Assorted Links 8/10/09

If Obama has his way, his health care plan will be funded by his treasury chief who did not pay his taxes, overseen by his surgeon general who is obese, signed by a president who smokes, and financed by a country that is just about broke.
What possibly could go wrong?

  • Capitol Hill Workshop, September 23-25, 2009
  • Birmingham, Alabama: National Guard Needed After Budget Cuts? – “The sheriff of Birmingham, Alabama warns he may need to call the National Guard to maintain order after this week’s Circuit Court ruling that Jefferson County leaders can proceed with plans to slash $4.1 million from the sheriff’s budget.
    . . .
    How did Jefferson County end up close to earning the title of ‘biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history?’

    To finance a $3.2 billion sewer cleanup, six years ago, after consluting with J.P. Morgan, the county issued floating interest rate debt instead of the typical fixed interest rate debt. It was meant to save taxpayers money. But the collapse of the subprime mortgage market drove up variable rates and has left Jefferson County hemorrhaging red ink, with unexpected debt payments of $7 million a month. ”

  • NODs Increasing, Foreclosures Decreasing – “Really these underwater ‘homeowners’ are more renters than owners, and many will still have negative equity when the interest rate increases again. Perhaps we should call the modification programs Single Family Public Housing.”
  • Shame On Executives For Flying Private Jets… – “…only those of us in Congress get to fly private jets.”
  • We just need a sugar daddy! – “Ironically, instead of using US taxpayer money to help finance universal health care in the US, our Government used US taxpayer money to help finance universal health care in Western Europe, by paying so much $$ for the defense of the region!”
  • US Consumer Demand Off a Cliff as the Crisis Deepens – “The big story is the collapse of the US consumer, unprecedented since WW II, and possibly the Great Depression. This is apparent in the numbers despite the epic restatement of GDP having just been done by the BLS in their benchmark revisions. If the Fed and Treasury were not actively monetizing everything in sight, we would certainly be seeing a more pronounced deflation as prices fall WITH demand. And if they continue, we may very well feel a touch of the lash of that hyperinflation that John Williams is predicting.”
  • How the link economy benefits Reuters – “My feeling, however, is that the way that Reuters will benefit most from the link economy won’t show up in Ahearn’s P&L at all. The Reuters news product is primarily monetized through terminal sales, not through ad sales on, and that’s how we’ll make our money from the link economy too: insofar as Reuters becomes a central hub of the link economy, it will increasingly be a must-have product for the financial-market professionals who pay $1,000 a month* for their terminals. Could those professionals, in theory, find the same content online for free? Yes. But not nearly as quickly or as conveniently as they can find it on their terminal, where it’s pushed to them with ultra-low latency and long before the story in question finally gets put up on our website. As Reuters becomes increasingly authoritative and important online, largely through all the inbound links it gets, it will become that much easier for us to sell those terminals and make lots of money doing so”
  • Restating the case for human uniqueness – “despite the very small difference in the gene coding sequence between humans and chimps, some of the important genetic differences are in genes that regulate a whole host of other genes. So a small change can make an immense difference. The genetic difference between us and chimps may be much greater than the 1.6 per cent figure implies, as our uniqueness is based on a powerful network of gene regulation, [Jeremy Taylor] argues [in ‘Not a Chimp: The Hunt to Find the Genes That Make Us Human’].”
  • Four Days in North Korea – “There is no Internet access in North Korea—the Pyongyang elite use an intranet to listen to music and watch movies. There are three TV channels, and North Koreans usually go to telephone booths when they need to make calls.
    . . .
    From our first moments in the country, it was obvious that some North Koreans receive special treatment. The train for Pyongyang had 15 cars, but only the three “international compartments” had fans to fight the sweltering heat. Well-dressed North Koreans took up the majority of seats in the compartment. The women wore silk blouses, nice skirts, and high heels, and the men were decked out in good T-shirts, which sometimes showed off their big bellies.

    They were the only fat North Koreans that I saw on the trip. The people in the streets of Pyongyang and Kaesong were often downright skinny. In Pyongyang, I had my picture taken with two elementary-school boys in Kim Il-Sung Square, and I could clearly feel their ribs when I put my hands on their backs. ”

  • Health Care Reform and the Golden Rule – “As for Obama’s motivation in pushing healthcare reform? Just guessing, but so far Obama’s administration has been so corporatist in handing over aid and comfort to specific industries that it makes me wonder if he views instituting something like universal healthcare to be a bone to throw at the ordinary Joe, who may have begun to resent exactly how rigged (in favor of the big-ticket investors) politics in the U.S. has proven during the current downturn. If that line of thinking starts to proliferate, something bad could happen to the big ticket brigade. ”
  • Everybody wants to go to heaven – “A mean conservative Newt Gingrich argues: ‘we need a new federal resolve to truly defeat Alzheimer’s. As America’s largest generation ages, we have no time to lose.’ On the empathic left Ezekial Emanuel (brother of the gentle soul, Emanual): ‘Conversely, services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia.'”
  • You don’t have to go to school – “Here is the story of a Russian woman’s experience with pulling her three children out of school that I thought would provide some valuable perspective to people in the States who are confronting the same decision, so I translated it.”
  • Quelle Surprise! Hank Paulson and Goldman CEO Talked to Each Other a Lot! – “At this point, the New York Times story reporting that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein spoke frequently during the crisis is close to a ‘dog bites man’ news item. After Goldman was the only Wall Street player involved in the discussions of what to do about the rapidly unravelling AIG, and Goldman then turned out to be the biggest beneficiary of the dubious credit default swaps unwinding, any other cases of undue attentiveness to the needs of Paulson’s former firm are likely to pale. The amusing bit is that the public is looking for more signs of behind the scenes winks and nods, when what is in the open is so blatant that there really wasn’t much need to do things in a covert fashion.”

The Real Clunkers in this Deal: Why “cash for clunkers” is a terrible idea

  • Ten things we don’t understand about humans – “4. Teenagers: Even our closest relatives, the great apes, move smoothly from their juvenile to adult life phases — so why do humans spend an agonising decade skulking around in hoodies?”
  • Mini-magnet test makes things sticky for TB – “TUBERCULOSIS can now be diagnosed in just 30 minutes, using magnetic nanoparticles which identify Mycobacterium tuberculosis in sputum, even at very low concentrations.”
  • What Kinds of Girls Are Upper Tier Colleges Looking For? – “Selective schools are not interested these days in girls who like English and history, like to read and are able to write clearly and well. Those skills fill the bell curve for smart girls … Selective schools have absorbed the folk myths of bobo culture. So cool girls are math smart, genetically destined to be hackers, risk takers, and into competitive sports.”
  • Vive la Difference! A New Approach to College Rankings – “The most exciting dimension of this year’s Forbes/CCAP rankings of colleges is a revolutionary new concept –the do it yourself ranking, available here. You first determine the region where you want to go to school, and the size of the institution. After that, you indicate which of 12 factors you think are important –and how important. Those factors include admissions selectivity, average freshman SAT scores, the student-faculty ratio, the four year graduation rate, crime rates on campus, student evaluations of their instruction (and instructors), incidence of listing in Who’s Who in America, average post-graduate salary data, whether students or faculty won nationally competitive awards, average student debt loads, and net tuition costs. Then the screener gives you the top 20 schools, given your tastes and preferences.”

Richard Hammond’s Honda Fireblade vs… a rocket and a golf ball?

  • iStubz – The Dumbest Idea I’ve Ever Wholeheartedly Endorsed – “I wouldn’t go as far as to call these iStubz replacement sync/charge cables for the iPod and iPhone genius or anything, I mean they’re just shorter versions of the ones Apple gives you, but 9 times out of 10 I only need 7cm of cord. I’ll happily suck it up that one time I need a bit more slack if the rest of the time my desk isn’t a cluttered cobweb of white cables.”
  • Feds at DefCon Alarmed After RFIDs Scanned – “It’s one of the most hostile hacker environments in the country — the DefCon hacker conference held every summer in Las Vegas.

    But despite the fact that attendees know they should take precautions to protect their data, federal agents at the conference got a scare on Friday when they were told they might have been caught in the sights of an RFID reader.

    The reader, connected to a web camera, sniffed data from RFID-enabled ID cards and other documents carried by attendees in pockets and backpacks as they passed a table where the equipment was stationed in full view.

    It was part of a security-awareness project set up by a group of security researchers and consultants to highlight privacy issues around RFID.”

  • LG’s THX-Certified LED HDTVs are Now Available in the U.S. – “Hear that? It’s the trademark THX sound you hear before movies. Now you can watch those movies on LG’s new THX-certified LH90 series of LED-backlit HDTVs that have finally arrived on U.S. soil. The trio of 1080p HDTVs, which are the first to receive the THX certification here in the US, feature TruMotion 240Hz technology.”
  • GearDeal: Prepaid cell phone cards – $50 refills only $44 at Target – “Some providers such as T-Mobile even let you keep your minutes for a full year if you fill them with $100 at a time. Target has all brands of prepaid cellular refill cards on sale this week. Spend $44 and get a $50 card. Choose Virgin Mobile, Boost, T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon Wireless. Available in store only.”

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