Department of American Creativity


I wonder what the naming consultants were paid for this end-result:

New York Times to employers: Toss resumes from applicants who went to school in poor neighborhoods


“Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares” was presumably written in the same do-gooder spirit that permeates most of the New York Times. But consider the practical take-away of information such as the following:

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill.

In some communities where both blacks and whites or Hispanics and whites came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, academic gaps persisted. Mr. Reardon said that educators in these schools may subliminally – or consciously in some cases – track white students into gifted courses while assigning black and Hispanic students to less rigorous courses.

Consider an employer with a stack of 1000 resumes of applicants for a job. Given the above tips from the New York Times, she can cut her workload considerably without a significant risk of overlooking a great candidate. She tells her assistant “Take the resumes from people who went to school in poorer-than-average neighborhoods and toss them into recycling.” If the stack is still daunting, she adds “The Times says that blacks and Hispanics don’t do well academically so toss any resume that you think is from a black or Hispanic person.”

Given the resistance of America’s public school systems (see “Smartest Kids in the World Review”) to any kind of change, what could the Times editors have been thinking the positive effects of running this article were going to be? What if Donald Trump came out with a long statement about the academic performance of Americans sorted by skin color? Would the Times celebrate Trump as making a thoughtful helpful contribution?


What if you’re in prison for refusing to divulge a password but you have forgotten the password?


“Child porn suspect jailed indefinitely for refusing to decrypt hard drives” says “A Philadelphia man suspected of possessing child pornography has been in jail for seven months and counting after being found in contempt of a court order demanding that he decrypt two password-protected hard drives.”

Suppose that he tells the judge “I forgot the password” and the judge replies “That’s a little too convenient in your situation. I don’t believe you. You can stay at Club Fed until you develop a better memory.”

Let’s also suppose that he actually has forgotten the password. Now what? How can this situation ever be resolved?


  • “The Domestic Violence Parallel Track”: One tactic that can backfire is the use of child pornography. According to the Indiana (PA) Gazette, “Woman guilty of downloading child porn,” August 20, 2014, Meri Jane Woods of Clymer, Pennsylvania was successful in obtaining a Protection from Abuse order that ended her husband’s access to the family home. To cement her victory she placed child pornography onto a personal computer and, without bothering to update the timestamps on the files, turned it over to the state police, alleging that her husband had performed the illegal downloads. In investigating the crime, however, the police “almost immediately ruled out Matthew Woods’ involvement by finding the images date-stamped between Aug. 11 and 14, 2013. Matthew Woods had been forced from the home before that time by a protection-from-abuse order, prosecutors told the jury.” As downloading child pornography for any reason is illegal, Ms. Woods was convicted of a felony that carried a possible sentence of seven years in prison (she was apparently not charged with the federal offense of receiving child pornography, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years). What finally happened? A December 16, 2014 Associated Press article, “Wife who used child porn to frame husband gets jail time,” notes that she “must spend six months to two years in county jail” and that “Woods continues to deny wrongdoing saying, ‘I only wanted to protect my children.'”

And how is the Greek economy doing?


“Clinton Son-in-Law’s Firm Is Said to Close Greece Hedge Fund” says

It was a hedge fund portfolio pitched by Hillary Clinton’s son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, as an opportunity to bet on a Greek economic revival.

Now, two years later, the Greece-focused fund is shutting down, after losing nearly 90 percent of its value,

Where is the dead cat bounce for Greece at least? And why have they faded from the media? Has Facebook sent them into a memory hole? It used to be an urgent question as to whether this country (population a little smaller than Illinois, which is probably just as insolvent on an actuarial basis)  would stay in or leave the EU. Why is it no longer urgent? They have been successfully bailed out?

Massachusetts Puritan History


Thanks to Jonathan Graehl, this summary of a 900-page book on the Colonial lifestyle. Albion’s Seed is not new but much of the information was new to me.

Do you love the city of Newark as much as Silicon Valley billionaires do? You’ll be pleased to know that the name comes from “New Ark Of The Covenant”

“The Puritans tried to import African slaves, but they all died of the cold.” (And we are still a lot whiter than other states.)

Massachusetts today may be the most lucrative jurisdiction in the world in which to get pregnant during a vacation, have an out-of-wedlock child, or to sell an abortion (see this chapter on Massachusetts family law and this chapter on out-of-wedlock child support; note that for plaintiffs suing defendants with income over $2 million, California and Wisconsin may be superior jurisdictions). Puritans, on the other hand, explicitly forbade the single parent lifestyle, whether done on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis: “Everyone was compelled by law to live in families. Town officials would search the town for single people and, if found, order them to join a family; if they refused, they were sent to jail.” and “98% of adult Puritan men were married, compared to only 73% of adult Englishmen in general.” Families were sizable: “The average family size in Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1730s was 9.7 children.” Results achieved included “Teenage pregnancy rates were the lowest in the Western world and in some areas literally zero.”

Massachusetts was unfriendly to startups: “In 1639, Massachusetts declared a ‘Day Of Humiliation’ to condemn ‘novelties, oppression, atheism, excesse, superfluity, idleness, contempt of authority, and trouble in other parts to be remembered'”

We were not the anti-gun bastion that we are today: “Everyone would stand there [in church] with their guns (they were legally required to bring guns, in case Indians attacked during the sermon) and hear about how they were going to Hell, all while the giant staring eye looked at them.”

Despite our lack of racial diversity, today we are one of the most financially unequal states (“Why Have Democrats Failed in the State Where They’re Most Likely to Succeed? Massachusetts should be a model state for liberal public policy, but instead it is one of the country’s most unequal.”). In Puritan times, by contrast, “the top 10% of wealthholders [in Massachusetts] held only 20%-30% of taxable property.”

Don’t like our culinary contributions to the world, such as Dunkin’ Donuts? In Puritan times food was “meat and vegetables submerged in plain water and boiled relentlessly without seasonings of any kind.”

Good lesson for police training class: Don’t beat up citizens when the news helicopter is overhead


Our local NBC affiliate station runs a turbine-powered helicopter that captured some video of the end of a State Police chase (see the raw footage on youtube and also ABC News with some wider angles). It seems that beating up an unarmed on-the-ground suspect is not a good idea when you’re being filmed in HD. A couple of state troopers are now suspended. What might that cost them? This database (type in “Department of Police” and then click twice on “2015 Earnings” to show the highest earners on top) shows that the top-paid employees with a title of “Trooper, 1st Class” earned between $239,000 and $288,567 per year.

Massachusetts State Troopers can start work at age 21 and are eligible to retire after 20 years. The guy who tried unsuccessfully to escape them was 50 years old. Thus very likely what we’re looking at is about 8 guys with guns (and a dog) beating up a guy old enough to be their father.

I wonder if this is going to become more common. Here the public servants were apparently unaware of a 5000 lb. jet-powered Airbus Helicopter (formerly “Eurocopter”) hovering overhead. The drones that are proliferating don’t announce themselves with the sound of a Turbomeca Arriel. It would be unfortunate to lose a $288,567/year job because of the neighborhood drone nerd and his or her $499 DJI Phantom 3.


Interesting article on the difference between Facebook news bias and newspaper news bias


There is an interesting article in the Boston Globe by Hiawatha Bray about the difference between Facebook featuring all-transgender-all-the-time and the New York Times doing the same thing:

Pot, meet kettle. Traditional media have always been edited by humans. Pick up the Globe, and you’re getting a view of the world that is, inevitably, colored by our personal tastes, interests, and biases.

But traditional media companies have checks and balances to keep us reasonably honest. Some have full-time ombudsmen to call out bias. Nearly all welcome letters to the editor. The names, e-mails, and phone numbers of staff members are easy to find. Most effective is the reporter’s byline. My name is attached to everything I write, so there’s a price to pay when I blunder.

But Facebook’s curators have no bylines. The software engineers who created the algorithms are equally anonymous. The entire system is relentlessly opaque, and likely to remain so.

As Facebook grinds down every other Web publisher, except perhaps for Google, this is plainly the future so we might as well get used to it. If we don’t all think like 25-year-old hipsters in Menlo Park we soon will! (Remember that folks in Silicon Valley expect to earn most of their money via capital gains so, like Eisenhower circa 1948, they aren’t too worried about headline tax rates!)

(A former Soviet comrade told me that the U.S. has a more effective system of thought and opinion control than the Soviet Union ever did: “Nobody took the regime seriously so you could laugh about everything the Party said when you were home with friends. In the U.S., though, if you don’t accept the official dogma you won’t have a job and you’ll be ostracized socially.” Maybe Facebook is just part of this. You have to agree that Donald Trump is the new Hitler (and North Carolina would be Bavaria?) or you’ll be unfriended.)

Evidence for a global labor market


This Financial Times article shows a narrow range of manager compensation worldwide, despite a much wider range of GDP per capita. Is this evidence that a truly global labor market is developing?

Good old days of American poetry: Wallace Stevens


Peter Schjeldahl, one of my favorite New Yorker writers, gives us the highlights of a Wallace Stevens biography. It turns out that American poets were more lively in the old days, even those who worked as executives in the insurance industry:

At another party in Key West, in 1936, a swaggering Stevens loudly impugned the manhood of Ernest Hemingway. When Hemingway showed up, Stevens took a swing at him, and Hemingway knocked him down. Stevens got up and landed a solid punch to Hemingway’s jaw, which broke his hand in two places. Hemingway then battered him, but later cheerfully accepted his meek apology. They agreed to a cover story: Stevens had been injured falling down stairs.

I also learned that Stevens had a wife who was, by modern standards, spectacularly idle.  She “left school in the ninth grade” and does not seem to have had any kind of job. She had one child but no responsibility for that child: “A full-time housekeeper tended to Holly.”


Where New York Times readers don’t want to follow Europe: Legalized prostitution


The comments on “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” (New York Times) are interesting. Generally the Times readers, at least the ones whose opinions are featured, admire virtually everything about Europe. Single-payer and/or government-run health care? The French can do it, so obviously so can we. Tuition-free public universities? Denmark does it, so obviously so should we.

Prostitution is apparently legal in England and Germany and decriminalized in Denmark. Could the U.S. learn from these countries’ experiences, either positive or negative? Apparently not. Reader comments, at least the highly rated ones, don’t generally mention these rather significant examples. (The article itself does mention some foreign countries where the laws are different, but the readers don’t seem to be interested in these experimental results.)

I think it is interesting that Americans, or at least Times readers, imagine that it would be straightforward to choose the best and then import a complex bureaucratic system such as government-run health care, but that it would be impossible or uninteresting to choose then import the most successful system of regulation for what happens between two individuals. Americans are like Europeans when they’re running a hospital or a university, but are completely different after hours?

[Separately, I wonder if it is our fondness for legal process that keeps us from legalizing prostitution. We seem to like it when lawyers can get paid every time college students or co-workers have sex.  See “Lincoln Center President’s Abrupt Departure Was Prompted by a Relationship” for how $1200/hour lawyers were brought in after two co-workers at a non-profit org had sex:

To investigate, Lincoln Center enlisted outside counsel — Jeffrey S. Klein, chairman of the employment litigation practice group at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

Although the inquiry determined that the relationship had ended by the time Mr. Bernstein was confronted and that it appeared to be consensual, the sources said, it violated Lincoln Center’s policies about senior management dating subordinates. The organization declined to provided a copy of the policy.

Lincoln Center officials confronted Mr. Bernstein, who agreed to resign and was paid a sum of money according to the terms of his contract, which are confidential.

Perhaps there should be a tax on sex. Given our socialized systems of criminal justice, medicine, etc., those who are abstinent are paying a high price to support the costs of cleaning up (legally and medically) after those who are not abstinent. Abstinent students pay higher tuition to support university-run kangaroo courts that decide whether or not to expel students who’ve had sex. Abstinent citizens pay Obamacare taxes to provide medical treatment for those who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinent citizens pay taxes to support criminal prosecutions that follow sexual encounters (see Missoula for what it must have cost the taxpayers to investigate the activities of two college students behind a closed door). Abstinent employees and shareholders pay for corporate investigations such as the above (Mr. Bernstein and his ladyfriend had some fun; Mr. Klein billed enough to pay the property taxes on his house in the Hamptons; the rest of the workers at Lincoln Center got what?).]


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