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July 31, 2013

Middle class is $140k for NY renters

Davidson admits that eliminating rent controls would likely drive everyone who makes less than $90,000 out of Manhattan, which he says would not be healthy for the city, but then he claims that it would be "great" for the middle class. This makes sense if he's defining "middle class" as an income in the low-mid six figures, visualizing all the fantastically located apartments in Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn occupied by rent-regulated peasants, and imagining that a mass eviction would open up many more choices on the market and might even enable him to snag a place for $3,300 instead of $3,750.)
Curiously, the real-estate lobby has yet to advocate for the tax increases necessary to adequately fund the federal Section 8 rent-subsidy program, which has been closed to new applicants here since 2009 and generally won't help pay for a two-bedroom apartment that costs more than $1,474.

A lesser-known but important issue is that rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants can't be evicted without a legal reason, while unregulated tenants have no right to renew their leases. How stable would the city's neighborhoods be if rising rents forced residents to move every year or two? How would people raise children? How would they maintain the social relationships that sustain communities?

July 29, 2013

Twenty years of Nine Inches

"The Downward Spiral," Mr. Reznor's 1994 masterpiece that contemplated self-destruction and suicide during a period of personal and career turmoil; it became Nine Inch Nails' musical and commercial breakthrough.

"Hesitation Marks" was a year of patient effort. Mr. Reznor composed music on his laptop, using it largely as a drum machine and coming up with austere, brittle, sneakily evolving grooves. "It feels sparse, and it feels minimal," he said. "It's hard for me to do that. I've realized over the years that if I have 100 tracks, I'll use 110 tracks. This was really about economy. It was just a weird puzzle of grooves."

And in the context of the Nine Inch Nails catalog, where a whisper tends to lead, sooner or later, to a scream, Mr. Reznor found himself following other impulses. "It didn't dawn on me until I was almost done with the record that I don't really even raise my voice on this album that much," Mr. Reznor added. "The mechanism of screaming choruses doesn't exist here. And that wasn't by design."

He said: "I don't think it's a gentle record. I do think it's more subversive in how it gets you. It's not about everything being at 11 and the pyrotechnics of sound and scare tactics, which I've definitely used in the past. But it doesn't feel like the middle-aged, I've-given-up record either."

-- Jon Pareles

Mr. Reznor, 48, has been a taboo-smashing songwriter with music that meticulously blends melody and abrasion, ferocity and detail. Since 1989, when Nine Inch Nails released its debut album, "Pretty Hate Machine," Mr. Reznor has been recording songs that exorcise pain, fear and rage as they embrace extremes. In the 1990s, he melded styles that had segregated themselves -- electronica, punk, metal, pop melody -- to give voice to bitter alienation and self-lacerating fury, the urge to annihilate himself or the world. His music can be ominous, brutal, danceable, noisy and still, amid the fray, tuneful. In the studio, the band is largely Mr. Reznor on his own; for tours, he hires band members to rework his meticulous productions as visceral live rock.

"My incentive originally for making music was just a way to cathartically get this out," Mr. Reznor said. "Then I discovered, in the process of doing it, that some ugliness led to some element of beauty. And the process made me feel better. And then when I saw people responded to it and could relate to it -- I'm projecting here, but they may have felt less alone."

But the pressures Mr. Reznor put on himself in his 20s were overwhelming. As he was making albums that would influence a generation of musicians, he succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse until, in 2001, he went through rehab and sobered up. It was, he said, "threat of death, gun to your head -- do this or you're going to die."

July 27, 2013

Tough as Grit: another Dennis the Dentist theory #7

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.

Via Qz

Previously, part 6: If your name is Baskauskas, you're going to be about basketball..

July 24, 2013

Charity case

There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It's a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.

Philanthropy has become the "it" vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to "give back." It's what I would call "conscience laundering" -- feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

July 20, 2013

The fall for $MSFT

Microsoft just couldn't compete with the strong stuff: iPhones, iPads, Google, Facebook. With Windows 8 they mixed two weak strains together: the Windows desktop and Metro's touchscreen UI. They put a touchscreen interface on machines without touchscreens. It was the opposite of synergy--it was a speedball.

Consider Windows Vista, the much-maligned follow-up to the genuinely decent Windows XP. It took five years to produce something that was far worse than its predecessor. Three years into it, in mid-2004, they threw out all the code and started over. There was a big reorg then, too, just like now. Reorgs are the product of endless turf wars between executives and keep managers occupied with PowerPoint charts. Reorgs keep peons nervous about where the axe will fall, as does the brutal zero-sum stack rank review system that dictates that every good performance review in a group must be balanced by a bad one--and thus that you can only excel if your peers fall behind.

July 19, 2013

HARP for pre 2009 September mortgages with current LTV > 80

So how can you gauge your chances of refinancing your mortgage through the HARP 2.0 program?

First, you need to meet some basic requirements: Your mortgage must have been owned or guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie, and it must have been sold to either one before May 31, 2009. You must also have less than 20 percent equity in your home (that is, a loan-to-value ratio above 80 percent). And you cannot have had any late payments in the last six months, and no more than one late payment in the last year. HARP is also generally a one-shot deal: this has to be your first HARP refinancing.

Wells Fargo is working with both new and old customers -- though it isn't accepting new customers with mortgage insurance since it can be difficult to transfer the insurance to the new loan. (Experts said there had been problems reported with some mortgage insurers refusing to reassign its insurance to the new HARP loan.) And if Wells buys a loan from a smaller bank or broker, it must have a loan-to-value ratio of 105 percent or less, meaning the borrower cannot be more than 5 percent underwater. Those limits do not apply to Wells's own customers.

All the nuances that exist from lender to lender make it hard to figure out the best course to take. Rick Cason, a branch manager at Integrity Mortgage, a mortgage firm in Orlando, Fla., said he had been working with about 30 customers since March, and many of them were being denied by Fannie's and Freddie's automated underwriting systems, even though they meet the program's new guidelines on paper. In some cases, he said he has found that reducing credit card debt has helped, even though the customers were within the allowed debt-to-income ratio limits.

July 15, 2013

Do what you like

f full acknowledgment of desires, which can be a really vulnerable experience, and one of the things I argue in the book is that so much of the training that young women and young men have had in terms of how to be successful and get what you want and go out and get a degree and get a career, are all very much about being agentic in the world, and they're not necessarily about knowing desires that make you feel vulnerable.

Although, arguably, striving for success is a vulnerable thing too, it's exposing -- but we don't really have a way of describing ambition or desire as something that is vulnerable. I'd sort of like the term "vulnerability" to come to be one that people understand as showing strength, as opposed to weakness.

-- Tracy Clark-Flory

July 13, 2013

NY Times heal blog is opportunity to boast and gloat, not bloat

I'm starting to think these health articles mainly offer opportunities for readers to write in to boast about their superior life style, habits and knowledge...then they advise the rest of us what we should do, when nobody asked them.....i'm sure their relatives steer clear to avoid their annoying lectures..i find many comments are obnoxious.in these health articles.....

-- Meredith New York

July 5, 2013


Consider whether Romney's fluidity with the truth is, in fact, a feature and not a bug: a constituent part of his appeal to conservatives. The point here is not just that he lies when he says conservative things, even if he believes something different in his heart of hearts--but that lying is what makes you sound the way a conservative is supposed to sound, in pretty much the same way that curlicuing all around the note makes you sound like a contestant on American Idol is supposed to sound.

Romney's prevarications are evidence of simple political hucksterism--"short, utterly false sound bites," repeated "so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth." But the Times misses the bigger picture. Each constituent lie is an instance pointing to a larger, elaborately constructed "truth," the one central to the right-wing appeal for generations: that liberalism is a species of madness--an esoteric cult of out-of-touch, Europe-besotted ivory tower elites--and conservatism is the creed of regular Americans and vouchsafes the eternal prosperity, security, and moral excellence of God's chosen nation, which was doing just fine before Bolsheviks started gumming up the works.

A Romney lie in this vein is a pure Ronald Reagan imitation--as in this utterance from 2007: "In France," Romney announced on the campaign trail, "I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up." And just as Reagan was found to be reciting film dialogue and jump-cutting anecdotes from his on-screen career into his pseudobiographical reminiscences on the stump, so it turns out that Romney picked up the marriage canard from the Homecoming Saga, a science fiction series written by Mormon author Orson Scott Card.

July 2, 2013

Owner earnings

But the accountants' job is to record, not to evaluate. The evaluation job falls to investors and managers. Accounting numbers, of course, are the language of business and as such are of enormous help to anyone evaluating the worth of a business and tracking its progress. Charlie and I would be lost without these numbers: they invariably are the starting point for us in evaluating our own businesses and those of others. Managers and owners need to remember, however, that accounting is but an aid to business thinking, never a substitute for it.

-- Warren Buffett

July 1, 2013

Prosecutors' fallacy sampling and odds

To see why, suppose that police pick up a suspect and match his or her DNA to evidence collected at a crime scene. Suppose that the likelihood of a match, purely by chance, is only 1 in 10,000. Is this also the chance that they are innocent? It's easy to make this leap, but you shouldn't.

Here's why. Suppose the city in which the person lives has 500,000 adult inhabitants. Given the 1 in 10,000 likelihood of a random DNA match, you'd expect that about 50 people in the city would have DNA that also matches the sample. So the suspect is only 1 of 50 people who could have been at the crime scene. Based on the DNA evidence only, the person is almost certainly innocent, not certainly guilty.

This kind of error is so subtle that the untrained human mind doesn't deal with it very well, and worse yet, usually cannot even recognize its own inability to do so. Unfortunately, this leads to serious consequences, as the case of Lucia de Berk illustrates. Worse yet, our strong illusion of certainty in such matters can also lead to the systematic suppression of doubt, another shortcoming of the de Berk case.

I suspect that a bigger source of final mistakes than the "prosecutor's fallacy" is simply selective use of evidence. The strength of a piece of evidence depends not only on its likelihood, but also on the likelihood of all alternative evidence that prosecutors disregarded as unpersuasive. If the prosecution views the case from 10,000 angles, they will probably find a 1-in-10,000 fluke among them. Prosecutors don't have to fully explain the work they did to obtain incriminating evidence, so the jury may not be able to know its statistical value. That sounds like a central issue in the de Berk case.

-- Greg Kuperberg