Category Archives: Rant

The root of the credit reporting agency problem

Equifax failed to install a security patch after it had been out for two months and got hacked, then failed to notice the hack for two months, then failed to notify the public about the hack for two months. This is obviously one of those WTF moments.

NPR has some tips on what to do to protect your credit: “After Equifax Hack, Consumers Are On Their Own. Here Are 6 Tips To Protect Your Data”

But the root of the problem is this: your Social Security number is used as both an identifier and as a means of authentication. Here’s an analogy: imagine a world where your email address was often both your username and your password. Maybe for some places it’s your username, and other places it’s your password. Stupid, right?

Like it or not, the credit reporting agencies are protected by the First Amendment. So you can’t wipe them out of existence. They also provide a pretty valuable service by providing lenders with a history of your ability to pay your bills so that you can get access to money you haven’t saved.

However, Congress could put in place restrictions on when and how the credit reporting agencies can share this data. This “free speech zone” for credit history could require that the agencies first establish a means of authentication so that only authorized entities could access your credit history. In other words, let’s assume that your Social Security number is out there in public as your username. And the credit reporting agencies need to establish some kind of password with you that you will then use on a case by case basis to unlock your history for a potential lender, employer, or landlord. It’s like when you agree to share your Facebook profile with some iPhone game to unlock some virtual currency. You’re in control of the transaction, your data is secure, and the only thing changing hands is permission to access the information.

Image CC BY Juho Metsävuori

Half of all marriages end in divorce

Or do they?

Nationwide, about half of all marriages end in divorce.

via Movement under way in California to ban divorce – Yahoo! News.

I’m really sick of hearing this “fact” being passed around. Fortunately the AP article cited a source for this data so that I can attack the reporter’s stupidity:

* Number of marriages: 2,162,000

* Marriage rate: 7.1 per 1,000 total population

* Divorce rate: 3.5 per 1,000 population (44 reporting States and D.C.)

Source: Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2008, table A

via FASTSTATS – Marriage and Divorce.

So, let’s see… 3.5 divided by 7.1 gets you 49%! Half of all marriages end in divorce.

Let’s try that with some other numbers:

2.4 divided by 4.3 gets you 56%! Over half of all births end in death.

Of course, the reality is that 100% of all births end in death, and there’s no simple statistic you could calculate for divorce.

Here are some descriptive statistics that you could try to get:

  • For all marriages that occurred in 1980, what percentage were still intact, ended in death, or ended in divorce in 2005?
  • For all people who died in 2000, what percentage were ever married and what percentage were ever divorced?
  • For all divorces that occurred in 1995, what were the mean and decile number of months/years the marriages lasted?

But what does any of this mean for your marriage? Probably nothing.

Pay as you go

Pretty soon you’ll be able to pay a toll and drive in the carpool lanes by yourself.

Metro Board Approves Toll Rates for Freeway Expresslanes as Part of Congestion Reduction Demonstration Project

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) Board of Directors today approved toll rates to be used on portions of the I-10/I-110 ExpressLanes following a series of public hearings that gathered public input on the tolling pricing proposal to be implemented as part of the agency’s Congestion Reduction Demonstration Project (ExpressLanes) that will debut late next year.

The new adopted toll rates will range from 25 cents to $1.40 a mile for solo drivers using the ExpressLanes. Tolls will go into effect with the opening of the ExpressLanes in December 2010.  Staff estimates that the average trip on the I-10 ExpressLanes will be nine miles with an average toll of $6 depending on demand and the average trip on the I-110 ExpressLanes is five miles for an average toll of $5.

The big question is… how is this supposed to reduce congestion?

Freeways are congested because they are free. No individual has any incentive to change their behavior, their location, or their job when you can theoretically zip along a 4-5 lane interstate at 60mph. Of course, the reality is that when enough people try to do this, the system comes to a congested halt.

If the goal is to reduce congestion, charge tolls for every lane, not just the carpool lanes. Base the charges on time of day (free between 9pm and 5am, $.50/mile between 7am-10am, $.70/mile between 4pm-7pm, etc.) and build in rate increases to adjust to inflation and changes in congestion patterns.

Charging drivers money instead of time for using the freeway will immediately change their behavior. They’ll combine/postpone/eliminate trips, move the location of their jobs or homes, or change their mode of transportation to foot/bicycle/transit/carpool. As long as the tolls adjust in response to average speeds on the tollway, we can ensure that it works efficiently and at optimal capacity.

With all the revenue generated from the new tolls, we can invest in both maintaining the highways and building high capacity transit alternatives. Soon enough, we’ll have a multi-modal system that offers equally compelling choices.

Short-term memory

One day, perhaps in the near future, gay people will have the rights and responsibilities that come along with marriage. They’ll be recognized by society as committed couples just as straight people are, heart-broken widows and widowers will have inheritance rights over their homophobic in-laws, and gay celebrities will fight their divorce and custody battles in the pages of the tabloids and the courts.

It won’t take too long for society to forget that we voted in favor of ballot initiatives like Proposition 8; there won’t be any collective sense of shame because we are not only shameless, but brazen in our shamelessness. Jim Crow? That’s old news. Ditto Executive Order 9066, which put over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps, because they were trusted less than Americans of Italian or German descent. Women’s Suffrage and Alien Land Law? That’s really old shit. The Trail of Tears, Chinese Exclusion Act, and slavery? What century are you living in?

It’s really unfortunate. We keep patting ourselves on the back about how we are the most-free, the most-tolerant, the hands-down pinnacle of human civilization–which in many ways we are–but we forget about the decades and centuries of struggle and death that got us where we are, we like to think that every generation gets a fresh-start without the baggage of the previous generation, and we don’t recognize the disconnect between what we say we are and what we actually do.

It’s easy when you’re a straight, married man with some education and a decent job to file this away under “Abstract thing that I’ll voice an opinion about in polite conversation but doesn’t affect me” (along with single mothers, homelessness, and at-risk kids). But maybe when your life’s biggest problems are whether you could have saved more money buying from or whether you want to buy a BMW or lease a Porsche you should take advantage of that human gift of looking outside yourself and fucking do it.