Monthly Archives: July 2011

I found this amusing, though truth be told, there are some Facebook pictures out there I wouldn’t mind being untagged from. A combination of my former weight plus really, really bad angles. No 3:45am calls about it, though.

Category: Theater

More information on the McDonald’s Makeover. The McD’s in Redstone burned down a while back. I wondered if they might put one of these hoity-toity locations since they’re rebuilding it anyway. Probably not. In fact, it’s probably on the “Why bother?” list.

Why 107-degree overnight temperatures should freak you out. The link about night-time highs is very interesting. As is the part about the urban heat islands. It sounds to me like a reason to have housing formations that are more spread out.

Speaking of dying of heat: The history of air conditioning.

Walmart is accused of suppressing wages for a particular reason. Does Costco increase prices?

This article came out seven years ago, but it’s a worthwhile read if you missed it. It’s about the history of population heights, what it says about a country, and why Europe is getting taller and we are not (note: it’s not immigration – or not solely so).

A disturbing case out of North Dakota involving a kid getting kicked out of college based on sexual assault allegations so dubious that the police want to charge the woman with filing a false police report.

The decline and fall of the hardback book. I still have a post on ebooks I need to get to. As far as hardbacks go, I can take or leave them. What’s kind of annoying, though, is having half an author’s collection in paperback and the other half in hardback. So I guess we may be avoiding that, going forward.

Cigarette butts are everywhere. Can they be recycled?

How 38 monks took on a funeral cartel and won.

A pretty disturbing look at the hospice industry.

Category: Newsroom

If studies can’t prove that the amount of salt we intake is bad for us, then obviously, it’s impossible for a study to be good and right. There is some sense to what Hit Coffee nemesis Marion Nestle is saying, but we do have to remember that she is the same person that previously argued irradiation was bad because it allowed the beef pushers to “get away with” selling beef without e coli. Oh, and she thought a 20oz soft drink had 800 calories. Here’s a better look at the issue.

A friend of mine commented that environmental regulations are aimed at the corporations and benefit the citizenry. I would question that on a number of levels, but particularly at the moment for those who have athsma. Look, I don’t have a problem with wanting to protect the environment, but if we’re going to eliminate this OOC we need to make another one OOC or something so as not to come in between people with athsma and the inhalers they need. This can be a life and death thing.

According to Postmasters, the days of Saturday delivery are numbered. They’ve been saying that since I was a kid, but I believe them this time. Mostly because, unlike in years past, I don’t know that anybody would really care.

In a conversation with David Alexander a week or two ago, I commented on a good article I’d read advocating not-so-high-speed rail. Here it is.

The WiFi hacking neighbor from Hell was sentenced to jail for 18 years. Meanwhile, the ex-boyfriend from hell hatched such an elaborate plot that it would make Law & Order blush.

The interesting story of the lowball offer from ESPN that prompted the Big Ten to start their own network and change the college sports model. Even the Big East looks poised to sign a pretty nice TV contract. Too few conferences, to many options for the conferences, I guess.

Also, the difficulty of selling football in Los Angeles. It’s really hard to believe that the city has been without an NFL team for 17 years.

The ins and outs of the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement. It seems to me like the players are coming out more as winners than I would have guessed.

A horrifying story of war and homosexual rape in Africa, and the near-complete indifference among goodie-goodie international orgs who fear that any attention drawn to the issue will deflect attention from the female victims that actually matter.

Category: Newsroom

Apparently, New York is having a problem in collecting bail bond forfeitures.

A couple years ago the they had a good article on the internationally unusual nature of our system:

“It’s a very American invention,” John Goldkamp, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University, said of the commercial bail bond system. “It’s really the only place in the criminal justice system where a liberty decision is governed by a profit-making businessman who will or will not take your business.”

Although the system is remarkably effective at what it does, four states — Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin — have abolished commercial bail bonds, relying instead on systems that require deposits to courts instead of payments to private businesses, or that simply trust defendants to return for trial.

Most of the legal establishment, including the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association, hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system.

Here as in many other areas of the law, the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States has charted a distinctive and idiosyncratic legal path.

It seems to me that the question of whether it discriminates against the poor and middle-class is if this innovation has resulted in requirements for higher bails since the judges know that bondsmen will put it up. If so, it causes a price spiral that discriminates against defendants the same way that they would be discriminated against if they had to put the money up themselves. But if that’s not demonstrably the case, it seems like it would help them by allowing them to get out of jail (or get their loved ones out of jail) in ways that they wouldn’t be able to, otherwise. It’s not unlike those paycheck loan places, except reserved more for a rather specific emergency.

Wilson Quarterly has a good (and more sympathetic) look at the industry:

Most people don’t realize how many fugitives from the law there are. About one-quarter of all felony defendants fail to show up on the day of their trial. Some of these absences are due to forgetfulness, hospitalization, or even imprisonment on another charge. But like Luster, many felony defendants skip court with willful intent. The police are charged with recapturing these fugitives, but some of them are chased by an even more tireless pursuer, the bounty hunter.

Bounty hunters and bail bondsmen play an important but unsung role in a legal system whose court dockets are too crowded to provide swift justice. When a suspect is arrested, a judge must make a decision: set the suspect free on his own recognizance until the court is ready to proceed, hold the suspect in jail, or release the accused on the condition that he post a bail bond. A bond is a promise backed by incentive. If the suspect shows up on the trial date, he gets his money back; but if he fails to show, the money is forfeited. We don’t want to deprive the innocent of their liberty, but we also don’t want to give the guilty too much of a head start on their escape. Bail bonds don’t solve this problem completely, but they do give judges an additional tool to help them navigate the dilemma.

Bail might be a rich man’s privilege were it not for the bail bondsman. (Many bondsmen are women, but “bondsperson” doesn’t have quite the same ring, so I’ll use the standard terminology.) In return for a non-refundable fee, usually around 10 percent of the bond, a bondsman will put up his own money with the court. A typical bond might run $6,000. If the defendant shows up, the bondsman earns $600. But if the defendant flees, the bondsman potentially can forfeit $6,000. Potentially, because when a fugitive fails to appear, the court gives the bondsman a notice that essentially says, “Bring your charge to justice soon or your money is mine.” A bondsman typically has 90 to 180 days to bring a fugitive back to justice, so when a defendant jumps bail, the bondsman lets the dogs loose.

In addition to (perhaps) helping people afford to get out of jail when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, this strikes me as a rather helpful sort of outsourcing. Hunting low-level fugitives is something that it’s rarely going to be worthwhile to do, from a financial standpoint. But we create a system that makes it worthwhile… to somebody.

Freakonomics also has a podcast/article on the topic.

UPDATE: Another interesting article on the subject from Las Vegas, where Bail Bondsmen are upset at Marshals, who are allegedly illegally offering bonds.

Category: Courthouse

A while back I wrote about (disapprovingly) a trick play at a middle school football game in Texas wherein the defense was deceived by Driscoll Middle School into thinking that play had not started yet. When I talked to my family about it, we all agreed that it would probably be a cold day in hell before anyone got tricked like that again. Then, at the state high school championship no less, in Texas no less, a trick play of a similar type by the Pearland Oilers resulted in a touchdown.

Here is what I wrote about the first incident:

As cute as the high middle school play shown above is, it creates a similar problem. In the event that there is any sort of confusion, what should the defensive players do? If they’re wrong in one direction, it’s a touchdown. If they’re wrong in the other direction, it’s a 15-yard penalty (and possible ejection from the game). Ultimately, it’s not just a trick play, it’s a bad-faith play. A few of the articles talking about the play are saying that it’s a play you only get away with once. Maybe. And maybe some kid will get tackled because some defensive lineman thinks that play has started. In this case, the player walked past the defenders, but next time he may just start walking to the sideline with the ball. Maybe he will genuinely be confused. Maybe not. When there’s not a clear indication of what the defense is supposed to be doing, it’s a recipe for potential problems.

While Texas middle school and Texas high school apparently have no accounting for this type of trickery, college football does:

For those of you that don’t want to watch the video, what basically happens is that the BYU QB looks like he’s going to call an audible, meanwhile the center snaps it to the running-back. The end result was the invocation of a rule “Attempt to Deceive,” which sounds like a catch-all “cut that crap out” policy.

I actually find this less objectionable than the above examples for three reasons. First, I have higher expectations at the collegiate level on knowing what’s going on. Second, it was pretty clearly a snap and snap means go (the same is true of the Pearland example, which I cut more slack than the Driscoll one). Third, the Air Force defense wasn’t actually fooled. Maybe confused for a moment, but not fooled. That being said, I can appreciate an attempt to say “Let’s stick to straightforward football, please.”

I will also note that BYU did this in a game that they were leading 31-7 in the third quarter. Not exactly classy. They won 38-24.

Category: Theater

An interesting story on two cities in India, and how the unlikely city (that isn’t even a city) won.

Black and Blue Man wrote of a bizarre encounter at an assigned-seating movie theater. In one way, it makes sense that they would fear slipping someone underage into the theater. But seriously, sometimes people just want elbow room (and it’s apparently not uniformly enforced anyway). I actually know a couple who bought three seats so that he and his wife would have an empty seat between them. The airline sat someone there anyway. He quipped, “I need to gain weight so they make us buy that seat.”

Instead of just saying “It’s the AMA!!!” (it’s not), Slate actually investigates why we’re having trouble producing more doctors. The real bottleneck is residency, the slots for which are (generally) funded by the government.

The 10 best states to make a living. I’m a bit surprised to see Delaware and Massachusetts on there. Even given the salaries, I figured the astronomical costs of living would just eat that away.

From Technorati, a list of how to handle good-kid/bad-kid situations. Including, of course, not to think of them as good kids and bad kids. I would add to the list: When one kid does 90% of the misbehaving, don’t talk about how “your kids” misbehave or “your kids” can’t be trusted. If you feel comfortable talking about your kids’ ill-behavior with someone, you should be comfortable enough to say that one kid has proven tougher to handle than the other.

People tend to add IQ points where they hear someone speak with a British accent. Unless they’ve ever been to Britain (or anywhere outside the country). Apparently the British accent has actually taken a hit over the last 25 years in the overall. I blame the export of British TV programming.

Tying in a few subjects we’ve talked about around here with regard to Asian men, black women, reproduction, and China… Chinese men (of which there is, of course, a surplus) who marry African women are getting puzzled receptions back home.

I really want to write a post on this, but since I probably never will, I present The Last Psychiatrist on the Cult of Self-Esteem and whether it’s ruining our kids. This is so often discussed that it’s hard to say anything worthwhile on it, but TLP manages to.

The UAW is trying to unionize Hyundai… and failing. Hyundai employees just aren’t interested. The UAW thinks it’s due to southern attitudes. A few conservatives have suggested it’s that unions have become obsolete. There may be an element of truth to both, but another important factor is sometimes the threat of unionization forces employers to treat their employees in such a way to make unionization obsolete.

The trials of Norm “NORM!” Peterson.

Category: Newsroom

Every now and again you hear about police of health inspectors shutting down lemonaid stands. Conservatives like to point to this as a case of regulation gone amuck. The former libertarian in me agrees wholeheartedly, enthusiastic for bottom-up business in general, whether a taco truck or shrimp sold out of the back of a GMC Jimmy. On the other hand, people like to know where their food is coming from, that it has been safely handled, and so on. And I get that, too.

But what I really think of when I read stories like this is: lemonaid stands suck. I mean, the whole point of it is to give kids a chance at learning about business and making a little bit of money and all that. But seriously, lemonaid stands suck. You typically end up making less than minimum wage. And in the south, you’re burning up while doing so (probably anywhere else, since you typically sell lemonaid in hot weather). So the lesson you learn is that hard work is for chumps. Which of course, may be a valuable lesson in itself, I suppose. But it’s not the lesson that the parents are trying to teach.

Of course, our kids are being taught salesmanship in any event, if they belong to the scouts, a sports team, a band, or pretty much any organization that needs fundraisers. As Bill Engvall says, we’re raising a generation of Amway salesmen. Except Amway products have more value than what you’re charged to sell, and you’re allowed to develop your own markets (more on this later). It started off with candy bars, which was ingenious because we would want to eat them all. And spoiled parents would let their kids do just that (mine wouldn’t). I suspect that the problem here came to be that the candy bars would melt, parents wouldn’t want to pay for them, and the company didn’t want them back. So they shifted to beef jerky, which was actually kind of cool. I loved (and love!) beef jerky and I would use my lunch or paper-route money to buy them. You can imagine my irritation one year when, after I was done, Dad bought the rest of them for me. “Now you’re going to be generous? The year I already bought half of them?” I wonder if he just had a spurt of generosity, or if he was impressed at my salesmanship (not knowing who my primary customer was). The primary problem with the beef jerky was that you didn’t have your own market. Suddenly everybody on the little league team was selling beef jerky at once. So the people that don’t want to buy it just say that tbey bought it from somebody else, and those that do want it have to choose who they’re going to buy it from. It becomes a popularity contest. Which, come to think of it, may be a valuable lesson in itself.

The last few years they moved on to something really, really worthless. Mail-order meals. Because everybody wants nachos sent to them by some company in Des Moines. It saves us from the hazard of having to handle this food. But how do you sell nachos with 6-8 weeks of delivery time? You don’t. And you begin to hate the sales process. And capitalism. Which, come to think of it, may be…

Category: Market

A while back I wrote about the effect that art’s increasing ubiquity has on our appreciation of it. I closed with a paragraph about how we internalize price. When music becomes free, we don’t treasure it as much. We don’t listen to the same tracks over and over again because, well, because that’s all we have and we paid for them. In my case, paid what little money I had.

Of course, the media itself has played a role, moving from the CD on forward. When it came to tapes, it was a pain in the rear to find and listen and relisten to the tracks that you like. CDs made this easier, since you could forward and back straight to the song that you were listening to. MP3’s took it a step further, where you can simply eliminate all of the songs except the ones you specifically want to listen to. You could do that with tapes, of course, but it was a bit of a pain. And unlike with MP3s, you were paying for them either way unless you swiped them off the radio. Throw in Rhapsody, and you can listen to whatever you want, whenever you want (and are at a PC).

For my own part, it’s the case where the $10 it costs to buy an album falls into the “trivial expense” category. For a while I wouldn’t buy anything that I couldn’t screen first on Rhapsody or somewhere else, but it’s not a big deal anymore. It wasn’t a big deal five years ago, though that hadn’t sunk in yet. So I not only have access to Rhapsody’s entire catalog, but I can buy limited amounts of whatever I want, if I want it.

Yet, despite all of this, I listen to less new music than ever before. I think that some of it is that I can afford to customize my listening to limit myself only to familiar songs. A side-effect is that which does not immediately appeal to me, doesn’t get listened to. I think back to how I became a fan of Frank Black solely because I had a few of his CDs from eMusic and a limited amount of new stuff to listen to. I didn’t know what to think of it at first, but over time came to really like it. That’s the last time this has happened, and that was five years ago. There have been a few new artists since then, such as Son Volt and Richmond Fontaine, but even then I still haven’t listened to all of Fontaine’s work. I listen to the last couple of CDs of theirs and… then I relisten to them. But only the tracks I like.

Some of this is doubtlessly a function of age. The older you get, the less appealing the junk that these young kids today are listening to becomes. Pop music has become infused with R&B, which I don’t care all that much for. Popular country hasn’t changed much in the last decade, and if I’m going to listen to the same old thing, I might as well listen to the same old thing I already know the lyrics to. The independent music scene I was following all but died (maybe coincidentally, maybe not, but right around the time the smoking bans started hitting bars). So there’s probably an element of circumstance involved in this, as well as getting old.

But I really do think that at least a part of it is that without scarcity, I can hear everything, and therefore don’t have to listen to anything. And with access to everything I like, I don’t need to like anything I already don’t. Some of this is a function of my relative wealth, but you don’t have to be wealthy anymore in order to not be dependent on the radio to introduce new music to you. Rhapsody is under $15 a month. Spotify is coming to the US and promises to be even cheaper. You can nudge Pandora to only give you the stuff that’s either what you already like or a carbon copy of it. The radio, for all of its faults, at least made you give new stuff a chance if you were too lazy to change the station. Pandora, Rhapsody, and the others have functionality to allow you to do that, but Rhapsody, Spotify, and the others make listening to what you like so comfortable and easy that you don’t have to wade into the don’t-like-yet.

It does make me wonder what the music industry has in store for itself. To the extent that it’s a matter of my aging, they have nothing to worry about since young people are coming of music-listening age every day. But if there is something to the notion of ubiquity decreasing value, I don’t envy their position. And with Netflix, Amazon, and others offering the same for video, it’s an open question there, too. I think it’s less so for video, though, since I think that once we rise above a certain age, our capacity to keep watching the same things over and over ago diminishes in a way that it doesn’t for music, since music doesn’t require our complete attention.

Category: Theater

My teaching experience is… limited. I’ll be the first to admit. Nonetheless, even substituting for a semester, there are some things you pick up on pretty quickly. Perhaps some of them are false-lessons to be unlearned later. But maybe not. In any event, I read “amen, brother!” when I read about a new style for teaching math:

Many students were sent to him because they had severe learning disabilities (a number have gone on to do university-level math). Mighton found that to be effective he often had to break things down into minute steps and assess each student’s understanding at each micro-level before moving on.

Take the example of positive and negative integers, which confuse many kids. Given a seemingly straightforward question like, “What is -7 + 5?”, many will end up guessing. One way to break it down, explains Mighton, would be to say: “Imagine you’re playing a game for money and you lost seven dollars and gained five. Don’t give me a number. Just tell me: Is that a good day or a bad day?”

Separating this step from the calculation makes it easier for kids to understand what the numbers mean. Teachers tell me that when they begin using Jump they are surprised to discover that what they were teaching as one step may contain as many as seven micro steps. Breaking things down this finely allows a teacher to identify the specific point at which a student may need help. “No step is too small to ignore,” Mighton says. “Math is like a ladder. If you miss a step, sometimes you can’t go on. And then you start losing your confidence and then the hierarchies develop. It’s all interconnected.”

This was precisely the problem I ran into when trying to teach a second grade girl to approximate and add. And this was how I finally got it through. You simply break it down into as many steps as humanly possible. I wanted to jump ahead straight to “Take 76, round it to 80, then take the 19, and round it to 20, and you get 100,” which was obviously too much. So I stepped back and said “What does 76 round to?” and she had no idea. So… another step back… the number that 76 rounds off to is going to be one of two numbers. Which ones?” and on to “What’s the first number in 76?” “7” Okay, so take that number, or the next number up, and those are the two possibilities. So what are the two possible numbers you might round 76 up to?” Her first guess was 78, but we got there until I destroyed her confidence.

I’m always skeptical of claims that “any kid can learn up to college level math,” which the article suggests. But I do believe that there is more variability than Half Sigma and the like think. At least there is where there’s motivation, which can be the bigger nut to crack.

The other thought is that this demonstrates the tremendous need for tracking. Take some second graders and try to start with “What’s the first number in 76”, they’re going to go absolutely crazy. This completely and entirely fails to bother some people, but perhaps due to my experiences it does bother me. And it’s a waste of their talent. The notion that “we shouldn’t worry about the really smart kids” because they’ll have the smarts to take care of themselves completely ignores the fact that it’s the smart kids that will be using their education to make this country better for the less smart ones. And while I may disagree with Sigma on the extent to which the left side of the bell curve can be taught, I am in full agreement that you have to approach different aptitudes differently. And just as you don’t want to throw the answers at second graders, like I tried to do, nor do you want to bore the quicker kids to death by starting at a point that is going to be intuitive for many.

Category: School

The young lady at the local supply store lets me have my frou-frou coffee for free, more often than not. About 60% of the time, since I have started keeping track. Not one to accept a glass 60% full, I’ve been trying to figure out what her schedule is and under what conditions I get it for free and under what conditions I have to pay for it. Is if it some supervisor is around? Some coworker? When I buy something else? When I don’t buy anything else? (I’ve determined it’s not the last two). Most likely, she’s just being randomly generous. And I should appreciate the free coffee I get.

But still, more free coffee is better than less free coffee.

Category: Market