Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mental Health Break

"Pharmacological exercise"

"Batty" Sheikh sends luxury car to London for oil change

Apparently some unspecified sheikh shipped his Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 from Qatar to London (and back)… for an oil change. A mere bagatelle of a 6,500 mile round trip. The oil change and service cost cost £3,552 at the dealer, plus an additional £20,000 in freight to fly it to Britain and then back to Qatar. We are told, “The Murcielago LP640, a two-seater coupe, features in the latest Batman film The Dark Knight. Fittingly, the name of the vehicle means 'bat' in Spanish.”

OK, so let’s call this sheikh a little “batty.” The articles below also contain the fulminations of some environmental groups that are “outraged” at the sheikh’s “un-greenness” (or is it “non-greenness”?) Hey, this blogger is OK with this. First of all, sending the car didn’t really increase carbon emissions all that much. After all the flight would have happened with or without this cargo on it, so the sheikh only increased marginal carbon emissions (i.e. by the incremental amount of extra emissions that were produced by the airplane flying with the car vs. flying without it). Also think of all the people kept in business by the sheik’s profligacy – the cargo handlers at Heathrow, the workers at the dealer, etc., etc.

In fact, this blogger believes we should feel a little sorry for the sheikh! He’s been ripped off by the British dealer; GBP 3,552 (equal to USD 7,035) seems a little steep for an oil change! Also, what was he thinking, why did he send his car to London? Lamborghini is an Italian brand with the factory at Sant' Agata Bolognese, Italy. Why did he not send it to the factory? Perhaps Qatar Airways does not fly to Italy! And in actuality Lamborghini is owned by the German firm Audi AG, with headquarters in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Perhaps this oh-so-important sheikh should deal exclusively/directly with the bosses, rather than some British flunkies!! You can tell that this blogger is having fun with this story (sorry, couldn't help it...)

Sheikh sends luxury 'Batman' car to London for oil change
Sheikh flies Lamborghini 6,500 miles to Britain for oil change

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Modeling the medals

A number of groups have used models to attempt to predict the number of medals that will be won by countries at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ model the number of medals a country will win is significantly related to: a) the country’s population, b) its average income levels (as measured by per capita GDP at PPP exchange rates), c) whether the country was previously part of the former Soviet/communist bloc (including Cuba and China), d) whether the country is the host nation, and, e) the country’s medal share in the previous Olympic Games. Running their models PwC predicts that China will narrowly beat the USA for total number of medals (88 vs. 87)

The PwC prediction:

Economic Briefing Paper: Modeling Olympic performance
Scoop: découvrez le tableau des médailles des Jeux 2008

Another prediction:

Let's double-check the models predicted values against the actual totals once the Olympics are over!

Beep beep

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Housing Stories III

6-month change (to June 2008) in the no. of foreclosures per 1,000 housing units

In Housing Stories and Housing Stories II this blogger found many of the “sob stories” re folks’ housing woes that are appearing in the news to be unpersuasive and often the fault of the borrower. After perusing many more articles since, this blogger still finds very few examples where he agrees that the government should come to the rescue... A few links below:

The first link is the story of Diane McLeod. Let’s count the problems: First, while carrying $25,000 in credit card debt she thought it was a good idea to buy a house with no money down, via a loan that carried an early repayment penalty no less! Next she refinanced her house a year later to cash out all the appreciation to pay off the credit card debt – this incurred the early mortgage pre-payment penalty which she paid using retirement funds, which generated IRS penalties for early withdrawal, which she paid with her credit card! A second refinancing to eliminate new credit card debt… OK, so the illnesses were unfortunate, but while recuperating she ran up her credit card debt again. Bottom line: she never should have bought a house in the first place, complaining about fees and interest aside.

The second link has three sad stories of home loss. The first was precipitated by a divorce, in the second the people in question never could afford the house that was bought (more for sentimental reasons), and in the third a death, an injury, and a layoff. Nothing related to predatory lending or malfeasance, just garden-variety bad luck. It’s true that if the market had just continued to go up then they might have come out all right on selling their properties, but is it the government’s role to make sure that this happens? Or to bail out people when it doesn’t?

The third link speaks for itself. The fourth too – Mercedes, big SUV, big credit card debt, etc. The next link focuses on the effects that foreclosures have on children. Not much financial detail re the cases, but again divorce and ill health figure in many of the stories. The next article deals with the effect on pets, and here this blogger strongly feels that people who abandon their pets like this are lower than the low and deserve to be tracked down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The article has the line “Owners forced to sell their homes don't have many options… Suddenly, there's no room in their life anymore for a pet.” True, but leaving a pet tied to a dumped couch, locked up in an abandoned building, left running loose??? How about the local shelter, or get the pet euthanized?? Good grief!

The next article is about homes in Manatee, FL, where 45% of the foreclosures are on 2nd homes and not principal residences… Thomas Wilson apparently was surprised to find out at his closing that his monthly PITI would be $3,276 when he “had been told” that it would be $2,500. Give this blogger a break. First of all one receives information on payments and estimated closing costs in writing a couple of days prior to closing… Ah, “Wilson, who is not currently making payments on the loan, acknowledges that the couple should have looked at the loan documents more carefully.”I didn't read the papers," Wilson said” Second, why would anyone buying a half million dollar home not take the one or two minutes necessary to plug the numbers into any one of a million online mortgage calculators? Come on, how can someone be so cavalier with the largest expenditure they will make in their lifetime? Mr. Wilson generously says “I'm not trying to weasel out of anything. If I owe you $530,000 I'm going to pay it," says Wilson. "Make this loan work with $2,500 (payments) like you initially said. And everyone walks away a winner. If you can't do that, let us out." So, he’s ready to pay $2,500 a month... Hmm, then why is he “not currently making payments on the loan...”?

The bottom line: this blogger is happy for the government to intervene in case of clear fraud (but only if perpetrated without the borrower’s connivance); to render some assistance in cases of unexpected, catastrophic illness and/or a few other hard-luck cases; and definitely only for primary residences. However it is not the government’s job to protect people against their stupidity and/or greed, nor is it to underwrite people’s poor investment choices, nor is it the government’s role to guarantee that home prices continually rise so that people get to ride the gravy train!

Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Deeper Into Debt
3 Stories Of People Losing Their Homes As The Bubble
The Foreclosure Story: What does the Process Looks Like
The Foreclosure Story Number 2: $136K/Year Income to Foreclosure
Foreclosures' financial strains take toll on kids
Pets losing their homes too
Foreclosed dreams in Manatee

Stop The Housing Bailout!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mental Health Break

Les Captifs - l'esperance, la resignation, l'abattement, la revolte
(Musee du Louvre, Paris)

Martin van Den Bogaert, dit Desjardins. Provenent du piedestal de la statue de la place des Victoires, ces captifs representent les nations vaincues a la Paix de Nimegue (1679). Chacun exprime aussi un sentiment different dans l'epreuve de la captivite: la revolte, l'esperance, la resignation, l'abattement.

By Martin Van Den Bogaert, known as Desjardins. Taken from the pedestal of the statue in the Place des Victoires, these captives represent the defeated nations at the Treaty of Nijmegen (1679). Each expresses a different emotional reaction to captivity: revolt, hope, resignation, grief.

Four Captives also known as Four Defeated Nations

Hustling the hustler (lapsus linguae?)

While in Berlin Senator Obama briefly stopped by the Ritz Carlton gym to work out. As he was leaving the premises a young woman there asked him to pose with her for a photo, which he did. She turned out to be reporter for the German magazine Bild, who subsequently wrote a rather school-girly, breathless article… For example: “Hi, how’s it going?” asks Obama in his deep voice. My heart beats… Obama (with toned arms and a strong back) puts on his headphones… “My name’s Judith” I reply. “I’m Barack Obama, nice to meet you,” he says, and puts his arm across my shoulder. I put my arm around his hip, wow, he didn’t even sweat. WHAT A MAN! (sic)

Well this set off a mini brouhaha. And apparently embarassed Senator Obama. Spiegel reports that Senator Obama subsequently said, "She hustled us."

Well and good. However, and here’s where it gets unintentionally funny, Obama (speaking to Maureen Dowd) went on to liken his experience in the Berlin gym with a scene from the movie ‘The Color of Money.’ Obama said, "Do you remember 'The Color of Money' with Paul Newman? And Forest Whitaker is sort of sitting there, acting like he doesn't know how to play pool. And then he hustles the hustler."

I worked out with Obama!
Obama Felt 'Hustled' by German Journalist

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beautiful hospitals

Hospital construction continues apace across the United States. Newer hospitals increasingly concentrate on design and in incorporating features to make hospitals more like hotels or homes, all in an admirable effort to provide comfortable, attractive, and healing environments.

Having toured several new hospitals and facilities, either just opened or in the final stages of construction, this blogger has to admit that they are beautiful and nothing like the “older” facilities out there. Antiseptic, institutional colors have been replaced by warm hues, seating which was once plastic or some other industrial fabric now looks to be replaced by high-end furniture that would not look out of place in one’s living room, fluorescent tube lighting has been replaced by chandeliers and hanging incandescent lamps, etc., etc. Multi-story atriums full of glass, hanging mobiles, plants, and artwork proliferate…

No doubt the architects and designers follow all the applicable rules and guidelines and use newer and better materials than in the past, but this blogger has to wonder how much time they spend considering the cleaning and upkeep needs of their designs. After all, once opened, it is the facilities’ environmental services staff that will have to keep the facility clean thereafter. Nice architectural touches such as hanging lights, artwork, “false” ceilings, plants, walls that are not plain but have patterns and crevices carved into them, etc. all are potential repositories for dirt and dust, that will need regular cleaning. Accessing the atriums’ hanging items to clean them will require the services of a “cherry picker”, keeping the vast expanses of glass clean requires a lot of work, carpeted floors are harder to keep up (e.g. if someone vomits), etc., etc... Add it all up and it seems that the environmental services burden ends up significantly higher and perhaps design should take this more into account

Tour de France 2008

The 95th Tour de France, 2008 drew to a close today. Running 23 days from Saturday July 5th to Sunday July 27th, consisting of 21 stages with 2(!) rest days (10 “flat” stages, 5 mountain stages, 4 medium mountain stages, and 2 time trials), with twenty teams each of nine riders, for a total distance of 3,000.5 kilometers. Won in a total time of 87 hours 52 minutes and 52 seconds by Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), with Cadel Evans in second place (+ 58 seconds), and Bernhard Kohl in third (+ one minute and 13 seconds). Such are the razor-thin margins separating one from "la gloire" and the top step on the podium...

Just thinking about the scale of this endeavor hurts this blogger e.g. see the profile of stage 17 (Embrun to L’Alpe-d’Huez) below. Congratulations are due to all 145 riders who completed the tour.

Le maillot jaune – Carlos Sastre (overall winner)
Le maillot vert – Oscar Freire (points winner)
Le maillot blanc à pois rouges – Bernhard Kohl (best climber)
Le maillot blanc – Andy Schleck (best young rider)
Team Winner – Team CSC Saxo Bank (top three riders’ cumulative time)

Site officiel du Tour de France 2008
Carlos Sastre
Carlos Sastre - Wikipedia

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mental Health Break

Berne, CH

"There are well over 100 fountains in Bern. 11 of them to this day feature the original statues with their beautiful allegorical figures. These fountains - Gerechtigkeit (Justice), Chindlifresser (Ogre), Zähringen and many more - dating from the 16th century bear testimony to the wealth of the bourgeoisie at that time."

City of Fountains


Ah, those wacky Iranians... Paranoid that the U.S. is going to attack them. One wonders why...

Regional map showing U.S. military bases

And the sublime...

10 Most Impressive Photos of our Universe

Grotesque too...

Setting aside the facts of the case and its history, DNA from the crime exists and is available for testing. For what possible reason would the Alabama Governor resist having the DNA testing done? If it comes back a match he gets to say "I told you so" and continue with the execution. If it does not then he avoids the judicial 'murder' of an innocent (only of this crime) man. Apparently he would rather risk the latter...

No doubt, at the end of the day the good governor goes home, kisses his wife and children, pats his dog, says his prayers before going to bed, etc., a "good" and "just" man, and upstanding member of the community! It is examples like this that makes this blogger hope that there is a hell for this person to wake up in (should he be wrong).

Despite Doubts, Alabama Man Faces Execution
An Easy Death Penalty Decision for Alabama's Governor Bob Riley


Click on the link to see larger versions...

Please see "A Tiny Piece of What Was Lost" at, which has a photograph of the Paghman Gardens in Kabul, Afghanistan taken in 1967, as well as what it became subsequently - a wasteland.

Paghman Gardens - Wikipedia

Mental Health Break

Friday, July 25, 2008

More about walls...

Senator Obama's Berlin speech also contained the following: "... Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together..." Hmm, if he read this humble blog he would know that this is not so, Belfast's "peace walls" are still expanding ten years after the Good Friday agreement and the end of the violence...

Obama's Speech in Berlin
"Peace Walls" - OBO May 6th
Memo to Barack Obama: no walls have 'come down' in Belfast

Pictures below: Berlin wall (down), Belfast peace wall (still up), West Bank "separation barrier" (up)

RSF & the Beijing Olympics

The organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) calls for a boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Nice riff on the Olympic rings!

The walls that separate us

“That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”
- Senator Obama, in Berlin at the Siegessäule

This blogger wonders if the “separation barrier” was included in the recitation above, but thinks probably not. While on his trip to Israel Senator Obama was driven past (note: the articles says “past” as opposed to “through”) an Israeli checkpoint into Ramallah on the West Bank to meet that “man of peace despite his Qassams” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However, while on this obligatory (for U.S. politicians) trip to swear fealty he did not take the opportunity to opine on the separation barrier

NYT: Obama's Speech in Berlin
Obama tells Israel he's committed to its security

In Memoriam - Townsend Harris

Many know of Commodore Perry (and his "black ships") who ended Jpanese isolationism... However, it was Townsend Harris who was invited to the court of the 13th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Iesada, where he negotiated the Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between the United States and Japan, signed July 29, 1858, and subsequently ratified by the United States Senate that December. Every year a delegation from Shimoda, Japan (where he landed) visits his grave in Brooklyn.

Honoring a Man Who Helped Open Japan to the West
Townsend Harris - Wikipedia
The 150th anniversary of Townsend Harris' arrival in Japan

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac

In report after report this blogger has been hearing about how the recent problems with Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are dreadful, simply dreadful, because there has been “privatization of gain and a socialization of loss.” Visions of fat cats making out like bandits while the poor taxpayer is stuck with any and all loss dance through the air. Well, maybe not.

Consider the fat cat who purchased one hundred thousand shares of FNM on January 1st, 2005 at $71.21 a share. Cost $7.121 million (ignoring any commission costs). The aforementioned fat cat holds his shares until today, July 24th, 2008. In that time period FNM pays dividends sixteen times, said dividends ranging from 10 cents to 50 cents a share, for a grand total of $482,000 in dividends. At close of day July 24th FNM is worth $12.02 per share and the fat cat has lost over $6.4 million ($7.121 million + $482,000 - $1.202 = $6.401 million). As he sorrowfully sits by the radio, he hears with bemusement how Fannie Mae has privatized gain and socialized loss.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Better the second time around

Well Said?!? dated April 17th parsed Pope Benedict’s U.S. apology for clerical sexual abuse of minors and found it less than optimal. Last week the Pope issued another apology, this time while visiting Australia. It was a much better apology, without the hedging in his previous effort.

Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. Indeed I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain and have damaged the Church's witness.

I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil. Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice. It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people. In these days marked by the celebration of World Youth Day, we are reminded of how precious a treasure has been entrusted to us in our young people, and how great a part of the Church's mission in this country has been dedicated to their education and care.

As the Church in Australia continues, in the spirit of the Gospel, to address effectively this serious pastoral challenge, I join you in praying that this time of purification will bring about healing, reconciliation and ever greater fidelity to the moral demands of the Gospel.

I wish now to turn to the seminarians and young religious in our midst, with a special word of affection and encouragement. Dear friends: with great generosity you have set out on a particular path of consecration, grounded in your Baptism and undertaken in response to the Lord's personal call. You have committed
yourselves, in different ways, to accepting Christ's invitation to follow him, to leave all behind, and to devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness and the service of his people. "

Even so, some were not satisfied... "Anthony Foster, the father of two Australian girls who were allegedly raped by a Catholic priest as children, has been publicly seeking a meeting with Benedict during his visit. He said he was disappointed the pope's remarks repeated the church's expressions of regret but offered no practical assistance for victims. "What we haven't had is an unequivocal, unlimited practical response that provides for all the victims for their lifetime," he said. "The practical response needs to include both financial help ... and psychological help."

Full text of pope's sex abuse apology
Pope apologizes for clergy sexual abuse

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

1,600 year-old Codex

A 1,600 year-old bible will be photographed and the resulting high-resolution pictures put online over the rest of this year. The Codex Sinaiticus contains the oldest complete version of the New Testament...

Codex Sinaiticus
Ancient Bible to Go Online

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Unintended consequences

The good news: following the global ban on chlorofluorocarbons stratospheric ozone levels are recovering and the ozone hole over the south pole is shrinking... The bad news: this may warm the area and accelerate the melting of the Antarctic ice cap....

Antarctic Warming Recovery of Ozone Hole May Increase

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not all bad

It turns out that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori which is present in the human stomach and gut (and can cause ulcers) might have some positive effects and not be all bad. A study has shown that there is an inverse relationship between the disappearance of H. pylori in children in the U.S. and the increase in childhood asthma, GERD (gastric reflux), hay fever, and allergies. OK, so this is correlation and not necessarily causation, but it opens up possible avenues for further research.

It also shows that the complexity of the interactions between our bodies and the host of bacteria we carry around with us. Colonization of our bodies begins immediately at birth, and an estimated ninety percent of the cells in an average person’s body are bacteria (an estimated 90-100 trillion cells, and perhaps two to nine pounds of body weight). These bacteria have positive as well as negative effects - positive effects include the synthesis of vitamins, stimulation of the production of natural antibodies, and by their presence protection from other pathogens, while negative effects include disease, etc. The interactions are complex and not that well understood. Amazing stuff!

Ulcer bacteria may protect from asthma
Stomach Bug May Ward Off Asthma
Of microbes and men
Helicobacter Pylori - Wikipedia

Your Body Is a Planet
The Bacterial Flora of Humans
Bacteria and Human Body Weight