I’ve never been thrilled with the Dow as an indicator of the health of the economy (just thirty companies are factored in, using some pretty crude calculations), but Adam Nash has done the math on one facet of why it’s lousy. Famously, in 2009, Dow Jones dropped GM, and added Cisco to the DJIA instead of Apple. According to Nash (I’m not smart enough to be able to duplicate his math, so I’m trusting him here), if that decision had gone the other way, on Monday the DJIA would have closed at $14,926 instead of $12,874. That’s more than a $2,000 difference. →
“The transcripts of the 2006 [Federal Reserve] meetings, released after a standard five-year delay, clearly show some of the nation’s pre-eminent economic minds did not fully understand the basic mechanics of the economy that they were charged with shepherding.” It’s a significant understatement to say that they didn’t “full understand” the economy. Their discussions make it look like a dozen econ 101 students were gathered in a room and put in charge of the economy. “Ender’s Game” made real. →
- FDIC Bank Closings
I was curious where banks closed by the FDIC tend to be located, so I put together this visualization. (You have to click on Visualize -> Map.) Turns out they're mostly in Florida and Georgia which are—surely not coincidentally—hot spots for home foreclosures. Almost all of these closings were after mid-2008.
- Pew Charitable Trust: Checking Account Risks at a Glance
Pew's study of the 250 types of checking accounts offered by the ten largest US banks (which hold 60%) of checking accounts found that, on average, a customer has to watch out for 49 different fees and penalties that they could incur.
- Wikipedia: Candy desk
For over forty years, the Senate has maintained a single desk in the chamber with a drawer full of candy. It is the job of the senator assigned that desk to distribute the candy within to fellow senators. Past candy desk assignees have included John McCain and Rick Santorum.
- Harvard Business Review: Put Your Best People On Your Most Boring Challenges
I agree completely with this suggestion that the exciting work shouldn't be saved for enthusiastic, capable employees. The most interesting, important, effective work that I've done professionally was working on tasks or projects that were considered boring. This summer the FDA asked me to advise on how to improve the efficiency of the process by which they approve breakthrough medical technologies. I declined, and instead spent some time advising them on how to overhaul the process by which everything *else*—all the boring stuff—gets approved. Why? Because those were the changes would have the most impact—turning something slow and mediocre into something efficient and extraordinary. They were a little baffled by my interest, but wound up being excited by my proposed changes. I hope they implement some of them.
- New York Times: Homework and Jacuzzis as Dorms Move to McMansions in California
Suburbia is famously unable to be modified to suit changing use patterns. While an urban block can be refurbished cyclically (factory becomes loft apartments becomes attorneys' offices becomes factory), a McMansion can't be divided up into apartments and is rather unlikely to become an office. But college kids have figured out that they can split up the enormous houses among a half-dozen roommates, living well for $250/month. The neighbors, having believed they were buying into a homogeneous community of middle-class, middle-aged people, are apparently less than thrilled.
- Daily Progress: UVa replaces weapons policy
Ken Cuccinelli published a July opinion that held that university weapon bans couldn't be policies, but had to be regulations, and thus UVA couldn't ban guns. As best as I can tell, a "policy" is a rule created by the university, but a "regulation" is one that's created by the board of visitors and published in the Virginia Register. So UVA has turned their policy into a regulation, and will publish it in the Virginia Register. Problem solved.
- Rotten Tomatoes: Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler's new movie has a 2% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is summarized as such: "Although it features an inexplicably committed performance from Al Pacino, Jack and Jill is impossible to recommend on any level whatsoever."
- PolitiFact: Occupy Providence sign says Goldman Sachs CEO earns in an hour what minimum wage worker earns in a year
PolitiFact ranks as "false" the claim that the CEO of Goldman Sachs earns as much in an hour as a minimum-wage worker makes in a year. Which seemed like good news, until I read their article. It turns out that it takes him one hour and forty minutes to make that much. I'm not sure that's going to make anybody feel better.
- Jay Rosen: Lefty journalism professor tries to discredit the Tea Party by passing along sensational footage to his buddies at the Times!!!
Is there anybody left who takes James O'Keefe seriously? One can mix and match anybody's words to make them look foolish, but one shouldn't pretend that's anything other than being goofy.
- New York Times: Report of Justice Dept.’s $16 Muffin Greatly Exaggerated
It wasn't true, for reasons that were perfectly obvious to me (and any event planner) at the time. Fear not: the story will live on as urban legend for decades to come.
- Planet Money: What If We Paid Off The Debt?
Back in the good old days—before President George W. Bush, before fighting two wars, before September 11th, before a huge tax cut paid for with debt—it looked very much like the entire debt would be paid off by 2012. In producing the final Economic Report of the President, a researcher looked into what would happen when that happened. As it turned out, it would be terrible. Treasury bonds make the investment world go 'round. No debt, no t-bonds. The conclusion of the never-published report was that it was important to maintain some debt in order to maintain treasury bonds.
- The New York World: Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line
A Brooklyn bus—part of the city's public bus line—is franchised to a private company, though generally indistinguishable from any other city bus, intended to serve the Hasidic community in Williamsburg and Borough Park. It's the bus line's rule that women have to sit in the back of the bus. You can see how this story progresses. The issue of religious freedom vs. civil rights vs. free enterprise isn't wholly open-and-shut but, as a rule, anybody making an argument that a certain class of people should have to sit in the back of the bus automatically loses the debate.
- American Geophysical Union: Words matter
This vocabulary guide accompanies an article ("Communicating the Science of Climate Change") in the October issue of Physics Today, explaining to research scientists that some of the words that they use to communicate among themselves simply confuse the public. "Manipulation" of data means simply to process it, but the public thinks it means to tamper with it. A "scheme" is just a plan, but that's perceived as being illicit. A "theory" is the basic unit of scientific knowledge, but people think a theory is different from a fact. These are important, as has been observed with natural selection ("evolution is just a theory!") and global climate change ("those hacked e-mails said that were manipulating the data!").
- Washington Post: Poll Finds Public Wary on Tax Cut
The A1 headline in the Washington Post on the morning of September 11, 2001 was for this prescient story: "A majority of Americans say they are prepared to roll back President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut to help deal with the shrinking federal budget surplus and say Bush more than congressional Democrats bears responsibility for a problem that has suddenly put him on the defensive."
- Commonwealth of VA vs. Kathleen Sebelius
I recommend a quick reading of the Fourth Circuit Court's smackdown of Ken Cuccinelli. The decision starts on page 17, and it reads like a Constitutional Law 101 lesson, one that Cuccinelli needs badly. "The sole provision challenged here—the individual mandate—imposes no obligations on the sole plaintiff, Virginia." End of story.
- Wall Street Journal: Many Afghans Shrug at ‘This Event Foreigners Call 9/11’
In two Afghani provinces, 92% of 15–30-year-old men surveyed had never heard of September 11th. Keep in mind that few people have access to newspapers or television (TV was banned by the Taliban), that many Afghanis were young children when it happened, and that many of them probably find it preposterous that a building could be so tall that thousands of people could die in one.
- ThinkProgress: The Conservative Recovery Teeters Into Recession
17,000 new jobs were created by the private sector last month. 17,000 jobs were eliminated by the public sector last month. Bummed by last month's flatlining of job growth? Thank a congressman.
- New York Times: Rep. Shelley Berkley’s Cause Is Often Her Husband’s Gain
She's a strong supporter of (admittedly much-needed) better funding of kidney-care facilities. He's making a fortune on it as a nephrologist. If you ask her, it's just the darnedest coincidence. If you ask an ethicist, it's just plain wrong.
- List of Virginia Caves
The most extensive cave system in Virginia is Butler-Sinking Creek, in Bath County, at seventeen miles of total passages. The deepest is 786 feet—that's measured from the highest point to the lowest point—at Burns Cave, in Highland County. That's more than half again as deep as Virginia's tallest building is tall, the 38-story Westin Virginia Beach Town Center
- Aloha Editor
I love this HTML5 WYSIWYG editor. They had me at the introductory paragraph, what with the editing of it. I haven't implemented it anywhere, but I love the concept.
- Slow Clap for Congress
Dear Congress, For your leadership, your maturity, and your inspiring ability to perform the basic duties of your job, We applaud you.
- PolitiFact: Florida state investment chief says transparency was a big issue for lawmakers in 2011
Here's a great use of legislative video: to fact-check a claim that financial transparency "got a great airing" during a recent session. PolitiFact Florida checked the video and calculated that a total of 36 minutes was spent on the topic, 25 minutes from just one senator. Legislative video is important stuff.
- Internet Archive: Mother’s Best Flour
This collection of songs from the "Mother's Best Flour" radio show is a must-listen for country fans. There are 70 shows of Hank Williams’ performances, from 1950–1951, many of which include first-ever performances of some classics. Each show includes in-studio chatter, which is fun to listen to, along with the constant promotions for the advertiser's brand of flour.
- New York Times: Policy Changes Under Two Presidents
This chart of new costs versus savings under Presidents Bush and Obama is really striking. The total cost of Obama's new policies comes to $1.44T. Bush's? $5.07T. Just his tax cuts alone cost more than Obama's policies, at $1.8T. Once you figure in two wars, TARP, and the stimulus, we're talking about a great deal of money indeed.
- Wikipedia: States Rights Gist
CSA Brigadier General States Rights Gist, born in 1831, had a father who felt very strongly about politics. His family, from South Carolina, called him "States." He died at the Battle of Franklin, in 1864.
- Library of Congress: Soldier’s Joy
This tune has been played on nearly every instrument known to man since at least the late 1700s, which is as far back as historians have traced it. The version with lyrics dates only to 1957, when Jimmy Driftwood wrote them. Nearly every version that I've heard has been instrumental. Courtesy of the LoC, you can even hear a 1938 recording of Albert Gore and his band performing it at the National Folk Festival. If you're not familiar with Gore, you'll at least know of his son, Vice President Al Gore.