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April 26, 2015

Snitching becoming popular in Baghdad by the Bay

Ah, yet another terrific joy of water price controls and mandated water rationing: "Tipsters hang water wasters out to dry".

"Soon-to-be-70 Walt Frazier still a shining star with New York fans"

Clyde is still the coolest.

April 25, 2015

"How fighter jet pilots pass snack bars in the cockpit while flying"

Fighter jet pilots are cool.

"22 Ways To Turn Basically Every Food Into Pizza"

I'm ready.

April 24, 2015

"Herb Alpert’s ‘Whipped Cream Lady’ now 7[9], living in Longview and looking back"

She doesn't look quite the same, of course, but she has her health and is happy to have had her moment in the sun.

"The Best NBA Doppelgängers"

Some of these are pretty good,

"How a genre of music affects life expectancy of famous musicians in that genre"

Tyler advises readers to "[b]eware selection". He's got that right, but it's still interesting.

"Incredible Pictures From Chile’s Calbuco Volcano Eruption"

Mother Nature in full force in Chile.

Time lapse video here.

April 23, 2015

"Are Portlanders Anti-Science?"

The author thinks so.

But at least they have delicious-sounding jian bing (Chinese street crepes).

"Mattress stores want to rip you off. Here's how to fight back."

I'll testify that mattress shoppers could use all the help they can get.

"Mathematical mysteries: the Goldbach conjecture"

Go ahead, prove it. I dare you.

"27 Reasons North Carolina Should Be Banned From The U.S."

Alert: sarcasm.

April 22, 2015

"Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought It Was a Home Invasion’"

Astonishing and terrible.

For select conservative families across five counties, this was the terrifying moment — the moment they felt at the mercy of a truly malevolent state.

Speaking both on and off the record, targets reflected on how many layers of Wisconsin government failed their fundamental constitutional duties — the prosecutors who launched the rogue investigations, the judge who gave the abuse judicial sanction, investigators who chose to taunt and intimidate during the raids, and those police who ultimately approved and executed aggressive search tactics on law-abiding, peaceful citizens.

Related: Glenn Reynolds, "Wisconsin's dirty prosecutors pull a Putin".

"The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust"

For this kind of environmental problem to occur, you pretty much need communism.

"The 50 smartest public high schools in the US"

Raleigh Charter High School is #28.

"The myth of Europe’s Little Ice Age"

It sounded real, but two economists seem to argue well against it.

April 21, 2015

"A yearly reminder that the gender wage gap is due to choice, not discrimination"

Unfortunately, an "annual reminder" is necessary. At least a few of my wife's educated, curious, and generally well-informed colleagues didn't know.

We probably need to go to weekly reminders.

Women earn just 77 or 78 cents to the dollar that men earn.

That line is thrown around so often it must be true, right? As with most outrageous statistics, the shock disappears when you do even a bit of research into its background.

See also "The Gender Wage Gap—A Myth that Just Won’t Die".

"61 Comedians Recall Their Favorite, First, and Life-Changing Jokes"

Sample (as told by Maya Rudolph):

Well, there is a bear and a rabbit and they’re shitting in the woods, and the bear says to the rabbit, "Do you have a problem with shit sticking to your fur?" And the rabbit says, "No, I don’t." And so the bear picks up the rabbit and he wipes himself.

A reminder: crony capitalism is *not* capitalism

"The United States of subsidies: The biggest corporate winners in each state". Boeing, apparently, has a lot of friends on the Hill.

"Google controls what we buy, the news we read — and Obama’s policies".

"Behind every successful woman is a nagging mom? Teenage girls more likely to succeed if they have pushy mothers"

I'll give this a big "Maybe".

"I Saw My Admissions Files Before Yale Destroyed Them"

It doesn't surprise me at all that Yale destroyed them. They really, really don't want anyone to see how that sausage is made.

April 20, 2015

Among the reasons to study economics, this is one of the best

See "The Problem With Satisfied Patients" wherein HHS was apparently shocked to learn an important economic idea: you get what you pay for but often not in the way you expect.

When Department of Health and Human Services administrators decided to base 30 percent of hospitals’ Medicare reimbursement on patient satisfaction survey scores, they likely figured that transparency and accountability would improve healthcare. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials wrote, rather reasonably, “Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care requires us to carefully consider the patient’s experience in the hospital inpatient setting.” They probably had no idea that their methods could end up indirectly harming patients.

I used to regale my MBA students with examples of this. Here are a few of my favorites.

In its early years Gateway Computers needed to save money on customer telephone support, so it told its customer service reps they would lose bonuses if they averaged more than 13 minutes per call. Saved money, right? No: the reps starting doing things to get people off the phone quickly including pretending the line wasn’t working, hanging up, and quickly offering to send replacement parts or new machines for free. That last was expensive. And customer satisfaction fell. Friends and relatives stopped recommending Gateway: referrals fell from 50% of orders to 30%. 

A large bank rewarded its branch managers based on customer satisfaction. But this encouraged branch managers to raise deposit interest rates and to make loans cheap Customers were the most satisfied at the least profitable branches. (Richard McKenzie and Dwight Lee.)

Lincoln Electric--a company renowned in MBA case studies for its management prowess--once decided to monitor the keystrokes of its typists and pay them per stroke. Result: secretaries typed meaningless output during lunch hours. (Richard McKenzie and Dwight Lee.)

L.A. city trash collectors were thought to be working too slowly, so their supervisors told them they could leave work as soon as they finished their designated routes. Two results ensued: 1) Collection sped up enormously, but 2) the trash collectors disabled the speed controls on the mechanical arms that lifted cans and dumpsters. The dumpsters were practically catapulted into the trucks, leading to much accelerated wear and higher repair costs.

"[S]ome companies have adopted a policy where at the end of some predetermined period each team evaluates everyone and drops the bottom 10% or 20%. In response to this policy, a smart manager who has a good team hires extra people who can be thrown overboard without damaging the team. I think I know someone to whom this happened at Novell. It's not a good policy; in fact it's abusive and eats away at company morale from within." 

Finally, this one: Jack Welsh at G.E. was the greatest CEO of his generation, and supposedly one of the greatest ever. The foundation of his management philosophy: a firm should be first or second in the market or get out. But he revealed (NY Times, 3/18/01) that after 1995, he didn't really push this. Why? “What this bureaucracy of ours had been doing was simply redefining markets narrowly enough to make sure we came out No. 1 or No. 2.”

Four summary quotes:

Goodhart's Law: ". . . when you attempt to pick a few easily defined metrics as proxy measures for the success of any plan or policy, you immediately distract or bait people into pursuing the metrics, rather than pursuing the success of the policy itself. The mythical example is Soviet factories: 'When given targets on the basis of numbers of nails produced many tiny useless nails, when given targets on basis of weight produced a few giant nails.'" 

Economist Glen Whitman: "With just an iota of economics training, most people catch on to the importance of incentives. . . . [But] [p]eople don’t always respond to the incentives in the ways you might predict. What distinguishes good economic thinking from bad is the recognition of the subtle, creative, and often unforeseen ways that people respond to incentives.”

Joel Spolsky, summarizing work by Harvard Business School professor Robert Austin: "His point is that incentive plans based on measuring performance always backfire. Not sometimes. Always. What you measure is inevitably a proxy for the outcome you want, and even though you may think that all you have to do is tweak the incentives to boost sales, you can't. It's not going to work. Because people have brains and are endlessly creative when it comes to improving their personal well-being at everyone else's expense.”

“I think it was Andy Grove who said that for every goal you put in front of someone, you should also put in place a counter-goal to restrict gaming of the first goal.” 

Two on the state of the modern U.S. politics

As usual, it's either laugh or cry, you decide.

"Springtime in Washington".

It reminds me why Americans are so wary of Washington.

In the spring of 1999, you see, some culprits had been chopping down cherry trees.

The National Park Service, in a state of high alert for days, finally identified the tree fellers: three beavers, who decided to construct a dam in the Tidal Basin.

In a normal city, this situation would have been dealt with swiftly. The beavers would have been trapped, transported to another location and released.

In fact, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), not known for common sense solutions, suggested exactly that.

But Washington is no normal city.

Kevin D. Williamson, "Down from Watergate".

Richard Nixon was a snake who understood himself as such but had sufficient vestigial conscience to be ashamed of his snakery. When Tricky Dick wanted to spread a nasty rumor about a political rival, he insisted on a few degrees of separation between the deed and himself; when Harry Reid wants to spread lies about someone, he does so from the Senate floor and then laughs about it. In Nixon’s time, the political misuse of the IRS was considered a serious crime; today, it happens quite in the open without consequence. When Nixon insisted that his attorney general violate his official responsibilities for political reasons, Elliott Richardson understood what duty required, and resigned; Eric Holder, by way of comparison — suffice it to say that he understands his duty somewhat differently.

Plus ça change: The worst interpretation of the Iran-contra affair was that senior figures in the Reagan administration, conspiring in secrecy, negotiated the sale of arms to the Iranians in order to secure the release of Americans being held hostage by Hezbollah, using the profits from that exchange to aid those fighting against the murderous Soviet proxy in Nicaragua. Sneaky and illegal but intended to secure real American national-security interests — surely, somewhere in the penumbras of the federal government, there is a black-budget agency chief who has approximately that as a job description. The Democrats howled about the sale of those anti-tank missiles to Tehran, of course, and one of the loudest howlers was John Kerry — who has just signed off on a deal delivering Tehran a nuclear weapon in a blue Tiffany box. Exactly what vital national-security interest that secures remains a mystery.

"No, Farmers Don’t Use 80 Percent of California’s Water"

Since I've seen the "80 percent" figure used in a number of places, this piece is timely and useful.

To be clear, whatever the figure, California farmers are using too much water, water whose costs exceed their benefits. But that is because of government subsidies and those subsidies are obtained partly through the farmers' political clout. It's another example of how government often actually works, as opposed to the Liberals' fantasy of how it always works.


"A new startup called Honor just raised $20 million to provide in-home care for seniors"

This sounds like an excellent idea.

Some research led Sternberg to realize that most seniors wanted to stay in their homes.

To help serve these seniors, Sternberg is launching a service called Honor, which aims to match seniors with professionals who can take care of them in their homes while giving concerned family members a way to keep track of everything.

"Meet Flakka, the Dangerous New Drug Sweeping Florida"

How does my former home state, Florida, keep coming up with these things?

Never mind, I don't want to know.

See also "New Designer Drug Flakka Gives Users Super-Human Strength".

“It reminds me of Angel Dust in the early 80s,” says Jon Lapook, MD. “I was in the emergency room at Columbia [University Medical Center] back then and I knew when someone came in ‘dusted’ because they’d have seven policemen holding down every part of their body and it seemed like they had super-human strength — and it sounds like this is the same sort of thing.” 

And I don't even want to think about "8-foot-long carnivorous cat-eating lizards are invading Florida".

"The Genius of Chutzpah"

Rabbi Ed Feinstein:

This is the epitome of chutzpah. The human being dresses God down in no unsubtle terms. Far be it from You! The original Hebrew hallilah lecha is actually much more earthy. The connotation is closer to my grandmother’s Yiddish curse, Shonda! Herpah! “Shame on You! You’re better than that!” Abraham gives voice to his utter disappointment in God’s betrayal of their shared ideal of justice: How could You, God, blur the moral distinction between good and evil, between innocence and guilt? Is that the world You designed? Shame on You! You’re better than that!

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