By way of his selection of a Featured Image on this otherwise worthy post, Tod has more or less assured that I will not be going to the Front Page of Ordinary Times today until five more featured posts are put up.


Category: Server Room

bearsBritain’s Labour Party wants to do away with “non-dom” status, which is essentially preferential tax treatment for people whose primary allegiance is to another country.

As elections in the UK approach, Ben Lauderdale gives a quick primer on UK’s political history.

Russell Saunders says he “probably” won’t #StandWithPaul, but this sounds like an endorsement to me! (Not really.)

Louis Jordan was lost at sea for over two months, and allegedly survived. Experts say it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Should small theaters in Los Angeles have to pay union wages?

Sadly, Canada appears to be undermining its own census process. Even more than we did, it looks like.

“A Louisiana man on trial for murder has claimed that he thought the victim was an alligator.” // I think Florida Man needs to step up his game.

Ron Hira and Hal Salzman argue that the H1-B visa debates aren’t really about immigration. They’re about jobs, and people being laid off to make room for immigrants taking the jobs that Americans can’t and won’t do.

A Pennsylvania phony posing as a lawyer made partner and was president of the county bar.

I think there is some truth to this article about Gamergate ultimately being about a sort of cultural colonialism. I saw some of this when anime started to gain cultural traction. A non-trivial number of die-hards responded very unfavorably to the prospect of something not being “theirs” anymore.


Category: Newsroom

BreakingBad

I’ve never been big on the prospect of “unbundling” as I’ve long believed (and still believe) that the savings (including for non-sports fans) are often over-stated or non-existent. And… even if it does save money? Even that might not be such a great thing, depending on your perspective. Along those lines, even though I believe that cord-cutting will save money, the amount there too is overstated and could come at tremendous costs

Megan McArdle wrote a couple of pieces:

The first is on Viacom’s $785 million write-down, more than half of which was due to the falling value of reruns like “CSI,” “Community” and “30 Rock.” With advertising soft and people shifting away from cable, filling screens with a continuous loop of episodic dramas is no longer as lucrative as it once was.

This has a lot of implications: The value of those sorts of shows may fall, and if you are, like me, more of a fan of original programming that has longer story arcs, you may hope that this means more of the stuff you like and fewer police procedurals. (I still like me a good “Law and Order” marathon.) As well it may. But those cheap reruns also keep networks going during the day, when it doesn’t pay to run original content — and losing the revenue from cable syndication may mean producers demand more money to sell the rights to Netflix. In the long run, that could mean your Netflix subscription costs more.

As I say in conversations about piracy, one way or another, content-producers need to get paid. Television and film are not like music, where a relatively small fraction of the money made goes into production costs. And while high actor salaries play a role (and those could theoretically be cut with minimal loss of production value), there is reason to fear that if it does save of money, it will come at the cost of The End of the Golden Age of Television:

It has been the worst year in recent memory for cable networks, with MSNBC, the History channel, Bravo, BET, USA Network and Comedy Central all seeing double-digit declines in audience this year. In March, cable ratings were down about 10 percent from the previous year. With new streaming services stealing away viewers, cable TV has been hit with a Darwinian shake-out where only the most popular networks, such as HBO and ESPN, are able to find paying customers.

Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.

The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan.

A retraction of television shows, if it occurs, could be the worst of multiple worlds.

It used to be, back in the day, that there were only three major networks. Then four, followed by various attempts of varying degrees of success, but it was mostly the big three and Fox. Before cable (and even for a while after cable came around), everybody was watching those shows and so there was a cultural quality to it. The end of MASH being the quintessential example, along with Who Killed Laura Palmer and Who Shot JR, and more recently the end of Cheers and Seinfeld. Since then, the fragmentation of television audiences and the DVR have cost us some of that. But even if the number of shows goes down, we’re not going to get it back. Partly because we will still have DVR and binge-watching with us. But also because what we watch is likely to become much more constrained. You might have CBS’s service at the moment, while Bob from Accounting is watching stuff on Netflix. There would be no central clearinghouse like cable and satellite. And at the same time, it wouldn’t completely be unbundled anyway. It’s just that instead of CBS selling x-number of channels of varying value to Comcast, they’ll be selling the same number of channels directly to consumers (If you want Comedy Central, you also buy Country Music Television).

Or maybe they will find a way! There seems to be a psychological need to develop original content. A potentially glorious irrationality. I’m not even convinced that they have to really make money doing it. In the content business, nobody wants to be stagnant, and original content seems like a likely extension of that. Or alternately, we will see a proliferation of good but not quite so expensive productions. Or some combination of the two. That’s what I’m hoping on, anyway.


Category: Theater

Mikhail Zinshteyn has a piece on 538 about the failures of the SAT to predict college success:

The College Board argues that college readiness can be measured by how well a student scores on the SAT, one of the many standardized tests it produces. A student who earns a 1550 on the SAT out of a possible 2400, the College Board says, has a 65 percent chance of achieving a B- average in her first year of college. Students who clear this threshold graduate from college after six years 69 percent of time, while those who score below 1550 graduate in six years just 45 percent of the time, according to the College Board. In 2014, more than half of SAT test-takers earned scores lower than 1550, a sign to the College Board that they’re unlikely to be college-ready. {…}

In the study, Hiss and his co-author broke down the high school transcripts and college performances of 123,000 students in 33 colleges and universities of various sizes and statures that did not require test scores as part of the admissions process. The authors compared students who did submit ACT or SAT scores to those who did not, granting the institutions anonymity in exchange for access to student admissions data.

Overall, students who didn’t submit their ACT or SAT scores posted high school GPAs that were similar to students who did. The report also found that among the accepted students, those with strong GPAs in high school performed reasonably well in college, while students with relatively strong ACT or SAT scores but lower high school GPAs finished with slightly lower college GPAs and graduated less frequently.

Interesting stuff. Using the SAT (or ACT or any standardized test) on its own does seem insufficient. It is nonetheless the standard we often use when comparing schools. But is it really used, to the exclusion of other factors like GPA, to determine collegiate readiness and admissions? I’d agree that where this happens it is a mistake. But I usually see some combination of test scores plus GPA plus class rank. The only question is how we’re allocating the percentages. Hiss wants to see us use the SAT mostly as a compliment, given that different schools have different GPA metrics.

That last part seems important to me, though. To the extent that we start using GPA more, the measure will taint itself. From Unfogged:

Admissions director: who do you want to send the letters out to?
Me: Everyone with at least a 3.5 GPA is eligible.
Him: That’s 90% of our applicants.
Me: What! How?!
Him: grade inflation. Some of the richest schools in Dallas and Houston will have their entire student body with GPAs upwards of 3.2.
Me: How are colleges supposed to make sense of that?
Him: First, we recalculate their GPAs and throw out all the non-academic courses. But probably 80% of our applicants are still going to be over a 3.5, recalculated. What we do is know the high schools individually, and you don’t compare individuals from different types of high schools. A 3.5 from [poor school in San Antonio] means something different than a 3.5 from [rich school in Dallas]. So you have to understand each school.

If this is already a problem in Texas, it seems likely to spread exponentially as teachers and schools realize they can get more kids into college with a more generous grading system. Which is far, far easier than a school teaching to or otherwise gaming a test. So the more you rely on it, the less reliable it becomes.

When I am comparing schools, the two metrics I look at are (a) Standardized tests scores (both the ACT and SAT) and (b) class ranking. I sort of assume that the grade inflation Heebie Geebie refers to is pretty universal (though if Hiss’s study is any indication, maybe I am overestimating it). Of course, class ranking is also fraught with danger. All schools aren’t created equal. I went to a particularly good school, so my class rank was relatively low (I missed the top quarter, barely making the top third, with a 3.6 GPA). The state schools back home rely heavily on class ranking, and this limited my options. (While schools in other states, aware of how competitive my school is, were talking scholarship.)

My wife’s high school, which was specifically geared towards the gifted and talented, refused to even provide a class ranking. Which was no matter, as she could have gotten into almost any school in the country and chose an out-of-state flagship school largely because it was a full ride scholarship.

Unlike GPA, you can’t fudge class ranking easily, but it has those holes.

The 69%/45% difference in the SAT doesn’t breed confidence, however. It suggests either that the false negatives are indeed high, or our universities (and/or support system) is dramatically failing almost a third of high-scorers (and perhaps some of the lower-scorers as well). Alternately, the high SAT score could be indicative of going into more competitive, higher-fail-rate schools? It’s really hard to say.

My own view (and I’m completely spitballing here) is that if push came to shove, you could probably get around 1/2 to 2/3 of young people to graduate, under ideal circumstances. The “ideal circumstances” does a lot of heavy lifting there, however. And I question the extent to which the added value matches or exceeds the cost of providing both the education and the ideal circumstances most conducive to graduation. This is one of the reasons why the cost of educating people in college (whether born by the student, the student’s family, or the state) is so important. The higher the cost, the more justification is required to send people to college.

Which always, always, always brings us back to the question that those of us who believe “Universal education isn’t the answer” have difficulty confronting. How do you decide? Every metric we have is flawed. Which brings us back to the cost of education, because with every increase, the consequences are that much greater.


Category: School

BpxraEDIAAANFRDPeter Orszag signs on to the Georgist land tax.

This is a great story. Men suck. Women are awesome.

Here’s a good interview on the aftermath of a (justified) cop shooting, and the toll it took on the shooter.

Kevin Carey argues in favor of a national university, making heavy use of technology as a way to address runaway costs. This idea might sound familiar to you. The George Washington angle is great.

Sweet: Turning a silo into the ultimate treefort.

A peek inside the birth tourism industry. In the greater scheme of things, this sort of thing isn’t likely to involve the kind of numbers to have an effect.

Finding a lost city in Mesoamerica.

Here’s a list of the 20 quirkiest cities in the US. Austin, New Orleans, and Portland taking the first three spots doesn’t surprise me… but Kansas City’s presence on the list (#8) does!

When politics and humor intersect, this cartoon seems to be the inevitable result.

Raising the minimum wage has some expected (though eminently logical) new supporters. Will they fill the void in Seattle?

Mother Jones actually has some nice words to say about the Washington Free Beacon. The WFB is… odd. Good news stories juxtaposed against obvious photoshopped images of birds combusting mid-flight due to solar panels. But it works, and it’s one of comparatively few conservative sites I read with devotion.

An Indian-American friend of mine argues that one of the main reasons that India never became a manufacturing hub the way that China did is because graft made it impossible. American-expat-in-China Matthew Stinson tweets of this New York Times article, that graft in China is so ubiquitous that it tends to go unnoticed.


Category: Newsroom

DCF 1.0

The discussion of Indiana, RFRA, and anti-discrimination law and mandatory provision law (think contraception) brings up an argument I often hear: You might be able to let urban locations discriminate, but in more rural parts, you might run in to situations where they are the only X in town and the next one is two hours away!

This… is the case a lot less frequently than you think. And applies to remarkably few people. Sufficiently few that, on its own, it’s not really a compelling argument for national or even statewide policy.

I have lived and spent time in some pretty rural places. One of the things that surprised me is that even in pretty small towns, there are often more than one of just about everything. Callie, Arapaho, has between 4,000 and 5,000 people in it. If we take the county, and even include the neighboring county, you’re still in the very low five digits with a population density of between 1 and 2 people per square mile. Callie has four auto repair shops three pharmacies, three auto mechanics, two coffee shops (more than two, really), two medical clinics, two barber shops, two veterinarians, and two grocery stores, and two towing services. There were ones of some things, and there were none of a lot more.

This is not to say that there aren’t any one-pharmacy towns. But they’re hard to find. First of all, because the cut-off to being able to support two pharmacies seems to be somewhere in the four digits, that includes a whole lot of people we consider to be Rural Americans. Even relatively poor counties often have more than one, or go back and forth between one and two indicating a danger in taking the community for granted.

I blame television.

In the Andy Griffith show, Mayberry had one of just about everything. There seemed to be one of a lot of things in Twin Peaks, too (which technically had 50,000, but only because the studio made them change it from 5,000… trust me, it was a 5,000 town). But that’s a casting decision. Keeps things simple.

Now, there is the phenomenon of places in small towns closing. So a county that has two may go down to one. But… a town with only one may go down to none.

The towns to the east, in the neighboring county, was a single-pharmacy town. But it closed, right about the time that the third pharmacy in Callie opened up. Which is often how it goes. Even within small towns, there is a degree of consolidation. A place in some outlying small town goes out of business in favor of something in the county seat. That sort of thing.

Which brings me to the next thing, which is that as daunting “driving 60 miles to the next-nearest [X] seems”… it’s also a fact of life when you live in the middle of nowhere. My wife and I would drive five hours to get to the airport. To some extent, that’s part of the decision you make when you live in rural America. It would definitely suck if the only pharmacy in town didn’t do contraception, but others live in towns without a single pharmacy. More do, I suspect, though for them “the nearest pharmacy” is likely to be located next to another pharmacy or two. And a store where you need to run errands anyway.

In the case of contraception, I would add, even in some rinky-dink conservative town, a pharmacy that refused to sell one of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market would have serious problems. If you’re operating out in the middle of nowhere, I’m not sure how much business you can afford to turn away. especially when you’re not just turning away the business for those particular drugs, but often the families of people who need it because they’ll just pick up their other prescriptions when they go to the county seat or the next county’s county seat.

It is trickier with anti-discrimination legislation, but the scenarios I see people concoct sometimes contradict my experience. The things I would most worry about being gay or a minority in ruralia isn’t that “the only barbershop in town won’t cut my hair” but “some employers won’tl hire me and I’m having trouble getting a lease.” My concern for the latter (two) is why I am sympathetic to anti-discrimination legislation, though it has less to do with places where there is the only X in town, and more to do with cultural contagion that spreads to some larger places to, as well as with the fact that job markets and housing markets can be awfully tight – even in larger towns and cities – and a single rejection can have significant consequences.


Category: Market, Statehouse

HonestyMormons and LGBT advocates in Utah came up with a compromise often heralded as what can be achieved by working together. Libertarian-minded conservative and gay rights advocate Walter Olson doesn’t like it. Also, Olson talks about how corporations became liberal culture warriors.

Rand Paul’s presidential announcement was taken offline due to YouTube’s copyright system.

As California tries to figure out its water problem, Alissa Walker argues that people should back off the almond-hate. Justin Fox says like hell!

Rebecca Nelson writes of The Secret Republicans of Silicon Valley. I can’t speak of Silicon Valley, but I will say that there was no place I kept a tighter lid on my heterodoxical beliefs than when I was in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone in Deseret assumed – for the most part – that I was a radical liberal. But that was okay, because I was not as alone as a radical liberal in Deseret as I would have been a conservative where I was working. (The team leader adjacent to us was a Paulite. He was treated more as a gadfly than a villain, though, so there’s that.)

If the GOP can ever become competitive in urban politics, their coalition will likely need to involve Asian-Americans.

After Rolling Stone has announced that it will not fire anybody involved with the atrociously bad Rape on Campus story, you might wonder what it takes to get fired from Rolling Stone. The answer? Giving Hootie and the Blowfish a negative review.

Who knows college basketball? Mitt Romney knows college basketball.

As the city of Houston tries to figure out what to do with the Astrodome, here are some pictures of people who broke in. Yesterday they actually allowed people in for a tour.

Katie Kilkenny thinks that Twin Peaks without David Lynch may not be so bad. Two thoughts: First, stop calling everything a “reboot” as this is a continuation, not a reboot. Second, I suspect this will die a quiet death.

A man in Texas was thrown in jail for failing to mow his lawn.


Category: Newsroom

A creepy black and white video of the Teletubbies has gone viral:

Stone Temple Pilot already touched on telecreepies in the music video for Sour Girl:

My wife hates that music video because she says it makes the lead singer look like he masturbates to pictures of himself. I don’t disagree with that particular assessment, but I kinda like it anyway, even if the teletubby knockoffs kinda creep me out.


Category: Theater

Forty-eight down, two to go:

When President Barack Obama speaks at Hill Air Force Base in Utah on Friday, he’ll have traveled to 49 states as president, nearly reaching his goal of stopping in every single one during his eight years in office.

After this week, South Dakota will remain the only state unvisited by the commander in chief, though Obama’s aides say he’s gunning to reach all 50 by the end of his term. {…}

South Dakota, though not on Obama’s presidential itinerary, did play an important role getting him to the White House. It was after the state’s primary in 2008 that Obama officially clinched the Democratic nomination; while Hillary Clinton won South Dakota, the number of delegates Obama took from his second-place finish put him over the nomination threshold.{…}

His most recent predecessors have all strived to hit the 50-state mark. George H.W. Bush reached all the states in his term. Clinton took longer but eventually reached every one.

George W. Bush left office one state short of 50; he never traveled to Vermont, the liberal bastion of upper New England where state legislators, outraged at the Iraq War, voted to impeach him and Vice President Dick Cheney.

It turns out Obama faces a similar audience in the final state on his checklist. The South Dakota Republican Party adopted a resolution last summer calling for Obama’s ouster.

Well, at least it’s the party and not the state senate! And South Dakota does have that important role in his history. Plus two of his most important early supporters (Daschle and a big-time donor) hail from the state!

I’m actually a little surprised at the two remaining. I definitely wouldn’t have guessed Utah would be 49, and wouldn’t have even pegged SD as the one that may get left off. I would have guessed Idaho and Montana. The major population centers North and South Dakota are on the east coast, and sufficiently close to Iowa, that I might have thought he’d have stopped by then. I would have guessed Idaho and maybe Montana as the two missing states, or maybe Alaska. He visited Idaho just a couple months ago.

It turns out there is a long history of presidents going to the Gem State, including every president from LBJ onward. The most salacious one is rumored to be Grover Cleveland:

Numerous reports from North Idaho say Grover Cleveland, a Democrat who served as president in 1885-1889 and 1893-1897, visited Idaho frequently to visit a mistress. The woman, identified as Frieda Bethmann, lived in a home purportedly purchased by Cleveland near Kamiah.

They had an illegitimate son, according to rumors published in the Lewiston Tribune in a 1990 story by Diane Pettit. Other reports had him taking the railroad to Pomeroy, Wash., where he was one of two presidents to sign the register of the St. George Hotel, now known as the Revere.

Bill Clinton apparently went to Idaho several times. Not for the same reason. As far as we know.


Category: Elsewhere

So this has been making the rounds…

I got an email today entitled “Greetings from Uganda” from a mildly foreign name that I didn’t recognize. I ignored it for a while. Then I opened it and realized that it wasn’t actually spam from an exiled prince who wanted to offer me a great deal of money in exchange for use of my bank account. It was from my sister-in-law’s boyfriend, who I forgot is currently in Africa. (It was to the entire family.) I forgot his last name, and didn’t know how his first name was spelled.

ADDENDUM: Relatedly, here’s the same group presenting conference calls.


Category: Elsewhere

Queenland

Greetings from Stonebridge a fictitious city in a fictitious state located in a tri-state area in the interior Mid-Atlantic region. We're in western Queenland, which is really a state unto itself, and not to be confused with Queensland in Australia.

Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.


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