December 2011, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Some European Know Who To Blame For The Euro's Problems:  American rating agencies.

Many Americans are unhappy — rightly, in my opinion — because the rating agencies missed the financial crisis; many Europeans are unhappy — wrongly, in my opinion — because the rating agencies are warning them about their problems.

(Many Europeans, including some prominent Europeans, but not all.)
- 1:13 PM, 8 December 2011   [link]

No More Euro?  Some are preparing for that possibility.  Here's the first paragraph of the lead story in today's Wall Street Journal:
Some central banks in Europe have started weighing contingency plans to prepare for the possibility that countries leave the euro zone or the currency union breaks apart entirely, according to people familiar with the matter.
So the Central Bank of Ireland is checking a printing plant in Ireland, just in case they have to supply new Irish pounds, and many others are making other plans — just in case — all over the euro zone.

How likely is this "contingency"?  J. P. Morgan Chase put out a report yesterday, estimating it at 20 percent, and advising "investors and companies to hedge against a collapse of the eurozone".
- 12:59 PM, 8 December 2011   [link]

Every Large Religion Attracts A Few Nuts:  And so I wasn't going to say anything about this story.
An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”
(Helpfully illustrated by Fausta.)

But then this question occurred to me:  Has the cleric ever taken a close look at a Muslim minaret?  You don't have to be a Freudian to see how those could cause impure thoughts.

(I don't want to spoil the fun completely, but I have to add that there is a good chance that this is an intentional joke.)
- 7:48 AM, 8 December 2011   [link]

Jon Corzine Will Say That He Doesn't Know where the missing customer money went.
Much of the day's testimony is likely to focus on a significant shortfall in customer funds at MF Global.  As Mr. Corzine scrambled to stabilize the firm in its last days, it was discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars were missing in customer accounts.

The trustee overseeing MF Global's liquidation estimates the amount at $1.2 billion. Mr. Corzine will say in his testimony that he had little to do with the mechanics of moving customer cash and collateral and that he was "stunned" when he learned on Oct. 30 that the money was missing.

"I simply do not know where the money is," he will say, noting that "there were an extraordinary number of transactions during MF Global's last few days."
Although this may seem strange, it's hard to see what else he could say, given his legal problems.  (If he does know where the money went, then he should have told the trustee, months ago.)

Many of those customers were not speculators, by the way, but farmers who had bought options in order to insure against price drops.

(It's petty of me, but I couldn't help being pleased by seeing Corzine's party and his connection to Obama in the third and fourth paragraphs, respectively, instead of omitted, or buried near the end of the article.)
- 7:11 AM, 8 December 2011   [link]

Worth Hearing:  FDR's "day of infamy" speech.

It's about nine minutes long, including applause.
- 6:50 PM, 7 December 2011   [link]

Why Was The United States Surprised By The Pearl Harbor Attack?   Because, fundamentally, most Americans did not understand the Japanese.  Few Americans understood that the Japanese militarists, and many ordinary Japanese, had come to believe that Japan had a mandate from heaven to rule Asia, and perhaps the entire world.

We projected our own beliefs on them, and could not understand why they would not give up their attempts to conquer China.  (It is not hard to find American politicians who make similar mistakes, today.)

And because most Americans underestimated their capabilities.  We did not know, for instance, about their "Long Lance" torpedo, "by far the most advanced naval torpedo in the world at the time".  (According to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, although we captured one early in 1943, we still hadn't realized how capable it was by the middle of that year.)

Those fundamental explanations explain why most Americans were not expecting a Japanese attack, but they do not explain why our experts, why our military and political leaders, did not expect an attack at Pearl Harbor.

We can understand why a Nebraska farmer would be surprised by the attack, but it is harder to understand why a naval intelligence officer, or a diplomat, would be.

At this point, let me make a crucial distinction:  On 6 December 1941, American experts who were following the Japanese military moves, and the breakdown in diplomacy, were expecting a Japanese attack.  Our experts were certain that the Japanese were planning to invade countries to their south because we had seen their forces gathering for an invasion in that direction.
From mid-October on, a spate of information on Japanese troop and ship movements flowed in on American intelligence centers.  Everything, apparently, was moving southward. All indications pointed to an amphibious expedition against the Philippines, Thai, the Kra Isthmus or possibly Borneo as the Stark war warning of 27 November said; and the patrol planes sent out by the Asiatic Fleet to search the South China Sea actually picked up Admiral Kondo's amphibious force en route to the Gulf of Siam in early December. (p. 130)
Our experts were distracted by that southern move.  (And so, according to Morison, were the Dutch and British experts, who had their own sources of information; they, too, saw the southern move, they, too, missed the possibility of an attack that included Pearl Harbor.)

But why didn't our experts consider the possibility that the Japanese would also attack Pearl Harbor?  It was not, as claimed in this post, because our experts did not think that a carrier attack on Pearl Harbor was possible; in fact, such an attack was part of one official estimate.  We knew that such an attack was possible in part because we had done it ourselves.  In a Navy war game a year or so before the attack, a team had surprised Pearl Harbor in much the same way the Japanese did.  (Ironically, when the Japanese war-gamed Midway, their team playing the American side surprised the Japanese team in much the same way we did in the actual battle.)

There were two ways in which Japanese capabilities surprised us in the initial attacks.   First, although the British had shown, in November 1940, that aerial torpedoes could be dropped in shallow water, our experts were slow to realize that the Japanese could do the same thing.  And, according to Wohlstetter, they couldn't until about a month before the attack.

Second, we had reasonable estimates of the range of the Japanese "Zero".   And those estimates showed that the Japanese could not launch an attack on our bases in the Philippines from Taiwan.  But the Japanese technicians extended the range by tinkering with the carburetion and by re-training the pilots.  And they solved this problem, too, about a month before their attack.

But these are minor points.

There are two bigger reasons our experts were surprised, each of which has a lesson for us.  First, the diplomatic crisis had gone on for so many months, that our experts began to relax.  They were, psychologically, more prepared for a Japanese attack early in 1941 than they were in the last month of the year.

(Something very similar happened when Mt. St. Helens awoke in March, 1980.  At first, people were far more frightened by the possibility of a big eruption than they were two months later, even though the danger was growing.)

Second, our experts who did think about the possibility rejected it because they thought such an attack would be a mistake — from the Japanese point of view.  (As it was, according to Morison.)

But it was a mistake only if you project American values on the Japanese, as too many of our experts did.  And that is a lesson that we are fated to learn over and over again, I fear.
- 4:15 PM, 7 December 2011   [link]

Bing Remembers Pearl Harbor, Google Doesn't, giving us another reason to switch search engines.

(Bing is my first choice for searches, not so much because I think it is better than Google, overall — it's about the same in my experience — but because I don't like monopolies, and Google is close to becoming one, and because Google ticks me off from time to time, as they did today.

Neither is very good at finding statistical data, by the way, I suppose because most people are not as interested in numbers as I am.)
- 12:50 PM, 7 December 2011   [link]

Seventy Years Ago, Imperial Japan Made A Surprise Attack On American Forces At Pearl Harbor:  The first part of the Japanese attack was uniformly unsuccessful. The Japanese had included five midget submarines in their attack, hoping to sneak them into Pearl Harbor.  One was spotted at 3:42 AM (four hours before the air attack), and another, or perhaps the same one, was spotted at 6:33 AM by a Navy Catalina, and sunk at 6:45 AM by an American destroyer, the USS Ward.

All five midgets were "lost to the Japanese without having caused any direct damage".

The twenty large I-class submarines the Japanese had brought to the attack had no successes against the American ships, either.  Morison attributes their failures to the "[a]ggressive patrolling and depth-charging by destroyers and other ships on patrol".

(More posts on the Pearl Harbor attack later today.)
- 8:53 AM, 7 December 2011
Walter Lord claims, citing Japanese records, that there were actually 28 large submarines, "11 with small planes, five with the famous midget subs". (p. 211)
-10:20 AM, 12 December 2011   [link]

Kansas, Texas, It's Hard To Remember Which Flyover State Is Which:  Just ask President Obama, if you don't believe me.
- 7:48 AM, 7 December 2011   [link]

Republicans Like People Who Work, Democrats Like People Who Sneer:  That's one way to summarize a survey of favorite TV shows.
Those are a few of the findings from an annual research survey by Experian-Simmons that measures the consumer preferences of various political ideologies.  In a report prepared exclusively for EW, the company calculated some of the favorite — and least favorite — TV shows of political partisans.  (Specifically: the report measures which shows among the survey group were watched by the highest concentration of self-identified “Liberal Democrats” and “Conservative Republicans.”)

In the findings, “sarcastic” media-savvy comedies and morally murky antiheroes tend to draw Dems.  While serious work-centered shows (both reality shows and stylized scripted procedurals), along with reality competitions, tend to draw conservatives.
Maybe a slightly unfair way to summarize the survey, but only slightly.

(Full disclosure:  I am almost always a little embarrassed when I find myself watching TV, with a few exceptions for programs like classic movies and some sports.)
- 7:32 AM, 7 December 2011   [link]

Update On The Barnes & Noble Nook Color:   B&N has dropped the price to match the Kindle Fire price, and you can get the Nook for even less, if you are willing to have a refurbished model.

For what it's worth, the reviews at Amazon(!) average about the same ratings (roughly 4 out of 5) for the Nook Color and the Kindle.

(Earlier posts on the Nook Color here and here.)
- 1:10 PM, 6 December 2011
Battery life:  The color tablets have lower battery life; both Amazon and Barnes & Noble rate their color tablets at "up to" eight hours, less with WiFi connections.  In contrast, Amazon rates its E Ink Kindle Touch at "up to" 30 hours, and Barnes & Nonble rates their E Ink Nook Simple Touch at "up to" 60 hours.

Avid readers may find those differences important, especially since the two color tablets charge slowly.
- 12:14 PM, 7 December 2011   [link]

Romney's Latest joke.
"I just think it’s time to have a president whose idea of being 'hands on' doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club," Romney said in a tele-townhall Monday evening with Iowans.
Not bad, as jokes by politicians go.

(And I don't think the joke will lose him many voters in the all-important golf bloc.)
- 11:07 AM, 6 December 2011   [link]

The Long Belgium Nightmare Is Over:  541 days after their last general election, they have a government.  (And, yes, 541 days is a modern record.)
Belgium has sworn in a new government, ending a record-breaking 541 days of political deadlock.

New Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo was sworn in by King Albert II at the royal palace along with his 12 cabinet ministers and six secretaries of state.

Mr Di Rupo, a French-speaking Socialist, took the oath of office in French, Dutch and Flemish - reflecting language sensitivities in the country.
(They have had a caretaker government all this time, of course.)

The election, and the long stalemate, illustrate one of the weaknesses of proportional representation, especially in its purest forms.  The parties in such systems do represent a wide spectrum of opinions, typically, but for that very reason they can find it hard to form effective governments.

And because the governments are almost always coalitions, they may not respond to shifts in public opinion.

The winner of the popular vote last year was the New Flemish Alliance, which wants to break up Belgium slowly and peacefully.  And, more than a year of negotiations showed that it was impossible for them to join in a governing coalition with other major parties.

Public opinion moved one way in Belgium, but the new government will not reflect that shift.

(The BBC left out an interesting detail on the new prime minister.  As you may have noticed, his name does not look either French or Dutch.  That's because he is a descendant of Italian immigrants, brought into Belgium when they were short of laborers willing to do the jobs that many Belgians wouldn't do.)
- 10:41 AM, 6 December 2011
The BBC reporter who wrote that article is either careless, or does not understand the languages of Belgium.  I quoted the original correctly, but the article now says Di Rupo took the oath in French, Dutch, and German, which makes more sense, since Flemish is just a Dutch dialect, and there is a German-speaking minority in Belgium.

The BBC did a "stealth" correction, something I disapprove of in most circumstances.  (I do some myself if I spot the error within a few minutes of putting up a post.  But then I don't have editors and proof readers working for me.)
- 2:45 PM 6 December 2011   [link]

Climategate (Part II):  Steven Hayward has been looking through the latest batch of leaked emails from East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, and what he has found isn't pretty.

Two samples:
The new batch of emails, over 5,300 in all (compared with about 1,000 in the 2009 release), contains a number of fresh embarrassments and huge red flags for the same lovable bunch of insider scientists.  It stars the same cast, starting with the Godfather of the CRU, Phil “hide the decline” Jones, and featuring Michael “hockey stick” Mann once again in his supporting role as the Fredo of climate science, blustering along despite the misgivings and doubts of many of his peers.  Beyond the purely human element, the new cache offers ample confirmation of the rank politicization of climate science and rampant cronyism that ought to trouble even firm believers in catastrophic climate change.
. . .
No amount of context can possibly exonerate the CRU gang from some of the damning expressions and contrivances that appear repeatedly in the new emails.  More so than the 2009 batch, these emails make clear the close collaboration between the leading IPCC scientists and environmental advocacy groups, government agencies, and partisan journalists.  There are repeated instances of scientists tipping their hand that they’ve thrown in their lot with the climate ideologues.  If there were only a handful of such dubious messages, they might be explained away through “context,” or as conciliatory habits of expression.  But they are so numerous that it doesn’t require an advanced degree in pattern recognition to make out that these emails constitute not just a “smoking gun” of scientific bias, but a belching howitzer.  Throughout the emails numerous participants refer to “the cause,” “our cause,” and other nonscientific, value-laden terms to describe the implications of one dispute or another, while demonizing scientists who express even partial dissent about the subject, such as Judith Curry of Georgia Tech.
Tribalism is natural to humans, so we should not be surprised to find it among scientists, who are often all too human.

But tribalism this rampant, tribalism bolstered by quasi-religious views about the environment, will make those of us outside the CRU tribe distrust their pronouncements, and their published results.
- 7:48 AM, 6 December 2011   [link]

Nice Non-Work, If You Can Get It:  And one Seattle couple apparently figured out how to get it.
A Seward Park chiropractor and the woman believed to be his wife have been sued by the federal government for allegedly collecting welfare benefits and food stamps while living in a $1.2 million lakefront home in South Seattle.

The lawsuit was filed on Friday, three days after federal agents executed a criminal search warrant at the home of David Silverstein and Lyudmila Shimonova, who the lawsuit says "are believed to be man and wife."
Silverstein "was routinely seen at the home driving a black Jaguar", which is probably a mistake if your wife is receiving welfare benefits.

(Here's a picture of the house, which does look quite nice.

The comments following the Seattle Times article include many accusations of other cases of welfare fraud.)
- 7:04 AM, 6 December 2011   [link]

Passing For White:  Once, it was light-skinned blacks, now it's Asian or part-Asian high school students.
Studies show that Asian-Americans meet these colleges' admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population, and that they often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission.  Critics say these numbers, along with the fact that some top colleges with race-blind admissions have double the Asian percentage of Ivy League schools, prove the existence of discrimination.

The way it works, the critics believe, is that Asian-Americans are evaluated not as individuals, but against the thousands of other ultra-achieving Asians who are stereotyped as boring academic robots.

Now, an unknown number of students are responding to this concern by declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications.
If you distribute valuables according to race, some people will change their race in order to get those valuables.

Example:  Years ago, the Los Angeles schools decided to try to distribute teachers more evenly by race.  Many of the teachers, black and white, were unhappy about this because it meant they would be moved to unfamiliar schools, farther away from their homes.  So some of them began adjusting their race on the forms.

And it is easy enough to find many more such examples.  Many Americans, for instance, have found it advantageous to claim native American ancestry, sometimes honestly, sometimes not.

If you are detached enough, you can find irony in this racial discrimination — at institutions that consider racism the primary sin.  I can't be quite that detached, and find it both stupid and disgusting.
- 6:26 AM, 6 December 2011   [link]

Obama Will Channel Teddy Roosevelt tomorrow.

No, not by leading a cavalry charge, by shooting some big game animals, or even by writing a serious work of history.

Obama will channel Teddy Roosevelt by making a speech in a Kansas town where Roosevelt made a speech.
President Obama will look to channel President Theodore Roosevelt on Tuesday as he continues to try to present himself as a champion of the middle class and Republicans as defenders of the rich and entrenched special interests.

Obama will travel to Osawatomie, Kansas and a White House press release indicates the site was chosen in part because Roosevelt once spoke there.
USA Today treats this campaign trip seriously, Commentary thinks the comparison is "ridiculous", and I think it's funny.

Prediction:  This trip, and this comparison, will make the late night comics very happy.

(Unlike Obama, Roosevelt was, as the Wikipedia biography notes, a "prolific author", though he is best known for other things.)
- 3:11 PM, 5 December 2011   [link]

Is (Oe - Oa) > (Ge - Ga)?  That's the question that Professor Althouse asks, though she doesn't put it in algebraic form.

As far as I know, we don't have any of the numbers, so we can only guess whether Obama over-estimates his own intelligence more than Gingrich over-estimates his.

My own, tentative answer to the question is yes, based on Obama statements like this one from 2008.   It is possible to find Gingrich statements that are almost as bad, but I think that Gingrich probably has a slightly higher IQ than Obama does.

(e = estimated intelligence, a= actual intelligence)
- 11:02 AM, 5 December 2011   [link]

Did The Networks Treat The Clinton And Cain Scandals Differently?   Yes.
Over a period of just three and a half days, NBC, CBS and ABC have developed an insatiable hunger for the Herman Cain sexual harassment story, devoting an incredible 50 stories to the allegations since Monday morning.  In contrast, over a similar period these networks mostly ignored far more substantial and serious scandals relating to Bill Clinton.
. . .
In comparison, over a similar three-day period these same programs were far less interested in charges against Democrat Bill Clinton.  After Paula Jones held a public press conference in February of 1994, there was only one report on her allegations.

Following Kathleen Willey's July 1997 claims of being groped by the President, there were a mere three reports.  For Juanita Broaddrick, who came forward in February of 1999 to say Clinton raped her, only three stories followed charges appearing in the Wall Street Journal.

It should also be pointed out that all these women offered their names.  They weren't anonymous.  Additionally, the accusations of assault and rape go far beyond what's being mentioned with the Cain scandal.
That post was published on November 3rd.  If you watch TV news at all, you know that the deluge of stories on Cain has continued.  And if you watched TV news carefully, you know that none of the accusations against Cain is as serious as the Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick accusations.
- 8:06 AM, 5 December 2011   [link]

Gingrich And Freddie Mac:  It's an issue, Victor Davis Hanson tells us, that won't go away
Gingrich must know that he was hired, not because he was a better historian than his colleagues in the field, but to ensure bipartisan support from the conservative side for an agency that was starting to ring alarm bells about its very solvency, and indeed ethics.  On his end, his stamp of approval would be aimed, in the manner of the later Pelosi global-warming ads, as a refreshing statesman-like embrace of a needed initiative that transcended politics; “home ownership,” after all, was often a conservative talking point about a larger “ownership” society.  The lobbying was a win/win deal for both parties — as long as we think away a corrupt and near-insolvent agency paying huge sums to former politicians and political appointees without any banking experience:  Review the compensation and quite immoral Fannie careers of those who, like a Franklin Raines ($90 million in aggregate Fannie income and bonuses), James A. Johnson ($200 million in aggregate Fannie income and bonuses), or Jamie Gorelick ($26 million-plus in aggregate Fannie income and bonuses), had no financial expertise, walked away with lots of money, left disasters in their wake, and were never really held to moral or legal account.
But they should be, and Gingrich was wrong to give them political coverage, even if doing so allowed him to buy some baubles for his third wife.
- 6:07 AM, 5 December 2011   [link]

Not Worth Reading:  Unless, like me, you think that you can learn from failures, especially failures on a grand scale.

The New York Times gave one and three-quarters pages to the two Nobel-prize-winning economists; they gave one and two-thirds pages to NBC's new "special correspondent", Chelsea Clinton.  The two economists have four decades worth of accomplishments; so far Chelsea hasn't accomplished much of anything, besides earning a couple of college degrees, but has already been rewarded with a number of positions.

But that's okay with the reporter, Amy Chozick, who tells us that the younger Clinton is planning to carry on her family's legacy — which, for those of us who remember the shady financial deals, the perjury, and the exchange of public jobs for sexual favors or silence, is not encouraging.

On the other hand, Chozick quotes James Steyer of "Common Sense", who says that raising Chelsea Clinton is "[t]he number 1 thing Bill and Hillary accomplished", which suggests to me that the two don't have much to boast about in the way of public accomplishments.

(I'm pretty sure that neither Steyer nor Chozick realize how funny that claim is.)

We should not be surprised by this puff piece, I suppose.  The New York Times has not been opposed to nepotism for decades, as a long string of Sulzbergers could tell you.
- 7:50 PM, 4 December 2011   [link]

Worth Reading:  The New York Times article on the new winners of the Nobel economics prize, Americans Christopher Sims and Thomas Sargent.

Jeff Sommer will tell you a little about their achievements, and much about the two men, both of them, judging by his account, decent people as well as fine economists.

I rather liked Sargent's realistic comment about his Nobel speech:
As for the euro, he says he will provide a few possible answers in his Nobel speech on Saturday.  His draft is a scholarly, 40-page, footnoted, annotated paper.   "There isn't much about Europe in it," he acknowledges.  "They don't want advice from an American, really."
True enough.

More money from the fed, perhaps, but not advice from Americans.
- 5:53 PM, 4 December 2011   [link]

Obama Plans Long Vacation, Urges Congress To Keep Working:  This Obama vacation does not sound like a sacrifice.
While most Americans are lucky to get a few weeks of holiday every year, it seems the country’s leader gets a little more freedom in the matter.

President Barack Obama has announced his Christmas vacation to Hawaii – for a staggering 17-day trip.
Meanwhile, Obama is calling for others to keep on working.
The Republican conference is split on the issue. House Republican leaders plan to add two of their own priority bills to a year-end legislative package that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits.

The GOP leaders outlined the tentative plan to rank-and-file members during a closed-door conference meeting Friday morning, where they pressed their divided conference to support extending two of Obama’s top jobs proposals.

"We’re going to keep pushing Congress to make this happen," Obama said. "They shouldn’t go home for the holidays until they get this done."
What worries me most about this combination is that I don't think that Obama realizes that it is funny.
- 3:58 PM, 3 December 2011   [link]

What Makes A Checking Account Profitable For A Bank?   When I set up a free checking account with Chase a few years ago, I chose them in part because they were offering me a $100 bonus if I met some simple conditions.   (They still are, last I looked, though the conditions have changed.)   Another bank, Banner Bank, has been making similar offers to me for months.

You can explain these offers, partly, by the fact that both banks are new to this area.   When Chase took over Washington Mutual, they lost many customers in this area, and Banner did not operate here until the last few years.

Even so, it was hard to see how either bank could make a profit on most of the accounts they were getting with these offers.

I became even more puzzled after I saw estimates on November 7th in the Wall Street Journal about the costs of checking accounts to a bank.
Moeb Services Inc., a research firm in Lake Bluff, Ill., estimates it costs the giant banks about $350 to $450 a year to maintain a checking account.  In contrast, smaller banks incur costs of $175 to $250 per checking account.
(They don't explain why smaller banks would have such a large cost advantage.)

A bank can make money on a checking account by (1) charging fees for extra services or overdrafts, (2) charging merchants for "swipe" fees, (3) loaning out the money for interest, or (4) charging a monthly fee to maintain the account, as Bank of America tried to do.  If those numbers from Moeb Services are correct, it is hard to see how a bank could make money on most checking accounts, especially with the new limits on overdraft and "swipe" fees.  (And consumer reaction to charging monthly fees.)

Part of the explanation might be that Moeb is describing the cost of an average account, not a marginal account.  So it might be profitable for a bank to acquire new accounts, even to offer bonuses for new accounts, because the additional cost for each new account is much lower than that $175 or $350.

Or, it is possible, I suppose, that banks use checking accounts in part as loss leaders, though that seems much less plausible to me.

I have been wondering about this for some time, because when I enter into a business relationship, I almost always want it to make sense on both sides, my side and theirs.  And I have to admit that I can't see how the Chase and Banner offers make sense from the bank's side — assuming those Moeb cost estimates are accurate.

(In recent years, many banks made much of their checking account profits at the expense of careless.  Even though that didn't affect me — I can't remember paying an overdraft fee — I thought the banks went way too far in their policies.)
- 3:34 PM, 3 December 2011
More:  According to the same Journal article, the "average" checking account contains $5200.  If that's right, it is hard to see how a bank could make money on most checking accounts, assuming those costs are accurate.
- 4:36 PM, 5 December 2011   [link]

What's "Hot" In Elite New York Schools?   Wooden blocks.
Wooden building blocks are the hot new fad in New York City’s elite schools, reports the New York Times.  The story starts with “block consultant” Jean Schreiber leading a workshop for parents who want to know how to help their children play with blocks.
This story did not run on April 1st, and is not an intentional joke.  And to be fair, I don't think any great harm is being done to these kids.

For the record, I think the best blocks are the ones kids find or make themselves.

(I must admit that I admire — though I shouldn't — someone who can work, probably at high pay, as a "block consultant".  And I wonder whether she has a degree in block consulting.)

- 12:51 PM, 2 December 2011   [link]

What Happens If You Let Women Drive Cars?  Saudi religious leaders know.
Repealing a ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia would result in ‘no more virgins’, the country’s religious council has warned.

A ‘scientific’ report claims relaxing the ban would also see more Saudis - both men and women - turn to homosexuality and pornography.
Before you laugh too hard at their science, consider this:  There are people in the West, some in positions of power, who would also like to restrict driving to the right people.

And both groups are unhappy with the freedom that cars can give people.

(This reminds me that the current Saudis often seem more Muslim than Muhammad in their restrictions on women.  For an example showing why I think that, consider the Battle of the Camel.   The losing side was led by one of Muhammad's widows, Aisha, who "directed her forces from a howdah on the back of a camel".

Riding a camel is about as close to driving as a woman could get in 656 AD.)
- 7:13 AM, 2 December 2011   [link]

Walking Speed Predicts Longevity?  The relationship found in this study isn't surprising, but the strength of the relationship is.
Turns out, your walking speed may predict how long you'll live.  That's according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The University of Pittsburgh researchers looked at data from nine studies involving nearly 35,000 seniors and found that only 19 percent of the slowest walking 75-year-old men lived for 10 more years compared to 87 percent of the fastest walking ones.  Only 35 percent of the slowest walking 75-year-old women made it to their 85th birthday compared to 91 percent of the fastest walkers.
. . . .
The researchers found that the usual walking pace of those over 65 varied from less than 1.3 feet per second over 13 feet -- which carried the highest death risk -- to more than 4.6 feet per second, which was associated with the lowest risk.
As you would expect, the researchers aren't sure whether this shows that people who get more exercise live longer, or whether it shows that people who are healthier get more exercise.  Most likely, both are true — to some extent.  And it may be possible to sort out the two explanations, statistically.
- 6:35 AM, 2 December 2011   [link]

Designed Locally:  Produced globally.

Which is fine with me, but I'm not sure that combination is consistent with the current tenets of the Green religion.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:59 PM, 1 December 2011   [link]

New York's Millionaire Public Employees:  There are many, though few of them think of themselves as millionaires.
Gov. Cuomo, under enormous pressure from public-employee unions and Democrats in the Legislature to extend New York’s “millionaires’ tax,” is considering at least some higher taxes on higher incomes.  The big irony here is that much of the money raised from any “millionaire” tax hikes would go to fund the growing phenomenon of public-sector millionaires.

How’s that?  Well, most dictionaries define a millionaire as someone with wealth (i.e., assets) of $1 million.  By that definition, many New York teachers and the vast majority of police and firefighters are millionaires, because the “net present value” of their retirement benefits is well in excess of $1 million.
(Police and firefighters do better because they can retire even earlier than New York teachers.)

Those retirement benefits now make up 20 percent of New York's budget, up from 4 percent in the last decade.

New York City — and many other cities and states — will soon be running into Stein's law.  I fear that, for many of them, the stop will not be smooth.

(For some time, I have been toying with the idea of replacing part of our public pension systems with annuities, bought each year of work.  That would have, as I see it, one great advantage over most current systems:  The costs would be in current budgets, not budgets decades in the future.  Most college professors have had such a system available to them for decades, TIAA-CREF, so we have some experience on how such a plan might work.

Full disclosure:  I own a small TIAA-CREF annuity, though I haven't started the payments.)
- 10:28 AM, 1 December 2011   [link]

Legal Assistants Can Provide more services to defendants than you might expect.
Strippers are sneaking into US prisons dressed as paralegals in order to put on shows for wealthy drug lords.
It probably hasn't happened very often, but I don't doubt that it has happened.
- 5:52 AM, 1 December 2011   [link]