Blog Ipsa Loquitur

The Commissioner of the NYPD doesn’t have a crime problem, but he does have a correlation problem.

Last year, more than 630,000 people were stopped, mostly black and Hispanic men. About half are frisked, and only about 10 percent are arrested. In the past decade, the city has seen the lowest number of murders since record-keeping began in 1966. In 1990, murders hit an all-time high of 2,245. In 2011, there were 515.

“We must be doing something right,” [Commissioner Kelly] said. “It’s not that people are getting nicer. Human nature hasn’t changed that much.”

The decline of murders in New York City also tracks the rise in popularity of downloadable MP3s. Clearly, digital music is doing something right. I mean, It’s not that people are getting nicer. Except for the part where they are. Ooo! In a turn for the meta, maybe correlating stop-and-frisks with a decline the murder rate is itself to credit for the decline in murder rates. Or maybe it’s correlating the correlation.

Published on under The News

Recently, the Associated Press reported that a New Zealand woman died as a result of a Coke habit. Hearing reports of someone dying because of coke is nothing new, but this time we aren’t talking about the powdery white stuff. Rather, this time a woman has died after regularly consuming 2 gallons of Coca-Cola per day.

After the 30-year old mother of eight died of a heart attack in February 2010, an inquest was held to investigate the unusual death. According to the AP, pathologist Dr. Dan Mornin testified that Harris most likely suffered from hypokalemia caused by the excessive consumption of Coke (between 2.1 and 2.6 gallons daily) and overall poor nutrition. Further, Dr. Mornin indicated that toxic levels of caffeine may have contributed to her death. That, and the fact that she ate little and smoked 30 cigarettes per day.

via [Unusual Coke Habit Leads to Woman’s Death Abnormal Use](

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

If you thought the federal income tax code was convoluted, well, you’re definitely not wrong. In fact, convoluted might be understating the problem. But the states’ tax codes are pretty lousy with hilarity, too. This story from The Atlantic starts out with a few tax breaks that are worth checking out. Apparently, in Alabama, you can receive a $1,000 deduction for building an atomic fallout shelter. Seriously? Who does that incentivize? What kind of crazy survivalist is crazy enough to build a doomsday bunker, but not crazy enough to do it unless he/she gets a small tax break?

Please recall, Dear Reader, the Lee Storey hobby loss kerfuffle, in which I briefly mentioned deductions, why they exist, and how they work. For now, it’s enough to know that deductions lower the amount of income tax a person or business pays, which is handy and desirable, and folks do all sorts of things to get deductions.

Florida apparently offers a deduction for agricultural land users, which shouldn’t really be surprising. Farm subsidies take many forms, and a tax break is just as good as any other, right? Well, sometimes. In this case, whether it’s a subsidy or a tax break is kind of moot. If you run a farm, you get a nice tax break to help out, because in America, we take care of farmers. Like, a lot. Lots of other places do, too.

Now, the silly title for this blog post comes from how you get this deduction. You can apparently designate your land as “agricultural use” by simply letting a cow graze on it. Yep. That’s it. Rent a cow, let it nibble on your lawn, and poof. Instant farmland with instant tax break. And it’s not just retirees from the Northeast that are raking in the savings:

Other beneficiaries of the law have included Walt Disney World ($1.5 million in savings), as well as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson ($43,000 in savings), who keeps about six cows on 55 acres of land near the Indian River, courtesy of a cattle ranching operation that leases the property for free. Like Nelson, some developers simply offer their land to ranchers for no charge. Others, as the Herald noted, actually pay the ranchers – hence the loophole’s nickname, “rent-a-cow.”

The total cost of these abuses isn’t clear, but there are hints that it may be significant. According to a 2006 Associated Press article, the law costs Florida $950 million a year total. Some of the breaks go to legitimate commercial farms. But according to the Herald’s 2005 investigation, more than two-thirds of the loophole’s top 60 beneficiaries in South Florida weren’t farmers.

The law actually does stipulate that “property owners are required to use their land for ‘bona fide’ agricultural purposes” – if your local court has ruled that renting a cow for a single day is a bona fide agricultural purpose, then get yourself down to your local cattle renting emporium. Your local judge just did you a favor by torturing the meaning of the term that means “good faith” and replacing it with “good deal.” Though to be fair, not all judges can be sophisticated jurists like yours truly, the owner of numerous domain names with legal puns in them, like and Pity, that.

Published on under The News

Mother Jones says “Study: All-White Juries More Likely To Convict Black Defendants” – citing researchers from Duke University:

The bad news is that, according to the study, which looked at 700 cases between 2000 and 2010, all-white juries are significantly more likely to convict black defendants than white ones. The good news is that a single black juror can alter that dynamic.

In cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81 percent of the time, and whites were convicted 66 percent of the time. The estimated difference in conviction rates rises to 16 percent when the authors controlled for the age and gender of the jury and the year and county in which the trial took place. When the jury pool included at least one black person, the conviction rates were nearly identical: 71 percent for black defendants, 73 percent for whites.

Remember, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but that is some pretty awful correlation. Read the full study at Duke’s web site.

Published on under The News

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge, on the just-filed ebook price-fixing case against Apple and the publishers:

The government alleges that the publishing industry openly colluded to raise ebook prices and end Amazon’s dominance, and that Apple was a willing participant in the scheme. What’s more, the alleged conspiracy sounds like it was actually quite a conspiracy, with secret CEO meetings in private New York dining rooms and promises made to bosses up and down the chain. It’s all quite juicy, so let’s dig in.

Although Apple is listed as the first defendant, the bulk of the case is really about the publishers involved: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster. According to the government, these publishers greatly feared Amazon’s $9.99 Kindle book prices, which they called “wretched,” and worked for years on a scheme to raise prices and limit competition. They also feared that consumers would get used to paying $9.99 for bestsellers and ultimately decrease publishing profits.

And this breakdown goes on. As always, Patel has the most concise and cogent summary of the key legal issues at play. It really sounds like slimy business. The publishers felt like Amazon had too much leverage in the retail book market, and as such, they agreed to set prices with the new kid in the ebook market (Apple). Apple, for its part, was eager to get a foothold in a growing market, and was happy to not only acquiesce, but actively secure publishers for the price-fixing cartel.

Note that three of the seven publishers have already settled, and the lawsuit was only filed yesterday. So there are at least a few folks who’re pretty sure the complaint is accurate.

Read the excellent summary at The Verge.

Published on under The Digital Age

Bump is a smartphone app that transfers a user’s contact information from one phone to another by fist-bumping. Over the years, Bump has added things like photo sharing to their program, and today they’ve let me do something I’ve always wanted.

Now I can fist-bump my computer to upload photos. I’m not even going to use it, I just love how inventive it is.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant