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."