Saturday, March 27, 2010

Another Zinger from Anthony Lane

"If only Miss Marple had been a bisexual biker with multiple piercings, a criminal record, and a long lick of oil-black hair over one eye, she might have solved a few more crimes. Those are the accoutrements with which Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is decked out in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and they stand her in good stead for the unpicking of clues. Lisbeth has a gift for computer hacking, plus an ability to trawl briskly through printed files, and I found it endearing that, even as the movie tries to rough us up with tales of fascists, dildos, woodland snipers, and exploding cars, the main lesson that we come away with is: there’s nothing like a day in the archives."

- Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

He's so funny.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Business Model for Somali Pirates

From an investigation by the United Nations Security Council on Somalia"

A basic piracy operation requires a minimum eight to twelve militia prepared to stay at sea for extended periods of time, in the hopes of hijacking a passing vessel. Each team requires a minimum of two attack skiffs, weapons, equipment, provisions, fuel and preferably a supply boat. The costs of the operation are usually borne by investors, some of whom may also be pirates.

To be eligible for employment as a pirate, a volunteer should already possess a firearm for use in the operation. For this ‘contribution’, he receives a ‘class A’ share of any profit. Pirates who provide a skiff or a heavier firearm, like an RPG or a general purpose machine gun, may be entitled to an additional A-share. The first pirate to board a vessel may also be entitled to an extra A-share.

At least 12 other volunteers are recruited as militiamen to provide protection on land of a ship is hijacked, In addition, each member of the pirate team may bring a partner or relative to be part of this land-based force. Militiamen must possess their own weapon, and receive a ‘class B’ share — usually a fixed amount equivalent to approximately US$15,000.

If a ship is successfully hijacked and brought to anchor, the pirates and the militiamen require food, drink, qaad, fresh clothes, cell phones, air time, etc. The captured crew must also be cared for. In most cases, these services are provided by one or more suppliers, who advance the costs in anticipation of reimbursement, with a significant margin of profit, when ransom is eventually paid.

When ransom is received, fixed costs are the first to be paid out. These are typically:

• Reimbursement of supplier(s)

• Financier(s) and/or investor(s): 30% of the ransom

• Local elders: 5 to 10 %of the ransom (anchoring rights)

• Class B shares (approx. $15,000 each): militiamen, interpreters etc.

The remaining sum — the profit — is divided between class-A shareholders.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Peter Chang: America's 21st Century Chef Outlaw

The magical Chinese chef, Peter Chang, is quickly capturing America's attention (at least us foodies), always on the run, hiding out, popping into small towns to surprise locals with his amazing exploits. I would love to try his authentic Szechuan cuisine.

The Chang Effect: Wooing Palates, Breaking Hearts...

Peter Chang: The Disappearing Chef

The Perfect Chef

Health Care Reform Passes

Obama is in fine form:

"You turn on the news, you'll see the same folks are still shouting about how it's going to be the end of the world because this bill passed. . . . Leaders of the Republican Party, they called the passage of this bill 'Armageddon.' Armageddon! End of freedom as we know it! So after I signed the bill I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling. Some cracks opening up in the Earth! Turned out it was a nice day!"

Health Care Reform Passes

Obama is in fine form:

"You turn on the news, you'll see the same folks are still shouting about how it's going to be the end of the world because this bill passed. . . . Leaders of the Republican Party, they called the passage of this bill 'Armageddon.' Armageddon! End of freedom as we know it! So after I signed the bill I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling. Some cracks opening up in the Earth! Turned out it was a nice day!"

Sunday, March 21, 2010



by Kay Ryan

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sen. Lindsay Graham sounds like a 5 year old

Graham has spent months working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to draft an immigration bill. The two met privately with President Obama last week, delivering a three-page blueprint.

And yet:

"If the healthcare bill goes through this weekend, that will, in my view, pretty much kill any chance of immigration reform passing the Senate this year," Graham said Friday, two days before thousands are expected to march in Washington in support of an immigration overhaul.

America has problems that need solving. Just because you don't get your way on one doesn't mean you just give up and decide to block all efforts to solve the other challenges. Sen. Graham needs to grow up, or resign and let an adult take his place.

from the LA Times, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Free-Market Theorists Forget Their Logic

The IMF is so ridiculous. For years, they say money must be allowed to move freely across borders, and yet they would never argue that people (i.e. the labor market) should be able to move freely across any borders. These hypocrites argue for the principle of free-markets only when it's convenient.

Why doesn't someone ask Ron Paul how he can be America's leading champion of free markets while at the same time calling for increased restrictions on "illegal immigrants?" There is no logic to his argument. Under free-market principles, there would be no such thing as an "illegal" immigrant nor would the labor market be restricted in any way, just as there would be no such thing as a restriction on "foreign" currencies. What ever happened to sticking to your principles Ron Paul?

Here's another case of failed logic: Shailendra Anjara's essay entitled "The Capital Truth: What works for commodities should work for cash."

Anjara is a free-market capitalist, blindly following the dogma of deregulation. I don't see her arguing for the free movement of people across borders.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Walt Whitman's Commandments

Preface to Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. ... The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready ploughed and manured ... others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches ... and shall master all attachment."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Close the Carried Interest Tax Loophole Now

At a congressional hearing on the subject, Warren Buffett said, “If you believe in taxing people who earn income on their occupation, I think you should tax people on carried interest.”

A tax loophole that saves private equity and hedge fund managers billions of dollars every year has existed since 1954. Yes, that's right. Taxpayers have been subsidizing these multi-millionaires for 56 years. For three years in a row, the House of Representatives has passed a bill to close this loophole. The Senate has failed to pass the bill, so the loophole still exists. It's a joke. Who in the Senate is going to be a leader and stand for what's right?

James Surowiecki has a brilliant and brief analysis in the New Yorker.

US PIRG has an excellent statement on the need to close the loophole.

Medical Advancements, Misused and Harmful to Us

Reading this article on The Great Prostate Mistake makes me wonder how many other medical advancements will be misused and/or promoted improperly, leading to more harm than good.

"Americans spend an enormous amount testing for prostate cancer. The annual bill for P.S.A. screening is at least $3 billion, with much of it paid for by Medicare and the Veterans Administration.

Prostate cancer may get a lot of press, but consider the numbers: American men have a 16 percent lifetime chance of receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer, but only a 3 percent chance of dying from it. That’s because the majority of prostate cancers grow slowly. In other words, men lucky enough to reach old age are much more likely to die with prostate cancer than to die of it.

Even then, the test is hardly more effective than a coin toss...."

- Richard J. Ablin, the man who discovered the PSA in 1970, making possible the test which has been misused considerably.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Anthony Lane: The best film critic on the planet

He's so smart and so funny.

On converting old movies from 2D to 3D, "if all goes according to plan, 'Twelve Angry Men' could be coming back. And they'll be angrier than ever."

- Anthony Lane, "The Third Way", The New Yorker

Are stagnant wages the result of huge increases in CEO salaries?

I'd like to see a study that looks at the stagnant (or even falling) wages of the average American worker in relation to the sharp increase in the compensation to CEO's and other top executives. According to the Economic Policy Institute, ""in 1965, U.S. CEOs in major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker. In 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker, earning more in one day than the average worker in a whole year." It's probably even more today.

Just as a thought experiment, Company A pays its top execs an extra $40 million a year in total compensation compared to what they would have been paid relative to the average worker in say 1968. Now take that $40 million a year and distribute it to your lowest salaried workers in the form of a pay raise, say $2,000. That's 20,000 workers that see their wages rise within the company. And that's a $2,000 increase every year. Good-bye to stagnant wages.

On paper, it sounds quite convincing, though I'd like to see the data on actual companies. This area seems ripe for research, if it hasn't been done already.

Given Tonelson and Kearns recent NY Times OP-ED in which they point out quite convincingly that we are incorrectly measuring worker productivity because we don't measure the off-shore worker hours, it seems possible that the top executives are simply replacing higher wage American labor with cheap, foreign labor and pocketing the difference in cost. The CEO-Media Complex is entrenched. That's why we need the research to support a move toward more shareholder and worker say in executive compensation. Again, the German model seems like a viable alternative.

Our CEO-Media Complex is giving all the credit (and the money) to top execs. All companies are teams, and everyone plays a role. If a company does well, all employees should be rewarded and it could be argued that they average worker on the front lines should be rewarded as much or more than the top executives.

Instead, we laud CEO's like former GE CEO Jack Welch in our press giving them far too much credit. As recent history has shown, Welch's business decisions for which he was praised and put on countless magazine covers (as well as given millions in a sweetheart retirement package that continues to this day) were actually detrimental to GE in the long run, as well as detrimental to our environment and our country. That's just one example.

I'm not an economist, just a concerned citizen and employee disgusted with rising executive pay at great cost to the average worker. I'd love to hear your thoughts.