April 3, 2018

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism

A growing movement in Japan is choosing to part with their possessions and appreciate the beauty of less. These extreme minimalists may limit their wardrobe to only 20 items of clothing or choose to forgo a bed, paring their home down to the bare essentials. Inspired by the aesthetics and principles of traditional Zen Buddhism, Japan's new minimalists say their transformation to simple living has freed them to spend time on other pursuits.

Fumio Sasaki, minimalist and author of Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, joins us at Japan Society to discuss how he opted for minimalism over materialism and share his insight on this life-altering philosophy. Moderated by filmmaker Matt D'Avella, whose latest film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things examines the cultural movement of simple living

January 21, 2018

Refrain from offering platitudes

Refrain from offering platitudes such as, "'I know how you feel'" or "'Things will get better'" to those who visit his center. "Often times when someone close to you is going through difficulty, we want to cheer that person up with lots of nice sayings, but the truth is, you don't know how this person feels. Rather than wanting to change that situation, just be there. When you say those common phrases, it is often yourself who cannot bear the grief that the other person is going through."

-- Haemin Sunim, author, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down.

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July 4, 2017

Aspirational class eat kale and fit their yoga pants

Sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett has taken the baton from Veblen--but with a modified target. In her new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, Currid-Halkett takes aim at "Aspirationals"--the group that she sees as the new elite. They're best characterized on the book's webpage as:

Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption--like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children's growth, and to practice yoga and Pilates

Currid-Halkett notes that most of the wealthy today actually have to work for their riches. "Other than the odd trust fund playboy or oligarch's debutante, the leisure class no longer exists," she writes. In fact, today, in a reversal from the 1970s, the highest earning 20% of workers work more hours than those in the bottom 20%.
The fact that the aspirational class works, and that most of their income is based on the skills they have gained from high levels of education has made "social, environmental, and cultural awareness" the most valuable sources of social capital, Currid-Halkett argues.

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March 20, 2017

Big Five book publishers are made up of imprints, for Milo

Publishing 101: The Big Five houses are made up of imprints

To understand publishing's right-wing imprints, first you have to understand how modern American book publishing is organized.

American trade book publishing is dominated by five publishing houses, known as the Big Five: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Of these, Penguin Random House is the biggest, Macmillan is the smallest, and Simon & Schuster sits comfortably in the middle.

Together, these five publishing houses make up over 80 percent of the US trade publishing market share -- meaning that they produce over 80 percent of the kinds of general-interest books that get sold in Barnes & Noble. The remainder is published by smaller independent presses, and those independent presses usually have specific areas of specialty. But the Big Five houses don't need to specialize, because they can do that on an imprint level instead of a company level.

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March 17, 2017

MAGA Mindset: Making YOU and America Great Again, Cernovich

A gorilla may be strong enough to mash you into the pavement, but that doesn't mean he knows anything.

In his conspiratorial and misogynistic pronouncements, Cernovich is a run-of-the-mill creature of the online alt-right. He nevertheless makes for an interesting subspecimen, as one of the only fixtures of the movement to parlay his politics into a self-help brand. Cernovich's blog and books are not just Trumpist propaganda. They sell a lifestyle, a package of inspirational macho clichés to help weedy, socially inept men become their ultimate selves. Cernovich takes Trump's sales pitch one step further: Make America Great Again is not just a political program. It is a whole new you.

February 7, 2017

You are very free to say Milo Yiannopoulos if you like. Arianna Stassinopoulus, Act II

The real joke being that Yiannopoulos isn't even a genuine creature of the Right... he's no more ideologically committed to the Right Wing than any of the vast majority of (successful) American politicians are ideologically committed to Israel... they just do what they "gotta" do.

That is to say, Yiannopoulos is a run of the mill, power-hungry, self-interested airhead-Capitalist at heart and if this were twenty years ago, he'd be Ariana Huffington (née Arianna Stassinopoulus), realizing that there was more influence/money to be had in wrapping a conservative core with a smiley facade and fleecing softer soccer mom sheep (aka The Clinton Maneuver).

All these years later, though, the "Liberals" are no longer sexy (have you seen what's happening to the Clinton Foundation? Yipes!)... so Yiannopoulos is milking the "Alt Right" for what it's worth. But what is he milking? (npi)

He makes comments and speeches we disagree with.... and? What kind of shelf-life do you think a Gay British Pretty Boy Nazi-Lite Shock-Jock Nitwit will actually have as a meme in America? Simply printing his name won't give him any extra "power", but treating him like 10x the threat he actually is is precisely what grants him visibility.

May 29, 2016

Bioregionalist culture

Throughout history, many philosophers -- including, for example, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Heidegger -- have believed that the land and climate of a particular region impart certain characteristics to its inhabitants, whose temperaments, language, and cultural production are heavily influenced by the topographical, meteorological, and botanical features of the place.

This bioregionalism resembles the French concept of terroir, a term used in agriculture and gastronomy to describe the relationship between flavor and place. But does the same hold true for humans?

Christy Wampole is an assistant professor in the department of French and Italian at Princeton, and the author of "Rootedness: The Ramifications of a Metaphor" and "The Other Serious: Essays for the New American Generation."

April 25, 2016

Automation creates and eliminates human jobs

Back in the 19th century, steam power and machinery took away many traditional jobs, though they also created new ones. This time around, computers, smart software and robots are seen as the culprits. They seem to be replacing many of the remaining manufacturing jobs and encroaching on service-sector jobs, too.

Driverless vehicles and drone aircraft are no longer science fiction, and over time, they may eliminate millions of transportation jobs. Many other examples of automatable jobs are discussed in "The Second Machine Age," a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and in my own book, "Average Is Over." The upshot is that machines are often filling in for our smarts, not just for our brawn -- and this trend is likely to grow.

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April 13, 2016

We have plunged down a cataract of progress -- Jung, 1963

Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The "newness" in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new , in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.

Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress, which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motion. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the "discontents" of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up.

We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognise that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us.

-- "The Tower" in 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections', published in 1963, by Carl Gustav Jung.

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February 1, 2016

Rise and Fall of American Growth, Robert J. Gordon

Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we're in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective: Developments in information and communication technology, he has insisted, just don't measure up to past achievements.

Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.

In "The Rise and Fall of American Growth," Gordon doubles down on that theme, declaring that the kind of rapid economic growth we still consider our due, and expect to continue forever, was in fact a one-time-only event.

First, genuinely major innovations normally bring about big changes in business practices, in what workplaces look like and how they function. And there were some changes along those lines between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s -- but not much since, which is evidence for Gordon's claim that the main impact of the I.T. revolution has already happened.

Second, one of the major arguments of techno-optimists is that official measures of economic growth understate the real extent of progress, because they don't fully account for the benefits of truly new goods.

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January 15, 2016

Represent poverty through recognisably Dickensian tropes -- the too-big hand-me-down boots, the thick socks, the bad teeth ?

It's almost redundant to call the republication of In Flagrante, Chris Killip's classic work of the 1970s and 1980s, a timely one. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher punished the north for rejecting her party by refusing them any means of humane transition into a post-industrial world. Killip's depiction of the effects of this policy on the coastal towns of the north-east was a metonym for a more wholesale dismantling and dereliction. The book affords us a way we might think about how our own poverty currently looks.

The new edition is shorn of the original text by John Berger and Sylvia Grant; their collaborative essay has not aged well, and did Killip's images no favours. No scene was not apparently charged with some larger allegorical responsibility, no figure not contemplating the bleak future or the human condition -- or worse, salvaging some small redemption from the ashes; even a patch of Brussels sprouts was obliged to shoulder the burden of human hope. But there's little redemption in these photographs, and therein lies their power. (The new edition also loses Killip's own introduction, where he describes his work as "a fiction about metaphor" -- a scrupulously unhelpful remark, as much of its time as Berger's essay. I have still no idea what he means. The work is not a fiction, nor is it concerned with metaphor, if either of these words are to be conventionally defined.)

Helen and Hula Hoop, Seacoal Beach, Lynemouth, Northumberland

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January 2, 2016

Kyung-Sook Shin in Seoul of 1980, 1990.

SINCE the Korean War, Western writing on Korea has focused mostly on the contrast between North and South. But the past sixty years include a number of heartbreaking and overlooked stories of the South, a poor agrarian state that quickly transformed into an industrial powerhouse, and a dictatorial "democracy" that evolved into a sound republic.

Kyung-Sook Shin.jpg

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January 28, 2015

Heinlein's great talent for extrapolation

Heinlein's books in his right-wing phase hardly add up to a logical worldview. How do we reconcile the savage authoritarianism of Starship Troopers with the peace-and-love mysticism of Stranger in a Strange Land? For that matter, how do those two books jibe to the nearly anarchist libertarianism of the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? On a more practical plain, how could Heinlein have called for both limited government and a NASA committed to colonizing space (surely a big government program if there ever was one)? TANSTAAFL went out the window when a space or military program caught Heinlein's fancy.

But all these books share one trait: They ignore the consequences of people's actions. Starship Troopers gives us war without PTSD and guilt over slaughter (the aliens are Bugs, so can be exterminated without remorse) just as Stranger in a Strange Land is a vision of sex without strings ("grokking" means never having to say sorry). In other books, Heinlein gave us incest without trauma.

January 23, 2015

Murakami pattern

When you read a Murakami you know it's going to contain the following list.

- Obscure Jazz references
- At least one bar scene where he can show off his knowledge of cocktails.
- A bizarre sex scene/ or imagined fantasy
- A character obsessed with fitness
- A protagonist in a middle management job with no aspirations
- A female love interest who apparently is never 'objectively' attractive but has some feature or nuance that attracts the protagonist.
- Central Tokyo but protagonist will leave to the country in search of an epiphany
- Unhealthy attention to cigarette brands

March 11, 2014

Metropolismag Big-Data-Big-Questions

"The old city of concrete, glass, and steel now conceals a vast underworld of computers and software," writes Anthony M. Townsend in Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for the New Utopia (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013), perhaps the best book written on the phenomenon. "Not since the laying of water mains, sewage pipes, subway tracks, telephone lines, and electrical cables over a century ago have we installed such a vast and versatile new infrastructure for controlling the physical world."

January 24, 2014

journalists see value in journalism

"in the main journalists are convinced or easily persuaded that what they do is so good and important that someone should pay them to do it", but this is too broad a conviction to be persuasive to non-journalists. A more carefully argued version of what journalists feel would be that, when done well, institutionally produced news has distinctive, socially advantageous qualities. It can pull together large groups of people with diverse perspectives and interests into a shared public conversation. Jürgen Habermas has presented the rise of the press as having been essential to the creation of the public sphere, and newspapers are also central to Benedict Anderson's idea of nations as "imagined communities". Journalism can provide verified, impartial information about public affairs, rather than offering up a cacophony of opinion and conflicting claims as the internet often does. Reporters can surface and present to the public important material that otherwise would not be available, for example about the misdeeds of the powerful.

-- Nicholas Lemann

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November 4, 2013

Give it away, Give it away, Give it away, Give it away now

So I'm writing this not only in the hope that everyone will cross me off the list of writers to hit up for free content but, more important, to make a plea to my younger colleagues. As an older, more accomplished, equally unsuccessful artist, I beseech you, don't give it away. As a matter of principle. Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn't be professionally or socially acceptable -- it isn't right -- for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.

Here, for public use, is my very own template for a response to people who offer to let me write something for them for nothing:

Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I'm flattered by your invitation to [do whatever it is they want you to do for nothing]. But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it's how I make my living, and in this economy I can't afford to do it for free. I'm sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.

Feel free to amend as necessary. This I'm willing to give away.

Tim Kreider is the author.

Next: Gary Vaynerchuk's Jab jab jab jab, right hook.

November 1, 2013

David Ogilvy: How to Write

Original "Mad Man" David Ogilvy. On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled "How to Write" and found in the 1986 gem The Unpublished David Ogilvy (book):

People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally.

5. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

6. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

7. Check your quotations.

8. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning -- and then edit it.

9. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

10. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

If you want ACTION, don't write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

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..

May 27, 2013

Triumph of the Educated City

Like many Rust Belt cities, it is a captive of its rich manufacturing past, when well-paying jobs were plentiful and landing one without a college degree was easy.

Educational attainment lagged as a result, even as it became more critical to success in the national economy. "We were so wealthy for so long that we got complacent," said Jane L. Dockery, associate director of the Center for Urban and Public Affairs at Wright State University here. "We saw the writing on the wall, but we didn't act."

Dayton sits on one side of a growing divide among American cities, in which a small number of metro areas vacuum up a large number of college graduates, and the rest struggle to keep those they have.

The winners are metro areas like Raleigh, N.C., San Francisco and Stamford, Conn., where more than 40 percent of the adult residents have college degrees. The Raleigh area has a booming technology sector and several major research universities; San Francisco has been a magnet for college graduates for decades; and metropolitan Stamford draws highly educated workers from white-collar professions in New York like finance.

Metro areas like Bakersfield, Calif., Lakeland, Fla., and Youngstown, Ohio, where less than a fifth of the adult residents have college degrees, are being left behind. The divide shows signs of widening as college graduates gravitate to places with many other college graduates and the atmosphere that creates.

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May 23, 2013

Lybrido and Lybridos

Consider the lengths to which health scientists go to try to understand the workings of female desire: Using a laboratory gadget that measures vaginal blood flow while women watch varieties of pornography. Having women wear headgear that tracks the precise movement of their pupils, hundreds of times per second, as they gaze at X-rated images.

Studying female hamsters and even arachnids mating as a way to glean insight into women's sexual psyches. Wiring women's necks and forearms to what they are told is a polygraph machine while they fill out surveys about their sex lives, their answers then compared with those of women who aren't wired up -- and compared in turn with the responses of men. These are all attempts to see around or beneath the societal messages and cultural influences that may distort women's sexuality and constrain its expression, even in our seemingly unconstrained times. (Yes, the lie detector had a much bigger effect on the women than the men, greatly increasing the number of partners women said they'd had sex with.)


Serotonin is a molecule of self-control. It instills calm, stability, coherence (and, too, a sense of well-being, which is why S.S.R.I.'s, by bathing the brain in serotonin, can counter depression). Roughly speaking, dopamine is impulse; serotonin is inhibition and organization. And in sexuality, as in other emotional realms, the two have to work in balance. If dopamine is far too dominant, craving can splinter into attentional chaos. If serotonin overwhelms, the rational can displace the randy.

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May 19, 2013

Foodie = well fed hipster

It used to be that human ingenuity was valued in the kitchen. Now, what matters more is chefs' knowing the right producers and buying the right products. Culinary excellence can no longer be achieved simply by learning the right technique; it can be acquired only by knowing the right things to buy--and by, it needs hardly be said, shelling out however much money it takes to buy them. In this way, modern foodies' materialistic definition of refinement is more exclusive than that of yesteryear's dogmatic French cooking. What appears to be a celebration of the natural and the simple is in fact more constrictive and less attainable, because it depends not on talent but on means and access.

Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America by Alison Pearlman. University of Chicago Press.

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April 16, 2013

Quant Start Quantitative-Finance-Reading-List

List by Michael Halls-Moore of

General Quant Finance Reading (Michael Lewis, Roger Lowenstein, Emanuel Derman).
Interview Preparation (Paul Wilmott, Mark Joshi)
Quantitative Trading ( Sheldon Natenberg, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Barry Johnson, Euan Sinclair)
Mathematical Finance / financial engineering (John Hull, Salih Neftci)
Interest Rate Derivatives (Damiano Brigo, Fabio Mercurio)
C++ (Scott Meyers )
Python (Mark Lutz)
MATLAB ( Paolo Brandimarte)
R (Phil Spector, Norman Matloff, Paul Murrell)
Excel/VBA (Fabrice Douglas Rouah, Gregory Vainberg)

Quantstart's Quantitative-Finance-Reading-List

March 27, 2013

Clean as I've been

In the flowering of modernism between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second, architects forged a stainless-steel connection between housing and health. Victorian homes were a nightmare to them, a cesspit at any level of society: they were dark and stuffy; they were filled with carpets and hangings and ornate picture frames that harbored dirt and were difficult to clean; their primitive plumbing made it hard to bathe.

See Light, Air and Openness: Modern Architecture Between the Wars
By Paul Overy, reviewed by Edwin Heathcote.

The early modernists wanted to wash away this squalor with an ocean of shining chrome, tile and white plaster. Dirt-hoarding fabrics with grime-concealing patterns would be consigned to the efficient rubbish chutes. Furniture would be made from wipe-clean leather and steel. Generous windows and electric light would expose every speck of dirt. In "Light, Air and Openness," the architectural historian Paul Overy showed how the early modernists were obsessed with healthful living and influenced by the design of sanitariums.

The better home would lead to better people. Love of purity, in the words of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, "leads to the joy of life: the pursuit of perfection." He was far from the first to tie minimalist hygiene in the home to moral purity. Adolf Loos famously connected decoration with degeneracy in his 1908 essay "Ornament and Crime." A person's soul could be cleansed only when his domestic surroundings were purged: "Soon the streets of the town will shine like white walls. ... Then fulfillment shall be ours."

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March 17, 2013

Afirmative action 2

WHAT'S more important to how your life turns out: the prestige of the school you attend or how much you learn while you're there? Does the answer to this question change if you are the recipient of affirmative action?

From school admissions to hiring, affirmative action policies attempt to compensate for this country's brutal history of racial discrimination by giving some minority applicants a leg up. This spring the Supreme Court will decide the latest affirmative action case, weighing in on the issue for the first time in 10 years.

Scholars began referring to this theory as "mismatch." It's the idea that affirmative action can harm those it's supposed to help by placing them at schools in which they fall below the median level of ability and therefore have a tough time. As a consequence, the argument goes, these students suffer learningwise and, later, careerwise. To be clear, mismatch theory does not allege that minority students should not attend elite universities. Far from it. But it does say that students -- minority or otherwise -- do not automatically benefit from attending a school that they enter with academic qualifications well below the median level of their classmates.

Data presented a plausible opportunity to gauge mismatch. The fact that 689 black students got into their first-choice law school meant that all 689 were similar in at least that one regard (though possibly dissimilar in many other ways). If mismatch theory held any water, then the 177 students who voluntarily opted for their second-choice school -- and were therefore theoretically better "matched" -- could be expected, on average, to have better outcomes on the bar exam than their peers who chose the more elite school. Mr. Sander's analysis of the B.P.S. data found that 21 percent of the black students who went to their second-choice schools failed the bar on their first attempt, compared with 34 percent of those who went to their first choice.

The experiment is far from ideal. Mismatch opponents argue that there are many unobservable differences between second-choice and first-choice students and that those differences, because they're unknown, cannot be accounted for in a formula. In the case of the B.P.S. data, maybe the second-choice students tended to have undergraduate majors that made them particularly well suited to flourish in the classroom and on the bar, regardless of which law school they attended. "All this work on mismatch assumes you know enough to write an algebraic expression that captures what's really going on," says Richard A. Berk, a professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Here, there's so much we don't know. Besides, the LSAT is a very imperfect measure of performance in law school and thereafter, as is the bar exam."

Daniel E. Ho, a law professor at Stanford, also disputes the mismatch hypothesis. In a response to Mr. Sander's 2005 law review article, Mr. Ho wrote in the Yale Law Journal that "black law students who are similarly qualified when applying to law school perform equally well on the bar irrespective of what tier school they attend."

Continue reading "Afirmative action 2" »

March 10, 2013

Life After Work -- Erin Callan

AT an office party in 2005, one of my colleagues asked my then husband what I did on weekends. She knew me as someone with great intensity and energy. "Does she kayak, go rock climbing and then run a half marathon?" she joked. No, he answered simply, "she sleeps." And that was true. When I wasn't catching up on work, I spent my weekends recharging my batteries for the coming week. Work always came first, before my family, friends and marriage -- which ended just a few years later.

In recent weeks I have been following with interest the escalating debate about work-life balance and the varying positions of Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and the academic Anne-Marie Slaughter, among others. Since I resigned my position as chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers in 2008, amid mounting chaos and a cloud of public humiliation only months before the company went bankrupt, I have had ample time to reflect on the decisions I made in balancing (or failing to balance) my job with the rest of my life. The fact that I call it "the rest of my life" gives you an indication where work stood in the pecking order.

-- Erin Callan, former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers

March 5, 2013

Barnes & Noble did it all for the Nookie

In the call with analysts, Mr. Lynch was pressed on whether Barnes & Noble's digital content was really proprietary. Mr. Lynch acknowledged that what the bookseller possessed was the ability to sell publishers' content, but he insisted that it was "a strategic asset that is hard to replicate."

Wall Street seemed heartened by the company's acknowledgment that it needed to recalibrate its device business, perhaps anticipating that it would accelerate a breakup of the device and retail units. Shares of Barnes & Noble rose 3.35 percent, to close at $15.74.

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March 1, 2013

Love Hunters 1

Ms. Yang Jing, 28, is one of China's premier love hunters, a new breed of matchmaker that has proliferated in the country's economic boom. The company she works for, Diamond Love and Marriage, caters to China's nouveaux riches: men, and occasionally women, willing to pay tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outsource the search for their ideal spouse.


In Joy City, Ms. Yang gave instructions to her eight-scout team, one of six squads the company was deploying in three cities for one Shanghai millionaire. This client had provided a list of requirements for his future wife, including her age (22 to 26), skin color ("white as porcelain") and sexual history (yes, a virgin).

"These millionaires are very picky, you know?" Ms. Yang said. "Nobody can ever be perfect enough." Still, the potential reward for Ms. Yang is huge: The love hunter who finds the client's eventual choice will receive a bonus of more than $30,000, around five times the average annual salary in this line of work.

In one case, Ms. Yu's migrant son reluctantly agreed to allow his aging mother to make the search for his future wife her all-consuming mission. In the other, Ms. Yang's richest client at Diamond Love deployed dozens of love hunters to find the most exquisite fair-skinned beauty in the land, even as he fretted about being conned by a bai jin nu, or gold digger.

Mr. Big, as I'll call him -- he insisted that Diamond Love not reveal his name -- is a member of China's fuyidai, the "first-generation rich" who have leapt from poverty to extreme wealth in a single bound, often jettisoning their first wives in the process. Diamond Love's clientele also includes many fuerdai, or "second-generation-rich," men and women in their 20s and 30s whose search is often bankrolled by wealthy parents keen on exerting control over their marital choices as well as the family inheritance.

But fuyidai like Mr. Big are accustomed to being the boss and can be the most uncompromising clients.

Mr. Big had an excruciatingly specific requirement for his second wife. The ideal woman, he said, would look like a younger replica of Zhou Tao, a famous Chinese television host: slim with pure white skin, slightly pointed chin, perfect teeth, double eyelids and long silken hair. To ensure her good character and fortune, he insisted that her wuguan -- a feng shui-like reading of the sense organs on the face -- show perfect harmony.

"When clients start out, all they want is beauty -- how tall, how white, how thin," Ms. Yang said. "Sometimes the person they're looking for doesn't exist in nature. Even if we find her, these clients often have no idea whether that would make their hearts feel settled. It's our job to try to move them from fantasy toward reality."

Continue reading "Love Hunters 1" »

February 22, 2013

Cyberspace is dead to me - Michael Lind / Salon

the concept of "cyberspace." The term was coined by William Gibson in his novel "Neuromancer" and defined as "a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system ..." As a metaphor that borrows imagery from geography, cyberspace is no different in kind from, say, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. But while nobody thinks that governments are invading Kennedy's New Frontier, or commercializing Kennedy's New Frontier, techno-anarchists on the right or left are constantly complaining that "cyberspace" is being "colonized" by government, business or both.

That's what makes it necessary to state what ought to be obvious: There is no such place as cyberspace. It is not a parallel universe, coexisting with our world but in a different dimension. It is just a bad metaphor that has outlived its usefulness. Using the imagery of a fictitious country makes it harder to have rational arguments about government regulation or commercial exploitation of modern information and communications technologies.

Let's start with government and cyberspace. Most Internet activity takes place in particular territories governed by states. The users of the equipment, as well as the infrastructure of servers, wireless towers, and so on, apart from satellites, are physical entities located in sovereign states. Maybe jihadists in the lawless "tribal" regions of Pakistan are effectively beyond the power of sovereign states. But individuals sitting at their PCs in, say, California are subject to the jurisdiction of the state of California and the United States of America. They may claim to be "citizens of cyberspace," but that is a joke -- the equivalent of presenting a customs officer at an international airport with a passport from the Kingdom of Oz.

So it makes no sense to say that California and the U.S. are extending their jurisdiction "into" cyberspace. Cyberspace is not the equivalent of land that has suddenly arisen off the coast and has yet to be claimed effectively by any existing nation-state. The countries of the world already have jurisdiction over all of the activity that goes on within their recognized international borders. How they exercise that authority can and should be debated. A liberal regime will pass legislative safeguards against government misuse of data and communications and will generally take a light hand, when it comes to regulation and taxation, in the interest of personal freedom and ease of commerce. But the fact that bad states may abuse the power to regulate telecommunications does not mean that benign states lack, or should lack, that power.

Michael Lind / Salon

February 20, 2013

Banksy was Robin Banx

Banksy observed: "I've learnt from experience that a painting isn't finished when you put down your brush -- that's when it starts. The public reaction is what supplies meaning and value. Art comes alive in the arguments you have about it."

Some are out-and-out sight gags -- giant scissors with cut-here dotted lines stenciled on a wall. Some are doctored works, replacing the Mona Lisa's famous visage with a yellow smiley face or flinging some shopping carts into one of Monet's tranquil water gardens. And some are oddly philosophical meditations: showing a leopard escaping from a bar-code zoo cage, or a woman hanging up a zebra's stripes to dry on a laundry line. What they have in common is a coy playfulness -- a desire to goad viewers into rethinking their surroundings, to acknowledge the absurdities of closely held preconceptions.

Over the years Banksy has tried to maintain his anonymity. He has argued that he needs to hide his real identity because of the illegal nature of graffiti -- that he "has issues with the cops," that authenticating a street piece could be like "a signed confession." But as obscurity has given way to fame and his works have become coveted -- and costly -- collectors' pieces, critics have increasingly pointed out that Banksy has used anonymity as a marketing device, as another tool in his arsenal of publicity high jinks to burnish his own mystique.

The journalist Will Ellsworth-Jones's new book, "Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall," examines the conundrums behind Banksy and the growing Banksy brand, the paradoxes involved in an outsider trying to hold onto his street cred while becoming an art world insider, and artworks that question the capitalist ethos becoming highly coveted commodities themselves.

Mr. Ellsworth-Jones, who was chief reporter and New York correspondent for The Sunday Times in Britain, writes as a reporter, not an art critic. Although his book does not do a terribly fluent job of conveying the magic of Banksy's work (or an understanding of its iconography, its references or its place in a historical context of engagé art), it does pull together a lot of information about Banksy and his work from interviews with colleagues and former associates, from earlier books and from various online and print articles. It also provides an intriguing account of the making of the acclaimed Banksy film "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (which some regard as a documentary and others see as another Banksy stunt) and efforts by Banksy and his team to control and shape the mythology around him.Banksy observed: "I've learnt from experience that a painting isn't finished when you put down your brush -- that's when it starts. The public reaction is what supplies meaning and value. Art comes alive in the arguments you have about it."

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December 29, 2012

Why more talk of excesses that inadequacies ?

The most outrageous aspects of the show -- its copious nudity, grinding simulations, exceptionally blue language -- tend to overshadow both its social importance and the sweet, rather innocent messages about sex at its core. The revue ran during a time when ideologies from the 1960s sexual revolution were being absorbed into the American mainstream: second-wave feminism and the post-Stonewall gay rights movement both were in full swing.

The sexual revolution, women's liberation and gay activism were all enormously complicated, influential, interconnected movements that meant countless different things to as many different people. Reactions to the changing times ran the gamut from sheer joy on one hand to confusion, anger, and fear on the other.

A friendly, inclusive show like "My People" proved just the ticket for the time. Audiences likely came to the Village Gate to ogle naked actors and guffaw at crude sex jokes, but the show ended up offering much more: surprisingly touching songs and sketches about intimacy, women's rights, gay life, lesbian love, all presented as fun, healthy and just not that big a deal. The show could be enjoyed by those who had unflinchingly embraced the era of sexual liberation, but it proved just as appealing to the many spectators who were tentative -- shyer, conservative, confused -- and yet eager to learn, at a safe distance, what all the fuss was about.

The excesses might have died away, but the 1970s left us with lasting, meaningful change: more rights for women; a better understanding of sexuality; enormous strides in the struggle for gay and lesbian civil rights.

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December 10, 2012

Overdramatize the work of lexicographers ?

While the creators of dictionaries could certainly do a better job explaining to the public what it is they do, I have a feeling that news outlets looking to drum up outrage will continue to overdramatize the work of lexicographers. There is a ready-made audience out there for such stories, no doubt because language is something with which we are all deeply engaged. But the language-loving public deserves to know that dictionaries are not made by cloak-and-dagger cabals full of deep, dark secrets. Don't misjudge the harmless drudge.

Ben Zimmer, a former On Language columnist for The New York Times Magazine, is the executive producer of and

November 22, 2012

Survival rates are higher when measured earlier

Survival rates always go up with early diagnosis: people who get a diagnosis earlier in life will live longer with their diagnosis, even if it doesn't change their time of death by one iota.

-- H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health."

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October 25, 2012

Mandelbrot, "The Fractalist"

"I realized that mathematics cut off from the mysteries of the real world was not for me, so I took a different path," he writes. He wanted to play with what he calls "questions once reserved for poets and children."

He prized roughness and complication. "Think of color, pitch, loudness, heaviness and hotness," he once said. "Each is the topic of a branch of physics." He dedicated his life to studying roughness and irregularity through geometry, applying what he learned to biology, physics, finance and many other fields.

He was never easy to pin down. He hopscotched so frequently among disciplines and institutions -- I.B.M., Yale, Harvard -- that in his new memoir, "The Fractalist," he rather plaintively asks, "So where do I really belong?" The answer is: nearly everywhere.

As "The Fractalist" makes plain, Mandelbrot led a zigzag sort of life, rarely remaining in one place for long. He was born in Warsaw to a middle-class Lithuanian Jewish family that prized intellectual achievement. His mother was a dentist; his father worked in the clothing business. Both loved knowledge and ideas, and their relatives included many fiercely brainy men.

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October 14, 2012


Fairness also dictates that the length of a line should be commensurate with the value of the product or service for which we're waiting. The more valuable it is, the longer one is willing to wait for it. Hence the supermarket express line, a rare, socially sanctioned violation of first come first served, based on the assumption that no reasonable person thinks a child buying a candy bar should wait behind an old man stocking up on provisions for the Mayan apocalypse.

Surveys show that many people will wait twice as long for fast food, provided the establishment uses a first-come-first-served, single-queue ordering system as opposed to a multi-queue setup. Anyone who's ever had to choose a line at a grocery store knows how unfair multiple queues can seem; invariably, you wind up kicking yourself for not choosing the line next to you moving twice as fast.

Alex Stone is the author of "Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks and the Hidden Powers of the Mind."

October 11, 2012

Fitness first

Research that does tease apart weight and fitness -- like a series of studies conducted by Steven Blair at the Cooper Institute in Dallas -- shows that being fat and fit is better, healthwise, than being thin and unfit. Regular aerobic exercise may not lead to weight loss, but it does reduce fat in the liver, where it may do the most metabolic damage, according to a recent study at the University of Sydney.

"More often than not, cardiovascular fitness is a far more important predictor of mortality risk than just knowing what you weigh," said Glenn Gaesser, author of "Big Fat Lies" and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University.

-- Harriet Brown, author, "Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia."

October 8, 2012

Democrats and Republicans speak up to their donorbase

For rich Republicans, the stereotype is all about the money: They have it, other Americans don't, and those resentful, entitled others might just have enough votes to wage class warfare and redistribute the donors' hard-earned millions to the indolent and irresponsible.

For rich Democrats, the stereotype is all about the culture wars: They think they've built an enlightened society, liberated from archaic beliefs and antique hang-ups, and yet these Jesus freaks in flyover country are mobilizing to restore the patriarchy.

Both groups of donors seem to be haunted by dystopian scenarios in which the masses rise up and tear down everything the upper class has built. For Republicans, the dystopia is (inevitably) "Atlas Shrugged." For liberals, it's one part "Turner Diaries," one part "Handmaid's Tale."

Both the right and left have provocative intellectual takes on how this new world came to be: Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" and Chris Hayes's "Twilight of the Elites," respectively, are this year's prime examples. But both takes are longer on description than prescription, and neither has much purchase on our politics.

--- Ross Douthat, the NY Times' abortion columnist tag teams Lord Saletan.

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October 7, 2012

Scientific eating

Nutritional recommendations were born at the end of the 19th century with the discovery that humans need 20 calories per pound of weight each day; 55 to 65 percent of this energy intake ought to come from carbohydrates, a quarter from fats and something over 10 percent from proteins.

These guidelines did not emerge only from scientific inquiry but also from a desire to maximize efficiency. In 1888, the American chemist Wilbur O. Atwater devised a series of formulas that would help people get the most energy from the least food. Economics and physiology would be joined in what he called "the pecuniary economy of food." Atwater pioneered a movement that came to be known as "scientific eating."

The notion appealed to French physicians, who had been looking for ways to improve working-class health and budgets. They believed that these households spent too much on meat and alcohol. Their program of "rational eating" aimed to instruct the poor to keep food expenses within the limits of their (modest) budgets. They urged the substitution of protein-rich legumes for red meat, pasta for sausages, and sugared beverages for wine.

Martin Bruegel, historian at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, is the editor of "A Cultural History of Food in the Age of Empire."

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September 27, 2012


"Almost" mollifies certainty. In butcher's language, it tenderizes certainty. It is anti-certainty, anti-conviction and, by definition therefore, anti-omniscience. Authors use "almost" to avoid stating an outright fact, as though there were something inauthentic, dishonest, unfinished, undecided or even unwholesome -- some might say repulsive, tacky, snub-nosed, too direct -- in qualifying anything as definitely a this or a that.

André Aciman, author, most recently, of "Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere." He teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center and is the director of the Writers' Institute.

September 24, 2012

Joe the Peacock embraces the outcast life

We all went to school and hated everyone because they didn't understand us. We dealt with the bullying and the isolation and the feeling that we were the weird ones. You want to know what's weird? Spending hundreds of dollars on clothes and shoes and purses that everyone else thinks is cool. Spending hours of your life doing things that everyone else is doing because it's cool. Liking the bands that everyone else likes because you're a loser if you don't.

You want to know what's weird? Hiding who you are just to have the company of people you don't even like.That's weird.

September 12, 2012

Dan Ariely "The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty."

One of the themes of Dan Ariely's new book "The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty." Nearly everybody cheats, but usually only a little. Ariely and his colleagues gave thousands of people 20 number problems. When they tackled the problems and handed in the answer sheet, people got an average of four correct responses. When they tackled the problems, shredded their answers sheets and self-reported the scores, they told the researches they got six correct responses. They cheated a little, but not a lot.

That's because most of us think we are pretty wonderful. We can cheat a little and still keep that "good person" identity. Most people won't cheat so much that it makes it harder to feel good about themselves.

Ariely, who is one of the most creative social scientists on the planet, invented other tests to illustrate this phenomenon. He put cans of Coke and plates with dollar bills in the kitchens of college dorms. People walked away with the Cokes, but not the dollar bills, which would have felt more like stealing.

September 11, 2012

Amazon 2011

New features abound, of course, but they're the sort that university teachers and other white-collar workers know all too well: ways of doing more with less, by making workers (or customers) handle the routine chores that used to be done for them. Nowadays you can tag a given "product" for Amazon so that it knows what you think of a book; if you want, you can even study a tag cloud that lists and ranks the most popular customer tags, so that you'll do a better job of tagging for the company. You can enter a customer discussion or post a review.

And, of course, whenever you buy a book, you help Amazon not only gauge the book's popularity, but also identify the other books that you have bought as well. It's an efficient, thoroughly commercial counterpart to the old information system. The simple, elegant Web page that once showered discriminating customers with information now invites the consumer to provide information of every sort for Amazon to digest and profit from.

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July 2, 2012

Computers are speaking

In today's world, we have delegated many of our daily decisions to computers. On the drive to work, a GPS device suggests the best route; at your desk, Microsoft Word guesses at your misspellings, and Facebook recommends new friends. In the past few years, the suggestion has been made that when computers make such choices they are "speaking," and enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.

The argument that machines speak was first made in the context of Internet search. In 2003, in a civil suit brought by a firm dissatisfied with the ranking of Google's search results, Google asserted that its search results were constitutionally protected speech. (In an unpublished opinion, the court ruled in Google's favor.) And this year, facing increasing federal scrutiny, Google commissioned Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, to draft a much broader and more elaborate version of the same argument. As Professor Volokh declares in his paper: "Google, Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo! Search, and other search engines are speakers."

-- Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia, is the author of "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires."

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May 24, 2012

Thinking about science

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" 50 years ago, Thomas Kuhn spent virtually the rest of his career defending -- often in vain -- its key ideas. At least, this is the story David Weinberger tells in an article on Kuhn at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Perhaps the most vexing problem Kuhn faced, according to Weinberger, is how to account for scientific progress, when concepts like paradigm shift and incommensurability seem to suggest that "progress" is at best problematic, or worse, impossible. Weinberger attributes much of the trouble to Kuhn's distaste for a straightforward correspondance theory of truth, and thinks abandoning one concept of truth means "we need another idea of what truth is and how we can ascertain if we're progressing closer to it."

May 4, 2012

Avent, Glaeser and Yggls go urban

Cities are really important, as engines of the broad economy via industrial clustering, as enablers of efficiency-enhancing specialization and trade, as sources of customers to whom each of us might sell services. Contrary to many predictions, technological change seems to be making human density more rather than less important to prosperity in the developed world. Commerce intermediated at a distance via material goods has become the province of cheap workers in distant lands, and will very soon be delegated to robots. The value of human work is increasingly in collaborative information production and direct personal services, all of which benefit from the proximity of diverse multitudes.

-- and Avent, Glaeser and Yglesias

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April 21, 2012

Essence of unfogged

Possibly over the weekend I will write something long about Jonathan Haidt and (a) how his now six-axis system of morality is still missing something (something like honesty, integrity, or intellectual coherence) (b) how he's irritating the crap out of me (c) why conservatives generally are bad people along this missing axis (and how this explains Republican hostility to science); and (d) why this explains Graeber's hissy-fit, and arguments about 'tone' generally.

Posted by: LizardBreath | 04- 5-12 9:17 AM

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April 2, 2012

Google and Facebook, the new gatekeepers

Companies that make use of these algorithms must take this curative responsibility far more seriously than they have to date. They need to give us control over what we see -- making it clear when they are personalizing, and allowing us to shape and adjust our own filters. We citizens need to uphold our end, too -- developing the "filter literacy" needed to use these tools well and demanding content that broadens our horizons even when it's uncomfortable.

Then came the Internet, which made it possible to communicate with millions of people at little or no cost. Suddenly anyone with an Internet connection could share ideas with the whole world. A new era of democratized news media dawned.

You may have heard that story before -- maybe from the conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds (blogging is "technology undermining the gatekeepers") or the progressive blogger Markos Moulitsas (his book is called "Crashing the Gate"). It's a beautiful story about the revolutionary power of the medium, and as an early practitioner of online politics, I told it to describe what we did at But I'm increasingly convinced that we've got the ending wrong -- perhaps dangerously wrong. There is a new group of gatekeepers in town, and this time, they're not people, they're code.

Today's Internet giants -- Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft -- see the remarkable rise of available information as an opportunity. If they can provide services that sift though the data and supply us with the most personally relevant and appealing results, they'll get the most users and the most ad views. As a result, they're racing to offer personalized filters that show us the Internet that they think we want to see. These filters, in effect, control and limit the information that reaches our screens.

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February 1, 2012

Gamification is superficial

Game techniques, Mr. Duggan says, prompt consumers to spend more time on company Web sites, contribute more content and share more product information with Facebook and Twitter adherents. One of his clients, he says, uses a gamification program to collect information about 300 actions -- like posting comments or sharing with a social network -- performed by several million people.

But critics say the risk of gamification is that it omits the deepest elements of games -- like skill, mastery and risk-taking -- even as it promotes the most superficial trappings, like points, in an effort to manipulate people.

Ian Bogost, a professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, refers to the programs as "exploitationware." Consumers might be less eager to sign up, he argues, if they understood that some programs have less in common with real games than with, say, spyware.

"Why not call it a new kind of analytics?" says Professor Bogost, a founding partner at Persuasive Games, a firm that designs video games for education and activism. "Companies could say, 'Well, we are offering you a new program in which we watch your every move and make decisions about our advertising based on the things we see you do.' "

Gamification may not sound novel to members of frequent-flier or hotel loyalty programs who have strategized for years about ways to game extra points. But those kinds of membership programs offer concrete rewards like upgrades, free flights or free hotel stays. What's new about gamification is its goal of motivating people with virtual awards, like a mayoralty on FourSquare, that have little or no monetary value.

What would Amy Jo Kim or Justin Hall have said ?

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September 23, 2011

Optimal number and locations of fire stations, by RAND

Take the 1968 decision by New York Mayor John V. Lindsay to hire the RAND Corporation to streamline city management through computer models. It built models for the Fire Department to predict where fires were likely to break out, and to decrease response times when they did. But, as the author Joe Flood details in his book "The Fires," thanks to faulty data and flawed assumptions -- not a lack of processing power -- the models recommended replacing busy fire companies across Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx with much smaller ones.

What RAND could not predict was that, as a result, roughly 600,000 people in the poorest sections of the city would lose their homes to fire over the next decade. Given the amount of money and faith the city had put into its models, it's no surprise that instead of admitting their flaws, city planners bent reality to fit their models -- ignoring traffic conditions, fire companies' battling multiple blazes and any outliers in their data.

The final straw was politics, the very thing the project was meant to avoid. RAND's analysts recognized that wealthy neighborhoods would never stand for a loss of service, so they were placed off limits, forcing poor ones to compete among themselves for scarce resources. What was sold as a model of efficiency and a mirror to reality was crippled by the biases of its creators, and no supercomputer could correct for that.

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August 13, 2011

Age of Greed ? Jeff Madrick

If the greed of Boesky or Weill is unsurprising, the lack of greed evinced by some of Madrick's characters is striking. Paul Volcker, the Fed chairman whom Madrick eccentrically berates for his determined fight against inflation, was known to be frugal; John Reed, Citigroup's boss during the 1990s, was by Madrick's own account "thoughtful and unflashy." Reagan himself was more enthusiastic about self-reliance and hard work than about material advancement, remarking that "free enterprise is not a hunting license." Early in his career, Walter Wriston, Reed's predecessor at Citi and perhaps the character whom Madrick conjures most successfully, was offered a salary of $1 million to move to Monaco and work for Aristotle Onassis. He chose to remain in a middle-income housing project in Stuyvesant Village.

Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present

Sebastian Mallaby -- the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of "More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite."

Why We Deregulated the Banks
Published: July 29, 2011
Jeff Madrick traces the regulatory and cultural changes that led to America's current financial trouble.

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July 30, 2011

Amazon prices change

Prices at Amazon change, often.


July 29, 2011

Mike Mayo's Exile on Wall Street

"Look, if you can't compete in the major leagues for over a decade, it's time to go back to the minors," said the always outspoken Mike Mayo, an analyst with CLSA. His chronicle of ruffling bank management feathers, "Exile on Wall Street" (Wiley), will be published in the fall.

JPMorgan Chase is as well managed as any gargantuan bank can be. But if you look at its businesses, it's hard to see any area where it is clearly the best, something even its own executives concede. Not in credit cards, where the premier name is American Express. Not in money management, where you might offer up T. Rowe Price. Investment banking -- Goldman Sachs (the last quarter notwithstanding). Back-office transactions, State Street.

Yet even JPMorgan is merely trading at book value. Put another way, the market regards the value that JPMorgan provides as a financial services conglomerate as zilch. How well do all of JPMorgan's divisions work together? In presentations to investors, JPMorgan executives show how much revenue they gain from existing clients. But these measures are hardly unbiased. Executives have an incentive to defend their empires. Who is to say that a certain division of JPMorgan wouldn't have won that business anyway? And nobody measures how much a bank loses through conflicts of interest.

Making a nuanced argument, John Hempton, a blogger, investor and former regulator in Australia, says that it's better for shareholders -- and societies -- to have large banks with lots of market power. That makes them more profitable and leads them to take less risk, making them safer and more enticing for investors.

July 24, 2011

Credit due in South America

South American countries -- including Chile and Brazil, two of the region's healthiest economies -- are going through growing pains as the use of credit grows. The credit-fueled spending has driven extensive economic growth. But it has also opened the door to abuses, as credit issuers have used predatory techniques to lure customers, particularly young and less affluent ones, in countries where regulation is scant, annual interest charges can top 220 percent and consumers cannot seek bankruptcy protection, economists and consumer defense groups say.

"They are learning every trick that was learned in the United States to make credit cards the most valuable part of the banking business," said Lewis Mandell, a professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who wrote a book on the history of the credit card industry. "And unfortunately, the problems this caused in the United States are likely to repeat themselves in Latin America."

July 6, 2011

Gingrich lead

Once again America faced a crossroads, though the word itself wasn't used. "There is virtually no middle ground," Gingrich wrote. He later concluded: "To renew or to decay. At no time in the history of our great nation has the choice been clearer." To avert disaster, Gingrich had no choice but to present many numbered lists. In addition to the Six Challenges Facing America -- similar to the challenges we faced 11 years before -- and the "five basic principles that I believe form the heart of our civilization," there were the five forces moving us toward worldwide medicine, a seven-step program to reduce drug use, the nine steps we can take immediately to advance the three revolutions in health care and more. The futurism was still there, too: "Honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020."

Meanwhile, his polemics had hardened. "For some psychological reason, liberals are antigun but not anti-violent criminal," was a typically dubious example. As a former professor (an unpublished one, at West Georgia College), Gingrich wrote about university leftism with all the bitterness of an ex-academic: "Most successful [alumni] get an annual letter saying, in effect, 'Please give us money so we can hire someone who despises your occupation and will teach your children to have contempt for you.' What is amazing is the overwhelming meekness of the alumni in accepting this hijacking of their alma mater."

This is sharp and funny and nearly true, but it's not a formulation designed to coax the undecided into agreement. "To Renew America" marks the moment that persuasion faded as a primary purpose of political talk and preaching to the choir took over. Having won at last, and confident that the future was safely in his pocket, Gingrich by 1995 no longer saw a reason to persuade anyone and didn't try. It's the victor's prerogative, but it doesn't give you practice in constructing arguments. And it's catching. Hence talk radio, and in a few years the blogs; hence Fox News and MSNBC.

Liberals may not have liked this new aggressive tone from conservatives, but they had it coming. At least since the Red Scare of the 1950s, mainstream institutions had viewed ideological conservatism with condescension or contempt, as either a joke or a personality disorder -- a series of "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas," in Lionel Trilling's excellent summary. Gingrich's rhetoric had the ferocity of a backlash. The liberal revulsion toward him obscured how unorthodox -- occasionally, how liberal -- his conservatism was. The books then and now are full of heresy. He showed a willingness to criticize other Republicans, even Reagan at the height of his popularity. He advocated a health tax on alcohol to discourage drinking -- social engineering, it's called -- and imagined government-issued credit cards that would allow citizens to order goods and services directly from the feds. He thought the government should run nutritional programs at grocery stores and give away some foodstuffs free. He was pushing cuts in the defense budget in 1984 and a prototype of President Obama's cash-for-clunkers program in 1995.

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May 30, 2011

Risk-reward ratio that applies to everyone else

In one recent study, researchers led by Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University primed participants to feel powerful by having them write about an incident in which they had control over others and then distribute lottery tickets to themselves and another study subject. These "high-powered" people were significantly less accurate in reading emotions from facial photographs than a comparison group of participants who were not primed in the same way. This and other experiments suggest that power can blind people to the emotions of those around them and lead to "objectifying others in a self-interested way," the authors concluded.

"If the person has this sense of superiority, and they've gotten away with these kinds of things before, they begin to think that the risk-reward ratio that applies to everyone else doesn't apply to them because they're so special," said Samuel Barondes, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of the forthcoming, "Making Sense of People." "It's hard for people who don't think that way about themselves to believe that anyone else really does. But they do."

The exception may be the sort of man who is so consumed with advancement that certain personality traits go unexamined or unexpressed along the way. Feelings of inadequacy, a longing for paths not taken, or a sense of gratification too long delayed can prompt the taking of one small risk, one awkward advance, and then another, therapists say. It's easy to ridicule such motives, and they do not justify the harm done to others when the chairman reaches for the cookie jar, or the thigh of a Congressional page. But they are motives nonetheless -- for sexual transgressions, if only rarely sexual deviance.

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May 1, 2011

Whited sepulchers

The influence of the King James Bible is so great that the list of idioms from it that have slipped into everyday speech, taking such deep root that we use them all the time without any awareness of their biblical origin, is practically endless: sour grapes; fatted calf; salt of the earth; drop in a bucket; skin of one's teeth; apple of one's eye; girded loins; feet of clay; whited sepulchers; filthy lucre; pearls before swine; fly in the ointment; fight the good fight; eat, drink and be merry.

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April 24, 2011

Americans do not want to be involved in politics

"Governing isn't, and shouldn't be, about party loyalty. It's about what's best for America."
Isn't this the mantra of Village thinking? Oh politics, when will you ever grow up?

Americans often complain about the operation of their government, but scholars have never developed a complete picture of people's preferred type of government. In this provocative and timely book, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, employing an original national survey and focus groups, report the governmental procedures Americans desire. Contrary to the prevailing view that people want greater involvement in politics, most citizens do not care about most policies and therefore are content to turn over decision-making authority to someone else. People's wish for the political system is that decision makers be empathetic and, especially, non-self-interested, not that they be responsive and accountable to the people's largely nonexistent policy preferences or, even worse, that the people be obligated to participate directly in decision making.

Stealth democracy: Americans' beliefs about how government should work
John R. Hibbing, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse

Continue reading "Americans do not want to be involved in politics" »

March 25, 2011

Learning a skill so well you don't think about it

When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move effortlessly and the whole process becomes unconscious. At this point, most people's typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it's strange. We've always been told that practice makes perfect, and yet many people sit behind a keyboard for hours a day. So why don't they just keeping getting better and better?

In the 1960s, the psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner tried to answer this question by describing the three stages of acquiring a new skill. During the first phase, known as the cognitive phase, we intellectualize the task and discover new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently. During the second, the associative phase, we concentrate less, making fewer major errors, and become more efficient. Finally we reach what Fitts and Posner called the autonomous phase, when we're as good as we need to be at the task and we basically run on autopilot. Most of the time that's a good thing. The less we have to focus on the repetitive tasks of everyday life, the more we can concentrate on the stuff that really matters. You can actually see this phase shift take place in f.M.R.I.'s of subjects as they learn new tasks: the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active, and other parts of the brain take over. You could call it the O.K. plateau.

Continue reading "Learning a skill so well you don't think about it" »

March 16, 2011

Ability to mask disappointment

Studies of emotional cognition in preschoolers have shown that the ability to mask disappointment is highly correlated with perceived social skill level. "Display rules," that is, accepted social guidelines dictating the expression of emotions, can be seen in use by children as young as three years old--children who don't yet fully understand the difference between authentic and fabricated emotions. Writers, who understand nothing if not the difference between authentic and fabricated emotions, are often shockingly bad at hiding their own disappointments. For example: begin talking about trying the writing life, about applying to MFA programs, and the first thing anyone who has gone through a writing program will tell you is, "Don't expect to get anything out of it." You'll be told that workshop is harsh (or else stupid), that creative writing teaching jobs are a figment of Jane Smiley's imagination, that James Franco is the only person in the country allowed to publish short stories anymore. You'll be assured, essentially, that putting pen to paper is bad business.

On Expectations (And A Writer's Lack Of Same)
by S.J. Culver on March 17th, 2011

March 14, 2011

Our interest is voyeuristic -- Nick Denton

"It's helpful when someone is a hypocrite, but we should have just said that our interest is voyeuristic. 'We did this story because we thought you would like it. We thought it was funny, so we thought you'd think it was funny, too.' And there was a tidal wave of traffic and attention."

-- Nick Denton at Gawker HQ on Elizabeth Street in Lower Manhattan early this year.

Continue reading "Our interest is voyeuristic -- Nick Denton" »

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.

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December 27, 2010

Intellectual capture of regulators

What one might call intellectual capture. While I would strongly argue that the FSA in my day did not favor firms unduly, it is perhaps true that we--and in this we were exactly like our American counterparts--were inclined to believe that markets were generally efficient. If willing buyers and willing sellers were trading claims happily, then, as long as they were "professional" investors, there was no legitimate reason to interfere in their markets. These people were "consenting adults in private," and the state should avert its gaze.
We now know that some of these market emperors had no clothes--and that their activities were far from benign: They could result in severe financial instability and generate serious losses for taxpayers, not to mention precipitate a global recession. That has been a grave lesson for regulators and central banks.

-- Howard Davies, former chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority and a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, is director of the London School of Economics. His latest book is Banking on the Future: The Fall and Rise of Central Banking.

August 6, 2010

Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy

In "Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy" (Princeton University, $26.95), Raghuram G. Rajan concludes that the financial crisis erupted "because in an integrated economy and in an integrated world, what is best for the individual actor or institution is not always best for the system."

Like geological fault lines, the fissures in the world economic system are more hidden and widespread than many realize, he says. And they are potentially more destructive than other, more obvious culprits, like greedy bankers, sleepy regulators and irresponsible borrowers.

Mr. Rajan, a finance professor at the University of Chicago and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, argues that the actions of these players (and others) unfolded on a larger worldwide stage, that was (and is) subject to the imperatives of political economies.

He cites three fault lines: domestic political stresses; trade imbalances among countries; and the tensions produced when financial systems with very different structures interact. All three came together to damage the financial sector in 2008, he says, and could meet again to cause another crisis.

Continue reading "Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy" »

August 5, 2010

Value pricing comint to text book market ?

(Known in economics as price discrimination or price differentiation)

"We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks" in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. "It seems to me we could put that all online for free."

The nonprofit Curriki fits into an ever-expanding list of organizations that seek to bring the blunt force of Internet economics to bear on the education market. Even the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.

"Today, we are engaged in a very different dialogue with our customers," says Wendy Colby, a senior vice president of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. "Our customers are asking us to look at different ways to experiment and to look at different value-based pricing models."

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August 1, 2010

More Money Than God, Sebastian Mallaby

Since the princes are nicer and more impressive, it is easy to be seduced into the belief that they also are more trustworthy. This is false. During the last few years, for example, the princes at Citigroup, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers behaved with incredible stupidity while the hedge fund loners often behaved with impressive restraint.

As Sebastian Mallaby shows in his superb book, "More Money Than God", the smooth operators at the big banks were playing with other people's money, so they borrowed up to 30 times their investors' capital. The hedge fund guys usually had their own money in their fund, so they typically borrowed only one or two times their capital.

The social butterflies at the banks got swept up in the popular enthusiasms. The contrarians at the hedge funds made money betting against them. The well-connected bankers knew they'd get bailed out if anything went wrong. The solitary hedge fund guys knew they were on their own and regarded their trades with paranoid anxiety.

Continue reading "More Money Than God, Sebastian Mallaby" »

July 25, 2010

Justice Elena Kagan: a reasonable person pursuing reasonable purposes reasonably ?

The most interesting question about the Kagan nomination remains this: Why did Barack Obama nominate someone with largely unknown legal and political views to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court? Under the circumstances we can do little more than guess, but I would venture that three inter-related factors were crucial. First, Obama himself, as a former president of the Harvard Law Review and University of Chicago law professor, has been immersed in cultural context -- elite legal academia -- which puts a great deal of stock in the belief that being a good Supreme Court justice is largely a matter of technical competence. Legal academia is (quite literally) invested in the idea that being a "good" judge means accepting "good" legal arguments and rejecting "bad" ones, with good and bad defined as the correct and incorrect application of legal rules. This belief is absurd - any case that reaches the Supreme Court can't be resolved merely through the application of legal rules - but its persistence signals how important it still is to American law schools, which remain committed, against all intellectual odds, to maintaining a sharp distinction between "law" and "politics."

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July 13, 2010

Perpetual trusts: The Rising Power of the American Dead

Tax breaks are not the only special advantages that American dynasty trusts provide. Even more troubling, they commonly include a "spendthrift clause," which provides that trust assets cannot be reached by a beneficiary's creditors. If a beneficiary causes a car accident, for example, the victim cannot be compensated with assets from the trust, even if they are the driver's only resources. So beneficiaries are free to behave as recklessly as they like, knowing that their money is forever protected for themselves and their heirs.

Surprisingly, dynasty trusts can also be bad for the beneficiaries themselves. Many wealthy people agree with Andrew Carnegie and Warren Buffett that it is not in their children's best interest for them to be given so much wealth that they don't need to work. Dynasty trusts rob future parents of the ability to decide this for their children, because the ancestor creating the trust is the one who determines how much wealth each generation of his descendants will receive.

What can be done to eliminate these trusts? A state-level solution is unlikely, since all 50 states would need to act in unison. But Congress could fix the problem by limiting the generation-skipping-transfer exemption to trusts that last no longer than two generations. After that, beneficiaries of a trust should be subject to tax, like everyone else. Then America would not have to face the uncontrollable growth of a new aristocracy.

Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, is the author of "Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead."

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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.

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

March 22, 2010

Edward Chancellor: A History of Financial Speculation

If that's the case, speculators are far from being a plague on the markets. Instead, they help reduce risk by taking on the other side of popular trades, resisting the herd mentality that creates bubbles in the first place.

The speculator "loves freedom, detests cant and abhors restrictions," Edward Chancellor wrote in his 1999 book, "Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation."

According to Mr. Chancellor, a financial strategist in Boston, speculators aren't motivated by greed, after all. Instead, idealism fuels their trades.

"The essence of speculation remains a utopian yearning for freedom and equality which counterbalances the drab rationalistic materialism of the modern economic system with its inevitable inequalities of wealth," he argued in his book.

Continue reading "Edward Chancellor: A History of Financial Speculation" »

March 18, 2010

Financial and business spys ?

The result is "Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage" (Harper Business, 306 pages), Mr. Javers's account of how he doggedly tracked down rent-a-spies in United States and Europe and tried to get them to divulge their mysteries.


Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the Bundestag on March 16 that the country may have to consider ordering "intelligence agencies to set up surveillance of who is getting together with whom for which kinds of speculative processes, and where" to protect the euro

January 7, 2010

Theorists and practitioners of intelligence

Then, as now, theorists and practitioners of intelligence sought a smoothly functioning, highly efficient and seamlessly integrated organization, or cluster of organizations. But they struggled at it, largely because the purposes to which intelligence were put were complex and at times contradictory.

In his book "Cloak and Gown," published in 1987, the Yale historian Robin Winks pointed out, "The 'intelligence debate' was framed in 1949." That was the year a classic text, Sherman Kent's "Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy," came out.

To Kent, the best intelligence-gathering was the work "of devoted specialists molded into a vigorous production unit," who prized the arts of data accumulation and nonideological analysis.

Kent's book was widely adopted by intelligence services around the world. But it also had critics, among them the political scientist Willmoore Kendall, a onetime adviser to the C.I.A. He wrote that Kent's approach, influenced by the Pearl Harbor attack, betrayed "a compulsive preoccupation with prediction, with the elimination of 'surprise' from foreign affairs."

This was a worthy goal in wartime, Mr. Kendall said, but in peacetime the most useful intelligence provided the big "pictures" of the world that decision makers needed for formulating broad policy. Intelligence experts therefore should not just acquire and analyze information; they should interpret it as well.

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November 14, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's Science

An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of "homology," "saggital plane" and "power law" and quotes an expert speaking about an "igon value" (that's eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer's education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

The problem with Gladwell's generalizations about prediction is that he never zeroes in on the essence of a statistical problem and instead overinterprets some of its trappings. For example, in many cases of uncertainty, a decision maker has to act on an observation that may be either a signal from a target or noise from a distractor (a blip on a screen may be a missile or static; a blob on an X-ray may be a tumor or a harmless thickening). Improving the ability of your detection technology to discriminate signals from noise is always a good thing, because it lowers the chance you'll mistake a target for a distractor or vice versa. But given the technology you have, there is an optimal threshold for a decision, which depends on the relative costs of missing a target and issuing a false alarm. By failing to identify this trade-off, Gladwell bamboozles his readers with pseudoparadoxes about the limitations of pictures and the downside of precise information.

Continue reading "Malcolm Gladwell's Science" »

October 17, 2009

Whitopian migration results from tempting pulls as much as alarming pushes

When those pop-up lists beckon you from your Web browser ("Retire in Style: Fifteen Hotspots!"), or those snappy guidebooks flirt with you from the bookstore shelves (America's 25 Best Places to Live!), ever notice how white they are?
Whitopian migration results from tempting pulls as much as alarming pushes. The places luring so many white Americans are revealing. The five towns posting the largest white growth rates between 2000 and 2004 -- St. George, Utah; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Bend, Oregon; Prescott, Arizona; and Greeley, Colorado -- were already overwhelmingly white. Certainly whiter than the places that new arrivals left behind and whiter than the country in general. We know why white folks are pushed from big cites and their inner-ring suburbs. The Whitopian pull includes economic opportunity, more house for your dollar, a yearning for the countryside, and a nostalgic charm.

Most whites are not drawn to a place explicitly because it teems with other white people. Rather, the place's very whiteness implies other perceived qualities. Americans associate a homogeneous white neighborhood with higher property values, friendliness, orderliness, cleanliness, safety, and comfort. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are subconsciously inseparable from race and class in many whites' minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits. And, if a neighborhood is known to have those traits, many whites presume -- without giving it a thought -- that the neighborhood will be majority white.

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America (Hardcover)
by Rich Benjamin (Author)

September 14, 2009

Health and Politics in the Oval Office, Blumenthal and Morone

Blumenthal and Morone's most provocative finding is that presidents who have been most successful in moving the country toward universal health coverage have disregarded or overruled their economic advisers. Plans to expand coverage have consistently drawn cautions or condemnations from economic teams in every administration, from Harry Truman's down to George W. Bush's. An exasperated Lyndon Johnson groused to Ted Kennedy that "the fools had to go to projecting" Medicare costs "down the road five or six years." Such long-term projections meant political headaches. "The first thing, Senator Dick Russell comes running in, says, 'My God, you've got a one billion dollar [estimate] for next year on health. Therefore I'm against any of it now." Johnson rejected his advisers' estimates and intentionally lowballed the cost. "I'll spend the goddamn money." An honest economic forecast would most likely have sunk Medicare.


THE HEART OF POWER: Health and Politics in the Oval Office
By David Blumenthal and James A. Morone

Illustrated. 484 pp. University of California Press. $26.95

Books / Sunday Book Review
Critical Care
Published: September 6, 2009
This history of health policy and the Oval Office shows that the presidents who made the biggest steps in the direction of universal care have acted despite their economic advisers.

Continue reading "Health and Politics in the Oval Office, Blumenthal and Morone" »

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 Also interesting on this score: "The Purchase of Intimacy," by Viviana Zelizer.

Continue reading "Facebook, your personal life commercialized." »

July 19, 2009

Amazon book price inflation

After placing some books in the cart, but not checking out, I return an am warned that these desired but unpurchased item are now much more expensive.


See also

Amazon Prime $79 Refund class action suit

New is cheaper than used: Falkenstein's Finding Alpha and Ritholtz (Big Picture) Bailout Nation new vs used price arbitrage.

July 10, 2009

Street Fighters (Kate Kelly)

Street Fighters tells an engaging tale focused upon how a mighty firm was reduced to rubble in three days. You know the ending before you start reading, but it is no less engaging. The author has a nice sense of the characters and has done extensive research into backgrounds. We not only learn about the major players, we learn what everyone else thought about them.

Street Fighters aims to tell the story in 72 hours, not examine structural problems in finance, and succeeds.

Continue reading "Street Fighters (Kate Kelly)" »

July 6, 2009

Sales tax clampdown on internet merchant

The shots heard 'round the web: has closed its internet associate programs in Hawaii, North Carolina and Rhode Island after the states enacted laws requiring out-of-state internet vendors to collect sales taxes.

-- By Jeff Segal, Considered view, 01 Jul 2009

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June 28, 2009

Bubble: Shiller @2005

YALE ECONOMIST ROBERT SHILLER delivers his forecast for U.S. housing with a scholarly diffidence that only slightly mutes his stark message: The market is in the throes of a bubble of unprecedented proportions that probably will end ugly.

Such unsettling talk is cheap, of course, especially from a tenured academic, and many sources, including Barron's, have wrongly predicted housing's downfall several times in the past few years. But the Ivy League professor's forecasts of coming trouble have been right before. His best seller Irrational Exuberance, predicting a bear market in U.S. stocks, hit the bookstores in March 2000, less than a week before the Nasdaq began a dizzying descent from above 5000 that would destroy 75% of its value in a little over 2½ years.

In the real-estate market, Shiller contends, a price slide could begin at any time with the crescendo of what he describes simply as "talk" -- a word that he uses to cover everything from the recent Time magazine cover story on the vertiginous rise in home prices and the popularity of cable-television shows about rehabilitating and investing in real estate to the breathless newspaper stories of Miami condos being "flipped" for profit a half-dozen times before construction even begins.

Continue reading "Bubble: Shiller @2005" »

June 24, 2009

Money in search of home owners ?

So tells Alyssa Katz' Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us in an engaging economic history.

How and when did home mortgages become Wall Street's playthings?
Who invented subprime loans - and how did they remain legal?
Who won the presidency promising to help as many Americans as possible buy a home?
What did Fannie Mae really do?
How did renters become second-class citizens?
Could your house be a target for mortgage fraud?
Why do new homes generate more greenhouse gases than all the nation's cars, trucks and buses combined?
Through stories about ordinary Americans who did their part to make the United States a nation of homeowners, Our Lot reveals how real estate turned into a fatal national obsession.

June 18, 2009

Falkenstein finds alpha

Finding Alpha: The Search for Alpha When Risk and Return Break Down (Wiley Finance) by Eric Falkenstein (Hardcover - Jun 29, 2009) is anticipated and now available.

The typical Amazon new vs used arbitrage occurs. New $56, vs used $103.


See previously Big Picture Barry Bailout Nation arbitrage.

June 17, 2009

From "the Ownership Society" to "Bailout Nation"

These two new books both tell versions of that story. In "Dumb Money" (originally published as an e-book several months ago), Mr. Gross gives the lay reader a succinct, breezy and sometimes snarky account of how "the Ownership Society" so quickly devolved "into Bailout Nation," how the Alan Greenspan era of low interest rates and "Cheap Money" (from late 2001 through 2004) begat the "Era of Dumb Money" (mid-2004 through mid-2006) of growing leverage and debt, and, eventually, the "Era of Dumber Money" (late 2006 to the calamities of 2008), in which "large, old-line investment banks waded chest-deep into the subprime" mortgage swamp, processing the debt (bundling it, selling its pieces and helping others trade them) in compulsive pursuit of lucrative fees, even as the housing bubble had started to burst.

-- Michiko Kakutani

June 1, 2009

Overcomingbias: what's wrong with 'cuteonomics'

If an abstract model is supposed to be a model of the real world (and not just a mathematical construct), then we should test its assumptions and predictions against the real world. But the real world, in all its boisterous glory, is far from the serene desert landscape of an abstract model. So we must cleverly search out "natural experiments"--real-world circumstances that happen to conform to enough assumptions of a model to provide a relatively direct test of its predictions--and then apply advanced statistical techniques to isolate the effect of the variables we want to study. The result of such tests can lead to tweaks in abstract theories that improve their predictive power and utility.

Overcoming bias.

Continue reading "Overcomingbias: what's wrong with 'cuteonomics'" »

May 17, 2009

Bailout Nation, Amazon Used price

Barry's scolding Bailout Nation is out. Note the used price is three times greater than the new price.
(We blogrolled Barry Ritholtz' Big Picture years ago).


January 15, 2009

The less money your peer group has, the more bling you buy

The less money your peer group has, the more bling you buy, explains Virginia Postrel.

About seven years ago, University of Chicago economists Kerwin Kofi Charles and Erik Hurst were researching the "wealth gap" between black and white Americans when they noticed something striking. African Americans not only had less wealth than whites with similar incomes, they also had significantly more of their assets tied up in cars. The statistic fit a stereotype reinforced by countless bling-filled hip-hop videos: that African Americans spend a lot on cars, clothes, and jewelry--highly visible goods that tell the world the owner has money.

But do they really? And, if so, why?

The two economists, along with Nikolai Roussanov of the University of Pennsylvania, have now attacked those questions. What they found not only provides insight into the economic differences between racial groups, it challenges common assumptions about luxury. Conspicuous consumption, this research suggests, is not an unambiguous signal of personal affluence. It's a sign of belonging to a relatively poor group. Visible luxury thus serves less to establish the owner's positive status as affluent than to fend off the negative perception that the owner is poor. The richer a society or peer group, the less important visible spending becomes.

Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff describe a similar pattern in their book, The Middle-Class Millionaire, which analyzes the spending habits of the 8.4million American households whose wealth is self-made and whose net worth, including their home equity, is between $1 million and $10 million. Aside from a penchant for fancy cars, these millionaires devote their luxury dollars mostly to goods and services outsiders can't see: concierge health care, home renovations, all sorts of personal coaches, and expensive family vacations. They focus less on impressing strangers and more on family- and self-improvement. Even when they invest in traditional luxuries like second homes, jets, or yachts, they prefer fractional ownership. "They're looking for ownership to be converted into a relationship rather than an asset they have to take care of," says Schiff. Their primary luxuries are time and attention.

Continue reading "The less money your peer group has, the more bling you buy" »

January 5, 2009

Status: either too early to tell or too late to change; Tufte on design consulting

Products under development "are in one of two states--either too early to tell or too late to change.''

He finished the book in 1982, after moving to Yale. No publisher would print it to his exacting standards. Tufte wanted the book to exemplify the design principles he articulated. It had to have lavish, abundant, high-resolution images and footnotes alongside the text so a reader wouldn't have to flip pages to find a reference. The book had to be printed on thick, creamy paper and sell for a reasonable price, about $30. "Publishers seemed appalled at the prospect that an author might govern design,'' he later wrote. So he took out a second mortgage at nearly 18 percent interest and produced the book himself.

---- Edward Rolf Tufte

Continue reading "Status: either too early to tell or too late to change; Tufte on design consulting" »

January 4, 2009

Falkenstein: Finding Alpha

Falkenblog (and aka Hedgefund Guy on Mahalanobis) is a frequent read, and if the book is as consistently interesting, it will be recommended.

Finding Alpha: The Search for Alpha When Risk and Return Break Down (Wiley Finance) by Eric Falkenstein (Hardcover - Jun 29, 2009)

November 14, 2008

Why Squatter Cities Are A Good Thing ?

A TED talk, The Shadow Cities Of The Future and Why Squatter Cities Are A Good Thing by Robert Neuwirth, author, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, gives a different take on development economics, from mud hut cluster to developed city, with or without debt and property rights.

Video after jump.

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November 2, 2008

Worry about relevance, do not deviate from the consensus

The field of social psychology provides a possible answer. In his classic 1972 book, "Groupthink," Irving L. Janis, the Yale psychologist, explained how panels of experts could make colossal mistakes. People on these panels, he said, are forever worrying about their personal relevance and effectiveness, and feel that if they deviate too far from the consensus, they will not be given a serious role. They self-censor personal doubts about the emerging group consensus if they cannot express these doubts in a formal way that conforms with apparent assumptions held by the group.

Continue reading "Worry about relevance, do not deviate from the consensus" »

September 8, 2008

Option Volatility & Pricing: Advanced Trading Strategies and Techniques, Sheldon Natenberg

Option Volatility & Pricing: Advanced Trading Strategies and Techniques
, second edition (1994, Hardcover) by Sheldon Natenberg.

Natenberg not only takes great pains to explain the concept of volatility, in addition to other inputs into an option pricing model, but clearly shows that option pricing isn't the exact science many seem to believe, for the simple reason that we never know if our volatility estimate is correct.

September 6, 2008

Options as a Strategic Investment, Lawrence G. McMillan

Options as a Strategic Investment, 4th Edition (2001), by Lawrence G. McMillan .

Comprehensive and informative. Covers pretty much every conceivable option strategy in the context of both equity and futures options and imparts realistic expectations.

May 30, 2007

Interest-rate term-structure pricing models: Riccardo Rebonato

Review Paper. Interest-rate term-structure pricing models: a review
Riccardo Rebonato

Interest-rate term structure modelling from the early short-rate-based
models to the current developments; use models for pricing complex
derivatives or for relative-value option trading. Therefore, relative-pricing
models are given a greater emphasis than equilibrium models.

The current state of modelling owes a lot to how models have
historically developed in the industry, and stresses the importance
of 'technological' developments (such as faster computers or more
efficient Monte Carlo techniques) in guiding the direction of theoretical

The importance of the joint practices of vega hedging and daily
model-recalibration is analysed in detail. The relevance of market
incompleteness and of the possible informational inefficiency of
derivatives markets for calibration and pricing is also discussed.

Continue reading "Interest-rate term-structure pricing models: Riccardo Rebonato" »

April 9, 2007

Way of the Turtle

Way of The Turtle, by Curtis Faith.

Relatively simple trading systems can provide a
tradable edge, but it is psychologically difficult
for traders to follow these systems and exploit
that edge.

Recommended via Traderfeed Brett and Abnornal.

March 14, 2007

Kübler-Ross model

The Kübler-Ross model describes, in five discrete stages,
the process by which people deal with grief and tragedy

Enumeration of stages (1969)

The stages are:

1. Denial - The initial stage.: "It can't be happening."
2. Anger .: "How dare you do this to me?!" (either referring to God, the deceased, or oneself)
3. Bargaining .: "Just let me live to see my son graduate."
4. Depression .: "God please don't take him away from our family"
5. Acceptance .: "I know my son will be in a better place"

March 4, 2007

Savy viewers

The Comedy Central audience is more serious than its reputation
allows. The public may still think of the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”
audience as a group of sardonic slackers, Gen-Y college students
who prefer YouTube to print. But publishers say it’s a much more
diverse demographic — and more important, a book-buying audience.

“It’s the television equivalent of NPR. You have a very savvy, interested
audience who are book buyers, people who do go into bookstores,
people who are actually interested in books.”

-- Martha K. Levin, of Free Press.

January 20, 2007

Atrios's bookshelf

Atrios's bookshelf.
A former economist, indeed.


January 7, 2007

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, fooled by randomness

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled By Randomness (and black swans), with

Black Swan discussion: MeFi, Telergraph

November 1, 2006

Economics Books, Economics Textbooks

Economics Books, Economics texts via Alex and Tyler (MR).

This list lacks empirical, practitioner guidance, such as
Econometric Analysis by William H. Greene.

October 6, 2006

Visualization and segmentation: Gelman's bag of tricks

Visualization and segmentation: Gelman's

Bag of tricks
for teaching statistics.


See also Gelman's Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models.

May 9, 2006

Graham and Dodd breed optimism

Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley New York revisits value analysis by Graham and Dodd.
Optimistic ?

Refs: Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd.

November 29, 2005

New Palgrave Dictionary: A sneak preview

New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law is previewed
(links to chapter PDFs) at the New Economist.

October 26, 2005

Dave Cross, data munger

Dave Cross, London based perl guy, has long been in my pingoshere.

Picks up on techs trends, not ASAP, but as they start crossing the
chasm. And summarizes them.
Also a fierce advocate for good customer service, with
emphasis on forthcoming non-deceitfulness over pampering.
And lefty local pantser.

Update 2006 Mar 01: Now on OnLamp.

Continue reading "Dave Cross, data munger" »

August 29, 2005

r graphics (Paul Murrell) is out

R Graphics by Paul Murrell shipped.

Previously announced.

Continue reading "r graphics (Paul Murrell) is out" »

August 20, 2005

Functional data analysis (FDA)

Functional data analysis (FDA) handles longitudinal data and treats
each observation as a function of time (or other variable). The
functions are related. The goal is to analyze a sample of functions
instead of a sample of related points.

FDA differs from traditional data analytic techniques in a number of
ways. Functions can be evaluated at any point in their domain.
Derivatives and integrals, which may provide better information (e.g.
graphical) than the original data, are easily computed and used in
multivariate and other functional analytic methods.

S+Functional Data Analysis User's Guide
by Douglas B. Clarkson, Chris Fraley, Charles C. Gu, James O. Ramsay

Functional Data Analysis (Springer Series in Statistics) (Hardcover)
by J. Ramsay, B. W. Silverman

Covers topics of linear models, principal components, canonical
correlation, and principal differential analysis in function spaces.

Applied Functional Data Analysis
by J.O. Ramsay, B.W. Silverman

Bernard W. Silverman's code site Applied Functional Data Analysis: Methods and Case Studies

Continue reading "Functional data analysis (FDA)" »

August 19, 2005

Mathematical Statistics with MATHEMATICA

Mathematical Statistics with MATHEMATICA,
Colin Rose, Murray D. Smith (Hardcover)

The mathStatica software, an add-on to Mathematica, provides a
toolset specially designed for doing mathematical statistics. It
enables students to solve difficult problems by removing the technical
calculations often associated with mathematical statistics. The
professional statistician will be able to tackle tricky multivariate
distributions, generating functions, inversion theorems, symbolic
maximum likelihood estimation, unbiased estimation, and the checking
and correcting of textbook formulas. This text would be a useful
companion for researchers and students in statistics, econometrics,
engineering, physics, psychometrics, economics, finance, biometrics,
and the social sciences.

Companion site

June 3, 2005

Handbook of Fixed Income Securities (Fabozzi)

The Handbook of Fixed Income Securities
Edited by Frank Fabozzi

Hardcover: 1500 pages
Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 7 edition (April 1, 2005)
ISBN: 0071440992

Part 1. Background.
1. Overview of the Types and Features of Fixed Income Securities.
2. Risks Associated with Investing in Fixed Income Securities.
3. A Review of the Time Value of Money.
4. Bond Pricing and Return Measures.
5. Measuring Interest Rate Risk.
6. The Sturcture of Interest Rates.
7. Bond Market Indexes.

Part 2. Government and Private Debt Obligations.
8. U.S. Treasury and Agency Securities.
9. Municipal Bonds.
10. Private Money Market Instruments.
11. Corporate Bonds.
12. Medium-Term Notes.
13. Inflation-Indexed Bonds (Tips).
14. Floating-Rate Securities.
15. Nonconvertible Preferred Stock.
16. International Bond Markets and Instruments.
17. Brady Bonds.
18. Stable Value Investments.

Part 3. Credit Analysis.
19. Credit Analysis for Corporate Bonds.
20. Credit Considerations in Evaluating High-yield Bonds.
21. Investing in 11 and Other Distressed Companies.
22. Guidelines in the Credit Analysis of General Obligation and Revenue Municipal Bonds.
23. High-Yield Analysis of Emerging Markets Debt.

Part 4. Mortgage-Backed and Asset-Backed Securities.
24. Mortgages and Overview of Mortgage-Backed Securities.
25. Mortgage Pass-Throughs.
26. Collateralized Mortgage Obligations.
27. Nonagency CMOs.
28. Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities.
29. Securities Backed by Automobile Loans.
30. Securities Backed by Closed-End Home Equity Loans.
31. Securities Backed by Manufactured Housing Loans.
32. Securities Backed by Credit Card Receivables.

Part 5. Fixed Income Analytics and Modeling.
33. Characteristics of and Strategies with Callable Securities.
34. Valuation of Bonds with Embedded Options.
35. Valuation of CMOs.
36. Fixed Income Risk Modeling.
37. OAS and Effective Duration.
38. Evaluation Amortizing ABS. A Primer on Static Spread.

Part 6. Portfolio Management.
39. Bond Management. Past, Current, and Future.
40. The Active Decisions in the Selection of Passive Management and Performance Bogeys.
41. Managing Indexed and Enhanced Indexed Bond Portfolios.
42. Global Corporate Bond Portfolio Management.
43. Management of a High-Yield Bond Portfolio.
44. Bond Immunization. An Asset/Liability Optimization Strategy.
45. Dedicated Bond Portfolios.
46. Managing Market Risk Proactively at Long-Term Investment Funds.
47. Improving Insurance company Portfolio Returns.
48. International Bond Investing and Portfolio Management.
49. International Fixed Income Investing. Theory and Practice.

Part 7. Equity-Linked Securities and Their Valuation.
50. Convertible Securities and Their Investment Characterics.
51. Convertible Securities and Their Valuation.

Part 8. Derivative Instruments and Their Portfolio Management Applications.
52. Introduction to Interest-Rate Futures and Options Contracts.
53. Pricing Futures and Portfolio Applications.
54. Treasury Bond Futures Mechanics and Basis Valuation.
55. The Basics of Interest-Rate Options.
56. Controlling Interest Rate Risk and Futures and Options.
57. Interest-Rate Swaps.
58. Interest-Rate Caps and Floors and Compound Options.

June 2, 2005

Fixed Income Securities: Tools for Today's Markets (Tuckman)

Fixed Income Securities: Tools for Today's Markets,
Second Edition by Bruce Tuckman.

# Bond Prices, Discount Factors, and Arbitrage.
# Bond Prices, Spot Rates, and Forward Rates.
# Yield to Maturity.
# Generalizations and Curve Fitting.

# One-Factor Measures of Sensitivity.
# Measures of Price Sensitivity Based on Parallel Yield Shifts.
# Key Rate and Bucket Exposures.
# Regression-Based Hedging.

# The Science of Term Structure Models.
# The Short-Rate Process and the Shape of the Term Structure.
# The Art of Term Structure Models: Drift.
# The Art of Term Structure Models: Volatility and Distribution.
# Multi-Factor Term Structure Models.
# Trading with Term Structure Models.

# Repo.
# Forward Markets.
# Eurodollar and Fed Fund Futures.
# Interest Rate Swaps.
# Fixed Income Options.
# Note and Bond Futures.
# Mortgage-Backed Securities.

May 8, 2005

Shiller speaks

Robert Shiller speaks about Real Estate and 'Irrational Exuberance' on NPR.

More and more home owners are refinancing, and a full quarter of
homes sold last year went to investors instead of live-in homeowners.
How long can this hot market last, and when it ends, are we looking at
a minor chill, or a full-blown ice age?

April 19, 2005

r graphics, Paul Murrell

R Graphics by Paul Murrell

Update 2005 Sept 03: R Graphics is shipping !

A book on the core graphics facilities of the R language and
environment for statistical computing and graphics (to be published
by Chapman & Hall/CRC in August 2005). Preview now.

March 2, 2005

Interest rate modelling, Brigo, Mercurio, Pelsser.

Interest rate modelling for practical implication: Interest Rate Models by Damiano Brigo and Fabio Mercurio. Brigo_Mercurio.jpg

For a clear and conicse treatment we also suggest you Antoon Pelsser's Efficient Methods for Valuing Interest Rate Derivatives which is extremely interesting.


December 28, 2004

Rick Aster / SAS programming info

Rick Aster's SAS info aka programming secrets:
Professional SAS Programming Shortcuts and Professional SAS Programming Logic.