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Stolen Backpack Leads To $52,310 Surprise Medical Bill

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Sadly, it’s not uncommon for people to face sudden, unexpected and expensive medical bills. It’s also becoming increasingly normal to find out that your identity has been stolen. These two worlds collide in the story of a California man who recently found out he was being charged gobs of money by a hospital for a medical procedure someone had performed using his identity.

The Daly City, CA, Police Department recently asked folks in the San Francisco Bay Area for help identifying a man who stole another man’s identity and used it to run up more than $52,000 in medical bills at a local hospital.

The suspect didn’t hijack the victim’s identity by hacking into some bank network or buying his information on the black market. He simply stole the guy’s backpack.


It Started With A Backpack

Authorities tell SFGate that the incident began when a Daly City man’s backpack — which contained his credit cards, passport, and other personal items — was stolen from his parked car in San Francisco.

While the man set up a fraud alert with Equifax and received notice of some fraudulent activity, he thought the issue was over.

That is until he recently received a call from Seton Medical Center’s billing department, wanting to know if the man needed assistance in paying his $52,310 bill.

What bill? The man said he didn’t know what the rep was talking about, as he hadn’t been to the hospital and hadn’t received any kind of emergency room procedure. It’s unclear what procedure the thief received.

Looking For The Thief

Daly City Police Sgt. Ron Harrison tells SFGate that the case of identity theft wasn’t something the department is used to seeing.

“Usually with identity theft you see people fill a bunch of vehicles with gas, buy goods, electronics,” he said.

While police haven’t tracked down or identified the identity thief, they do note that the victim won’t be responsible for paying the hospital bill.

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45 days ago
Northern Virginia
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You need to know something

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I'm happy to see that Google Translate is still turning (many types of) meaningless character sequences into spoken-word poetry. Repetitions of single hiragana characters are an especially reliable source — here's "You need to know something":

And "I feel a strange feeling":

And "Stay free to leave":

Repeated combinations also often work — here's repetitions of "Ga mama" rendered as "Let it go / As it is":

These works also often reveal some interesting things about the letter-to-sound part of Google's current text-to-speech algorithms, e.g. the performance of that last one:

And as usual, if you ask for it again, you get a performance that sounds like the system has had a drink or five:

Here are the inputs in case you want to try them:








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46 days ago
Can I use these lyrics or will I be sued into the stone age?
47 days ago
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
47 days ago
Northern Virginia
47 days ago
Washington, DC
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The Crime Wave that Gave Anarchists a Bad Name

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As someone who has spent a lot of time around self-described anarchists, I often find it hard to understand how some people see them. There’s variation as within every group and ideology, but the anarchists I’ve met tend to distinguish themselves by being thoughtful and even loving. They do a lot of care work, professionally and otherwise. They’re more likely than most to refuse drugs and alcohol. And wherever people circle their A’s, vegetarianism is the norm. Of the dozens or maybe hundreds that I’ve met, I’ve never known one who took risks with other people’s safety just for the sake of it. And yet, when folks hear the term “anarchist” they think Natural Born Killers. They are wrong, but the picture isn’t baseless.

Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree That Gripped Belle Epoque Paris by John MerrimanNation Books, 336 pp., $28.00

In his book Ballad of The Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree That Gripped Belle Epoque Paris, historian John Merriman dives into a vortex of violence that broke out in Paris in the early twentieth century when a network of anarcho-individualists initiated their own mini crime wave. Over a century later, these events still make it hard to imagine anarchism as an overwhelmingly peaceful practice. Merriman’s lens is young anarchist Victor Kibaltchiche (later and more popularly known as Victor Serge), who finds himself an accomplice in armed robbery and murder. Despite the branding, Ballad is perhaps best described as a book-length explanation of how the famous prisoner Serge came to serve his first sentence: anarchism.

Ballad takes place in and around 1911, 40 years after the suppression of the Paris Commune (the subject of Merriman’s previous book, Massacre). The rich won the battle, and they enjoyed the spoils. Paris of the time seemed belle in retrospect compared to the decades that would follow, but it was deeply unequal, and the haves enjoyed their blurry paintings and stimulating salons at the poor’s expense. Motorcars drove by starving people—as they would continue to do into the indeterminate future—for the first time. The dramatic juxtaposition of wealth and progress with absolute deprivation yielded, in some, a moral crisis. If this was law, then what good was the law? Merriman’s centers around the tension between two kinds of anarchists. On one side are Kibaltchiche and his editorial and romantic partner Rirette Maîtrejean; on the other was The Bonnot Gang.

Kibaltchiche and Maîtrejean were proud anarchists—rejecting the law of the rich, agitating for revolution, and attempting to live in harmony and generosity with the world around them—but the “illegalists” made it impossible for any anarchists to appear benign. Illegalists saw and used lawbreaking as a means (to fund their activities) and as an end. While Kibaltchiche and Maîtrejean thought of the labor movement as a way forward, others (including Kibaltchiche’s boyhood friend and Gang member Raymond Callemin) liked bank robberies, counterfeiting, and shooting cops. As the modern urban police were coming into being (with their machine guns and squad cars) so were the modern urban criminals (with their repeating rifles and getaway cars). While the state attempted to elevate a new regime of law and order, illegalists sought to pull it back down to earth. Every spectacular heist or shootout was a lesson for the public in the law’s impotence and absurdity.

“The Bonnot Gang” is a historical misnomer. Jules Bonnot was the one who killed Deputy Security Chief Louis Jouin and he had the most dramatic shootout death, but Merriman’s research suggests if there was a leader of their criminal band, it was probably Octave Garnier. Nor were they really a gang per se, so much as an ideologico-criminal milieu—a bunch of guys who read Nietzsche and Max Stirner and committed crimes. Emboldened by the egoistic philosophy, they had no compunction about shooting and killing people if that was the fastest way to get what they wanted, and not just class enemies. Merriman doesn’t have much interest in moralizing about their violence; he plays up the theatricality of it all instead. No doubt other historians have been more blasé about larger body counts, but the author’s excitement and levity makes the whole project a bit unseemly. Murdering people who just happen to be in the way—as the Gang did—is made only slightly more charming with an olde tyme color palette.

The illegalists’ crimes attracted the sympathy of some communist anarchists—Kibaltchiche would become a Bolshevik, once that presented itself as an option—who were not opposed in principle to stealing or breaking laws. Despite the threats of police infiltration, anarchist communities tend to be welcoming to outsiders, especially compared to the residents of bourgeois neighborhoods. When the final bill came due for the illegalists’ Paris crime spree, the authorities didn’t differentiate between factions. Asked by the authorities if they had sheltered criminals, members of the anarchist milieu invoked one of their many values: Anarchists gave shelter without asking questions, including for names. In Merriman’s telling, this was more or less true depending on the situation. Because though the communists fought with the illegalists in leftist publications and in person, they refused to denounce them to the police, the courts, or the bourgeois press.

December 21, 1911: The Bonnot Gang attacks a bank in Chantilly.Wikimedia Commons

In their own papers, anarchist communists varied in their response to illegalist crimes. After an armed and reckless bank robbery (during the getaway Callemin shot himself in the arm), Le Temps Nouveaux called the acts “purely and simply bourgeois,” reflecting the “principles of egotistical individualism”—not anarchist at all. Le Libertaire simply ignored it. But Kibaltchiche in L’Anarchie wrote that if the bandits were wolves, then he was “with the wolves, the wolves who are hunted, being starved out, and tracked, but who can bite back!” Kibaltchiche throughout his life was with the left wing of the left wing wherever he found himself, and he was more careful defining his differences with the illegalists than his sympathies, which were deep and affective.

When forced to choose by the courts between illeglists and the police, the banks, and their collaborators in the public, Kibaltchiche and Maîtrejean were clear and strong. Maîtrejean stood on her anarchist principles, denying that she was in practice the managing director of L’Anarchie, claiming to be just another comrade. The court found her testimony compelling, and she was acquitted as an accessory to the crimes. Kibaltchiche complained “You refuse to distinguish between L’Anarchie of Romainville and that of rue Fessart,” which probably makes as much sense to the uninformed reader as it did to the jury. He got five years, in part for refusing to testify against others. His illegalist co-defendants were sentenced to death.

The story of the Bonnot Gang, ultimately, isn’t good for much. By outgunning and outdriving the police the illegalists hurried the development of the modern security state, but that’s a chicken-and-egg situation at best. Kibaltchiche’s sentence coincided with much of World War I, and he was probably safer inside than out. Ballad is an action story that would fit in just fine on any number of cable networks, but as a historical event it lacks a certain weight. Merriman doesn’t draw many contemporary parallels, and the best he can come up with in terms of a lesson is that class divisions cause crime. Fair enough, but hardly revelatory. At the end of the day, historical action entertainment is the other side of the illegalist coin, where the violence is once again a means and an end.

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47 days ago
What use is history anyway?
Northern Virginia
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Must-Read: Above a Shiller CAPE of 25, we have essentially three observations as...

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Must-Read: Above a Shiller CAPE of 25, we have essentially three observations as to what happens next. Hence "we have little idea what is likely, and past performance is not a reliable guide to future results" is the only sound thing to say. As Jim Powell says: with two data points you have an estimate of the mean and an estimate of the standard error, for you think your two data points are at μ ± σ/2. And then he laughs:

Chandrasekhar Ramakrishnan: The DeLong-Shiller Redux: "2014, Robert Shiller and Brad DeLong.... [Shiller] claims if the value of this [CAPE] ratio is above 25, a major market drop is probably brewing...

...[DeLong] writes “we find that we cannot calculate a ten-year return for the 2007 CAPE peak of 27.54 — we still have three years to go.” Those three years have in the meantime transpired, and we now have the data necessary to calculate the ten-year return for May 2007, when the aforementioned peak occurred. This seems like a good time to revisit the DeLong-Shiller argument....Earnings/price can... be estimated as 1/CAPE. He calls the EMH-expected-returns for a given value of CAPE “warranted returns”, and to visualize his framework, DeLong constructs the following plot, which I’ve updated to include the latest data. This plot shows CAPE vs. 10-year returns and includes a curve to indicate the warranted returns. Reflecting on the fit of the curve, DeLong remarks, “Given the naiveté of the framework, that turns out to be... a remarkably good guide to the central tendency of the distribution of future ten-year returns conditional on the CAPE.” And I would have to agree....

The DeLong Shiller Redux Chandrasekhar Ramakrishnan Medium

Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. Nonetheless, we can see what past performance at today’s CAPE levels would yield. We have earnings data up to the end of Q2 2017 and using that, we can compute CAPE and try the following impossibly naïve model: for a current CAPE value (for which we do not yet have returns data), take the 19 closest values in the past and average these to get a prediction. This is of course not how machine learning should be done...

The DeLong Shiller Redux Chandrasekhar Ramakrishnan Medium

I should point out that my "warranted" returns are for somebody reinvesting their portfolio and holding to ∞, thus eliminating valuation-ratio risk and valuation-ratio mean reversion from the problem. They also assume that reinvested earnings are neither dissipated in corporate empire building nor able to earn supermarket returns via superior information.

When CAPE is high and when your horizon is less than ∞, you should incorporate some estimate of valuation-ratio mean reversion—and that is what Ramakrishnan does...

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48 days ago
Northern Virginia
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Is Marriage for White People? Incarceration and the Racial Marriage Divide

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By Elizabeth Caucutt, Nezih Guner and Christopher Rauh


The differences between black and white households and family structure have been a concern for policy makers for a long time. The last few decades, however, have witnessed an unprecedented retreat from marriage among black individuals. In 1970, about 89% of black women between ages 25 and 54 were ever married, in contrast to only 51% today. Wilson (1987) suggests that the lack of marriageable black men due to incarceration and unemployment is behind this decline. In this paper, we take a fresh look at the Wilson Hypothesis. We argue that the current incarceration policies and labor market prospects make black men much riskier spouses than white men. They are not only more likely to be, but also to become, unemployed or incarcerated than their white counterparts. We develop an equilibrium search model of marriage, divorce and labor supply that takes into account the transitions between employment, unemployment and prison for individuals by race, education, and gender. We calibrate this model to be consistent with key statistics for the US economy. We then investigate how much of the racial divide in marriage is due to differences in the riskiness of potential spouses, heterogeneity in the education distribution, and heterogeneity in wages. We find that differences in incarceration and employment dynamics between black and white men can account for about 76% of the existing black-white marriage gap in the data. We also study how “The War on Drugs” in the US might have affected the structure of black families, and find that it can account for between 13% to 41% of the racial marriage gap.

I chose to highlight this paper because it addresses an important question and it shows how the DSGE methodology allows to study scenarios that you cannot run in real life. This paper shows that if incarceration policies were different, there would be quite different outcomes on the labor and marriage markets, and many people would be living in a very different world.

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54 days ago
There's some false precision and at times simplistic labeling of data here, but the topic is important, as is some attempt to get a sense of quantitative importance of different channels for causing family structure.
Northern Virginia
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Is Piketty’s Data Reliable?

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When Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century first appeared many economists demurred on the theory but heaped praise on the empirical work. “Even if none of Piketty’s theories stands up,” Larry Summers argued, his “deeply grounded” and “painstaking empirical research” was “a Nobel Prize-worthy contribution”.

Theory is easier to evaluate than empirical work, however, and Phillip Magness and Robert Murphy were among the few authors to actually take a close look at Piketty’s data and they came to a different conclusion:

We find evidence of pervasive errors of historical fact, opaque methodological choices, and the cherry-picking of sources to construct favorable patterns from ambiguous data.

Magness and Murphy, however, could be dismissed as economic history outsiders with an ax to grind. Moreover, their paper was published in an obscure libertarian-oriented journal. (Chris Giles and Ferdinando Giugliano writing in the FT also pointed to errors but they could be dismissed as journalists.) The Magness and Murphy conclusions, however, have now been verified (and then some) by a respected figure in economic history, Richard Sutch.

I have never read an abstract quite like the one to Sutch’s paper, The One-Percent across Two Centuries: A Replication of Thomas Piketty’s Data on the Distribution of Wealth for the United States (earlier wp version):

This exercise reproduces and assesses the historical time series on the top shares of the wealth distribution for the United States presented by Thomas Piketty in Capital in
the Twenty-First Century….Here I examine Piketty’s US data for the period 1810 to 2010 for the top 10 percent and the top 1 percent of the wealth distribution. I conclude that Piketty’s data for the wealth share of the top 10 percent for the period 1870 to 1970 are unreliable.
The values he reported are manufactured from the observations for the top 1 percent inflated by a constant 36 percentage points. Piketty’s data for the top 1 percent of the distribution for the nineteenth century (1810–1910) are also unreliable. They are based
on a single mid-century observation that provides no guidance about the antebellum trend and only tenuous information about the trend in inequality during the Gilded Age. The values Piketty reported for the twentieth century (1910–2010) are based on more
solid ground, but have the disadvantage of muting the marked rise of inequality during the Roaring Twenties and the decline associated with the Great Depression. This article offers an alternative picture of the trend in inequality based on newly available data and a reanalysis of the 1870 Census of Wealth. This article does not question Piketty’s integrity.

You know it’s bad when a disclaimer like that is necessary. In the body, Sutch is even stronger. He concludes:

Very little of value can be salvaged from Piketty’s treatment of data from the nineteenth century. The user is provided with no reliable information on the antebellum trends in the wealth share and is even left uncertain about the trend for the top 10 percent during
the Gilded Age (1870–1916). This is noteworthy because Piketty spends the bulk of his attention devoted to America discussing the nineteenth-century trends (Piketty 2014: 347–50).

The heavily manipulated twentieth-century data for the top 1 percent share, the lack of empirical support for the top 10 percent share, the lack of clarity about the procedures used to harmonize and average the data, the insufficient documentation, and the spreadsheet errors are more than annoying. Together they create a misleading picture of the dynamics of wealth inequality. They obliterate the intradecade movements essential to an understanding of the impact of political and financial-market shocks on inequality. Piketty’s estimates offer no help to those who wish to understand the impact of inequality on “the way economic, social, and political actors view what is just and what is not” (Piketty 2014: 20).

One of the reasons Piketty’s book received such acclaim is that it fed into concerns about rising inequality and it’s important to note that Sutch is not claiming that inequality hasn’t risen. Indeed, in some cases, Sutch argues that it has risen more than Piketty claims. Sutch is rather a journeyman of economic history upset not about Piketty’s conclusions but about the methods Piketty used to reach those conclusions.

The post Is Piketty’s Data Reliable? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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54 days ago
Not an unusual situation...
Northern Virginia
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