Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dubious Headline Stats of the Week

The NY Daily News marvels...

Very rare happy ending in Hudson River plane crash: Only 1 other safe landing in water

How rare it is for a commercial pilot to intentionally land on water and have everyone survive? This rare: It happened only once before Thursday -- and that was more than 45 years ago.

"For everybody to get out, that's pretty amazing," said Emilio Corsetti, a pilot ...
Well, maybe not all that amazing. Buried down at the bottom of the story...
There have only been three documented incidents of a pilot intentionally ditching commercial planes in water ... The only other known water ditching in which all passengers survived was in Russia in 1963 when an Aeroflot jet with 52 people aboard ran out of fuel and landed in a river near St. Petersburg.
So counting that one and this one, in two-out-of-three ditchings everyone survived. OK, the ditchings are rare -- surviving them, not so rare.

Put that in the "My editor demanded a new angle on the story everyone had already done" file.

The various radio and newpaper reports based on this Visa press release go into the "Next time, let's think before taking the PR flack's word for it" file...
Almost Two-Thirds of Americans Surveyed Will Host Super Bowl Party

Visa ... conducted surveys in seventeen metropolitan areas around the country and found a wide disparity among cities in their residents' plans to hold a Super Bowl party and how much they will spend on those get-togethers. Washington, D.C. (71%), Pittsburgh, PA (70%) and San Antonio, TX (70%) topped the list of areas with the highest number of respondents saying they will host Super Bowl parties...
And those two-thirds of Americans are buying enough beer and chips to entertain an average of 0.5 guests each.

Yet I still can't get an invitation!

Well ... now we know the quality of the market research that our credit card fees are paying for. Maybe it's not so surprising that the financial system is taking us into the next Great Depression.

The survey had an overall margin of error of +/-3.1%.
Now we know the meaning of that too!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Did Ken Rogoff give up chess too soon?

Does the grandmaster regret leaving the game too soon, to become an economist at the IMF and now Harvard, when he could have been a championship chess boxer? Compared to the average boxer, he'd a had a heck of an advantage on the chess side of the competition.
"I coulda been a contender. I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody, instead of an economist, which is what I am, let's face it..."

[Watch the World Championship match video.]
And instead of writing that letter to Stiglitz, it could've been simply...
"Hey Joe, over here! I got something for ya..."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the Annals of Advanced Academic Research

The great circle of life is scientifically confirmed:

Men are excited by sex to lust for money.

Women are excited by money to lust for sex.
Not that we all haven't known this since our cave-dwelling days, but now it's official.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How bad has the recession really been so far?

The worst since the Great Depression? The worst since 1945?

The Minneapolis Fed explores The Recession In Perspective, from which...

On the other hand, there's not much doubt that today's problems within the financial sector (as opposed to the entire economy) are indeed the worst since the Depression. How are things going there?

James Hamilton sees signs that they may be getting better, as does Bloomberg and VoxEu (via Mankiw as well.)

The New York Times says that they may be getting worse.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The most expensive real estate in America is used to sell hot dogs.

$362,201 per year for the right to locate a hot dog cart -- a non-exclusive right.

In what may be the epitome of the location-is-everything maxim, the Parks Department has auctioned off the food-vending rights to the north-side entrance of the Metropolitan Museun of Art on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street for $362,201, and the south-side entrance for $280,500, both to first-time vendor Pasang Sherpa...

"That [north] side is more busy," explained Sherpa. Many museum visitors use the nearby 86th Street/Lexington Avenue subway express stop to the north.

"It's just the flow of traffic," agreed competitor Dan Rossi, who set up shop without permission and isn't paying the city a cent, citing a regulation that lets veterans like himself bypass the bidding process.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said all bidders were made aware they wouldn't be getting an exclusive franchise...

With more than 5 million visitors a year, the Met is a hot-dog seller's paradise since the nearest eateries are blocks away.

The location has also become a cash cow for the Parks Department, which has been able to increase vending rents steadily on what might be the most expensive retail space per square foot in the country.

But Sherpa's now got a big beef with the city. The Health Department hasn't certified one of his two carts ... Parks officials said they're trying to be accommodating and pointed out that Sherpa - who hails from Nepal - had six months to get the required permits... [NY Post]
Hmmm ...

For more than $640,000 per year, you'd think the city could expedite those permits.

"Location location location": That's a rental difference of more than $81,000 between two locations only 100 feet away.

How many hot dogs does one have to sell to make a decent profit after paying $640,000 to locate your two carts?

That's one heck of a nice veteran's benefit Mr. Rossi has! Being how these locations are "non-exclusive", I'd think every veteran in New York would be set up with a hot dog cart in front of the Met.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Misleading Headline Statistic of the Week
Yearly Job Loss Worst Since 1945
-- was today's page one headline in the Wall Street Journal, and a story in countless other newspapers, as evidenced by more than 3,000 hits by Google News. For instance...
Not since 1945 has the hemorrhaging of jobs accelerated at such a record pace - bringing last year's total job losses to a whopping 2.6 million and marking its highest levels since the end of World War II, the Labor Department said yesterday. There were 2.75 million jobs lost in 1945... [NY Post ]
Yes ... but the size of the labor force in 1945 was less than 58 million, while today it is over 154 million, more than 2.6 times larger, a fact all these stories omit.

So 2008's job loss amounted to only about 35% as much as in 1945 by the size of the labor force (and by size of the labor force was not the largest since 1945, but the third largest).

The chart below shows the percentage of the labor force employed since 1948 (data from Fred):

The worst overall labor market year by far was 1983. Informed newspapers should be warning about "Worst Since 1983", though that's hardly as grabbing, so we know why they don't.

If the labor market deteriorates to that point, God forbid, then the press will be justified to worry about "worst since the Great Depression", but not before -- though Google News produced more than 11,000 hits on that when I looked today, as well.

I'm not diminishing today's economic problems, they are bad and likely to get worse. But it would be nice if when the press cites historical comparisons, it would make some effort to be accurate and honest about them.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

News of the day, noted on the cross-14th Street bus.

Porn industry seeks federal bailout.

"People are too depressed to be sexually active. This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex. With all this economic misery and people losing all that money, sex is the farthest thing from their mind. It's time for congress to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America. The only way they can do this is by supporting the adult industry and doing it quickly."

"I want my kidney back!" Another term to be added to the marriage contract: "Donated organs to be returned in case of adultery."

Inmate sues warden for $500,000 over dead parrot.

The death of Freddy the parrot could be debated in federal courts. It also could raise questions about the right of the accused to get "one phone call" after being arrested.

Thomas Goodrich charges in a lawsuit he filed this month that he never got that call, causing his expensive and beloved blue and gold macaw to starve to death. Goodrich alleges he was held on a misdemeanor warrant in Young Correctional Institution for 12 days, unable to get word out to anyone to help him post bail or get food to his pet parrots.

It took him nearly 10 days to barter for a stamp to get a letter to a friend about his predicament, according to the suit that Goodrich filed without an attorney...

The lawsuit names Department of Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg and former Young warden Raphael Williams as defendants and asks for $250,000 in punitive damages from each...

Beyond the question of the deceased pet -- and echoes of Monty Python's dead parrot sketch -- legal experts said Goodrich's lawsuit raises a serious issue about the rights of an accused to secure his or her freedom, most commonly through a phone call.

Widener Law associate professor Jules Epstein and ACLU Delaware Executive Director Drewry Fennell said despite the constant references in police dramas, there is no "right" to a phone call...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Nobody knows nuthin' 

Some "great expectations" for 2008, by the supposed great and knowing, about:

The world of sport...

... please be aware that the New England Patriots already have won their fourth Vince Lombardi trophy in seven years ... Crown them. We know exactly who the Patriots are: the perfect football team.
-- Jay Mariotti, Chicago Sun-Times, 1/14/2008
After the Patriots filed for a trademark on "19-0" in anticipation of a Super Bowl victory capping a perfect season, they lost and wound up donating hundreds of "19-0" T-shirts to poor children in Nicaragua and Romania, thus developing new generations of Pats fans around the world. Meanwhile, the the NY Post applied for a trademark on "18-1", and it's still not too late to get yours.

... and climate change...

CBS News Video, with former British PM Tony Blair urging the US to take all this seriously.

[and for emphasis:]

A British explorer unveiled plans on Tuesday to kayak all the way to the North Pole to expose just how quickly the ice cap is melting ... scientists predict that due to global warming, this year might be the first when someone could do so.

"I'm going to try and get all the way to the North Pole to show the world what is happening," 38-year-old Lewis Gordon Pugh said after launching his Polar Defense Project expedition on the River Thames in London.

He didn't make it (getting stuck in ice in what was navigable clear water in 1922).

... and politics...
“If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.”
—William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006.

But, of course, 2008 was of the Year of the Money Quote. So many possibilities, so little bandwidth...
"In today's regulatory environment, it's virtually impossible to violate rules." -- Bernard Madoff, money manager, Oct. 20, 2007
(OK, that wasn't strictly a prediction -- but who knew the master of the world's first $50 billion Ponzi scheme had a sense of humor?)

"I think this is a case where Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are fundamentally sound. They're not in danger of going under…I think they are in good shape going forward."
- Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Financial Services Committee chairman, July 14, 2008

"I expect there will be some failures. I don't anticipate any serious problems of that sort among the large internationally active banks that make up a very substantial part of our banking system."
- Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, Feb. 28, 2008

"Existing-Home Sales to Trend Up in 2008"
- Headline of National Association of Realtors press release, Dec. 9, 2007

"I think you'll see (oil prices at) $150 a barrel by the end of the year"
- T. Boone Pickens, June 20, 2008

“The possibility of $150-$200 per barrel seems increasingly likely over the next six-24 months.”
- Arjun Murti, Goldman Sachs oil analyst, May 5, 2008.

"With the U.S. dollar up and oil down and businesses investing, I think (the) Goldilocks (economy) is back in business."
- Larry Kudlow, Aug. 28 on CNBC's "Kudlow & Company"

"Emerging markets are now the global investors' safe haven of choice."
- Worth Magazine, April/May 2008. [Emerging market stocks fell 50% from then to December.]

"Stock investors should 'beat the rush to the banks'."
- Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, November 2008
[Follow up: "At least all our picks are still in business." -- Elizabeth Ody, author of the article]

"Garzarelli [president of Garzarelli Capital] is advising investors to buy some of the most beaten-down stocks, including those of giant financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch. What would cause her to turn bearish? Not much. ‘Our indicators are extremely bullish.’”
- Business Week's Investment Outlook 2008
[All gone now!]

And, of course, anything by Jim Cramer (sooo little bandwidth!)

"Should I be worried about Bear Stearns in terms of liquidity and get my money out of there?’ No! No! No! Bear Stearns is fine! Do not take your money out ... Bear Stearns is not in trouble ... Don’t move your money from Bear! That’s just being silly! Don’t be silly!”
- Jim Cramer, on CNBC’s Mad Money, March 11, 2008

"I think Bob Steel's the one guy I trust to turn this bank around, which is why I've told you on weakness to buy Wachovia."
- Jim Cramer, CNBC, March 11, 2008

"The market will not revisit the panicked lows it hit on July 15 ... Bye-bye, bear market. Say hello to the bull, and don't let the door hit you on the way out."
- Jim Cramer, on CNBC's "Mad Money", July 30
[The Dow then fell 3,400 points]
Remember in 2009, and learn therefrom.

Sources, and more: RealClearSports, Business Week, Kiplinger's, New York, Foreign Policy, Ritholz.