Thursday, April 30, 2009

Short Selling is important to the stock market's health

The Washington Times is to be commended for an editorial today (April 30) that explains how short selling works and why it is important for stable markets. The editorial is titled “In Defense of Short-Selling”, the link is here.

The Times makes a very interesting point about “predatory pricing”, in which a “predatory firm” lowballs the competition by pricing its products or services artificially low to eliminate competition. Short selling, when allowed in normal circumstances, discourages such practices and tends to protect competition. The observation may be particularly important in media-related companies that depend on free content or free entry models.

On the other hand, when financial firms indulge in dangerous unregulated practices (as AIG did by putting a hedge fund on top of itself, or as so many firms did in mortgage lending) it’s possible that short selling can drive them into rapid collapse. Short selling can also make a company an attractive takeover target suddenly, something we learned in the 1980s.

I guess short sellers own a piece of "Donovan's Brain" -- if you remember the 50s horror flick on controlling the markets.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Social Distancing" strategies to contain deadly pandemics (swine flu or bird flu) present a Catch 22 for politicians (and for the economy)

MSNBC has a rather alarming article about “social distancing” strategies, with the rather bombastic title “Best swine flu strategy: Stay away, everyone: Little-known ‘social distancing’ plans could close schools, gathering spots”. The story, by JoNel Aleccia is here.

The basic problem is a chicken-egg. Social distancing containment matters only work before a pandemic becomes deadly. It could shut down whole industries and cost many more jobs and livelihoods, permanently, and have a major impact on social structures and freedoms later. It might not be possible for many kinds of businesses to recover from a prolonged showdown. And it might not be necessary.

The MSNBC story has a poll which shows surprising (and disturbing) visitor support for social distancing even without much evidence of virulence. I voted “No” but was very much in the minority.

Writers say, the strategies worked partially in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. There is some discussion of this in Peter Jennings’s book “The Century”.

And the mandatory social distancing strategies imposed in China and other asian countries in 2003 lasted for several months, but economies recovered. There is an interesting story on VOANews “Swine Flu Outbreak Reminds Hong Kong of SARS”, link here.

Measures like this were not adopted in the 1957 and 1969 pandemics, and the death toll was moderate, compared to 1918, and the genotype for those viruses was milder.

One theory of aggressive social distancing is to give authorities time to make a vaccine. Patrick Oppmann has a story on a CDC mathematician who simulates disease containment strategies, including social distancing, "Expert on flu's spread says new strain here to stay", link here. Done in time, containment, quarantines and social distancing can drop the death rate by 2/3 -- but what it that death rate would be small anyway? We don't know in time. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a web subsite on social distancing, "Public Health Law Program: Social Distancing Law Assessment Template" link here.

But a big problem is that the US has outsourced much of its vaccine manufacture, and it cannot make an adequate supplies in less than six months.

Mexico seems to want to be re-opened for business about May 6. There is some indication that the rate of spread has slowed.

But the big problem seems to be the likelihood that tens of thousands of people in Mexico were exposed but recovered without medical intervention, so the death rate may have been greatly overstated.

On the other hand, the deaths seem to be in young adults, which is the pattern of the Spanish Flu (the cytokine storm issue).

In practice, it sounds like, in the U.S., the virus would have very low morality, but it needs to be treated quickly. Most likely it will behave like other flus. Remember, ordinary flu kills about 36000 people a year in the U.S. It is the unpredictable nature of the new virus, which may well be getting weaker as it spreads, which puts politicians in an untenable position, as well as the rapid spread of inconclusive information from medical labs, not possible in the 1970s.

I believe that I got the swine flu shot in 1976 while living in New York. In 2002, despite having a flu shot in the fall of 2001, I got a sudden flu-like illness while vacationing in California (and this is very rare for me). I had a sudden, severe cough and high fever and chills, which subsided after a night in bed in the motel. I felt better, and went to bars and restaurants. (How many people did I infect?) Then it came back a few days later for another spell of two days, then resolved. I was very weak during those spells. Afterwards, there was a lot of chest congestion. I think that I was exposed to a novel flu virus (not covered by vaccine) that simply didn’t get on the CDC radar screen. Probably most people recovered and developed some resistance. This 2002 virus might even have been an animal virus similar to the Mexican virus today. It was not virulent and burned itself out, becoming just part of the mix of everyday germs that we coexist with and develop resistance to. CDC should look at what happened in California in 2002.

Remember, social contact generally strengthens immunity against most things. Adults generally don’t get as sick as kids with ordinary things because they’ve had years to build up immunity. Kids exposed to many viruses and bacteria earlier in life often are less sickly as teens.

Another thing to remember: when Americans return from Mexico, they often have fevers because of mild gastrointestinal illness caused by lack of previous exposure to less sanitary food (harmless to locals). That could cause them to be detained.

I do wonder how visitors feel about this dilemma.

Note the Wednesday April 29 editorial in The Washington Times, "Swine flu hysteria: Beware of bureaucratic cures for supposed epidemics", link here. Read it and weep. I think that this time The Washington Times has it right. On Friday May 1 the Washington Times published a "letter of the week" called "fear the flu", by Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, Executive vice president and director of research, Professional Services Group Inc., New York City, link here.

Picture: How would "social distancing" affect GLBT businesses? See my GLBT blog here.

Update: April 29

One toddler who had visited Mexico has died in Texas. The child was from Brownsville, TX (a border town) and had visited Mexico. He had been hospitalized in Houston. The Dallas Morning News story is here.

A Virginia company, Novavax, may have an experimental vaccine for H1N1-swine in about ten weeks. The site is marked red by McAfee, but I think it's a "false positive" (pun and irony intended); you can go yourself.

April 30, 2009

John M. Barry, a visiting scholar at the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, has an interesting op-ed in the April 28, 2009 New York Times, "Where Will the Swine Flu Go Next?" link here. His radio interview on NPR described flu viruses as "mutant swarms" out of Stephen King -- each infected cell produces millions of particles, only a few of which are infectious. No, this is not the "super flu" of Stephen King's "The Stand" but he fears that it just could turn into that some day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

MD insurance law could lead to reparations for slavery; global warming demo in DC today a "bust"

Gregory Kane has a column in the Washington Examiner today (April 27), p 18, “How did Md. Legislators manage to sneak this law through?” In 2009, writes Kane, life insurance companies writing in Maryland must disclose any business they (or their corporate predecessors) wrote for slaveowners before 1865. The law had come from Maryland Senate bill 751. Companies must comply by Oct. 1, 2011, and the state insurance commissioner must issue a report by April 1, 2012.

Kane, whose picture shows him to be African American, predicts that the next logical step would be to force the companies to pay reparations to continue doing business in Maryland. Kane seemed to feel that in practice, most people have “moved on” from expecting this kind of ancestral justice. The article has not yet shown up online as far as I can tell.

On March 10, 2007 Kelsey Volkmann had written an Examiner column about a proposal requiring Maryland to apologize for slavery, as a call for reparations, with that link here.

Today, I did get to the global warming “demo” near the State Department near George Washington University on 23rd St. The demonstrator had already been removed from the crane, so I didn’t see the “Too Big to Fail” sign. But here’s a blog with that concept.

Last picture: Another bystander had gotten a cell phone picture of the banner; it didn't quite come out here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

White House declares "public health emergency" over swine flu

The White House has held a press conference to announce “national public health emergency” over swine flu, with an announcement from Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. She characterized this as a “standard operation procedure” to free up resources, and it does not by itself authorize quarantines or travel advisories or restrictions. Normally that authority rests with state and local authorities.

So far, as of noon Sunday, there are twenty cases in the United States, none severe. The cases so far are milder than most of those of a normal winter flu season. The number of cases is likely to rise quickly. The underlying concern relates to the severity in Mexico, with 81 deaths out of 1300 cases. Travelers returning from Mexico will be asked health questions by border agents.

The MSNBC/AP story is here.

Mexico has suddenly banned public gatherings and reportedly shut down most public places. Mexico is also warning “no kissing.”

My overall impression about all of this is – overreaction. There are new viruses all the time. Most people recover from them without difficulty. In the past we wouldn’t have noticed this.

How about some common sense (especially you "conservatives")?

Another observation is that viruses that originate with animals often become weaker rapidly as they are transmitted among people. The best result for public health might be to do nothing -- let the population become exposed to some swine flu proteins with mild illness, and build up "herd immunity" in the general population through gradual exposure to the antigens. That might prevent a more serious outbreak next winter, especially since this is the end of the flu contagion season now. You can't contain something like this completely.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What to do with medical and credit card debt and mortgages: "Negotiate"? Or hire a Negotiator. (Ask Trump)

There is a lot of talk out there that patients should become aggressive in negotiating with their health care providers, to reduce bills. There are many possible tactics, including offering cash upfront for a lower bill.

An a new kind of business opportunity may be evolving: becoming a professional negotiator for medical bills. That could come out of the way debt collection companies operate. For medical bills, they often have separate staffs, which have to be trained in matters like HIPAA compliance. And collectors often have some discretion to reduce the balance due to settle, even though their employers may sometimes discourage it.

The news story was in the New York Times March 13, 2009, “Patient Money: Bargain Down the Medical Bills,” by Lesley Adlerman, link here.

Barbara Ehrenreich (Queen of the Left, maybe?) has written a lot about the abuse of the poor who became poor through medical debts. Her sharp-edged blog is here and on Oct. 8, 2008 she writes and entry called “The Communist Manifesto Hits 160”. Of course her literary rival Adam Shepard (who wrote a full-book answer to “Nickel and Dimed” called “Scratch Beginnings”) dealt with his own broken toe (from manual labor) with negotiation – a favorite word of Donald Trump, it turns out – even if his tactics came out of a gentler Stephen King. Ehrenreich’s classic piece is “Gouging the Poor” from The Progressive in Feb. 2004, here. Actually, Ehrenreich has an even louder entry (with shades of Johnathan Swift) on the Huffington Post, back in July 2008, “The Suicide Solution”, here. The piece focuses on foreclosures and credit card debt, but one of the comments (there are a lot) says, sarcastically, “Medical bills? Too bad. It's apparently your own fault for getting sick.”

It strikes me that, if we had single payer (Canadian style rather than British) and were used to it, universal health insurance wouldn’t be controversial, and it might even help out (even save!) our employers (most of all car companies) on an even keel with foreign competition that doesn’t have the same benefit structure. But there is no free lunch. We would face situations where we would delay or ration care if there weren’t enough blood family support. But hospitals and doctors and particularly debt collectors could stop acting mean. Gone would be the retort, “We’re bigger than you are.” Michael Moore (King of the Left), bring it on.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Swine flu outbreak in Texas, California

Reuters in Britain is reporting that seven people have been hit by a bizarre strain of swine influenza, in California and Texas, with some cases near the border.

The swine flu strain is H1N1, not H5N1 which corresponds to avian influenza. The swine flu appears to be spreading person-to-person and not from animals. April seems like a late time of year to report a flu outbreak.

The link is here.

The CDC says that work is already starting on a specific vaccine.

CDC’s page on Swine flu is here.

The 1976 swine flu scare, during President Ford’s administration, makes for interesting reading, which started after the death of a soldier at Fort Dix, NJ. The aggressive vaccination program led to some cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome. A typical summary "1976: Fear of a Great Plague" (by Paul Mickle, the Trentonian) is here.

Friday, CNN reported that CDC had matched the virus in the US to Mexico, where there have been 1000 cases and 68 deaths, with closings of public accommodations, link is here. There may be cases in New York. It's unclear how effective current vaccines or antiviral drugs will be.

April 25, 2009

CNN reports that the family of a Texas teenager was quarantined, here.

Here is a CNN video today on the problem.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Supreme Court weighs school searches, strengthens 4th Amendment in police car searches

Robert Barnes has two important stories (p. A3) about the Supreme Court in the Washington Post Wednesday April 22, 2009. One of them is a (Fourth Amendment) 5-4 ruling to strictly limit the ability of police to (without a warrant) search a car without warrant after a routine traffic stop or arrest, in the case Arizona v. Gant. The opinion at the Court’s site is here. The defendant had been arrested for driving on a suspended license and locked in a police car when officers found cocaine in his jacket. The ruling would limit the searches to circumstances where the suspect could reach for a weapon or destroy evidence. It’s not clear if this ruling could become a major impediment in fighting an increase in particularly violent crimes, sometimes associated with drug cartels and gangs. Police departments around the nation must be having to brief themselves on this ruling very suddenly.

The other story is what has attracted the most attention from the media. In 2003, Savana Redding, then 13, was searched in Safford Middle School on incorrect suspicion of possession of contraband, which in this case was apparently only patent medicines. She was so humiliated that she never returned to the school, and the parents sued the school district in her behalf.

In the oral arguments, the justices seemed to walk a real tightrope, according to media reports. How do you draw the line? Is there a principled difference between a strip search and a body cavity search? Does it matter if the suspected contraband is only aspirin or Rolaids instead of crystal meth? Does the school responsibility to act “in loco parentis” always give them the benefit of the doubt in protecting student safety in cases where circumstances lead to ambiguity? Teachers could face the same questions. We can also see these issues when on-line postings posted from home can (by students or teachers) can impact a school’s operation, discipline or even safety.

The link for Barnes’s story is here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Local DC area warning on measles

Public health officials have identified up to eight locations visited by people known to be exposed to measles. ABC Affiliate station WJLA in Washington DC has a detailed story here.

One of the persons involved might have gotten the virus in India.

Measles is normally prevented by a childhood vaccine.

I had measles in June 1950, just before my seventh birthday and second grade. My family was vacationing for a week in Ocean City, MD when I came down with the fever and rash half way through the visit.

Although second grade went well for me, in third grade I began having some subtle developmental problems which I have widely discussed elsewhere in these blogs. Measles is known to do subtle neurological damage, possibly more in male children.

The Centers for Disease Control has a page on the measles, here.

The measles vaccine first became available in 1963 and was vastly improved in 1968 (link here). Anyone with military service (particularly because of the draft) in that period was immunized against a wide variety of exotic infectious diseases (as well as measles by then), but the beneficial effect may have been to strengthen societal “herd immunity”.

One other aside: when I volunteered to be considered for an HIV-experimental vaccine in 1989 (I did not go through with it), tests found previous exposure to histoplasmosis while living in Texas. People are often exposed to exotic and potentially dangerous infections without developing symptoms.

Picture: Where the family stayed in most years Ocean City, MD in annual June visits from 1947 to 1960.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New York Times Magazine plays both sides of the "green lifestyle" issues: looking for moneyless utopia?

The New York Times Magazine, on Sunday April 19, 2009, offered several provocative pieces on the whole Green thing.

The main essay is “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” by Jon Gertner, p 36, link here. The upshot of things is that “brain belief” tends to be tactical, not strategic. It’s hard enough for adults (forget the kids) to see around corners, and people tend not to get much satisfaction out of things that don’t bring a payoff. “What have you done for me, lately?” used to be the mantra on Wall Street. There’s not much ado in buying a cloth bag and using at the supermarket, or going to the trouble to recycle bath water.

That get’s back to what sound almost like Amish values: adaptive fellowship should be a good thing, and too much individual efficiency is bad.

However, the leadoff, “singles hitter” article by Paul Bloom, “Natural happiness: the self-centered case for environmentalism,” p. 11, takes a different track. Urban, industrialized civilization is a novelty (and scary to Luddites). He writes “children are irrepressible taxonomizers, placing the world of distinct individuals based on their appearance” and goes on to say that this tendency to classifiy beings is hard-wired, a kind of brain immunity.

But the scariest part is by Jon Mooallen, “The End is Near! (Yay!) with a detailed journal of utopian plans around Sandpoint, Idaho. Is this a reversion back to survivalism, the talk of small town real estate, the moralistic condemnation of globalization and core competencies so inherent in a global market economy? It talks about a network of “satellite” communities, each with a specialty (and most of them are low tech, like woodworking). There is talk that all will come to an end with $300 a barrel oil in a couple years and our capitalist, interconnected life becomes impossible. (Even Donald Trump says that oil prices will ruin the country again.) It sounds like a sci-fi world that is ready to get rid of fiat money entirely and live on karma alone.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

EPA could get draconian powers of business, even individuals

The EPA has a major press release, covered in the media, “Proposed Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act”. The press release (here), starts with a charge based on a Supreme Court ruling on Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007. The actual opinion is still available at the Supreme Court’s website here. The EPA writes “he Court held that the Administrator must determine whether or not emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare, or whether the science is too uncertain to make a reasoned decision.”

However the Administrator has proposed that six specific gasses carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) represent a public health threat to current and future generations. The EPA calls this “The Endangerment Finding”.

Does this mean that some day the government can police the consumption habits of individual Americans? Not right away, but people said that back in the 1970s before Jimmy Carter took office, and it didn’t exactly happen. (Remember the time when 1981 was viewed as the end of time.)

This time the pressure on people to recognize “generativity” seems all the more pressing, because of some very “inconvenient truths.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wind and solar projects may cause "unacceptable" risk to wildlife

Juliet Eilperin and Steve Mufson have an important front page story in The Washington Post, April 16, “Renewable Energy's Environmental Paradox: Wind and Solar Projects May Carry Costs for Wildlife” link here.

We had already seen a story like this about a month ago with wind turbines and bats getting exploded by getting drawn toward them.

Wind and solar energy will take up enormous amounts of space, and preventing an impact on wildlife can become a daunting challenge. The story focuses on the SunZia line in New Mexico and Arizona. Similar issues with a proposed new line through the Virginia Piedmont.

A related event seems to be Presidential Signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s remarks are here.

The ability for us to remain “our way of life” will depend on how we manage this issue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Washington Post, ABC have big environmental stories today: many "green jobs" would be construction work, manual labor!

Today, Wednesday April 15, the Washington Post ran a special advertising supplement, section H, called “Environmental Leadership”, which I could not find online. There is a website Environmental Leadership Program, that does not seem to match this insert.

The Insert has some provocative articles, such as Gen. Charles F. Wald, USAF (Ret), and Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (Ret) “Climate Change Threatens National Security”. On p H2 there is an article by Ronald Bogle, President & CEO, American Architectural Foundation, “Planning for Sustainable Communities”. The focus in the article is much more about engineering for sustainability, by cutting down on fossil fuel use and capturing carbon, than by reorganizing society socially (as in the “End of Suburbia” movies).

Today Good Morning America interviewed the filmmakers of “The Greening of Southie” The ABC News link is titled “The Greening of the Work Force: New Movie Documents Construction of Boston's First Eco-Friendly Building”, by Roger Fortuna and Imaeyan Ibanga, link here. The story mentioned President Obama’s pledge to spend $150 billion in green jobs. The skills shown in the brief expert from the film tend to be that of skilled trade labor, particularly construction. Of course, it is these jobs that have been lost during the housing and real estate collapse.

The DVD can be ordered directly, but was not yet available on Amazon. I ordered it, I’ll check further when I get it, as to screenings and availability

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are prospective single mothers giving up on adoption?

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, the Washington Times Sunday Read, p. 4, offered the first of a two-part series by Cheryl Wetzstein, “Last days of adoption?: Choice for moms-to-be dwindling in America” link here.(The second part of the series will discuss embryo adoption.)

She says that the scenario of the popular movie “Juno” where a teen offers her baby for adoption (by a boy who everybody thought “didn’t have it in him”) to a well-to-do couple, doesn’t happen much in real life any more.

While abortion continues and single motherhood becomes socially acceptable (she maintains), it’s putting a baby up for adoption that has become, oddly, unacceptable.

Wetzstein maintains that there are many of websites that rail against infant adoption (including overseas, as in China), sometimes calling it a “barbaric practice”. Here is one example on blogger (link). Another one (referred to in a comment in the abovementioned blog) is “Twice Lost”.

Wetzstein then goes on to describe the difficult but ultimately right experience of a female college student who had to drop out of school for pregnancy and then gave the baby up for adoption.

The preventing pregnancy on the one hand, and need to maintain healthful reproduction and (the real point) real investment by adults in the next generation (so often pointed out by Phillip Longman and others) seems like two sides of a complex moral debate.

The same issue of the Sunday Read, on p 19, offers a curious short article “High self-esteem for kids a sham” by John Rosemond (who previously wrote in defense of "because I said so"), in his "Living with Children" column. Rosemond mentions the Amish, who describe a sin of “being prideful”. There was a whole industry of “feeling good about yourself” with hotel seminars and self-help tapes (often sold in multi-level marketing) back in the 1980s (during our “morning in America”). Rosemond seems to discount this style of thinking for grownups, too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Medical marijuana may finally become legally available in many states without federal intervention

Karl Vick has a compelling article on p A3 of the Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009 Washington Post, “In California, Medical Marijuana Laws Are Moving Pot into the Mainstream”, link here.

The story reports that Eric Holder, President Obama’s new Attorney General, has announced that the federal government will no longer go after California retail shops that sell prescription cannabis in accordance with California law. There are shops in Los Angeles and Oakland, and some rules regarding the way the shop is set up for “caregiving.”

CNN and 20/20 have reported federal harassment of growers in various rural parts of the state despite apparent compliance with state laws.

Twelve other states allow medical marijuana for prescription.

Drugwar facts lists the states: AK, CA, CO, HI, ME, MI, MT, NV, NM, OR, RI, VT, and WA. The link is here.

Patients repeatedly claim that marijuana is much more effective against the nausea of chemotherapy and for restoring appetite for patients with AIDS than are the universally legal alternatives.

The Libertarian Party has consistently stressed ending the “War on Drugs” going back to Harry Browne’s speeches in the 1990s.

Of course, the we have to ponder how the cartels really operate, and import and run gangs in the United States. But making it illegal creates the circularity and closes the circuit.

Picture: after a flood in Montgomery County, MD; no marijuana in the picture.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Do high-income students have advantages in the SAT? Should SAT count less?

The Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009 Washington Post (as part of the Magazine) has an article by Miranda S. Spivack on the “admissions gap”. Particularly this refers to the strong statistical correlation between family income and students’ S.A.T. scores.

The story title is “The Admissions Gap: Affluent students who can afford pricey SAT prep have an advantage when it comes to getting into college. But more educators are asking whether such exams are necessary,” link here.

The article discusses the Lerner family in Montgomery County, MD, (the printed magazine, available today to Post subscribers, has some family illustrations and the online link has the same images in a slide show) and then goes on to discuss the advantages that high income parents can confer. Some of this includes extra tutoring and retakes of the test (meaning that some colleges require all scores be submitted, to level the playing field) but some of it simply relates to better cognitive skills (literacy and grown-up subject matter and people) available in higher income homes.

Another important set of tests involved Advanced Placement (and IB) credits. AP tests often have a major free response section, with multiple-part problems based on some practical or laboratory situation or experiment. AP teachers often give practice exams. The multiple-part question approach suggests a way to teach physics and math: use practical situations that invoke “self-interest” or “team interest” that create practical problems to solve, where there will be retention because of practical interest. Sports could provide a lot of material. For example, in geometry a text of teacher could present problems based on the measurements of major league baseball stadiums, or (in physics class) the physics associated with predicting how long a forward pass stays in the air.

In his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture” Princeton professor David Callahan, toward the end of the book, discussed the enormous amount that some high income families can spend to give their kids advantages.

The article discusses Bowdoin College in Maine and its “readers” of applications. I recall that the college was often seen on student quiz shows even in the 1960s.

But academic achievement creates an enormous divide in our society, with lower income males in minority groups believing that it indicates tribal disloyalty. The culture of achievement comes through so clearly on “It’s Academic” (now in its 2009 finals) which has plenty of female and minority students appearing – yet it’s clear that all of them grew up in a culture that encouraged achievement.

I noted something amusing on today’s “Academic” and add for “” which said, “just don’t stay online too long.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Small investors might invest in TARP; SEC reconsiders short selling restrictions

Graham Bowley and Michael J. de la Merced report today (Thursday, April 9) in The New York Times that the Obama administration is considering a plan where the government offers “TARP” bonds to small investors in order to let them “profit” from the bailouts. The story is here and is titled “U.S. Plan May Enlist Small Investors in Bank Bailout”. The “patriotic” concept follows that of Liberty Bonds or War Bonds. Some big mutual funds like BlackRock are said to support the idea and stand to gain.

During the New York City financial crisis in 1975, the City offered “Big Mac” bonds.

Also, the SEC has requested public comment “on whether short sale price restrictions or circuit breaker restrictions should be imposed” in a press release (2009-76) dated April 8, 2009, link here.

The Treasury Department is also considering using bailout money for a number of life insurers, although apparently they would have to own “banks” receiving TARP to qualify. There is a concern that insurers will face ratings downgrades and will cause disruptions in the bond markets, particularly important to retirees. A number of major, household brand life insurers were listed. The April 8, 2009 New York Times story by Mary Walsh is “Questions over Bailout for Insurers,” here.

Anecdotally, I’m hearing that new life insurance agents are having an extremely hard time making it these days, that 90% wash out in three years or less. It’s hard to bother people to become leads.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lyme disease increases in DC area

Cases of Lyme disease are increasing in the Washington DC region, especially the suburbs, in a story in the Metro Section of the Washington Post today (April 8) by Ashley Halsey III, link here. The disease supposedly started in southern New England but has spread by ticks and deer around the East Coast. One major problem is that deer tend to run in suburban or at least exurban yards and farms. It reminds me of a time in the 1990s when, on a hike with some other people, we almost struck a deer on US 211 just after leaving Warrenton, VA when it jumped right onto the four lane highway.

The disease is treated with antibiotics like tetracycline, but requires long courses and tends to become stubborn. The long term symptoms include arthritic disease.

How many people will follow the "advice" of long sleeves and long pants everywhere, when biking, jogging, going to picnics? It's hardly realistic. You can't become a "pantywaste."

The newspaper article gives a diagram of the life cycle of the deer tick. It sounds like it came right out of high school biology class. Remember those tests when you had to describe a life cycle of an organism, or draw and label?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fathers should have their kids when they are younger, too; (it's not just about moms)

Lisa Belkin has an important story in New York Magazine, “Your Old Man” in “The Way We Live Now” series, that documents an Australian study showing that was men get older, they have more trouble conceiving and their children are more likely to have various neurological problems. These include lower IQ, autism, and schizophrenia.

There has already been a lot of work suggesting that the biological clock runs out quickly on women. But now it seems true for men, too. "Sperm germs" (as my father called them) tend to deteriorate. (My father was Jack Benny's 39 when I was conceived.)

The link is here. The story was featured on AOL today.

Cheryl Wetzstein had a column in the Sunday Read in the April 5 Washington Times, “Preemies struggle to become parents”, about a study in Norway. Her article closes with a quote of a certain Dr. Youngkin from the Fertility Center in Austin, TX. “Get good medical care and have babies early in life. Don't put it off.”

Update: April 13, 2009

On p A3 of the Washington Post, Rob Stein reports "A Possible Step Toward Setting the Biological Clock: Chinese Report Ability to Grow New Eggs in Female Mice", link here. The experiment challenges the idea that female mammals (including humans) are born with all the ova they will ever have, and could mean that fertility could be extended. The report will appear soon in Nature Cell Biology (apparently not online yet; will require subscription).

Update: April 27, 2009

Check this story by Vanessa Richmond from The Tyee, on Alternet, "Note to Nervous Would-Be Dads: Having Kids Doesn't Look 'Gay'", link here.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Will Obama drive the U.S. to real energy independence and low carbon emissions?

Steve Mufson has an essay on Outlook Section p B02 of the Washington Post, Sunday April 5, “Will Obama’s Revolution Deliver Energy Independence?,” link here.

Obama is saying that he’ll help citizens pay for the green revolution, Oprah (and Nate Berkus) style, weatherizing your home, and installing Thomas Friedman’s smart meters and Energy Internet.

And Obama has some teeth to pull of our skin and put it in the game. That consists of a Surpeme Court decision in 2007, that carbon dioxide qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. (See the Opinion here; the case was Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency) This would give the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions without waiting for Congress. “ClearSkiesTV” on March 5 talked about a “cap and dividend” system being proposed.

James E. Hansen has a paper, Dec 8, 2008, “Science-based inputs to carbon dioxide reduction strategies” presented at a briefing “A National Carbon Tax: Another Option for Carbon Pricing” here. He talks about a “carbon tax and 100% dividend”.

Another buzz word is "smart grid" which could give end consumers the ability to sell power back if they use it off-peak and generate it (with solar collectors) on-peak. There will also be a utility policy called "shareholder incentives" and pricing according to how consumers save as well as consume.

Why weren't we doing this the past few years instead of creating financial derivatives that blew up?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

VA school dropout rate is 9%; economy even hitting jobs in solar industries

Nearly 9% of high school students in Virginia had dropped out before graduating from the class of 2008, according to a story in the Metro Section today, April 1, 2009 by Maria Glod and Michael Birnbaum, in the Washington Post, link here. Alexandria had the highest dropout rate in northern Virginia (11%) and Loudoun County the lowest (3%). Repeated grades is often a warning sign of dropout, with many kids having trouble with the Ninth Grade.

When I went to high school (graduating in 1961), senior high school started with 10th grade, and 7th through 9th grades were “junior high school”. I remember that the maturity level seemed to improve substantially between 9th and 10th grades. Even so, for example, It’s Academic has occasionally had freshmen on its program, as young as 14.

I also remember, when subbing, that it appeared that racial tensions and gang activity were apparent in a few northern Virginia schools, but practically absent from others, depending on overall income level of the area. Such tensions could in a few extreme instances make it impossible for subs like me to function.

Fixing education with some sort of attention to the idea of “social contract” has become a top priority of the new Obama administration. Another priority is green, sustainable industries.

Nevertheless, in the later, a story by V. Dion Hayes from p A16 of today’s Washington Post does not bode well. BP Solar in Frederick Maryland has cut 140 jobs, despite idea that solar panels and their constituent silicon parts ought to be a reliable growth industry. It seems that the housing collapse is affecting the market for solar panels, even though there ought to be demand to put them existing homes. Also Osiris Therapeutics, a stem cell therapy research company announced sold some of itself to NuVasve, which would move operations elsewhere. The link for the story is here.