Many articles this week leading the news are about the US Postal Service suspending Saturday deliveries starting in March. This will save $2 billion annually. (Though, if you have a PO Box, you will continue to receive Saturday mail).
Much of the sentiment I’ve read is along these lines:
I still think one of the more remarkable things in our society is our Postal Service. I give them 50 cents, they’ll take a letter 3K miles
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 6, 2013
I agree that the concept of a national postal system like ours, to unite the disparate parts of our nation, is admirable and noble.
As Jesse Lichtenstein writes in Esquire: “The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It’s what binds us together as a country.”
So on the one hand, you have the (financial) inefficiencies of the USPS. On the other hand, you have the intellectual passion stirred by a system which makes delivering goods faster and makes people feel closer. You have a bureaucracy of 500,000+ full-time employees which gives you have the great ability to move physical items across space.
Separately, on a more Web-related note, Randall Munroe answers the question, “When – if ever – will the bandwidth of the Internet surpass that of FedEx?” His answer:
If you want to transfer a few hundred gigabytes of data, it’s generally faster to FedEx a hard drive than to send the files over the internet. This isn’t a new idea—it’s often dubbed SneakerNet.
Which makes me think about a company created by fellow Singularity University alums, Matternet. Their idea is to create a mesh network for transportation, to move stuff using UAVs and develop a transmission protocol, complete with base-stations, etc.
This Monday — the day after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin — the mosque in Joplin, MO was burned to the ground in what police are investigating as arson. Sadly, this was not a one-off:
Shortly after the Islamic Society of Joplin opened a mosque in 2007 in Joplin, a small town in Southwest Missouri, the sign in front was set on fire, an act determined to be arson. On the 4th of July of this year, someone who is undoubtedly a deeply patriotic person was filmed by a surveillance camera throwing a flaming object onto the roof of the mosque in an attempt to burn it down, causing some fire damage (see the video here); despite a $15,000 reward offered by the FBI for information leading to the arrest of those responsible and a clear shot of the attacker’s face, nobody has come forward to identify him.
This mosque is the only Islamic center within 50 miles of Joplin. This is, of course, a city which has undergone enormous struggles as a community on the whole. In fact, during last year’s tornados, the Joplin mosque served as a headquarters for Muslim relief workers who flew in from around the country to help Joplin residents get back on their feet.
This is a terrible event that someone or some people perpetrated, and doing so during the holy period of Ramadan is only salt in the wound.
However, hope springs. A Muslim high schooler from Joplin has spread the message of an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $250,000 needed to rebuild the mosque. And, hearteningly, as of now (less than 36 hours after starting the campaign) they have already raised more than $220,000.
I believe this is an important cause to support, both for obvious reasons and also for the more symbolic. On the former point, this community was wounded by a natural disaster of epic proportions just a year ago last May. In addition, the victims of this alleged crime have lost a rallying point and place of worship at the hands of what appears to be malevolent and cowardly actor.
Moreover, I believe this is important to support because doing so shows that we as a community support each other. Two of the most recent TV shows I’ve been hooked on are “Friday Night Lights” and “Jericho.” As a person from a big city, I find it funny that these shows about small towns in faraway states (whether or not they’re based on real places) resonate so much with me. Perhaps it’s because I believe in sense of community and it’s most prominently displayed in media with tropes around small towns and the events which bring them together. But in this case, we all need to be brought together for a group of Americans who have faced pain via devastating discrimination.
As Glenn Greenwald eloquently writes in Salon today:
All of this reveals a broader truth: Islamophobia in the United States is pervasive and intense, and worse, is as ignored and tolerated as it is destructive. The greatest harm from these incidents is not to the property they damage. It’s the climate of fear that is created for Muslims living in the United States. [I]t’s hard to put into words how palpable and paralyzing this fear is in American Muslim communities. It’s infuriating to behold: perfectly law-abiding citizens and legal residents feeling — rationally and accurately — that they are subjected to constant surveillance, monitoring, suspicion, denial of basic rights, hostility and worse solely because of their religion and ethnicity.
Please consider supporting this cause yourself.
What makes (or forces/allows, depending on the situation) a person or a group of people to take an action? What impels (or propels/liberates, again depending on the situation) someone to act a certain way? It’s not always clear. I am fascinated by these questions because often the answer is the right set of incentives.
Two articles crossed my desk* and they show how complex incentives for people really are.
On the one hand, there is a really cool initiative happening over at my alma mater. A piece in the today’s New York Times highlights the work of Balaji Prabhakar, a professor in EE and CS. Essentially Prof. Prabhakar realized that rush hour on Stanford campus was bad. He also realized that “congestion pricing” — that is, charges for driving to peak places during peak hours — is unpopular with drivers, though is a common tactic to fight congestion. So rather than a disincentive from driving at busy times, he developed an incentive structure. You enter a lottery when you drive or park off-peak and can win up to $50. Simple.
It’s brilliant since it cuts down on wasted time, creates less rush hour pollution and is also flexible in how it scales. It’s a brilliant move and from an incentive standpoint, totally logical: people are willing to change their behavior in order to receive a benefit, in this case, money.
On the other hand, an even loftier goal is afoot to help improve obesity and public health in Philadelphia. Context: the US spends $147B treating obesity each year. That’s more than the GDP of New Zealand. Of America’s big cities, Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate and poorest population.
Unfortunately, access to healthy food in a neighborhood has no causal link to improved health outcomes wapo.st/JS4caz
— Christian L. Tom (@cltom) June 12, 2012
The new program to combat this is to turn the local corner grocery into a greengrocery. The city is working with 900+ stores to stock healthy items. To me, this sounds great since it stands to reason that greater access to healthy food (particularly in poorer neighborhoods where it’s not otherwise available) will increase selection of healthy food and increase healthy outcomes. Making it easier to buy healthy food should be a huge incentive to making one and one’s family healthier.
Except not. Emphasis mine:
“In the U.K., we’d started making policy about this before there was any empirical evidence,” says Neil Wrigley, a professor of geography at Southampton University in England, who works on urban planning research. “Time to time, this happens, where you get policies that outstrip the evidence. Then the evidence needs to catch up.”
Wrigley conducted one of the first studies of a food desert intervention, looking at what happened when a grocery store was brought into an underserved part of Leeds, an industrial city in northern England. Of shoppers surveyed, 45 percent switched to the new store. Their habits, however, barely changed: Consumption of fruits and vegetables increased by one-third of a cup per day — about six grapes or two broccoli florets.
“The results came out quite small, a very modest increase in consumption of nutritious foods,” Wrigley says. “It seemed an almost nonexistent improvement.”
Similar research in the United States shows much the same.
There are some good explanations for this. For example, access to food is not also only dependent on proximity to home but also about distance from public transit.
Still, when presented with two options — healthy food and not (selling apples is not mutually exclusive with selling candy) — people often choose the candy, simply because they want the candy.
Maybe the problem is this program in Philadelphia really only removes a barrier without providing a kick. And with the Stanford driving experiment, there is a good catalyst in cash rewards. Still, I look at these articles and I see two behaviors that are trying to be changed. It seems like both could be successful (and both are, after all, just starting so success is not predetermined). I read these excited about them both. And while initial trials at Stanford have gone well, the skepticism by experts regarding the Philadelphia work worries me since it’s rational, it’s too logical.
Note: Also check out the awesome Dan Pink TED talk from a few years ago about extrinsic and intrinsic motivators which I posted to this blog last year.
New York Times’ Well blog asks:
Are young people addicted to feeling good about themselves?
What is the source of such a cynical lede/article set-up, you might ask.
University of Michigan scientists have determined that “when given the choice, young bright college students said they’d rather get a boost to their ego — like a compliment or a good grade on a paper — than eat a favorite food or engage in sex.”
I read this totally differently from the Times. Why are we being chastised for choosing something wholesome and long-lasting over something materialistic and ephemeral?
I can only imagine if the study had found students chose the food or the sex over the compliment or good grade: the headlines would scream, “College students prefer carb loading and hedonism to values and self-worth!”
The New York Times post then goes on to quote the rise of recent books such as “The Narcissism Trend,” which point to our apparently latent self-absorbsion.
As I see it, all this study does is affirm that Millennials have a different set of values from the Boomers who preceded them. We as a generation are not fixated on wealth or material status. And, if this study is to believed, not even the much-bem
oaned hook-up culture is affecting us when we are forced to decide between sex and something like a good grade or a compliment.
One day, we may look back fondly on either the high mark in school or an off-hand compliment from a friend. That shows some appreciation and perspective — a perspective which I feel like we’re constantly told we don’t have in this culture of easy connections on Facebook or Twitter. But apparently students are saying in this study that we do have that perspective.
Most surprisingly, somehow this article seems to ignore that (last I checked) it’s a good thing that students want to do well…in school. So why is it in any way negative that students chose to get a good grade in school over sex? Why is this negatively spun the way it is? Can someone help me understand, please!
The part of his speech which meant the most to me (link takes you to the specific clip):
We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved — and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.
I realize I’m a bit late to the commentary party on President Obama’s speech earlier this week regarding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-ARIZ) but my post really isn’t a true commentary. If you’re looking for that, I suggest reading Andrew Sullivan’s recap of reactions, David Remnick’s take, James Fallows’ excellent remarks or my friend Darius Tahir’s perspective.
If you want to read the entire speech (or follow along with the above video), you can see the full text on the White House website here.
The actual odds for the following scenarios in Tiger Woods’ presser tomorrow:
Will Tiger’s wife be present?
How many times will he say sorry?
Which word will he use the most?
Will he wipe a tear from his face?
Will Tiger announce his next tournament?
Tags: tiger woods
You know that feeling you get each every week, when you’re at the shopping mall and it’s so huge that you can’t even find the information kiosk/map? Isn’t it annoying every time you get lost in a shopping mall so big that even the course/aGPS in the iPhone can still pinpoint you and give you directions to the nearest McDonald’s (see below)? Well, if you are, then you shop a lot in one big, American mall (thus the theme/title of this post), and you should probably download the Point Inside app on your iPhone (iTunes).
In other big, American news: McDonald’s is going to start offering free WiFi at all of its 14,000 US locations. Currently, they offer WiFi at 11,000 locations, but it costs $2.95 for 2 hours. This, along with the company’s forthcoming smoothies and shakes, could transform the way people use McDonald’s: more stay-and-eat, less grab-and-go?
Finally, Citi was just spared of billions of otherwise collectible tax revenue by the IRS, rounding out the final story I have for you in today’s installment of big, American things (in this case, a too-big-to-fail financial institution). The Obama Administration invoked the same change as the Bush Administration, which used it to encourage mergers such as Wells Fargo’s acquisition of Wachovia.
Barack accepted the Nobel Peace Prize today, defending– and in fact espousing– American exceptionalism.
This move by Goldman Sachs to award so-called “shares at risk” is cunning: it sounds great (and it is in fact a much more fair/logical/long-sighted way of distributing bonuses) but it also affects a whopping 30 employees. Goldman has 31,700. So this does not affect the attitudes/behaviors/risk tolerance of the thousands of traders who are evaluating their risk based on their annual bonus pay-outs just like before. Nor does it affect the complexity or the masked risked that goes into 99% of bankers’ work as they structure financial instruments. It’s a cunning move because it’s hard to criticize outright, but it also really does not get at any way to solve the problems of the financial services sector. (It’s a mentality thing, not something which changes when you reorganize pay incentives for the top 30 guys in your firm).
Chad Ochocinco is changing his name again. In 2010 he’ll become “Chad Hachi Go,” Japanese this time for 85.
Gawker deconstructs Ms. Palin’s latest appearance in the Washington Post, showing why her lack of knowledge is this time apparent in regards to global climate change.
I don’t see a thesis in this article, but it seems from the title that the author is trying to compare will.i.am to Irving Berlin. I’d comment on how (un)persuasively that argument is made but frankly I don’t see it anywhere in here.
Finally, also in the realm of ridiculous, via Ella Chou, apparently a girl at Columbia Law School has been accepting applications from her classmates (requesting resumes and undergrad transcripts)…so they can join her study group.
Tags: barack obama, china, cloud computing, columbia university, deforestation, exceptionalism, gawker, GE, goldman sachs, Google, irving berlin, law school, nobel prize, oregon, sarah palin, slate, study group, washington post, will.i.am, wind