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October 21, 2017

Nevada recently implemented a new 80 mph speed limit on a 130 mile stretch of Interstate 80 northeast of Reno

Nevada now joins the exclusive club of states that permits speeds of greater than 75 mph on a few rural highways and interstates, which includes Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

-- Kristen Lee

September 6, 2017

Big data machine learning insight: pick up trucks voted Bush/Trump, sedans voted Kerry/Hillary

Confirmed by Google Street View.

August 27, 2017

Algorithms that Facebook's censors use to differentiate between hate speech and legitimate political expression.

The algorithms that Facebook's censors use to differentiate between hate speech and legitimate political expression.

Julia Angwin, ProPublica, and Hannes Grassegger, special to ProPublica, June 28, 2017,
deconstruct their own clickbait:


A trove of internal documents reviewed by ProPublica sheds new light on the secret guidelines that Facebook's censors use to distinguish between hate speech and legitimate political expression. The documents reveal the rationale behind seemingly inconsistent decisions. For instance, Higgins' incitement to violence passed muster because it targeted a specific sub-group of Muslims -- those that are "radicalized" -- while Delgado's post was deleted for attacking whites in general.


Hoffman said the team also relied on the principle of harm articulated by John Stuart Mill, a 19th-century English political philosopher. It states "that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." That led to the development of Facebook's "credible threat" standard, which bans posts that describe specific actions that could threaten others, but allows threats that are not likely to be carried out.

Eventually, however, Hoffman said "we found that limiting it to physical harm wasn't sufficient, so we started exploring how free expression societies deal with this."

Continue reading "Algorithms that Facebook's censors use to differentiate between hate speech and legitimate political expression." »

August 26, 2017

Teenage summer is not a summer job


1. With tougher high-school requirements and greater pressure to go to college, summer classes are the new summer job. The percent of 16-to-19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled in the last 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rise may be directly related to the fact that parents and high schools are encouraging students to take on more classwork, according to Ben Steverman, a Bloomberg reporter who covers teen employment. He finds that the percentage of high-school grads completing at least four years of English, three years of science, math, and social science, and two years of foreign language has sextupled since the early 1980s.

2. The second reason why teens work less today is that employers are more reluctant to hire them. First, the rise of low-skill immigration in the last few decades has created more competition for exactly the sort of jobs that teenagers used to do, like grocery-store cashiers, restaurant servers, and retail salespeople. Second, older Americans stay in the workforce longer than ever, and many of them wind down their careers in office secretary and retail jobs, which used to be the province of 16-year-olds in the summer.

3. Third, the number of federally funded summer jobs, where students work temporarily with their local government, has declined. At the same time, the minimum wage has grown, which may have discouraged bosses from taking on young inexperienced workers who are only "worth" hiring at a salary that's become illegal.

4. Fourth, training. Companies have caught on to the fact that if they want to hire teenagers, they don't have to pay them at all: There has been an extraordinary rise in unpaid internships over the last decade.

-- Derek Thompson

Continue reading "Teenage summer is not a summer job" »

August 5, 2017

Art schools do not pay

The for-profit Art Institutes programs that failed the federal test trained students in fields including commercial photography, video production, radio broadcasting, culinary arts, interior decorating and video game design. Other programs that crop up frequently on the failing list include cosmetology and barbering, acupuncture and massage therapy, criminal justice studies and low-level jobs in health care fields.

What these programs have in common is a combination of marketing appeal to young people -- design video games for a living! -- and little or no outside pressure to ensure that the education is both of high quality and leads to jobs that pay enough to finance the cost of student loans. Sure, there are good programs in all of these fields, including some offered by for-profit schools. But it can be very hard for the average consumer to know the difference beforehand.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/upshot/harvard-too-obamas-final-push-to-catch-predatory-colleges-is-revealing.html

June 23, 2017

McMansions no more (Leigh County, PA)

Bethlehem Township developer Abraham Atiyeh announced two weeks ago that he's building a downtown Bethlehem development of town homes starting at $129,000, and national builder Pulte Homes has halted its large-home building in the area and last winter began marketing a new home, called "The Lehigh", with 1,050 square feet and starting price of $139,000.

McMansions No More ** Fewer behemoth homes may be built in the Lehigh Valley as turmoil in the housing market opens the door for smaller, more affordable living
Morning Call - Allentown, Pa.
Author: Matt Assad
Date: May 25, 2008
Start Page: A.1
Section: National
Text Word Count: 2299

[Via McAll]


More: McMansions.

February 11, 2017

alt-right:

The term "alt-right" and the people claiming its mantle had already been gaining visibility in the media before Clinton's speech. They were primarily seen as an amorphous community with an inclination for vicious online trolling, with some roots in fringe-right ideologies. But when Clinton thrust the alt-right into the national spotlight, she did no favors for the media, which has struggled to cover the ragtag coalition that has claimed the term.

In March 2016, Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari posted a 5,000-word explainer/defense of the alt-right, ascribing to it intellectual roots in the neo-reactionary, human biodiversity and ethno-nationalist movements. Several other outlets like Vice, Vox, and National Review posted their own explainers.

In alt-right speak, the term "spicy boi" is meant to lampoon political correctness. It refers to a Change.org petition to rename fire ants to "spicy boys" because, as the petition helpfully explains, "It's 2016, we have 36 genders...why aren't we calling fire ants spicey boys?" As for the spelling of boi, that's just internet for boy. The petition currently has more than 60,000 signatures.

Continue reading "alt-right: " »

January 29, 2017

Minimum SAT score for college admission: varies by race ?

A 2009 Princeton study showed Asian-Americans had to score 140 points higher on their SATs than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics and 450 points higher than blacks to have the same chance of admission to leading universities.

A lawsuit filed in 2014 accused Harvard of having a cap on the number of Asian students -- the percentage of Asians in Harvard's student body had remained about 16 percent to 19 percent for two decades even though the Asian-American percentage of the population had more than doubled. In 2016, the Asian American Coalition for Education filed a complaint with the Department of Education against Yale, where the Asian percentage had remained 13 percent to 16 percent for 20 years, as well as Brown and Dartmouth, urging investigation of their admissions practices for similar reasons.

Continue reading "Minimum SAT score for college admission: varies by race ?" »

September 17, 2016

Rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos

Vanityfair's Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos profile for cheap blood testing.

August 18, 2016

NY Times' interactive 2016 us elections primary calendar and results

Fun while it lasted: NY Times' 2016 elections primary calendar and results, with delegate counts.

July 5, 2016

A watch list, which relies on the predictive judgments of anonymous analysts predisposed to err on the side of caution


The threats that the terrorist watch list and no-fly list pose to civil liberties -- indeed, to the very idea of citizenship -- are enormous. Watch lists are designed to circumvent the protections of due process and the separation of powers. They subvert a principle of our free society: Our rights aren't held on loan until a government official labels us suspect, at which point they are easily stripped away; our rights are ours unless and until a court concludes that we have violated the law.

This is not the case with a watch list, which relies on the predictive judgments of anonymous analysts predisposed to err on the side of caution. Their job is to stop something horrible from happening. Why would they be inclined to err the other way? Their decisions require no judicial approval, and their standard for labeling someone a suspected terrorist to be watch-listed is very low, a mere "reasonable suspicion."

As one federal judge noted in a case involving a plaintiff's challenge to being placed on the no-fly list, "an American citizen can find himself labeled a suspected terrorist because of a 'reasonable suspicion' based on a 'reasonable suspicion.' "

Some people who are tempted by watch lists but reluctant to deprive people of rights without due process propose combining them with the procedures used for search warrants or wiretaps. Why not just open up the watch list process to a judge who can assess these determinations? If it's good enough for the Fourth Amendment, isn't it good enough for the Second?

But this analogy doesn't work. The low standards and one-sided nature of warrant requests are only the first step in a longer, public, adversarial process. They satisfy public safety needs to investigate and stop suspected crimes, but this is followed by an opportunity for a trial with a higher burden of proof and a meaningful chance to confront and respond to the state's evidence.


-- Jeffrey Kahn, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, is the author of "Mrs. Shipley's Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists."

May 14, 2016

Coalition of elite schools reshape college admissions

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a new organization led by admissions deans at top campuses, has announced an ambitious goal: to make applications more reflective and in tune with how students organize and express themselves. In April, it will offer free online planning tools and in July a new application, for the class of 2021.

Dean Paul Thiboutot at Carleton College, a coalition member, envisions chat rooms with his admissions officers or shopping-style prompts: "Could we send a reminder to someone that we responded to as a ninth grader who we didn't hear from? 'Remember, at one time you had Carleton in your cart?' "

With the Common Application now used by more than 625 schools, the coalition is marketing itself as a high-integrity brand. Coalition members must have a six-year graduation rate of at least 70 percent and meet students' full financial need or, if public, offer "affordable" in-state tuition (as yet undefined). So far, more than 80 of about 140 eligible colleges and universities have signed on, including all the Ivys, liberal arts elites like Amherst and Bowdoin and publics like Texas A&M and Miami University of Ohio.

Some criticism has gone to the very heart of the program: that drawing 14-year-olds into admissions tasks will make a stressful process more so. In an Oct. 13 letter to the coalition, 100 counselors from Jesuit high schools, many serving low-income and first-generation students, objected to pushing first-year students to think about college. They should be acclimating to high school, they wrote, and learning for learning's sake.

May 9, 2016

SWSX considered discussing or lamenting #GamerGate

"By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats," a statement by Vox Media said. "By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today."

The moves by BuzzFeed and Vox echoed a growing outcry on social media over the conference's decision.

The gathering has long aspired to be a forum for topical discussions about tech, rather than dry corporate speeches, and the two events that it canceled were sure to stir up passions. For the past two years, harassment in gaming culture has become a high-profile topic, after several female game designers and critics were targeted for criticizing sexism in games.

People hostile to their views rallied around the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate, accusing them and journalists who wrote sympathetically about them of being politically correct "social justice warriors."

Some of the people who have been targeted by GamerGate supporters in the past applauded the moves by BuzzFeed and Vox to boycott SXSW. But they said the conference should reinstate only the online-harassment panel, not the other, which they viewed as a forum for GamerGate supporters.

May 7, 2016

Khole branding deep think

Khole has deep think abound branding and trends.

May 4, 2016

Regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters

Are regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters are more important than 'states' ?

Britain is also in the midst of an internal reorganization, with the government of Prime Minister David Cameron driving investment toward a new corridor stretching from Leeds to Liverpool known as the "Northern Powerhouse" that can become an additional economic anchor beyond London and Scotland.

Continue reading "Regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters" »

April 30, 2016

Asian-Americans (hyphenated)

Asian-Americans are the United States' most successful minority, but they are complaining ever more vigorously about discrimination, especially in academia.

A similar effect is visible in the law. In 2014, whereas 11% of law-firm associates were Asian, 3% of partners were. Recruiters at the top firms typically throw out applications from all but the top universities and scan the remainder for their extracurriculars, says Lauren Rivera of Northwestern University. "They're particularly interested in sports, such as lacrosse, squash and [rowing] crew. When you look at the demographic base of these sports, Asian-Americans are not heavily represented."

April 22, 2016

Fresh Off the Boat's

Outside of its social responsibility and outside of representation, Fresh Off the Boat's responsibility is to itself. To keep it real. To tell its own story. To be specific to itself. And in its specificity lies universality. When we eavesdrop on someone's story that contains no generalities or stereotypes, a crystal clear picture emerges.

It isn't just about "lots of Asian-Americans own restaurants" but more about "Eddie Huang's father owns a steakhouse called Cattlemen's Ranch -- he doesn't serve chop suey and all his employees are white and he has a very positive relationship with each of them. And that restaurant is failing." My white, third generation, three-eighths British, one-eighth Swedish, and half Italian-American boyfriend and I both are able to relate to being a fish out of water, to a failing business, and to good work relationships.

In Home Sweet Home-School, Eddie gets straight A's and his (white) friend gets straight C's. Both pump the air with victory. And then later, a (white) family assembles at Cattlemen's Ranch and you can overhear them launch their meals with, "Cheers to our son for getting straight C's!"

"That was never my experience," said Orion. "C's were never OK."
"Really?" I asked. "It felt like white kids could get C's and not get beat with a belt when I was growing up!" Now I'm learning.

April 21, 2016

Texas, a leader among states

Before the 1980s, Texas followed a long, populist tradition that tried to protect family farmers and other small-scale businesses and consumers. Under its 1876 constitution, for example, Texas enacted consumer protections against predatory mortgage lending, with provisions that ironically helped to hold down foreclosures in Texas during the Great Recession.

In 1889, Texas became the second state in the country to enact an antitrust law. Two years later, it further pioneered government regulation of big business by establishing the Texas Railroad Commission, which went on to protect wildcatters and other small-scale oil producers by regulating the oil industry in ways that kept outside Goliaths like Standard Oil at bay. But since the 1980s, "pro business" in Texas has more and more come to mean just pro Big Business.

April 16, 2016

New York Values

Which ares are most culturally unfamiliar with median America ?
Based on Charles Murray's 2012 book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

April 7, 2016

Datausa government data


Hal R. Varian, chief economist of Google, who has no connection to Data USA, called the site "very informative and aesthetically pleasing." The fact the government is making so much data publicly available, he added, is fueling creative work like Data USA.

Data USA embodies an approach to data analysis that will most likely become increasingly common, said Kris Hammond, a computer science professor at Northwestern University. The site makes assumptions about its users and programs those assumptions into its software, he said.

"It is driven by the idea that we can actually figure out what a user is going to want to know when they are looking at a data set," Mr. Hammond said.

Data scientists, he said, often bristle when such limitations are put into the tools they use. But they are the data world's power users, and power users are a limited market, said Mr. Hammond, who is also chief scientist at Narrative Science, a start-up that makes software to interpret data.

April 1, 2016

Opportunity cost, age 16

High school is supposed to prepare adolescents for their careers and for college. It is not meant to destroy students' self-esteem in fierce academic environments, or to obliterate their love of learning through overly intense schedules. I don't want to look back as an adult and regret wasting four years solely on busy work and sleepless nights, but I also don't want to look back on four years spent dawdling idly with my friends.

-- Ethan Brown is a 16-year-old high school junior in northern Virginia.

March 24, 2016

Economists need data

Angus Deaton, this year's winner of the Nobel in economic science, was honored for his rigorous and innovative use of data -- including the collection and use of new surveys on individuals' choices and behaviors -- to measure living standards and guide policy.

House Republicans, for example, have been especially scornful of the decennial census, the nation's most important statistical tool, and the related questionnaire, the American Community Survey. They have placed prohibitive constraints on the Census Bureau, including a mandate that it spend no more on the 2020 census than it spent on the 2010 census, despite inflation, population growth and technological change.

March 20, 2016

Women on the site that are reaching out, and they're getting all of the benefits

OkCupid, Tinder and Bumble, the opening lines above might sound horrible. If you have used the apps, and you are a woman, those lines most likely sound horribly familiar.

The boring conversations -- if you can call them that -- tend to be started by men, owing to centuries of Western courtship convention that have remained mostly consistent in the digital age. But in data published Monday, OkCupid, a popular online dating site, said women who take the initiative to reach out to men are rewarded with higher response rates and more desirable men.

"There are women on the site that are reaching out, and they're getting all of the benefits," said Jimena Almendares, the chief product officer at OkCupid.

March 14, 2016

Trumpers are American

The places where Trump has done well cut across many of the usual fault lines of American politics -- North and South, liberal and conservative, rural and suburban. What they have in common is that they have largely missed the generation-long transition of the United States away from manufacturing and into a diverse, information-driven economy deeply intertwined with the rest of the world.


Source Upshot.


TrumpersAmerican2016March.png

February 25, 2016

H-1B ?

Demand for the 65,000 H-1Bs available annually so outstrips supply that, last year, the window to file for them opened on April 1st ... and slammed shut only five days, and 172,500 applications, later.

So how were the lucky winners selected? By the quality of the employers? By the quality of the individuals? Of course not. By lottery. I kid you not.

Maybe this would be reasonable if all H-1B jobs were roughly equivalent. The problem is, as I've written before, they're anything but. Let's compare, say, Facebook and Google with those well-known body shops Tata Consultancy Services and Cognizant Technology Solutions. Click on the links in the previous sentence to see their H-1B stats for last year. See anything that jumps out at you?

That's right. Facebook and Google brought in 900 and 2,800 H-1B employees, respectively, with salaries of $140,000 and $127,000. Cognizant? 3,300 at $72,000. Tata? A whopping 16,435 for a (relatively) paltry $70,000 - literally less than half what Facebook paid.

-- TechCrunch 1, 2, 3.

February 24, 2016

Bush 45 on hold

From the beginning, there was a dreamy, philosophical air to his effort. As he mulled his decision to enter the race, he focused on his interior thought processes, speaking of the need to be able to "campaign joyfully". By the end, he seemed to be observing himself from a remove. "I feel like I'm in some sort of play," Bush said in his penultimate town hall on Friday. "We're all part of a narrative."

February 21, 2016

Alex Pareene on the glory of Trump

Alex Pareene (Salon/Gawker) has it as, "Trump represents the total rejection of the tenets of movement conservatism by Republican voters, who, it turns out, have actually just been voting for nationalism and xenophobia this whole".

Continue reading "Alex Pareene on the glory of Trump" »

February 19, 2016

Delegate math vs Cruz 16 or Hillary 08

Leading proportional states but trailing in winner-take-all states does not add up to victory.

delegate allocation matrix puts Cruz's campaign at a serious disadvantage. For example, if Cruz wins the primary in his home state of Texas by one vote, he'll probably win a handful more delegates than his nearest competitor. By contrast, if Marco Rubio or Trump win Florida by one vote, either would win a whopping 99 more delegates than his nearest competitor

-- David Wasserman, U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, via 538.

February 18, 2016

Twitter meltdown ?

Popehat author, Ken White, has been skeptical that Twitter's censorship of certain conservative figures is actually coming from a place of malice. In response to Yiannopoulos getting de-verified, he wrote:

Big companies, even when run by ideologues, tend to make decisions like big companies, not like individuals. The decision-making looks less cinematic and more cynical. The focus tends to be on branding, but mostly on money-making, avoidance of unpleasantness, reduction of cost, and ease of use. Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias. But that's not the same as a deliberate decision to take sides; it's a cost-driven, practicality-driven decision.

See also: 1. Joi Ito: a healthy system probably involves a vibrant Open Web along with for-profit companies and that this balance was important, but how we are leaning away from the Open Web right now.

2. Dave Winer: there's the other problem with ceding a whole content type to a single company. Since you're counting on them not just to store your writing, but also build flow for it, the inclination is to praise them, to withhold criticism. To try to guess what they like, and parrot it. If Medium becomes much stronger, this will be what SEO becomes. We saw that happen before on Twitter, when they gave huge flow to people they liked, and not to people they don't. Now they're being more open about it. Why not? It didn't appear to cost them anything the last time around.

February 14, 2016

One person, one vote ?

Evenwel-v. Abbott, or one voter, one vote ? A question of law.

Continue reading "One person, one vote ?" »

January 11, 2016

When two people agree

Campuses like Trinity's have thick handbooks full of sexual assault resources, filled with pages upon pages of legal definitions and situational scenarios. But that doesn't mean that students necessarily understand the new policies. Yes, "consent" is now emblazoned on T-shirts and posters -- it was the subject of a recent public service initiative at Columbia, "Consent is BAE," that was criticized by students -- but even that does not ensure that students can define it.

"I think it's when two people agree to have sex, yeah?" a young woman, a junior at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said when approached on a recent day in Manhattan and asked if she could define "affirmative consent."

"Isn't that when only yes means yes? But not really?" said another woman, a dance and fashion major at N.Y.U.

"I know what consent is; is this different?" said a young man, a sports management major, also at N.Y.U.

Continue reading "When two people agree" »

December 20, 2015

Physics happens after the classroom

By suggesting, and sadly litigating, that diversity -- and more important, inclusion and equal opportunity -- aren't paramount to the production of new scientific information, we wrongly imply that the most important part of scientific discovery is in the classroom.

The purpose of the classroom is to build a tool kit and to understand what we know in the hopes of uncovering something that we don't. It's the door through which we create new physicists. Closing that door to students of color unless they can justify their presence is closing the door to the kinds of creativity that can be shown only after a student has mastered basic skills.

A physics class should interrogate and transfer the canon of scientific knowledge. Those students will go on to consider the many unanswered questions at the frontiers of what is known about the universe.

If we limit the physics classroom to white students, or students whose presence in a classroom we leave unquestioned, we also limit the production of new information about the world -- and whose perspective that world will reflect. If that's the case, then we all lose.

-- Jedidah C. Isler, a National Science Foundation astronomy and astrophysics postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University.

November 29, 2015

Proportionate response ?

Removing police racial bias will have little effect on the killing rate. Suppose each arrest creates an equal risk of shooting for both African-Americans and whites. In that case, with the current arrest rate, 28.9 percent of all those killed by police officers would still be African-American. This is only slightly smaller than the 31.8 percent of killings we actually see, and it is much greater than the 13.2 percent level of African-Americans in the overall population.

If the major problem is then that African-Americans have so many more encounters with police, we must ask why. Of course, with this as well, police prejudice may be playing a role. After all, police officers decide whom to stop or arrest.

But this is too large a problem to pin on individual officers.

First, the police are at least in part guided by suspect descriptions. And the descriptions provided by victims already show a large racial gap: Nearly 30 percent of reported offenders were black. So if the police simply stopped suspects at a rate matching these descriptions, African-Americans would be encountering police at a rate close to both the arrest and the killing rates.

Continue reading "Proportionate response ?" »

March 28, 2015

American research universities are rankable

The American research university had evolved into a complicated and somewhat peculiar organization. It was built to be all things to all people: to teach undergraduates, produce knowledge, socialize young men and women, train workers for jobs, anchor local economies, even put on weekend sports events. And excellence was defined by similarity to old, elite institutions. Universities were judged by the quality of their scholars, the size of their endowments, the beauty of their buildings and the test scores of their incoming students.

That created an opening for those who wanted to mimic the established schools. Buildings and scholars could be bought, and as long as the students were relatively smart when they enrolled, few questions would be asked about what they learned in college itself. Indeed, because the standard university organizational model left teaching responsibilities to autonomous academic departments and individual faculty members, each of which taught and tested in its own way, few questions could be asked that would produce comparable results.

So John Silber embarked on a huge building campaign while bringing luminaries like Saul Bellow and Elie Wiesel on board to teach and lend their prestige to the B.U. name, creating a bigger, more famous and much more costly institution. He had helped write a game plan for the aspiring college president.

January 31, 2015

On TNR

The last century of The New Republic has bestowed a rich legacy of lessons, both positive and negative, on race. At its best moments, the magazine has been a beacon of fact-based reporting and a forum for rich debate over racial issues. At its worst, the magazine has fallen under the sway of racial theorizing and crackpot racial lore. Moving forward, any reformation program should start by honestly acknowledging the past. The range of non-white voices in the magazine needs to expand, not just by having more nonwhite writers, but by having writers who aren't just talking to an imaginary white audience but are addressing readers who look like the world. The magazine has to avoid the temptation to be an insular insider journal for the elite and recognize that its finest moments are when analytical intelligence is joined with grassroots reporting. The magazine's well-stocked and complex legacy shouldn't be jettisoned, but it can be reformed, built on, and made new.

-- Jeet Heer on TNR

Likewise, before his fabrication of articles was revealed in 1998, Stephen Glass penned a 1996 piece about the Washington, D.C. taxi cab industry that seemed to cater to Peretz's appetite for melodramas illustrating black cultural pathology. The article drew an invidious contrast between hard-working, uncomplaining immigrants who believed in the American dream versus entitled black Americans who spurned honest work (and chased after white women). The piece included imaginary details such as, "Four months ago, a 17-year-old held a gun to Eswan's head while his girlfriend performed oral sex on the gunman." Glass also claimed to be in a cab when a young African American man mugged the driver, and celebrated the exploits of a fictional Kae Bang, the "Korean cab-driver- turned-vigilante" who used martial arts to beat up black teenagers who tried to rob his cab. It's fair to say that Glass's fabrications in this piece and others did more damage to The New Republic than any event in its history. And it's hard to accept a piece like the above would have been published in a magazine which wasn't already inclined toward a pernicious view of African Americans.

Continue reading "On TNR" »

October 27, 2014

Google fibre and universal service 2

In April, AT&T said it would introduce a gigabit-speed TV and Internet service, U-verse with GigaPower, in 21 metropolitan areas in the United States. Three cities in Texas already have it: Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.

Google won't say how many people have signed up for Fiber, which costs $70 for Internet or $120 a month for Internet and cable TV. There is also an option that offers much slower broadband for a $300 installation fee. A door-to-door study commissioned by Bernstein Research and performed by Haynes & Company found that about a third of lower-income households in Fiber areas had signed up for some version of the service, along with three-quarters of the households in areas with incomes of $100,000 or more.

Kevin Lo, the general manager of Google Fiber, said the Internet giant had plenty of patience to see what percolated in the cities with its high-speed network. "We need to encourage developers who have great ideas, but we also need to build a critical mass of people who can use those applications. You need both for the breakthroughs to happen," he wrote in an email.


August 7, 2014

Saint Louis dialect

You might think your high school French or German will be enough to get you by in St. Louis, but don't bet on it. St. Louisans have their own unique local flare for some traditional French and German words. For those new to the area, consider this an unofficial guide to some local variations.

Gravois

Gravois is the French word for gravel which is appropriate since Gravois Avenue runs along the gravel bluffs. Although "Grav-wah" may be the correct French pronunciation, this main street is pronounced "Grav-oy" or occasionally "Grav-oize" in St. Louis.

Creve Coeur

The city name Creve Coeur (meaning heartbreak in French) derives from Creve Coeur Lake, which was named for the tale of a lovelorn Indian girl whose broken heart led her to suicide off the famous dripping springs. While the formal french pronunciation is "Crev-Cure", a native St. Louisan know that "Creeve-Corr" is the only way to say the name of this city.

Continue reading "Saint Louis dialect" »

July 7, 2014

Coming of age in Paris

The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 "the old age of youth." In Paris, it's when waiters start calling you "Madame" without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you're still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read "Hamlet" and know how to cook leeks. Among my peers there's a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we'd better get moving on it.

Continue reading "Coming of age in Paris" »

May 17, 2014

Net neutrality, the early days

Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the largest change in communications law since the 1930s. The law maintained the basic/enhanced dichotomy, but it renamed its two parts. Basic services became telecommunications services; enhanced services became information services.

Now, into which of these two categories does the Internet fall? The FCC regards the World Wide Web--the entire apparatus of browsers and HTML files, the layers upon layers of computation and presentation--as an information service (i.e., an enhanced service). It would make sense, then, that the wires through which this information service traveled were regarded as a telecommunications service (i.e., a basic service). Indeed, when most people accessed the web through phone wires with a dial-up modem, the agency did categorize phone lines as a telecommunications service--because it regarded all phone lines that way.

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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January 1, 2014

Internet speed is for times


Downloading a two-hour high-definition movie takes, on average, 35 minutes.

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December 22, 2013

Rap to English before English to Rap translations for lyrics


RapGenius is genius, but not first.

August 25, 2013

Peak car


city, state and federal policies that for more than half a century encouraged suburbanization and car use -- from mortgage lending to road building -- are gradually being diluted or reversed. "They created what I call a culture of 'automobility,' and arguably in the last 5 to 10 years that is dying out," Ms. Sheller said.

New York's new bike-sharing program and its skyrocketing bridge and tunnel tolls reflect those new priorities, as do a proliferation of car-sharing programs across the nation.

A study last year found that driving by young people decreased 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. The millennials don't value cars and car ownership, they value technology -- they care about what kinds of devices you own, Ms. Sheller said. The percentage of young drivers is inversely related to the availability of the Internet, Mr. Sivak's research has found. Why spend an hour driving to work when you could take the bus or train and be online?

From 2007 to 2011, the age group most likely to buy a car shifted from the 35 to 44 group to the 55 to 64 group, he found.

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July 24, 2013

Charity case


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

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

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

June 25, 2013

Employers who use automatic enrollment offer a lower match to employee contributions


Households in the top fifth of the income distribution reap 70 percent of the tax subsidies. Money in retirement accounts (unlike pension benefits) can be bequeathed to heirs, perpetuating wealth inequality.

Employers have little incentive to expand benefits. Some 401(k) fans contend that automatic enrollment (requiring employees to opt out of a regular contribution, rather than opting in) could increase participation. But evidence suggests that employers who use automatic enrollment offer a lower match to employee contributions in order to control their costs.

Many families who manage to accumulate retirement savings are forced to dip into them when they experience unemployment or other unexpected economic stress. The 10 percent withdrawal penalty makes this a particularly costly way of paying bills.

An increasing percentage of workers are being forced to stay on the job longer than they had planned. The percentage of workers expecting to retire after age 65 increased to 33 percent in 2010 from 11 percent in 1991 and 19 percent in 2000. That's a hardship not just for the older generation but for the younger generation waiting for jobs to open up.

-- Nancy Folbre

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 14, 2013

Kimchi goes all-American


"If we would call something 'fermented,' consumers would have a shock and wonder whether we were feeding them something they're not supposed to eat," says Saumya Dwivedi, a senior research specialist at IFF.


Instead, when leading focus groups Ms. Dwivedi sticks to the adjectives she hears consumers use as they describe the fermented flavors they taste: tangy, pickled, briny.

Chef Paul Virant is the author of a book for home fermenting, "The Preservation Kitchen." The menus at his two high-end, Chicago-area restaurants center around fermented flavors. His team cans about $35,000 worth of produce, or about 4,000 jars, each year.

The sour notes generated during fermentation help balance the flavors of his cooking, he says, which includes Brussels-sprout kimchi and duck confit with fermented rutabaga. "People are pleasantly surprised when they try it," he says.

Mmm, the Flavors of Fermentation, WSJ, ELLEN BYRON April 10, 2013

March 8, 2013

Those who pay into Social Security


First, on Jan. 1 the tax wasn't hiked; it was restored to its 2010 level, after a two-year "holiday" that reduced the withholding to 4.2% of employees wages (up to wages of $101,800 in 2011 and $110,100 last year) from the 6.2% level in effect since 1990.

The idea was to deliver stimulus dollars to middle- and working-class families. But the holiday was always a wretched idea, in part because of what everyone knew would happen when the old rate reappeared --people treated it as a pay cut.

The worse flaw was that it was a lousy way to deliver targeted working-class relief. The change replaced the Obama administration's previous Making Work Pay tax credit, which delivered up to $800 to families earning $12,900 to $150,000.

The payroll tax break, by contrast, went only to those who pay into Social Security. So it left out 5.7 million state and local workers (mostly teachers). On the plus side, it fattened the paychecks even of the nation's top earners by a much-needed $2,100 or so.

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January 25, 2013

Douthat abortion counter



Ross Douthat abortion counter:

    2013 January

  1. douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/the-liberal-hour

    But a tentative and ambiguous pro-choice trend in public opinion after a long period of pro-life gains does not mean that liberals have won the abortion wars, especially given that the main policy shift of the Obama era has been an uptick in state-level abortion restriction.

  2. nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/douthat-divided-by-abortion-united-by-feminism.html

    Stereotypes link the anti-abortion cause to traditionalist ideas about gender roles -- to the belief that a woman's place is in the home, or at least that her primary identity should be maternal rather than professional. Writing in the Reagan era, the sociologist Kristin Luker argued that this dimension of the debate trumped the question of whether unborn human life has rights: "While on the surface it is the embryo's fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women's lives."

October 30, 2012

Science with belt tightening, not collaboration,


A number of science and technology organizations are now arguing that the federal belt-tightening is affecting the ability of the scientific community to share research and collaborate.

The U.S. Public Policy Council of ACM, the Computing Research Association, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers have written to Congress and federal officials, asking for an exemption from the spending policy for "recognized scientific, technical and educational meetings" and "meetings of national and international standards bodies."

"Participation in scientific conferences is a critical opportunity for scientists and engineers to keep current in rapidly changing fields of science and technology," said the letter, dated Sept. 10 and sent to House and Senate leaders of both parties, as well as the federal Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. "These conferences facilitate communication among scientists, engineers, practitioners and students. They provide an important venue for presenting cutting-edge research."

Representatives from agencies like the Energy Department, NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department regularly attend conferences to exchange findings with private organizations. Participation in the events usually includes setting up booths where the federal researchers can demonstrate new technologies. Officials said the meetings emphasize collaboration, as well as education.

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October 10, 2012

Trust the government in Washington to do what's right ?


The American National Election Study has long included a question about how much people "trust the government in Washington to do what's right," with the possible answers being "just about always," "most of the time," or "only some of the time." In the third graph we plot the responses to this question from 1964 on, when the A.N.E.S. first started to ask the question regularly. The graph shows three major features.

campstops-chart3-480.jpg

The graph shows that Republicans don't trust government less than Democrats do, historically. The real difference is that Republicans are more sensitive to who controls the White House. When their man is in, they trust government more than Democrats do. When their man is out, they trust it less. Democrats hold steadier; they seem to identify "government" less with the presidency than Republicans do.

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business and the author of "The Righteous Mind." Marc J. Hetherington is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University and the author of "Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics." They both write for Civil Politics.org.

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August 5, 2012

Fighting forest fires from airplanes


According to the RAND report, a quick, pre-emptive attack on an emerging fire could save $3.3 million, on average. Thus, it said, spending more on firefighting planes could save money over all.

FIRE-planes.jpg

Edward G. Keating, an economist who was the study's lead author, said some government agencies leased the scooper planes for $1.5 million to $2.5 million per season; depending on estimates of the destructiveness of fires and the effectiveness of air tankers, it might save money to use up to 55 of them, the study said.

But the Forest Service, which relies on older tanker planes that must land at an airport and be refilled by pumper trucks and which uses only a handful of scoopers, said the RAND study was wrong. The skimmer planes mostly drop water or foam, when often what is needed is fire retardant, said Thomas L. Tidwell, the chief of the Forest Service. And, he said, "they're underestimating the cost of scoopers and overestimating the cost of tankers."

Congress is considering a plan submitted by the Forest Service this year to buy C-130J air tankers, a variant of the Pentagon's cargo plane, but those could cost $85 million to $90 million each once refitted to carry fire retardant, government officials say.

The new study and the Forest Service's response highlight fundamental disagreements about how to fight fires. The study, for example, noted a "dearth of statistical evidence" about the effectiveness of using air tanker drops on already large fires. It used a term sometimes used by firefighters, who refer to "CNN drops," high-visibility efforts that give the impression of a strong government response.

The study also acknowledged uncertainties about the relative value of water, which is cheap and widely available, and retardant. Some of the water will blow off target or evaporate on the way down, and it will not last long on the ground, so dumping it in the path of a fire may not be effective. (Aircraft do not usually put out fires; they slow them down so workers on the ground can extinguish them or establish a firebreak around them.)

"Often when we're having these large fires, the relative humidity is in the single digits," Mr. Tidwell said, and what reaches the ground may be "just a real light sprinkling."

The retardant, which is denser and does not evaporate, can penetrate the canopy of leaves if the fire is in a wooded area, experts say, and can be dropped from a higher altitude, reducing risks.

Mr. Keating, the study's lead author, said such operations would be dangerous even with newer equipment. "There are extremely irregular wind currents because of the heat coming off the fire," he said. "You're at high elevation and low altitude in irregular terrain," close to the ground in mountainous areas, "and, oh, by the way, it's on fire." In some crashes, pilots may have become lost in the smoke.

But the RAND study argues that more frequent drops of water may be more effective. A scooper plane, which flies about 100 miles an hour over a river or lake and lowers a small scoop to skim off hundreds of gallons in a few seconds, can manage 60 loads a day if the water is convenient. That may be 10 times the capability of a plane dropping retardant. Two-thirds of the fires fought by the Forest Service are within 10 miles of a suitable body of water, the study said, and fires near towns are even more likely to be near water.

Another goal is to spot emerging fires that can be stopped by dropping water or retardant and focus on those, a challenge that the study called "dispatch prescience." Some firefighting assets, including helicopters, move so slowly that positioning them in places where they are most likely to be needed is an important step.

Firefighting strategy has other complications. Some environmental experts worry that scooper planes, or helicopters that lower buckets to collect water, could spread exotic mussels that contaminate rivers or lakes. And in some places, planes dump saltwater on the soil.

The Forest Service contracts for a variety of aircraft, mostly converted antisubmarine warplanes from the middle of the last century. At times it has used the Bombardier 415, a Canadian plane designed to fight fires. The plane can land on water, but refills its tanks, totaling 1,600 gallons, by skimming water off the surface in a fast pass.

A California company, International Emergency Services, has been trying to market a Russian plane that holds 3,000 gallons. This year, the company flew two Forest Service engineers to Russia to evaluate the plane, the BE-200. David Baskett, the president of International Emergency Services, offered to bring the plane to the United States for a "flyoff," but, he said, the Forest Service has not responded.

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July 17, 2012

FDA email snooping


Agency officials began the electronic monitoring operation on their own.

The software used to track the F.D.A. scientists, sold by SpectorSoft of Vero Beach, Fla., costs as little as $99.95 for individual use, or $2,875 to place the program on 25 computers. It is marketed mainly to employers to monitor their workers and to parents to keep tabs on their children's computer activities.

"Monitor everything they do," says SpectorSoft's Web site. "Catch them red-handed by receiving instant alerts when keywords or phrases are typed or are contained in an e-mail, chat, instant message or Web site."

The F.D.A. program did all of that and more, as its operators analyzed the results from their early e-mail interceptions and used them to search for new "actors," develop new keywords to search and map out future areas of concern.

The intercepted e-mails revealed, for instance, that a few of the scientists under surveillance were drafting a complaint in 2010 that they planned to take to the Office of Special Counsel. A short time later, before the complaint was filed, Dr. Robert C. Smith and another complaining scientist were let go and a third was suspended.

In another case, the intercepted e-mails indicated that Paul T. Hardy, another of the dissident employees, had reapplied for an F.D.A. job "and is being considered for a position." (He did not get it.)

-- ERIC LICHTBLAU and SCOTT SHANE and Andy Lehren

Posted in Health.

July 16, 2012

Two classes in America divided by I do


NY Times: marriage rates determine class; single moms drift downscale. The data, illustrated.

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May 26, 2012

Six degrees of meeting the definition of "employee"


The definition of "employee" under the Fair Labor Standards Act is quite broad, and it covers many unpaid interns. Only unpaid internships that build skill and meet the Department of Labor's six-part test are exempt from minimum-wage laws.

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

April 29, 2012

Amulet


For a long time and for a lot of us, "college" was more or less a synonym for success. We had only to go. We had only to graduate. And if we did, according to parents and high-school guidance counselors and everything we heard and everything we read, we could pretty much count on a career, just about depend on a decent income and more or less expect security. A diploma wasn't a piece of paper. It was an amulet.

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April 6, 2012

Top Forty radio invented by Todd Storz and Bill Stewart, of KOWH AM station in Omaha, Nebraska


Top Forty radio was invented by Todd Storz and Bill Stewart, the operator and program director, respectively, of KOWH, an AM station in Omaha, Nebraska, in the early fifties. Like most music programmers of the day, Storz and Stewart provided a little something for everyone. As Marc Fisher writes in his book "Something in the Air" (2007), "The gospel in radio in those days was that no tune ought to be repeated within twenty-four hours of its broadcast--surely listeners would resent having to hear the same song twice in one day."

The eureka moment, as Ben Fong-Torres describes it in "The Hits Just Keep on Coming" (1998), occurred in a restaurant across from the station, where Storz and Stewart would often wait for Storz's girlfriend, a waitress, to get off work. They noticed that even though the waitresses listened to the same handful of songs on the jukebox all day long, played by different customers, when the place finally cleared out and the staff had the jukebox to themselves they played the very same songs. The men asked the waitresses to identify the most popular tunes on the jukebox, and they went back to the station and started playing them, in heavy rotation. Ratings soared.

Read more at the NewYorker.

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April 1, 2012

Pro business or pro-economy ?


"We need the Ex-Im Bank, period."

Like so much else in Congress these days, it is not that simple.

With its charter set to expire in May, the bank is the target of conservative groups. They are making the case to Republicans that the bank, created in 1934 to finance sales to the Soviet Union, has no place in a free-market system. Club for Growth is holding it up as the next Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, crowding out private lending and offering dangerous loans that ultimately could be left in the laps of the taxpayer.

"Those groups are just wrong, period," said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers and a generous personal contributor to Republican candidates.


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March 13, 2012

Doctors orders, replayed until understood


Another promising investment: In-room televisions that walk a patient through a doctor's orders - from bed rest to getting prescriptions filled.

"Like while you're in the hospital, they educate you on the TV so that you cannot see your shows until you've gone through the education, and they test you," she says.

It's a bit like not getting dessert until you've had your vegetables. Maybe this all sounds incredibly simplistic, but venture capitalists say one of the trickiest things about this new world of investing is that their returns, in many cases, hinge on humans changing their behavior. And that's a lot harder than building a robot.

-- DualCap investor Anne Degheest

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March 1, 2012

Once strong, golden America's optimism was contageous


"They know Okinawa had a genuine connection to that old, bright and strong America," Mr. Kinjo said.

Such nostalgia was apparent on a recent evening at the steakhouse, where slightly built Japanese customers sat in oversize American booths while a jukebox played "Rock Around the Clock." One, Kazue Okimura, a 52-year-old salesman from Tokyo, said he had come for a taste of a time when not only the United States but also Japan seemed more youthful and confident.

"We want to see the remaining traces of that time," he said, sawing a rib-eye steak.

Those traces are disappearing fast. A block away from the steakhouse sits the site of the Teahouse of the August Moon, a brothel-turned-dinner theater that was once a center of social life in American-occupied Okinawa. In 1956, it became the inspiration for a Hollywood movie of the same name starring Marlon Brando.

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December 29, 2011

Grade-School reform feedback loop


Today in 'think like an economist' -- incentives matter:

Hypothesis: these new tests are measuring the right things and that teaching to the test is an improvement over teaching one's own possibly-haphazard curriculum.

Data: every teacher casually encountered just has no notion that this Reach For The Top business could even in theory accomplish anything. It's just more hoops to jump through.

Analysis: given that the thing that is being measured seems to be the wrong thing, it seems like the changes are worse than nothing. Pre-reform: teachers try to do the right thing, but who knows whether they do it or not. Post-reform: teachers are now being judged on the wrong thing, so they have to focus on that instead of what they think is the right thing.

Maybe the average teacher is relying on slanted and inaccurate information from their union leaders here. But the people who are actually making the policy are either making no effort to explain the point of the policy, or are unable to communicate with the people "on the front lines".

December 17, 2011

The real Romney ?


How ably Romney the nominee will defend himself, given the kid-gloves treatment by his current competition and the campaign's avoidance of large segments of his own life story, is difficult to say just yet. In early November I watched Romney return to Iowa for only the fourth time. He stopped in Dubuque and Davenport and, before decent-size crowds, essentially regurgitated his address on the economy from the week before. In both cases he spoke for less than 20 minutes and did not take questions from the audience. Far more of his ground time was devoted to filming promotional material in a Dubuque sheet-metal factory, where the footage would capture the candidate seeming engaged in the kind of heart-to-heart dialogues with working-class Americans that the campaign had otherwise left off his schedule that day.

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November 25, 2011

The poor, not seen or heard ?


There is also a growing out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem. A study, by Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford, shows that Americans are increasingly living in areas that are either poor or affluent. The isolation of the prosperous, he said, threatens their support for public schools, parks, mass transit and other investments that benefit broader society.

OPINION
The Poor, the Near Poor and You
null
Published: November 23, 2011
One in three Americans lives in poverty or close to it. If the country does not change direction, more Americans will be struggling.

November 24, 2011

Three types of leadership: humane authority, hegemony and tyranny.


According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Xunzi, there were three types of leadership: humane authority, hegemony and tyranny. Humane authority won the hearts and minds of the people at home and abroad. Tyranny -- based on military force -- inevitably created enemies. Hegemonic powers lay in between: they did not cheat the people at home or cheat allies abroad. But they were frequently indifferent to moral concerns and often used violence against non-allies. The philosophers generally agreed that humane authority would win in any competition with hegemony or tyranny.

In other countries, China must display humane authority in order to compete with the United States, which remains the world's pre-eminent hegemonic power. Military strength underpins hegemony and helps to explain why the United States has so many allies. President Obama has made strategic mistakes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, but his actions also demonstrate that Washington is capable of leading three foreign wars simultaneously. By contrast, China's army has not been involved in any war since 1984, with Vietnam, and very few of its high-ranking officers, let alone its soldiers, have any battlefield experience.

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November 20, 2011

Beats: Dr Dre's fashion accessory for dofus


Beats have redefined the lowly headphone, as well as how much people are willing to pay for a pair of them. A typical pair of Beats sell for about $300 -- nearly 10 times the price of ear buds that come with iPods. And, despite these lean economic times, they are selling surprisingly fast.

Whether Beats are worth the money is open to debate. Reviews are mixed, but many people love them. The headphones are sleekly Apple-esque, which is no surprise, since they were created by a former designer at Apple. Beats also offer a celebrity vibe and a lot of boom-a-chick-a-boom bass.

So much bass, in fact, that some audio experts say that Beats distort the sound of the music.

"In terms of sound performance, they are among the worst you can buy," says Tyll Hertsens, editor in chief of InnerFidelity.com, a site for audiophiles. "They are absolutely, extraordinarily bad."

Time was, manufacturers marketed high-priced audio equipment by emphasizing technical merits like frequency response, optimum impedance, ambient noise attenuation and so on. The audience was mostly a small cadre of audiophiles tuned to the finer points of sound quality.

But, three years ago, Beats by Dr. Dre set out to change all that by appealing to more primal desires: good looks, celebrity and bone-rattling bass. Annual sales are approaching $500 million, and Beats have transformed headphones into a fashion accessory.

Continue reading "Beats: Dr Dre's fashion accessory for dofus" »

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 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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June 11, 2011

For-profit colleges that leave students with crushing debt.


though the for-profit system serves only a little more than a tenth of those in postsecondary education, it accounts for nearly half of student loan defaults. The losses are generally of little concern to the companies themselves, because most of the tuition is paid by federal loans backed by the taxpayer. The defaulting students often end up with their lives in financial ruin.

Bankruptcy makes it possible to escape credit card and gambling debt but nearly impossible to escape student loan debt. As a result, students who default on school loans may never be able to have that weight lifted and can end up with creditors garnishing their wages.

The Obama administration has tried to address these problems with new rules to make programs with especially high levels of student debt and very low repayment rates ineligible for federal student aid. But these rules are insufficient.

Continue reading "For-profit colleges that leave students with crushing debt." »

May 18, 2011

Middle class ? Nothing special about $250k


In the debate over how to close the budget deficit, President Obama talks often about raising taxes on "millionaires and billionaires," but his policy prescription is a bit different. He says that federal income taxes should be increased on families making more than $250,000. That seems to be the threshold. Under $250,000, you're middle class; over it and you're wealthy.

On a Yahoo message board, a poster named Mason, who lives in Manhattan with two young children, said his household income was $262,000. "I understand the need to raise taxes," he wrote, "but I don't understand why people like us are lumped in with millionaires and billionaires."

On one level, Mason is feeling the effects of inflation; $250,000 isn't what it used to be. If Mr. Obama were really trying to return to Mr. Clinton's 1993 levels, he would have to adjust the bracket for inflation, moving it up to about $386,075. In fact, in Mr. Clinton's last year in office, the top bracket had risen to $288,350 from $250,000.

Continue reading "Middle class ? Nothing special about $250k" »

April 20, 2011

Americans like workds; Europeans, symbols



"The use of symbols rather than words, for example, is a cheap if irritating solution to the problem of selling appliances in a linguistically diverse market."

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We're No. 1!
But only when it comes to domestic appliances. (Slate)
By Mark Vanhoenacker
Posted Wednesday, April 6, 2011, at 8:15 AM ET

April 1, 2011

Middle class begins at $68k


A single worker with two young children needs an annual income of $57,756, or just over $27 an hour, to attain economic stability, and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker.

-- a study by a women's advocacy group that looked at what a somewhat secure middle-class lifestyle costs.

Continue reading "Middle class begins at $68k" »

March 19, 2011

Wealthy is more than $7.5 million, middle class is under $1.75 million



Above $1.75 million, the middle class starts turning wealthy.


According to a Fidelity Investments survey of more than 1,000 millionaires (households with at least $1 million in investible assets, excluding retirement accounts and real estate), 42% of respondents say they don't feel wealthy. Keep in mind that while $1 million is the threshold, this group has an average net worth of $3.5 million.

That 42% is slightly better than the 46% who said they didn't feel wealthy in 2009. So the recovery has, at least, made some miserable millionaires a little less miserable.

Those who don't feel wealthy were asked how much money they would need to feel wealthy. Their answer: $7.5 million. (That's the median asset level).

But here's the interesting twist. The 58% of millionaires who did feel wealthy were also asked how much money they had when the began to feel "wealthy." Their answer: $1.75 million.

So millionaires who don't feel wealthy say they would need $7.5 million to feel wealthy, while those who do feel wealthy need only $1.75 million.

-- Robert Frank

March 9, 2011

Property tax levied by the village on a typical Bronxville home is now $43,000 annually. Upper middle class ?


The property tax levied by the village on a typical Bronxville home is now $43,000, up 34 percent in the last five years, although the increase was negligible in the last two years as the mayor, the village trustees and school board members responded to their middle class constituents' concerns.

"I don't think we have seen an antitax uprising, but holding down property taxes is certainly spoken about a lot," said Dr. James D. Hudson, the 54-year-old school board president, a dentist with two children in the high school. He is often buttonholed on the subject, he said, at cocktail and dinner parties or while shopping.

"Their concern is that their taxes will continue to spiral up if we continue to do business as usual," said Dr. Hudson. "If you will, we are looking to develop a lean, mean education machine."

Lean and mean were rarely invoked in the past as a goal for America's wealthiest suburbs -- nearby Scarsdale, for example, Shaker Heights on the outskirts of Cleveland, Brookfield and River Hills near Milwaukee, and Greenwood Village in Colorado. Now that talk is commonplace, and it showed up in interviews with officials and in these communities, where property taxes have often risen by 4 or 5 percent a year.

Continue reading "Property tax levied by the village on a typical Bronxville home is now $43,000 annually. Upper middle class ?" »

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.

Continue reading "Man up ?" »

February 17, 2011

FCIC


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

-- William Cohen

February 2, 2011

Smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically


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

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

Continue reading "Smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically" »

January 19, 2011

Nexus: speedy border pass ?


The Editor:

Am I the only person who complains about the southbound border wait times for NEXUS holders? I cross the border several times a week. Seldom is the wait more than a few minutes returning to B.C. when using the NEXUS lane. Typically, when I drive up to the booth after swiping my card the Canadian agent looks at me, looks at the screen and says go ahead or have a nice day and actually smiles.

Going south is a crapshoot. If you happen to be traveling south at the wrong time, you may end up waiting up to 30 minutes in the NEXUS lane. On a long weekend, don't be surprised to be waiting up to 90 minutes!

Why do NEXUS holders have to put up with such long waits going south compared to going north? NEXUS card holders have had a background check, been fingerprinted, photographed, interviewed and issued what apparently is supposed to be a secure ID card that can't be forged yet some U.S. border guards continue to ask 20 questions instead of relying on random checks with zero tolerance. Where are you going? Purpose of your trip? Why are you going there? How often do you come down? Are you meeting anyone there? Are they Canadian or U.S.? Are they friends? When are you returning? Anything to declare? (Good question, the only one that should be asked.)

Some U.S. border guards seem to grasp the trusted traveler concept and when they man the booth, things move along reasonably. Unfortunately, there is no consistency among them which leads me to the conclusion that there is a lack of proper training specifically related to the Nexus lane.

This has been an ongoing problem since the NEXUS program was introduced. I am sure that U.S. business owners would be happy to see more business in these difficult economic times.

Unless the border guards change their ways, you are going to see less business as people get fed up with the ridiculous waits and cancel their golf memberships, move their yachts to Canadian waters and return to shopping in Canada.

Name withheld by request
White Rock

December 25, 2010

AMT ( alternative minimum tax ) haunts middle class


the alternative minimum tax started out as a way to ensure that the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share of taxes. But as many families know all too well, it now ensnares people much closer to the middle class, and it hits more upper-middle income taxpayers than those at the very top, according to a recent study by the Urban Institute. No wonder it's often referred to as the "stealth tax."

There may not be much you can do to avoid the A.M.T., especially if you have children and live in a high-income state like New York or California (the A.M.T. rules disallow deductions for dependents and state income taxes as well as several others).

December 22, 2010, 3:57 PM
Minimizing A.M.T. Through Charitable Donations
By TARA SIEGEL BERNARD

December 12, 2010

Middle class under $250k, Democrat messaging gone wrong



Yes, Democrats are fools to tear their hair out over this deal, which gives them most of what they wanted: the middle-class tax rates, unemployment benefit extension, payroll-tax cut, and so on. They compound the idiocy by advertising higher taxes on the rich as their core objective. Forget relieving poverty, widening access to health care, improving opportunities for the disadvantaged. What matters more than any of that is sticking it to "millionaires and billionaires" (two-earner households making more than $250,000). You bet, the Democrats are acting like fools.


-- Clive Crook

December 3, 2010

(upper) middle class: assets of $2 million to $15 million, a bracket Ms. Napp described as "the lower end of the high end".


Michelle Pont moved out in the spring of 2009 and filed for divorce. The estranged couple has since spent several hundred thousand dollars on lawyers, accountants and investigators. The judge overseeing the case has warned that the total could exceed $1 million if the two sides cannot reach a compromise.

Ms. Pont said the money from Balance Point would allow her to sustain the case for as long as necessary. Balance Point does not charge interest; instead, clients pay the company a percentage of their winnings.

Lawyers who finance other civil cases generally keep at least a third of the winnings. Ms. Napp said Balance Point required a "substantially smaller" share from clients, though she declined to be more specific.

The company wants to focus on people with marital assets between $2 million and $15 million, a bracket Ms. Napp described as "the lower end of the high end." She said that investing in smaller disputes was not worthwhile. Wealthier people, she said, seemed to resolve divorces more easily -- perhaps because they still felt wealthy in the aftermath. "Anything south of $15 million, when you divide that in half and take out the legal fees, you're not in the same house, you're not taking the same trips -- your life is different," she said. "You can't maintain that same quality of life that you're used to."

Continue reading "(upper) middle class: assets of $2 million to $15 million, a bracket Ms. Napp described as "the lower end of the high end"." »

December 2, 2010

tax breaks for income over $250,000 for a family to expire ? Middle class could suffer



House Democrats said they could press ahead as early as Thursday with a vote to allow the tax breaks for income over $250,000 for a family to expire even though such a plan appears unlikely to be able to clear a Senate filibuster, given solid Republican opposition and resistance from several Democrats. Democrats said they could use the votes to make their position for middle class tax cuts clear and also illustrate that they do not have the votes to block extension of the lowered tax rates for the wealthy, clearing the way for concessions.

Continue reading "tax breaks for income over $250,000 for a family to expire ? Middle class could suffer" »

November 24, 2010

Schumer for the middle class ?


Officially, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York will be both vice chairman of the Democratic caucus and chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee. In those roles, he will also share control over the party's messaging apparatus run out of the Senate Democratic Communications Center, better known as the war room.

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Mr. Schumer has been outspoken in his belief that Democrats need to concentrate their energies on initiatives aimed at the middle class, a view that the rank and file applaud.

Continue reading "Schumer for the middle class ?" »

October 24, 2010

Triathletes extend life from 20s to 40s, and consume


"Triathlons are much better for the body than long-distance running. With triathlons, when you are injured running, you can still swim and bike."

-- Dr. Michael J. Neely, the medical director at NY Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, based in Manhattan.

... And leads to branded consumerism:

all the accessories and lifestyle brands that now cater to him and other triathletes. They can now buy TriSwim's shampoo to remove chlorine, and sports drinks like Hammer Nutrition Heed, which is sold on Web sites like One Tri. There are aerodynamic helmets and sunglasses made for triathlons, as well as wet suits and tri-specific running sneakers made by K-Swiss, Asics, Zoots and Newton.

At Placid Planet, a bicycle and triathlon shop in Lake Placid, N.Y., the new must-have accessories are Zipp wheels and compression tights. "Zipp wheels are an aerodynamic carbon wheel that increase speed by reducing drag on the wheel," said Kenny Boettger, the owner. Compression tights and socks, he said, help athletes recirculate oxygen and blood. "This is the big thing right now and it works," he said.

There are also magazines like Lava, which began publishing in August and offers testosterone-fueled articles and profiles that appeal to men who dream about being Ironmen. With page after page of Lycra, equipment reviews and training tips, the magazine is geared for "hardcore triathletes who want to get right inside the fiery molten center of triathlon," according to its mission statement.

Lava's macho-man mantra is simple. "Forty is the new 20," said John Duke, who publishes the monthly magazine in San Diego. "And in triathletes, 40 isn't old. The median age of the sport is 41."

Good thing, too, since triathlons don't come cheap. "Forty-somethings are also the ones who can afford the sport," said Scott Berlinger, the head coach of Full Throttle, a 120-man triathlon team that is based out of the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. "I tell my athletes everything costs $100 -- shoes, helmets, glasses -- and the big purchase is your bike."

A bicycle -- the tri-world equivalent of the red sports car -- can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $10,000. After the bike and the chiropractor bills, the biggest item is individual coaching, which can easily run $100 an hour.

"Triathletes are a discerning group of alpha consumers, with $175,000 average salaries," said Erik Vervloet, vice president for sports marketing at K-Swiss, which jumped into the tri-market three years ago. "The average Ironman spends $22,000 a year on the sport."

The high price is an issue, particularly for spouses. "I still argue with the wife about the costs," said Mr. Goodman, the triathlete from Stamford. His gear includes a $5,000 Cervelo bicycle, a $3,000 Pinarello bicycle, Xterra Vector Pro2 wet suits, Izumi Tri Fly 111 bike shoes and a Lazer Tardiz helmet.

But his wife, Amy, eventually came around. "At first it was a bit hard for me to swallow," said Ms. Goodman, 32, who is attending graduate school in the field of public health, "but when I saw that the bike wasn't going to hang on the wall, I thought, in terms of self-indulgences, this is one of the best things he could be doing."

Continue reading "Triathletes extend life from 20s to 40s, and consume" »

September 13, 2010

Useful, practical, durable city-cars: obsolete ?


The durable Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Towncar with easy entry back seat are being retired.
Will they be replaced by smaller cars with smaller, painful to access back seats, or with full size SUVs, or with specialty makes like a Checker Marathon Cab or London Taxi ?


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"These cars are a facet of people's everyday experience," said David Yassky, the city's taxi commissioner. "Whatever takes their place will have a real and tangible influence on the city's aesthetic."

Passengers should prepare for a bumpier, more cramped ride. Forget roomy trunks that fit a French-door refrigerator; the older models are yielding to smaller gas-and-electric hybrid vehicles with knee-bumping back seats and flimsier frames.

The impending departures have left New York's livery world scrambling. The Taxi and Limousine Commission is holding a contest to design a new taxicab to replace the city's 8,200 Crown Victoria yellow taxis. The Police Department will lose a fast-accelerating sedan it has depended on since 1992. And the black-car industry must replace 75 percent of its fleet.

What's next: Audi A8L, Tahoe Denali XL, or Altima ?

Continue reading "Useful, practical, durable city-cars: obsolete ?" »

July 26, 2010

Geithner, Obama: top begins at $250k (Coruscation Middle Class series continues)


In appearances on several Sunday talk shows, Geithner said only 2 to 3 percent of Americans -- those making $250,000 or more a year -- will be affected when tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush end on schedule this year.


The Obama administration has said it wants to keep tax cuts in place for Americans earning less than $250,000 a year. Some Republicans say letting any of the tax cuts expire is effectively a tax hike that may hurt recovery.

"Just letting those tax cuts that only go to 2 percent to 3 percent of Americans, the highest-earning Americans in the country, expire I do not believe it will have a negative effect on growth," he said on ABC.

No New Recession, Let Tax Cuts Die: Geithner
By REUTERS
Published: July 25, 2010

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."

Continue reading "Perpetual trusts: The Rising Power of the American Dead" »

July 11, 2010

Why American healthcare costs are high


A member of the Chukchansi tribe in California, Andrews is 6-foot-4 and about 250 pounds, with tattoos of his spirit animals ringing his thick biceps. He doesn't joust because he's attracted to romantic notions of honor and chivalry or because he has an affinity for the medieval period. ("I don't know jack about history, nor do I care," he says.) He does it because he considers jousting one of the most extreme sports ever invented, and he likes doing things that most other people can't or won't do.

"I like violent sports," says Andrews, who also participates in mixed martial arts. "I like hitting you. I like getting hit. I like competing man to man to see who the better man is that day."

The problem is that Andrews and Adams joust in a style they call "full contact," which, while popular in North America, is considered by the rest of the world to be unnecessarily dangerous. It's a reputation that isn't helped by the video on YouTube showing the two men describing their many injuries, including the time a lance bruised Andrews's heart and he nearly died from a pulmonary embolism. (He was back jousting five days after his release from the hospital.)

...

Over time, modern jousters have learned the lessons of their medieval predecessors -- plate armor protects better than chain mail, and more armor protects better than less. Even so, there are still plenty of injuries: concussions and dislocated shoulders, broken hands, assorted fractures and gashes. In one much-talked-about incident a few years ago, the Australian jouster Rod Walker suffered a partly severed penis when a lance veered south during a match at a Renaissance fair in Michigan -- a targeting failure that might not have happened if both he and his opponent hadn't been competing with broken hands.

It is these incidents that keep European jousters from coming to the U.S. to compete, and has those who have swearing they won't return. European jousters typically use lances with balsa-wood tips, which produce fewer dangerous splinters and deliver a less powerful hit. "Come do our sport and break your bones -- that's not the ideal recruitment poster," says Petter Ellingsen, a Norwegian jouster who has competed in nine countries and been injured badly only twice -- both times when competing in what he calls "the American style." "I don't think it's cool completing a tournament with four broken bones in my hand," he says. "I think it's bad for the sport."

Continue reading "Why American healthcare costs are high" »

June 15, 2010

Man's life


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

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


-- James Lileks

Continue reading "Man's life" »

April 9, 2010

Brooks: 60 percent of American adults made more than $100,000 in at least one or two of those years


This produces a lot of dynamism. As Stephen J. Rose points out in his book "Rebound: Why America Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis," the number of Americans earning between $35,000 and $70,000 declined by 12 percent between 1980 and 2008. But that's largely because the number earning over $105,000 increased by 14 percent. Over the past 10 years, 60 percent of American adults made more than $100,000 in at least one or two of those years, and 40 percent had incomes that high for at least three.

David Brooks defines a slice of the middle class.

Continue reading "Brooks: 60 percent of American adults made more than $100,000 in at least one or two of those years" »

November 8, 2009

Sesame at 40

The pedagogy hasn't changed, but the look and tone of "Sesame Street" has evolved. Forty years on, this is your mother's "Sesame Street," only better dressed and gentrified: Sesame Street by way of Park Slope. The opening is no longer a realistic rendition of an urban skyline but an animated, candy-colored chalk drawing of a preschool Arcadia, with flowers and butterflies and stars. The famous set, brownstones and garbage bins, has lost the messy graffiti and gritty smudges of city life over the years. Now there are green spaces, tofu and yoga.

Continue reading "Sesame at 40" »

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)

October 5, 2009

Lunch in the Washington Village

Washington is small enough -- and single-mindedly obsessed enough with its interlacing business of governing, lawyering, lobbying and journalism -- for power to concentrate in just a few places, rather than dispersing across the length and breadth of, say, a New York or London. Our company-townies -- the mighty and the not-so-mighty -- are herders.

See the Secret Service guys at Old Ebbitt Grill (convenient to the White House); the administration's youngsters at Oya; low-level Hill staffers at Tortilla Coast; the older society crowd at Cafe Milano (Dick Cheney and his SUV entourage stopped by for a private-room meal and a bottle of the good stuff earlier this month); and so on. Few places in town, though, seem to have been embraced with such distilled dedication as by the lobbyists nesting at Tosca.

Continue reading "Lunch in the Washington Village" »

October 4, 2009

Low-income housing in New Orleans stokes long-simmering tensions

James Perry, executive director of the housing center and a candidate for mayor of New Orleans, said class animosity might be at the root of much of this anger, though discrimination against the poor is not a violation of the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal to discriminate against minorities, however, and given that a disproportionate number of those who need affordable housing in the area are black, he said, these arguments almost inevitably involve race.

Continue reading "Low-income housing in New Orleans stokes long-simmering tensions" »

September 4, 2009

Democrat plan to stop private health insurance companies from providing benefits ?

After years of complaining about private health insurers denying care, the democrat plan
is now to penalize insurers who do provide full coverage.

Mr. Baucus's plan, expected to cost $850 billion to $900 billion over 10 years, would tax insurance companies on their most expensive health care policies. The hope is that employers would buy cheaper, less generous coverage for employees, thereby reducing the overuse of medical services.

The separate new fee on insurance companies would help raise money to pay for the plan. The fee would raise $6 billion a year starting in 2010, and it would be allocated among insurance companies according to their market shares.

The fees were first proposed by Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Until now, Mr. Baucus had not shown interest in the idea.

Mr. Schumer said, "The health insurance industry should pay its fair share of the cost because it stands to gain over 40 million new consumers under health care reform legislation."

Mr. Rockefeller said the fees were justified because insurance companies were "rapaciously, greedily and unstoppably making money by underpaying the patient, by underpaying the provider and by overpaying themselves."

Continue reading "Democrat plan to stop private health insurance companies from providing benefits ?" »

August 31, 2009

VW for idiots, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: VW tailored especially for unrefined Americans.

Continue reading "VW for idiots, Part 2" »

August 24, 2009

Tailored especially for unrefined Americans.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta - Tailored especially for unrefined Americans.

From C&D:

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

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

Continue reading "Tailored especially for unrefined Americans." »

August 21, 2009

Middle class end, affluent begins around $10 million

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

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

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

July 15, 2009

Mddle class earning up to $280,000 ( $350,000 couples)

The middle class escape new healthcare taxes on individuals earning $280,000 and up and couples earning more than $350,000.

-- Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, Chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

But emerging from daylong committee negotiations Friday, Mr. Rangel said the income surtax would take effect in 2011 and begin at 1 percent of adjusted gross income -- earnings before deductions like those for mortgage interest and charitable contributions -- and would apply to individuals earning more than $280,000 and couples earning more than $350,000.

The surtax would be increased for individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $500,000, and step up again for individuals earning over $800,000 and couples earning above $1 million. The precise extent of these increases has not been announced.

Mr. Rangel's committee is also planning to insert language that would raise the surtax in 2013 if expected cost savings in the health care system do not materialize.

Continue reading "Mddle class earning up to $280,000 ( $350,000 couples)" »

July 7, 2009

Between $250,000 and $500,000 is middle income, mortgage-wise

David Adamo, the chief executive of Luxury Mortgage in Stamford, Conn. likened the current mortgage market to a barbell, with pockets of availability for borrowers at both ends of the income spectrum but less for those in between. Those with annual incomes up to about $250,000 have access to mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, while the very affluent can obtain loans from private banking institutions.

For middle class borrowers with household incomes between $250,000 and $500,000, however, mortgages are not as easy to get, Mr. Adamo said. "These people are living in places where starter homes might be $1 million," he said, "and it's really affecting them."

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will accept only loans below $729,500 in the highest-cost markets like New York City and northern New Jersey. For mortgages larger than that, mortgage brokers and bankers must find other investors who want to take the loans. (Mortgage brokers process the applications on a lender's behalf, while mortgage bankers will finance the loan and sell it shortly thereafter.)

Continue reading "Between $250,000 and $500,000 is middle income, mortgage-wise" »

June 3, 2009

Health Care: Coverage vs Cost

During the campaign, Obama talked about the need to control medical costs and mentioned a few ideas for doing so, but he rarely lingered on the topic. He spent more time talking about expanding health-insurance coverage, which would raise the government's bill. After the election, however, when time came to name a budget director, Obama sent a different message. He appointed Peter Orszag, who over the last two years has become one of the country's leading experts on the looming budget mess that is health care.

Their argument happens to be supported by a rich body of economic literature that didn't even make it into the book. More-educated people are healthier, live longer and, of course, make more money. Countries that educate more of their citizens tend to grow faster than similar countries that do not. The same is true of states and regions within this country. Crucially, the income gains tend to come after the education gains. What distinguishes thriving Boston from the other struggling cities of New England? Part of the answer is the relative share of children who graduate from college. The two most affluent immigrant groups in modern America -- Asian-Americans and Jews -- are also the most educated. In recent decades, as the educational attainment of men has stagnated, so have their wages. The median male worker is roughly as educated as he was 30 years ago and makes roughly the same in hourly pay. The median female worker is far more educated than she was 30 years ago and makes 30 percent more than she did then.

Continue reading "Health Care: Coverage vs Cost" »

May 30, 2009

Unamerican names part 3

Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent's simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to.

Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies blogs on the Corner

April 3, 2009

Justine Lai with the presidents

Justine Lai celebrates with the 44 American presidents, one at a time.

I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents.

And playfully !

March 30, 2009

Most educated towns (degrees) Top 25

As usual, Boston and Washington DC are well represented in the most educated towns list. [CNN]

Rank City % residents with graduate degrees

1 Arlington, VA 35.7%
6 Towson, MD 31.2%
8 Bethesda, MD 29.1%
9 Alexandria, VA 29.0%

3 Brookline, MA 32.5%
15 Newton, MA 26.9%
16 Cambridge, MA 26.3%

Continue reading "Most educated towns (degrees) Top 25" »

February 28, 2009

North Face eats its dogfood

A nice example of a company using its own product:

Even companies not receiving federal money are trimming back. The North Face, the outdoor apparel and equipment company, hosted dealers and business partners at a Squaw Valley resort near Lake Tahoe in California late last year.

But to save the cost of 400 hotel rooms for the first night, North Face created a base camp where the group slept outdoors in North Face clothes and sleeping bags. Groups gave presentations around a camp fire. "The night was freezing cold," said Katja Asaro, managing director at Henry V Events, the Portland company that had planned it. "But people really got into it."


Continue reading "North Face eats its dogfood" »

January 16, 2009

So sorry

So sorry ?

Are you as sorry as you were four years ago ?

December 21, 2008

Today's rich don't exploit the poor they just outcompete them.


Looking at upper-middle-class homes, Lareau describes a parenting style that many of us ridicule but do not renounce. This involves enrolling kids in large numbers of adult-supervised activities and driving them from place to place. Parents are deeply involved in all aspects of their children's lives. They make concerted efforts to provide learning experiences.

Home life involves a lot of talk and verbal jousting. Parents tend to reason with their children, not give them orders. They present "choices" and then subtly influence the decisions their kids make. Kids feel free to pass judgment on adults, express themselves and even tell their siblings they hate them when they're angry.

The pace is exhausting. Fights about homework can be titanic. But children raised in this way know how to navigate the world of organized institutions. They know how to talk casually with adults, how to use words to shape how people view them, how to perform before audiences and look people in the eye to make a good first impression.

Working-class child-rearing is different, Lareau writes. In these homes, there tends to be a much starker boundary between the adult world and the children's world. Parents think that the cares of adulthood will come soon enough and that children should be left alone to organize their own playtime. When a girl asks her mother to help her build a dollhouse out of boxes, the mother says no, "casually and without guilt," because playtime is deemed to be inconsequential -- a child's sphere, not an adult's.

Lareau says working-class children seem more relaxed and vibrant, and have more intimate contact with their extended families. "Whining, which was pervasive in middle-class homes, was rare in working-class and poor ones," she writes.

But these children were not as well prepared for the world of organizations and adulthood. There was much less talk in the working-class homes. Parents were more likely to issue brusque orders, not give explanations. Children, like their parents, were easily intimidated by and pushed around by verbally dexterous teachers and doctors. Middle-class kids felt entitled to individual treatment when entering the wider world, but working-class kids felt constrained and tongue-tied.


David Brooks

Continue reading "Today's rich don't exploit the poor they just outcompete them." »

December 20, 2008

Middle class at $150k, according to middle class earners

For example, four-in-ten Americans with incomes below $20,000 say they are middle class, as do a third of those with incomes above $150,000. And about the same percentages of blacks (50%), Hispanics (54%) and whites (53%) self-identify as middle class, even though members of minority groups who say they are middle class have far less income and wealth than do whites who say they are middle class.

pew_middleclass_793-2gif

Some 53% of adults in America say they are middle class. On key measures of well-being -- income, wealth, health, optimism about the future -- they tend to fall between those who identify with classes above and below them. But within this self-defined middle class, there are notable economic and demographic differences. For example, four-in-ten Americans with incomes below $20,000 say they are middle class, as do a third of those with incomes above $150,000. And about the same percentages of blacks (50%), Hispanics (54%) and whites (53%) self-identify as middle class, even though members of minority groups who say they are middle class have far less income and wealth than do whites who say they are middle class.

Pew, Inside the Middle Class: Bad Times Hit the Good Life (2009 April)

Reason

November 12, 2008

Bush in 1978: before playing country cowboy

"Kent Hance was a down-home boy, real homey, and George W. wasn't homey like Kent," recalled Johnnye Davis, a Republican leader in Odessa. "He didn't come across to the voters as well as Kent did, with the little jokes that Kent told."

While Mr. Bush now is sometimes mocked for an ignorance of policy details, back then people thought he had the opposite problem: a tendency to drop references in his speeches that baffled audiences, like a discussion of anti-inflationary economic policy.

"He was quick, a bit too quick, so that people didn't always get it," Mrs. Davis said. "He was so darn intelligent that a lot of what he said went over people's heads. He's learned to explain things a little better since then."

Another problem was that while Mr. Bush never really had a clear campaign strategy, Mr. Hance did: he focused his campaign on emphasizing local ties and on casting Mr. Bush as a carpet-bagger from the East. One of Mr. Hance's most effective radio spots was this one, read by an announcer:

"In 1961, when Kent Hance graduated from Dimmitt High School in the 19th congressional district, his opponent George W. Bush was attending Andover Academy in Massachusetts. In 1965, when Kent Hance graduated from Texas Tech, his opponent was at Yale University. And while Kent Hance graduated from University of Texas Law School, his opponent" -- the announcer's voice plunged -- "get this, folks, was attending Harvard. We don't need someone from the Northeast telling us what our problems are."

Continue reading "Bush in 1978: before playing country cowboy" »

October 31, 2008

Under $250,000 is middle class: Obama

A show of hands at an Obama rally Thursday after the candidate asked who made less than $250,000. Senator Barack Obama says those middle class audience members would benefit from his plan.

obama_250k_tax.png


Mr. Obama opposes extending President Bush's tax cuts. Instead, he proposes various tax breaks, including a $500 tax credit for each person in a household who works, a larger child care tax credit, a $4,000 tax credit each year for the first two years of college, and eliminating all income taxes for those over 65 with income less than $50,000 a year.

To reduce the deficit and inequality, he would raise the tax rate for single households with incomes of $200,000 or more and for families with incomes over $250,000. He would also raise taxes on capital gains and dividends.

For married couples with incomes of $500,000 with two children and both parents working, the Tax Policy Center found that Mr. Obama would raise income taxes by $3,363, from $110,955 now, while Mr. McCain's plans would leave taxes unchanged. Deloitte found that a $500,000-a-year couple would pay $3,100 more under Mr. Obama, with no change under Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain also proposes giving many households a $5,000 tax credit when they buy family health insurance, which costs $12,000 nationwide on average.

Previously: Charles Gibson of ABC: $200,000 a year was a middle-class income.

Continue reading "Under $250,000 is middle class: Obama" »

October 20, 2008

Middle class: only up to $250, 000 annual income ?

The definition of middle class is in flux. Many try to quantify and specify it in income terms.

Here's Charles Gibson of ABC (Via Paul Krugman): suggested that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income.

October 19, 2008

John Cleese on Sarah Palin

Funnier than Michael Palin.

July 24, 2008

Frugalness as an American value ?

Megan vs Brooks on frugalness as an American value; an economic history of debt in America.

Popup video: Megan McArdle on debt in America

[Economist video]

July 5, 2008

Aspen idea merchants

Aspen Idea Festival gathers the idea merchants: journalists, entrepreneurs,
and academics who talk about ideas more than about people, and about
people more than about things.

February 22, 2007

WMTC

We moved to Canada, by former Americans.

January 27, 2007

Crunchy Con

Crunch-Con humble conservatives ? Example: Pelos movie on evangelical culture.

"Culture war" is the right's version of the left's "class war."

Continue reading "Crunchy Con" »

September 21, 2006

Separated by a Common Language

Separatedbyacommonlanguage compare US English to British English.

June 25, 2005

Deep Throat unknown to Big Mouth

Essay:The Secret That Didn't Reach Washington's Lips
By Sally Quinn

No. I did not know who Deep Throat was. And no. I never asked
my husband, Ben Bradlee. Why not? For several reasons. I have too much
pride, to begin with. I knew perfectly well Ben wouldn't tell me and I
didn't want to be refused. Secondly, I . . . how shall I say this? ...
have a big mouth. It would have been a huge responsibility to know.
It was also clear that if somebody else spilled the beans, fingers
would be pointed at me.

Continue reading "Deep Throat unknown to Big Mouth" »

May 5, 2005

Man Date

Dinner with a friend has not always been so fraught. Before women
were considered men's equals, some gender historians say, men routinely
confided in and sought advice from one another in ways they did not
do with women, even their wives. Then, these scholars say, two
things changed during the last century: an increased public awareness
of homosexuality created a stigma around male intimacy, and at the
same time women began encroaching on traditionally male spheres,
causing men to become more defensive about notions of masculinity.

-- 8.

And so, man date joins the lexicon.

Continue reading "Man Date" »

December 16, 2004

Sage advice from avuncular Donald Rumsfeld

Sage advice from the avuncular Donald Rumsfeld:

"Intellectual capital is the least fungible kind."

"Most people spend their time on the 'urgent'
rather than on the 'important.' "

"When you initiate new activities, find things you
are currently doing that you can discontinue--whether
reports, activities, etc. It works, but you must force
yourself to do it. Always keep in mind your
'teeth-to-tail ratio'."

See also Jack Welsh's five questions for leaders.

December 14, 2004

US Canada maps

More USA-Canada maps from the post-election era.

.
from Canada is an ally in the War on Terror.


from BluePrint magazine.

November 13, 2004

Autoblog

Autoblog's Mini Cooper.

November 4, 2004

Canadian Ally

Canada is an ally in the War on Terror.

October 23, 2004

100 good American speeches

100 good American speeches, mp3 samples.