Video of the day

Perhaps you saw the recent viral clip of the newscaster who lost his job after his very first outing for cursing on a live mike (these two videos not appropriate for all ages):

Salon took the opportunity to put together a set of similar clips of local news bloopers.  I love the following for being such a crazy non sequitur.  The reaction of the women on the left is priceless:

Quick hits

Lots of interesting stuff I just don’t have the time to get to: 1) Belief in the “Second Coming” of Jesus significantly reduces support for government action to tackle climate change (necessary controls, of course). 2) My hometown of Cary, NC switched over to blinking yellow from solid green for a yield left turn in the past few years.  I don’t feel any safer, but supposedly I am.  Apparently, though, pedestrians are now more at risk. 3) A disproportionate number of the world’s best students are Americans.  Are averages are always getting pulled down due to our inequality and poverty, but at the top, we still rock. 4) Being told that a CFL light bulb is good for the planet makes conservatives less likely to buy it.  How depressing.  Kevin Drum with a nice take on how actually caring about the environment has become an extension of the culture wars. 5) Really enjoyed this piece on how to talk to your child about sexual assault, sexting, etc.  This part especially:

I understand that reluctance: I haven’t talked to my 13-year-old son about Steubenville or the other cases because parties and alcohol aren’t on his radar yet. I don’t want to rob him of his innocence. “I understand that feeling,” Wiseman said. “But that always means the moment of losing their innocence doesn’t happen with you, and they have to deal with it in the moment, and they’re completely unprepared for what to do.” She said I could wait until my son is 14, but probably not much beyond that.

Got it.  David’s 13.  I’m going to get on this. 6) Mother and daughter both injured in Boston marathon bombing.  Good story. 7) Great take on the morons in Congress trying to eliminate NSF social science funding.  Great conclusion:

I have no doubt that Messrs Duncan and Webster’s motivations in offering this bill are not venial or self-serving. I have every faith that they are motivated by a sincere devotion to ignorance, a value they both preach and practice.

8) Cool analysis of age and gender effects on the nature of status updates.  Handy graphical summary from Andrew Sullivan. 9) I think it is great that Bill Gates is funding efforts to make a more pleasurable condom and I agree with this author that the backlash is ridiculous.  It is a simple biological fact that condoms reduce sensation and a socio-cultural fact that many men refuse to use them as a result.  You may not like that last fact, but it’s a reality.  If there can be real progress on the first fact, it might make a real impact on the second.  And that would be great for public health in many places. 10) NPR series of stories on Buried in Grain from back in March.  I got most of these on the radio– they were great.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic Photo of the day.  I just find this one jaw-droppingly amazing: (and there’s lots of really, really great photos of the day from April– I just looked back through the whole month)

Picture of the Northern Lights over Godafoss in Iceland

Waterfall, Iceland

Photograph by Hordur Finnbogason, My Shot

This is an image I have had on my mind to get for three years. To align the waterfall and northern lights that are strong enough to light up the whole surroundings. At last it happened and I was at the right place at the right time. Godafoss means Waterfall of the Gods and takes its name from the old Nordic sagas.

 

Of bureaucracy and brown M&M’s

One of my favorite lectures in my Intro class is actually Bureaucracy.  I think it is because 1) everybody expects it to be really boring (and it’s not when I teach it) and 2) all the students really know about bureaucracy is that it’s dumb and they hate it, but 50 minutes later they realize things are a hell of a lot more complicated than they thought.  That’s fun.  I basically sum it up by saying, yeah, bureaucracy ain’t so great, so come up with a better way of dealing with these problems.  Thus, I really enjoyed this recent Ezra column in Bloomberg (and will probably add it to my assigned readings for that week).  Doesn’t hurt that it includes the awesome story about Van Halen and brown m&m’s:

Right there on Page 40, in the “Munchies” section, nestled between “pretzels” and “twelve (12) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” is a parenthetical alert so adamant you can’t miss it: “M&M’s,” the text reads, “(WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).”

This is the famed rider to Van Halen’s 1982 concert contract. In a sentence fragment that would define rock-star excess forevermore, the band demanded a bowl of M&M’s with the brown ones laboriously excluded. It was such a ridiculous, over- the-top demand, such an extreme example of superstar narcissism, that the rider passed almost instantly into rock lore.

It also wasn’t true.

I don’t mean that the M&M language didn’t appear in the contract, which really did call for a bowl of M&M’s — “NO BROWN ONES.” But the color of the candy was entirely beside the point.

“Van Halen was the first to take 850 par lamp lights — huge lights — around the country,” explained singer David Lee Roth. “At the time, it was the biggest production ever.” Many venues weren’t ready for this. Worse, they didn’t read the contract explaining how to manage it. The band’s trucks would roll up to the concert site, and the delays, mistakes and costs would begin piling up.

So Van Halen established the M&M test. “If I came backstage and I saw brown M&M’s on the catering table, it guaranteed the promoter had not read the contract rider, and we had to do a serious line check,” Roth explained.

Call it the Van Halen principle: Tales of someone doing something unbelievably stupid or selfish or irrational are often just stories you don’t yet understand. It’s a principle that often applies to Washington.

And, in the case of the rest of Ezra’s column, but “Washington” he means bureaucracies.  Plenty of good stuff, but I’ll cut to the conclusion:

It would be nice if the government’s mistakes were typically a product of stupidity, venality or bureaucracy. Then we would need only to remove the idiots, fire the villains and cut the red tape. More often, the outrageous stories we hear are cases of decent people trying to solve tough problems under difficult constraints that we simply haven’t taken the time to understand. That isn’t to suggest that people in government don’t get it wrong. They do, repeatedly. But if we want to get it right, we need to work harder to understand why they decided to remove the brown M&M’s in the first place.

Yep. You take the time to understand things and bureaucracies aren’t just some punchline, but rather very complex organizations trying to grapple with very complex problems while facing many constraints and staffed by fallible humans.  Nothing funny about that.  Just the world as it actually is.

Why I hate the electoral college in one map

So, this is very cool– Fairvote (they advocate for ending the absurdity that is the electoral college, among other smart reforms), put together a map of every presidential campaign stop in the 2012 election:

If I simply told you that there was a country having an election and this marked the entirety of the national campaign, you would obviously recognize it as absurd.  The idea that we should be forever tied to some idea that made sense to try out in the first ever Constitutional democracy over 220 years ago in amazingly different political and social circumstances is completely ridiculous.  Here’s the factoid I’ll be sharing with my Campaigns & Elections class next time I teach the class:

For example, in 2012, the presidential candidates focused on only ten states. Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire were the only states in which Barack Obama and Mitt Romney held public campaign events after the Democratic National Convention, and those same ten states received 99.6% of all the Obama and Romney campaigns’ television advertising money spent nationwide between April 11 and Election Day…

Overall, the candidates attended 253 events in 168 different cities and towns, 59% of which were held in just three states (Ohio, Florida, and Virginia).

Or to look at it a different way (and you can see on state-by-state maps) presidential campaigns came to Zanesville, Ohio and Danville, Virginia (nothing against these towns), but nowhere near major urban centers like NYC, LA, or Dallas.  That was a rational approach for the presidential campaigns but absolutely not a rational way to conduct a national election in a representative democracy.

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