When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do? -- John Maynard Keynes

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Teamsters--one Union that gets it

It's worth watching what happens in Chicago as Mayor Rahm Emanuel deals with the Chicago unions and that city's financial issues--
Emanuel gets along with at least one union - chicagotribune.com: "As Emanuel lays the groundwork for coping with an estimated $650 million deficit in next year's budget, he is pressuring unions to accept unpopular changes to overtime pay and work rules — early steps toward whittling both the size of the city's union workforce as well as unions' political influence at City Hall. . . . The city's plans to privatize at least some of its recycling business could ultimately cost hundreds of Laborers Union members their jobs, but Teamsters drive both city and private garbage trucks. Just hours after Emanuel unveiled his plans, Teamsters Joint Council 25 President John Coli stepped forward to praise the plan and promised the union would run any program at the lowest cost. One of Emanuel's earliest cost-savings ideas as a candidate in November was opening the door to privatizing trash hauling. Teamsters, who have more members in the private sector than working for governments, stand to benefit from such a plan. They endorsed him two months later."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Keep an eye on Europe--the Italy-Germany 10 year spread

While everybody is watching what is happening in Washington, also keep an eye on Europe--a snapshot is the Italy-Germany 10 year spread.  Don't take my word for it, listen to a Nobel laureate in economics--
Economics and Politics by Paul Krugman--NYTimes.com: "When I fire up my computer these days, I quickly check out the Italy-Germany 10-year spread. That spread spiked earlier this month, signaling the spread of the crisis beyond the small peripheral economies; at its peak a couple of weeks ago it was 3.32 percent. Then the new rescue plan was announced, and the spread fell to 2.47 — still very bad, but a little less catastrophic. . . as of this morning it’s back up to 3.08. Things are falling apart."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Weekend Interview with Bill Gates: Was the $5 Billion Worth It? - WSJ.com

The Weekend Interview with Bill Gates: Was the $5 Billion Worth It? - WSJ.com Great article about Bill Gates and his foundation and their work in the area of education:
. . . Of late, the foundation has been working on a personnel system that can reliably measure teacher effectiveness. Teachers have long been shown to influence students' education more than any other school factor, including class size and per-pupil spending. So the objective is to determine scientifically what a good instructor does.

"We all know that there are these exemplars who can take the toughest students, and they'll teach them two-and-a-half years of math in a single year," he says. "Well, I'm enough of a scientist to want to say, 'What is it about a great teacher? Is it their ability to calm down the classroom or to make the subject interesting? Do they give good problems and understand confusion? Are they good with kids who are behind? Are they good with kids who are ahead?'

"I watched the movies. I saw 'To Sir, With Love,'" he chuckles, recounting the 1967 classic in which Sidney Poitier plays an idealistic teacher who wins over students at a roughhouse London school. "But they didn't really explain what he was doing right. I can't create a personnel system where I say, 'Go watch this movie and be like him.'"

Instead, the Gates Foundation's five-year, $335-million project examines whether aspects of effective teaching—classroom management, clear objectives, diagnosing and correcting common student errors—can be systematically measured. The effort involves collecting and studying videos of more than 13,000 lessons taught by 3,000 elementary school teachers in seven urban school districts.

"We're taking these tapes and we're looking at how quickly a class gets focused on the subject, how engaged the kids are, who's wiggling their feet, who's looking away," says Mr. Gates. The researchers are also asking students what works in the classroom and trying to determine the usefulness of their feedback.

Mr. Gates hopes that the project earns buy-in from teachers, which he describes as key to long-term reform. "Our dream is that in the sample districts, a high percentage of the teachers determine that this made them better at their jobs." He's aware, though, that he'll have a tough sell with teachers unions, which give lip service to more-stringent teacher evaluations but prefer existing pay and promotion schemes based on seniority . . . .

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Larry Summers Disses 'A**hole' Winklevoss Twins (VIDEO): "'One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o'clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they're looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole,' he said during an interview at the conference, according to a Fortune transcript. 'This was the latter case. Rarely, have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.' . . . 'I've heard it said that I can be arrogant,' adding, 'If that's true, I surely was on that occasion.'"

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Highly educated ignorance

Green Sky Economics - NYTimes.com: Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman today in the New York Times-- "the nonsense Republicans are talking on economics comes not from uneducated ignorance but from highly educated ignorance: they’re getting their fallacies from eminent academics, not the man in the street. And not just fallacies: people like Fama confidently proclaim the truth of facts that, well, aren’t. Clearly, it’s all mutually reinforcing: the closing of the Chicago mind both reinforces and is reinforced by the patronage of the mega-wealthy. . . ."

God help us--what's the man in the street supposed to do? Uneducated ignorance is one thing--highly educated ignorance? Maybe Krugman is on to something!

Monday, July 18, 2011

$50,000 and a coffee shop around the corner'.

Amazon's Vogels: cloud, start-ups, treadmills - Patch Monday - Blogs - ZDNet Australia: "The cloud has levelled the playing field for business, says Amazon's chief technology officer Dr Werner Vogels. Ten years ago, a start-up needed $5 million. Now, Vogels says, it's 'just $50,000 and a coffee shop around the corner'.

'The fact that the cloud is powering this whole new range of innovation at very low cost means that we've seen a wealth of new applications and new ways of doing things coming towards us that didn't even exist five years ago,' he said.

Vogels notes the increasing 'webification' of enterprise applications, and sees a future where even your exercise treadmill has an IP address. 'I've learned that if you think about innovation it's best not to restrain yourself too much,' he said."

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Friday, July 15, 2011


Crumbling of the EU Adds to Futility of Test Results - WSJ.com: "To me, it seems clear: There are elements of German society, and influential ones at that, in which reluctant cooperation with the European project is just a hair's breadth away from open revolt and rupture.

At the other end of the scale, a critical mass in southern Europe is losing its ability to live with a currency as hard as the euro. The crisis is fast approaching the point of no return.
. . . .
. . . the transition of the European Union from a reasonably stable entity, resembling the product of 50 years of European reconciliation and integration, to one on the verge of a disastrous collapse, in which serial defaults will almost certainly lead to a return of competitive devaluations, the break-up of the single market, and the end of any serious attempt to regulate Europe's politics in a mutually beneficial way, within a predictable legal framework."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Will true representative democracy come to President Obama's hometown?

Chicago City Council remap will alter political landscape - chicagotribune.com: "Because Democrats run Chicago, remap debates are about race and ethnicity, not party affiliation. They're often contentious.

Much changed in the ethnic and racial makeup of the city from 2000 to 2010, when the population dropped to just under 2.7 million. A loss of about 200,000 people will shrink the average size of each ward to about 53,900 people.

The biggest decline was among African-Americans, whose numbers dropped by about 182,000 as the city tore down public housing high-rises, the foreclosure crisis left swaths of South Side and West Side communities vacant and blacks moved to the suburbs. The white population also fell, by nearly 53,000.

Meanwhile, the number of Latinos rose by about 25,000. The Asian population grew by more than 20,000.

If the ethnic and racial makeup of the city mirrored its population, the council would have 16 whites, 16 blacks, 15 Latinos and three Asians. But the way wards get carved up — by politicians trying to maintain or grow power while not running afoul of federal and state voting protections for minorities — is far from that simple.

The council now has 22 white members, 19 African-Americans, eight Latinos and one alderman of Indian descent — a combination well out of sync with the makeup of the Chicago following the 2000 census."

If you want to drill down into the data go here: http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/ward-redistricting/index.html

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Words of warning on China

Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial Institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks – when one fails, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crises less likely, but when they happen they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. We have moved from a diversified ecology of small banks, with varied lending policies, to a more homogeneous framework of firms that all resemble one another. True, we now have fewer failures, but when they occur ….I shiver at the thought.--Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (April 2007)

Pumping Up China's G.D.P. - Room for Debate - NYTimes.com

" . . . .few analysts stopped and asked: Why should China, a country credited for having a vibrant middle class, a huge internal market and a rapid pace of wealth-creating urbanization, undertake a stimulus program larger both in relative and absolute terms than the stimulus program in the United States, which was at the epicenter of the financial crisis?

The answer is that China’s middle class is far less vibrant than commonly assumed; its internal market (relative to its G.D.P.) is actually modest, and its urbanization is rapid but not wealth-creating. In the face of a precipitous collapse of the demand for exports, the country resorted to the only thing it knew how to do -- embark on a government-organized, debt-financed investment binge to raise the G.D.P.

One theory is that all of these investments are made to prepare for the coming wave of urbanization. This is a myth. The Chinese cities do not lack buildings, which they have in surplus. The cities lack people. Beijing and Shanghai have some of the lowest population densities among the world’s big metropolises. The current infrastructure is more than adequate to accommodate China’s urbanization.

It is likely that a sizable portion of this investment binge is sheer waste and will surely end up as non-performing loans on the banks’ balance sheets. The Chinese term for crisis comprises of two words: danger and opportunity. The corrupt local officials saw abundant opportunities to amass wealth for themselves, and the central government completely lost sight of the inherent danger. The structural distortions of the Chinese economy grew worse and the government did exactly what it should not have done: It wasted a perfectly good crisis."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Housing is not the answer (and never was)

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How bad is the housing market? So bad that realtors apparently misstate sale prices on a regular basis (I guess in a feeble, weak-minded attempt to boost the market and make more money on commissions):

"The Illinois Association of Realtors said Monday that the median price it reported for home sales within the city of Chicago was inflated in May and mistakes in its reports may go back more than three years."

--No kidding, I'm shocked! If anyone wants the "real deal" (a/k/a the "truth") about residential real estate, just read this from the Wall Street Journal:

“. . . . the average single family house has never been a particularly stellar investment. In a society increasingly concerned with providing for retirement security and housing affordability, this finding has large implications. It means that we have put excessive emphasis on owner-occupied housing for social objectives, mistakenly relied on homebuilding for economic stimulus, and fostered misconceptions about homeownership and financial independence. We've diverted capital from more productive investments and misallocated scarce public resources. . . .
. . . a dollar used to purchase a median-price, single-family California home in 1980 would have grown to $5.63 in 2007, and to $2.98 in 2010. The same dollar invested in the Dow Jones Industrial Index would have been worth $14.41 in 2007, and $11.49 in 2010”
“. . . . A nation of house buyers becomes captive to the economic cyclicality caused by bursts of construction activity, and it is not lifted or sustained by the limited levels of service employment related to existing housing. By contrast, a nation of business startups and investors supports our capital markets and creates long-term employment, income, exports and the myriad technological advancements desperately needed by an expanding American society.”

I wonder if anyone in Washington D.C. gets it?

Monday, July 11, 2011

How Google+ Will Balkanize Your Social Life - Technology Review

How Google+ Will Balkanize Your Social Life - Technology Review: "Google has created the opportunity for Facebook-weary people to perform what one called 'a reset on Facebook,' allowing them to escape from Facebook members they've friended over the years but don't really want to interact with—and can't quite bring themselves to defriend.

The killer feature of Google+ is that, unlike Facebook, LinkedIn, or most other social networks, there's no such thing as a friend request. Users can create groups of friends, called Circles in Google+ terminology. These circles can include both other Google+ users and nonusers who receive status updates via e-mail rather than via the site. As a Google+ user, you can share your status updates and favorite links with those in one or more of these easily created circles, or with everyone. And you can see what other users have shared with you, or with everyone, in a Facebook-like feed that runs down the middle of the page.

But you'll never be put in the awkward situation of receiving a friend request from someone you don't really want to be Google+ friends with. Nor will you have to face the awkward decision of whether or not to defriend a former confidant with whom you've fallen out. Just remove them from your circles, which are never revealed to other users. Other than that, Google+ looks and behaves a lot like Facebook."

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Words to live by

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1. Stop trying to change what you can’t. . . . Accept things for what they are, see people for who they are, and work with that reality.
2. Figure out what you can change. Even if you have few freedoms, there are always small things you can change. Can you spend a few minutes doing sitting meditation? Can you eat more fruits & veggies? Can you walk more? Can you watch less TV and find a few minutes to create? Can you blog? Can you do some pushups in your room? Can you learn to be more grateful in every interaction with others? Can you slow down a bit? Can you smile more? There are lots and lots of small changes you can make, even if you can’t make the big ones you’d like to make.
3. You can always change your mind. Learn to live in the moment. Learn to be mindful of your thoughts. Learn to squash negative thinking. Learn to see the opportunities in everything. Learn to see mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learn to be grateful, and compassionate, and kind.
4. Learn to live without control. . . . read more here: http://zenhabits.net/teens/

Thursday, July 7, 2011

This Too Shall Pass - Built in Chicago

This Too Shall Pass - Built in Chicago: "in the past two years, nearly every aspect of my life has changed and the only thing that has kept me sane and moving forward optimistically are these four words. Another friend once said, when you find yourself reinforcing your stress by linearly projecting the present, stop...don't think out more than 2 days and focus on what you have the ability to change not the phantom ghosts you can't. Things will change, synchronicity will come into play and life (or company) will right itself. Nearly all great start-ups have to nearly dance with death at least once and you haven't earned your stripes if you have not found yourself lost at sea in a foggy mist. As my partner, Ed, once said, it is a lot harder to kill a company than you think"

HEARD ON THE STREET: Google Makes Facebook Look Socially Awkward - WSJ.com

HEARD ON THE STREET: Google Makes Facebook Look Socially Awkward - WSJ.com: "The biggest hurdle for Google+ is getting users, of course. But it is integrating the service with Gmail, which already has 240 million unique users world-wide, according to comScore. Meanwhile, the user experience on Facebook is a victim of the site's success. Users have accumulated so many online 'friends' it can be difficult to organize them. And users often feel assaulted by too much or irrelevant social information, like Zynga game updates. Ultimately, Google+ is a chance for social networkers to start over."

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Monday, July 4, 2011

GOOGLE The World's Most Reputable Company

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The World's Most Reputable Companies - Forbes.com
Google #1; Apple #2; Microsoft #11--wonder where Facebook will place after it goes public?
"Google has the best corporate reputation in the world because it understands the power of the corporate story," says Kasper Ulf Nielsen, Reputation Institute's executive partner. "Google's reputation platform is based on its great workplace environment, its open and transparent way of doing business, and its commitment to playing an active role in improving society."
The study found that 43% of a company's reputation arises from perceptions of workplace, citizenship and governance, and Google has the best reputation globally in all three of those dimensions.
"Google is in the top 10 on all dimensions, showing that to be the best you have to be relevant across all seven dimensions of reputation," Nielsen adds. 
You can order the study at http://reputationinstitute.com/global-reptrak-pulse

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Slow growth, high unemployment

The International Monetary Fund outlook on the U.S. recovery:

“We project GDP growth of 2 ½% in 2011 and 2 ¾% in 2012, with a slow decline in unemployment. . . .  With public debt on an unsustainable trajectory . . . .” -- I recommend reading the seven page statement available here


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Friday, July 1, 2011

Google shows how to introduce change

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Google has changed Google Calendar and in the process shown how to introduce change within any community--what, why, and feedback. I know of no other corporation that is this transparent, and certainly no governmental entity. Excerpts from the Google link below:

What's changing

Right now, the changes are just cosmetic and have not affected the way Calendar works. You can choose to turn off the new look by clicking the gear icon and choosing Use the classic look (you can turn it back on by going to the gear icon and choosing Try the new look).
A summary of the current changes are: . . . .
Over the course of the summer and fall, we’ll make more changes to the look and functionality of Google Calendar. You’ll see these changes in your account in a variety of products, and we’ll make sure to keep you updated as we introduce these changes.

Why we made these changes

The way people use and experience the web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience -- one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on. The new Google experience that we’re working toward is founded on three key design principles:
  • Focus: With the design changes in the coming weeks and months, we’re bringing forward the stuff that matters to you and getting all the other clutter out of your way.
  • Elasticity: The new design will soon allow you to seamlessly transition from your desktop computer to your mobile phone to your tablet, while keeping a consistent visual experience. We aim to bring you this flexibility without sacrificing style or usefulness.
  • Effortlessness: Our design philosophy is to combine power with simplicity. We want to keep our look simple and clean. But behind the seemingly simple design, the changes use new technologies to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you.

How you can have a voice in these changes

If you’d like to share your thoughts on the design changes, you can let us know on our feedback form. new window We’re always looking for new ways to improve your online experience, and your suggestions are really helpful in making all our products better.
Changes to the look of Google Calendar - Google Calendar Help

"You can't handle the truth" by Paul Krugman

Economics and Politics by Paul Krugman - The Conscience of a Liberal - NYTimes.com: "the surest way to get branded as not Serious is to figure things out too soon. To be considered credible on politics you have to have considered Bush a great leader, and not realized until Katrina that he was a disaster; to be considered credible on national security you have to have supported the Iraq War, and not realized until 2005 that it was a terrible mistake; to be credible on economics you have to have regarded Greenspan as a great mind, and not become disillusioned until 2007 or maybe 2008"

The Big Picture

Financial Crisis - The Telegraph

JohnTheCrowd.com | The Sailing Website

Craig Newmark - craigconnects