Linky Friday #5

(A) Mark Leibovich learned at least 17 things from reading The Economist’s “The World in 2013” issue. Among them, employers in Japan face fines if employees fatten up. Could Japan’s KFC-Christmas connection be a part of the problem? [NYT] [Yahoo!]

(B) According to Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, expectant mothers are seen as less competent and more irrational by their peers. I’m not sure this applies exclusively to pregnant women. [The Atlantic]

(C) Legos! They’re awesome, expensive, and popular. Here’s why. Honestly, I don’t really care for those product tie-ins. If the mentioned rival sheds that and the costs associated with that, I think we’ll go in that direction. [NPR]

(D) Is correct grammar a form of privilege? Here’s the thing, we can correct grammar overtly and they can take or leave the correction, or we can decline to correct the grammar and know that they will be judged negatively for failing to adhere to standards we’re not overtly enforcing. There’s not a good answer here. [BoingBoing]

(E) A look at Amazon and what makes it so great: Generous shareholders. I love Amazon, but their market position will become worrying at some point. [Slate]

(F) I’m not big on truancy laws. But I am intrigued by the results of paying kids to do school work. So I’m a bit confounded by a principal paying students to show up to school. [NPR]

(G) GoogleMaps is apparently better on the iPhone than it is on Android. The Android version on my phone does everything I want it to. My big complaint is the amount of resources it soaks up. The iPhone one looks prettier, which means it may be worse in that regard. [CNN]

(H) Texas is looking at reforming occupational licensure. Yay! [Empower Texans]

(I) I cringe a big at the top-downedness of stuff like this but I suppose it makes sense as a counterbalance in the ways that zoning so often keeps affordable units at bay. [Washington City Paper]

(J) Solving traffic! Aslso, rewarding good cab drivers with toll road freebies. [The Atlantic] [TheNational]

(K) Why presidents are less effective than prime ministers. I’d kind of thought this was obvious: Presidents control an office or a branch, while Prime Ministers control executive and legislative. Our presidents would be much more effective if their election assured a congressional majority (or coalition to a majority) (assuming no filibuster). [Northwestern]

(L) Really, there’s no good reason for the presidential line of succession to go through the legislative branch at all. [Slate]

(M) We hate each other because the stakes are so small. Of course, we don’t think the stakes are so small because we exaggerate. [Pacific Standard] [Mother Jones]

(N) Technology against technology. How super glasses may fight the deleterious effects of LCD screens. [Forbes]

(O) Relatedly, a Russian phone company is coming to the rescue, with eInk on one side and an LCD on the other. This is the sort of product I might consider buying for my wife down the road. Meanwhile, Brazil is getting an iphone that runs Android. [Mashable] [The Verge]

(P) It may be true that states that spend and tax less also grow more, but there are a lot of confounding factors here. A lot of red states are starting at a lower base point, from which growth is easier. A lot of high-productivity states like Washington and Texas can afford lower taxes in a way that Idaho, for example, can’t. [TaxProf]

(Q) Ravi Shankar was apparently less than comfortable with hippies. [Telegraph]

(R) Dilbert’s Scott Adams buys a car. [Dilbert Blog]

(S) The costs of moving from Wisconsin to Alabama: $676.32. I don’t think we’ll be moving in town for that little. This would be a contributor to the North Dakota Problem. [Billfold]

(T) Our advances in manufacturing may be overrated. [Conversable Economist]

(U) Relevant to me: 13 Things Babies Are Secretly Trying To Tell You. [Buzzfeed]

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Cheaper Legos can be purchased through school supply catalogues, which typically don’t require a school affiliation. You might not find sets, but I find many kids benefit from the open-ended nature of just a random set of blocks. is a good place to start.

  2. Regarding J (Disclaimer: read article, didn’t listen to TEDTalk) is that not everyone has a choice of when they drive. And those who don’t have a choice doesn’t always correlate with those who can or are willing to pay the premium. This could possibly serve as a tax on those who have limited employment freedom.

    I know that the NY/NJ area has had “peak” pricing for at least a few years now, perhaps longer. In my limited anecdotal observations, it has made no difference in traffic. Most people who work in Manhattan can’t avoid driving in between 6 and 9am. It is possible that this pricing is less intended to cure congestion than it is to raise revenue, in which case it might be calibrated differently.

    • Maybe. Especially if you’re talking about rush hours that are three hours long in both directions. My general experience is that it’s actually more likely to be the white-collar office work that’s going to be the standard 8-5 schedule.

      • Ou yea. It certainly neither deliberately nor specifically targets one group. But some folks, rich or poor, might greatly prefer to travel for cheaper off-peak but don’t have a choice.

    • Most people who work in Manhattan can’t avoid driving in between 6 and 9am.

      Because they’re commuting from elsewhere? I’ve used the Manhattan subway system and it’s great.

      • Yes, sorry, I meant those coming in from NJ or the western side of the Hudson in NY state. The subway system is great. MetroNorth east of the Hudson is also great. NJTransit, both rail and bus (save for the PATH) can’t compare. Manhattan/NYC present unique difficulties because it is an island. You can take back roads into many cities to avoid major highways. But to get across the Hudson into Manhattan, you only really have 3 options (4 if you include the Tap). With the GWB doubling as the gateway to New England via 95 and a major trucking thoroughfare, you have a real clusterfuck.

    • “I know that the NY/NJ area has had “peak” pricing for at least a few years now”

      I don’t think they do. The lower Manhattan congestion pricing was squashed in the (NY) state legislature by outerborough representatives, and as far as I know, all the bridge tolls, commuter rail & MTA fares are all a fixed price regardless of the time of day. (but with a ‘bulk’ discount for EZ pass or multi-trip passes). The only variable thing I can think of is Amtrak service itself that goes into and through Penn Station. (but even that I think you can work around if you have a commuter rail pass).

      • Kolohe,

        If you have the EZPass PANYNJ plan (no cost, no trip minimum… Basically just check the box and you have it), there are discounts at the GWB during certain hours. These hours outnumber the non-discounted hours, creating a defacto “peak pricing”. It is not the same as the congestion pricing plan. EZPass is also discounted during “peak” hours compared to cash.

        See here:

        It doesn’t help that they seem to change the rates and plans every few months, often with little notice.

        • I stand corrected; I didn’t realize the Hudson River crossings now 1) had variable pricing 2) are $13.00(!) for cash.

          (I don’t I would have been born if the tolls were over 2.50 (what the inflation calculator tells me 13 bucks is) back in the 1970’s)

          • The tolls jump in large increments… $4 to $6 to $9 to $12 and now to $13. The recent increases were supposedly to pay for work done at WTC, which was on PA land. This prompted a lawsuit since apparently this was against their charter on toll hikes but I don’t know what happened. Though that might have been on the proposed $16 hike.

            TPZ is still $5 but looks to jump to pay for the new bridge, possibly high enough to mirror GWB (with some proponents claiming this is to avoid high toll dodgers, which my experience tells me is BS as these folks must be few and far between).

          • Most through traffic (final destination New England) I imagine ‘dodges’ the toll by using TPZ – I certainly do. And using Bear Mountain were a TPZ increase to happen is a lot more out of the way, and the east side road is narrow and winding for quite a few miles.

          • That can be a long diversion for trucks, since they can’t take the PIP. They’d have to go way west to catch 17 or the GSP up to 87. I used to take the TPZ as well but it added 30 minutes to the trip, which isn’t nothing when you’re talking about a drive I can make in under 3 hours otherwise. Commuters certainly aren’t going to do it regularly.

            What NYC really needs is a river-crossing between 181st St and 34th St.

    • The point usually is also to make carpooling more worthwhile.

      Down here our most congested stretch of Interstate uses toll lanes where the price is set by congestion level (more cars = higher prices), but you can always ride in the regular lanes for free, though of course they’re a nightmare during rush hour.

  3. Re “M”: Move the focus from public policy to private disputes, and that’s pretty much the story of my career.

    High-stakes litigation is less emotionally intense, and therefore easier to settle, than low-stakes litigation. Part of that is because the people who get to handle high-stakes litigation tend to be sophisticated about conflict and conflict resolution; the people who find themselves in low-stakes litigation are often dealing with the first real conflicts they’ve ever had in their lives, which is a tremendous assault on their egos, and whose training in handling conflict comes from seeing conflicts resolved in popular entertainment rather than from actual experience.

    Taking that experience back to the arena of public policy, most people are told and trained and get information from the popular media that “we are right, they are not only wrong but evil.” A defense budget of $655 billion is “a sensible, robust defense for the nation essential to maintaining peace and security,” but a defense budget of $653 billion would “gut the military and leaving the nation dangerously vulnerable to invasion.” (Or, alternatively, a defense budget of $655 billion is a “bloated, inefficient system of corporate welfare and unnecessary wars of military aggression” whereas $653 billion is a “common sense and practical balance” that “works towards balancing the budget while still protecting America’s vital interests.”)

    I exaggerate, but that seems to be what is necessary to communicate these days.

    • That’s a great summation, Burt. Especially the 653/655 budget. The other aspect is that usually (though the fiscal cliff is providing a counterexample) when the stakes are highest, the participants actually have the most to lose. Which brings about a different mindset.

    • I wonder how much of that is just plain old more scrutiny with higher stakes.

  4. On (T): the most interesting factor in there is how much improvements in computer technology count towards the manufacturing productivity gains. Not that computers are making increased levels of automation possible; simply that Moore’s Law cranking up processor speed and available memory and other improvements for the same price counts as increases in productivity. I’m always suspicious of that. Twenty years ago I came close to starting a riot on a flight from Newark to Denver with this bad boy. Even though by comparison my current computer’s processor speed has increased by two orders of magnitude, the main memory by three orders, the disk capacity by four orders, while the price has fallen by half, writing a book chapter still takes about the same amount of time.

    Actually, writing the chapter may take longer. Today’s computers can provide an enormous range of distractions. Enough so that there’s a market for applications like this one that turn your computer into a mono-spaced green font on black background with no e-mail, no Web, none of that stuff, while you write.

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