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14 April 2010


Matins: Tyler Cowan answers a question posed at EconLog: Why do colleges care about extracurricular activities, when businesses don't? (Yes, we think that the question is interesting, too, regardless of the answer.)

Colleges want to expand the heterogeneity of the selection criteria so they can pick who they want.  If it's a top college or university, mostly this means limiting the number of Asians and maximizing the number of future donors and by the way those two goals tend to move in tandem.  Other than legacy admissions, I wonder what other features of applications predict future donations?  Might extra-curricular activities be one candidate here?

The Marginal Revolution post is very brief, but, not surprisingly, it prompted a lengthy and interesting comment thread.

Lauds: James Ivory finishes the last Merchant Ivory production, an adaptation of Peter Cameron's The City of Your Final Destination, with MI alum Anthony Hopkins.

Two longtime Merchant Ivory associates, Paul Bradley and Richard Hawley, had assumed Mr. Merchant’s producer duties, but the film got hung up between promised bank loans and a budget that the banks and the completion-bond company could agree on. Merchant Ivory’s own resources were used to begin production (in 2006, on location in Argentina), something Mr. Merchant had strenuously avoided before.

It took more than a year to obtain new financing, so Mr. Ivory could edit and otherwise finish the $8.3 million film, which explains why a film that began four years ago is only arriving in theaters now.

Despite the convoluted history, Mr. Ivory said, “City of Your Final Destination” is, in its essentials, of a piece with the pair’s earlier work. “Ismail helped me to find the two main locations,” he said. “And when we were shooting in them, as we mostly were, I kept remembering his presence there 18 months before. He had stood where I was standing; he had given this film his blessing, as it were; and despite all that happened afterwards it has very much turned out to be one of our films, quite complete and quite ‘Merchant Ivory.’ Even if it’s the first of our films in which some of the cast mostly wear T-shirts.”

Prime: More about Magnetar from one of the men who really knows, Jim Kwak of The Baseline Scenario. Wait! There's more. In the following paragraphs, Mr Kwak illustrates the disconnect between "performance pay" and real performance. (via Abnormal Returns)

By taking advantage of these inefficiencies, Magnetar made the Wall Street banks look like chumps. This American Life talks about one deal where Magnetar put up $10 million in equity and then shorted $1 billion of AAA-rated bonds issued by the CDO. It turned out that in this deal, JPMorgan Chase, the investment bank, actually held onto those AAA-rated bonds and eventually took a loss of $880 million. This was in exchange for about $20 million in up-front fees it earned.

But who’s the chump? Sure, JPMorgan Chase the bank lost $880 million. But of that $20 million in fees, about $10 million was paid out in compensation (investment banks pay out about half of their net revenues as compensation), much of it to the bankers who did the deal. JPMorgan’s bankers did just fine, despite having placed a ticking time bomb on their own bank’s balance sheet. Here’s the second lesson: the idea that bankers’ pay is based on their performance is also hogwash. (The idea that their pay is based on their net contribution to society is even more absurd.)

Tierce: Elementary school teachers are always talking up "creativity," but in fact they don't want genuinely creative students in their classrooms. Jonah Lehrer reports. 

While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn't. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures - the list included everything from "individualistic" to "risk-seeking" to "accepting of authority" - the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their "least favorite" students. As the researchers note, "Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity."

Sext: Next time a loved one threatens suicide, try the piss-off gambit, which recently saved a live in Sweden. Come to think of it, this is the sort of thing that works only in Sweden (Mail Online; via The Awl)

But the response of the clergyman to his woes made him angry rather than depressed and he decided to live on.

This week he told a local newspaper in Kalmar; 'It's not acceptable for a priest to fall asleep in the middle of a call; this should not happen when you call up in search of help.

'I felt bad and wanted to kill myself, but I pulled myself together and made the call. I am very disappointed.'

Nones: Two views of the situation in Thailand. Joshua Kurlantzick (LRB) is not only less optimistic than Philip Bowring (IHT), but he has a significantly different take on the economy. Mr Kurlantzick:

Most important, the assumption has collapsed that the Bangkok elites who have run the country, working through the monarchy, army and big business, have kept Thailand on the right path, even if they weren’t exactly sympathetic to real democracy. After all, these ‘good men’ who ran Thailand for years produced, in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, one of the hottest economies in the world. If the current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is now censoring the local news media and using an emergency decree to try to stop the protests, was delivering strong and equitable economic growth, he might still have a chance to defuse the demonstrations.

Mr Bowring:

Enough Thais have been shocked by the score of recent deaths that compromise will most likely win out in a society where politics is more opportunistic than ideological. The Thai economy is built more on small farms and businesses rather than great estates or industrial combines. But compromise will have to recognize the rising expectations of low-income groups, not only for more equitable income distribution, but also for greater political representation.

Expectations have been fed by Thaksin’s rhetoric and by Thailand’s lively media. Economic fundamentals too now favor the poor. After three decades of low birth rates, Thailand has little growth in its workforce, so the bargaining power of lower-income groups is increasing. Bangkok’s middle class now has to rely on maids from Myanmar to cook and clean. Income distribution is actually no worse than the average in developing Asia — and better than in neighboring countries like Malaysia and China. Moreover, the Thai economy has been growing steadily. But in Thailand’s open and homogenous society expectations have been growing faster. They must now be satisfied.

Vespers: Terry Teachout ties up a bouquet of books that he would not care to re-read (no matter how much they affected him when he was a student) with a glance at the kind of book that he doesn't read now. (About Last Night)

On the other hand, I've never been one to bother with contemporary commercial fiction, no doubt because I find it all but impossible to read a book that isn't stylishly written. To be specific, I've yet to read a single word by any of the novelists whose works appear on the latest New York Times list of paperback mass-market fiction best sellers (except for John Grisham, whose The Firm I read in a weak moment a number of years ago). This incapacity has been known to work to my disadvantage--it's the reason why I've never been able to get anywhere with Theodore Dreiser, or with the vast majority of academic biographies--but I'm mostly grateful for it.

Compline: At DoubleX, K J Dell'Antonia writes movingly about how close she came to following the example of Torry Hansen, and sending her little girl back to China. (via The Morning News)

The stories adoption agencies include in their material, the books, the blogs—even the very signatures of the parents on adoption forums ("mom to DD Mei Mei, joyfully home since 2007") all speak of an experience that's supposed to be wonderful. Your child is "home," his or her orphaned life has ended, your respective travels are over, and you have been united into one big forever-family. Even the politically correct terminology surrounding adoption insists that once it's legal, it's a done deal—your child "was" adopted (not "is"), and now you are its mother, amen. We do not want adoption to be a process; we want it to be a destination—and that makes us even angrier when it doesn't work out that way. Torry Hansen betrayed her son, and she betrayed our belief system. We were willing to accept him as her son, and she wasn't, which makes her the villain.

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