Assorted Links 12/27/09

Silent Monks Singing Halleluia

  • 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
  • Snowstorm Makes Flying A White Hell – “Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights over the weekend, and Amtrak and commuter trains gave up all hope of running on anything resembling a schedule. Some airports saw their traffic cut by as much as two-thirds, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded. Travel had resumed this morning and the FAA said there were no major delays, but it will be awhile before things are back to normal.

    ‘Full recovery may take well into Tuesday,’ Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter told USA Today. ‘We haven’t seen anything like this since 1996. The sad news here is that’s happening on the weekend before Christmas, when so many people are traveling.'”

  • Lest We Forget: Moral Hazard and the Subprime Crisis – “There are two preliminary moral hazard problems. First, obviously the sales force does not have the incentive to screen out ‘bad loans’ given the incentive contract offered. Second, as mortgages can be bundled and traded, the managers do not have the incentive to give the sales force the incentive to screen our bad loans. They want to maximize raw volume rather than quality-adjusted sales.

    This leaves ‘the market’ as the potential monitor. A large group of owners of securities faces a free-rider problem in monitoring so no-one monitors. The price of the bundled security reflects the mix of good and bad loans in the market. An individual issuer of mortgages has the incentive to screen out bad loans if this is reflected in the price of the security they sell. But if no-one is monitoring, no-one will notice the extra benefits from screening, the price will not improve and there is no incentive to invest in making just good loans.

    Finally when everything does tank, if banks sell mortgages and the banks are too big to fail, they get bailed out by taxpayers. One final bit of moral hazard to make sure there is no incentive to monitor the monitor to monitor the mortgage sale.”

  • Boom Time on K Street – “Lay out a picnic, you get ants. Hand out more wealth through government, you get lobbyists. As Craig Holman of the Ralph Nader-founded Public Citizen says: ‘the amount spent on lobbying . . . is related entirely to how much the federal government intervenes in the private economy.’

    More on the lobbying bonanza in President Obama’s Washington here. Back in 2001 David Laband and George McClintock tried to estimate the total costs to society of efforts to effect forced transfers of wealth in their book The Transfer Society.”

  • Bah Humbug – “Hopefully 2010 will be the end of the road for the crooks and deadbeats!”
  • BAIC Got Saab Technology On The Cheap – “GM netted a paltry $200m for the Saab technology it sold to China’s BAIC. So said BAIC to Reuters today, while desperately trying to keep a straight face. The money bought BAIC the rights to three vehicle platforms, two engine technologies and two transmission systems. A pittance, given the fact that developing a new car typically costs from $1b on upwards these days.

    Granted, the IP for the 9-5 and 9-3, and the tooling to make them are not the newest, but you can trust BAIC to make the most of it. Interestingly, BAIC got what they desperately needed”

  • A Small but Telling Example of Government Waste – “Some commenters claim that auctioning off the gifts would offend foreign governments by making it seem that their gifts weren’t valued. Of course, storing them in some warehouse never to be seen again doesn’t exactly indicate that the US government places any real value on the gifts either. Still, it’s possible that the gifts should only be auctioned off some years after they are given, by which time foreign officials are less likely to keep track of them. Alternatively, the gifts can be donated to charities that can then use the proceeds to help the poor; it would be difficult for foreign opinion to take offense at that.”
  • Christmas Bonuses for Fannie and Freddie – “The Obama administration tried to sneak this one under the radar by making it official on Christmas Eve. The Washington Post did a good job catching the story:”
  • Explain the Difference – “Is there any difference between Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama in terms of how they approach the auto industry? ‘Make the kind of cars I thing you should, or the government will take you over.'”
  • Blank-Check Bailout for Fannie and Freddie Means Taxpayers Get a Lump of Coal from Obama – “Even though politicians already have flushed $400 billion down the rathole, the Obama Administration has announced that it will now give unlimited amounts of our money to prop up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-created mortgage companies. While President Obama should be castigated for this decision, let’s not forget that this latest boondoggle is only possible because President Bush did not do the right thing and liquidate Fannie and Freddie when they collapsed last year. And, to add insult to injury, Obama’s pay czar played Santa Claus and announced that that a dozen top ‘executives’ could divvy up $42 million of bonuses financed by you and me. Not a bad deal for a group of people that more properly should be classified as government bureaucrats.”
  • Does New Jersey like being ranked last? – “Each measure accomplishes the exact reverse of stimulating jobs, economic recovery, or fiscal solvency. With measures like these one wonders if legislators think being ranked the worst place to do business in the country is a good thing.”
  • How to Ensure Your LinkedIn Profile Is Effective – “Is your LinkedIn profile as effective as it could be? While you can see your “profile completeness” score on your profile page, it doesn’t measure profile effectiveness — how good your profile is at attracting contacts, generating leads and showing off your skills. Use this checklist to ensure your profile is thorough, effective and updated.”
  • Al Qaeda Failed. What About Us? Ten Questions. – “Early reports about the failed Christmas bombing of NW 253 raise questions that need answers. Because, frankly, if the reports are true, al Qaeda never should have gotten this close to a successful attack.”
  • Beating The Low Signature Enemy – “When the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) bat­tled Hezbollah to basi­cally a draw in south­ern Lebanon in sum­mer 2006, one thing that really stymied the IDF was what Israeli Brig. Gen. Itai Brun called Hezbollah’s ‘strat­egy of dis­ap­pear­ance’: Hezbollah fight­ers set up com­mand posts and arms stores in civil­ian build­ings; launched rock­ets from near mosques and schools; used ‘low sig­na­ture’ weapons, such as mor­tars, anti-tank mis­siles and shoul­der launched surface-to-air mis­siles; and spent years build­ing exten­sive below ground for­ti­fi­ca­tions includ­ing a maze of tun­nels and bunkers.

    The IDF, which had prepped for high-intensity bat­tle against Syrian tank armies, was unpre­pared for an asym­met­ric, low-signature enemy that refused to stand in the open and smile for the elec­tronic eyes on over­head drones and air­craft and ther­mal sights on Merkava main bat­tle tanks. The IDF took fairly heavy casu­al­ties try­ing to root out dug-in Hezbollah com­bat cells and never did stop the rain of rock­ets fired from south­ern Lebanon into Israeli towns.

    The chal­lenge is how to com­pel the low-signature enemy to emit a detectable sig­nal, to raise his sig­na­ture level. According to a draft paper passed along to DOD Buzz, the Israelis, and cer­tain parts of the U.S. mil­i­tary, are explor­ing a con­cept called “dis­trib­uted maneu­ver,” a poten­tially promis­ing approach that could force the “hybrid” enemy to breach the detec­tion thresh­old so that he can be tar­geted and dis­patched. The paper, a joint Israeli-U.S. effort, was authored by strate­gist Frank Hoffman, who now works in the Office of the Naval Secretary.”

  • What Would Always-On-The-Record Government Look Like? – “Recently, I wrote a post about Government 2.0 predictions for 2010-12, and one of them was that government would ‘always be on-the-record.’

    By that I meant that the combination of (1) the proliferation of tech-savvy citizens with mobile camera/video devices, (2) the prevalence of wi-fi or other Web connections, (3) the massive number of people using social networks like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and (4) the great interest that people have right now in a number of controversial issues like our current wars, health care, and climate change that people could and probably would start documenting everything that government officials do and say, where they go, who they meet with, for how long, what their staffers eat for lunch and with whom, and so on.”

  • More Engineers in Jihad – “Gambetta and Hertog find that ‘the share of radical Islamic engineers is no less than nine times greater than the share we could expect if the proneness of engineers to radicalize was the same as that of the male adult population.'”
  • Doubling Your Money while Earning 0.01 Percent – “‘What the average citizen doesn’t explicitly understand is that a significant part of the government’s plan to repair the financial system and the economy is to pay savers nothing and allow damaged financial institutions to earn a nice, guaranteed spread,’ said [Bill Gross of PIMCO]”
  • Beginners’ Guide to Liberty – “Adam Smith Institute publishes a very nice edited “volume” on the we”
  • Security Theater: A New Show Opens In Detroit – “what sort of magical thinking is behind the rumored TSA rule about keeping passengers seated during the last hour of flight? Do we really think the terrorist won’t think of blowing up their improvised explosive devices during the first hour of flight?”
  • Open Thread: TSA To Keep Us Safe From Nigerian Terrorists, Bankers’ Sons, 419 Scammers – “Is there an inverse relationship between the retardation of the terrorist and the federal overreaction? The 9/11 attackers (who whatever you want to say about them were clearly competent and effective) inspired many new restrictions, but it took the stupid nincompoop Richard Reid to make us lose our shoes. What will we be required to doff thanks to the apparently dirt-dumb Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab?”
  • The Unorganized Militia Once Again is Needed – “According to press reports, a passenger helped subdue the terrorist who was attempting to bring down Northwest #253. This again highlights the importance of the unorganized militia in asymetric warfare.”

The Healthcare Jokers: Holiday Celebration

  • Which are the “safest” cuisines? – “The most dangerous cuisine to try, in the United States at least, is Chinese. Your best working assumption is that the restaurant simply isn’t any good. Even in a Chinatown, such as in New York or DC, most of the restaurants aren’t very good. Inverting the two principles mentioned above puts you on a path toward figuring out why. Still, even in Paris or most of Europe for that matter, most of the Chinese restaurants aren’t very good.

    I find also that (in the U.S.) Mexican restaurants are risky, Vietnamese establishments are relatively safe, and Thai places were traditionally safe but they are becoming riskier. I’ve never been to a bad Nepalese restaurant.”

  • 4-year-old survives being hit by train – “Perhaps the most urgent question raised by this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story is not: how did Elijah Anderson manage to emerge from such a collision sufficiently unscathed to resume life as a normal kid, aside from a scar? Nor is it: why is his mother, represented by attorney Fred Lerner, planning to sue railroad CSX despite an investigative report exonerating the railroad and the general principle that right of ways are not for trespassing? No, the real question is: whose idea was it to take that camera shot of him on the tracks?”
  • What Is Seen, What Is Unseen. – “Emory’s Mark Bauerlein contemplates higher education’s supposed boy problem. … Suppose beer ‘n circus isn’t an aberration, it’s the mission?”
  • 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 Book of Genesis Illustrated – “As literature, the biblical book of Genesis has it all: sex, violence, angels, war, murder, heroes, incest, world-wide disasters, spooky mystery, and a timeless story. All it needed was illustrations by the comic genius R. Crumb and you’d have a underground manga hit. And that’s what this book is.”
  • WePay’s Group Payments Get Some Big-Name Backers, Including Max Levchin – “WePay is a startup that looks to streamline group payments.

    So what exactly does WePay do that PayPal can’t? The difference stems from the way payment accounts are set up. With PayPal, your account is tied to your name, without any way to separate the payments associated with your soccer team from those of your fraternity or your own personal transactions. On WePay, you can create a unique, FDIC insured account for each of these. The account is still associated with your name, but you can keep each group account totally separate.”

  • Your Comments on the Quadruplets Admitted to Yale – “trying to out-think the admissions office of a highly selective college is a fool’s errand. There is no set formula for admission. And, I would argue, there is no fair (or fairer) way to assemble a freshman class. There are simply too many obviously qualified applicants, and too many metrics for what constitutes merit.”
  • Last-Minute Bargain! – “I purchased one of those new Magellen GPS’s with Scottish turn by turn from Ampersand. ‘Ye think ye can drive? Great turn, Columbus, but it was wrong!! Why not pull off now for a wee dram?’. Best electronic device I’ve ever bought. ‘Ach, ya great bollocks….WRONG turn AGAIN!!!'”
  • NSFW: The Physical Impossibility of The Future in the Mind of Someone Trapped In Chicago – “Chicago is, after all, the only place in the world capable of making Washington DC look like a step up.”
  • 24 Days Of Local Sunlight — Day 23 – “Today I want to give a shout out Bacon’s Rebellion.

    The blog is dedicated to covering Virginia; especially infastructure, transportation and taxes. Bacon’s Rebellion has a few contributors but the person I have highlighted the most is James Bacon.”

  • Yegor T. Gaidar: R.I.P. – “So many people on this blog are free market advocates. At times, they get into the nit-picky about what they sometimes see as a creeping turn to socialism and big government.

    Think of Gaidar and see the approach turned on its head. Consider that you are a member of the Communist Party of what was then a super power. You even edit an academic tome titled ‘Kommunist.’ Yet during the excitement of Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s ‘perestroika,’ you get free market religion and, in increments, you turn into a capitalist that Milton Friedman would envy.

    At the same time, you are thrust into a decision making position of a country undergoing a huge, lightning-fast transition from police and military industrial state to what Russians call ‘dicki capitalism,’ or ‘wild’ capitalism. You have to keep things in check, fight off mossbacks in the government, avoid civil war (with nuclear weapons no less) and somehow build an enduring structure of a free market economy.”

Boeing 787 Dreamliner makes first flight

  • The Innovative 787 Carries Boeing, And Aviation, Ahead – “Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner looks like any other airliner, so it might be hard for anyone but an airplane geek to get so excited about its inaugural flight. But the energy-efficient airliner is a bold step forward for Boeing, and for aviation.

    As much as the 787 Dreamliner looks like the jet that carried you on that cramped, uncomfortable flight last month, almost everything about it is new. From the extensive use of composite materials and advanced aerodynamics to its fuel-efficient Rolls Royce engines and all-electric systems, Boeing is betting the 787 will be the plane to usher in a cleaner, greener future for the airline business.

    Boeing claims the 787 is 20 percent more fuel-efficient than comparably sized jets.”

  • Animated Christmas Tree Cable Cars Are Yet Another Thing For Your Guests To Trip Over – “So while these animated cable cars are a clever twist on the traditional train under the tree decoration, I don’t think they’d survive for very long in a household with either kids, pets or festive revelers. $49 from Walmart, if they ever get it back in stock.”
  • 20 Powerful Beliefs That Will Push You Toward Success – “Success, first of all, is not a set of achievements or a combination of external factors; it is a mindset. Success is an attitude that comes from a framework of powerful beliefs and empowering thoughts. There have been many books written about this, probably some of which you have read. In the ones I have read, there always seemed to be a certain partiality– an incomplete picture — perhaps biased towards financial success or some other area but not another.

    In the following list of beliefs and empowering thoughts, I would like to present a rounder view of success. One that I hope will give you a wider angle towards the meaning of success ranging from the material to the spiritual.”

  • Verizon Wireless Denies It’s Charging People Phantom $1.99 Fee, Despite Tons Of Complaints – “For a little while now, Broadband Reports has been doing a good job highlighting how Verizon Wireless has been charging a phantom $1.99 fee for “accessing the internet” even when users claim they did no such thing. Despite a growing amount of press coverage, Verizon Wireless had been silent on the issue. However, once David Pogue at the NY Times reported on it, finally the FCC got involved and asked Verizon Wireless to explain. The company apparently delayed for a while and then sent a reply (pdf). While much of the press coverage focused on a separate question (about why Verizon Wireless had doubled its early termination fees), what may be more interesting is the company’s non-response to the phantom $1.99. It basically said it doesn’t do what lots and lots of people are saying it does.” Yes, Verizon does this, and it is a hassle to get the charge removed.
  • Books of note – “4. Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker. If you get only one good tip from this book, it’s worth it.”
  • Sun and moon ‘set off deep tremors on San Andreas fault’ – “Scientists have discovered that the faint gravitational tug of the sun and moon can set off tremors deep underground in one of the world’s most dangerous earthquake zones.”
  • A Letter to the Middle-Aged Guy in the BMW Z4 – “Now when I see that blue shape ahead, stopped at a traffic light or waiting to pull in front of me at the grocery store exit, I know I’m in for a long drive home. I’m stuck behind the one little blue pill that can’t get it up. ”
  • Speed Dial Combination Lock – “Rather than spinning a dial with numbers, Master Lock’s Speed Dial combination lock uses up/down/left/right movements. In addition to the new code entry system they use an anti-shim technology and a hardened steel shackle to prevent circumventing the combination. The result is a lock that they claim is faster to open, easier to use, and more secure then a standard combination lock.”
  • Former Musician Now Lawyer Comes To Terms With What’s Happening To His Music Online – “He begins to reason through the arguments, recognizing that he and his (one surviving) bandmate haven’t actually put their own music online for sale, and they probably would have put some of it up for free anyway, so maybe having some free music out there isn’t that bad. But more importantly, he realizes that this means there’s actually both interest and demand in his old band (he even discovers that old copies of the band’s single are selling for £35), and he might as well do something about it, rather than worry about what others are doing”
  • 10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010 – “2. ‘Cigar lighter receptacle’ plugs in cars.
    The idea of building cigar/cigarette lighters into car dashboards originated in the 1920s. The technology was perfected in the 1950s. Decades later, the automobile industry is still building these weird sockets into cars, but now usually without the actual lighter.

    As electrical outlets, dashboard lighter ports are dangerous, unreliable, underpowered, inconvenient, unsightly and expensive. They require that you purchase a special plug and/or adapters, which add clutter to your car.

    All cars should have standard household electrical outlets, with the converter built in. Or USB ports that can charge gadgets. Or both.”

  • Christmas Game Theory – “The lovely wife says the jewelry I bought her for Christmas has to be returned because ‘it’s just too expensive!’

    Do not try this at home. Without extensive knowledge of game theory and your spouse this strategy can be very dangerous to your finances”

  • To track small LDL, track blood sugar – “To gain better control over small LDL, follow blood sugars (blood glucose).

    When you think about it, all the foods that trigger increases in blood sugar also trigger small LDL. Carbohydrates, in general, are the most potent triggers of small LDL. The most offensive among the carbohydrates: foods made with wheat. After wheat, there’s foods made with cornstarch, sucrose (table sugar), and the broad categories of “other” carbohydrates, such as oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, bulghur, etc.”

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