Archive for March, 2014


The .01%

How You, I, and Everyone Got the Top 1 Percent All Wrong

A few weeks ago, I shared this graph (from the World Top Incomes Database) showing how the top 0.01 percent—that’s the one percent of the 1 percent—was leaving the rest of the top percentile behind.

It’s not hard, really, to see how much of an issue this is to the health of the economy, overall, if the rest of the folks aren’t seeing growth that suggests it’s trickling-down. Add several more tax brackets to our tax code so that a billionaire isn’t paying the same rate on their last dollar as someone making $400,001—individuals who much more resemble the average earner than the average billionaire.


Why do Japanese Trains arrive on time?

Great video takings a look at behind the scenes efforts to ensure Japanese light rail arrives promptly and without many interruptions.


Slice of Life #7: Engagement Competition

Idea: I linked to a video a short while back highlighting the marketing myth of the engagement ring. As indicated, engagement rings are problematic for a variety of reasons including:

Why does a ring accompany a proposal? Considering most vows include the tradition of exchanging a ring, a proposal ring seems redundant. Why is there so little competition marketing alternatives to proposal gifts, particularly with the diamond industry so rife with moral dilemmas that are overshadowed by societal pressure to “be a man”?

It seems like the perfect opportunity exists for a better alternative. The first thing that comes to mind: wristwatches. Why? If a diamond is forever™, what better way to symbolize a union for “forever” than by an instrument that measures that time? It just seems so much more poetic. And watches have space for engraving a meaningful thought to give the gesture special meaning. They also are typically great investments that keep their value and can appreciate. For those who wish to keep the male to female stereotyping of proposal rituals, marketing wristwatches to women provides a demand that doesn’t really presently exist12. For those who find the one-sidedness of the ritual to be outdated, an exchange of watches could be a nice way to show that you both wish to share your time with the other.

But most importantly, getting away from blood diamonds (and not through the bogus way of paying more for a conflict-free diamond, which should be conflict-free to begin with), is a good thing for this world to be supporting.

Who’s to say a watch is the only appropriate alternative? It’d be nice to have one though.

  1. Just like the market for diamond rings didn’t exist before DeBeers []
  2. a vast majority of watches sold today are marketed to men []

✁ Empathizing expectations

Creator of Romantimatic, the app that reminds you to text thoughtful notes to your significant other, responding to the criticism his app has received.

An experiment: What if the app had been to help people diet? Let’s say, just pure flight-of-fancy here, that I’m a fat guy, instead of the male underwear model with incredible abs that I clearly am. Would an app to remind people not to eat be vivisected in the same way that Romantimatic has? Would the people who use it be vilified as weak-willed? Thoughtless? Hollow? My guess is not. My guess is they’d get inspirational TV shows.

The Internet is full of a lot of meanness, but I don’t know if the criticism of this app is specifically the result of others lacking empathy (or specific to the Internet for that matter, considering the various magazines who criticized it).

I’m not quite sure if it’s strictly an American thing, but our society seems to view love in an almost fantastical way, making it unique to most other concepts. This cuts both ways. Think of this scenario: If your girlfriend voices sadness that you never buy her flowers and the next day, you come home with the most beautiful bouquet, is that sentiment going to mean the same thing to her? Of course not, because you missed the point. (Presumably it wasn’t the bouquet that mattered but the random thoughtfulness of making her feel special and worth the out-of-the ordinary effort).

But, at the same time, many concepts and expectations of love seem to stem from societal norm, rather than that of a personal and unique relationship between partners. Fairy tale weddings, ridiculously over-the-top proposals, the male as pursuer, the female as object of desire. Rom-coms. Buying a dozen roses out of the blue.

It’s a fine line, and Romantimatic seems to straddle this boundary. Are random texts of kindness really so if you’re being prompted? But aren’t subtle reminders better than few or no acts of kindness at all? It’s the expectations in the first place that make the question difficult to answer. Maybe its our expectations that require empathy.


Speaking of Poets

I thoroughly enjoyed this commentary from Jerry Boyle from the Poetry Foundation.

Lawyers have a lot to learn from poets. I credit the Oulipian Raymond Queneau for my appreciation and, more important, comprehension of what is perhaps the longest sentence in the legal canon, Section 341(e) of the Internal Revenue Code. Try making sense of a sentence with 435 words preceding the main verb without a perverse appreciation for arbitrary constraints. That’s a dare, in case you were wondering.

Worth a read, even if you don’t consider yourself a poet or lawyer.


“Not a lawyer but carries within him the debris of a poet.”

Gustave Flaubert

U.S.-E.U. trade talks introduces discussion of food protections

Protected Designation of Origin [Products] (PDOs) are incredibly important to the economy of the European Union, ensuring artisan livelihood and value for products in much the same way trademarks and copyright protects products/ideas.

As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States.

The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses. The Europeans say Parmesan should only come from Parma, Italy, not those familiar green cylinders that American companies sell. Feta should only be from Greece, even though feta isn’t a place. The EU argues it “is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product.”

So, a little “hard-grated cheese” for your pasta? It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Parmesan.

U.S. dairy producers, cheesemakers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4 billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers.

Big business doesn’t seem to realize that these designations are economy stimulants, despite attacking their business model short-term. Creating a product similar to something like Parmesan with cultural significance that consumers will seek out by name is good for a bottom line. White Zinfandel is a perfect example of how expanding PDOs into the U.S. has the ability to stimulate a more responsible, more craft-like, and more robust food industry here.


What if Franz Ferdinand was never assassinated?

I love what if’s like this. Makes you realize how pivotal some decisions are.

This week, All Things Considered is exploring a counterfactual history of World War I, and we invite you to participate. Use the form below to imagine how one aspect of the past 100 years would be different if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed in 1914. We will share some of the responses in a future segment.


A new experiment shows how money buys access to Congress

A new paper just released today by two political science graduate students, David Broockman and Josh Kalla, is already getting attention. The paper reports perhaps the first field experiment on whether the offices of members of Congress are more likely to grant access to contributors than other types of people.

My instant thought was that this is the way it should be. Of course you should be more willing to sit down with supporters than opponents. They’re the ones whom share similar policy views as the elected official. Conclusions suggesting that maybe this is dangerous are confounding the problem. It’s not that money buys access, it’s that there no longer exists mechanisms that restrict how much money you can use at your disposal in order to obtain inequitable access to these officials.


✁ There’s no room for U.S. partisanship in our foreign policy

The discussion of Obama’s perceived leadership over the past week is completely inane. But the stupidity of this rhetoric for political gain wouldn’t be so notable if it didn’t risk the U.S.’s long-term security in the process. Dividing Americans on foreign entanglement issues have the very real possibility of neutering our effectiveness in carrying out actions to address the issues.((I should note the irony of criticizing Obama for being weak when the result could be weakening American’s power in the world)) Such criticism is particularly subversive when the criticism isn’t constructive or results oriented. What am I talking about? Let’s take a closer look at what many on the right said this weekend regarding the United States’ response to the developing Ukrainian situation in the Crimean peninsula.

Rep. Mike Rogers, (R-MI), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on “Fox News Sunday”:

“Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), on CNN’s “State of the Nation”:

“Stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators; it is not your strong suit,” Graham advised the president. “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-FL), on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

“I think our policy toward Russia under this administration deserves a heavy amount of criticism.” But, he added, “I usually shy away from that in moments of crisis, when it’s important for the nation to speak with one voice.”

Sarah Palin, (who knows), continuing her typical idiocy on “Sean Hannity”:

“Look, the perception of Obama, of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness,” Palin told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

And most ridiculous of all of these comments came from former NYC Mayor, Rudy Giuliani (R-NY), on “Your World w/ Cavato”:

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day, right? He decided he had to go to their parliament — he went to their parliament, he got permission in 15 minutes. He makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. And then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader. President Obama [has] gotta think about it, he’s got to go over it again, he’s got to talk to more people about it.”

Surely, I’m not suggesting that the president should be above criticism in the realm of foreign policy. But what’s missing from all of the above (besides specific examples of this supposed gross negligence) is substantive debate about what Obama should be doing different to obtain different results. Are they suggesting that unilateral invasion of a country is a more responsible and stronger showing of leadership than that of a democratic response that includes coalition and consensus building? Is the former the type of strength that wouldn’t invite aggression? Boy, this “tougher” position sounds pretty American and not at all reckless…

The most disgusting aspect of this display of partisanship is that every informed individual on this topic (that includes Americans, Europeans, Russians, and every other significant power in the world) realizes that no military option exists in response to the Russian occupation of Crimea (because, that’s a invitation to start World War III). So when the right calls for Obama to be “tougher”, what exactly are they asking for? Senator Graham, for instance suggested on Sunday that instead of Obama “threatening thugs or dictators” or drawing “red lines” that he backs away from, he should “suspend Russian membership in the G8 and the G20 at least for a year starting right now. And for every day they stay in Crimea, add to the suspension. Do something.”

Mind you, Graham’s comments came on Sunday Morning, not even 48 hours after the initial invasion. Things he proposes can’t happen unilaterally (it isn’t the G1), and take at least a small bit of time to get other leaders on board. And what do you know… a few hours later, Obama announced that the G8 meeting in Sochi this summer would be cancelled, that he is working to remove Russia’s seat from the G8, either temporarily (as Graham defined as a so called strong response) or permanently (which goes well beyond what Graham proposed), is working to create support for Ukraine, and is working to develop economic and political sanctions that the rest of the world will support in an effort to actually substantively punish Russia for it’s actions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called President Putin to discuss the matter this weekend and after getting off the phone, called President Obama to inform him that while he was in touch with reality, he is “[i]n another world.” When you consider that the Obama critics above admit that they consider Putin to be incredibly unpredictable and that Putin must have calculated that his actions would lead to economic punishment (since as noted above, everyone is aware that military action is not an option), how would a tougher response months ago created any different result today?((At this point, it’s worth pointing out that similar criticism of Obama’s actions were made after the Syrian crisis, yet Obama’s actions led to meaningful results challenging Putin to join the rest of the G8 in disarming Assad of his chemical weapons.))

And the blind partisan hypocrisy becomes self-evident when you consider that when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, these same individuals (recall McCain’s response when he was the Republican Candidate for President in 2008) did nothing to punish Putin. Nor did Congress push for such actions. It’s all so depressingly disappointing.

Not only does the Obama as weak foreign leader not make sense, the Blame Obama strategy is not a credible solution to this or any geopolitical situation. Such feckless criticism undermines our nation’s ability to successfully implement such solutions with broad support. Let’s hope these dissenters decide to put their country before politics in the future.