Month: March 2013

The Cyprus surprise

Announced Friday night of course:

Final details being inked on #Cyprus bailout as we speak. Most significant measure: 9.9% levy on bank deposits over €100,000, says source.

That is from Peter Siegel.  (Addendum: and here is more information.)  I believe that is not the full deal (do depositors get some kind of equity claim?) and there is more information to come.  Elsewhere, all four games were drawn in the Candidates Match for the right to play against Anand for the world chess championship.  It will be interesting to see who makes the next move.

p.s. I don’t like to give investment advice (other than “diversify” and “buy and hold”), but if you have any deposits in Cyprus banks, I would recommend asking yourself whether you are sure that this is the final haircut or step one in a series.

*Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing*

The authors are Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman and the Amazon link is here.  If you’re like me, by this point you have “popular behavioral economics book” fatigue.  Still, I bought and read this one through.  It doesn’t fall into the “designed to erase all doubts” category, but still it has some interesting ideas which you won’t find in the other popular behavioral economics books.  I am glad I bought and read it.  Here is one bit:

…Fehr also noticed a difference between children who’s grown up as siblings and those who were only children.  Contrary to the presumption that only children are more selfish than children raised in larger families, Fehr found the onlies to be the more cooperative and selfless.  They were completely untroubled by handing over toys to another child, whereas the siblings flatly refused.  Fehr came to the conclusion that the onlies didn’t know to be competitive because they’d never had to compete…They weren’t afraid of sharing toys, because they didn’t understand if you gave Barbie to another child, she might come back missing her leg or head.

It is claimed that, between the ages of three and seven, siblings clash 3.5 times per hour, on average (unless you are in the Caplan household).

Here is another interesting section:

…one study of every single pitch thrown during the 2005/2006 Major League Baseball season — some 1, 374,923 pitches — showed that most MLB pitchers are secretly prevention-focused.  As they get closer to finishing out innings, their pitch locations become more conservative.  A similar study of over 2 million PGA tour putts showed that pro golfers tend to leave it short as the stakes and pressure rise.

Might this generation have less wealth?

A new study from the Urban Institute finds that Ms. Brady and her peers up to roughly age 40 have accrued less wealth than their parents did at the same age, even as the average wealth of Americans has doubled over the last quarter-century.

Because wealth compounds over long periods of time — a dollar saved 10 years ago is worth much more than a dollar saved today — young adults probably face less secure futures for decades down the road, and even shakier retirements.

“In this country, the expectation is that every generation does better than the previous generation,” said Signe-Mary McKernan, an author of the study. “This is no longer the case. This generation might have less.”

That is from Annie Lowrey.  I would note that some of these “future benefits” will be consumed in the form of health care, but still I think this is far from an efficient (or just) outcome.

China safety markets in everything

Chinese drivers hate to wear their safety belts. Instead, they wear specially designed clothing to pretend they are buckled up. But that won’t stop the seat-belt reminder lights and beeps, which are all extremely annoying.

It is possible to click the belt in the buckle behind your back but that is uncomfortable. It is also possible to fiddle with the electronics but that is difficult. Creative and innovative Chinese companies finally found an easy solution.


They are priced between fifty cents and $2.40.  Here is more, excellent photos too, and for the pointer I thank Michael Verdone.

Fiscal policy correction

In my earlier post on fiscal policy, there is a mistake on point #1.  I failed to correctly distinguish between “total return” and “rate of return per annum.”  As the post read, it referred to the latter when it should have referred to the former.  Apologies!  Sometimes when I am traveling I don’t get to give posts enough rereads and am then more prone to errors; that is an explanation but not an excuse.

*With Charity for All*

I am a fan of this book.  The author is Ken Stern and the subtitle is Why Charities are Failing and a Better Way to Give, with emphasis on the former I would say.  Here is one excerpt:

The CBO study and other reporting on the practices of charitable hospitals did in fact spur reforms efforts, including a proposal in Congress to require a minimum uncompensated care rate of 5 percent in return for tax-exempt status.  All the major proposals, however, have been beaten back, with reform advocates having to settle for greater public reporting obligations for charitable hospitals on the theory that greater transparency would ratchet up pressure for change.  It hasn’t worked.  A 2012 nationwide study found continuing low levels of uncompensated care, only 1.51 percent on average, a number less than half the profit margins for the same group of hospitals.

J. Coetzee writes to Paul Auster

From a letter:

Finally, a remark by Christopher Tietjens in Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End: that one goes to bed with a woman in order to be able to talk to her.  Implication: that turning a woman into a mistress is only a first step; the second step, turning her into a friend, is the one that matters; but being friends with a woman you haven’t slept with is in practice impossible because there is too much unspoken in the air.

That is from Here and Now Letters 2008-2011, by Auster and Coetzee.  That excerpt is from the first letter, and I will keep reading.

How do cardinals divine the will of God?

Here is an older 2004 paper from J.T. Toman (pdf):

In modern times, the College of Cardinals have been locked in the Sistine Chapel with the purported aim to divine the Will of God in the election of the Pope. Between 20 and 60 percent of cardinals vote for the same candidate throughout the conclave, depending on the length of the conclave.  For those cardinals that change their voting behavior, they are influenced by both the vote counts and the nightly conversations. However, in unifying the cardinals to one winner the dominant force is the observed vote counts.
There is a good summary of the paper here, and another recommended paper here.

For the pointer I thank Adriano.

Thwarted body part markets in everything

The Chicago-based nonprofit faces “the same challenge any business would have, whether I’m selling Hostess Twinkies or cadavers,” says Stephen Burnett, a professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

To stay ahead, the association wants to supply body parts to the FBI and launch new products, including its own plastinated bodies, says Mr. Dudek, 62, executive vice president since 2005. He draws on his entrepreneurial experience as a co-owner of an MRI center in the south suburbs, which he sold to join the association.

Originally known as the Demonstrator’s Society, the association has not changed its business plan since its founding in 1918. Bodies are donated, embalmed and transferred to institutions such as med schools, where dissection remains a rite of passage.

Reasons for donations vary. Some gifts are part of estate planning, while others are made by relatives who cannot afford funerals.

By law, bodies cannot be sold, although groups like the association can be paid for processing. Member med schools pay about $1,300 per cadaver; nonmembers pay $2,300.

Nationwide, there’s a shortage of cadavers, in part because of the rise in organ donation. Cadavers without their organs are not suitable for medical education, Mr. Dudek notes. The association needs about 425 bodies a year for its members but missed that mark in 2009 and has barely met it in three of the last six years.

And yet globalization and government may come to the rescue:

The Middle East, where the culture discourages body donations, could be a new market. Schools in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have recently expressed interest, he says. Law enforcement agencies also are prospects. Anatomical Gift is close to signing a contract to supply the FBI’s K-9 unit, which uses body parts to train dogs to find crime victims, he says. Limbs cost $570, plus $335 for HIV and hepatitis testing, since they are not embalmed, Mr. Dudek says. An FBI spokeswoman declines to comment.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank G. Patrick Lynch.

RSS bleg

Google Reader is shutting down in a few months, so what to do?  Your suggestions would be most welcome, please leave them in the comments.

A related question is which blogs will be harmed the most by this development, assuming that the #2 choice of reader isn’t as good.  Very old blogs may be reevaluated as choices to follow, since we all will have to fill out new feeds all over again.  Blogs which post not so frequently will be hurt too, in relative terms as well as absolute.  If you know a blog will post frequently, you simply might substitute into site visits.  This will also likely hurt blogs with a lot of ads, such as the Forbes blogs which I know, again speaking in relative as well as absolute terms.

Addendum: Here are comments from Matt.

Markets in everything

For the past year and a half, he has been running a business, the Frivolous Engineering Co., that sells kits to build the gadgets—enough of them that he no longer repairs soft-drink machines.

And what is this fine gentleman from Saskatchewan marketing the instruction kits for?

Invented in the 1950s by an artificial-intelligence expert, the device is known as the “useless machine.” It is typically a small box with an on/off switch and a hinged lid. Turn on the switch and a lever pops out, turns off the switch, then retreats. That is the machine’s sole purpose: You turn it on, and it turns itself off.

There are many kinds of the machines:

There are useless machines made of wood, Plexiglas and Lego parts. There is a very tall useless machine. One uses a furry paw to pop out and switch itself off. Another does it with a toy duck’s bill. There is a useless machine battling another useless machine, turning each other on and off, over and over.

Note that while some call it the “useless” machine, a’ la Turing others call it the “ultimate” machine.  The full article is here.