Sunday, October 31, 2010

Richard T. Gill, economist and opera singer

Richard T. Gill, Economist and Opera Singer, Dies at 82

"Mr. Gill, a longtime Harvard faculty member who wrote many widely used economics textbooks, did not undertake serious vocal training (which he began as an anti-smoking regimen) until he was nearly 40.
"But after just a few years of study a world-class voice emerged, and Mr. Gill soon forsook chalk and tweed for flowing robes and very large headgear.
"This was new and dazzling terrain for the author of “Economics and the Private Interest: An Introduction to Microeconomics.”
"Mr. Gill quit his tenured job at Harvard. He became a fixture at City Opera, singing in a wide array of productions over the next few years.
"In some respects, he later said, Mr. Gill found the roiling world of opera more appealingly straightforward than the roiling world of academe.
“Performing is a great reality test,” he told Newsweek in 1975. “There’s no tenure in it and the feedback is much less complicated than you get in academia."

Oil and gas auctions in Iraq

Apparently it's hard to get energy companies to bid on some of Iraq's energy reserves, but that varies province by province. Iraq recently completed auctions to develop natural gas reserves:

Iraq awards all gas fields in energy auction that draws little interest and 5 bidders
"BAGHDAD _ A South Korean-led consortium walked away with the biggest prize Wednesday in Iraq´s third energy auction since Saddam Hussein´s ouster, while a Kuwaiti company nabbed a gas field along its border with its larger neighbour in a win as politically symbolic as it was a business coup.
"Only five companies submitted bids for the fields, a showing that will likely disappoint Iraqi oil officials."

Last year Iraq auctioned oil rights:
Russia's Lukoil Big Winner At 2nd Iraq Oil Auction

"None of the U.S.oil majors, such as Exxon Mobil or Chevron submitted bids, leaving only Occidental among U.S. companies to make one failed offer on the auction's first day."

HT: Jing Li

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Regulation of repugnant transactions

One argument for not outlawing repugnant transactions is that if they are legal they can be regulated. When people follow that line of reasoning about prostitution, they are normally thinking about testing for sexually transmitted diseases, controlling trafficking and child abuse, etc. But all sorts of regulation are possible, it turns out, the Telegraph reports: Spanish prostitutes ordered to wear reflective vests for their own safety.

"Women touting for customers on a rural highway outside Els Alamus near Lleida in Catalonia have been told to don the yellow fluorescent bibs or pay fines of 40 euros (£36) under road traffic laws."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sally Satel on compensating donors

In my market design class today, I'll start off by talking about kidney exchange (sometimes called kidney paired donation, KPD). After the coffee break we'll switch gears and a guest, Sally Satel, will broach the subject of a monetary market for kidneys. Here's a recent article of hers on the subject: Is It Ever Right to Buy or Sell Human Organs?

(Last year, after I talked about kidney exchange, we discussed repugnance as a constraint on markets.)


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Physician, heal thyself: kidney docs as kidney donors

Tufts Medical Center's physician newsletter has a feature on Kidney Transplantation (starting on p4) that highlights the story of Dr. Andrew Levy, the chief of Nephrology there, who also donated a kidney to his wife as part of a kidney exchange organized by the New England Program for Kidney Exchange (NEPKE).

"Last year, Levey’s wife — oncologist Roberta Falke, MD — needed a kidney transplant due to worsening
polycystic kidney disease. Levey was a willing but incompatible donor. So he and Falke did what Levey had been advising some of his own patients to do — they signed on with the New England Program for Kidney Exchange in Newton. The exchange program helps to increase the pool of potential donors by orchestrating matches among altruistic strangers.

"In late October, Falke was notified of a match. But it didn’t stop there. Levey was a match for a man named Peter Scheibe. Scheibe’s wife Susan wasn’t a match for her husband, but she was a match for a man named Hai Nguyen. And Nguyen’s wife Vy wasn’t a match for him, but she was a match for Falke. And on December 15, in an exquisitely choreographed series of operations at Tufts Medical Center and the Lahey Clinic Medical Center, the three healthy donor kidneys were harvested and transplanted into the three recipients. Today, all six participants in this “circle of miracles” are doing fine."

The piece mentions in passing another remarkable story:
"In the 1980s, Levey and Susan Hou, MD, who completed her nephrology fellowship here, wrote about how kidney donation from living unrelated donors could help expand the donor pool. Today, approximately
20 percent of kidney transplants at Tufts MC are from such donors (with 30 percent from living related donors and the remaining 50 percent from deceased donors). Hou, incidentally, went on to become Medical Director of the Renal Transplant Program at Loyola University Medical Center in suburban Chicago and made headlines when she donated a kidney to one of her patients in 2003."

The article ends with a quote from Dr. Levy:
"“All of us doctors want to help our patients,” he continues. “But it’s rare to get the chance to do anything so direct and meaningful to restore someone’s health. To give a personal gift that you can give only once to another person, it’s a unique confluence of both professional and personal ideals.”

Here's my earlier post on that exchange, and a story about it in the Globe.
And here is a story about Dr. Hou's donation of a kidney to her patient (nothing ever seems simple in medicine): Doctor's unique donation prompts ethical concerns
Here's a link to another story: Chicago Doctor Donates Kidney to Patient
""I can't bring about world peace, I can't eliminate world hunger, but I can get one person off dialysis," said Hou, 56, medical director of the renal transplant program at Loyola University Medical Center in suburban Chicago."

Unraveling of pre-Christmas sales

Stores Push Black Friday Into October says the NY Times (today,Thursday, Oct 28):

"The first “Black Friday Now” deals at Sears will be available beginning Friday and Saturday. Amazon’s electronics department will offer sales on items like Blu-ray players and high-definition TVs on Friday, and Toys “R” Us is putting all the items in its 80-page Christmas toy book on sale on Sunday.

"Black Friday creep has been around for a while, but analysts say this year breaks new ground: the range of stores offering early discounts is wider, the discounts are steeper and the sale periods longer — in some instances, a full month before the real thing. Sears, for example, offered early promotions last year but expanded the hours and days this year, while Amazon is beginning earlier than ever.

“Consumers have been trained to buy merchandise only ‘on sale,’ ” Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice at the consulting firm A. T. Kearney, said in an e-mail. “Given a limited budget, if retailers don’t capture that first or second purchase, they may find themselves with a lot of inventory the week before Christmas and the need for massive discounting to save the holiday.”

"Some shoppers asked for a longer sale period, both for convenience and out of nervousness over crowds, said Barbara Schrantz, executive vice president of marketing and sales promotion at Bon-Ton Stores. After a Wal-Mart employee was trampled and killed on Black Friday in 2008, stores increased their crowd-control measures, but they do not want safety concerns to keep shoppers away from stores.

"In some instances, deal hunters say, stores are just hijacking the Black Friday label. Mike Riddle, who started the site in 2006 to track deals, said shoppers should not believe that “special” prices for the Friday were necessarily lower than the usual price.

“Retailers are taking advantage of the term,” he said, citing the first Sears “Black Friday Now” circular as “nothing more than their weekly ad rebranded.” Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Sears Holdings, said the prices were not standard discounts; so far, customer response has been positive about this weekend’s deals, he said.

"Traditionally, stores used low prices on the Friday after Thanksgiving to attract shoppers, who, they hoped, would put full-price items in their carts alongside the bargains.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kidney paired donation conference: financing kidney exchange

A conference in Philadelphia today will take a look at a so far unresolved aspect of kidney exchange: how to finance it. Since transplantation is far cheaper than dialysis, this shouldn't in principle be a big problem, but there are still lots of kinks to iron out in determining who pays for what. I spoke to a similarly constituted group in Minneapolis in 2007...
Kidney Paired Donation Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2010

8:00 a.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks, Chris Pricco, Chief Operating Officer, Complex Medical
Conditions, OptumHealth Care Solutions

8:05 a.m. Introduction and Conference Overview, Dennis Irwin, MD, National Medical Director, Transplant Solutions, Complex Medical Conditions, OptumHealth Care Solutions

8:15 a.m. Kidney Transplantation: Alternative Donors, Lloyd E. Ratner, MD, New York-Presb - Columbia

8:35 a.m. The Unmet Need for Kidney Transplantation as Viewed by the National Kidney Foundation,
Bryan Becker, MD, University of Illinois-Chicago

8:55 a.m. The OptumHealth/UnitedHealthcare Experience with End Stage Renal Disease, Kidney
Transplantation and the Unmet Need, F. Gregory Grillo MD, National Medical Director, Kidney
Resource Services, OptumHealth Care Solutions

9:15 a.m. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Pilot, Kenneth Andreoni, The Ohio State
University Hospitals

Representation and Overview from UNOS Coordinating Centers

9:45 a.m. Ruthanne L Hanto RN MPH, New England Program for Kidney Exchange

10:00 a.m. Dorry Segev, MD, PhD, Johns Hopkins Hospital

10:15 a.m. Michael Rees, MD, PhD, Alliance for Paired Donation

10:30 a.m. Jeffrey L. Veale MD, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

Successful Single Center Experience with Paired Kidney Donation

10:45 a.m. John Friedewald, MD, Northwestern University Hospital

11:00 a.m. Adam Bingaman, MD, PhD, Texas Transplant Institute

11:30 a.m. National Kidney Registry, Garet Hil, National Kidney Registry (Invited)

11:45 a.m. Kidney Paired Donation from the Donor’s Perspective, John Milner, MD, Loyola University
Medical Center

12:00 p.m. The OPO perspective, Speaker TBD

12:15 p.m. Summary of the recent Living Kidney Donor Follow-Up: State of the Art and Future Directions
conference, Alan Leichtman, MD, University of Michigan

12:30 p.m. National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP): 23 Years of Experience in Establishing and
 Managing a Successful Program for Matching Willing Donors to Recipients, Jeffrey W. Chell,
MD, Chief Executive Officer, National Marrow Donor Program

1:30 p.m. Facilitated Discussion, Clifford Goodman, PhD, Vice President, The Lewin Group

4:00 p.m. Closing Remarks

Note: OptumHealth reserves the right to make any necessary changes to this program. Efforts will be made to keep presentations as scheduled. However, unforeseen circumstances may result in the substitution of faculty or content. Last Updated: 10/05/10

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flash sales--buying in a hurry

Time Is Money
"But commerce will always require the creation of scarcity, bottlenecks and stampedes. The most immediate way to do this is to make time seem tight — the going-going-gone approach to sales. For years, digital-world salespeople have been putting in overtime to resurrect the illusion that consumers must put up their money now or life will pass them by.

"Not long ago they figured it out: the online private-shopping club. It’s brilliant and insidious. No current retail trick so successfully conjures the bygone retail climate of hotness and nowness — with its proven capacity to create value — as luxuriously capitalized clothing vendors like Gilt Groupe, HauteLook and Rue La La. For shoppers who register, these services host “flash sales” — sudden sales of limited inventory that offer a seemingly exclusive group of consumers deep discounts on known labels in a few-frills atmosphere.

"Gilt Groupe, HauteLook and Rue La La are the holy trinity of flash-sale event dealers, at least when it comes to clothes. Know them by their five-star labels, their ticking clocks, their sheen of exclusivity and their limited searchability.

"EBay won’t be left out of the private-club revolution. The latest way to beat those preposterous M.S.R.P.’s — manufacturer’s suggested retail prices — is eBay Fashion Vault, a shopping club like Gilt Groupe but with some of the madcapness of eBay. "

Monday, October 25, 2010

Susan Athey on online experiments

My colleague Susan Athey (in whose class I'll be guest lecturing today) speaks to NPR:

"Susan Athey: Did you know that every time you do a search on Google or Bing, you are improving the quality of the search engine? The more people click on a search advertisement from a clothing company or on a link on an online news story, the more prominently it is displayed for the next consumer. And the firms constantly experiment to get things right. They watch what consumers do and adapt their products in response to the results of their experiments.

"But designing the right experiment is difficult. To see just one example, consider spam. An e-mail provider wants to eliminate spam from your inbox. It is nuisance for all of us. That company might test out a new way to filter spam. The filter may do a great job in short-term experiments, where the spammers don't have a chance to respond. But once the new filter is introduced in practice, spammers may find a way around the filter. So, that means that some legitimate e-mail is filtered out and the end result may be that you haven't solved the spam problem at all. You could very well end up worse than where you started, even though the experimental numbers looked great.

"So, if you want to figure out whether a new product will work out the way you hope, you need to be able to anticipate how people will react to your innovation. That is, you don't just have to be a good statistician. It's not just about the numbers that come out of simple experiments; it is about predicting how people will react to the changes you make. You need to understand behavior and how to build models that reflect the choices we all make.

"Unfortunately, our universities and business schools haven't figured out how to train students to do this kind of modeling and prediction. That is, we aren't preparing students to manage the new data-driven businesses. And let's face it: This is where our economy is headed, as consumers are spending more and more of their time online. Creating new jobs in this economy is a must, but making sure that the workforce is ready for the jobs where our growth is happening is more important. The good news is that the young people who do develop the talent and skills to capitalize on this opportunity will be in high demand, which puts them in a great position in today's tough economy."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Single-hospital kidney exchanges in Texas and Illinois

A recent letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine reports on the kidney exchange ("kidney paired donation") program at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio, TX.

Bingaman AW, Wright FH, Murphey CL., "Kidney paired donation in live-donor kidney transplantation," N Engl J Med. 2010 Sep 9;363(11):1091-2.

"Our center established a KPD program enrolling all consenting recipient candidates who had incompatible donors as well as compatible pairs with donors over the age of 45 years. Since we initiated the program in March 2008, we have performed 83 KPD procedures, including 22 two-way and 13 three-way exchanges.
"If the productivity of our KPD program were to be replicated on a national level, it would potentially result in approximately 2000 additional
live-donor transplantations annually and reduce the number of patients on the waiting list. The increased use of this procedure would also probably avert many difficult desensitization therapies. No recent advance in transplantation has achieved such an apparent increase in access to live-donor transplantation, especially in sensitized patients.
"We believe that all transplantation centers should consider the development of an effective KPD program in order to give patients with incompatible donors a full range of options to achieve successful transplantation."

And here's a news report of another exchange at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
All eight patients OK after four-way kidney transplant (Chicago Sun Times, Sept. 23, 2010)

"Arlene Hoffman was Jane Delimba's postal carrier for only about three months. But when Hoffman bumped into Delimba at a Wal-Mart seven years later and learned she needed a kidney transplant, Hoffman didn't hesitate to offer one of her own.

"The two weren't a compatible match.

"Still, Hoffman's generosity helped make it possible for four people, including Delimba, to receive kidney transplants last week in what's known as a "four-way paired exchange."

"In simultaneous operations that took place last Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, four living donors each gave up a kidney, and four people whose kidneys were failing each got one. All eight patients, ranging in age from 28 to 74, are doing well."

And from another story about that exchange: "Northwestern Memorial transplant surgeons performed their first paired exchange in 2006. To date, the hospital has completed 38 paired exchange transplants. "

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How does repugnance change over time?

Kwame Anthony Appiah's latest book proposes it has something to do with honor:  The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.

Here's a book review from Slate:
The Unappreciated Power of Honor: How it has driven moral progress in the past, and still can.

Update: and here's a NY Times Sunday Magazine article: The Art of Social Change By KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH, focusing on the relative success of the movement to abolish foot binding in China, compared to the movement against female genital cutting in Africa.

"A second essential reason for the campaign’s success was that it created institutions; it didn’t content itself with rhetoric. In particular, it created organizations whose members publicly pledged two things: not to bind their daughters’ feet and not to allow their sons to marry women whose feet were bound. The genius of this strategy was that it created both unbound women and men who would marry them. To reform tradition, you had to change the shared commitments of a community. If Chinese families bound their daughters’ feet because that was the normal thing to do, you had to change what was normal. "

Friday, October 22, 2010

Centralized enrolment in New Orleans public schools

The impetus seems to be special education, according to a story in the Times-Picayune, but the New Orleans public schools are going to combine all their public schools into one enrollment system:

"The New Orleans public schools will move to a centralized enrollment system in an effort to better serve special education students, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek announced today.
"Since Hurricane Katrina, nearly three-quarters of city schools have become independently-run charters. Parents can fill out a common application for all the schools in the Recovery School District, but enrollment decisions happen on the school level.

"District and state officials acknowledge that children with special needs sometimes fall through the cracks, with no central clearinghouse to ensure they are matched with a school that is equipped to educate them."

HT: Neil Dorosin

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NSF ScienceLives interviews me on market design

The NSF writes about market design by interviewing me...
Economist Finds Best Matches for Students and Schools
By Ellen Ferrante, National Science Foundation

Some of the questions are about market design, and you'll have to click on the link above if you want to read my answers to those.  But some of the questions were designed to personalize science, and here are those, and my answers...

"What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
"There’s no limit to what a person can accomplish if he isn’t worried about who gets the credit. "

"What was your first scientific experiment as a child?
"I went to public school in NYC, and as I recall we had science fairs each year starting in grade school. The first projects I recall weren’t experiments; they were demonstrations, little bits of engineering. I remember that I built a carbon arc furnace out of boards, a flower pot, curtain rods and pieces of carbon from the core of a flashlight battery.

"What is your favorite thing about being a researcher?
"You can schedule your own mind. There are plenty of jobs in which a person has an opportunity to solve interesting problems, but a researcher, particularly an academic researcher, gets to choose which problems to work on.

"Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher?
"I think my older brother Ted first persuaded me that science was exciting, and I learned a lot from my Ph.D. advisor at Stanford, Bob Wilson. Over the long term, the group of people from whom I’ve learned the most are my students and post-docs and co-investigators; I’ve been very fortunate in who I’ve been able to work with. "

"If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?
"As often as not there’s a student or postdoc in my office. I’d rescue him or her. "

And here's the picture they ran, over the caption "Al Roth and Marilda Sotomayor photographed with their 1990 book “Two-Sided Matching,” at the conference Roth and Sotomayor: Twenty Years After, held at Duke University in May, 2010. Credit: Marilda Sotomayor"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The history of the market for injectable insulin

First came the great, long awaited discovery. The NY Times has a great account by Dr. Abigail Zuger: Rediscovering the First Miracle Drug.

It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's one snippet that caught my eye:

"“In some sense, the breakthrough is the easy part,” he said. “Then the real work begins.”

"For both insulin and the AIDS drugs the big challenge was “getting it from here to there,” Dr. Sepkowitz said. The expense and logistics of large-scale insulin manufacture were initially daunting. But soon trainloads of frozen cattle and pig pancreas from the giant Chicago slaughterhouses began to arrive at Lilly’s plant. By 1932 the drug’s price had fallen by 90 percent. "

Diabetes remains a killer disease, but now it's a chronic disease that haunts adults, instead of quickly killing children. 

"But the miracle went only so far: insulin was not a cure. In 1921, New York City’s death rate from diabetes was estimated to be the highest in the country, and today the health department lists diabetes among the city’s top five killers. Now though, it is adults who die, not children. What insulin did was turn a brief, deadly illness into a long, chronic struggle, and both the exhibit and the book, “Breakthrough,” by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg, on which it is based highlight the complicated questions that inevitably follow medical miracles: Who will get the drug first? Who will pay for it? Who will make enough for everyone?"

Diabetes is of course one of the big causes of kidney failure, and a real cure would go a long way to easing the long lines of people waiting for kidney transplants while undergoing dialysis. (Here's a good recent article on the various dialysis options from the WSJ.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rakesh Vohra on repugnant contracts for onions

Over at the Leisure of the Theory Class,  Rakesh  Vohra takes up the question of the day, which is Onions, and in particular, Public Law 85-839, which states

"No contract for the sale of onions for future delivery shall be made on or subject to the rules of any board of trade in the United States."

He invites us to consider why that might be a repugnant transaction. (And in the comments, a reader raises the related question of futures contracts on Hollywood movies, and speculation in general...)

Comment on the proposed NRMP scramble following the resident match

The NRMP website asked for comments on the NRMP's new plan for organizing the post-match scramble, and some of my young colleagues and I were moved to send one in:

Comment on the NRMP’s “Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program” Proposed to Replace the Post-Match Scramble by Peter A. Coles, Clayton R. Featherstone, John William Hatfield, Fuhito Kojima, Scott Duke Kominers, Muriel Niederle, Parag A. Pathak, and Alvin E. Roth.

Executive Summary: "Historical precedent and economic principles suggest that the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP) proposed for the NRMP Scramble will lead to unsatisfactory outcomes by forcing participants to make unnecessarily difficult decisions and giving them strong incentives to break the rules laid out in the SOAP proposal. We suggest, as an alternative Scramble mechanism, that the NRMP run a “Second Match” for the Scramble participants using rules similar to those of the Main Match."

Here's my previous post: Cleaning up the scramble for medical residents with SOAP

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is the law clerk hiring regime on its last legs?

That's the question asked by an Oct 18 article in the National Law Journal. Clerkship scramble: The system for placing them with federal judges is breaking down by Karen Sloan. The article notes both that many judges are hiring law students as clerks earlier than the current guidelines allow, and also, interestingly, that an increasing number of judges are essentially hiring later, by hiring law grads rather than current law students.

"Are the Wild West days of federal clerk hiring back? That's what some law school administrators and judges fear. They worry that the voluntary system whereby federal judges wait until September of the 3L year to hire clerks is teetering. Judges are choosing clerks earlier in the year and are being inundated with applications as the legal job market narrows. And a trend toward hiring the already graduated means fewer positions are available for fresh law graduates.

"There has been a definite strain on the system over the past couple of years," said Sheila Driscoll, director of judicial clerkships at George Washington University Law School and the chairwoman of the National Association for Law Placement's (NALP) judicial clerkship section. "People are really worried that it's not going to last."

"Before 2003, judges hired clerks as early as they pleased. That's when two appellate judges persuaded most of their peers to agree to a voluntary plan that pushed federal clerk hiring back from the 2L year to September of the 3L year.

"The reform has outlasted many previous attempts to make the process orderly and fair, but the prevailing sense among placement officers and even judges is that more judges are jumping the gun. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts doesn't track which judges hire before September, but plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that judges are picking clerks during the summer and earlier, leaving applicants to wonder about the fairness and transparency of the process. "
"Certain circuits openly acknowledge that most of their judges don't follow the plan — most notably the 4th, 5th, 10th and 11th circuits. The judges on the 4th Circuit voted several years ago to bypass the hiring plan altogether, said Chief Judge William Traxler Jr. "There was a long discussion and a division of opinion, but the majority did not want to go along with it," he said.

"One clerkship adviser at a top law school said that many judges are openly advertising their desire to receive applications as soon as 2L grades are available — a change from years past, when judges would solicit early applications less brazenly. The adviser did not want to be identified by name because the situation is delicate for law school administrators trying to give their students the best chance to land clerkships while still adhering to the official time line. Students, meanwhile, have to do more legwork to find out which judges are hiring and when.
"The hiring plan received a boost in 2005 with the introduction of the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), which allows applicants and law schools to submit materials online and lets judges sort applications by specific criteria, such as school or grade-point average. The system will not release student applications to judges until the September kickoff date, which helps encourage compliance. Judge participation has climbed steadily since OSCAR's introduction, but there is no guarantee that judges who advertise positions on OSCAR will wait until September to make decisions.

"You can have a judge who only uses OSCAR for purposes of posting clerkship opportunities, but doesn't adhere to the schedule," said Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and chairs the judiciary's OSCAR working group. "That judge can reach out to applicants who send papers in the mail at any point."

"The frenzy places judges not in preferred cities on the East or West coasts in a tough spot — it's harder for students to make it to their chambers during the whirlwind interview period.

"Quite frankly, we just saw that other areas of the country were not following the plan," said Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe of the 10th Circuit. "By the time students would come out to the Midwest for interviews, the candidates with the highest credentials had already been hired."

"Briscoe recalled one candidate two years ago who was hired by another judge while literally in transit to an interview with her in Lawrence, Kan.

"The declining legal job market and the ease of applying with multiple judges through OSCAR have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of applications. In 2009, OSCAR funneled 401,576 applications to judges — a 324% increase from the 94,693 applications received in 2005.

"With so many applications coming in, some law school career counselors and students worry that connections are playing an even bigger role in the process, as judges look for ways to cut through hundreds or even thousands of applicants. One judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania received 1,900 applications, said Melissa Lennon, assistant dean for career planning at Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law. "What is going to cut through 1,900 applications? Nothing but a phone call," she said.
"Another factor is that the rules don't cover applications from people who have already graduated — judges may hire them at any point. That's a real incentive to hire alumni instead of law students, according to judges and law school administrators. "I think some judges don't like the hiring frenzy that takes place on the first day they can interview 3Ls under the rules," said New York University School of Law Dean Richard Revesz. "A way to avoid that and still comply with the rules is to hire alumni."

"Plenty of judges are going that route. Although federal court administrators don't track the percentage of alumni and law student clerk hires, OSCAR data show that clerkship applications from alumni eclipsed those from law students in 2009 — a first.

"Harvard University clerkship adviser Kirsten Solberg said approximately one-third of Harvard's federal and state clerks are alumni. The shift has been rapid at Temple, where alumni make up about 40% of the school's clerks, compared to about 25% the previous year, Lennon said. "

My previous posts on the judicial clerk market are here. My papers on that market are here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The market for marijuana in CA--buying is almost legal, selling and growing not

Another transaction takes another step from repugnant to not: Schwarzenegger approves bill downgrading marijuana possession of ounce or less to an infraction

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposes legalization of marijuana for recreational use, has approved legislation downgrading possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

"Supporters say the change will keep marijuana-related cases from becoming court-clogging jury trials, even though the penalty will remain a fine of up to $100, with no jail time. Violations will not go on a person's record as a crime.

"I am signing this measure because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction in everything but name," Schwarzenegger wrote in a message released after he signed the bill. "In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket."
"The governor's action immediately became a point of contention in the campaigns for and against Proposition 19 on the statewide November ballot, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Schwarzenegger opposes the measure."

At the same time, marijuana cultivation remains illegal in CA, e.g: Mendocino officials pursue third day of marijuana eradications
"Mendocino County Sheriff's officials, assisted by state and federal agencies, made several more arrests in the third day of eradicating illegal marijuana grows and sales in Round Valley on Thursday.

On Tuesday 17 people were arrested, and another 20 were arrested on Wednesday, officials reported."

Phone sex as a repugnant transaction

I was struck by the opening paragraphs of this story:

"In some ways, working as a phone-sex dominatrix is lot simpler than being on a college faculty. Your relationship with others is clearly defined, no one formally complains about anything you say to them, and you stand little risk of getting caught up in messy struggles over power.

"It gets complicated, however, if you try to do both jobs...."

That is from a Chronicle of Higher Education story about troubles in the English department at the University of New Mexico: In Professor-Dominatrix Scandal, U. of New Mexico Feels the Pain

Now you can buy copies of successful college applications

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a new business venture aimed at applicants to selective colleges. For Sale: Successful Ivy League Applications—Only $19.99  By Eric Hoover

"The path to the nation’s most selective colleges is crowded with entrepreneurs—independent consultants, test-preparation companies, and publishers of a zillion guides. They peddle information and insight, along with strategies for unlocking coveted gates. Recently, Howard Yaruss decided to join them.

"Mr. Yaruss is the founder of the Application Project Inc., which sells copies of successful applications to Ivy League colleges. Want to browse applications submitted by 21 members of Brown University’s 2009-10 freshman class? You can buy access to them for $19.99 on the company’s Web site, For the same price, you can see applications filed by 14 members of the 2009-10 freshman class at Columbia University. Or you can buy both sets for $34.99.

"It’s all in the name of transparency, says Mr. Yaruss, who touts his new service a way to show students what successful applications look like—and what admissions officers look for when they evaluate them. Seeing how accepted applicants presented themselves, he says, can help high-school students, especially those who lack affluence, college savvy, and knowledgeable counselors.

“It’s the one remaining part of the process that’s shrouded in mystery,” Mr. Yaruss says. “Students spend thousands of dollars preparing for the SAT. We’re offering this for the cost of a trade paperback.”
"Alice Kleeman, a college counselor at Menlo-Atherton High School, in California, calls the service “revolting.” She suspects that the site might cause students to think they have no chance if they happen to lack the academic records, personal experiences, and writing abilities of students who were accepted.

"Ms. Kleeman also thinks there’s a high likelihood of abuse. “Even if students have the integrity not to simply lift responses from these apps, the site could also have the potential of causing students to believe they should submit something just like these apps, rather than their own authentic app,” Ms. Kleeman says. “I would hate to see my students spending money for something like this.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Waiting lists

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Toni Adleberg, a recent NYU graduate compares her experiences on the waiting list for graduate admissions, and the wait for a new liver: They'll Just Have to Wait.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Commerce and self interest in medicine

A Guided Tour of Modern Medicine’s Underbelly is a NY Times  book review by Dr. Abigail Zuger of  the book WHITE COAT, BLACK HAT: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine. By Dr. Carl Elliott.

"A physician who specializes in philosophy and ethics, Dr. Elliott hails from that quiet zone of medicine where much of the job involves thinking about, talking about and doling out medications. Hence his primary focus is on the ever-evolving relationship between the high art of medicine and the big business of drugs.

"Doctors get pens and trinkets, football tickets, junkets to beach resorts. Less visible are the large sums handed over in “I’m going to make you a star” projects to groom them as trusted faces and voices in the service of some drug. Education and advertisement merge in these elaborate ventures, as the paid professor travels the country, lecturing about disease and, incidentally, the treatment thereof.

"These “key opinion leaders” are bad enough, but who would ever imagine that the curricula vitae of many academic physicians (those on a medical school faculty) are packed with journal articles actually written by ghostwriters sponsored by pharmaceutical companies?

"“Nobody expects American politicians to write their own speeches anymore,” Dr. Elliott reminds us, “and nobody expects celebrities to write their own memoirs.” Apparently doctors have now joined the ranks of the charismatic talking heads, mouthing the words of others.

"And just as “professor” generally describes someone who writes his or her own sentences, “ethicist” generally describes someone who dwells (or at least works) on an unusually high moral plane. But Dr. Elliott also takes a brief and very informative excursion into the world of the medical ethicists. Once they were highly principled, underpaid gadflies, trying to sort out medical decision making. Now they are part of a booming industry, and, speaking of industry, their ties to the pharmaceutical industry are many and complex. Many companies now hire their own ethicists. But who guards those guards?
"What a world, what a world, as the melting witch said in “The Wizard of Oz.” But there is one small consolation: at least Dr. Elliott didn’t have to call his book “White Coat, Black Heart.” Now that would have been depressing. The bottom line is that much of what he describes is simply the big business of medicine as we have allowed it to take shape. His bad actors are mostly just that: actors caught up in a script not of their own devising. They all come home in the evening, take off their black hats and hang up their white coats, just regular working stiffs out to make a buck. "

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Regulation of the hours that medical residents can work

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports Accreditor Tightens Limits on Medical Residents' 80-Hour Workweeks

"Doctors in training at teaching hospitals would continue to be limited to an 80-hour workweek, but some new limits would be imposed to cut down on errors by sleep-deprived residents under new standards approved on Tuesday by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

"The standards, which are scheduled to take effect in July 2011, will apply to the 111,000 medical residents who are training in accredited teaching institutions,

"Residents can work more than 80 hours some weeks, as long as the average over a four-week period doesn't exceed 80. First-year residents would be limited to working no more than 16 hours a day—down from 24 hours—and they would be supervised more closely. Residency-training programs would also have a tougher time getting exceptions to the work-hour limits.

"The changes are based on recommendations made in 2008 by the Institute of Medicine, which warned of widespread medical errors caused by sleepy residents, as well as a 16-month review of scientific writings on sleep issues, patient safety, and resident training.

"Some teaching hospitals have argued that limiting residents' work hours would hurt them financially without necessarily improving patient safety.

"The revised standards, which also deal with concerns about mistakes that occur when residents hand off patient-care responsibilities during shift changes, were developed by a 16-member task force made up of specialists from medical education, patient safety, and clinical care."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Market design at Aarhus University in Denmark

The Center for Research in the Foundations of Electronic Markets is having an inaugural conference, Oct. 13-15.

The full program is here.
The first three sessions touch on a number of themes that readers of this blog will recognize:

Wednesday, October 13, 12.30 to 17.30

Session Chair Ivan Damgård
12.30-13.15 – Hervé Moulin, Rice University: Impartial decision among peers
13.15-14.00 – Peter Bogetoft, Copenhagen Business School: Missing Markets
14.00-14.45 – Jens Leth Hougaard, Copenhagen University: Rationing with rights

Session Chair Peter Bro Miltersen
15.15-16.00 – Felix Fischer, Harvard University: Mechanisms for Large-Scale Kidney Exchanges
16.00-16.45 – Lance Fortnow, Northwestern University: Bounding Rationality by Computational Complexity
16.45-17.30 – Kevin Leyton-Brown, University of British Columbia: Computational Mechanism Analysis

Thursday, October 14, 9.30 to 18:00
Session Chair Peter Bogetoft
09.30-10.15 – David Parkes, Harvard University: Mechanism Design and Accounting to Enable Efficient Peer Production and Spectrum Sharing (joint work with Ian Kash (Harvard), Michel Meulpolder (TU Delft), Rohan Murty (Harvard), Jie Tang (UC Berkeley) and Sven Seuken (Harvard))
10.15-11.00 – Ivan Damgård, Aarhus University: How to compute securely – even if you trust no one but yourself

It looks like Aarhaus is a happening place this week.

HT: Noam Nisan at AGT.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The problem with Princeton

France Wrestles With Its 2 Tiers of Higher Education
The article, from the New York Times, discusses the French higher education system of Universities and Grandes Ecoles, and ends with this paragraph:

"It was Cédric Villani, a 37-year-old professor at Lyon who won the 2010 Fields Medal, who gave the most spirited reply to France’s critics. Calling himself “a pure product of the French system,” Mr. Villani, a Normalien who has often taught in the United States, said that while American academic salaries were higher “and it’s easier to make big projects,” France also has particular strengths: “Our tradition, our quality of life, our social cohesion. My big problem in Princeton was finding a place to buy a decent cheese.”

Interview concerning San Francisco school choice

The San Francisco Briefing Room carries an audio interview by Stan Goldberg with Attila Abdulkadiroglu and me (about 30 minutes): Assignment System at Risk.
Here's his blurb: "With the deadline for submitting applications for school assignment in the San Francisco Unified School District rapidly approaching the school district has advised its independent advisors who were scheduled to program the assignment system for free that their services were not needed. Does this action imperil the implementation of the system on time? Has school district transparency moved back to the dark ages? Here’s the story from the design team’s perspective."

(Here are my previous posts on San Francisco school choice.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Results of Games 1st choice prediction competition

Here's the end (or maybe the middle) of the story that began with Predicting behavior in games: a competition Oct 05 08:16AM +0200 ^

Hi: We write to inform you of the results of Games 1st choice prediction
competition. The competition focused on the prediction of behavior in repeated
Market Entry Game. We ran two sets of experiments. We published the results of
the first set, and challenged other researchers to predict the result of the
second set (see

Twenty-two different teams participated in the competition. The total number of
submissions was 25.

The winners are Wei Chen, Chih-Han Chen, Yi-Shan Lee, and Shu-Yu Liu from
National Taiwan University.

The runners up are Tomבs Lejarraga, Varun Dutt, and Cleotilde Gonzalez from
Carnegie Mellon University.

The winners and the runners up were invited to submit papers to Games that
describe their models in detail. Here is a short summary:

The winning model refines I-SAW (the best baseline model described in the
competition website) by the addition of the assumption of a limited memory
span. The refined model assumes: (1) Reliance on a small sample of past
experiences, (2) Strong inertia and recency effects, and (3) Surprise triggers

The runner up model is based upon the Instance Based Learning (IBL) theory
proposed by Gonzalez, Lerch, and Lebiere (2003). The basic assumptions of this
model are: retrieval of past set of experiences of outcomes weighted by their
probability of retrieval from memory (i.e., blending mechanism); dependence on
recency and frequency of past experienced outcomes; and, an inertia mechanism
that depends upon surprise as a function of blended outcomes.

The results support two main suggestions:

(1) Models that assume reliance on small samples of past experiences have a
large advantage over models that assume reliance on running averages of the
previous payoffs (like traditional reinforcement learning and fictitious play

(2) The difference between learning in market entry games, and learning in
individual choice tasks is not large. Indeed, the best models in the current
competition can be described as refinements of the best models in our previous
competition that focused in individual repeated choice task (see Erev et al.,

The raw data from the 80 repeated market entry games that were run in the
current competition can be found in
The raw data from the 120 repeated choice problems that were run in our
previous competition can be found in We encourage you to use these
data sets, to improve our understanding of the effect of experience on economic

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Vacancy chains: hiring from your competitors, and having them hire from you

Six Technology Firms Agree to More Hiring Competition

"The American job market is tough for many workers, but things are looking even better than usual for highly paid engineers and scientists in Silicon Valley.

"Six leading technology companies, including Apple, Google and Intel, reached an antitrust settlement on Friday with the Justice Department that promises to increase the competition for sought-after technology workers. The government had conducted a yearlong investigation into agreements among companies not to poach employees from each other.

"The investigation focused on five agreements by the companies not to make cold calls to employees that each company had placed on a do-not-call list. Each of the pacts, according to the Justice Department filing, involved a pair of companies: Apple and Google, Apple and Adobe, Apple and Pixar, Google and Intel, and Google and Intuit.

"The agreements to curb cold-calling of each others’ workers, the Justice Department complaint said, “diminished competition to the detriment of the affected employees who were likely deprived of competitively important information and access to better job opportunities.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The job market in computer science

Lance Fortnow, blogging at Computational Complexity, posts what is apparently an Annual Fall Jobs Post about the academic job market in computer science. He notes that applications are being considered earlier this year, but there is also a transition in the career path of new CS theory grads, to include postdocs.

"The CRA is working on setting guidelines for job deadlines to help out with some of the gridlock in the job market. Many of the top departments have already moved their deadlines for full consideration to early December or November. Keep an eye out and remember to apply early this year."

"A little early to tell but this year will likely be similar to last year: a small number of tenure-track positions in TCS and a large number of postdoc positions. Out of necessity almost everyone does a postdoc now and many people doing a second or third as well.

"Have the theoretical computer science community actually moved to postdoc culture, where people are now expected to do a postdoc (or multiple postdocs) before taking a tenure-track position like physics, chemistry and biology? When did the field make that jump?"

This is a labor market that will be interesting to keep track of. (Will the appointment dates for first jobs continue moving earlier in time--i.e. are we seeing the beginning of unravelling? Or is this just a one time move to try to deal with congestion in clearing the market, so that multiple offers to a few stars don't delay things too late in the year?  And, even if appointment to first jobs moves earlier, will tenure track positions move later, via postdocs?  Stay tuned...)

HT: Mike Ostrovsky

Friday, October 8, 2010

Organ donation legislation in California

Judd Kessler (who you could hire this year) writes about changes in CA law regarding organ donation, including live donation:

On Tuesday, October 5, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ceremonially signed new organ donor legislation. There are two new bills that make a variety of changes to policy for both live and deceased organ donation in California. Here is a summary.

SB 1395 makes two changes. First, it authorizes the creation of an:
"Altruistic Living Donor Registry" where individuals can state their willingness to be a live kidney donor. (The bill allows for the possibility of extending the registry to other organs and tissues in the future.) The living donor registry would make information about potential donors available to facilitate pairwise exchanges and donor chains. According to the bill: "(a) ... The donor registry shall be designed to promote and assist live kidney donations, including donor chains, paired exchanges, and nondirected donations. The registrar shall be responsible for developing methods to increase the number of donors who enroll in the registry. (b) The registrar shall make available to the federally designated organ procurement organizations (OPOs) and transplant centers in California information contained in the registry regarding potential altruistic living donors. This information shall be used to expedite a match between identified organ donors and potential recipients."

Second, SB 1395 changes how the department of motor vehicles asks people whether they would like to register to be an organ and tissue donor upon death (i.e. a deceased donor). Currently the DMV allows potential donors to opt in. The application for a new or renewal driver's license or ID card has space to indicate a willingness to join the registry. Starting July 1, 2011, the donor registration question will require an "active" or "mandated" choice. According to the bill, the application will now: "contain a space for the applicant to enroll in the Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. The application shall include check boxes for an applicant to mark either (A) Yes, add my name to the donor registry or (B) I do not wish to register at this time." In addition, the DMV: "shall inquire verbally of an applicant applying in person ... at a department office as to whether the applicant wishes to enroll in the Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry."

In Governor Schwarzenegger's speech at the bill signing he called this change to mandated choice "the next best thing" to an opt out system, where individuals would be deceased organ donors by default. He said an opt out system had been suggested to him by Steve Jobs, who recently received a liver transplant and was also in attendance at the bill signing, but that an opt-out system was not plausible due to constitutional concerns. In the Governor's words: "And we have to give [Steve Jobs] a lot of credit, because he came back, apparently from Europe or from somewhere where he called me and he said that, you know, in Europe, in Spain, they have no waiting list because you can only opt out; that if you don’t opt out then you are automatically on a donor list. So we tried to copy the same thing and we talked about that seven months ago. But our Constitution in the United States is different than the Spanish Constitution, so we could not legally do that. So we did the next best thing."

Another bill generated protections for employees who want to be living organ donors or bone marrow donors. SB 1304 requires private employers to provide paid leave for their employees who are organ donors (up to 30 days) or bone marrow donors (up to 5 days) and prevents private employers from blocking such donations by its employees or punishing them for donating. State employees already had this paid leave.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

College admissions--a state of the union interview

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports an interview with the departing head of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC): Admission Group's Departing Leader Takes Stock

"Q. Tell me about one thing that you think is broken in the profession.

A. The number of ways to apply has grown. There’s been an increase in the number of programs under the banner of early decision or early action. There’s the increasing use of “snap apps,” which make it easy to apply. It’s hard for many of us who are long-term professionals to understand all the different ways to apply, and I think that it’s worse for kids and parents. This process should be relatively transparent, though it can’t be totally transparent.

Q. What’s good about college admissions today that wasn’t so good a decade ago?

A. Certainly there’s more information out there about college admissions. When I first started, people had no idea what college admissions was or what it really did. Now there’s far more info out there that’s helpful. To sort through all that information and figure out what’s good is the challenge. There’s far more attention paid to the process.

Q. In some ways, the national dialogue about college admissions has helped demystify the process. But are some of today’s enrollment-management tactics having the opposite effect?

A. Yes. Some of it has been demystified, but some of it has been replaced by other mysteries. There are two extremes. There are a huge number of kids who grow up in good homes where there isn’t a history of going to college. They don’t have the basic understanding that they have to have. Then there are other parents who are obsessed with admissions to certain institutions, and this leads to all kinds of mythology, or as I like to call them, suburban legends. Our challenge is to reach both of those populations—the ones that really need information for access that can change their lives, and those who are so obsessed about getting into a particular college."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Principal agent problems, where the agent is a surgeon and the principal is a patient

Pauline Chen writes in the NY Times about The Surgeon’s Pact With the Patient
"[The] belief — that surgeons can be both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to the doctor-patient relationship — has been embraced for generations by more than a few nonsurgical doctors, nurses and patients. Heroic in their devotion to patients when they are at their best, surgeons inexplicably seem to transform when they are at their worst. That worst usually comes on the heels of a high-risk operation and a complicated and protracted postoperative course. The nurses, other doctors and sometimes even the patient and family request palliation only; in response, the surgeon often stalls, hesitates or simply refuses.

"Since the late 1970s, ethicists and social scientists have tried explain what they viewed as surgeons’ paradoxical behavior with postoperative patients. One of the earliest researchers attributed to self-protection the surgical imperative to “do everything possible.” Inevitably, this medical sociologist reasoned, all surgeons commit a technical error over the course of their careers. By doing everything possible “for the patient,” surgeons protected themselves against the emotional distress of failure. The rationale behind this common-sense theory was straightforward: At least I did all that I could possibly do.
"A study* published this year offers an interesting possible answer...
"In interview after interview, the surgeons referred to a negotiation and agreement — what the researchers called “surgical buy-in” — that occurred during the consent process, long before these doctors and their patients ever entered the operating room. The surgeons believed that patients not only consented to the operation itself but also committed themselves to any care after the operation necessary for successful outcomes. They talked about the operation and postoperative care as being a “package deal” and about a tacit “two-way agreement” that included even well-articulated and well-defined numbers of postoperative days. ...
“Surgeons don’t want to invest themselves in a relationship and a technical tour de force, then have to walk away.”

*Schwarze, Margaret L. MD, MPP; Bradley, Ciaran T. MD, MA; Brasel, Karen J. MD, MPH, "Surgical "buy-in": The contractual relationship between surgeons and patients that influences decisions regarding life-supporting therapy," Critical Care Medicine: March 2010 - Volume 38 - Issue 3 - pp 843-848

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The wholesale market for art

We often think of the art market as essentially retail--each artwork is unique--but that's because we aren't art buyers for hotels, in which every room needs a painting or a print or two.

Hong Kong: Art in Big Batches

"Our first two appointments in Hong Kong were separate meetings with art consultants, Sandra Walters at Sandra Walters Art Consultancy and Nicole Jelicich at Enjay Art Consultancy. They collaborate with designers and property owners in providing art for hotels and corporate clients. They work in a volume unheard of in any gallery. Think thousands and tens of thousands of artworks. A new hotel—and there are hundreds under construction in China now—needs thousands of works for the rooms and the public areas. Both consultants have provided work for Ritz Carltons, Intercontinental Hotels, Four Seasons, Morgan Stanley and hundreds of other clients."

Monday, October 4, 2010

From repugnant transaction to Nobel Prize in Medicine

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2010

Robert G. Edwards
for the development of in vitro fertilization
From the press release:
"These early studies were promising but the Medical Research Council decided not to fund a continuation of the project. However, a private donation allowed the work to continue. The research also became the topic of a lively ethical debate that was initiated by Edwards himself. Several religious leaders, ethicists, and scientists demanded that the project be stopped, while others gave it their support."

Since then,
"Approximately four million individuals have so far been born following IVF. Many of them are now adult and some have already become parents. A new field of medicine has emerged, with Robert Edwards leading the process all the way from the fundamental discoveries to the current, successful IVF therapy. His contributions represent a milestone in the development of modern medicine."

Afternoon update: Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer
"A Vatican official has said the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to British IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is "completely out of order".

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the award ignored the ethical questions raised by the fertility treatment.
He said IVF had led to the destruction of large numbers of human embryos."

Update 10/6/10: an Op Ed in the NY Times reminds us of some of the early reaction to IVF:
In Vitro Revelation
"Religious groups denounced the two scientists as madmen who were trying to play God. Medical ethicists declared that in vitro fertilization was the first step on a slippery slope toward aberrations like artificial wombs and baby farms.

"Fortunately, Louise Brown was not born a monster, but rather a healthy, 5-pound, 12-ounce blond baby girl."

Further update: here's an NPR broadcast: The Controversies That Still Lie Behind In-Vitro Fertilization?
"The Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to Robert Edwards yesterday, who developed in vitro fertilization in the 1970. Controversial from its introduction, the practice was initially condemned by the Catholic Church. Today, while many of the original ethical issues have abated, new ones have arisen over questions about the in vitro industry's lack of regulation and the continuing debate surrounding stem cell research.

"Glenn Cohen, co-director of the Petrie-Flom Center, and assistant professof or law at Harvard University, believes the number one controversy today is the safety methods surrounding the practice."

Mail order husbands, on Foreign Son-in-Law Street

A Thai Region Where Husbands Are Imported.

"But unlike many other foreign husbands, Mr. Davis, 54, did not take his wife home with him, choosing instead to settle down in northeastern Thailand, a region known as Isaan.

"He is part of an expanding population of nearly 11,000 foreign husbands in the region, drawn by the low cost of living, slow pace of life and the exotic reputation of Thai women — something like a brand name for Western men seeking Asian partners. “Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago,” said Mr. Davis, before they discovered their rights and became “strong-headed and opinionated.”

“The women now know they are equal,” said Mr. Davis, a retired Naval officer who has been divorced twice, “so the situation is not as relaxed and peaceful as it is between an American and a Thai lady.”

"It is easy to spot the foreigners’ homes, with their sturdy walls and red-tiled roofs, an archipelago of affluence among the smaller, poorer houses of their new neighbors and in-laws.

"Mixed couples are common on the streets and in the markets of Udon Thani. One street where Western men gather to eat and drink is popularly known as “Foreign Son-in-Law Street.”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Piracy watch: can security off the coast of Somalia be privatized?

Steve Leider writes:
Piracy season is resuming off the coast of Africa with the end of the monsoon season.  Several attacks have already been thwarted by ships newly equipped with safe rooms:

Over the weekend, pirates boarded the Greek-operated MV Lugela in the Indian Ocean but were frustrated to find the Ukrainian crew had locked itself in a safe room and disabled the engine.  Unable to hold the mariners' lives to ransom or steer the ship back to base, the pirates left the cargo.

Nick Davis, a piracy expert with the United Kingdom-based Merchant Maritime Warfare Centre, explained that such panic rooms were cheap and effective.  "You need a strong master, a well-stocked citadel, so you can sit there for up to five or seven days and wait for the cavalry," he said. "If the pirates have a dark ship and no crew, they'll just look for another."  But he stressed the importance of having functioning communications equipment in the citadel.

Earlier in September, pirates boarded a German-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden. Failing to find the crew, they even called the vessel's operator out of frustration, only to be told the ship was broken and the crew "on holiday".

Unfortunately only half of the ships active in the area are believed to have such a safe room.
A multi-national naval force is also currently patrolling the area, however it has yet to substantially reduce piracy.  A major UK insurer is suggesting the creation of a private navy to be placed under the command of existing international force to augment their activities:
A leading London insurer is pushing ahead with radical proposals to create a private fleet of about 20 patrol boats crewed by armed guards to bolster the international military presence off the Somali coast. They would act as escorts and fast-response vessels for shipping passing through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean.   Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group (JLT), which insures 14 per cent of the world’s commercial shipping fleet, said the unprecedented “private navy” would work under the direct control of the military with clear rules of engagement valid under international law …
Sean Woollerson, a senior partner with JLT, told The Independent: “We are looking at setting up a private navy to escort vessels through the danger zones. We would have armed personnel with fast boats escorting ships and make it very clear to any Somali vessels in the vicinity that they are entering a protected area.
“At the moment there is a disconnect between the private security sector and the international naval force. We think we can help remedy that and place this force under the control of the multi-national force. We look after about 5,000 ships and have had 10 vessels taken in total, including a seizure where one crew member was shot and killed. Piracy is a serious problem, these are criminals basically extorting funds, so why not do something more proactive?”
The force, which would have set-up costs of around £10m, would be funded by insurers and shipping companies in return for a reduction on the anti-piracy insurance premiums, which average around £50,000 per voyage and can reach £300,000 for a super-tanker. The maritime insurance industry, much of it based in London, has borne the brunt of the financial cost of the piracy problem, paying out $300m (£191m) in ransoms and associated costs in the last two years alone.
Major obstacles remain before the private navy can set sail, such as the legal status of a private force and it relationship with the Nato-controlled naval fleet. But major shipping companies and key insurers are keen to proceed with the plan. Although private contractors already offer armed teams on board vessels, the idea of a sizeable industry-funded naval force is a major departure and evidence of the strength of feeling there that more needs to be done to counter piracy.

The proposed “private navy” would therefore act in a somewhat similar fashion to the private security contractors operating in Iraq.  It will be important to clarify whether the navy would qualify as a mercenary force.  While mercenaries have historically been an important part of warfare, modern international law discourages mercenaries by withholding from them the protections afforded other combatants.  Article 47, Protocol I of the Geneva Convention regulates mercenaries as follows:
1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.
2. A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The market for knife sharpening

There was a time when knife sharpeners brought their grindstones to the meat packers and butchers who were their main customers, and sharpened customers' knives on customers' premises. Now, the NY Times reports, the model is to rent a double set of knives to customers (who now include restaurants), so that the knife sharpener can come in and exchange all the dull knives for sharp ones, and sharpen the knives on his own premises: Venerable Craft, Modern Practitioner.

Apparently this business is one with ethnic, networked roots:
"Mr. Ambrosi’s grandfather, who came to the United States in the 1920s, hailed from the poor village of Carisolo. The village, with two neighboring towns of Pinzolo and Giustino, produced many of the more than 100 commercial knife sharpeners at work today in North America, sharpeners said. "
"At first the immigrants came mainly to New York, but soon their offspring scattered to stake out new routes, a dozen sharpeners across the country said in interviews. Ambrosis with grindstones do business in Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio, as well as boroughs of New York. The Binellis set up knife-sharpening businesses in Detroit, Chicago and Medford, Mass.; the Maganzinis ended up in and around Boston. The Povinellis set up shop in Buffalo and ventured to North and South Carolina and Arizona; offshoots of the Nella family went to Toronto and Vancouver, as well as Long Island, Seattle and West Jordan, Utah.

"Robert Ambrosi’s grandfather traveled the Bronx in a horse-drawn cart with a grindstone powered by a foot pedal, serving, like the other knife sharpeners, mainly butchers and meatpackers.

"Mr. Ambrosi’s father used a grindstone fueled by a battery carried in a truck. The battery had to be plugged in each night in the garage to recharge. Then in the 1950s came the great innovation — double sets of knives — that eventually freed the Ambrosis to set up their first shop."
"Some of the northern Italian knife sharpeners still function in the old style, as members of the New York Grinders Association. The rules used to be simple: Don’t mess with someone’s turf. Stick to your own route — the one you inherited from your father or grandfather. Avoid the vendettas that have overtaken sharpeners in other cities.

“People will trade stops,” said Rinaldo Beltrami, the association’s president.

"Mr. Ambrosi, who let his membership in the association lapse, said, “I was brought up in that way of thinking.” Yet he will still sometimes appease a competitor by saying, “Let’s sit down, we’ll have a meeting, we’ll make a borderline — I won’t bother you.”

"Yet his sons have been knocking on doors to establish new routes, and Mr. Ambrosi has developed a Web site and a mail-order service, because his sons need enough business to sustain their future families, too. "

Friday, October 1, 2010

Unraveling and diversity in the market for law clerks

One question about unravelling of markets--in which hiring becomes earlier, more diffuse in time, and characterized by very short duration "exploding" offers, is whether it reduces diversity. The idea is that if you have to hire people far in advance, e.g. when they are still in kindergarten, then you can't tell as much as you would like about individuals, so you had better be hiring from good kindergartens.

I'm reminded of this for two reasons. The first is a recent article on clerks in the Supreme Court:

"There are about 160 active federal appeals court judges and more than 100 more semiretired ones, yet more than half of the clerks who have served on the Roberts court came from the chambers of just 10 judges. Three judges accounted for a fifth of all Supreme Court clerks."

That from Adam Liptak in the NY Times: A Sign of the Court’s Polarization: Choice of Clerks

The second is this graph showing which law schools clerks have been coming from:
That is from a blog post from Dave Hoffman at Concurring Opinions, called The Quickly Unraveling Clerkship Market.

He writes that this year there is even more unraveling than usual, i.e. the plan for regulating the hiring of law clerks may be on its last legs, as the increasing levels of cheating we observed in previous years has apparently continued to increase.
(see Avery, Christopher, Jolls, Christine, Posner, Richard A. and Roth, Alvin E., "The New Market for Federal Judicial Law Clerks" . University of Chicago Law Review, 74, Spring 2007, 447-486. )