How Much is a Bike Trail Worth?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

How much is a bike trail worth? About $9,000, if you live within 1,000 feet of it:

The research, by planning professor Rainer vom Hofe and economics professor Olivier Parent, looked at houses along a 12-mile stretch of the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a former rail line that cuts across the northeastern portion of Cincinnati. The pair found that home buyers were willing to pay a premium of $9,000 to be within 1,000 feet of access to the trail.

“A bike trail like this has many types of returns. Residents can use it as a way to commute, and most people use it for recreation,” says vom Hofe. “For local governments, you can make a strong argument that they get back some of the money invested in these public amenities in the form of higher property taxes. We see positive spillover in more densely populated urban areas as well as less densely populated, suburban areas.” The study looked at 1,762 houses, worth an average of $263,517, that were located within 10,000 feet of the trail.

If (marginal) property taxes had a net present value equal to any increases in property values — if they were, say, 5 percent per year — then local governments would have (theoretically) perfect incentives for providing “public” amenities, like bike trails and parks.

The Pre-K Underground

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Because preschool is so expensive and so highly regulated, Soni Sangha and other New Yorkers have joined The Pre-K Underground, educating each other’s children without the government’s consent.

This is what jumped out at me though:

The lack of affordable pre-K means that middle-class children lag behind their more affluent counterparts when they get to kindergarten. More than one quarter of upper-middle-income children entering kindergarten do not know the alphabet, and almost 20 percent of middle-income children do not understand numerical sequence, according to national statistics from the advocacy group Pre-K Now, financed in part by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Research shows tremendous long-term benefits of schooling before kindergarten. Adults in Michigan who had attended pre-K had a 33 percent higher average income than their peers who had not, according to the 2005 update of a long-term study, The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, often cited by pre-K advocates. Despite these findings, only about 30 percent of 4-year-olds in this country are enrolled in prekindergarten.

I think we’re conflating cause and effect here. The children who get an expensive preschool education are not identical to the children who don’t.

I found the stat that more than one quarter of upper-middle-income children entering kindergarten do not know the alphabet shocking. I would say that in our circle, less than one quarter of children entering preschool at age three don’t know the alphabet. That said, more than one quarter entering kindergarten do not know how to read.

M.I.T. Expands Free Online Courses, Offering Certificates

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

M.I.T. led the way on online learning 10 years ago with its free OpenCourseWare, which now includes nearly 2,100 courses, but  the new MITx platform will go further, giving students access to online laboratories, self-assessments, and student-to-student discussions — oh, and certificates:

The certificate will not be a regular M.I.T. degree, but rather a credential bearing the name of a new not-for-profit body to be created within M.I.T; revenues from the credentialing, officials said, would go to support the M.I.T.x platform and to further M.I.T’s mission.

Armed husband stops suspected car thief

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

I’m surprised that any San Francisco newspaper would give this story such neutral-to-positive coverage. Armed husband stops suspected car thief:

At 8:13 a.m., a woman called police to report her car had been stolen from the driveway of her home in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa when she had left it running to warm it up.

The woman’s husband jumped into another car to look for the stolen vehicle, found it near Coffey Park and chased it, police said.

Outside the park, the husband blocked the stolen car’s path and confronted the driver, police said. The suspect, Shawn Anthony Elder, a 34-year-old Santa Rosa transient, reportedly ran from the car and into the park as the husband chased him.

There, the husband confronted the suspect at gunpoint and had him lie on the ground. Police officers then arrested Elder.

Elder was booked into the Sonoma County Jail on charges of vehicle theft, possession of stolen property, possession of burglary tools, a felon in possession of ammunition and a violation of parole warrant.

(Hat tip to Ben Casnocha.)

Roman Empire More Equal than the United States

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The Roman Empire was more equal than the United States, Alex Taborrok notes — because the Roman empire didn’t have much economic surplus, by our modern standards, and because the Roman State did not manage to collect that much, just 5 to 7 percent of GDP.  It “helps” to be a pre-industrial society.

How ‘Crazy’ Kim Jong Il Outfoxed the World

Monday, December 19th, 2011

It was easy to make fun of Kim Jung Il and to call him crazy, but he outfoxed the world, Howard W. French says:

It is hard to imagine this today, given the astonishing prosperity of South Korea, but during much of his father’s rule, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was more prosperous than its neighbor to the south. Even during the early years of relative decline, the economy remained fairly robust, thanks to the balancing act that Kim Il Sung, the regime’s founding father, played with his two big, mutually suspicious allies, China and the Soviet Union. It was on this foundation of success that the regime built much of its legitimacy.

By the time Kim Il Sung took power in 1994, though, the Soviet Union, along with its financial subsidies and spare industrial parts, was but a memory. The younger Kim was underestimated right from the start, but he keenly understood how weak his hand was and quickly learned how to play it to maximum advantage.

The shtick of apparent madness flowed from his country’s fundamental weakness as he, like a master poker player, resolved to bluff and bluff big. Kim adopted a game of brinkmanship with the South, threatening repeatedly to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames.” And while this may have sharply raised the threat of war, for the North, it steadily won concessions: fuel oil deliveries, food aid, nuclear reactor construction, hard cash-earning tourist enclaves and investment zones.

As a bureau chief for the New York Times in northeast Asia in the 1990s and 2000s, reporting from Japan, the Koreas, and later China, I had a front row seat for much of this. Up close, I covered the Nobel laureate and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s moneybags approach to the North, which he labeled Sunshine Diplomacy. It won the South’s Kim a summit meeting with his counterpart, which the “crazy” Kim hosted and managed to totally dominate. At the level of appearances, which was all-important for the internal propaganda purposes of a “hermit regime,” he reduced Kim Dae Jung to a mere supplicant.

I flew to Pyongyang with Japan’s most successful and assertive prime minister in a generation, Junichiro Koizumi, as he sought to confront Kim over Japanese citizens who had been kidnapped over the years and effectively held hostage by North Korea. Once again, Kim extracted maximum benefit, while conceding little.

In 2002, I took passage on a ship to the North Korean city of Kumho to witness work on a United States-backed $4.6 billion nuclear reactor that was being built as part of an elaborate diplomatic scheme to get the country to close down its two decrepit but proliferation-prone graphite-style reactors. American officials did not have an easy time explaining why the arrangement shouldn’t be considered appeasement, but the fact was that North Korea’s hardline approach to playing its very weak hand, otherwise known as brinkmanship, had won it these big concessions.

From China I watched as even Beijing, North Korea’s sole putative ally, grew frustrated as it tried to nudge its small, destitute neighbor toward less provocative behavior. Even though his country had no other powerful friends in the world, Kim managed to maneuver Beijing into the classic patron-client conundrum, where the former concludes that it mustn’t push too hard lest it risk losing its influence with the latter. In situations of such embarrassing impotence, the real question is whether the patron — in this case, China — actually has much influence at all.

Understanding Pro-Cyclical Mortality

Monday, December 19th, 2011

When the economy is good, more people die, which seems odd — and contrary to most of human history. A new study finds that many of the extra deaths in good times come from elderly women in nursing homes:

A growing literature documents cyclical movements in mortality and health. We examine this pattern more closely and attempt to identify the mechanisms behind it. Specifically, we distinguish between mechanisms that rely on fluctuations in own employment or time use and those involving factors that are external to the individual.

Our investigation suggests that changes in individuals’ own behavior contribute very little to pro-cyclical mortality. Looking across broad age and gender groups, we find that own-group employment rates are not systematically related to own-group mortality.

In addition, we find that most of the additional deaths that occur during times of economic growth are among the elderly, particularly elderly women, who have limited labor force attachment. Focusing on mortality among the elderly, we show that cyclicality is especially strong for deaths occurring in nursing homes, and is stronger in states where a higher fraction of the elderly reside in nursing homes. We also demonstrate that staffing in skilled nursing facilities moves counter-cyclically. Taken together, these findings suggest that cyclical fluctuations in the mortality rate may be largely driven by fluctuations in the quality of health care.

Robin Hanson finds it inexcusable that we don’t spend the tiny amount necessary to keep nursing-home care at high enough levels.

I think we should address the point that the death rate doesn’t differentiate between nursing home patients who die one year early because of sub-optimal care and young adults who die decades early because of a car crash.

Addendum: Gwern, who comments here, had this to say:

So? You really think looking at QALYs is going to change much? We already spend a ton on automotive safety, the impact of another dollar on the margin is epsilon. On the other hand, it’s very easy to raise nurse/aid salary.

Yes, the additional costs are small, but so are the benefits:

Moving from deaths, or persons lost, to person-years of life lost changes things by a factor of, say, 30.

Moving to quality-adjusted life years could change things by many, many orders of magnitude, depending on how low we rate the quality of life of those who might die a year early from sub-optimal nursing care. That quality could be close to zero or even negative — especially when we take into account the tendency to show that we care, rather than to let people go.

North Korea

Monday, December 19th, 2011

If you search this site for North Korea, you can see that it has come up repeatedly over the years:

The North Korean Statement on Kim Jong Il’s Death

Monday, December 19th, 2011

The North Korean Statement on Kim Jong Il’s Death includes many untranslated uses of the Korean term Juche:

He dedicated all his life to the inheritance and accomplishment of the revolutionary cause of Juche and energetically worked day and night for the prosperity of the socialist homeland, happiness of people, reunification of the country and global independence. He passed away too suddenly to our profound regret.

As you might imagine, the term has a rather vague definition:

Juche is a Korean word usually translated as “self-reliance.” In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), “Juche” refers specifically to a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea, that identifies the Korean masses as the masters of the country’s development. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Kim elaborated the Juche Idea into a set of principles that the government uses to justify its policy decisions. Among these are independence from great powers, a strong military posture, and reliance on Korean national resources. “Juche” has sometimes been translated in North Korean sources as “independent stand” or “spirit of self-reliance”, and has also been interpreted as “always putting Korean things first.” According to Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea is based on the belief that “man is the master of everything and decides everything.”

North Korean socialism is a particularly nationalist strain — not unlike Stalin’s, Mao’s, Pol Pot’s, etc.

The death of a Stalinist leader is always followed by a power struggle of some kind, Paul Roderick Gregory of Forbes explains:

The death of a Stalinist leader disrupts the equilibrium of established coalitions and payments systems. Party and military leaders are uncertain as to whom to pledge their allegiance. But one thing is sure: The “beloved leader” made sure that there is no Gorbachev or Deng ready to embark on real economic or political reform.

What are the possible outcomes for a post-beloved-leader North Korea?

The most likely outcome is a successful passing of the baton to the anointed successor. Kim Jong Il’s father wrote the playbook on communist dynastic successions, and it has worked elsewhere, such as in Syria. Yet, the faction of the “beloved successor” must have the financial resources to solidify its hold on power. If the West can effectively deny it the illicit proceeds from drug, weapons trade, and Macao banks, it could deny Kim Jong Un’s succession victory.

An Arab Spring is unlikely, given the emaciated and helpless state of the North Korean population. But we do know that the North Korean people are now much better informed about world events. Refugees now know the latest South Korean hit songs and the names of its soap opera stars. I cannot imagine an Arab Spring but the beloved leader’s passing could spark an attempted mass exodus, such as the one that brought down the East German regime.

The Chinese state has never been tested with a massive flow of refugees. We do not know how it will react. Unfortunately, the South Koreans (joined of course by China) do not appear to welcome such a mass flight that would lead to the reunification of Korea. In such a case, China might intervene to make North Korea its protectorate.

Certain is that North Korea will withdraw into its shell until the succession is resolved. During this period, it makes no sense to conduct diplomacy or to make any initiatives. It is also a time of danger. A threatened Kim Jong Un regime will seek out foreign enemies to distract attention. There are few limits to its potential mischief.

The BBC coverage of Kim Jong Il’s death includes North Korean television footage — which can’t have been seen by too many North Koreans:

Mapping the Value Stream in Education

Monday, December 19th, 2011

If we map the value stream in education, we get something like this:

That’s according to Toyota Culture, as cited by Aretae.

That’s according to Aretae, who’s reading Toyota Culture at the moment.

As Wobbly (BC) notes, that accords well with the Bloom 2-sigma problem.

It’s a Wonderful World

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

David Attenborough’s rendition of “It’s a Wonderful World” should improve your day:

(Hat tip to io9.)

Mike Hughes on Grip and Stance

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Top Shot season 3 runner-up Mike Hughes offers a refresher on the basics of practical pistol shooting in this video, emphasizing grip and stance:

Network TV

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Network television as we know it came into being 60 years ago, when AT&T threw the switch on the first transcontinental coaxial cable:

Oct. 15, 1951: “I Love Lucy,” the first Hollywood-based sitcom to be shot on film with three cameras in front of a live studio audience. Lucille Ball’s zany antics soon made it the most popular show on the air. At a time when there were only 15 million TV sets in America, 11 million families watched “I Love Lucy” every Monday night.

Nov. 18, 1951: “See It Now,” the first TV newsmagazine, whose first episode opened with a shot of two control-room monitors. One showed a live picture of the Statue of Liberty, the other a live picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Edward R. Murrow, the host, was visibly impressed: “For the first time, man has been able to sit at home and look at two oceans at the same time.” It may sound quaint now, but 60 years ago that image took people’s breaths away.

Dec. 16, 1951: “Dragnet,” the first filmed crime drama to make extensive use of location shooting. When Jack Webb opened each episode by saying “This is the city,” he meant Los Angeles, not a cramped TV studio somewhere in midtown Manhattan — and that’s what you saw on the small screen.

Sound familiar? It should — just as it did in 1951. Not only did “See It Now,” “I Love Lucy” and “Dragnet” originate on radio, but they’re still being imitated. Mr. Murrow’s show was the grandfather of “60 Minutes,” whose creator, Don Hewitt, can actually be seen on camera calling the shots in the first episode of “See It Now,” which he directed. The three-camera system used to film “I Love Lucy” became and remained ubiquitous. And every police procedural TV series on the air today owes an incalculable debt to the no-nonsense just-the-facts-ma’am storytelling of “Dragnet,” which inspired Dick Wolf to create the “Law & Order” franchise.

This isn’t to say that network TV hasn’t undergone drastic changes in the course of the past 60 years. Take a look at the TV listings for a typical week in 1951 and you’ll be surprised by much of what you see there. Sixty years ago, most TV programs were still broadcast live from New York, and prime time was dominated by variety shows, game shows and hour-long “anthology drama” series. While many were banal, some were impressively sophisticated. NBC’s “Your Show of Shows,” which starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, was written by Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner and featured sharply observed comic skits that remain fresh to this day. Up-and-coming young writers like Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote and Rod Serling regularly sold scripts to “Kraft Television Theater,” “Philco Television Playhouse” and “Studio One.” Those were the days of “The Frank Sinatra Show,” Groucho Marx’s witty “You Bet Your Life” and TV’s classiest guessing game, “What’s My Line?” (The panelists included Bennett Cerf, the president of Random House, and everyone on the show wore evening dress.)

L’Affaire Magneto

Friday, December 16th, 2011

French — or francophone — artist Yop has rendered an X-Men adventure in the style of Belgian artist Hergé’s Tintin comics. Voilà — Les aventures des X Men: L’Affaire Magneto:

(Hat tip to io9.)

The Black List

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Black List is compiled each year from the suggestions of over 300 film executives who contribute the names of their favorite ten scripts from that year — which have not begun principal photography.

The top pick, with 133 votes, is The Imitation Game, by Graham Moore:

The story of British WWII cryptographer Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma code and later poisoned himself after being criminally prosecuted for being a homosexual.

(Hat tip to io9.)