The Laboratorium
February 2009

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Blackstone, IV, xii, 154:

OWLING, ſo called from it’s being uſually carried on in the night, which is the offence of tranſporting wool or ſheep out of this kingdom, to the detriment of it’s ſtaple manufacture.

The IT Crowd: Friendface

“Each Friendface page is like a petri dish filled with friendship germs.” Or, as I like to call it, a privacy virus.

Muzak Files for Bankruptcy

That sound you hear is the world’s tiniest tinniest violin.

I had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance on FOX and Friends this morning, discussing Google Power Meter with Jeff Jarvis. Immediately before us? An Abraham Lincoln imitator.

Deep Thought

Maybe all these troubled assets just need a good therapist.

The Onion: Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of S— That Doesn’t F—ing Work

We’re about to ship our Blu-Ray player back to Sony for repairs for the second time. Typical Sony fundamental design defect or typical Sony shoddy quality control?

Shorter New York Times Style Section

Allen Salkin, You Try to Live on 500K in This Town:

The bankers who screwed up their companies by leveraging to the hilt and assuming the good times would never end also screwed up their personal finances by leveraging to the hilt and assuming the good times would never end.

Note the Role of the Social Network Site

From Doe v. California Lutheran High School Assn., E0444811 (Ct. App. Cal. 4th App. Dist., Jan. 26, 2009):

In early September 2005, a student at the School reported to a teacher that one unnamed female student had said that she loved another unnamed female student. The reporting student added that, if the teacher looked at these female students’ MySpace pages, he would be able to find out who they were and how they felt about each other.

The teacher then reviewed the MySpace pages of all female students on the class roster, including plaintiffs’ MySpace pages. Mary Roe went by the screen name, “Scandalous love!” Jane Doe went by the screen name, “Truely [sic] in [love, represented as a heart in source]. with You.” On their MySpace pages, plaintiffs referred to being in love with each other. In addition, Mary Roe’s MySpace page listed her sexual orientation as “bi.” Jane Doe’s listed hers as “not sure.”

Expulsions followed. There are some familiar themes here:

  • Doe and Roe misunderstood the privacy risks of their declarations of love.
  • MySpace’s search-by-school feature makes large-scale privacy violations much easier—but also facilitates social interaction and community formation.
  • Without the untrustworthy “friend” who tattled on them, Doe and Roe wouldn’t have been noticed by the school. (It’s also fascinating that the friend said enough to identify them but wasn’t willing to use their names.)

As for the holding that a private school that charges tuition is not a “business enterprise,” don’t get me started.

Scandal at Brandeis

You may have heard that Brandeis is selling off its art collection. That’s not the scandal.

Brandeis is facing a $79 million deficit over the next six years and has run through its reserve fund. That’s not the scandal.

Brandeis can’t turn to its big donors because many of them were heavily invested with Madoff. That’s not the scandal.

No, the scandal is that Brandeis has $550 million in its endowment that it can’t touch. Isn’t this what endowments are for, you may ask? For a rainy day?

But no, Massachusetts law prohibits the university from tapping its endowment. The 1972 Uniform Management of Institutional Funds Act, which Massachusetts has adopted allows spending only “net appreciation” of an endowment over the total of the donations it’s taken in. The endowment is down almost a quarter, wiping out any gains in value that Brandeis could draw upon. The 2006 revision of the Uniform Act drops the net-appreciation rule, with the explanation that it “created numerous problems.” But Massachusetts hasn’t switched to the 2006 version and apparently isn’t likely to.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has shut off Brandeis’s access to its own endowment and is looking into blocking the art sales, as well. Granted, Brandeis was guilty of some of the same financial overoptimism that afflicted so many else throughout the country over the last decade. But now it’s in truly dire straits, and to close its budget gap it would have to fire a third of its staff, close two-fifths of its buildings, or fire half its faculty. Under these circumstances, what’s the purpose of making the endowment principal sacrosanct?

Replace its imprudent president and board, perhaps, but let Brandeis spend its endowment!

Stock Charts in Songsmith

Biting political art from an unlikely source.