February 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Fewer Americans are stuck in underwater mortgages (Alejandro Lazo, February 22, 2013, LA Times)

Nearly 2 million Americans got out of negative equity positions as home prices rose last quarter, according to new estimates. [...]

"Underwater" homeowners -- those who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth -- have played a counterintuitive role in the housing market's recovery, helping boost home prices in an unexpected way.

Rather than walking away from their properties en masse, many of these borrowers have continued paying their home loans, even when they are stuck in high-interest-rate loans.

As foreclosures have eased, for-sale inventory has plummeted. In many markets, the level of competition for a home is now so severe, it's reminiscent of the bubble days.

Swimming, not drowning.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Dollar Rises Against Global Currencies (Neil Shah, 2/22/13, WSJ)

The dollar is strengthening. The Wall Street Journal Dollar Index, which measures the greenback against seven currencies, has risen 5% since mid-September. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Tech is destroying the line between manufacturing and services (Saul Kaplan, 2/21/13, Fortune)

Once we realize that manufacturing is a capability we can get on with democratizing it. We can all be manufacturers. In the State of the Union Address President Obama announced his plan for a $1 billion investment to build a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation composed of fifteen advanced manufacturing hubs. To bring manufacturing back to the U.S. we don't need fifteen hubs, we need fifteen million makers creating stuff.

It won't be long before everyone will have access to a 3D printer. Talk about democratized manufacturing capability. Armed with a 3D printer, individual makers can create their own digital design for any imagined object or borrow a design from anywhere around the world. By simply pressing a button makers can set a 3D printer into motion rendering the physical object with layers of plastic or other material right before their eyes. What was science fiction ten years ago is reality today. It wasn't long ago we listened to the whir of a dot-matrix printer spitting out documents from our computers, now a 3D printer renders any object we can dream up the same way. With the magic of 3D printing capability we are all manufacturers, constrained only by our imaginations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


No going back (HIS EXCELLENCY ABDI FARAH SHIRDON PRIME MINISTER OF SOMALIA 22 February 2013 Subjects:International politics Economics Democracy and government Culture Conflict Civil society Somalia, 2/21/13, OpenDemocracy)

As my government approaches its 100th day in office, I would like to share some of our recent achievements and the challenges we face.

To begin with the most dramatic development, security is our people's greatest concern, our number one priority and our number one success. Only recently Mogadishu was close to being completely overrun by the foreign-led, Al Qaeda-allied Al Shabaab. Thanks to our brave fighters and those of Amisom, the insurgency is on its knees, our city has been liberated and, to quote a recent report, "the sound of hammers has replaced that of guns" as Somalis return to rebuild homes and businesses, lives and careers.

In December we removed 60 illegal checkpoints that were extorting more than $1m a month in bribes from innocent civilians in Mogadishu, replacing them with police and security forces. The story doesn't end in the capital. Since the end of last year, we have liberated the towns of Kismayo, Marca, Jowhar, Wanlaweyn, Janale and Awdeghle towns, where we are working hard to develop representative local authorities and deliver local services.

Talking of representative government, our political institutions, like other organisations in Somalia, are in their infancy. How could this be otherwise in a country eviscerated by more than two decades of conflict? Yet after eight years of difficult transitional authority, we managed the move to a fully-fledged government smoothly and entirely peacefully, after what a recent UN report on Somalia called "the most transparent and representative" election in more than 20 years, the first held in Somalia during that period.

We now have a lean, effective Cabinet - how many countries in the world can boast of having 10 ministries? Then there is a robust and lively legislature, which has already made its mark under the excellent leadership of Speaker Jawari, who presided over 46 sessions in the first four months of the parliament's life. Fifteen sub-committees will be holding the government to account in the spirit of parliamentary democracy. A permanent Human Rights Commission will address the troubling record of human rights abuses, especially the killing of journalists and sexual violence against women.

To judicial reform, security turnaround and political development, we must add the beginnings of economic recovery. Poverty and unemployment, the natural legacy of war, are widespread in Somalia. We are making progress by creating a conducive environment for economic recovery. We have instituted strict public finance management rules and are steadily establishing transparent and accountable public finances. Tax collection is a priority that will lay the foundations of a normal, functioning economy. We have energised the Central Bank.

Economic growth will come from a combination of the public and private sectors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Our First Ex-President (Steve Klugewicz, 2/21/13, Imaginative Conservative)

The reality of his stepping down was a watershed moment for the country then, as the pope's resignation is for the Church now.

Though Americans embraced the republican tenet of the necessity of rotation in office and were indeed already getting used to the presence of former chief executives at the state level, the case of Washington's departure was quite different. This was no mere stepping down of a Roman consul of the old Republic. Both the office of the American presidency and the first man to occupy it possessed an air of regality. In fact, upon Washington's election to the presidency in 1788, those with monarchical leanings, such as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, pushed to give the new chief executive a regal title. Hamilton favored "His Excellency," whereas Adams put forward the ungainly "His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of the Rights of Same." Others suggested "His Elective Highness" or "His Exalted High Mightiness." Though the Senate and Washington finally agreed on "Mister President" (Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette would still employ "His Excellency"), Washington was the one man in the country who possessed such an innate dignity and royal bearing that he needed no kingly titles to prop him up.

Even before he assumed the presidency, Washington was widely considered one of the greatest men of his age. Among Americans, he was already being called the father of his country ("you will become the father to more than three millions of children," Hamilton had told him in urging him to accept the presidency), and King George III had famously declared him "the greatest character of the age" when he laid down his sword in 1783. He was trusted by Americans like no other public figure before or since. Historian Forrest McDonald has argued that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention would never have invested the presidency with such powers as it did if not for the fact that they believed that Washington would serve as the country's first chief executive.

Washington knew, as does Pope Benedict, that he was setting a modern precedent by voluntarily relinquishing power and that his actions after leaving office would have a great effect on the future of the people he had led.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Breast practices: The mammogram dilemma : Your annual screening may cause you more harm than good. (H. Gilbert Welch, February 21, 2013, LA Times)

For decades, researchers have documented the problem of false positive mammograms. These are the mammograms that are judged to be possibly indicative of cancer but are subsequently proved not to be. In the interim, many healthy women have the scare of their life.

There will necessarily always be some false positive mammograms. But their frequency in the U.S. is extreme: Somewhere between 25% and 45% of women will have one in a 10-year course of mammography.

More recently, researchers have focused on the harm of overdiagnosis: the detection of abnormalities that meet the pathologic definition of cancer but are not destined to cause problems. The problem here is that anything called "cancer" gets treated with surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.

There will also always be some overdiagnosis -- it's a side effect of trying to catch cancer early. But it appears that somewhere between a quarter and one-half of all cancers detected during routine screenings fall in this category, and that is totally unacceptable.

False positives and overdiagnosis have the same root cause. They are the product of the conventional paradigm of cancer screening: Look harder and harder to find smaller and smaller abnormalities.

Call it the "find more" approach. Digital mammograms find more cancer than plain films, so they must be an improvement. Because breast MRIs find more cancer than digital mammograms, they must be better yet. It's why newly touted 3D mammograms will undoubtedly be said to be better than anything else.

It's a cycle of increasing intervention, a cycle that aggravates both the false positive and overdiagnosis problem. And it's not clear it adds anything (but cost).

There is a fundamental asymmetry to screening: Only a very few can possibly benefit (those women who would die if their breast cancer wasn't detected and treated), but any participant can be harmed. It requires a more elegant approach, one that finds the cancers that matter while minimizing the collateral damage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


7 Reasons Why Coffee Is Good For You (Kris Gunnars, 02.21.2013, Popular Science)

Coffee isn't just warm and energizing, it may also be extremely good for you.

In recent years and decades, scientists have studied the effects of coffee on various aspects of health and their results have been nothing short of amazing.

Here are 7 reasons why coffee may actually be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet.

1. Coffee Can Make You Smarter

Coffee doesn't just keep you awake, it may literally make you smarter as well.

The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.

Caffeine's primary mechanism in the brain is blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine.

By blocking the inhibitory effects of Adenosine, caffeine actually increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine (1, 2).

Many controlled trials have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, demonstrating that caffeine can improve mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive function (3).

Bottom Line: Caffeine potently blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, leading to a net stimulant effect. Controlled trials show that caffeine improves both mood and brain function.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Oscars 2013: what the nominations say about America : From Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained to Lincoln and Life Of Pi, the Oscar-nominated Hollywood films champion hope, faith and vengeance - or the moral values of the wild west (David Cox, 2/21/13, guardian.co.uk)

[A]merica's time-honoured vision of itself, as celebrated by the nominees, has a more robust side. Good must triumph over evil, and this may require the best efforts of American heroes. As frontiersmen or their descendants, these heroes aren't required to stand on ceremony.

The faint-hearts and surrender-monkeys of the old world may get side-tracked by scruples; but that isn't the American way. Go get the bad guy, dead or alive, appears to remain the favoured approach. Unfortunately, the nominees' enthusiastic endorsement of this outlook cannot disguise its limitations.

What the critic Michael Medved once called Hollywood's relentless message "that violence offers an effective solution for all human problems" lives on in this year's Oscar lists. Watching Django Unchained, you can feel Quentin Tarantino's delight in bounty-hunter justice. Like so many American film-makers before him, he seems to be pleading wistfully for a world in which you can simply confront evil, open fire and sling the corpse behind your saddle.

That the pursuit of such a course can dehumanise the pursuer is acknowledged but embraced. Django hesitates to shoot a man in front of his child. He is educated out of such misgivings by a wiser man, and learns to enjoy violence for its own sake; this makes him more effective at exacting justice.

The gun lobby is using Django Unchained to promote its cause among African Americans. If the film's equation of violence with justice also inspires imitation, its impact will hardly be benign. Yet at least this film is located firmly in a more primitive past. Translated to our own era, its outlook seems more dubious.

Zero Dark Thirty's much-discussed ambiguity on the use of torture reflects the film's sympathy for total war on those deemed to be the enemies of what is right.