Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Malls are being built in the Amazon:
"The mall is basically the only thing there is to do in the entire state," said Aira Queiroz, an 18-year-old student who'd made the 125-mile trip from Ariquemes, the ranch town where she lives, to enjoy an ice cream and shop at the mall on a Saturday in April. "There's definitely nothing to do in my town."

Around her, mall scenes typical of the U.S. suburbs unfolded. The food court buzzed with chatter. A glass elevator climbed the atrium to deposit movie-goers at a five-theater Cineplex boasting a 3D screen. There were even Amazon mall rats. Teens, some with dyed-black hair swept precociously over one eye, roamed the aisles looking for something to do. Uniformed security guards kept a watchful eye.

For all its scenes of Americana, there are reminders that the mall is on the Amazon frontier. McDonald's had no fries that day. The delivery truck was delayed somewhere on the 2,500-mile drive from São Paulo. The mall's employee-of-the-month won for handling more responsibility after half her team contracted Dengue fever.

Though wages for college grads are much greater than wages for non-college grads, the amount of debt that relatively new college grads are carrying is beginning to offset the wage advantage. Yet another scary chart about the history of how we got here in this economy: we have more and more debt and are earning less.

Here’s a take on the Elena Kagan situation:
…we have a system based on ambition. Therefore, the very least I think we can say about ambition is that whatever one might think about a system that rewards and requires ambition, it makes no sense at all to judge individuals who succeed within that system on how ambitious they are. They are all ambitious. You don't get to be a serious candidate for President of the United States of America without being ambitious. And, for the most part, you don't get to be a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America without being ambitious. That's not an absolute -- as far as I know, lightning did strike in the case of David Souter -- but for the rest of them? Absolutely. Not just Kagan: Sotomayor, Roberts, Alito...they all organized their lives in such a way that they could be serious candidates for the high court. Even someone such as Robert Bork did that; he badly, by all accounts, wanted to be on the court -- he just misjudged the rules and norms of how to get there.

I'm pretty confident that this suspicion of ambition is what's at the core of the unease with Kagan expressed by David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan (see also an interesting reaction from Ta-Nehisi Coates). My advice for them is simple: get over it. Of course SCOTUS candidates are going to be ambitious and organize their lives around the pursuit of a seat on the court, just as presidential candidates, or Speakers of the House, are going to do the same.
I agree with this. Ambition is a wonderful thing when channeled correctly; so you have to ask yourself, is the current situation a proper channel for ambition? That is, is a system whereby close friends admit publicly they have no idea as to your actual beliefs are a proper channel for people’s ambition? This is obviously a leading question. By the by, here’s the effects of the system: an earnest attempt to parse Kagan’s record on her tech views.

New Yorker and Duke Ellington, a match in highbrow heaven. If your eyebrows are so high they’re nestled in your scalp, then this is definitely the article for you. (So far, I’ve read a page and enjoyed it.)

The tyranny of New York?

A comprehensive poll of what Millenials think politically, in light of the recession.

The unsustainability of the Afghan budget, in graphic form.

As was predicted, more firms (like Morgan Stanley) besides Goldman Sachs are being investigated for CDO-shorting-related tomfoolery. Felix Salmon notices something very strange about the “Dead Presidents” CDOs that are under investigation and wonders what’s going on there.

Financial regulation time: here’s the Snowe-Landrieu amendment to the Consumer Finance Protection Agency (boo!) and here’s Rortybomb updating us a few of the more obscure amendments.

Three scenarios for Greece.

A profile of Tyler Cowen that reminds me that Create Your Own Economy is on my infinitely long reading list.

The Stanford Daily has a very interesting report on a subsection of electronic medical records called computizered physician order entry system (CPOE) which is exactly what you think it is: an electronic system that physicians can order tests, prescribe treatments, etc. Well, here’s the results of a study done on Stanford’s hospital of said system:
CPOE was implemented in 2007 at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Researchers compared mortality from 2001 to 2007 and then to 2009 in a perspective control study that analyzed historical data and isolated variables using an “autoregressive integrated moving average model,” said Jin Hahn, the co-author of the study. Hahn, a professor of pediatric neurology, served as co-director of the LPCH clinical transformation program from 2004 to 2008, when CPOE implementation took place.

Lead author Christopher Longhurst, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics, and his colleagues concluded there was a 20-percent reduction in mortality rates, after controlling for the rapid response team, seasonal variability and other factors. Data analysis indicated two statically significant decreases in mortality: one decline after implementation of rapid response teams in 2005 and a second following the introduction of CPOE in 2007.
Here’s the critic on that:
Despite its growing recognition, the study has not convinced all researchers. A three-year study conducted at Seattle’s Children Hospital found no significant change in mortality after CPOE was implemented in 2003.

“The study was not a controlled experiment that you might do in a lab,” wrote Mark Del Beccaro, chief medical information officer at Seattle’s Children Hospital, in an e-mail to The Daily. “In the laboratory setting, the investigator sets up the experiment and usually manipulates one variable at a time and measures the effect. In a complex hospital setting this isn’t possible with EMRs.”

“A group of children’s hospitals is considering looking at pooled data from those that have and have not implemented an EMR with CPOE and seeing if the Packard data is more generalizable to other institutions,” Del Beccaro added.

It’s my sense that for all the hoopla over electronic medical records—which is justifiable in theory—they have very ambiguous effects in practice. Ambiguous because some are designed poorly or implemented poorly. So I’d be interested to see the differences in implementation, records, etc., etc. between these two studies. A lot of potential there; just have to see it fulfilled.

Housing stuff: some reports are showing very marginal decreases in default, and yet apparently 24% of all residential properties with mortgages are underwater. Very much not over.

I’m very happy to see Christopher Orr reviewing movies again—he’s really top class—and here’s his comparison of Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke.

Some of n+1’s thoughts on ads:
A big mystery of the internet has been why the online editions of newspapers and magazines can’t make money when, with huge skyscraper ads covering half the homepage, their websites so closely resemble the most successful publications of the past. These aren’t regular old newspaper ads either but what amount to TV ads—all the better, you’d think, since you can click through to buy the product on offer without picking up a phone. What’s more, the New York Times has ten times as many readers online as it does in print (15 million versus 1.5 million)! Amid all the anxiety about the future of journalism it’s easy to overlook the absurdity of the situation: the Times is going bankrupt—while showing more ads to more readers than ever before.

What happened? One standard answer is that advertisers overpaid for ad placement in the past, and now the Gray Lady, confronted with precise readership metrics, is finally getting paid the pittance she always deserved. This seems implausible: could perpetually rationalizing, efficiency-maximizing capitalism really have misjudged the efficacy of print advertising for more than a century? Another notion is that Google, by removing the ad men from the transaction, has dropped the glamorizing “sizzle” of the hard sell—an idea only Don Draper could buy.
If I could excerpt it all, I would. So read it.

How New York didn’t change under Bloomberg.

Economist believes the danger posed by the deficit is “zero.” I think the freakout over the deficit is overstated, but this is a little ennnnhhh.

Great breakdown: what’s wrong with LeBron’s shot.

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