In a long piece, the New York Times looks at Michigan’s efforts to persuade Hollywood to make films there through enormous subsidies. It didn’t fail—worse, it succeeded. The state lost money hand over fist in the process. Paying businesses to relocate to your state or city is a huge waste, 99% of the time. →
A bridge on a major road outside of Charlottesville had to be replaced, shutting down that road for weeks. VDOT offered an incentive to finish ahead of schedule, and the full-time employees of that contractor worked their asses off to make that happen. They’ll wrap up tomorrow, way ahead of schedule. Their reward? They’re getting laid off, effective immediately. The contractor? They get a $100,000 bonus. Clearly, the most rational course of action for employees of highway contractors is to work slowly and inefficiently. That’s a lesson that some of them appear to have learned long ago. →
Pennsylvania is in love with fracking, and they don’t care who knows it. Their legislature passed a bill last month that makes it a secret what awful chemicals that energy companies are injecting into the ground in order to extract natural gas. It’s such a secret, in fact, that if somebody is poisoned by some of these concoctions, he’s not allowed to be told what substance, exactly, has brought him to death’s doorstep. His doctor must sign a confidentiality agreement in order to even know what the poison is, and he’s prohibited from telling the patient what chemical he’s been poisoned with. This is part of a strange new trend that holds that the rights of corporations are more important than the rights of humans. If a corporation is offended by birth control, it gets to prohibit their employees from using it. If a corporation poisons somebody, it gets to prohibit that person from knowing what they’ve been poisoned with. It’s all about protecting people’s freedoms, dontchaknow? →
The Associated Press analyzed 36 years of gasoline prices and domestic oil production and found absolutely no correlation. Increases in domestic production (it’s up 15% from three years ago) do not result in decreases in price. Based on this model, if we increased domestic oil production by 50%, best-case we’d see a 10% reduction in gas prices. If there was a correlation, then a gallon of gas would cost $2/gallon right now. But that’s life in a global market. We can drill all we want in the U.S., but producers are going to sell oil where it’s most profitable to do so, and charge as much as they can. →
They knowingly, deliberately put an insecticide in their bird seed that would kill birds, and then covered it up from the government by faking documentation. →
In January, the always-excellent “This American Life” had a really stunning episode turned over almost entirely to an excerpt of a monologue by Mike Daisey, about working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese company that manufactures products for Apple, among other companies. Daisey actually went to China, to the factory, and interviewed people about what it was like to work for Foxconn. What he learned was really bad—it made both Apple and Foxconn look just awful. Marketplace’s China correspondent found that the story just didn’t jibe with his own knowledge, so he investigated Daisey’s reporting, tracking down Daisey’s interpreter. It turns out Daisey lied. A lot. About crucial facts. Daisey’s defense? “It’s not journalism, it’s theater.” Lame. →
I’ve never been thrilled with the Dow as an indicator of the health of the economy (just thirty companies are factored in, using some pretty crude calculations), but Adam Nash has done the math on one facet of why it’s lousy. Famously, in 2009, Dow Jones dropped GM, and added Cisco to the DJIA instead of Apple. According to Nash (I’m not smart enough to be able to duplicate his math, so I’m trusting him here), if that decision had gone the other way, on Monday the DJIA would have closed at $14,926 instead of $12,874. That’s more than a $2,000 difference. →
- New York Times: Nearly a Third of Americans Are Arrested by 23, Study Says
30.2% of us have been arrested for something more serious than a minor traffic violation. (I say "us," but I haven't been arrested.) As Sen. Webb points out, either Americans are the most evil people on the planet, or something is fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system.
- AP: Tennessee home burns as firefighters watch
When a couple in rural Tennessee found their home on fire, they called 911 and got out. When the firefighters arrived, they stood and watched as the home burned to the ground. The couple couldn't afford the annual $75 firefighting subscription fee that the county charges, so the responding crew wasn't allowed to so much as turn on a hose.
- Maciej Cegłowski: Don’t Be A Free User
The developer of Pinboard explains the importance of relying on businesses that have a business model that involves actually making money. Comes with a handy chart. When I grow up, I want to be Maciej Cegłowski.
- New York Times: Who’s on the Line? Increasingly, Caller ID Is Duped
Telemarketers are faking Caller ID information with apparent impunity, so that people believe that the IRS or the FBI is calling. (Just like spam!) The FTC has just filed their first complaint against a company for doing that. The FCC wouldn't comment as to what they're doing about it.
- Wikipedia: List of nicknames of United States presidents
John Tyler, Rutherford B. Hayes, Warren G. Harding, and Richard Nixon are the only former U.S. presidents who did not have a (non-derisory) nickname as president. ("Tricky Dick," for instance, doesn't make the cut.) President Obama does not yet have a nickname and, given how unusual his name is, I suspect he won't get one. The heyday of nicknames was the early 20th century, when a few popular given names reigned supreme—when three friends are all named "Michael," nicknaming is inevitable. The most popular names today are far less common than a century ago, making nicknames linguistically unnecessary.
- The Atlantic: What If the Law Required Campaign Contributions to Be Kept Secret?
If the process of collecting, tallying, and refunding campaign contributions was turned over to a blind trust, the effect on politics could be quite positive. Lawrence Lessig argues that it would become implausible to buy influence.
- Harvard Business Review: Put Your Best People On Your Most Boring Challenges
I agree completely with this suggestion that the exciting work shouldn't be saved for enthusiastic, capable employees. The most interesting, important, effective work that I've done professionally was working on tasks or projects that were considered boring. This summer the FDA asked me to advise on how to improve the efficiency of the process by which they approve breakthrough medical technologies. I declined, and instead spent some time advising them on how to overhaul the process by which everything *else*—all the boring stuff—gets approved. Why? Because those were the changes would have the most impact—turning something slow and mediocre into something efficient and extraordinary. They were a little baffled by my interest, but wound up being excited by my proposed changes. I hope they implement some of them.
- New York Times: Homework and Jacuzzis as Dorms Move to McMansions in California
Suburbia is famously unable to be modified to suit changing use patterns. While an urban block can be refurbished cyclically (factory becomes loft apartments becomes attorneys' offices becomes factory), a McMansion can't be divided up into apartments and is rather unlikely to become an office. But college kids have figured out that they can split up the enormous houses among a half-dozen roommates, living well for $250/month. The neighbors, having believed they were buying into a homogeneous community of middle-class, middle-aged people, are apparently less than thrilled.
- Daily Progress: UVa replaces weapons policy
Ken Cuccinelli published a July opinion that held that university weapon bans couldn't be policies, but had to be regulations, and thus UVA couldn't ban guns. As best as I can tell, a "policy" is a rule created by the university, but a "regulation" is one that's created by the board of visitors and published in the Virginia Register. So UVA has turned their policy into a regulation, and will publish it in the Virginia Register. Problem solved.
- Rotten Tomatoes: Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler's new movie has a 2% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is summarized as such: "Although it features an inexplicably committed performance from Al Pacino, Jack and Jill is impossible to recommend on any level whatsoever."
From Rep. Robert Hurt’s e-mail newsletter today:
Last week I also visited with the owner of an auto repair shop in Appomattox. He told me that he first started his business back in 1987. Back then, he was able to get his business up and running in one day. One day was all it took for him to obtain all of the required permits and licenses and pay all of the required taxes and fees. After running his shop for a number of years, he then moved on to another job. Then, just recently in 2011, he decided he wanted to reopen his shop and found that instead of taking one day to wade through the regulatory red tape, this year it took him five months.
- Bloomberg: Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales
The Koch Brothers have secretly, criminally sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, an enemy of the United States with whom it is unquestionably illegal to do business. This is no aberration for these bastards—they're out for a buck, and they don't care how they get it.
- Commonwealth Data Point: Expenditures by Agency
Wondering what the state spends its money on? Here's the state's checkbook, by agency, so read to your heart's content. A warning: good luck with the weird menu system. Somebody apparently thought that rather than menu items, it would be fun to just give people a single letter to try to decipher. O? F? S? P? I don't get it.
- MSNBC: Bachmann condemns Arab Spring, blames it on Obama
If stupid were bricks, she'd have a lot of bricks.
- FlowingData: Watch the Growth of Walmart and Sam’s Club Across America
This is an interesting visualization, but the data that it shows is no less interesting.
- Slate Magazine: Rick Perry’s Christian Israel policy is a gift to Islamic extremists
Quoth Rick Perry: "Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel." You want to know "why the terrorists hate us"? This is why. Our country has spent years cautiously handling Israel and its neighbors in terms of international relations. It's breathtakingly reckless to cast this as a religious matter. That'll make the difference between diplomacy and a holy war.
- The Washington Post: Survey finds significant drop in uninsured young adults
One million young adults have gotten health insurance thanks to the president's health care overhaul, which allows parents to include adult children on their health care insurance until the age of 26. I know a few myself. This is the only major group yet impacted at this early phase of healthcare reform, but it's clear that it's been a great benefit to them.
- ThinkProgress: The Conservative Recovery Teeters Into Recession
17,000 new jobs were created by the private sector last month. 17,000 jobs were eliminated by the public sector last month. Bummed by last month's flatlining of job growth? Thank a congressman.
- New York Times: Rep. Shelley Berkley’s Cause Is Often Her Husband’s Gain
She's a strong supporter of (admittedly much-needed) better funding of kidney-care facilities. He's making a fortune on it as a nephrologist. If you ask her, it's just the darnedest coincidence. If you ask an ethicist, it's just plain wrong.
- List of Virginia Caves
The most extensive cave system in Virginia is Butler-Sinking Creek, in Bath County, at seventeen miles of total passages. The deepest is 786 feet—that's measured from the highest point to the lowest point—at Burns Cave, in Highland County. That's more than half again as deep as Virginia's tallest building is tall, the 38-story Westin Virginia Beach Town Center
- Wall Street Journal: Waffle House Index Measures Hurricane Recovery
Their approach to disaster recovery is impressive. People have to eat, Waffle House wants to make money—everybody wins.
- Wikipedia: Bunyip
There's a widespread Australian Aboriginal belief in the "bunyip," a terrifying, water-dwelling mythological creature. It's theorized that these stories arose from occasional discoveries of fossilized bones from any of the many enormous prehistoric marsupials that could be found wandering around Australia until about 40,000 years ago.
- New York Times: Where Pay for Chief Executives Tops the Company Tax Burden
A study of the Fortune 100 has found that at least 25 of them paid their CEO more last year than they paid in federal taxes. eBay, Boeing, GE, and Verizon all made the list. This makes it rather difficult to takes seriously claims of excessive taxation of major U.S. businesses.
- New York Times: Nutrition Label Gets a Design Overhaul
Some of the ideas to overhaul food nutrition labels are pretty clever.
- New York Times: After Aiding Republicans, Business Groups Press Them on Debt Ceiling
The Chamber of Commerce threw the full weight of their support behind getting Democrats replaced by Republicans in last year's congressional election. Now those very Republican Congressmen are refusing to raise the debt ceiling—or support anything that Democrats or the president would agree to—and that's making the chamber crazy. (Businesses know it's essential to raise the debt ceiling.) The chamber has nobody to blame but themselves.
- The Brads: This is Why Your Newspaper is Dying
Nine examples of obvious mistakes that nearly every newspaper is making online. And, no, "paywalls" are not on the list.
- Discovery Channel: Mike Rowe Senate Testimony
The host of "Dirty Jobs" provided an important argument to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about why our education system needs to emphasize skilled trades. College is not for everybody. Way too many kids are going to college—it doesn't make economic sense, for them or for our society. More kids need to learn skilled trades.
- Wikipedia: Benford’s law
Numbers are not evenly distributed. Not theoretical numbers, but the real numbers that describe the world around us: stream flow rates, bank account numbers, atomic weights, street addresses, etc. Numbers start with 1 about 30% of the time. (e.g. 11, 103, 1539) They start with 2 about 18% of the time, 3 about 12%, and so on, until 9, which leads of numbers 4.6% of the time. This is described by Benford's law, which has become useful for forensic analysis of any numbers (such as accounting data), to see if it's real, or somebody has just made the numbers up. The less the adherence to Benford's law, the greater the cause for suspicion.
- New York Times: Wealthy Donors to G.O.P. Are Providing Bulk of Money in Gay Marriage Push
The push to legalize gay marriage in New York is being bankrolled by Republicans. You might need to re-read that sentence to comprehend that—a double take is a reasonable response. Although some Democrats may regard this as bad news—we've basically got a lock on the gay vote—I think it's great news. My gay conservative friends will surely welcome it. This shouldn't be a partisan issue, and I hope this is a sign that transformation is in progress.
- New York Times: Vitaly Borker of DecorMyEyes Pleads Guilty
You'll remember this jackass as the guy who ran a series of scam businesses, physically threatened anybody who complained, and bragged to the Times that he loved web-based complaints because they helped his Google ranking. He received the Google death penalty a few days later, he was arrested within a week or so, and was held in jail until last month. The guy's out on a $1M bond, barred from the internet and with a guard at his door.
- Reuters: Pornography found in bin Laden hideout
Oh, this is going to be good.
- Wikipedia: Paraprosdokian
A figure of speech where the end of the sentence causes the reader to reevaluate the beginning of the sentence is known as a "paraprosdokian." Examples include "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it" (Groucho Marx), "if all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised" (Dorothy Parker), and "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long" (Mitch Hedberg).
- NPR: Florida Bill Could Muzzle Doctors On Gun Safety
An NRA-written bill has passed the Florida legislature, and is likely to be signed by the governor, that will make it illegal for doctors to advise patients on gun safety. (Pediatricians frequently advise new parents on how to store firearms safely, and doctors concerned about teenagers' mental health want to make sure they're not a danger to themselves or others.) Every time I think about joining the NRA, they remind me that they are wretched human beings.
- Boing Boing: Portable Pepper Mill
I like Boing Boing a lot, I really do. I tire of Cory Doctorow writing about Cory Doctorow—nearly everything he writes—and I even subscribe via a Yahoo Pipe that removes anything containing the word "steampunk," but easily 10% of the posts are pure gold. But their "Cool Tools" section has gotten totally ridiculous. Exhibit A is this post, where the unnamed author says that she would "never go anywhere without [her] portable pepper mill," and then pimps the Vic Firth Pump and Grind Pepper Mill, complete with Amazon referral link. Which raises such questions as a) She really doesn't go to many places, does she? b) Aren't all pepper mills portable? and c) When did she become such an asshole?
- The Guardian: Osama bin Laden death—The conspiracy theories
Here's what the crazies think. A Fox News anchor says that Obama is lying about Bin Laden's death to get reelected. Glenn Beck says Bin Laden is alive, as a captive, being interrogated about where he's hiding his secret nuclear bomb. Conservative radio host Alex Jones says that Bin Laden was killed nine years ago, but was kept frozen until such as time as it would be convenient to claim that he'd just been killed.
- Bacon’s Rebellion: Why, Bob, Why?
Peter Galuszka contrasts Bob McDonnell's cutting $0.4M in funding for public broadcasting from the state budget and giving $3.5M to Steven Spielberg to make a movie. Not only is cutting funding for public broadcasting an economically unsound decision (that's how schools get some of their educational materials, which they'll now have to pay for to get from elsewhere), but giving 775% more to a private film production company a few days later is deeply hypocritical.
- Snopes: Obama Lends $2 Billion to Brazilian Oil Company
Heard the one about how the President Obama is spending billions on offshore drilling…in Brazil? Snopes rates it “mostly false.” This is another case of conservatives getting riled up about something that's not true and dates from President Bush's time in the White House.
- ThinkProgress: Exxon Makes $30.5 Billion, So GOP Votes Unanimously To Give Them Tax Breaks
All the Republicans and 7 Democrats in the House voted to block a bill that would cut $1.8B in annual subsidies to the oil industry. Republicans voted unanimously to keep them in March, too. Remember, kids: welfare is bad, unless it's going to the world's most profitable industry.
- NASA: Results of Epic Space-Time Experiment
I love theoretical physics. Albert Einstein came up with all of these ideas about how space and time should work, based solely on doing math on paper, and as science catches up with him, we keep finding that he's right. In this case, Einstein forecast that mass should curve spacetime. For instance, the mass of Earth should cause the very fabric of the universe to twist and warp around it. By launching some gyroscopes into space seven years ago—containing the most perfect spheres ever made—and observing how their spin drifts, it was observed that Einstein's calculations were spot-on. NASA's work on the project began 47 years ago, culminating in this magnificent confirmation of how the universe works.