An interesting race discrimination lawsuit


We’re going to have fantastic economic growth… as long as litigation over bathroom usage and skin color generate as much as output as machine tools.

Here’s an interesting lawsuit covered by the Daily Mail: Young woman with a mixture of “German, Irish and Italian descent” is told that she doesn’t qualify for a “Multicultural Undergraduate Internship” at the Getty Foundation.

Up until now private institutions have been able to select students, for example, based on skin color. It was public universities that ran into trouble and litigation when they operated race-based admissions programs. I’ll be interested to find out what the legal theory is here. The Getty is entirely private. Why can’t they say “We don’t want to hire any white people”?

If a court says “No, you can’t choose by race” what about other non-profit programs that are limited by age? (Disclosure: I helped set up one myself that would potentially become illegal in a changed legal regime.)


Eisenhower-era tax-avoidance strategies from… Eisenhower


I’ve been listening to Eisenhower in War and Peace. Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sometimes reference Eisenhower-era top marginal tax rates as evidence that the U.S. economy can thrive under a similar system. Eisenhower, himself, though, managed to avoid these rates. He was paid roughly $6 million in today’s dollars for writing Crusade in Europe (one thing that Eisenhower did not foresee was the rise of Islam as a military force!). Instead of the deal with the publisher being structured as advance-plus-royalties it was a lump sum for turning over the completed manuscript. Thus it qualified for a roughly 25 percent capital gains tax rate rather than a marginal ordinary income tax rate of 82 percent.

[Note that Eisenhower was generally in favor of trimming government spending, especially military spending (the biggest budget item of the time), so as not to “rob citizens of the fruits of their labors.” But he abhorred deficit spending/government borrowing, the U.S. was heavily indebted following World War II (though not as indebted in the 1950s as now), and therefore did not help Congress deliver on Republican campaign promises to cut tax rates.]

Another tax comparison from the book: A Federal gasoline tax of 4 cents/gallon was imposed in the mid-1950s to pay for building the Interstate Highway System. That works out to 36 cents/gallon in today’s mini-dollars. Current Federal gas tax is 18 cents/gallon, which turns out not to be enough to maintain the system (Heritage). (See “Cost to renovate Longfellow Bridge compared to its construction cost”)

Haiku contest: Summarize your Facebook feed


Let’s have a haiku contest. Can you summarize your Facebook feed in a haiku (bonus points for restricting to 5-7-5).

Having been part of a university community for many years, here are some examples of what Facebook shows me:

I’ll go further – If you hate our country so much that you think this inexperienced ill-equipped racist asshole [Donald Trump] should be put in charge of our government, our military, our domestic policy and foreign relationships then you should think about moving out because you are anti everything this country stands for and you dont [sic] belong here. And we will not miss you.

I call on all Bernie supporters to rally behind Hillary Clinton. The danger that Trump and the republikans represent to us all are unthinkable. They will set our country back 50 years, undo all social progress and destroy our economy and global standing- or worse. We must unite to defeat them. Bernie is a true progressive – a mensch – and will be an important ally in the Senate. You know he will be supporting Hillary – and we all need to do the same.

Goodbye Rubio and good riddance. You were extreme and dangerous but in this crazy year not extreme or dangerous enough for the haters of your party.

Mitt Romney just told the truth about Trump…and then many lies about Hillary Clinton. Thanks for reminding us how much worse off we’d have been if we’d elected this pompous elitist empty suit – and the danger of ever electing the super-rich and over-entitled.

Heres [sic] our next “First Lady”, wielding a handgun. Imagine the outcry if Michelle Obama posed like this – but only silence from the right. Share this around. And stop it from happening. [over a photo of a lightly dressed young Melania Trump]

When I was young and learning about the Holocaust I wondered how someone like Hitler could come to power in a country that had smart talented resourceful people, and whether I would have had the courage to resist the rise of nazism and fascism. We are nearing that kind of challenge and that need to fight to protect our Nation and it’s values from thugs and haters – domestic terrorists – who seem bent on destroying it. We cannot let them succeed.

Speaks for itself. Donald Trump is a fascist. [over a link discussing Fred Trump’s purported screening prospective apartment building tenants by race (now our tax dollars fund race-based decisions by government public housing ministries under the “affirmative action” banner)]

Another example of the efforts by Republicans to limit the voting rights of minorities. Sad and infuriating. [over an article on voter requirements; the (white) author feels comfortable assuming and asserting that American minorities are inferior to white Americans in their ability to comply with annoying bureaucracy]

If Trump becomes President, Trudeau is giving me another reason to move to Canada. [not sure that the author of this one would qualify as he is around 65 and, like most countries with publicly funded medical care, Canada disfavors older immigrants with a point system: “Persons … lose two points for each year that they are under twenty-one or over forty-nine.”]

Throw the key away on [Dennis Hastert]. Harsh, but it makes me real angry. [i.e., the author has the courage to denounce someone who is both an admitted child molester and an admitted Republican]

I usually agree with Krugman, and today is no change from that stance.

A ticked off young woman speaking truth to power: [over an article in which a Starbucks customer called Florida Governor Rick Scott an asshole and noted “You cut Medicaid, so I couldn’t get Obamacare,” (but she still has enough money to patronize Starbucks?)]

These mouths remind me of a politician we all know and denigrate! [over an article titled “Monkeys With Smaller Testicles Scream Louder to Compensate, Study Finds”; what would happen if one of his friends compared Barack Obama to a monkey?]

The emerging Repulsive Republican ticket: Oink and Oink. [over an article about Donald Trump and Chris Christie]

Let me repeat: this man is a fascist. It he is President, he’ll create and endorse storm troopers outfitted with Trump ties.

Here’s my haiku summary of the above:

I hate Donald Trump
Liberals are my besties
Important to share

Readers: What’s your haiku summary of your Facebook feed?

[Separate question: Why is there so much political content on Facebook? The above folks suggest that they don’t want to live in the same country as anyone who identifies as a Republican. It should therefore be safe to assume that they have long since defriended anyone whom they suspect of supporting Trump, Cruz, et al. Thus their postings can’t reach beyond fellow Democrats and therefore they are spending a lot of time preaching to the converted, right? Why would they do this? Do they achieve higher social status among Hillary supporters for the vehemence and creativity of their denunciations of Donald Trump and traditional Republicans?]

Group of women under 50 tells others to be more diverse


Ellen Pao is the gift that keeps on giving for this blog. She is part of the team at Project Include. These folks purport to tell companies how to build diversity. Some excerpts from Pao’s new site:

Research has quantified the financial benefits of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. Despite this, we have yet to see significant improvement in diversity numbers. [i.e., business owners don’t want to be richer]

We want to provide our perspectives, recommendations, materials, and tools to help CEOs and their teams build meaningful inclusion. We know how hard change is from our own experiences. [Yet Pao’s husband managed to change from homosexual to heterosexual. Are there changes that happen in cubicle farms that are more difficult?]

We are focusing our efforts on CEOs and management of early to mid-stage tech startups, where we believe change is possible and can have a broad impact on the industry and beyond.

We want the girls, people of color, and other underrepresented groups that we are encouraging to pursue STEM educations and future tech jobs to have real opportunities to succeed. [As noted in “Women in Science,” academic success in science may not constitute “success” using a financial or career flexibility yardstick.]

Making a few inferences from photos, names, and biographies on the site, it would seem that this is a group of people who (a) all identify as women, and (b) all but one identify as under age 50. This homogeneous group purports to be expert in achieving diversity. Yet if diversity is a guaranteed path to success, shouldn’t Project Include bring in (“include”) at least one more aged fossil (i.e., a Silicon Valley-dweller over 50)? Or some employees who identify as men? Or encourage some of their current team members to change gender ID to “male”?

[Separately, let’s look at the Project Include team to see if their biographies will inspire “girls, people of color, and other underrepresented groups” to go into STEM. The wealthiest member of the group it would seem is Freada Kapor Klein. Her Wikipedia page indicates no training in STEM and all of her wealth is a result of marrying Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus. This is about as inspiring as the Harvard undergrad who said “I used to think that I wanted to be an investment banker, but then I realized that I could just marry an investment banker.” (if she had been a little more educated about U.S. family law, she might not have included the marriage part in her plan) Y-Vonne Hutchinson has done some awesome stuff, e.g., “worked with foreign governments, the U.S. Department of State, and the UN” and is affiliated with Harvard Law School. She is trained as a lawyer, however, not in STEM. Ellen Pao herself, of course, also has a law background and did not work at a technical job. Erica Joy Baker is described as “a seasoned software engineer” yet is being paid to spend “20 percent of her time at Slack advocating for diversity and inclusion, both within and outside of the company.” If she were a great programmer, why would the company want her to write code only 80-percent time?]

Don’t buy a self-driving car programmed by an American software company…


See this clip of a TV weather broadcast for yet another example of how American software generally can’t figure out how to set priorities.

Time to bring back amphetamines for weight loss?


“After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight” (nytimes) reports on a doctor who followed reality TV contestants and concluded that a slowed metabolism accounted for their inability to maintain weight loss.

I wonder if it should make us reconsider our notions of progress in medicine. In the 1950s an overweight person would have been diagnosed for $10 with a slow metabolism and given a $2/month amphetamine prescription to speed up said metabolism. Today the same person could be a $50,000/year customer for weight loss clinics, supplements, surgeries, etc.

Obviously being on amphetamine for years is harmful (see “America’s First Amphetamine Epidemic 1929–1971”), but is it as harmful as weighing 300 lbs?

Readers: What do you think? Should medicine concentrate on speeding up metabolism, possibly with new drugs, or is that also doomed due to the fact that people can just have a second donut?

Obamacare for multi-millionaires


A friend told me how pleased he was with MassHealth, our state’s version of Medicaid. “It is much better than Blue Cross. There are no deductibles and dental care is included and free,” said the father of two. His wife said “the only thing that would be better is if we got divorced and then I could get all of the single mom stuff.”

The potentially interesting part of this story is that my friend’s mailing address is a suburban house on 2.6 acres of land with a Zestimate of $3.2 million and a price/tax history indicating that he purchased it for $2.1 million back in 2006. The health insurance ministry probably wouldn’t have been aware of the family’s 50-acre 8-bedroom (including guest house) vacation estate.

“Obamacare removed the asset test for Medicaid,” he explained. So they look only at income? “No. I actually had a good year in 2015 with a lot of capital gains.” [“A lot” of capital gains for this guy would be hundreds of thousands or single-digit millions of dollars.] What was the method for determining whether or not the taxpayers would pick up the tab for this family of four’s health and dental care? “They look only at W-2 income.”

Note that this makes collecting alimony and child support relatively more lucrative compared to working. Child support revenue, regardless of the amount, doesn’t count as “income” to qualify for this taxpayer-funded benefit. Alimony profits can be banked without a W-2 being issued. Jessica Kosow, the plaintiff in a typical higher-income Massachusetts case (see this chapter on Massachusetts family law), would qualify for free MassHealth despite having obtained, via litigation, triple the spending power of her Ivy League classmates with W-2 jobs:

In a June 22, 2011 status conference for this case [wife sued husband after four years of marriage when their daughter was two years old], Judge Maureen Monks explained her philosophy in setting child support for high income defendants: “when I look at how the current guidelines play out against most parties’ income it comes around between 20 and 25 percent, sometimes it’s a little higher. If there’s a big disparity it’s closer to 28 percent. Does that mean it makes sense is that what to assess up to a certain amount on his income. Maybe there is no limit right now…”

How did she do compared to her University of Pennsylvania classmates? reported that in 2014 the median “mid-career” salary for a graduate of this Ivy League college was $112,200. If that graduate stayed in Pennsylvania, his or her earnings would be approximately $77,240 per year after taxes (ADP Paycheck Calculator). Kosow’s after-tax earnings, on the other hand would be approximately $132,786 in cash plus the free $1 million house (assume a rental value of $6000 per month), health insurance, and nanny services. Her total after-tax earnings from the Massachusetts divorce and child support system therefore would be about $250,000 per year, 3.2X what a Penn graduate working full-time would earn.

[Of course, this particular plaintiff might not take the time to fill out the forms for MassHealth due to the fact that she obtained a court order that her former husband pay her health insurance bill.]


Robot to mute NPR stations during commercials?


How about this for an AI project: a computer system that takes the audio stream of a National Public Radio station and presents a commercial-free audio stream as an output, presumably with at least a one-minute delay.

It should be pretty easy for a classical music station. There isn’t too much talking and the non-commercial stuff is typically right before or after a piece. Even a program that simply muted humans talking and let through music would perhaps be sufficient (though watch out for Recitative!).

For an NPR talk/news station it would presumably be tougher because the same announcers present both content and commercials. However, that’s what makes it a great project for a Master’s student in AI if not a PhD.

What do readers think? Should a prize be established for the best programs that can do this? It seems like a useful application of AI and also something where it is easy to test and score programs (sum of minutes of content improperly muted and minutes of commercials improperly not muted, for example). Programmers around the world could compete for honors/money.

The realistic litigator and the deposition video


I was recently scheduled to be deposed as an expert witness in a software patent case. The Stuffy Big Firm (founded in the 19th century; more than 1000 lawyers today; breathtaking office space) partner representing the defendant said that the deposition would be videotaped. I said “Oh, so I’ll need to wear a suit.” He said “Don’t bother. Nobody will ever look at it.”


Are Americans fundamentally dishonest?


“The Voyeur’s Motel” is a New Yorker story mostly about sex. But the subject of this blog posting is a section buried in the middle:

[The voyeur, who ran a motel in Colorado,] also got bored with cataloguing his guests’ dishonesty. They sometimes tried to cheat him out of the room rent, and hardly a week passed without his witnessing instances of chicanery. One working-class couple asked him for a few days’ grace period to pay their bill. Foos spied on them the next day and heard the husband tell the wife, “The dumb guy in the office thinks I have a check coming in from Chicago, and we will fool him the same way we did the motel in Omaha.” Foos locked the people out of their room and kept their possessions until they paid him.

Diary excerpt: “Conclusion: Thousands of unhappy, discontented people are moving to Colorado in order to fulfill that deep yearning in their soul, hoping to improve their way of life, and arrive here without any money and discover only despair. . . . Society has taught us to lie, steal, and cheat, and deception is the paramount prerequisite in man’s makeup. . . . As my observation of people approaches the fifth year, I am beginning to become pessimistic as to the direction our society is heading, and feel myself becoming more depressed as I determine the futility of it all.”

These experiences prodded Foos to concoct an “honesty test.” He would leave a suitcase, secured with a cheap padlock, in the closet of a motel room. When a guest checked in, he would say to Donna, in the guest’s hearing, that someone had just called to report leaving behind a suitcase with a thousand dollars inside. Foos then watched from the attic as the new guest found the suitcase and deliberated over whether to break the lock and look inside or return the suitcase to the motel office.

Out of fifteen guests who were subjected to the honesty test, including a minister, a lawyer, and an Army lieutenant colonel, only two returned the suitcase to the office with the padlock intact. The others all opened the suitcase and then tried to dispose of it in different ways. The minister pushed the suitcase out the bathroom window into the bushes.

A lot of U.S. government programs are set up with the idea that Americans are fundamentally honest. Offering enhanced payments for disability is not going to change the number of people who seek to collect SSDI (see “Book Review: The Redistribution Recession“). Certainly we wouldn’t ever expect 97 percent of retired government workers to claim disability benefits. Hardly anyone would have sex with a drunken married dentist in order to harvest the $millions in tax-free child support that a Massachusetts or Wisconsin court would hand out. Nobody would work the FMLA to get full-time benefits out of a part-time job. People aren’t going to work in cash jobs in order to remain eligible for free public housing.

Readers: What do you think? Do we trust this motel owner’s data? If the data are right, is much of the current U.S. system set up improperly?


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