Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lawyers' fantasy lives

Lawyers have one common fantasy, according to high-end sex workers: they want their lady-friend to play the role of “opposing counsel,” by visiting them in the hotel room to strike a plea bargain. I’ll leave the rest to the imagination.
--Sudhir Venkatesh, Freakonomics blog, on what lawyers want

No matter how badly you mess up...

BlackRock, the publicly traded asset manager, and a hedge fund firm, Highfields Capital Management, are backing a new company seeking to raise $2 billion to buy delinquent residential mortgages.

Private National Mortgage Acceptance will be run by Stanford L. Kurland, former president of Countrywide Financial Corporation, the largest American home-loan provider, the companies said Monday in a statement. BlackRock and Highfields will take stakes in the company, called PennyMac, and contribute to its mortgage investment funds.
--Bloomberg News on the world of second chances

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Abolish the penny!

Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage.
--David Owen, New Yorker, on the worthlessness of pennies

The Ivy League in March Madness

But all of those astounding things paled in comparison to the Cornell cheerleaders, a group that apparently was assembled hastily within 48 hours of the [NCAA men's basketball] tournament. During the first half, they tried to do one of those pseudo-pyramids in which two groups of three girls lifted two other girls in the air, only one of the girls lost her balance and nearly tumbled face-first to her death before the other girls somehow caught her. Unfortunately, they had to finish their routines for the rest of the game, leading to a terrifying moment where they attempted the pseudo-pyramid again in the second half, only the girl who almost fell the first time had the same petrified look on her face as the babysitter in the last 30 minutes of the "When a Stranger Calls" remake. I don't think I've ever been so scared for someone in my entire life. Somehow they pulled off the pseudo-pyramid, although it was marred a little when the poor girl lost control of her bowels on the three girls holding her up. Just kidding. Again, you have to love March Madness.
--Bill Simmons,, on Ivy League fish out of water

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Extreme patience

Or as my friend Jimmy Quach once said, Chinese parents are so good at deferring gratification, they sometimes defer it to the next generation.
--Jennifer 8. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

Economic development tourism

Can you "do development" in a two week trip? Unless you're a star surgeon or possess some other ultra-skill, my answer is an emphatic 'no'.

The contribution of organizations like Habitat for Humanity, who send Western volunteers to build homes in poor countries, has never been obvious to me. Is there a shortage of unskilled construction labor in developing countries of which I'm unaware? ...

Yesterday I mourned the extractive and self-serving quality of many student research trips. For me, two-week development adventures fall clearly in the tourism category as well. Is there an argument for these trips actually helping? If so, is the benefit even close to the best use of the thousands of dollars it took to get that person out there?
--Chris Blattman on narcissistic service trips

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The new privacy invasion

And in yet more related news, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the pioneering developer of the World Wide Web, told the BBC he would switch Internet providers rather than have his usage monitored. He said:

I want to know if I look up a whole lot of books about some form of cancer that that’s not going to get to my insurance company and I’m going to find my insurance premium is going to go up by 5% because they’ve figured I’m looking at those books.

This is just the beginning of what is becoming a serious debate. There is a strong incentive for Internet providers to sell data for companies. Eventually, cellphone companies will start to face the same choice. If there is a G.P.S. unit in your phone, it will be able to keep track of what stores you visit, among many other things. How much would Honda pay to be able to send ads to people who’ve been in Toyota dealerships lately?

--Saul Hansell, NYT, on the coming privacy onslaught

Barrelling through the fourth wall

A number of professors said the most disarming thing of all to students is when they encounter a professor not on a Web page, but in the real world.

When a student spotted Mr. Gosling on a street near campus, he said, “She looked at me in, like, horror. Like, ‘Wait a minute, you have a life?’ The idea that I would continue to exist — it was sort of a violation of her expectations.”
--Stephanie Rosenbloom, NYT, on the professor outside the classroom

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A practical payoff of grace

The gay-American-luv-guv's ex, Dana McGreevey, explained on MSNBC that wives don't stand up there for their husbands; they stand up there for their kids. My first thought was oh, great modeling on how to be a doormat. But then again, a friend of mine whose wife left him (and their daughter) always says that the best advice he ever got after she took off was that every time he behaved generously toward her, he was doing a kindness to his child, and that sounds right.
--Melinda Henneberger, Slate, on why Silda Spitzer stood up there by Eliot Spitzer

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Brain doping

So far no one is demanding that asterisks be attached to Nobels, Pulitzers or Lasker awards. ... Yet an era of doping may be looming in academia, and it has ignited a debate about policy and ethics that in some ways echoes the national controversy over performance enhancement accusations against elite athletes like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, two Cambridge University researchers reported that about a dozen of their colleagues had admitted to regular use of prescription drugs like Adderall, a stimulant, and Provigil, which promotes wakefulness, to improve their academic performance. ...

One person who posted anonymously on the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site said that a daily regimen of three 20-milligram doses of Adderall transformed his career: “I’m not talking about being able to work longer hours without sleep (although that helps),” the posting said. “I’m talking about being able to take on twice the responsibility, work twice as fast, write more effectively, manage better, be more attentive, devise better and more creative strategies.” ...

People already use legal performance enhancers, [Dr. Anjan Chatterjee] said, from high-octane cafe Americanos to the beta-blockers taken by musicians to ease stage fright, to antidepressants to improve mood. “So the question with all of these things is, Is this enhancement, or a matter of removing the cloud over our better selves?” he said.

The public backlash against brain-enhancement, if it comes, may hit home only after the practice becomes mainstream, Dr. Chatterjee suggested. “You can imagine a scenario in the future, when you’re applying for a job, and the employer says, ‘Sure, you’ve got the talent for this, but we require you to take Adderall.’ Now, maybe you do start to care about the ethical implications.”
--Benedict Carey, NYT, on the coming enhancement storm

Beware Vista

Here’s one story of a Vista upgrade early last year that did not go well. Jon, let’s call him, (bear with me — I’ll reveal his full identity later) upgrades two XP machines to Vista. Then he discovers that his printer, regular scanner and film scanner lack Vista drivers. He has to stick with XP on one machine just so he can continue to use the peripherals.

Did Jon simply have bad luck? Apparently not. When another person, Steven, hears about Jon’s woes, he says drivers are missing in every category — “this is the same across the whole ecosystem.”

Then there’s Mike, who buys a laptop that has a reassuring “Windows Vista Capable” logo affixed. He thinks that he will be able to run Vista in all of its glory, as well as favorite Microsoft programs like Movie Maker. His report: “I personally got burned.” His new laptop — logo or no logo — lacks the necessary graphics chip and can run neither his favorite video-editing software nor anything but a hobbled version of Vista. “I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine,” he says.

It turns out that Mike is clearly not a naïf. He’s Mike Nash, a Microsoft vice president who oversees Windows product management. And Jon, who is dismayed to learn that the drivers he needs don’t exist? That’s Jon A. Shirley, a Microsoft board member and former president and chief operating officer. And Steven, who reports that missing drivers are anything but exceptional, is in a good position to know: he’s Steven Sinofsky, the company’s senior vice president responsible for Windows.
--Randall Stross, NYT, on Vista victims close to home

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hilarious cartoon explanation of the subprime crisis

Warning: Crude language within.

Another sign that pennies should be abolished

Readington Township school officials gave 29 students detention after they used pennies to pay for their $2 lunches.

Superintendent Jorden Schiff said it started out as a prank. But as the eighth-graders began to get in trouble for taking up so much time, it turned into a protest about Thursday's shortened lunch period.

Schiff said the students were punished for holding up their peers and disrespecting lunch aides.

Schiff said some parents think a two-day detention went too far and others think it wasn't enough.
--NBC10 on when legal tender is no longer acceptable currency

Monday, March 3, 2008

Behavior under the influence

The Russian proverb goes that, if you are looking for a good son-in-law, you would not ask whether he drank but only how he behaved when he was drunk. Similarly, no Democratic candidate during the primaries can be anything but a protectionist. The only question is: of the two, which is likely to be friendlier as president to the cause of multilateral free trade?
--Jagdish Bhagwati, Financial Times, on interpreting wrong-headed protectionist rhetoric in the Democratic campaign

Flak and success

--Jessica Hagy, Indexed