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August 31, 2009

VW for idiots, Part 2

The Jetta platform will provide the basis for VW's new workhorse for the American market, and the company is "pretty much convinced" that Jetta will be the name as well, Mr. Jacoby said. But he promised a retooling that would try to blend European design and allure with Americans' practical needs.

For instance, there will be more and different types of cup holders -- a must-have for American consumers.

A different suspension will yield a smoother ride. Folding mirrors, a necessity in tight European streets, will not be standard. The acceleration and braking pedals will be farther apart in response to American complaints that it is easy to accidentally press both simultaneously.

And some other device will replace the balky dials used to recline seats in European cars. Market research in the United States found that "women break their fingernails or scratch their hands," Mr. Jacoby said.

Volkswagen is also slowly asserting firm control over its dealer network, long a source of irritation among American buyers. They complained about bad after-sales service on top of quality problems, such as electrical systems, with VW cars.

Part 1: VW tailored especially for unrefined Americans.


VW Seeks to Turn Nostalgia Into Sales in U.S.
Published: August 22, 2009
A new VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., will produce a midsize sedan that has been designed for American tastes.

August 29, 2009

Facebook, your personal life commercialized.

AN INQUIRY You're not the first to think it's creepy to have your personal life commercialized. Jürgen Habermas has been especially eloquent about this. Start with "The Theory of Communicative Action." Copies are available on AbeBooks.com. Also interesting on this score: "The Purchase of Intimacy," by Viviana Zelizer.

The Medium
Facebook Exodus
Published: August 30, 2009
Why some Facebook members are moving on.

August 28, 2009

Negative home equity predicts defaults

Negative equity is the best predictor for loan defaults, said Sam Khater, a senior economist for First American. Still, "a majority of people who are underwater probably will not default," he said, "because if you have your job and don't encounter economic shock, you'll most likely keep paying your mortgage on your home."

Real estate values in the greater New York area may suffer less from underwater mortgages than in other parts of the nation, said Mr. Khater, of First American, because homeowners are less likely to fall into foreclosure.

That is because this area was less popular among people who bought homes as investments rather than for their own use. In Arizona, Nevada, California and Florida, where speculative buying was much more common, homeowners who owe much more than their homes are worth generally have less incentive to keep paying the mortgage.

Another set of recent statistics underscores the idea that having an underwater mortgage diminishes a borrower's mobility. According to the Census Bureau, fewer people moved in 2007 and 2008 than in any other two-year period since 1959 and 1960. Compared with 2006 and 2007 census data, 19 percent fewer homeowners moved in 2007 and 2008.

Aside from causing people to stay put, the diminished equity situation has induced homeowners to save more money, since they cannot depend on second mortgages for emergency funds.

The Depths of Mortgage Debt
Published: August 30, 2009
Homeowners are in better financial condition in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey than in many other parts of the country.

August 27, 2009

Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate

Leon F. Seltzer, a clinical psychologist who has written extensively on this subject, differentiates between criticism and feedback. In a blog he writes for Psychology Today, he notes that:

¶Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. It can involve labeling, lecturing, moralizing and even ridiculing. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate the recipient to reconsider his or her behavior.

¶Criticism involves making negative assumptions about the other person's motives. Feedback reacts not to intent but the actual result of the behavior.

¶Criticism, poorly given, often includes advice, commands and ultimatums, making the person receiving it feel defensive and angry -- and undermines any benefits. Feedback, on the other hand, looks less at how the person should change, but tries to prompt a discussion about the benefits of change.

This last point is one that Darren Gurney, a high school teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., has thought a lot about. Mr. Gurney also coaches high school and college baseball teams and runs a summer baseball camp that my sons love. He has found that one of the most effective ways to criticize a player is not to tell him what he did wrong, but ask him to analyze what he thinks he could have done better.

"In general, it seems as if criticism is very hard to take in contemporary American culture," Professor Kitayama said. "It's seen as a threat or an attack on self-esteem or as violating social rules. In Japanese culture, self-esteem is important, but more important is improving yourself."

In a large study of Japanese and American Olympic athletes, which Professor Kitayama co-wrote, Japanese athletes and commentators were twice as likely as Americans to criticize their performance or make negative comments about it.

"Americans say about four positive comments to one negative comment, while the Japanese tend to equally balance positive and negative comments," said Hazel R. Markus, a professor of psychology at Stanford and another co-author. This and other studies, she said, indicate that failure feedback is motivating for Japanese while success feedback is motivating for Americans.

For Best Results, Take the Sting Out of Criticism
Published: August 29, 2009
Criticism can teach valuable lessons, if delivered and received in a positive way. Upbringing and culture can account for great differences in one's personal language of criticism.

August 26, 2009

verdes Vadera, green shoots, he scores

The popularity of the term "green shoots" shows the kind of social epidemic underlying our changing thinking. The phrase was propelled in Britain by Shriti Vadera, the business minister, in January, and mutated into a more contagious form after Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, used it on "60 Minutes" on March 15.

The news media didn't need to change the term for different cultures around the world. With nothing more than a quick translation -- brotes verdes, pousses vertes, grüne Sprösslinge, etc. -- it is now recognized as a symbol of a revival coming soon.

All of this suggests that a social epidemic is supporting renewed confidence. This confidence can keep growing by contagion, as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, and we may see the markets and the economy recover further.

Economic View
An Echo Chamber of Boom and Bust
Published: August 30, 2009
How a worldwide "social epidemic" of ideas is supporting renewed confidence in the economy.

August 24, 2009

Tailored especially for unrefined Americans.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta - Tailored especially for unrefined Americans.

From C&D:

"Why is VW walking away from global cars, especially at a time when other automakers are globalizing? The company feels that American and Asian customers don't appreciate the refinement of its current offerings. "U.S. customers look at car size and engine displacement. They won't pay a dollar extra for a Passat over the Camry just because of its finesse and attention to detail," a company executive told us in Wolfsburg."

I hope that VW realizes that many of us by a VW JUST because they are refined - and are willing to pay a little more. Build your car for the masses - just please keep sending the Passat, Golf, etc., for those of us who appreciate the difference.

Car and Driver and

VW Vortex, 3:23 PM 12-17-2008

August 23, 2009

BMW departs F1

At a time of financial meltdown, is it any wonder the board looked at the embarrassment of its F1 programme and identified an easy nine-figure saving each year? BMW was the victim of a confluence of factors: a progressively technically strangled F1, the inopportune advent of an expensive technology with an economic downturn, its brand's sensitivity to lack of performance and its own very specific and confident timetable for success, something that always made its prospects somewhat brittle.

-- Mark Hughes, Autosport

August 21, 2009

Middle class end, affluent begins around $10 million

Any major shift in the financial status of the rich could have big implications. A drop in their income and wealth would complicate life for elite universities, museums and other institutions that received lavish donations in recent decades. Governments -- federal and state -- could struggle, too, because they rely heavily on the taxes paid by the affluent.

Perhaps the broadest question is what a hit to the wealthy would mean for the middle class and the poor. The best-known data on the rich comes from an analysis of Internal Revenue Service returns by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, two economists. Their work shows that in the late 1970s, the cutoff to qualify for the highest-earning one ten-thousandth of households was roughly $2 million, in inflation-adjusted, pretax terms. By 2007, it had jumped to $11.5 million.

The gains for the merely affluent were also big, if not quite huge. The cutoff to be in the top 1 percent doubled since the late 1970s, to roughly $400,000.

August 19, 2009


fail owned pwned pictures
see more Yow

information is beautiful

informationisbeautiful, informative charts convey information.



Every April and November the issue flares up. Why?

April 20th is the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre. Though dimishing, the echoes of that event still reverberate through the group mind.

Not sure about the November peak? Maybe because Christmas video games are announced?

[ "violent video games ]

August 18, 2009

We model a zombie attack

Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.

Abstract of a new paper in Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress.

Journal PDF.

[ Via Clusterstock ]

August 17, 2009

Credit derivatives market will strip out and repackage credit exposures from the vastly greater pool of risks which do not naturally lend themselves to securitisation, Lady Blythe Masters

The Party Starter, Blythe Masters:

"Just as the rapidly growing asset backed securitisation market is bringing investors new sources of credit assets, the credit derivatives market will strip out and repackage credit exposures from the vastly greater pool of risks which do not naturally lend themselves to securitisation, either because the risks are unfunded (off-balance-sheet), because they are not intrinsically transferable, or because their sale would be complicated by relationship concerns."

The best line of course is "By enhancing liquidity, credit derivatives achieve the financial equivalent of a "free lunch" whereby both buyers and sellers of risk benefit from the associated efficiency gains."

from concluding paragraph from her magnum opus - all in the Queen's English of course.

full transcript.

[ Via Clusterstock ]

August 16, 2009

Texting while walking: dangerous at any age

We've all heard that driving and texting is dangerous, but Dr. Milteer (Dr. Regina M. Milteer, a pediatrician in Fairfax, Va., and member of the Academy of American Pediatrics council on communication and media) warned that pedestrian accidents have occurred because children were texting as they crossed the street and were not aware of their surroundings. And even though it may not be as hazardous to use cellphones while sitting at the dinner table or mingling with friends, it is just plain rude.

New Worries About Children With Cellphones
Published: August 15, 2009
Parents who used to worry about whether to buy their children cellphones are now concerned about scams and improper texting.

August 15, 2009

Consolidated financial planning

mystockoptions includes stock options in financial planning.

August 14, 2009

Falling home prices, to continue falling ?

Republican neighborhoods are going to fall next. Why? Because they're broke. Ever listen to the ads on conservative talk radio? Talk about targeting a demographic.

[ Via Clusterstock ]

August 13, 2009


But there are limits. Without an endless budget, the N.H.S. does have to ration care, by deciding, for instance, whether drugs that might add a few months to the life of a terminal cancer patient are worth the money. Its hospitals are not always clean. It is bureaucratic. Its doctors and nurses are overworked. Patients sometimes are treated as if they were supplicants (petitioners) rather than consumers. Women in labor are advised to bring their own infant's diapers and their own cleaning products to the hospital. Sick people routinely have to wait for tests or for treatment.

Health Care in Britain: An Expat Goes for a Checkup
Published: August 16, 2009
Notes on the National Health Service from an American who now lives in Britain.

August 12, 2009

Death Panel non-fiction

Death Panels are Fiction, The case for, Part I

Right now, the charge that's gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create "death panels" (in Sarah Palin's words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It's a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican -- yes, Republican -- of Georgia, who says that it's "nuts" to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for "advance directives" for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That's exactly what was being proposed -- and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it's not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates


The case for, Part II

Painting the Giacometti-esque Emanuel as a creepy Dr. Death, Palin attacked him on her Facebook page a week ago, complaining that his "Orwellian thinking" could lead to a "death panel" with bureaucrats deciding whether to pull the plug on less hardy Americans. Never mind that Palin herself had endorsed some of the same end-of-life counseling she now depicts as putting Grandma down.

As the Democratic National Committee pointed out, Palin put out a 2008 proclamation for Healthcare Decisions Day "to raise public awareness of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions, related to end of life care ... and to encourage the specific use of advance directives to communicate these important healthcare decisions."

Consistency was long ago sent to a death panel in Palin world.

Part III:

The controversy over "death panels" is just the most extreme manifestation of this debate. Obviously, the Democratic plans wouldn't euthanize your grandmother. But they might limit the procedures that her Medicare will pay for. And conservative lawmakers are using this inconvenient truth to paint the Democrats as enemies of Grandma.

Republican Death Trip
Published: August 14, 2009
President Obama had campaigned to move beyond divisive politics, but instead he is facing an opposition that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

Correction: In Friday's column I mistakenly asserted that Senator Johnny Isakson was responsible for a provision in a House bill that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. In fact, he is responsible for a provision in a Senate bill that would allow a different, newly created government program to pay for such counseling.

Sarah's Ghoulish Carousel
Published: August 16, 2009
Despite putting out a proclamation in 2008 to plan ahead for health care decisions, Sarah Palin has managed to hijack the health care debate from President Obama with one catchy phrase

August 7, 2009

stupid stupid stamps

stupidstupidstamps is another tumblr example of blogging one thing and one thing only.


Stamps are educational. Here, millions of Americans are introduced to the inventor of Orange-On-A-Stick, who apparently lived a REALLY long time.

This one is for Atrios:


For instance, cities should be totally vertical so that all the cars and people slide to the bottom. Plus, all buildings, roads, trees, etc. should be the exact same color for easy reference.

August 5, 2009

Making home affordable.gov refinance eligibility

Once you have determined if you are eligible for a Home Affordable Refinance or Modification, the next step is to contact your mortgage servicer to discuss your situation. A wide array of servicers have agreed to participate in the Home Affordable Modification program and have already engaged borrowers and expanded capacity to begin the modification process for eligible homeowners. In addition, all servicers for loans owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are required to participate.

makinghomeaffordable via CNBC and Clusterstock.

August 4, 2009

Who's who of banking, 2009

The traumatic upheaval that has roiled Wall Street during the past two years has produced - surprisingly quickly - a widely acknowledged new pecking order in the world of high finance: Goldman Sachs, in trading, and JPMorgan Chase, in banking, have become the undisputed industry leaders, with a hand in nearly every deal or trade. Clients can try to avoid these two, but only at their own peril.

The likes of Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch - wounded but not fatally - continue to seek a firm footing on which to operate, while the so-called "zombie banks", such as Citigroup and Wells Fargo, remain on life support. Boutiques, such as Lazard, Greenhill, Rothschild, Evercore and Jefferies, that primarily provide advice to clients - and little capital - have been hiring broadly and have seen a resurgence of activity in their restructuring businesses, where a wave of recapitalisation and "amend and extend" deals have allowed many overleveraged companies to avoid bankruptcy filings. For the boutiques, the question remains whether, any time soon, there will be enough non-restructuring advisory business - formerly known as M&A - to justify all the new hiring.

But none of this is particularly surprising in the wake of the worst crisis to hit banking since the Great Depression produced the Glass-Steagall Act and the separation of investment banking from commercial banking.

What does seem to be spooking Wall Street these days, though, is the traction that some private equity firms, such as KKR and Apollo Advisors, and hedge funds, such as Citadel Investment Group, appear to be "backward integrating" into investment banking by building up their businesses that compete with Wall Street in the lucrative underwriting of debt and equity securities.

A new battle looms on Wall Street
By William Cohan
Published: August 4 2009 18:47 | Last updated: August 4 2009 18:47

August 3, 2009

SSPS, bought by IBM for $1.2 billion

I.B.M. took a big step to expand its fast-growing stable of data analysis offerings by agreeing on Tuesday to pay $1.2 billion to buy SPSS Inc., a maker of software used in statistical analysis and predictive modeling.

Other independent analytics software makers may well become takeover targets, said Mr. Evelson of Forrester. Among the candidates, he said, are Accelrys, Applied Predictive Technologies, Genalytics, InforSense, KXEN and ThinkAnalytics.

The broad consolidation wave in business intelligence software, analysts say, will bring increasing price pressure on some segments of the industry as major companies seek to increase their share of the market. And the open-source programming language for data analysis, R, is another source of price pressure on software suppliers.

"None of the consolidation purchases we've seen in the business intelligence industry have been fire sales," said Jim Davis, senior vice president of the SAS Institute, a private company based in Cary, N.C., that is the largest supplier of business intelligence and predictive analytics software.

I.B.M. Will Buy a Maker of Data Analysis Software
Published: July 29, 2009
SPSS makes software to help businesses and governments organize and analyze data to make better decisions, useful tools in a downturn

August 2, 2009

Tweeting too hard ?

Tweetingtoohard's top, featuring Joshua Baer.

August 1, 2009

The utility of Joe Biden

The addition of Mr. Biden was interesting, for a number of reasons. Mr. Biden was able to draw on his credibility with blue-collar, labor union America and his roots in Scranton, Pa., to add balance to the photo op that the White House presented: two black guys, two white guys, sitting around a table.

The four drank out of beer mugs. Mr. Obama had a Bud Lite, Sergeant Crowley had Blue Moon, Professor Gates drank Sam Adams Light and Mr. Biden, who does not drink, had a Buckler nonalcoholic beer. (Mr. Biden put a lime slice in his beer. Sergeant Crowley, for his part, kept with Blue Moon tradition and had a slice of orange in his drink.)

Officer Crowley is said (Carney @Clusterstock) to be a fan of Blue Moon, the faux Belgian Wheat Ale that is actually made by Canada's Molson. According to the Boston Globe, Gates likes Red Stripe and Beck's.
See also BagNews' take.

Over Beers, No Apologies, but Plans to Have Lunch
Published: July 31, 2009
President Obama, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley met, drank and agreed to meet again.