Friday, May 28, 2010


Well, well well: the ratings agencies cut Spain’s and Rome’s ratings, markets tumble. The economy, apparently, has decided not to let Deepwater Horizon hog all of the crisis stage.

The NBA has opened an office in South Africa to promote the game to Africans. Very good idea, of course.

California to ban plastic bags.

Israel’s hybrid fruits and vegetables, of a GMO variety (or not):
… you will find carrots shaped like potatoes, strawberries shaped like carrots, star-shaped zucchini and "watermelon" tomatoes — dark green on the outside with a juicy red flesh.

Want a lemon-scented tomato or a chocolate-colored persimmon? How about some miniaturized garlic cloves for the home chef who doesn't have time to chop, or a purple potato that tastes buttery when cooked?

Has the Tea Party done anything for the GOP? The article asks whether the purification campaign waged by the Tea Party—its straining process, if you will (pun very much intended)—is counterproductive. (I disagree, I think: the reason the Tea Party has mostly focused on kneecapping GOP incumbents/establishment choices is because that’s the only thing they’ve had the opportunity to do. Let’s wait until November.)

On Zuckerberg:
Zuckerberg seems to think that full publicity is the inevitable future. He said in January that “people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” The problem is that actual social science research shows this isn’t true. The Pew Research Center reported this week that (in the words of Web-sociology guru danah boyd) “young adults are more actively engaged in managing what they share online than older adults.” Surely Facebook, if it wanted, could figure out that its line about a youth-driven juggernaut toward publicity isn’t borne out by the data — it’s not like it doesn’t have the user data of hundreds of millions of users at its fingertips. So what gives?

I suspect that while Zuckerberg spins publicity as a social good, he actually believes it’s a moral one. It’s a theme that’s become pretty common among execs of data-collecting, data-publicizing companies: making it so that anything anyone does can be seen by anyone they know is a way of keeping them honest.

Safety rules behind the curve on biotech innovation.

Good government vs. limited government, or, why the Heritage Foundation’s rankings of government is BS.

Consequences of Iraqi political turmoil and dithering: people can’t collect their pensions, security is low, and routine governmental tasks are going undone.

There’s been a lot of interesting commentary on colleges today. Here’s Mike Konczal commenting on DIY U, which posits that the way for disruptive innovation in university life is more of a DIY model, with internet learning, etc. Well, anyway, lest anyone doubts we’ve got a problem…:
According to the College Board’s Trends in Student Aid study, 10 percent of people who graduated in 2007-8 with student loans had borrowed $40,000 or more. The median debt for bachelor’s degree recipients who borrowed while attending private, nonprofit colleges was $22,380.

The Project on Student Debt, a research and advocacy organization in Oakland, Calif., used federal data to estimate that 206,000 people graduated from college (including many from for-profit universities) with more than $40,000 in student loan debt in that same period. That’s a ninefold increase over the number of people in 1996, using 2008 dollars.

Here’s what I think is the central problem here—here’s why colleges have to charge high prices:
Then there’s a branding problem. Urging students to attend a cheaper college or leave altogether suggests a lack of confidence about the earning potential of alumni. Nobody wants to admit that. And once a university starts encouraging middle-class students to go elsewhere, it must fill its classes with more children of the wealthy and a much smaller number of low-income students to whom it can afford to offer enormous scholarships. That’s hardly an ideal outcome either.
Also, here’s more about the problems with university endowments.

How mark-to-market will hurt the banks’ balance sheets.

CNN: losing in ratings but very profitable. This is an apparent paradox, but not really. The media loves winning, in itself and others. And it defines winning by getting the most people. But as it turns out, sometimes having fewer is better: Apple is more profitable than Microsoft, The Economist has a small circulation and yet is very profitable, Wii is more profitable than Playstation 3 or XBOX 360, etc. etc.

How dense are the places that smart people live?

The yen carry trade, in graph form.

City/bankruptcy worries. Congress is thinking about bailing out some pension funds; general pension anxieties; California municipalities are contemplating bankruptcy; and yet, oddly, municipal bonds have benefited from the flight to safety recently. And here’s an interesting/depressing big think piece:
Yet, in the longer term, the impacts of dense urbanization may not be universally useful at promoting either poverty alleviation or upward mobility. In advanced countries, this is already evident in large urban areas. Indeed, even the strongly pro-urbanist World Bank report acknowledges that as societies reach certain affluence levels, they begin to deconcentrate, with the middle classes in particular moving to the periphery.

This process reflects a shift in economic and social realities over the past few decades. After nearly a half century of sustained social progress in most advanced countries, income growth for the middle class, even among the best-educated, has slowed considerably, and by some measurements has even turned negative. As we will see, the effects have been particularly tough on the urban middle and working classes in cities as diverse as Toronto, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London.

Such concerns have been heightened by the current deep recession, which has caused wages to fall in both developing and developed countries. Yet concern over upward mobility was developing even in the relative “boom” times of the recent past, particularly in the advanced western countries, but also in the developing ones. Since 1973, for example, the rate of growth of the “typical family’s income” in the United States has slowed dramatically, and for males has actually gone backwards when adjusted for inflation. This diminishment has been particularly marked in major urban centers such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Similar developments can be seen in a host of European cities, including London and Berlin, and even in Tokyo, which long has been seen as distinctly middle class. In all these cities, the middle class appears to be diminishing, while the population living in poverty has increased.
I’ve started reading the attached report, which is very interesting.

A slideshow of life in Kabul in the 1950s and 60s.

Does fashion need copyright protection? (Very good TED talk)

Who pays for medical mistakes?

Every so often, journalists politely drop their pretense of objectivity to ridicule somebody. In this piece about obesity in the Mexican police force, the author of this piece treats us to an example:
“It’s good to lose weight,” acknowledged Crescencio Aguilar, 48, an 18-year veteran of the transit police who weighs just over 200 pounds, has a protruding abdomen and was interviewed near a rather aromatic stand selling beef tacos and quesadillas. “But the truth is, the way I am, I’ve been chubby since I was a boy, and it’s going to be difficult to drop down.”

He then broke into what can best be described as a belly laugh.

And later in the piece:
But when Mr. Aguilar is out directing traffic, it is hard for him not to nosh. His churning stomach, he said, compels him to leave his intersection from time to time to add another sandwich or soft drink or two.

“The truth is that you die of hunger if you diet,” he said.

We get it: you think he’s fat and somewhat delusional. No need to lather it on so thick; it trades the ease of ridicule for the difficulty of actual insight—that is, can we really be sure that Mr. Aguilar is representative of the entire Mexican police force? I mean, probably not, right? And if he isn’t, well, you’ve just made fun of him for no actual deeper purpose in terms of informing us, the audience. (For what it’s worth, the rest of the article is consistently interesting.)

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