Quora

Someone recently abused their privileges on Quora by asking a question that Google could've answered instantly:

I'm glad they asked, though, because the poetic elegance of  Mayor Espinosa's response is priceless:


 

Inferring the News

Is there something going on today that I should know about?

Keynes vs. Hayek, Round Two

Once in a blue moon, we have occasion to use the phrase "academically rigorous rap song" and mean it.  This is such an occasion.  The new Russ Roberts/John Papola joint has dropped, and with it we get a fresh hip-hop take on the battle over our economy:



Round One, for those who've been living under a rock since it came out, is here:



Between these two songs, I've learned more macro than I did in a semester of ECON 101.

Data Visualization

Most data visualization efforts have the same effect on me as a Mondrian painting - I apprehend some transcendent beauty, but can't for the life of me discern the intended meaning.  This NYTimes video makes sense to me, and is fascinating on many levels.  There is something a little too meta about it, though.  I mean, it's a video (layer 3) about the way an NYTimes news story (layer 1) about a given event (layer 0) spreads on social media platforms (layer 2).  And here I am writing about the video.  Great.


Related:  last year's instant-classic on Mariano Rivera's cutter.

Roger Ebert

I find it really charming that Roger Ebert has been entering The New Yorker's cartoon caption contest for a couple years now.  Even more so is the fact that he finally won one.

I don't want any trouble with The New Yorker, so I'll leave it to you to click the link above and read the winning entry, along with some close seconds.

Teleportation

Photo via the article.

As it turns out, science is hard.  Or, this is just a late April Fool's joke:
In a real-life use of Schrödinger's theoretical paradoxical cat, researchers report that they were able to quickly transfer a complex set of quantum information while preserving its integrity. The information, in the form of light, was manipulated in such a way that it existed in two states at the same time, and it was destroyed in one spot and recreated in another. The new breakthrough is a major step toward building safe, effective quantum computers...
In this experiment, researchers in Australia and Japan were able to transfer quantum information from one place to another without having to physically move it. It was destroyed in one place and instantly resurrected in another, “alive” again and unchanged. This is a major advance, as previous teleportation experiments were either very slow or caused some information to be lost.
I just knew that when teleportation became a reality it would wind up being too slow or incomplete to be practical.

Eat, Drink, be Merry

Jason Kottke sums it up nicely, and I will pass it along unedited:
Rules for eating and drinking
Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Alex Balk: "Drink alcohol. Quite a bit. Mostly bourbon."
The first link is to a very long NYTimes article, so consider this my way of saving you 1OY20.

Chocolate and Wine, Together at Last

Spotted at Walgreen's last night.  And, yes - it's the exact same color as Yoo-Hoo.  

Baby Gender Parties

My wife and I know a couple who did this.  At first, it seemed like a fairly innocuous and even slightly charming excuse to have a party.  The more I think about it, though, the more it seems like a rare combination of creepy and self-serving:
This is only one example of the newly ubiquitous, guilelessly documented Gender Cake Party, in which a couple hands over the obstetrician's report to the local bakery, then receives the news in a manner they firmly refuse to acknowledge as symbolic: from a newly sliced, triangle-shaped wound of tender flesh.
 h/t: kottke.org

Vicious Cycle

You're a bald, or balding, man. You discover one day that your receding hairline has adverse effects on your ability to attract and secure a mate. To be crass: no hair leads to no sex, which can lead to depression.

Enter Propecia. This wonder drug has the potential to put your hair back in its place and a smile back on your face. Unfortunately, in one of life's cruelest ironies, it now seems that the very thing that promised to put you back in the game is also apparently taking the metaphorical air out of your ball. To quote one of the experts in the article: "No sex. No desire. Potential depression." Which, by now, probably feels like a familiar routine.

Enter Viagra? No...I predict we're only months away from learning that ED medication leads to hair loss.

There must be a simple, non-invasive, cost-free solution to this dilemma. Am I crazy to think that for every George Costanza there's a Marisa Tomei just waiting by the phone for a call?

Who Do Doctors Sue for Malpractice?

A recent study produced some curious findings:
Physicians may choose riskier treatment for themselves than they'd recommend for their patients, according to a study that highlights a need for candid discussions about patients' preferences.
 The article goes on to explore some possible explanations:
The study asked more than 700 primary-care doctors to choose between two treatment options for cancer and the flu — one with a higher risk of death, one with a higher risk of serious, lasting complications.

In each of the two scenarios, doctors who said they'd choose the deadlier option for themselves outnumbered those who said they'd choose it for their patients.

That's likely because doctors are taught to do no harm, and death would be the ultimate harm. But also, some doctors likely reacted emotionally, recoiling at the notion of enduring "these kind of icky [is this a medical term?] side effects," and they tended to put more faith in patients' ability to cope with lasting side effects, said Ubel.
To my inexpert mind, the most obvious explanation is that doctors are probably less likely to sue each other (and are certainly less likely to sue themselves) than the average patient would be.  Curiously, the article doesn't even touch on the concept of "malpractice," yet I think fear of a lawsuit is one of the biggest reasons we have such an overly-cautious, over-MRI'ed, conservative, risk-averse (etc.) approach to medicine in America today.

The Futility of Out-Educating Fat (or anything, for that matter)

Nice reminder about the limits of "education" and the dangers of trusting a room full of really smart people. Even at Tufts.
Years ago, Tufts University invited me to lecture during a symposium on obesity…

Lecturer after lecturer offered solutions for America’s obesity problem, all of which revolved around education. Americans would be thinner if only they knew about good nutrition and the benefits of exercise, they told us. Slimming down the entire country was possible through an aggressive public awareness campaign…

When it was my turn to speak, I couldn’t help beginning with an observation. “I think it is fascinating that the other speakers today have suggested that education is the answer to our country’s obesity problem,” I said. I slowly gestured around the room. “If education is the answer, then why hasn’t it helped more of you?”

There were audible gasps in the auditorium when I said this, quite a few snickers, and five times as many sneers. Unsurprisingly, Tufts never invited me to lecture again.’”

–Clotaire Rapaille
The Culture Code

Prices are Beautiful, and No One Can Control Them

Wonderful:
I’ve often annoyed friends by repeating my view that “Prices are beautiful.” We have a tendency to view prices as deception, a trick played on consumers to scam us into paying more than we like. Prices are information. Like ants tracing pheremones [sic], prices provide signals for the billions of buyers and sellers that we call “the market.” These prices guide our savings, our production and our consumption. Isn’t it marvelous how we can use a price to evaluate all 3 of those functions? Prices are like a universal language!
This reminds me of a thought I often have when people complain about the "high" price of something. Gas, for instance. The common belief seems to be that oil companies and gas stations just charge "whatever they want" for gas, and we're stuck paying the price. In my mind, I wonder: if this were true, then why is gas so cheap?! I mean, if I could charge "whatever I want" for something it sure wouldn't be $3/unit.

Lists

This pair of lists from McSweeney's is just impossibly dense with side-splitting humor.


Sample: "Thin Lizzy: You are often forced to change or cancel your plans due to 'NO LOITERING' signs."

and


Samples:  "Grand Funk Railroad: You have become stuck trying to retrieve a quarter from behind a stove" and "Blood, Sweat & Tears: You have become stuck trying to retrieve your friend who likes Grand Funk Railroad from behind a stove"

Before I Die


I think graffiti is the work of criminals, not artists. And Banksy doesn't get a pass on this. Am I the only one who is wildly unimpressed with his whole schtick? If he personally hosted a show at a gallery full of his "street art" would anyone consider him the revolutionary figure that he is; or does his work somehow get elevated because he does it anonymously, on other people's property and without their permission? If it's the latter, why?

[End of rant]

Fortunately, this is not graffiti. If it were, I'd be bending over backwards trying to justify its existence. Instead, we get this reassurance from the artist that the work was "Made with primer, chalkboard paint, stencils, spray paint, chalk, people. Self-initiated with permission from the property owner, residents of the block, the neighborhood association’s blight committee, the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Arts Council, and the City Planning Commission"

The Hold Steady

Recently, I was in a mopey mood so I put on "Lord, I'm Discouraged" from Stay Positive and listened twice through. Cathartic.

That night I got an email reminding me that they were playing Terminal 5 soon. I clicked the link and read this little piece by Craig Finn, which I found utterly charming.  I post it here for my own future reference:
During our time as The Hold Steady, I've made a lot in interviews and onstage monologues about what little ambition we had when we started this band. We weren't sure if we would play shows or release records. We had seriously managed expectations. But in the end, we did end up playing shows and releasing records, and we are better people for it. We've seen a lot of the world, met a ton of great people, and played a whole bunch of rock and roll music. Our efforts have been rewarded beyond our wildest dreams. It's not exactly a mind-blowing statement when I say that this is the best job I've ever had. That said, there are sacrifices and discomfort that come with this territory: busted relationships, distance from family, physical exhaustion, disconnection from civilian life, ringing ears, interminable waiting around, trying to get through a ninety minute show when you have food poisoning, etc.

Cricket

I can't imagine a better explanation of cricket than this little piece.

I wish I'd read it before I lived in Australia. It would've saved my friends a lot of trouble and me a lot of confusion.

Not to ruin the ending, but here's a hint at what you're in for:
Well, I suppose you could bring a pie if you wanted—you know, for the other guys—but the point is that the presence of pie won't have any bearing on the outcome of the match.
The best explanation that I could come up with before reading this was: "Imagine a sport that looks deceptively similar to baseball, but has absolutely nothing in common with the great American pastime. Except in both sports, a batter is trying to hit a hard ball that's been hurled in his direction. And there are 'runs.' And 'innings.' And 'beer.'"

If you have some spare time and want a longer exposition on this topic, I can highly recommend this.

B-Boys

In 8th grade, my art teacher took a few students to see the Beastie Boys in concert.  She was a really sweet, progressive lady, and we were a bunch of naive middle schoolers.  We sat in the upper-deck of what was at the time called the Capital Center (I think), and took in a spectacle unlike anything we'd ever seen or heard.

By that point in the tour, the stage show featured a giant mechanical microphone because the previous set-piece was deemed too offensive.  There may or may not have been dancing ladies in cages - I honestly don't recall.  The two Adams and Mike D each had his own giant tub of beer, and a dedicated stagehand whose only job was to constantly replenish his supply.  The cycle went:  open can of beer tossed to B-Boy, mouthful of beer consumed, mouthful of beer sprayed onto the front row, remainder of beer in can shaken and sprayed onto audience (like a Hip Hop Sea World show), repeat.  For over an hour.

The opening act was another band from New York called Public Enemy, and they inexplicably played their entire set flanked by armed, beret-wearing military guards of some unknown provenance.  Also, one of the two vocalists was wearing what appeared to be an outrageously large clock as a sort of locket around his neck.  Too bad they never really forged their own path.  They seemed to have potential.

And this little walk down memory lane is just prologue to this:  the funniest, star-studdedest, pop-culture-referencingest video you will see all day.  Caution (need I mention this?):  swears.

W1OY20

Tyler Cowen uses a nice, concise phrase today that I've been futilely trying to come up with on my own -  "worth one of your twenty".  I think he's the first to string these words together in that particular order.  In the derivative, rip-off style that has made this blog almost-famous, I shall now coin a new term:

W1OY20  |ˈdəbəlˌyoōˌˈwənˌō,wīˌˈtwentē|  adj.  a hyperlink which, when clicked, will lead to an article behind the New York Times' new paywall, the reading of which will return sufficient marginal value as to be worth subtracting from your allotted twenty clicks per month.

Life Imitates The Onion

How is this (which is real):



different from this (which is not, but was fictitiously foretold over two years ago)?



And why on earth would anyone pay $1,200 for the real device, which weighs 6 pounds and has a battery life of about 3 hours; when you could get a MacBook Air that weighs less than half as much, has a battery that lasts about twice as long, and costs $200 less?

It feels to me like someone at Acer, who (in my mind at least) speaks in Dave Letterman's Dumb Guy voice, showed up to a marketing meeting a year ago and said "Uh...if the kids like these touch-screen things so much, they'll LOVE something with TWO touch-screens."  And then, in a cascade of disastrous decisions, a year later the product was launched.

The Internet Will Never Give Us Anything Greater Than This

If this isn't the greatest thing the internet has ever produced, it's gotta be in the Top 2.

I like big butts and I cannot lie, but is there some evolutionary reason as to why?

While you're reading the thread, why don't you cue up the best cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's classic ever recorded, and play it in the background?



DISCLAIMER:  The aforelinked comment thread was more or less SFW at the time of posting.  I cannot vouch for its ongoing tastefulness, especially given the nature of the Reddit community.  In any case, be prepared for adult themes and/or dirty words.

Via kottke.org

Bounty Hunting

I read this story awhile ago, but recent events triggered a conversation in which I was at a loss to remember most of the details.  I post it here for general information and my own future reference.

The Bounty Hunter's Pursuit of Justice

Most people don’t realize how many fugitives from the law there are. About one-quarter of all felony defendants fail to show up on the day of their trial. Some of these absences are due to forgetfulness, hospitalization, or even imprisonment on another charge. But like Luster, many felony defendants skip court with willful intent. The police are charged with recapturing these fugitives, but some of them are chased by an even more tireless pursuer, the bounty hunter. 
Bounty hunters and bail bondsmen play an important but unsung role in a legal system whose court dockets are too crowded to provide swift justice. When a suspect is arrested, a judge must make a decision: set the suspect free on his own recognizance until the court is ready to proceed, hold the suspect in jail, or release the accused on the condition that he post a bail bond. A bond is a promise backed by incentive. If the suspect shows up on the trial date, he gets his money back; but if he fails to show, the money is forfeited. We don’t want to deprive the innocent of their liberty, but we also don’t want to give the guilty too much of a head start on their escape. Bail bonds don’t solve this problem completely, but they do give judges an additional tool to help them navigate the dilemma.
What a complicated, wonderful world we live in!

Wikipedia

What are the odds that a link preceded by the words "this is known as" or "commonly called" etc. will lead to a Wikipedia article on that subject? And is there a way to quantify the correlation between those odds and the high-mindedness of the site that's linking to begin with?

Happy Birthday, Dr.

Walter Williams recently celebrated his 75th birthday.  Let's give him thirty minutes of our time, shall we?

The Quick Brown Fox...

In typing class, we used that old sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs" in order to practice hitting every letter in the alphabet.

It occurred to me the other day that we need a similar paragraph - one that, when spoken, would yield a sample of every sound needed to pronounce every word in the English language.  The applications for this are infinite, but at the very least I can imagine a future where celebrities record this paragraph so that we can let the dulcet tones of their golden voices guide us to our destination using our GPS.

English isn't a tonal language, so even accounting for some variations in inflection it doesn't seem like this should be too hard.  It's 2011, people!  Someone get on this!

(PS, I'm fully prepared for a hundred e-mails pointing to a Wikipedia page that explains how this was accomplished in 1937 or something.)

Montana Enters the Fray

Not content to let South Dakota or Texas get the drop on them, Montana has thrown their hat into the ring.
A Montana store is offering a free gun to customers who sign up for satellite-TV service, drawing criticism from an advocacy group and the dealer's parent RadioShack Corp. (RSH), which is trying to stop the promotion.
The shop, located in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana about 50 miles off the highway, has tripled the number of signups for Dish Network Corp. (DISH)'s service since starting the offer in October, store manager Fabian Levy said. When customers sign a Dish contract, they get a gift certificate for a gun that can be redeemed at Frontier Guns & Ammo, about 10 miles from the store.
And, lest you think there's something "wrong" with a promotion like this, we get the following words of reassurance:
Dish checked its rules and regulations and found nothing wrong with the offer, said Marc Lumpkin, a company spokesman. 
"We started as a rural satellite-TV retailer ourselves many years ago," Lumpkin said. "It appears that this promotion fits the demographic of rural Montana."
Let the Second Amendment Smack-down rage on!