January 2009 Archives

Dr. Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn has some good advice on guiding kids through new social situations and rightly points out that kids generally can't just "work it out themselves" the first time.

Intrade has launched a World Crisis Index with a pretty neat methodology. The index is an average of several ongoing economic contracts, normalized to start at 50.0.

To measure the immediate impact of dozens of presentations and workshops by 2,500 business and 42 political leaders we have constructed the Intrade World Crisis Index.

Our admittedly unsophisticated sentiment index priced at 50.0 at the official opening of the meeting is comprised of eight equally weighted markets that measure the likelihood of recessions, depressions, increased unemployment, lower stock markets, and greater international tensions.

A higher post meeting index means our markets predict a more disastrous 2009 than before. A lower post-meeting index means our markets predict global leaders have reduced the probability that 2009 will be the disaster we previously thought.

The WCI started at 50.0 two days ago, and now stands at 50.2.

Here's the inside scoop on Circuit City's liquidation sale and an explanation of why going-out-of-business sales usually aren't that great.

From cameras to TVs, every item we saw at the store was marked as 10% to 40% off. However, of all the items we looked at, only one (the 32" Sharp LCD) was cheaper at Circuit City than it was online. Even so, we've seen other Sharp TVs with similar specs for less. ...

As expected, Circuit City's liquidation sale was atrocious. Even though the store had a Black Friday vibe, there were no sales to be found. But we were surprised to find that the stores beating Circuit City aren't just online-only stores like Amazon and Buy.com. Even Toys "R" Us and Sears undercut Circuit City. It bears repeating: Liquidation sales aren't synonymous with discounts, and consumers should remember that as more merchants file for bankruptcy.

I loved the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, but I'm not sure how well they'll translate to the movie format. There are huge time gaps and a ton of important short-duration characters that might be hard for the average movie-goer to track.

I've praised Dwarf Fortress before, but it's a hard game to get into because of the steep learning curve. If you need some help getting started, check out this Dwarf Fortress tutorial video.

(HT: JM.)

Based on Bill Clinton's extensive foreign financial ties I don't see how he or Hillary could even qualify for a run-of-the-mill collateral secret security clearance. Apparently that doesn't matter when you're Secretary of State, though.

As if our labor laws aren't already unfair enough to employers, the newspeaky Employee Free Choice Act is poised to tilt the table so far in the unions' favor that the whole game will become unplayable.

First, you may be surprised to learn about some of the speech restrictions that already burden employers facing union organization.

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) today, an employer can insist upon a secret ballot after 30% of workers indicate by card checks their interest in a union. The campaign that follows lets the employer air his views about the downsides of unionization before the vote takes place.

To be sure, the employer's free-speech rights are limited under the NLRA. He cannot threaten to move or shut down if workers vote for the union. Nor can he promise higher wages if they don't. But he can make predictions of what will happen if his firm is unionized, and he can point to the reversal of worker fortunes in other unionized firms.

The Supreme Court (unfortunately, in my view) has held that the peculiar labor-law environment justified these abridgements of ordinary speech rights.

The name of the EFCA bill is absurd on its face: the authors' implication is that the current system of secret ballots impinges the "free choice" of the employees, but that a "card check" system would protect it. The counterargument is easy: secret ballots were good enough for our founding fathers, good enough for our state Constitutions, and good enough for all manners of private organizations. Why mess with success?

Unless you define "success" as unionizing as many workers as possible and stabilizing the power bases of the union bosses and the Democratic Party.

So right now unions can be formed/joined by secret ballot (soon to be card check?), but does anyone know how a workplace can be deunionized? It sounds like even the union bosses are realizing that the auto unions aren't good for the workers.

On Wednesday, UAW President Ron Gettlefinger predicted there would be no wage cuts as part of the union's concessions to GM and Chrysler. Gettlefinger argued Toyota's workers actually make $2-per-hour more than UAW workers, if you count bonuses. ...

P.S.: So will promoters of greater unionization now boast that with unions, workers can earn $2/hour less?

I don't see how unions can win this in the long run, unless they abandon all pretense of democratic legitimacy.

Too bad none of the staff was carrying a gun when a knife-wielding maniac burst into their daycare.

Burssels: Two children and an adult were reported to have been killed and at least 10 children wounded in a knife attack at a day-care center in western Belgium on Friday, according to local media. ...

A local rescue official said many more children had been hurt in the attack. "At least 10 are injured. Ten, 15, 20 are injured, I don't know," Peter Cleymans, director of Dendermonde Ambulance Centre, told Reuters news agency. A medical emergency plan had been put into operation and the Belgian interior minister, Guido de Padt, went to the scene immediately, Belgian media reported.

Crimes like this demonstrate why an armed populace is essential for the preservation of life and liberty.

Rude children reflect poorly on their parents, and I'm eager to teach my daughter good manners.

My favorite child-rearing book is “Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children,” by Judith Martin, who takes the view that manners are at the heart of the whole parental enterprise. I called her to ask why.

“Every infant is born adorable but selfish and the center of the universe,” she replied. It’s a parent’s job to teach that “there are other people, and other people have feelings.” ...

I like Miss Manners’ approach because it lets a parent respect a child’s intellectual and emotional privacy: I’m not telling you to like your teacher; I’m telling you to treat her with courtesy. I’m not telling you that you can’t hate Tommy; I’m telling you that you can’t hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.

But that first big counterintuitive lesson — that there are other people out there whose feelings must be considered — affects a child’s most basic moral development. For a child, as for an adult, manners represent a strategy for getting along in life, but also a successful intellectual engagement with the business of being human.

Manners will get you far in life.

It's strange to me that banks make so much money from fees instead of from loans and investments.

"It's becoming very clear that banks are increasingly reliant on fees resulting from overdrawn checking accounts for income," said Mr. Flores. "Nationally, the average household now has more than 12 overdraft transactions per year and pays $368 per year in fees. We see no reason for this trend to change. Bounced check fees and overdraft protection will have a larger and larger financial impact on households." ...

* The average United States household with a banking account incurs 12.7 NSF fees per year.
* Bank and credit union data used in Bretton Woods' modeling determined 1.28 billion separate check and electronic NSF items.
* An estimated 20.2 million households with bank or credit union accounts write the majority of NSF items (1.02 billion) incurring $29.7 billion in NSF fees or approximately $1,472 in fees per active household.

Good for me I guess, since I've never paid one. My banking is subsidized by idiot taxes!

Unfortunately Violet is an alien-human hybrid and will need to live in this alien incubator for a while.

Here's a slideshow with pictures of some of the equipment the FBI has deployed for inaugeration.

My brother sent me the link, and he wonders why the FBI needs a Mobile Command Center on-site when their actual command center is less than a mile away.

I kid you not, the "O" key on my laptop broke this morning. Strange.

Master of None isn't turning into a baby blog, but you have to indulge me right now.

1. Violet gets fussiest around 10pm... right when we're used to going to bed.

2. But she slept for almost four hours between 6am and 10am!

3. As a result of (1) and (2), we're going to shift our sleeping schedules and stay up later instead of fighting this battle head-on.

4. It seems like she's still on the schedule she was on in the womb: wake up and go nuts as soon as we lay down for bed, and then fall back asleep when we wake up.

5. It's a lot of fun to work so closely with Jessica on the same "project", even if V is a little challenging at this point.

Some biologists think that hormone "imbalances" may contribute to "ultra-aggressive" traders, and therefore the financial crisis.

Successful stock traders may be physically prone to hormonal excess — a physiology that leads to success on fast-paced trading floors, but also to a global economy steered by hormonally imbalanced decision makers.

In a study of 44 London traders, the most successful tended to have longer ring fingers than index fingers, a ratio linked to high prenatal exposures to androgen, a male sex hormone. This exposure in turn is believed to increase adult testosterone levels.

By favoring ultra-aggressive hotheads, the financial world may be throwing a human-sized wrench in its own gears. ...

A variety of traits — from sexual preference and athletic aptitude to assertiveness and aggression — have been correlated with ring-to-index finger ratio. Some of these studies have not been replicated, and have been criticized as a modern form of phrenology. But researchers do agree that the ratio tracks with prenatal androgen exposure. This early exposure is believed to determine testosterone levels during adulthood, carving a metabolic channel down which hormones can flow — and flow they do on trading room floors, where fortunes can be made and lost in minutes.

I'm not sure about the ring finger connection, but I can see how our financial system rewards aggressive risk-takers. One obvious example is that corporate executives can get huge bonuses in good years that they don't have to give back in bad years. Similarly, fund managers take a cut of the profits in good years but lose little in bad years.

(HT: NW.)

Some ramblings on morality by Jerry Pournelle, who is an excellent rambler.

Have you ever encountered someone attempting divination at work or in their personal life that wasn't intended as mere show or for profit? For example, tossing coins for I Ching in their cubicle?

Palestinians train their children to be suicide bombers and use women as human shields.

Israeli soldiers protect civilians and attempt to minimize casualties on both sides.

"Love at first sight" may still be a myth, but apparently "undying love" has a scientific foundation.

Suzanne Bernstein said she and her husband, Sidney, eat side-by-side when they go out, always walk hand-in-hand, and begin and end each day with "I love you."

The couple from Weehawken, N.J., have been married 18 years and Suzanne said the relationship is as passionate as when they first met.

Now research exists to support her claim.

Stony Brook University researchers looked at the brains of Bernstein and 16 other people who had been married an average of 20 years and claimed to be still intensely in love. They found that their MRIs showed activity in the same regions of the brain as those who had just fallen in love.

It can take a while, but science eventually catches up with what everyone already knows.

... a previous phone survey of several hundred people in long-term relationships she and Aron conducted found about 35 percent rated their feeling for their partners as very intense.

"We were shocked," she said. "We hadn't predicted it would be that high."

It's sad that relationships among some scientists are apparently so empty! I can attest that your humble author, at least, is as in love with his wife as when they first met.

Paul Hsieh, cofounder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, has written another excellent op-ed explaining how "universal healthcare" is antithetical to American liberty.

Imagine a country where the government regularly checks the waistlines of citizens over age 40. Anyone deemed too fat would be required to undergo diet counseling. Those who fail to lose sufficient weight could face further "reeducation" and their communities subject to stiff fines.

Is this some nightmarish dystopia?

No, this is contemporary Japan.

The Japanese government argues that it must regulate citizens' lifestyles because it is paying their health costs. This highlights one of the greatly underappreciated dangers of "universal healthcare." Any government that attempts to guarantee healthcare must also control its costs. The inevitable next step will be to seek to control citizens' health and their behavior. Hence, Americans should beware that if we adopt universal healthcare, we also risk creating a "nanny state on steroids" antithetical to core American principles.

Read the rest. "Universal healthcare" is incompatible with liberty -- and it's an unattainable myth anyway. Just ask any of my Canadian friends who have waited four months for an MRI.

It appears that ADA lawsuits are out of control in California due to a poorly designed law, and some disabled people are taking advantage.

Mundy is trolling for barriers to his patronage -- a threshold too high for his wheelchair, a parking lot with blue-striped access lanes narrower than eight feet, a public restroom where the coat hook on the back of the door, if there is one, is above his reach.

One fighter in a burgeoning army of crusaders for disabled access, Mundy says he has filed more than 150 lawsuits in 18 months demanding damages from small businesses in violation of the exacting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Suing for ADA noncompliance has become a cottage industry for dozens of disabled Californians who have taken on the role of freelance enforcers of an often ignored federal statute. They secure piecemeal correction of offending premises and often enrich themselves and their lawyers in the process. ...

Divorced and jobless except for the self-assigned ADA work, Mundy won't say how much he has earned by filing lawsuits demanding five-figure sums then settling out of court with business owners keen to escape a costlier defense. Attorneys representing those he has sued estimate Mundy's proceeds at about $300,000 in little more than a year, and a similar sum for his attorney, Morse Mehrban, from Mundy's cases alone.

The problem isn't the Americans with Disabilities Act, its with California's implementation. Instead of complaints resulting first in a warning and only later imposing a fine if access is not provided, California lets "victims" recover thousands of dollars of damages immediately after the complaint.

"Confined to a wheelchair in California?" Mehrban asks potential clients on his website. "You may be entitled to $1,000 each time you can't use something at a business because of your disability."

If someone in a wheelchair has been doing laundry once a month for a year at a laundromat where the paper-towel dispenser is too high, "you're entitled to $12,000," the lawyer advertises. ...

Long Beach attorney Ted Batsakis has had four clients sued for ADA infractions over the past few months. He calls the litigation "an old Chicago-style shakedown." Like his clients, Batsakis said the law would be more just if it gave businesses 30 or 60 days to fix the problems.

No one has the right to make a living by extortion, even in the name of a good cause.

Here's an interesting move by Hyundai: if you lose your job within one year of buying a new car, they'll let you return it and wipe out up to $7500 of negative equity.

According to a Hyundai press release, buyers can return a vehicle for no additional charge within 12 months of purchase if any of the following occur:

-- Involuntary unemployment
-- Physical disability
-- Loss of driver’s license for medical reasons
-- Job transfer overseas
-- Personal bankruptcy filing by a self-employed worker
-- Accidental death ...

Here’s an example from Schwartz of how the return program works:

A customer buys a 2008 Santa Fe SUV and gets a five-year loan for the total purchase price of $22,300 (including rebates, taxes etc.). About $350 of the $430 monthly payment goes toward paying the principal on the loan. When they buyer loses his job nine months later and returns the vehicle to Hyundai, he’s paid about $3,200 in principal on the loan and still owes $19,100.

Assuming the used Santa Fe is appraised at $16,000, the buyer would be “under water” on his loan by $3,100 — easily within the $7,500 negative-equity threshold provided by Hyundai.

As a buyer, I think I'd rather have a lower interest rate or a larger rebate instead of this insurance-like program. Won't this offer attract customers who are particularly likely to lose their jobs? Or troops who might be deployed overseas?

To imitate Glenn Reynolds: They told me that if I voted for John McCain we'd get four more years of Bush-like tax cuts and spending increases... and they were right!

Aiming to foster bipartisan support for his record-setting economic stimulus, President-elect Barack Obama plans to propose huge tax cuts for businesses and middle-class workers that will total about 40 percent of the package, or up to $310 billion, congressional officials said.

The revelation is part of an intricately orchestrated rollout of the plan that includes an appearance by Obama on Capitol Hill on Monday and a major speech about the economy later in the week.

Obama plans to ask Congress for a stimulus package of $675 billion to $775 billion, so the planned tax cuts will total about $270 billion to $310 billion, the officials said.

Didn't the Democrats criticize President Bush for such an unsustainable strategy? Did Bush's strategy mitigate the current economic crisis, or precipitate it? Either way, I'm not sure that "more of the same" is the best way to deal with the problem.

I think the tax cuts Obama are proposing are ok -- though too transient and immediate to do lasting good -- but the spending increases are counterproductive and will burden our society for decades to come. Republicans should be careful not to fall into Obama's trap.

We've been doing a lot of home renovation recently. Here's a tasteful bronze fountain that the wife and I are considering for our front yard.

(HT: JB.)

One of my friends from church is being generous enough to help me with a water-damaged floor in my master bathroom. Since we're ripping the floor out, I figured I might as well get quotes for remodeling the shower as well. I posted a quick ad up on craigslist and within eight hours I received emails from more than 40 plumbers/carpenters/remodelers offering to do the job for as little as $15/hour. Incredible.

Happy 2009!

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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