~ Archive for Uncategorized ~

Government employees’ crew team


It was Head of the Charles this weekend in Boston. Here was a conversation on the Weeks Footbridge:

  • “Did you hear that one of the teams in the Eights is all government workers?”
  • “No. How are they doing?”
  • “Much better this year. They kept coming in last in previous races, so they sent someone to spy on the Harvard and Yale teams to try to find out the secret of their high performance.”
  • “What did the spy tell them?”
  • “At Harvard and Yale they have only one person yelling ‘The rest of you should row’.”



Blogging is 20 years old now


The Guardian notes that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the Weblog (article on Dave Winer).

The standard HTTP/HTML Web was and is great for 3-30-page ideas. Winer was perhaps the first person to see that the world needed some different technical standards to deal with three-paragraph ideas.

[I owe Winer a personal debt of thanks for it was his arrival at Harvard's Berkman Center that resulted in me trying out the Weblog.]

California regulators ruin sofa shopping in Massachusetts


Having spent a childhood with Spaghetti-O’s in the pantry closet and Velveeta in the fridge I tend not to worry too much about industrial chemicals in my life. The same cannot be said for the distaff side of our household. Thus a trip to Crate & Barrel to find a sleeper sofa turned into an education regarding flame retardants. It seems that the wise politicians and regulators in California back in 1975 essentially forced furniture buyers nationwide to bring toxic, yet ineffective, flame retardants into their households. Now, 40 years later, the wise politicians and regulators are forcing furniture manufacturers to go in the opposite direction. See this NRDC page for a summary history.

How does this affect a Massachusetts shopper? Just try asking a retail clerk if a particular sofa was made with particular chemicals…

[And separately, maybe this explains Americans' lackluster performance in school and stagnant wages. The NRDC page says "Americans carry much higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies than anyone else in the world" and "Children exposed in the womb have lower IQs and attention problems."]

Finally… the government seems to want me to go back to my Velveeta-eating roots. The FDA has banned French cheese, such as Roquefort, made according to 1000-year-old recipes (CNN).

Interesting article on change of venue for the prosecution of a Boston Marathon bomber


Harvey Silverglate has published an interesting article on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, previously welcomed by one U.S. government agency with fast-track citizenship and now being prosecuted by a different government agency, should be tried in the Boston area or elsewhere.

Americans unable to think globally get upset about their falling share of global wages


One of the top economic writers of the New York Times and his editors have published an article entitled “The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century”. There is no mention of the fact that there is a global market for labor. Here’s a comment that I posted in response:

Why the narrow focus on the U.S.? “The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century” is certainly not a headline that would make sense to someone in China or Botswana. The pool of money for wages worldwide has grown dramatically in the 21st Century and people all over the world are enjoying dramatically better lives as a consequence. If I am not getting the share of this pool to which I feel entitled, perhaps my resentment just proves the adage “When the market gives you an answer you don’t like, declare market failure.”

Could it actually be that one reason we don’t get our former share of global wages is that we are unable to think globally?

[And, as a minor point, if employers provide health insurance to employees and the cost of that insurance has gone way up, isn't that itself a substantial increase in compensation? Perhaps there has been wage growth in the U.S. but it isn't noticeable unless we have to go to the hospital.]

Portrait Photography then and now


A friend is going to be giving a TED talk soon. He asked me what it cost to get a family portrait done in the 1850s and guessed “In today’s dollars I expect it was >$1000?” He didn’t say why he was interested but I am assuming that it was part of an argument about the wonders of technological progress.

That set me to searching and I found this page on daguerreotypes, which was the first photographic process that was practical as a consumer product. It turned out that $2 was the price to have a family portrait done by Mathew Brady, whose work today is sought after by art museums. Adjusted for inflation with http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ that’s about $55 today, i.e., about half what you’d pay to have a 19-year-old do a portrait session with a few prints at your local J.C. Penney.

Historic Preservation in Beverly, Massachusetts


One of my MIT grad school classmates bought a decrepit beach house in Beverly, Massachusetts, the renovation of which ran afoul of various town committees. The Boston Globe ran a story on October 5, 2014 about how the multi-year approval process will end: “Beverly’s historic Loring House set to fall; Roomba co-creator eyes demolition”.

Most of the argument seems to have concerned stuff that was going to happen inside the house.

[The historic commission guy's use of the term "nouveau riche" was inappropriate in my opinion, though I guess it makes it obvious that he doesn't like Helen (we all liked her back in grad school! So I guess this is evidence that success breeds envy/enemies). The term makes sense in a country such as France or England with a nobility, but not in the U.S. The people who built that house were lawyers, according to the article, not dukes and princesses. Being an inventor in 2014 is not somehow crass compared to being a lawyer in the U.S. in the mid-19th century.]

Why aren’t there a lot more police shootings in the U.S.?


The other day I was driving out to the drug testing facility to surprise myself with one of the random drug tests that are required of single-pilot charter operations (see this 2011 posting). It was about 11:00 am on a sunny day in a low-crime area. A young woman was stalled in the middle of the road in an old Volkswagen Golf. I would have stopped to help her except that I saw that a local police officer was already in the process of doing so. Then I looked a little closer and saw that he was approaching her car with one hand on his gun (presumably concerned about being one of the 30 American police officers shot and killed annually (Economist), though on average being a police officer is not very dangerous and most of the risk is from transportation accidents (BLS; TIME magazine)).

Given that not every situation is as unambiguously safe as this one (daylight, no rain or mist, no obvious reason why you’d want to stop in the middle of the road before shooting someone) and the fact that the guy was at all times just a second or two away from shooting his gun I wondered why incidents like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri aren’t more frequent. (I did a quick Google News search for “police shoot unarmed” and discovered this article about Levar Jones being shot in South Carolina on September 4 as well as a few others.)

Newspapers after Ferguson seem to be asking the question “Why are so many citizens shot by police?” Given the 780,000 police officers out there (source: BLS), if most are armed and trained like the one that I saw approaching this disabled motorist, wouldn’t a better question be “Why are there so few shootings of unarmed people by American police?”

New York’s Criminal Justice System


New Yorker magazine has an interesting article on a seventeen-year-old who was jailed on Rikers Island for three years awaiting a trial that never occurred.

As with most American journalism, the writer does not ask or answer the question “Compared to what?” Do other states do better or worse in terms of compliance with the Speedy Trial Act? The writer implies that New York is performingly poor yet the article does not explain why New York State, which is among the higher-income states (rank), which collects a larger percentage of residents’ income than any other state (Tax Foundation), and which does not have a high crime rate (ranking), cannot deal with accused criminals more expeditiously.

Related: the classic paper “Torture and Plea Bargaining”

Massachusetts’s Deval Patrick graded F on fiscal policy


The Cato Institute, advocates for a small government, issued its Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governor’s today. Eight out of 50 governments scored an F. One of them was Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who scored lower than 47 other governors (California’s Jerry Brown had the lowest score of all).

The report suffers a little because the scores are a little out of context. Andrew Cuomo of New York gets a B for cutting some taxes but there is no mention of the fact that New York started out as the highest tax state in the U.S. (as a percentage of residents’ income; see the Tax Foundation).

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