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June 28, 2010

Petraeus' workout

At 57, the newly minted leader of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan still likes to start his day at sun-up with a five-mile run, blazing out each of those miles in under six minutes. Then it's straight to the weight room, where he ignores all those cushy-seated machines and heads for his torture device of choice: a single iron bar, lag-bolted eight feet overhead. A Petraeus pull-up is nothing as simple as hoisting your own body weight up and down a few dozen times. Instead, he slowly jack-knifes from the hips until his shoelaces are level with his face. After 20 of those babies, he drops to the floor for a crisp 100 or so pushups. And to recover from these self-imposed beatings, the general treats himself to a total of one meal per day and four hours of sleep. This, from a guy who a year ago was being treated for prostate cancer and survived getting shot in the chest when a soldier tripped during a live-fire drill.

Petraeus' rough-riding of his own wrinkling hide is often regarded as an indication that the general is a bit off his rocker, and the court of public opinion was quick to raise a finger and say "Aha!" after Petraeus fainted during a Senate hearing this month. Politics Daily observed that "while the 57-year-old Petraeus has been a lifelong athlete and overall high achiever, his ambitious personality may have pushed his body too far this time."

June 27, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill

Gulf Oil Spill: more damage or cleanup ? What should we expect from BP ?


June 22, 2010

Modern love, Gaga edition

Lady Gaga is the pulse of current feminist thought, though Gaga isn't actually a genuine representation of feminism.

Sartre thought about the issue. But Sartre is cooky and nobody buys his dualism anymore. So, we still have an open question; back to square one ? Beauvoir can un-muddy the waters.

-- Nancy Bauer

June 21, 2010

Stimulus fueled deficits reduce consumer confidence, stall economy -- BrooksDeficits

In times like these, deficit spending to pump up the economy doesn't make consumers feel more confident; it makes them feel more insecure because they see a political system out of control. Deficit spending doesn't induce small businesspeople to hire and expand. It scares them because they conclude the growth isn't real and they know big tax increases are on the horizon. It doesn't make political leaders feel better either. Lacking faith that they can wisely cut the debt in some magically virtuous future, they see their nations careening to fiscal ruin.

So we are exiting a period of fiscal stimulus and entering a period of fiscal consolidation. Last year, the finance ministers of the G-20 were all for pumping up economic activity. This year, they called on their members to reduce debt. In this country, deficits are now the top concern.

Some theorists will tell you that if governments shift their emphasis to deficit cutting, they risk sending the world back into recession. There are some reasons to think this is so, but events tell a more complicated story.

Alberto Alesina of Harvard has surveyed the history of debt reduction. He's found that, in many cases, large and decisive deficit reduction policies were followed by increases in growth, not recessions. Countries that reduced debt viewed the future with more confidence. The political leaders who ordered the painful cuts were often returned to office. As Alesina put it in a recent paper, "in several episodes, spending cuts adopted to reduce deficits have been associated with economic expansions rather than recessions."

This was true in Europe and the U.S. in the 1990s, and in many other cases before. In a separate study, Italian economists Francesco Giavazzi and Marco Pagano looked at the way Ireland and Denmark sharply cut debt in the 1980s. Once again, lower deficits led to higher growth.

So the challenge for the U.S. in the years ahead is to consolidate intelligently. That means reducing deficits while at the same time making the welfare state more efficient, boosting innovation in areas like energy, and spending more money on growth-enhancing sectors like infrastructure.

That's a tough balancing act.

The biggest task will be to reduce middle-class entitlement spending. Alesina found that spending cuts are a more effective way to stabilize debt than tax increases, though we'll need both.

The second biggest task is to consolidate while addressing another problem: labor market polarization. According to a Hamilton Project/Center for American Progress study by David Autor, high-skill sectors saw no net loss of jobs during the recession. Middle-skill sectors like sales saw an 8 percent employment decline. Blue-collar jobs fell by 16 percent.

In other words, the recession exacerbated the inequalities we've been seeing for decades. Somehow government has to cut total spending while directing more money to address the trends that threaten to hollow out the middle class.

Prune and Grow
Published: June 10, 2010
It's time to consider whether cutting rather than increasing spending might be the real path to economic recovery.

June 20, 2010

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative macroeconomic views from Canada

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative is a humble mostly macro-policy blog, by Stephen Gordon, Mike Moffatt, Nick Rowe and Frances Woolley has left leaning macro economic views from Canada.

Examples: Should recent immigrants be eligible for Old Age Security looks at guaranteed an income above the poverty line by Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Pension Plan.

My sister, Rachel Goddyn, believes that expanding female job opportunities have led to a decline in the quality of elementary and high school teachers.

he cure can be worse than the disease. At the most recent Canadian Economics Association meetings, University of Toronto PhD student Hugh Macartney presented a paper looking at a US program designed to create incentives for good teaching. Students were tested at the end of each year, and schools were rewarded if test scores showed improvement over time. What's the way to game that system? Teach students poorly in the first year and well in the last year - and Macartney found evidence that this was exactly what was happening.

June 19, 2010

Tracking federal financial reform

Updated tables tracking federal financial reform.

Key Amendments to S.3217, Senate Financial Regulatory Bill

Requires Credit Card Issuers to Abide by State Limits(S.AMDT.3746)
Excludes Auto-Deal Lenders(S.AMDT.3789)
A Clear Credit Score (S.AMDT.4016)
Limits Bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac(S.AMDT.4020)

June 18, 2010

Middle class under $7 million

The estate tax is one of those hyper-combustible issues where emotion, and shrewd lobbying, can loose an outsize uproar. That point was made last week with news that the multibillion-dollar fortune of a Texas oil tycoon, who died this year, would pass to his children and grandchildren free of the federal estate tax.

But before railing against the wealthy -- or encouraging your rich relatives to take up cliff diving -- it might be wise to look at what the real-world effects might be next year, when the estate tax of up to 55 percent might be levied on any estate worth more than $1 million.

At first blush, that policy sounds destined to take big chunks out of estates across a broad swath of the population. While supporters say the estate tax affects only the richest members of society and helps counteract the concentration of wealth, that million-dollar limit would seem to ensnare many people who consider themselves decidedly middle class -- especially in the Northeast and California where home values are high.

What is the dividing line between wealthy and upper middle class? Or between someone who owns an estate and someone lucky enough to have bought a home decades ago and watched its value grow to seven figures?

According to the Tax Policy Center, a research group, unless Congress revises the law by Jan. 1, the number of estates affected in 2011 would increase to 44,200 next year from 5,500 in 2009.

Even so, that figure represents less than 2 percent of the 2.5 million Americans expected to die next year, and is far below historical levels. In 1976, 139,000 estates representing 7.6 percent of all deaths were taxed when the exemption was set at $60,000 (nearly $230,000 in buying power today).

And these figures also don't take into account the world of estate planning, where numbers can be fungible. With a bit of planning, tax lawyers say, most families can legally shelter significant portions of their estates. In addition, the law contains provisions that allow owners of small businesses and farms to take additional exemptions.

Such caveats offer little comfort to those who call the tax the "death tax" and have fought for repeal, saying it is a form of double taxation.

"The proper exemption should be everything," said Dick Patten of the American Family Business Institute, a lobbying group that says the estate tax stifles job creation. "These people have already paid a lifetime of taxes to build the businesses they own." (Estate tax supporters say the levy helps the government capture a portion of capital gains that have never been taxed at all.)

But where does that dynastic plutocracy begin? There is an astronomical gap between Mr. Buffett's fortune, which Forbes estimated at $47 billion, and two retirees in Marin County, California, whose life's work might have allowed them to leave their heirs $3.5 million in assets, mostly in the value of a house.

Even some strong supporters of an estate tax would say that the couple in Marin is not wealthy, and support the 2009 exemption of $7 million for couples, saying that it offers a dividing line between the upper middle class and the wealthy. And then there are those who would say that at least relative to the rest of the population, that couple is rich. "If a couple has $7 million to leave to their three children, their kids could conceivably never have to work again," said Chuck Collins, co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good. "I don't think most people would consider that middle class. Or think that creating a generation of dilettantes is a good thing."

What an Estate Looks Like to the Taxman
Published: June 11, 2010
When a billionaire dies this year, no taxes for the estate. Next year, $1-million-plus estates will be taxed at up to 55 percent.

June 17, 2010

What do scalpers sell ?

For brokers and others who favor a free secondary market for tickets, these concerns cut to the philosophical heart of the issue: Is a ticket a commodity that can be freely exchanged, like a stock, or is it a license granted by a theater, a sports team or an artist that can be used or revoked on their terms?

Brendan Ross, the chief executive of Razorgator, a reselling exchange similar to StubHub, said fans -- particularly season-ticket holders in sports -- take considerable risk when they buy tickets months ahead of time, and should be able to do what they like with the tickets. Paperless ticketing, he said, is a way for Ticketmaster and other companies to control, and potentially eliminate, that secondary market.

"The lion's share of the rights in this situation are in the hands of the person who sold you the ticket," Mr. Ross said. "You're taking all the risk. They're taking none of it. You can't get your money back, you can't change your mind. So the question is, should you have the right to sell the seat that you bought?"

Scalping 2.0: Naming the Ticket's Master
Published: June 4, 2010
In the age of chips and bots, is a ticket a commodity controlled by the buyer, or a license granted by an artist or sports team?

June 16, 2010

Disease branding: hypoactive sexual desire disorder

Boehringer has been trying to lay the consumer groundwork with a promotional campaign about women's low libido, including a Web site, a Twitter feed, a Discovery Channel documentary and a publicity tour by Lisa Rinna, a soap opera star and former Playboy model, who describes herself as someone who has suffered from a disorder that Boehringer refers to as a form of "female sexual dysfunction."

There is no dispute that some women have a depressed level of sexual desire that causes them anguish. Boehringer cites a condition -- hypoactive sexual desire disorder -- that is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference book for psychiatrists and insurers.

But many experts say that unlike sexual dysfunction in men -- which has an obvious physical component -- sexual problems in women are much harder to diagnose. And among doctors and researchers, there is serious medical debate over whether female sexual problems are treatable with drugs. Some doctors advocate psychotherapy or counseling, while others have prescribed hormonal drugs approved for other uses.

There is also debate over how widespread hypoactive sexual desire disorder actually is among women. The medical literature, including articles in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, indicate numbers above 10 percent, but such studies have been financed by drug companies.

Critics say Boehringer's market campaign exaggerates the prevalence of the condition and could create anxiety among women, making them think they have a condition that requires medical treatment.

"This is really a classic case of disease branding," said Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor at Georgetown University's medical school who researches drug marketing and has studied the campaign. "The messages are aimed at medicalizing normal conditions, and also preying on the insecurity of both the clinician and the patient."

Push to Market Pill Stirs Debate on Sexual Desire
Published: June 16, 2010
A vast marketing campaign has set off debate over what constitutes a normal range of sexual desire for women.


No Sex Please, We're Middle Class
Published: June 25, 2010
A "female Viagra" won't cure what ails America's bedrooms.

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare's plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm.

June 15, 2010

Man's life

Just capering cuties in grainy black-and-white making the clichéd "you've caught me in my nightie!" face. The stories are bombastic but empty, always exposing something or other - sin, vice, sinful vice. Typical tales: "The Harlots of Des Moines!" or "Girls For Sale in Sex-Drenched Dusseldorf!" And there's always a Nazi story. In every issue, Nazis. Why? Because a large part of the target American demographic had spent its youth whipping Nazi butt, I suppose. And another part of the demographic really got off on Nazis, one fears.


In the back, the ads - "Bedtime story" books, novelty records shipped in plain wrappers, lots of truss ads (more so in the fifties than the 60s - by the JFK era, men were no longer rupturing their innards at the same rate) and innumerable tiny ads aimed at self-improvement. Because if there's one theme that runs throughout these mags, it's the need for the readership to improve itself. The readership knew it. If the readership didn't need self improvement, they wouldn't be reading these things.

-- James Lileks

[ Via artofmanliness and contexts ]

June 14, 2010

Teachers caught cheating for students

In Georgia, the state school board ordered investigations of 191 schools in February after an analysis of 2009 reading and math tests suggested that educators had erased students' answers and penciled in correct responses. Computer scanners detected the erasures, and classrooms in which wrong-to-right erasures were far outside the statistical norm were flagged as suspicious.

The Georgia scandal is the most far-reaching in the country. It has already led to the referral of 11 teachers and administrators to a state agency with the power to revoke their licenses. More disciplinary referrals, including from a dozen Atlanta schools, are expected.

John Fremer, a specialist in data forensics who was hired by an independent panel to dig deeper into the Atlanta schools, and who investigated earlier scandals in Texas and elsewhere, said educator cheating was rising. "Every time you increase the stakes associated with any testing program, you get more cheating," he said.

That was also the conclusion of the economist Steven D. Levitt, of "Freakonomics" fame and a blogger for The New York Times, who with a colleague studied answer sheets from Chicago public schools after the introduction of high-stakes testing in the 1990s concluded that 4 percent to 5 percent of elementary school teachers cheat.

Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper With Tests
Published: June 10, 2010
Experts say cases of teachers altering test scores have risen along with the stakes involved in testing.

June 13, 2010

iPad and iPhone help: macrumors and discussions.apple

Useful and very curent info.

iPhone, iPod and iPad

discussions.apple.com iPad and iPhone.

June 12, 2010

Kettlebell warmup and grip by Scott Sonnon

Clear demonstration and explanation of kettlebell grip..

June 11, 2010

Vocabulary vs income: Children in higher socioeconomic homes hear 2,153 words an hour; in working-class households only 1,251; on welfare, 616

Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley's landmark 1995 book, "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children," shows that parents who supply a language-rich environment for their children help them develop a wide vocabulary, and that helps them learn to read.

The book connects language use at home with socioeconomic status. According to its findings, children in higher socioeconomic homes hear an average of 2,153 words an hour, whereas those in working-class households hear only about 1,251; children in the study whose parents were on welfare heard an average of 616 words an hour.

The question is: Will devices like smartphones change that? Smartphone users tend to have higher incomes; research from the Nielsen Company shows that they are twice as likely to make more than $100,000 a year than the average mobile subscriber. If increased use of technology encroaches on the time that well-to-do families spend communicating with their children, some could become the victims of successes originally thought to help them.

The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In
Published: June 9, 2010
Parents' use of smartphones and laptops -- and its effect on their children -- is becoming a source of concern to researchers.

June 10, 2010

the bottom is near for the housing market, which is why there has been increased activity

"There is a sense that the bottom is near for the housing market, which is why there has been increased activity," said Celia Chen, a senior director at Moody's Analytics specializing in housing economics. "The biggest decline is over," she said. "But we're still expecting prices to decline by another 5 percent."

The overall economy will determine to some extent whether the increase seen in the spring can be sustained. "A lot of what happens in June is going to depend on employment trends," said Sam Chandan, the chief economist at Real Capital Analytics, a Manhattan company that studies worldwide real estate trends. "There's a fair amount to give consumers pause." He noted that while the national unemployment rate fell slightly in May, the financial industry in New York City continued to lose jobs.

Mortgage rates are likely to remain low, Ms. Chen said, but foreclosures nationally are expected to increase in coming months. Manhattan's foreclosure rate has remained very low, thanks to rigorous co-op approval standards, but "there still will be softness in prices, because there seems to be a pretty large overhang of new construction still out there," she said.

Spring Real Estate Market Roars In but Tiptoes Out Early
Published: June 10, 2010
Although many brokers are telling clients that prices have already hit bottom, some experts said they were still falling and would drop 5 percent to 15 percent more by the end of next year.

June 3, 2010

NYT now recommending python scripts ?

Droopy: A Tiny Web Server That Makes Receiving Files a Snap

Droopy is a mini web server that's designed to make it easy for you to receive files on your computer -- and is especially useful for those times when a less-than-tech-savvy client wants to send you a large file. Instead of them trying to send the file over IM or FTP, or using a service like Dropbox, just give them your Droopy address and they can upload the file using their browser; it will be saved directly onto your machine.

Droopy runs on Unix (Linux and Mac) and Windows machines. It's a Python script, but don't let that worry you. Although you will need to have Python installed and will have to use the command line,

Published: May 18, 2010

June 2, 2010

Gender gap for gifted five year olds favours girls

"Girls at that age tend to study more, and the boys kind of play more," said Linda Gratta, a parent at the Anderson School on the Upper West Side, NY, one of the most selective. "But it's a mixed bag. The day of the test, you could be the smartest boy in the world and just have a bad day." She said that Timothy, her first-grade son, had approximately 10 boys and 18 girls in his class.

Biases and expectations among adults are often in play when determining which children count as gifted, and fewer boys appear to end up in gifted programs nationally. A 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences reported that boys were "overrepresented in programs for learning disabilities, mental retardation and emotional disturbance, and slightly underrepresented in gifted programs," said Bruce A. Bracken, a professor at the College of William & Mary who wrote one of the two exams that the city uses to test gifted children. He said the implications of the study were "disturbing."

Dr. Bracken's assessment, which makes up 25 percent of a child's gifted score in the city, has been field tested for gender bias, and during a recent round of testing in Virginia, no gender differences in the score were recorded. But the longer Otis-Lennon Ability Test, the other 75 percent of the gifted exam, is "more verbal than some of the other tests," which could play to girls' strengths, said David F. Lohman, a professor and testing expert at the University of Iowa.

Gender Gap for the Gifted in City Schools
Published: May 31, 2010
Though the school system over all is 51 percent male, its gifted classrooms generally have more girls.