Assorted Links 2/12/10


Steve Meyers: Global Debt Crisis and 2010 Forecast Update

  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, February 18, 2010
  • The President’s Budget, February 23, 2010
  • The Defense Budget, February 26, 2010
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, March 3-5, 2010
  • Speechwriting: Preparing Speeches and Oral Presentations, March 12, 2010
  • Tyler Cowen on “Haiti: An Outsider’s Perspective” – “Come out to the GMU Economics Society lecture with Tyler Cowen on Haiti: An Outsider’s Perspective” — Tuesday, February 16th at 5:30pm in Enterprise 80.” GMU Enterprise Center: 4031 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030. From the Fairfax Campus: Turn right onto University Drive. Follow University Drive through 1 traffic signal (Fairfax City Hall on left at signal) and past a Fire Station. Make a right onto South Street and then an immediate left into the parking lot. The entrance of the building faces South Street. The Mason Enterprise Center is located on the 2nd Floor.
  • Super Bowl Commercials – Best part of the game
  • The Life of a “Puppy Bowl” Referee – “As a teenager, Andrew Schechter played lead roles in theater productions of ‘Zorba the Greek’ and ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream.’ He thought he’d stay in the theater, but after interning for an entertainment company in Los Angeles in 2005, he became interested in the other side of the stage–producing. Today he works as an associate producer for Animal Planet, a cable television network, helping arrange shoots for various animal-driven shows, such as Dogs 101 and Cats 101. On Feb. 7 he’ll put on his acting hat for the third year for one of Animal Planet’s most popular shows, working as the referee for ‘Puppy Bowl,’ two hours of alternative programming before the Super Bowl and featuring 43 playing puppies. He gets a break for kitten halftime.”
  • Law Professors Aren’t Lazy, Law Schools Are Ineffective – “Ms. Furi-Perry does, however, scratch around the periphery of the real and much more serious problem with legal education. It is based on a ‘Langdellian’ model that has been embraced by the universities that house the law schools. Build a box, get a few academically inclined individuals with law degrees to teach students about the law, and rake in large amounts of tuition with low overhead. No need for the expensive plumbing, equipment, and facilities that must be provided or paid for in conjunction with other graduate programs such as those in the medical arts and sciences.

    There is also no need in this model to teach students how to actually function in practice as lawyers, as the model only requires them to study the law and then gives them a certificate acknowledging that they have successfully completed that task.

    The success of [being a professor] is measured in very large part by the pound, in terms of the pages and words churned out in law reviews and books that are a ‘must publish’ each year, not the quality of the student from an employability perspective.

    This is in sharp contrast to the medical professions which actually train their students to practice. Law schools and those that are familiar with them have come to this realization and the current trend is now toward ‘practice ready’ graduates and ‘outcome based’ assessments. This will require universities to put some money back into the cash cows they call law schools, as it requires resources to be added to the development of oral and written skills courses and practice clinics that are made a part of the academic curriculum. Many law schools are already beginning to make strides in that regard and I suspect more and more will in the future.”

  • The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind’ – “A year ago, I wrote a column called ‘Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,’ advising students that grad school is a bad idea unless they have no need to earn a living for themselves or anyone else, they are rich or connected (or partnered with someone who is), or they are earning a credential for a job they already hold.

    In a March 2009 follow-up essay, I removed the category of people who are fortunately partnered because, as many readers wrote in to tell me, graduate school and the ‘two-body problem’ often breaks up many seemingly stable relationships. You can’t assume any partnership will withstand the strains of entry into the academic life.

    Those columns won renewed attention last month from multiple Web sites, and have since attracted a lot of mail and online commentary. The responses tended to split into two categories: One said that I was overemphasizing the pragmatic aspects of graduate school at the expense of the ‘life of the mind’ for its own sake. The other set of responses, and by far the more numerous, were from graduate students and adjuncts asking why no one had told them that their job prospects were so poor and wondering what they should do now.

    I detected more than a little sanctimony and denial in most of the comments from the first group and a great deal of pain and disillusionment in the latter. The former seem used to being applauded by authorities; the latter seem to expect to be slapped down for raising questions. That’s why they write to me, I believe. They want confirmation that something is wrong with higher education, that they have been lied to, systematically.”

  • Controversial National Labor Relations Board nominee Craig Becker shot down in Senate – “By a vote of 52 to 33, the Obama administration nominee to the National Labor Relations Board, Craig Becker, just failed to get the 60 votes needed for his nomination to proceed in the Senate.

    Yesterday, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., came out against Becker’s nomination. Senate Republicans and grassroots conservatives had been opposing Becker’s nomination from the get-go. As a law professor, Becker had written a law review article about how the NLRB could be used to remake labor regulations in favor of unions without congressional approval. More recently, Becker had acted as counsel for the SEIU and AFL-CIO.”

  • Food Stamps – The Great Recession’s Soup Lines – “A record 38.2 million Americans were enrolled in the food stamp program at latest count, up 246,000 from the previous month and the latest in record-high monthly tallies that began in December 2008.”
  • The California Financial Gambler’s Fallacy – 5 Reasons Why the Budget and the Economy will Keep Home Prices Stagnant. Banks Paying Property Taxes on Shadow Inventory. – “Buying a home today is a big gamble but that didn’t seem to stop many California buyers from getting in over their heads before and I’m sure it won’t stop many from doing it again. Banks and realtors are more than happy to indulge in your speculation.”
  • Gary Shilling: Higher Government Pay Will “Likely Lead to a Tax Revolt” – “14.8 million Americans are currently out of work and looking for a job, according to a report released today by the Bureaus of Labor Statistics. Even if you do have a job, wages have not increased substantially over the last ten years, with one exception: government workers.

    Thanks to generous health-care benefits and pensions, it pays – more than ever – to work in the public sector. Economist Gary Shilling fears dubious consequences if state and local workers continue to make more money and at the same time governments raise taxes and cut services.”

  • States Face Big Costs to Dig Out From Blizzard – “State and local governments along the East Coast digging out from a historic blizzard are now trying to figure out how to pay the bills.

    Some mid-Atlantic cities were clobbered with as much as 40 inches of snow in the past few days, following storms earlier in the season, and more snow was forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimated it would remove 500,000 tons of snow in northern Virginia–equivalent to about 17,000 miles of road–from just the latest downfall. ”

  • Reports from the Front Lines of “Snowmageddon” – “In fairness, a jurisdiction that gets massive snowstorms as rarely as DC can’t be as well-prepared for them as a northern city. If it was, that would be a sign that DC authorities have invested too many resources in snowstorm preparation. That said, things are a lot better where I am in northern Virginia. Until the second round of snow began tonight, the main roads were completely cleaned, and I was able to drive out to buy last minute supplies in Arlington and Falls Church with minimum trouble. Our own street (a small side street) was only just barely driveable, but still could be used. Much of the difference between DC and Virginia is probably attributable to DC’s famously incompetent municipal government. I’m very glad that I ‘voted with my feet’ against them when I first moved to the region.”
  • Looking for a Leg Up in a Bad Economy – “Many students are choosing trade or training schools over traditional colleges or universities because of the quick turn around from enrollment to graduation (as early as nine months) and the prospect of ‘recession proof’ careers.
    . . .
    ‘It cost entirely too much money nowadays to got to four-year colleges,’ Mr. Canty said. ‘I think a training school is better because you’re not paying for a name, you’re paying for the actual education.’

    At a four-year college, he said, ‘I think you’re actually paying for the windows and the big school and the size of the classroom.'”

  • Order! I Said Order! – “Far be it from finem respice to suggest that a bit of successful impromptu sport with House republicans (not exactly the most dangerous game roaming the great Congressional plains of the Serengeti, after all) on their quasi-vacation might have created a bit of executive overconfidence. In this light, it might also be unkind to suggest that this whole ‘question time’ thing is highly unlikely to end well for this (or future) executives in the United States. Or that, on top of everything else, the idea as a whole is a quite dangerous and volatile experiment for American politics when taken to its natural conclusion- even if one ignores the patently obvious separation of powers issues it raises.
    . . .
    Several key components to understanding why Prime Minister’s Question time works in the United Kingdom (and would likely be a disaster in the United States) require a certain cultural understanding of America’s special friends across the pond. A certain naïveté in this area is probably why so many Americans seem so in love with the idea.
    . . .
    What, for example, is one to make of the fact that, in the United States, simply delivering campaign rhetoric, even from the safe remove of broadcast video, that might contain invective even half as caustic as that encountered on a weekly basis during Prime Minister’s Question time entails the anguished advice and debate of about $250,000 in political consultant hours on the wisdom of ‘going negative?’

    It is telling that the State of the Union permits no greater feedback to the First Presenter than cheering and no greater expression of disdain than polite golf-clapping. In this light it is not particularly surprising that Supreme Court Justices are expected to display, for the duration, a narcotic vacancy so complete (even when, as recently, they are directly accosted by the speaker) that even the most modest reaction is cause for scandal. So extensive is the horror evoked by the possibility that the judiciary may be seen to affront the will of the executive through interaction it is no wonder that several Justices simply refuse to attend the proceedings any longer.
    . . .
    When an institution like the executive branch can be seen to doggedly employ arguments asserting separation of powers to avoid even submitting videotaped answers in response to Congressional queries pursuant to a potentially criminal investigation on the grounds that it might damage the privilege of future executives, well, it is hard to imagine weekly, direct questioning and cross examination of even a law professor-grandmaster debate champion by what amounts to a pack of mostly current or former lawyers lasting very long.

    Also easily forgotten is the fact that real debate of the non-contrived variety is exceedingly time consuming and labor intensive. Margaret Thatcher regularly spent eight to ten hours preparing for fifteen minutes of weekly Prime Minister’s Question time. It is, quite frankly, hard to credit that sort of weekly commitment from the executive branch in the United States, that is, before endless complaints referring to the need to ‘get back to the business of governing’ begin to issue forth, first from the likes of Robert Gibbs just in front of progressively higher elements of the administration and finally the executive himself.”

  • A Cult of Oddballs and Misfits? – “For instance, in October 2009, a Gallup poll reported that 44 percent of Americans favor making marijuana legal. The consensus amongst elite policymakers may not match public opinion yet, but it hardly strikes me as a fringe idea.”
  • Thomas Friedman proposes a new rate of marginal transformation – “By the way, how would we feel if each al Qaeda attack came with 50 new madrassas?
    . . .
    Is the problem lack of school buildings? Is there a recipe for building a modern state and capitalist polity in Yemen? I’m all ears.”
  • The Galbraith Revival: The aristocratic economist’s big-government ideas are back in vogue. – “There remains, however, an astonishingly gaping absence in Galbraith’s worldview. While he is perfectly able to see the defects of businessmen–their inclination to megalomania, greed, hypocrisy, and special pleading–he is quite unable to see the same traits in government bureaucrats. It is as if he has read, and taken to heart, the work of Sinclair Lewis, but never even skimmed the work of Kafka.
    . . .
    In his 1981 autobiography, A Life in Our Times, he recalls the way academics flocked to Washington at the beginning of the New Deal. ‘Word had . . . reached the university that a nearly unlimited number of jobs were open for economists at unbelievably high pay in the federal government,’ he writes. ‘All the new agencies needed this talent. Students who had been resisting for years the completion of theses and the resulting unemployment now finished them up in weeks. Some did not even stop to do that. So a new gold rush began.’ One might think that this would have opened his eyes to the vested interests of bureaucracy–to the possibility that large government programs might operate more for the interest of the apparatchiks than for that of the alleged beneficiaries. But it never did.
    . . .
    There is, of course, a deep psychological tension in Galbraith. He always talks about the rich as though he were not one of them; but the impoverished rarely spend their winters at Gstaad, Switzerland, as he did. He accepts that enrichment can be licit, no doubt thinking primarily of his own; but his enrichment came about by advocating in best-selling books the governmental expropriation of the riches of others. This enabled him to maintain his image of himself as one of the moral elect, one of those generous souls among the rich whom he describes in The Good Society, patrons of the poor–who themselves ‘are largely without political voice except as they are supported and represented by the considerable number in the more fortunate brackets who feel and express concern.’

    Here we reach the heart of the matter. Galbraith’s thinking about social and economic matters was always de haut en bas; his solutions emerged from the Olympian heights of his own ratiocination, to be applied to the clueless multitudes below.
    . . .
    Galbraith’s egotism and condescension toward most of the human race is evident in his admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt–or rather, in the grounds for that admiration. Here he is in the preface to Name-Dropping, a singularly uninformative book of reminiscences of the great whom he met: ‘I turn now to Franklin Roosevelt, the first and in many ways the greatest of those I encountered over a lifetime. And the one, more than incidentally, who accorded me the most responsibility.’ I think you would have to have a pretty tough carapace of self-regard not to recognize the absurdity of this, or to have the gall to commit it to print.

    At another point, Galbraith writes that Roosevelt saw the United States ‘as a vast estate extended out from his family home at Hyde Park, New York. For this he had responsibility, and particularly for the citizens and workers thereon.’ A tree-planting program that Roosevelt initiated in the Plains states, for instance, was ‘the reaction of a great landlord, an obvious step to improve appearance and property values, a benign action for the tenantry.’ Galbraith meant this as praise, which is not surprising, because his own attitude toward the country was similar. The people were sheep, and government, with Galbraith as advisor, was the shepherd.
    . . .
    The main function of what Galbraith writes is to minimize the horrors of Communism, upon which he has hardly a word. Indeed, strict political control never intrudes much on his consciousness when he is in the Communist world. ‘I have generally avoided quoting by name my Polish . . . sources in this account,’ he writes. ‘This is not because I have any great fear of compromising them. Many people . . . take no small pride in speaking plainly and do so without evident restraint.’

    Other priceless observations follow. Noticing the drabness with which people are dressed, Galbraith remarks that it ‘may be the problem of socialism. Planners can provide for everything but color, and they cannot allow for that because so much of it is associated with idiocy great and small. In any case, the people of Poland have more liberty than variety.’ One of the great advantages of Galbraith-style planning is the elimination of ‘idiocy great and small,’ of the kind that people are apt to embrace when they have the choice. The solution: eliminate choice. You can have any color you like, so long as it’s chosen by the philosopher-king.”


Attn, DC Reasonoids: Conquer Snowpacalypse 2 Tonight With Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson at Reason’s DC HQ

  • UC Berkeley has “Nobel Laureate Only” parking spaces – “When I was at UT Austin, a school which is famously car-unfriendly, it was rumored that one of the elder patriarchs of the College of Natural Sciences–a man who had multiple doctoral degrees and had been given countless awards for his work both as a scientific researcher and an educational administrator–had once quipped that the honor that was most valuable to him, on a daily basis, was the “O” parking permit that let him leave his car literally in the shadow of UT’s iconic tower.”
  • Phase Change Material Could Cool Houses – “MIT’s Technology Review reports on paraffin wax capsules could use the cold of evening to cool rooms in the day.”
  • The New Dating Game: Back to the New Paleolithic Age. – “The whole point of the sexual and feminist revolutions was to obliterate the sexual double standard that supposedly stood in the way of ultimate female freedom. The twin revolutions obliterated much more, but the double standard has reemerged in a harsher, crueler form: wreaking havoc on beta men and on beta women, too, who, as the declining marriage rate indicates, have trouble finding and securing long-term mates in a supply-saturated short-term sexual marketplace. Gorgeous alpha women fare fine–for a few years until the younger competition comes of age. But no woman, alpha or beta, seems able to escape the atavistic preference of men both alpha and beta for ladylike and virginal wives (the Darwinist explanation is that those traits are predictors of marital fidelity, assuring men that the offspring that their spouses bear are theirs, too). And every aspect of New Paleolithic mating culture discourages the sexual restraint once imposed on both sexes that constituted a firm foundation for both family life and civilization.”
  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado WRHS1970.com”
  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the late 1960s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”
  • When did Nigerian scammers take over the Home Depot? – “Mrs. Angus sends email to Home Depot asking if we can return it at a local store or if we have to mail it back. Next day, we get a response from their “customer care” department:
    . . .
    Now there are a lot of funny things here. ‘Inconvenience’? ‘further assistance’? cannot exchange ‘the entire product’?”
  • John Locke in Washington – “If you dig your car out from its frozen tomb, do you then own that parking spot until the sun melts open the rest of the curbside space?”
  • Who’s Afraid Of Electric Power Steering? – “Here’s a challenge: try to find a review of the Toyota Corolla that doesn’t bemoan its numb steering. Now try with a Chevy Cobalt. Or a Venza, or Vibe, Or Rav4, or Equinox. What do these vehicles have in common? Column-mounted electric power steering systems from JTEKT, a Toyota spin-off supplier which has done a brisk business in these fun-eliminating steering systems. And though the motor press has been bashing electric power assist steering (EPAS or EPS) for its deleterious effect on handling, the explosive growth in these systems may put more at risk than mere enthusiast-approved steering feel.

    This anesthetization of steering systems has not taken place because manufacturers appreciate the proliferation of words like ‘numb’ and ‘overboosted’ in reviews of their products. EPS offers improved efficiency due to its reduction of parasitic losses, and is cheaper to manufacture than traditional hydraulic systems. This killer combination offers manufacturers a combination of improvements that have proven near-impossible to resist, resulting in the broad proliferation of EPS systems. And if reduced steering feel were the only casualty of the switch, it would be a tradeoff that any manufacturer would be willing to run.

    But as EPS has exploded onto the market, a number of troubling issues has plagued the system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened investigations into the Chevy Cobalt and Toyota Corolla, which share the column-mounted JTEKT EPS system. Cobalt, which moved to an EPS system for the 2005 model year has been haunted by an accelerating number of failures since the switch, while the Corolla investigation centers on Corollas built since the 2009 model-year switch to EPS.”

  • Tyranny Unmasked – “A government, like an individual is embarrassed or ruined, by expenses beyond its income. It cannot export its patronage, its exclusive privileges, and its extravagance, to foreign nations, and bring back foreign cargoes of frugality and equal laws for home consumption.
    . . .
    It is, in fact by too much proficiency in the art of political spinning and weaving, and not by too little patronage of capitalists, that our prosperity has been lost.
    . . .
    The richest treasury in Europe was at that time united with the most miserable people, instead of being an indication of their happiness and prosperity. The Swiss Cantons are remarkable for the poverty of their treasuries, and the happiness of their people. The severity of their climate and sterility of their soil, are both compensated by the frugality of their governments; and two great natural evils are more than countervailed by one political blessing. If a poor country is made happy by this cardinal political virtue, what would be its effects in a rich one? The Committee are fond of comparisons. Let them compare the situation of Switzerland; a rugged country under a severe climate; with that of their neighbours the French and Italians, favoured with fine soils and genial latitudes. All writers unite in declaring that the happiness of the Swiss far exceeds theirs.”


Google Fiber for Communities

  • Have You Ever Seen a Lunar Rainbow? – “This is not a rainbow. It’s a moonbow, an extremely rare atmospheric phenomenon caused by the near-full moon that it’s extremely hard to catch. So hard, in fact, that you can only see its colors thanks to long-exposure photography.”
  • Don’t Friend Me, Bro! I Quit! – “My name is Futurelawyer, and I was addicted to Facebook. Which is why I quit. Family, friends, friends of friends, people who wouldn’t be my friends in any other version of reality, and spies who wanted to become my friend to check up on me for some nefarious purpose; I quit. I am no longer yours to toy with.”
  • A Novel Resin to Treat Early Cavities – “DMG America, a dental technology company out of Englewood, N.J., is selling a light cured infiltrant resin that is useful for treating early cavities. At the very early stage of tooth decay, before a formal, treatable cavity has developed, fluoride treatment is often used as prophylaxis. But after a certain level of tooth decay, fluoride will be of no use, yet drilling the tooth to treat the cavity is not merited either, since filling a cavity with this method destroys healthy tooth tissue, and it is uncertain whether the decay will continue to a point that requires treatment.”
  • Pants Pockets: Decorative or Functional? – “Alas, I’ve always believed that pockets were made for stuffin’. For example, my right-rear pocket is for my wallet. (I used to put a card-carrier in the left-rear one, but with great effort abandoned that practice and thinned down my plastic so that they fit in the wallet.) The left front pocket is for car keys and ChapStick, the right front for coins, and both might hold a Kleenex or two.”
  • Feature Not a Bug – “I find it pretty hilarious that folks on the left suddenly feel the US is ungovernable, largely because they have not been able to pass a couple of complicated and risky legislative initiatives. Was the US ungovernable when Bush couldn’t pass Social Security reform? It seems that showing leadership on a national scale with diverse interests is a tad harder than running a grad school policy round-table. Oddly, the left seems befuddled by actual diversity of opinion, rather than the faux diversity with lock-stepped beliefs they built in academia and among themselves.”
  • How good is good? – From the comments: “I read once that a prude is a good woman in the worst sense of the word.”
  • Beware the pitfalls of renting rooms to head off foreclosure – “In fact, Kilgore says, those looking for a mortgage loan modification may actually be encouraged to go this route because such modifications usually require the homeowner to demonstrate some type of increased income in order to qualify for the modification. Renting out rooms is a quick way to do this.

    But, she points out, anyone thinking of becoming a landlord in their own homes needs to go into such a venture with eyes wide open. There are many potential pitfalls.

    For example, Kilgore says a leaky roof may be a mere inconvenience for you and your family, remedied with a bucket or two strategically placed. But if it happens to be leaking over the heads of your new tenants, local laws may mandate that you repair the roof, which can be costly.”

  • Anything But Studying – “The latest snapshot of how University of California students spend their time suggests sleep and socializing were far more important than classes and studying to the average undergraduate there. But that was two years ago, before institutions and families plunged into economic turmoil, and things may have changed.

    In a survey conducted on all nine of the university’s undergraduate campuses in the spring of 2008 and completed by 63,600 students, students on average reported getting six-and-a-half hours of sleep each night and spending 41 hours a week on social and leisure activities. Meanwhile, students said they spent a little more than 28 hours each week combined on class and homework.
    . . .
    Students spent on average 7.6 hours a week working a job, 6.1 hours on co-curricular activities and 1.8 hours on religious or spiritual activities. Higher tuition and greater financial pressures within families may force students to take on more hours of work.
    . . .
    In average weekly study time, the difference between a 3.60 GPA and a 2.79 or lower GPA is only about an hour a week, with high-GPA students averaging about 13 hours a week of studying while students with GPAs of 2.79 or lower reported studying for a little less than 12 hours each week.

    But high joblessness rates, coupled with rising tuition and the potential that students will graduate with greater debt burdens, could lead students to spend more time focused on their studies, Brint said. ‘Because it’s costing more and because there’s so much uncertainty out there about whether you can get a job and what kind of job it is, it could cause people to redouble their efforts in the classroom.'”

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