Monthly Archives: September 2012

Weekend music: Emma by Carly Rhiannon (@carlyrhiannon)

Luminous and ethereal.

Carly’s EP, “The Cure for Growing Older” can be purchased at iTunes. She’s an independent artist, so put cancel that afternoon coffee run and get this instead. 🙂


More on Carly can be found at her website.

Emma – Carly Rhiannon – YouTube


The biggest thing that happened last week is QE3. Here’s what it is, and what it means for the future

Ezra Klein does a good job about explaining QE3 (Here’s why everyone is so excited about what the Fed did yesterday). So much so that I think you should go read it (if for no other reason, you will now know what QE3 is.)

What he does leave out is something I don’t think alot of people are talking about, and that is that the U.S. Federal Reserve is exercising new approaches to affecting the economy. I think QE3 will be either be successful or at the very least, not unsuccessful. While being successful is important now, what is just as important is that in the future, the Fed (and other central banks around the world) will have a precedent for doing the same thing again. And that is a good thing.

The head of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, should have done this along time ago. I think partly he did not because of push back and fears of what this might do. But now the precedent has been set, it will not be as hard to do again in the future.

And that’s a good thing.

Happy Birthday, John Coltrane.

John Coltrane, one of the great musicians of the 20th century, was born on this day. There’s a wealth of video on YouTube you can watch to get a sense of his greatness, including this (John Coltrane – My Favorite Things Live 1965 – YouTube)

You can watch him on YouTube, but better still, go and buy some of his music.



More on life expectancy falling in the U.S. and where it is falling

This map was taken from here: Where life expectancy is falling (in one map). Key quote:

The areas are by and large rural and lower income. They also tend to be areas with fewer doctors, likely meaning less access to the health care resources available elsewhere in the country.

I would be interested to know obesity rates and smoking rates in these areas. Also it is noteworthy that it is concentrated in the South of the U.S. I don’t know if there is a cultural element coming in there (and it would likely be hard to measure, especially compared to concrete things such as obesity, exercise rates, smoking, etc.).

Regardless, it’s not good.

P.S. Obesity rates are here and they overlap to a great degree.

Enrico Nagel and the Tragically Hip and the Xerox machine

I came across these great portraits of Enrico Nagel, like this one:

via Andrew Sullivan’s blog. I wanted to know more, and I clicked through to this link, Flavorwire » Enrico Nagel’s Delightfully Strange Scanner Portraits. I recommend you do too: there’s lots of great portraiture there.

It put me in mind of this cover art from the Tragically Hip from 1992, for the album, Fully Completely

The album came with art similar to Nagel’s. Both are really good. The Hip has the benefit of coming with great music too. 🙂

This is inexcusable: life expectancy rates are declining in the U.S.

While there is a focus here on white Americans, Life Expectancy for Less Educated Whites in U.S. Is Shrinking –, the fact that life expectancy for ANY group in the U.S. is inexcusable. Women in particular have been hit hard. Key quote:

The five-year decline for white women rivals the catastrophic seven-year drop for Russian men in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity in London.

It’s not a small thing: it’s comparable to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

American society as a whole is suffering badly. This is a key indicator of it, and a signifigant sign more dramatic changes need to occur.

Friday Night Music: “Billie Jean”, The Civil Wars


The Civil Wars – Billie Jean (Michael Jackson Cover) – YouTube

Why is U.S. election is going to result in a big shift in polling

One reason: cell phones. As this article shows, Obama’s Lead Looks Stronger in Polls That Include Cellphones –, there is a big difference in polls that use cell phones in their mix and those that do not.

I think the ones that that include cell phones show better results. If they do, I also expect the ones that do not include cell phones will change their methodology soon. Or go out of business.


Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs and… socialist

He jokes he is not a socialist, but read his comments in this article, Lloyd Blankfein’s ‘socialist’ moment – The Globe and Mail. Such comments can easily get you labelled “socialist” in large parts of Western countries. For example, some of things attributed to him in the article are:

The U.S. economy does not do a good enough job of distributing wealth fairly. The U.S. government needs to keep spending. Investment banks must accept more regulation. Oh, and bankers should be prepared for the criticism that comes with having been at the centre of the financial crisis.

Such declarations aren’t coming from Barack Obama or an Occupy Wall Street protester – they’re from Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Well worth a read.

If Tolstoy can learn to ride a bike at 67, you can still learn things too.

It helps to be reminded from time to time that it is never too late to learn new things and discover new passions. In this article, How Tolstoy Learned to Ride a Bike, and Other Tales of Late-Life Learning –, Chales Wilson provides a number of examples of late learners, from Toystoy to Eisenhower to Marie Curie. In Toystoy’s case

The author of “War and Peace” took his first bicycling lesson at age 67, only a month after the death of his 7-year-old son, Vanichka. He was still grieving, and the Moscow Society of Velocipede-Lovers provided him a free bike and instruction along the garden paths on his estate. He became a devotee, taking rides after his morning chores. “Count Leo Tolstoy . . . now rides the wheel,” declared Scientific American in 1896, “much to the astonishment of the peasants on his estate.”

We can rebuild you: the progress in growing new organs

This is amazing: Scientists Make Progress in Tailor-Made Organs – It’s still in the early stages, and it is possible that the more complex organs will not be that easy to grow (e.g. parts of the brain). It’s worth reading, as well as worth thinking about.

There may come a time when people get their organs changed like they were shoes or tires on cars. When the difference between rich and poor will depend on the ability to swap out organs.

The future is here, all around us, happening while we look elsewhere.


Friday Night Music: “I want you back”, past and present

This week the great Janelle Monáe was in Toronto and among other numbers, she performed this classic:

Janelle Monáe – I Want You Back, Live @ the Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2011 – YouTube

I love love love her, but this is a version….well, it’s a bit too fast.(Still great though.) To see what I mean, here’s the ultimate version, performed by the Jacksons themselves, on Soul Train, no less:

Michael Jackson with The Jackson 5 on Soul Train I Want You Back – YouTube

Eiher way, it is an exceptional song.

Bonus: if you, like I, think this is one of the great songs of the 20th century, let the young ones you know listen to this:

Chances are they know this show, and they will groove to this version. And if they do, your work is done.

Victorious I Want You Back Music Video HD with lyrics – YouTube

The most remarkable story no one is talking about: the recovery of AIG due to TARP

This is a great success story that few are talking about. AIG could have gone under during the financial crisis of 2008, and if it had, it had the potential of taking down the global economy. Instead, it was rescued by TARP. Not only was it rescued, but the American government is going to make a profit from it and sell off most of their shares. Key take aways from this Globe and Mail story:

It’s not easy to celebrate the anniversary of the financial meltdown. American International Group, however, is providing reason for a muted cheer. Uncle Sam is ceding control of the giant insurer four years after a rescue that eventually put taxpayers on the hook for $182-billion (U.S.). The planned sale of AIG shares should net a profit, too. But exuberant political messaging would create the wrong impression about bailouts…..

Over the weekend, the U.S. Treasury said it could sell as much as $20.7-billion of its AIG common shares if underwriters exercise an overallotment option. That would slash the government’s stake to 15 per cent from the current 53 per cent – and 92 per cent in the aftermath of the crisis. Given the horror show AIG was, it’s a turnaround nearly impossible to have foreseen at the end of 2008.

It seems to me whoever wrote this article has gone out of their way to downplay the success of this. Ignore the tone of the article: this is a big success.

It is a shame it is not going to get touted more, but it won’t. The Republicans hate TARP and would hate even more to play up the success of it. And the Democrats don’t want to be associated with bailing out a Wall Street firm as big and terrible as AIG.

Still, this is remarkable.

A tale of two Brooklyns (some thoughts)

There’s been a number of people (see articles Brooklyn Is the Second Most Expensive Place to Live in the U.S. | Observer and Brooklyn is No Longer the “Budget-Savvy” Alternative to Manhattan – New York – News – Runnin’ Scared) commenting on the report from the Council for Community and Economic Research that shows that Brooklyn is the second most expensive place to live in the U.S. (Manhattan is number 1). I joked that this is good news for Queens, but apparently it is number 5. 

Some thoughts on this. One, this is a tale of two Brooklyns. Sure, some parts of Brooklyn are very expensive, but other parts are not. New York has always been about rich and poor neighborhoods as long as I can recall. Once it seemed like outsiders only talked about the neighborhoods of Manhattan, but now this has expanded to Brooklyn. And Brooklyn has many neighborhoods, from Williamsburg and Greenpoint and Park Slope (the trendy ones) to Canarsie and Flatbush and Brownsville (the less trendy ones). If Mayor Bloomberg is successful in leading the charge of making New York a center for development and growth of new businesses, I suspect even the less trendy neighborhoods will start to become hip destinations and they too will become more gentrified and expensive.

Two, this problem of Brooklyn (or at least parts of it) becoming trendy and expensive is a good problem to have. Cities like Detroit would love to have this problem. It is not a problem anyone would have anticipated in the mid 70s when New York almost went bankrupt (What Happens When City Hall Goes Bankrupt? : NPR). It says something of the health of New York that it is such a mecca for people to want to go there and live there, in spite of the costs.

Three: the division of New York into boroughs for this study is a bit disingenous. New York City is expensive. If Manhattan is first, Brooklyn is second, and Queens is fifth, it seems to me this is as much a nature of that large metropolis as it is the nature of the individual boroughs. If Manhattan was first and Buffalo was second, and the other boroughts way down the list, that would be one thing. But the New York boroughs share many things that makes all of them will expensive (e.g., infrastructure). I don’t know where the Bronx and Staten Island were on that list, but I suspect they would be up there too. Dividing the boroughs up is artificial. What it really highlights is that it is tough to have your cake (live well in NYC) and eat it too (live cheaply).

Friday Night Music: Mick Jones performs Should I stay or should I go? at the Rock and Roll Public Library

No big deal, just a music legend, with a guitar, in the stacks, having a beer, and performing one of the greatest hits by one of the best bands of the 20th century, bar none.

Mick Jones sings ‘Should I stay or should I go? at the Rock and Roll Public Library – YouTube

On the U.S. Presidential Election: speeches are great, but it’s the numbers that matter

Speeches are great. They get people excited and give them something to talk about. Conventions are grand and theatrical. It’s not suprising that they get alot of attention.

Elections, however, are about numbers. Here are two sets of them.

The first set comes from the great FiveThirtyEight Blog on the, run by Nate Silver. Right now, Silver has the probabiliy of Obama winning at 74.8%. That could change of course, but right now it is very strongly in Obama’s favour.

Here’s another set of numbers from the blog The Mischiefs of Faction.

What it shows is that Obama’s campaign has a much better ground game in the swing states. Perhaps Romney can win overcome this, though that seems unlikely in a supposedly close election.

In short, right now Obama is more popular in the swing states and he has a better ground game in those states.

Of course the election is many weeks away. But I am trying to see how Romney wins this, and right now the only way I see it is if something suddenly goes horribly wrong with the economy. Let’s see.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for a pointer to this second blog.)


Why software licence agreements may be behind the legal issue with regards to Bruce Willis owning his iTunes library

According to Forbes, Bruce Willis may be suing Apple over his right  to bequeath his iTunes library.. A key quote from the article is this:

…under iTunes’ current terms and conditions, customers essentially only ‘borrow’ tracks rather than owning them outright. So any music library amassed like that would be worthless when the owner dies.

This restriction may seem ridiculous to alot of people, but I have often seen it as something in the terms and conditions (Ts and Cs) for software. For software, the Ts and Cs will sometimes state that you are actually purchasing a license to use the software: you are not purchasing the actual software. For the purchasers, this doesn’t matter too much: no one is going to bequeath their old copies of DOS or Lotus 1-2-3 to anyone in their will, and the software companies likely aren’t going to try to prevent you from doing it if you do.

I am speculating that the same legal Ts and Cs that were used for software migrated over to music. The problem, of course, is that music is much more personal and has a much longer shelf life than software. The same too goes for digital books and any other digital material that comes up in the future.

I expect this will become a much bigger legal issue soon. I also recommend anyone selling digital media start thinking long term and how that could affect their company over time.

News you can use: the recipes for the home brews of the White House

What’s this? Why it’s one of the recipes for a beer they brew at the White House! There’s also an ale, but I am partial to porters so I have included this one:

However you can get the recipe for the ale, as well as further details on how they make it, here: Ale to the Chief: White House Beer Recipe | The White House.


Another number (besides the unemployment figures) to look at when it comes to the upcoming U.S. elections

Is this one: real disposable personal income (as shown in this graph).

As you can see, it has recovered almost to the peak of where it was just before the start of the Great Recession. What this means is that while people will say the economy is still bad, what they are able to save or purchase has recovered signifigantly in the last four years. I think that may make them less resistant to changing government than political analysts may think based on other numbers (like the unemployment rate). Time will tell soon enough.

P.S. I got this from Matt Yglesias ( who wrote about it in the context of the Bush signs stimulus bill of 2008.That stimulus accounts for spike in 2008. Then the Great Recession strikes and things drop dramatically. This was followed by further stimulus, including payroll tax cuts.

Graph: Real Disposable Personal Income (DSPIC96) – FRED – St. Louis Fed

How to see the World — and now, New York – through a collection of objects

First the BBC produced A History of the World. Now it looks like New York is following suit with A History of New York in 50 Objects.

Here’s hoping that other places follow through. (Hey, CBC, can you get on that? :))

It is a fascinating way to study history. I have the book that accompanies the BBC series and it is very good.

The history of lard is fascinating (and why you should use it)

What happened to lard? You can still find it: I recently found it on the very top shelf in the grocery store I was in. But try finding a recent recipe with it as an ingredient: I haven’t seen one in ages.

Why this is can be seen in this fascinating history on lard, here: Who Killed Lard? : Planet Money : NPR. As you can see, quite a few things combined to displace lard from the pantries of North America.

Now if you want to try it again – and if you make pie crusts, you must give it a try — here’s a recipe to get you started: – Recipe – Lard Pie Crust. Enjoy!

On Paul Ryan and the sub 3 hour marathon

Originally Paul Ryan was on record as saying he’s run a sub-3:00 marathon.

There was investigation done and Ryan backtracked and said, no, it wasn’t sub 3, rather it was more like a 4 hour marathon. (How Fast Can Paul Ryan Run a Marathon? : The New Yorker).

As his excuse, he said it was 20 years ago. It just so happens I ran my first marathon 20 years ago and it was around 3:47. Since that time I’ve run a number of marathons and half marathons, with the fast marathon time being around 3:24 and the the fast half marathon time being around 90 minutes.

In my opinion, it is easy to make a mistake and be off by a few minutes, but I can’t conceive of being off by an hour. Indeed, Ryan said he ran a two hour, fifty something, so he was talking as if he recalled.

Furthermore, the difference between a 4 hour marathon and a 3 hour marathon is huge in terms of fitness.  Even the difference between a 3 hour marathon and a 2 hour and 50 minute marathon. Go to a marathon sometime and look at the people lined up at the 3 hour mark versus the 4 hour mark: the 3 hour people all look like they have been running along time (because they have).

There’s nothing wrong with running a four hour marathon. In fact, I suspect it is a fairly typical time for alot of first timers. I think it is great whenever anyone tries and succeeds to run their first marathon race.

I think it is less than great to boast 20 years later that you ran it in under 3 hours, though. It’s almost as bad as cheating. Maybe Paul Ryan wants to be the male version of Rosie Ruiz.

Whatever drove him to do this is something to watch for, since it might come up in other, more important, instances.