From the News

14 Apr

Someone just got a bonus

Abercrombie and Fitch is to pay its Chief Executive $4m to limit reimbursed use of private jet to $200k/year till Feb. 2014, when the CEO’s contract expires [BBC].

CEO’s typical expenditure/year ~ 850k/year
Expected cost ~ $4.25m
Max(previous years) = $1.1m
Expected cost ~ $5.5m

CEO’s reimbursed expenditure/year ~ 200k/year = .8m
Total cash ~ $4m* + .8m = $4.8m
* CEO makes money on the interest by getting the money upfront. Total income at about 5%/year compounded annually ~ $1.1m

Profits ~ 4.8 + 1 – 4.25 = 1.55m
5.8 – 5.5 = .3m*

*Very likely a low estimate as CEO now has the incentive to fly the plane less.

Science about the opinions towards climate science
Some plausible explanations (not exculpations) for forces shaping public opinion about climate science –

  • “When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.”(The Economist). Same article -“People often assume that data are simple, graspable and trustworthy, whereas the theory is complex, recondite and slippery, and so give the former priority. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is at least as fair a picture. Data are vexatious; the theory is quite straightforward.”
  • “Weather is not climate” (NY Times)

Spincycle Select: March 2009

18 Mar

Rambo- Dead and Deader By John Mueller, Los Angeles Times

US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites by Mark Danner, NYRB

The trouble with Frida Kahlo by Stephanie Mencimer, Washington Monthly

Percentage Increases, Increases in percentages (BBC)

Slow death of handwriting (BBC)

Shall we get rid of the lawyers? Anthony Lewis, NYRB. Lewis, a celebrated journalist, is the author of a superb book, Gideon’s Trumpet, that documents the history, and particulars of the seminal sixth amendment case, Gideon Vs. Wainwright.


‘Tasteless’ T-shirts worn by Israeli army soldiers (BBC)

Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques – IDF fashion 2009 by Uri Blau, Haaretz

Spincycle Select – December 2008

18 Dec

Right’s leftist appeals

Jawed Naqvi astutely points out how many of the right-wing appeals of Mullahs are basically plagiarized left-wing appeals. He points out how cries for ‘anti-imperialism’ etc. have been usurped. “The mullahs have motivated their rank and file in Pakistan with verses from leftist poetry, often to attack left politics.” He further argues (rightly)-

“Just because religious extremists or terrorists have usurped a secular critique of imperialism and harnessed it to their bigoted worldview doesn’t mean that Zionism becomes kosher [my comments – interesting choice of words] or imperialism becomes acceptable or right-wing Hindu revivalism deserves legitimacy.”

Iran’s essentially communist revolution came to an Islamist end. Hopefully anti-imperialist voices in South Asia and Middle-east won’t suffer a similar fate.



Economist has a superb story on Tintin.


Paul Krugman comments on the Ponzi Economy.


Make love, not war

US Military gives Viagra to Afghan warlords. (Naipaul would be feeling vindicated.)

Spincycle Select: Oct 20th-Nov 4th

22 Oct

BBC provides a guide to the Joes in American politics:

Chaste shares a link to an excellent NYRB article on Georgia by USC professor, Robert English:

NY Times has a story about international monitors calling into question Georgian claims:

Barack Obama will be the 44th president of United States:

Article on housing, a heavily subsidized and none-too-productive asset:

Private: Spincycle Select -March 12th to April 15th

12 Mar

Supreme Court’s business turn

Jeff Rosen covers Supreme Court’s pro-business turn in a lengthy article for the NYT. He also sheds light on the cottage industry of industry-financed scholars engaged in churning out pro-business propaganda.

“After the verdict, Exxon began providing money for academic research to support its claim that the award for damages was excessive. It financed some of the country’s most prominent scholars on both sides of the political spectrum, including the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. (Sunstein says he accepted only travel grants, not research support, from Exxon; and Kahneman stresses that the financing had no influence on the substance of his work.) In a 2002 book, Punitive Damages: How Juries Decide, Sunstein studied hundreds of mock-jury deliberations and concluded that jurors are unpredictable and often irrational in punitive-damage cases. Jury deliberations, he found, increase the unpredictability, as well as the dollar amount of the final awards. Sunstein concluded that a system of civil fines determined by experts, rather than punitive damages determined by juries, might be more sensible. When Exxon appealed the $5 billion verdict in 2006, it was reduced by an appellate court to $2.5 billion. The reduced verdict is once again being challenged as excessive.”

“The team looked at a fortnight’s production from the posh papers and the Daily Mail, and analyzed in the process 2207 UK news pieces. They focused on two things: the number of stories that were derived directly from press releases; and the number that were taken straight from the main British news agency, the Press Association. The results were amazing, and not in a good way.

They found that a massive 60 percent of these quality-print stories consisted wholly or mainly of wire copy and/or PR material, and a further 20 percent contained clear elements of wire copy and/or PR to which more or less other material had been added. With 8 percent of the stories, they were unable to be sure about their source. That left only 12 percent of stories where the researchers could say that all the material was generated by the reporters themselves. The highest quota proved to be in the Times, where 69 percent of news stories were wholly or mainly wire copy and/or PR . . . The researchers went on to look at those stories which relied on a specific statement of fact and found that with a staggering 70 percent of them, the claimed fact passed into print without any corroboration at all. Only 12 percent of these stories showed evidence that the central statement had been thoroughly checked.”

Lanchester reviews Davies book, ‘Flat Earth News’ on LRB.

Confirms Vs Claims

Another superb article on the malaise in journalism -this time about Israel. Yonatan Mendel: Diary, LRB.

“I soon understood what Tamar Liebes, the director of the Smart Institute of Communication at the Hebrew University, meant when she said: ‘Journalists and publishers see themselves as actors within the Zionist movement, not as critical outsiders.’’

“In most of the articles on the conflict two sides battle it out: the Israel Defence Forces, on the one hand, and the Palestinians, on the other. When a violent incident is reported, the IDF confirms or the army says but the Palestinians claim: ‘The Palestinians claimed that a baby was severely injured in IDF shootings.”

“When the Palestinians aren’t making claims, their viewpoint is simply not heard. Keshev, the Centre for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, studied the way Israel’s leading television channels and newspapers covered Palestinian casualties in a given month – December 2005. They found 48 items covering the deaths of 22 Palestinians. However, in only eight of those accounts was the IDF version followed by a Palestinian reaction; in the other 40 instances the event was reported only from the point of view of the Israeli military.”

“The IDF, as depicted by the Israeli media, has another strange ability: it never initiates, decides to attack or launches an operation. The IDF simply responds.”

“Israeli men up to the age of 50 are obliged to do one month’s reserve service every year. ‘The civilian,’ Yigael Yadin, an early Israeli chief of staff, said, ‘is a soldier on 11 months’ annual leave.’ For the Israeli media there is no leave.”

The big bailout
Krugman writes that the big bailout for financial institutions is coming. Once again taxpayers are going to be stuck with the tab of failed government oversight.

“The U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s ended up costing taxpayers 3.2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of $450 billion today. Some estimates put the fiscal cost of Japan’s post-bubble cleanup at more than 20 percent of G.D.P. — the equivalent of $3 trillion for the United States. If these numbers shock you, they should. But the big bailout is coming. The only question is how well it will be managed.”

Gretchen Morgenson, Assistant Business and Financial editor at NYT, – argues the Bear bailout is costly and unwarranted.

“WHAT are the consequences of a world in which regulators rescue even the financial institutions whose recklessness and greed helped create the titanic credit mess we are in?”

“But why save Bear Stearns? The beneficiary of this bailout, remember, has often operated in the gray areas of Wall Street and with an aggressive, brass-knuckles approach. Until regulators came along in 1996, Bear Stearns was happy to provide its balance sheet and imprimatur to bucket-shop brokerages like Stratton Oakmont and A. R. Baron, clearing dubious stock trades.

And as one of the biggest players in the mortgage securities business on Wall Street, Bear provided munificent lines of credit to public-spirited subprime lenders like New Century (now bankrupt). It is also the owner of EMC Mortgage Servicing, one of the most aggressive subprime mortgage servicers out there.”

Barack Obama on race in America
Obama has delivered probably the best speech that on race in well over forty years. Read it in full.(pdf)

Wasteful spending on anti-terrorism efforts

“First, the number of lives lost or ruined by transnational terrorism is rather minor compared with other challenges considered by the Copenhagen Consensus. On average only 420 people are killed and another 1249 are injured each year from transnational terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the public in rich countries views transnational terrorism as one of the greatest threats. This is rather ironic since over 30,000 people die on US highways annually, yet highway safety is not as much of a public concern.

Second, protective or defensive counterterrorism measures may merely deflect attacks to softer targets. For example, the installation of metal detectors in airports in January 1973 decreased skyjackings, but increased kidnappings and other hostage missions; the fortifications of US embassies reduced embassy assaults, but increased assassinations of diplomatic officials (Enders
and Sandler, 1993, 2006a). Unlike other challenges, countermeasures may have unintended harmful consequences: strong offensive measures against terrorists can lead to backlash attacks as new grievances are created.

Third, guarding against transnational terrorism can utilize resources at an alarming rate without greatly reducing the risks. In contrast, terrorists require moderate resources to create great anxiety in a targeted public.

Fourth, transnational terrorism poses a real dilemma for liberal democracies: responding too fully compromises democratic principles and gains support for the terrorists, whereas responding too meekly loses constituency support and exposes the government’s failure to protect lives and property (Wilkinson, 1986, 2001). Thus, government actions can become the root of future attacks.”

From: Sandler, Arce, and Enders article: Transnational Terrorism (pdf) [Copenhagen Consensus]

Economist article on the study: Most anti-terrorist spending is wasteful, claims a new study

Private: Spin Select | Feb 1st to Feb 15th

7 Feb

“Chicken-chested, hollow-cheeked and undernourished” male models

“People are afraid to look over 21 or make any statement of what it means to be adult,” Ms. Cutrone, “founder of People’s Revolution, a fashion branding and production company”. [ The vanishing point, NY Times]

Pakistan: Middle class, Islam, and Army

Griff Witte reports on the three major political forces that will largely shape the future of Pakistan, in this multimedia production for the Washington Post.

Spin Select | Jan 3rd to Jan 15th

13 Jan

Moral Hazard and Health Insurance

A 2005 New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, convincingly debunks the moral hazard argument that informs the thinking of private health insurance plan advocates. Link: The Moral-Hazard Myth: The bad idea behind our failed health-care system.

Bhutto’s assassination

Tariq Ali and Manan Ahmed provide incisive analysis on Bhutto’s assassination. PAKISTAN: The Three Faces of Benazir and The Bhutto Dynasty

An excruciatingly long yet largely pointless 1993 New Yorker profile of Benazir Bhutto by Mary Anne Weaver, author of the middling ‘Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan’. New Yorker authors are famous for waxing verbose and this article is no exception. Link: Bhutto’s Fateful moment by Mary Anne Weaver

The $2500 car is finally here. The unveiling of Nano was covered extensively by the media. Read the brief yet elegantly written Economist report about it.

Knowledge@Wharton reports on convergence in corporate governance structures due to pressures from globalization and contends that not all is for the good.

Amy Waldman, a former correspondent for The New York Times and now a writer for The Atlantic, writes about the (ab)use of religion in buffeting cases against alleged would be terror plotters.

Steven Pinker, psychologist at Harvard, wrote an essay on The Moral Instinct for the NY Times Sunday Magazine. Pinker has written an erudite account that highlights some of the key psychological biases that prevent choices that do the most good from emerging as the most moral ones. Morality, as our contributor to the blog – Vinay- has pointed out, should be tractable empirically and based on some conception of its ability to provide the most good for society. The associated corollary is that morals, which offer little or no good to the society, aren’t particularly moral.

Spincycle Select | Dec 1st to Dec 15th 2007

8 Dec

“Crack is whack” (and so is the punishment for using it)
Whitney Houston in a Prime time interview with Diane Sawyer famously said, “Crack is cheap. I make too much for me to ever smoke crack,” she said. “Let’s get that straight, OK? I don’t do crack. I don’t do that. Crack is whack.”

Yes, crack is whack. And so has the punishment for using it for the past twenty years. Under the sentencing guidelines enacted in 1986 and 1988, possession 1 gm of crack cocaine-induced the same minimum sentence as possession of 100gms of its powdered form. Finally, though half measures in reducing some of the absurdity in sentencing have succeeded. United States Sentencing Commission recently ruled to reduce the prison sentences for using crack cocaine to bring them closer to that of powdered cocaine.

Back in 1994, the USSC was asked to study the differential penalties. The commission in 1995 recommended equalizing the quantity that triggered minimum sentences for both forms of cocaine but the recommendation sank in a Republican controlled congress, and the election year calculations meant that President Clinton quietly signed the bill into law.

Supplementary Reading:

Levitt and Dubner talk about changing pattern of cocaine use in their NY Times op-ed.

Time article on “Crack” in 1986.

China: a shrinking violet

Keidel at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports that an updated PPP measure – the prior measure was based on a 1980 survey (!) – means that estimates of the size of the Chinese economy have been revised downwards from $10 trillion to $6 trillion. Meanwhile, the estimate of the number of poor people has been revised upwards to 300 million.

Citation: The Limits of a Smaller, Poorer China by Albert Keidel, published in the Financial Times, 11/14/2007

Taxing thoughts

Cornell professor presents experimental corroboration for the long-held common-sense belief that telling citizens upfront about the costs of reducing tax burden will reduce support for a reduction in taxation.

Citation: Reshaping the Debate on Raising Taxes, Robert Frank, New York Times, 12/9/2007

i-Identity: Apple of society’s eye

Apple, the once niche club of all-consuming hipness, may yet bequeath its hard-earned ‘Cool-Aid’ to mass popularity.

Citation: The Elite Apple Corps: A Hundred Million Strong, Every One of Them Cool, Hank, Stuever, 12/9/2007, Washington Post.

Gawande: checklists help reduce medical errors

Atul Gawande writes about how checklists can help reduce errors in the medical profession. He quotes Dr. Pronovost, the man behind the idea, as saying, “The fundamental problem with the quality of American medicine is that we’ve failed to view delivery of health care as a science. The tasks of medical science fall into three buckets. One is understanding disease biology. One is finding effective therapies. And one is ensuring those therapies are delivered effectively. That third bucket has been almost totally ignored by research funders, government, and academia. It’s viewed as the art of medicine. That’s a mistake, a huge mistake. And from a taxpayer’s perspective, it’s outrageous.”

Citation: The Checklist, Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, 12/10/2007 (forthcoming issue)

Articles of Interest

2 Jun

I have too much to do…
“American workers, on average, spend 45 hours a week at work, but describe 16 of those hours as “unproductive,” according to a study by Microsoft. America Online and, in turn, determined that workers actually work a total of three days a week, wasting the other two….

And, with due respect to Mr. Gilbreth, all the energy that’s been poured into trying to force everyone to work at the same pace and in the same way — it seems that’s the real waste of time.” [ NY Times ]

*The first paragraph only applies to most well paid white collar jobs.

‘Flexible relationship with reality’
Leonhardt on Dobbs’ claim about leprosy and immigration NY Times column

“And the official leprosy statistics do show about 7,000 diagnosed cases — but that’s over the last 30 years, not the last three.

The peak year was 1983, when there were 456 cases. After that, reported cases dropped steadily, falling to just 76 in 2000. Last year, there were 137. …

…What about the increase over the last six years, to 137 cases from 76? Is that significant?

“No,” Mr. Krahenbuhl said. It could be a statistical fluctuation, or it could be a result of better data collection in recent years. In any event, the 137 reported cases last year were fewer than in any year from 1975 to 1996.”

Politicization and mediocrity
Monica Goodling, who recently resigned as the Public Affairs Director at the Justice Department had the following education –

“Goodling received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 from Messiah College, a Christian institution. She received her J.D. in 1999 from Regent University Law School, a Christian institution founded by Pat Robertson.” [ Wikipedia ]

*Regent University Law School is a Tier 4 law school.
A NY Times article discussing politicization of Justice Department using another case – “Rachel L. Brand, [who] by her own admission, has never prosecuted so much as a traffic case. But in January 2006, when Justice Department officials began to discuss removing some United States attorneys, Ms. Brand was proposed as the top federal prosecutor in the Western District of Michigan, an e-mail message released on Friday shows.”

Foxy Facts
Fox news commentators were discussing global warming recently and during the course of the discussion, a commentator casually stated that like every ‘story’, global warming had two sides to it and that only one side was being highlighted.

Lush Green Hedges

NY Times article on the out of control incomes of top hedge fund managers quoted Brad Delong, UC Berkeley Economist, as saying –

“There is some question as to what the hell they are doing that is worth” that kind of money …. “The answer is damned mysterious.”

Britain canceled a criminal inquiry into bribery allegations linked to a multi-billion-dollar arms deal between BAE and Saudi Arabia citing economic and national security concerns. Jubilee Research (pdf) from Dec. 2006 when the news was first broken.

The arch-conservative
Fred Thompson has emerged as a conservative champion having exceeded or met all the requirements – he is an actor, a divorcee, has a deserved reputation for being lazy, and married to a woman who is four years younger than his daughter who died in 2002 of an accidental prescription drug overdose.

Goodbye Lenin!
A Polish man woke up from a 19-year long coma to find communism has given way. Facts follow fiction – Wolfgang Becker movie, Goodbye Lenin! has about the same story.

Uncivil Rights Leader

18 Aug

Andrew Young, respected civil rights leader, was hired expressly to improve Walmart’s public image.

“In the Sentinel interview, Young was asked about whether he was concerned Walmart causes smaller, mom-and-pop stores to close.

“Well, I think they should; they ran the `mom and pop’ stores out of my neighborhood,” the paper quoted Young as saying. “But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First, it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.”

Washington Post

Highway to India

5 Dec

Amy Waldman recently wrote a series of articles about the socio-cultural impact of highways and the burgeoning number of cars.

Here are the links:

The articles include interactive features with audio commentary and slideshows. While the photographs are well shot, Waldman’s hurried narration leaves much to be desired.

Brief comments and caveats: Waldman puts far too much emphasis on the posited transformative cultural power of both the highways and the increasing number of cars. And she repeatedly paints “old India” in stereotypical terms like, “the land of dharma”, etc.