Sunday, December 31, 2006

More underlying drivers of the housing bubble

I think if I stop pretending each post is going to be my last, I'll get out of here sooner.
Why is Freddie Mac granting all of these illegal campaign contributions? Could it be, say, to perpetuate pernicious policies promoting private property purchase?

OK, Just one more post for 2006

I'm back from vacation, and catching up on some of TPM before heading off to New Year's parties. But, I have to suggest this piece on Saddam Hussein's hanging:
Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.
It's nice to read! This is more or less the gospel that I've been spreading through the country when encountering news of Mr. Hussein's death. This is really a wonderful blog.

I yield the remainder of my time to the Gentleman from Good Harbor Consulting

Talking Points Memo sent me to this little piece by Richard Clarke, which lists 7 major geopolitical crises that are currently being ignored. He charitably blames the Iraq Occupation, but does remind that Shrub was a bumbler even before he got it into his head to steamroll a foreign country to show strong leadership.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Margarine is as evil as we've always suspected

So, The Wall Street Journal is as for the New York City Trans Fats ban as you'd expect.
You wouldn't know it from the media coverage, but the science on the dangers of trans fats is still being debated
You have to love the "I'm lying to you, but I expect you to not notice" formulation. Anthropogenic Global Climate Change is being debated. The Holocaust is being debated. This just means that somebody feels obfuscation is in their interest.

But, margarine -- like all these 'low fat' substitutes for real foods -- has always been suspect. And here's the official word from the New York City Department of Health:
Trans fat is the most dangerous fat. It increases LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol. Based on conservative estimates, trans fat is responsible for at least 500 deaths from heart disease in New York City each year. Trans fat has no known health benefits. Unlike saturated fat, there is no safe level of artificial trans fat consumption.

A little good news about flu vaccines

It turns out that getting a flu shot can be beneficial even if they predict the strain mix wrong. Now, I don't know how quick I'd be to extend that result to the bird flu, but the professional scientist people seem to.

Suzanne Ohmit of the University of Michigan School of Public Health and her colleagues found that in the fall of 2004, Sanofi-Pasteur's FluZone vaccine was 77 percent effective and MedImmune Inc.'s Flumist worked in 57 percent of the cases even though the flu strain making the rounds that year was not selected for the vaccine.


Bird flu is expected to be so novel nobody will have any immunity to it, said Monto. As a result, people are going to need two doses of the vaccine, just as children who have never been exposed to regular influenza need two doses of the flu vaccine to be protected.

He Questioned All Things

This is a neat little quote from The History Of Love.
That he questioned all things, even the most simple, to the extent that when someone passing him on the street raised his hat and said, "Good day," Litvinoff often paused so long to weigh the evidence that by the time he'd settled on an answer the person had gone on his way, leaving him standing alone.
I can tell you, this is a paralyzing way to live. But, I like to think, in a Lemony Snickett way, it makes it harder for your enemies to find you.

Iraqi Red Crescent shown what being attacked really is

Dec 15: Iraqi Red Crescent Complains Of Harassment by U.S. Forces
"The main problem we are facing is the American forces more than the other forces," Dr. Karbouli told reporters in Geneva. "The insurgents, they are Iraqis, a lot of them are Iraqis, and they respect the Iraqis. And they respect our [the Red Crescent's] identity, which is neutrality."


"We have flags, we have everything, we have [the] logo, so [U.S. forces] know everything, but unfortunately they come again and attack us many times," Dr. Karbouli said. He complained that U.S. forces broke doors and windows at the Red Crescent headquarters "and they didn't find anything, and they left."
Dec 17: Gunmen Carry Out Mass Kidnapping At Baghdad Red Crescent Office
Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms burst into Red Crescent offices on Sunday and kidnapped more than two dozen people at the humanitarian organization in the latest sign of the country's growing lawlessness.


In the latest violence, gunmen in five pickup trucks pulled up at the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent in downtown Baghdad and abducted 25 employees and three security guards from an adjacent building, police said. A Red Crescent official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said the gunmen left women behind.

The Red Crescent, which is part of the international Red Cross movement, has around 1,000 staff and some 200,000 volunteers in Iraq. It works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits detainees and tries to provide food, water and medicine to Iraqis. "We don't know who they are. We don't know why they did this," said Antonella Notari, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Geneva.

She also said the organization was in contact with the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which denied any involvement and had assured that they were searching for the abductees.
Well, OK. Please stop attacking the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The New York Times, typically trying to toe the administration line while hinting it knows better, suggests in its headline that the Iraqi Resistance attached the IRC, which has now suspended operations, which pointing another way in its text, to wit
Dr. Jamal Al-Karbouli, the vice president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, ... told reporters. “[The insurgents] respect our (the Red Crescent’s) identity, which is neutrality.”

And then, as if on cue (and only to prove him wrong), gunmen wearing police uniforms — easy to come by on Iraq’s black market, Marc Santora and John O’Neil note in today’s Times — raided the headquarters of the Red Crescent yesterday, kidnapping more than 30 employees.
Yeah, well, OK. Do you still think the good of our staying outweighs the good of our leaving?

Another thing I don't understand

More from the Housing Bubble Blog. Todd Martin (some economist) in a linked article in the New Haven Register is quoted as saying, ‘We’ve seen a seller’s market turn into a buyer’s market very quickly.’

Now, we hear that a lot. It was a seller's market, it's now a buyer's market. But, really, does it have to be either? If the property values have only started to slide down, isn't it not really a buyer's market? I'm waiting until prices absolutely crater. It's a 'somebody else's money' market now, I'd think. If you're trying to sell in one of the regions that has started to deflate, your best bet would seem to be to get elected to office.

One thing I don't understand

OK, so there's a website where you can sign up for a sugar daddy. Now, you quantify the financial relationship you're -- or 'your are' -- looking for.

And they're very clear that they won't tolerate their platform being used as a platform for prostitutes.

But, the line. I don't see the line.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Proving I'm only theoretically anti-pet

If I were sending out Christmas cards, I'd use this photo. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

America Wins Again

Briefly mentioned at the end of a NYT story is news that President Bush
signed a bill extending the mandate of the
inspector general for Iraq reconstruction
until 2008.

You'll recall there was some anxiety about this.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Little Victory

You are, of course, familiar with Keith Knight's "Life's Little Victories" series in the K Chronicles (check the link.) I had one, so I wanted to share it. The nearest ATM that takes deposits for my credit union is at Grand Central station. I get paid like a bus boy, so I have to go deposit my own checks. Next closest is sneaking past the dogs, guards and metal detectors at the Federal Building, and then I'm in some place called 'Bergen County'.

Recently, the card stripe reader at Grand Central hadn't been working, which is how I found out about the dogs. Today, I slipped in at about 8:20 and tried my card. Nothing. I tried it in various configurations, speeds and with special patterns, pretty much what you'd do if your magnetic card stripe reader was ignoring you. I melancholically accepted my fate, and began to trudge out of the building when an incoming woman confronted me. She was there to fix the machine! It had to be reset every morning because of a network problem! This had been going on for a month!

So, I chatted with the guy behind me about industrial art (we were actually in the Whitney Museum Annex in the Altria building, across the street from the actual train station) while she fixed the machine, and I deposited my check.

I win!

Monday, December 18, 2006

More on pets

Sherry Turkle has come out against robot pets. She doesn't have any specific fears, but is uncomfortable with the emotional bonding and dependence that children and the elderly have been shown to develop with the neotonous mechanisms. We can presume this vulnerability spreads through our whole population.

Now, one of my more controversial recent posts -- and I have to warn you again to think twice before following the video link -- dissed the idea of pets as being dishonorable to the status of free animals. I get my politics from Wicked. But, this point is important, too. That our affection for pets -- robot or otherwise -- is something that wicked overlords can use against us. It's just a thought. But, if we can train dolphins to shoot divers, why can't we train a puppy to seduce a cabinet secretary into snapping the neck of ... well, I won't say whose. I don't want to end up in Gitmo.

And speaking of controversy! I had dinner tonight with the volunteer coordinator for the local Red Cross. I told her I had a blog, and she said she'd never seen one. When I told her mine was "Fears and Frets," she corrected herself, as she'd seen this.

This blog! For at least one person, the only blog she recalls seeing. It's not nothing! I believe it was this post, inviting you all out to Staten Island. But, the point is, at least one large sovereign body is aware of me. I'll try not to let it get to my head.

One more point! This is my first post with Blogger's new interface. It's almost exactly the same, both for you and for me. But, let me know if there are any problems.


I was walking -- to church, actually -- through Union Square today and a guy handing out long cardboard boxes decorated with minorahs asked if I were Jewish. Now, I'm kind of a mutt, but ended up looking vaguely scandinavian -- people guessing my religion generally go for Episcopalian or Lutheran. A fair number hit Presbyterian dead on.

Now, the New York branch of Jews for Jesus is between my apartment and the subway. So, every day I walk past while they harrass passersby, "Have you heard the good news?" or whatever they say. But, they never talk to me. I figured it was a lost cause to try to make myself look Jewish, so I was just sort of hoping to get hit at random, maybe by somebody new to the game.

I explained all this to the guy in the park, and thanked him for finally including me in being possibly chosen. It was super important to him that I understand he was not with Jews for Jesus, but a regular Jew for Judaica, but once he felt he communicated that he said that made him feel good, and thanked me for sharing.

I don't know why that made him feel good, but I''m glad it did. It was our Christmas miracle.

Later that same day, I was visited by what would in the movies have been an angel. A panhandler asked me for some money, and I demurred. He persisted, and I asserted, "I shan't help you." He wanted me to explain why.

I didn't really have a good reason. But, I didn't see a reason to help him. He told me that as a Christian (this one guessed correctly) I had an obligation to help him. This is correct, but it's never seemed workable. I pick and choose how I'm going to help the poor and contribute to the community -- but I don't know if I get to. While on the one hand it seems arbitrary to give money to whosoever asks me, I'm back to pondering the question. Which is probably a good thing.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

CNN a tool in the gender wars, as well

This was a link from the Housing Bubble Blog. But, it's a fascinating story. Girl marries boy, girl and boy have children and buy rental homes, boy loses job, girl and boy avoid talking directly about the need to unload speculative properties in a weakening market, girl goes to national magazine to relate her side.

It's amazing! "CNN Money requests the attentions of pigheaded husband Brian Schuett to this part of its website and magazine."

So, keep those lines of communication in your marriage open. Otherwise, this could be you!

Housing bubble explained

You have to love criminals; they always have such a fresh perspective. If you saw insane increases in residential property valuations, what would you do? If your answer was "collude with the seller to inflate the price of a house, buy it with borrowed money, keep the margin, and default on the loan," then the housing bubble has really been working for you.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wondering what to get me for Christmas?

I'm not a soldier in the 'War on Christmas.' But, I'm not going to pretend it's not coming up. And I feel no need to treat Hannukah and Kwanzaa with equal billing. 'Happy Holidays' and its ilk are ways to use corporate and public money to celebrate Christmas while trying to stay seemly -- I'm totally for that. I just don't understand why individuals say 'Happy Holidays.' But, for you non-Christians, does hearing 'Merry Christmas' make you feel oppressed? Is 'Happy Holidays' better?

Is it still a digression if you lead with it? This post is really about CorpWatch. You know I think Bunnatine Greenhouse and Stuart Bowen are two of the real heroes of Iraq. If the occupation is about funneling money to Bechtel, CH2M Hill, Halliburton, SAIC and their ilk, then we lose as long as that goes on. It's fine to talk about all the disasters we create there and in Afghanistan, but the reason why we did it persists.

I saw this today in Talking Points Memo (it's from The Nation):
[In] New Orleans ... [f]ederal dollars are flowing to corporate bailouts and disaster profiteers, not to affected citizens, revealed an August analysis by CorpWatch, a San Francisco-based organization that previously investigated profiteering in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And now I'm all hot on CorpWatch. And I'm going to go get me a deck for WTO Loteria.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

If I publish a book, can I count on you to acclaim it highly?

Fellowships for Writers [and thinkers] at UNLV

This is new opportunity for RPCV writers [and thinkers] this was set up by Richard Wiley (Korea 1967-69) and others at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, check it out.

Founded in 2006, the Black Mountain Institute (BMI) is an international center dedicated to advancing literary and cross-cultural dialogue. Named after the long defunct Black Mountain College in North Carolina and Las Vegas' own Black Mountain, it is composed of the Forum on Contemporary Cultures (The Forum), the North American Network of Cities of Asylum (NANCA), and the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). A center of excellence in modern letters, BMI provides an environment where thinkers and writers from all segments of global society can fight against entrenched perspectives, whatever their political or cultural source.

Beginning with the academic year 2007–2008, the Forum on Contemporary Cultures at the Black Mountain Institute (BMI) is pleased to offer from two to five nine-month fellowships to published writers and public intellectuals. Fellowships will be awarded to candidates whose work ranges away from the American experience and into international terrain, and who have an ongoing project that would benefit from a period of sustained immersion. The program accepts applications from novelists, poets, playwrights, historians, political scientists, independent scholars, and anyone else whose work is meant for a general, intelligent lay audience. The Fellows Program will offer its first fellowships in August of 2007.

The Forum awards from two to five fellowships each year to outstanding writers who have published at least one highly acclaimed book before the time of application. Foreign nationals conversant in English are welcome to apply. There are no degree requirements.

Terms and Conditions
Fellows receive a $50,000 stipend, an office, a computer, and full access to the UNLV Lied Library. They remain in residence at BMI for the duration of the fellowship term (approximately
August 27, 2007May 16, 2008) and work on-site, daily, at the BMI offices. Fellows are required to give a talk on their work-in-progress to other fellows, as well as to a wide range of invited guests, and to take part in BMI programs. Additionally, fellows must make themselves available, on occasion, as visitors to UNLV graduate classes in fields related to their own work.

The Forum on Contemporary Cultures Fellows Program is Deadlines
Application deadline:
February 28, 2007
Notification of selection results:
May 1, 2007

end application and materials to:
Coordinator, Forum on Contemporary Cultures
Black Mountain Institute

Box 455085
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV 89154-5085

Program and application queries should be sent to

Prof. Richard Wiley
Associate Director, Black Mountain Institute
Director, Forum on Contemporary Cultures

Richard Wiley is the author of five novels: Soldiers In Hiding (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for best American fiction), Fools' Gold, Festival for Three Thousand Maidens, Indigo, and Ahmed's Revenge. His most recent novel, Commodore Perry's Minstrel Show, will be published next year in the new Michener Series at the
University of Texas Press. In addition, also next year, Hawthorne Books will reissue Soldiers In Hiding. Wiley has been a member of the UNLV English Department faculty since 1989

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wait! I think I get it

I was just cramming an anonymous neighbor's laundry into a hamper either they or someone else left in the laundry room, and I realized that Ralph Kramden's name refers to his being 'crammed in' to his tenement, bus driving job, and depressing marriage! It's not that he was larger than life, it's that the life he was being forced to live was so small.

That took me, what? Thirty-eight years?

Kenneth Pinyan

I was clearing out old emails, and ran across a thread on Kenneth Pinyan, the Boeing Engineer who was video-recorded being killed by a horse. (ed. Please read the comments before clicking the link)It's not for the squeamish -- and perhaps only for the totally squeamless. Are you back? Do you remember I said it wasn't for the squeamish?

Mr. Pinyan, the linked story relates, inspired an anti-bestiality law. This is probably because it would be hard to hire regulators (is it a job you'd want?) and it's the Washington State legislature's job to regulate things that can kill people.

But, I'm now thinking about bestiality. And I don't know that it's wrong. I'm sort of against pets, as it seems cruel to keep this degraded animal forms around us to amuse us and reassure us that it's OK nobody likes us. I'm for breeding animals for tasks, but I think it's just indulgent to breed animals as emotional crutches or ornamentation.

However, once we allow that, why not breed animals to have sex with us? Or even allow animals bred for other uses to be dual-purpose? I'm not suggesting a specific business here, I just miss what I suspect is an obvious argument against bestiality.


So ... about the Thermohaline Circulation

Well. OK. You'll recall the thermohaline circulation shut down, dooming us all to nasty, mean, brutish and short lives. Now, in the link, they say they can only show that it decreased 30 %, but you know how these reporting scientists are always so conservative.

They're getting worse!
Variations up and down within 1 year are as large as the changes seen from one snapshot to the next during the past few decades
The story is that the first result was from an instantaneous reading from a ship. Before they did that, they also lay in some long term instruments in the same area, and they've started to collect data from it. So, now they can see the variability, and they'd like to mitigate the panic.

The upshot is, some of us might live. I'm going to bed more hopeful than I was when I woke up.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mixed Results in Public Policy

So, I bought a New York Times yesterday. Not to find planted Administration talking points on WMDs or such things, or to see what US Acts of Aggression were currently being glossed over, or even to see if the White House had recently OK'd the delayed reporting of one of its criminal acts.

It takes a little bit of cognitive dissonance, but on top of being a party organ, the New York Times has a lot of fine news in it.

Two issues I've been following got an update in the newspaper. One, trans fats are now banned, and 'restaurants with static menus' have to publish calorie information. I know that's two things, but they're both implementations of the same set of recommendations.

In other news, I've been foiled again! Apparently, the government uses birth certificate gender for separating prisoners and other useful things. Private institutions segregate hospital beds and so forth. It was, I'll grant (as does the City Health Commissioner), a not "fully thought through" plan. However, it means I can't have a same sex marriage.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Top One Percent "far from an exclusive club"

Well, that's a relief. To be part of the top 1% of the world's asset owners, you only need $200,000. Like the Finns who wrote the report, I belong to a decimal culture, and -- armed with the knowledge that the world is on a path from being difficult for the poor to being difficult for the non-wealthy -- I'd be comforted to know I was in the "top 1 %".

The press release for the World Institute for
Development Economics Research of the United Nations University
's new study on The World Distribution of Household Wealth goes on to talk about why economic stratification is such an obsession with me: I'm an American
The concentration of wealth within countries varies significantly but is generally high. The share of the top 10% ranges from around 40% in China to 70% in the United States, and higher still in other countries.
Our stratification is worse that China's. Well, we can be comforted to think that China has a lot of poor, and there might be a fair number of them in the top 10 %.
The Gini value, which measures inequality on a scale from zero to one, gives numbers in the range from 35% to 45% for income inequality in most countries. In contrast, Gini values forwealth inequality are usually between 65% and 75%, and sometimes exceed 80%.

Two high wealth economies, Japan and the United States, show very different patterns of wealth inequality, with Japan having a wealth Gini of 55% and the USA a wealth Gini of around 80%.
Man, why are those Finns always dumping on us? Do they hate Freedom? Gini's 89 % globally, so we're marginally better than nature red in tooth and claw. Of course, we have an edge...
The authors go on to note that `many people in high-income countries have negative net worth and--somewhat paradoxically--are among the poorest people in the world in terms of household wealth.'
Ha! Take that, Japan.