Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Taking a few days off between holidays. 

Enjoy your 'tween holidays time.

See you in the new year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Briefly seen and quickly noted 

[] When I'm 86, I hope I'm still able to create a scandal like this...
India Governor, 86, Resigns After 3-Woman Sex Tape

The 86-year-old governor of a southern Indian state resigned a day after a television news channel broadcast a tape allegedly showing him in bed with three women... [NY Times]
Why do foreigners get all the interesting political sex scandals?

[] Having a spritual crisis? Maybe you should reconsider your choice of religion for the new year.

[] More rules making life even more miserable for flyers...
Commercial airline passengers may not rise from their seats during the final hour of their flights, according to new government rules announced by some airlines yesterday.

Airline passengers are also barred from having any personal belongings on their laps -- not even a paperback novel -- during the hour before landing. In that time, all personal belongings must be stowed in carry-on bags and stay off-limits to passengers. Passengers landing at JFK yesterday after long international flights said attendants locked the bathrooms and wouldn't even let children use the facilities during the hour before landing... [NY Post]
It's almost as if, now that the government owns so much of the auto and bus-manufacturing industry, it doesn't want you to fly any more.

[] Musical performance of the week: What English sounds like to people who don't speak English, via a 1970s-style song-and-dance number sung by Italians in English gibberish. More entertaining than a lot of musical numbers I do understand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Santa's helpers need to be paid. 

Ho! ho! holdup!

You better not shout, you better not cry -- just hand over the cash.

A gunman dressed as Santa Claus walked into a Tennessee bank demanding cash so he could "pay his elves."

"It was a little unbelievable. He was actually jovial, which is scary", said witness Richlyn Jones... [NY Post]

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa looks forward to making his rounds. 

Some deliveries may be delayed.

While you're waiting: Uncle Jay's muscial Year in Review.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Senate health care reform plan to New York: Drop Dead. 

With a Democratic Senate like this, does one of the bluest of all blue states need enemies?
Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and other NY pols: Health care bill is prescription for disaster

The Senate health reform bill is packed with lumps of coal for New York's Christmas stocking.

Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and other officials warned the Senate plan would:

- Force the city to close 100 health clinics.

- Blow a $1 billion hole in the state's budget.

- Threaten struggling hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities.

"It is really a disgrace and we've got to make sure that we fight before the bill is finally passed," Bloomberg fumed.

New York ended up on the short end as Senate brokers showered cash on states whose senators were among the last holdouts before Democratic leaders locked up the 60 needed votes.

New York's best hope now is emergency surgery to undo the shafting before the bill becomes final...

One of the biggest whacks the state faces is a $5.5 billion cut over 10 years in federal help taking care of sick people who can't pay.

Bloomberg believes that part of the Senate bill would cost the city $540 million.

"It would require us to close all of the 100 health clinics and a bunch of the ambulatory care things that we provide, overnight, cause the money would disappear," he said.... [NY Daily News]
Maybe New York's senators should learn a lesson from Mary Landreau and Ben Nelson about the value of being a holdout, instead of a loyalist to the cause. (Are you listening, Chuck?)

It's not like having the power of the marginal vote has never been demonstrated in New York before -- or like this blog failed to predict that senators were positioning themselves to exploit it during health reform negotiations. Only not our senators, it turns out. But it's exploit or be exploited in this game.

The story is not done with the Obamacare legislation. New York is not the only state in this situation. There are conflicts yet to come.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


[] Paul Krugman gets a memo from the top...
Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.
... only appropriate ones.

[] General Motors to be saved by chrome. Apparently it takes the nationalization of a business to free the creative minds in it to think so ... creatively.

[] Stymied in your last minute Christmas shopping? Here's stuff white people like, and here is a guide from the New York Times about stuff giftees of color like. Of course, the former is a joke while the latter, being from the New York Times, is entirely serious.

[] Who gets arrested and pays the price when the federal government breaks the law?
...the National Debt as posted by the Treasury Department has - at least numerically - exceeded the statutory Debt Limit approved by Congress last February as part of the Recovery Act stimulus bill.

The ceiling was set at $12.104 trillion dollars. The latest posting by Treasury shows the National Debt at nearly $12.135 trillion.
But not to worry...
A senior Treasury official told CBS News that the department has some "extraordinary accounting tools" it can use to give the government breathing room in the range of $150 billion when the Debt exceeds the Debt Ceiling.
When the executives at Enron used "extraordinary accounting tools" to cover up nowhere near $150 billion they went to the slammer. But shhhh ... don't tell anyone.

[] Talk about intergenerational transfers: They mayor of Pittsburgh this week tried to drop a tax on tuition paid by college students to fund pensions for city employees...
The tax, which would take effect as early as July, would range from about $20 a year for students at cheaper schools like the Community College of Allegheny County to just over $400 for students at the city’s priciest university, Carnegie Mellon.

Politically, Mr. Ravenstahl risks few votes in leaning on universities for revenue because college students rarely vote in local elections...
They don't vote now. But if you want to motivate them to take their civic responsibilities more seriously, keep on this course -- which politicians will, you can be sure.

Meanwhile, on Monday, after considerable pushback, the tax proposal was withdrawn with the city's colleges agreeing to make a "volutary contribution" of an unspecified amount (reportedly "nowhere near" what the mayor wanted) instead.

This is just the tiny point of the topmost tip of the iceberg of intergenerational fiscal conflict coming into view, folks. The political dynamic of "oldsters vote, youngsters don't" has given politicians everywhere an incentive to make ever larger and larger unfunded promises of benefits to seniors that youngsters are going to have to pay -- now totalling, oh, $60 trillion or so at present value, and rising.

As long as the taxes have been low, the youngsters have gone along. But as the unfunded promises become due, forcing taxes to get higher and higher, as the youngsters themselves get older, if you tally up the incentives of all the parties, you can see for yourself how that may change.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The most miserable of all states to be in: New York 

Science proves I really am wretched, that I'm not just imagining it...
A new study declares residents of the Empire State rank dead last in happiness among the 50 states...

The rankings were based on an annual nationwide survey of 1.3 million people by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The participants were asked, among other questions, how satisfied they were with their lives.

A pair of economists then compared the results compiled between 2005 and 2008 with other data covering quality-of-life issues - including taxes, crime, commuting and cost of living.

New York emerged as sadder than the rest, just behind Michigan and its 14.7% unemployment rate. The nation's most populous state, California, rated No. 46...
The full list of states.

The people who put this together had a scientific reason apart from finding out where they didn't want to move to. There's been a whole lot of "happiness research" lately, all dogged by the question of whether or not self-reported happiness scores relate to anything objective, or are just made up ad hoc and meaningless. So the researchers compared self-reported ratings of happiness by state to objective living conditions in the state (weather, tax levels, and so on). Their conclusion:
Across America, people’s answers trace out the same pattern of quality of life as previously estimated, using solely nonsubjective data, in a literature from economics ... There is a state-by-state match (r = 0.6, P < 0.001) between subjective and objective well-being.
Great! As a New Yorker I now know that I am not merely subjectively miserable, but objectively miserable too.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Sunday sports section 

[] Pro Football continues to beat the spread.

[] The famous neurosurgeon says hockey should be sissified have the contact and violence taken out of it to reduce injuries. The famous former hockey player and current game commentator, voted "the seventh greatest Canadian" (by Canadians!), says hockey should be even more "rock 'em, sock 'em" than it is. Who's right? Discussed.

[] The Tax Foundation proposes a jobs creation program: policy that would definitely create a lot of good-paying American jobs:
"The N.L. Should Be More Like the A.L. Act of 2009," which would "mandate that the National League enact a designated hitter rule or MLB lose its anti-trust exemption; and that the total number of roster spots increases by one."
At first, this would create 16 new jobs (number of N.L. teams). But think of all the other jobs. There will likely need to be more balls and bats ... more uniforms will be produced ... pitchers will probably be more likely to be hurt during the season due to more wear and tear (every 9th batter won't be essentially a free pass). Therefore, more replacement pitchers will be needed. Plus, this wear and tear will create more jobs for medical trainers. That can only be a good thing...

[] How most colleges lose money sending their football teams to Bowl games: They have to buy thousands of tickets to the game, then can't sell them except at a loss...
Last year, Virginia Tech earned a berth in the Orange Bowl and was required to buy 17,500 tickets at $125 each. It only sold 3,342 of them, leading to a loss of $1.77 million for the university and the Atlantic Coast Conference, records show...

Which raises questions: Then why did they go? Why do any of these schools go to games where ticket sales prospects are bleak?

The answers are longer-term revenue and prestige.

“Seemingly, universities will do whatever they need to so everyone knows they’re a successful, big-time football power,” Richard Southall [director of the College Sport Research Institute] said. “Whether it’s playing on any night of the week or buying ticket allotments, it doesn’t matter. On some level, the bowl committee folks know this. The (athletic directors) know this. Nobody can say no to the bowl fix.” ... [San Diego Union-Tribune]
Of course, money from these games is being made by somebody.

[HT: the Sports Economist]

Friday, December 18, 2009

As religions go, Anglicanism is becoming difficult to take seriously. 

Christians outraged by poster showing Mary and Joseph after sex

A risque church billboard showing the Virgin Mary and Joseph in bed apparently after disappointing sex has caused outrage among Christians in New Zealand ... [after being] erected outside the Anglican church of St Matthew's in the City, in central Auckland...

The large poster depicts a dejected-looking Joseph lying next to Mary, whose eyes are turned heavenwards, under the words: "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow."

Both figures, painted in classical fresco style, appear to be naked...

Archdeacon Glynn Cardy said the billboard was intended to lampoon the literal interpretation of the Christmas conception story "and that somehow this male God impregnated Mary"...

He said the church had asked an advertising agency to come up with ideas for the poster and the one they had chosen was not the most radical.

"One of the options we turned down had a sperm coming down with the words 'Joy to the World'," he said... [Telegraph]
Perhaps not entirely coincidentally...
Membership in the Church of England ... has been declining steadily since around 1890. In the years 1968 to 1999, Anglican church attendances [in the U.K.] almost halved, from 3.5 per cent of the population to just 1.9 per cent. One study published in 2008 suggested that if current trends continue, Sunday attendances could fall to ... just 87,800 in 2050.[wiki]
To paraphrase what was said about that dead parrot: "this is an ex-religion".

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church thrives as the world's largest.

Henry VIII, what hast thou wrought?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Around and about... 

[] All the (recent) mysteries of the universe (dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity, the Big Bang) explained?

[HT: Hamilton and Sumner]

[] It is illegal to discriminate against Nazis (at least when providing housing) in Washington DC, Seattle WA, and Madison WI.

This we learn from Prof. Volokh while following up on the fact that in New Mexico it is illegal for a freelance commercial photographer to refuse to take the wedding photos for a same-sex wedding. Even though...
How can New Mexico argue that it has such a compelling interest in preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation when it comes to same-sex weddings, when it itself refuses to recognize same-sex weddings?

[] What they mean by an "astronomical" amount...

The cumulative devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar was such that a stack of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (26 zeros) two-dollar bills (if they were printed) in the peak hyperinflation would have be needed to equal in value what a single original Zimbabwe two-dollar bill of 1978 had been worth.

Such a pile of bills literally would be light years high, stretching from the Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy... [via Tyler Cowen]

Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe, who created this inflation is now in Copenhagen helping shape world climate policy. ("he is set to address the summit later in the week. As a head of state, Mugabe will attend a dinner tomorrow hosted by Denmark's Queen Margrethe II.")

[] Why David Lynch turned down directing Return of the Jedi: "Wookies ... headache."

[] Female weightlifter surprised to pop out a baby during training.


What's a college education really worth? 

Apparently what you make of it...
... a long-term study of 6,335 college grads published in 1999 by the National Bureau of Economic Research found graduating from a college where entering students have higher SAT scores -— a sign of exclusivity -— didn't pay off in higher post-graduation income.

What matters more, it seems, is graduates' personal drive.

In a surprising twist, a stronger predictor of income is the caliber of the schools that reject you. Researchers found students who applied to several elite schools but didn't attend them -— presumably because many were rejected —- are more likely to earn high incomes later than students who actually attended elite schools.

In a summary of the findings, the Bureau says that "evidently, students' motivation, ambition and desire to learn have a much stronger effect on their subsequent success than average academic ability of their classmates."... [WSJ]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Moral philosophy of modern life 

There's the classic "Desiderata" (1927):
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence...

And the contemporary "Interneterata" (2008):

Go placidly amid the spam and waste,
and remember what peace there may be in a decent firewall...
But still definitive as to the modern condition: the "Deteriorata" [mp3] (1972):
Go placidly amid the noise and waste,
and remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Now publicly stated as union-Democratic policy: Having no jobs is better than thousands of jobs. 

A Bronx bummer

[The Kingsbridge armory, remembered well from my youth.]

The City Council yesterday rejected a major development plan at the Kingsbridge Armory in The Bronx, in a big blow to Mayor Bloomberg...

"This is a game-changer for the way development proceeds in New York," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which played a major role in opposing the revamp ... of the 575,000-square-foot vacant armory into a mall, because Bloomberg and developer The Related Companies refused to agree to a living-wage agreement...

"What happened here today at the City Council is historic. What happened here today, it is huge in that for the very first time in a long time, we've seen how the interests of the people have prevailed over corporate America -- and boy, does that feel good!" Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Diaz proclaimed in a rally after the council's vote.
Yes, it feels good to leave thousands unemployed, and a half-million square feet of commercial space empty and decaying, because it's how the unions and the Democratic politicians that they own in this town "prevail over corporate America!"

Unemployment and decay -- "the interests of the people"!
"We here maintain that that notion that any job is better than no job no longer applies."
Well, at last, stated right out in the open: having no jobs is better than having jobs at market rates.
Bloomberg chided the council for the vote.

"Given that the national recession continues to weigh on the entire city and keep unemployment high -- particularly in The Bronx -- the outcome and timing couldn't be worse," Bloomberg said...

City Hall officials said the site would cost roughly $1 million to maintain annually until it's developed, if it ever happens.

Related attorney Jesse Masyr said the council "voted no to over 2,000 jobs." [NY Post]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seen around and about... 

[] I'd drink too.
At the start of 1938, Hitler hadn’t yet become the all-powerful Fuhrer ... Just 12 months later, things were radically different. “Hitler emerged deux ex machina, with all the powers of the Nazi regime consolidated in his own person,” MacDonogh writes.

"That Germans felt an increase in stress and anxiety during those twelve months is borne out by one telling statistic: Their consumption of strong alcohol doubled in the course of the year."

[] Good news and bad news for Republicans, from Rasmussen.

The good news: "the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Democrats attracting [only] 36% of the vote."

The bad news: "Republicans finish third at 18% ... The Tea Party candidate picks up 23% ...

"Among voters not affiliated with either major party, the Tea Party comes out on top. Thirty-three percent (33%) prefer the Tea Party candidate, and 30% are undecided. Twenty-five percent (25%) would vote for a Democrat, and just 12% prefer the GOP.

"Among Republican voters, 39% say they’d vote for the GOP candidate, but 33% favor the Tea Party option."

[] How to lose $127 million in a casino. Of course, a subsequent lawsuit sues the casino for enabling it to happen.

[] About Copenhagen, an essay worth reading...

From the opening ceremony's video of a little girl running from an earthquake to the promises of emissions reductions, everything taking place in Copenhagen is contrived.

The outcome of climate talks -- no treaty, no emissions reductions -- was known in advance. And yet participants pretend there is an unfolding drama. As such, Copenhagen is history's first completely postmodern global event...

Was the Great Contraction caused by Warren Buffett not liking to use a cell phone? 

The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers is considered by many to have been the trigger of the world-wide economic collapse a year ago. The Wall Street Journal tells part of the story...
... Mr. Buffett flew to Edmonton, Canada, for a charity concert, headlined by Seal and Paul Anka, for families with children who need organ transplants.

At about 6 p.m., he got a call at his hotel from Barclays PLC President Robert Diamond Jr. and an adviser, former Citigroup Inc. banker Michael Klein. The bankers were trying to broker a last-minute deal for Barclays to buy Lehman, which was facing bankruptcy.

U.K. regulators wouldn't approve such a large deal without shareholder approval, they told Mr. Buffett, which could take several days or even weeks. Regulators were worried that Lehman's trading partners would panic, refusing to do any more business with the bank. Would Mr. Buffett, for a fee, guarantee Lehman's trading positions until a shareholder vote?

Mr. Buffett needed to leave for the concert. He asked the bankers to send him a fax laying out deal terms. When he returned to his hotel around midnight, he didn't find any fax, so the deal went nowhere.

Mr. Klein had left a message on Mr. Buffett's cellphone. But Mr. Buffett says he doesn't use cellphones much, so he didn't even realize the message was there. He says he didn't get it until 10 months later, when his daughter, Susan Buffett, discovered it.

He declines to discuss what Mr. Klein's message was...
Messages delivered: Always check back to be sure all important messages left have been received. In our ever-changing world, don't rely on one generation using the next generation's technology -- if a doddering old multi-billionaire wants a fax, send a fax.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday sports section 

How much will lost endorsements cost Tiger? (Don't cry for him, it's the first half-billion he's already got that contributes the most to financial security.)

How much are college football coaches paid? At Tennessee the assistant coaches get from $110,000 to $1.2 million. Well, as long as the players who actually play the games and generate all the money remain under a salary cap of $0, leaving all this money for their coaches to collect, college football stays an "amateur" sport.

Girls play dirty. Or: If your daughter plays youth soccer, essential skills she should learn to help get a college scholarship.

Bloomberg goes into technical analysis of baseball data...
"If you think of players as securities and teams as portfolios, then our infrastructure for managing information about securities and portfolios could be adapted to sports.”

Great advances in college football offensive line blocking technique, FSU v Florida.

Dave Berri contradicts the football fans' popular belief that the quarterback makes the team with data showing it's pretty much the team that makes the quarterback's numbers...
The Chicago Bears finished the 2008 season with a 9-7 record, a mark that fell just short of qualifying for the playoffs. In discussing Chicago’s problems, people tended to focus on the team’s quarterback. As Table One reports, Kyle Orton – the Bears starting quarterback in 2008 — was ranked 25th (out of 32) quarterbacks...

In the offseason it became clear that Jay Cutler -– a player who ranked 7th ... was available. So the Bears sent Kyle Orton –-- plus two first round draft picks and a third round pick –- to the Broncos for Cutler.

Fans of the Bears rejoiced at this move. And fans of the Denver Broncos became very, very angry ... Many NFL pundits were heard expressing the conventional wisdom: You simply don’t trade away a “franchise” quarterback [like Cutler]..

[Today] the Broncos are 7-4 while the Bears are 4-7. When we look at each quarterback’s stats we see that the 2008 result has been essentially reversed. Orton now ranks 9th ... Cutler is ranked 25th.
He then expands on some even more controversial observations about NFL quarterbacks that earlier contributed to Malcolm Gladwell's side of the notorious Gladwell -- Steven Pinker cat, er, kitten fight, er, sports tiff.

Does the football team make the quarterback? More on this coming soon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Paul Krugman has sent his resume to the Wall Street Journal 

Most voters (55%) don’t know enough about Paul Krugman to venture even a soft opinion about him. Those with an opinion are fairly evenly divided —- 22% favorable and 22% unfavorable ... with four percent (4%) voicing a Very Favorable opinion and six percent (6%) a Very Unfavorable view.

But if people are asked about "New York Times columnist Paul Krugman", the numbers shift significantly. Once he is identified with that publication, his unfavorable ratings jump 15 points to 37%. The number with a Very Unfavorable view more than triples to 20%. However, Krugman’s favorable ratings show little improvement, inching up only three points to 25%...

[OTOH] John Fund was viewed favorably by 12% of voters and unfavorably by 22%. Just one percent (1%) had a Very Favorable opinion of him, and six percent (6%) offered a Very Unfavorable view.

However, when Fund was identified with the Wall Street Journal, his numbers jumped to 34% favorable and 20% unfavorable.

In the case of both Krugman and Fund, the change in perceptions between the two surveys says more about public perceptions of their newspapers than it does about the columnists themselves. A February 2008 survey found that just 24% had a favorable opinion of the New York Times...
[ht: Luskin]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jury duty: deliberations day 

Blogging will resume after the verdict is delivered.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's hard being green -- especially in Copenhagen. 

A little while back commenter "pouncer" cited Paul Krugman claiming that the skeptics about global warming have all the advantages -- there is "more money" in being a skeptic, and the media coverage is biased in the skeptics' favor.

In the spirit of this week's Copenhagen meeting, I thought I'd follow up on that thought and salute those public figures who have faced down that media bias and incurred that monetary loss to lead the fight against global warming nonetheless -- bearing all the hardships involved. (Krugman's heroes!)

Krugman's brave fellow columnist at the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, has already been mentioned here ...
Friedman counsels, "[P]ersonally lead as environmentally sustainable a life as you can", but himself lives in a 11,400-square-foot mansion, whose carbon footprint may be visible from orbit...

Friedman's book-talk schedule for the first month alone of Hot, Flat, and Crowded promotion requires jet aircraft trips that, the calculator at TerraPass estimates, will generate about 3 tons of carbon dioxide —- the same as driving a Hummer for almost half a year.
But Tom is not the only soul bearing the hardship of fighting skepticism to save the planet...
Harrison Ford waxed his chest to raise awareness of over-logging in the Amazon rainforest -- (making an inspiring video!)

Paul McCartney drives around England in a fuel-saving hybrid Lexus, that he had flown from Japan ("like driving the car 300 times around the world”).

Al Gore's 2007 Live Earth concerts flew its performers more than 222,000 miles to get their chance to show off, putting 31,500 tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. (And you have to admire the personal sacrifices performers like the selfless Madonna made, no doubt, under the glare of hostile press, to get there.)

Woody Harrelson lets everyone know he wears "vegan" clothes -- but when he left his favorite shoes and belt behind in California, he had them flown to Cannes.

Jennifer Anniston says that because poor Africans have so little water she showers for only three minutes a day, and brushes her teeth while doing so to conserve water. (Does that give the poor of Africa more water? Even when brushing your teeth with the shower running consumes a heck of a lot more water than doing it with the sink tap running?)
And there' so much more...
Oprah Winfrey, who preaches eco-virtue from her TV pulpit, travelled in a 13-seat Gulfstream IV private jet for years...

Perhaps more egregious, because she is a much more in-your-face global-warming campaigner, is Dame Trudie Styler, film financier and wife of Sting... [to read her story click the link above, it can't be fit in here]...

David Cameron was once photographed virtuously riding his bike to the House of Commons, with his official car behind him, carrying his suit and briefcase...

Barack Obama had a St Louis chef flown 850 miles just to make pizza at the White House...
Which gets us to this coming week, in which Obama will be flying twice to Europe and back, first to Oslo to pick up his well earned Nobel Peace Prize, and then again to nearby Copenhagen to join his fellow world leaders as they defy press bias and the monied interests to stand up against global warming...
Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges

On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."

And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen...

The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports – or to Sweden – to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers..

As well as 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles....

The top hotels – all fully booked at £650 a night [$1,060 a night] – are readying their Climate Convention menus of (no doubt sustainable) scallops, foie gras and sculpted caviar wedges.

... the local sex workers' union – they have unions here – has announced that all its 1,400 members will give free intercourse to anyone with a climate conference delegate's pass. The term "carbon dating" just took on an entirely new meaning.

At least the sex will be C02-neutral. According to the organisers, the eleven-day conference, including the participants' travel, will create a total of 41,000 tonnes of "carbon dioxide equivalent"
Which is regrettable enough -- but this this what you have to do stand up to for a your cause, when the biased press and moneyed interests are so lined up against it.

As Krugman would tell you, thank God, er, Gaia, for such self-sacrificing heroes.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

For those who can't use their cell phones while driving... 

... because of those irritating local laws, well, the New York Times has no sympathy for you! (In a four columns wide story across Page One, no less.)

But with the holidays coming, here's your perfect gift: the Laptop Steering Wheel Desk, available online from the "electronics" section at Amazon.

After this gift-giving season ("hint, hint" to your family and friends) you'll be able to heed the law while driving along your way conversing by webcam, checking e-mail, blogging, playing Warcraft, or finishing off that report overdue to be handed in at your destination. Whatever!

Provides a handy "drink storage surface" too -- but keep 'em non-alcoholic to stay within the law.

If you're in any doubt, let the user product reviews win you over.

(HT: Northwestern University's Prof. Mark Wi, er, "the anonymous economist".)

Mothers-in-law always make a holiday extra special. 

For Tiger, this must be the cherry on top:

Woods’s mother-in-law was taken from his home by ambulance after a 911 call at 2:36 a.m. [today]. She was treated and released from Health Central Hospital in Ocoee, Fla.

Barbro Holmberg, the mother of Woods’s wife, Elin, had been staying with the couple over the Thanksgiving holiday and was on the scene when Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant and tree in their neighborhood early the next morning.

Dan Yates, a spokesman at Health Central Hospital, told The Associated Press that Holmberg was suffering from stomach pain ... but he would not elaborate, citing privacy laws. [NY Times]
One can only imagine.

Monday, December 07, 2009

What home price collapse? "Manhattan micro-studio: Only $150k, plus $700/mo." 

Zaarath and Christopher Prokop -- and their two cats -- live in the smallest apartment in the city, a 175-square-foot "microstudio" in Morningside Heights the couple bought three months ago for $150,000.
Well, they waited to time the market bottom just right!
At 14.9 feet long and 10 feet wide ... to the Prokops, it's a castle.

When you first see it, the first thing you say is, 'Holy crap, this place is small,' " said Zaarath, 37, an accountant for liquor company Remy Martin. "But when I saw it, all I could think of is, I can do something with this. This is perfect for us. We love it."

The co-op is on the 16th floor of a doorman building on 110th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. But it's only accessible by a staircase on the 15th floor...
"I'm amazed we can fit two people and two cats in there," Zaarath said. "But it's harmonious at this point ... It's a good thing we like each other"...

The couple wakes up every morning in their queen-size bed, which takes up one-third of the living space.

They then walk five feet toward the tiny kitchen, where they pull out their workout clothes, which are folded neatly in two cabinets above the sink ...

"We don't cook," Zaarath said, adding that their fridge never has any food in it. "So when you don't cook, you don't need plates or pots or pans. So we use that space for our clothes."

They then jog to their jobs in Midtown, picking up along the way their work clothes, which are "strategically stashed at various dry cleaners."

"It's a great strategy, you always have fresh things to wear." Just in case the cleaners are closed, both have emergency clothes at their offices...

They don't have a trash can. The second something needs to be thrown out, they walk to the chute in the hallway ... Their bathroom -- about 3 by 9 feet -- has a small pedestal sink with mirror, and a stand-alone shower.

Real-estate broker Steven Goldschmidt, senior vice president of Warburg Realty, showed the Prokops the apartment, which used to be one of about nine maid's quarters in the prewar building.

"We converted eight of them into four apartments," Goldschmidt said, with each apartment going for a little less than a half-million dollars.

"But we could not configure that one room within any of the floor plans we were looking at without spending oodles of money. So I came up with the idea to just make it the smallest apartment and see how it goes ... It was not on the market all that long," he said. "And the Prokops made us a great offer, and that's it."

The couple will pay off their mortgage in two years, when they plan to remodel some of the apartment, adding a Murphy bed and larger windows.

They will then be saddled only with their maintenance fee, which is just over $700 a month... [NY Post]
That $700 a month is equivalent to the payment on another $130,000 mortgage (and largely services a separate mortgage on the whole building).

So the four "double" versions of these pre-World War II apartments (two maid's quarters put together) -- that sold for near $500,000 plus an equivalently larger monthly maintenance fee -- each sold for about as much as Detroit's 34-year old, 80,000 seat Silverdome...

... just auctioned off for $583,000, with 127 adjacent acres thrown in.

All real estate markets are local.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday sports section 

[] Peyton Manning's secret play calling language.

[] Hey, Tiger, every crisis creates new opportunity:
A dating website called the Ashley Madison Agency, which specialises in arranging affairs, has offered Woods $5m to star in an advert.

[] Some NFL teams pass too often, some run too often, Brian Burke gives his take on which does which and by how much.

[] Don't worry (too much) if your baseball team signs an older free agent, says JC Bradbury...
... players perform within two percent of their peaks from ages 26 to 32. Extending beyond this range, the dropoff isn't particularly steep. According to my estimates, a hitter who has a .900 OPS at his peak would be expected to post around an .850 OPS at 35; a pitcher with a peak 3.5 ERA is expected to post around a 3.75 ERA at 35.

Player performance tends to plateau with age rather than peak -- more like Stone Mountain than the Matterhorn. Therefore, a good free agent in his early-30s will likely still be a good player when his contract expires.

[] Football fans first have to be miserable to be able to become truly happy. Don't we all.

[] In case you missed our earlier post on the subject: Kudos to college football's biggest winner, Charlie Weis!

[] How can a monopoly sports gambling franchise go bankrupt? Have it be run by the government...

OTB filed for bankruptcy Thursday, saying it needs time to reorganize into a leaner, meaner betting machine.

The New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., more than $500 million in debt, will keep its betting operations going while under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy law.

Despite taking more than $1 billion in bets a year, OTB has long been unable to cover its costs... [NY Daily News]

If the betting operation were closed instead of reorganized, New York City OTB would face debt of more than $600 million ... The largest portion of that would be to cover workers’ pension and health-care benefits ... The reorganization plan calls for a $250 million bond sale to pay debts... [Bloomberg]

Go broke on retiree costs, run up more government debt to cover them. Sound familiar?

From our prior coverage...
New York City's OTB, saddled with a bloated payroll, too many outlets, a huge fleet of cars [used by its executives] and no-bid contracts ... a scathing state audit has found...

The audit found that OTB management had not conducted a study of its staffing needs since 1981 -- before the initiation of telephone and Internet betting options ...
When politicians can manage a monopoly gambling franchise into bankruptcy this way, of course I want them running my health care too!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

From around the blogroll... 

There's a World Database of Happiness -- and as far as I can tell I'm not in it! (Damn kids.) Via William Easterly's blog. Read, oh, the whole thing.

How to get an academic paper past peer review...
When we submitted the paper to [several] journals, the referees responded that the results were self-evident ... ~~ applied magic fix ~~ ... The paper was published in the first journal to which we submitted.
... and how not to. Some papers are simply impossible.

"The world will never run out of oil."

Using eminent domain to seize the wind.

The Old Testament as explained by Public Choice economics.

The world's highest-tax nation -- host next week to Obama and the world's other leaders as they plot climate policy -- Denmark.

How to deal with a Tactical Nuclear Penguin without a bottle opener.

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Health reform plan" spending is already zooming out of control -- and it's not even enacted yet. 

The Democratic authors of the health reform bill are still pretending that its cost will be financed 40% by cuts to Medicare -- not by reducing any Medicare services, of course, but by eliminating wasteful medical procedures, as determined by experts on medical cost efficiency.

What are the odds of that happening?

Well, experts on medical cost efficiency just last month determined that women should defer having regular mammograms until the age of 50.

Yesterday ...

Senate Blocks Use of New Mammogram Guidelines

Without a vote, the Senate agreed to accept an amendment to the big health care legislation ... effectively requiring the federal government to ignore the new recommendations by the expert panel. [NY Times]


...the Senate approved an amendment to its health care legislation that would require insurance companies to offer free mammograms and other preventive services to women...

The Democrats’ legislation had already contained requirements that insurers cover a wide range of preventive care. The amendment, put forward by Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, goes further, mandating coverage for a broader package of services for women.

“The insurance companies take being a woman as a pre-existing condition,” Ms. Mikulski said. “We face so many issues and hurdles. We can’t get health care"... [also the NY Times]

The politicians aren't getting this bill passed by reducing any benefit to any voter who wants it, nor by cutting any payment to any doctor or service provider that collects money for providing that benefit -- no matter how cost-inefficient it is.

We all know politicians buy votes by providing more benefits to interest groups at taxpayer expense -- no matter how cost inefficient the provision is.

Yet they are going to pay for fully 40% of the cost of the health care reform by slashing Medicare? Of course, only in ways to be named later, years from now, after the plan is in place?

Do you buy that?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Would making this guy pay for and use two seats be unjust discrimination? 

"Sympathise with the guy or not, he's a major safety hazard in an evacuation, a gross inconvenience for the cabin crew, and I would suggest a totally unacceptable travelling companion for the guy next to him."
-- Unusual Attitude

How not to invest. Let me count the ways... 

Put all your eggs in one basket...

Do it because "a friend" told you to...

Borrow to put yet more eggs in the basket (on your credit card! to the max!)...

Believe you'll make a fortune from a hot and trendy new product that's full of promise, but doesn't quite exist yet...

Trust the investment manager to whom you give your overflowing basket of eggs, without checking who he is or where he came from...

Believe celebrity endorsements, especially from famous pro athletes -- and even President Bill Clinton himself! -- because they know so much about investing and have your interest at heart...
Announcing the Partnership of the Century!

Speed of Wealth and Mantria

Speed of Wealth and Mantria have joined forces to save the environment while helping middle America secure its financial future!

Mantria Honored by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [video]


And then take the consequences...

Fully invested ... and worried, too

At a friend’s recommendation, Dee Holl considered investing her $150,000 retirement savings in Mantria Corp. late last year.

After researching the company and its various plans for supposed “carbon-negative” communities and green technology, the unemployed human resources manager from outside Denver liked what she saw. The live seminar she went to only confirmed her optimism.

“We were very much into believing in carbon diversion and biochar and how it was going to help,” said Holl, 60, adding that she took out another $50,000 in credit card debt to invest further in Mantria last January.

How the heck is an unemployed 60-year old human resources manager able to run up a $50,000 cash advance on her credit card?
Hopes for her money have turned 180 degrees, however, since allegations of a $30 million Ponzi-like scheme were filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission Nov. 16.... [Metro]
Concerning which ...

Federal regulators have accused four people and two companies of using bogus claims about “green initiatives” to entice more than 300 investors into what was really a $30 million Ponzi scheme....

According to the complaint, the fraud scheme’s promoters targeted elderly investors and those nearing retirement age. Investors were told they could reap substantial returns from such “green” initiatives as the development of “carbon negative” housing in rural Tennessee and the production and marketing of “bio char,” a charcoal substitute made from organic waste.

In fact, regulators say, the private company in which investors sank their money had almost no assets or operations and the promoters were paying the promised returns to early investors with money collected from those who invested later — a classic Ponzi scheme.

... the lawsuit names two companies, the Mantria Corporation in Bala-Cynwyd, Pa., run by Troy Wragg and Amanda Knorr; and Speed of Wealth L.L.C. in Centennial, Colo., a “wealth education” program founded by Wayde McKelvy and his ex-wife Donna.

According to [the SEC] investors had been encouraged through seminars and “webinars” to liquidate their retirement plans, mutual funds and home equity to invest in Mantria’s phony environmentally-friendly operations.

Speed of Wealth operates live “wealth education” seminars in various states...
Well, it's certainly succeeding at giving some people an education!

... according to the S.E.C.’s complaint, however, Speed of Wealth’s primary purpose since September 2007 has been to solicit investors to buy Mantria’s unregistered securities offerings.

Regulators contend that Mr. Wragg and Ms. Knorr would participate in the Speed of Wealth seminars and other sales efforts, providing investors with a nearly fictional account of Mantria’s operations and prospects.
And they had famous friends helping them.

Denver Broncos legend and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway was paid to speak at two Speed of Wealth meetings, and possibly more. And a connected company, Mantria, was honored by former President Bill Clinton at a meeting of his foundation.

A spokesperson for John Elway says his appearances were paid speaking engagements, and he was not endorsing the products.

A spokesperson for Bill Clinton says his foundation did their due diligence on Mantria and found nothing of concern. [KDVR]

Wragg worked as a manager at a small janitorial-services company, and then as a financial adviser to a relative, before starting Mantria...

Troy Wragg points out that the SEC doesn’t allege that any of those named in the civil complaint lived lavishly off of investors’ money, ala Bernie Madoff. ... “I don’t drive a Lamborghini.” ...

Wragg drives a Mercedes SLK350 ... which lists for about $43,000.
Mantria has 30 divisions under its umbrella, from real estate to banking and even a record label.

Mantria Records is working with ICEBLOC which describes itself as “the hottest hip-hop tag team to explode onto the music scene in recent years.” The group was on BET’s Live 106th and Park tour.
“We countin’ paper galore then toss it all on the floor
Count it then I spin it then I toss it in the air
Exchange a couple thousand then I throw it over there”
... the group raps on “Count it.”

Mantria CEO Troy Wragg and COO Amanda Knorr make cameos in the video. “We said these guys are amazing,” Wragg said of meeting the group in Atlantic City. “We tried to do whatever we can to help. [Metro]

The SEC alleges that ... Mantria's divisions, including mortgage banking and hip-hop record production, did not generate significant profits. []

Even in today's world that's seen the public exposure of Bernie Madoff and so many other Ponzi scammers, some investors never learn.

Although one wonders why Ponziers who take advantage of them never seem to anticipate getting caught.

Well, at least these people had fun blowing through everybody else's money. They'll be able to share pleasant memories with Bernie in the Big House.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"The prosecution has to convince twelve jurors, I only have to buy one." 

-- attributed to various famous mobsters, all of whom may have said it.
John A. (Junior) Gotti released after judge declares mistrial; 4th mistrial in 5 years

It's become John A. (Junior) Gotti's favorite word in the whole world: Mistrial.

The second-generation Gambino boss heard it Tuesday for the fourth time in five years, beating yet another federal racketeering rap before heading home for a rollicking family reunion.

"It feels wonderful," said an emotional Gotti, who celebrated with hugs, kisses, tears and Chinese food after his release on $2 million bail. "I want to go home and see my children."

Gotti, who started his day in a cell at the Manhattan federal lockup, climbed into a white BMW hours later for the triumphant ride back to his $1.7 million Oyster Bay, L.I., mansion.

Fifty yellow balloons were tethered to the front gate of the home, where a catering truck pulled up shortly after the 3 p.m...

"It feels unbelievable," Gotti said between hugs and kisses from mom, Victoria, standing in the doorway of his childhood home....

The mob matriarch, who caused a furor with a four-letter courtroom fusillade against the trial judge, was all smiles.

"We're going to Disney World!" she shouted... [NY Daily News]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Life on Mars -- the probability increases. 

You may remember way back a little over ten years ago when excited scientists announced they had found the first physical evidence of life on Mars!

Their examination of "Mars rock" -- the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite, which was blasted off of Mars some 15 million years ago to ultimately land in Antarctica -- revealed what sure looked a lot like fossilized bacteria (or "Mars bugs").

The excitement passed a little while later when other scientists announced that they were able to reproduce the same kind of structures in rock using natural processes, without involving living organisms.

But science marches on and the investigation of Allan Hills 84001 continued.

Now NASA has released a new paper (.pdf) summing the results of latest research...
Life on Mars: New Evidence from Martian Meteorites

New data on Martian meteorite 84001 as well as new experimental studies show that thermal or shock decomposition of carbonate, the leading alternative non-biologic explanation for the unusual nanophase magnetite found in this meteorite, cannot explain the chemistry of the actual martian magnetites. This leaves the biogenic explanation as the only remaining viable hypothesis...

Additional data from two other martian meteorites show a suite of biomorphs which are nearly identical between meteorites recovered from two widely different terrestrial environments (Egyptian Nile bottomlands and Antarctic ice sheets).

This similarity argues against terrestrial processes as the cause of these biomorphs and supports an origin on Mars for these features.
As reported by in layman's terms...
Nasa scientists have produced the most compelling evidence yet that bacterial life exists on Mars.

It showed that microscopic worm-like structures found in a Martian meteorite that hit the Earth 13,000 years ago are almost certainly fossilised bacteria ...

The so-called bio-morphs are embedded beneath the surface layers of the rock, suggesting that they were already present when the meteorite arrived, rather than being the result of subsequent contamination by Earthly bacteria.

“This is very strong evidence of life on Mars,” said David Mackay, a senior scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Centre...

Dennis Bazylinski, an astrobiologist from the University of Nevada who peer-reviewed the findings, said: “Until now I was on the fence but this paper has really thrown out the non-biological explanation”...

The team has also been studying two other Martian meteorites — Nakhla, which landed in Egypt in 1911, and Yamato 593, which was found by a Japanese expedition to Antarctica. In research due to be published shortly, the scientists claim that both of these fossils also show evidence of microbial life...

College football's biggest winner: Charlie Weis! 

Charlie Weis, as his reward for being fired from the head coaching job at Notre Dame, collects a "lottery jackpot" contract buyout of a reported $18 million. That brings the total pay he's collected from Notre Dame to $36 million for coaching its team for five years to a 35-27 record.

But this is collegiate "amateur" sports, folks. So the real winning and losing is tallied in the bank accounts.

Most of Charlie's game-day wins came in his first two seasons, during which he went 19-6 with players inherited from the prior coach. But his big-money win arrived just half-way through his first season.

Charlie initially signed a six-year contract at $2 million a year, starting in 2005. Then came one of the, um, singular contract renegotiations of all time -- "greatest" or "worst" depending on the side from which you are looking.

When he was only seven games into his first season, with a record of 5-2, Notre Dame gave him a new 10-year extension starting from 2006, worth $30 million to $40 million, making him the highest paid coach in all of college football.

Get me that man's lawyer! It helps to have options too. Charlie's original contract gave him a $1.5 million buyout option to leave. His lawyer no doubt threatened said to Notre Dame, "This guy is a highly-esteemed top assistant pro coach on Super Bowl winning teams and has plenty of options to return to the NFL. For a pro team that wants him, paying you $1.5 million is peanuts. He could be out the door at any time..." And Notre Dame caved -- oh boy, did they caaaavveee!

Negotiation lesson: Charlie's lawyer was planning that second contract while negotiating the first. "For the new coach to leave Notre Dame right after he arrives -- so soon after they fired the previous coach -- would be a disaster for the university. So we'll congenially negotiate a nice modest contract, with a modest buy-out clause for our side that they won't think about because everybody's being so friendly about it all. Then we'll have them on the hook -- and can demand far more than we could get in any original contract." Because at that point Charlie has all the options, Notre Dame has none.

I mean, demanding a complete renegotiation with a mega-raise like this only part-way into the first year of a six-year contract ... it's hardly decent. Salute that lawyer! I want him on my side.

But as for the Notre Dame side, yuch! Contracts are like peace treaties -- they last until one side can get an advantage on the other by breaking it, its official term of years not mattering.

When negotiating the Notre Dame side you have to think: "Today all the options are ours, we can sign any other coach. But once we sign this deal we're locked in. What other options will he keep then? To stop him from using them, how much of a penalty for using them can we impose through the contract now, while we have the power?" Yet those negotiating for Notre Dame evidently didn't.

Even so, when the showdown comes, you don't have to cave. But they caaaavvveeed! In spite of being savaged in many quarters for doing so...
the powers that be at Notre Dame, who haven't made a truly smart coaching decision in recent memory ... still don't have a clue.

...the decision to gamble so heavily on Weis borders on lunacy. You'd think Notre Dame would know better after going through the fiasco with [predecessor coach] Ty Willingham, who actually had a more impressive start than Weis'. Willingham was undefeated after the first eight games of his Notre Dame career, and he was getting the same kind of love that Weis is receiving now. By the end of his third season the Irish couldn't get him out of town fast enough...

Irish administrators had better hope that [Weis] continues to outsmart his opponents as easily as he outwitted them. [SI, 11/2/05]
Today the question I see being asked about Charlie Weis in the various sports forums is: "Where will Charlie go next? ESPN says he already has offers from six NFL teams..."

Where will Charlie go next? Anywhere he pleases. In his private jet, on his yacht, or on his private train, whichever he prefers.

Postscript: Looking it up I see Charlie's "lawyer" was agent Bob LaMonte. Kudos to Bob for being, truly, Charlie's Most Valuable Player.

One for the Journal of Irreproducible Research* 

Climate change data dumped

Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation... In a statement on its website, the CRU said: "We do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data."

The CRU is the world’s leading centre for reconstructing past climate and temperatures.

Climate change sceptics have long been keen to examine exactly how its data were compiled. That is now impossible... []
* Not to be confused with either the Annals of Improbable Research or the Journal of Irreproducible Results, neither of which would sink to such depths.