September 30, 2008

Josette Sheeran on Letterman Tonight

Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the UN's World Food Program, will apparently be a guest on Letterman tonight.  Tomorrow kicks off the WFP's annual World Hunger Relief push so kudos to Dave for giving the issue of global hunger some airtime - in the midst of everything else that is going on at the moment such openings will probably be woefully few and far between.  I'll keep my eyes open for online video of the segment for those of you can't make it up that late.

Note to Sheeran:  Don't cancel last minute. 

(Hat-tip to my sister-in-law via the emails)

September 29, 2008

"Oh my God"

That's a direct quote from Congressman Jim Marshall of Georgia (our new home state) in this short 3 minute piece on NPR this afternoon.  The interview took place prior to the announcement that the bill had failed and the stunned silence after the interviewer relates the news to Marshall mid conversation is palpable and a little scary.

Aside:  I'm amazed that they still haven't gotten this done.  It's hard not to chalk it up to a failure of leadership from both parties.  If the duly elected leaders of both parties (not to mention those vying for the presidency) feel like however bad the bailout is it still has to get done for the sake of the economic future of the nation and they can't twist, cajole and honey enough votes to do so . . . . it's hard to see exactly which part of our government is currently functioning.  

Word Picture of the Day

Sure the Dow is down 657 points at the moment, but even that couldn't keep me from laughing at this quote from CA Representative Darrell Issa explaining why he voted against the bailout plan:
Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican, said he was “resolute” in his opposition to the measure because it would betray party principles and amount to “a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan’s coffin.”
I have no idea what it means but "putting a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan's coffin" just entered my everyday vocabulary.  

Oops, looks like the Dow's down to 720, man, it feels like somebody put a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan's coffin around here.

September 27, 2008


1.  Looks like South Africa's new President Motlanthe has removed South Africa's controversial health minister.  To put it kindly she had been, at the very least, an unfortunate distraction in the midst of a country with the highest number of HIV infections - often openly, and with little if any medical evidence, criticizing ARV's and instead advocating traditional supplements such as garlic and beet root.  Not surprisingly many of her critics suggested that these public declarations were an attempt to distract from her failures to disseminate ARV's more widely and effectively.  

2.  Some great technology innovation spotlights:  (via

3.  Bill Murray on board for Ghostbusters 3!

4.  Body 2.0: Creating a World that can Feed Itself panel discussion hosted by Google with Hugh Grant (no, not that one, the head of Monsanto one), Michael Pollan, Larry Brillant, and Sonal Shah: (via)

September 26, 2008

Graceful Exits?

Keep an eye on this as people begin to say things like this.  

(No Rick-Rolls I promise.)

Slow Food Nation Video: Wendell Berry

Video from the recent Slow Food Nation gathering is up (you can also download both video and audio) and it looks like there is a lot of good stuff, most of which I haven't seen yet but this bit from Wendell Berry has been running around in my head all day.  Jump ahead to about the 8:00 minute mark if you want (or click the tools icon and go to Ch. 2) and then listen for at least the next five minutes (the rest is good as well).  It's a far better description of my own personal educational, vocational, spiritual, and physical journey over the last four or five years than I could ever piece together.

"Once we identify something that is good and we begin to understand how that goodness ramifies a longer chain of causes, it really ultimately involves everything.  Then we begin to glimpse the possibility of entering an age in which things that have fallen apart come back together."  

And all the people said . . . . 

Markets In Everything: Wet Nurses

With apologies to MR, from the FP Passport:
Amid China's tainted-milk scandal (the subject of this week's photo essay), parents are frightened of buying milk and formula off the shelf for their children. A Chinese entrepreneur was bound to find a way to provide parents an alternative, and one owner of a domestic services company has: the milk nanny.

The entrepreneur, Lin Zhimin, put an ad on the Internet offering the service of milk nannies -- lactating women who get paid for giving away their milk. Calls started pouring in.

I Beseech Thee

Is this real?  (Emphasis mine.)
The day began with an agreement that Washington hoped would end the financial crisis that has gripped the nation. It dissolved into a verbal brawl in the Cabinet Room of the White House, urgent warnings from the president and pleas from a Treasury secretary who knelt before the House speaker and appealed for her support.

“If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down,” President Bush declared Thursday as he watched the $700 billion bailout package fall apart before his eyes, according to one person in the room.

. . . . .

The talks broke up in angry recriminations, according to accounts provided by a participant and others who were briefed on the session, and were followed by dueling news conferences and interviews rife with partisan finger-pointing.

In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”

Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”
Am I reading that right?  Paulson was on his knees begging?  Please tell me he was just tying his shoe and it was misinterpreted.  I've been relatively calm about this whole thing but for some reason that freaks me out.  

I literally have no expectations for the government to ever do the "right" thing and even I thought they would pull it together and get this thing done . . . 

Is there any reason not to think that the whole thing went down the tubes as a result of McCain's decision to return to Washington?


September 25, 2008

"The road to the White House runs right through me."

Never leave Letterman hangin'.

September 24, 2008

McCain to Suspend Campaign/Debate?

That's one way to stop the poll's from dropping . . . maybe?

Update:  Maybe not - Intrade (having called them into question today it only seems fair to reference them now) has Obama gaining almost three points today alone (most of it post campaign "suspension" I'm willing to bet) and now predicts an electoral win of 278 to 260 . . . 

If I was conspiratorial I would think one of two things re:McCain's strategy:  McCain's health is not good and he's not up for a Friday face the nation (seems unlikely if he's truly wading into the Senate debate over the bail out) or (and this seems more likely) the campaign really is that scared of putting Palin in front of an active audience.

Aya of Yop City

I mentioned the graphic novel Aya a while back and it's nice to see that Marguerite Abouet has penned another volume to be released by Drawn and Quarterly.  

Intrade Conspiracy Theories?

Speculative thoughts on what could be some suspicious betting going on at Intrade.

Buy Apple

Now's the time.

September 23, 2008

Ag Links

Some interesting stuff bubbling up in the agriculture world lately:

1.  The MacArthur "Genius Grants" were announced today and I was pleasantly surprised to see a farmer amongst this year's fellows:
Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. In 1995, while assisting neighborhood children with a gardening project, Allen began developing the farming methods and educational programs that are now the hallmark of the non-profit organization Growing Power, which he directs and co-founded. Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather than embracing the “back to the land” approach promoted by many within the sustainable agriculture movement, Allen’s holistic farming model incorporates both cultivating foodstuffs and designing food distribution networks in an urban setting. Through a novel synthesis of a variety of low-cost farming technologies – including use of raised beds, aquaculture, vermiculture, and heating greenhouses through composting – Growing Power produces vast amounts of food year-round at its main farming site, two acres of land located within Milwaukee’s city limits.
2.  Interesting findings on the development of agriculture.

4.  Moringa back in the news.  If you're in the states you can order seeds online through ECHO's bookstore.  If you're outside the US you can register with their Overseas Seed Network.


1.  The CSM summarizes the Pew Internet and American Life Project report:
97 percent of teens play video games. There’s a slight gender divide: 99 percent of boys compared to 94 percent of girls.

50 percent of the teens in the report said they played a game “yesterday.”
2.  Staying with the CSM, their Patchwork Nation voter map is pretty (and) engrossing.

4.  The Center for Global Development has been churning out a great series of posts, with a variety of view points, reflecting on how the current financial crisis might affect all that emergency aid.

5.  Trailer for Ballast, shot in Mississippi using primarily local actors - I'm a sucker for sparse films like these: 


September 22, 2008

Collier on the MDGs

I went back to take a look at what exactly Collier did say regarding the Millennium Development Goals in The Bottom Billion (FYI: that is a great price for the paperback if you don't have a copy) and here is an excerpt:
The Millennium Development Goals were in one sense a big advance. Compare them with an earlier UN jamboree, the Copenhagen Social Summit of 1995. The Social Summit ended with a clarion call about how much should be spent on social priorities. The Millennium Development Goals encouraged people to shift their agenda from inputs to outcomes: halving poverty, getting children in school, and so forth. But despite this advance, the goals have two weaknesses, both involving a lack of focus.

The first critical lack of focus is that the MDGs tack the progress of five billion of the six billion people on our planet. It is of course politically easier for the United Nations to include almost everyone. Plus the aid agencies prefer a wide definition of the development challenge because that justifies a near-global role for their staff. The price we pay is that our efforts are spread too thin, and the strategies that are appropriate only for the countries at the bottom get lost in the general babble. It is time to redefine the development problem as being about the countries of the bottom billion, the ones that are stuck in poverty. When I give this message to audiences in aid agencies people shuffle uncomfortably in their seats. Some of them may be thinking, "But what about my career?" for it would no longer be in Rio but in Bangui. And when I give the message to an NGO audience they get uneasy for a different reason. Many of them do not want to believe that for the majority of the developing world global capitalism is working. They hate capitalism and they do not want it to work. The news that it is not working for the billion at the bottom is not good enough: they want to believe that it does not work anywhere. But we cannot go on sacrificing the bottom billion to either of these self-serving aspirations.

The other crucial lack of focus is on strategies to achieve the goals. Growth is not a cure-all, but the lack of growth is a kill-all. Over the past thirty years the bottom billion has missed out on global growth of unprecedented proportions. This failure of the growth process is the overwhelming problem that we have to crack. I have tried to show you how breaking the constraints upon growth will require a customized strategy. The same approach is not going to work everywhere, but neither is each country utterly distinctive. Governments in the countries of the bottom billion need to develop strategies appropriate for their circumstances. In principle, they do already--except that in practice their "strategies" are usually more like shopping lists presented to donors. This deformation of strategic thinking is in part a result of the overemphasis upon aid: the strategies turn into shopping lists because the objective is not growth but aid. The governments of the bottom billion need to become more ambitious. (pp. 189-190)


With the UN convening in New York this week there is a lot of talk floating around (once again) about the Millennium Development Goals and how their midterm assessment will fare at the gathering of international leaders and policy makers.  Bono and Jeffrey Sachs will of course be there and you can follow along as "they" (by that I mean whichever one of their attendants drew the short straw) blog the proceedings for FT.  Paul Collier already weighed in with some thoughts in an op-ed for the NYT this morning which consists mainly of the back-handed compliments and suggestions that he gave concerning the MDGs in The Bottom Billion:
The Millennium Development Goals have been a major improvement on the unfocused agenda for poverty that preceded them, but the world has changed radically since they were announced in 2000. And the assumptions on which they are based need to be rethought.
The World Bank has just raised the bean count of global poverty to 1.4 billion people, from just under a billion. It had previously overestimated the level of Chinese and Indian per capita incomes, so the count now shows that the number of poor Chinese and Indians far exceeds the number of poor Africans. But this is misleading because Chinese and Indian incomes are rising far faster and more surely than African incomes. The big difference between a poor Asian household and an equally poor African one is hope, not necessarily for the present generation of adults but for their children.

Hope makes a difference in people’s ability to tolerate poverty; parents are willing to sacrifice as long as their children have a future. Our top priority should be to provide credible hope where it has been lacking. The African countries in the bottom billion have missed out on the prolonged period of global growth that the rest of the world has experienced. The United Nations’ goal should not be to help the poor in fast-growing and middle-income countries; it should do its utmost to help the bottom billion to catch up. Anti-poverty efforts should be focused on the 60 or so countries — most of them in Africa — that are both poor and persistently slow-growing.

A further weakness with the Millennium Development Goals is that they are devoid of strategy; their only remedy is more aid. I am not hostile to aid. I think we should increase it, though given the looming recession in Europe and North America, I doubt we will. But other policies on governance, agriculture, security and trade could be used to potent effect.
As many commentators will no doubt point out all of this talk of "international" development will be taking place a stone's throw away from the epicenter of a currently brewing global financial crisis.  It is that crisis, not the plight of "the bottom billion," which will attract the greatest media attention this week and which will inevitably make the work at the center of the MDGs that much more difficult to accomplish, at least in the short run.  The Center for Global Development has a good run down on just how all of this may play out for those who are already struggling on the global scene:
For many developing countries, the U.S. credit crisis will mean slower growth and rising inequality. The effects will be protracted, and not all will show up at the same time. And the nature and degree of impact will vary widely. Some countries, notably those with extensive foreign exchange reserves and strong fiscal positions, will be much better able to cope than others. But overall the crisis is very bad news for developing countries and especially for the poor.

September 20, 2008

September 18, 2008

Sleep Numbers

All of these announcements seem to come between the hours of 2 and 5 in the morning.  I'm willing to wager that the cumulative hours slept in the last week for messieurs Bernanke and Paulson are in the single digits. 

Is it any wonder that my recent posts are rooted in escapism:

September 16, 2008

Losing More Than Jobs

From BusinessWeek:
Losing a job isn’t just a career setback, it can be a permanent blow to the community, a recent study finds. Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which tracked 4,000 high school graduates over 45 years, researchers at UCLA and the University of Michigan studied the community involvement of workers aged 35 to 53. Their finding: After being laid off, employees were 35% less likely than before to participate in community or church groups, charitable organizations—even bowling teams. And few returned once they got new jobs. Instead, they focused their energies on professional and political groups—in the belief, hypothesizes UCLA sociology professor Jennie Brand, that both could have an impact on finding and keeping work.

Japan, Oh How I Love Thee

Apparently trends in wine aren't the only things that manga/anime fans are shaping in Japan - they are also playing an important role in deciding who the next prime minister is going to be:
Following the resignation of Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, one of the most likely successors to the job is politician Taro Aso. As the photo above shows, he's quite popular in nerd central Akihabara for his love of manga. 
Last year, when Aso occupied the post of Minister of Foriegn Affairs, he established the "International Manga Award" for non-Japanese comic artists who adopt the country's manga style.
There's even a shop in Akiba dedicated to Aso, who is currently the Secretary General of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The shop, called "Oretachi no Taro" (Our Taro), calls him a "cool old dude" and sells Aso-branded gifts like cakes.
Otaku have given Aso the nickname "Rozen Aso" for his love of the manga Rozen Maiden.
Last year, when Aso was first rumored to be next in line for the prime ministry, stocks in manga retailers rose.
That's from Wired (via) and the pictures are definitely worth a look.  I expect Obama and McCain are both pressing for a Naruto endorsement as we speak.

PS - COMPLETELY unrelated (or maybe not . . . hmmmm) . . . . . . mine is Taupe Armageddon, which you have to admit is pretty awesome.

September 15, 2008

Anime Sommelier

Interesting piece from the Times Online on the biggest trend shaping the Japanese wine market:
Entire 20,000-bottle shipments of burgundy sell out within hours in Tokyo if he so much as looks at a glass, South Korea's biggest film star is lined-up to play him in a TV drama and he has converted thousands of Asian women into the most discerning oenophiles.

In the rarefied world of superstar sommeliers, there may be none greater than Shizuku Kanzaki. The only snag is that he is a cartoon.

Despite his two-dimensional limitations, the hero of Kami no Shizuku (The drops of the gods) has emerged as an extraordinarily potent mover of Asian wine markets — far more so, say some in the industry, than flesh-and-blood wine critics.

The sales records of Japan's largest wine merchants have been smashed because, in a single frame of comic, the hero has uttered a dreamy sigh over a 2006 New Zealand Riesling or closed his eyes in appreciation of a Saint-Aubin Premier Cru.

Enoteca, one of Japan's top-end importers, admitted that the comic character has even begun to influence its stock ordering decisions.

Shizuku's adventures are read by about 500,000 Japanese each week and book collections of the comics have sold millions of copies. Wines that feature in his weekly manga activities regularly become overnight hits, particularly for Japan's frenetic online wine markets.

In Taiwan a single reference to a relatively obscure French terroir shifted dozens of cases of the stuff within a few days.

He has sent the prices of some vintages soaring and, in some cases, tripled sales of particular wines. Some wine importers in Japan say they have never encountered such a powerful single influence on their business.
Watch your back Parker.

September 14, 2008


1.  The Invisible Woman - in the midst of blockbuster success for comic book movies, why none starring superheroines?  Despite the examples cited in the article of good candidates for the big screen I think the source material is a big factor here.  Not because there isn't any of quality but because of fears of finding material that has crossover potential (I think you've got to throw out both Catwoman and Electra as simply really bad movies).  I took a quick look at the sales figures for July 2008 and there are only six female helmed titles in the top 100 (Buffy at #10, Ms. Marvel at #53, Wonder Woman at #60, She-Hulk #61, Batgirl #66, Supergirl #91) and Buffy is the only one moving any significant volume.  Obviously there are a number of team/cross-over titles with popular female characters playing significant roles in the story lines but it's hard to extract a single character without an existing solo following.  I think the article is right in the end that a character like Wonder Woman with a history in both comics (Trinity is apparently selling well also - I wonder if a well done cameo in a new Superman or Batman feature couldn't provide the buzz needed to launch with even more confidence) and TV and plenty of source material to draw from and up date could do well at the box office.  (via Pomeroy)

4.  You don't know beans - good story on heirloom cultivation and marketing. (The farmer, Steve Sando, also blogs.)

5.  Cats I Am Near - just in case you were wondering, and I know you were.

6.  Sidetaker - crowd source the triangulation in your relationship.

September 12, 2008

Goalball and 5-a-side

The Big Picture has some great pictures up from the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games taking place right now in Beijing.  One of the sports pictured is goalball, which I had never heard of - from Wikipedia:
Goalball is a team sport designed for blind athletes. It was devised by Hanz Lorenzen (Austria), and Sepp Reindle (Germany), in 1946 in an effort to help in the rehabilitation of visually impaired World War II veterans. The International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), responsible for fifteen sports for the blind and partially sighted in total, is the governing body for this sport.

The sport evolved into a competitive game over the next few decades and was a demonstration event at the 1976 Summer Paralympics in Toronto. The sport's first championship was held in 1978 and goalball became a full part of the Paralympics from the 1980 Summer Paralympics in Arnhem onwards.

Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it, into the opponents' goal. They must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Games consist of two 10 minute halves. Blindfolds allow partially sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players.

International Blind Sports Federation rules require the field of play to be 18m long by 9m wide (about 19.7 yards by 9.8 yards). Goals span the width of the pitch. The ball weighs 1.25kg (about 2.76 pounds) and has eight holes and noise bells contained within. The ball's circumference is around 76cm (about 30 inches).
Here's a local news interview with a couple of US players competing this year:

And a clip from the 2006 World Championships - US vs Japan:

FP Passport had a blurb on the paralympics the other day as well and 5-a-side soccer caught my eye there - from Wikipedia:
Football 5-a-side is an adaptation of football for athletes with visual impairments including blindness. The sport, governed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), is played with modified FIFA rules. The field of play is smaller, and is surrounded by boards. Teams are reduced to five players, including the goalkeeper, per team. Teams may also use one guide, who is positioned off the field of play, to assist in directing players. The ball is equipped with a noise-making device to allow players to locate it by sound. Matches consist of two 25-minute halves, with a ten-minute break at half-time.
Football 5-a-side players assigned to one of three sport classes based on their level of visual impairment:

B1 - Totally or almost totally blind; from no light perception up to light perception but inability to recognise the shape of a hand.
B2 - Partially sighted; able to recognise the shape of a hand up to a visual acuity of 2/60 or a visual field of less than 5 degrees.
B3 - Partially sighted; visual acuity from 2/60 to 6/60 or visual field from 5 to 20 degrees

Teams are permitted to use sighted athletes as goalkeepers and guides; sighted goalkeepers cannot have been registered with FIFA for at least five years.
Here's a BBC video on the 5-a-side Worldcup - it's amazing how fast and  accurate the play looks:


Billionaire Buddies

Much better than their previous effort:

Red Book, Blue Book

Amazon is getting in on the election data visualization game by offering a map of "political" book purchases:
Our 2008 election map colors each state according to the book-buying habits of its residents on during the past 60 days. You can also see how the map has changed over time by using the left and right arrows to choose other two-month periods during 2008, and by clicking the "2004" tab to find maps for the same periods during the last presidential election year.

In recent years, thanks to the color-coded maps the networks use on election night, "red state" has come to represent a state favoring the Republican Party or more conservative beliefs, while "blue state" represents one that favors the Democratic Party or more liberal beliefs. We know that states are not all red or all blue, and readers aren't either. And books are often too complex to fit into such neat categories. But given the high interest we've seen in political books during election years, we thought our customers would like to see what general book buying patterns emerge across the country, and how they change over time.

To calculate each state's red and blue percentages for our map, we have classified books as red or blue if they have a political leaning made evident in book promotion material and customer classification such as tags. To compute our totals, we then use the 250 blue books that have sold the most during the time period and compare those sales against the 250 red books that have sold the most during the same time period. All orders during the period are given equal weighting in the calculation. These lists of red and blue books, along with the state percentages, are updated daily. States with higher percentages of red or blue purchases are colored more darkly, and states with an even 50-50 split are colored yellow. The featured "local favorite" books for each state are the red and blue books whose sales are strongest in that state compared to their sales in other states.

Since not every political book is a red or a blue book, we've also prepared a list of "purple" books that includes journalistic accounts that present themselves as nonpartisan (even though they might be more critical of one party or another), as well as books that cross the usual party lines (even if they might be written by a member of one party or another).
Not nearly as interesting as their old purchase circles data (which are still under perpetual renovation) but mildly amusing I suppose.

September 10, 2008


This sounds like hyperbole, but trust me it isn't - I find every single thing that Andy Baio posts on his blog interesting.  And this post is the proverbial case in point.

PS - Be sure to pay attention to his use of Mechanical Turk.  

September 9, 2008

Has the Large Hadron Collider Destroyed the World Yet?

Great single serve site.

Update:  Or here if you prefer your monochrome reversed and less slangy.

September 8, 2008

Chasing Rabbits: U. S. Open

Our recent move has reunited us with our TV for the first time in a couple of years so I got to watch a little U. S. Open this weekend for the first time in quite a while.  Saw some pretty good matches and was glad to see Federer back in good form but disappointed that there wasn't another epic rematch with Nadal in the finals, a la Wimbledon since I missed that one.  A couple of thoughts:

1.  Nadal looked really tired during his match with Murray and it struck me that tennis seems to be one of the few sports where consistent success puts the top players at a distinct disadvantage.  Unlike team sports you play matches only if you keep winning, obviously the more matches you play the better chance you have of winning and the greater your earnings, etc., but there is no set number of matches that everyone has to play.  Thus, it seems that come the end of the season the physical wear and tear on the bodies of the top players can be much greater than that of the lower or mid range players by simple virtue of number of matches played.  Obviously there is a correlation between greater physical ability and success so maybe it's a moot point, maybe you are a little more tired than the 131'st ranked player in the world you are playing in round one but your greater skill makes up for it (but it could account for at least part of why it isn't unheard of for that kind of upset to happen) however here are the year to date stats (matches won/lossed) on the last four men standing in this year's Open (who also happen to be the current top four players in the world, in c, a, d, b order):

a.  Roger Federer - 54/12
b.  Andy Murray - 27/11
c.  Rafael Nadal - 70/8
d.  Novak Djokovic - 49/12

Nadal played in 78 matches this year!  What was he thinking - it's no wonder he ran out of steam against Murray - who played 40 fewer matches this year(!) and looked incredibly fresh the entire match against Nadal.  I would wager that he drops at least two or three tournaments next year so that he is fresher for the U. S. Open.  Are there other sports that have similar "handicaps" on consistent winning?

2.  I really like the instant replay/challenge system.  Like I said, we haven't had a TV for a while so this is the first tournament that I've seen since it was instituted in 2006.  It's a great use of technology, has a very small footprint on the flow of the game (time players would have used arguing with officials is now used to actually reviewing them, and much quicker at that) and can really make a difference.  There could have been a great case in point tonight during the Federer/Murray final when at a crucial point in the second set (I forget which game) Murray had two break point opportunities and Federer hit one long that would have given Murray the game and possibly put him in position for serving for the set, suddenly it's one set a piece and you're playing the best two out of three for the championship - the psychological lift alone might have been enough to keep Murray around a bit longer, although he was clearly outclassed tonight, as he fell apart mentally pretty early in the third set and it was over - however, Murray didn't challenge the shot.  Chalk it up to inexperience, his first grand slam final, or maybe was just so into the game he didn't even see how close it came - it could have made a big difference.

During one of the matches this weekend one of the commentators mentioned that next year the women's tour will be allowing coaches to consult with players once per set - coaching of any sort, even from the stands, has long been against the rules in both the men's and women's game so it's a big shift.  I'm not sure it will make much of a difference but someone like Murray, fairly inexperienced on the big stage, might have benefitted from a little calm down pep-talk midway through the second set.  However, I do think it might be interesting if they gave coaches the ability to challenge one call per set, again something that would have benefitted someone like Murray tonight.

The U. S. Open has a great page up showing all kinds of data on the player challenges.  Here's a tournament overview for singles play:

Men challenged almost twice as much as women and averaged more than two more challenges per match, but they also play a best 3 out of 5 as opposed to the women's best 2 out of 3 - it would be interesting to see averages per set maybe.  Here's how the last four men's players break down - challenges/# overturned (won)/percentage:

a. Roger Federer - 28/5/17.86%
b. Andy Murray - 21/5/23.81%
c. Rafael Nadal - 11/4/36.36%
d. Novak Djokovic - 10/3/30%

In addition to the data summary the U. S. Open site also has a page with links to video for every point that was challenged during singles tournament play.  Kudos to the U. S. Open for a good use of technology all around.

3.  They also streamed tonight's final online.  Again, kudos on utilizing the technology - sports like tennis and golf in particular have nothing to lose and lots to gain from going online as often as possible and I hope we see more of it.

When It Hurts So Bad, Why's It Feel So Good?

One of the many things that has gotten set aside in the last few weeks amidst the business of moving to a new state and city was a post on Adrian Wood's piece in the Financial Times entitled, How Donors Should Cap Aid in Africa.  Here's the gist:
Ministers from developed and developing countries are gathered this week in Accra, Ghana’s capital, for the latest high-level forum on aid effectiveness. Learning from past successes and failures, reformers are pressing for more ownership by developing countries of aid relationships, more predictability of aid flows and less fragment ation of aid delivery. This agenda is important. If implemented, these reforms would give the taxpayers of rich countries better value for money and increase the benefits of aid to people in poor ones. Aid cannot on its own cause development, but if properly delivered and well used it can be enormously beneficial.

However, one can have too much of a good thing. Some developing countries, most of them in Africa, have had high levels of aid dependence – in excess of 10 per cent of gross domestic product, or half of government spending – for decades. It is questionable whether this has been helpful.

There are various reasons to be concerned about high aid dependence, but the most worrying is the undermining of good governance by distortion of political accountability. Governments that are highly dependent on aid pay too much attention to donors and too little to their citizens. This might not matter if the interests of citizens and donors were identical. But all donors have some non-developmental motives and, even when they seek to promote development, they have their own priorities. The result is confused and shifting policies, volatile aid and spending and, as a result, slower growth.

I therefore propose that donors collectively set an upper limit on the amount of aid they give to any developing country. This limit should be 50 per cent of the amount of tax revenue that the aid-receiving government raises from its own citizens, by non-coercive means and excluding revenue from oil and minerals.

This would keep the governments of non-mineral countries dependent for revenue mainly on their citizens, and thus give them incentives to pay attention mainly to what citizens want, not donors. It would also encourage governments to raise more taxes from their citizens, since every extra dollar of tax raised would attract a matching increase of 50 cents of aid.
Thankfully, the folks at the Center for Global Development blog are keeping an eye on things and they have been following an apparently on-going email conversation concerning Wood's idea amongst a group of leading development minds and are posting excerpts along the way as well as offering their own good commentary - worth keeping an eye on.  I especially appreciated this sentence and wish I heard it more often and from more directions:
"What's needed is an approach to aid that helps, indeed forces donors, to shift accountability of recipient governments away from donors and back to citizens -- allowing for the feedback governments need from their own taxpayers."  
PS - Title inspiration.

September 6, 2008

The Economics of Beer: Still Recession Proof?

There are a few guilty pleasure blogs that I follow, and one of them is A Good Beer Blog who points to this interesting piece in the Washington Post - Cold Comfort in Hard Times:
More than 16 million barrels of domestic beer were sold in the United States in July, and annual sales through that month are up 1.4 percent, the largest increase since 1990, when the economy was headed toward a recession, according to the Beer Institute. (Yes, such a thing exists. It's a trade group.)

The uptick is significant for a mature industry with roughly $50 billion in annual sales, particularly as consumers reduce spending on other discretionary purchases, such as venti lattes and designer jeans. Trade groups for the liquor and wine industries report consumption of those beverages has also increased. But beer is America's most popular alcoholic beverage, claiming more than half the market, and the go-to drink during these times of economic distress.

"The beer industry and the alcohol industry seem to be fairly recession-resistant," said Nick Lake, vice president of beverage and alcohol at the Nielsen Co., a market research firm. "Why would you want to cut out beer? You don't want to punish yourself just because the economy's bad."
More interesting stuff follows but this was my favorite bit of reasoning:
"You can stay home and entertain and have a high-quality beer for a fraction of the price of going out with your friends," said Ben Sibley, manager of the company's store in Chantilly.

That's why Trevor Langrehr keeps a keg at home. Each keg usually lasts a few months, and his buddies can enjoy a fresh, ice cold beer when they visit his new house in Fredericktown, Va. He even converted an old fridge into a "kegerator."

On a recent afternoon, he returned an empty barrel of Dominion Lager to the Total Wine & More in Chantilly and picked out a keg of Sam Adams Oktoberfest for $149.99. His beer-buying habits haven't changed, though he cut his monthly gasoline bill from $500 to $250 by getting a Volkswagen that runs on diesel. If the economy got really bad, he knows he would have to cut back.

"I'd certainly chose food over beer," he said. "But I hope that never happens."


1.  Girl power at school, but not at the office.  My wife actually noticed the opposite of this when moving from a west coast working environment to a southern academic setting.

2.  With the conflict between Russia and Georgia, two nations with McDonald's outlets have finally gone to war with each other.  I've always heard it referred to as the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention and of course Wikipedia has a roundup of other previous conflicts that may have already disproved the theory.  (via Chris Blattman)

3.  This is a clever idea but other than the morlocks who is this detached from what's going on above ground?

4.  How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity - interesting read from the Harvard Business Review, here are their three operating principles, applicable I think to a number of sectors:
1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone.

2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.

3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community.
5.  Another guilty pleasure blog.

6.  This is old but I had never seen it before:
Food chemists have shown that making a pizza crust with whole wheat flour and cooking it longer releases more antioxidants. These chronic disease-fighting compounds increased by 82 percent when baked at a higher temperature, by 60 percent when baked twice as long and doubled when the dough was left to rise an extra day.
7.  What Saddleback's Pastor Really Thinks About Politics - I've been trying to give this piece in the WSJ its own post for over a week now and just haven't found the time, so I'm giving it up and burying it in the links, but you should really read it.  It's the best thing I've read to date on what the Evangelical political landscape actually looks like as we approach November:
'Overhyped." That's how the Rev. Rick Warren describes the notion that the evangelical vote is "up for grabs" in this election. But what about the significance of the evangelical left, I asked the pastor of Saddleback Church after his forum with the presidential candidates last weekend. "This big," he says, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.

September 5, 2008

Your Data/Graphic Fix for the Day

Interesting graphic from the NYT displaying the frequency of words and phrases used by the parties, and selected individual speakers, at their respective conventions.


September 4, 2008

"The keys are in it . . . ."

This was Kai Ryssdal's final note on Marketplace this evening:
Another conspiracy theory around the high price of oil and gas.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says it's noticed something fishy. The bureau says there's a striking correlation between the number of SUVs and trucks reported stolen and the rise in gas prices.

Six of the top ten vehicles on the list are gas guzzlers. Despite the fancy name, we're obliged to mention the bureau is funded by insurance companies.
More on the report here.

September 3, 2008

Recently Spotted: Craigslist

et cetera jobs

Need a Caucasian superhero for Birthday gig!

I will train on basic balloons and magic.

Background check will be done!

Needed.....Sep 20th

Chasing Rabbits: Tasting with the Mouth, Fooling the Mind or The Art of the Con

This interesting NYT op-ed follows up on an earlier reported story in which two teenagers used a relatively simple DNA test to discover that several Manhattan restaurants and markets were mislabeling the fish used in their sushi, often replacing higher end fish with much cheaper offerings, by discussing just how easy it is for our mouths to lead our minds astray - and the more we know, or think we know, apparently the easier it becomes:
Experts make the best victims because they jump to unwarranted conclusions. The savvier they are, the quicker they jump, because they see at a glance which way a story is heading. In 2002, for instance, a French wine researcher named Frédéric Brochet gave 54 experts an array of red wines to evaluate. Some of the glasses contained white wine that Mr. Brochet had doctored to look red, by adding a tasteless, odorless additive. Not a single taster noticed the switch.

“About 2 or 3 percent of people detect the white wine flavor,” Mr. Brochet said, “but invariably they have little experience of wine culture. Connoisseurs tend to fail to do so. The more training they have, the more mistakes they make because they are influenced by the color of the wine.”

For the experts, the term “red wine” carries countless associations. Each one points to further questions; each question leads them further off the trail. By contrast, the amateurs’ ignorance keeps them from exploring subtle byways. Seeing only one question — “what do you think of this wine?” — they can’t wander far.

The catch is that, when it comes to food, we all think of ourselves as experts. But we taste with both our tongues and our minds, and it’s easy to lead minds astray. Brownies taste better, for example, when served on china rather than on paper plates, research has shown. And we prefer wine with a pedigree, even if it’s a phony one. Sometimes all it takes is an alluring name. Until a few decades ago, Patagonian toothfish was a trash fish not worth trying to give away. Renamed Chilean sea bass, it sold so fast that it nearly disappeared from the sea.
I had never heard of Brochet and his experiment but came across a couple of articles that mentioned, but didn't focus on, his expermiment, including this one from The Guardian:
Frédéric Brochet, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at the University of Bordeaux, decided to find out. In 1998, he invited 54 specialists to taste wines and write down their impressions.

First, he served a red and a white. The tasters made notes. Next, he served a different red and white. Again, they jotted down comments. To describe the two reds they used terms such as plump, deep, dark, blackcurrant and spice. The two white wines evoked descriptions such as golden, floral, pale, honey, straw and lively.

Unbeknownst to the specialists, the second set of wines they tasted, the red and the white, were identical. Brochet had simply added flavourless food colouring to some of the white wine to create a faux red. Not a single person wrote down that the second pair of wines tasted similar, nor that the "red" tasted like a white. Their descriptions of the dyed white read exactly like descriptions of a red wine. The inescapable conclusion was that the specialists had all been fooled.

Brochet didn't design his studies to knock wine connoisseurs down a peg. His experiments demonstrate the power of perceptive expectation: "The subject perceives, in reality, what he or she has pre-perceived and finds it difficult to back away."

What this means is that the brain does not treat taste as a discrete sensation. Instead, it constructs the experience of flavour by taking into consideration information from all the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Paradoxically, it places the greatest emphasis on sight – almost 20 times more emphasis, according to Brochet, than on any other sense. So if our eyes tell us there's red wine in the glass, our brain places more faith in that data than in the information from the taste buds.
The second article, from Jonah Lehrer's blog, mentions a second Brochet experiment:
The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was "agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded," while the vin du table was "weak, short, light, flat and faulty". Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.

What these wine experiments illuminate is the omnipresence of subjectivity. When we take a sip of wine, we don't taste the wine first, and the cheapness or redness second. We taste everything all at once, in a single gulp of thiswineisred, or thiswineisexpensive. As a result, the wine "experts" sincerely believed that the white wine was red, and that the cheap wine was expensive. And while they were pitifully mistaken, their mistakes weren't entirely their fault. Our brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that our prejudices feel like facts, our opinions indistinguishable from the actual sensation. If we think a wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a grand cru, then we will taste a grand cru. Our senses are vague in their instructions, and we parse their suggestions based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface. As Brochet himself notes, our expectations of what the wine will taste like "can be much more powerful in determining how you taste a wine than the actual physical qualities of the wine itself."
Unfortunately, Brochet doesn't have a Wikipedia entry (and despite the contrary evidence that this post might present, I don't have time to start one for him) but he is mentioned in a couple of other entries and one of those is the Riedel wine glass entry.  Which led me to this interesting piece from Gourmet Magazine back in 2004 examining "the myth of Riedel wine glasses" and this exchange between the author of the article and Brochet:
“Come on,” I ask Brochet, during a lengthy phone call. “Are you saying that most of us can’t tell the difference between a Chardonnay and a Zinfandel? We can’t tell good wine from bad?”

“No, no, no,” he says. “I’m not saying that. I’m saying that expectations have an enormous impact. People can, in fact, tell the difference between wines. But their expectations—based on the label, or whether you tell them it’s expensive, or good, or based on what kind of wine you tell them it is, the color—all these factors can be much more powerful in determining how you taste a wine than the actual physical qualities of the wine itself.”

And now we’re getting to the moral of the story.

Look, Brochet says, he’s never studied wineglasses himself, so he can’t prove what he’s about to say. But the research that he and others have done on the science of expectation convinces him that they’ve found the key: Riedel and other high-end glasses can make wine taste better. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re delicate. Because they’re expensive. Because you expect them to make the wine taste better.

And that, says Brochet, can make all the difference.
If so inclined, I will allow you to insert your own connection to Sarah Palin and or Barack Obama here.

Aside:  In the interest of full disclosure we have some Riedel glasses given to us by the dearest of friends and they always make our wine taste better for an infinite number of reasons.

September 2, 2008

Palin on Intrade

Intrade has added trading on the likelihood of Palin being withdrawn as the VP nominee.

Price for Sarah Palin to be withdrawn as Republican VP nominee/candidate at

Via Joshua Green who ponders the Eagleton Scenario just as I did Saturday morning.

"Sure McCain is old, but is he old enough?"