Shared posts

21 Sep 21:35

Game Set

by Greg Ross

square-producing set

Multiply any two of these numbers together and add 1 and you’ll always get a perfect square:

1 + 1 × 3 = 4
1 + 1 × 8 = 9
1 + 1 × 120 = 121
1 + 3 × 8 = 25
1 + 3 × 120 = 361
1 + 8 × 120 = 961

24 Sep 06:26

Shifting Ground

by Greg Ross

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erik_Werenskiold_-_Bondebegravelse_(Nasjonalmuseet).jpg

For her 2000 book Obituaries in American Culture, Janice Hume collated thousands of newspaper death notices to reveal the most admired characteristics of American men in various eras:

1818: Patriotism, gallantry, vigilance, boldness, merit as an officer
1838: Benevolence, intellect, kindness, affection, indulgence, devotion to family
1855: Public esteem, activity, amiability, fame, intelligence, generosity
1870: Christianity, education, generosity, energy, perseverance, eminence
1910: Professional accomplishments, wealth, long years at work, associations, education
1930: Long years at work, career promotions, education, associations, prominence, fame

In general, men who died in the 19th century were remembered for personal virtues such as piety and kindness, while 20th-century obituaries listed associations and accomplishments. Women, when they were remembered at all in 1818, were praised for passive traits such as patience, resignation, obedience, and amiability; by 1930 women were becoming recognized for accomplishments such as political voice and philanthrophy, but their most noted attribute was still their association with men.

19 Sep 17:24

Are Republicans or Democrats More Likely to Go Solar?

Are Republicans or Democrats More Likely to Go Solar?

This post is adapted from SolarPulse, a Priceonomics Data Studio customer. Does your company have interesting data? Become a Priceonomics customer.

***

When scientists research how to make solar cells more efficient, and when employees of solar companies try to manufacture and install them at a competitive price, they are not playing politics.

But if you listen to politicians talk about solar energy, you might think that scientists and solar manufacturers produce a political product. Democratic politicians praise renewable energy and propose funding for solar research. Republicans are more likely to downplay solar and talk about drilling for oil.

But should we really be associating solar with the Left? When it comes to the actions of individuals—rather than the rhetoric of politicians—do solar panels really divide the country along ideological lines?

Using data from Priceonomics customer SolarPulse, we reviewed data on 25,000 California households that installed solar panels from 1997 to 2015. We used this data to explore the political leanings of the areas with the highest proportion of solar homes.

Our findings refute the link between solar and political affiliation. In California, people who live in areas that elected a Republican to Congress are actually far more likely to buy solar technology for their homes than those who elected a Democrat.

What accounts for this difference? We explored a variety of demographic and geographic factors that could contribute to this counterintuitive finding. Our conclusion is that Americans are much more pragmatic about solar energy than the speeches of American politicians would suggest.

***

California leans heavily Democratic. Thirty-nine of the state’s 53 representatives in the House are Democrats, and Obama won over 60% of Californians’ votes in 2012.

California produces more energy from rooftop solar panels than any other state. Is this fact powered by the state’s Democrats?

To find out, we examined U.S. Census data on the number of households in each congressional district and SolarPulse data on the number of households in those districts that installed solar panels between 2011 and 2015. The result is the percentage of homes in Democratic and Republican areas that went solar.  

Data source: SolarPulse

The surprising result is that homes in Republican-leaning areas were five times more likely to install solar panels over the last five years. More than one in every 100 households in areas that elected Republicans bought solar panels in the last five years, compared to just 1 in every 500 households in areas that elected a Democrat. 

Of course, some voters are more partisan than others. It could be that centrist Republicans and Democrats are less influenced by the link between Democrats and solar panels on the national stage. 

To test the impact of partisanship on solar purchases, we deepened the analysis by using the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which scores the representatives of each congressional district based on the partisanship of their past voting. We used the PVI of the district’s representative to classify each California district for which we have data as either Very Republican, Mildly Republican, Mildly Democratic, Moderately Democratic, or Very Democratic. We then analyzed the percentage of new solar households for each of these categories.

Data source: SolarPulse

This further division of areas by partisanship shows that more Republicans go solar and that very liberal areas have few solar households. 

In fact, in contrast to the perception that solar is a partisan issue, in both Republican and Democratic areas, their more moderate districts have the largest proportion of new solar households.

What could be driving these higher rates of residential solar buying in Republican areas? 

Since wealthy homeowners go solar at higher rates, we investigated whether the Republican districts in this analysis are wealthier than average. Perhaps income levels are responsible for our results.

Data source: SolarPulse

The answer does not seem to lie with income. Democratic districts have (on the whole) a median per capita income that is about $8,000 higher than Republican districts.

If income does not explain the difference, perhaps homeownership rates are the answer, since renters are less likely to go solar. The following chart shows the percentage of rented homes in Republican and Democratic districts.

Data source: SolarPulse

The Democratic districts in our California dataset have far more renters: Only 40.5% of Republicans rent, whereas nearly 50% of California Democrats are renters. 

Home owners are far more likely to invest in their properties, meaning it’s more likely that they would invest in long-term energy solutions such as solar panels. Being a homeowner also means having your own roof—unlike renters in apartment buildings. The higher rates of renting in Democratic districts is likely part of the reason why more Republicans than Democrats go solar in California.

But the best explanation is geography. 

The ideal climates for solar panels are sunny, relatively dry, and warm. Additionally, solar panels are large, so rural areas and spacious suburbs can better accommodate them. 

In California, Republican districts tend to be in the southeastern parts of the state. These areas are generally sunny, dry, and less densely populated. In contrast, Democratic districts lie in the northern and coastal areas of California. These districts tend to have less ideal weather and higher density.

The average Republican district has five more days of sun a year—and, more importantly, has less population density.

Data source: SolarPulse

While the average Republican districts in our analysis has only 47 homes per square mile, the Democratic districts have 1,553. A combination of more space, more sun, and more homeownership makes California’s Republican districts a more ideal setting for solar panels.

***

Although American politicians tend to include solar panels in ideological battles, individuals are much more pragmatic.

Our analysis shows that households’ decision to go solar is not driven by political affiliation. Instead, people who live in areas that are sunny, dry, and less dense tend to install solar panels at higher rates. And in California, the country’s top state for solar, that means you’re more likely to see solar panels in Republican bastions than Democratic strongholds. 

If all politics is local, then solar panels aren’t political at all. 

NoteIf you’re a company that wants to work with Priceonomics to turn your data into great stories, learn more about the Priceonomics Data Studio.

Also, the Priceonomics Content Marketing Conference is on November 1 in San Francisco. Get your early bird ticket now.



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18 Sep 05:00

Impeachment é parlamentarista no mérito e presidencialista no processo

O processo de impedimento do presidente pode ser analisado por dois pontos de vista: o mérito e o rito processual.

Um Fiat Elba ou decretos de contingenciamento orçamentário são suficientes para estabelecer o mérito segundo a redação da lei de 1950. No mérito, a lei de impedimento é um instituto do parlamentarismo. Funciona como voto de desconfiança.

O rito processual, no entanto, é presidencialista. Longo processo de tramitação com maioria qualificada nas duas Casas e amplo direito de defesa.

Ou seja, o instituto do impedimento do presidente de acordo com nossa legislação tem características híbridas: parlamentarista no mérito e presidencialista no ritual.

Carece mudança?

A resposta a essa pergunta é puramente pragmática: sistemas políticos não são estruturas puras que precisam ser tuteladas por algum princípio moral. Para sistemas políticos, aplica-se a lógica consequencialista: garantindo-se os princípios democráticos básicos, vale o que melhor funcionar para a sociedade.

Nosso presidencialismo é extremamente consensual: voto proporcional, lista aberta, distritos eleitorais muito grandes, facilidade de criação de partidos, governo federativo (em três níveis!), STF com forte poder de revisão, Constituição extensa e detalhada, Judiciário com infinidade de instâncias recursais, entre outras características.

Para organizar a confusão e fazer a orquestra —em que cada músico tem algum poder de veto— tocar com um mínimo de ordem, o presidente é constitucionalmente muito forte. Tem o instrumento da medida provisória, veto total e parcial, poder de alocar o Orçamento, entre outros.

Adicionalmente nosso presidencialismo depende, para funcionar, de enorme capacidade de negociação do presidente.

Vale contrastar com o exemplo norte-americano. Lá existe bipartidarismo, presidente constitucionalmente fraco e, portanto, Legislativo constitucionalmente forte, e Constituição enxuta. Se há um impasse entre Executivo e Legislativo, a vida segue sem maiores percalços.

No Brasil, em razão de nosso desenho institucional, quando um presidente perde a capacidade de diálogo com o Legislativo, há forte embate destrutivo. O triste ano de 2015 ilustra. Um presidente constitucionalmente forte que perdeu a capacidade de diálogo com o Congresso perde também a capacidade de exercer o principal papel do chefe do Executivo em nosso presidencialismo: a defesa do interesse difuso.

Assim, o instituto híbrido do impedimento do presidente —parlamentarista no mérito e presidencialista no processo— é harmônico com as demais instituições que temos. Talvez a possibilidade de recall do presidente seja uma solução menos traumática. Mas, devido ao nosso desenho institucional, o recall tem que ser iniciativa do Poder Legislativo. O que, por sua vez, não me parece boa ideia. Enfraqueceria a Presidência mais do que nosso impedimento híbrido.

No nosso presidencialismo, o presidente é o coordenador. Tem inúmeras prerrogativas. Se avança o sinal, o Legislativo lhe corta a cabeça. A menos que mudemos completamente nossas instituições políticas, essa é a lógica interna de seu funcionamento.

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24 Sep 14:44

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Humans

by tech@thehiveworks.com
Adam Victor Brandizzi

The button extra frame is especially relevant.



Hovertext:
Ah, crap. The humans have gone bad. Better craigslist them.

New comic!
Today's News:
21 Sep 01:00

How to Make Someone Grateful for the Sci-fi Movies Hollywood Is Making Today

by Scott Meyer

For those who haven’t seen Soylent Green, (SPOILER ALERT) it’s a mystery story that takes place in a distant future where overcrowding and environmental problems have led to people mainly subsisting on a green protein cracker called Soylent Green. In the end, the hero discovers that the crackers are made out of people. It’s about as cheery and uplifting as most early-seventies science fiction got. There’s a reason Steven Spielberg and George Lucas took the world by storm.

I’m kinda surprised nobody has remade Soylent Green. I could see it a s a Bruce Willis vehicle. They’d probably give it a happy ending, with Bruce eating a cracker made out of the bad guy.

 

You can comment on this comic on Facebook.

As always, thanks for using my Amazon Affiliate links (USUKCanada).

26 Jul 15:37

Heartwarming Portraits of Senior Dogs Pay Tribute to Aging Pets

by DL Cade

seniordogs_feat

The artist statement Nancy LeVine sent us for her series Senior Dogs Across America begins with a paragraph that left this writer in tears—a tribute to the two dogs she had to let go of. “I loved them passionately,” she writes. “To the quiet, exquisite presence of each aged dog, I honor them with this work.”

More often than not, dog portraits feature healthy, vibrant pups in their prime; better yet, puppies. But LeVine’s photo project and book strays from the well-worn “adorable dog photos” path to cut its own through the heartbreaking thicket of old age and mortality… LeVine’s and her pets’ both.

Senior Dogs Across America is the result of this exploration, which started 12 years ago this year.

Cover Final_Senior Dogs Across America 800

“My interest in the world of the senior dog began as my own two dogs began to approach the end of their days,” writes LeVine. “This was at a time when I had lived enough years to start imagining my own mortality. I entered a world of grace where bodies that had once expressed their vibrancy were now on a more fragile path.”

She was inspired by the dignity and absence of fear that dogs bring to the process of aging, to the process of dying:

I saw how the dog does it; how, without the human’s painful ability to project ahead and fear the inevitable, the dog simply wakes to each day as a new step in the journey. Though their steps might be more stiff and arduous, these dogs still moved through each day as themselves—themselves of that day and all the days before.

The book features 86 of the portraits she captured all across America—from Hawaii to Mississipi, from Massachusetts to Wyoming. Here’s just a small selection

Sunshine, 14 years old. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary
Sunshine, 14 years old. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary
Poopie, 14 years old. New York, New York
Poopie, 14 years old. New York, New York
Englebert 9 yo, Hercules 17yo, Climber Eeoyore 14yo. Denver, Colorado
Englebert 9 yo, Hercules 17yo, Climber Eeoyore 14yo. Denver, Colorado
Ginger, 12.5 years old. Devils Tower, Wyoming
Ginger, 12.5 years old. Devils Tower, Wyoming
Rosie, 13 years old. Princess, 14 years old. Hileal, Florida, Friends of Greyhounds
Rosie, 13 years old. Princess, 14 years old. Hileal, Florida, Friends of Greyhounds
Jake, 16 years old. Higgins, Texas
Jake, 16 years old. Higgins, Texas
Joon, 16 years old. Sandwich, Massachusetts
Joon, 16 years old. Sandwich, Massachusetts
Murphy, 10 years old. Milford, Connecticut
Murphy, 10 years old. Milford, Connecticut
Springfeather, 17 years old. Kanab, Utah, Best Friends Animal Society
Springfeather, 17 years old. Kanab, Utah, Best Friends Animal Society
Wally, 14 years old. Ferrida, Louisiana
Wally, 14 years old. Ferrida, Louisiana

The artist statement on LeVine’s website doesn’t include the intro mentioned at the top. We’re including it below for those of you who don’t mind getting misty-eyed at work:

11-24-06 My dog, my muse, died today… on my birthday. She died only 5 months after her sister, my other muse. She licked my face – my tears – in the last moments of her life. My nine months of caring for two failing bodies is over now. The vet visits, acupuncturist, swim therapist, cardiologist, medications, supplements, diapers, stroller, my vigilance to their silent needs… hoping not to miss any. I loved them passionately.

To the quiet, exquisite presence of each aged dog, I honor them with this work. To the tight cord of love between them and their person(s), so profoundly palpable, I dedicate this work.

To see more of this work, be sure to pick up Senior Dogs Across America. And if you love LeVine’s work, you can find more on her website, Facebook, and the Senior Dogs Instagram.

(via Huffington Post)


Image credits: All photographs by Nancy LeVine and used with permission.

20 Jul 14:06

These Macro Photos of Colorful Insects Look Like Masked Faces

by DL Cade

goet_feature

Fine Art photographer Pascal Goet has been capturing macro photos for 26 years, but it’s only today that his work made its way onto our radar. His series Mask & Totem features some of the most colorful, anthropomorphic insects he’s photographed—insects that looks like mysterious, intricate masks.

Some of the “faces” are easier to see than others, but each begins to look like an alien or animal figure the longer you stare at it, especially if you attend one of Goet’s exhibitions and see the images printed large.

Pascal—who is represented by the Blin plus Blin Gallery in Paris—doesn’t alter the colors of the insects at all. A little bit of work with light and shadow is all these insects get in post.

See them for yourself below:

PascalGoet_3

PascalGoet_2

PascalGoet_5

PascalGoet_6

PascalGoet_1

PascalGoet_4

PascalGoet_8

These images are currently on display in Albi, France until mid-August and will travel next to the Museum of Natural History of La Rochelle, France where you can see them up close from September 20th to January 15th. If you’re in either area, we definitely suggest dropping in.

To see more of Goet’s work, head over to his website.

(via Colossal)


Image credits: All photographs by Pascal Goet and used with permission.

22 Sep 20:07

by Adam Ellis

24 Sep 05:00

Comic for 2016.09.24

by Rob DenBleyker
24 Sep 05:42

Comic for September 24, 2016

by Scott Adams
23 Sep 17:39

Outsmarted

by CommitStrip

23 Sep 20:01

Babyproofing

by itsthetie

smart baby

bonus

The post Babyproofing appeared first on It's The Tie!.

23 Sep 17:45

Forever

by Brian

forever

Bonus Panel

The post Forever appeared first on Fowl Language Comics.

23 Sep 16:00

Raccoon Wants More

by Reza

raccoon-wants-more

23 Sep 10:57

Space Attack!

by Scandinavia and the World
Space Attack!

Space Attack!

View Comic!




23 Sep 13:11

Multitasking

by Grant
23 Sep 00:00

Datacenter Scale

Asimov's Cosmic AC was created by linking all datacenters through hyperspace, which explains a lot. It didn't reverse entropy--it just discarded the universe when it reached end-of-life and ordered a new one.
22 Sep 20:06

tbt



tbt

22 Sep 21:49

CTRL control

by CommitStrip

strip-sue-le-fil-650-finalenglish

21 Sep 20:04

More Cluster Fudge HERE



More Cluster Fudge HERE

21 Sep 00:00

Manhattan Project

On the plus side, we definitely killed that cancer over there, even if we caused a bunch more everywhere else.
21 Sep 05:00

Comic for 2016.09.21

by Kris Wilson
20 Sep 07:35

Comic for September 20, 2016

by Scott Adams
20 Sep 01:14

Wow Really

by Dorktoes

wowreally

You develop an odd sense of humour when you live together.

18 Sep 12:24

free sporozoites

http://oglaf.com/free-sporozoites/

18 Sep 04:22

The World Nomad Games are like the Olympics, except with more fire and flying goat carcasses - SBNation.com

by brandizzi

The World Nomad Games concluded on Friday in what can only be described as the greatest week-long sporting event on the planet. The games, intended to showcase ethnic sports of Central Asia, featured things you have never heard of, athletes you’ll never learn about and sports that sound absolutely terrifying.

There were 16 sports with medals up for grabs. These are the ones that are the absolute wildest.

Cirit

via World Nomad Games

This Turkish equestrian sport involves teams of riders chasing each other and throwing javelins at each other while on horseback. Yes, seriously.

Er Enish

It’s wrestling, except you’re on a horse. You win by pulling your opponent off their horse.

via World Nomad Games

Kok-boru

There’s no delicate way to explain Kok-boru. It’s horseback basketball using a goat carcass. You win by tossing the dead goat into your opponent’s well. It comes from a tradition of beating up wolves that attacked your herd of sheep and throwing a dead wolf to your friends who went wolf hunting with you.

Mas-wrestling

via World Nomad Games

In this form a wrestling, athletes fight over a stick. Each wrestler is given part of the stick to hold and are seated facing each other with their feet on a plank. Whoever gets the stick wins.

Ordo

I watched the entire 14-minute rule video on Ordo and I’m still not sure what Ordo is. It seems like reverse curling. Instead of trying to get your shell in the center of the circle, you’re trying to knock your opponents’ shells out.

Salbuurun

A three-step hunting sport involving animals.

via World Nomad Games

Competitions are held in the following disciplines:

1. Burkut saluu - hunting with golden eagles. Composition of the team - 6 people: 1 leader and 5 berkutchi (hunter with eagles).

2. Dalba oynotuu - falcon flying to the lure. Composition of the team - 6 people: 1 leader and 5 Kushchu (falconer).

3. Taigan jarysh - dog racing among breeds of greyhound. Composition of the team - 6 people: 1 leader and 5 owners of dogs.

Traditional Archery

This has to be the biggest misnomer of the World Nomad Games. They say “traditional,” but really they mean on horseback and also this.

Did the USA win any medals?

YES! It might surprise you to hear that USA even sent a team to the World Nomad Games, but we totally did. Granted, USA is not especially great at these sports and only won two silver medals and two bronze medals, but dang it’s a start.

I’ve tried to work out what the USA won in for the last 30 minutes, but the World Nomad games has no way of finding that out on their website. We better have won in eagle hunting.

Other fun facts:

  • A gold medal earned an athlete the equivalent of $517.
  • Outside of the games there were contests for best yurt, and best drawing of a falcon.
  • There was a sport on exhibition (but not competition) called Oert Jalymdagan Chabandes, or “Burning Rider,” which is riding a horse except you’re on fire. They made a stamp out of it.

via Kyrgyz Express Post

Seriously, you need to watch it, because it was bananas.


These sports may seem strange, and who doesn’t like laughing at a dude on fire riding a horse — but the reality is that all of these sports are ludicrously difficult and totally hardcore. Athletes train for years using traditional dress and equipment just to compete. There is a ton of info on the games’ official site if you want to learn more about the rules.

The next World Nomad Games will be held in 2018. Now it should be on everybody’s radar.

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18 Sep 04:23

When Love Isn’t as Simple as Standing by Your Man - NYTimes.com

by brandizzi

Modern Love

By EIRIK GUMENY

My wife and I used to joke about how much better we were than other couples, how we never had the petty fights and misunderstandings that everyone else seemed to be having. Together we had weathered layoffs, a cross-country move, multiple hospitalizations from my cystic fibrosis and the housebreaking of two terrier puppies.

Yet somehow we always managed to come out stronger than before. Our love was indestructible.

Then she threatened to leave me six weeks after I had a double lung transplant.

When you’re being evaluated for a transplant, there are a lot of things the nurses and medical professionals tell you over and over again to drive home the significance, to make sure you’re truly prepared, and probably to keep you from suing them later.

There is a good chance you may die, they tell you, either during the surgery or while waiting for it. They show you pictures of how physically wracked your body is going to be in the days after the procedure. They give you documents explaining that you may die, what the cost of prescriptions will be and how high the risk of death is. They explain that you’re going to be allergic to grapefruit and turtles afterward. For a while, you won’t be able to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. And, oh yeah, death is a distinct possibility.

There are also a lot of things the medical professionals don’t mention: the stench of stale milk emanating from the nutritional supplements stacked in a corner of your rented bedroom, the wild mood swings, the muscle spasms, the sound an oxygen tank makes when a valve breaks at 2 a.m. (like the inside of a tornado), and what it feels like when antibiotics turn your colon into a water slide.

None of the pamphlets mention the psychological toll of waiting to die or of waiting for (even grimly rooting for) someone else to die so that you can get that person’s lungs. They don’t explain how not to feel like a monster about that. No one tells you that the physical scars are the easy ones.

My wife, Monica, knows this all intimately now, better even than I do. While I was high on anti-anxiety medications and cannabis-based appetite stimulants, she was the one who had to remain clearheaded enough to clean up after me and keep us rolling in buckets of expensive prescriptions.

Interactive Feature | NYT Living Newsletter Get lifestyle news from the Style, Travel and Food sections, from the latest trends to news you can use.

She didn’t have the luxury of mentally checking out, the way I did. She would spend her mornings dealing with the gruesome symptoms of my death spiral, and then spend the afternoons trying to do her day job from my hospital room.

Monica and I had bought a home in Albuquerque about six months before my lungs decided they no longer wanted to be lungs. There is nowhere in New Mexico where you can get a lung transplant, legally or otherwise. The local cystic fibrosis clinic worked in tandem with the transplant team at Stanford Hospital in California, summoning information and X-rays and then, when things really went off the rails, me, via emergency airlift.

Monica spent the first two weeks sleeping on a cot in my tiny hospital room, both because I was a disaster and because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. In between consoling me and checking in with the doctors and corralling the parents and coordinating with our friends to drive our car and all of our stuff out west (we were allowed only a single carry-on each during the airlift), Monica also had to find us a cheap apartment in one of the most expensive markets in the world before I could be even tenuously released from the hospital.

We had to stay within an hour of Stanford Hospital. I wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to Albuquerque unless I became significantly less almost-dead.

Bills began piling higher on our makeshift dining-room table, a rickety card table from Ikea. Monica kept working, fund-raising and taking care of me. Two months later, I was on six liters of oxygen while sitting still. I could barely eat. Three months after that, my wife was bathing me like a child as I shivered and huddled in the tub trying not to have a panic attack.

Monica had known about the cystic fibrosis since our third date, about the possibility of a transplant since shortly after. We had made it through some rough exacerbations and pneumonias before, argued with insurance companies and hospitals. We thought we could handle anything the transplant could throw at us.

All the papers and preparation in the world, though, can’t get you ready for how radically life-altering the transplant process is, how fundamentally less than human you become while waiting and wasting away. No brochure explains what that does to those watching you.

Seven months after arriving in Palo Alto, we finally received the call: An organ donor of the correct size and blood type, within an acceptable distance for rapid transport, had died, and I received my double lung transplant, a nine-hour procedure that went well.

Within a week of surgery, I was out of the hospital and back in our apartment with only Tylenol for the pain. We had the respiratory therapy company collect the oxygen tanks and tubes. We tossed all the nutritional supplements. Things were finally getting back to normal.

Except we still couldn’t go home: We needed to stay near Stanford Hospital for at least three more months. I still couldn’t walk — my leg muscles had atrophied from the months of falling lung capacity and bed rest. And my new lungs still needed to be broken in. I needed physical therapy to learn to breathe again, to function as a human being.

I was still only half a person.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Monica said.

Monica was a teary, snotty mess the night she blindsided me with the news that she may have to leave me if I didn’t get healthier faster. It was mid-October, less than two months after the transplant.

I was more terrified in that moment than I had been at any time during my hospitalizations or at any time they had to cut me open. The world itself seemed to stop. Despite the 20 pounds I had gained, the 6-foot-2 frame I had finally filled, I felt small and helpless. She was towering over me, crying, sniffling, trying to explain.

She had already bought a plane ticket home.

I was wearing new pajamas. I had a pile of pills on the table, a window open to the street at my back. I could hear the cars at the light: braking, stopping, going.

After my mother flew in to relieve her, Monica left for New Mexico. I spent those next days and weeks feeling wounded, incensed. I tried to distract myself by building a haunted gingerbread house for Halloween but couldn’t help dwelling on Monica’s betrayal.

“How could she?” I ranted to myself, smoldering. “Who does something like that?” I fumed as I applied icing to the roof. “Do I have to wait until Halloween to eat this?” I wondered. (I was still on a lot of drugs at that point; it was hard to stay focused.)

Monica and I didn’t talk much while she was gone. Once I knew she was coming back, though, I began deciding what I was going to say to her, how I was going to explain how hurt and upset I was that she would simply abandon me after everything I had gone through.

And there it was. I hadn’t gone through anything. We had. Together.

Every problem my waning health presented Monica had to handle twice over, worrying about me and worrying about her life after me if it all went sideways. Every time someone told me I was going to die, she had to sit there silently, taking it in.

I could petulantly shrug off all the dire news and flip to the Cartoon Network, but she didn’t have that option. She had to deal with the information, the issues and the repercussions, acting as nursemaid, housekeeper, chauffeur and lawyer for me — the man who was supposed to share her life, not consume it.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

Her words haunted me for weeks, but I was wrong about them. They weren’t an ultimatum. They were a proclamation of defeat. Monica needed a break from doing the impossible. Her hasty retreat didn’t mean she was done with me. It meant that she was as broken as I was. We had had a misunderstanding.

My wife and I don’t joke about how great we are anymore. We realize now how precarious, how fragile a claim like that really is.

Our love may be indestructible, but we sure as hell aren’t.

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14 Sep 07:59

The hazards of a world where mediocrity rules

by Tim Harford
Undercover Economist

“It’s absolutely amazing, but under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit.” Thus spoke accountant Leo Bloom, played in The Producers (1968) by the much-mourned Gene Wilder. In Bloom’s thought experiment, a dishonest producer would raise a vast sum by selling the profits of a Broadway show many times over. Provided the Broadway show was a flop, nobody would come looking for their share of the profits and the fraudsters could retire to Rio. If the show was a hit, of course, “well, then you’d go to jail”. That was where Bloom and his partner Max Bialystock ended up: their musical, Springtime for Hitler, was far too good.

In the real world, people tend not to become richer when they do a worse job. There are exceptions, of course. In 2013, a jury found that Fabrice Tourre, formerly a trader at Goldman Sachs, had misled investors about the nature of “Abacus”, a complex financial security — and done so because that was his job. Abacus was, like Springtime for Hitler, a bet on collapse mis-sold to investors who did not seem to fully understand it.

Both cases are extreme examples of “moral hazard” — the odd phrase that economists have taken up to describe perverse incentives that encourage people to be careless, reckless or even outright saboteurs. Moral hazard traditionally applies in insurance cases, and indeed recent reports from Vietnam describe a woman who cut off her hand and foot in an attempt to collect a six-figure payout from her insurance company. There was a rash of such self-harming frauds in the Florida panhandle 50 years ago.

Economics has no difficulty analysing such cases — several Nobel Memorial Prizes have been given to economists who studied moral hazard. Still, they run counter to the mood music of mainstream economics, which tends to strike Panglossian chords. The starting point of modern economics is the perfectly competitive equilibrium, in which resources are allocated efficiently and the market will deliver more of what people really want. Against such a stirring symphony, Leo Bloom and Fabrice Tourre hit isolated, dissonant notes.

Yet there are corners of the economy where poor work is the norm, not the exception. A few years ago, two Italian academics, sociologist Diego Gambetta and philosopher Gloria Origgi, published an article reflecting on what they called “the LL game”. It has since found a catchier term: Kakonomics — the economics of rottenness.

In a kakonomy, mediocrity rules. People not only supply shoddy work and expect shoddy work in return, they actually prefer to receive shoddy work. I’m put in mind of the shared student house in which nobody can quite be bothered to wash the dishes, empty the bins or even buy new toilet paper. The presence of a housemate who bustles around wiping up the filth might seem to be welcome but, in fact, it’s an aggravation because it puts pressure on everyone else to join in.

Gambetta and Origgi observed the LL game being played at an advanced level in Italian universities. Not only would both parties to an agreement deliver low-quality (hence the “LL”), but they would insist to each other that they were doing an excellent job, and pronounce themselves delighted with what they had received in return. For example, a visiting lecturer might agree to deliver a series of eight original seminars and be paid an honorarium of €1,200 in advance. In fact, the payment is six months late and it’s only €750 (some excuse about taxes); meanwhile, the lecturer is mostly on holiday with his family and only gives five lectures, all of which are old hat. Both sides expected as much yet both sides loudly announce they’re delighted with the superb professionalism on show. Meanwhile, they are indeed pleased enough: the faculty has not been embarrassed by some visiting star and retains a larger entertainment budget; the lecturer enjoyed a free holiday without having to do any serious work.

There is something rather charming about a kakonomy at first glance. It can be quite pleasant to relax and be a little bit crappy for a while, and we all know that there is nothing quite so exhausting as a colleague — or, worse, a spouse — who is relentlessly perfect.

But a true kakonomy is collusive, a tacit agreement to be mediocre at someone else’s expense. In the case of many Italian universities, it appears that collusive mediocrity costs Italian students and the Italian taxpayer. (Lacking personal experience, I take Gambetta and Origgi at their word about the quality of most Italian universities.) Once a kakocracy has been established, it is likely to endure: recruiters will be careful not to hire anyone who might not only rock the boat but also repair the leaks and fix the outboard motor.

The spectre of kakonomics is a reminder of the importance of things that cannot be measured: the culture of an investment bank, or a university, may matter just as much as the explicit rules. Even when Bialystock and Bloom went to jail, they moved on to the next scam without missing a beat.

Written for and first published in the Financial Times.

It helps any new book to pick up some advance orders, so if you like my writing please consider pre-ordering my new book, “Messy“. (US) (UK) More to follow soon…

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17 Sep 14:42

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Pet Peeve

by tech@thehiveworks.com


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