Saturday, July 23, 2011

An interesting micro debate

on how progressively health care costs should be spread.  This story (especially the comments) presents a debate within one of the major public employee unions over how to bear health care costs.  One option was for everyone to pay a fixed percentage of their insurance premium, the other option was for everyone to pay a percentage of income.  Obviously, the first option would hit lower paid employees harder as they’d have to pay a higher percent of income, while the second option was more progressive.

Here is what they decided.

Book Review: Taney vs. Lincoln

I picked this up as a continuation of supreme court/federal history from the Marbury vs. Madison book. This wasn't as interesting. Cliff Sloan's history was a story of exploration and settlement as the court (and Washington DC) found their place in America. This is a story of their decline into irrelevance as they fought a futile campaign to preserve slavery in America. The Dred Scott decision was discarded in the north as soon as it was issued, the Prize cases were important not to America but to the British, and at the start of the war the Federal Government couldn’t even count on the loyalty of surrounding territory in Maryland.  The real action in this period happens not in DC but in the nation at large: fighting in Kansas, a revolt against the fugitive slave law in Wisconsin, the south's secession first from the Democratic Party and then from the nation.

Lincoln’s office was a product of the fighting in the country at large, and it is misleading to pose him and Taney in parallel. Their conflict was no more a match between equals then a speeding train hitting a car stalled on the tracks.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Effective Columning

Reading Lister’s column on Hales got me thinking. What good is it to trash a candidate 10 months before the primary, where the field isn’t even clear yet? Lister lambasts Hales for leaving office midterm 9 years ago, but what will he do if the general comes down to Hales vs Cogen (who would be abandoning the county chairmanship midterm to run…)? Point is, it’s too early to bust on candidates.

So what is a columnist to do? Why not promote the issues that they think this election should be about. Lister mentions the police and firefighters disability fund for instance, only to use it as a mudball. Why not devote a column to telling people what the fund is and what the actuarial projections imply. You don’t need to solve it, just put it out there and try to make people care about it. It seems like a much more effective way to influence the discourse then trying to direct votes that won’t be cast for a long time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

POW: John Mearsheimer

John Mearsheimer led a discussion promoting his new book, courtesy of the Cato Institute. He discusses why leaders lie, fib, prevaricate and otherwise answer other then truthfully. He describes how lying tends to correlate with trust: Governments lie to their own citizens much more then they lie to each other, and democratic governments lie more often then non-democratic ones. Lying over wars of choice gets particular attention, with contrasting views of Bush and FDR (crafty enough that he didn’t need to lie).

Interesting and timely material.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

POW: Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer makes for an interesting lecture, even in a post Bin Laden world.  He provides a sharp critique of the American war on terrorism and the “they hate us for our freedoms” meme that I usually only see from Glenn Greenwald.  I’m a sucker for grumpy old folks pounding the table about how everyone is wrong, especially when there’s some truth to what they’re saying.

Monday, July 4, 2011

More head scratching on Hollywood Theater

I travel up and down Sandy a lot, so I routinely go past the Hollywood Theater. I still can’t get over the concept that they think they’re better off with an empty garbage strewn lot for a neighbor rather then an apartment building targeted at young, single, bike/transit oriented people. But I’ll put aside the economics, it isn’t my theater after all. Considering only the aesthetic question of whether an apartment building would “infringe” on the theater’s image, I still think they’re nuts.

Below is a series of pictures from the southwest (the theater sits on a street running diagonal, from the southwest to the northeast). And I’ll assume no one would suggest the proposed building interferes with the view from the northeast, since from that angle the theater is in front.

First I’ll set the floor. The theater is barely visible from either side of Sandy at 3900. On the west side a traffic island with trees almost totally obscures the theater, if you zoom and look closely you can see the billboard.

From the east side, the only portion of the theater visible is the top of the facade tower.

Moving up toward 40th street, the theater comes in to view on the west side. You can also see how much is happening to obscure the view. Trees and street signs everywhere.
Over on the east side of Sandy, the sidewalk is shifted to allow a turning lane. No part of the theater is visible.

On the west side, it's only when you get to 40th that you can see the view and imagine it being adversely affected by the apartments.
Note that on the East side there is no impact on the view at 40th, the facade is almost totally obscured by trees.

Finally, moving on to 41st the west side facade view becomes clear as you'd move past the apartment building.
On the east side you begin getting a view impact once you clear the trees, roughly midway between 40th and 41st.

So to recap, there is no impact to the view anywhere except between 40th and 41st. On the west side the lower half of that block is affected, on the east side it's the upper half. Round up and call it one square block. What is that worth? Then consider the view we have now:

Why is this even a discussion?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Online Education

I was impressed with this article in Harvard Magazine covering online education.  It ties together a number of threads:  Disruptive innovation, the unsustainable increases in tuition, the potential impact of dynamic programming tailor learning to the individual.  Best line:

When America’s traditional universities arose, knowledge was scarce, which meant that research and teaching had to be coupled tightly. That is no longer the case.

Even sharper is this analysis of the structural problems with traditional universities:

Examining the traditional universities through the lens of innovation, we see that a muddled business model is causing the industry’s ruinous cost increases...  A typical state university today, for example, is the equivalent of a three-way merger of the consulting firm McKinsey—focused on diagnosing and solving unstructured problems; the manufacturing operations of Whirlpool—which uses established processes to add value to things that are incomplete or broken; and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company—in which participants exchange things to derive value: fundamentally different and incompatible business models all housed within the same organization.

Good stuff!