Presidential trading cards

Collectible presidential trading cards – an entirely new way to invest for retirement – without mutual fund fees. 🙂

There’s President Ronald Reagan

President George Washington

President George W. Bush

President Barack Obama cards

But for the serious collector there is this signed photo of President George H.W. Bush and Babe Ruth

Nixon meets Robocop

That is all.


The American arcade …

From The Verge – a really interesting video on the life and death of the American arcades that were popular before everyone started playing their video games at home on their couch.

How the public views their state and local courts

My co-author, Damon Cann, and I humbly request readers’ assistance on a new research project concerning public views toward state and local courts. Our short survey (about 10 minutes to take) is available here. In the words of Bartles & Jaymes – “thank you for your support.”

New study reveals link between male adolescent strength and early mortality

So, um, what do we do with this, policy-wise? Here’s the abstract from the Swedish study: Continue reading

Does method of judicial selection – elected vs. appointed – affect public views of state courts?

My co-author, Damon Cann, and I investigate this proposition in our article in American Politics Review, “Homegrown Institutional Legitimacy: Assessing Citizens’ Diffuse Support for Their State Courts.” Here’s the abstract:

In the years following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, the public’s support for the judicial system looms as an especially important concern. While studies have confirmed that the Supreme Court’s reservoir of public good will has remained largely intact following the politically divisive decision, the status of public support for other American courts has received little attention. This reflects a broader trend in judicial politics scholarship toward placing inordinate attention on explaining public support for the U.S. Supreme Court, while largely ignoring the courts where most of the policy-making in the nation occurs – state courts. We use 2001 survey data from a nationwide sample to assess the factors influencing diffuse citizen support for state courts. We find that many of the considerations affecting diffuse support for state courts parallel the determinants of such support for the nation’s high Court. However, we also find important differences between explanations of citizen support for state courts and the Supreme Court.

How does your state rank on Zombie Apocalypse preparation?

Check out more here.

Variance as inequality

According to TRAC, here are the five courthouses that have the widest sentencing differences among the judges that that serve in them:

Baltimore, Columbia (South Carolina), Philadelphia, Macon (Middle District of Georgia) and Norfolk (Eastern District of Virginia

And TRAC has a new Judge Info Center.

A NASA warp drive?

How NASA might build its very first warp drive

Maybe? Check it out:

A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein’s law of relativity.

See the rest on on i09 here. H/T clmazin

Halloween Special: The possibility of a zombie apocalypse

Sleep tight 🙂    H/T Buzzfeed


Survey: What is your favorite movie on presidents or presidential campaigns?

Television interview with eyewitness to Kennedy assassination

Did I say Kennedy? I meant Lincoln. Seriously.

How to shirk

The all-important “undecided voter” wants to know…

The Codes: the less formal laws of baseball

You call it.

Sure, you know the infield fly rule and all the other rules of baseball — but do you know the codes?

Check out Jason Turbow and Michael Duca’s “The Baseball Codes” blog here. Oh yeah, there’s also a book. A movie? Maybe. Here’s some text from the site on it:

The Baseball Codes — colloquially referred to as the unwritten rules of the game — comprise the methods players use to police themselves and each other. It’s a moral code that, on and off the field, is used to keep the game pure.

Shark Week? Maybe we should have “Deer Week”

Here’s nice little story about animals more likely to kill you than sharks. (Caution – it doesn’t strike me as the most scientific study ever). I’ll give away the ending with a quick list (below the fold) for those who are too exhausted to click on the link. H/T JBS Continue reading

On the prospect of social impact bonds

From the NY Times:

New York City, embracing an experimental mechanism for financing social services that has excited and worried government reformers around the world, will allow Goldman Sachs to invest nearly $10 million in a jail program, with the pledge that the financial services giant would profit if the program succeeded in significantly reducing recidivism rates.

These are called “social impact” bonds – the idea is that it gets investment in government social programs and investors only get paid if the programs produce desired outcomes. So, it’s kind of like gambling – the house (investor) is betting for a program win and the government is betting for a program loss, but apparently is cool with losing the bet. But here’s a better explanation from the Social Finance Organization (UK):

Social Impact Bonds are a form of outcomes-based contract in which public sector commissioners commit to pay for significant improvement in social outcomes (such as a reduction in offending rates, or in the number of people being admitted to hospital) for a defined population.

Social Impact Bonds are an innovative way of attracting new investment around such outcomes-based contracts that benefit individuals and communities. Through a Social Impact Bond, private investment is used to pay for interventions, which are delivered by service providers with a proven track record. Financial returns to investors are made by the public sector on the basis of improved social outcomes. If outcomes do not improve, then investors do not recover their investment.

Social Impact Bonds provide up front funding for prevention and early intervention services, and remove the risk that interventions do not deliver outcomes from the public sector. The public sector pays if (and only if) the intervention is successful. In this way, Social Impact Bonds enable a re-allocation of risk between the two sectors.

Here’s how it is planned to play out in the NYC program:

The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.

“This promising financing model has potential to transform the way governments around the country fund social programs, and as first in the nation to launch it, we are anxious to see how this bold road map for innovation works,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement.

“Social impact bonds have potential upside for investors,” he added, “but citizens and taxpayers stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.”

In a twist that differentiates New York’s plan from other governments’ experiments with social impact bonds, Mr. Bloomberg’s personal foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, will provide a $7.2 million loan guarantee to MDRC.

If the jail program does not succeed, MDRC can use the Bloomberg money to repay Goldman a portion of its loan; if the program does succeed, Goldman will be paid by the city’s Department of Correction, and MDRC may use the Bloomberg money for other social impact bonds, said James Anderson, director of the foundation’s government innovation program.

As you might guess, critics suggest that this will lead to evaluation manipulation or worse. It will be interesting to see if the concept catches on with the private sector and state and local governments. I like to think of ivy league Goldman Sachs associates being charged with making sure that parolees don’t recidivate – there’s a movie script in that somewhere.



Martin is 2012 Inductee – Fellows of the Society for Political Methodology

Our sincere Voir Dire congratulations to Andrew Martin – well done sir!

From the Political Methodology Listserve:

I am extremely pleased to announce that, with the full support of the Fellows Nominating Committee (Jeff Gill (chair), Keith Poole, W. Phillips Shively) and the previously inducted Fellows, Andrew D. Martin of the Department of Political Science at Washington University–St. Louis is the 2012 addition to the SPM Fellows.
Continue reading

Apparently we are an oligarchy now…

Actually, we’ve always been one – we’re just more so now. Check out the very interesting story in The Nation, “Why Elites Fail.” Below is an excerpt and  related video. H/T Boing Boing

The dynamic Michels identifies applies, in an analogous way, to our own cherished system of meritocracy. In order for it to live up to its ideals, a meritocracy must comply with two principles. The first is the Principle of Difference, which holds that there is vast differentiation among people in their ability and that we should embrace this natural hierarchy and set ourselves the challenge of matching the hardest-working and most talented to the most difficult, important and remunerative tasks.

The second is the Principle of Mobility. Over time, there must be some continuous, competitive selection process that ensures performance is rewarded and failure punished. That is, the delegation of duties cannot simply be made once and then fixed in place over a career or between generations. People must be able to rise and fall along with their accomplishments and failures. When a slugger loses his swing, he should be benched; when a trader loses money, his bonus should be cut. At the broader social level, we hope that the talented children of the poor will ascend to positions of power and prestige while the mediocre sons of the wealthy will not be charged with life-and-death decisions. Over time, in other words, society will have mechanisms that act as a sort of pump, constantly ensuring that the talented and hard-working are propelled upward, while the mediocre trickle downward.

But this ideal, appealing as it may be, runs up against the reality of what I’ll call the Iron Law of Meritocracy. The Iron Law of Meritocracy states that eventually the inequality produced by a meritocratic system will grow large enough to subvert the mechanisms of mobility. Unequal outcomes make equal opportunity impossible. The Principle of Difference will come to overwhelm the Principle of Mobility. Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies and kin to scramble up. In other words: “Who says meritocracy says oligarchy.”


“It’s a law firm, in all of the traditional aspects of the law firm, with two major differences—it’s a nonprofit, and it’s a teaching law firm”

says Dean Douglas Sylvester of the Arizona State University College of Law. The idea is to create a legal ‘residency’ program similar to the type medical doctors in training go through before practicing medicine. The ABA Journal reports:

To be operational in 2013, it is expected to hire up to 30 “resident lawyers” from among its recent graduates. They will be supervised by five or six seasoned lawyers hired to work, in effect, as partners, under the current preliminary plan.

Handling a combination of public interest and small-client matters, the fledgling attorneys would charge low rates for their services as they rotate for up to two years through a series of practice areas, learning both how to provide legal services and how to operate a law firm.

They would be paid salaries and benefits and, as with an associate job at a regular law firm, they could be fired for poor performance.

Any profit would be used to fund scholarships.

Time will tell whether this works out in practice and I imagine that there are a lot of variables affecting its success – how ever that might be measured – but it sounds like a very promising development in legal education.  H/T Leiter’s Law School Reports

Guest blogging at Prawfs Blawg

I have been guest blogging at Prawfs Blawg for the month of May. You can find my posts below on the following topics:

Ken Burns on Storytelling

New insights on student loans

I haven’t really given much thought to the relative profitability of federal loans for the US government – I always assumed that they were just major losses; subsidizing the education of the populace. It turns out that that may not be the case – so says the Credit Slips Blog:

As student loan debt passed the $1 trillion mark, President Obama, speaking at Chapel Hill yesterday, called the upcoming interest rate hike on student loans a tax. He didn’t tell the half of it. Congress’ dirty secret is that the government makes a huge annual profit on student loans. According to the scrupulously nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, $37 billion will flow IN to Treasury from student loans made this fiscal year at the 3.4% rate (on a net present value basis and net of about $1.5 billion to administer them.) The President’s current dispute with Congressional Republicans is about whether to increase this annual profit next year. The interest rate that students pay on the basic “subsidized” loan is slated to rise from 3.4% this year to 6.8% next year, unless the lower rate is extended by Congress.

But how can this be?

Treasury can borrow money at 0.5% or less, and lends it to students at 3.4%. Administrative costs are well below 1%. Prepayment risk is minimal; repayment stretches over many, many years, and the yield spread just keeps on coming. Interest rate risk is also minimal, given that Treasury can issue debt in a range of maturities.

What about the credit losses, you ask? While many loans go into default (about 10% projected for 2013 loans), credit losses are relatively modest. The Education Department assumes it will collect between 75% and 80% of defaulted loans (on a discounted NPV basis), using its supercreditor powers, especially wage garnishment and tax refund intercepts. There is no statute of limitations on student loans, and even bankruptcy discharge is difficult. The $37 billion Treasury profit for FY2012 is after allowing for estimated credit losses in the $5 billion range.

Check out the rest (and the comments) here.

Internships, labor force leverage, and the prisoner’s dilemma

An interesting article on internships appeared in Slate recently that echoed my earlier post on this topic. Here’s a sample:

Internships save firms roughly $600 million every year, reports Ross Perlin in Intern Nation: How To Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. In a recession-stricken market, employers have little trouble finding bright young things willing to exchange free labor for a foot in the door. Think of it as a version of the prisoner’s dilemma. If the intern-age population collectively refused to work without pay, subsequent conditions would favor all workers. But it takes only a few defectors to make unpaid internships intensely profitable for the people involved—for the companies that get free labor and the interns who get a leg up in the job market.

Some people have raised the provocative idea that we should require a period of volunteer national service for all young people – apparently we already do – just not for the public good, but rather, corporation benefit. H/T ALPG

Monkey study very revealing

Apparently getting on the wrong end of monkey social culture has important genetic implications.

Monkey 1: "You are not of the caliber of monkey for us"
Monkey 2: "Seriously"

Freakonomics and the power of the presidency

Stephens Dubner and Levitt provide their take on the power of the president in their most recent podcast. Here’s a glimpse:

The episode begins with this simple, heretical question: Does the President of the United States really matter as much as we believe, and on which dimensions? In this new episode, you’ll hear men from both sides of the aisle, Donald Rumsfeld and Austan Goolsbee, agree quite heartily, at least on the topic of the President’s influence on the economy. You’ll also hear Steve Levitt talk about how President Obama let him down. Also: Justin Wolfers and Bernadette Meyler talk about how the President’s actual influence can be measured.

The conversations with Rumsfeld are particularly interesting. They then ask two economists, a law professor, and a business professor about the power of the presidency. I guess all of the political scientists were busy that day.

On “the internship situation”

I’ve recently come across two articles in the New York Times that speak to internship programs and class issues. A response in The Ethicist provides a nice backdrop on the legality of internships (or lack there of in some situations).

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay everyone — not just official employees, but anyone whom they “suffer or permit to work.” Purely educational positions are exempt from this requirement, but to qualify, an internship has to exist for the exclusive benefit of the intern. It can’t help the employer in any way; in fact, it’s a bonus if it actually impedes the employer’s operations.

Plenty of internships that violate employment law might still benefit the intern, of course, by giving her an inside track in a competitive field. Even crummy internships have some value. A firsthand glimpse of the mailroom may not be the stuff of dreams, but it’s more informative than no glimpse whatsoever.

Ethicist columnist Ariel Kaminar then goes on to comment on the underlying class issue:

That’s why, whether an individual internship is fun or awful, the system as a whole is unethical: it reserves those foot-in-the-door opportunities for people who can afford to go without a paycheck. That only entrenches the advantages that children of privilege already enjoy, further tilting an uneven playing field. And it undermines paid employees, who have the same interest you do in making sure every worker is fairly compensated.

You can check out the rest of the reply here. Also commenting on the internship situation is Charles Murray. To say that Murray’s work is controversial would be an understatement. However, he may have found common ground with critics in his op-ed article “Narrowing the New Class Divide.” In it he outlines a number of proposals to narrow the divide between the rich an not so rich. One of them involves internships.

For one thing, we should get rid of unpaid internships. The children of the new upper class hardly ever get real jobs during summer vacation. Instead, they get internships at places like the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute (where I work) or a senator’s office.

It amounts to career assistance for rich, smart children. Those from the middle and working class, struggling to pay for college, can’t afford to work for free. Internships pave the way for children to move seamlessly from their privileged upbringings to privileged careers without ever holding a job that is boring or physically demanding.

So let the labor unions win this one: If you are not a religious organization and have more than 10 employees, the minimum wage law should apply to anyone who shows up for work every day.

You can find the rest of his proposed reforms here.


Jason Fried on office and work

C0-founder of 37 Signals, Jason Fried provides an interesting Ted Talk on the office environment and productivity:

Please, please win! Meow, meow, meow!

It’s Major League Soccer opening weekend!

On career lotteries, plan “B”s, and declining reasonable opportunities

'Office Space' is not really about the mailroom per se, but it's a great movie

The NY Times Sunday magazine carries an intriguing story by Adam Davidson, “Why Are Harvard Graduates in the Mailroom?” Of course, the idea is that the company mailroom is where one goes from low on the ladder to (eventually) get a shot at big dreams of success. This theme is made famous by film and TV, but  I’ve never known anyone who actually worked in one – probably because, I’ve never really lived in a big city such as LA or NYC. He discusses that which is often not discussed in friendly company – employment represents a distinct set of opportunities, choices, risks, and rewards – and that’s just the start of it.

There are a number of professions in which workers are paid, in part, with a figurative lottery ticket. The worker accepts a lower-paying job in exchange for a slim but real chance of a large, future payday.

And then:

This system is unfair and arbitrary and often takes advantage of many people who don’t really have a shot at the big prize. But it is far preferable to the parts of our economy where there are no big prizes waiting. That mailroom clerk at Warner Brothers may make less than a post office clerk (maybe even half as much), but the latter has less chance of a significant promotion. Workers in retail sales, clerical settings, low-skill manufacturing and other fields tend to have loose, uncommitted bonds to their industries, and their employers have even looser commitments to them. These jobs don’t offer a bright future precisely because they don’t require a huge amount of skill, and therefore there’s no need to do much merit-sorting.

That last part may yield some ire in people. I don’t think that he means that people in these jobs don’t work hard or have skill, but rather that such jobs are readily available – if you dislike a particular job, then you can quit it and find a similar one quickly – hence, there is less personal investment and accordingly, little long-term opportunity payoff (even if it’s just a lottery). Or at least that used to be the case. Now such jobs have become more scarce, but even more scarce are the jobs that used to populate America – the solid “Plan B” jobs – although I find that an odd way to portray them. I’ll let Davidson explain:

But part of the American post-World War II economic miracle was that most people didn’t have to choose between a high-stakes-lottery job or a lousy dead-end one. Steelworkers, midlevel corporate executives, shopkeepers and plumbers were all able to make a decent amount from the start of their careers with steady, but never spectacular, raises throughout. These two tiers actually supported each other. Strivers were able to dream bigger because they had a solid Plan B. New York City and Los Angeles are buoyed by teachers, store owners, arts administrators and others who came to town to make it big in film or music or publishing, eventually gave up on that dream and ended up doing fine in another field.

I don’t think that Davidson is in any way denigrating these good careers that are rapidly disappearing, but rather sees them as an excellent opportunities for people who ‘go for it’ (be it to become famous or rich through business building) and don’t make it. His point seems to be that without such ‘fall back’ positions, people are less inclined to take significant chances and foster innovation – thus, the economy finds itself in a self-perpetuating downward spiral. We become a nation of ‘lottery players’ and the people who serve those players (some eventual winners and some losers) their coffee or ring up their merchandise at the store.

You can check out the rest of the story here.

Electing scientists?

The Times has an interesting story today about the relative lack of scientists in America’s elected offices – especially the executive.

Among the 435 members of the House, for example, there are one physicist, one chemist, one microbiologist, six engineers and nearly two dozen representatives with medical training. The case of doctors and the body politic is telling. Everyone knows roughly what doctors do, and so those with medical backgrounds escape the anti-intellectual charge of irrelevance often thrown at those in the hard sciences. Witness Senator Bill Frist, Gov. Howard Dean and even Ron Paul. Continue reading

The Gatsby Curve

Paul Krugman relays some of the work of his colleague (Alan Krueger) on inequality and social mobility with the graph below -first, a little context:

On the horizontal axis is the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality. On the vertical axis is the intergenerational elasticity of income — how much a 1 percent rise in your father’s income affects your expected income; the higher this number, the lower is social mobility.

What would Daisy Buchanan say? I’m guessing that the movie version will be a disappointment. Check out more here and here.

New Year help – study provides key for losing weight

The Situationists Blog details an interesting study on losing weight that has little to do with counting calories or carbs per se. Apparently it’s all in your head. Here’s an excerpt: Continue reading

What if members of congress performed an Occupy Wall Street protest?

According to this graphic from Mother Jones, the turnout wouldn’t be that great for a 99% movement, at least if we assume that the top 10% have loyalties upward. H/T Buzzfeed

Louis CK – a new business model?

Comedian and actor Louis CK made news recently by passing big corporate America and selling a recent stand-up performance video directly to fans – for $5 a download. His video was not encrypted and he relies on the fans to pay for the download rather than getting free pirated versions. It’s a strategy reminiscent of the approach used by the band Radio Head some years ago – they basically allowed a (technically) free download, but asked downloaders to pay what they felt was a fair price.

Both experiments seem to have gone well, but critics point out that such approaches may have limitations – for instance, both Louis CK and Radio Head are established acts and enjoyed the ability to market their product rather cheaply. Time will tell if these experiments have an impact on the entertainment industry. You can check out the Louis CK offering here. Caution: his material is decidedly R Rated.

How professions rate – surprises?

Some of these Gallup poll results outlined in the NY Times may surprise you – but most seem pretty predictable. Continue reading

The judge and the SEC …

See the article in the Atlantic Wire here. A money quote from the judge:

In much of the world, propaganda reigns, and truth is confined to secretive, fearful whispers. Even in our nation, apologists for suppressing or obscuring the truth may always be found. But the S.E.C., of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.


On unconscious effects in decisions

A recently posted paper on SSRN caught my eye – “Unconscious Influences on Judicial Decision-Making: The Illusion of Objectivity” by John Irwin and Daniel Real. Here’s an excerpt: Continue reading

Insider deals for members of Congress?

See it on 60 Minutes (via Boing Boing) here.

History of Veterans Day

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.

… from the Department of Veterans Affairs website:

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” (See the rest here)

Envy of the rich or simply calling out cheaters?

Matt Taibbi has what I consider one of the better treatments on OWS in a recent article in Rolling Stone – “Wall Street Isn’t Winning – It’s Cheating”. It’s one of the few pieces I’ve seen that has included discussion of the underlying problems at play in Wall Street. Here’s video of him discussing the same topic on CNN. And here’s a excerpt from the article: Continue reading

On “practice ready” and the future of legal education

I ran across an interesting article today on the meaning of “practice ready” and what that means with regard to the education of law students. Here’s an excerpt: Continue reading

That Robert Reich can draw really well …

Here’s Robert Reich (below) addressing the economy in just a couple minutes with the aid of a magic marker and poster boards. You can check out the rest of the story here. H/T JL

A tribute to … garages?

... and this is where Google was born ...

Yes. One thing that some people may not know about the late Steve Jobs is that he and Steve Wozniak started Apple Inc. out of his parent’s garage. Indeed a lot of great business were started that way … and nearly every good band ever. Check out a cool listing of the garage origins of some businesses on

Reagan on tax loopholes and millionaires

H/T J. Lax

A tv show about anonymous internet commenters

and  why they are generally horrible. (Sigh) If only this was a real show … well done Saturday Night Live, well done. Enjoy…

Where the black swans hide … getting a grip on market outliers

Mebane Faber (Cambria Investment Management) has posted an intriguing paper on the social science research network, titled “Where the Black Swans Hide & The Ten Best Days Myth”. Here’s the abstract: Continue reading

This just in: Blogs beat Congress (barely)

According to a recent poll, people have more confidence in blogs than in congress, but only by a bit – and both are at the bottom of the institutional pile with regard to public confidence — see the post on Volokh Conspiracy here and the table below: Continue reading

“For the American economy – and for many other developed economies – the elephant in the room is the amount of money paid to bankers over the last five years.”

Here are some interesting thoughts on the American financial situation by the guy who brought you “Black Swans” (and his co-author, a hedge fund manager). An excerpt: Continue reading

Special Labor Day Message from Ike

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt…, a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” – President Eisenhower, 1954

See origins here.

H/T Prisonrodeo