June 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Jerusalem apartment housing migrants firebombed (Harriet Sherwood, 6/04/12, guardian.co.uk)

An Eritrean woman stands with her daughter outside a Jerusalem apartment housing migrants which was set ablaze. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images
An apartment housing 10 Eritreans has been firebombed in Jerusalem, against the backdrop of rising anti-migrant sentiment in Israel.

Four of the occupants were taken to hospital suffering burns and smoke inhalation. Graffiti sprayed on the walls of the building said: "Get out of the neighbourhood." [...]

The attack in the early hours of Monday morning follows a series of firebombings in southern Tel Aviv - an area in which African migrants are concentrated - including apartments and a kindergarten. Shops run by or serving migrants were smashed up and looted in a violent demonstration last month, in which Africans were attacked.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Video: Dutch Artist Turns His Dead Cat Into a Flying Quadcopter ( Paul Adams, 06.04.2012, PopSci)

After Bart Jansen's cat Orville was killed by a car, the artist had the animal taxidermied and then, "after a period of mourning," converted the stuffed kitty into a radio-controlled quadcopter. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


9 great road-trip cars (CNN/Money, 6/04/12)

Ford Flex

The long, low Flex may not be the best-seller on Ford's lots, but it's not for lack of utility and style. Basically, it's like a minivan with a personality. Considering how much space there is inside, fuel economy is remarkably good.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Oil Output Soars as Iraq Retools (TIM ARANGO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, 6/03/12, NY Times)

Despite sectarian bombings and political gridlock, Iraq's crude oil production is soaring, providing a singular bright spot for the nation's future and relief for global oil markets as the West tightens sanctions on Iranian exports.

The increased flow and vital port improvements have produced a 20 percent jump in exports this year to nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, making Iraq one of the premier producers in OPEC for the first time in decades. [...]

For Iraq, the resurgence of oil, which it is already pumping at rates seen only once -- and briefly -- since Saddam Hussein took power in 1979, is vital to its postwar success. Oil provides more than 95 percent of the government's revenues, has enabled the building of roads and the expansion of social services, and has greatly strengthened the Shiite-led government's hand in this ethnically divided country.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Too Big for Comfort : Why we need to break up the banks. (James Pethokoukis, June 4, 2012, Weekly Standard)

[A]merica doesn't need 20 banks with combined assets equal to nearly 90 percent of the U.S. economy, or five mega-banks​--​JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs​--​with combined assets equal to almost 60 percent of national output, three times what they were in the 1990s. That amount of complexity and financial concentration​--​which has grown worse since the passage of Dodd-Frank​--​is a current and continuing threat to the health of the U.S. economy. [...]

So how do you (a) make the financial system more shockproof when the next economic earthquake hits, (b) reduce the likelihood of expensive taxpayer bailouts, and (c) ensure the banks themselves don't cause the next crisis? Hoenig, for one, would only allow banks to engage in traditional activities that are well understood and are based on long-term customer relationships so borrowers and lenders are on the same page: commercial banking, underwriting securities, and asset management services. Banks would be barred from broker-dealer activities, making markets in derivatives or securities, trading securities or derivatives for their own accounts or for customers, and sponsoring hedge funds or private equity funds. The result would be banks that are smaller, simpler, safer. Not only would they be less likely to spark financial crisis because management would know government might let them fail, the cost of failure to taxpayers would be less.

Of course, some will argue that we need large, complex financial institutions and that their very existence is proof of that. Who are the know-it-all breaker-uppers to say we don't? But that size and complexity is itself more a result of crony capitalism than of market forces. It's little wonder, then, that the preponderance of the evidence is that all the supposed benefits from supersized banks and their economies of scale are outweighed by the risks of disaster they generate. Take this 2011 study from the University of Minnesota: "Our calculations indicate that the cost to the economy as a whole due to increased systemic risk is of an order of magnitude larger than the potential benefits due to any economies of scale when banks are allowed to be large. .  .  . This suggests that the link between TBTF banks and financial crises needs to be broken. One way to achieve that is to break the largest banks into much smaller pieces."

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


SPIEGEL Interview with Daniel Kahneman: Debunking the Myth of Intuition : Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition. (Der Spiegel, 5/25/12)

SPIEGEL: Professor Kahneman, you've spent your entire professional life studying the snares in which human thought can become entrapped. For example, in your book, you describe how easy it is to increase a person's willingness to contribute money to the coffee fund.

Kahneman: You just have to make sure that the right picture is hanging above the cash box. If a pair of eyes is looking back at them from the wall, people will contribute twice as much as they do when the picture shows flowers. People who feel observed behave more morally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


New TVs have full browsers, new LED backlights, lower prices (Consumer Reports, May 25, 2012)

We keep hearing that this is the year that TV prices will rise. But based on the new 2012 models Consumer Reports has tested, it looks like prices are still falling, especially on step-up models with some key features--including 3D and Internet access.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


On foreign policy, Obama focuses on economic issues, not on Syrian turmoil (Scott Wilson, 6/03/12, Washington Post)

[I]n the furious aftermath of a massacre in Syria that resulted in the deaths of 108 civilians, most of them women and children, Obama has remained quiet. The reticence from a president who has made repairing America's moral leadership in the region a central premise of his administration, and who delivered a speech from the heart of the Arab world three years ago designed to do just that, has disturbed those pressing for stronger international response to the crisis.

"There was a time when this president looked for opportunities to put his imprint on world events," said Jon B. Alterman, the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He's doing less and less of that now, and the reason may have to do with the campaign."

...but wasn't the point of the Cairo teleprompt that Mr. Obama would not lead based on what was morally right, the way his Christianist predecessor had?  Silence on Syria is just Realism at its most abhorrent. (Which is why he'll be forced to intercede even if it's bad domestic politics.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Mass transit use jumps amid high gas prices (Steve Hargreaves, June 4, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Mass transit use jumped 5% in the first quarter of 2012, as high gas prices and a rebounding economy put more people on the bus and train.

Over 2.65 billion trips were made using trains, buses, ferries or street cars in the first quarter of 2012, according to the American Public Transportation Association. That's up from 2.5 billion trips in the same period last year.

The increase was one of the largest quarterly jumps on record, and comes on the heels of a 2011 ridership rate that was the second highest since 1957 -- when widespread use of the car and suburbanization began to turn many people away from mass transit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Pain Pills Add Cost and Delays to Job Injuries (BARRY MEIER, 6/03/12, NY Times)

Workers who received high doses of opioid painkillers to treat injuries like back strain stayed out of work three times longer than those with similar injuries who took lower doses, a 2008 study of claims by the California Workers Compensation Institute found. When medical care and disability payments are combined, the cost of a workplace injury is nine times higher when a strong narcotic like OxyContin is used than when a narcotic is not used, according to a 2010 analysis by Accident Fund Holdings, an insurer that operates in 18 states.

"What we see is an association between the greater use of opioids and delayed recovery from workplace injuries," said Alex Swedlow, the head of research at the California Workers Compensation Institute.

The use of narcotics to treat occupational injuries is part of a broader problem involving what many experts say is the excessive use of drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic. But workplace injuries are drawing particular interest because the drugs are widely prescribed to treat common problems like back pain, even though there is little evidence that they provide long-term benefits.

Along with causing drowsiness and lethargy, high doses of opioids can lead to addiction, and they can have other serious side effects, including fatal overdoses.

Between 2001 and 2008, narcotics prescriptions as a share of all drugs used to treat workplace injuries jumped 63 percent, according to insurance industry data. Costs have also soared.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Poll: Romney's favorable rating jumps, but Obama still more popular (CNN, 6/03/12)

According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday, Romney's favorable rating among Americans has jumped from 34% in February, during the heat of the divisive GOP presidential primaries, to 48% now.

He's making a good first impression.