Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Chinese student puzzled by Western idealism

The doctrines that shape the worldviews and cultural assumptions at elite Western institutions like Cambridge, Stanford, and Goldman Sachs have become almost religious. Nevertheless, I hope that the perspective of a candid Chinese atheist can be of some instruction to them. ...

One [Stanford GSB] class was about strategy. It focused on how corporate mottos and logos could inspire employees. Many of the students had worked for nonprofits or health care or tech companies, all of which had mottos about changing the world, saving lives, saving the planet, etc. The professor seemed to like these mottos. I told him that at Goldman our motto was “be long-term greedy.” The professor couldn’t understand this motto or why it was inspiring. I explained to him that everyone else in the market was short-term greedy and, as a result, we took all their money. Since traders like money, this was inspiring. He asked if perhaps there was another motto or logo that my other classmates might connect with. I told him about the black swan I kept on my desk as a reminder that low probability events happen with high frequency. He didn’t like that motto either and decided to call on another student, who had worked at Pfizer. Their motto was “all people deserve to live healthy lives.” The professor thought this was much better. I didn’t understand how it would motivate employees, but this was exactly why I had come to Stanford: to learn the key lessons of interpersonal communication and leadership.

On the communication and leadership front, I came to the GSB knowing I was not good and hoped to get better. My favorite class was called “Interpersonal Dynamics” or, as students referred to it, “Touchy Feely.” In “Touchy Feely,” students get very candid feedback on how their words and actions affect others in a small group that meets several hours per week for a whole quarter.

We talked about microaggressions and feelings and empathy and listening. Sometimes in class the professor would say things to me like “Puzhong, when Mary said that, I could see you were really feeling something,” or “Puzhong, I could see in your eyes that Peter’s story affected you.” And I would tell them I didn’t feel anything. I was quite confused.

One of the papers we studied mentioned that subjects are often not conscious of their own feelings when fully immersed in a situation. But body indicators such as heart rate would show whether the person is experiencing strong emotions. I thought that I generally didn’t have a lot of emotions and decided that this might be a good way for me to discover my hidden emotions that the professor kept asking about.

So I bought a heart rate monitor and checked my resting heart rate. Right around 78. And when the professor said to me in class “Puzhong, I can see that story brought up some emotions in you,” I rolled up my sleeve and checked my heart rate. It was about 77. And so I said, “nope, no emotion.” The experiment seemed to confirm my prior belief: my heart rate hardly moved, even when I was criticized, though it did jump when I became excited or laughed.

This didn’t land well on some of my classmates. They felt I was not treating these matters with the seriousness that they deserved. The professor was very angry. My takeaway was that my interpersonal skills were so bad that I could easily offend people unintentionally, so I concluded that after graduation I should do something that involved as little human interaction as possible.

Therefore, I decided I needed to return to work in financial markets rather than attempting something else. I went to the career service office and told them that my primary goal after the MBA was to make money. I told them that $500,000 sounded like a good number. They were very confused, though, as they said their goal was to help me find my passion and my calling. I told them that my calling was to make money for my family. They were trying to be helpful, but in my case, their advice didn’t turn out to be very helpful.
--Puzhong Yao, American Affairs, on a man without ideals. HT: Marginal Revolution

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ticketmaster and scalpers help artists

And then there are those much-unloved “service fees” that vendors like Ticketmaster add. In New York, they average 21 percent of the ticket price but, as we heard earlier, they can reach 100 percent of face value.
[Economist Eric] BUDISH: Something that’s not widely understood is that these service fees often — part of them goes back to the venue. ... So Ticketmaster takes all the P.R. hit for these egregious service fees. But actually a lot of that money spreads its way around the rest of the food chain. 
[Head of music at Ticketmaster North America David] MARCUS: It’s actually historically kind of part of Ticketmaster’s business model to take on the burden of that negative sentiment. ... We would say it in the hallways: the reason that we’re successful as we are is because we take those bullets on behalf of the venue, the artists, the promoter.
...
[Stephen] DUBNER: OK, so let’s back up a bit here — the real scalping is going on between who and whom? 
[Scalper Ken] LOWSON: Well, promoters and teams sell directly to brokers. You know, and then those brokers and list them on the marketplace. You know, for a team owner, it’s their ticket. And for a promoter, it’s their ticket, it’s not the artist’s ticket. I don’t know another industry that intentionally advertises one price to intentionally hold it, and resell it secretly.
...
DUBNER: Yeah, but what we’re told is that artists are typically not getting any of that additional markup. Are you saying that’s not the case, that they are getting some of that markup? 
LOWSON:Well, maybe it’s something like that. But their managers are hired to make them the most money. And in the end, you know, if you’re taking a guaranteed amount that’s higher than the revenue from the tickets. It’s like a pre-scalp. 
DUBNER:I just want to make sure I understand it. So it’s not that the artists are, per se, getting a cut — let’s say a ticket sells for $100 on the primary, gets marked up to $500 right? It’s not like the artist is getting any of that additional $400, it’s that the guarantee that their manager negotiates for them is based on a ticket sale price somewhere in between $100 and $500, is that what you’re saying? 
LOWSON: Well, they’re negotiating with, you know, a promoter which is for a flat amount per show. There’s 50 shows on the tour, “we want $50 million.”
--Freakonomics Radio on who's making really money on service fees and scalping 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The similarities between Trump and Bill Clinton

The key for Mr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton was convincing the public that they were not distracted by the investigations but instead remained focused on doing their jobs and serving the American people. In Mr. Clinton’s case, at least, it was partially an act — while he was able to effectively manage major foreign policy issues even at the height of the impeachment debate, in private he was consumed by the investigation, raged endlessly about his tormentors and at times seemed deeply distracted.

Aides found Mr. Clinton absently playing with old campaign buttons, and at a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, it fell to an adviser to conduct the discussion while the president’s mind drifted off. On another occasion, the head of the World Bank called a top White House official after a meeting with Mr. Clinton to say, “It’s like he isn’t there.” During a visit to the Middle East, an aide noticed Mr. Clinton trying to keep his mind from wandering off by scribbling on a yellow legal pad, “Focus on your job, focus on your job, focus on your job.”
--Peter Baker, NYT, on an eerily familiar description of a president. The difference, of course, is that Bill kept it hidden from the public.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Prophetic words from Samuel Huntington in 1996

In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. People and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we? And they are answering that question in the traditional way human beings have answered it, by reference to the things that mean most to them. People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and at the broadest level, civilizations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.
--Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996), on our present moment

What causes the gender pay gap?

According to a commonly used measure adopted by the United States Census Bureau, women in 2016 earned 81 cents for each dollar earned by men, both working full-time. ...

What’s more, the gap is a statistic that changes during the life of a worker. Typically, it’s small when formal education ends and employment begins, and it increases with age. More to the point, it increases when women marry and when they begin bearing children. ...

Correcting for time off and hours of work reduces the difference in the earnings between men and women but doesn’t eliminate it.

On the face of it, that looks like proof of disparate treatment. It may seem understandable that when a man works more hours than a woman, he earns more. But why should his compensation per hour be greater, given the same qualifications? But once again, the problem isn’t simple.

The data shows that women disproportionately seek jobs — including full-time jobs — that are more likely to mesh with family responsibilities, which, for the most part, are still greater for women than for men. So, the research shows, women tend to prefer jobs that offer flexibility: the ability to shift hours of work and rearrange shifts to accommodate emergencies at home.

Such jobs tend to be more predictable, with fewer on-call hours and less exposure to weekend and evening obligations. These advantages have a negative consequence: lower earnings per hour, even when the number of hours worked is the same.

Is that unfair? Maybe. But it isn’t always an open-and-shut case. Companies point out that flexibility is often expensive — more so in some jobs than others.

Certain job characteristics have a big impact on the gender earnings gap. I have looked closely at these issues, including the extent to which workers are:

■ Subject to strict deadlines and time pressure

■ Expected to be in direct contact with other workers or clients

■ Instructed to develop cooperative working relationships

■ Assigned to work on highly specific projects

■ Unable to independently determine their tasks and goals

Occupations with a lower level of these characteristics (like jobs in science and technology) show smaller gaps, corrected for hours of work. Occupations with a higher level (like those in finance and law) have greater gaps. Men’s earnings tend to surge when there are fewer substitutes for a given worker, when the job must be done in teams and when clients demand specific lawyers, accountants, consultants and financial advisers. Such differences can account for about half the gender earnings gap.

These findings provide more nuance in explaining why the gap widens with age and why it is greater for women with children. Whatever changes have already taken place in American society, the duty of caring for children — and for other family members — still weighs more heavily on women. And if you thought that moving to a more family-friendly nation would eliminate the gap, think again. In several nations, including Sweden and Denmark, a “motherhood penalty” in earnings exists, even though these nations have generous family policies, including paid family leave and subsidized child care.
--Claudia Goldin, NYT, on going deeper than "81 cents for each dollar"

Sunday, November 5, 2017

When pro athletes have to pee mid-competition

"Imagine you're an athlete, you've just consumed a ridiculous amount of liquid on a hot day, you can't get off the field and you're in terrible pain," [neurology professor Pete] Snyder says. ...

Thanks to Snyder's study, it now makes perfect sense why Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time, admits he lets loose in the pool. It might even provide a scientific explanation for the Red Sox phenomenon known as "Manny being Manny." In 2005, during a pitching change in Boston, outfielder Manny Ramirez claims to have stepped into the Green Monster to relieve himself -- an urge so bad he almost missed a pitch. ("I'm just glad he came back," said Sox skipper Terry Francona.) It also explains one of the NFL's dirty little secrets: At any given moment on a sideline, someone probably is relieving himself while hiding in plain sight. Or trying to. Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder's solution was fairly simple: He says he wet his pants ... in every one of his 82 games as a pro. ...

"Guys are peeing all over the sideline in every game, into cups, on the ground, in towels, behind the bench, in their pants, everywhere," says Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who covered this topic and others in The Rookie Handbook, co-authored by Gross and Geoff Hangartner. ...

So many runners in the New York City Marathon pee off the sides of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at Mile 1 that race veterans can only giggle when they hear first-timers below them on the lower deck talk about the sudden "refreshing" rainstorm they experienced. World-class cyclists still speak in awe of the balletic way former Tour de France racer Dave Zabriskie was able to straighten his right leg, stand tall in the saddle and urinate off the side of his bike while whizzing through the French countryside at 30 mph. In 2005, when Zabriskie became just the third American to wear the appropriately named yellow jersey, it earned him the privilege -- according to the Tour's unwritten rules -- to decide when, where and for how long the peloton was allowed to pee. "That's when you know you've made it in our sport," says former teammate Christian Vande Velde. "It's like, 'I just made the whole peloton stop and pee; I'm the man.'"

Because of cultural and anatomical obstacles, female athletes are forced to plan better and hold longer than their male counterparts. Members of the U.S. women's hockey team have even been known to use the expulsion of urine to measure the force of an opponent's checks. ...

Brandi Chastain, a member of the iconic 1999 U.S. women's national soccer team, leaked into her cleats only once -- during one of her first World Cup practices in Haiti. She remembers it fondly. "Absolutely liberating," she says. "It's hard to feel loose when you have that kind of tension in your bladder." ...

It's common for female athletes to drink less -- and therefore perform worse -- simply because they're worried about how, or where, they'll go to the bathroom. ...

Boxing's golden rule is clear: Never put the gloves on early before a big fight. Once they're secure and the tape is initialed by a boxing commission official, they can't come off. After that, if a fighter is overcome by the combination of prefight hydration and jitters, his entourage has to play a high-stakes game of "not it."

Moments before he was supposed to be in the ring, [boxer James] Toney turned to [Freddie] Roach with a look on his face every trainer dreads. ... "Best way to do it," he says, "pull the cup out, pull the junk down, look the other way."
--David Fleming, ESPN the Magazine, on awkward biological moments

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How slowness helped Martin Luther change the world

Modern professional culture encourages collaboration through instant communication and globalized networks. But [Martin] Luther’s legacy as one of history’s most influential thinkers shows us that there are certain epic projects — such as the systematic rethinking of foundational dogmas — that require time to mature and space to germinate before they are safe for universal exposure. Without that window, they die. ...

...when he produced his more provocative set of theses in October 1517, it took more than a month for any feedback to roll in — despite Luther’s efforts to move things along by sending personal copies to local bishops. ...

...news still traveled by horse and cart in the 16th century, and this fact was critical for Luther. Indeed, it probably saved his life and his ideas — because it meant that he could win over the town before the district, his fellow monks before strangers, Germans before Italians. ...

What sympathy he attracted in his early days was owed, in part, to the intellectual and social capital he’d earned from those who knew him personally and had heard him preach. Many of these friends and admirers took extraordinary risks to defend him, which in turn gave others courage do the same — a cycle that gradually expanded his sphere of support outward from Wittenberg. ...

It wasn’t until early 1518 that Pope Leo X looked at the 95 theses. Having limited access to timely German news, he seriously underestimated their significance and passed off the matter to the Augustinians for resolution at their next annual meeting. ...

It wasn’t until early 1521 that he was formally excommunicated — more than three years after he composed his 95 theses. And by then, as we now know, it was too late to snuff out his influence.

Saul Bellow, in his introduction to Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” makes the memorable point that great and important writing is possible only when one is able to shut out “the noise of history.” This is what Luther managed to do when he created his 95 theses, his translations and the other texts that became part of the Reformation’s early canon. ...

Five hundred years later, there are few writers, artists, designers or intellectuals who do not feel impelled to deliver regular updates on their work online, or at weekly grad seminars, shareholder meetings or workshops with colleagues. ...

These networks make us more professionally productive and accountable. But they also can make us more cautious, since we know that any new idea can expose us to instant censure from complete strangers in other parts of the world who know nothing of our local circumstances. This phenomenon goes by different names — groupthink, political correctness, herd mentality. But in every form, it serves the interest of the orthodox and frustrates the heretic.
--Jonathan Kay, Washington Post, on taking time

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Why are honeycrisp apples so expensive?

Oftentimes, Honeycrisps are more than four times as expensive as other varieties of apples. ...

There are many reasons that add to the cost of Honeycrisp apples, and it all starts on the farm.

The Honeycrisp variety was developed by the University of Minnesota, which still holds the patent. So for every Honeycrisp yielding tree a grower buys, they have to pay a $1 royalty to the University of Minnesota. That’s not the case for more common and older varieties like Red Delicious.

The trees which grow Honeycrisp apples are relatively weak and yield very large fruit, so they require a trellis system to hold them up and keep their branches from breaking or hitting the ground.

One of the appealing things about Honeycrisp is its thin skin. It adds to the crunch and allows people to enjoy the meat of the apple without breaking their teeth. But that also means the apples bruise more easily, and can be damaged by their own stems during processing.

Nick Schweitzer says workers are asked to pick them slowly and more carefully than other types of apples. Instead of being paid by the bin of apples, they’re paid by the hour. Workers are also required to clip the stem as closely as they can to the apple so it won’t bend and puncture the skin as its transported.

Unlike varieties that tend to ripen at the same time on the tree and only require one picking, Honeycrisp tend to ripen at varying intervals and require three pickings before the season ends in November. That means more time spent in the fields for smaller yields. It also means that growers have to suspend picking operations on one variety and move their workers to the Honeycrisp trees in order to catch the apples at their peak.

In addition, they also require more calcium sprayings to prevent an affliction called “bitter pit.”
--Brett Thomas, WoodTV, on a high-maintenance diva

Friday, October 27, 2017

Happiness is found in community, not solitude

Having spent the last few years researching and writing a book about happiness and anxiety in America, I’ve noticed that this particular strain of happiness advice — the kind that pitches the search for contentment as an internal, personal quest, divorced from other people — has become increasingly common. ...

This isolationist philosophy is showing up not just in the way that many Americans talk about happiness, but in how they spend their time. People who study these things have observed a marked increase in solitary “happiness pursuits” — activities carried out either completely alone or in a group without interaction — with the explicit aim of keeping each person locked in her own private emotional experience.

Spiritual and religious practice is slowly shifting from a community-based endeavor to a private one, with silent meditation retreats, mindfulness apps and yoga classes replacing church socials and collective worship. ...

But while placing more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans in general are spending less and less time actually connecting with other people. Nearly half of all meals eaten in this country are now eaten alone. Teenagers and young millennials are spending less time just “hanging out” with their friends than any generation in recent history, replacing real-world interaction with smartphones.

And it’s not just young people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that the average American now spends less than four minutes a day “hosting and attending social events,” a category that covers all types of parties and other organized social occasions. ...

All in all — and that includes daily bouts of nagging, arguing and whining — the average American spends barely more than half an hour a day on social communication. Compare that to time per day spent watching television (three hours) or even “grooming” (one hour for women, and just over 44 minutes for men). ...

But if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.

And according to research, if we want to be happy, we should really be aiming to spend less time alone. Despite claiming to crave solitude when asked in the abstract, when sampled in the moment, people across the board consistently report themselves as happier when they are around other people than when they are on their own. Surprisingly this effect is not just true for people who consider themselves extroverts but equally strong for introverts as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Understanding Sens. Flake vs. Murkowski vs. Collins' situations

[Senator Jeff] Flake is very conservative. But as I wrote in July, Flake has made no significant effort to use his official powers to block Trump's agenda even on issues where he sits to the president's right, like trade.

Instead, Flake's opposition to Trump has consisted almost entirely of complaining, and now he's not even bothering to seek reelection to the Senate, where he could do something about whatever Trump is doing.

Flake behaves like he is helpless. That's because he is helpless. And he should think some more about why he is so helpless.

Flake is helpless because there's no real constituency in America for what he favors: low taxes and spending, openness to immigration and trade, international collaboration where America honors its commitments, and polite public behavior.

There is one coalition of voters that favors a much larger and more active government than Flake wants. Many of these voters share a portion of Flake's values (they may share his commitment to openness and politeness, for example) but they also oppose him on various social issues where he is conservative and they are liberal. Flake does not have a home in the Democratic Party with these voters.

The other coalition of voters is the one Flake relied on all along to get elected. But it turns out they don't care very much about some of the policy ideas Flake thought were important. And they outright oppose him on others, like immigration. And many of these voters have come to view nastiness and crudity as virtues, since they think politeness norms have been weaponized by an establishment that wants to exclude them — or just because they are jerks.

It was essentially an accident that Flake and elected officials like him were able to harness the Republican electoral coalition for so long to back an agenda that excluded policies those voters cared about (like immigration restriction) and included ones they opposed (like cutting Medicare). Now that's over, and he has nowhere to go.

A look at the non-helpless anti-Trump senators gives a clue about why Flake can't seem to do anything about the things he cares about.

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have broken extensively with Trump to much greater effect than Flake. Their defections have worked because their formulation of personal decency plus policy moderation is saleable to a large slice of the electorate. ...

Collins and Murkowski are able to be a lot more soft-spoken than Flake; their anti-Trump actions have done most of the talking. They've had a lot of effect on policy in Trump's America. And they don't seem to intend to leave the Senate anytime soon.
--Josh Barro, Business Insider, on power through bases of leverage

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Was the iconic V-J Day kiss sexual assault?

Late summer, 1945. In the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 100,000 people lay dead, casualties of the United States’ decision to drop a pair of atomic bombs. But in Times Square on Aug. 14, a much different vibe prevails: Japan has surrendered, and the victors are celebrating — drinking, shouting and dancing in the streets.

An American sailor named George Mendonsa spontaneously takes hold of a complete stranger, 21-year-old Austrian-Jewish refugee Greta Zimmer [Friedman], bends her backward, plants a kiss on her mouth and continues on his way. Unbeknown to either, famed photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt has captured the encounter. The resulting image, published soon after in Life magazine, came to symbolize the exuberance of that moment, in a country overflowing with vigor and youth, at a time when anything seemed possible. ...

In 2012, a London-based blogger who uses the pseudonym Leopard wrote a provocative post on Crates and Ribbons titled “The Kissing Sailor, or ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture,’” arguing that Mendonsa’s actions should not be idealized as romantic. To the writer, the kiss represented nothing short of a sexual assault.

The post highlights a series of comments from Greta Friedman’s 2005 Veterans History Project interview, which addresses the issue of what we would now call consent. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” Friedman said at the time. “The guy just came over and grabbed!” adding, “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” Leopard also cited a CBS News interview in which Friedman said of Mendonsa, “I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip (sic).” ...

Josh Friedman says that his mother is well aware of the discussion, and has expressed a nuanced reaction. Greta Friedman has become friendly with Mendonsa over the years and her son says she considers him to be “a lovely person.” When CBS News reunited the two in Times Square for the interview cited on Crates and Ribbons, Friedman appears to be at ease with the former sailor. She has declined to fault Mendonsa for his actions — taking into account his overwhelming admiration for the nurses on the Bunker Hill — though she is not unsympathetic to the contemporary critique.

“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street,” Josh Friedman says. “(But) she didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.”
--Andy Martino, New York Daily News, on the past, a foreign country

The great San Francisco auto burglary debate

In San Francisco, where no automobile parked on the street is immune from glass-smashing thieves, some people have taken to posting signs on car windows announcing that there are no valuables inside.

The hope, of course, is that a thief will read the notice and decide: "Huh. No valuables in this one. I guess I'll break into some other car."

On Tuesday, a Reddit user posted a photo of such a sign and posed the question "Do you think it works?" to the Reddit community. A lively debate ensued.

"Sounds a lot like something that someone with valuables in their car would say," wrote a skeptical Maddox83a.

But iamthewaffler disagreed, citing personal experience.

"It's strong signaling that works VERY well," the commenter wrote. "The intended victim for thefts from cars are people who are from out of town, other "safer" parts of SF, etc who don't know that certain areas are very prone to car break-ins. If you have bothered to print out a sign and put it in your window, that shows you know exactly what neighborhood you're in and the chances of anything valuable being in your car are extremely low." ...

About 85 vehicles are reported to have been broken into every day in the city, according to SFPD data for this year. That includes only cars whose owners reported the crime. The actual figure is doubtlessly higher.

This year a total of 17,970 vehicle break-ins were reported from Jan. 1 to July 31, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2016. ...

A few Reddit users suggested that car owners forget about the sign and simply leave the car doors unlocked. But that prompted stories of homeless people sleeping in vehicles overnight, doing drugs and/or having sex in them, and even using backseats as a toilet.
--Mike Moffitt, SFGate, on the country's most beautiful city

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Columbus, Ohio is America's retail laboratory

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a scorching day outside, hot even for late summer in Ohio, and yet I was freezing. I had stepped inside the EB Ice Box, a meat-locker-like display at the Eddie Bauer store here that was cooled to 13 degrees Fahrenheit. The metal-sheathed room looked out onto the promenade of an upscale shopping mall, and featured a large block of ice for a bench. Even though I was wearing a down jacket (the room is meant to be a place where customers can test Eddie Bauer wear), the frigid air had gotten under my skin.

The ice box was a gambit designed to attract the one thing so many stores like Eddie Bauer seem to be missing these days — customers.

For shoppers, this city of 860,000 smack in the middle of a swing state, can feel like an alternate reality, a place where up is down and down is up. Frumpy department stores feature personal shopping services and boutique wellness amenities. Workaday grocery stores like Kroger offer exotic fruits and freshly baked artisan breads.

Even the fast-food business is living in the future. McDonald’s is offering table service from friendly waiters. Robots are taking orders at Wendy’s. Chipotle started a chain that serves hamburgers. ...

A combination of demographics, geography and luck turned Columbus into the nation’s consumer laboratory. This Rust Belt city has historically been a microcosm of the national population’s age and ethnicity, ranking fourth among metropolitan areas in its resemblance to the United States over all, according to data compiled by WalletHub. ...

Ohio State University’s 65,000 students mean young shoppers are always on hand. Columbus is within a day’s drive of nearly half of the United States population, making it a convenient hub for distribution. The city’s relatively small size and contained media market make it affordable for companies to run advertising campaigns and measure their effectiveness. And its relatively low profile allows brands to try something and fail — without the scrutiny they would draw in New York or Los Angeles.

Perhaps most important, a robust network of retailers and service providers — from big brands like Abercrombie & Fitch to small design firms that focus on store layouts — has taken root in Columbus. Today there are more fashion designers in Columbus than in any other American city besides New York and Los Angeles.
--David Gelles, NYT, on the advantages of being in the middle

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Who tends to be happier with their marriage?

People are being pickier about who they marry and waiting longer to tie the knot. And with half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s gotten a lot easier to exit unpleasant unions. So, the state of the American marriage should be happier than ever, right?

Instead, the quality of American marriages has dropped significantly. While most Americans say they’re  still “very happy” in their marriages, the number is down from the early 1970s, from 68 percent to 60 percent.


More men say they’re happier with their marriages than women do, for example. That’s consistent with other research suggesting that men tend to get more out of being married than women. Not surprisingly, religiosity—which usually emphasizes family and fidelity—also appears to play a role in marital happiness.

It’s more difficult to pinpoint why Americans with extreme political views are happier than moderates. “It’s possible that the people with more extreme political views are more likely to have a spouse who agrees with them,” Cohen said.

Of all the factors analyzed by Cohen, however, the one with the greatest effect on Americans’ marital happiness was economic status. ... it turns out there’s a 17-point gap between the happiness in lower- and upper-class marriages.

--Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, on correlates of marital happiness

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How to write a Nobel Prize winning novel in 4 weeks

Until that point, since giving up the day job five years earlier, I’d managed reasonably well to maintain a steady rhythm of work and productivity. But my first flurry of public success following my second novel had brought with it many distractions. Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my “proper” work. I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward.

So [my wife] Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one. ...

This, fundamentally, was how The Remains of the Day was written. Throughout the Crash, I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on. ...

I kept it up for the four weeks, and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come during the Crash.

I should say that by the time I embarked on the Crash, I’d consumed a substantial amount of “research”: books by and about British servants, about politics and foreign policy between the wars, many pamphlets and essays from the time, including one by Harold Laski on “The Dangers of Being a Gentleman”. I’d raided the second-hand shelves of the local bookshop (Kirkdale Books, still a thriving independent) for guides to the English countryside from the 1930s and 50s. The decision when to start the actual writing of a novel – to begin composing the story itself – always seems to me a crucial one. How much should one know before starting on the prose? It’s damaging to start too early, equally so to start too late. I think with Remains I got lucky: the Crash came just at the right point, when I knew just enough.
--Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian, on just doing it

The Wu-Tang Clan's cryptocurency

A good indication of the froth in the cryptocurrency market is that Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan is launching a cryptocurrency called Cream Cash, and it's not called Wu-Tang Coin because someone else already has that name. (I mean, it's probably called Cream Cash because that's a better name, but the fact is that there's already a Wu-Tang Coin.) The history of the Great Crypto Boom of '17 will include a whole chapter on Wu-Tang-themed coins, and that chapter will have multiple independent narratives. Really I would not have predicted in 1994 how much of 2017's financial news would involve the Wu-Tang Clan. They really rule everything around cash.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pepe's seriousness about pizza sauce

Canned tomatoes with predictable behavior and excellent flavor are particularly necessary at a place like Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, one of the most celebrated pizza destinations in the country. ...

Because pizza has just three basic elements — crust, sauce and cheese — each one must be reliably perfect and perfectly reliable. To accomplish this, every fall two grandsons of Mr. Pepe conduct a blind tasting of new-harvest tomatoes from the area around Naples, Italy, that is known for producing (and canning) the best tomatoes.

“We’re looking not only for taste but for the density of the fruit, whether the texture is fibrous or weak, how the flavor changes from the beginning to the end,” said Francis Rosselli, 65, who began working at the pizzeria alongside the founder at age 14.

The Pepe sauce is not cooked, or even seasoned; the tomatoes are simply puréed with their juices before going onto the crust and into the oven. So it’s urgent that the unembellished tomatoes and juice are just right.

Last week, I sat in (but didn’t vote) at the annual tasting. First, we tried seven kinds right out of the can. Four were rejected (too weak, too strong, bland at the end), and the remaining three were carried off to the kitchen to be ground into sauce and tested immediately on an unembellished pie — no cheese or toppings, just tomato and olive oil. All three made good pizza, but we agreed that only one retained its clear, fresh tomato flavor after a turn in the 550-degree oven. ...

For Frank Pepe’s descendants, the annual tasting ritual is more than a business necessity

“It takes us back to the roots,” said Gary Bimonte, 57, the other grandson. “Tomatoes were a big part of our grandfather’s life.”
--Julia Moskin, NYT, on not just your corner pizzeria

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Totoro is not a death god

There’s a persistent rumor, one which we’ve talked about ourselves, that claims there’s a dark side to feel-good anime classic My Neighbor Totoro. The theory holds that while the movie opens with two lively sisters in the spotlight, both of them die somewhere before the end of the film, and the immense huggable Totoro isn’t in fact a forest spirit, but a death god ushering them into the afterlife.

If this creepy interpretation has been spoiling the warm fuzzy sensation you used to get from watching what you once thought was a heart-warming film, you can breathe easy again, as none other than Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki has publicly put the rumor to rest. ...

“Everyone gets all stirred up about it on the Internet, don’t they?” he began. “They say things like, ‘They’re all dead at the end of the movie.’” Proponents of the theory often assert that 11-year-old Satsuki and four-year-old Mei don’t have shadows, which in turn marks them as spirits.

This depiction doesn’t entirely hold water, though, according to Takimoto. “I watched the movie, and up until the very end, Mei and Satsuki both have shadows, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do,” replied Suzuki.

“They don’t lose them part-way through, or anything?”

“No, they don’t.”

Still, some people who’ve watched Totoro with one hand on the pause button will probably tell you that in the very last scene, the sisters’ shadows aren’t so clearly visible. But if they’re not ghosts, why don’t their physical bodies block light like they should? ...

At the risk of destroying any more idyllic images, even Studio Ghibli sometimes has to put limits on the amount of time and effort it can pour into a scene. As explained on the Ghibli website:
Everyone, please put your minds at ease. The rumors of Totoro being a death god, Mei being dead, and others rumors of the like are absolutely not true…Someone made them up because they sounded interesting to him or her, and it seems to have spread around the Internet. In regards to comments that “Satsuki and Mei don’t have shadows in the final scene,” it was merely decided that is wasn’t necessary to draw when producing the animation. We hope that people will not believe the rumors, and the PR department would like to officially announce that here.
--Casey Baseel, Sora News 24, on less than meets the eye

Hell is Tinder

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone will swipe right on basically everyone.
--Julie Beck, The Atlantic, on gendered standards


Researchers at Queen Mary University, Sapienza University of Rome, and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group created fake male and female Tinder profiles and automatically liked everyone within a 100-mile radius. Their findings, reported by the Washington Post, reinforce what many Tinder users know anecdotally: that women are overwhelmingly more discerning than men.

While the fake male profiles only matched with other users 0.6 percent of the time, around ten percent of female profiles were liked, mostly by men. The researchers postulate that women are more picky on Tinder, only liking the profiles of men they're attracted to, whereas men play a brutal numbers game by liking everyone in sight.

To make matters worse, men are less likely to send messages: only seven percent of men who matched with a fake profile sent a message, compared with 21 percent of women. This creates a horribly counterproductive feedback loop, wherein women become more picky because everyone they like seems to like them back—and men, faced with increasingly selective women, drop their standards even further.

Type "Tinder" into the App Store, and you'll see a plethora of apps aimed at maximizing your swiping game. Bonfire and Tinder Auto Liker (not an app you want a prospective date to see installed on your phone) will automatically approve every potential match, saving valuable time you can put towards clearing the search history on your work computer or re-reading seminal hook-up classic The Game. Swipe-happy office workers can even install software on their computers so they can auto-swipe continually without using their phones. ...

[Liam:] Saying yes to everyone means you match with everyone who likes you, including that magic overlapping part of the Tinder Venn diagram—those who are willing to match with you and those who you find attractive. Sure, it's a bit of a heartless approach as you end up ignoring girls who message you that you're not attracted to. But app dating in general is a fairly dehumanizing and mechanistic numbers game.
--Sirin Kale, Vice, on dating dystopia

The problem with Rawlsian ethics

Rawls is almost always invoked selectively, rarely being applied across national borders or across the generations, cases where it yields screwy results.  Rawls himself hesitated to approve of economic growth, because it does not maximize the well-being of the original “worst off” generation, which of course has to do some saving.  He had sympathies with the idea of Mill’s stationary state.  It’s fine to reject those conclusions, as indeed you should, but again maybe you’re not really a Rawlsian.  You are a selective Rawlsian, if that. ...

When it comes to redistribution as social insurance, the biggest problems with the Rawlsian method is this.  People have all sorts of preferences across the distribution of income.  Some are merit-related, some liberty-related, some non-Rawlsian-fairness related, some insurance-related, maybe even some rooted in prejudice.  The list of motives and reasons is long.  As the veil is typically used by economists, it strips away all of those preferences but…the preference for insurance.  So it is no wonder that the final construct produces an argument for insurance.  You get out of the construct what you put into it. ...

We do not always apply it to people in other countries, wealthy people who are poor in net terms because they are about to die, ugly men who cannot get sex, and many of the disabled.  Just about everyone is more of a particularist, situation-based egalitarian than they like to let on.
--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution, on pushing Rawls to the limit

Monday, September 4, 2017

Posner vs. Sunstein writing deathmatch

In 1997, Ronald Dworkin, a fierce critic of [Richard] Posner’s, wrote an article that was in large part an attack on the two of us. Dworkin argued that we constituted a new “Chicago School,” that we were wrongly dismissive of high theory and philosophical questions, and that we were basically full of nonsense.

Posner suggested that we should do a joint reply, and I happily agreed. As I recall, it was a Friday, and I was determined to write the first draft, so as to shape both the tone and the content. Over the weekend, I worked as hard as I have ever done. On early Monday morning, probably around 7:45, I faxed him a 21-page, single-spaced draft. It lacked footnotes, and it was pretty rough, but, still, mission accomplished. I was pretty proud of myself.

When I got back to my office, I spotted something on my chair. It was from Posner. It had 35 pages. It was fully footnoted. It read like a dream. Needless to say, it was much more polished than mine, and better in every way.

As always, Judge Posner was ahead of the rest of us, even when we run as fast as we can.
--Cass Sunstein, Bloomberg, on pitting two of the fastest writers in legal academe against each other. HT: Marginal Revolution

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Countries conquer a lot less now

If you were to ask historians to name the most foolish treaty ever signed, odds are good that they would name the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The pact, which was joined by 63 nations, outlawed war. Ending war is an absurdly ambitious goal. To think it could be done by treaty? Not just absurd but dangerously naïve.

And the critics would seem to be right. Just over a decade later, every nation that had joined the pact, with the exception of Ireland, was at war. Not only did the treaty fail to stop World War II but it also failed to stop the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Indo-Pakistani wars, the Vietnam War, the Yugoslav civil war and the current conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen.

But the critics are wrong. Though the pact may not have ended all war, it was highly effective in ending the main reason countries had gone to war: conquest. ...

First, some context. Before 1928... international law also gave countries the right of conquest, meaning they could benefit from war by keeping its spoils, territory and, in some cases, people. ...

When it outlawed war, the Kellogg-Briand Pact changed nearly every rule that states had followed for centuries. Most important, countries could no longer establish right, justice or title by brute strength. Because war was now illegal, except in cases of self-defense, states lost the right of conquest. ...

With the research assistance of 18 Yale law students, we found that from 1816 until the Kellogg-Briand Pact was first signed in 1928, there was, on average, approximately one territorial conquest every 10 months. Put another way, the average state during this period had a 1.33 percent chance of being the victim of conquest in any given year. ...

A country with a 1.33 percent annual chance of conquest can expect to be conquered once in an ordinary human lifetime. And these conquests were not small. The average amount of territory seized between 1816 and 1928 was 114,088 square miles per year.

Since World War II, conquest has almost come to a full stop. The average number of conquests per year fell drastically — to 0.26 per year, or one every four years. The average size of the territory taken declined to a mere 5,772 square miles per year. And the likelihood that any individual state would suffer a conquest in an average year plummeted — from 1.33 percent to 0.17 percent, or once or twice a millennium. ...

The illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 might seem to prove us wrong. But the seizure of Crimea is the exception that proves the rule, precisely because of how rare conquests are today. Consider that before 1928, the amount of territory conquered every year was equal to roughly 11 Crimeas. In addition, nearly every state in the world has rejected the 2014 annexation as illegal, refusing to recognize Crimea as part of Russia.
--Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, NYT, on the power of norms

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Iranian tiger parents

At the same time in June that [Uber CEO] Mr. Kalanick was noisily being ejected from his company, [Expedia CEO and soon-to-be Uber CEO Dara] Khosrowshahi had a problem of his own — his parents. Glassdoor, a site where employees rank their companies, released its 2017 list of the top chief executives. Mr. Khosrowshahi’s score had dropped.

His parents weighed in with that combination of celebration and criticism that many immigrant children know well. As Mr. Khosrowshahi reported on Twitter, his mother said, “Nice! You made the top 100!” But his father pointed out: “#39 is good but you were #11 in 2015.” ...

[Parents] Lili and Gary are clearly watching their son rise to their own expectations. After he was interviewed by Jim Cramer, the host of the financial TV show “Mad Money,” in May, Dara posted on Twitter: “didn’t screw it up (according to mom).”
--David Streitfeld and Nelli Bowles, NYT, on immigrant parents

Saturday, August 26, 2017

MI6's theory on Trump's kompromat

I can tell you what the veterans of the S.I.S. [the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6] think, which is yes, kompromat was done on [Trump]. Of course, kompromat is done on everyone. So they end up, the theory goes, with this compromising bit of material and then they begin to release parts of it. They set up an ex-MI6 guy, Chris Steele, who is a patsy, effectively, and they feed him some stuff that’s true, and some stuff that isn’t true, and some stuff that is demonstrably wrong. Which means that Trump can then stand up and deny it, while knowing that the essence of it is true. And then he has a stone in his shoe for the rest of his administration.
--Ben Macintyre on three-dimensional espionage chess

Friday, August 25, 2017

Economists and chivalry

The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.
--Edmund Burke, 1790, "Reflections on the Revolution in France," on a long tradition

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Popular music is too slow now on average

Yakov Vorobyev, who invented a popular app for DJs called Mixed in Key, used the program to analyze the 25 most-streamed tracks on Spotify in 2012 and 2017: He found that during that period, the average tempo dropped by 23 bpm (to 90.5 bpm) and the percentage of songs above 120 bpm fell markedly from 56 percent to 12.5 percent.

Part of the slowing is due to the continuing dominance of hip-hop, which now permeates every branch of music, even longtime holdouts like rock and country. "Hip-hop culture is the new pop culture, and our tempo ranges aren't too fast," says Sevn Thomas, who helped produce Rihanna's Number One smash "Work." "Rappers can really swag out on slower beats."

But maybe there are other reasons as well: Pop culture's insatiable appetite for the new demands a backlash against fast-moving singles, or a gloomy national moment encourages a different sort of listening. ...

[Radio business veteran Sean] Ross worries about the dearth of uptempo singles – if there's nothing modern to balance out playlists, in his view, programmers turn to older tracks for a jolt of speed, further reducing the already limited variety on the airwaves. "Top 40 has become tighter than any time in the last 35 years in terms of the actual number of titles," he notes. "If you combine that with the time records spend on the charts now, there aren't a lot of chances for songs to come along and break the logjam. ... I've had conversations with programmers in every format, and usually the solution is to play even less new music, which ends up reducing the chance the next uptempo record is going to get through."
--Elias Leight, Rolling Stone, on an era that is hard to dance to. HT: Marginal Revolution

Friday, August 11, 2017

Why does new money like bling and old money like discreetness?

[A] puzzling aspect of conspicuous consumption [is that] it is often subtle, in the sense that it is difficult for others to observe and recognize. Handwrought silverware only signals wealth to dinner guests. Someone who wishes to signal his wealth as clearly as possible can do better: acknowledging this puzzle, Bagwell and Bernheim (1996) suggest publishing “tax returns or audited asset statements”.

We argue that people engage in subtly conspicuous consumption to simultaneously signal wealth and social capital. Here, social capital is about connectedness—a measure of the relationships that enable access to potentially valuable resources through social interaction...

Consider the following example. Adam is wealthy and socially well-connected. He can distinguish himself from less wealthy individuals by consuming costly status goods; for example, he might purchase an expensive car to drive around town. However, if Adam seeks to demonstrate that he is well-connected as well as wealthy, his consumption choice also has to distinguish him from wealthy, poorly-connected individuals. Thus, a better option might be buying an expensive painting to display in his living room. His guests, observing the painting, and noting that only Adam’s guests ever observe it, infer that he is well-connected because using this painting as a signal of his type is cost-effective only if Adam’s parties are attended by people who Adam seeks to impress. ...

Conventional wisdom often associates loud consumption with the nouveau riche: those who have recently become wealthy. On the other hand, subtle consumption is associated with old money: those whose families have been wealthy for generations. Our interpretation is that old-money types possess large amounts of social capital, as they have been able to develop social connections over time, whereas the nouveau riche, who acquired wealth only recently, have accumulated little social capital. ...

Many forms of cultural knowledge, such as appreciation of music, art or wine, qualify as subtle status goods in our theory: they (i) are costly to acquire, and (ii) being tacit in nature, can only be recognized through extensive social interaction. ... Taking the perspective that cultural capital serves as a subtle good relative to material status goods, our model predicts that individuals with high social capital prefer cultural consumption, whereas people with low social capital favour material status goods.
--Juan Carlos Carbajal, Jonathan Hall, and Hongyi Li, "Inconspicuous Conspicuous Consumption," on subtle status symbols versus bling

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What happens when churches take government money?

Governments have used vouchers to spend billions of dollars on private education; much of this spending has gone to religiously-affiliated schools. ... We use a dataset of Catholic-parish finances from Milwaukee... We show that vouchers are now a dominant source of funding for many churches; parishes in our sample running voucher-accepting schools get more revenue from vouchers than from worshipers. We also find that voucher expansion prevents church closures and mergers. Despite these results, we fail to find evidence that vouchers promote religious behavior: voucher expansion causes significant declines in church donations and church spending on non-educational religious purposes. The meteoric growth of vouchers appears to offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.
--Daniel Hungerman, Kevin Rinz, and Jay Frymark, "Beyond the Classroom: The Implications of School Vouchers for Church Finances," on where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

Monday, July 31, 2017

A chokehold ruined the Patriots' perfect season

...the one lingering demon from the Belichick-Brady years: the pursuit of perfection that met a devastating end in their Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants. ...

On the [Eli] Manning escape, the New England rush overwhelmed nearly the entire Giants offensive line. Jarvis Green exploded past Shaun O'Hara to the center's left and plowed through left guard Rich Seubert, and Richard Seymour looped behind Jarvis Green and beat O'Hara to his right. The offensive linemen tried to play the rush as if they were switching on a basketball pick-and-roll, and they failed miserably. As Seymour and Green converged on the immobile Manning, O'Hara said he saw "Eli curl up in the fetal position, which he normally does," and then thought, "OK, we're probably going to lose this game."

But as Manning kept moving his feet and staying alive, struggling to break free from the grasp of both New England rushers, a desperate O'Hara slid his gloved right hand onto Seymour's throat. "I said, 'Screw it,'" the Giants center would recall. "I was squeezing his trachea as hard as I could and not letting go." Choked by a 300-pound man, Seymour was temporarily disabled for the split-second that allowed Manning to get away. O'Hara gambled that the officials would miss his WWE move, and miss it they sure as hell did. If they threw a flag there, the Patriots would have ended up 19-0.
--Ian O'Connor, ESPN, on the choke that caused the Patriots' choke

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Marijuana is bad for your grades

Economists Olivier Marie and Ulf Zölitz took advantage of a decision by Maastricht, a city in the Netherlands, to change the rules for “cannabis cafes,” which legally sell recreational marijuana. Because Maastricht is very close to the border of multiple European countries (Belgium, France and Germany), drug tourism was posing difficulties for the city. Hoping to address this, the city barred noncitizens of the Netherlands from buying from the cafes.

This policy change created an intriguing natural experiment at Maastricht University, because students there from neighboring countries suddenly were unable to access legal pot, while students from the Netherlands continued.

The research on more than 4,000 students, published in the Review of Economic Studies, found that those who lost access to legal marijuana showed substantial improvement in their grades. Specifically, those banned from cannabis cafes had a more than 5 percent increase in their odds of passing their courses. Low performing students benefited even more, which the researchers noted is particularly important because these students are at high-risk of dropping out. The researchers attribute their results to the students who were denied legal access to marijuana being less likely to use it and to suffer cognitive impairments (e.g., in concentration and memory) as a result.

Other studies have tried to estimate the impact of marijuana legalization by studying those U.S. states that legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana. But marijuana policy researcher Rosalie Pacula of RAND Corporation noted that the Maastricht study provide evidence that “is much better than anything done so far in the United States.”

States differ in countless ways that are hard for researchers to adjust for in their data analysis, but the Maastricht study examined similar people in the same location — some of them even side by side in the same classrooms — making it easier to isolate the effect of marijuana legalization.
--Keith Humphreys, Washington Post, on the opportunity cost of studying

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Amos Tversky on how to do good research

The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.
--Amos Tversky

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The unhappiness of lawyers

According to some reports, lawyers also have the highest rate of depression of any occupational group in the country. A 1990 study of more than 100 professions indicated that lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people with other jobs. The Hazelden study found that 28 percent of lawyers suffer depression.

“Yes, there are other stressful professions,” said Wil Miller, who practices family law in the offices of Molly B. Kenny in Bellevue, Wash. He spent 10 years as a sex crimes prosecutor, the last six months of which he was addicted to methamphetamines. “Being a surgeon is stressful, for instance — but not in the same way. It would be like having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation. In law, you are financially rewarded for being hostile.” ...

Some research shows that before they start law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally. “There’s good data showing that,” said Andy Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer who teaches law and psychology at the University of Washington. “They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.”

In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact. But, in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that.

Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition. “We have seven very strong studies that show this twists people’s psyches and they come out of law school significantly impaired, with depression, anxiety and hostility,” he said. ...

“The psychological factors seen to erode during law school are the very factors most important for the well-being of lawyers,” Lawrence Krieger, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, and Kennon Sheldon, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, wrote in their 2015 paper “What Makes Lawyers Happy?” Conversely, they wrote, “the factors most emphasized in law schools — grades, honors and potential career income — have nil to modest bearing on lawyer well-being.”

After students began law school they experienced “a marked increase in depression, negative mood and physical symptoms, with corresponding decreases in positive affect and life satisfaction,” the professors wrote.

Students also shed some of their idealism. Within the first year of law school, students’ motivation for studying law and becoming lawyers shifted from “helping and community-oriented values to extrinsic, rewards-based values.”

Young lawyers in treatment at the Center for Network Therapy, an ambulatory detox facility in Middlesex, N.J., frequently tell Dr. Indra Cidambi, the medical director, that the reality of working as a lawyer does not match what they had pictured while in law school. She has found that law students often drink and use drugs until they start their first job. After that, Dr. Cidambi said, “it’s mostly alcohol, until they are established as senior associates or partners and they move back to opiates.”
--Eilene Zimmerman, NYT, on a challenging profession

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How clean is the John Harvard statue?

The John Harvard statue is probably the most touched object in the University. Its left foot is subjected to almost incessant rubbing by tourists who believe that the act brings good luck; the standard pose, for photos, is to place a hand on John Harvard’s shoe, which has become shiny from the human contact.

But Harvard students themselves know better than to touch it—not least because one of three traditional deeds* that some College students strive to complete before graduation involves urinating on John Harvard.

So, how clean is the John Harvard statue?

Administrative staff in charge of its maintenance say the statue is cleaned on an as-needed basis, and is power-washed five to six times a year. “The maintenance really revolves around when the students do their business on it,” reports Joel Day, the facilities manager of University Hall. “The grounds crew are good at noticing; sometimes you can walk by and it smells like it needs to be cleaned.” The statue is not washed during winter, he adds, because hosing it in freezing temperatures would create slipping hazards. ...

Do the maintenance staff themselves think it’s hygienic to touch the statue?

“I don’t imagine it would be hygienic, but I don’t know how you would avoid it,” says McCarthy.

“They really should put a sanitizing station there,” says Day.

“I wouldn’t do it,” says Smith.
--Zara Zhang, Harvard Magazine, on what every Harvard student knows

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Warren Buffett's approach to bidding wars

For decades, Mr. Buffett has included in his company’s annual report a list of criteria for companies that might want to sell businesses to Berkshire. Berkshire is looking for large companies with little debt, the list says—and it isn’t interested in bidding wars or hostile takeovers.

“We don’t participate in auctions,” Mr. Buffett wrote in the latest annual report. “A line from a country song expresses our feeling about new ventures, turnarounds, or auction-like sales: ‘When the phone don’t ring, you’ll know it’s me.’” ...

Mr. Buffett has long been known for quickly negotiating deals and sticking with his initial price offer. ...

Mr. Buffett did raise the offer price in 1999 when he bought a majority stake in MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., now called Berkshire Hathaway Energy. But he made the switch before the deal was announced, as he explained in his 2007 letter to shareholders.

Mr. Buffett originally offered $35 a share for MidAmerican, but after pressure from investment bankers, he raised it to $35.05, he said in the letter. “With that, I explained, they could tell their client they had wrung the last nickel out of me,” he wrote. “At the time, it hurt.”

But given MidAmerican’s growth since then, he said in the same letter, “I’m glad I wilted and offered the extra nickel.”
--Nicole Friedman, WSJ, on avoiding the winner's curse

Friday, July 7, 2017

A shortage of marriageable men doesn't explain the marriage bust

Five percent of births in the U.S. were to unmarried mothers in 1960. Fast forward now — to 2014.
MELISSA KEARNEY: In 2014, over 40 percent of births in the U.S. were to unmarried mothers.
...
It’s really hard for researchers to establish the causal effect of family structure or marriage on kids’ outcomes, of course, because we don’t randomly assign kids to married or unmarried parents. But there’s a lot of research that works really hard to isolate factors. That research consistently shows that kids who live with two married parents have lower rates of poverty, have higher cognitive test scores in childhood, have fewer behavioral problems. They seem to have better health outcomes. They’re less likely to live in poverty when they’re 25. They’re more likely to complete college and they’re less likely to become young, unmarried parents themselves.
...what accounts for so many more unmarried births among mothers with less education? Social conservatives tend to point to the breakdown of old-school social norms. Social liberals cite less access to contraception — although that has improved a lot; and, especially, the lack of economic opportunity — that is, men without good jobs aren’t eager to marry or, from the other end of the equation, they aren’t considered good husband material. In Melissa Kearney’s world, this is called the “marriageable men” theory.
KEARNEY: Yeah. That’s based on this idea that’s been around since William Julius Wilson’s really seminal work in the 1980s arguing that this decline in the economic security of less-educated men — and in certain populations or demographic groups in particular — is behind this rise in nonmarital childbearing and retreat from marriage.
...
And so, hypothesizing the reverse, I’ve been keen to find a situation where we’ve seen an improvement in less-educated men’s economic situation, and the fracking boom constitutes the rare context where men without a college degree have seen an improvement in their employment and earnings prospects in recent years. That gave us a place to look at how family formation outcomes responded.
...
The fracking boom, these localized fracking booms, really meets our standard in the sense that it’s determined by pre-existing geological formations in the earth. Even the most persnickety economists will tend to grant that whether there is this geological formation under your county is probably exogenous to family formation preferences.
...
What our estimates suggest is that an additional $1,000 of fracking production per capita is associated with an increase of six births per thousand women. ...
One of the most interesting things in our research was a comparison to the coal boom and bust situation. It’s a similar economic shock. It’s a similar industry. They’re in similar areas: the Appalachian region in both.
The coal boom and bust happened in the 70s and 80s. What we find is that a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with the coal boom led to very similar-sized increases in married birth rates, as it did in the fracking boom: an 8 percent increase in marital birth rates for a 10 percent increase in earnings with the coal boom, and a 12 percent increase in married birth rates associated with the fracking boom. But the nonmarital birth response is very different: a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with the coal boom actually led to a reduction in nonmarital births. But a 12 percent increase in nonmarital births with a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with fracking. That’s where the response differed.
In the earlier period, when earnings increased associated with the coal boom, marriage increased. And as we’ve been saying, there’s no increase with the fracking boom. ...
In the 70s and 80s, very few births were outside of marriage and there was a social stigma associated with nonmarried births. And so, in the 70s and 80s, when you got more income, it looks like you had more births but only if you were married. Now, we’re at a period where nonmarital births are extremely common among less-educated populations. Now, what we see is if you get more income you have more babies. Right? But it doesn’t matter whether you’re married or not. That’s a real difference.
--Freakonomics Radio on the importance of norms

Romantic kissing doesn't exist in 54% of human cultures

...a recent article in American Anthropologist by Jankowiak, Volsche and Garcia questions the notion that romantic kissing is a human universal by conducting a broad cross cultural survey to document the existence or non-existence of the romantic-sexual kiss around the world.

The authors based their research on a set of 168 cultures compiled from eHRAF World Cultures (128 cultures) as well as the Standard Cross Cultural Sample (27 cultures) and by surveying 88 ethnographers (13 cultures). The report’s findings are intriguing: rather than an overwhelming popularity of romantic smooching, the global ethnographic evidence suggests that it is common in only 46% (77) of the cultures sampled. The remaining 54% (91) of cultures had no evidence of romantic kissing. In short, this new research concludes that romantic-sexual kissing is not as universal as we might presume.

The report also reveals that romantic kissing is most common in the Middle East and Asia, and least common of all among Central American cultures. Similarly, the authors state that “no ethnographer working with Sub-Saharan African, New Guinea, or Amazonian foragers or horticulturalists reported having witnessed any occasion in which their study populations engaged in a romantic–sexual kiss”, whereas it is nearly ubiquitous in northern Asia and North America. ...

Overall, we found that the perception of romantic kissing in non-kissing societies ranges from simple disinterest or amusement to total disgust.

Among the indigenous Tapirapé people of Central Brazil, Wagley (1977) found that “couples showed affection”, but “kissing seems to have been unknown”. He explains,
When I described it to them, it struck them as a strange form of showing physical attraction … and, in a way, disgusting.
...

Across the Pacific Ocean in Melanesia, Bronislaw Malinowski’s (1929: 330) classic account describes the impression of kissing among Trobriand Islanders, who were equally bemused by the foreign custom:
The natives know, however, that white people “will sit, will press mouth against mouth–they are pleased with it.” But they regard it as a rather insipid and silly form of amusement.
The Tsonga people of Southern Africa are also openly disgusted by the practice: “Kissing was formerly entirely unknown… When they saw the custom adopted by the Europeans, they said laughingly: “Look at these people! They suck each other! They eat each other’s saliva and dirt!” Even a husband never kissed his wife” (Junod 1927: 353-354).
--Yale Human Relations Area Files on surprisingly non-universal behaviors. HT: Megan McArdle

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mike Pence is not an outlier on solo dinners with women

Many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations, the poll found. Around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse. ...

Further, the poll results provide societal context for Vice President Mike Pence’s comment — made in 2002 and resurfaced in a recent profile — that he doesn’t eat alone with any woman other than his wife.

Attitudes reflect a work world shadowed by sexual harassment. In recent news about Uber and Fox News, women see cautionary tales about being alone with men.
--Claire Cain Miller, NYT, on how out of touch the negative press coverage about Pence's personal rule was

Monday, June 26, 2017

You don't like Greek yogurt's taste, just its story

Consider, for instance, the unlikely tale of Chobani, the company that essentially created the Greek yogurt industry in the United States. In 1996, as Chobani’s well-oiled promotional machine will tell you, a Turkish immigrant named Hamdi Ulukaya arrived in the United States with $3,000 in his pocket. Sixteen years later, he was selling $1 billion worth of Greek yogurt by employing refugees from local resettlement centers and extolling the artisanal virtues of Chobani for the body, environment and soul.

This story of authenticity has been essential to Chobani’s success and central to positioning Greek yogurt as an alternative to the sugary concoctions that come from companies like Yoplait. ...

As Chobani grew, Big Yogurt got worried. So Yoplait commissioned a series of focus groups that initially soothed executives’ anxieties: Taste tests revealed that most people disliked Greek yogurt. It was too sour and unfamiliar, the data said. The products’ names were too hard to remember. There was little need, Yoplait executives told one another, for concern.

But as the Greek phenomena gained steam — today, it accounts for more than a third of all yogurt sales in the United States — Yoplait’s studies found an interesting hiccup: Even though people said they disliked Greek yogurt, they kept on trying it, again and again, until they learned to like it. Why? Because, consumers told Yoplait’s researchers, they liked the Chobani story.

Consumers heard that Greek yogurt made it easier to lose weight. (There are 15 grams of sugar in a strawberry Chobani cup; Yoplait’s strawberry has 18.) People said they had heard Chobani was more natural. (Though Chobani does not contain preservatives, other ingredients are similar to those of competitors.)

But the most powerful story, according to current and former Yoplait executives who described their research, was that consumers simply thought Chobani was cool. It was easier to believe it was authentic and healthy because it had an exotic name, a founder who embodied rags-to-riches success and lots of buzz.
--Charles Duhigg, NYT, on ignoring your taste buds

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Remedial failure

Nearly perfect on paper, with résumés packed full of extracurricular activities, [students] seemed increasingly unable to cope with basic setbacks that come with college life: not getting a room assignment they wanted, getting wait-listed for a class or being rejected by clubs.

“We’re not talking about flunking out of pre-med or getting kicked out of college,” Ms. Simmons said. “We’re talking about students showing up in residential life offices distraught and inconsolable when they score less than an A-minus. Ending up in the counseling center after being rejected from a club. Students who are unable to ask for help when they need it, or so fearful of failing that they will avoid taking risks at all.”

Almost a decade ago, faculty at Stanford and Harvard coined the term “failure deprived” to describe what they were observing: the idea that, even as they were ever more outstanding on paper, students seemed unable to cope with simple struggles. “Many of our students just seemed stuck,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult.”

They soon began connecting the dots: between what they were seeing anecdotally — the lack of coping skills — and what mental health data had shown for some time, including, according to the American College Health Association, an increase in depression and anxiety, overwhelming rates of stress and more demand for counseling services than campuses can keep up with. ...

It was Cornell that, in 2010 after a wave of student suicides, declared that it would be an “obligation of the university” to help students learn life skills. Not long after, Stanford started an initiative called the Resilience Project, in which prominent alumni recounted academic setbacks, recording them on video. “It was an attempt to normalize struggle,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims said.

A consortium of academics soon formed to share resources, and programs have quietly proliferated since then: the Success-Failure Project at Harvard, which features stories of rejection; the Princeton Perspective Project, encouraging conversation about setbacks and struggles; Penn Faces at the University of Pennsylvania, a play on the term used by students to describe those who have mastered the art of appearing happy even when struggling. ...

“For a long time, I think we assumed that this was the stuff that was automatically learned in childhood: that everyone struck out at the baseball diamond or lost the student council race,” said Donna Lisker, Smith’s dean of the college and vice president for student life. “The idea that an 18-year-old doesn’t know how to fail on the one hand sounds preposterous. But I think in many ways we’ve pulled kids away from those natural learning experiences.” ...

Researchers say it’s a complicated interplay of child-rearing and culture: years of helicopter-parenting and micromanaging by anxious parents. “This is the generation that everyone gets a trophy,” said Rebecca Shaw, Smith’s director of residence life. College admissions mania, in which many middle- and upper-class students must navigate what Ms. Simmons calls a “‘Hunger Games’-like mentality” where the preparation starts early, the treadmill never stops and the stakes can feel impossibly high.
--Jessica Bennett, NYT, on the need to let kids fail from time to time

Friday, June 23, 2017

David Ortiz hit .786 in walkoff situations for 1.5 years

Back in 2005 and 2006, when Ortiz came to the plate at Fenway Park with a chance to win the game, he never made an out. That is barely an exaggeration. When I compiled the data for the first version of this post (August 1, 2006), I noted that from the end of the 2004 regular season through July 2006, Ortiz came to the plate 19 times in a walkoff situation - and made only three outs. He had a .786 batting average (11-for-14) with seven home runs and 20 RBI! ...

Of course, the walkoff opportunities listed below tell only a small part of Ortiz's story. But it is a huge part of Big Papi's legend, one that led to Ortiz being dubbed, officially, by the team, as The Greatest Clutch Hitter In Red Sox History.

2003-2016
          PA   AB   H  HR  RBI BB  Walkoffs
2003       7    6   2   1   2   1     2
2004      14   13   5   3   8   1     5
2005       5    3   3   2   5   2     3
2006      10    7   5   3  10   3     5
2007       7    5   1   1   2   1     1
2008       9    5   1   0   0   3     0
2009       3    3   1   1   1   0     1
2010       6    5   1   0   3   1     1
2011       7    5   3   0   0   2     0
2012       3    2   0   0   0   1     0
2013       8    7   1   1   3   1     1
2014      14    8   1   0   0   6     0
2015       6    3   0   0   0   3     0
2016       7    7   3   0   2   0     1
TOTALS   106   79  27  12  36  25    20   (.342 batting average) 
--Allan Wood, Joy of Sox, on Mr. Clutch

Babies who never cry

The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.

I stopped and pulled on Maria’s elbow. “Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies.” Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that’s when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. ...

Little Maxim’s scream changed everything—more, I think, than did the judge’s verdict and the notarized paperwork. It was the moment, in his recognizing that he would be heard, that he went from being an orphan to being a son. It was also the moment I became a father, in fact if not in law. We both recognized that something was wrong, because suddenly, life as it had been seemed terribly disordered.
--Russell Moore, Adopted for Life, on the goodness of baby cries

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Non-stinky kimchi?

If Western consumers on a health kick can be convinced to drink yeasty, probiotic tea and tart, cultured yogurt, then why wouldn’t they be up for spicy pickled cabbage fermented with garlic for months on end?

Well, that’s the goal of South Korean scientists at the World Institute of Kimchi on Kimchi Street in Kimchi Town, on the outskirts of the southern city of Gwangju.

“We are trying to globalize kimchi,” said Ha Jae-ho, head of the institute, describing it as a “functional food.” ...

Even among kimchi-loving Koreans, many have separate kimchi fridges to stop the dish from tainting other food. If they keep it in their regular fridge, it goes into a vault-like box.

For this reason, scientists are trying to increase the good bacteria — especially the lactic acid that gives kimchi its probiotic qualities — and decrease the bad parts, namely the smell so pungent it can take days to work its way out a person’s pores. ...

In labs at the institute, scientists are working on the distinctive fumes, at least. “We’re trying to engineer the smell out of kimchi,” said Lee Mi-ae, a white-coated researcher. “But it’s difficult because the smell is linked to the flavor of the kimchi.”
--Anna Fifield, Washington Post, on creating a culinary abomination