Inky, the Houdini-esque Cephalopoda

Inky the Octopus escaped from his enclosure in the National Aquarium of New Zealand by sneaking out via a hole in his tank, then fortuitously finding a drain pipe that leads to the ocean.  (Story.)

Octopodes are famously adept at being able to escape through tiny holes – anything over the size of a quarter is fair game.  They play games, use tools, and predict the results of sporting matches (okay, not so much to the last one).

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The New, and Not Improved, Starbucks Rewards

My Starbucks Rewards operates on a fairly simple premise: go to the store and buy things 12 times, and earn a freebie (coffee, food, pastries, etc.).  The programme has changed a bit through the years – you used to be able to get free syrups in your drinks if you were a Gold member, but only got a freebie every 15 visits – but it’s always been about frequency of visits, not how much you spend.

Now that is changing.  The new Starbucks Rewards, according to an email sent out today, works as follows:

You’ll earn 2 Stars for every $1 you spend on coffee, food, drinks, mugs–and more. As a Gold member, once you earn 125 Stars, you’ll be able to redeem them for anything on the menu.*

Doing some quick math, you earn a free reward for every $62.50 spent at Starbucks.  Over 12 visits, that would average out to $5.21 per visit – which is far more than the average “handcrafted espresso beverage,” and, actually, more than almost any item on the menu excepting food items.

What does this mean for you?  If you typically go to Starbucks and order multiple items, you will earn freebies a bit faster.  For everyone else, it will take about 18 tall cappuccinos or mochas to earn a reward.

While this is being billed as a bonus for those who buy coffees for the whole office and now get extra stars for it, most customers will spend a lot more money to get the same rewards.

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Filed under Food, Nerdiness

Animal Encounters – New Hampshire

In a new twist on a GOTV operation, a six hundred pound pig in New Hampshire wandered into the polling stations.  No word yet on which candidate recruited the animal for the trip, or whether his lack of photo ID precluded him from voting.

Justice Kennedy was reached for comment and stated, “Pigs are highly intelligent animals.  Our living, breathing Constitution certainly protects the pig franchise under the penumbras of the XIX and XIII Amendments.  If our forefathers were not choirosphobes, pigs would have the franchise.”

Wilbur v. State of New Hampshire will be heard in OT 2017.

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Third wave feminism seems pretty misogynistic sometimes….

The latest “feminist” movement is to get the government to pay women to stay at home with their kids and caretake for older adults.  (See, NYT essay.)   The basic argument:

The feminist argument for a U.B.I. [Universal Basic Income] is that it’s a way to reimburse mothers and other caregivers for the heavy lifting they now do free of charge. Roughly one-fifth of Americans have children 18 or under. Many also attend to ill or elderly relatives. They perform these labors out of love or a sense of duty, but still, at some point during the diaper-changing or bedpan cleaning, they have to wonder why their efforts aren’t seen as “work.” They may even ask why they have to pay for the privilege of doing it, by cutting back on their hours or quitting jobs to stay home.

For eff’s sake.  Let’s talk about basic economics and family structure.

You get paid for “work” because someone would rather you do those things at the office than have the money they pay you.  It is not a reflection on your self-worth, contributions to making the world a better place, or anything but the fact that you are performing labour that someone would give up money to have performed. When we pay people to scoop ice cream, mow our lawns, or change the oil, it’s not because we are saying that scooping ice cream is more worthwhile than singing your child to sleep; it’s because we need the oil changed.  This is not a way to advance cosmic justice or give people the warm fuzzies; it’s about (pardon the language) getting shit done that needs to get done, which you cannot or do not want to do yourself.

The important thing in all that is the person who pays the money gets something in return – an ice cream cone, a functioning automobile, or a lawn that does not resemble Einstein’s hair.  You figuring out how to make your household work is not anything that benefits anyone outside the household, which is why no one pays you for it.  If you want to get paid for raising kids or the cleaning the house, raise someone else’s kids or clean someone else’s house, and have that ‘someone else’ give you a check in exchange.  But your kids, your house? It’s called being an adult.

(Incidentally, we already pay people to have kids: child tax credits, maternity care that is included in all health insurance premiums, free public schools for 13 years, subsidised state universities, after-school programmes, youth sports leagues.  We also pay people who are old through Medicare, Medicaid, Elder Services, and heaven only knows what else.  Let’s not pretend that women are doing the lion’s share of the work already that needs to be shifted even more to the taxpayer.)

Now, actual feminists have a good solution to this problem about not getting paid for “women’s work:” it’s called equally sharing their husband’s paychecks, or, in the case of elderly relatives, having a sit-down conversation with their siblings and saying, “Look, it’s going to cost $X in either foregone salary for me, or $Y to pay someone else to do this, to take care of Dad.  Either come up with better ideas or open up your checkbooks, because this one isn’t falling all on me.”  Sad, pathetic excuses for adults look to strangers to make their households function properly.

Readers, am I being harsh, or is this beyond absurd?

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Filed under Economics, Feminism

The legal right to medical decision-making

Hi, readers!  Long time, no blogging.

In the few years, there has been a huge push to legalise assisted suicide. Brittany Maynard became a national figure for the right to assisted suicide before she took her life.  Several states have legalised it.  Proponents of assisted suicide have argued that dying individuals, not the State, have a right to determine their medical care, and that swift death can be a compassionate alternative to prolonged, hopeless suffering.  (For the record, I do not find these arguments to be persuasive.)

Given that Americans are embracing this logic, it’s ironic that the same logic does not apply to the F.D.A.’s approval and clinical trial process for experimental, potentially life-saving, drugs.  The New York Times (hat tip) reported that the FDA is streamlining the process after its oncology chief, Dr. Richard Pazdur, lost his wife to ovarian cancer.

The F.D.A. has a notoriously slow approval process for new drugs.  This is largely a result of the thalidomide crisis in the 1960s, when pregnant women who took an anti-nausea drug gave birth to children with severe deformities (including flippers instead of arms).   F.D.A. medical officer Dr. Frances Kelsey refused to approve the drug after he found that it had not been tested on pregnant animals.  As the drug was never approved in the United States, American babies avoided the devastating harm that other children faced in countries where thalidomide had been approved.  The F.D.A.’s cautiousness in approving the drug has been used to justify its slow approval process in the half-century since the crisis.

Much of the problem with thalidomide was that its costs were out of proportion with its benefits: it reduced nausea, but could cause lifelong severe deformities.  As a general rule, we are more willing to approve drugs that cause a lot of harm if they also do a lot of good (e.g. a drug that has chemotherapy’s side effects would never be approved to reduce headaches, but is fine when it could save someone’s life). As such, the F.D.A. has a “compassionate use” programme, wherein severely ill people can apply to take unapproved drugs in the hope of saving their lives.  The rationale is that the patient will probably die anyway, so the additional risk of taking the unproven drug is minimal.  As the NYT explains,

That decision was made in a separate category of “compassionate use” drug approvals for individual patients. Every year, the F.D.A. receives about 1,000 similar applications from terminally ill people seeking experimental medications, and agency officials say they approve 99 percent of them. The approvals are distinct from those for drugs that have gone through clinical trials and that are for broad distribution.

So every year, about a thousand people apply for “compassionate use” drugs.  Every year, over a half-million people die from cancer.  Obviously, many of those people pass away from types of cancer that are not the target of any drugs in clinical trials or the approval process; but whatever that percentage of cancer patients who could benefit from a drug in the pipeline is, it is probably higher than 0.5%.  In fact, the number of people who apply for and receive permission for “compassionate use” of an experimental drug is approximately equal to the number of people who undergo euthanasia every year in America (even though assisted suicide is limited to a small number of states).

In effect, we are a country wherein a cancer patient is just as likely to commit suicide via a lethal dose of legal drugs as he is to receive experimental, potentially life-saving medical treatment.  Analytically, the laws governing each are different: the “drug cocktail” that is used for assisted suicide is an off-label use and therefore not governed by the F.D.A., and state law, not federal law, governs assisted suicide.  But in a discussion about the policy that governs the approval process for potentially life-saving medication and the availability of compassionate use, it is damning that Americans are just as likely to use legal drugs to kill themselves as they are to apply for life-saving ones.


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Filed under Bioethics, Law, Reforming health care

‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Group May Close

The Cambridge, MA based Our Bodies, Ourselves organisation is at risk of closing. They cite “onsumers’ shift to the Internet, dwindling grants, and the lack of a long-term financial plan” as the reasons for the potential closure. (Article.)

When Our Bodies, Ourselves was published, public schools didn’t have the comprehensive health classes they do today; the stories many women tell indicate that their biology classes didn’t even cover human reproductive biology; and the topics it discussed (abortion, birth control, etc.) were taboo.  Of course grants were readily available and many people purchased the book.

Almost fifty years later, support for abortion is on the decline; innumerable forms of birth control are available over the counter; hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding are given to providing women with birth control; and practically every school in America teaches the basics of human reproductive biology (even if they do not teach ‘comprehensive’ sex ed).  The White House was lit up with rainbow lights when the Supreme Court mandated same-sex marriage.   It’s hard enough to see how Our Bodies, Ourselves is anything but redundant, let alone why people or the government would prop up a small bureaucracy around it.

If the goal was to change the conversation and the culture, OBS won. The downside of ‘winning,’ however, is that they became irrelevant. In fact, much of the screeching about “infringing on women’s rights” (by, for example, suggesting that women are capable of purchasing their own condoms if they don’t want to be pregnant) has nothing to do with the actual policy, so much as justifying the existence of these grant- and donation-supported groups.  The subtext is that this group is only viable so long as it is controversial, ground-breaking, and has something to rebel against.

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Filed under Bioethics, Feminism

“The world is awash in cash”

So says Kevin Ahearn, the president of condominium marketing and brokerage firm Otis & Ahearn, in explaining why a condo in the Back Bay was just sold for almost $4,000 per square foot.  (Story.)

Those who like to ogle the pads of the rich and famous (or merely rich) can check out some of the Mandarin Oriental’s condos here.  A sample:

Boston’s luxury housing market is booming (hence, the condos that sell for $8 to $12 million). It’s a fascinating example of the economic “recovery,” i.e. a recovery that has left some “awash in cash” and others… not so much.

Readers, thoughts?

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Filed under Economics


Sorry, y’all, for the lack of blogging. I’ve barely had time to sleep, do laundry, or pet the kitty (and the latter has made the first one quite difficult).

There’s a thing called work-life balance that I’m working on… but it does not yet include work-life-blog balance.


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Home is where the heart is

Via Instapundit, the HUD is engaging in rather creepy behaviour: attempting to strong-arm towns across America into re-doing their zoning to achieve more diversity.

But the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development—the source of the $5 million planning grant used to fund the racial mapping—says that mapping is intended, in part, to identify suburban land-use and zoning practices that allegedly deny opportunity and create “barriers” for low-income and minority people. Under its forthcoming “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule, HUD will provide communities with “nationally uniform data” of what it views as an appropriate racial, ethnic and economic mix. Local governments will have to “take meaningful actions” to further the goals identified.

Let me explain something to these geniuses who want to re-engineer America: what makes an area a valuable place to live is the civic engagement of one’s neighbours, not the value of the property, the amount of property taxes, or the ethnic make-up of the town. All other things being equal, people would rather move into a street with a youth basketball coach, volunteer fireman, college alumni volunteer, and Boy Scout leader than one in which people sit on their arses all day and eat bonbons.

Maybe instead of browbeating nice, middle-class families about their zoning ordinances and lack of inclusiveness, these rocket surgeons in the bureaucracy could try giving lessons in civic engagement to the people they are trying to help.  Our parks don’t get magically cleaned; money doesn’t fall from the sky to pay our science team and youth baseball coaches; our bake sales baked goods don’t spring into being like Athene from Zeus’ brow; and people who sit on town boards aren’t getting paid for their service.  Moving in people with no idea of civic engagement only means that our towns will have fewer coaches, cleanup crews, and bake sale bakers per capita.

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As Mark Twain said, there’s lies, damn lies, and social science

Okay, he didn’t quite say that, and “lies” is harsh.

I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review, citing a study which proves that wearing high-status brands signals to potential interviewers that you are more qualified and should be paid more money. (Story here.)  Put on a Burberry and, voila!, people will think that are qualified and worth extra money.

The set-up itself was good: videos of the same interview, but some of them were edited to add a conspicuous logo to the interviewee’s attire. The problem is that the people analysing the interview are college students.  Not only are they all barely legal to drink, at best (and therefore entirely unrepresentative of what a fifty-year-old interviewer may think), they have never hired someone for a position before.

The research is intriguing, but the proper conclusion may well be that young people with little experience rely heavily on outward indicators of success and status.  It is entirely possible that older, more seasoned interviewers would dislike status signalling (and, anecdotally, I know a few who prefer hungry and ambitious to spoiled and wealthy).

Thoughts, readers?

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Filed under Economics, Nerdiness