Sunday, December 26, 2010

Facts about our military spending

According to Nicholas Kristof:
  • The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
  • The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
  • The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
  • The U.S. military now has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brad DeLong explains

Read his "Inflation Economics" Lecture. It explains the state of the US govt. financial situation and how we got here.

Then read his comment on the financial and health care service industries. Here's how it ends.
Do not get us wrong: we do not hate service industries. But most service industries produce something of value in return for their profits. Health care administration simply produces denials of coverage. Finance as currently construed simply produces portfolios for individuals that involve them bearing extraordinarily large and idiosyncratic risks that they had no idea they were bearing.

There are two ways to make money in health care: (i) by providing people with valuable treatments that they are willing to pay for, and (ii) by collecting insurance premiums and finding some excuse not to pay them out when people get sick.

There are two ways to make money in finance: (i) to find people who are willing to bear risks that they understand, selling them risks that offer attractive risk-return tradeoffs, and collecting a commission; and (ii) by selling people risks that they don't understand.

It looks to us very much as though our modern health-care administration and financial sectors are good at the second but not the first.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stop the banks

Sign Yves' petition. From Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism.
From NYT.
When Mimi Ash arrived at her mountain chalet here for a weekend ski trip, she discovered that someone had broken into the home and changed the locks.

When she finally got into the house, it was empty. All of her possessions were gone: furniture, her son’s ski medals, winter clothes and family photos. Also missing was a wooden box, its top inscribed with the words “Together Forever,” that contained the ashes of her late husband, Robert.

The culprit, Ms. Ash soon learned, was not a burglar but her bank. According to a federal lawsuit filed in October by Ms. Ash, Bank of America had wrongfully foreclosed on her house and thrown out her belongings, without alerting Ms. Ash beforehand….

Identifying the number of homeowners who were locked out illegally is difficult. But banks and their representatives insist that situations like Ms. Ash’s represent just a tiny percentage of foreclosures."
This, as the British would say, is bollocks. The traditional procedures around the transfer of title made the old system virtually fail-safe. Any number above zero is unacceptably high. And “a tiny percentage” across the huge numbers of foreclosures happening across the US adds up to meaningful numbers in real terms.

The examples in the NY Times story are all from middle to upper income homeowners. For someone of lesser means, the consequences of wrongful action can be devastating. If possessions are removed, or worse, put out on the street, the losses can be significant.

This is the banks’ excuse:

A clause in most mortgages allows banks that service the loan to enter a home and secure it if it is in default, meaning if the mortgage payment is 45 to 60 days late, and if the house has been abandoned, authorities said.

First, some of the homes broken into have been current on payments. Second, “abandoned” seems to be interpreted as “no one at home when the contractor showed up” which would be true during the business day for most working families.

This pattern again proves what we know all two well, namely, that we have a two-tier system of law in the US: one for the banks, one for the rest of us.
To help stop this, sign Yves' petition.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

When Zombies Win—great column by Krugman

When Zombies Win -
When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.

How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?

The answer from the right is that the economic failures of the Obama administration show that big-government policies don’t work. But the response should be, what big-government policies?

For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. And that’s not 20-20 hindsight: many economists, myself included, warned from the beginning that the plan was grossly inadequate. Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics.

Now, maybe it wasn’t possible for President Obama to get more in the face of Congressional skepticism about government. But even if that’s true, it only demonstrates the continuing hold of a failed doctrine over our politics.

It’s also worth pointing out that everything the right said about why Obamanomics would fail was wrong. For two years we’ve been warned that government borrowing would send interest rates sky-high; in fact, rates have fluctuated with optimism or pessimism about recovery, but stayed consistently low by historical standards. For two years we’ve been warned that inflation, even hyperinflation, was just around the corner; instead, disinflation has continued, with core inflation — which excludes volatile food and energy prices — now at a half-century low.

The free-market fundamentalists have been as wrong about events abroad as they have about events in America — and suffered equally few consequences. “Ireland,” declared George Osborne in 2006, “stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking.” Whoops. But Mr. Osborne is now Britain’s top economic official.

And in his new position, he’s setting out to emulate the austerity policies Ireland implemented after its bubble burst. After all, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic spent much of the past year hailing Irish austerity as a resounding success. “The Irish approach worked in 1987-89 — and it’s working now,” declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute last June. Whoops, again.

But such failures don’t seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn’t, we’re still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by “zombie economics.” Why?

Part of the answer, surely, is that people who should have been trying to slay zombie ideas have tried to compromise with them instead. And this is especially, though not only, true of the president.

People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance — most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.

President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy — but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?

Yes, politics is the art of the possible. We all understand the need to deal with one’s political enemies. But it’s one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it’s another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain — and quite possibly your economy too.
This blog entry illustrates the Birth of a Zombie.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Delaying new pollution controls rules

Madeleine Brand had a segment on Obama's decision to delay polution controls on the grounds that they will "kill jobs." That's exactly backward. I left this comment on the show's website.
Allowing the new rules to go into effect will create jobs, not kill them.

Corporations are making more money and have more money in the bank now than at any time in history. They aren't spending it because of insufficient demand. Allowing the new rules to go into effect creates demand. The demand it creates is for pollution controls, but it is demand nevertheless.

Corporations can afford to make investments in pollution controls because they have so much money available to spend. This is exactly the right time to ask them to spend it. They are in a position to do so now, and doing so now will stimulate the economy. If Obama really believes that allowing the rules to go into effect will kill jobs, he has become more captive to Republican propaganda than we realized.

Where are his economic advisors?

Monday, November 22, 2010

What is Obama thinking?

Yet another post urging Obama to show some backbone.
Republican congressional leaders have said they will let all of the Bush tax cuts expire unless the president bows to their demand that the top 3 percent of Americans be included in any tax cut extension.

Obama should call their bluff.
See the whole thing here. It has lots of sound arguments—ethical, econonmic, and political—for standing up to the Republicans.

The real question is why posts like this are even necessary. What's going on in Obama's head that he's not doing this on his own initiative?

Bees solve the TSP

From the Media Center at Queen Mary, University of London:
Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the 'Travelling Salesman Problem',
Of course it's not as mathematically formal as the preceding suggets. Here's the abstract from The American Naturalist.
Animals collecting resources that replenish over time often visit patches in predictable sequences called traplines. Despite the widespread nature of this strategy, we still know little about how spatial memory develops and guides individuals toward suitable routes. Here, we investigate whether flower visitation sequences by bumblebees Bombus terrestris simply reflect the order in which flowers were discovered or whether they result from more complex navigational strategies enabling bees to optimize their foraging routes. We analyzed bee flight movements in an array of four artificial flowers maximizing interfloral distances. Starting from a single patch, we sequentially added three new patches so that if bees visited them in the order in which they originally encountered flowers, they would follow a long (suboptimal) route. Bees’ tendency to visit patches in their discovery order decreased with experience. Instead, they optimized their flight distances by rearranging flower visitation sequences. This resulted in the development of a primary route (trapline) and two or three less frequently used secondary routes. Bees consistently used these routes after overnight breaks while occasionally exploring novel possibilities. We discuss how maintaining some level of route flexibility could allow traplining animals to cope with dynamic routing problems, analogous to the well‐known traveling salesman problem.
In the PR release Dr Nigel Raine from Royal Holloway's school of biological sciences is quoted as saying,
Despite their tiny brains bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behaviour.
Of course this is not quite so extraordinary. All they need do is keep track of the distance for any route and then through experimentation among different routes select the shortest found so far. Even that's not trivial, but it's a lot less sophisticated than "solving" TSP.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jon Stewart on Glenn Beck on George Soros

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
George Soros Plans to Overthrow America
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Selling blood plasma for a little extra spending money

From The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“For a lot of college students, it’s just a little extra spending money,” Mr. Canze [the opinion editor Central Michigan University’s student newspaper] said when I asked about the plasma trade. “I probably know nine to a dozen people who will go regularly. They screen you, hook you up, pump you, and get you on your way.” Each visit to the local BioLife Plasma Services facility takes about an hour, during which you can read, listen to music, or get on Facebook through the company’s Wifi network. The facility even offers day care. …

You make $20 per BioLife visit, Mr. Canze told me. You can go as often as twice a week, and if you go at least once a week for a month, you get a $20 bonus. The math is easy enough—you can make $180 a month. That’s real money, especially for college students, especially in Michigan.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In America, it's far more shameful to owe money than it is to steal it.

Fantastic article by Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone, "Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners". He describes the massive fraud underlying the foreclosure mess. The title of this post is the last line of his article. Guess who owes money and guess who steals it.

Let the Bush tax increase take effect

Jame Kwak of The Baseline Scenario makes a good case for allowing Bush's temporary tax giveaway to end as scheduled.
The question is: Is it better to extend the tax cuts for everyone or for no one? The answer is to extend them for no one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator

The Center for Economic and Policy Research has an animated graphic that lets you compare health care costs in the US with those of other countries with similar standards of living— and life expectancies that are greater(!) than ours. It's amazing how we are bankrupting ourselves compared to the rest of the world.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brad DeLong explains

Brad DeLong is one of the smartest and most insightful economists around. He is also an irrepressible blogger. In this piece he explains why intelligent economists (including himself) didn't foresee the financial problems we are now facing.
What we did believe? We believed that the Federal Reserve could handle whatever financial crisis the markets could throw at it. We believed that the Federal Reserve had the policy tools, the risk management skills, and the incentives to firewall the real economy from financial dislocations, and to clean up whatever financial messes were left behind. There were solid reasons for these beliefs: they were called 1987, 1991, 1997, 1998, and 2001. In all of those episodes--some of them involving financial losses much greater than those of the initial subprime mortgage crisis--the Federal Reserve had successfully firewalled the real economy off from financial turmoil.

Once we had concluded that the Federal Reserve had the tools and the competence to absorb financial shocks, the jaws of the trap snap shut. Leverage then appears to be a positive good rather than a danger. Why? Because if the past two centuries of financial market history prove anything, it is that the markets are woefully short of patent capital willing to bear risks. The financial rich are overwhelmingly the patient risk-bearers. The financial poor are those who sought safety, or who were unwilling or unable to hold their positions and wait for fundamentals to reassert themselves. Leverage then becomes a way of taking the money of the risk-averse of whom the market has too many--for that is what low long-term returns on "safe" portfolios tell us--and putting it too work in the hands of the too-few who will use it to take the long-term risks that the market, historically, has always handsomely rewarded. And financial sophistication becomes a way of concentrating and amplifying the rewards of risk-bearing to call forth additional risk-bearing capital to bolster the numbers of the too-few.

The argument is bullet-proof and correct--as long as Greenspanism is true doctrine, as long as the Federal Reserve does in fact have the policy tools, the risk management skills, and the incentives to firewall the real economy from financial dislocations, and to clean up whatever financial messes were left behind.

Here it is worth stressing that these intellectual commitments are not the result of being hypnotized by the princes of Wall Street. They are the result of disciplined and concentrated analysis of the historical patterns of asset prices and returns. They are the result of confidence in the intellectual power of the discipline of monetary economics as applied through the policy instrumentality of the Federal Reserve. And they are the result of the economists' insight that whenever there is an area of economic activity that pays huge, outsized rewards the odds are that we need more of it done. …

And while these intellectual commitments are certainly fueled by too-close attention to and admiration for central bankers, they are not especially closely tied to contacts with or worship of the princes of Wall Street.
Notice, especially the last line of the next to last paragraph. It is one of the insights of economists that whenever there is an area of economic activity that pays huge, outsized rewards the odds are that we need more of it done. That means in particular that we need more Wall street speculation.

That may be true. The original source of hedge fund profits was finding inefficiencies in markets, and in doing so making them less inefficient. But what happened is that as the inefficiencies shrank it took more and more leverage to make the same amount of money. Eventually the entire system became both over-leveraged and over-sized in markets that were too small to handle them. So something else has to deal with over leverage in too small markets. That's not a problem with hedge funds doing what they do; it's a problem with how hedge funds (and banks) are regulated.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A friend sent this

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting.

Well, for example, the other day my wife and I went downtown and went into a shop.

We were only in there for about 5 minutes.

When we came out, there was a cop writing a parking ticket.

We went up to him and said, "Come on, how about giving a senior citizen a break?"

He ignored us and continued writing the ticket. I called him a Nazi.

He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having worn tires.

So my wife called him an unprintable name. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first.

Then he started writing a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes. The more we talked, the more tickets he wrote.

Personally, we didn't care. We came downtown by bus and noticed that the car had a Palin bumper sticker.

We try to have a little fun each day now that we're retired.

It's important at our age.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Volker rule

would prohibit banks from trading for their own profit. Felix Salmon explains why it's a good idea.
the explicit thinking behind the Volcker Rule is that there are good and bad ways for a bank to become globally competitive. The bad ways involve taking unnecessary risks with taxpayer money. The point of the Fed’s discount window is to provide a funding source for banks to make loans into the broad economy, not to provide a near-zero cost of funds for proprietary bets. And no bank in the world will deliberately cross-subsidize its lending operations with its prop-trading profits.

Shuttering prop desks, writes Bachus, “will cause these firms to be less profitable”. Well, yes. That’s a feature, not a bug. We don’t want financial institutions to be profitable: they’re middlemen, and their job is to help capital flow to where it can best be put to work, rather than to retain as much of that capital as possible for themselves, in the form of profits and bonuses. [Emphasis added - Russ]

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Use coffee grounds or sand to pick things up

From Science News.
The simple gripper is made of a bag of coffee grounds and a vacuum, though other grains such as couscous and sand also work, says study coauthor Eric Brown of the University of Chicago. To pick something up, the bag of loose grounds first melds around the object. Then as a vacuum sucks air out of the spaces between grains, the gripper stiffens, packing itself into a hard vise molded to the outline of the object. Reducing the bag’s starting volume by just a teeny amount — less than 1 percent of the total — was enough to make the gripper latch on, the team found.

This transition from fluidlike behavior (such as dry sand flowing out of a bucket) to solid (a hard-packed sand castle) is a physical process called “jamming.” Because the gripper’s bulb conforms to any shape evenly before the vacuum jams it, it’s extremely versatile. “Our goal was to pick up objects where you don’t know what you’re dealing with ahead of time,” Brown says.

Won only 4 out to of 9—but at least 23 lost and 25 won

Blue is good (4); Red is bad (5).

19. Legalize marijuana. Yes. (Lost)

Why not? May not solve all our drug problems, but moves in the right direction.

20. Modify how citizen's redistricting commission works and extend it to Congressional districts. No. (Won)

Prop 11 (2008) created a citizen's commission to do redistricting for state offices. This changes the criteria to be used for redistricting. The commission is mandated to draw lines that conform to neighborhoods. This won't make districts any more competitive. If this is applied at the state level as well, it will make those less competitive. In addition, it will have the effect of making Democratic voters more highly concentrated than Republican voters and will therefore help Republicans.

21. State Park fee. Yes. (Lost)

Helps save state parks.

22. Prevent state from taking money from local governments. Yes. (Won)

Will force the state to face its financial problems. Will at least let local governments do their jobs.

23. Suspend pollution rules. No. (Lost!)

Of course not.

24. Cancel tax breaks. Yes. (Lost)

These were corporate tax breaks forced on the state in 2008 and 2009 by the 2/3 rule to get a budget passed. Reverse the extortion.

25. Majority vote budget. Yes. (Won!)

Kill the 2/3 rule for passing a state budget.

26. Require 2/3 rule for imposing fees. No. (Won)

Makes it much harder to hold polluters accountable for the problems they cause. We have a 2/3 rule for taxes, which has crippled the state. Let's not add to the problems.

27. Kill redistricting commission. No. (Lost)

A "Yes" vote would return redistricting authority to the legislature. Not a good idea. Prop 11 (2008) already gives that authority to a citizen's commission. Let it stay that way.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

CREDO Action is happy

Nice column by

Mohamed A. El-Erian, chief executive and co-chief investment officer Pimco. He starts by saying that gridlock, often thought to be good for business, is not given our current economic situation.
While certain sectors of the economy are in control of their destinies, the private sector as a whole is not in a position to do this. It needs help to overcome the consequences of the "great age" of leverage, debt and credit entitlement, and the related surge in structural unemployment. The urgency to do so increases in the rapidly evolving global economy, as United States sheds a bit more of its economic and political edge to other countries daily.

Simply put, these realities make it necessary for Washington to resist two years of gridlock and policy paralysis. Democrats and Republicans must meet in the middle to implement policies to deal with debt overhangs and structural rigidities. The economy needs political courage that transcends expediency in favor of long-term solutions on issues including housing reform, medium-term budget rules, pro-growth tax reforms, investments in physical and technological infrastructure, job retraining, greater support for education and scientific research, and better nets to protect the most vulnerable segments of society. [Emphasis added]

Success requires an element of policy experimentation as well as confidence that mid-course policy corrections will be identified and undertaken on a timely basis. And such efforts must be wrapped in an encompassing economic vision that acts as a magnet of conversion nationally, counters growing international frictions and facilitates much-needed global economic coordination.

This is not an easy list. It will be difficult to translate today's political extremes into a common vision, analysis and narrative. Yet the longer it takes to do this, the greater the effort needed to restore our tradition of unmatched economic dynamism, buoyant job creation and global leadership.
Good luck getting the Republicans to go along with that!

They really are crazy

Here is Dan Freeman on Andrew Breitbart's website.
The nearly two years of corruption, plunder, and economic destruction—combined with the mockery of the American people and vilification of the private sector—has crystallized for many a realization of a home grown threat more destructive and imminently dangerous to America than any of the substantial external threats we faced over the last century. It’s a threat that has been building quietly for many years but has come to the fore since President Obama was elected. Have you wondered how the radical left managed to capture the reins of power and govern in direct opposition to the will of two thirds of the population? The answer is the New Axis of Evil. It is the power base of the left (and the Democratic Party).
Here is his gallery of the worst of the worst.

I recognize Paul Krugman at the middle lower right and George Soros at the upper left. I don't recognize the other people. Anyone know who they are? I imagine a lot of people are unhappy that they didn't make Freeman's honor roll.

Freeman wants to exclude a lot of people from being part of the country. If 99% of the country disagreed with him, he would still be saying that those people are the New Evil Empire and he is fighting to save the country from them.

Monday, November 01, 2010

From James Kwak of Baseline Scenario.
Middle class wages have been declining for ten years and stagnant for thirty years, and if you have a financial system that allows people making $15,000 a year to take out $400,000 mortgages, I don’t think that’s the fault of the guy making $15,000. I think it’s the fault of the financial system.

But, let’s say I’m a guy who makes $15,000 a year. I realize, wow, I can get a $400,000 mortgage and I can live in this house for a few years, and if housing prices go up, I can flip it and I can actually make a couple hundred thousand dollars. And let’s say I’m really clever, and I say, if housing prices go down, I’ll just walk away and I will have gotten to live in a really nice house for three years at no cost to myself. I mean, that’s the worst, most cynical spin you can put on it, right? But this is exactly what people on Wall Street do. The person who is criticizing the janitor for doing this is the same person who thinks that businesses should exploit every legal opportunity to make profits. So even if you attribute the worst possible state of mind to the guy making $15,000, he’s still just doing what any businessman should do under the circumstances. But our national ideology somehow doesn't allow us to think about it in those terms.

My proposition recommendations (again)

See State guide and Ballot*pedia.

19. Legalize marijuana. Yes.

Why not? May not solve all our drug problems, but moves in the right direction.

20. Modify how citizen's redistricting commission works and extend it to Congressional districts. No.

Prop 11 (2008) created a citizen's commission to do redistricting for state offices. This changes the criteria to be used for redistricting. The commission is mandated to draw lines that conform to neighborhoods. This won't make districts any more competitive. If this is applied at the state level as well, it will make those less competitive. In addition, it will have the effect of making Democratic voters more highly concentrated than Republican voters and will therefore help Republicans.

21. State Park fee. Yes.

Helps save state parks.

22. Prevent state from taking money from local governments. Yes.

Will force the state to face its financial problems. Will at least let local governments do their jobs.

23. Suspend pollution rules. No.

Of course not.

24. Cancel tax breaks. Yes.

These were corporate tax breaks forced on the state in 2008 and 2009 by the 2/3 rule to get a budget passed. Reverse the extortion.

25. Majority vote budget. Yes.

Kill the 2/3 rule for passing a state budget.

26. Require 2/3 rule for imposing fees. No.

Makes it much harder to hold polluters accountable for the problems they cause. We have a 2/3 rule for taxes, which has crippled the state. Let's not add to the problems.

27. Kill redistricting commission. No.

A "Yes" vote would return redistricting authority to the legislature. Not a good idea. Prop 11 (2008) already gives that authority to a citizen's commission. Let it stay that way.

My recommendations agree with Credo Action and the League of Women Voters where we both take positions. I differ with most other progressive groups in that I oppose 27 while they favor it. I differ with the Courage Campaign in that I support 22 while they oppose it. Here is a score card.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The private sector has not created jobs in a year!

An amazing post by Yves Smith describes how the private sector is not the jobs generating machine the Republican claim it to be. Her post was in response to a column by David Broder, who suggested that the way out of our current economic slump is to start a war with Iran. (I think Yves' post ran as a response guest column in the Washington Post, Broder's paper. His column has drawn much fired, and deservedly so.)

Here are a couple of charts from Yves' post.

This first one show private sector job growth over a decade. From 1965 through 2001, there were 20% more private sector jobs than a decade previously. From 2001 until today, that percentage has declined steadily until we now face not job growth at all for the past decade—or at least through early 2009.

Even the jobs that have been created in the private sector have to a great extent been funded by the government.

Where is the American dream?

Nice column by Tom Friedman. He is writing from India.
[When] more than a few U.S. politicians are loudly denouncing immigration reforms, free trade expansion and outsourcing, more than a few Indian business leaders want to ask the president: “What’s up with that?” Didn’t America export to the world all the technologies and free market dogmas that created this increasingly flat, global economic playing field — and now you’re turning against them?

“It is the Silicon Valley revolution which enabled the massive rise in tradable services and the U.S.-built telecommunication networks that allowed creation of the virtual office,” Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online, wrote in the Indian magazine Businessworld this week. “But the U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity.” Ouch. …

“America,” said Srivastava [co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India], “was the one who said to us: ‘You have to go for meritocracy. You don’t have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.’ This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they’re beginning to learn how to hum it, you’re changing the anthem. … Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn’t fashionable.” …

It looks, said Srivastava, as if “what is happening in America is a loss of self-confidence. We don’t want America to lose self-confidence. Who else is there to take over America’s moral leadership? American’s leadership was never because you had more arms. It was because of ideas, imagination, and meritocracy.” If America turns away from its core values, he added, “there is nobody else to take that leadership. Do we want China as the world’s moral leader? No. We desperately want America to succeed.”

This isn’t just so American values triumph. With a rising China on one side and a crumbling Pakistan on the other, India’s newfound friendship with America has taken on strategic importance. “It is very worrying to live in a world that no longer has the balance of power we’ve had for 60 years,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “That is why everyone is concerned about America.”

India and America are both democracies, a top Indian official explained to me, but emotionally they are now ships passing in the night. Because today the poorest Indian maid believes that if she can just save a few dollars to get her kid English lessons, that kid will have a better life than she does. So she is an optimist. “But the guy in Kansas,” he added, “who today is enjoying a better life than that maid, is worried that he can’t pass it on to his kids. So he’s a pessimist.”

Credo action suggests: Tell ABC News not to give Andrew Breitbart a platform to spread his lies.

One of the most precious assets of a news organization is its credibility.

So it's appalling that ABC News' election night coverage on Tuesday night will include notorious propagandist and serial race-baiter Andrew Breitbart, who only months ago was publicly disgraced for falsely smearing Shirley Sherrod.

We cannot let this go unchallenged. That is why CREDO is joining with our friends at Color of Change to put a stop to this and tell ABC to rescind its invitation to Breitbart.

There are plenty of other conservatives who ABC News could turn to for analysis or commentary. By inviting someone like Breitbart to participate, ABC News is not only calling its own credibility into question, it is also serving to rehabilitate the credibility of Andrew Breitbart and legitimate more of his race-baiting lies.

Tell ABC News: Don't give Andrew Breitbart a platform to spread his lies.
Sign the petition here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Microsoft's SkyDrive

I never expected to be promoting a Microsoft product, but I'm impressed. Microsoft is offering Windows Live. It's free, and it provides various services, including online versions of the MS Office applications. (It's a challenge to Google Docs.) What I'm using, though is their SkyDrive. It's 25GB of free storage with an easy-to-use interface. If you have Windows 7 it also syncs to your file system to provide an automatic backup. I don't have Windows 7 and don't know how well it works. But I'm quite happy with the free storage service.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chinese build fastest supercomputer

From NYT.
A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower.

The Tianhe-1A computer in Tianjin, China, links thousands upon thousands of chips.
The computer, known as Tianhe-1A, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, as measured by the standard test used to gauge how well the systems handle mathematical calculations, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings.

Democratic brands vs. Republican brands

From Advertising Age.Republicans are more strongly committed to their 10th strongest brand choice than Democrats are to their second—59.5 for Cheerios vs. 58.7 for Sony. I guess that's to be expected. Republicans would be expected to stick with things they like, and Democrats may be expected to be more open to new things.

That doesn't quite explain the areas of difference, though.
  • Three Democratic brands don't appear on the Republican list: Google, Sony, Amazon.
  • Three Republican brands don't appear on Democratic list: Fox News, Fox, Lowe's.
It's not just that Democrats like new brands and Republicans don't. Although Democrats like Google and Amazon, Republicans like some relatively new brands such as Fox News and Lowes. The real difference seems to be that Republicans don't have any Internet brands among their favorites.

There may even be a genetic components to this.
Scientists at the University of California San Diego and Harvard University … wanted to explore if politics were heritable by identifying a specific gene variant associated with political leaning. They hypothesized that individuals with a genetic predisposition toward seeking out new experiences would tend to be more liberal.

The 7R variant of DRD4, a dopamine receptor gene, had previously been associated with novelty seeking. The researchers theorized novelty seeking would be related to openness, a psychological trait that has been associated with political liberalism.

However, social environment was critical. The more friends gene carriers have in high school, the more likely they are to be liberals as adults. The authors write, "Ten friends can move a person with two copies of 7R allele almost halfway from being a conservative to moderate or from being moderate to liberal."

They theorize a larger social network may bring more diverse viewpoints, which could be an influence on the liberal development.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Break the bank

The idea is for a lot of people to withdraw money from a too-big-to-fail bank at the same time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Jerry Brown ad quoting Meg Whitman

Two speeches for the President

Robert Kutner has two speeches he wishes the President would deliver but suspects he probably won't.
My fellow Americans, Social Security is one of the bedrock programs that Democrats have always fought for. In a deep recession, protecting Social Security is more important than ever. Two-thirds of seniors depend on Social Security for more than half their income.

Thanks to the banking collapse produced under my predecessor's administration, older Americans have lost a lot the equity in their homes, much of their savings, and retirement plans such as 401k's. But Social Security is the one part of retirement income that your government guarantees because you have prepaid it with your taxes all of your working life.

Now, with Americans reeling from the costs of recession, many Republicans are calling for a human sacrifice. They want to raise the retirement age, or privatize Social Security, or otherwise cut benefits.

Some leading Republican congressmen who will assume leadership positions if the Republicans take control of Congress are on record favoring Social Security cuts. Some Republican candidates even say Social Security is unconstitutional.

Even in my own party, a few people think Social Security needs to be cut in order to demonstrate that Washington is serious about reducing the federal deficit. Yes, the deficit needs to be brought under control - but Social Security is in surplus for the next 27 years!

We can reduce the deficit without balancing the budget on the backs of seniors. I am happy to have this argument with Republicans and with the few Democrats who would tamper with Social Security out of sincere but misguided concern for fiscal balance.

So as long as I am president, there will be no cuts, no privatization, and no raising of the retirement age. Social Security will be there not only for today's retirees, but for their children and grandchildren. If we want to put Social Security in the black forever, the best way to do it is to put Americans back to work and raise their wages, since Social Security is financed by payroll taxes.

Whatever your partisan preference, I hope you will vote on November 2. And before you vote, you might want to ask your favorite candidate whether he or she has taken the pledge that I have taken--never to support cuts in Social Security.
Friends, I have had it with the big banks. When the whole banking system was about to collapse in 2008 and take the economy down with it, I reluctantly supported relief to the banks. The banks have now paid back nearly all the money under the so-called TARP program. They are profitable again.

I coupled that relief with a call for stringent reform of banking practices, so that no bank would ever again be "too big to fail." Congress, in passing the Dodd-Frank Act last July, provided most of what I requested, including the power to shut down and reorganize large financial institutions that pose systemic risks.

But now we learn that the banks that created the monster of sub-prime loans were not just taking advantage of borrowers with deceptive terms, and of innocent investors who bought bonds backed by sub-prime loans. The banks also put the whole system on automatic pilot, and hired people to sign false affidavits that the mortgages were properly documented.

A great many of the mortgages, and the bonds backed by the mortgages, turn out to have false documentation. In plain English, that means houses can't be sold, because it's not clear who owns them. And if a property has been foreclosed, the bank can't take it back.

This is a needless catastrophe for homeowners, for the banking system, and for pension funds or mutual funds that bought these bonds. The bonds, backed by dubious loans, were already worth less than their face value because of the low quality of the underlying mortgages. Now, many of them may be worth nothing.

All of this was the result of greed, pure and simple. Banks were making so much money, so fast, that they couldn't even slow down long enough to properly document the mortgage loans.

Their greed has undercut one of the most fundamental pillars of our economic system, ownership of private property -- the ability to know for certain when you own something, and to be confident that when you buy something as important as your house, that the person who is selling it actually owns it. The bankers created a doomsday machine.

The people who created this legal mess on top of an economic mess have been lobbying my administration to come up with some kind of quick fix, so that all of these improper mortgages will somehow be okay. And I have told them that there will be no quick fixes at the expense of the tens of millions of ordinary homeowners who have been the victims of these scams. The fact that they were perpetrated by some of the biggest banks in our country makes them all the more shameful.

So today, I am instructing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as authorized by the Dodd-Frank Act, to call an emergency meeting of the newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council that he chairs. I have asked him to declare that a systemic emergency exists, and to come back with a three-part program.

Part one will investigate just how many of the nation's mortgages and bonds backed by the mortgages are not legally valid. We will devise a way of turning these into proper loans, but only as part of a broader program of relief to homeowners.

Part two will provide a more effective system of refinancing mortgages than the present HAMP program, so that people who took out mortgage loans in good faith and then found themselves under water, can keep their homes. This is not a handout, this is justice. Ordinary people will get no more than bankers got -- and no less.

Part three will determine which banks are insolvent as a result of this latest banking mess. Those banks will be restructured, under the new authority of the Dodd-Frank Act, and will be returned to sound operation so that they can serve the credit needs of Americans. No taxpayer money will be required.

My friends, banks are here to serve us, not to take advantage of us. I will not let the short-sightedness of a few people on Wall Street take down the economy for the second time in three years.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

“The Humanities Really Do Produce a Profit.”

About half a year ago Rob Watson, a friend in the UCLA English Department, published an article with that title in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Subscription is required for access, but the article is reprinted here.

The article counters the claim that the Humanities are a drain on Universities. Rob quotes Mark G. Yudof, President of the University of California system.
Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We’re doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this core problem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it. Who’s going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that’s where we’re running into trouble.
Rob goes on to report that if one compares the cost of educating students in the Humanities with educational costs for other fields, the Humanities come out ahead. From the University's perspective, it's cheaper for a student to take a given number of Humanities units than it is for that same student to take the same number of units in science, engineering, etc. If all Humanities courses were eliminated the cost to the University for a student to earn a degree would increase rather than decrease—assuming the number of units required for a degree remains constant. The more Humanities courses students take, the less money the University spends per student unit.

I'm surprised that this is surprising. The per-student cost of a course depends on the course's student-faculty ratio along with whatever auxiliary resources the course requires. Many Humanities courses are taught as large lecture classes with high student-faculty ratios. Very few Humanities courses require labs or other equipment. It would be surprising if Dr. Yudoff was unaware of this.

So the question is what did Dr. Yudoff have in mind. I can't know, of course, but my guess is that Dr. Yudoff was thinking about outside grants. Presumably medicine and the science bring in lots more outside money than do the Humanities. Many colleges and Universities are under a great deal of pressure to bring in more and more money.

I don't think that's healthy. I don't think a University should see itself primarily as a platform for procuring outside funding. But that seems to be the way it's going these days, and Dr. Yudoff is simply responding to those pressures. The ever increasing pressure on Universities to earn grant money is the real problem, not the cost of providing an education in any particular discipline.

Mark Thoma still think's there's hope for the press

He quotes Colorado Republican Ken Buck as saying “By extending [the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy] you pay down the deficit, you grow the economy by giving people more money”. He goes on as follows.
But, of course, the Bush tax cuts did not even come close to paying for themselves. The Bush tax cuts cost us around $1.7 trillion in revenue from 2001 through 2008, in part because of weak output and job growth following the cuts (contrary to assertions about how the tax cuts would stimulate economic growth).

As for the cost of extending the tax cuts to the wealthy, the Tax Policy Center estimates that making all the Bush tax cuts permanent, as opposed to extending them only for the middle and lower classes, would cost $680 billion over the next decade.

The disappointing part is that the press still lets them get away with this. At best, the press generally says something like "some economists claim this isn't true," implying there's a debate about this issue -- that some credible economists think the tax cuts will, in fact, pay for themselves -- when there is no debate and the answer is clear. Tax cuts don't pay for themselves.
My comment:
You're right. The Republicans have a very successful two-pronged strategy.

1. Lie.

2. Intimidate the press into not pointing out the lies.

OK. So we know that. Now what?

California propositions

See State guide and Ballot*pedia.

My recommendations.

19. Legalize marijuana. Yes.

Why not? May not solve all our drug problems, but moves in the right direction.

20. Modify how citizen's redistricting commission works and extend it to Congressional districts. No.

Prop 11 (2008) created a citizen's commission to do redistricting for state offices. This changes the criteria to be used for redistricting. The commission is mandated to draw lines that conform to neighborhoods. This won't make districts any more competitive. If this is applied at the state level as well, it will make those less competitive. In addition, it will have the effect of making Democratic voters more highly concentrated than Republican voters and will therefore help Republicans.

21. State Park fee. Yes.

Helps save state parks.

22. Prevent state from taking money from local governments. Yes.

Will force the state to face its financial problems. Will at least let local governments do their jobs.

23. Suspend pollution rules. No.

Of course not.

24. Cancel tax breaks. Yes.

These were corporate tax breaks forced on the state in 2008 and 2009 by the 2/3 rule to get a budget passed. Reverse the extortion.

25. Majority vote budget. Yes.

Kill the 2/3 rule for passing a state budget.

26. Require 2/3 rule for imposing fees. No.

Makes it much harder to hold polluters accountable for the problems they cause. We have a 2/3 rule for taxes, which has crippled the state. Let's not add to the problems.

27. Kill redistricting commission. No.

A "Yes" vote would return redistricting authority to the legislature. Not a good idea. Prop 11 (2008) already gives that authority to a citizen's commission. Let it stay that way.

Such a shame

A Frank Rich column has this drawing associated with it. It's such a shame.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Inside Job

It's a movie about the financial meltdown. I got an email from Fix Congress First, Lawrence Lessig's organization. I like and trust him. And perhaps the movie gets the right points across. But it's also very slick and intended to make money for Sony—which, amazingly, is right down the street from where I live! Anyway here's the website for the trailer and other clips.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Income inequality

It is significant, and now we can measure how bad it is. This is from an article by Robert Frank in the NYTimes.
During the three decades after World War II, for example, incomes in the United States rose rapidly and at about the same rate — almost 3 percent a year — for people at all income levels. America had an economically vibrant middle class. Roads and bridges were well maintained, and impressive new infrastructure was being built. People were optimistic.

By contrast, during the last three decades the economy has grown much more slowly, and our infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair. Most troubling, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale. The share of total income going to the top 1 percent of earners, which stood at 8.9 percent in 1976, rose to 23.5 percent by 2007, but during the same period, the average inflation-adjusted hourly wage declined by more than 7 percent. …

[Does income inequality matter? Yes it does] The counties where income inequality grew fastest also showed the biggest increases in symptoms of financial distress.

For example, even after controlling for other factors, these counties had the largest increases in bankruptcy filings.

Divorce rates are another reliable indicator of financial distress, as marriage counselors report that a high proportion of couples they see are experiencing significant financial problems. The counties with the biggest increases in inequality also reported the largest increases in divorce rates.

Another footprint of financial distress is long commute times, because families who are short on cash often try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper — in many cases, farther from work. The counties where long commute times had grown the most were again those with the largest increases in inequality.

The middle-class squeeze has also reduced voters’ willingness to support even basic public services. Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges, an unreliable rail system, and cargo containers that enter our ports without scrutiny. And many Americans live in the shadow of poorly maintained dams that could collapse at any moment. …

But are there offsetting benefits?

There is no persuasive evidence that greater inequality bolsters economic growth or enhances anyone’s well-being. Yes, the rich can now buy bigger mansions and host more expensive parties. But this appears to have made them no happier. And in our winner-take-all economy, one effect of the growing inequality has been to lure our most talented graduates to the largely unproductive chase for financial bonanzas on Wall Street.

In short, the economist’s cost-benefit approach — itself long an important arrow in the moral philosopher’s quiver — has much to say about the effects of rising inequality. We need not reach agreement on all philosophical principles of fairness to recognize that it has imposed considerable harm across the income scale without generating significant offsetting benefits.

Why hasn't Obama championed his own economic philosophy rather than parroting that of the Republicans?

According to the Washington Post,
Obama said that just as people and companies have had to be cautious about spending, "government should have to tighten its belt as well. We need to do it in an intelligent way. We need to make sure we do things smarter, rather than just lopping something off arbitrarily without having thought it through."
As Paul Krugman pointed out,
We’ll never know how differently the politics would have played if Obama, instead of systematically echoing and giving credibility to all the arguments of the people who want to destroy him, had actually stood up for a different economic philosophy. But we do know how his actual strategy has worked, and it hasn’t been a success.
That's one reason Obama's supporters are so angry with him. He simply hasn't stood up for what he said he believes—or at least what he led many of to think he believes. It's one thing to seek conciliation with the other side; it's another never to argue for what you believe.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bank Disinformation III: Obama Throws Weight Behind Banks, Housing “Market” Over Borrowers

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism—who is really very good even though I wouldn't have guessed it from her conventional white-bread appearance—is all over the foreclosure crisis. She was of the people who unearthed and publicized it in the first place.
Team Obama is so predictably bank friendly that it was inconceivable that the Administration would ever decide against them on anything other than the occasional sop to maintain plausible deniability.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I love Brad DeLong too

Here he takes down Greg Mankiw.

I love Dean Baker!

From his blog,
"Beat the Press"
The top article in the Sunday Washington Post is an entirely invented piece that tells readers in the first sentence: 'If there is an overarching theme of election 2010, it is the question of how big the government should be and how far it should reach into people's lives.' There is absolutely nothing in this article that supports this assertion.

The article notes in the fourth paragraph that even most people who complain about the size of government consider Social Security and Medicare, by far the largest social programs, very important. It is not clear what being opposed to 'big government' means in a context where nearly everyone supports its main pillars.

There are no candidates anywhere in the country who are running in support of 'big government,' there are candidates who are running in support of programs which have varying degrees of support. There are many candidates (virtually all Republicans) who are running against 'big government.' While this position has nothing to do with the world (we all oppose waste, fraud, and abuse, the question is always the status of specific programs), it is certainly helpful to the Republicans to have the election framed in this way.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic

With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.
Brad DeLong points to this post by Karl Smith.
Really quickly, this Brian Westbury quote is brilliant because it is so perfectly, delectably wrong. Its the kind of thing you dream a student will say so that you correct the entire class’s misunderstandings in one fell swoop.
Money for stimulus programs has to come from somewhere and he argues that stimulus spending is similar to the old adage: “borrowing from Peter to Paul.”

“They (the government) either had to tax it from somewhere or borrow it from somewhere," says Wesbury and “by moving resources out of one sector into another you have now messed up the natural order of things and you’ve influenced it in a negative way."

Wesbury says THAT is the mistaken belief about government stimulus.
Different professors will approach this different ways but I prefer to go at it like this:

You’re exactly right Brian. The money has to come from somewhere. However, remember money and production are not the same thing. In the case of money, we have a technology known as the printing press which allows us to print money—as much money as we want. So creating money is no problem.

Won’t that cause inflation?

Yes, but we are below inflation targets right now, not above. We want more inflation. Right now the Fed is trying to get more inflation but is having trouble. Stimulus spending will help them out with that.

But, you can’t get something from nothing, can you?

No, you most certainly can’t. However, we aren’t getting something from nothing. We are getting something by combining together unemployed workers and idle factories. Remember a recession is a time when we have increasing unemployment and declining capacity utilization.

We have factories without workers and workers without factories. Those are resources that could be used to produce things but are not being used. If we can get those resources to work [we] will be able to make more things.

Unfortunately, we can’t, and ultimately it's because the economy doesn’t have enough money. Luckily we can print as much of that as we need.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Why you should vote

Everyone Loses from Bill Simmon on Vimeo.

Science Tarot

Neat idea!

7 of Wands - Expansion

The red giant is at a great, expansive stage of the star's life and has grown to thousands of times its original size. Inner creation defines this moment in your life story as well.

The shell around the giant's collapsing core becomes hotter and starts fusing its hydrogen into helium, making the star brighter and the outer shells expand and grow cooler and less dense. Although fiery pressures mark the beginning of your journey, these expansive later years allow creation with a wider reach and a dense inner core.

We speak of "finding your voice" to describe this mature state. Other duties and diversions may fall by the wayside as work consumes the days filled with creation and productivity.

Hero's Journey, Step 7: Return with new knowledge into everyday life. The hero reveals a deeper determination.

9 of Pentacles
9 of Pentacles - Aurora

Bright, mysterious lights wash across the night sky in one of nature's most beautiful displays: the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

A stream of energized particles from the upper atmosphere of the sun accelerate along the lines of the Earth's magnetic field, energizing the nitrogen and oxygen atoms floating here. The colorful glow comes from electrons shed by these excited atoms in our Earth's upper atmosphere.

The invisible stream of particles that pass continuously between the Sun and the Earth streak the night sky with spectacular radiant color. It is a brilliant yet fleeting display of beauty and transformation on a grand scale. Personal success is finally achieved, the old cast off in favor of the new.

Hero's Journey, Step 9: Death of old self, creation of the new self. From sacrifices have come great rewards.

2 of Swords
2 of Swords - Action

Sitting under the apple tree, we contemplate a choice to be made. The tree branch lifts an apple high in the air, and gravity continuously pulls it toward the ground. These equal and opposite forces hold the apple in place. But soon the balance may shift and the apple may fall, releasing the branch from its burden and shaking the leaves as they swing upwards.

Isaac Newton observed that every action caused an equal and opposite reaction and so reasoned that every reaction could be predicted from the action that triggered it. Like a game of billiards, Newton's world is a predictable knocking around of objects: the force of the impact equals the mass of the moving object times its acceleration. To send an apple flying in a specific direction, we only need to know where to hit it and how hard. To move a gigantic apple, we'll need to hit it with a great deal of mass, or we will need a running start.

A decision is hanging over your head. You can choose to leave the apple suspended in the tree, or you can apply enough force to bring it down. Either decision may bring good results, but if you wait too long, the apple may fall on your head.

Hero's Journey, Step 2: Refusal of the call. The hero is reluctant to use this new power.

8 of Cups
8 of Cups - Cocoon

Encased within a protective cocoon during its transformation, the caterpillar utterly loses its form. Every cell takes on a new purpose, and for a time the creature is neither caterpillar nor moth. Only when metamorphosis is complete does the stunningly beautiful Luna moth emerge from its cocoon and spread its wings to the sky.

Times of transformation can demand a protective distance from the world, a total retreat. When the dissolution and recovery is complete, the world's challenges are not so threatening. Until that time, growth must take place in safe isolation.

Hero's Journey, Step 8: Defeating the dragon. The hero retreats from the world as deep changes unfold.

3 The Empress
3 The Empress - Mendel's Peas

Gregor Mendel, a monk in the 1800s, experimented with pea plants, patiently nurturing them as they grew, withered and grew again in his garden. Curious about the passing of physical traits from parents to children, he chose to observe generations of pea plants, which produced hybrids he could easily cultivate. He watched for whether yellow or green pea pods, white or purple flowers and other selected qualities would be inherited from the parent plants.

Through this cycle of life, death and reproduction, Mendel uncovered the process of inheritance: how traits, dominant and recessive, are passed from parent to offspring. From these fruitful lifelong efforts, he became known as the Father of Genetics.

The Empress represents the nurturing attentiveness of Mendel as well as the natural processes he studied so closely and respectfully. This is a time for gestation, growth, patience and attention.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Income redistribution since 1979

From Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The first chart shows the gain or loss since 1979 depending on income group. The second chart shows actual and implied income (along again with gain or loss) for each income group.

Life, Unbounded: Jovian attraction

Caleb Scharf has a very poetic posting about Jupiter.
In my mind's eye I superimposed the great gas giant, king of worlds, two and half times as massive as all the other planets in our system put together. Its vast jet streams and storms, its incredible family of 63 moons, the potent magnetic field, the great plasma torus as Io burrows through a tight orbit.
He goes on to calculate that at its current position—closer to the earth than at any time since the 1960's—Jupiter's gravity reduces the weight of the Empire State Buiilding by 26 pounds.

Friday, September 24, 2010

This apparently is a well know short video of a dancer twirling on her foot. The question is whether she is going clockwise or counterclockwise—or whether you can see her going in either direction if you think about it. It's useful to blick or look away to make her switch direction.

Initially I see her going to her right. If I click the stop/play button to stop and start the video, she often changes direction. Since she always moves in the direction of her outstretched arm, the arm changes from being her right arm to her left arm!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Senate Democrats postpone tax cut vote until after elections

From Washington Post.
Senate Democrats said Thursday that they had abandoned plans for a pre-election showdown with Republicans over taxes, postponing any vote on extending Bush administration tax cuts until after the November midterms.
It's stupid politically for them to do this. But they know what they are doing. It isn't as if they don't realize what the political issues are. The problem apparently is that some "conservative Democrats" don't want to be put in the position of voting to allow the tax cuts to expire on people making more than $250,000. And that's the real problem. The Democrats have done so badly at making their case in the public conversation that they can't make this simple argument. Even the most "conservative" Democrats should be able to make the case to let the cuts expire on the most wealthy. But the Democrats have so given up the floor to the Republicans that they can't even get that point across. The Republicans are simply in control of the public forum. It's outrageous both that the Democrats let that happen and that my fellow citizens are so easily taken in. It makes me very angry on both counts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pictures from our trip to England

Insect Dinners

From an article on eating insects in
Mr. Zimmern can rattle off a nauseating litany of bliss, from eating tarantulas in Cambodia to stir-fried bees in Taiwan. He loves the chapulines — little fried grasshoppers — of Oaxaca. (They’re a consistently popular item at the Manhattan restaurant Toloache, where they’re served in tacos.)

“They’re crunchy but they’re kind of soft in a beef jerky way,” said Mr. Zimmern, who once worked with Thomas Keller. “They’re heavily flavored with lime and salt, and they’re the perfect bar snack. You can’t stop eating them. Sautéed silkworm larvae in Thailand are pliant, they’re like little pillows. They remind me of gnocchi. And they have this earthy, loamy, mushroomy flavor. Eaten on their own, they’re good. Sautéed with ginger and scallions, they’re out of control.”

At the Brooklyn Kitchen, diners ranged from insect virgins to Zimmern-style thrill-seekers who could debate the relative merits of wolf spiders and Icelandic fermented shark. “There’s a lot of adventurous eaters out there,” said Harry Rosenblum, who owns the Brooklyn Kitchen, a food emporium, with his wife, Taylor Erkkinen.

And there are those who aspire to adventure, like Pamela Zwaskis, 30, a Victoria’s Secret employee who moved to New York. “We don’t have five-course insect dinners in Wilmington, Del.,” she said. “I want to tell my friends, ‘I ate that.’ ” By the end of the night Ms. Zwaskis was shoveling chapulines into her mouth. “They taste like the exoskeleton of a potato chip,” she said.

Perhaps the most pioneering gourmand of all was Moxie Rosenblum, the daughter of Ms. Erkkinen and Mr. Rosenblum, who swallowed a live wax moth worm the day before the dinner. She is 14 months old.

That moment might mark the start of a lifelong habit for Moxie. Although it’s hard to pinpoint where the Western bias against bug-eating comes from, the gross-out factor seems to be conditioned in childhood.

“I had nightmares as a kid,” the photojournalist Peter Menzel said by phone. “In my dream I would be eating a bowl of shredded wheat or something, and in the milk in the bottom would be these thrashing insects.” Years later he and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, traveled around the world to chronicle the endless permutations of entomophagy in a 1998 book called “Man Eating Bugs.” The odyssey turned into an unusual mode of therapy for Mr. Menzel, complete with a classic Jungian breakthrough: at a restaurant in southern China he ate a custard studded with river worms. “This big handful was dumped into the casserole, and the worms just went crazy, they were thrashing in the milk and the custard was flying out of the thing,” he said. “And it was just like my dream. It came full circle.”

“It was actually delicious,” Mr. Menzel added. “It was like a quiche with little bits of very tender bacon in it.”