Sunday, April 24, 2005

What investors couldn't afford these fees in their private Social Security accounts?
Vanguard Group -- already the low-cost mutual fund option for numerous investors -- is about to start charging many of its customers even less. The company is expected to announce today that it soon will be easier for investors to qualify for super-low-cost versions of its mutual funds known as Admiral shares. Those shares carry fees less than half of what Vanguard charges for its traditional fund shares -- in some cases, as low as 0.09% of assets.

The change follows a fee cut by Fidelity Investments, Vanguard's biggest competitor, which last year reduced fees on five of its index funds to 0.10% -- below those on Vanguard's Investor share-class funds, which most Vanguard investors own...
Meanwhile, if the stock market really is too risky to invest any pension money in, why are public employee pension funds 60% invested in the stock market?

No way to run a railroad -- (how about a national health care system?)

The NY Times reports on the latest service innovation from Amtrak...
Acela, Built to Be Rail's Savior, Bedevils Amtrak at Every Turn

It was called the American Flyer, and its goals were ambitious: to speed train travel between Northeastern cities, steal customers from air shuttles, provide the model for a nationwide fast rail system and help its deficit-prone parent, Amtrak, earn a profit.

"These trains will enable Amtrak to carry its customers into the 21st century aboard 21st-century trains," said Thomas M. Downs, Amtrak's president, at a 1996 ceremony announcing a $611 million contract for the new trains.

Today that train is called the Acela, and instead of being Amtrak's savior, it has become a frustrating burden. On Wednesday, the company announced plans to sideline all 20 Acelas until summer to replace cracked brakes. It was the third major disruption of the high-speed service since it came on line in 2001...

Before the first train was built, the Federal Railroad Administration required it to meet crash safety standards that senior Amtrak officials considered too strict. That forced the manufacturers, Bombardier Inc. of Canada and GEC Alstom of France, to make the trains twice as heavy as European models. Workers dubbed the trains "le cochon" - the pig...

All told, Amtrak ordered 9,000 engineering changes that increased costs, delayed production -- just selecting draperies for the windows took two years -- and added thousands of pounds of weight, the French-Canadian consortium said in a lawsuit filed in 2001....
Which all brings to mind (now op-ed writer) John Tierney's noted Times magazine story of a little while back, Amtrak Must Die.

But these very same politicians and regulatory operatives who can't run a railroad could certainly be trusted to do a very fine job running, oh, say, a nationalized health care system, right?

Either search engine algorithms still need some fine tuning or this blog is more entertaining than I thought.

A look through the site logs at the searches that bring people here reveals this blog is the...

#2 site of more than 280,000,000 produced by MSN Search for "youngest girls put on the net naked".

#3 of 130,000 produced by Yahoo! for "olympic nipples".

#4 (down from #3) of more than 1,100 produced by Google about mob chief "Joe Massino".

Is someone trying to tell me that this place should be dedicated to sex and crime?

I know Wikipedia doesn't come with any guarantee...

But I hope no young Catholic grammar school kid doing an assignment on Clement XVI brings it in illustrated with a picture of Palpatine I.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The new web site will host no porn or gambling.

That's the promise of Rogers Cadenhead, the Florida resident who registered the domain name before the papal conclave.
"[I'm] going to be guided by a desire not to anger 1.1 billion Catholics," said Cadenhead, who says he has already rejected an offer from a gambling site. "Even though I'm a lapsed Catholic, I'm not lapsed that far." ... [Reuters]

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Nobody knows nothing."

William Goldman famously said it about Hollywood. It's rather more disturbing to learn it about the doctors you are paying to keep you alive, and all the authoritative national medical science foundations...

Some Extra Heft May Be Helpful, New Study Says

People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today...

The new study comes just 13 months after different researchers from the disease control centers published a paper warning that obesity and overweight were causing an extra 400,000 deaths a year and were poised to overtake smoking as the nation's leading preventable cause of premature death...
[NY Times]
"I suffered on diets for twenty years for what? To die younger??"

Should I make a list of all the medical wisdom that has been delivered upon me by experts with not a trace of uncertainty over the years, only to be totally reversed?

When I was a kid meat gave you protein that kept you strong and healthy -- bread, pasta and carbohydrates made you fat. But then carbohydrates kept you healthy while meat made you fat because it has fat in it, obviously. But now it's carbohydrates that are fattening again ...

Don't eat food with cholesterol in it, it'll clog your arteries and kill you, so no eggs, they're bad. Eat a healthy high-carbohydrate cereal breakfast ... No! -- your body sets its own cholesterol level, and eggs are good. Don't have 'em just for breakfast, snack on cold boiled ones too, to cut out those bad carbs at lunch!

Step up on this scale, look at your weight, and now look at these optimal weight tables. That f-a-t you are carrying around spells early death....
The take-home message from this study, it seems to me, is unambiguous," Dr. Glassner said. "What is officially deemed overweight these days is actually the optimal weight."
Unambiguous? It took them only 70 years to notice something that is unambiguous? Arghhh!

Maybe it's not too late, I can still catch up.

Get me a high-calorie beer, double order of fries, and a MonsterThickburger. Make that six high-calorie beers...

Will Hugo Chavez be brought down by Sarbanes-Oxley?

The Troubled Oil Company

Ever since Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, the American executives at Citgo Petroleum, the large refiner and gasoline marketer that is owned by Petróleos de Venezuela and based here, have worried about their future under the mercurial leader.

Their fears may be coming true. Current and former Citgo executives have revealed in recent weeks that Mr. Chávez has shaken to the core the company's once-staid culture, leaving Citgo in a state of near disarray.

Nearly every high-ranking executive has resigned over the last two years, including the refining chief, the chief financial officer, the head auditor and the marketing director.

Geoff Reid, a former assistant treasurer, said in an interview that he left in part because it had become tough to track the company's cash flow, and he had become concerned about his "personal liability" in approving Citgo's financial statements.... [more via the NY Times]

So if Chavez breaks the law by cooking the books of a US corporation in this new era of zero tolerance and personal liability for corporate shenanigans, will Bush the Younger send in the troops to arrest him, like his dad sent them to bring out Manuel Noriega?

NFL gets another $12.6 billion -- more proof of how experts can foresee the future.

As we were noting a couple posts above how we can rely upon experts' wisdom...
The National Football League nabbed a cool $12.6 billion from ESPN and NBC yesterday to air games on Monday and Sunday nights...

Late last year, the NFL picked up $11.5 billion from TV contracts with Fox, CBS and DirecTV — making NFL rights by far the most costly among major sports.

The average yearly NFL rights now cost $3.74 billion, more than the rights to the NBA, Major League Baseball, Nascar, NHL, PGA Golf, NCAA hoops and the summer Olympics combined
... [NY Post, 4/19/05]

There was speculation that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle might now stiffen his resolve to establish an independent TV network when the contract with NBC and CBS expires next year. The question was whether the giant networks really care any more about pro football.

Madison Avenue sources say the new national pastime is badly over-exposed and is no longer worth the millions being shelled out for it ... advertising agencies are beginning to talk about the law of diminishing returns
... [NY Post, 11/17/1968]
Manage your investment portfolios accordingly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Fact checking Krugman, or: Remembering the Clinton Stagflation

Paul Krugman in yesterday's column warns us that stagflation -- the combination of too-high inflation with weak economic growth -- is returning to the economy.
What few seem to have noticed, however, is that a mild form of stagflation - rising inflation in an economy still well short of full employment - has already arrived.
Stagflation is bad because if the Fed raises interest rates to contain inflation then weak employment will become even weaker, while if it doesn't then high inflation will rise even higher. See the 1970s.

Of course, labor is the loser here, Krugman says, since the employment market is worse than "it was in the 1990's" and "before the 2001 recession" -- and as the Fed raises interest rates from here it will only get worse yet.

But wait a minute ... There was an historic economic boom in the 1990s, just "before the 2001 recession", and the economy is just coming out of that recession now.

And everybody who knows economics knows that one fairly compares economic performance during different business cycles at the same point in each cycle.

To instead compare a low point of one cycle with an historic high point of another (such as "just before the 2001 recession") is, on the contrary, the sort of cherry picking one engages in to produce whatever predetermined result one wants.

The latest current data, which Krugman is writing about, is for March 2005 -- 40 months after the trough of the 2001 recession. The previous recession occurred in 1991, and 40 months after its trough was July, 1994, well into the Clinton years.

So let's review the data that Krugman cites looking at the same 40-month-after point in time -- March 2005 versus July 1994 -- to compare conditions at the same point of the two business cycles. Following Krugman...
"Let's start with the jobs picture. The official unemployment rate is 5.2 percent"
3/2005: 5.2%
7/1994: 5.5%

Things are better today, although just at the margin of error for the unemployment rate.

By the way, the average unemployment rate for the prior 30 years was 6.4% -- things are much better today than that. And we might note that in 1996 Krugman himself declared the lowest sustainable unemployment rate to be in the 5.5% to 6.0% range -- higher than today's rate.
But unemployment statistics only count those who are actively looking for jobs ... A lower fraction of the adult population is employed
Employment rate
3/2005: 62.4%
7/1994: 62.3%

A higher fraction of the adult population is reported employed today, though the small difference isn't meaningful.
the average duration of unemployment - a rough indicator of how long it takes laid-off workers to find new jobs - is much higher
Duration of unemployment
3/2005: 9.3 weeks
7/1994: 9.0 weeks

Not "much higher" but only two days higher, again not a meaningful difference. (The 1994 number would shortly rise to a full 10 weeks.)
... wage increases have been minimal, and haven't kept up with inflation ...
This seems rather disingenuous since Krugman surely knows, while his average reader probably doesn't, that "wages" exclude benefits, which are a rapidly rising portion of total pay (as liberals insist they should be!) -- and that including benefits total pay has in fact continued to rise faster than inflation, as was noted here previously.

The implication that pay hasn't kept up with inflation is false and misleading -- seemingly intentionally so.
Why, then, has the Fed been raising interest rates? Because it is worried about inflation.
OK, let's look at both inflation and the Fed's presumed worries about anticipated inflation as embodied in its interest rate policy.

Inflation, prior 12 months
3/2005: 3.0%
7/1994: 2.8% -- not a significant difference

Inflation anticipated by the Fed as seen in interest rate policy...

Real interest rate (fed funds rate minus 12-month inflation reading)
3/2005 - 0.37%
7/1994 +1.46

The Fed's current real interest rate is negative -- which is stimulative in anybody's book. The real rate in 1994 was positive and much higher. This is a meaningful difference.

Moreover, the Fed had started increasing interest rates rapidly in 1994 -- they'd risen by 1.34 points in since their low (versus a 1.6 point increase in 3/2000) but were about to be raised by another 1.75 points in just another eight months. I don't think anyone is talking about the Fed raising the rate that fast today.

So if Krugman is right that a higher and rising interest rate is a measure of the Fed's concern about inflation, then it was much more concerned in 1994 than 2005.

A negative real interest rate such as today's cannot be sustained forever. It must rise. Perhaps this is the simple reason for why it finally is rising? Krugman would not have us consider this.

And, finally, an essential to "stagflation" is the stagnation half of it -- below par economic growth.

GDP growth rate, 12 months
3/2005: 3.9%
7/1994: 4.3%

These compare to average real GDP growth for the 30 years through 2004 of 3.1% real. Hey, you can't have stagflation with above average growth!

For that matter, it's hard to claim stagflation with well below average unemployment too -- 5.2% versus 6.4% over 30 years.

For a refresher on what stagflation really looks like, let's recall the numbers for 1975...

Unemployment: 8.5%
Employment rate: 56%
Inflation: 9.1%
GDP growth: 2.5%

Now that's stagflation -- and 1994 and 2005 are not anything like that.

However, 1994 and 2005, both at the same distance from the prior recession, are very much like each other.

And if anything, the employment numbers are marginally better in 2005 while the real interest rate (anticipated inflation) numbers are significantly tougher for 1994.

So if Krugman truly believes his warning today that "stagflation" has arrived in 2005, just where were his warnings about the Clinton Stagflation of 1994??

Look, what's really going on here is two things:

(1) Both 1994 and 2005 show economic growth that is faster than average as part of the normal course of recovery from a recent recession, with interest rates of course moving up amid the higher growth from their recessionary lows. Nothing could be more natural. Indeed, what else is possible?

(2) Krugman can't write a column without blaming Bush for something or warning about something ominous happening on W's watch -- and if he doesn't have anything real, he just makes it up.

But "stagflation" means "stagnation and inflation" -- low growth and high inflation. 1975 was stagflation. You can't have stagflation with above average growth and low inflation. To say we do as Krugman says here is to change the meaning of a word for political purposes, which is, ahem, "Orwellian."

Krugman's described tradeoff between between growth/employment and inflation in fact exists every single time the Fed decides whether or not to raise or lower interest rates -- for growth and employment are never as strong as we would prefer them to be, and the risk of future inflation is always present. The tradeoff is always there.

This does not mean the economy exists in a permanent state of stagflation.

Stagflation was 1975.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Another four days, another four sex scandals in the NYC public schools.

Wednesday: Female teacher has 10-month affair with one of her students, and has his child, "but gave him only a barely passing 65 in social-studies class"... [NY Post]

Thursday: "It seems sex education is a hands-on course at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services -- city officials yesterday revealed charges of a second affair between a female educator and a teen student at the school in as many days."... [NY Post]

Friday: " A gutsy Staten Island mom ... Jamie Giambrone, was being hailed for her high-speed heroics in helping capture Joseph Morales, 28, who allegedly haunted local schools, exposing himself to girls and women. 'I hope he gets locked up for a long time,' Giambrone told the Daily News yesterday. 'The worst of it all is he's a schoolteacher.' ...

"Morales [is] an English teacher at Intermediate School 24 ... The youngest victims were 13-year-olds from IS 75 who saw him pull down his pants, yank up his shirt and say, 'You want some of this?' authorities said."... [NY Daily News]

Saturday: "In the fourth sordid case involving city teachers this week, a Queens English instructor is under investigation for having sex with two female students. Jermaine Reid, 27 ... [the] literature-spouting lothario, was carrying on with an 18-year-old student of his, sources familiar with the investigation said ... [when] he boasted he was also sleeping with a former student - a 16-year-old girl at August Martin High School...

"The 18-year-old became jealous of what she saw as her younger competition and dropped a dime on Reid"... [NY Daily News]

Sunday: I'm taking the day off from reading the local papers.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Happy tax day.

The Tax Foundation reports how many days each year you, the average person, work to pay for taxes and other things.

"The difference between a leech and the IRS? A leech stops sucking your blood after you're dead."

And while on the subject of the estate tax...

Democrats send their message to the entrepreneurial class:

"Speaking of which, fuck the small businessman."

Why would men be shy of a professional woman?

Jeanette Hall is 29 and "glamorous", yet ...
...her profession has taken a toll on her love life. "I have run off boyfriends so much, it's not even funny"
Well, then there's something wrong with a lot of guys.

OK, when you come to pick her up for a dinner date you may find she's selling "testicles mounted on a plaque for $125."

But why be put off by that? As a (recently married) correspondent notes, we fellows all know it is going to happen to us -- and isn't it better to have it done by a professional?

Then there are all the other unique joys of being a female taxidermist that a fellow will be able to witness and share. [story via Tim Worstall]

Sex, guns, slander and other gossip about the NY Times' Iraq bureau that it probably wishes others deemed unfit to print.

For openers, Times reporter Alan Feuer in his new book recalls how he, well, made stuff up in his reports from Iraq, embracing a philosophy that...
...journalistic honesty did not, at all times and in every case, require a strict adherence to the facts ... underneath the epistemic truth of any story lay a different truth, a difficult and human truth, that did not match, or could not always be contained, by the cold arithmetic of fact ...
Although a spokeswoman for the post-Jason Blair Times denies that one of its reporters would do any such thing in the paper -- he'd do it in his book instead.

"In the book itself, Feuer acknowledges that he has taken liberties with his reminiscences... We very much believe that is the case."
But, of course, back in Iraq there was a larger fight going on...

Like the battle for Baghdad itself, the struggle for control of The New York Times Baghdad bureau began with a plain rout. Less than five months after bureau chief Susan Sachs arrived in October of 2003, she was called back to New York, overthrown in a rebellion led by entrenched Iraq correspondents John Burns and Dexter Filkins.

But last week, The Times concluded that Ms. Sachs, like a car-bombing Sunni, had mounted an insurgent action of her own in defeat.

According to multiple Times sources, the paper fired her for allegedly sending missives to the wives of Mr. Burns and Mr. Filkins, accusing the reporters of marital infidelity on the front lines...

Mr. Filkins is mythologized by colleagues as an admirable swashbuckling loner, willing to take any risk for a story.

They argued about the best way to protect the Times house, with Ms. Sachs favoring a low-key, discreet approach and Mr. Filkins favoring a handgun, which he carried for a time but has since abandoned, the reporter said...
Ah, the backstory to the Times adopting a new policy banning its reporters from carrying guns. A bit of ineffective support for the Baghdad bureau chief.

"That caused a lot of tension between the boys and Susan," he said.

At a press conference announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein, one reporter asked Ms. Sachs how The Times would handle the story in the next day’s paper. Another reporter said he watched as Ms. Sachs shrugged her shoulders and sighed, as if to say, "John does what he wants to do."

This, according to two reporters who characterized her leadership in Baghdad, was emblematic of Ms. Sachs’ frustrations. "Here she was, the bureau chief, not really having full control over all the people in her bureau," said one. "That moment says it all. Here was a huge story. She should have had at least a handle on what everybody was doing."

Roger Cohen, then the paper’s foreign editor, was sent over by executive editor Bill Keller to mitigate. Ms. Sachs infamously pulled out a tape recorder at a meeting with the bureau’s staff, effectively sealing her fate. Mr. Cohen was later forced from his post, and Ms. Sachs was called back to New York...

... a long investigation ... traced the letters charging adultery to the sites of Ms. Sachs’ [later] assignments.

Mr. Burns, who is now running The Times’ operation in Baghdad, managed to cultivate a reputation as a connoisseur of high living in his short time in Iraq. A Times star and winner of the 1993 and 1997 Pulitzer Prizes for international reporting, he is known by colleagues politely as the ambitious, virile type.

Given the chatter surrounding Mr. Burns, two reporters said, it was hard to imagine the claims in the e-mails allegedly sent by Ms. Sachs would have been unfamiliar to Mr. Burns’ wife of 25 years, Jane Scott-Long [who] is hardly pining away at home for her husband’s return: She’s in Baghdad, too, managing the compound where the staff lives and works...
[all via the NY Observer]

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Profits versus pay -- always the one-way argument.

The New York Times reports with great concern on ...
The Falling Fortunes of Wage Earners

Even though the economy added 2.2 million jobs in 2004 and produced strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell for the year, after adjusting for inflation.
And, of course, this is due to corporations profiting at the expense of workers...
"The question is not whether corporations are seeking higher profits; the question is how come they're getting them to such a degree at the expense of compensation," said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.
Ah, so pay and profits are supposed to move in tandem, or else something is wrong -- and business is presumed to be acting "at the expense" of labor.

Yet wait a minute ... back during the recent recession, as profits plummeted while employee compensation rose as a percentage of national income ...

... did Mr. Bernstein contribute to all the articles in the New York Times wondering how employees were able to extract such pay at the expense of profits at such a dire time?

Hey, did the New York Times write any such articles? ;-)

Which brings us to a second point -- to write this article the Times reporter needs to employ a little sleight of hand with the Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited, which 9 of 10 readers of the story will never catch, although it is the only thing that makes the story line "falling fortunes of wage earners" possible.

Namely, the "wages" that are cited as "falling" are only a portion of pay -- they exclude benefits. And, of course, in our world benefits are becoming a larger portion of total pay every year.

Including benefits, what employers actually paid -- total employee compensation -- in real dollars rose yet again last year, reports the BLS.

So much for the story lead about employees being paid less for the first time in a decade.

Of course...
"Employee Fortunes Continue to Rise -- Benefits Increase Over Past Two Years at the Fastest Pace On Record"
... just wouldn't be a story with the same attraction, so we can see why using the selective data is necessary.

One curious thing about this Times story is that Prof. Brad DeLong contributed to it, reinforcing the main theme...

J. Bradford DeLong, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said that current wage patterns, while perhaps only temporary, did not conform to traditional economic explanations.

"You'd think that with the unemployment rate near 5 percent and productivity growth so strong, employers would be anxious to raise payrolls and would have plenty of headroom to raise wages," he said. "But they're not."

Now on his own blog Prof. DeLong has lamented "Why can't we have a better press corps?", oh, hundreds of times -- not infrequently about the NY Times in particular.

Yet here he had the chance to himself improve the Times' reporting in two ways, by saying:

(1) "You know, employee pay actually rose last year, contrary to the impression you are giving"; and

(2) "Profits fell so far relative to pay during the last several years, especially during the recession -- employee compensation actually rose 2.5% during 2001 recession year itself! -- that a comparably sustained period of strong profitability might plausibly be expected to be necessary before businesses recover to where they were before the recession, and feel they can once more afford to bid as aggressively to drive up wages as they did then. "

But he didn't. Go figure.

Let him complain no more.

Why stock picking is so much fun.
Apple's profit surged more than sixfold and revenue jumped 70% on strong results from its iPod and computer businesses... The results far exceeded Apple's previous earnings forecast ... [Wall Street Journal]

Apple shares beaten to a pulp. Shares of Apple Computer Inc. tumbled nearly 6 percent a day after the maker of iPods and Macintosh computers reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings but a weak revenue forecast raised concerns among investors... [CNN]
It's not what a company actually does that counts, nor even what it does compared to what people thought it'd do.

It's what they thought it'd do compared to what they think it'll do. And who the heck knows why they think either thing?

That's why it's only mutual funds for me. Broadly diversified mutual funds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Maybe we don't want to rely on the latest biometric security devices after all.
Police in Malaysia are hunting for members of a violent gang who chopped off a car owner's finger to get round the vehicle's hi-tech security system. The car, a Mercedes S-class, was protected by a fingerprint recognition system.... [BBC]
Emergent Chaos gives us the picture.

Sexual harassment lawsuit of the day

Former dominatrix turned government bureaucrat sues over being harassed by boss who was former slave client. And wins.

Briefly noted:

John Tierney's new NY Times' op-ed column, much looked forward to by some of us, is up and running.

A new Milton Friedman interview.

A proposed journey to the center of the Earth, for real.

The numbers in sex surveys never add up right...

... because people lie about such things. But they rarely don't add up right like this...

The authors of a new book, "Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman," surveyed 2,604 women aged 18 to 71 of various backgrounds, income groups and marital status ...

Among the strongest findings of Drs. Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman was that ... 87 percent said infidelity was always wrong. But nearly 40 percent thought sex outside of marriage was fine...

Hmmm.... Women can't count? (Larry Summers was right?) Reporters for the Post can't count? Women have their own definiton of "infidelity"? ...

Smart criminal of the day.
A bank robber who demanded £10,000 cash was baffled when a bank clerk told him he'd got the wrong counter.

The robber, who had handed over a note demanding the cash, was left stumped by the move and fled empty-handed from the bank ... the cashier gave police such a good description of the robber that he was arrested minutes later ...

[The] robber, who was not been named for legal reasons, admitted he had no idea how to react when he was told he was at the wrong counter.[

Sunday, April 10, 2005

An Iraqi blogger on the anniversary of the freeing of Baghdad...

I don't think I need to tell you how close is the 9th of April to my heart. And now, after two years happiness is still the same for me; one person among millions who were freed on that great day...

No day matches you, my brightest day. We will keep reaping your fruits while the entire neighborhood follow your light and wait for other days like you to sweep away the remaining rotten idols.

The 9th of April has proven that the free world now has the guts and the required determination to make the change and throw the legacy of the past century behind its back; dictators shall be endorsed no more and the struggle will continue until humanity is freed from its dark nightmare that lasted way longer than it should have.

The winds of change that have blown away the tyrant in Iraq have begun to reach more and more people everyday and the heroic stand of Iraqis is inspiring freedom lovers in Beirut and Cairo, Kuwait and Bahrain, Arabia and Damascus; people are screaming enough is enough; enough for tyranny, enough for repression and enough for slavery....

Today we can see the idol of terror shaking and losing balance from the powerful strike Iraqis had given it on the glorious election day; the day when the world stood amazed before the extraordinary bravery of Iraqis defying fear and walking through bullets and bombs to say their word and give terror the purple finger...

The 9th of April paved the way for that historic revolution and I think this is more than enough to make us keep this day in our hearts forever...

Some shortsighted people doubt the outcome of this day and think that it's not suitable to announce it a success but we say to them:

You're free to think whatever you like, we got on the train, but you’re standing still...

"Now it has all gone wrong ... the triumph in Iraq has turned to dust and ashes" -- Paul Krugman


Thirteen things that do not make sense ... Throw-away 24-hour e-mail addresses ... Paypal goes prudish (creating opportunities for others)... [via Emergent Chaos]

Will ET signal us by opening and shutting the Venetian blinds?
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilisations.

"Artificial structures may be the best way for an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation to signal its presence to an emerging technology like ours," says Luc Arnold of the Observatory of Haute-Provence in France. And he believes that the generation of space-based telescopes now being designed will be able to spot them.

Arnold has studied the capabilities of space-based telescopes such as the European Space Agency's forthcoming Corot telescope and NASA's Kepler. These instruments will look for the telltale dimming of a star's light when a planet passes in front of it.

They could also identify an artificial object the size of a planet, such as a lightweight solar sail, says Arnold. His work will be published in
The Astrophysical Journal.

Arnold has determined the characteristic transit signal that differently shaped objects would produce, including a Jupiter-sized equilateral triangle and a louvre - parallel slats with gaps between them.

Corot and Kepler will be capable of distinguishing these objects ...
[New Scientist]
Back to semaphore code for interstellar communications?

Blogger system status update of the day:

"A problem with the problem page is being fixed ... We've discovered a problem with the page people use to report problems..."

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Revolution is televised for Saddam.
Saddam Shaken as He Watches Election of Iraqi President

Saddam Hussein watched the election of Iraq’s new president on video and was shaken by what he saw, the country’s human-rights minister said.

"He was clearly upset. He realised that it was over, that a democratic process had taken place and that there was a new, elected president," Bakhtiar Amin said.

"It was not just the fact that there was a new president, but that the president was a Kurd. What’s more, it all happened without bloodshed," he said...

The Simpsons deemed acceptable viewing in the heart of the former Evil Empire
Who knew Homer Simpson spoke Russian?

A Moscow court spent several days watching episodes of "The Simpsons" before rejecting claims the show is "morally degenerate" and could lead kids to drugs and violence.

The court dismissed the lawsuit brought against a Russian TV station by a man who claimed the long-running comedy and another Fox animated series, "The Family Guy," had gotten his 6-year-old son interested in drugs and prompted him to call his mother a "toad.
"... [NY Post ... more details from the St Petersburg Times.]
Putin hasn't taken things back all the way, yet. And once Bart and Stewie start having their effect the popular culture over there, he'll never be able to. The victory of the capitalist west will be final.

Elliot Spitzer, corporate investigations, political motivations? Say it's not so!

Spitzer used AIG probe to 'Net $$

State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's campaign for governor has been using his high-profile investigation of insurance giant American International Group to raise funds and build political support via the Internet, a Web search showed yesterday.

Spitzer's campaign committee paid mega-search engine Google for a "sponsored link" that appeared at the top of the page whenever anyone sought information about the company by typing "AIG" in the search window....

Spitzer's campaign pulled the link late yesterday afternoon after The Post made an inquiry with one of the Democratic attorney general's official spokesmen who initially said he didn't know anything about it and then called it "inappropriate."... [NY Post]

That's an acute campaign committee there -- Don't want people to know what you are doing? Do it on Google!

Perhaps even more interesting than whom Sptizer's been charging in all his corporate investigations is whom he hasn't been charging.

When up is down.

IMF warns on risk of 'permanent oil shock'

The world faces "a permanent oil shock" and will have to adjust to sustained high prices in the next two decades, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday in the starkest official warning yet about the long-term outlook for energy supplies.

Predicting surging demand from emerging countries and limited new supplies from outside the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after 2010, Raghuram Rajan, IMF chief economist, said: “We should expect to live with high oil prices.”

"Oil prices will continue to present a serious risk to the global economy," he added.

The IMF forecast in its World Economic Outlook that crude would cost $34 a barrel in 2010 in today's money...

Or $20 less per barrel than this week's price (and roughly one-third the real price of the early 1980s).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Social Security private account "transition cost" thought experiment.

Let us imagine that Social Security continues into the future operating exactly as it does today, with just one exception: the US government bonds that currently are deposited in the trust fund are distributed among individual private accounts created for Social Security participants instead, substituting for benefit promises of equal value -- the same benefits the bonds would finance under the status quo. Going forward, additional government bonds that would be deposited in the trust fund under the status quo system are allocated to private accounts as well.

Compared to the current system the change in government tax revenue is $0, there is no change in the government's use of its tax revenue, and there is $0 change in the government's liability on its bonds issued to finance future benefits.

Is there any "transition cost" to the government in creating such private accounts funded with the goverment bonds?

If yes, identify what it is. If "no", proceed...

Now, given that such private accounts holding government bonds exist, let us assume that individual account owners are free to voluntarily swap their bonds for other investments (stocks, corporate bonds, bank CDs, whatever) of equal value. Of course, this leaves the total amount of such bonds that have been issued totally unchagned -- only their owners change.

Again, compared to today's current system the change in government tax revenue is $0, the government's use of its revenue remains totally unchanged, and there is $0 change in the government's liability on its bonds issued to finance future benefits.

Is there any "transition cost" to the government entailed in such swaps that result in the creation of private accounts funded with market investments?

These questions are inspired by a new proposal for structuring private accounts put forth by Alex J. Pollock.

The IRS loses yet again on telephone tax.

The Federal Court of Claims has just ruled that another business's long-distance and toll-free calling services are not subject to telephone excice tax because calls are billed simply by duration. The Tax Code defines calls subject to tax as those that are billed individually by both time and distance.

Now there are seven federal court decisions holding that calls made using other kinds of billing plans -- negotiated rate, bulk rate, time only, "friends and family", whatever -- are not subject to tax. Industry experts say the tax refunds at stake could exceed $6 billion.

The result this time: a $200,000 refund.

And once again the case was decided on summary judgment -- meaning the court deemed the IRS position so wrong on its face as to not be worth hearing at a trial.

Case: America Online Inc. v. United States; No. 03-2383-T, Court of Federal Claims.

Hey, the same legal logic applies to small businesses and individuals too. Protect your refund claim!

More on this, with references to all the other cases and to more extensive legal analysis, has been posted previously (here and here).

Phone sex is being outsourced to India.

Has globalization finally gone too far? Or is progress marching on?

How would David Ricardo model this?

Democrats, party of the little guys plutocrats.

"...92% of contributions of $1 million or more went to Democrats. Pro-Democratic 527s, meanwhile, spent more than twice as much as their GOP counterparts..." [Opinionjournal]

And they have 90% of Hollywood on their side too! How the heck do they keep losing?

"Pope John Paul Appraised as Pope, Not Rock Star"

Who but the NY Times would think this is headline news?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

NY Times: "Your government subsidies are a dastardly outrage. Our government subsidies ... shhh ... what government subsidies?"

NY Times op-eder Bob Herbert yesterday wrote at least his second column damning the city government's support for a new pro football stadium in the city. This following a recent editorial by the paper that did the same and also condemned city support for a proposed new Yankee Stadium (while somehow neglecting to note that the Times is co-owner of the Yankees' arch rival Boston Red Sox!).

Yet the Times' editorial page writers for some reason never mention either its own $170 million in tax subsidies extracted from the government for its new state of the art office building going up on 41st Street -- even while selling its old building at a big profit -- or the fact that rather than pay market price to the owners of the midtown building site for the land, the Times used its political clout to have the government condemn and take the land on its behalf by eminent domain.

How much below market price the Times paid is hard to say, because neither the Times nor the government released the appraisals they used to the public. But a neighboring similar lot sold for double the price on the open market.

Ironically (but hardly surprisingly) just as the Times' eminent domain seizure was going through, the Times op-ed tag team of Kristof, Krugman and Herbert were all savaging George W. Bush for profiting while an owner of baseball's Texas Rangers from the government's eminent domain taking of land to build the Rangers' new stadium in Arlington, Texas. But there was nary a word from any of them about the Time's own eminent taking of a prime block of midtown Manhattan -- filled with operating businesses that didn't want to move -- for its own profit.

Not that the Times's dealings weren't noticed by others, such as Jonathan Rauch, Jack Shafer, Deroy Murdock, and 60 Minutes -- so they weren't exactly a secret from the Times editorial page writers. Apparently there is just a notable lack of interest in the Times' own actions on the Times' editorial page, so a rather different standard of outrage applies.

By the way, one difference between the Rangers' Arlington deal and the Time's midtown Manhattan property seizure/tax subsidy is that the Arlington deal was put to a vote after much public debate and the citizenry voted in favor of it by more than 2 to 1. (Something else never noted by the Times' critics of it).

What do you suppose would have been the result of a public vote on the handouts to the Times?

Monday, April 04, 2005

How the NY Times prepares an obituary for a Pope.

You've probably seen this by now over at Powerline, but if you haven't, a screenshot can be worth a thousand words.

A reverse Schiavo?

Everyone agrees they want to keep this brain damaged 20-year-old alive, but nobody wants to foot the bill.

Finally, an alarm clock that may wake up even me.
Scientists at MIT's Media Lab in the United States have invented an alarm clock called Clocky to make even the doziest sleepers, who repeatedly hit the snooze button, leap out of bed.

After the snooze button is pressed, the clock, which is equipped with padding and a set of wheels, rolls off the table to another part of the room. Each day, the clock finds a new place to hide.

"When the alarm sounds again, simply finding Clocky ought to be strenuous enough to prevent even the doziest owner from going back to sleep," New Scientist magazine said Tuesday
. [Reuters]

Log watch

Is there European news of the Naked News? Five months ago this seemingly amusing little item about the Naked News being made available over mobile phones ran here. Now the site logs show that over the last three days it has for some reason been receiving hits from different search engines all over Europe. Why?

Google News offers nothing except a report that Dan Rather is joining the Naked News team, which I take as a joke in bad taste that I'd rather not think about.

Also... someone came here looking for info on leeches as medical treatment. That's reasonable enough, as they hit the post on maggots being used for same. But they were searching through Froogle...

Russian medical science suggest a good caning -- administered by the opposite sex -- as the remedy for, well, what ails you.
A group of Russian scientists has suggested caning as a treatment for those who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction as well as depression and suicidal tendencies, the Izvestia daily reports.

The name of the report delivered at the international conference on new methods of treating addictions is “Pain affliction as a method of treatment for addictive behavior and other manifestations of non-vitalistic activity”.

Scientists claim that drug addiction, alcoholism, suicidal behavior and psychosomatic disorders are all caused by a lack of zest for life. When a patient is caned, the body starts producing endorphins — happiness hormones — and life seems attractive again.

The recommended treatment course is 30 sessions of 60 cane strokes, delivered on the buttocks by a person of average build. The method has been tested on volunteers and the results are said to be positive.

The scientists claim the effect of the treatment is even greater if a patient is caned by a doctor of the opposite sex.

The author of the method, Doctor Sergei Speransky told the newspaper that people often asked if he was a masochist.

“No, I am not a classic masochist,” the doctor said. [Mosnews]
A classic Russian, maybe.

British medical bureaucrats should be caned.

Iraqi orphan denied disability pay for 'unproved' injury

Ali Abbas, the Iraqi orphan who lost both arms in the war, has been told he will not receive backdated disability payments in Britain because he cannot prove his injuries existed before last week.

The teenager became a symbol of the suffering of ordinary Iraqis after television pictures of him crying in a Baghdad hospital were shown around the world....

Ali arrived in Britain two years ago, where he received artificial limbs to help him try to lead a normal life...

...he had applied for disability living allowance last October but received a letter early this month saying he was not entitled to back payments because his disability could not be proved before that date...

Related story: 12 August 2003, Iraqi orphan Ali meets the British doctors who will give him new arms.
[Telegraph, via Tim Worstall]