Assorted Links 1/14/10

The Goldberg Variations – Glenn Gould 1/6 (ht Cheap Talk)

  • Word Workshop: Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing , January 28, 2010
  • Update on The 111th Congress, 2010, January 29, 2010
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, February 10, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, February 11, 2010
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, February 18, 2010
  • The President’s Budget, February 23, 2010
  • The Defense Budget, February 26, 2010
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, March 3-5, 2010
  • The Chait-Manzi debate – “2. If you see the United States compared with Europe, ask if he same analysis also compares the United States to the highly successful Singapore or for that matter Brazil. If not, be wary.
    . . .
    5. There has never, ever been a well-functioning social democracy — in the European sense — with the size, population, and diversity of the United States or if you wish make that any two of those three. How about any one of those three, noting that Canada isn’t really such a large country? That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but keep that in mind the next time you hear talk about evidence-based reasoning.
    . . .
    I’d like everyone to have a sign, which they would hold up when appropriate: ‘My policies seek to revise the internal culture of my country.’ That’s OK, but you’re raising the bar for your own ideas and don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.”
  • A Tale of Two Governor’s Addresses – “New York and California are arguably in the worst budgetary condition of all the states. Yesterday, the governors of each gave very different State of the State Addresses on how they intend to deal with the coming months. Governor Schwarzenegger reiterated his request that Washington, D.C. send back what is owed to California. In his words, ‘the federal government is part of our budget problem.’

    In his analysis, this means more federal money will help fix California’s budget. However, more federal money to California will accomplish exactly what it has accomplished to date. It will delay real reform of California’s fiscal tailspin (e.g. CalPERS).

    By contrast, Governor Paterson of New York gave a somber assessment of New York’s ‘winter of reckoning,’ placing blame squarely on the state legislature for excessive spending and deal making with unions, feeding an ‘addiction to spending, power, and approval,’ that has left the state in economic catastrophe.”

  • Classic – “Writing for the Wilson Quarterly, Thomas Rid says that the global jihad can be broken down roughly into three ideological divisions:”
  • Roger Lowenstein Advises Homeowners To Just Walk Away – “An interesting opinion piece in today’s New York Times Magazine says that it’s okay for a homeowner to walk away from a mortgage if his or her home is underwater. His reasoning is that it’s okay for homeowners to walk away from their financial obligations because financial institutions routinely walk away from theirs.

    Putting aside the obviously infantile excuse that it’s okay to do something because everyone else is doing it, I have some real problems with the idea that a mortgage is a disposable legal and financial obligation that ceases to exist whenever a homeowner deems it to be in their personal interest to leave it behind.”

  • North Korea: Communist Oppression Even Worse than the USSR – “Barbara Demick’s recent book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, is an excellent account of daily life in for ordinary people in one of the world’s two remaining unreformed communist states. It’s based on extensive interviews with North Koreans who were fortunate enough to escape to South Korea through China.

    As described by Demick, life in North Korea is similar to that in other communist dictatorships. There is the same type of secret police, censorship, gulag-style concentration camps, massive personality cults glorifying the dictator, poverty, and starvation. But each of these miseries is noticeably worse than even in the USSR. For example, the North Korean government has rigid family categorizations that hold people responsible for the supposed ‘class origins’ of their family far more comprehensively than even in the Soviet Union under Stalin. In the USSR, dissidents were often sent to prison or Gulags, or incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals; but, at least after Stalin, some of them could survive long enough to attract attention in the West. Not so in North Korea, where the squelching of any sign of dissent is even swifter and more thorough. And even Stalin didn’t have a personality cult that went as far as that of “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Il.”

  • Our New Power Elite – “we have the new alpha male: übernerd Peter Orszag. This guy probably experienced his share of weggies in junior high, but as Henry Kissinger noted, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, so it seems Orszag left his earlier wife (all for ‘change’), had an out-of-wedlock child with an attractive heiress, and has a future wedding to 31-year-old journalist Bianna Golodryga.”
  • Wanderlust – “I used to have a lazy view of European dominance that was based on technological superiority. I’m sure I don’t need to tell my readers (many of whom know much more about these things than I do) how silly that view is. Our modern technological world did not really get underway until about 1800, but the Europeans had already been spreading all over the world for nearly 350 years. Technology doesn’t explain how a handful of men were able to conquer Mexico and Peru, or how a few thousand European men in wooden sailboats (smaller than Chinese ships of the 1400s) were able to increasingly dominate trade with sophisticated Asian countries containing hundreds of millions of people.”
  • The Secret History of Silicon Valley Part 13: Lockheed-the Startup with Nuclear Missiles – “By 1965 Hewlett Packard, the test and instrumentation company, had grown ten-fold. From 900 people in 1956 it now employed 9,000. Clearly it must have been the dominant company in the valley? Or perhaps it was Fairchild, the direct descendant of Shockley Semiconductor, now the dominant semiconductor supplier in the valley (80% of its first years business coming from military systems) with ~10,000 people?

    Nope, it was the Lockheed Missiles Division, which had zero employees in 1956, now in 1965 had 28,000 employees in Sunnyvale. The best and the brightest were coming from across the country to the valley south of San Francisco.

    And they were not only building Polaris missiles.

    By 1965 Lockheed factories in Sunnyvale, Stanford and East Palo Alto were building the most secret spy satellites and rockets you never heard of. While the 1950’s had made us ‘Microwave Valley,’ the growth of Lockheed, Westinghouse and their suppliers had turned us into ‘Defense Valley.'”

  • Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – “In frigid northeastern China, in the city of Harbin is hosting its 26th annual International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Massive buildings built of ice from the frozen surface of the nearby Songhua River, large scale snow sculptures, ice slides, festival food and drinks can be found in several parks in the city. At night, visitors who endure the bitter cold will see the lights switched on, illuminating the sculptures from both inside and outside. This year’s festival opened yesterday, January 5th, and will remain open until some time in February. Collected here are several photos from just before the festival, and of the opening night. (31 photos total)”
  • FTC’s Disclosure Rules Apply To Bloggers… But Not Celebrities? – “The FTC’s highly questionable disclosure rules have been in effect for a bit over a month now, and it appears that even the FTC doesn’t understand who they apply to or how they apply. And that’s the problem. Apparently, someone noticed that actress Gwyneth Paltrow lavished praise on a resort in Marrakech, Morocco, and wondered if Paltrow had paid for her stay there — noting that it was the grand opening of the place, with lots of stars — and Hollywood publicists asked about this said there was ‘not a chance in hell’ that someone like Paltrow paid to attend.”
  • Hospital Taxes and Medicaid Con Jobs – “Beware the Hospital tax. And the same goes for taxes on nursing homes. It is likely if your state legislature is looking at increasing these taxes, it is in the service of Medicaid money laundering.

    The Government Accountability Office explains how it works. Medicaid is a federal matching program. States can tailor their own program by electing to cover optional services (beyond the basic Medicaid program), or by expanding eligibility to arrive at a total cost for operating Medicaid. The federal government pays for at least half of the total program, and the state pays for the remainder. In an effort to extract more matching funds from the federal government, states play around with the total cost portion.”

  • How Ukrainian Soccer Explains Planned Economies – “From Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization comes this description of the Ukrainian approach to soccer:”
  • Hate-America Sociology – “Recently, a colleague forwarded to me a copy of an exam from an introductory sociology class found lying in a room at a public college in the east. It was graded 100%. The exam deserves to be quoted at length, as parts of it are virtually indistinguishable from the old Soviet agitprop of the Fifties:
    . . .
    China encourages its brightest students to study mathematics and engineering. India has become known as a hotbed of tech-savvy computer programmers. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends billions to teach postmodern, left-wing misinformation as objective ‘fact.'”
  • Homebuyer Tips – “To summarize the article – when buying a home, you should consider:

    Location – #1
    . . .
    Sex-offenders –
    . . .
    One big ‘must’ for every buyer, says Klinge, is to check local sex-offender lists. ‘It’s a bummer when you find out later that the guy across the street is a peeper.'”

  • Obama Administration Wants to Annuitize 401k’s and IRA’s – Mandatory “R Bonds” – “As a rule of thumb, the worst possible time to convert lump sum savings into a fixed income annuity would be when interest rates are historically low.

    Although products may vary, this is roughly equivalent to buying long term bonds at a time when interest rates are likely to increase, substantially reducing your principal in real terms, and eroding your fixed returns through inflation.

    For some reason the Obama Administration is promoting the idea now that there should be some encouragement for Americans to start converting their 401K’s and IRA’s into annuities, to provide themselves with lifetime income.

    The effort is being spear-headed by Mark Iwry of the Treasury and Phyllis Borzi of the Department of Labor. Here is a paper written on the subject by Mark Iwry when he was at the Brookings Institution.

    The essence of this paper is that distributions from IRA’s and 401K’s would automatically be rolled into an annuity providing a monthly income by default.

    This concept is known on the Street as the handling fees for meager returns pork barrel pigfest. The Fed likes it because they will undoubtedly get a two year rolling chunk of the people’s retirement cash to play with.

    Perhaps just rolling those 401K’s and IRA’s into Social Security or the Long Bond would be what they have in mind. Somehow the panacea of TIPS with inflation defined by the government sounds probable. The drawback perhaps is that this would not generate the highest recurring fees for Wall Street and the FIRE sector, which have to be eyeing that ‘cash on the sidelines’ hungrily.”

  • Option ARM Recast Update – “The two key problems for option ARMs are negative equity and the coming recasts (with payment shock). ‘Across all categories, option ARMs have more negative equity than other products.’ and ‘most of subprime pay shocks have already occurred, while most of the options ARM pay shocks are yet to come.'”
  • Administration Bank Tax Plan: An Empty Populist Gesture by Design? – “With its talk of new taxes on banks, is Team Obama reverting to its now well established pattern of crony capitalist giveaways with the occasional phony populist reform as an increasingly ineffective disguise? The extraordinarily unenthusiastic, perhaps inept by design, discussion of its plans to tax banks in some yet undetermined manner certainly says so.

    First, let’s consider Exhibit 1: the truly piss poor job the Obama Administration did of selling its health care reform plan. Recall the remarkable disconnect of people saying they did not want ‘socialized’ health care, yet they also did not want Medicare touched. It does not take Madison Avenue credentials to see the sales pitch: ‘We already have successful, popular, government funded health care in the US. It’s called Medicare. We want to build and improve on that. Here’s how.’ Did we see anything like this from the Administration message-meisters? And where were the President’s famed communication skills? Funny how he seems unable to articulate a vision that will actually shift public opinion.

    If you believe in neuro-linguistic programming, Obama’s formal presentation often uses what I believe NLP calls hypnotic speech. It sounds wonderfully uplifting while you are listening, but when you get done, you scratch your head, because there was so much abstraction and imagery relative to content that very little of substance is said. Despite its creepy sounding name in the NLP lexicon, it’s common in political speeches.
    . . .
    Yves here. This ‘we need to appease the peasants’ logic tells all. It says the Administration is so profoundly captured by the banksters that it sees nothing wrong with what is happening, save the political fallout. It’s perfectly OK for banks to go right back to status quo ante, looting their firms by paying themselves too much in bonuses and not retaining enough in the way of risk buffers. And why should they change behavior, now that it has been conclusively demonstrated that if they screw up in a big way, the government will run in, and they make even more money as a result?”

  • “Contact info” – “Ben Yagoda looks at the joys and perils of the thin, electronic veil that now separates most authors from their readers. Time was, you got a form letter back from Robert Heinlein with a checkmark beside ‘Please do fuck off’. Nowadays, though, we hacks are not only expected to be whores, but also unpaid resource staff to the book buying public and pals.”
  • Why Is the Media So Much Smarter About Legislation After it is Passed – “I have decided there is something that is very predictable about the media: they usually are very sympathetic to legislation expanding government powers or spending when the legislation is being discussed in Congress. Then, after the legislation is passed, and there is nothing that can be done to get rid of it, the media gets really insightful all of a sudden, running thoughtful pieces about the hidden problems and unintended consequences of the legislation.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Moment of Zen – Calvin Trillin’s Prediction
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Daily Show: Moment of Zen

  • Don’t Trust Economists – “Sometimes a picture really does tell a thousand words. Here’s a chart, based on data from the Philadelphia Fed, showing actual economic results compared to the predictions of professional economists. As you can see, my profession does a wretched job. Comparisons based on predictions from the IMF, OECD, CBO, and OMB doubtlessly would generate equally embarrassing results.”
  • Girls on film – “anyone who judges art based on genitalia is an absolute twit.”
  • Boston Consulting Group On Electric Car Battery Costs – “Boston Consulting Group says car battery costs will not fall far enough in the next 10 years to allow a massive shift toward electric vehicles.”
  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado”
  • The Vegetarian Myth – “If you’ve spent any time debating vegetarians, you know the supposed superiority of a meat-free existence boils down to three main beliefs: it’s immoral to kill in order to eat, we must all give up meat to save the planet, and giving up animal products will improve your health. Keith refers to these as the Vegetarian Myths, and during her decades as a dedicated vegan, she believed them. But in this book, she destroys them one by one — by offering what she calls adult knowledge. Knowledge, after all, is the reason adults don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. As Keith puts it: ‘What separates me from vegetarians isn’t ethics or commitment. It’s information.'”
  • The Right Kind of Nothing – “Every minute of every day, ask yourself, and those around you, “Could this be done better? Are we doing this the right way, and getting the most done for our expenditures of time and money?” Whether you are designing a new science quad or picking up trash in an old quad, try to look at everything around you as if it were new. Forget things you know, and learn something.

    And then, let it go. If it turns out that you don’t need to take action, and that things are moving in the right direction, move to something else. Sure, it will be hard for you to take personal credit for the improvement. Worse, things may not turn out the way you would have done them. But letting go of the need for control acts as an enormous force multiplier: You can be in many places at once because others have taken ownership through your leadership.”

  • things that I have learned (the hard way) – “Steve Blank’s book should be required reading for every new entrepreneur.”
  • Risky Bets: Prepaid College Tuition – “My Money Blog noticed a disturbing trend in some state-run prepaid college tuition funds. These plans initially sound like a great investment, but perhaps deserve a second look:”
  • The Age of Media Agnosticism – “According to Nielsen, the average American visited 87 domains and 2,600 Web pages in September. Outside the U.S., those numbers tend to be smaller, and fresh data indicates that just a few sites dominate the mix. Many rely on the news to find them rather than seeking it out – and those who do hunt for news are likely to do so via a single outlet of their choosing and/or via a search engine or even YouTube. It seems that, curiously, the diversity of the sites Americans frequent remains small even though their choices have grown infinitely.”
  • Google charges its own ETF for Nexus One in addition to T-Mobile’s ETF – “Here’s a bit of interesting news on the purchasing and cancellation process for the Nexus One. If you buy the device subsidized, and you decide to cancel your contract after the 14-day period (30 days for California) but before 120 days into your contract, Google can charge a termination fee of its own — on top of the carrier ETF.”
  • Barriers to Career Entry: Law Edition – “Faced with this glut of law school graduates that are unable to find work, the American Bar Association has proposed that Schools of Law develop measurements of what students actually learn in law school that would provide prospective employers with additional information to base their hiring decisions, as opposed to the prevalent mechanism currently in place of ranking candidates by the reputation of their school, which is based on input measures such as faculty size and library holdings. It seems that this proposal stems from law practitioners themselves, who are increasingly dismayed by law school grads that do not possess the core competencies needed to be effective employees.
    . . .
    If the law schools themselves do not want to serve the needs of the end users (hiring firms)of their product (graduates) via not providing them with the core competencies necessary to be an effective employee, then I suspect that the customers will soon find an alternative supplier.”
  • Federal Job Creation – “The board game Monopoly first took off during the Great Depression. A different game has become popular during today’s Great Recession. In this game, politicians race against high unemployment to create jobs in order to save their own. The players (politicians) have unlimited tax and borrowing authority, and can call upon friendly economists to help them maneuver. The players even get to keep score, although the media can penalize shoddy scorekeeping. Ultimately, voters will decide which players win and lose in the fall elections.

    Okay, I’m being facetious. But as politicians continue to throw trillions of dollars at the economy in a vain effort to create jobs, and the media continues to go along with it by obsessing over meaningless job counts, the entire spectacle has become surreal. If government job creation is a game, the losers have been the taxpayers underwriting it, as well as the employers (and their employees) who are closing shop, laying off workers, or not hiring because of uncertainty over what big government schemes will be next.”

A Creative Tribute to John Williams

  • Solar Rickshaws Ready for Delhi – “In addition to giving rickshaw drivers a hand in climbing steep hills, the electric motor could help stop the spread of disease in crowded Indian cities. CSIR director Samir Brahmachari told India Today that the average rickshaw driver is malnourished, getting only 1,600 calories a day when more than 4,000 are necessary to pedal customers around cities. Currently, ‘a quarter of the rickshaw pullers could get TB because of malnutrition,’ Brahmachari said.”
  • NSFW: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crunchies – “I’ve never understood the attraction of CES.

    Why in January — a month set aside for recovering from the excesses of the holiday season — thousands of people would fly to Las Vegas for a gigantic tradeshow. Why they’d even consider spending four days wandering around an aircraft hanger filled with vastly oversized television sets, or sitting through endless product launches that are being simulcast online anyway.

    Why they’d subject themselves to three nights of well drinks at a succession of disappointing after-parties before passing out in overpriced, soulless hotel rooms that charge $10 a day for wifi. Frankly why they’d willingly submit themselves to any of those horrors when they could simulate the entire experience from home simply by wiring a thousand dollars to Steve Wynn, dropping a tab of acid and then heading to Best Buy with a hooker.”

  • The Switch From iPhone To Android, And Why Your First Impression Is Wrong – “Which brings me to the things that have turned me into a full-time Android user. Gmail on Android kicks the pants off of the iPhone’s Email client — something that I’m not the only person to notice. As someone who does a lot of Emailing, that makes a huge difference to me. Google Voice integration is fantastic. The ability to run multiple applications at the same time is a breath of fresh air. Those three things were enough to seal the deal.

    Had I only used an Android device for a few days, these aforementioned pros may have been overshadowed by the fact that the phone felt so unfamiliar. Or I may have been turned off by one of the things Android gets wrong, like that there’s no way to update multiple applications at the same time and the default music player is remarkably ugly. But when it comes to using the phone in real life on a day-to-day basis, those problems aren’t enough to outweigh the productivity benefits Android offers me.

    And, really, that’s my point. Many of these iPhone users who are testing out Android for the first time tend to get hung up on things that feel unfamiliar, or are griping about issues that will only affect them once in a blue moon. No, Android isn’t as pretty as the iPhone, and there are plenty of things it doesn’t do as well as it could. But until you’ve taken the plunge to see what lies beneath its less-polished exterior, you haven’t really seen what it has to offer.”

  • Getting vitamin D right – “Vitamin D is, without a doubt, the most incredible ‘vitamin’/prohormone/neurosteroid I have ever encountered. Frankly, I don’t know how we got anything accomplished in health pre-D.

    Unfortunately, people I meet rarely take their vitamin D in a way that accomplishes full restoration of vitamin D blood levels. It really isn’t that tough.”

  • Overloaded trucks in Saharan Africa…you haven’t seen the half of it – “I’m not certain that these trucks are ‘mogs’ but I could be wrong? Well they’re not mogs Ian they’re bonneted (L or LP? I never can remember which) Mercedes of classic and considerable vintage, not to say carrying capacity!” (see pic)
  • YouLaw: Truck Accident Reenactment Jumps the Shark – “We literally become friends, not just your lawyers.”
    . . .
    “This was an excellent YouTube video. It really pitches the firm and gives you a warm feeling that lawyers can be your friends, even in an ambulance-chasing environment.”

    O yeah, we got a very warm feeling. Sheesh.

  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the late 1960s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”

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