Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Fence or the Ambulance #

I heard the poem “The Fence or the Ambulance” some time ago in a sermon, and wanted to share it. Unfortunately, as is the way of the Internet, there are several different versions (e.g., this list) with differing titles, punctuation, and minor changes to wording. It’s typically attributed to Joseph Malins (1895).

The earliest version I found was from The Public, Volume XV (1912). Stanzas found in other sources I’ve marked with double square brackets.

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally
Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
And it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became brimful of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds or gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

[[
“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.
]]

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

[[
But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.
]]

[[
Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.
]]Joseph Malins, “The Fence or the Ambulance”, 1895

Perhaps the shorter version was edited in 1912 due to space restrictions, but I actually prefer its simplicity.

After several searches, I found the longer version (shown above) in The Best Loved Poems of the American People (1936) Hazel Felleman (Ed.), Doubleday, pp. 273–274. [Google Books link]

Utah and USBE Elections #

I came a little late to the news, but thanks to a little birdie, I was pleased to hear a federal judge in Utah invalidated the convoluted process candidates for State Board of Education were pruned prior to the general election, on unclear, but clearly ideological grounds.

Despite being a beneficiary of the process, I agree it was broken and rigged. For goodness sakes, since 2008 the process has eliminated four or five incumbents (who must have at one time been deemed qualified), including a lawyer (in favor of a candidate described in a court brief as “a janitor who can’t spell and wants to limit enrollment in public schools by deporting aliens”), former Board vice chair, a university dean, and members who either previously or subsequently served on the State Board of Regents (an appointed position). Plaintiffs removed from the ballot this election cycle are to be reinstated.

Super bonus points to plaintiff lawyers who included this gem in their reply brief:

Indeed, using these criteria, the Committee or Governor can pick any knucklehead to run for a seat on the USBE — and they can select that candidate because he’s a knucklehead, in order to broaden the variety of individuals who serve on the board, to diversify board membership so as to be more inclusive of knuckleheaded people who may be under-represented as a class of candidates, or for any other reason.page 11

Some have opined that the process should be replaced with partisan elections, and UtahPolicy.com has a poll on the subject. I’ve written about this before, and strongly believe partisan elections would be detrimental to education governance for a handful of reasons:

  1. Party platforms don’t map well to education policy positions.
  2. Consequently, party labels don’t, even marginally, inform voters on candidate’s (likely) educational policy positions, except, perhaps as they relate to charter schools.
  3. Party leadership would stack the ballots, putting greater power in few hands.
  4. Consequently, candidates would be more extreme. (Republicans would win in most districts; Republican candidates picked by convention are almost certainly more conservative than the voting public at large). Single-issue (read: less-effective) candidates would be more viable.
  5. As an additional consequence, candidates are more likely to respond to their base than the public at large.
  6. Partisan selection includes automatic delegates who might not reside in the candidates’ district, and consequently skew results.
  7. Partisan labels would interfere with members working together. (Have you seen Congress? Or even the state legislature?)
  8. PACs would likely have greater influence in elections, and their influence would likely be less transparent than would occur in a nonpartisan election.
  9. No one I’ve met with on a partisan board thinks it’s a good idea (and I spoke with several during my term).
  10. What is rarely mentioned—I neglected to mention it in my piece several years ago—is that partisan elections for State Board of Education are almost certainly a violation of the Utah Constitution. But a little thing like constitutionality has never really stopped the Legislature.

Link Roundup #

Insider Trading #

From Kottke (back in June), a link to a new study [pdf], and a summary from the NY Times.

The professors are so confident in their findings of pervasive insider trading that they determined statistically that the odds of the trading “arising out of chance” were “about three in a trillion.” (It’s easier, in other words, to hit the lottery.)Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Study Asserts Startling Numbers of Insider Trading Rogues”, The New York Times, 16 June 2014

Interestingly, other comments I found more recently suggest that the problem is both better (there is more enforcement than reported) and worse (other insider behaviors beyond simple call options are likely) than described in the NY Times article. Levine’s article responds to the NYT piece, but is much more in depth, as it’s written by someone very clearly comfortable with options trading.

… I mean, it’s almost too perfect. Everything you’d predict, if you were maximally cynical, the researchers found. Here are the astounding highlights:

    There is abnormal options volume in the 30 days preceding a substantial minority of merger announcements.
  • “The proportion of cases with abnormal volumes is relatively higher for call options (26%) than for put options (15%).”
  • There’s more abnormal trading in advance of cash acquisitions than stock ones, since cash deals usually result in bigger price jumps for the target.
  • “There is significantly higher abnormal trading volume (both in average levels and frequencies) in OTM call options compared to at-the-money (ATM) and in-the-money (ITM) calls.” That is: Use of out-of-the-money call options, the most obvious way to insider trade, the Forbidden Option, increases not only absolutely but also compared with other call options in advance of a merger.
  • There “is strong evidence that informed traders may not only engage in OTM call transactions, but possibly also ITM put transactions.” That is: Some people have figured out ways to trade in options that are not the Forbidden Option.

Matt Levine, “There Might Be a Lot of Insider Trading”, BloombergView, 17 June 2014

Levine goes on to analyze what the findings mean, and opines on potential interpretations. Fascinating.

Quick updates #

I’ve had too many things going on to make posting a priority (sorry to any few remaining followers), but I’ve always tried to keep posts content-full.

In the past few months:

Hire Tom! Hire Tom!