Monday, October 31, 2005

As cries to hit the oil companies with a windfall profits tax rise ...

... even from craven Republicans, as well as the usual suspects, it might be worthwhile to keep in mind a picture of the profit windfall that stands to be taxed.

Here are 2005 second quarter earnings as a percentage of sales for various industries:

[Source: The good propagandists at the American Petroleum Institute]

Hey, if Congress wants to tax "high profits", how about the bottled water industry? Did you ever tally up what that costs per gallon at grocery store prices? And those folks don't have to drill at the bottom of the ocean to get it.

While if it's "windfalls" Congress doesn't like, maybe it should tax everyone who's sold or refinanced a home during the last couple of years to opportunistically profit from the bubble rising tide in home prices, due to no worthy effort of their own?

In addition, it might also be worthwhile to keep in mind the amount of taxes that already hit the oil industry compared to its profits.

The Tax Foundation informs us that from 1977 through 2004 gasoline taxes alone more than doubled total oil industry profits, by $1,343 billion to $643 billion.

[Tax Foundation]

These taxes have exceeded oil company profits every year since 1982, by as much as seven-fold. (And these are just gasoline taxes of course, not including income taxes and other taxes).

Hey, if Congress is so plush that it can pay $941 million to build a bridge as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, to connect one town with a population of all of 8,000 to another with a population of 50...


... maybe it should impose a windfall profits tax on itself.

Another victory for the neoconservatives.

"Leo Strauss's greatest posthumous triumph may be in the success of the Chicago White Sox..."

I may not know much about art, but I know my brand of beer.
Artist paid to drink beer and fall over

A Japanese artist has been paid £5,000 of taxpayers' money to drink 48 bottles of beer and then fall off a wooden beam.

The performance, at an arts centre in Cardiff, outraged members of the local council ... However, an arts centre spokesman said: "This wasn't just about a woman drinking a lot of beer. This was a powerful piece of art."...

The three-hour act consisted of Takahashi drinking more and more beer and trying to see how far she could walk across the beam before she fell off.

David Davies, a Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly, said: "If anyone is daft enough to want to see a young woman getting plastered and tottering around in high heels, they can do it in just about every city centre most nights of the week.

"The worrying thing is that people are making decisions to hand out taxpayers' money like this when they are sober."
[Ananova] [pix]

At last, a paid job better than mattress testing -- and it gives one entry into the art world as well!

I'm bringing this to America ASAP, and getting my grant applications in now. If Congress can afford $941 million for that Alaskan bridge to nowhere it can surely spring a few grand to support an aspiring urban artist.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The next time Florida deadlocks, maybe the Supreme Court should break out a bottle of Crown Royal.
Incumbent wins Irvington village mayoralty on draw of quarter

Incumbent Republican Dennis Flood won the contest for mayor of the Westchester County village of Irvington on Thursday on the draw of a quarter from a purple Crown Royal bag.

The unusual decider came after the state's highest court refused to break a tie in Flood's race with Democratic challenger Erin Malloy... [AP]

Those crazy economists and their ribald antics.
Economists gone wild: Hey, babe, take a walk on supply side.

The apostles of Reaganonics sure think mammaries are hilarious.

Then there were all the references to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll -- one involving a naked escapade in a swimming pool with a boa constrictor -- at Wednesday night's 65th-birthday roast at Tavern on the Green for Ronald Reagan's legendary economics guru, Arthur Laffer....

Laffer's pal John Donelson, a mathematics professor, told ... a dirty-sounding and very long story in a dialect of pig Latin and displayed a crude graphic he called "The 38 Double D Laffer Curve."

Laffer himself, in his response, did his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and discussed "Arnold's shaking breasts."

Talk about wild and crazy!

And even the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission couldn't resist the boob jokes. "Here's the Anna Nicole Smith Curve," Christopher Cox announced as a graph of side-by-side parabolas flashed onscreen during a silly slide show of "The Lost Laffer Napkins."
[NY Daily News]
In an unrelated story, SEC chairman Christopher Cox is being put forth as a Harriet Miers replacement for appointment to the Supreme Court. Sounds good to me, let's get a little life into the place.

Villains have more fun.
"I had to ... because to be the Queen of Hell, you see, it's an opportunity that I couldn't miss!"
-- Claire Higgins, three-time Olivier Award-winning actress, on her role in the cult classic Hellraiser horror movies (curiously omitted from her playbill bio.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Senatorial "Twain Award" of the Day.

The WSJ online reports...
Senate-Panel Deadlock Imperils Oil-Refinery Incentives This Year

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee deadlocked 9-9 over a Republican proposal to streamline federal and state permit procedures for companies that want to build refineries or expand plants...

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R., R.I.), however, voted with the panel's eight Democrats to reject the measure.

"We should be addressing our consumption, not just demand," Sen. Chafee said...
Um, consumption is demand.
"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." -- Mark Twain
Why, of course I think these politicians should have more control over the economy. After they fix our energy policy like this let's have them design nationalized health care!

Why "liberal" has become a losing word in politics, reason (fill in big number).

Their move to the belief that as long as you are a liberal, especially a minority-group liberal, race baiting is not merely OK but virtuous. [Note: Original photo there since deleted.] (Comments by others on this.)

The UN in action...

... along with our friends France, Russia and Marc Rich.
More than 2,000 of the foreign companies that did business with Iraq in the U.N. oil-for-food program made illicit payments to Saddam Hussein's government, a report on the program said on Thursday...

The report said companies in 66 countries paid kickbacks on selling Iraq humanitarian goods and companies from 40 countries paid surcharges on oil contracts, but the U.N. Security Council took little action...

Preferential treatment was given to companies from France, Russia and China, all permanent members of the Security Council, who were more favourable to lifting the 1990 sanctions compared to the United States and Britain... [

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime received about $1.8 billion in illicit payments under the United Nations' oil-for-food program...

... the countries that "were responsible for approving their national companies to do business with the program took no action." By early fall of 2000, the Iraqi government had ordered surcharges be imposed on every barrel of oil sold under the program, the report said...

The report cited a number of contracts with Russian companies, which it said accounted for about 30 percent of oil sales. "By far, the largest portion of surcharge payments went through the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow between March 2001 and December 2002"...

The report said Marc Rich and Co. financed 4 million barrels of oil under a 9.5-million-barrel contract awarded to the European Oil and Trading Co. (EOTC), a French-based shell company "Surcharges were imposed on the oil," the report said, and "Marc Rich & Co. directed BNP Paris not to disclose its identity to BNP NY in connection with its financing of the U.N. contract."

It added, "According to an individual familiar with the companies, EOTC and Marc Rich & Co. agreed that the premium paid to EOTC would cover a commission and a surcharge. The premium paid by Marc Rich & Co. of 30-40 cents per barrel was sufficiently high to cover both."

Rich is an American expatriate and former fugitive who was pardoned in 2001 by then-President Bill Clinton...

After nationalizing health care, the next thing: World Government!

Baseball's wins-for-the-dollar champs and chumps.

The White Sox have swept the Series, congratulations, good for them, but as my team was eliminated back around last July we move on to other things.

There's always much talk about victory in baseball being bought, as teams have very unequal budgets and payrolls (unlike, say, NFL football, which has revenue sharing and teams with roughly equal payrolls in markets big and small).

Thus, to see who's done best on an equalized basis, it can be fun to look at which teams won the most (and fewest) games per dollar of payroll. Here are the numbers for this past season.

To be more accurate, the figures just below show marginal wins per marginal milllion dollars of payroll. That is, every team must have a payroll of at least about $10 million (due to labor agreement rules -- and that is in fact about the lowest payroll level of the very lowest-paying teams of the last decade) while the minimum amount of wins such a team will have is about 40 (see the famous 1962 Mets, or the 2003 Tigers who strove to match them but faltered with some late wins to end with 43 victories, still a 20-year low for the major leagues.)

So what we have here is how many wins over 40 each team achieved this past season on average for every additional million dollars of payroll over $10 million.

The teams with the most and least wins per additional million dollars during the 2005 season...

And, yes, before anyone goes all sabremetric on me I know these numbers aren't perfect, they don't account for unbalanced schedules and so on. But they are good enough for now to show the big picture -- and to give Yankee haters some satisfaction.

Here's the list for all 30 teams (with payroll data and final standings)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The look on your face ...

... when the wife opens the credit card bill and finds you charged $241,000 at a strip club.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Work trumps blogging.

Will be back next week (I think).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Rolling Stones and Days of our Lives -- one of 'em ain't what they used to be. See which one today!
Rock 'n' roll is dead — the Rolling Stones have inked a deal to debut their latest video on the NBC soap opera "The Days of our Lives"...

The video of "Streets of Love" will make its world premiere on the show Tuesday [today!] and then serve as background music during key scenes for the next four weeks.

The marketing tie-in is meant to promote the Stones' latest album, "A Bigger Bang," and mark the 40th anniversary of "Days of Our Lives," which premiered on Nov. 8, 1965 — the same year Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the seminal anti-commercial anthem, "Satisfaction." That irony was lost on NBC executives...

"The show was the perfect vehicle for promoting the Rolling Stones," [Virgin Records] executive, Randy Miller, told Variety...
[NY Post]

Monday, October 17, 2005

The kind of story from Iraq that never gets the lead in the Times, or most anywhere else.

Clutching net bags of overnight essentials with boxes of ballots under their arms, about 700 poll workers climbed aboard giant armored trucks on Friday and rode along one of Iraq's most dangerous highways to voting sites all over this city...

The pay was low ($300 for 10 days) considering that the risk was high... Even so, the workers could barely suppress their joy.

"Before, we faced danger that was not useful," said Khalid Hassan, a 53-year-old government employee from Diwaniya in southern Iraq, referring to the wars fought under Saddam Hussein. But since the Americans arrived, he said, "the danger, it has a purpose."...


The Smurf slaughter on video.

Scotty to beam rocket up for his final voyage.

Spider of the day. From the site logs: "gsa-crawler (Enterprise; GIX-03055;". Good to know they're keeping their eyes on the web.

When the music of the spheres ...

Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants. One boob could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection...

BT Laboratories' analyst Ian Pearson said ... "It is now very hard for me to thing of breast implants as just decorative. If a woman has something implanted permanently, it might as well do something useful."... [Ananova]

... meets the iTunes from the dark side ....

A scientist has come up with a musical condom that gets louder as the sex gets more vigorous ... for couples who want to make their own seet music, says Ukrainian inventor Dr. Grigoriy Chausovskiy.

Different lovemaking positions determine what tune is played by the condom, which also works like a normal contraceptive. The rubber has tiny sensors connected to a mini electronic device that produces the sounds.

"But there is no danger of being electrocuted," said Dr Chausovskiy, who has teamed up with a manufacturer to export the condoms to Britain...
[The Sun]
...there figures to be a cacophony in the dorm rooms.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Briefly noted...

How to make a fortune from all those the stock investments that get spammed into your e-mail. Short them!

Corporate lawyers fight back to prevent plaintiffs' lawyers from turning silica into the next asbestos, and the tort wars turn.

The Danish air force kills Rudolph the reindeer, pays compensation to Santa Claus to save Christmas.

NASA and the X-Prize Foundation throw a party, looking to the future. A modest proposal:
"NASA should simply send an unmanned probe to Mars containing a well-sealed, well-protected capsule containing a check for $1,000,000 ... [insert favorite number of zeroes here], payable to bearer. The first person who manages to get there and collect it gets to keeps it."
— dpbsmith

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Cato, Heritage, conservative economists, turn pro-Democrat.

Economists Look to Democratic Control for Serious Tax Reform

Economists at an October 7 tax reform forum at the National Press Club in Washington said that because GOP leadership in Washington has belied its “smaller government” rhetoric, consideration of fundamental revenue changes necessary to address serious fiscal challenges will likely take place when Democrats are in charge.

At a roundtable discussion on whether the tax reform debate should be broadened to address overall government financing, panelists from the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two groups with strong conservative ties, criticized Republican leadership for increasing the size of government....

U.S. Comptroller General David Walker warned that restraining spending or increasing taxes to take care of the fiscal burden is simply a matter of timing.

“If you don’t do it now, you’re going to do it later,” Walker said.

The “basic fundamental problem,” said Bill Bixby of the Concord Coalition, “is that we’re not raising enough revenue to pay for the commitments.”

According to panelist Bill Niskanen, chair of the Cato Institute, the debate over increasing revenues to address long-term fiscal challenges should not take place until 2007, “when Democrats control one house of Congress, or 2009, when they’re very likely to be elected president.”

Those are the only circumstances under which Democrats will acknowledge there is a problem in Social Security and Medicare, he said.

“I think the current Bush administration is one of the worst administrations in my adult lifetime,” Niskanen said...

Panelist Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, agreed that GOP leaders have not stuck to their fiscally conservative roots, and he was pessimistic there would be fundamental reform anytime soon.

“Having complete Republican control has not been a good thing,” he said ...
[Tax Analysts]
Bruce Bartlett has explained why "gridlock" in government -- resulting from each party having sufficient power to block the other's unilateral proposals -- is a good thing...

The only people who really oppose gridlock are political scientists and party activists, who decry it as a barrier to "getting things done."...

The problem is that getting things done is usually a bad thing. All of our nation's entitlement programs, for example, were enacted when one party controlled all the elected bodies of the federal government. Social Security came under Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress in the 1930s, Medicare under Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic Congress in the 1960s, and now a prescription-drug entitlement under George Bush and a Republican Congress.

Our grandchildren's grandchildren will be paying higher taxes for this latest elderly vote-buying scheme when everyone who supported it is long dead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Unicef bombs the Smurfs.

The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes....

The short film ... opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs...

[The film] is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by Unicef's Belgian arm, to raise £70,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi...
Good idea! I'll pay money if they'll bomb the Teletubbies, Barney the Purple Dinosaur ...

Monday, October 10, 2005

How Congress protects national security buys votes.

WASHINGTON — The feds gave New York City less than 40 cents per resident in Homeland Security firefighting grants — while one tiny volunteer department upstate got more than $130 [per resident], a Post analysis shows.

It's the latest example of feds shafting the city at the greatest risk of a terror attack in favor of small communities with influential politicians...

James Carafano, an analyst specializing in homeland security, said, "Fire grants are particularly wrongheaded because most of the fire money goes to little, tiny fire departments in the middle of nowhere. That little fire department can't help New Orleans, it can't help New York, it can't even help the next town over.

"Every congressman brags every time they bring a little grant [home]. And then they turn around and complain that FEMA can't do its job," said Carafano...
[my emphasis]
Upstate did particularly well over the last three years. The village of Philmont, between Albany and Poughkeepsie, population 1,480, got $32,500 ... The volunteer fire department in Barneveld, population 329, got $43,000.

The FDNY got less than $3 million — only 3 percent of the $98 million in fire grants awarded to the state — even though the Big Apple accounts for 43 percent of the state's population. That comes out to a measly 36 cents per New Yorker.

Barneveld, near Utica, got $131 per person, 345 times as much as what each New Yorker got...

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is not particularly upset about the Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. Asked about the big grants to small towns, she replied, "That's not very much for buying a new engine truck or upgrading hazardous-materials suits. I think it makes sense." ...

Bill Cowan, who administers the program for the U.S. Fire Agency, called it "one of the better-crafted grant programs I've ever come across."
One wonders about all the worse ones.
"Look, you'll take what you can get," said FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon. "But sometimes our needs far exceed the limits that were set on this program."

Small-town fire chiefs say the program helps relieve their tight budgets.
"For us, it's great," said Jack DeLisio, volunteer fire chief in the town of Egypt, near Rochester, which won $44,000...
[NY Post]
Your tax money in action. Now, if only we can get Congress running a nationalized health care program, we can all move to Utica and all our health and security problems will be over!

Book your flight early, get a $1.75 million discount -- and rebate too!

Space Tourism Firm Signs First Orbital Passenger

The rocket-building firm Interorbital Systems (IOS) announced the sale of its first orbital space tourism ticket Friday, adding that initial test launches could occur in the next 10 months.

Midwestern businessman Tim Reed, of Gladstone, Missouri, purchased the first ticket for a seven-day trip aboard IOS’ Neptune Spaceliner – which is slated to make its first manned launch in 2008 – for about $250,000 under a promotional fare, IOS officials said. The anticipated full price for their orbital service is currently set at $2 million, they added.

The sale of Reed’s ticket allows IOS to build a scale version of its Neptune spacecraft – the Sea Star – which is currently slated to launch within 10 months...

Reed ... also qualifies for a full rebate of his ticket price two years after his orbital flight, which is part of the promotional fare...

As Werner von Braun might have said if he'd lived to see the private space tourism industry, early booking makes your money go farther. And "only nine promotional 'Free Tickets to Space' are left!" Up and around the world for $0 (after rebate) -- you'll have a hard time making your money go farther than that!

Hybrid cars don't save money...
the hypothetical situation of someone without a car looking to buy either a Honda Civic or the Prius. In this case, the fuel savings were roughly $506 per year, versus a purchase price difference of about $8,000. Without even considering cost-of-money issues, it would take nearly 16 years just to break even. [Autoblog]
... but then, they don't always save gas either.

What media bias?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It’s not General Patton’s Army anymore.

Just returned from the annual cat show at Madison Square Garden. (I’m a dog person, a big dog person, but when living in a Manhattan apartment with wife and kids this is the sort of thing that can’t be avoided every now and then.)

Life is full of surprises and mine for the day was that the US Army is recruiting there with a Feline Exhibition Team, starring, as the sign said, The Official US Army "Hooah Kitties", Sgt. Lem (right), grand champion and unit commander.

Watch out Zarqawi and enemies of freedom everywhere –- we’ll scratch your eyes out.

You can still make the show to catch the Exhibition Team and/or enlist through tomorrow, Sunday.

(... what would 'Black Jack' Pershing think? ...)

Python eats live alligator whole...

... gets tummy ache ... Tums don’t help ... explodes ... video report (following advert).

I mean, I’ve had some meals that fought back, but really.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ig Nobel Prizes announced.

The 2005 Ig Nobels have been awarded. Among the winners...

MEDICINE: Gregg A. Miller of Oak Grove, Missouri, for inventing Neuticles -- artificial replacement testicles for dogs, which are available in three sizes, and three degrees of firmness.

CHEMISTRY: Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?

PHYSICS: John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland, Australia, for patiently conducting an experiment that began in the year 1927 -- in which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly, slowly dripping through a funnel, at a rate of approximately one drop every nine years.

FLUID DYNAMICS: Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany and the University of Oulu , Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Loránd Eötvös University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh -- Calculations on Avian Defaecation."

ECONOMICS: Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday. [And you read about it first right here.]

NUTRITION: Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats of Tokyo, Japan, for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 years (and counting).

PEACE: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University, in the U.K., for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."
Full details at the Ig Nobel Web Site. And here's a news report with some interviews and backstory.

Congratulations to all.

Is there really a real estate bubble? By the evidence, in Manhattan, NYC, the answer is "no", "no", "no".

Zooming home prices in places like New York, Florida and California have caused many to proclaim a housing bubble has formed that's bound to burst at great cost to us all.

But how does one define "bubble"? It's more than just a price rise. It is: (1) an exceptionally great appreciation in prices, that (2) is visibly unsustainable in terms of established market fundamentals (such as homeowners' sustainable income-to-mortgage payment ratios), and which (3) is thus sustained by speculation as buyers expect to profit from appreciation carrying forward on its own momentum, with each wave of buyers planning to "flip" the item to the next for a profit while the flipping is good -- until the last wave can find no greater fools to flip to, the bubble bursts, and prices plunge back to reality.

But do these conditions really exist here where I'm sitting, in the steaming hot Manhattan, NYC, real estate market, where prices have near quadrupled in the last few years?

The New York Times this week asked this and got empirical about the answers -- showing that when its reporters stick to reporting it still has resources no other newspaper can match...
Reading the Signposts

The Manhattan real estate market can be a bewildering place, with stratospheric prices and a chorus of warnings about speculation and bursting bubbles. No wonder anxious buyers are gasping for breath.

But what is the true state of the market here? Is it fueled by speculation? How much do low interest rates increase buying power? How are people able to afford double-digit price increases? ...

An analysis of sales going back to the mid-1980's found little evidence that flipping property is common.

The study, done at the request of The New York Times by the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, which tracks both co-ops and condos, found that of 4,339 condo sales in Manhattan last year, 5.9 percent involved apartments that had been bought and resold within 18 months. Since 1997, that number has remained relatively constant, ranging from 5.9 to 7.5 percent annually...

"The way I characterize the market flip phenomenon in Manhattan is that it's a non-factor," Mr. Miller said. "It's not influencing the way projects are being developed, it's not influencing the way properties are being marketed, it's really incidental to the overall market activity."

That makes Manhattan very different from markets in South Florida or Las Vegas. A study last month by First American Real Estate Solutions, a provider of real estate data, found that 36 percent of all home sales last year in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and 40 percent of sales in Clark County, Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, were for homes sold in less than two years....
Nope. No flipping. Not here, anyway.

But what about the extraordinary price rises?

Data from Miller Samuel shows the median price per square foot for all Manhattan apartments reached a high point in 1987, at $305 a square foot for co-ops and $413 a square foot for condos...

Prices bottomed out by the mid-1990's, losing about 44 percent of their value in real terms, and then they started to rise again. By 2002, prices had passed their 1987 levels, measured in inflation-adjusted dollars and by the first six months of 2005, the median co-op price was up 37 percent from 1987, while the condo price was 35 percent greater.

Averaged across the entire period, the cost of a Manhattan apartment has risen at a rate of about 2 percent a year above inflation....
Just 2% a year real appreciation since 1987? That doesn't seem like such extraordinary effervescence. (Heck, at the Nasdaq's post-bubble-bust bottom in 2002 it had returned more than that, 3% real, over the 15 years since 1987.)

But still, prices are going up -- can they be sustained by today's weak incomes?

... a group of economists argues that, despite the galloping price increases of recent years, real estate on the island has actually become more affordable.

The group, Business360, an economic consulting firm, compared the increase in apartment prices per square foot with increases in personal income for Manhattan. While real estate prices rose and fell and rose again, average personal income in Manhattan, reported by the federal government's Bureau of Economic Analysis, rose at a fairly steady pace, increasing 87 percent in real terms since 1981...

Average income has grown faster than average prices, which since 1981 are up 50 percent for co-ops and 37 percent for condos. Because of that, the study concludes, housing is more affordable for the average Manhattanite than it was in the early 1980's or at the peak of the last real estate boom...
More affordable? Hey, "buy low" they say, I'm going out to buy another apartment right now!

Of course, all real estate markets are local -- so if you're in San Diego, Las Vegas or Orlando you'd better check out the local market for yourself.

But here in NYC the bubble tests come back "negative", "negative", and "negative" -- so let's buy two!

With friends like these who minds losing $7 million in contracts?
Poor Kate Moss. Bad enough she was caught on camera [on video, actually, shown on European television] snorting lines of cocaine. Now, friends publicly lending their support include ... unfortunately named fashion editor Isabella Blow, who predicts Moss will rise again. "There's nothing more exciting than a flawed icon. She'll be in such demand," Blow told the London Metro. "She's like a very intelligent shrimp, so tiny, so clever, so perfectly formed." [Page Six]
Mmmm ... tiny, perfectly formed shrimp ... with toothpick, napkin and cocktail sauce ...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Why I remain a political independent.

Every time I get fed up with Republican dumbassedness in any particular area, the Democrats come up with something worse. Example: National energy policy...

Among the absurdities aired in the House Energy and Commerce Committee was a Democratic proposal to have the federal government build a "strategic refinery reserve." GOP lawmakers defeated this paean to Soviet central planning, which would have had the federal government construct environmentally friendly refineries on old military bases to produce gasoline and oil for the public whenever the private sector could not keep up with demand... [Barrons]

Russia has a problem.

Ebay seems the solution.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

News of the World

Russian family values...
A woman in western Russia has sold her six-year-old daughter for $10,000 to an undercover policeman who warned the child would be sexually abused and then used for organ donations, the Prosecutor General’s office reported Monday... [Mosnews, via Roland P.]

Dutch tax law...

a Dutch witch has reportedly won her battle to make the cost of her brooms and spell-making lessons tax-deductable ... the witch paid about ($2,600) for a 13 weekend course to a witchcraft school in Appelscha, where they were taught how to make spells, prepare magic portions and heal with stones... she reportedly won her claim after tax authorities finally agreed that she could adjust her witching expenses against tax. [Times of I.]
(Don't laugh, the IRS recognizes Scientology as a religion.)

British crime prevention...

To Serve and Protect

West Midlands Police, it emerged last week, is pioneering a bold new
anti-theft initiative on university campuses. The force is printing
crime-prevention messages on condoms...

French legs in the air art...

Almost 1,500 men and women stripped naked in the name of art in the French city of Lyon ... Directed by the artist from a crane, they posed with arms and legs in the air between shipping containers in Lyon's port... [BBC]
How could that not be sexy, eh?

German, uh...

Sucking a Fishermen's Friend could get you into trouble

Police in Germany are warning motorists that sucking a Fishermen's Friend could get them into trouble....
I don't fish, and am not sure I want to know...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Charles Murray and the NY Times versus the facts on the ground in New York.

One doesn't often think of Charles Murray and the New York Times as being in the same camp on social commentary, but when the subject of the falling crime rate comes up, both give an unhappy response by citing the rising prison population.

Murray warns us not to believe that the falling crime rates indicates any improvement in the condition of the "underclass" -- saying that higher imprisonment rates mask the fact that things are actually getting worse down there...

The crime rate has been dropping for 13 years. But the proportion of young men who grow up unsocialized and who, given the opportunity, commit crimes, has not....

When Ronald Reagan took office, 0.9% of the population was under correctional supervision. That figure has continued to rise. When crime began to fall in 1992, it stood at 1.9%. In 2003 it was 2.4%. Crime has dropped, but criminality has continued to rise...

The ratio of prisoners to crimes that prevailed when Ronald Reagan took office, applied to the number of crimes reported in 2003, corresponds to a prison population of 490,000. The actual prison population in 2003 was 2,086,000, a difference of 1.6 million. If you doubt that criminality has increased, imagine the crime rate tomorrow if today we released 1.6 million people from our jails and prisons.
The Times for its part incoherently considers a falling crime rate accompanying a rising prison population a "paradox". (Gee, how could removing 1.6 million criminals from the street possibly affect the crime rate?) But its gist is the same.

Yet both Murray and the Times ignore a major relevant fact: In New York, where the fall in the crime rate started and crime has fallen the most, the prison population is declining and has been for several years, as has been detailed here previously. New York today actually is closing and selling off excess prison space.

It's really odd that Murray ignores the facts in New York City, which after all is the nation's largest, is where the crime trend reversed first, and where Giuliani instituted and made famous the anti-crime initiatives that have been copied in so many other places since. As for the Times doing so, well, it is supposed to be a New York newspaper.

It's also peculiar that both the Murray and the Times overlook a logical possibility that is consistent with the experience of New York: tougher punishment increases the prison population, which deters future crime, which reduces criminality in the next generation, which reduces the prison population subsequently.

This is not to say Murray is entirely wrong when looking at the big picture, that there isn't a good deal of truth in what he writes. He opens by discussing the situation in New Orleans, where the murder rate is six times that in New York City and which is about as far from New York in quality of executive civic leadership as can be imagined (as the executive agency responses to Katrina and 9/11 pretty much demonstrated).

New York isn't the US. But it's a pretty significant part of the US, especially regarding this issue. So it's strange to see the facts on the ground here, and their implications, so ignored.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Who says technological advances can't cure all our problems?

Smart beer mat orders refills

A beer mat that knows when a glass is nearly empty and automatically asks for a refill has been created by thirsty researchers in Germany.

Andreas Butz at the University of Munich and Michael Schmitz from Saarland University came up with the idea while out drinking with their students.

The mat ... contains a pressure sensor and radio transmitter to alert bar staff of the need for a refill...

They say the mat could also be used for interactive TV events, as it contains an accelerometer capable of sensing when it is being waved in the air.

"I've been discussing this with a friend of mine who is an expert pub goer," Butz told New Scientist. "He mentioned that the pay-TV companies who broadcast soccer games are desperately looking for ways to make TV an interactive experience. Betting on actual sports events with the mat could add such interactivity."

The researchers believe the smart mat could even be used in pub games: "One important direction which needs further investigation is the large body of drinking games which has developed in certain cultures and how they can be supported using our beer mat."
[New Scientist, hat tip Roland Patrick]

If not cure, surely distract us from them!

"Honest graft", campaign finance reform style.

One hundred years ago, in 1905, NYC's Tammany Hall leader George Washington Plunkitt made the term "honest graft" famous -- pointing out that there was no reason for politicians such as himself to engage in illegal, dishonest graft, when it was so easy for them to get rich legally through honest graft. (Especially as the politicians themselves wrote the laws that determined what was legal and what wasn't).

On a completely unrelated note, New York City's politicians have created for themselves a campaign finance reform law that provides local candidates with four dollars of taxpayer money as a match to every one dollar they raise for themselves. Initially this match was provided only to those who declined large corporate contributions, as an "equalizer" -- but later such corporate contributions were banned altogether, so that justification disappeared. The four-to-one match for all remained.

The Post reports on one just one candidate's doings...
A leading Independence Party activist has opened a political consulting firm and collected more than $80,000 from the Independence Party's long-shot candidate for Manhattan borough president, The Post has learned.

Much of the money comes from taxpayers, since the candidate, Jessie Fields, has only raised $44,935, according to her Sept. 23 filing with the Campaign Finance Board. Under the generous 4-to-1 public matching funds program, Fields last week qualified for a $138,662 payment from the city for a campaign in which she has virtually no chance...

Records show that Fields shelled out $82,213 to Independent Options LLC, a company formed last May by Nancy Ross, a longtime Independence Party activist who has close ties to party mentor Lenora Fulani...

There's no law that would prevent Fields from hiring friends and associates to do campaign work as long as they're paid at market rates...

Civic watchdog Henry Stern, a honcho in the Liberal Party, said it might be time to review the entire campaign-finance system. "This is far from unique to the Independence Party," said Stern. "The whole campaign-finance system invites misuse and fraud. It's like a horse race you cannot lose and it pays off at 4 to 1." ...

This is Fields' second run for Manhattan borough president. In 2001 [she] received 6,654 votes — less than the candidate on the Marijuana Reform Party ... took $135,904 in matching funds [and] paid $47,736 to Independence Party members and affiliated groups
... [ NY Post]
Get it? I could run for Manhattan Borough President on the Whig Restoration Party line, collect $20,000 in campaign contributions from my friends, plus another $80,000 from taxpayers, then pay my friends $50,000 for working on my campaign or renting it stuff, spend the other $50,000 on my campaign as I see fit -- and then, after getting fewer votes than either the Marijuana Reform Party or the Independence Party, we'd all walk away happy.

Every loser wins! All one has to do is run.

One just wonders if our politicians in Washington are driven by a different strand of DNA in their genes, so that their campaign finance reform laws are much more altruistic and less self-interested. Sure, must be. ;-)

The New York Times, less of a newspaper all the time

The big Page One Headline on yesterday's (Sunday's) NY Times...

To More Inmates, Life Term Means Dying Behind Bars
That is, a life term means a "life term". Well, let's put aside the tenor of the story, that this is a bad thing, it is bad that as judges hand out life sentences they no longer tell convicted murderers...
" if you behave yourself, there is a good chance that you will learn a trade and you will be paroled after a few years."
... and put off considering the merits of the whole issue until another time.

The question that occurred to me as I saw this headline on the dead-tree version of the paper was: "What's the news value of this story today, Sunday, October 2?"

I mean, from bombings in Bali to a new moon for a new planet, there were news events of the day to be reported. But this story about the evolution of "life terms" could have been reported Friday, Monday, last week, next month ... maybe at even greater length and more thoughtfully in the Magazine Section. Where is the news in it?

I'm hardly the first person to observe that our "newspaper of record" is having its lead news stories morph into op-ed pieces, while the paper itself turns into a lobbyist for selected social and political causes, and I surely won't be the last ... but here we are.

And they want me to pay $3.50 for this on Sunday. Which I no longer do.

At least I'm not a Cleveland Indians fan.

"Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen sends carefully disguised signals across the field during the Indians series."