Monday, August 30, 2010

Customer satisfaction in the Ivy League

You may take comfort in learning that surveys have shown that Yale parents are the most satisfied in the Ivy League. So, welcome to the Yale family!
--Richard Levin, president of Yale, in his 2010 freshman address. HT: Yale Daily News

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Suppressors, not silencers

Anyone hoping to become an assassin, one truly recession-proof job, is out of luck, though. Suppressors are a less popular term than silencer, but they're a more accurate one. Many sites compare a suppressed gunshot to the sound of a door slamming, or a car backfiring. They can't silently crumple a look-out while an enemy camp is asleep. The most they can do is make people in a fairly noisy area, not too close to the gun, not immediately recognize the sound as gunfire. So, if stealth is a factor, better pack a crossbow.
--Esther Inglis-Arkell, io9, on the not-so-silent silencer

One and only romance

Yes, I was privileged to be my husband’s first and only. Sometimes that makes me feel like a princess. Sometimes that makes me feel like a crash-test dummy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy-E vs. Johnny Cash mashup

Download a Easy-E vs. Johnny Cash mashup here. HT: New York

Adaptations against helicopter parenting

In order to separate doting parents from their freshman sons, Morehouse College in Atlanta has instituted a formal “Parting Ceremony.”

It began on a recent evening, with speeches in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. Then the incoming freshmen marched through the gates of the campus — which swung shut, literally leaving the parents outside. ...

Most deans can tell stories of parents who lingered around campus for days. At Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., a mother and father once went to their daughter’s classes on the first day of the semester and trouped to the registrar’s office to change her schedule, recalled Beverly Low, the dean of first-year students. ...

Formal “hit the road” departure ceremonies are unusual but growing in popularity, said Joyce Holl, head of the National Orientation Directors Association. A more common approach is for colleges to introduce blunt language into drop-off schedules specifying the hour for last hugs. As of 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, for example, the parents of Princeton freshmen learn from the move-in schedule, “subsequent orientation events are intended for students only.”

The language was added in recent years to draw a clear line, said Thomas Dunne, the associate dean of undergraduates. ...

Some undergraduate officials see in parents’ separation anxieties evidence of the excesses of modern child-rearing. “A good deal of it has to do with the evolution of overinvolvement in our students’ lives,” said Mr. Dougharty of Grinnell. “These are the baby-on-board parents, highly invested in their students’ success. They do a lot of living vicariously, and this is one manifestation of that.”
--Trip Gabriel, NYT, on kicking helicopter parents off campus

Quicksand and sandboxes

Why does one gag fall by the wayside while another soldiers on? Movie villains have long since given up tying their victims to the railroad tracks, yet they never seem to weary of planting time bombs. (Think how many colored wires were snipped in The Hurt Locker.) And quicksand? Time was, a director could sink a man in the desert and still win the Oscar for best picture. Today, that gimmick has been scorned in third-rate schlock. ...

By the time I entered junior high, the gag had been relegated to self-conscious horror flicks and zany sitcoms like Perfect Strangers and Small Wonder. Quicksand was ironized and depleted. Across the 1980s, it appeared in roughly one of every 75 films released in the theaters. That's more than twice as much quicksand as we have today but less than half the total from just a few years earlier.

So when was the gimmick at its peak? In the 1960s, quicksand was everywhere. It turned up in B-grade cinema and television—the Monkees once ran afoul of it—but also in legitimate, mainstream work. Lawrence of Arabia had quicksand and earned seven Oscars. There was even quicksand in the art house: The hero of Woman in the Dunes, a 1964 blast of existentialism from Japan, spends much of the movie trapped in a sand pit. (He escapes at one point, only to fall into quicksand.) In total, nearly 3 percent of the films in that era—one in 35—showed someone sinking in mud or sand or oozing clay. Compared with every decade before or since, quicksand ruled the screen. ...

As it happens, there's another recent trend that's worth considering when it comes to quicksand—and one that bears on the games we played in city parks. In the 1970s, when I was born, roughly 800 sandboxes could be found in public playgrounds around New York City. By 1995, just 44 remained. (In Brooklyn, where I live now, the number dropped to four.) Over the course of my childhood, then, and through the concurrent decline of quicksand in the movies, the number of sandboxes in the nation's largest city dropped by 95 percent. ...

In 1986, a geologist and medical doctor named Mark Germine published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine describing an analysis he'd performed on several bags of commercial sand. The stuff that went into public playgrounds, he said, contained particles of tremolite, a substance similar to asbestos. That same year, the EPA declared for the first time that asbestos may cause cancer at any level of exposure. The nation's children were frolicking in carcinogens.

Pretty soon, a watchdog group affiliated with Ralph Nader became embroiled in a long, public feud with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission over the regulation of sandboxes. (The commission was skeptical: "In the minds of our scientific staff, that evidence doesn't exist," a spokesman said.) Leaving aside the asbestos controversy, many parents and city officials worried that other, macroscopic dangers might be finding their way into the playground—hypodermic needles, used condoms, and broken crack pipes. ...

The ubiquity of sandboxes once nurtured the playful idea of being swallowed whole, while the kids who dreamed of quicksand sustained the movie myth. But in the late 1980s, nervous parents started to take our sand away. When they looked at the sandbox, they saw danger, too.
--Daniel Engber, Slate, on a theory of why quicksand disappeared as a plot device, and why the sandboxes of my youth are now gone

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beginning of English as Korea's unofficial language

By 2015, if all goes according to plan, 12 prestigious Western schools will have opened branch campuses in a [South Korean] government-financed, 940-acre Jeju Global Education City, a self-contained community within Seogwipo, where everyone — students, teachers, administrators, doctors, store clerks — will speak only English. The first school, North London Collegiate, broke ground for its campus this month.

While this is the country’s first enclave constructed expressly around foreign-style education, individual campuses are opening elsewhere. Dulwich College, a private British school, is scheduled to open a branch in Seoul, the capital, in a few weeks. And the Chadwick School of California is set to open a branch in Songdo, a new town rising west of Seoul, around the same time.

What is happening in South Korea is part of the global expansion of Western schools — a complex trend fueled by parents in Asia and elsewhere who want to be able to keep their families together while giving their children a more global and English-language curriculum beginning with elementary school, and by governments hoping for economic rewards from making their countries more attractive to foreigners with money to invest. ...

“There is an expressed desire in Korea to seek the benefits of a ‘Western’ or ‘American’ approach to pre-collegiate education,” said Ted Hill, headmaster of the Chadwick School, whose Songdo campus has been deluged with applicants to fill the 30 percent of slots reserved for Korean students. The balance of the student body will be recruited from expatriate families living in South Korea and China. ...

...Dulwich College Management International ... has a government-set 25 percent ceiling on Korean students at its Seoul school.

In South Korea, English proficiency and a diploma from a top American university are such important status markers that some deliberately sprinkle their Korean conversation with English phrases.
--Choe Sang-Hun, NYT, on the diminishing returns to speaking Korean

Hot Christmas toy scarcity

Later that day, I mentioned the coincidence to a friend who, it turned out, had once worked in the toy business. ...

"No psychic powers; I just happen to know how several of the big toy companies jack up their January and February sales. They start prior to Christmas with attractive TV ads for certain special toys. The kids, naturally, want what they see and extract Christmas promises for these items from their parents. Now here's where the genius of the companies' plan comes in: They undersupply the stores with the toys they've gotten the parents to promise. Most parents find those toys sold out and are forced to substitute other toys of equal value. The toy manufacturers, of course, make a point of supplying the stores with plenty of these substitutes. Then, after Christmas, the companies start running the ads again for the other, special toys. That juices up the kids to want those toys more than ever. They go running to their parents whining, 'You promised, you promised,' and the adults go trudging off to the store to live up dutifully to their words."
--Robert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, on why hot toys are often sold out around Christmas

Terrible twos

One Virginia-based study nicely captured the style of terrible twos among boys who averaged 24 months in age (S. S. Brehm & Weintraub, 1977). The boys accompanied their mothers into a room containing two equally attractive toys. The toys were always arranged so that one stood next to a transparent Plexiglas barrier and the other stood behind the barrier. For some of the boys, the Plexiglas was only a foot high--forming no real barrier to the toy behind it, since the boys could easily reach over the top. For the other boys, however, the Plexiglas was 2 feet high, effectively blocking their access to one toy unless they went around the barrier. The researchers wanted to see how quickly the toddlers would make contact with the toys under these conditions. Their findings were clear. When the barrier was too short to restrict access to the toy behind it, the boys showed no special preference for either of the toys... When the barrier was high enough to be a true obstacle, however, the boys went directly to the obstructed toy, making contact with it three times faster than the unobstructed toy...

Two-year-old girls in this study did not show the same resistant response to the large barrier as did the boys. Another study suggested this to be the case not because girls don't oppose attempts to limit their freedoms. Instead, it appears that they are primarily reactant to restrictions that come from other persons rather than from physical barriers (S. S. Brehm, 1981). ...

Why should psychological reactance emerge at the age of 2? Perhaps the answer has to do with a crucial change that most children go through at this time. It is then that they first come to a recognition of themselves as individuals (Howe, 2003). ... A child with the newfound realization that he or she is such a being will want to explore the length and breadth of the options... Vital questions of choice, rights, and control now need to be asked and answered within their small minds. The tendency to fight for every liberty and against every restriction might be best understood, then, as a quest for information. By testing severely the limits of their freedoms (and, coincidentally, the patience of their parents), the children are discovering where in their worlds they can expect to be controlled and where to be in control.
--Robert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, on evidence that your kid's contrariness isn't just in your head

Friday, August 20, 2010

A theory about Shaq and the Celtics

Why would Shaq come back for a measly $1.3 million?

The man has made nearly $300 million just in salaries, not counting endorsements, production deals, movie roles, his reality show that he stole from Steve Nash, his music albums and the money that LSU paid him. He certainly didn't need the money. ...

You might remember the press conference after Game 7 of the 2010 Finals -- or, as it's known in my house, "The Night That Led To Dad Not Speaking To Anyone For Five Days" -- when Kobe couldn't conceal his delight when someone asked what the title meant to him personally, saying "I got one more than Shaq! You can take that to the bank."

Everyone laughed. Then Kobe added cryptically, "You guys know how I am. … I don't forget anything."

He's not kidding. A few minutes before, when everyone was celebrating in the Lakers locker room, Kobe let everyone know how much he enjoyed passing Shaq in the ring department. He did it loudly. Boisterously. Euphorically. With a few expletives. I've heard this story a few different ways, but in each version, Kobe sounded a little like Tupac lighting everyone up at the end of "Hit 'Em Up." But "everyone" was Shaq. ...

Here's what Kobe forgot, or even better, here's what Kobe knew: Shaq played for Los Angeles for eight seasons. He worked with people who still work for the Lakers now. The odds of Kobe's "Hit 'Em Up" routine getting back to Shaq, in some form, was between 100 percent and 100 percent. ...

O'Neal signed with Boston because "when I close my book at the end of the day, it's all about winning and nothing else." This was someone who told a teammate before the final game of his 2009 Suns season -- when they had just been eliminated from playoff contention -- that he "needed to start getting in shape for my reality show." Game 82 and you need to get in shape? Huh? Now you suddenly care about winning titles again? Now you're fine with swallowing your dignity to be a spare part, a minimum guy, an afterthought, someone with no security at all? Just to chase a ring? When you already have four?

My theory: I think Kobe's postgame routine got back to Shaq. I think it pissed him off. I think it got his competitive juices flowing for the first time in years. I think he realized Boston was his best chance to tie Kobe at five. I think he wants this more than anything. I think he shows up next month in surprisingly good shape, and I think we'll be saying in November, "Wow, that Shaq signing may have been a great move by Boston!" And I think this will happen for only one reason: because Shaq hates Kobe and Kobe hates Shaq. Just a theory.
--Bill Simmons,, on yet another reason why this upcoming NBA season will be the most compelling one in years

Is eating local environmentally virtuous?

You’ll get no argument from me about the pleasures and advantages to the palate and the spirit of eating what’s local, fresh and in season.

But the local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by “locavores,” celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations. ...

The result has been all kinds of absurdities. For instance, it is sinful in New York City to buy a tomato grown in a California field because of the energy spent to truck it across the country; it is virtuous to buy one grown in a lavishly heated greenhouse in, say, the Hudson Valley. ...

Studies have shown that whether it’s grown in California or Maine, or whether it’s organic or conventional, about 5,000 calories of energy go into one pound of lettuce. Given how efficient trains and tractor-trailers are, shipping a head of lettuce across the country actually adds next to nothing to the total energy bill.

It takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail; that works out to about 100 calories of energy. If it goes by truck, it’s about 300 calories, still a negligible amount in the overall picture. (For those checking the calculations at home, these are “large calories,” or kilocalories, the units used for food value.) Overall, transportation accounts for about 14 percent of the total energy consumed by the American food system. ...

The real energy hog, it turns out, is not industrial agriculture at all, but you and me. Home preparation and storage account for 32 percent of all energy use in our food system, the largest component by far.

A single 10-mile round trip by car to the grocery store or the farmers’ market will easily eat up about 14,000 calories of fossil fuel energy. Just running your refrigerator for a week consumes 9,000 calories of energy. That assumes it’s one of the latest high-efficiency models; otherwise, you can double that figure. ...

The best way to make the most of these truly precious resources of land, favorable climates and human labor is to grow lettuce, oranges, wheat, peppers, bananas, whatever, in the places where they grow best and with the most efficient technologies — and then pay the relatively tiny energy cost to get them to market, as we do with every other commodity in the economy. Sometimes that means growing vegetables in your backyard. Sometimes that means buying vegetables grown in California or Costa Rica.
--Stephen Budiansky, NYT, on locavore math

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The wisdom of car rental companies

Neuroscientists once thought the brain stops growing shortly after puberty, but now they know it keeps maturing well into the 20s. This new understanding comes largely from a longitudinal study of brain development sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, which started following nearly 5,000 children at ages 3 to 16 (the average age at enrollment was about 10). The scientists found the children’s brains were not fully mature until at least 25. “In retrospect I wouldn’t call it shocking, but it was at the time,” Jay Giedd, the director of the study, told me. “The only people who got this right were the car-rental companies.”
--Robin Marantz Henig, NYT Magazine, on why we do dumb things in our early 20s

Orchestral vibrato

It has become commonly accepted in the 21st century that until the post-war period string players did not use much vibrato – that wiggle of the fingers on the string which produces a quiver of pitch in the note being played. The evidence for this comes almost exclusively from early recordings from the first decades of the 20th century. There is no doubt that string sections back then did not have the same constant vibrato that we tend to hear in present-day performances. But there is a problem with taking that particular historical practice and simply copying it in today’s situation. There are three other, crucial differences in string playing today which have to be taken into consideration.

i) Before the 2nd World War most players used gut rather than steel strings. A gut string has its own internal quiver due to the irregularity of the natural material, whereas steel is naturally clean and ‘cold’ and in need of vibrato to warm up its sound. ...

ii) String players tend to play more in tune today than they did in the early decades of the 20th century and the general standard of rank and file orchestral playing is higher now. As whole violin sections play with a ‘purer’ intonation today there is a reduction in the complexity of colour – and the number of ‘pitches’. Twelve violins, each playing with a slightly different tuning, will simulate a vibrato.

iii) There was a time when not only was pitch less uniform in a string section, but shifting to that pitch was less cleanly executed. Portamento (that gentle, expressive slide from one note to another) was a constantly employed technique. In fact, until the 1940s it is hard to find one bar recorded without one of these inflections. Today things are reversed: you can listen to a whole orchestral concert without hearing one portamento.
--Steven Hough, Telegraph, on better technique necessitating additional compensatory technique. HT: Marginal Revolution

Monday, August 16, 2010

Me-too drugs

When Provenge, a controversial prostate cancer drug, hit the market this year, the maker could demand a ransom because there was no real analogue. (Patients are given three infusions of Provenge, each costing $31,000.) In contrast, the cholesterol-lowering drug Livalo, which earned FDA approval in 2009, had to contend with well-established statins like Lipitor and Crestor. Even though the drugs work differently, they all serve the same purpose. The manufacturer had little leverage in negotiating with insurers and had to undercut its competitors on price. The cost of Livalo, at about $3.30 per dose, is 15 percent lower than Crestor.
--Brian Palmer, Slate, on why we should encourage the development of me-too drugs. Competition works in the pharmaceutical industry too.

You hear a lot about how expensive it is to bring a drug to market. All of that is true, especially for cancer drugs. It costs around $1.75 billion to develop the average cancer medicine. Only drugs for respiratory disorders, at $2 billion, can top that total. (AIDS drugs and anti-parasitics are the real bargains, at between $500 million and $700 million.) But there is no correlation whatsoever between the cost of developing an individual drug and its eventual price. Drug companies have to make a profit over the long term. Most of the chemicals that a company experiments with never make it to market. Of those that do, only 20 percent are ultimately profitable. They cover these losses—and then some—by squeezing as much money out of their few successes as possible.
--Brian Palmer on why we shouldn't just lower drug prices by fiat

How Return of the Jedi should have ended

After the release of “Empire” (which was shaped by material left over from that first Lucas treatment), talk turned to a third film and after a decade and a half the partners could no longer find a middle ground.

“We had an outline and George [Lucas] changed everything in it," [Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back producer] Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.

He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”
--Geoff Boucher, LA Times, on how toy sales drove the Empire. HT: Gizmodo

And a just-released deleted scene from Return of the Jedi:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The history of tomatoes

In his new book, “Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy,” [David] Gentilcore traces the tomato from its origins in the New World, where it was domesticated by the Maya, then cultivated by the Aztecs. It likely entered Europe via Spain, after conquistador Hernan Cortes’s conquest of Mexico. When it arrived on the scene in Italy, it was strictly a curiosity for those who studied plants — not something anyone faint of heart would consider eating. In 1628, Paduan physician Giovanni Domenico Sala called tomatoes “strange and horrible things” in a discussion that included the consumption of locusts, crickets, and worms. When people ate tomatoes, it was as a novelty. ...

GENTILCORE: You can’t imagine Italian food without [tomatoes]. And yet most of these dishes, such as pasta al pomodoro, are fairly recent — from the 1870s or ’80s. Italian immigrants arriving in New York City or Boston were the first generation to eat these dishes as daily things. Making a rich meat sauce with maybe the addition of tomato paste, that Sunday gravy style, is something that happens only in the 20th century. ...

The tomato was associated with the eggplant, which was regarded with suspicion. It’s a vine. Anything that grows along the ground was seen as a plant of low status, something you only give to peasants. And the tomato was thought to hinder digestion because it was cold and watery. When ideas about digestion changed, something like a tomato was not harmful anymore. ...

Francisco Hernandez, a personal physician to King Philip II of Spain, was sent to the New World to write a huge compendium on animals and plants. He was dismayed and disgusted by the appearance of the tomatillo, which was considered the same thing. He compared it to female genitalia.
--Devra First, Boston Globe, on tomatoes as objects of disgust

Dr. O'Neal

Do you think you’ll ever be a sports announcer, like Charles Barkley?
Hopefully not. When I’m done playing basketball, I want do something bigger. I’m working on my doctorate right now at Barry University in Florida.

What are you writing your dissertation on?
My topic will be “How Leaders Utilize Humor or Aggression in Leadership Styles.”

You’ve been called the Big Aristotle, among other nicknames.
I’m done with the nicknames. Actually, when I obtain my doctorate, I will not allow people to call me Shaq anymore, either.

What will they call you?
Dr. O’Neal.
--NYT Magazine interview with Shaquille O'Neal

Friday, August 13, 2010

Unionized post-docs

On Thursday, those 6,500 postdoc researchers stepped into the national spotlight with the announcement that they had ratified by an overwhelming margin their first union contract with the [University of California] system. The action comes after an arduous organizing and negotiating effort that began four years ago. The pay raises are not huge, but experts say the contract will significantly change the research workplace environment at the 10 UC campuses and potentially across much of American academia. ...

The contract between UC and a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers is the first free-standing one of its kind in the country and affects by far the most researchers, according to UC and union officials. Researchers at a couple of other U.S. universities previously won union contracts, but in connection with other groups of campus employees, they say.
--Larry Gordon, LA Times, on the increased probability of future post-doc strikes

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What to look for in a primary care physician

Now researchers from the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research in Philadelphia have published the first study incorporating new research methods for evaluating the performance of large groups of physicians. ...

The researchers examined the records of more than 240,000 patients who were hospitalized for either congestive heart failure or heart attack and examined how their outcomes correlated with their doctors’ education and background. They found no differences in mortality rates between those patients cared for by graduates of international or American medical schools. But on closer review, they found that two factors did contribute significantly to differences in patient outcomes.

Dividing the international medical graduates into those who were foreign-born and those who were American citizens who chose to study abroad, the researchers discovered that patients of foreign-born primary care physicians fared significantly better than patients of American primary care doctors who received their medical degrees either here or abroad. John J. Norcini, lead author of the study and president of the foundation, postulates that the differences may stem from the fact that as primary care has become less attractive for graduates of American medical schools, it has also become less competitive. “The foreign international medical graduates are some of the smartest kids from around the world,” he said. “When they come over, they tend to fill in where the U.S. medical school graduates don’t necessarily go.”

Dr. Norcini and his co-investigators also found that patient mortality rates were related to the doctor’s board certification and time since medical school graduation, regardless of his or her background. Those physicians in the study who were board-certified had substantially lower death rates among their patients. And the greater the number of years since medical school graduation, the more likely that doctor was to have a patient with heart attack or congestive heart failure die in the hospital.
--Pauline W. Chen, NYT, on the case for boards and foreign-born foreign medical grads

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Firing 80% of teachers

The emphasis on better teachers—through training, selection, or dismissal—comes from the very consistent finding that improving faculty is one of the best, most reliable ways to improve schools. If the person standing at the front of the classroom has raised the test scores of students he's taught before, he's likely to do so again.

But how do you get good teachers in the classroom? Unfortunately, it turns out that most evidence points toward great instructors being born, not made. National board certification may help a bit, a master's degree in education not at all. It's also difficult to pick out the best teachers based on a résumé or even a sample lesson. It takes a year or so before evaluators (and even teachers themselves) know who is really good at getting kids to learn, and few qualifications are at all correlated with teaching ability. Candidates with degrees from prestigious colleges—the type where Teach for America does much of its recruiting—do a bit better, but not much.

The only option left on the table is getting rid of bad teachers once they're already teaching—perhaps by firing low-performing instructors after a probationary period of a couple of years. How many teachers would school reformers have to fire in order to get American schools performing at their best? That's the question researchers Doug Staiger and Jonah Rockoff set out to answer in a study they presented at the Columbia conference. ...

When they ran the numbers, the answer their computer spat out had them reviewing their work looking for programming errors. The optimal rate of firing produced by the simulation simply seemed too high: Maximizing teacher performance required that 80 percent of new teachers be fired after two years' probation.

After checking and rechecking their analyses, Staiger and Rockoff came to understand why a thick stack of pink slips are needed to improve schools. There are enormous costs to having mediocre teachers burdening the school system, and once they get their union cards, we're stuck with them for decades. The benefits of keeping only the superstars is enormous, such that it's better to risk accidentally losing some of the good ones than to have deadwood sticking around forever.
--Ray Fisman, Slate, on the benefit of extreme up-or-out in schools

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wikipedia meets Warren G's "Regulate"

On a cool, clear night (typical to Southern California) Warren G travels through his neighborhood, searching for women with whom he might initiate sexual intercourse. He has chosen to engage in this pursuit alone.[6]

Nate Dogg, having just arrived in Long Beach, seeks Warren. On his way to find Warren, Nate passes a car full of women who are excited to see him. Regardless, he insists to the women that there is no cause for excitement.

Warren makes a left turn at 21st Street and Lewis Ave, in the East Hill/Salt Lake neighborhood[7], where he sees a group of young men enjoying a game of dice together. He parks his car and greets them. He is excited to find people to play with, but to his chagrin, he discovers they intend to relieve him of his material possessions. Once the hopeful robbers reveal their firearms, Warren realizes he is in a less than favorable predicament.

Meanwhile, Nate passes the women, as they are low on his list of priorities. His primary concern is locating Warren. After curtly casting away the strumpets (whose interest in Nate was such that they crashed their automobile), he serendipitously stumbles upon his friend, Warren G, being held up by the young miscreants.

Warren, unaware that Nate is surreptitiously observing the scene unfold, is in disbelief that he is being robbed. The perpetrators have taken jewelry and a name brand designer watch from Warren, who is so incredulous that he asks what else the robbers intend to steal. This is most likely a rhetorical question.

Observing these unfortunate proceedings, Nate realizes that he may have to use his firearm to deliver his friend from harm.

The tension crescendos as the robbers point their guns to Warren's head. Warren senses the gravity of his situation. He cannot believe the events unfolding could happen in his own neighborhood. As he imagines himself making a fantastical escape, he catches a glimpse of his friend, Nate.

Nate has seventeen cartridges (sixteen residing in the pistol's magazine, with a solitary round placed in the chamber and ready to be fired) to expend on the group of robbers. Afterward, he generously shares the credit for neutralizing the situation with Warren, though it is clear that Nate did all of the difficult work. Putting congratulations aside, Nate quickly reminds himself that he has committed multiple homicides to save Warren before letting his friend know that there are females nearby if he wishes to fornicate with them.

Warren recalls that it was the promise of copulation that coaxed him away from his previous activities, and is thankful that Nate knows a way to satisfy these urges. Nate quickly finds the women who earlier crashed their car on Nate's account. He remarks to one that he is fond of her physical appeal. The woman, impressed by Nate's singing ability, asks that he and Warren allow her and her friends to share transportation. Soon, both friends are driving with automobiles full of women to the East Side Motel, presumably to consummate their flirtation in an orgy.

The third verse is more expository, with Warren and Nate explaining their G Funk musical style. Warren displays his bravado by daring anyone to approach the style. There follows a brief discussion of the genre's musicological features, with special care taken to point out that in said milieu the rhythm is not in fact the rhythm, as one might assume, but actually the bass. Similarly the bass serves a purpose closer to that which the treble would in more traditional musical forms. Nate displays his bravado by claiming that individuals with equivalent knowledge could not even attempt to approach his level of lyrical mastery. Nate goes on to note that if any third party smokes as he does, they would find themselves in a state of intoxication almost daily (from Nate's other works, it can be inferred that the substance referenced is marijuana[8]). Nate concludes his delineation of the night by issuing a threat to "busters," suggesting that he and Warren will further "regulate" any potential incidents in the future (presumably by engaging their antagonists with small arms fire).

--Wikipedia's synopsis of Warren G's hit single, "Regulate"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why people read the Economist

The [Economist] newsweekly, a bible of global affairs for those who wear aspirations of worldliness on their sleeves, did not become a status symbol overnight. It took 25 years of clever advertising that tugs at the insecurities and ambitions of the status-seeking reader to help the magazine get there. ...

Selling a publication with a title that conjures painful memories of college social science requirements can’t be easy. But the brand officers at The Economist and the advertising firm BBDO have devised a marketing strategy that makes people think reading the magazine will make them smarter and more sophisticated.

Their approach has been anything but subtle.

“Once upon a time, there was an ambitious young man who didn’t read The Economist. The End,” read one particularly audacious ad from 2004. Another, from 1988 said, “I never read The Economist — Management Trainee. Age 42.” One from 2001 said, “Look forward to class reunions.”
--Jeremy W. Peters, NYT, on how to sell a magazine these days

Friday, August 6, 2010

Outsourcing lawyers to India

India’s legal outsourcing industry has grown in recent years from an experimental endeavor to a small but mainstream part of the global business of law. Cash-conscious Wall Street banks, mining giants, insurance firms and industrial conglomerates are hiring lawyers in India for document review, due diligence, contract management and more. ...

The number of legal outsourcing companies in India has mushroomed to more than 140 at the end of 2009, from 40 in 2005, according to Valuenotes, a consulting firm in Pune, India. Revenue at India’s legal outsourcing firms is expected to grow to $440 million this year, up 38 percent from 2008, and should surpass $1 billion by 2014, Valuenotes estimates. ...

Thanks to India’s low wages and costs and a big pool of young, English-speaking lawyers, outsourcing firms charge from one-tenth to one-third what a Western law firm bills an hour. ...

“We will continue to go to big firms for the lawyers they have who are experts in subject matter, world-class thought leaders and the best litigators and regulatory lawyers around the world — and we will pay a lot of money for those lawyers,” said Janine Dascenzo, associate general counsel at General Electric.
--Heather Timmons, NYT, on a force pushing apart the two modes in lawyer pay

Thursday, August 5, 2010


One of the ironies of human psychology is that desperately wanting something can make attaining that thing all the more difficult. When stakes go up, performance often goes down. In one study, subjects practiced sinking a putt and got better as they went along — better, that is, until the experimenter offered them a cash reward for their next shot, at which point their performance took a nosedive.

This is because we pay close attention to what we’re doing when what we’re doing matters, and though close attention is helpful when our task is novel or complex, it is positively destructive when our task is simple and well practiced. Golfers in another study were told either to take their time and think about their stroke or to step up and swing as quickly as possible. Although novice golfers did better when they took their time, expert golfers did worse.

The lesson from the laboratory is clear: thinking about tasks that don’t require thought isn’t just pointless, it’s debilitating. ...

When [Alex] Rodriguez stepped to the plate in recent days, he may not have heard the roar of the crowd as much as the sound of a record book opening and a pencil being sharpened. The more important his next homer became, the more he probably thought about how to hit it. The more he thought, the less he hit; the less he hit, the more he thought, and the cycle spun on.

Until Wednesday, that is, when Rodriguez finally hit his 600th home run. Forty-six agonizing at-bats separated that homer from the one before it, but the moment the ball sailed over the center field fence, Yankee fans knew that a great burden had been lifted, a great slugger had been liberated, and that a great bat would once again be free to find the ball — naturally, effortlessly, and in its own sweet time.

Or maybe not.

After all, 600 is an important number only because it’s round, and several of the numbers that follow are much more significant. For instance, Rodriguez is the seventh greatest home-run hitter of all time and hitting 600 didn’t change that. But hitting No. 610 will, because it will push him past the retired Sammy Sosa and into sixth place; hitting 631 would let him overtake Ken Griffey Jr. and put him in fifth place. Should that happen, there are a few more legends whom Rodriguez must lap on his way to supremacy: Willie Mays at 660, Babe Ruth at 714, Hank Aaron at 755 and the reigning champion Barry Bonds at 762.

Rodriguez won’t get any competition from a Red Sox hitter as he works his way up the list, but that’s O.K. Red Sox fans are nothing if not good sports. Which is why on Friday, when the Red Sox play the Yankees, we will applaud Alex Rodriguez — not just to acknowledge his new achievement, but also to remind him of the unbelievably, incredibly, really very large historical significance of each and every one of his future trips to the plate.
--Dan Gilbert, NYT, on A-Rod and the burden of history