Friday, March 29, 2013

Easier lie the heads...

That wear the jewels in London, now that Peter Scott is no longer working;

In the course of thieving jewellery and artworks from Mayfair mansions, Bond Street shops and stately homes, Scott also served Fleet Street as handy headline fodder, being variously hailed the “King of the Cat Burglars”, “Burglar to the Stars” or the “Human Fly”. He identified a Robin Hood streak in himself, too, asserting in his memoirs that he had been “sent by God to take back some of the wealth that the outrageously rich had taken from the rest of us”.
“I felt like a missionary seeing his flock for the first time,” he explained when he recalled casing Dropmore House, the country house of the press baron Viscount Kemsley, on a rainy night in 1956 and squinting through the window at the well-heeled guests sitting down to dinner. “I decided these people were my life’s work.”
But, eventually crime doesn't pay;
He ended up broke, reflecting ruefully that “I gave all my money to head waiters and tarts”. Declared bankrupt, owing creditors £440,000, he lived on benefits of £60 a week in a council flat in Islington. 

Into the Great Equilibrium

Goes Cambridge's Frank Hahn, and almost no one notices, except the Telegraph Obit page.  Which features his least sterling moment;

Hahn was better known to the wider public, however, as the co-instigator of a famous letter to The Times, signed by 364 of Britain’s most eminent economists in 1981, warning Margaret Thatcher’s government that its economic policies would deepen the depression, erode the industrial base and undermine Britain’s social and political stability.
In drafting their letter, Hahn and his Cambridge colleague Robert Neild hoped to persuade the government to execute a swift U-turn after Sir Geoffrey Howe’s austerity budget of March 1981. “There is no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence for the government’s belief that by deflating demand they will bring inflation under control and thereby introduce an automatic recovery in output and employment; present policies will deepen the depression,” they wrote.
The Lady was not for turning....
In fact, the economic recovery that Hahn predicted would not happen began more or less as soon as the letter appeared. Unemployment continued to rise in the short term, but this was in the face of a highly regulated and unionised labour market and wholesale industrial restructuring. More significantly, with government borrowing back on course Howe could reduce interest rates at a time when they had been rising and when a high exchange rate had been crippling British industry. Moreover, the government’s strategy persuaded investors that necessary policies would be followed through and that they would work, laying the groundwork for sustained recovery.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Liveblogging World War II

Ala Brad Delong.  We take note of cognitive dissonance on the part of Robert Gellately in his Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. The  academic historian (Florida State University) writes of a trip to Moscow in the summer of 1941, shortly after Hitler's invasion of Russia, by FDR's emissary Harry Hopkins, that;
Hopkins was well regarded in the Kremlin, so much so that some in the United States thought he was a Soviet spy, a groundless suspicion.
For which Gellately cites a 1990 book about the KGB.  However, a few pages later, there is an account of a trip to Washington DC in early 1942 by Stalin's Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov--for talks about the new alliance against Hitler--and we read that the first talks didn't go well, as FDR found the Russian to be extremely unpleasant.

Gellately says that Hopkins (who lived in the White House) visits Molotov late that night in the room also provided for him by Roosevelt.  Hopkins advises Molotov on how to approach FDR the next day; that he should 'draw a gloomy picture' of the Soviet Union's prospects against the Wehrmacht, as that would win over not only FDR, but also his military advisers Geo. Marshall and Admiral Ernest King, into giving greater assistance to the Russians.

Gellately comments;
It was peculiar that a U.S. official would be advising a foreign diplomat on how to gain advantage on his country's leaders.  But it seems that Roosevelt's top adviser was convinced  the Soviets were interested only in security and thought they would work with the Americans for 'a world of democracy and peace.'
  Or, maybe the suspicions of Hopkins weren't so 'groundless' at all.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tolls for thee

The Golden Gate bridge toll taker goes the way of the elevator operator;
On early Wednesday morning, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District planned to make the switch from human toll collectors to a completely electronic toll system, leaving nine full-time toll-takers and 29 temporary, part-time hires without jobs.
Pushed into the 21st century by California's budget crisis;
Toll-takers like [Marsha] Brandhorst have been an institution at the bridge since it opened in 1937, but the pressure to help bail the district out of a $66 million budget shortfall over the next five years has led to employee pink slips.
Bridge district managers say eliminating toll-takers will save about $16 million over eight years in salaries and benefits. The base annual salary for a toll-taker ranged from $48,672 to $54,080. Outfitting the bridge with the new all-electronic equipment is costing the bridge district $3.2 million. 

C'est la guerre

What if they gave a cyber war...and everyone came?  It would look like this;

Spamhaus, a group based in both London and Geneva, is a non-profit organisation which aims to help email providers filter out spam and other unwanted content.
To do this, the group maintains a number of blocklists - a database of servers known to be being used for malicious purposes.
Recently, Spamhaus blocked servers maintained by Cyberbunker, a Dutch web host which states it will host anything with the exception of child pornography or terrorism-related material.
Sven Olaf Kamphuis, who claims to be a spokesman for Cyberbunker, said, in a message, that Spamhaus was abusing its position, and should not be allowed to decide "what goes and does not go on the internet".
Spamhaus has alleged that Cyberbunker, in cooperation with "criminal gangs" from Eastern Europe and Russia, is behind the attack.
But, the good guys seem better armed than even their governments;
Spamhaus's Domain Name System (DNS) servers were targeted - the infrastructure that joins domain names, such as, the website's numerical internet protocol address.
Mr [Steve] Linford [chief executive of Spamhaus] said the attack's power would be strong enough to take down government internet infrastructure.
"If you aimed this at Downing Street they would be down instantly," he said. "They would be completely off the internet."
Also in the fray; Google.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

El médico está en

Making a virtue out of necessity, Spain decides to provide something for tourists other than vacation homes;
The US Medical Tourism Corporation, a leading provider of medical healthcare services, describes Spain in glowing terms: "There is more to Spain than bullfights, flamenco music and dance, exotic beaches and plenty of sunshine. The past few years have seen Spain gain prominence for its excellent medical system that offers low-cost and quality medical treatment for patients from all over the globe. Over the last few years, the Spanish healthcare system has improved in leaps and bounds and currently is something of which both the administration and the practitioners can be justifiably proud. US and UK patients stand to benefit much from the vast medical offerings that Spain offers."
The company's website explains the cost benefits of undergoing surgery in Spain. Prices for medical treatment vary depending on the surgery or the corresponding treatment. However, patients can easily expect savings of around 30 to 70 percent, it says.

Sine vino veritas est etiam

Teetotaling Frenchman isn't an oxymoron these days;

Recent figures merely confirm what has been observed for years, that the number of regular drinkers of wine in France is in freefall.
In 1980 more than half of adults were consuming wine on a near-daily basis. Today that figure has fallen to 17%.
Meanwhile, the proportion of French people who never drink wine at all has doubled to 38%.
Some think it's the fault of the country's politicians (and that could be seen as justice poétique), listen to Denis Saverot, editor of La Revue des Vins de France magazine;
"It is our bourgeois, technocratic elite with their campaigns against drink-driving and alcoholism, lumping wine in with every other type of alcohol, even though it should be regarded as totally different," he says.
"Recently I heard one senior health official saying that wine causes cancer 'from the very first glass'. That coming from a Frenchman. I was flabbergasted. In hock with the health lobby and the politically correct, our elites prefer to keep the country on chemical anti-depressants and wean us off wine.
"Just look at the figures. In the 1960s, we were drinking 160 litres each a year and weren't taking any pills. Today we consume 80 million packets of anti-depressants, and wine sales are collapsing. Wine is the subtlest, most civilised, most noble of anti-depressants. But look at our villages. The village bar has gone, replaced by a pharmacy."

Monday, March 25, 2013

From each according to his ability

And Russia ain't happy about that when it's Cyprus doing the taking;

Meeting deputies at his residence outside the city, Russia’s Prime Minister said there was a need to “understand what this story turns into in the long run, what the consequences for the international financial and monetary system will be - and thus, for our own interests as well.”
Mr Medvedev prefaced his comments by addressing Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov, with the words: “Let us, Igor Ivanovich, talk about what’s happening with Cyprus. The stealing of the stolen is continuing there, I think.”
Did he really mean to say that?  Describing his countrymen's wealth deposited in Cypriot banks as, 'stolen'?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Unemployment Benefits

New meaning to the term given in Spain;

Javier Guerrero, the former general director of Andalusia's labor department, is considered the mastermind behind an alleged scheme to divert money from a public fund set up to help cash-strapped businesses pay severance to workers.
According to court documents from the investigation being carried out byJudge Mercedes Alaya in Seville, Guerrero was paid some 249,000 euros in kickbacks by the consulting firm Vitalia, a subsidy of Eurobank Group, which helped process the unemployment cases. Guerrero has been jailed without bail for a second time after the prosecution convinced the judge that he posed a flight risk.
The Civil Guard estimates that some 50 million euros was diverted from the fund.
Sonny Bono's Law: There are people out there who will game any system.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obama fights the last (trade) war

So think Simon J. Evenett and Robert M. Stern, pointing to this sentence in last month's State of the Union speech;
“And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs”.
There's no there, there, they say;
  • Outside of agriculture – where barriers remain high and vested interests remain entrenched – the potential for trade diversion is slight; almost 70% of exports from the EU enter the US on tariff lines where there are zero tariffs. Even the comparable percentage for agricultural products exceeds 47%;
  • On the other side of the Atlantic, the percentages of US imports of manufactures and agriculture products that pay zero tariffs are 66% and 47%, respectively.
  • No room at the 'in', one might paraphrase.  But, how about regulation?  Not so much there either;
    What have researchers shown about the impact of reducing de facto or de jure cross-border discrimination in national regulatory regimes? ...the form and implementation of national regulatory regimes is an important determinant of incumbent firm strategies and investment decisions. Changes in regulations that promote competition threaten the rate of return on prior investments and will be resisted. Although the policy instruments are different from those in trade in goods, none of this should come as a surprise to students of political economy.
    Moreover, to the extent that US firms have subsidiaries in the EU which have invested around host-country regulations, then these firms will not be keen on regulatory reforms in the EU that facilitate exports from rivals based in the US. And of course the same holds for EU firms with US affiliates. The presence of so much investment across the Atlantic – trumpeted with such fanfare by US and EU supporters of the Partnership – actually reduces corporate support for greater alignment of existing regulations.
    It was thought important enough to include in the SOTU.  Why?

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Plan B (or C, or D, or...)

    Mitu Gulati and Lee C. Buchheit offer an alternative (but still bad) scheme for Cyprus;
    • All insured depositors to be protected.
    Indeed, the public announcement of the bailout package would liberally sprinkle adjectives such as 'sacred' and 'inviolable' in front of the words 'insured deposits' wherever they appear.
    • Holders of deposits in excess of the insured €100,000 minimum would receive, at par, interest-bearing bank certificates of deposit (CDs) for those excess amounts.
    Depositors would be given the option of taking CDs of, say, five or ten years’ duration, with differing interest rates designed to encourage a longer stretch out. Also, to encourage a take-up of the longer-dated CDs, the government could offer a limited recourse guarantee on the ten-year CDs benefiting from a pledge of a portion of the Cypriot gas revenues that should come on line when those CDs mature. The CDs would be freely tradeable and liquid in the hands of the holders.
    • The maturity dates of all sovereign bonds would be extended by a fixed number of years, let’s say five years.
    By our reckoning, this would reduce the total amount of the required official sector bailout funding during a three-year program period by about €6.6 billion.
    The benefits? Terming out excess deposits will effectively lock in that funding to the banks for many years. The alternative (debiting 9.9% now and watching the balance of 90.1% get out of Dodge when the banks reopen) may easily require the bailout package to be reworked in a month’s time. 
    Rescheduling the maturity dates of outstanding sovereign bonds – with no haircut to principal or interest rate – would avoid the need to have those maturities repaid out of official sector bailout funds. A principal extension of this kind is the most clement of the three instruments in a sovereign debt restructurer’s tool box, the other two are surgeon’s saws labelled, respectively, 'principal' and 'interest'.

    This time IS different

    Says Marco Annunziata about Cyprus and its finances;
    Cyprus is a small country with an outsized banking system created via lax regulation.
    • ...the deposit tax is an efficient way of “bailing in” foreign creditors, given the high share of non-resident deposits.
     To wit; Cyprus’ banking system has grown disproportionate to the size of the economy: its total assets are over seven times GDP; deposits are about four times GDP, and 37% of these are by non-residents, mostly from outside the Eurozone. The banking system faces an estimated recapitalisation need of 10-12 billion euros, equivalent to about 60% of GDP.

    Thus, all the alternatives open to Cypriot politicians are bad.  It's just a matter of choosing the least unpalatable (and selling it to a public mostly ignorant of the hard harsh realities of economics and finance).

    On the (not quite as dark) other hand;
    This is not new. In Italy, the Monti government has already raised or introduced taxes both on income and wealth (house taxes). Italians will also still remember the precedent of an extraordinary tax on bank deposits in 1992, though of a much smaller magnitude (0.6%). (Incidentally, it is worth noting that zero interest rate policy is also effectively a tax on bank deposits.)
    • Finally, the ECB has been crystal clear in its commitment to avoid systemic instability in the Eurozone, and could step in to calm any signs of excessive anxiety in other Eurozone members.
    As Willie Sutton famously said, Banks are where the money is.

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    Greek bearing guilt

    Politicizing sports gets a foossballer 'banned for life';

    A 20-year-old Greek footballer has been banned for life from playing for his national team after a controversial goal celebration in which he appeared to give a Nazi salute.
    The player says he hadn't understood the meaning of the gesture - but is it possible, in 2013, for a European to be so poorly informed?
    On Saturday, Giorgos Katidis gestured with his right arm extended and hand straightened, to celebrate scoring the winning goal for his team AEK Athens in a Super League game at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
    After the match, the former captain of the Greek under-19 team turned to Twitter to explain his actions.
    "I am not a fascist and I would not have done it if I had known what it means," he wrote.
     'Is it possible'?  He's 20 years old.  The question answers itself, we are all ignorant, just about different things. Dennis Rodman, who is more than twice this Greek kid's age, seems not to know much about the crimes of Communism.

    But, it's sorta like Orwell predicted;
    We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will...It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Give us land, lots of land

    Whether under starry skies above, or not, Frédéric Robert-Nicoud and Christian Hilber, say, 'Don't fence us in (anymore than you already have)';
    Land use planning policies can, in principle, raise welfare by correcting market failures. Recent evidence, however, casts doubt on this proposition and suggests that such regulations have strong adverse net effects. Turner et al. (2012) estimate the net cost of land use regulations as a proportion of land value to reach a hefty 38% in their sample of residential plot transactions across the US. In an earlier study, Cheshire and Shepphard (2002) estimate the net costs of land use planning policies in the UK to amount to as much as 3.9% of annual household incomes. We are talking about big numbers.
    These big numbers hide substantial heterogeneity. Glaeser et al. (2005) estimate that land use regulations are akin to a ‘shadow’ tax that represents over 50% of the values of houses in Manhattan and San Francisco, 20% in DC and Boston, 12% in NYC or Salt Lake City, and 0% in Detroit, Baltimore, and Houston (see Table 1, column 3). Likewise, Cheshire and Hilber (2008) estimate the regulatory tax for 14 British and 8 continental European office locations. The average shadow tax over the sample period amounts to a staggering 800% of marginal construction costs in the West End of London, 437% in Frankfurt, 97% in Newcastle, and 68% in Brussels.

    No surprise to find that Public Choice theory explains their findings;
    ...we formalise a theory in which land use regulations reflect land-based interests, more broadly defined.... These land-based interests encompass those of homeowners and also those of landlords and those of absentee landowners. This is consistent with the idea that planning boards are amenable not just to the electorate but also to lobbying influence and to pressures from various interest groups. Solé-Ollé and Viladecans-Marsal (2011) and Schone et al. (2011) provide indirect empirical evidence for the relevance of lobbying by land developers in Spain and France, respectively. The conviction of former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon for taking bribes from developers in 2009 suggests that such pressures can also take malign forms.

    Sunday, March 17, 2013 a far-away country...

    there's a quarrel among people of whom we know little, but it could have international repercussions.  And, of course, the Germans are involved;

    In a radical departure from previous aid packages, euro zone finance ministers want Cyprus savers to forfeit up to 9.9 percent of their deposits in return for a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout to the island, which has been financially crippled by its exposure to neighboring Greece.
    The decision, announced on Saturday morning, stunned Cypriots and caused a run on cashpoints, most of which were depleted within hours. Electronic transfers were stopped.
    Naturally Cypriot politicians are waffling over whether to ratify the agreement.  Other countries wait and see if a precedent is being set.  Complicating the issue are the numerous foreigners with deposits in Cyprus's banks, and the government's promise to partially compensate the depositors with equity in the banks from which the tax will be paid.

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    Obama of Hippo

    Like Augustine praying to be made chaste...but only in good time, The POTUS pontificates on petroleum;

    [President Barack] Obama, expanding on an initiative he addressed in his State of the Union speech last month, said the United States must shift its cars and trucks entirely off oil to avoid perpetual fluctuations in gas prices. Citing policies that already require automakers to increase gas mileage, he said he expects that by the middle of the next decade, Americans will only have to fill up their cars half as often.
    "We've set some achievable but ambitious goals," Obama said, speaking at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago
    "The only way to break this cycle of spiking gas prices - the only way to break that cycle for good - is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks, off oil," the president said.
    But he loves the sinners;

    The initiative, proposing to spend $200 million a year on research, would be paid for with revenue from federal oil and gas leases on offshore drilling and would not add to the deficit.

    That no Argentinian priest shall tithe or toll in our dominions.

    If the Falkland Islands dust-up (1982) was 'the last war of the 19th century', the Brits seem to be looking back a little further still;

    Pope Francis, who is a former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has previously described the disputed territory as belonging to “the homeland” of Argentina.
    However, the Prime Minister told him he should “respect” the islanders’ referendum vote for the Falklands to remain British.
    Mr Cameron even dared to make a joke at the expense of the Vatican’s ancient election processes.
    “The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear,” he said.

    Thursday, March 14, 2013

    The yolk's on us

    Without waiting for Mayor Bloomberg to order it, corporate America does its part to slim down America;

    McDonald's is rolling out a yolk-free version of its Egg McMuffin this spring.
    The world's biggest hamburger chain says the "Egg White Delight" will be made with a whole grain muffin, Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese. It will be available nationally April 22 and clock in at 250 calories, compared with 300 calories for a regular Egg McMuffin.
    The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain says the egg whites will be cooked on the grill with a spatula.
    Find a need, and grill it. 

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    When agents are outlawed...

    Only outlaws will have agents, in North Carolina, thanks to The Cartel;

    Investigators in North Carolina say a Georgia-based sports agent violated sports agent laws by sending cash payments and other benefits to former Tar Heels football players.
    In search warrants unsealed Monday, investigators with the Secretary of State's office say Terry Watson of the Watson Sports Agency sent $2,000 cash in 2010 to Marvin Austin, who was dismissed from the team that year for receiving improper benefits. They also say Watson had contact with players before registering with the state.
    The office launched its probe in 2010 shortly after the start of an NCAA investigation at the school. The law prohibits agents from offering gifts before a contract is signed and can lead to criminal or civil penalties.
    Both North Carolina and Georgia are among 42 states with laws regulating sports agents.
    Some day in the future people will look back on stories like the above and wonder how a supposedly free people could countenance such a blatant power grab by a private group interested only in exploiting labor--in this case young men who put paying customers into the school's football stadium--by paying below market wages to them.  While at the same time denying those young men (many mere teen-agers) the opportunity to exploit their own talents by earning endorsement money (as their coaches do), or any other employment opportunities.

    Where's organized labor when somebody could actually use a helping hand?  Where's Al Sharpton to defend the rights of exploited black men?

    Discontent for this Dean of York

    Dead for over half a millennium, Richard III still creates controversy;

    The Dean of York, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, is understood to have received a string of abusive letters as the row intensified over the remains of the monarch, who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
    The matter is currently being investigated by York Minster Police, the cathedral's specialist force, but could be passed on to North Yorkshire Police if any more messages are received by Dean Faull.
    ....A spokesman for York Minster said: "York Minster has received a number of letters about Richard III, a small number of these have been abusive.
    "These have been passed to the Minster Police, and they continue to monitor the situation closely." 
    RIP.  Sometime, somewhere. 

    The eyes had it

    Too much visual knowledge can be a dangerous thing, if you're a neanderthal;

    A study of Neanderthal skulls suggests that they became extinct because they had larger eyes than our species.
    As a result, more of their brains were devoted to seeing in the long, dark nights in Europe, at the expense of high-level processing.
    By contrast, the larger frontal brain regions of Homo sapiens led to the fashioning of warmer clothes and the development of larger social networksA study of Neanderthal skulls suggests that they became extinct because they had larger eyes than our species.
    The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
    Or, perhaps, their eyes were bigger than their stomachs.

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    Under my skin

    This can't be stressed too often. Itay Goldstein and Assaf Razin remind us;

    Stiglitz and Weiss (1981) provide a basic rationale for the presence of such credit rationing. While basic economic theory suggests that in equilibrium prices adjust so that supply equals demand and no rationing arises, they show that this will not occur in the credit market due to the endogeneity of the quality of the loan. There are two key frictions that stand behind rationing: moral hazard and adverse selection. ...if a borrower has the ability to divert resources at the expense of the creditor, then creditors will be reluctant to lend to borrowers. Hence, for credit to flow efficiently from the creditor to the borrower, it is crucial that the borrower maintains ‘skin in the game’, i.e., that he has enough at stake in the success of the project, and so does not have a strong incentive to divert resources. This creates a limit on credit, and it can be amplified when economic conditions worsen, leading to a crisis.
    Such forces were clearly working in recent years. The credit freeze following the financial meltdown of 2008, and the credit flow freeze in the interbank markets are both manifestations of the amplification of economic shocks due to the frictions in credit provision.
    Not mentioned is that it was the regulators of banks (under pressure from 'community organizations') who created the ability of borrowers to have 'the ability to divert resources at the expense of the creditor'.  Absent the interference by the federal government in the markets for home lending it wouldn't have happened.  Which would suggest that there would have been no financial crisis, and no Great Recession.

    One small sip for Manhattan...

    from a supersized container, lives on for New Yorkers, and flusters the Napoleonic mayor;

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed on Monday to appeal a judge's ruling that struck down his pioneering ban on large sugary drinks sold by the city's restaurants, movie theaters and other food service businesses just a day before it was to take effect.
    The judge called the ban "arbitrary and capricious" in an 11th-hour decision that dealt a serious blow to Bloomberg, who has made public health a cornerstone of his administration, with laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars and parks; banning trans fats; and requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts.
    At a press conference, Bloomberg said the judge's ruling was "totally in error" and promised to keep pressing his effort to combat a growing obesity epidemic linked to heart disease and diabetes.
    Unfortunately the judge seems to have opened the door to the Mayor's extending the ban to everyone who sells such drinks, not just restaurants subject to the city's health authority--which doesn't, apparently, include 7-11s and other convenience stores.

    Maybe those researchers in PNAS should evaluate Bloomberg's 'likes', and see what they tell us about HIS personality.

    But I know what I like

    This should be bad news for the Anti-discrimination industry;

    Sexuality, political leanings and even intelligence can be gleaned from the things you choose to "like" on Facebook, a study suggests.
    Researchers at Cambridge University used algorithms to predict religion, politics, race and sexual orientation.
    The research, published in the journal PNAS, forms surprisingly accurate personal portraits, researchers said.
    Such as;

    The algorithms proved 88% accurate for determining male sexuality, 95% accurate in distinguishing African-American from Caucasian-American and 85% for differentiating Republican from Democrat.
    Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases and relationship status and substance abuse was predicted with an accuracy between 65% and 73%.
    The links clicked rarely explicitly revealed these attributes. Fewer than 5% of gay users clicked obvious likes such as gay marriage, for instance.
    Instead, the algorithms aggregated huge amounts of likes such as music and TV shows to create personal profiles.
    Which would seem to be the death knell for 'statistical discrimination' tests (of the sort that one Supreme Court Justice was embarrassed by in her confirmation hearing).  

    People are different, and have different tastes!  Easily to include differences in educational attainment and employment, no?

    Like a drug ring?

    Intellectual confusion abounds in law enforcement;

    Forty-one defendants have either pleaded guilty or reached plea agreements after profiting from false insurance claims for losses of tobacco, soybeans, wheat and corn. Often, the crops weren't damaged at all, with farmers using aliases to sell their written-off harvests for cash.
    Prosecutors compared the case to busting a drug cartel, where federal investigators used a confidential informant to ensnare a key participant in the sophisticated fraud, who then agreed to implicate others. That first wave of prosecutions led to still more names to investigate.
    A drug cartel?  Selling perfectly legal commodities?  That one doesn't even need a doctor's prescription to buy?

    How about garden variety insurance fraud, if you need an analogy?  Oh, we don't know, like 'liar loans' for the purchase of a home by a 'house flipper'?

    Speaking of another type insurance scheme cooked up by the federal government.

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    Might be on to something

    John Driffill of Birbeck University in London suspects a spectre haunts Europe;
    Unemployment continues to rise in the Eurozone and is increasingly drawing attention to its sluggish labour markets. There is a lingering suspicion that these markets are not flexible enough; that wage growth (real and in money terms) does not respond sufficiently to unemployment. 
    No Inspector Clouseau, he;
    Excessively strong employment-protection legislation insulates the insiders – well-established employed workers on permanent contracts – from labour-market pressures, while the outsiders fill a succession of temporary, unprotected jobs and bear the brunt of business-cycle shocks: employment-protection legislation needs to be reformed to remove the sharp divide between workers on different types of contracts, and to lower the cost to employers of making severances.
    Easier to fire, easier to hire.  Now, try to convince the protected classes to see that.

    Look out, ol Macky's back

    Rather than in the soup, babe;

    Three types of critically endangered but commercially valuable shark have been given added protection at the Cites meeting in Bangkok.
    The body, which regulates trade in flora and fauna, voted by a two-thirds majority to upgrade the sharks' status.
    ....The oceanic whitetip, three varieties of hammerheads and the porbeagle are all said to be seriously threatened by overfishing.
    Start QuoteTheir numbers have declined dramatically in recent years, as the trade in shark fins for soup has grown.
    No word yet from from the Surfer Community.

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    Bought the night flight

    And his compadres will miss him;

    Cuban state TV is full of images of a young and healthy [Hugo] Chavez amid adoring crowds, hugging his supporters and the header of the island's Communist Party newspaper, Granma, is now black instead of red.
    "He was a great friend to Cuba, he helped us a lot," explains Eduardo Leon, hawking the black copies of Granma on a cobbled street corner. "He was close to Fidel and Raul [Castro]. Cuba will miss him like a son."
    It is that bond between Chavez's Venezuela and the Castros' Cuba that explains both the depth of sadness at his death here, and concern for the future.
    That bond being Venezuela's oil;

    When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba's economic lifeline was suddenly cut with dramatic consequences: there were blackouts, food shortages, no fuel.
    The system's survival through the great hardships of what was known as the 'Special Period' owes much to Chavez and his support.
    Two decades on, Cuba gets two thirds of its oil from Venezuela at highly preferential prices. Economists say the island pays with the services of some 40,000 state-employed doctors, sports trainers and military advisers. 
    Wouldn't that be...exploitation of Cuba's labor? 

    Damn faint praise

    For the economy, from the Chairman of Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers!

    Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said: "While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides evidence that the recovery that began in mid-2009 is gaining traction."
    Whoa!  After 4 years that's the best that can be said?
    John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said: "Any job creation is positive news, but the fact is unemployment in America is still way above the levels the Obama White House projected when the trillion-dollar stimulus spending bill was enacted, and the federal government's ongoing spending binge has resulted in a debt that exceeds the size of our entire economy."
    Nice shot (for a politician).

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Arbeit macht frei

    We'd have thought that, with their history, Germans would be a little more circumspect throwing around terms like 'slave labor', but this is still a useful demonstration of how pricing clears markets...even sticky European labor markets;

    Temporary work is booming in Germany. Almost 2 percent of all employees are temps rented by agencies to other companies to meet peaks in demand without hiring new staff. But conditions are bad in some agencies.
    900,000 temp workers are registered with German temporary work agencies. The agencies have the official permission to 'allocate employees,' or rent out their employees to other companies in temporary need of manpower.
    The politicians who came up with the idea originally believed that the system would allow the German economy to better react to business fluctuations. At the same time, temporary work would help unemployed people get into permanent jobs. That's how it works in theory, anyway.
    Which seems to be the actuality too, if one reads the article;
    Many temporary workers appreciate their agencies for the level of social security they offer. The workers benefit from permanent contracts, which are hardly available any more on the labor market. In addition, a Christmas bonus is included, employment protection and 30 days of paid holiday leave.
    "I would have had to stop working after I had a slipped disc," says Roland Seiberlich. "I was given a second chance as a temporary worker," the former car mechanic says enthusiastically, who works as a fork lift driver for his agency.
    Office clerk Sascha Eisenhut sees more advantages than disadvantages. "You can try out different firms and find out for yourself what it is that you like doing best." And there is always the chance, he says, that the company that hired you temporarily will give you a permanent contract. The Economic Institute in Cologne (ZIW) confirms that in the last couple of years, some 25 percent of all employees received a permanent job via temporary employment. 

    Nazis are people too

    Europe's croissant eaters aren't worried about the small stuff;

    The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Spain to pay 13,000 euros in damages and legal costs to a Barcelona bookseller jailed for disseminating genocidal propaganda.
    Pedro Varela, a Nazi sympathizer and owner of the Europa bookstore in the Catalan capital, had been seeking compensation of 125,000 euros for the seven-month prison sentence imposed on him by Barcelona Provincial High Court in 2010. The court of first instance had also considered him guilty of incitement to racial hatred and handed down a five-year sentence, but the higher court later exempted him of that charge and reduced the jail term.
    The Strasbourg-based court agreed with Varela's allegation that the sentence violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes a defendant's rights to a fair trial within reasonable time and to be informed of the crimes of which they are accused so they can prepare an adequate defense.

    Found needs, filled same

    Reaped the rewards (which weren't slim);

    Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim has topped Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest billionaires for a fourth year.
    The magazine estimates that Mr Slim, whose business interests range from telecommunications to construction, is worth $73bn (£49bn).
    Others on the list being Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (software), Amancio Ortega (Zara fashions), L'Oreal heiress Lilian Bettencourt, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey head Bernard Arnault, the Koch brothers (oil) and Chinese shipping container terminal magnate Li Ka-Shing.

    Wednesday, March 6, 2013

    He who will not be named

    In the Wall Street Journal even, Otto Katz gets no mention in an article by A.J. Goldman about the German filmmaker diaspora of the 1930s;
    Directors who fled Germany also helped introduce themes of social justice to American cinema. For example, Lang's first Hollywood film, "Fury," also on the program, takes aim at small-town vigilante justice. "These directors started to bring questions about how American society works, and I think it made American society healthier for it," Mr. Kardish said.
    There could be another (and more accurate) description than 'social justice'; Communist propaganda.  Lang himself was a close friend of Otto and Ilse Katz and excerpts from a letter about the premiere of Fury, from Ilse to Lang, can be read in the pages of  The Dangerous Otto Katz.

    The Katzes were friends with many of Hollywood's German expats, including Billy Wilder, Bertold Brecht, and Marlene Dietrich.  Not all of whom subscribed to Katz's communist ideology, but many did and  allowed themselves to be used by him to insert propaganda about 'how American society works' into their films.

    But American was not 'healthier for it', as the House Committee on American Activities eventually exposed in their hearings in 1947.  Now there's a story Hollywood will never get around to dramatizing.

    What if they gave a phony (browser) war...

    And nobody came?  That appears to be what happened in Europe--where they seemingly still live in the 20th century--and it's a fund raiser!

    Microsoft has been fined 561 million euros ($731m; £484m) for failing to promote a range of web browsers, rather than just Internet Explorer, to users in the European Union (EU).
    It introduced a Browser Choice Screen pop-up in March 2010 as part of a settlement following an earlier EU competition investigation.
    But the US company dropped the feature in a Windows 7 update in February 2011.Microsoft said the omission had been the result of a "technical error".
    But competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the action was unprecedented, adding he wanted to deter any company from the "temptation" of reneging on such a promise.
    Not to mention the geld!  But, it took 14 months for anyone to notice this horror, and there is no mention of any consumer complaining he was denied Firefox or Google's Chrome.

    Though friends of HSIB, Stan Liebowitz and Steve Margolis, warned us where real network effects do lead to lock-in to inferior products;
    ...for those still seeking harmful lock-in, we offer this. You‘ve been looking in the wrong places. You‘ve been looking at markets. Look elsewhere. Look where competition is not particularly effective, where there is no possibility of bankruptcy, where there are no investors who can pull the plug on losing battles. Look where the rewards for successful innovation are unspectacular or nonexistent. Look where concentrated interests face off against unconcentrated counterparts. Look at government. Cultivate that garden.

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    La théorie des prix

    The Judgment of Paris--of 1976 when wine merchant Steven Spurrier, puttin' on the Ritz, introduced the French to California wine, which was the shot heard round the world of viticulture--becomes the Jugement de Princeton;

    Some 36 years later, George Taber, the only journalist attending the Paris tasting, jointly organised with Orley Ashenfelter from Princeton University and Karl Storchmann from New York University the ‘Judgement of Princeton’3during the 6th International Conference of the American Association of Wine Economists in June 2012.
    The same French wines as the ones tasted in 1976 – though of more recent vintage – were compared to New Jersey wines (six wines in each flight), replacing the California wines of the ‘Judgement of Paris’4.
    This time the French managed to eke out a victory as, This time, a French white wine, Clos des Mouches 2010, and a French red wine, Château Mouton-Rothschild 2004, were ranked first in each category. 
    But that was it as far as good news for terroir;
    The important conclusion of the ranking, as analysed by Richard Quandt from Princeton, is that Clos des Mouches is statistically significantly better than the nine other whites, which are all judged of equal quality, while one New Jersey red wine is statistically worse than all other nine reds. None of the remaining wines, whether French or from New Jersey, is statistically different from the other. This implies that Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion, two French superstars, cannot be distinguished from New Jersey reds, which cost only 5% of their French counterparts5.
    C'est la vie.

    Pay not to play

    Major League embarrassment;
    Jason Bay gets another start today [for the Seattle Mariners spring training game]. Yesterday, people were shocked at the factoid that the 2013 NY Mets highest paid outfielders are Jason Bay and Bobby Bonilla. I laughed too, but the M’s highest paid infielder in 2013 will be Chone Figgins, so, uh, yeah.