February 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 PM


Breakdown of U.S. housing prices shows gains almost everywhere (Lew Sichelman, February 17, 2013, LA Times)

The latest numbers from the field are in, and the news is good. Housing prices were up almost everywhere across the country in 2012.

Of the 134 core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) that reported 500 or more sales last year, 123 saw gains, according to year-over-year data collected as of Dec. 31 by Pro Teck Valuation Services of Waltham, Mass. CBSAs are defined as "micropolitan" areas of at least 10,000 people who are tied to an urban center by commuting. [...]

Overall, the national median price per square foot rose from $81.08 in 2011 to $86.42 last year, according to Pro Teck, which takes its numbers at least daily from about 850 multiple listing services.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The Health Benefits That Cut Your Pay (DAVID GOLDHILL, 2/16/13, NY Times)

NOT long ago, a 23-year-old woman joined my company as an assistant in the advertising sales department at a starting salary of $35,000. Smart, ambitious and poised, she should have a promising future. Unfortunately, her earnings prospects are threatened. Like many Americans, she's unaware of how much of her compensation is being eaten up by health care costs, and how much this share will grow as long as the increase in health costs exceeds growth in gross domestic product. That's just math.

The Affordable Care Act does require employers, beginning this year, to note on W-2's how much both the employee and the employer contributed to health care costs. Maybe that will help diminish the ignorance regarding true health care costs. But even with greater awareness, many Americans still might not understand that the largest effect of the cost of our health care system is to reduce the amount of money they actually take home.

I have estimated that our 23-year-old employee will bear at least $1.8 million in health care costs over her lifetime. 
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Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Fracking is the only way to achieve Obama climate change goals, says senior scientist (Robin McKie, 2/16/13, The Observer)

America will only achieve the ambitious climate change goals outlined by President Barack Obama last week by encouraging wide-scale fracking for natural gas over the next few years. That is the advice of one of the nation's senior scientists, Professor William Press, a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. [...]

 "Coal is burnt to provide the US with almost half its electricity. This is done in huge central power plants and the process is very dirty. By contrast, the burning of natural gas is clean and can be done in smaller, local, more efficient power station," said Press.

"For the amount of heat you produce, coal is, effectively, three times more powerful an emitter of carbon dioxide than natural gas. Relying on gas will therefore cut our carbon emissions substantially."

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The Pope Joins a Fine but Rarely Seen Tradition : A resignation that echoes across the ages, recalling other pontiffs who acted for the good of the church. (THOMAS F. MADDEN, 2/14/13, WSJ)

Given the list of hundreds of popes stretching across 20 centuries, one of the remarkable details about Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement earlier this week was that such papal events are astonishingly rare. And yet there is a simple reason that so few pontiffs have stepped down from the throne of St. Peter. Since the pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, placed in his position by the Holy Spirit and exempt from all human judgment, to whom would he submit his resignation? [...]

In 1415, Europe had endured nearly four decades of religious turmoil during which two (and at one point, three) rival popes reigned in different cities at the same time. Everyone knew that there could be only one true pope, but there was no good way to decide which of the various popes that was. Some in the Catholic hierarchy suggested that an ecumenical council should decide the issue, but such a council could only be called by a valid pope, which was of course the whole problem.

Papering over the difficulty, a council called itself into being at Constance, in present-day Germany, in 1414. The pope in Rome, Gregory XII, negotiated a plan with the leaders of the council that if they would recognize him and his predecessors at Rome as the true popes, he would call the council, thus giving it the legitimacy it needed. Then he would himself resign. The deal was struck and, after deposing the remaining antipope in Avignon, the council finally ended the Great Schism. Ex-Pope Gregory XII was praised across Europe for his willingness to put the good of the faith before his own interests. He spent the remaining two years of his life as Bishop of Porto.

The resignation of Benedict XVI is, therefore, big news as only the third resignation since it became an option. Yet across so much time, the reasons behind the decision remain remarkably similar. Like Celestine V and Gregory XII, Benedict puts aside his own power, privilege and position for the continued well-being of a centuries-old religion and its followers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


A Star-Crossed Cult Figure, Unadorned (MARC MYERS, 1/31/13, WSJ)

Today, Mr. Van Zandt's cult status stems partly from his terse poetic purity and luckless-troubadour personal story. Son of a wealthy Texas oil-company attorney, he was a binge drinker who suffered from bouts of depression. Mr. Van Zandt recorded five albums between 1968 and 1972 that never managed to earn him widespread recognition. What he wound up with, though, was plenty of baggage. By '72, he was divorced, with a child he rarely saw; he had a heroin habit; and his girlfriend had just been murdered after being abducted while hitchhiking back to his Los Angeles apartment on an errand for him.

Haunted by her death, Mr. Van Zandt returned to Texas and continued to compose, recording sporadically in the 1980s and '90s. He also performed frequently, exposing a new generation of artists to his soul-wrenching roots approach. During this period, his personal problems only intensified--continued addictions along with bipolar disorder.

The material released on the new CD set was first discovered in 1996, as part of Mr. Van Zandt's original 1971-72 session tapes. But the tracks could not be released until litigation over rights was settled. "Many of the demos and alternate tracks I heard when I first pulled the tapes were beautiful, stripped-down versions of the originals, which tended to bury the essence of his songs with overdubbed strings, choirs and horns," said Cheryl Pawelski, Omnivore's founder and the set's producer.

The set's highlights include penetrating alternate takes of his "Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold," "To Live Is to Fly" and a 1972 mix of "Pancho & Lefty"--Mr. Van Zandt's best-known saga song. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


All Criterion Films Streaming Free on Hulu This Weekend (in the US) (Open Culture, February 16th, 2013)

Over this Presidents' Day weekend, Hulu is streaming all of the Criterion Collection movies for free. That's right, free! We're talking hundreds of films by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Charlie Chaplin, Jean-Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, Nagisa Oshima, Fran├žois Truffaut, and Orson Welles. So cancel your weekend plans, wish your friends and family well, and start packing in as many classic films as you can. 

Andrei Rublev, Babette's Feast, Wise Blood, Passion of Joan of Arc, Hidden Fortress, Four Feathers, Burden of Dreams...just not The Red Balloon