The French 3rd Wave: Feline Noir

Excellent. And remember, “the whipped cream in the bathroom is not whipped cream.”

When I lived in Seattle, I was was a sponsoring member of the Seattle International Film Festival.  My friends and I would attend the opening event, usually in mid-May, and then I would embark on 4 weeks of solid cinema, sometimes seeing up to 6 movies in one day.  The closing event usually occurred on my birthday, and there was much debauchery on that day.  Over the years, I saw many, many French movies by directors by the likes Ozon and Zonca – sort of the New French New Wave – and of course, the master’s like Louis Malle (whose 1987 masterpiece ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time).

I love this little video for the sharp satirical wit: The tormented voice-over, the disaffected life, the foolish white cat suffered petulantly, and the Rachmaninov soundtrack.  It made me laugh.

Henri Paw de Deux is what’s wasting my time today.


Want to live longer? Move to a poor country. Maybe.

My friend Britt and I were eating Chimney Cakes and thumbing through the Economist’s 2013 World Almanac (Good Times.  Seriously).  As we were looking through countries, I came across the average life expectancy of males and females in the US and Romania (since Chimney Cakes are a Transylvania treat, and thus Romanian).

“I have a theory,” Britt said, “that countries with higher GDP have a shorter life expectancy, since they essentially work themselves to death.”  I was intrigued;  You can argue that her theory makes sense – as we work harder, especially in the manual labor and service industries, we will wear our bodies out sooner.  But then you can argue the opposite, that with more income and money, countries can provide better health care, improved sanitation, and other benefits that would extend life.  I wondered which was right.

So I spent some time digging up statistics, specifically what is the GDP per person for 21 countries with the longest life expectancy and 18 with the shortest life expectancy, and what the average life expectancy was for each.

All Countries.jpg

Here is a graph showing, for all countries, the relationship between life expectancy (in years on the right axis) and the GDP per person for each country (in dollars on the bottom axis).  The first thing you notice is, we actually have two divergent groups.  Individuals in poorer countries live significantly shorter lives compared to those in wealthy countries.  In addition, the GDP scales are not even close:  All countries in the ‘wealthy’ category had GDPs over $30,000 per person, with some in the high $80,000 per person.  The highest GDP per person for the poor countries was $790.  Trying to treat them as one group won’t make sense.  If we were to correlate these, the relationship would just be a straight line, from the dots on the lower left to the dots at the upper right.  That doesn’t help much, for we know that at a certain point, it is better live in a wealthier country than a poorer country. 

So we have to break apart the groups.  Below is the graph for the poor countries.

Poor Countries

And here is the graph for the wealthy countries.

Wealth Countries

Immediately, we see that the trends are opposite.  That is, for poorer countries, as GDP per person increases, life expectancy does too.  However, for the wealthier countries, it is the opposite:  As GDP per person increases, then life expectancy drops.

This is a quick and dirty analysis, and a true economist could do so much more with better (and more) data.  This does suggest, though, that there is a price to pay when countries start to pump up their GDP.  The question is not how to get the most work from your population, but how to get as much as you can – and keep them healthy and living long, happy, lives.

Resistance is Futile: Facebook is Home


Facebook is not even 10 years old, but it is a precocious youngster.  It claims to have 1/7th of the world’s population as registered individual users. It’s users have uploaded over 50 billion photos.  In May of 2012, the company was valued at $104 billion upon it’s IPO, which was 100 times more than the company made in revenue, and put it in the top 1% of companies in the S&P 500.

Facebook, however, always faced one large criticism from economic pundits: How was it going to make money off the mobile industry?  The world is leaving laptops behind, and increasingly using phones and other mobile devices to access the internet.  Facebook introduced advertisements to the website’s new feeds a while ago.  However, the mobile application was plagued with poor functionality and a dislike by users, and only recently started featuring advertisements.  In November of 2012, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had a plan for mobile profitability; he was, however, vague on what that plan was.

Now we know:  Facebook has struck a deal with Samsung and HTC to offer “Facebook phones.”  These phones will come with a pre-installed operating system that showcases the user’s Facebook feed on the home screen, known as Home.  No more launching the Facebook application if you want to see what your friends are up to:  Just glance at your phone and there is a constant stream of post and photos from your friends.  For those that use Facebook for everything, this seems like the next best thing since, well, Facebook.

This ease comes with a cost – or will.  At the moment Home will be free of advertisements, but that won’t last for long.  Facebook plans to eventually integrate ads, which means companies will be paying Facebook huge bucks so their products will be the first thing you see when you pick up your phone.  Right now little has been said about how this will work – or exactly if Samsung and HTC will share in the money.  The potential for profit, though, is huge: How much would you pay to have a commercial for your new widget be sent directly to 300 million people at once, and have them be able to buy it with the touch of a screen?

This is great for Facebook – and its investors – no doubt.  It won’t be so great for us ordinary people, though.  Facebook is not known as a champion of user privacy: The number one reason people quit using Facebook is due to privacy security.  I’m personally not thrilled about the aspect of having the home page of my phone be advertising space.  Admittedly, I could avoid buying any new “Facebook phone,” but chances are, with the popularity of Facebook on phones (192 million Android and 147 million iPhone users have downloaded the Facebook app), there is a big chance Home will be available, or even pre-installed, on all future phones.  In the past, Facebook has provided ways to ‘opt-out’ of new features, but it is never easy to figure out; I will wager that fact is most likely on purpose:  If people turn off the Home feature, then it loses it’s market value.

Facebook has done a great job making internet socializing easy and rewarding for a majority of the world – so good for Facebook.  I don’t begrudge them success.  I have a Facebook account (most of you are probably reading this through Facebook’s link to WordPress), but I really don’t use it much.  I’d like to get rid of it, but there will be a cost: Many of my friends, despite having my email & phone number, only stay in touch with me through the Facebook Message feature, or invite me to their parties through the Events feature.  Essentially, most of society is assimilating Facebook into it’s daily, normal functioning: There are 168 million Facebook users in the US, which is more than 50% of the US population.  I feel, right now, resistance if futile:  Like the Borg on Star Trek, Facebook will continue to grow and swallow up the world, and once inside people will forget there was a life without Facebook.

And that scares me.

Clearing the Rot at Rutgers: Too little, too late

Rutgers waited 5 months to fire a violent coach, only after being exposed by ESPN earlier this week.  I want to know why did it take so long?

First, the facts. In November of 2012, the Director of Personnel for the basketball team, Erich Murdock, delivered a video to Rutger’s Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, showing Head Coach Tim Rice yelling homophobic slurs, physically assaulting players, and throwing basketballs at players’ heads from a mere few feet.  Pernetti shared the video with Rutger’s President, Robert Barachi.  Barachi then requested the advice of both internal and external counsel (individuals that had not seen the tape), which recommended a 3-game suspension in December of 2012, a fine (some sources state $50,000 and others $75,000), and anger management courses for Rice.  At the conclusion of 2012, Murdoch – the man brave enough to come forward with evidence of misconduct –  was informed that his contract would not be renewed.

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired the story Tuesday of this week, after getting a copy of the tape and interviewing Murdoch.  Since then ESPN’s video of the incident has gone viral, and launched a barrage of public condemnation, including comments by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and LeBron James.  Finally, on Wednesday, Rutgers announced, via Twitter, that Rice was fired.

So, this begs the question:  Was Rice fired for being abusive, or because a video tape of him being abusive was viral?  It is no doubt, the second reason, whether by design or de facto.  People obviously knew of Rice’s behavior well before Murdoch brought the video to Pernetti.  Perhaps not Pernetti himself – in the ESPN interview, Murdoch states that whenever Pernetti came to a men’s basketball team practice, Rice was on exemplary behavior.  But if you watch the video, any reasonable person can conclude that Rice’s behavior was wrong, and that players were being maltreated, as far back as 2010 (they same year, coincidentally, that Rutgers made national news for the suicide of Tyler Clementi after being bullied and intimidated by his roommate, Dhuran Ravi, for being gay).  Since Rice’s hiring, students have left the team for other, lesser teams.  The writing was on the wall – but no one was reading it.

What I cannot wrap my head around is, how could the leadership at Rutgers think that a mere suspension and fine of $75,000 (for someone that makes $700,000 a year) was the right thing to do when first shown the video, instead of simply firing Rice then?  By waiting until now to fire him, the leadership is implicitly stating that “Hey, as long as no one knows what you are doing, then it is not wrong.”  Physically abusing students and yelling any type of intimidating slur is wrong – no matter when or how it is done.  It is somewhat mind-numbing that Rutgers failed to be aggressive with Rice, especially in the wake of the Penn State child molestation scandal.

Rutgers will undoubtedly have their reasons: Experts state that over the past two years, Rutgers was being reviewed for entry into the prestigious Big 10, and that they did not want anything to compromise their entry.  Pernetti and Barachi have stated on record that they wanted to ‘rehabilitate’ Rice, hence the fines, suspension, and anger management courses, and that Rice was then informed he was henceforth on a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Too little too late.  Perhaps zero tolerance is what everyone should start with when it comes to abusing students, not after they are already caught continually doing so.  Waiting for atrocious behavior to finally be made public before addressing it, is in itself atrocious.  Rutgers has started to clear the rot from their ranks with the dismissal of Rice.  But how do we address the bigger problem found in college athletics: That leadership fails to act as leaders when confronted with evidence of misconduct?  When does the zero tolerance policy for ignoring misconduct and physically abusing students start?