Assorted Links 9/4/09


Richard Feynman on the “Inconceivable nature of nature”

  • Understanding Congressional Budgeting and Appropriations, September 9, 2009
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, September 11, 2009
  • How to Find, Track, and Monitor Congressional Documents: Going Beyond Thomas, September 15, 2009
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, September 16, 2009
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, September 17, 2009
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, September 23-25, 2009
  • Houses and Autos: The Cost of a Tax Credit per Additional Units Sold – “If Edmonds.com is correct, and total sales were 1.17 million (NSA) in August, then the tax credit only generated about 320 thousand extra sales. Of course some regular car buyers might have put off a purchase to avoid the rush in August, so this isn’t perfect, but instead of costing taxpayers $4,170 per car (as announced by DOT), the cost to taxpayers per additional car sold was close to $7,200.
    . . .
    With 1.9 million first-time buyers, the total cost of the tax credit will be $15.2 billion. Divide $15.2 billion by 350 thousand, and the program cost $43.4 thousand per additional buyer. The actual number could be much higher if there were fewer additional first-time buyers than the NAR’s estimate – or if the overall cost is higher (more buyers claiming tax credit).

    This is the actual cost per additional home sold. And since buyer interest will fade (like with the Clunkers program), the cost per additional house will increase sharply if the program is extended. ”

  • Michelle Goldberg argues against heated rhetoric while mentioning that she “hated Bush so much” and talks of the “blessed day” when Dick Cheney dies – “Goldberg is attacking what she sees as right-wing rhetoric that ‘contribute[s] to a climate of incitement.’ What struck me was how, in the course of the debate, Goldberg casually expresses her deep hatred for Bush and Cheney. At 64:20, she mentions in passing, ‘God, I hated Bush so much.’ And at 39:10 Goldberg refers to the ‘blessed day’ when Dick Cheney dies and says, ‘I certainly wouldn’t be shedding many tears if Dick Cheney dropped dead.'”
  • The Real Reason the Government Wants To Tax Soda – “Vigna’s amazement that the trillions of ‘dollars’ worth of stimulant hasn’t been enough to stave off deflation is quaint, as is his assumption that we would now be experiencing horrendous deflation if not for the burial of all that Monopoly money. It’s true that there’s an apparent disconnect between the weakness of the dollar in international currency markets and its strength at your local Safeway. That’s because the international markets are geared to respond to the sudden appearance of vast oceans of U.S. government debt. But since, among other things, this debt immediately gets bought by the Federal Reserve, no new money is actually printed.

    If, on the other hand, you are participating in the dollar-denominated economy — if you are spending actual dollars and nickels and quarters and all those other trinkets that supposedly don’t matter in this post-scarcity, long-now age of abundance — you are not willing to pay more than a dollar and a half for a gallon of milk just because Ben Bernanke’s friends are getting a lot of free virtual money. Even Americans aren’t that stupid. ”

  • Budget cuts test state personnel policies – “Forced to dramatically cut payrolls, some states are finding low-cost ways to boost employee morale, even as they struggle to maintain basic human resource functions such as training, recruiting, hiring and regular performance reviews.”
  • Cut My Pay, But Please Give Me A Job – “If you think this is inflationary, you are not thinking clearly.”
  • New Study on Genetics of Ethnic Groups Reveals We May Not Be So Different After All – “Often two groups’ differences — along with circumstantial factors — lead to tension between them and sometimes violence. The Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda, the Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq, and the Croats and Serbs of former Yugoslavia all illustrate how cultural distinctions — like language and religion — can contribute to tensions and conflict around the globe.

    But do these cultural and ethnic distinctions translate to biological distinctions as well? Exactly how biologically distinct are two ethnic groups living side by side? Anthropologist Evelyn Heyer and an international team of researchers set out to answer these and many other questions by studying the adjacent — and culturally very different — Tajik and Turkic speakers along the Silk Road of Central Asia. Their results are published in this week’s BMC Genetics.”

  • The Fatal Conceit – “Uh oh, the philosopher-kings have already made a mistake. Bertram confuses two notions of insurance.”


Guiness World Record for most T-Shirts worn at one time

  • Win, Hold and Lose – “Since the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001, hordes of Western military and civilian personnel have been involved in everything from setting up schools to drilling wells to building roads. Although they avoid using the term nation-building, that is clearly what is taking place. Not only is Afghanistan an extremely unpromising candidate for such a mission, given its pervasive poverty, its fractured clan-based and tribal-based social structure, and its weak national identity, U.S. and NATO officials should also be sobered by the disappointing outcomes of other nation-building ventures over the past two decades. An audit of the two most prominent missions, Bosnia and Iraq, ought to inoculate Americans against pursuing the same fool’s errand in Afghanistan.”
  • The Gender Politics of Mad Men – “I like to watch Mad Men for the menswear and a sense of the superiority of my postmodern egalitarian consumption partnership. But that’s not inconsistent with the idea that lots of guys who like the show don’t get the point of it and like to imagine how sweet it would be to have women take care of all the annoying details of life and smoke at work.”
  • AMC Renews Mad Men for 4th Season – “AMC executives announced today that they have greenlit a fourth season of the cable network’s hit series Mad Men.”
  • Brill Gets More Delusional: Now Thinks 10 to 15% Of Online Newspaper Readers Will Pay – “Earlier this summer, we noted that it was something of a pipedream by Stephen Brill to believe that 5 to 10% of online newspaper readers would pony up for a subscription to the online site. Having spent time looking at plenty of ‘free’ websites that have tried to charge, the numbers are significantly lower in almost all cases. We’re talking 1% tops — unless there’s a really really good reason to pay, and then you’re talking 2 to 3%. In many cases, the number is even lower than 1%. At the same time, I pointed out that Brill was making the classic mistake that makes any venture capitalist laugh you out of the room: ‘if we just get x% of this market, we’ll be huge!’ But that’s top-down thinking, and markets don’t work that way. You need to be bottom up and explain not why x% will buy, but why the first person will buy, and the second person will buy and so on. ”
  • Human-Powered Helicopters Get a Bigger Carrot – “One exception to this rule is human-powered helicopters. It’s a small field to be sure, but one the American Helicopter Society wants to see thrive. Nearly 30 years ago it offered $20,000 to the first person to successfully fly a human-powered aircraft capable of vertical take off and landing. No one’s claimed it, so the Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition is offering a bigger carrot. A $250,000 carrot, to be exact.”
  • SNPwatch: Researchers Find Link Between Red Hair and Avoiding The Dentist – “Redheads might have a better excuse than the rest of us for avoiding the dentist.

    For several years now scientists have known that the same genetic variations that give redheads their fiery manes can increase the amount of general or local anesthetic a person needs in order to be properly put out or numbed up.

    New research suggests that the effect of these variations is strong enough, and hasn’t been addressed by dentists well enough, that the people who carry them are more than twice as likely as those who don’t to avoid going to the dentist altogether.”

  • What happens when there are no more world records left? – “In short, I expect entrepreneurs will always find ways around this problem. In chess the gaps between the top fifteen players have narrowed considerably, yet the public doesn’t seem to have lost interest in the game.”
  • In a recession, is college worth it? Fear of debt changes plans – “For years, an article of faith in this country has been that college is the gateway to a better life. So deeply held is this belief that many students, such as Horn, borrow tens of thousands of dollars to attend prestigious public or private universities. But as the worst recession since World War II trudges into its 21st month, many graduates are discovering that the college payoff could be a long time coming — if it comes at all.”


721 claps per minute

  • Sample Paint — Who Needs That? – “I’ll freely admit I laughed at this recently when I saw the ad for sample 8 oz. cans of paint for just under $3 at the Depot. I should have known better; every time I scoff at something like that it winds up biting me in the rear.”
  • Arizona: Peoria Cameras Increased Accidents – “According to data released last week at a Peoria (Arizona) council study session, the number of traffic accidents doubled at locations where red light cameras were installed. City data also indicate that more recent changes in intersection yellow timing have reduced the number of red light violations. So far, the financial impact of the program has been substantial.”
  • Is AT&T losing its grip on the iPhone? – “If, as rumored, Apple is in discussions with Verizon Wireless about a CDMA iPhone next year, the Futurelawyer may find himself in a quandary. I love using the Palm Centro for phone calls and quick and dirty email, because it is narrow and fits easily in one hand. It also has a hard keyboard that I can manipulate with the thumb of the hand I am carrying the Centro in. However, I love the big screen and apps of the iPod Touch, and use it for many things.”
  • AT&T Windows Mobile phones to get free Wi-Fi starting September 14th – “AT&T has jumped in to reveal plans to add Windows Mobile-powered handsets to its free Wi-Fi pool. That’s right folks, starting Friday September 14th, AT&T’s WinMo smartphones will gain free access to each and every AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot.”

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Posted in: Caught Our Eye

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