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February 28, 2011

Air BnB has Rooms

AirBnB has rooms for rent (short stay)


February 25, 2011

Tom Friedman's Volcano Wakeup Call

A very clever friend sends over today's Tom Friedman column edited down to nothing but mixed metaphors and cliches:

A wake-up call's mother is unfolding. At the other end is a bell, which is telling us we have built a house at the foot of a volcano. The volcano is spewing lava, which says move your house. The road will be long and rocky, but it will trigger a shift before it kicks. We can capture some of it. IF the Middle East was a collection of gas stations, Saudi Arabia would be a station. Iran, Kuwait , Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates would all be stations. Guys, here's the deal. Don't hassle the Jews. You are insulated from history. History is back. Fasten your seat belts. Don't expect a joy ride because the lid is blowing off. The west turned a blind eye, but the report was prophetic, with key evidence. Societies are frozen in time. No one should have any illusions. Root for the return to history, but not in the middle.

My friend could have published this himself, but he was between a rock and a hard place with no easy answers.

The NYT's Tom Friedman interpreted by Jonathan Chait .

February 22, 2011

How to Make McOatmeal

The oatmeal and McDonald's story broke late last year, when Mickey D's, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it's offering "a selection of balanced food choices" (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald's fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. (Not only that, they've made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) "Cream" (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it's also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including "natural flavor").

A more accurate description than "100% natural whole-grain oats," "plump raisins," "sweet cranberries" and "crisp fresh apples" would be "oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen."

February 22, 2011, 8:30 PM
How to Make Oatmeal . . . Wrong

February 21, 2011

Man up ?

Young men are tuning in to cable channels like Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Spike, whose shows reflected the adolescent male preferences of its targeted male audiences. They watched movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks. Americans had always struck foreigners as youthful, even childlike, in their energy and optimism.

Pre-adulthood can be compared to adolescence, an idea invented in the mid-20th century as American teenagers were herded away from the fields and the workplace and into that new institution, the high school. For a long time, the poor and recent immigrants were not part of adolescent life; they went straight to work, since their families couldn't afford the lost labor and income. But the country had grown rich enough to carve out space and time to create a more highly educated citizenry and work force. Teenagers quickly became a marketing and cultural phenomenon. They also earned their own psychological profile. One of the most influential of the psychologists of adolescence was Erik Erikson, who described the stage as a "moratorium," a limbo between childhood and adulthood characterized by role confusion, emotional turmoil and identity conflict.

What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles--fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity--are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

Adapted from "Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys" by Kay S. Hymowitz, to be published by Basic Books on March 1.

Where Have The Good Men Gone ?
Kay S. Hymowitz argues that too many men in their 20s are living in a new kind of extended adolescence.

February 20, 2011

New mortgage discloses for mortgage brokers: RESPA TILA Reg Z

STARTING April 1, under a new compensation rule from the Federal Reserve, borrowers who get their mortgages through brokers will most likely pay less for their services and must be offered the lowest possible interest rate and fees for which they qualify.

The new rule also affects those dealing with small banks and credit unions, which typically do not fund loans from their own resources. But most banks and other direct lenders, including the few mortgage companies that function like banks, are exempt.

The new rule is known as the Loan Originator Compensation amendment to Regulation Z, part of a strengthened Truth in Lending Act passed by Congress in 2008. Designed to prevent consumers from being steered into high-cost, risky loans, it covers how a loan originator -- or any person or company that arranges, obtains and/or negotiates a mortgage for a client -- is paid.

Under the new rule, a lender can no longer pay a loan originator a lucrative rebate known as a yield-spread premium, which is tied to the rate or terms of the mortgage. Banks and other lenders can continue to pay commissions to brokers, but these payments must now be based solely on the loan amount.

In the past, the higher the interest rate and points, the more money a broker stood to earn.

Brokerage firms typically earn a yield-spread premium of 1.5 to 2.5 percent of the loan amount, with higher-rate loans paying closer to 2.5 percent. The brokerage and its broker, or loan officer, typically split the rebate. On a $400,000 loan at 5.25 percent, that might total $8,000, based on two points paid, with a point being 1 percent of the loan amount.

In the new system, the brokerage can earn a fixed commission from the lender, but the amount is not tied to the loan terms. Also, the brokerage cannot pass on a part of the commission to the broker, who must now be paid an hourly wage or salary. The exception is for loans where the lender pays the borrower's points to the brokerage, typically for higher-rate loans. (The commission range is expected to be 1.5 to 2.5 points.)

It is also forbidden for a loan originator to collect payments from both the consumer and the lender in a single transaction. If a broker is paid a commission by a lender (based on the loan amount), he or she cannot also charge the consumer points, or fees for application or processing. The consumer will still, however, need to pay the broker for third-party services like appraisals.

February 17, 2011
New Fed Rule for Mortgage Brokers

New Fed Rule for Mortgage Brokers
Published: February 17, 2011
Borrowers who get their home mortgages through a broker will likely be paying less under a new Federal Reserve rule that goes into effect in April.

February 19, 2011

Economists vs know-nothings

The great battles of the future in all likelihood will continue to have their origins in technical economics. That is, after all, where the brains are.

-- David Walsh

From where I sit, it looks as if the ascendant doctrines in our policy/political debate are coming precisely from people who don't know and don't care about technical economics. The revival of goldbuggy sentiment, the fear of hyperinflation in the face of high unemployment, the continuing force of the notion that tax cuts don't increase the deficit, aren't coming from some subtle battle among mathematical modelers; they're coming from the same people who reject evolution, climate science, and more. They don't need no stinking technical analysis. The truth is that the economics profession is proving far less relevant to public debate, even in the face of economic crisis, than was dreamed of in our philosophy.

-- Krugman

February 18, 2011

Soho noise of 60 Thompson

Neighborly relations started badly when residents said that the hotel's construction resulted in cracks in their walls and sent rats and cockroaches scurrying into their apartments. In 1999, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development found 72 violations in one building alone, 64 Thompson; Barry Mallin, a lawyer representing the tenants, said most of them were apparently related to construction.

Once the $25 million hotel did open in February 2001, however, it quickly won acclaim for everything from the sleek staff uniforms, designed by Nino Cerruti, to the sumptuous rooms, which offered Frette bed linens and Dean & DeLuca gourmet snacks. Last year, Condé Nast Traveler called 60 Thompson, Soho, NY NYC, with rates starting at $370 a night, one of the five hottest hotels in the world.

Several local businesses, meanwhile, have credited the hotel for reinvigorating the block, and making it safer, thanks to round-the-clock doormen and high-end customers. ''I think it's been good for the neighborhood,'' said Henry Buhl, founder of the SoHo Partnership, a nonprofit group that helps homeless people find jobs and housing. ''It wasn't so good down there before, but it's coming around now because they now take care of it, and it's clean.''

But if the hotel's appearance has been impeccable, its attitude has been imperious, even arrogant, say neighbors, who range from tenants paying $350 a month for rent-stabilized apartments to wealthy artists in Olympian lofts worth millions. Since the hotel opened, neighbors have complained incessantly about the loud music, particularly from a second-floor bar that is only partially covered by a bamboo-like canopy.

They have also complained about hotel guests spilling out onto the street and acting boorishly until 3:45 a.m. or later, said Irene Da Costa, president of the Thompson Street Community Association. Marilyn Karp, an art professor at New York University, sleeps in a bedroom facing the rear of the hotel. ''When you're in bed,'' she said, ''it's concert-hall realism, and shutting the windows doesn't help, even if you turn the air-conditioning on.''

A Hotel With Buzz, or Is It a Din?; Along With the Glamour, Noise Complaints in SoHo

Published: April 15, 2003

February 17, 2011


The conventional wisdom has it that the final report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was a low-budget flop, hopelessly riven by internal political disputes and dissension among the commission's 10 members. As usual, the conventional wisdom is completely wrong. Actually, the report -- and the online archive of testimony, interviews and documents that are now available -- is a treasure trove of invaluable information about the causes and consequences of the Great Recession.

-- William Cohen

February 16, 2011

Immature speech patterns used to be drummed out of kids in ninth grade

What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness
The decline and fall of
American English, and stuff

I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. "And he was like, you know, 'Helloooo, what are you looking at?' and stuff, and I'm like, you know, 'Can I, like, pick you up?,' and he goes, like, 'Brrrp brrrp brrrp,' and I'm like, you know, 'Whoa, that is so wow!' " She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.


February 12, 2011

Options expiry 2011

Options expiry 2011 by month: Month: Expiry, Trading Stops and Settlement Occurs
January: 21, 22.
February: 18, 19.
March: 18, 19.
April: 15, 16.
May: 20, 21.
June: 17, 18.
July: 15, 16.
August: 19, 20.
September: 20, 21.
October: 21, 22.
November: 18, 19.
December: 16, 17.

see also Marketwatch display calendar.

February 6, 2011

Scott Sonnon

In life, like martial art, you can address a situation in 3 ways:

Context-free reflexes,
Rflexes protect us when we have no skill.

Context-specific reactions and
Reactions give tightly-defined, rote skills.

Context-sensitive responses.
The most appropriate solution comes from the discretion to improvise and adapt as situations unfold.

Beyond flinches and forms, discover flow. Which are you using right now?

Waiting for a better choice: John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee

Economists John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee. In a forthcoming paper called Happiness and Time Preference: The Effect of Positive Affect in a Random-Assignment Experiment, they address the tricky and oft-ignored role of emotion in decision-making. Their study measured whether positive affect impacts time preference - that is, whether people are more patient when they're happy. They found that people are indeed more willing to wait when they're in a good mood. As an individual's rate of time preference affects the actual decision they make, knowing the relationship of short term emotions to time preference points to how to nudge individuals to make long term decisions instead of short-term ones.

-- Freaky

February 4, 2011


"Zao is part of a coterie of Chinese artists that came of aesthetic age in the 1950s, an intriguing period of time that saw a wide range of Chinese artists practicing in the most diverse circumstance imaginable," said Joan Kee, a University of Michigan art historian who is a specialist on postwar and contemporary Asian painting. "On the one hand there was Zao, living in Paris and represented by important New York galleries like Samuel Kootz," she said. "Then you had artists like Lin Fengmian, working under the Communist regime on the eve of the anti-rightist campaign."

Irving H. Picard is pursuing hundreds of lawsuits to retrieve fictitious "profits" from the lucky coterie of Madoff investors who cashed out before his arrest. Now Picard has raised the stakes with two suits that reach deep into American institutions -- the New York Mets, whose principal owners, the Wilpon family, seemed to constitute a Madoff financial farm team, and JPMorgan Chase, the main Madoff banker.

-- Frank Rich

The Subtle Power of Zao Wou-Ki
Published: May 22, 2009
Two events in Hong Kong -- a Christie's auction and an exhibition at Alisan Fine Arts -- feature works by the Chinese-French painter.

February 2, 2011

Smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically

The reporters had begun preliminary work on the Afghanistan field reports, using a large Excel spreadsheet to organize the material, then plugging in search terms and combing the documents for newsworthy content. They had run into a puzzling incongruity: Assange said the data included dispatches from the beginning of 2004 through the end of 2009, but the material on the spreadsheet ended abruptly in April 2009. A considerable amount of material was missing. Assange, slipping naturally into the role of office geek, explained that they had hit the limits of Excel. Open a second spreadsheet, he instructed. They did, and the rest of the data materialized -- a total of 92,000 reports from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically but arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous. At lunch one day in The Guardian's cafeteria, Assange recounted with an air of great conviction a story about the archive in Germany that contains the files of the former Communist secret police, the Stasi. This office, Assange asserted, was thoroughly infiltrated by former Stasi agents who were quietly destroying the documents they were entrusted with protecting. The Der Spiegel reporter in the group, John Goetz, who has reported extensively on the Stasi, listened in amazement. That's utter nonsense, he said. Some former Stasi personnel were hired as security guards in the office, but the records were well protected.

Dealing With Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets
Published: January 26, 2011
Is Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, a puppet master of the news media? He would like you to think so. But The Times's dealings with him reveal a different story.