Try not to work for a high school…


“Phillips Exeter Deans Failed to Report Sex Assault Case, Police Said” (nytimes)

The case began more than two years ago, when two female seniors, aged 17 and 18, told the deans that a male classmate had groped them against their will, in separate incidents in the basement of the church on the campus in Exeter, N.H.

In a detailed report by the state police that was obtained by The New York Times, an investigator with the major crime unit wrote, “I determined that there was probable cause to believe that” the two deans committed a misdemeanor by not reporting the accusation by the 17-year-old, who was covered by the state’s mandatory reporting law.

What actually happened to the 17- and 18-year-old victims?

The younger accuser said that days before she went to the deans, a popular male senior texted her that it was his 18th birthday, and asked her to meet him in the church basement, a quiet place where students sometimes studied, and which he was assigned to monitor. There, she said, he touched her buttocks and breasts and kissed her, even as she repeatedly told him not to, until she left.

The other accuser recounted a similar incident in the same place with the same male student, who she said put his hands under her shirt and touched her breasts, prompting her to leave.

Several months later, the girl felt unsafe with the male student still on campus, and showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, her faculty adviser told investigators.

[The journalists at the New York Times express no skepticism that teenagers are studying in a church basement rather than in their dorms. They don’t say “What a shame that a wealthy school like Exeter can’t build a library where students can study in a well-lit above-ground environment.”]

Why are the two adult deans busted?

A state law mandates that anyone in a long list of positions, including school officials, “having reason to suspect” sexual abuse of a person under age 18, which it defines very broadly, must report it to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

[i.e., the standard is the same whether it is a 4-year-old child or a 17.9-year-old “child”; note that the age of consent in New Hampshire is 16]

Who won’t ever be able to get a job unless he changes his name?

After the second meeting, the girl went to the police, and prosecutors soon charged the male student, Chukwudi Ikpeazu, with misdemeanor sexual assault. But a year later, in July 2017, as his trial was about to begin, they set aside the charge, and if he meets certain conditions — which have not been made public — prosecutors will drop the case.

$500,000 of private school tuition that can be flushed down the toilet. What university would admit him? If an admissions officer types his name into Google the first page will show “Sex assault charge against ex-Philips Exeter student dropped in last-minute deal”. This article is interesting because the initial idea for settling this without criminal prosecution was that the perpetrator and survivor would meet back at the church where the assault had occurred; the survivor agreed to accept daily fresh-baked bread “for the remainder of the school year,” but reneged on the deal and “eventually reported the incident to Exeter police. So the fact-pattern matches a lot of what went on in Hollywood. Survivors took the cash in exchange for keeping quiet, but ratted out their abusers and didn’t refund the cash.

Of course as someone who has worked as a teacher it is difficult to have sympathy for the deans (our natural enemies). But on the other hand I think this should be a cautionary tale for anyone who had planned to work in a high school. Failure to achieve full regulatory compliance can result in being arrested, something that is unlikely to happen to an employee at a tire shop.

Why wouldn’t a Massachusetts town set up a school for gifted and talented students?


In a lot of states it is conventional to have special classes and/or schools for the highest academic achievers (the “gifted and talented” (a.k.a., those who read books instead of play video games and watch TV)). Massachusetts, however, isn’t one of them. It doesn’t seem to be illegal to do this. This letter on (“MAGE”!) says that “We have 407 school districts in MA but only about a dozen of them have programs for the gifted…”

Our Boston suburb of Happy Valley wants to spend $50 million on a same-size replacement for the K-8 school building. If the experience of other towns is anything to go by, it will cost $100 million. There are roughly 600 students who use this building, which means that the $100 million cost amounts to $166,667 per student.

This is roughly comparable to the endowment-per-student at some of our nation’s most prestigious and richest colleges and universities, e.g., Johns Hopkins, Boston College, Tufts, Wake Forest, Brandeis, Bates, et al. It is substantially more than some great colleges and universities, such as Hanover, Barnard, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon, et al.

[It may actually be more than the real endowment per student. A money-expert friend who has served as a college trustee says “The dirty secret is that these endowment numbers are not net of debt. A college can boost its ranking simply by borrowing money and putting it in the endowment. Also, when the college invests in a leveraged private equity or hedge fund, the entire nominal amount of the investment is recorded as part of the endowment. The real numbers are typically at least 30 percent lower.” He cited RPI as one of the worst examples of a school using leverage (not a bad example from the point of view of the president, who gets paid more than $7 million per year).]

If we wanted to boost our property values, why not keep the old building (add a few Japanese split-system HVAC units) and use the $100 million to set up something in the academic realm? Property values in Lexington, Brookline, and Newton have been off the charts because of their schools’ reputations. Houses in those towns sell within days, oftentimes to Asian-American cash buyers.

Since, by comparison to Maryland, Florida, or Texas even those suburbs don’t have much to offer gifted and talented students, why not make the “something in the academic realm” a gifted and talented program? Childless homeowners in our town can pocket a $2 million wire transfer from Hong Kong each time the parent of an academically advanced child is drawn in by the offering.

Maybe our town is too passionate about mediocrity to do this, but if you consider that suburbs ringing a city compete with each other, isn’t it strange that none of the towns would try it? Massachusetts towns have a lot of independence in terms of how they fund and run schools. Why wouldn’t town property owners get together and vote to make their property a lot more valuable? Are they more passionate about mediocrity than about getting rich? Or is there a flaw in the above analysis such that this wouldn’t be a likely way to raise real estate values?


Why do politicians have to be morally pure?


The news right now is all about politicians and their moral shortcomings (shortcomings as judged from the perspective of people who aren’t wealthy or famous enough to be significantly tempted).

There are articles on Bill Clinton partying with interns in the Oval Office. Al Franken did some stuff three years before he became a Senator (and now the Senate Ethics bureaucracy is “investigating”?). Roy Moore did some stuff 40 years ago.

Stepping back from all of this, I’m wondering why people are demanding resignations. Given that the U.S. runs a crony capitalist economy, shouldn’t we expect politicians to be among our most corrupt citizens (here’s a senator who just got done with a corruption trial and nobody seems interested or surprised)? Why the demands that these folks be somehow exemplary, especially if what gets them in the news wasn’t related to their current jobs?

[In the case of Clinton I guess you could argue that he was having sex at work with at least one co-worker (presumably there are more interns that we just never heard about?). In the case of Franken maybe you could argue that he was on government business (a USO tour).]

Is it that we think the replacements will be morally superior? Maybe they will be; a New York Times columnist says

I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat. The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you.

and women seem to be less likely to disgrace themselves sexually (I’m disappointed that the NYT would appear to be satisfied with the appointment of a cisgender white heterosexual woman; why not demand the appointment of a transgender homosexual of color who came to the U.S. as a refugee?). Or maybe it is simply not possible for a woman to be disgraced sexually because it would be considered “slut-shaming” or “judging”? But women can be just as corrupt overall? Hillary had the Clinton Foundation. Corrinne Brown (Florida congresswoman) was indicted for having a smaller-scale charity.

Ted Kennedy never had any difficulty being reelected, despite having killed a young woman on Chappaquiddick. Voters in Massachusetts presumably liked what Ted Kennedy was doing in terms of the actual job of being a senator. Is it fair to say that times have changed? Our future politicians will be people that have never been alone with another person (NYT complains about that too!) and therefore can’t be credibly accused of having done something sexual?



Amazon and IBM parental leave


A (childless) friend works at Amazon. She’s been working extra hard because one of her colleagues has been on maternity leave with a fourth child. The company pilloried in the New York Times for slave-driving provides six months of maternity leave, one month prior to birth and five months after. “The month before birth is supposed to be only in case of medical need,” my friend explained, “but the company coaches people to get a doctor’s note saying that it would be better for the baby so almost everyone takes this.” The 6-month benefit extends to fathers and to parents who adopt children (perhaps the month prior to birth has to be finessed in that case?).

I wondered if it would be possible to obtain a 30-year stream of cash from Amazon without ever coming into the office. Suppose that an Amazon employee adopted a 17.5-year-old foster child. Six months of paid vacation! How about the next 29.5 years? It is reportedly tough to adopt healthy infants, but I don’t think that there is any waiting list for 17.5-year-old children in foster care. So the Amazon employee does another adoption and gets another 6 months off! Lather, rinse, repeat.

What about the fact that it could take a few hours per week to take care of a “child” and therefore the dream lifestyle of consuming OxyContin while playing Xbox might not be fully realized? Teenagers are famous for wanting to be left alone by adults.

How about expenses associated with the “child,” such as food (teenagers eat a lot) and clothing? Will these eat into a $150,000-200,000/year Amazon programmer’s income? They should be offset by payments from the state foster care agency. In most states, collecting cash from the government for a foster child is not nearly as lucrative as collecting child support cash from a private defendant (see table in Real World Divorce). However, it can still be cashflow-positive and the government checks continue to arrive by agreement after adoption in 92 percent of cases (HHS). The employee now has at least a cashflow-neutral child and six months of paid time off from Amazon.

What about having to pay $73,600 per year to send Adoptee #17 to Harvard? Children of an intact family in the U.S. have no right to sue parents for support, such as college tuition, after age 18 (the story is different, depending on the state, for children of divorced or never-married parents; in Massachusetts, for example, the 18-year-old former adopted “child” could become a tuition plaintiff and the lower-income adoptive parent could use the 18-year-old to get child support cash for himself or herself until the “child” turned 23).

How are things at IBM, the traditional cradle-to-grave corner of our industry? Friends recently welcomed a second child. The father works at IBM and took his full 6-week paternity leave to relax at home, hike, etc. “I’m upset because they just changed the policy to give fathers 12 weeks.”


Et tu Tesla?


“The Tech Industry’s Gender-Discrimination Problem” (New Yorker):

AJ Vandermeyden drove to Tesla’s corporate headquarters, in Palo Alto, California, sat down on a bench outside the main entrance, and waited, in the hope of spotting someone who looked like a company employee. Vandermeyden, who was thirty years old, had been working as a pharmaceutical sales representative since shortly after college, but she wanted a different kind of job, in what seemed to her the center of the world—Silicon Valley. … A few weeks later, she was hired at Tesla as a product specialist in the inside-sales department.

… Vandermeyden, who worked closely with a group of eight other employees, soon learned that her salary was lower than that of everyone else in the group, including several new hires who had come to Tesla straight out of college. She was, as it happened, the only woman in the group. Her supervisors, and her supervisors’ supervisors, were male, all the way up the chain, it seemed, to Musk himself.

There was a sense that the male executives had little understanding of the challenges women faced at the company.

She noticed that sometimes, when female employees walked through certain areas of the plant, male workers whistled, catcalled, and made derogatory comments. Women called it the “predator zone.”

In July, 2015, about three months after Vandermeyden joined the team, several of her male colleagues were promoted. Although she was under the impression that she would shortly receive a promotion and a raise, she did not get either, according to court documents.

On September 20, 2016, Vandermeyden filed a lawsuit charging Tesla with sex discrimination, retaliation, and other workplace violations.

(The New Yorker writer and editors don’t address the question of whether it is  problematic to label a person with, apparently, no technical education or experience part of the “tech industry.”)

Some profound thoughts from a woman who, rather than waste her youth coding, was smart enough to marry a rich guy:

“Men who demean, degrade or disrespect women have been able to operate with such impunity—not just in Hollywood, but in tech, venture capital, and other spaces where their influence and investment can make or break a career,” Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told me. “The asymmetry of power is ripe for abuse.”

Will my friends who are passionate about social justice have to give up their Teslas? If so, what brand of car is ideal for signalling a commitment to gender equality?

Should the government charge higher fees for online transactions?


Facebook is an all-purpose outrage platform. Here’s a friend’s posting:

The MA RMV [Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles] wants $25 to replace a lost registration. They suggest that you do it online and print it yourself. So I logged in to do that. They still want the $25!

He thought it should cost less to use the web site compared to going into a Registry office and waiting in line for two hours.

Given the cost of managing Internet security (see Swiss pour cold water on our Internet dreams from 2015, for example, in which they predict that the cost of securing the Internet will exceed its value to a typical business by 2019), could it be that his proportional share of the security cost is actually more than $25? So it should actually cost more to deal with the government online compared to the in-person fees? (The RMV presumably has somewhat higher security risks than a vanilla ecommerce site.)

[Separately, why did paper registration survive 20 years of mobile Internet and 60 years of computer-managed databases? Police officers are supposed to be connected to a network, at least by voice communication to a dispatcher. Why can’t they look up a car by VIN or license plate? Why rely on a paper document that can be forged and that is a hassle to distribute?]


Optimistic Parent


“Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” (nytimes) is by a law school professor who can’t get over the Rejection of Hillary:

My oldest son, wrestling with a 4-year-old’s happy struggles … Donald Trump’s election has made it clear that I will teach my boys the lesson generations old, one that I for the most part nearly escaped. I will teach them to be cautious, I will teach them suspicion, and I will teach them distrust. Much sooner than I thought I would, I will have to discuss with my boys whether they can truly be friends with white people. … I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible.

This is spectacular example of the nurture assumption (demonstrated to be false by research summarized in The Nurture Assumption).

[Separately, if this guy and the NYT editors who published him are correct and the nurture assumption is true, maybe they can teach us how to teach our 4-year-old about the virtues of sharing…]

Madoff-style unwinding of job positions and cash compensation in Hollywood and elsewhere?


Our media has spent the last couple of months highlighting Hollywood’s sex-for-advancement system (formerly the “casting couch“). Our culture now considers this an illegitimate method of allocating scarce positions and the managers of this method are being punished with job loss, civil lawsuits, and criminal prosecution.

What about those who advanced under this system and those who were left behind? The media has highlighted some people who had sexual encounters with decision-makers in Hollywood as victims, but shouldn’t people who didn’t have sex also be considered victims? At least some of them failed to get a job that would otherwise have obtained.

[See “Harvey Weinstein accused of rape by actor Natassia Malthe” for example:

After the incident in Los Angeles, Malthe said she called Weinstein and told him being in his movies was “not worth what he wanted to exchange”. … Malthe said he barged into her room and named A-list actors whose careers he had made because they slept with him.

“Actresses should not have to demean themselves to be successful,” she said. Malthe explained that she had experienced harassment from many men in Hollywood, but the experiences with Weinstein were “the worst”.


Let’s consider the unwinding of the Madoff hedge fund fraud. It was determined that Madoff was operating an illegitimate system for allocating profits to investors. The managers of the allocation system were punished with fines and imprisonment. Those who profited from the system had their profits taken away (“clawed back”). Those who were losers under the system are being compensated to the extent possible (but Bloomberg notes that the administrators of the unwinding are doing better than the victims!).

Is it time for an unwinding like this in Hollywood? Once Harvey Weinstein and friends are securely in prison or hiding out in a country that won’t extradite them, we can get from them the names of film industry workers whom they advanced because of sexual favors exchanged. (This assumes that producers, directors, and top actors can actually remember the names of most of the folks with whom they had sex.) We can also see if they remember the names of qualified people who didn’t get jobs because they walked out of hotel rooms upon seeing His Majesty in a bathrobe. Then it is time for a job swap?


Ugliest part of the Republican tax plan: What if universities were forced to calculate the value of a graduate education?


Here’s a WIRED article on the latest Republican tax plan:

the devastating impact the GOP’s recently unveiled tax-reform plan could have on the university’s PhD candidates. Buried in that plan is a proposed repeal that would cause graduate students’ tuition waivers to be counted as income—making them subject to taxes.

The annual stipend for a PhD student in Carnegie Mellon’s school of computer science is about $32,400. The university covers the student’s $43,000 tuition, in exchange for the research she [your typical CS grad student is a woman, as it happens!] conducts and the courses she teaches. Under current law, the government taxes only a student’s stipend; the waived tuition is not taken into account. But under the GOP bill, her annual taxable income would rise from $32,400 to $76,234. Even factoring in new deductions also included in the proposal, the CMU document estimates her taxes would amount to $10,209 per year—nearly four times the amount under current law. That would slash her net annual stipend by 25 percent, from $29,566 to $22,191.

Many academics fear the tax burden would waylay efforts to increase social and intellectual diversity at their institutions. “You have to advocate for folks who are coming down the pipeline,” says UCLA neuroscientist Astra Bryant. She says that’s especially true of women and underrepresented minorities. “I mentor two underprivileged undergraduate women, and my concern for them is that an increased tax burden would make it financially impossible for them to afford to pursue a PhD.” [but if the typical STEM grad student is a woman, as suggested above, why worry specifically about women?]

The idea is that the IRS will assess tax based on the university’s absurd fiction that, absent a “stipend,” grad students would have coughed up the rack rate $43,000 per year. Schools could address this by cutting the official (fictitious) tuition price for graduate school (as distinct from professional school, such as med school or law school) to something close to the actual cost or perhaps to zero. If the IRS were to challenge the new number that’s where it gets potentially interesting. If we accept the principle that people should pay tax on value that they receive in exchange for employment then we must calculate the value received by spending six years as an English or Physics grad student. But a lot of university majors end up reducing the student’s lifetime income and therefore students would actually be entitled to a deduction as a result of their waived tuition? Imagine if Yale had to show just how much damage they were doing to a young person’s earning potential by keeping him or her in a theater program?

[See IRS Publication 15-B and the “General valuation rule” should be applicable: “The fair market value (FMV) of a fringe benefit is the amount an employee would have to pay a third party in an arm’s-length transaction to buy or lease the benefit. Determine this amount on the basis of all the facts and circumstances. Neither the amount the employee considers to be the value of the fringe benefit nor the cost you incur to provide the benefit determines its FMV.” Nobody can argue that a typical physics grad student would pay $250,000 in tuition to get a Ph.D. So the fair market value, and therefore the IRS fringe benefit value, will be some lower (potentially negative) number.]


Where is Sun Microsystems now?


For leftover computer nerds from the 1990s and aquarium hobbyists… the Sun Microsystems UV sterilizer.

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