know just what my "attitude" is, anyway?

for clarification, i did *N-O-T* bring up my volunteer experience to feel "holier than" Christian Rado or anyone at all. the juxtaposition between average folks, the poor, the "middle class" etc. and an "entertainer" who has the money to blow on an uber-phone struck a chord. that's all. i'm not trying to say, "Kill the rich" or "I'm frugal-er than thou," i'm just shaking my head at this latest zenith of excess. s-h-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-s-h.
posted by serafinapekkala at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2002

I'd say buying a ruby-encrusted cell-phone isn't immoral at all -- it's just tacky. But then, there's no accounting for taste.
posted by sodalinda at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2002

The only Florida owner is Judge Judy of television fame who lives in Naples.

I think you all should be more sickened at the fact that this woman can afford one of these phones because she popularized the phrase "Don't pee on my leg and tell me its raining."
posted by Stan Chin at 8:24 AM on December 16, 2002

It's only "excess" from your perspective as someone who isn't a millionaire. To someone who lives on the streets, I may well be looked at as living a life of mad excess because I bought my car new and I have a palm pilot.
posted by jpoulos at 8:28 AM on December 16, 2002

Wow, this would definitely meet Epicurus' definition of vain and empty desires. Thanks for the links, serafinapekkala, this is the perfect continuation of my post yesterday on why some people want so much more than they need.
posted by homunculus at 8:35 AM on December 16, 2002

These discussions are often inane because they confuse issues of personal ethics with those of societal ethical norms. In our society it is simply not considered immoral to do this. It is even considered admirable in some sense. On the other hand, my own personal ethics (which are always changing) would not allow for this. They also don't allow me to own a car anymore (turns out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, btw). But I reject this idea that I am somehow "holier than thou" for choosing a different standard for myself than the bar which society at large sets for us. Go ahead, buy your ruby encrusted cell phones if that's moral to you. While I could not do it for ethical reasons, that doesn't make me "holier than thou"... just different.
posted by muppetboy at 8:35 AM on December 16, 2002

It's only "excess" from your perspective

jpoulos: that's a good point, you're right. i guess we are all "in excess" compared to someone else on the planet.

putting the morality hot button aside for a moment, doesn't this make you wonder, what's next? how do you top a ruby and sapphire cellphone --- gold leaf toilet paper? ermine Q-Tips? monogramming everything you own with dollar signs like Richie Rich? /levity
posted by serafinapekkala at 8:40 AM on December 16, 2002

people seem to be arguing that because differences are relative, it's impossible to make moral decisions. i don't see why.

while defining any precise value as "excessive" might be hard to pin down, "way more than excessive" is pretty obvious. this isn't a scale free system, after all - there are basic values like "the amount you need to spend a year to eat wel" or "average rent across the country". or, in this case "average cost of a phone". when you're paying not twice or even ten times the average, but a thousand times, then "excess" is a pretty easy call.

the devil is in the details - what do you use to define "average", for example? but when you're dealing with extremes, any reasonable detail leaves extremes as, well, extreme.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:41 AM on December 16, 2002

I have an interesting, related question. Would those who support buying ruby encrusted cell phones consider it immoral to burn a heap of 1,000 $20 bills? (not *illegal* mind you, just immoral)
posted by muppetboy at 8:42 AM on December 16, 2002

andrew, i think the definition of "excessive" in the world today is "that which is politically untenable". if billg can have more assets than many countries, a few ruby encrusted cell phones don't amount to a hill of beans... over time though, there will be revolutions to correct excesses (like the French revolution, for example).
posted by muppetboy at 8:46 AM on December 16, 2002

muppetboy: surely if celebrities started burning their cash it would take on the argot of cool and, as they say, everybody would do it. see the "Simpsons" episode where Krusty the Klown becomes a cynical standup comedian and urges the audience to light their money on fire so that "the system" can't take it from them anymore. Krusty of course has money to burn; Marge, afraid Homer will torch their life savings, says to Lisa, "Here's $42, it's all I have in the world, run home and bury it in the yard!"

to me personally, buying the ruby phone is *nearly* equivalent to burning or otherwise wasting that money...and yes, I have wasted plenty of money too, sure I don't need all (or any!) of the CD's in my house, etc....but as someone said above, it's a question of scale. I have some, I give some away. Some have very little. Some have a lot, and give a lot away. Those who spend on these ultra-deluxe versions of everyday items are saying, to me, not just "Acknowledge how much money I have," but "I have so much money that I don't care about how I spend it, it means nothing to me, ha ha on you who care so much about it." It's just...vulgar. that's a personal judgment, but that's how it strikes me.
posted by serafinapekkala at 8:54 AM on December 16, 2002

How do you know that the guy who's spending $20K on a cellphone isn't also giving away $500K to various charities

the 20K would help just as much
posted by copmuter at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2002

A cellphone made from baby parts is immoral. A cellphone that costs $20,000 is just a waste of cash.
posted by Samsonov14 at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2002

Screw all that. That Rado guy sounds like a real jerky. D'ya think this episode taught him a little humility. Personally, I try not to own things that I'd cry over (too much) if they were broken or stolen. Life's a lot less stressful that way.
posted by black8 at 9:02 AM on December 16, 2002

People spend this much and more on single dresses and single items of jewellery all the time. The raw materials could well be worth a substantial part of the $20K. Is the fact that it's a cellphone what's irking you?
posted by biscotti at 9:06 AM on December 16, 2002

What part of him makes him a jerk? He lost his phone. He called to try and find it. No luck. He's offering a $3000 reward (15% of the phone's worth) - something a lot of us would do if we lost our phones.

Someone at the newspaper picked up the story. Sure he's a bit flashy, but don't jump on him for being a"jerk" because he spent 20k on a phone.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 9:13 AM on December 16, 2002

It shouldn't require an elaborate explanation to point out that a guy with a $20,000 phone is an asswipe.

I think that serafinapekkala's point of comparison is well-placed. Why exactly did America reject communism?

(Last sentence written to augment through exaggeration. Save your Ayn Rand quotes for people trapped next to you on the bus.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:23 AM on December 16, 2002

I plan to immediately call my friend's grandmother who owns a $45k antique piano (that she never even plays! What's the point lady?!) and tell her she's a vulgar bitch.
posted by Stan Chin at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2002

Ruby encrusted cellphones may be evil, tacky, whatever - clearly having the device constructed out of solid corundum is the only way to go as far as I'm concerned - but what I want to know is this:

How does a glow-in-the-dark volleyball set cost $15,000?
posted by furiousthought at 9:32 AM on December 16, 2002

Would those who support buying ruby encrusted cell phones consider it immoral to burn a heap of 1,000 $20 bills? (not *illegal* mind you, just immoral)

No. Unless the money was obtained illegally. Of course, there is a huge difference between the two actions. The money that the person paid for the cell phone goes to help many people. The owner of the store where the phone was purchased made some money. The salesman in the store earned a nice commission for the sale. The person that handcrafts the phone makes money. The owner of the electronics factory stamping out circuit boards for the phone makes money.
posted by gyc at 9:47 AM on December 16, 2002

Well, I must say that the glow-in-the-dark set was the one thing I thought I wouldn't mind owning. $150 maybe, $15,000 never.

Ruby-encrusted cell phone - perty. No wonder he lost it though - must weigh a ton?
posted by widdershins at 9:52 AM on December 16, 2002

What can be immoral about buying any cell-phone is how the coltan is obtained and our complete complacency with what our purchasing of 'trinkets' is doing to other countries, communities, individuals and wildlife.
posted by batboy at 10:24 AM on December 16, 2002

press *739 to return to kansas.
posted by quonsar at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2002

Sorry, sorry. You're right. I don't know if the guys a jerky. I just had a mental image of some backwards basball cap wearing, overgrown frat boy with capped teeth.
Now that I've seen his picture, he is obviously a nice young man and I want to apologize for the ill-will I have generated towards this individual and hope for the swift and safe return of his purloined communications device.

posted by black8 at 10:32 AM on December 16, 2002

You're right, I plan to call up the Louvre today and bitch them out for being capitalistic sons of bitches for having that damned priceless Mona Lisa hung there.

What was I thinking. Owning anything worth anything makes you a jerk.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 10:36 AM on December 16, 2002

I have an interesting, related question. Would those who support buying ruby encrusted cell phones consider it immoral to burn a heap of 1,000 $20 bills?

Just make it a round million quid & be done with it...its art then.

posted by i_cola at 10:58 AM on December 16, 2002

I'm really shocked at the people here who seem to believe that owning a $20,000 cell phone is somehow immoral. I'd argue that it's more moral to buy such a phone, as it was likely made by well-compensated artisans, whereas the $500 SonyEricsson that's in my pocket was probably made in a sweatshop.

Please remember when you're condemning a man for enjoying the ability to purchase what you consider to be an unnecessary luxury, that there are those who would consider nearly everything you own an unnecessary luxury. If we all lived in a manner that facilitated survival and nothing else, the world economy and modern society would crumble.
posted by mosch at 11:08 AM on December 16, 2002

Great point about art/labor, mosch.

Why is biscotti's point lost in this argument? It's the point I was going to make, and I think it's the crux of the argument- deep down, it's not that it's something "frivolous" costing $20k, but that it's a phone. People wear jewelry that expensive all the time (ok, not really, but still). Hell, think about how much people spend on weddings!

Is what really irks y'all that it's a piece of jewelry masquerading as a functional item?
posted by mkultra at 11:28 AM on December 16, 2002

I don't see this as any different from jewelry. Society views both ruby encrusted cell phones and expensive jewelry as moral things to spend your money on. And while my own personal ethical viewpoint won't allow for it, I do reserve the right to be a hypocrite later... ;-)
posted by muppetboy at 11:35 AM on December 16, 2002

it was likely made by well-compensated artisans, whereas the $500 SonyEricsson that's in my pocket was probably made in a sweatshop

wow. well, pretty much everything these days was either made in a sweatshop or otherwise sold or processed by an underpaid worker, but is that a reason to buy the most expensive versions of things we can find? i say no. something tells me the Vertu factory is not exactly an artisanal collective: it's a high-end brand spun off from Nokia, run by this guy. he looks pretty well-compensated to me.
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:37 AM on December 16, 2002

mkultra: No, what really irks them is that they can't afford a $20,000 phone, so no one else should be able to. ;)
posted by jammer at 11:42 AM on December 16, 2002

For me, aside from any issues of morality, there's the issue of sheer stupidity and waste. An interesting computation: for $20K, you could set up a little "foundation". at 3% interest after compensating for inflation and maintainence, you could reasonably make about $600/yr in perpetuity. That sum would pay a reasonable ($50/mo in inflation adjusted dollars) cell phone bill for *your entire life*, no matter how long you might live. In fact, this setup would not necessarily be entirely selfish. When you died, you could will your free-forever cell phone foundation to a homeless shelter to help people *in perpetuity* with their transitional communications problems!

*Or* you could just throw it at a jewel encrusted cell phone. I really feel more sorry for someone who would do this than upset. It's pretty pathetic and unimaginative.

BTW, lest anyone think this has anything to do with jealousy, I could very easily afford a number of jewel encrusted cell phones.
posted by muppetboy at 11:50 AM on December 16, 2002

Consider that there is nothing wrong in the act of buying , after all you give piece of papers for piece of precious metal with some electronics

What is probably wrong, given that money is considered by 80% of world population as :

a) a good you can't live without
b) a scarce good

is that a drag-racer earns more then a researcher. It's logically insane. Consider that

a) researchers/engineers/technicians do a lot of short/medium/long term works and we're enjoying the fruit of their work (this thing computer you're using didn't build itself) Millions of people are enjoying the benefits given by countless hours of mostly tedious work.

b) entertainers do a lot of short term work of distracting people from their daily misery. They really have a social function that MAY affect milion of people positively, but it's hardly valuable because there's no rule on what's funny and what's not.

The logical trouble is found when we consider that money is not spent (destroyed) like any other good : if money was like oil, we'd never give but a tiny fraction of money to entertainers, because their work is HARDLY as valuable as the work of , for instance, researchers ( Prove me that a new drug that can cure some disease is as good as a multimillion dollar movie ).

Money is allocated. You give x million to a famous actor because you know that his movie will sell. You can take another actor as well and pay him less, even a dime a dozen if you're good enough to have them work for such a misery.At the end no matter how many actors, the movie is just a movie, does little long term good.

Now try allocating x million to researchers. There's a chance they're going to spend all of them on computers or geek toys, but with a good management ( produce or no money for you geek boy) they're MUCH more likely to produce something forever useful. Also consider research is very expensive because of it's enormous failure rate. Selling a good is much easier then discovering a new molecule for a new drug.

Inefficient allocation of resources is the name of the game ( with a virtual resource, money, in the game as well making it much more complicated)

At the end what is felt as morally wrong (at least by me) and economically insane is that a researcher is paid 50-100K (figures ! they don't get that much) while Mr Drag Racer gets 5 to ten times this, if not muuch more. They both do good, but the geek boy/girls isn't getting an amount of money proportional to the impact of his/her work.

Granted, it's much easier to sell a drag race and make a profit out of it : you can evaluate how much your entertainer is potentally worth quite easily. But who are you going to call when you need a new engine ?
posted by elpapacito at 12:02 PM on December 16, 2002

Well hell, papacito...can I kill Adam Sandler then?
posted by black8 at 12:06 PM on December 16, 2002

It's a stupid waste, of course. There are much cooler things to blow $20K on than a cell phone, and I find it hard to believe that he has all of them. But excessive? Give me a break. Excessive is entirely relative. To me, a car (any car) is excessive. I consider car-owners wealthy. Same with homeowners. OTOH, I spend money on things that my suburbanite parents, who have much more money than I do, several cars, and several houses, would consider excessive — eating out daily at nice-ish restaurants, buying the occasional $20 pack of ultra-luxury cigarettes, paying for high-speed net access, etc. None of these judgements are objective in any way. I have my priorities as to what's important to me, and so does Mr. Rado. Many people who cry 'excess' at every thing like this seem to define 'excess' as 'costing more than I would spend.' Which is silly.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2002

black8 Please don't kill, just smack O'Reilly instead he badly needs some
posted by elpapacito at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2002


sorry, even if i could afford a 20K phone i wouldn't get one, because i lose or ruin all small items like that (glasses, watches, retainer, camera, umbrella, etc).

define 'excess' as 'costing more than I would spend.'

this is an interesting interpretation, but i wouldn't say it reflects my position. i agree with what andrew cooke said above: "when you're paying not twice or even ten times the average, but a thousand times, then "excess" is a pretty easy call." i agree, IshmaelGraves, that spending limits and habits are entirely personal; for example, i allow myself to spend hundreds of dollars annually on movie and concert tickets while someone else (like namely my father) would find that obscenely wasteful. it's trickier to contrast personal spending limits for the *same* items; for example, my bike-only friend finds my Honda Civic outrageously luxurious, while I in turn jeer at the guy on my street who bought an Escalade.

what bugs me about the JewelPhone in particular is this: its cost is hugely inflated to enhance its "desirability," not because it *does* what it does any better than an econo or even regular-high-end [i cannot believe that phrase has come to pass, but there you are] phone. if you want a CD player, you can buy one for $30 at Target that will do the job, or you can pay Bang + Olufsen a thousand times that much for one that does the job much better (maybe not a thousand times better, but a lot better). now, before i back too far away from my initial post, let me say i'm not too happy with spending $30K on a stereo either...but there is a fine distinction to be made. i find it hard to believe the JewelPhone provides service that's proportionately superior to a basic phone commensurate to its price. do the fancy materials mean it lasts forever or is that much easier to dial or something? it's like the gold-plated toilet to me: expensive materials used to "prettify" but not functionally improve the product. to me, it's wasteful to pay for the luxury factor without the improved performance factor. now, some products have a bit of both, like an Aeron chair, a Mont Blanc pen, or a BMW. there is a lot of gray area here, but the greed factor (on the part of Vertu *and* its customers) shines through. just because you can afford to have everything around you gold-plated doesn't mean it's a wise idea...look what happened to King Midas. /sarcasm
posted by serafinapekkala at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2002

its cost is hugely inflated to enhance its "desirability," not because it *does* what it does any better than an econo or even regular-high-end

Yes and no. It contains gemstones, they have a raw material value regardless of how they're used. Its cost likely isn't too inflated when you take that into account, it's only inflated when you compare it to your basic Motorola cellphone (or whatever), but that's not really a reasonable comparison, that's like comparing a top of the line BMW with a Yugo, sure, they're both cars, but that's really where the similarities end. Why not try thinking of it as jewellery, since that's what it is, only it's dual function jewellery, it serves all the purposes of regular jewellery, and it's a cellphone. And I think whether it's a wise idea or not is entirely subjective.
posted by biscotti at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2002

Some interesting points but I am left hanging with one question. We are all taught, well, stuff. Some of that stuff fits within systems of observable repetition: e.g. mathematics builds upon itself and yields consistent results. Other stuff we learn is not so easy but in the end, we learn to assign value.

I'm not asking about economics, but value as part of a system of ethics or morals: where does this issue fit? I don't see how it is possible to dismiss the moral/ethical question outright -- that omission must instead be an admission of one's own value position.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:45 PM on December 16, 2002

My personal view is that $20,000 for a cell phone is wasteful; I think some of the greatest wealth-generating capitalists of all-time would agree with me.

On the other hand, I do agree that a value exists in buying things of higher quality which can justify higher costs: e.g. a finely crafted piece of furniture made which does some justice to the beauty of wood and will last numerous generations. Or hiring an architect to design your home instead of living in a vinyl-encrusted split-level. /paid commercial announcement ;-)
posted by Dick Paris at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2002

for $20K, you could set up a little "foundation"

Well, maybe the guy who gets the $20K for the cell phone will do that. It's not like the money goes away and is never seen again.

What is probably wrong ... is that a drag-racer earns more then a researcher. It's logically insane.

Actually, it makes perfect logical sense. Consider: you own a racing team which currently has revenues of, say, $1 million a year. You have the opportunity to hire a new driver who, you estimate, will double your revenues. How much more than the current driver will you be willing to pay the new driver?

In theory, you will be willing to pay the new driver $999,999.99 more than the old one. You'll only make an additional penny, but that penny is money you didn't have before. Of course in the real world, nobody would do that for a penny, but it would certainly be rational to pay the guy, say, $750,000 more, which puts you $250,000 ahead of where you were.

If there are a lot of drivers of that caliber (say there are 100 teams and 500 excellent drivers) then you can probably play them against each other. If one guy agrees to do it for half a million, there'll be another guy who'll do it for $490,000, and so on. On the other hand, if there are 100 racing teams but only 20 execellent drivers, then the bargaining power lies with the driver. If you won't pay him what he wants, one of your competitors will.

The fact that race car drivers can afford stupidly expensive cell phones while scientists can't boils down to the simple fact that the ratio of qualified researchers to available research jobs is much higher than the ratio of excellent drivers to racing teams. To raise the salaries of scientists, then, what we should do is either increase demand for their services (by encouraging research) or reduce supply (by discouraging people from becoming scientists).

One way to reduce supply would be by making being a scientist as dangerous as being a race car driver. We could randomly break the limbs of scientists and occasionally kill one by, say, setting him on fire or slamming him into a brick wall at 200 miles per hour. Then fewer people will be willing to do the job at the current salaries, and the salaries will have to go up if scientific progress is to continue.
posted by kindall at 2:08 PM on December 16, 2002

A cellphone made from baby parts is immoral. A cellphone that costs $20,000 is just a waste of cash.

it's active vs. passive, but $20,000 could save a number of babies from becoming basically "baby parts"... That wasted "cash" could easily be translated into medicine, food & vaccinations. Anytime you waste cash, you're wasting those resources. The question is, when is it a waste, and when is it a reasonable part of your enjoyment of living?

Excess is relative, and it can be tricky - that whole, anyone who has more sex than me is a sex maniac; anyone who has less is a prude, type thing. We each have our own standards, based on desires, experiences and environments. Personally, I think $20K jewelry or dresses or fur coats are excessive and morally questionable. I appreciate quality and workmanship and artistic skill but an awareness of the utility, beauty and importance of items you purchase seems lacking in our culture; people spend a lot of money on impulse, and for the sake of novelty, and go into debt for items that end up forgotten in the back of closets. It seems clear to me that we can afford to step back a little from our manic shopping and sincerely consider whether things we buy are really worthwhile and important to us.
posted by mdn at 4:12 PM on December 16, 2002

it's wasteful to pay for the luxury factor without the improved performance factor

I think because it's technology, rather than just straight-up jewelry, you may be overlooking the aesthetic factor. The phone may technologically perform the same as an standard model, but this phone might be $19,900 more aesthetically pleasing than that standard model.

Though I would have to say that the aesthetic factor is a judgment call- while I personally don't think this phone is any more pleasing than the standard model, Mr. Rado and Judge Judy do.
posted by faustessa at 7:04 PM on December 16, 2002

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