Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Most watched World Series ever?

I hear it from fans all the time: "All you see on FOX are the Yankees and Red Sox. Show us some other teams!"

Well, here you go.

There will be no East Coast bias or any other bias in a World Series pitting the AL West champion Texas Rangers and the NL West champion San Francisco Giants.

Now let's see how many watch.

Go ahead, accuse me of being a shill for my network. My response would be, "Put up or shut up."

If everyone's so sick of the Yankees and Red Sox – and the Phillies and Cubs and certain other high-profile clubs – then the Series should draw record ratings.

The reality is, people talk about wanting to see less prominent teams on FOX, ESPN and TBS, but they don't watch in nearly the same numbers when those teams are shown.
--Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports, on teams we like to watch

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bill ate here

It may sound improbable, given the junk-food associations once attached to the man’s name, but few phrases are more bankable to restaurants around the world than this: “Bill Clinton ate here.”

Somehow, the 42nd president has become an arbiter of international fine dining, conferring a sort of informal Michelin star just by showing up. He is doing for restaurants around the world what George Washington once did in America for places to sleep. ...

It’s widely (and correctly) assumed that he has good connections everywhere he visits, so he’s unlikely to wind up at a dud. More than most celebrities, he seems like a person who appreciates good food, and before he had heart surgery, he was known for his wide-ranging appetite. ...

Managers and owners from Beijing to Iceland and points between say an appearance by Mr. Clinton can be transformational, launching an obscure restaurant to fame and cementing the reputation of well-known favorites. Best of all, the imprimatur seems to last for years.

“We had 25 people from Sweden in here last night,” says Detlef Obermuller, owner of Gugelhof, a Berlin restaurant that was host to Mr. Clinton and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2000.

“I asked one of them, ‘How do you know about this place?’ ” Mr. Obermuller said. “And she took out a newspaper clipping out of her pocket. I can’t read Swedish, but she told me it was all about Bill Clinton eating here. And that meal was a decade ago.” ...

Mr. Clinton never asked to be the foreign restaurant anointer in chief, but because he has the job, a glaring irony must be noted: He doesn’t research where he eats. In fact, he rarely chooses the restaurants. ...

Good fortune, it seems, plays a surprisingly large role in the Bill Clinton international restaurant sweepstakes. Mr. Clinton helped a hot dog stand in Reykjavik called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur achieve worldwide acclaim after he stopped there during a visit to Iceland in 2004. But the ex-president nearly walked right by.

“I have this nice older woman who has been working for me for 30 years, and she saw Clinton, and she just shouted at him to stop and try one of our hot dogs,” said Gudrun Kristmundottir, the stand’s owner. “And he did.”

The next day, TV reporters and newspapers from all over the world were calling. And in 2006, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (“city’s best hot dogs” in Icelandic) turned up on a list of the five best European food stalls in The Guardian newspaper in England. Inevitably, Mr. Clinton’s stop was noted.
--David Segal, NYT, on how I came to have a great Icelandic hot dog

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The tax cut that fell in the woods

In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”

Actually, the tax cut was, by design, hard to notice. Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.

They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.

Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly.
--Michael Cooper, NYT, on the political downside of applying behavioral economics

Monday, October 18, 2010

The path to elite leadership

D. Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, said his research showed that many of the people now considered elite in America did not start out that way. He is conducting what he described as the largest study ever of top leaders in America, having talked to over 500 so far across business, nonprofits and academia.

He said he had found that a privileged upbringing did not matter as much as generally thought. Nor, he said, did many of the top leaders inherit large sums of money. While many went to top colleges and a large number attended Harvard Business School, the biggest determining factor of whether someone moved into the elite was an early career opportunity.

Being able to look beyond their specialty early — as opposed to being highly specialized their entire career and then thrust into a leadership role — distinguished great leaders more than any inherent advantage in their upbringing, he said.

“These people had a chance to be a generalist early on, as opposed to being specialists their whole career,” Mr. Lindsay said. “They had that experience in their early 30s or 40s.”
--Paul Sullivan, NYT, on the advantage of being a generalist

Monday, October 11, 2010

Volunteers as a competitive threat

The teachers’ union in Bridgewater and Raynham [Massachusetts] has filed a labor grievance that could block volunteers from keeping the school district’s libraries open. And as word of the work action spreads, it is stirring up outrage in the two towns.

Librarian positions were cut from the middle schools in both towns this year and their salaries channeled into hiring teachers to address bulging class sizes. Volunteer organizations stepped in to pick up the slack — only to be surprised and disappointed by threats of a labor complaint. ...

“You’re putting unqualified people into the library who are not certified,’’ [union president Anita] Newman said, calling it the basis of the grievance. ...

“The volunteers check books in and out and shelve books,’’ [superintendent Jacqueline] Forbes said. “These tasks don’t require you to be certified.’’
--Christine Legere, Boston Globe, on volunteers as scabs. See also the previous installment in this series.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cheating in China

Pressure on scholars by administrators of state-run universities to earn journal citations — a measure of innovation — has produced a deluge of plagiarized or fabricated research. In December, a British journal that specializes in crystal formations announced that it was withdrawing more than 70 papers by Chinese authors whose research was of questionable originality or rigor. ...

Last month a collection of scientific journals published by Zhejiang University in Hangzhou reignited the firestorm by publicizing results from a 20-month experiment with software that detects plagiarism. The software, called CrossCheck, rejected nearly a third of all submissions on suspicion that the content was pirated from previously published research. In some cases, more than 80 percent of a paper’s content was deemed unoriginal. ...

The problem is not confined to the realm of science. In fact many educators say the culture of cheating takes root in high school, where the competition for slots in the country’s best colleges is unrelenting and high marks on standardized tests are the most important criterion for admission. Ghost-written essays and test questions can be bought. So, too, can a “hired gun” test taker who will assume the student’s identity for the grueling two-day college entrance exam.

Then there are the gadgets — wristwatches and pens embedded with tiny cameras — that transmit signals to collaborators on the outside who then relay back the correct answers. ...

Ask any Chinese student about academic skullduggery and the response is startlingly nonchalant. Arthur Lu, an engineering student who last spring graduated from Tsinghua University, considered a plum of the country’s college system, said it was common for students to swap test answers or plagiarize essays from one another.
--Andrew Jacobs, NYT, on questionable Chinese academic credentials. HT: Bryan Choi

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Haven municipal worker costs

The [New Haven] mayor said the city’s health care and pension plans are “far more generous” than the private sector.

Workers in AFSCME have a Bluecare preferred provider plan where they pay 10 percent of the premiums, according to Kevin Murphy, the labor advocate from AFSCME on the binding arbitration panel for the custodians union.

Workers contribute about 8 percent of their salaries toward pensions, he said. The amount the city pays fluctuates each year. After meeting the rule of 80 (the number of years worked plus the worker’s age must equal 80), workers can retire with a pension for the rest of their lives. ...

[New Haven mayor John DeStefano] accused Local 287 of “unwillingness to engage” in discussions about changing medical and pension plans. He said the city needs to change custodians’ work rules, too.

On a given day, DeStefano said, a quarter of the [New Haven] school custodians are absent. On Tuesday, a third were missing on the job, he said. That meant there was no one to clean the Barnard magnet school, and because of work rules, he can’t switch workers from another school to fill in.

“I’m not asking for pay cuts. I’m not asking for layoffs. I’m asking them to show up for work, for God’s sake,” DeStefano said. “The point of privatization is to show them that if they don’t show up for work, someone will.”
--Melissa Bailey, New Haven Independent, on explicit and implicit benefits of working for New Haven

The liberal minority

Third Way, an organization of centrist Democrats, produced a study showing that liberals are the smallest share of the electorate and not enough to keep Congress in Democratic hands. Citing Gallup polling data, the study said self-described conservatives made up 42 percent of the electorate, compared with moderates who make up 35 percent and liberals who make up 20 percent, a shift of several points to the right in the last two years.
--Peter Baker, NYT, on evidence that the description of the U.S. as a "center-right" country might not be just Republican spin

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In praise of application-free discovery

Science Watch: What technological applications do you foresee for graphene, and are we going to need new technologies to create it to make these applications viable?

... I have to say, though, that I’m always very skeptical about applications. When someone asks about applications in my talks, I usually tell a story about how I was on a boat one day watching dolphins, and they were jumping out of the water, allowing people to nearly touch them. Everyone was mesmerized by these magnificent creatures. It was an extraordinary romantic moment—well, until a little boy shouted out, "Mom, can we eat them?" It's a similar matter here—as in, okay, we just found this extraordinary material, so we're enjoying this romantic moment, and now people are asking if we can eat it or not. Probably we can, but you have to step back and enjoy the moment first.
--2010 physics Nobel laureate Andre Geim, in a 2008 ScienceWatch interview, on preserving the romance of discovery

Nobel prize winning paper rejections: a continuing series

[Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov's (2010 physics Nobel laureates)] first paper on graphene was published in Science in 2004, after being rejected by Nature. A second paper appeared in 2005. Since then, the Swedish Academy said, “research in this area has literally exploded,” producing a growing number of papers about the material, its properties and its promise.
--Dennis Overbye, NYT, on swift vindication