- Two more shows to judge for WATCH, and then I’m done for the year.
Anderson, Heart of a Dog
“When L died, our teacher said, Every time you think of her, give something away, or, do something kind. And I said, Then I’d be giving things away non-stop. And he said, So?”
Category Archives: Economics and Business
Definitely an oldie but a goodie: in a 1990 paper for Journal of Political Economy, Hugh Rockoff put together a marvelous reading of L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) as an allegory of the pros and cons of bimetallism as a progressive-era monetary policy (caveat lector: there are some scannos in this copy of the paper). (The Free Silver crowd argued for the [inflationary] return to silver coinage as a means to break out of the U.S.’s late-19th-century deflation.) Those of us familiar only with the 1939 film version might scoff, but when Rockoff reminds us that Baum gave Dorothy silver slippers to wear, not ruby, as she skipped along the golden road—well, the parallels begin to line up. My favorite is the explanation of Dorothy’s vanquishing the Wicked Witch of the West (William McKinley) with a bucket of water: in an era when dryland farmers of the Plains west of the 100th meridian claimed that just a little more rain would make their lands bloom, it all makes sense.
(Ah, it turns out that Rockoff was anticipated by Quentin Taylor and others.)
Mae Keane, most likely the last surviving “radium girl,” a victim of occupational radiation poisoning at her workplace with the Waterbury Clock Company, has passed away.
After a few months, she [left the company]. It was the summer of 1924. She was 18. Within two decades she had lost all her teeth.
Another post to clear out the inbox:
Steven Portugal et al. equipped 14 Bald Ibises (Geronticus eremita) with miniaturized GPS units to study the energetics and aerodynamics of flying in V formation. As the leader summarizes, each bird does indeed time its wingbeats to maximize the drafting effect of following another bird–abstract and heatmaps on the article page.
W. R. Grace & Co. has emerged from bankruptcy protection, as Catherine Ho reports.
I interned for Grace in its New York headquarters in the late 1970s, and then somehow convinced someone at one of its newly-acquired retail businesses, Bermans, the Leather Experts to hire me full-time. (I lasted a year, and the lit out for Washington.) Bermans is long gone, merged into Wilsons and later Georgetown Leather Design, then gradually declining into liquidation in 2008. Back in the 1970s, Grace described its organization as a three-legged stool—specialty chemicals, energy, and consumer retail and restaurants. The energy game was no kinder to the portfolio than brands like Channel home centers and Houlihan’s restaurants. And, as Ho reports, personal-injury lawsuits stemming from asbestos contamination of the company’s vermiculite products sent the company into bankruptcy court.
My workplace, the soaring building on 42nd Street (with a plaza that extended close enough to Sixth Avenue to give it an Avenue of the Americas address) still stands, but what’s left of the chemicals-only firm is now headquartered in Columbia, Maryland.
Brian Hayes uses a rhododendron shrub as a thermometer and wonders at the curled leaves’ apparent piecewise linear response to ambient temperature. Is the curling response a means to curtailing water loss, or a way to minimize UV damage to this understory shrub? Erik Tallak Nilsen likes the latter explanation.
Outrageous subhed of the week: in a leader about the financial crisis in the U.S.’s largest territory, “Some Puerto Rican bonds that are just dyin’ to meet you.”
First it was the lights coming on at Wrigley Field, then the closing of Tower Records and Ollsson’s Books, and then the end of the zone system for D.C. taxicabs. We endured. But this blow is too much to take: the Metropolitan Museum of Art has discontinued its colorful admission buttons, replacing them with paper tickets, stickers—and advertising. A spokesman for the museum says that the the new paraphernalia will save the organization two cents apiece. Bah!
From April, a nice recap by Dan Charles of the many stickers and labels to be found on a virtuous bag of coffee.
An intriguing piece from a few weeks back by Nicole LaPorte on Kenneth Lander’s THRIVE Farmers Coffee. THRIVE seeks to move beyond the fair trade co-op model, to capture more of the value added by the coffee supply chain (roasters, distributors) for the farmer who got the beans out of the ground in the first place. THRIVE farmers follow organic methods, although not all go through the process of USDA certification.
It’s a small operation now; it will be interesting to see whether it can scale up from its current annual volume, somewhat more than 300,000 pounds of coffee.
Brian Eno talks to Ha-Joon Chang about free-market capitalism, Terry Riley’s In C, and wasting time.
BRIAN ENO: One of the characteristics of people, whether on the left or the right, is that they can’t tolerate uncertainty. They don’t want a system with any leaks in it. They want to think they’re capable of battening everything down – and if only people would fucking stick to the rules, it would work. When those systems don’t work, it’s always because, in their opinion, somebody didn’t play the game correctly.
Two recent articles pertaining to food labeling: First, Gustave Axelson recaps the labels vying for your attention as you shop for bird-friendly coffee.
…coffee sellers don’t always advertise that their coffee is Bird Friendly. “Probably about only 10 percent of coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms carries the Bird Friendly stamp on the package,” said Robert Rice, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
For example, Starbucks and Whole Foods sell some coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms. But they don’t see the need to make room on their packaging for a separate label that appeals to a relatively small—and silent—minority: birders.
Next, Mark Bittman proposes labels for packaged food that put the information you need right up front. A caption to the print version of the story recommends scanning the standardized list of ingredients in today’s packaging, not necessarily reading it in full:
…if the list of ingredients spans an entire paragraph, chances are you don’t need it.
I like Bittman’s red-yellow-green color codes, and I like the prominence of the Welfare measure. It would be nice to give more visibility to ingredients to which various consumers are allergic or intolerant.
A new insurance product, one that I wish there was no need for: A grantor of a conservation easement sells his property. The new owner (usually one with deep pockets, because conservation land trusts don’t use easements to protect economically valueless land) decides to do what he likes with the property, contracts be damned. The volunteer-run, cash-strapped trust (if it weren’t poorly funded, it would have bought the land outright) has to take the new owner to court, and that gets expensive.
Now, as Felicity Barringer reports, a new non-profit insurance company, Terra Firma, is there to offer a policy to the trust to mitigate the legal fees needed to defend the easement.
Land trusts usually win in court — though many cases are settled, according to alliance records. One common denominator: the wealth of the property owners challenging restrictions.
Morgan and Rego challenge the claims by Reichheld and crew that Net Promoter Score is the single customer satisfaction metric necessary to explain business performance. While their peer-reviewed work does identify measures (e.g., Top 2 Box Satisfaction) that do correlate with short- and long-term success (Tobin’s Q, market share, etc.), their computation of “net promoters” is flawed: it is only a rough approximation of the ratio promulgated by Bain and Satmetrix, based on the “how likely to recommend” 0-10 scale. This shortcoming in the work is pointed out by Timothy L. Keiningham et al. Nevertheless, that follow-up note says
Despite the problems with the Net Promoter and Number of Recommendations metrics, Morgan and Rego (2006) have provided valuable insight regarding the relationship between business performance and other commonly used customer metrics…. We are unaware of another longitudinal study that examines the predictive value of satisfaction and loyalty metrics in such a comprehensive way.
And five years after the publication of The Ultimate Question, I’m waiting to see independent research that backs up its claims.
David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s first budget director, speaks out amidst the clangor of the fiscal and monetary policy debate in Washington. Ever a deficit hawk, these days he starts to sound reasonable:
In attacking the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, the president is only incidentally addressing the deficit. The larger purpose is to assure the vast bulk of Americans left behind that they will be spared higher taxes — even though entitlements make a tax increase unavoidable. Mr. Obama is thus playing the class-war card more aggressively than any Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt….
On the other side, Representative [Paul D.] Ryan fails to recognize that we are not in an era of old-time enterprise capitalism in which the gospel of low tax rates and incentives to create wealth might have had relevance. A quasi-bankrupt nation saddled with rampant casino capitalism on Wall Street and a disemboweled, offshored economy on Main Street requires practical and equitable ways to pay its bills.
His op ed piece relies a bit too much on the the thesaurus (the spirit of William Safire is about). But the message that we will all have to give up something to get along is spot on.
It is obvious that the nation’s desperate fiscal condition requires higher taxes on the middle class, not just the richest 2 percent.