Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday grab-bag

Someday soon, this blog will be more than Saturday grab-bags again. Really! But meanwhile: 

How a 700-page economics book surged to No. 1 on Amazon

● Ta-Nehisi Coates on Cliven Bundy: The initial post and the follow-up

● A GIF is worth a thousand words: U.S. imprisonment rates per 100,000 residents, 1978-2012.

Video of the week: I am a huge fan of the Uptown Music Collective, a nonprofit "school of rock" based in Williamsport. They held their Beatles concert a week or so, performing the albums "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Here's their "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds": 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday grab-bag

● Famines used to be unavoidable, and may become so again.

● Justice system forgets to imprison a convicted robber. He builds an exemplary life. Thirteen years later, system decides to throw him in jail after all

Uber's algorithmic monopoly. 

Video of the week: Bunch of good artists announced for the 2014 XPoNential Music Festival. Here's one (or, I guess, two) of them, Rodrigo y Gabriela: 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday grab-bag

 Millennials aren't buying cars or houses, which is kind of a good thing, but also a problem, because they drive so much of our economy. (H/T Al McD.)

 The book people need to read after they take Econ 101

 Vox's Cliffs Notes version of Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century

 Meet the man who created the Heartbleed bug. (Article notes that "a tiny team of 13 volunteers is maintaining one of the Internet's most important technologies.")

Video of the week: This Imagine/Band on the Run mashup got some exposure this week. And whaddaya know, it really does work surprisingly well. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On the stabbings at Franklin Regional High School

It's more than a little surreal when the top national news story is a student going on a stabbing rampage at the high school where you graduated.

Over the next few days we're going to find out a lot about Alex Hribal, 16, who (allegedly, though there doesn't seem to be much doubt) attacked dozens of his fellow students before being wrestled to the floor around 7:15 a.m. at Franklin Regional.

The school in the aerial videos looks a lot different than the one I graduated from back in 1984. Looks like they've put a nice new entrance on it. Not sure how many new wings there are - two, maybe three? Hard to tell it's the same school, really. I haven't been there in years.

On my class Facebook page, people were talking about what a shame it was, and how much youth culture has changed. Lots of spirit and solidarity. Lots of determination not to let one troubled kid take the meaning of our school and our happy memories away from us.

I have no idea why Hribal snapped, but I think it's a lot easier for a teenage boy to snap than it used to be. He can fall a lot faster and a lot farther down the rabbit hole, and he's a lot more dangerous when he does. If a kid is drawn to alienation and sociopathy, unlimited quantities of the stuff are just a Google search away. Parents are busy, school personnel are busy, too, and hemmed in by all sorts of rules and protocols.

Friends can turn on you if you become needy or weird in a certain kind of way, or maybe they just don't get it, whatever "it" is. A crowded high school hallway can be the loneliest place in the world.

Maybe it'll turn out that Hribal was bullied. But even if that's the case, it can't possibly be the whole story. Kids have been bullied since the dawn of time. There have to be other factors that close off hope, close off all your fellow feeling, and make you think, all right, I'll start stabbing people, that'll show 'em.

Here, by contrast, is a remarkably well-adjusted young man:

Who the heck asks a high school kid if he thinks he's a hero? "Hell, yeah, I'm the man." Ian, the student being interviewed, said the right things, but it was a dumb question. He knows he did well, and he's pleased to be on TV - look at the half-grins that slip out - but he also knows you're not supposed to pat yourself on the back, and he doesn't. Good for him. Overall, he's poised and serious.

Watch how matter-of-factly he answers the last question:
Interviewer: "Do you ever think it will happen at your school?"
Ian Griffith: "There's always a possibility. There's a possibility at any school, at any time." 
He's right, of course. But it's incredibly sad that a high school student should have to know that. In 1984, I sure as hell didn't.

Who are you going to believe?

Look, ma, no warming!
Talked with a local meteorologist at some length this week for a wrap-up news story on the 2013-14 winter. I had thought the weather was severe, but only by comparison with the past few mild winters. It turns out it was severe, period: we had the fifth-largest snowfall since record-keeping began, and the second-coldest January-March stretch.

It felt only a bit worse than average to me, but my childhood in Pittsburgh and my college years in Chicago tend to bias my reference standard.

It occurred to me that if I were a climate change skeptic, I would view this past winter as a great talking point. "Ha! Global warming, you say? Tell me another one! It's getting so hot that Lancaster County had its second-coldest winter in more than a century."

But that's nonsense, of course. For one thing, plenty of other places were hot this winter; Lancaster County is not the linchpin of the world, whatever some of its citizens may think.

Also, as climate scientists never tire of pointing out, the signal of climate change is very small compared to the noise of short-term temperature variation. If the world warms six degrees over the next century, that works out to ... hang on, "difficult" math here ... six hundredths of a degree a year. One winter can easily be six or seven degrees colder (or warmer) than average, as 2013-14 in fact was. You're not going to see a couple hundredths of a degree in there.

There's that old joke about the woman who finds her lover, who has been proclaiming his fidelity, in bed with her rival. As she pulls out a gun to take revenge, he exclaims, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" On climate change in particular, but on some other contentious cultural issues, too (evolution comes to mind), the guy has a point. What the average person sees is just a small sliver of a vastly larger data set. If you take that small sliver as dispositive, you're going to be badly misled.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday grab-bag

 Justice Roberts hearts billionaires (the McCutcheon decision) 
 Ray Laraja thinks McCutcheon may not be so bad after all. (I dunno; when your argument depends on political parties being the transmission vehicles for responsiveness and moderation, I think you have problems.) 
 McCutcheon himself. 

Video of the week: Saw this movie this week. It's good.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Fantastic Four

Bill Gates is the guy on the right.
In the Atlantic, Derek Thompson decomposes the 1 percent, and discovers that the 1 percent have their own 1 percent. The vast majority of our economic gains over the past generation have gone, not the 1 percent, but the 0.01 percent, the folks at the apex of the apex.
While nine-tenths of the top percentile hasn't seen much change at all since 1960, the 0.01 percent has essentially quadrupled its share of the country's wealth in half a century.
Thompson concludes by identifying the most elite group of all - a group so rich there are just four of them.
The 0.1 percent isn't the same group of people every year. There's considerable churn at the tippy-top. For example, consider the "Fortunate 400," the IRS's annual list of the 400 richest tax returns in the country. Between 1992 and 2008, 3,672 different taxpayers appeared on the Fortunate 400 list. Just one percent of the Fortunate 400—four households—appeared on the list all 17 years.
So who are the Fantastic Four? Two of them are undoubtedly Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. I'm guessing the third is a Walton (Walmart) and maybe the fourth is, too, but I'm not sure. Any thoughts?