"By targeting negative real interest rates (directly and through regulatory steps), policymakers will pursue financial repression that undermines the “real return” contract that savers expect. A variety of social contracts – e.g., health and pension entitlements, as well as unemployment benefits – are already stressed and face even greater strain. And, at the international level, several implicit contracts will be questioned given the gradual erosion in the standing of the public goods supplied by America (including the dollar the reserve currency)."
Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of Pimco, a global investment management firm
"Even as states have made deep cuts in some social programs, their fixed expenses of debt service and the actuarially recommended minimum pension and other retirement payments have skyrocketed. While over the past 10 years state and local government spending has grown by 65%, tax receipts have grown only by 32%....
"What concerned us the most was the fact that fixed debt-service costs are increasingly crowding out state monies for essential services. For example, New Jersey's ratio of total tax-supported state obligations to gross state product is over 30%, and the fixed costs to service those obligations eat up 16% of the total budget. Even these numbers are skewed, because they represent only the bare minimum paid into funding pension and retirement plans. We calculate that if New Jersey were to pay the actuarially recommended contribution, fixed costs would absorb 37% of the budget. New Jersey is not alone....
"Fortunately, many governors are addressing their state's structural deficits head on. Unfortunately, there is a lack of collective appreciation for how painful this process will be. Defaults in a variety of forms by states and municipalities are already happening and more are inevitable."
Analyst Meredith Whitney in Thursday's Wall St. J.
"Fields of watermelons exploded when he and other agricultural workers in eastern China mistakenly applied forchlorfenuron, a growth accelerator. The incident has become a focus of a Chinese media drive to expose the lax farming practices, shortcuts and excessive use of fertiliser behind a rash of food safety scandals.
"It follows discoveries of the heavy metal cadmium in rice, toxic melamine in milk, arsenic in soy sauce, bleach in mushrooms, and the detergent borax in pork, added to make it resemble beef....
"In the past week, the People's Daily website has run stories of human birth control chemicals being used on cucumber plants in Xian, China Daily has reported Sichuan peppers releasing red dye in water, and the Sina news portal revealed that barite powder had been injected into chickens in Guizhou to increase their weight.
"More alarming still was a study by researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University that estimated a tenth of China's rice may be tainted with the cadmium, a heavy metal that can affect the nervous system. This caused a stir when it was published earlier this year in the pioneering Caixin magazine."
This food scandal isn't the biggest thing exploding in China. It's debt.
An economist writing in Business Week contends that many of the world's economic woes stem from politicians' willful corruption of economic record-keeping systems that helped keep the game honest...
"Knowing who owned and owed, and fixing that information in public records, made it possible for investors to infer value, take risks, and track results. The final product was a revolutionary form of knowledge: "economic facts."
"Over the past 20 years, Americans and Europeans have quietly gone about destroying these facts. The very systems that could have provided markets and governments with the means to understand the global financial crisis—and to prevent another one—are being eroded. Governments have allowed shadow markets to develop and reach a size beyond comprehension. Mortgages have been granted and recorded with such inattention that homeowners and banks often don't know and can't prove who owns their homes. In a few short decades the West undercut 150 years of legal reforms that made the global economy possible....
"We are now staring at a legal and political challenge. A legal challenge because American and European governments allowed economic activity to cross the line from the rule-bound system of property rights, where facts can be established, into an anarchic legal space, where arbitrary interests can trump facts and paper swirls out of control."
From an article on the invention of the mouse and computer printer in the new New Yorker....
Jobs was given a couple of tours, and he ended up standing in front of a Xerox Alto, PARC’s prized personal computer. Describes the innovations the Alto featured, including the mouse, icons, and “windows.” Xerox soon began selling a version of the Alto. It was slow and underpowered—and Xerox withdrew from personal computers. Jobs, meanwhile, raced back to Apple, and demanded that the team working on the company’s next generation of personal computers change course. He wanted menus on the screen. He wanted windows. He wanted a mouse. The result was the Macintosh, perhaps the most famous product in the history of Silicon Valley.
A devastating neurological disorder leaves you nearly bedridden for years. A friend brings you a snail she found in the woods.
At first your reaction is "It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility—especially for a snail, something so uncalled for—was overwhelming."
Soon you realize that this seemingly ponderous creature is actually fearless, tireless, and infinitely fascinating--just as you yourself are.
This is the true tale told by Elisabeth Tova Bailey in her slender, yet deep, book "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating—The Earthly Adventures of a Woman and a Gastropod."
Here is some molluscan trivia sure to enliven any conversation that runs slow:
Our word 'snail' comes from the German 'schnecke,' a spiral or spiral-shaped yeast bun. Some snails have rightward turning spirals; the shells of other snails grow to the left.
Thirty-five thousand snail species have been discovered; tens of thousands have not been isolated.
The scientific name for snails—gastropod—comes from Latin and Greek and means 'stomach-foot.'
Snails have teeth. Thousands. They are arrayed in 80 or so ribbon-like rasps (radulae) with about 30 teeth to a row.
Like camels, snails have an internal water reservoir and can store 1/12th of their weight in water.
Half of a snail's breathing comes through its skin, the other half is done through a pneumostome, a hole in the side of its head.
Snails are deaf, earless.
They drink through their feet. This is called, not surprisingly, foot-drinking.
Snails taste using their lower tentacles, and smell and can distinguish light and dark through the upper pair.
One-third of a snail's energy goes into slime production. Goo is the end all be all for snails and is used for moving along, self-defense, healing, lovemaking, and to guard eggs.
Snails hibernate; the technical word for it is estivation. They do this by secreting a hard mucus door, the epiphragm, which keeps them moist and alive inside.
Snails are horny, so to speak. Many are hermaphrodites. Their lovemaking is anything but hasty, languorously lasting about seven hours.
Most bizarrely, about a third of all snail species fire 'love darts' at their potential mates. It is believed that the darts contain a chemical that makes the recipient more likely to accept sperm. Because both the Greek and Romans ate snails and closely observed their behavior, scholars believe the snail love dart is the original Cupid's arrow. (The one pictured above is one-half of a millimeter long.)
Snails lay clutches of 30 to 50 eggs. They tend to their eggs, keeping them moist with protective slime. Snails are good mothers.
Here is a philosophy of life, distilled by a scientist after a lifetime of snailwatching: "The right thing to do is to do nothing, the place to do it is in a place of concealment and the time to do it is as often as possible."
Today is Fred Astaire's birthday. Frederick Austerlitz was born this day in 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska. He would have been 112. He actually died in 1987 at the age of 88.
Recalling Fred Astaire reminds us of a golden age of American film musicals that has passed. Not only has the age passed, but the audience is passing. Most young people today have probably never seen an Astaire performance, even on film, and may not even know his name, just as no American under the age of 20 has ever seen Johnny Carson host the Tonight Show.
Astaire was known in Hollywood as a perfectionist, a severe taskmaster, and yet one of the most modest men in the industry. He was the consummate gentleman. If you went around Beverly Hills and parts of Los Angeles as recently as the 1990s, you would hear stories about Fred Astaire walking into stores just to look around and see what was being sold. He especially favored Woolworth's, where he would hang out regularly.
Barbara Walters said he was almost impossible to talk to because of his modesty and reticence. But Mikhail Baryshnikov said that his dream in life was to dance like Fred Astaire. He could not, because no one could.
Although he was known as one of the great dancers of his time, Astaire was also respected by musicians and songwriters as a superb singer. Irving Berlin loved Astaire's rendition of Berlin songs, even though Astaire would almost speak the lyrics rather than sing them. Like Sinatra, Astaire studied the words, understood them, and made the audience understand them.
Hollywood came close to rejecting a young Fred Astaire. A talent scout reporting on him wrote, "Sings, acts, dances a little." And that was that.
Aside from his style, though, it was the Astaire women who kept Astaire's career going. With one exception, each of the women he danced with became as famous as he was. The Astaire women were Eleanor Powell, the first MGM musical star, whose appeal saved the studio in the 1930s; Ginger Rogers, actually an actress who danced, and who became the partner most associated with Astaire, although she was the weakest dancer among his regulars; Rita Hayworth, who was considered by Astaire one of the greatest dancers in Hollywood before she turned to straight acting; Cyd Charisse, Hollywood's most famous female dancer, who danced with Astaire in several films of the 1950s; and a young dancer named Barrie Chase, possibly the best partner Astaire ever had, superbly trained, who danced with Astaire in TV specials of the fifties and sixties. The end of the golden age of film musicals suppressed Chase's career, and limited her fame.
YouTube helps us preserve and understand what Astaire gave us. If you want a real treat, go to these links. Forget everything else, and spend the day:
1. Astaire with Eleanor Powell in one of the best dance numbers ever put on film, introduced by Frank Sinatra. "Begin the Beguine," from Broadway Melody of 1940. As Sinatra says, you won't see the likes of this again. It's here.
2. Astaire with Ginger. "Let Yourself Go," (by Irving Berlin) from Follow the Fleet, one of the Navy musicals of the 1930s. Ginger Rogers later went on to a career as an Oscar-winning straight actress, and conservative stalwart. "Let Yourself Go" is here.
3. Astaire with Rita Hayworth, showing off Rita's wonderful style, acquired in part from her father, one of the most respected dance instructors of his day. "I'm Old Fashioned," from You Were Never Lovelier. Note the part where Astaire describes himself as from Omaha, Nebraska, which he actually was. It's here
4. Astaire with Cyd Charisse. "Girl Hunt," (sometimes called "The Girl Hunt Ballet") from The Band Wagon, one of the last of the great MGM musicals. Cyd Charisse died recently. This performance defines her, and demonstrates Astaire's remarkable virtuosity. It's here.
5. Astaire with Barrie Chase. "That Face," from an Astaire television special. Astaire was over 60 when he danced this number. Barrie Chase is the only one of the Astaire women who still lives. It's here.
Now go have a good time. You'll get hooked.
Happy birthday, Fred. You left us an enormous legacy.
If supermarkets were government monopolies....like public schools...
"Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families' choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned. "Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people—entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets—would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality."
"3 Idiots tells the story of three engineering students who are pressured by their society to pursue a degree they are not really suited for, and how they are swayed by a renegade student who wants them to follow their bliss instead. Under his influence they begin to flunk out, unleashing all kinds of mayhem and ruining their lives. Now the film has the attention of every young person in Asia; what happens next?
"The answer is two hours of very funny comedy, over-the-top self-spoofing Bollywood dance numbers, sappy romance, tear-jerk suicides, nutty antics in exotic locations, and a very profound message. I've seen 3 Idiots twice already, and am ready to see it again."
(Via 'The Technium,' the blog of Kevin Kelly, the former editor of Wired and Whole Earth Review.)
The Pentagon has said that the H-60 Blackhawk helicopter that had to be abandoned and destroyed after the raid on Bin Laden's compound crash landed.
This, however, might be a bit of disinformation.
In 1970, the U.S. mounted a raid on Son Tay, a North Vietnamese prison camp, in which the first helicopter to land did so in what's called "a hard landing" to get the raiders in place as quickly as possible.
"The landing was a hard one, but successful. Rotors contacted some of the tall trees which bordered one side of the landing area. It was anticipated that damage would occur and the plan provided for the HH-3 to be considered a loss. By means of an explosive charge with a timing device, it was to be destroyed upon departure of our troops from the compound."
The helicopter in the Bin Laden raid was also reportedly tricked out with stealth technology, according to Popular Science, making it all the more important that it be destroyed.