In the summers after my junior and senior years in college I had government jobs (Office of Naval Research) where I had commute to Ballston (Arlington), VA from my home in Springfield.  Basically, using the HOV/carpool lanes which required 3 riders, you could cut your commute time in less than half.  A pretty amazing institution–slugging– self-organized to take advantage of this beginning right in my home-town of Springfield.  Basically, strangers pick each other up in pre-designated locations all over the Northern Virginia area to take advantage of the HOV lanes on I-395.  The driver gets to use the carpool lanes and the riders get a free ride (instead of the Metro Bus).  Win-win.  Most of the time, we actually had a functioning carpool of 3, but whenever someone couldn’t make it, we’d just pick up a “slug.”  I even slugged myself a few times.  Definitely beats the bus.  In fact, although there are designated slug zones, when you drive through my neighborhood, it was common etiquette to simply stop at one of the many bus stops for the 18K to check for slugs.

The way home, though, was a real pain as you actually had to park your car at the Pentagon, walk over to the Metro bus depot, and find a slug to walk back to your car with you.  I came perilously close to a jaywalking ticket from an MP when I cut short a corner of a crosswalk one day in my hurry to get a slug.  It’s since improved (since 9/11, I imagine) where you don’t need to get out of your car.

Why  do I bring all this up?  Great story in Miller-McCune about this system and how it is completely ground-up with no oversight, leaders, etc., but has developed a very detailed system of rules, etiquette, etc.  The only other comparable slug system in the whole country is in San Francisco.  Anyway, pretty cool article, you should check it out.  And, if not, some highlights:

Every morning, these commuters meet in park-and-ride lots along the interstate in northern Virginia. They then ride, often in silence, without exchanging so much as first names, obeying rules of etiquette but having no formal organization. No money changes hands, although the motive is hardly altruistic. Each person benefits in pursuit of a selfish goal: For the passenger, it’s a free ride; for the driver, a pass to the HOV lane, and both get a faster trip than they would otherwise. Even society reaps rewards, as thousands of cars come off the highway…

A decade later, is the hive of community wisdom. LeBlanc posts a code of etiquette, and the denizens have their message boards where they swap tales of all who violate it. The rules are intricate, if unenforceable: Passengers don’t speak unless spoken to; no talk of religion, politics or sex; no cell phones, no money offered, no smoking; no asking to change the radio station or to adjust the thermostat; and never, ever leave a female slug waiting in line alone. Also frowned upon is something called “body snatching” — cruising a parking lot for passengers to avoid waiting in the orderly first-come, first-served car queue. And, it should go without saying, no one wants to watch you put on your makeup or eat your Egg McMuffin.

One of the more curious slugging behaviors does not appear on LeBlanc’s list: Most cars pull up to a slug line and, regardless of its length, pick up two passengers — and only two.

It’s also worth noting that there’s never been any criminal activity reported in this process.  I must admit, I do have fond memories of slugging, but I’ll sure take my 15 minute, 7 mile, never any traffic commute now.


Common Mistakes of Economists (and Sociologists)

So, Tyler Cowen came up with a list of Common Mistakes made by left-wing economists.  Ezra Klein comes up with his own list.  I love #7, which certainly explains why I’m such a big fan of Ezra:

7. Listen to political scientists, sociologists, etc. They have perspectives, evidence and training worthy of consideration.

I don’t know about the sociologists :-), but certainly like the first part of that.  Actually, just this week I had a very smart and very liberal student of mine tell me that a Sociology instructor had labelled her paper racist.  Alas, I cannot remember why, but it was a situation that, in my experience, pretty much only a Sociology graduate student would describe as racist.   I also remember several years ago another favorite student showed me her Sociology tests in which it was pretty easy to figure out the “correct” answers to the multiple choice questions if you had never taken the class using a simple heuristic: America is bad and socialism is good.  I suppose I should be glad there’s Sociologists out there to make us liberal PS professors look like reasoned centrists.

Capitalism = more premature babies

This is just so so wrong:

The price of a drug used to delay birth in women at high risk of delivering prematurely is going to skyrocket following Food and Drug Administration approval of a prescription form of the product, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone.

Since 2003, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that doctors offer the progesterone shots to high-risk women. But because there has not been a commercial product available, women have obtained the drug from so-called compounding pharmacies, which make it to order. The pharmacies have typically charged about $10 to $20 per shot for the drug, which is given weekly.

Last month, however, the FDA approved a commercial form of the drug, called Makena, manufactured by K-V Pharmaceutical Co. of St. Louis. The company said Wednesday that the drug will be available for shipping March 14 and that it will cost $1,500 per dose. The company said, however, that it would establish a “comprehensive patient assistance program” to ensure that the drug was available to every woman who needs it.

Physicians were incensed at the high price K-V plans to charge. “I’ve never seen anything as outrageous as this,” Dr. Arnold Cohen, an obstetrician at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, told the Associated Press. Other doctors echoed his sentiment. The burden for many will fall on insurance companies, which may have to raise rates. The increase will also affect already strapped Medicaid programs.

Something tells me we need to change the law on drug patents.  There’s just no way this makes any sense.  On a much smaller scale reminds me of the case of Albuterol inhalers, which any Asthmatics out there will now is an inhaled corticosteroid which is front-line treatment for stopping asthma attacks.  Albuterol has been around for years and the inhalers were readily available as very affordable generic versions.  Alas, the propellant contained CFS’s.  When new inhalers came out a few years ago that were CFC-free, under some utterly lacking in any common-sense guidelines, these were classified as a new drug and all of a sudden no generic albuterol inhalers were available any more.  No, it didn’t drive the cost up to $1500 a dose, but it does raise the cost by a factor of 5 on our insurance plan (David has the occasional asthma attack).  All for changing an inactive ingredient. I don’t know the specifics of this obviously absurd policy, but I feel pretty confident that the outsized lobbying power of Big Pharma may have something to do with it.

Need a hug?

I’m generally just fine with hugging people, so the anti-hug rant here in Slate did not particularly resonate with me.   A sampling:

Granted, with the right person, I enjoy a well-placed hug. The right persons include: blood relations, my boyfriend, and close friends. By “well-placed” I mean before or after a lengthy separation, as a form of congratulation (you’re getting married!), as a means of consolation (you’re getting divorced?), or to ward off hypothermia. That’s about it (though I should specify that I waive the category requirements for my boyfriend).

So why is it that when I go over to your house for dinner, you wrap your arms around me, even though I saw you last Friday at the movies? And why do you come at me again after the meal is over, even though we hugged not three hours ago and I’ll probably see you next week at that party? It’s not that I don’t like you—I do—but it’s such an awkward interaction. One arm or two? Should there be space between us? How much? Should I brush my cheek against yours? Maybe even kiss your cheek? And for how long, exactly, should we be touching? I think you just nuzzled my ear with your nose, should I just ignore that? OK, it’s one thing for you to hug me, since we’re old pals, but your girlfriend too? I hardly know her, you’ll probably break up soon, and I’ve never liked the sensation of breast-on-breast contact.

Or take the long weekend when you generously invited me and 15 others to your house. When it was time for us all to leave, there ensued a veritable orgy of hugging. I’m certain I hugged some of your guests more than once because we couldn’t remember if we’d gotten around to each other yet. I didn’t know some of their names—they were your acquaintances, not mine—and I may never see them again. But we hugged. Maybe twice.

This piece did, however, get me to thinking of the difficult topic of gender and hugging in social relationships.  Professionally, it’s easy: always shake hands.  In personal life, guys are easy, always shake hands and hug sometimes if its a good friend who’s not homophobic (I’ve got a few in that latter category).  The problem comes with women who you aren’t really all that close to, but where a handshake seems much too formal/professional.  E.g., the girlfriend/wife who you don’t know very well of one of your best friends, the daughter of parents’ good friends, etc.  Not always an easy call.  I’ll admit to simply avoiding all physical contact on occasion (it’s a great excuse to be holding a child, something I’ve often been known to do in social situations) as its easier than wondering if a handshake is too formal or a hug too personal.  Seems like this would’ve been great fodder for a Seinfeld episode.  I’ve never really heard anybody else bring up this particular issue, though.  Am I alone in my concern?

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