Saturday, December 31, 2011


2011 in pictures

Part I, Part II, Part III


DJ Earworm Mashup - United State of Pop 2011 (World Go Boom)

mp3 download and info→

#Blame Twitter

Friday, December 30, 2011

Perfect Hedge

"Soon after starting Perfect Hedge, the FBI determined that insider trading was a business model at some hedge funds, Chaves said. The industry manages $1.97 trillion in assets, according to Hedge Fund Research Inc. in Chicago.

The landscape of securities fraud crimes was changing, informants were telling the FBI in 2007. So-called boiler-rooms, where corrupt brokers bilked investors by manipulating stocks, were giving way to insider-trading.

Chaves said defendants charged in so called “pump-and- dump” schemes knew something bigger was going on.

“They seemed to know people in hedge funds or analysts in the industry, and were aware of the passing of material, nonpublic information between hedge funds, analysts and company insiders,” he said.

At first, the FBI considered sending an agent to work undercover at one of the suspected hedge funds, Chaves said.

“We couldn’t get in. It was such a closed industry -- much like an organized crime family -- that it was difficult for the FBI to either introduce an undercover agent or recruit a cooperator.”

During Perfect Hedge, agents working on separate investigations began running into each other, Chaves said, eventually revealing what were initially thought to be unrelated schemes were in fact a web of insider trading conspiracies that crisscrossed industries, countries and people.

“That’s what was so amazing, that everyone who started cooperating seemed to know everyone else,” the agent said. “At first, it was very surprising to us. It seemed like daily we’d identify a relationship, like ‘Wow, I can’t believe they went to school together,’ or ‘I can’t believe he was the best man at his wedding.’ That’s when we began to see that, as big as this industry is, it’s also that small, at least the core of people who were engaged in this conduct.”

“We got our foot in the door with one person,” Chaves said. “That one person led us to others.”"

FBI Pulls Off ‘Perfect Hedge’ to Nab New Insider Trading Class - Bloomberg

Unfortunately Congress is exempt from insider trading...

Kick it further

"Japan ought to be financing its debt for as long as possible, as cheap as it can, while it still can. Instead, the bulk of it is 5-year duration or less, with next to nothing at the extreme long end.

Ability to roll this debt over at perpetually low rates is going to be a problem sooner or later, and I think sooner, rather than later."

Japan Seeks to Market Record 145 Trillion Yen Bonds in 2012; Kicking the Can Japanese Style - Mish

Middle Childhood

"Said to begin around 5 or 6, when toddlerhood has ended and even the most protractedly breast-fed children have been weaned, and to end when the teen years commence, middle childhood certainly lacks the physical flamboyance of the epochs fore and aft: no gotcha cuteness of babydom, no secondary sexual billboards of pubescence.

Yet as new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, paleontology and anthropology make clear, middle childhood is anything but a bland placeholder. To the contrary, it is a time of great cognitive creativity and ambition, when the brain has pretty much reached its adult size and can focus on threading together its private intranet service.

The anatomy of middle childhood can be subtle. Adult teeth start growing in, allowing children to diversify their diet beyond the mashed potatoes and parentally dissected Salisbury steak stage. The growth of the skeleton, by contrast, slows from the vertiginous pace of early childhood, and though there is a mild growth spurt at age 6 or 7, as well as a bit of chubbying up during the so-called adiposity rebound of middle childhood, much of the remaining skeletal growth awaits the superspurt of puberty.

In middle childhood, the brain is at its peak for learning, organized enough to attempt mastery yet still fluid, elastic, neuronally gymnastic. Children have lost the clumsiness of toddlerhood and can become physically gymnastic, too, and start practicing their fine motor skills. And because they are still smaller than adults, they can grow adept at a skill like, say, spear-tossing, without fear of threatening the resident men.

Middle childhood is the time to make sense and make friends. “This is the period when kids move out of the family context and into the neighborhood context,” Dr. Campbell said.

The all-important theory of mind arises: the awareness that other people have minds, plans and desires of their own. Children become obsessed with social groups and divide along gender lines, girls playing with girls, boys with boys. They have an avid appetite for learning the local social rules, whether of games, slang, style or behavior. They are keenly attuned to questions of fairness and justice and instantly notice those grabbing more than their share."

The Hormone Surge of Middle Childhood - NYT

Thursday, December 29, 2011

You made it, you mend it

An(other) open letter, this time to Angela Merkel.

"Dear Madame Chancellor,

PERMIT me to begin this letter with a brief description of my knowledge of, and affection for, your country.

I first came to Germany as a boy student aged 13 in 1952, two years before you were born. After three extended vacations with German families who spoke no English I found at the age of 16 and to my pleasure that I could pass for German among Germans.

In my 20s I was posted as a foreign correspondent to East Germany in 1963, when you would have been a schoolgirl just north of East Berlin where I lived.

I know Germany, Frau Merkel, from the alleys of Hamburg to the spires of Dresden, from the Rhine to the Oder, from the bleak Baltic coast to the snows of the Bavarian Alps. I say this only to show you that I am neither ignoramus nor enemy.

I also had occasion in those years to visit the many thousands of my countrymen who held the line of the Elbe against 50,000 Soviet main battle tanks and thus kept Germany free to recover, modernise and prosper at no defence cost to herself.

And from inside the Cold War I saw our decades of effort to defeat the Soviet empire and set your East Germany free.

I was therefore disappointed last Friday to see you take the part of a small and vindictive Frenchman in what can only be seen as a targeted attack on the land of my fathers.

We both know that every country has at least one aspect of its society or economy that is so crucial, so vital that it simply cannot be conceded.

For Germany it is surely your automotive sector, your car industry.

Any foreign-sourced measure to target German cars and render them unsaleable would have to be opposed to vetopoint by a German chancellor.

For France it is the agricultural sector. For more than 50 years members of the EU have been taxed under the terms of the Common Agricultural Policy in order to subsidise France’s agriculture. Indeed, the CAP has been the cornerstone of every EU budget since the first day.

Attack it and France fights back.

For us the crucial corner of our economy is the financial services industry. Although parts of it exist all over the country it is concentrated in that part of London known even internationally as “the City”.

It is not just a few greedy bankers; we both have those but the City is far more. It is indeed a vast banking agglomeration of more banks than anywhere else in the world.

But that is the tip of the iceberg. Also in the City is the world’s greatest concentration of insurance companies.

Add to that the brokers; traders in stocks and shares worldwide, second only, and then maybe not, to Wall Street. But it is not just stocks.

The City is also home to the “exchanges” of gold and precious metals, diamonds, base metals, commodities, futures, derivatives, coffee, cocoa… the list goes on and on.

And it does not yet touch upon shipping, aviation, fuels, energy, textiles… enough. Suffice to say the City is the biggest and busiest marketplace in the world.

It makes the Paris Bourse look like a parish council set against the United Nations and even dwarfs your Frankfurt many times.

That, surely, is the point of what happened in Brussels. The French wish to wreck it and you seem to have agreed. Its contribution to the British economy is not simply useful nor even merely valuable.

It is absolutely crucial. The financial services industry contributes 10 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product and 17.5 per cent of our taxation revenue.

A direct and targeted attack on the City is an attack on my country. But that, although devised in Paris, is what you have chosen to support.

You seem to have decided that Britain is once again Germany’s enemy, a situation that has not existed since 1945.

I deeply regret this but the choice was yours and entirely yours. The Transaction Tax or Tobin Tax you reserve the right to impose would not even generate money for Brussels.

It would simply lead to massive emigration from London to other havens. Long ago it was necessary to live in a city to trade in it.

In the days when deals can flash across the world in a nanosecond all a major brokerage needs is a suite of rooms, computers, telephones and the talent of the young people barking offers and agreements down the phone.

Such a suite of rooms could be in Berne, Thun, Zurich or even Singapore. Under your Tobin Tax tens of thousands would leave London.

This would not help Brussels, it would simply help destroy the British economy.

Your conference did not even save the euro. Permit me a few home truths about it. The euro is a Franco-German construct.

It was a German chancellor (Kohl) who ordered a German banker (Karl Otto Pohl) to get together with a French civil servant (Delors) on the orders of a French president (Mitterrand) and create a common currency.

Which they did. IT was a flawed construct. Like a ship with a twisted hull it might float in calm water but if it ever hit a force eight it would probably founder.

Even then it might have worked for it was launched with a manual of rules, the Growth And Stability Pact. If the terms of that book of rules had been complied with the Good Ship Euro might have survived.

But compliance was entrusted bto the European Central Bank which catastrophically failed to insist on that compliance.

Rules governing the growing of cucumbers are more zealously enforced. This was a European Bank in a German city under a French president and it failed in its primary, even its sole, duty.

This had everything to do with France and Germany and nothing whatever to do with Britain.

Yet in Brussels last week the EU pack seemed intent only on venting its spleen on the country that wisely refused to abolish its pound.

You did not even address yourselves to saving the euro but only to seeking a way to ensure it might work in some future time.

But the euro will not be saved. It is crumbling now. And since you have now turned against my country, from this side of the Channel, Madame Chancellor, one can only say of the euro: YOU MADE IT, YOU MEND IT."

Frederick Forsyth - Daily Express

Good manners

“One of the more curious aspects of bad manners,” Alford astutely observes, “is that we almost never think that we ourselves have them.” Which is why, when it comes to politeness, the letter of the law matters far less than the spirit.

What Alford finally concludes is that courtesy derives from “imagination” rather than a careful adherence to established rules or even simple empathy. “Good manners,” he writes, “are your ability to take on another person’s point of view regardless of your own.”

“Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?” Manners for the modern world - Salon

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


"It's none of the usual explanations: lots of scoring being better than endless nil-nil draws—I've been to cricket matches in which 1,000 runs were scored and you could hardly call them riveting. It's not the hoopla or the sport-as-family-entertainment thing either which soccer fans accustomed to English hooliganism are supposed to appreciate. (Have you ever been to an Eagles game?)

Baseball fans will have to forgive me here, but the answer, I think, is that football is the quintessential American sport. It's no accident it hasn't really caught on elsewhere (the annual NFL game in London notwithstanding) whereas baseball and basketball have at least a claim to a global following and participation.

In its energy and complexity, football captures the spirit of America better than any other cultural creation on this continent, and I don't mean because it features long breaks in which advertisers get to sell beer and treatments for erectile dysfunction. It sits at the intersection of pioneering aggression and impossibly complex strategic planning. It is a collision of Hobbes and Locke; violent, primal force tempered by the most complex set of rules, regulations, procedures and systems ever conceived in an athletic framework.

Soccer is called the beautiful game. But football is chess, played with real pieces that try to knock each other's brains out. It doesn't get any more beautiful than that."

Football Is Better Than Soccer - WSJ

For Tyler.

Open to chaos

"Raul made about $10,000 total by donating a couple of times a week for a year and a half, at $70 a sample. He didn’t dwell on the outcome—the possible children, the various mothers. He went on with his plans for a legal career, his artistic pursuits, and his own family life. Last year, he mentioned to colleagues that he’d been a sperm donor during his time off. “Have you ever Googled your donor number?” one of the other lawyers asked.

Raul had not. But that morning at work he typed his donor number into the search engine. The first hit was a blog called Django Djournal, a mother’s chronicle of the baby, Django, she had conceived with Raul’s sperm.

What made the blog entry even more transfixing, though, were the photographs of two other babies also conceived with Raul’s sperm. Their mothers had tracked down the blog, and the result was an impromptu online community of mothers who’d used Raul’s sperm.

Raul struggles to describe how he felt when he saw these children. “You know how it feels to come out of the trees on the coast and suddenly see the ocean?” he asked. “It’s so vast and incomprehensible. You have that moment of awe.”

California Cryobank says that, by industry standards, it is conservative in the number of vials it will sell from a given donor. A recent documentary on the Style network featured a donor who knows of at least 70 offspring from his sperm donations and suspects that he may have as many as 140. One has to wonder at the implications of scores of biologically related children, especially in an age when they will be able to find one another online so easily—and when their anonymous fathers will be able to find them as well.

Describing the sensation of first seeing the biological children he’d never known, Raul told me, “It released a lot of brain chemicals. It felt bigger than me. It was not a benign feeling.” I asked Raul if he’d donate again, knowing how he feels now. He shrugged. “I probably would,” he said. “But then, I’m open to chaos.”"

All His Children - The Atlantic

Inherently absurd

"American presidential elections are increasingly indistinguishable from the reality TV competitions drowning the nation's airwaves. Both are vapid, personality-driven and painfully protracted affairs, with the winners crowned by virtue of their ability to appear slightly more tolerable than the cast of annoying rejects whom the public eliminates one by one.

The Republican presidential primaries – shortly to determine who will be the finalist to face off, and likely lose, against Barack Obama next November – has been a particularly base spectacle. That the contest has devolved into an embarrassing clown show has many causes, beginning with the fact that GOP voters loathe Mitt Romney, their belief-free, anointed-by-Wall-Street frontrunner who clearly has the best chance of defeating the president.

In a desperate attempt to find someone less slithery and soulless (not to mention less Mormon), party members have lurched manically from one ludicrous candidate to the next, only to watch in horror as each wilted the moment they were subjected to scrutiny.

In fairness to the much-maligned GOP field, they face a formidable hurdle: how to credibly attack Obama when he has adopted so many of their party's defining beliefs.

The core problem for GOP challengers is that they cannot be respectable Republicans because, as Krugman pointed out, Obama has that position occupied. They are forced to move so far to the right that they render themselves inherently absurd."

Vote Obama – if you want a centrist Republican for US president - The Guardian

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Radioactive Fish

"Greenpeace could not find any fish that contained radiation exceeding legal safety limits. The legal limit for Japan is 500 becquerels per kilogram. The highest amount of radiation they found in one fish was 47.3 Bq/kg, or less than one tenth the limit." via JapanProbe

Asymmetric Returns

via ZH

Liberally agreeable

"1) Reflective and Complex tastes for music, such as the blues, jazz, classical and folk music, tend to indicate that a person is Emotionally Stable, Open to new experiences, and has above average intelligence and verbal ability.

2) Intense and Rebellious tastes, including a like for rock, alternative or heavy metal, tend to be shared by people who are Open, athletic, and of above average intelligence and verbal ability.

3) People with Upbeat and Conventional taste tend to like country, sound tracks, religious music and pop, and are usually Agreeable, Extroverted, Conscientious, politically conservative, wealthy, athletic, with low Openness, dominance and verbal ability. I always knew there was something suspect about pop-lovers.

4) Last, folks who like rap or hip-hop, soul, funk, electronica are said to have Energetic and Rhythmic tastes, and they are highly Extroverted, Agreeable, and athletic, tend to speak their minds, and are often politically liberal."

via Barking up the wrong tree

Monday, December 26, 2011

National Geographic Photo Contest 2011

via The Atlantic

See All Entries

Global beer domination

"Beer is to Belgium as wine is to France. It is “ingrained in the culture”, says Marc Stroobandt, an expert on Belgian beer. Belgians have been at it for a long time: the Romans are said to have brought brewing to this part of Europe; many Belgian breweries have origins in the Middle Ages. Stella Artois traces its roots to the Den Hoorn brewery, founded in Leuven in 1366: the horn remains on the beer’s label to this day. Sebastian Artois brought his name to the brewery relatively late—in 1717.

The ceremony with which Belgian beer is poured and drunk betokens a love of beer that no other country can match. Arguments in a Belgian bar will not revolve around anything so trivial as politics or football. Fierce debate might centre on the correct glass in which to serve a Stella. In its hometown of Leuven it is a flat-sided tumbler; elsewhere only one with diamond mouldings near the base will do. A barman who neglects to inquire whether you prefer your bottle of Duvel shaken slightly to mix in the yeasty lees shouldn’t expect a tip.

Though its brewers have much to celebrate, Belgium as a whole is troubled. Among the most pressing problems is the bitter Wallonian-Flemish political divide that left the country without a permanent government for much for 2010 and 2011. A dissolution of the nation no longer looks impossible. Still, Belgians intending to drown their sorrows at least have an excellent variety of beers with which to do the job."

Brewed force - The Economist

Eight Years

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa's Grotto

"Around the twentieth time I shipped a box containing both Michael Bublé’s Christmas album and Justin Beiber’s Under the Mistletoe, I realized that while Christmas might be the most magical time of the year, it’s definitely not the most original.

If you live in Canada and have a friend with an Internet connection and a credit card, chances are you’re getting either a calendar, Star Wars Lego, or a book by a Giller Prize nominee. Trust me, I know. I’m what some might call an Amazon elf.

I work as a packer, for $12 an hour, one of about 700 employees split between two shifts. I’m required to ship 97 units per hour. A high UPH is gold in here: It brings gift cards, pride and promises of more gift cards, so obviously it’s pretty hard to think when you’re focused on your UPH. But you do notice things. A lot of albums and books these days have ridiculously literal names: Tony Bennett’s album of duets is called Duets. Paul Simon’s book about lyrics? Yup. It’s called Lyrics. A lot of people order weight-loss paraphernalia: DVDs by Bob Harper from the Biggest Loser and those giant, brightly coloured medicine balls. (Here’s a question: If you’re too lazy to walk to the store and get it, do you think you’ll use it after it’s delivered to your house?) And a lot of people have sketchy holiday taste: On my first day, I shipped a rack of orders that contained 30 copies of Ernest Saves Christmas but only one copy of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There are orders that stop you cold, too. One person ordered eight books about alcoholism. Looks like someone’s Christmas dinner is going to turn into an intervention.

When I get home at night, my friends and family ask if I saw their orders among the tens of thousands of products shipped through the warehouse each day.

The answer is no. But I do know what you’re getting for Christmas."

Confessions of an Amazon elf - Globe and Mail

Friday, December 23, 2011

Re-imagining TV

"The TV device Apple is working on would use a version of Apple's wireless-streaming technology AirPlay to allow users to control it from iPhones and iPads, according to people briefed on the matter. When the company plans to start selling such a device and whether it would receive traditional broadcast or cable signals remains unclear, said these people, who say Apple may change its plans.

Apple is one of a number of companies rushing to re-imagine TV by making it resemble watching video on devices like computers and tablets. Like Apple, these companies are taking the approach of trying to tie together the multitude of devices consumers use daily but that don't currently talk to each other.

The pace of change puts media companies that make TV shows and program TV channels in a dilemma. On one hand, they hope that they can increase their profits by selling new services on new devices. But they are worried that a proliferation of new services could undermine the existing TV business.

Apple Plots Its TV Assault - WSJ

Thursday, December 22, 2011


"DES MOINES (The Borowitz Report) – In a development that has imperiled his front-runner status in the Republican presidential race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has plunged in the polls as voters have begun to remember who he is.

Mr. Gingrich had been surging in recent weeks, but according to pollster Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research institute, “That was before people’s memories of who New Gingrich is started gradually kicking in.”

According to a new poll released today, Mr. Gingrich fared especially poorly among voters who agreed with the statement, “Wait a minute, that guy? He was an enormous dick.”

“Newt Gingrich has got to do something fast to keep people from remembering who he is,” pollster Logsdon said. “He might try growing a moustache or wearing an eye patch, but that might be too little, too late.”

On the ground in Iowa, Gingrich campaign strategists are working overtime to confront the challenge posed by voters remembering who he is, aides to the former House Speaker said today.

According to one campaign source, the Gingrich campaign has begun seeking the support of people with mental disorders and other memory issues that make it hard for them to retain basic information.

“The problem is, most of those people are currently running for President,” the source said.

In other political news, the Romney campaign unveiled a new slogan today: “You’re Out of Other Options.”"

Gingrich Plummets in Polls as Voters Start Remembering Who He Is - Borowitz Report

iPad Hate

"Consumers love the iPad. But the unprecedented success of the iPad is laying waste to products, product categories, companies and even entire industries, and nobody can stop it. Never before in the history of consumer electronics has a single product earned so much love – and so much hate."

Why the iPad Is the Most Hated Gadget Ever - Cult of Mac

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Implications for 2012

"For years analysts have warned of a looming real estate bubble in China, but the predicted downturn, the bursting of that bubble, never occurred — that is, until now. In a telling scene two months ago, Shanghai property developers started slashing prices on their latest luxury condos by up to one-third. Crowds of owners who had recently bought apartments at full price converged on sales offices throughout the city, demanding refunds. Some angry investors went on a rampage, breaking windows and smashing showrooms.

The biggest unanswered question is whether existing investors -- the people holding all those sold but empty "ghost" condos and villas -- will join in the sell-off, which could turn the market's retreat into a rout.

While frightening, the popping of China's real estate bubble is not all bad news. Cheaper, more affordable housing could also unlock the savings of China's working-class families, unleashing greater consumer demand and helping to rebalance the global economy. Investment long bottled up in idle real estate could flow to more productive pursuits. These adjustments have been put off too long. This is why at least some of China's leaders appear determined to force a correction despite the risks. But they know they are walking a razor's edge."

China's Real Estate Bubble May Have Just Popped - Foreign Affairs

"China faces an epic deleveraging hangover, like the rest of us."

China's epic hangover begins - Telegraph

Dear Jamie Dimon

Dear Jamie Dimon,

I hope this note finds you well.

I am writing to profess my utter disbelief at how little you seem to understand the current mood of the nation. In a story at Bloomberg today, you and a handful of fellow banker and billionaire "job creators" were quoted as believing that the horrific sentiment directed toward you from virtually all corners of America had something to do with how much money you had. I'd like to take a moment to disabuse you of this foolishness.

America is different than almost every other place on earth in that its citizenry reveres the wealthy and we are raised to believe that we can all one day join the ranks of the rich. The lack of a caste system or visible rungs of society's ladder is what separates our empire from so many fallen empires throughout history. In a nation bereft of royalty by virtue of its republican birth, the American people have done what any other resourceful people would do - we've created our own royalty and our royalty is the 1%. Not only do we not "hate the rich" as you and other em-bubbled plutocrats have postulated, in point of fact, we love them. We worship our rich to the point of obsession. The highest-rated television shows uniformly feature the unimaginably fabulous families of celebrities not to mention the housewives (real or otherwise) of the rich. We don't care what color they are or what religion they practice or where in the country they live or what channel their show is on - if they're rich, we are watching.

When Derek Jeter was toyed with by the New York Yankees when it came time for him to renew his next hundred million dollar contract, the people empathized with Derek Jeter. Sure, this disagreement essentially took place between one of the wealthiest organizations in the country and one of the wealthiest private citizens - but we rooted for Jeter to get his money. Nobody begrudged him a penny of it or wanted a piece of it or decried the fact that he was luckier than the rest of us. In the American psyche, Jeter was one of the good guys who was deservedly successful. He was one of us and an example of hard work paying off.

Likewise, when Steve Jobs died, he did so with more money than you or any of your "job alliance" buddies - ten times more than most of you, in fact. And upon his death the entire nation went into mourning. We set up makeshift shrines to his brilliance in front of Apple stores from coast to coast. His biography flew off the shelves and people bought Apple products and stock shares in his honor and in his memory. Does that strike you as the action of a populace that hates success?

No, Jamie, it is not that Americans hate successful people or the wealthy. In fact, it is just the opposite. We love the success stories in our midst and it is a distinctly American trait to believe that we can all follow in the footsteps of the elite, even though so few of us ever actually do.

So, no, we don't hate the rich. What we hate are the predators.

What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country. What we hate are those who take and give nothing back in the form of innovation, convenience, entertainment or scientific progress. We hate those who've exploited political relationships and stupidity to rake in even more of the nation's wealth while simultaneously driving the potential for success further away from the grasp of everyone else.

Here in New York, we hated watching real estate and financial services elitists drive up the prices of everything from affordable apartments to martinis in midtown with the reckless speculation that would eventually lead to mass layoffs, rampant joblessness and the wreckage of so many retirement dreams. No one ever asked the rest of us if we minded, it just happened. I'm sure people across the country can tell similar stories.

So please, do us all a favor and come to the realization that the loathing you feel from your fellow Americans has nothing to do with your "success" or your "wealth" and it has everything to do with the fact that your wealth and success have come at a cost to the rest of us. No one wants your money or opportunities, what they want is the same chance that their parents had to attain these things for themselves. You are viewed, and rightfully so, as part of the machine that has removed this chance for many - and that is what they hate.

America hates unjustified privilege, it hates an unfair playing field and crony capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy, it hates privatized gains and socialized losses, it hates rule changes that benefit the few at the expense of the many and it hates people who have been bailed out and don't display even the slightest bit of remorse or humbleness in the presence of so much suffering in the aftermath.

Nobody hates your right to make money, Jamie. They hate how you and certain others have made it.

Don't be confused on this score for a moment longer.

Joshua Brown is a New York City-based investment advisor for high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, retirement plans and corporations. His Blog The Reformed Broker is required reading.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last minute gift idea?

"Here at December's halfway point we're already down more than 3% on the SPY. And nothing but credit events, downgrades and horrid headlines seem to await us."

The Reformed Broker

The Cleanest Race

"The analogies to Confucianism are glib, and such parallels with it as can be drawn are intended by the regime only for the consumption of outsiders. Myers makes a persuasive case that we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian "military first" mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia.

The North Korean dictatorship has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming."

A Nation of Racist Dwarfs - Christopher Hitchens - Slate

The Legend Ends

Click the poster for the trailer

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ten Degrees of Pitch

"Today the Air France 447 transcripts yield information that may ensure that no airline pilot will ever again make the same mistakes. From now on, every airline pilot will no doubt think immediately of AF447 the instant a stall-warning alarm sounds at cruise altitude. Airlines around the world will change their training programs to enforce habits that might have saved the doomed airliner: paying closer attention to the weather and to what the planes around you are doing; explicitly clarifying who's in charge when two co-pilots are alone in the cockpit; understanding the parameters of alternate law; and practicing hand-flying the airplane during all phases of flight.

But the crash raises the disturbing possibility that aviation may well long be plagued by a subtler menace, one that ironically springs from the never-ending quest to make flying safer. Over the decades, airliners have been built with increasingly automated flight-control functions. These have the potential to remove a great deal of uncertainty and danger from aviation. But they also remove important information from the attention of the flight crew. While the airplane's avionics track crucial parameters such as location, speed, and heading, the human beings can pay attention to something else. But when trouble suddenly springs up and the computer decides that it can no longer cope—on a dark night, perhaps, in turbulence, far from land—the humans might find themselves with a very incomplete notion of what's going on. They'll wonder: What instruments are reliable, and which can't be trusted? What's the most pressing threat? What's going on? Unfortunately, the vast majority of pilots will have little experience in finding the answers."

What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447 - Wired

Transcript of the pilots conversations makes for a vivid, and chilling, read.

Dogs in Cars

Friday, December 16, 2011

No progress

Conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station.

"Absolutely no progress is being made" towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters.

Much of the work -- like road repairs -- is purely cosmetic, and projects directly related to cleaning up the crisis such as decontaminating water -- which Suzuki was involved in -- are rife with cut corners, including the use of plastic piping likely to freeze and crack in the winter.

"We are seeing many problems stemming from the shoddy, rushed work at the power plant," Suzuki says.

Despite the lack of progress and cavalier attitude to safety, Suzuki claims the cold shutdown schedule has essentially choked off any new ideas. The crisis is officially under control and the budget for dealing with it has been cut drastically, and many Hitachi and Toshiba engineers that have presented new solutions have been told there is simply no money to try them.

In sum, Suzuki says what he saw (and photographed with a pinhole camera hidden in his watch) proves the real work to overcome the Fukushima disaster "is just beginning."

'Absolutely no progress being made' at Fukushima nuke plant' - Mainichi

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Lego Kid

"Lego confirmed that girls favor role-play, but they also love to build—just not the same way as boys. Whereas boys tend to be “linear”—building rapidly, even against the clock, to finish a kit so it looks just like what’s on the box—girls prefer “stops along the way,” and to begin storytelling and rearranging. Lego has bagged the pieces in Lego Friends boxes so that girls can begin playing various scenarios without finishing the whole model. Lego Friends also introduces six new Lego colors—including Easter-egg-like shades of azure and lavender. (Bright pink was already in the Lego palette.)

The key difference between girls and the ladyfig and boys and the minifig was that many more girls projected themselves onto the ladyfig—she became an avatar. Boys tend to play with minifigs in the third person. “The girls needed a figure they could identify with, that looks like them,” says Rosario Costa, a Lego design director. The Lego team knew they were on to something when girls told them, “I want to shrink down and be there.”"

Lego Is for Girls - Businessweek

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The Food Revolution

Handbook for Life

52 Tips for Happiness and Productivity

No.1 Try rising early.
No.4 Practice patience.
No.5 Practice compassion.
No.8 Exercse.
No.12 Think positive.
No.22 Enjoy the journey.
No.27 Empty your inbox and clear your desk.
No.34 Take time to decompress after stress.
No.39 Don’t compare yourself to others.
No.48 Go outdoors.

Pushing sycophantic drivel

"Have we ever been so badly served by the press? We face multiple crises – economic, environmental, democratic – but most newspapers represent them neither clearly nor fairly. The industry that should reveal and expose instead tries to contain and baffle, to foil questions and shut down dissent.

The men who own the corporate press are fighting a class war, seeking, even now, to defend the 1% to which they belong against its challengers. But because they control much of the conversation, we seldom see it in these terms. Our press re-frames major issues so effectively, it often recruits its readers to mobilise against their own interests.

Press barons have been waging this class war for almost a century, and it has hobbled progressive politics throughout that time. But the closed circle of embedded journalism is now so tight that it has almost created an alternative reality.

It's not just Murdoch and his network of sleazy crooks: our political system has been corrupted by the entire corporate media. Defending ourselves from the economic elite means naming and unmasking the power of the press."

Britain's press are fighting a class war, defending the elite they belong to - Guardian

Bring on the blogs.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


"Indeed the Euro project is exactly as Boris Johnson describes. And that is precisely why Cameron should have gone on the offensive and put membership in the EU to popular vote instead of making sniveling, apologetic statements to appease Merkel and Sarkozy, both of whom will be gone after the next set of elections."

Cameron Attempts to Snatch Defeat from Jaws of Victory; Euro Project Intellectually, Morally, Democratically Bankrupt - Mish

This is good too.. The Merkelization of Europe - FP

The Book of Jobs

"That seeming golden age of 2007 was far from a paradise. The American standard of living was sustained only by rising debt—debt so large that the U.S. savings rate had dropped to near zero. And “zero” doesn’t really tell the story. Because the rich have always been able to save a significant percentage of their income, putting them in the positive column, an average rate of close to zero means that everyone else must be in negative numbers. (Here’s the reality: in the years leading up to the recession, according to research done by my Columbia University colleague Bruce Greenwald, the bottom 80 percent of the American population had been spending around 110 percent of its income.) What made this level of indebtedness possible was the housing bubble, which Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke, chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, helped to engineer through low interest rates and nonregulation—not even using the regulatory tools they had. As we now know, this enabled banks to lend and households to borrow on the basis of assets whose value was determined in part by mass delusion.

At the beginning of the Depression, more than a fifth of all Americans worked on farms. Between 1929 and 1932, these people saw their incomes cut by somewhere between one-third and two-thirds, compounding problems that farmers had faced for years. Agriculture had been a victim of its own success. In 1900, it took a large portion of the U.S. population to produce enough food for the country as a whole. Then came a revolution in agriculture that would gain pace throughout the century—better seeds, better fertilizer, better farming practices, along with widespread mechanization. Today, 2 percent of Americans produce more food than we can consume.

The parallels between the story of the origin of the Great Depression and that of our Long Slump are strong. Back then we were moving from agriculture to manufacturing. Today we are moving from manufacturing to a service economy. The decline in manufacturing jobs has been dramatic—from about a third of the workforce 60 years ago to less than a tenth of it today.

Of four major service sectors—finance, real estate, health, and education—the first two were bloated before the current crisis set in. The other two, health and education, have traditionally received heavy government support. But government austerity at every level—that is, the slashing of budgets in the face of recession—has hit education especially hard, just as it has decimated the government sector as a whole. Nearly 700,000 state- and local-government jobs have disappeared during the past four years, mirroring what happened in the Depression.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this brief history. The first is that the economy will not bounce back on its own, at least not in a time frame that matters to ordinary people. Yes, all those foreclosed homes will eventually find someone to live in them, or be torn down. Prices will at some point stabilize and even start to rise. Americans will also adjust to a lower standard of living—not just living within their means but living beneath their means as they struggle to pay off a mountain of debt.

Monetary policy is not going to help us out of this mess. Ben Bernanke has, belatedly, admitted as much. The Fed played an important role in creating the current conditions—by encouraging the bubble that led to unsustainable consumption—but there is now little it can do to mitigate the consequences. I can understand that its members may feel some degree of guilt. But anyone who believes that monetary policy is going to resuscitate the economy will be sorely disappointed. That idea is a distraction, and a dangerous one."

The Book of Jobs - Joseph E. Stiglitz - Vanity Fair

Good essay, good read. Our political leaders are focused on fixing the solution to the last mess, rather than fixing the underlying problem. I particularly liked 'the economy will not bounce back on its own, at least not in a time frame that matters to ordinary people.'


Parts of Britain are battered by gale force winds and storms - Telegraph

Monday, December 12, 2011

Smoke and mirrors

"Remember what everybody said a week ago? To solve the crisis, the eurozone requires, in the long run, a fiscal union with a prospect of a eurozone bond and, in the short run, unlimited sovereign bond market support by the European Central Bank. What we now have is no treaty change, no eurozone bond and no increase either in the rescue fund or in ECB support.

Policy changes the ECB announced last week will help banks directly and governments indirectly. But the EU fell short on every element of a comprehensive deal. On Friday, investors reacted positively to what was sold to them as a “fiscal compact”. But once the implications of a separate treaty are understood, I fear disillusionment will set in.

Last week, Europe’s leaders created a diversion. We will be talking about the UK for a while. The crisis, meanwhile, goes on."

Snags, diversions – and the crisis goes on - FT

Questions Plague EU Pact - WSJ

Marginal wisdom

"Whatever happens now in Europe may well affect Britain, but there is precious little Britain can do to affect it. William Hague is already parroting the line that we are not marginalised by what has occurred. This is manifestly untrue – but in the present case, marginalisation is highly desirable. Recognising this truth is the beginning of wisdom."

David Cameron has at last learned to confront, not conciliate, in Europe - Telegraph

Britain should pity those still trapped in the euro nightmare - Telegraph

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller?

"If Ferris Bueller had a day off now, would he spend it on Facebook?"

Why are US teenagers driving less? - BBC

"Hey, Cameron. You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?"
"I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind."

Hurt Locker

"You need more self-confidence than a mine-disposal specialist to sell short Japanese bonds.

Japan’s official debt is, depending on assumptions, close to or more than twice the country’s GDP, its households are now ageing and dis-saving, and its politicians no better than anywhere else. Eventually, there has to be a day of reckoning, when the market, or the public, or the world, wakes up to find Bondzilla destroying Tokyo.

Yes … but when, exactly? It is about 17 years since I first heard this story, and the 10-year JGB is yielding around 1.1 per cent. Anyone looking for sovereign bonds ripe for default, devaluation or debasement is spoiled for choice these days.

The Japan short sellers say that Italy’s current crisis is the warning bell.

The Japan shorts have a point about the increased fragility of the country’s situation.

Eventually, the absurdly high Japanese debt stock will have to be written down either by the market.

While Japan has an unusually dramatic official debt burden, it all comes down to the same set of prospective broken promises that face the rest of the developed world. Old people will have to work longer, and have less comfortable retirements. The speed with which this is recognised by haircuts on securities prices, currency values, and state pensions depends not just on arithmetic, but culture. And I don’t think non-Japanese will be that good at predicting the timing. Once again, the Japan shorts may be early."

Bad omens for Japan, but don’t short it yet - FT

Debt Slavery

"A basic mathematical as well as political principle is at work: Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be.

The failure to take the wishes of voters into consideration leaves the resulting national debts on shaky ground politically and even legally. Debts imposed by fiat, by governments or foreign financial agencies in the face of strong popular opposition may be as tenuous as those of the Habsburgs and other despots in past epochs. Lacking popular validation, they may die with the regime that contracted them. New governments may act democratically to subordinate the banking and financial sector to serve the economy, not the other way around.

At the very least, they may seek to pay by re-introducing progressive taxation of wealth and income, shifting the fiscal burden onto rentier wealth and property. Re-regulation of banking and providing a public option for credit and banking services would renew the social democratic program that seemed well underway a century ago.

Iceland and Argentina are most recent examples, but one may look back to the moratorium on Inter-Ally arms debts and German reparations in 1931. A basic mathematical as well as political principle is at work: Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be."

Debt Slavery – Why It Destroyed Rome, Why It Will Destroy Us Unless It’s Stopped - Counter Punch

Good read. Worthwhile lessons.

Friday, December 02, 2011

We're gonna need a bigger boat

Wrightsville Beach, NC.

The best tool

“In the very early days of Klick we started to recognize some basic challenges with email and wanted to find a better solution,” says Klick CEO Leerom Segal. “While email makes for a decent communication tool with clients, internally it doesn’t facilitate collaboration and basic workflow. Email has no intelligent mechanisms for prioritization, lacks context, lacks a framework for knowledge management, and saps accountability.”

“By moving away from internal email and creating a system that truly supports our employees, we do a better job of separating signal from noise so our organization can make small course corrections earlier in the process,” he adds. “We don’t want to remove emotion or the human side from decision-making, but we do want our team to make decisions that are always informed by data.

“And it all started because we weren’t satisfied with email. The fact most people use a tool doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best tool to use.”

The Company That Outlawed Email - Inc.

Looming failure

The best take on yesterday's big dollar swap announcement came from one Cornelius Hurley, director of Boston University's Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law, who, in this Q&A on the subject at Reuters characterized it thusly:

"They're basically responding to the looming failure of the European Summit on December 9. They're putting foam on the runway."

Fed Dollar Swap Quote Of The Day - Seeking Alpha

Thursday, December 01, 2011

So they fixed it...

"Central bankers were no doubt aware of this graphic when they acted to boost the availability and lower the cost of U.S. dollars for European banks today.

Not that what was done will make any difference over the long-term, but, it should alleviate some of the current pressure and, by the looks of the stock market today, enable a nice Santa Claus rally, though, European policymakers could still screw that up."

Why Central Banks Took Action Today - TMTGM

"If you asked me last week to list the conditions necessary for the market to rally 500 points, I would've said we needed three things:

1. A resumption of strengthening US economic data
2. Good news on the China slowdown front
3. Massive intervention for banks and sovereign issuers to stave off the European collapse

This morning we got all of those things at once."

Build-a-Bull Workshop - The Reformed Broker

"This action is likely to roil markets in crazy ways. The Fed is now paper-money printer for the entire world. It’s a new world, and a brave one. If you think that a new era of prosperity, peace, and stability awaits, you have been living under a rock for at least a century. There’s not a soul alive who will sleep soundly knowing that Ben Bernanke has elected himself the loan officer of the entire globe."

Leaping Toward the Keynesian Dream - The Daily Reckoning

Or did they?