Assorted Links 5/12/10


Richard Feynman on Big Numbers and Stuff, from the BBC TV series ‘Fun to Imagine’ (1983)

  • Understanding Congressional Budgeting and Appropriations, May 13, 2010
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, May 21, 2010
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, June 3, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, June 4, 2010
  • Mark Twain on Copyright – “Remarks of Samuel Langhorne Clemens Before the Congressional Joint Committee on Patents, December, 1906 (Mark Twain on Copyright)”
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, June 9-11, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Find, Track, and Monitor Congressional Documents: Going Beyond Thomas, June 24, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Research and Compile Legislative Histories: Searching for Legislative Intent, June 25, 2010
  • Persuading Congress: Candid Advice for Executives – “Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, is a very practical book, packed with wisdom and experience in a deceptively short and simple package.

    This book will help you understand Congress. Written from the perspective of one who has helped put a lot of bills on the president’s desk and helped stop a lot more, this book explains in everyday terms why Congress behaves as it does. Then it shows you how you can best deploy whatever resources you have to move Congress in your direction.”

  • Reform Bites – “I am not a fan of taxpayer financing of elections. If you want to get money out of politics, get government’s hands off our money. The reason that election outcomes are so crucial right now is that government has metastisized into nearly every aspect of our lives.”
  • What Do The Economist’s Bloggers Think a Free Market Is, Anyway? – “I wonder what convinced M.S. that the new health care law is an entirely free-market-based reform. Was it the expansion of the government’s Medicaid program to another 16 million Americans? Was it the 19-million-plus other Americans who will receive government subsidies to purchase private health insurance? Was it the new price controls that the law imposes on health insurance? Or the price and exchange controls that it will extend to even more of the market? Was it the dynamics those regulations set in motion, which will reduce variety and innovation in health insurance? Was it the mandates that require private actors to spend their resources according to the wishes of the state? Or the new federal regulations that will shape every health insurance plan in the United States, whether purchased through the employer-based market, the individual market, or the new health insurance ‘exchanges’? Was it the half-trillion dollars of (explicit) tax increases over the next 10 years?

    I wonder what it is about this law that M.S. thinks is consonant with the principles of a free market. Perhaps we have a different idea of what ‘free’ means.”

  • Greatest Fossil Fuel Disasters In Human History – “The fallout from the Louisiana oil rig explosion is continuing to be horrendous, and efforts to stop the damage aren’t looking promising. But this isn’t the worst fossil fuel disaster we’ve ever had. Here are 10 of the worst.
    . . .
    Largest Oil Spill Of All Time: Really, this list could be mostly oil spills. There have been so many. You only have to look at the Wikipedia page to see that enough oil has been splashed in the water to keep all our cars running for decades. The largest, in terms of volume of oil, was the Gulf War Oil Spill, in which Iraq opened the valves at its oil terminal and dumped oil into the Gulf, in an attempt to keep U.S. forces from landing. The resulting slick was 4,242 square miles, and five inches thick. It’s between five and 27 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill. The largest accidental oil spill, in gallons, was Ixtoc I in Mexico, which dumped half a million tons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and polluted 162 miles of U.S. beaches. A rare sea turtle’s natural habitat was flooded, and the endangered turtles had to be airlifted to safety. Honorable mention also has to go to the Atlantic Empress, a Greek oil tanker that managed to be involved in two separate massive oil spills.”
  • Are you ready for the United States of Germany? – “The strong euro and burgeoning liquidity it brought on meant that much of Germany’s trade surplus had to be absorbed within the eurozone, forcing especially southern Europe into high trade deficits. These deficits were dismissed, very foolishly it turns out, and against all historical precedents, as being easily managed as long as the sanctity of the euro was maintained. A very false analogy was made with the US, in which it was argued that because European countries all use the same currency, trade imbalances within Europe are sustainable in the same way they are sustainable between states in the US.

    But states in the US are not like states in Europe. Labor and capital mobility in Europe is very low compared to the US, and the Civil War in the US ensured that sovereignty, including most importantly fiscal sovereignty, resided in Washington DC, and not in the various state capitals. The US is clearly as much an optimal currency zone as any large economy can be.

    This isn’t the case in Europe. In fact I would argue that the existence of a common currency in Europe, the euro, is only a little more meaningful than the existence of various currencies under the gold standard, and it was pretty obvious under the gold standard that balance of payments crises could indeed exist.

    So why not also in Europe under the euro? As I see it, domestic German policies, perhaps aimed at absorbing East German unemployment, forced a structural trade surplus. The strong euro, along with the automatic recycling of Germany’s large trade surplus within Europe, ensured the corresponding trade deficits in the rest of Europe — unless Europeans were willing to enact policies that raised unemployment in order to counter the deficits. As long as the ECB refused to raise interest rates, southern Europe had to accept asset bubbles and rapidly rising debt-fueled consumption.

    This couldn’t go on forever, or even for very long. Now southern Europe is paying the inevitable price, and of course the moralists are accusing the south of being shiftless and lazy, confusing the automatic balancing mechanisms in the balance of payments with moral weakness.

    This is not to say that it is all Germany’s fault (although I’m sure I will be accused of making this claim anyway), but rather that the existence of the euro seriously exacerbated the problem by making it very difficult for certain countries to adjust to Germany’s domestic policies, which generated employment growth at home at the expense of Germany’s trading partners. There is no question that a long history of fiscal irresponsibility in southern Europe made things much worse, but the imbalance could have never gotten so large without Germany’s role, and since in a crisis it is always easier to blame foreigners, bashing Germans will become a very popular sport in much of Europe.”

  • Metra boss Phil Pagano’s suicide a repeating pageant for Illinois – “When politicos play musical chairs in Illinois, what happens after the music stops and there’s no safe place to sit?

    There have been four dead in recent years, unrelated cases of suicide, different except for the acts of the common pageant: The corruption investigators call. The music ends abruptly.

    Two were done in by guns, one on a beach, the other under a bridge. A third was by pills in a construction trailer.

    The fourth came Friday morning during rush hour, announced by that body under that white sheet on the Metra tracks in McHenry County.

    The flesh once belonged to Phil Pagano. For the past 20 years, Pagano was the respected boss of Metra, the commuter rail agency that, unlike the Chicago Transit Authority, actually keeps the trains running on time.

    Over the past week or so, Pagano was under siege, facing investigations both federal and local, suspected of finagling a bonus of more than $50,000 by finessing vacation time, among other things.”

  • Real Homes of Genius – Culver City 900 square foot home with three mortgages up to $572,000. A few places down, a 800 square foot home is selling for $500,000. L.A. cities still in housing bubbles. – “From the Zillow description we get the following:

    ‘Gorgeous poinsettia hedge out front. BIG yard, dog-tight fencing. Huge tree shades the back. Charming retro gas kitchen. Hardwood floors throughout. New tile in kitchen and den/converted garage.’

    This is a lot of description for a 920 square foot home with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath built back in the 1950s. But leave it to Southern Californians to put a nice spin on it! Although we don’t have a picture of the home from whoever gave us the description outside of the Poinsettia, we can thank technology for this front view:
    . . .
    Let us walk through the above. The home was purchased for $235,000 back in 1989. It looks like the person even back in 1989 was required to come in with 10 percent down. It looks like $23,500 was put down on a home costing $235,000. This is really where we should be today. Instead, you can now buy a $670,000+ home with the same down payment. This has tripled the buying power of home owners today even though the economy is in much worse shape than it was back in 1989.

    After the 1989 purchase, a loan was secured on the property from the SBA for $13,300 in 1994. Nothing too big here. Things were calm for a few years after that. Then things in 2003 started picking up. A first mortgage of $239,500 was secured on the place. By 2006, getting $90,000 off a second was a piece of cake in Culver City. Now the home has $329,500 in mortgages. The bubble keeps getting bigger and a third mortgage is put on the place in 2007 for $243,000 (an amount larger than the first mortgage back when the place was purchased!). In total, this 920 square foot home in the end went up to having $572,500 in mortgages from a modest $211,500. This is the history of the housing bubble.

    But now, the home is in foreclosure. Back in November a notice of default was filed. A few months later, the auction date was set. The auction is scheduled for May 19 but hard to say what is going on beyond that. The Zillow Zestimate has this place valued at $538,500. If that were the case, this place wouldn’t be going to auction. Use caution when going by appraisals in high flying Southern California cities loaded with Alt-A loans.”

  • Fannie Mae’s MyCommunity Mortgage – “Fannie Mae’s MyCommunity MortgageTM was at the forefront of the credit crisis, and had many sub-programs, all targeted at low income communities and borrowers. These programs highlighted the mission that made these GSEs essential: they were doing what the private sector would not, serve the historically underserved.

    Unfortunately, lending to people without the ability or willingness to payback homeloans is not sustainable, something that seems obvious now, but try telling that the Boston Fed or the American Economic Review in the 1990s. The key is that MyCommunity Mortgage got bundled into Fannie’s ubiquitous DeskTop Underwriter, a mortgage origination program that made these abominations standard. Once they set this up (around 2000, with new twists every year), one can see how these bad ideas spread all over the industry.
    . . .
    The practical credit criteria was merely a signature with an affirmation (‘yeah, sure I’ll pay you back’), as long as the borrower is sufficiently poor with sufficiently bad credit. It wasn’t adverse selection–taking on disproportionate bad credits inadvertently–it was active targeting the bad credits.”

  • ‘Vacancy’ Signs Still Posted in Front of Many Colleges – “The disproportionate attention that journalists, including this one, devote to the high rates of rejection at several dozen colleges and universities sometimes masks a basic truth of admissions: hundreds of other institutions have more available slots than qualified applicants.

    Nowhere is that point made more clear than in the annual Space Availability Survey of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, released today.

    In it, students, parents and counselors can find the names and contact information of several hundred colleges and universities that are still accepting applications for the freshman class that will take its seats next fall, and for transfer applicants.

    Among those that still have room are Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut; Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania; Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire; Texas Wesleyan University, and the University of Arizona.”


Theatrical Bookstores

  • Racist Email Leak Was Revenge By “Friend” – “The reason Stephanie Grace’s racist email made the tour of the Internet? Yalena Shagall, her ‘friend’ sent it out because she was angry that Stephanie had confronted her because Yalena f*cked a mutual friend’s ex-boyfriend. They had a fight and Yalena told her she would ‘ruin her life.’ Gawker is reporting the gruesome tale of revenge and pettiness:”
  • Top Law School Grad Sells Movies and Music On-Line From Parent’s Basement!From the comments: “I attended a T14 school and grades DO matter, especially right now when everyone is competing for the few Biglaw first year associate openings left. The T14 schools perpetuate the myth that whoever goes through their halls is guaranteed a lucrative legal position with biglaw or government until they choose to leave or ‘burn out’. This is utterly false. Even before the recession, there were people in the bottom half of the T14 graduating without job offers. I knew people who didn’t even get a job their 2L summer. It was shocking because my grades were not good but I always got a summer internship. Some people ended up doing research for a professor or working at the law school library. One guy even had his 2L employment rescinded at the last minute after he gave them his first year grades which placed him in the bottom quartile of his class. Never underestimate the callousness of these biglaw partners or their ability to screw over people even after they guarantee you a job.

    Another myth that most T14 students believe is that they can keep their biglaw job for as long as they want until they eventually ‘burn out’, usually in about five years. That’s not true, at least not anymore. I know plenty of people who were laid off in less than a year, a year, or two years. Some were fired after failing the bar exam. Others were unlucky enough to accept an offer with a firm that immediately went under several months after graduation. And then there are people who quit after 18 months or so after finding out that they hate practicing law. I couldn’t even stand being at my summer job. The work and the Type-A personalities were awful. That’s why I recommend to anyone thinking about attending law school to work as a paralegal or legal secretary after college to give you an idea of the type of work and people you will need to deal with to be successful as a lawyer. Being smart and attending a T14 school doesn’t mean that you’re cut out to be a lawyer and unfortunately a lot of people don’t figure that out until after they spend $200k, three years in law school, and take the bar exam. ”

  • Don’t Assume That You Will Get a High Salary from an Established Employer within Nine Months of Graduation from Law School – “Many enter law school clueless about law practice and how the world works in general. Many of them had spent the past four years in academia having never paid a car payment, insurance premium, phone bill, rent or mortgage. Yet every graduating class (high school, college, grad school) is always sent off with some message of hope that they’ve made an excellent choice and that they have accomplished a major feat. They’re rewarded with jobs at McDonald’s, retail stores, and financial advisor service firms too eager to take them on for unpaid training. What pre-laws assume is that at least one firm will be able to pay them a decent salary within a reasonable time after graduation, and it’s just a matter of networking and applying until a firm is just dying to hire you.

    Yes, there are firms dying to hire you, but only if you will work for little to nothing! Competition for these is growing by the day, and standards for these positions are increasing. It won’t be long until a doc review (once reserved for the bottom of the class) will only be available to law review and top ten percent. Oh, wait, I think that has happened in New York already. ”

  • 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 early 1970s, 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.”
  • Hardworking students without clout are left out – “According to a Tribune story this week, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Lisa’s Daddy, applied his clout to help dozens of political allies and campaign donors trying to get their relatives into the University of Illinois.

    Many of the relatives who were accepted wouldn’t have made it into the U. of I. on their own merits, the story said.

    Three of the students backed by Madigan are relatives of North Shore attorney Steven Yonover and Illinois Appellate Judge Margaret Frossard. Yonover dropped more than $70,000 into campaign funds controlled by Mike Madigan.

    Wouldn’t the lawyer and the distinguished appellate judge make fine lecturers at a university-sponsored seminar titled ‘Ethics in Illinois’?

    Boss Madigan is one of the most powerful politicians in the state, and the least accountable, hiding from reporters, working in the shadows.

    But U. of I. officials know who butters their bread.
    . . .
    Right now, I’m picturing that high school student, the one at the kitchen table past midnight, the one without clout. This student’s parents can’t afford to make big campaign donations, to put the student on Madigan’s clout list, or on the clout lists of all the other legislators.

    I’m thinking of that Illinois student reading American history, about the Revolution, about all the Americans who suffered, yet refused to drop to their knees.

    What do you tell that student now? That it’s OK to bend a knee and kiss the hand because this is Illinois?”


Sisters on the fly

  • Five Hidden Dangers of Facebook – ” 1. Your information is being shared with third parties

    2. Privacy settings revert to a less safe default mode after each redesign

    3. Facebook ads may contain malware

    4. Your real friends unkowingly make you vulnerable

    5. Scammers are creating fake profiles”

  • Jaccard Supertendermatic – “The Jaccard SuperTendermatic 48 blade meat tenderizer is simply the best tool I have ever found for turning tough but flavorful cuts, like flank steak and skirt steak, from chewy and hard to eat into tender and easy to bite and chew. To use the tenderizer you simply place it over the piece of meat on a cutting board and push down like an ink stamp forcing the blades through the meat. I am a professional chef and serious foodie from Texas, and I simply cannot imagine making either a chicken fried steak or a good fajita steak without it. ”
  • Shall We Laugh or Cry at Morgan Hill? – “What are we to make of the five students who were temporarily suspended by the administration at Live Oak high school in Morgan Hill for purportedly seeking to provoke–by the wearing of various American flag insignia, no less–Mexican-American students who were at the time celebrating, with some Mexican flags, Cinco de Mayo Day?

    Or, in the words of aggrieved student Annicia Nunez, as picked up by the news services, ‘I think they should apologize ’cause it is a Mexican heritage day. We don’t deserve to get disrespected like that. We wouldn’t do that on Fourth of July.’

    Let us deconstruct this episode to discover, if we can, the proverbial ‘teachable moment ’ of this collective farce.
    . . .
    I learned from this episode only that Cinco de Mayo is the moral equivalent for many of our citizens to the Fourth of July, that no one in authority at an American high school understands the U.S. Constitution, that students wearing American flags were at one point to be suspended, and those ditching class in mass were not; that reconciliation is defined by each group putting their own respective flags next to each other and then blaming the press for this national embarrassment; and that in our parochial and isolated culture of central and coastal California, no one seems to imagine that elsewhere Americans are not all unhinged, but in fact see us as the deranged. The Live Oak people seem wounded fawns, hurt as if everywhere in the United States all Americans naturally assume that Cinco de Mayo is simply the alternate Fourth of July.”

  • Reevu Helmets Feature A Rearview Mirror In The Visor – “What’s most intriguing about these Reevu helmets isn’t the fact they let a rider see what’s behind them without looking back, similar helmets using cameras and LCDs already exist, it’s that they do it all with optics and mirrors, so there’s no electronics to power, or malfunction. In fact, the multiple mirror system used by the Reevu to ‘bend’ the light around the rider’s head is made from a reflective polycarbonate material instead of glass, making it lighter and almost impossible to break. Kind of important for something designed to absorb impacts.”
  • What Every Developer Should Know About URLs – “Being a developer this day and age, it would be almost impossible for you to avoid doing some kind of web-related work at some point in your career. That means you will inevitably have to deal with URLs at one time or another. We all know what URLs are about, but there is a difference between knowing URLs like a user and knowing them like a developer should know them.

    As a web developer you really have no excuse for not knowing everything there is to know about URLs, there is just not that much to them. But, I have found that even experienced developers often have some glaring holes in their knowledge of URLs. So, I thought I would do a quick tour of everything that every developer should know about URLs. Strap yourself in – this won’t take long :).”

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