Conversations at Facebook

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Summer 2011. 4:40 PM.  Sheryl Sandberg’s open office at Facebook, just inches away from Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck is sitting on a blue yoga ball, staring into his MacBook Air with a furrowed brow.

Sheryl’s translucent glass door is closed, and there are several men in suits and women, around her desk.  They also all sit on blue yoga balls. Sheryl sits in an Aeron chair. Her nails are perfectly manicured and she wears patent leather heels.

… 

Like kryptonite was for Superman, the metric system is my greatest weakness

So, Mr. B and I are going on a vacation.  Sometime soon. Maybe we’re even on vacation as we speak.  But maybe we’re at our house and if you try to rob it I’ll karate-kick you. Surprise!

We are or will be, or were in Europe. You guys know by now that I am a connoisseur of culture and love everything international I’ve done everything from Indian Classical Dance to the Saudi Arabian embassy to the Cochin Jews to West Philly. I got like 5 shots in preparation to go to India, and I have eaten squid. I also admire  Science.

But.

I have realized I am a very proud ignorant American.

Why?

Because this makes absolutely no sense to me:

I physically cannot convert metric to American in my mind.  Thanks to the American school system, I’ve encountered my own personal Waterloo.

I keep imagining these scenarios where Mr. B is taken hostage and to rescue him I have to be able to understand Metric details.  So some Eurotrash guy with a Liam  Neeson accent will call me and will be like, “We have your husband, V.  You can give us the ransom money. Meet us on a day outside of Bruges when the temperature is 10 degrees Celsius, 500 meters away from the train station.  Oh, and you’re not allowed to use Google.” And they’ll hang up.

Let’s see, minus10 degrees Celsius.  If you take the 7, divide by two, multiply by 45, OHMYGOD. There is no way I, as an American (let’s conveniently ignore the fact that I’m not technically one), can be expected to understand this system.  Bye, Mr. B.  So sorry. So stupid.

The American measurement system represents freedom.  It represents apple pie.  It represents 2-ply toilet paper.  It represents a country that pisses off the rest of the free world and doesn’t care about any consequences.  This is the America I know and love.

It represents that moment when Mr. B and I landed on a late flight from Israel and, starving, we walked into a Wendy’s.  It was the most disgusting Wendy’s of my life.  The greasiest fries.  The palest chicken nuggets.  But as we were greedily scarfing down the liquid pools of fat and dousing them in honey mustard, I kid you not, the Star-Spangled Banner started playing right there in that Wendy’s at 12 o’clock in the morning, I cried. Because, God Bless America. God Bless Wendy’s. And God Bless whoever thought up measurement independence from Europe.

I am a proud member of a nation of 300 million standard morons.  (130.5 million morons metric)

 

P.S. Friday Links 

1.  Evernote: if you don’t already have it, you should.  (Can you spot the Jews and the Russians in the story?)

2.  Culture Beat jamz

 

3.  The Slavic section in the New York Public Library

4.  Don’t have sex with William Faulkner (100% SFW)

Anna Schwartz Schools Bernanke

Cross-posted on Swifteconomics.

Do you have a very sassy New York-born Jewish grandma?  Chances are, she is exactly like Anna Schwartz.  Except in addition to being sassy, Anna Schwartz is also a noted and very knowledgeable American economist, collaborating with Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman on their seminal work about the Great Depression, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867 – 1960.   The book is very detailed and criticizes government intervention during the Great Depression and its aftermath.   You can  read parts of it as a Google Book here.  This book changed the way many people thought about monetary policy and shifted the viewpoint that looking at money activity was not important to how the economy worked.

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Please make me some matzah ball soup. Then school the Fed.

(Source: The Wall Street Journal)

Anna Schwartz is often not mentioned in lieu of Milton Friedman, but she contributed in equal parts to the research they conducted together.  You can see another piece they wrote, specifically focusing on the Great Depression, here. That was in 1963.  Schwartz, at 93,  is still working full-time at the National Bureau of Economic Research where she started her career in 1941.  Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal recently interviewed her on her thoughts about the Fed’s handling of the current economic crisis.

She brings up some great points, on the transparency of the Fed:

The market is just bewildered. Bernanke came into office insisting that the Fed would be much more transparent than it had been in the past. But I don’t believe that it’s lived up to that. If the market understood what the Fed was planning in each case, and could see a design, then I think the market would have reacted much more positively.

I remember when we went to the Federal Reserve as part of a field trip with my university Economics Club (where I was the Vice President.  Don’t laugh at me,) and I got to sit in Greenspan’s chair as one of the Federal Reserve governors told us about the Reserve’s plans to become more transparent, primarily by releasing the minutes of their meetings to the public, earlier.  I remember then I was impressed, and defended the Fed’s plans toward transparency all the way to the end.  But, like Schwartz tells it, this isn’t happening.

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Ballin' hard in Greenspan's chair

As many economists know, transparency is key to free market functionality, and essentially, the big problem that brought down credit default swaps: no one knew what was going on with them, hence, they couldn’t be valued correctly.

She also is not happy at all with what Bernanke is doing:

Ryssdal: It sounds like you’re frustrated with Chairman Bernanke and the White House, that they maybe haven’t learned the lessons of history that you and Milton Friedman wrote about.

SCHWARTZ: Well, I think that that’s a fair statement. Considering Bernanke’s background, you would have expected a much more, should I say a tidy kind of performance by the Federal Reserve. Seemed to be something that was ad hoc and introduced without considering all the implications.

It’s one thing when TV pundits that don’t know much about economic policy criticize or praise government actions to reverse the recession.  It’s another when you are schooled by someone who could be your grandma, if your grandma had a Ph.D. in economics and was one of the foremost monetary policy analysts in the world.

Let’s legalize prostitution and have a party!

I’ve been having this conversation with several people over the past week or so.  That’s why it’s important to get this off my chest (no pun intended.)  Prostitution should be legalized.

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There are several reasons I take this position (again, no pun-oh, never mind.)  Most of them can be found here,along with a link to the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver.  Oh, Canadians.

Here’s a main line from the legalization of prostitution in Sweden:

According to this Web site for the Women’s Justice Center, Sweden’s way of doing things is a big success. “In the capital city of Stockholm the number of women in street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of johns has been reduced by 80%.” Trafficking is reportedly down to 200 to 400 girls and women a year, compared with 15,000 to 17,000 in nearby Finland. Max Waltman, a doctoral candidate in Stockholm who is studying the country’s prostitution laws, says that those stats hold up. He also said the police are actually going after the johns as ordered: In 2006, more than 150 were convicted and fined. (That might not sound like many, but then Sweden has a population of only 9 million.)

Basically, criminalizing an activity only makes it go underground.  Case in point: drugs.  Places where prostitution is legal, such as the Netherlands, even have laws to help with health care for prostitutes. Let’s waste our time on more salient issues, like, oh, I don’t know, how horrible Israel’s Eurovision entry is.

Finally, this doesn’t have to do with pro-legalization or not, but here is the most thorough economic study of prostitution I have seen to date. The poor grad students who compiled the sample data.

Combining transaction-level data on street prostitutes with ethnographic observation and
official police force data, we analyze the economics of prostitution in Chicago.
Prostitution, because it is a market, is much more geographically concentrated than other
criminal activity.  Street prostitutes earn roughly $25-$30 per hour, roughly four times
their hourly wage in other activities, but this higher wage represents relatively meager
compensation for the significant risk they bear.