The brains of children from low-income families process information differently to those of their wealthier counterparts, US research suggests.
Normal nine and 10-year-olds from rich and poor backgrounds had differing electrical activity in a part of the brain linked to problem solving.
The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience study was described as a "wake-up call" about the impact of deprivation.
A UK researcher said it could shed light on early brain development.
The 26 children in the study, conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, were measured using an electroencephalograph (EEG), which measured activity in the "prefrontal cortex" of the brain.
Half were from low income homes, and half from high income families.
During the test, an image the children had not been briefed to expect was flashed onto a screen, and their brain responses were measured.
Those from lower income families showed a lower prefrontal cortex response to it than those from wealthier households.
Dr Mark Kishiyama, one of the researchers, said: "The low socioeconomic kids were not detecting or processing the visual stimuli as well - they were not getting that extra boost from the prefrontal cortex."
Since the children were, in health terms, normal in every way, the researchers suspected that "stressful environments" created by low socioeconomic status might be to blame.
Previous studies have suggested that children in low-income families are spoken to far less - on average hearing 30 million fewer words by the age of four.
Professor Thomas Boyce, another of the researchers, said that talking more to children could boost prefrontal cortex development.
"We are certainly not blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids - there are probably a zillion reasons why that happens."
His colleague, Professor Robert Knight, added: "This is a wake-up call - it's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status."
He said that with "proper intervention and training", improvements could be made, even in older children.
Dr Emese Nagy, from the University of Dundee, said that it was a "pioneering" study which could aid understanding of how environment could affect brain development.
She said: "Children who grow up in a different environment may have very different early experiences, and may process information differently than children from a different environment.
"The study showed that low socioeconomic status children behaved exactly the same way as high socioeconomic status children, but their brain processed the information differently."
December 6, 2008
December 4, 2008
See, home prices got too high, causing a worldwide economic crisis, so the obvious solution is to make them high again! It's kind of like if you are a manic-depressive pyromaniac and if during your latest manic phrase you made a bonfire out of all your money just to see the pretty flames burn high into the night. And now you are feeling really depressed, what with being broke and all, so the government is going to give you some more money to set fire to, plus a Zippo lighter, so you can feel happy again for awhile.
Henry George is rolling over in his grave -- investing in land (which is what "housing" is -- you have a very large consumer durable sitting on land), investing in land is not like investing in a manufacturing plant. As the real estate agents have been trying their best to make clear to us forever: land, they ain't making anymore of it. Investing more money in, say, nuclear power gets us more nuclear power. Investing more money in land doesn't get us anymore land.
Still, you can see the Carnaval in Rio logic to this idea. After all, the U.S. government has plenty of money, at least in that Housing Bubble Era definition of "has" -- "can currently borrow lots of money." Everybody in the world is parking their money in U.S. Treasury bills right now because that seems like the safest place at the moment, what with the U.S. having the most ICBMS and carrier groups and what not.
Dr. Housing Bubble, however, asks what happens afterwards?
Well, interest rates eventually will be set by market forces. Mortgage rates are already at historical lows. So let us take a look at a poor sap that buys a home with a 4.5% 30 year fixed rate. In a few years when we have to face the repercussions of the squandering of our entire wealth in pathetic bailouts, rates will undoubtedly be higher since we are going to need to attract more capital to the U.S. since we are flat broke. So in the future, let us say rates go back to 6.5% the price of the home will need to reflect that. We are essentially screwing people once again and kicking the can down the road. This is patently insane. Let us examine a $300,000 home purchase at 4.5% with 20% down.At 4.5%, your monthly payment would only be about $1,220. Not bad!
But what happens when mortgage interest rates go back up to 6.5% and the government stops subsidizing new buyers? Well, then a $1,220 monthly payment for a 30 year fixed mortgage at 6.5% with 20% down only works for a $241,000 house. So, you are now $1,000 from being underwater, minus whatever small amounts of equity you've built up by paying back principle during the first few years on the loan (with a fixed rate loan, you're mostly paying interest at first). If interest rates go to 9% like I paid for awhile in the late 1980s, then you're really underwater, but, on the other hand, you have a really nice interest rate compared to what you could get now. So, you can't afford to sell your house to move to get one of Obama's new jobs building magnetic levitation commuter trolleys powered by the inexhaustible force of self-congratulation or whatever it is Obama's working up down in his basement Inventorium. (He does have a whole sheaf of amazing blueprints, right?)
Anyway, the obvious "solution" to the problems inherent in the plan is to make this incredibly expensive temporary mortgage-subsidization stimulus program permanent. It will be your lifelong right as an American citizen, or even as somebody who recently wandered in through the desert, to buy a house with a 30 year fixed mortgage with a 4.5% interest rate.
Or, maybe, the value of the dollar gets inflated away and you wind up paying off the mortgage early by just dropping a wheelbarrow full of greenbacks off at the bank and then walk a way whistling a happy tune. Who knows? All we can say is that life will likely be full of interest in the years to come.
The alternative is to let the price of houses fall to the point where the market finds uses for the houses. Remember, the Housing Bubble basically happened in four states -- California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida -- with ridiculous excesses of construction in the far exurbs. And who wants to live in a place that's terribly expensive to air condition in summer and with a 100 mile commute to work?
Well, how about people who aren't there in summer and don't need to commute when they are there in the winter because they are retired or semi-retired: snowbirds, Baby Boom snowbirds.
A whole bunch of well-to-do Baby Boomers are starting to slow down at work and think that with the kids out of school and away from the nest, another winter in Chicago doesn't sound so appealing. A winter home in one of the four Sand States where there is so much surplus housing might not be a bad idea. The Phoenix exurbs are a rotten place to live from May to October, but they are pretty nice just when the Chicago suburbs are at their worst.
Of course, their 401ks have taken a beating, so the original plan of retiring at 60 to that new golf development in Hawaii isn't going to happen, but shifting to consulting in Chicago in the warm months and spending the winters in a Sand State exurban nowheresville house sounds appealing enough, if the price falls far enough, such as, say, from $400k to $150k.
But, if the government decides to subsidize another Housing Bubble to try to keep the price of Sand State exurban houses at $300k, the snowbirds won't get into the market.
Offer free plane and bus transportation back home to every illegal immigrant in the U.S. Being unemployed in Mexico is a lot cheaper for all concerned than being unemployed in the U.S.
Do it right now. We could call it the:
I'll Be Home for Christmas planThe government should set up booths at Greyhound stations. All an illegal immigrant has to do is walk in with his luggage, get fingerprinted and photographed, sign a legally binding document that he won't be coming back and will go to jail if he does, and he'll be on his way home on the next bus with a $100 gift certificate usable at some chain store that only operates in Mexico.
New Nobelist Paul Krugman blogs for the NYT today:
I’ve been ruminating over economic prospects for next year, and I’m getting scared.
1. The economy is falling fast. We’ll see what tomorrow’s employment report says, but we could well be losing jobs at a rate of 450,000 or 500,000 a month.2. Infrastructure spending will take time to get going — a new Goldman Sachs report suggests that projects that are “shovel-ready” are probably only a few tens of billions worth, and that a larger effort would take much of a year to get going.
You don't say!
I was sitting in the backyard yesterday with my nonagenarian father when a hawk flew low over our heads. Fortunately, neither of my kids' pet rabbits, who live in the backyard, was out at the moment. Because I saw a hawk nearly catch one a couple of years ago, my policy is to drive away from my neighborhood any raptors that land in trees overlooking our yard. I want the predators to get an uncomfortable feeling about this neighborhood before they notice my rabbits, so I wave sticks at them and shout like a fool until they fly off for some place less weird.
But this hawk kept going and eventually landed on top of a 100 foot tall palm tree about a block away, but with a clear view down into my yard. Hawks have famously sharp eyesight, so they could easily spot my rabbits from that distances. But hawks aren't terribly skittish, so there's no way I could scare one out of that aerie from 100 feet below by waving a stick and shouting. (And no, I can't throw a rock or a lemon that high, and even if I could, my neighbors wouldn't appreciate projectiles falling back out of the sky from that height. And no, I'm not going shoot a gun up in the air in a crowded suburb.)
I'm stumped about how to get the hawk to move on.
Much of the progress in improved efficiency in the last 50 years has come from reducing inventory. Holding inventory is expensive. You can't earn interest or dividends on goods you own. Plus, you have to pay to store it, keep track of it, find it, etc.
The Just-in-Time manufacturing process made famous by Toyota focuses on cutting work-in-process inventory -- parts get delivered to assembly line stations just before they're needed. Similarly, containerized shipping has reduced the inventory tied up in transportation because it can be loaded and unloaded faster. At the retail end, Wal-Mart and Costco have radically cut inventory held by retailers through a plethora of techniques, such as using UPC scanners to measure sales and compare them against shipments to keep track of inventory and reorder automatically. (By the way, is "plethora" an inherently comic word and thus should be reserved only for facetious uses?)
The retailers, in fact, have shoved a lot of their old inventory holding costs onto consumers by, for example, selling them cases rather than individual items. Part of the demand for bigger houses and bigger vehicles that has proven so expensive to us as a society comes from consumers taking on more of the burden of storing and transporting goods.
While there has been enormous systematic progress at improving inventory management in the commercial world, there has been very little progress toward Just-in-Time practices in the domestic world. Just as it was fifty years ago, some householders are good at it, some are bad at it. (I'm one of the very, very bad ones, so I notice this lack more). There's just a lot more inventory of household goods to manage today than there was back then, so the need for more advanced household logistics is much greater.
There is a general rule in Africa, if not across the world: Behind any rebellion with legs is usually a meddling neighbor. And whether the rebellion in eastern Congo explodes into another full-fledged war, and drags a large chunk of central Africa with it, seems likely to depend on the involvement of Rwanda, Congo’s tiny but disproportionately mighty neighbor.There has been a Tall vs. Not-Tall struggle going on in Central East Africa for a long time, dating back well before the arrival of Europeans. It manifests itself under different tribal names, such Tutsi vs. Hutu in Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo, or Luo vs. Kikuyu in Kenya. Generally speaking, the Not-Talls have the numbers and the Talls have the brains. (Our President-Elect, by the way, is 50% Tall.)
There is a long and bloody history here, and this time around the evidence seems to be growing that Rwanda is meddling again in Congo’s troubles; at a minimum, the interference is on the part of many Rwandans. As before, Rwanda’s stake in Congo is a complex mix of strategic interest, business opportunity and the real fears of a nation that has heroically rebuilt itself after near obliteration by ethnic hatred.
The signs are ever-more obvious, if not yet entirely open. Several demobilized Rwandan soldiers, speaking in hushed tones in Kigali, Rwanda’s tightly controlled capital, described a systematic effort by Rwanda’s government-run demobilization commission to send hundreds if not thousands of fighters to the rebel front lines. ...
There seems to be a reinvigorated sense of the longstanding brotherhood between the Congolese rebels, who are mostly ethnic Tutsi, and the Tutsi-led government of Rwanda, which has supported these same rebels in the past.The brotherhood is relatively secret for now, just as it was in the late 1990s when Rwanda denied being involved in Congo, only to later admit that it was occupying a vast section of the country. Rwanda’s leaders are vigilant about not endangering their carefully crafted reputation as responsible, development-oriented friends of the West.
December 3, 2008
Perhaps the most obvious Stuff White People Like infrastructure project in America is extending the Washington D.C. Metrorail out to Dulles Airport. Right now, when you arrive at Dulles you have to get on a bus (and you know how much SWPLs hate buses), which takes you to the end of the line for the subway (you know how much SWPLs love public transit that isn't a bus). It's a hassle. Fortunately, today the Washington Post has the exciting news that the last hurdle has been overcome so we'll all be riding the subway to Dulles Real Soon Now:
Read that again: "a project that state, federal and airport officials have planned for more than 40 years." That's back to LBJ's heyday.
Federal regulators have approved a long-awaited extension of Metrorail to Tysons Corner and Dulles International Airport, virtually assuring construction of a $5.2 billion project that regional leaders say is crucial to ease congestion and spur economic growth in Northern Virginia.
By signing off on the project, the Federal Transit Administration reversed its position of almost a year ago, when its regulators declared Dulles rail unqualified to receive $900 million in federal funding, citing cost overruns, delays and concerns about management. The project now heads to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and the Office of Management and Budget for final approval. But the transit agency's action is widely viewed as a critical achievement that essentially guarantees the federal funding. Without it, the project would have died, state and regional officials said.
"We've been pushing this boulder up the hill for years," said U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). "This is one of the best examples in my 30 years here of bipartisanship achieving an end result that benefits the entire greater Washington metropolitan area."The reversal caps 11 months of frantic activity by the region's top politicians, who have steadfastly pressured Peters and even the White House to keep alive a project that state, federal and airport officials have planned for more than 40 years.
Fortunately, now, it's Full Steam Ahead:
The first phase of the rail line, for which Virginia is seeking the federal money, would have four stations at Tysons Corner and end at Wiehle Avenue in Reston. It is scheduled for completion in 2013. The second phase, to the airport and into Loudoun, is expected to be done two years after that.So, assuming it's finished right on schedule (which is a big assumption), connecting the DC subway to the DC airport will only have taken 47 years.
By the way, I wonder if the Chicago Housing Authority has yet finished removing all the asbestos from housing projects, which was Obama's big "success" as a community organizer over two decades ago...
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
Much of humanity’s past is a mystery. Until recently, we had only bones and artifacts to help us understand prehistoric human life. But today we have a new window into the past: the historical record that survives in our genes. We can now examine material from our own genomes and analyze it in light of evolutionary theory—a combination Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending call evolutionary genomics. The overwhelming surprise emerging from this new field of research is that human evolution did not stop with the emergence of Homo sapiens. Instead, it sped up—and has continued accelerating into historical times.
The 10,000 Year Explosion is the first book to introduce the new ideas coming from evolutionary genomics that will revolutionize humanity’s understanding of its past. Harpending and Cochran reveal the genetic changes that led to behaviorally modern humans and that allowed our ancestors to adapt to new environments. The majority of these changes, including adaptations to physical and social inventions such as agriculture and urban environments, seem to have started in a huge burst only 10,000 years ago. Cochran and Harpending make clear that many of the important transitions in human history involved biological changes that were the products of natural selection.
Full of revelatory and wondrous findings, The 10,000 Year Explosion proves that humanity’s genetic inheritance can change remarkably fast—and that our own civilization can cause the change.
Boring Canada, with its penchant for being boring, has had a boring mortgage system (including such anachronisms as down payments) and an immigration system that is publicly committed to improving the economic welfare of current Canadians. So, it's economy has been boringly non-catastrophic recently.
Of course, that can't last with its main trading partner going down the tubes. With recession looming in Canada, you might think that the out of power parties would be happy to see the weak minority conservative government wrestle with the economy and absorb the blame. But, no, the the left of center Liberals have formed a coalition with the leftist New Democrats, and have made a deal with the secessionist Bloc Quebecois, to take power. Colby Cosh has details.
UPDATE: Alternatively, the Canadian Left and the secessionists see the coming economic crunch as an opportunity to spend vast amounts of made-up money on their political bases.
December 2, 2008
Haste Could Make Waste on Stimulus, States Say
By Lori Montgomery and Michael D. Shear
With President-elect Barack Obama vowing to plow hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure, some state officials are warning that public works projects will fail to effectively lift the country out of recession unless they are chosen carefully and implemented rapidly.
In a private meeting yesterday in Philadelphia with 48 of the nation's governors, Obama stressed the importance of identifying projects that could put people to work quickly, participants said. He raised the specter of Japan, which languished in a decade-long recession in part because massive spending on construction projects in the late 1990s flowed too slowly to boost economic activity.
During the two-hour meeting, governors from both parties assured Obama that they could break ground almost immediately if Washington were to put up the cash to make up for state budget shortfalls. But less than half of the $136 billion in projects they said were ready to go could get underway within the next six months, according to the National Governors Association. And choosing among those projects could prove politically difficult, some governors said.
With the nation's economy in recession, Obama has pledged to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs over the next two years, primarily by dedicating federal dollars to rebuilding the nation's roads, bridges, schools and airports and to expanding sources of alternative energy. Democrats hope to send a spending package that could exceed $500 billion to the White House by Jan. 20, when Obama takes office.
In a recession that lasts only a few months, economists say spending on infrastructure would do little to revive the economy; public works projects typically take years to get underway. Even with projects that are ready to go -- meaning they have been designed, engineered and have cleared environmental and other bureaucratic hurdles -- only about a quarter of the overall cost is spent within the first year, according to the Transportation Department.
Because this recession is projected to extend well into 2009, many economists see infrastructure spending as a viable way to put people to work and keep money circulating domestically. Unlike tax rebates, which might be spent on foreign goods or used overseas, money for road projects would be used to hire U.S. workers and to purchase domestic gravel and steel.
Hmmhmmh ... China makes 38% of the world's steel compared to 7% for the U.S. The U.S. is the world's largest importer of steel already, and China is the world's largest exporter. With China's building boom slowing down, I suspect that Chinese steelmakers will try hard to supply a big share of Obama's infrastructure plan's steel needs.
The need for infrastructure improvements is enormous. Federal transportation officials have estimated that the nation should spend $225 billion a year to modernize and maintain its crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems.
Actually, that sounds exactly like the kind of projects you can quite reasonably put off for a few years during an economic crisis. Let's pause for a moment and notice just how counter-intuitive this whole infrastructure spending mania is. The concept is that there are a whole bunch of expensive projects that, back when we had a lot of money, didn't seem worth doing; but now that we're broke, it's a great time to blow a big wad of dough that we don't have anymore on projects that we could, quite easily, put off until we're not so broke again.
Now, there are some advantages to doing big projects during an economic collapse -- the price of Chinese steel is likely to be lower. And there will presumably be some "stimulus" effect somewhere down the road. But, let's be honest, this is basically Carnival in Rio Economics -- all the rules of common sense are suspended and we're just going to magically make up some money and spend it and not worry about how we'll pay it back when Ash Wednesday comes.
The real reason our infrastructure is pretty cruddy compared to other First World countries is because, as the Big Dig fiasco in Boston shows, we're bad at it. And the reason we're bad at efficiently spending big piles of government money on infrastructure is because of all the shakedown artists and leeches -- the unions, the politically connected contractors, the community organizers, etc etc -- that have to get their cut. (For example, to finish the Century Freeway to the LA Airport in 1988, CalTrans paids off hundreds of "community" groups to get them to stop protesting it, including an AIDS project 10 miles to the north in West Hollywood.)
Now, we've gone and elected a shakedown artist as President. Who knows, maybe that will work on the "It takes a thief to catch a thief" principle. Perhaps Obama will pardon Tony Rezko and install him in the West Wing to ram infrastructure projects past all the leeches with their hands out.
But with 41 states facing budget shortfalls, many governors are cutting scheduled projects. Maryland and Virginia recently cut more than $1 billion each from their six-year transportation programs. North Carolina expects to cut $200 million by next June. And New York plans to eliminate 10 percent of its projects, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
That's basically what you or I do when we've had an economic setback -- we paint the house less frequently and otherwise scrape by until we can afford to fix things up right. Of course, for the government, the rules are completely different. Yeah, right ...
The idea is that improving infrastructure will make the country more efficient through faster transportation and the like. Okay, but, keep in mind that it will make the country less efficient during the economic crisis because of the huge traffic jams caused by infrastructure projects.
The slowdown in public spending, combined with the worst housing bust in a generation, has devastated the construction industry. The unemployment rate among construction workers was 10.8 percent in October, well above the national average of 6.5 percent. Currently, nearly 1.1 million homebuilders, steelworkers and highway contractors are out of work.
I know a way to lower the unemployment rate among construction workers, but it will be a long, long time before it occurs to the Washington Post: send the illegal immigrant construction workers home.
... The devil, however, is in the details. What emerged yesterday in Philadelphia, and in ongoing discussions in Washington and in state capitals, is the concern that injecting such huge sums into public works projects could prove more complicated than anyone yet imagines.
Answering the simplest questions -- which projects are ready to go? -- can be surprisingly difficult.
The governors yesterday offered school, road, transit, wastewater and airport projects that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said could be ready soon, "literally, putting shovels into the dirt within a few months after the administration starts."
California needs over $30 billion to balance its budget for Fiscal Year 2009 and it could get a lot worse than that. California and its counties and municipalities should not be worrying about starting expensive new construction projects. They should be worrying about meeting payroll in 2009 and 2010 for firemen, policemen, schoolteachers, and the like. I wouldn't be surprised if a year from now we see giant piles of Chinese steel sitting on the docks of Long Beach collecting dust while new California construction hiring is postponed indefinitely and Obama's infrastructure money is diverted to keeping current civil servants employed. Teachers and prison guards and the like will be renamed "human infrastructure."
But David Quam, director of federal relations for the National Governors Association, said many of the projects would take 24 months. Less than half of them -- projects worth about $57 billion -- would be ready to go within 120 days, Quam said, the time frame set in a stimulus bill that passed the House in September. An Obama aide said money dedicated to infrastructure should be spent within 24 months, not devoted to projects just getting underway at the end of 2010.
Yeah, Obama is going to get a lot of solar-powered magnetic levitation commuter rail systems built within 24 months...
The NGA proposals, moreover, were assembled from lists prepared by other organizations. The most commonly cited was created last January by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. It offers more than 3,000 highway projects that theoretically could put $18 billion to good use within 90 days.
$18 billion is 3.6% of the $500 billion they're talking about spending.
But that list is now nearly a year old, and for some states includes construction and repaving projects that could not begin in the winter months.
There are two seasons in Chicago for commuters: snow and ice season and road repair season. Obama probably figures he can Chicagoize all of America. But what else does he know other than the Chicago Way?
For other states, including Maryland and Virginia, that list does not necessarily represent specific projects, state officials said.
In an interview, Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari identified some "critically needed projects" that could get underway quickly, including improvements to bottlenecks at the intersection at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road in Montgomery County and the intersection of Route 4 and Suitland Parkway in Prince George's County.
Virginia officials said they are still working on their list. But the projects they select will depend on what restrictions Washington places on the money, one Virginia official said. Projects with huge political support, such as the construction of a Metro line to Dulles airport, would not be good candidates for quick construction, the official said, while more routine projects such as the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway between I-95 and Rolling Road or the repair of the VRE rail infrastructure might make the grade.
Aides said Obama's transition team is trying to craft a strategy for prioritizing projects at the national level, relieving state officials of that responsibility. But the best candidates for stimulus spending are likely to be the least glamorous projects, the ones unlikely to thrill members of Congress, several transportation officials said: Bridge repair. Bus purchases. Filling potholes.
"It's not as if people are going to say: 'You know what? We got some money. We're going to go build a bridge.' For one thing, bridges take 13 years, start to finish," said Janet Kavinoky, a transportation expert with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "The dollars are for real basic work that needs to be done to maintain the system we already have." ...
That's how my neighbors, who mostly have a lot more money than I do, feel about repainting houses and cars. If their Infiniti's paintjob has lost a little luster in the three years they've had it, they trade it in for a new Lexus. On the other hand, my 11-year-old Accord's paint has completely eroded away from most of the roof and parts of the trunk and hood, but, guess what, it still takes me from point A to point B. Maybe I'm not traveling in style, but I like to think of myself as fashion-forward -- in a couple of years, lots of people will be driving cars that look like mine.
"I think we ought to have our eyes open. These steps come with a cost," said Indiana Gov. Mitch E. Daniels Jr. (R). "Therefore, let's try to make certain that they are well conceived, that they are really aimed not at bailing out excesses in states that should have known better, but aimed at putting people to work."If Mitch is thinking about stepping up to being a major Republican national figure, I've got three words of advice for him: Run against California.
All my life, everybody in America hates California because the weather is so nice. And now they've finally got a good reason for hating California: California basically got us in this mess.
The way I see the politics playing out is that Gov. Arnold will become Obama's new best friend in order to get California bailed out by the federal taxpayers. In return, Obama will get to claim that he's fulfilling his campaign pledge to move beyond partisanship. Look how much the Republican governor of California loves him! The media will chime in with how all the Republicans should become just like Arnold and Obey Giant Obama -- that's their only chance of survival.
This will create an opening among ornery Republican voters who hate the media and Hollywood movie stars for an anti-Schwarzenegger Republican to emerge, presumably a governor with a record of prudent administration, to run against the country bailing out California.
December 1, 2008
Sports May Be Child's Play, but Genetic Testing Is Not:If you want to find out if your kid is genetically best at sprinting or at distance running, then watch him while he sprints and runs and see which one he's better at. Or you could ask him which one he likes to do more.
Born to Run? Little Ones Get Test for Sports Gene
By JULIET MACUR
BOULDER, Colo.--When Donna Campiglia learned recently that a genetic test might be able to determine which sports suit the talents of her 2 ½-year-old son, Noah, she instantly said, Where can I get it and how much does it cost?
"I could see how some people might think the test would pigeonhole your child into doing fewer sports or being exposed to fewer things, but I still think it's good to match them with the right activity," Ms. Campiglia, 36, said as she watched a toddler class at Boulder Indoor Soccer in which Noah struggled to take direction from the coach between juice and potty breaks.
"I think it would prevent a lot of parental frustration," she said.
In health-conscious, sports-oriented Boulder, Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child's natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child's cheek and along the gums to collect DNA and return it to a lab for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.
The test's goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.
Let's just assume that genetic tests for athletic ability actually worked. How useful would they be?
Well, if you are the Commissar of Olympic Sports in Red China charged with maximizing the gold medal count at the 2024 Olympics, sure, it would be helpful to have a whole battery of genetic tests given to all the children in the country in order to identify the little girls with the genetic potential to win gold in Lady's Weightlifting or whatever, but, otherwise, so what? During the Olympics, you could read all these stories where the Chinese lady shotput champion would admit that she never wanted to be shotputter, she wanted to be a nurse, but the sports cadres had picked her out at age six as having the physical makings of an Olympic medalist, so she felt it was her duty to her parents and country to put aside her foolish dreams of helping sick children and devote her life to putting the shot.
In America, though, if your kid doesn't want to be a triple-jumper or whatever, he isn't going to work hard enough to get good at it no matter what his genetic potential.
The point of playing childhood sports should be to play childhood sports.
The one kind of test that might be useful would be a more accurate estimate of ultimate height, since so many sports and/or positions depend heavily upon growing up to be really tall. You can estimate adult height from child height, but it's pretty inaccurate. All through my childhood, my pediatrician would plot my height on a graph and inform me that I was right on schedule to grow up to be 6'0". But, I ended up four inches taller.
An accurate estimate of adult height would be mostly useful in a negative sense in it might discourage some kids from over-specializing in height-dependent sports like basketball. The majority of black youths who think they are going to grow up to be in the NBA won't make six feet tall. Similarly, more than a few white dads invest enormous amounts of time and money in nurturing their sons to be NFL quarterbacks, many of whom won't get close to the 6'-1" or so minimum height.
In what is apparently the first legal action of its kind, an association of community-based organizations has filed a federal civil rights complaint against two of the three largest Wall Street rating firms, charging that their inflated ratings on subprime mortgage bonds disproportionately caused financial harm to African American and Latino home buyers across the country.Minorities got half of the subprime mortgage dollars (home purchase and refinance) in 2004-2007. My guess is that when somebody finally bothers to look, they will account for over half of the unexpected defaulted dollars.
The complaint, filed by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, alleges that Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings enriched themselves by assigning high ratings to bonds backed by mortgages "that were designed to fail" because of "unfair payment terms and insufficient borrower income levels."
The firms "knew or should have known" that subprime loans disproportionately were marketed to minority consumers -- a process known as "reverse redlining" -- and that those borrowers would ultimately default and go into foreclosure at high rates, according to the coalition's complaint. ...
The filing cites multiple studies that found that African Americans and Latinos received a disproportionate share of subprime loans during the housing boom years. A Federal Reserve study in 2006 estimated that 45% of mortgages extended to Latinos and 55% of loans to African Americans were subprime -- a utilization rate "three to four times that of non-Hispanic whites."
Because the loans themselves often came with terms that increased borrowers' probability of default -- upfront teaser rates followed by unaffordable reset payment adjustments, no required documentation of applicants' incomes or assets, plus hefty prepayment penalties -- African Americans with subprime mortgages are projected to lose $71 billion to $92 billion through foreclosures, while Latinos are projected to lose $75 billion to $98 billion, according to one study cited in the complaint.
"Had subprime loans been distributed equitably," the complaint estimates, "losses for whites would be 44.5% higher and losses for people of color would be about 24% lower."
... The NCRC filed its complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development's fair housing and equal opportunity unit. After a review, HUD could either dismiss the allegations or refer the case to the Justice Department of the incoming Obama administration for litigation next year. If HUD fails to respond adequately, the NCRC says it may file a federal civil lawsuit.Of course, HUD saw its mission as getting more mortgage dollars into the hands of minorities, not less. The boilerplate at the end of HUD press releases said:
HUD is the nation’s housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities, creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans, supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation’s fair housing laws.
November 30, 2008
Establishment media are starting to notice that Obama's plan to add 2.5 million public works jobs in "infrastructure" in 24 months seems implausible. The LA Times observes:
One detail of the recovery plan that may not emerge until closer to Inauguration Day is how the money will be disbursed for infrastructure projects. Such undertakings often require long lead times to prepare engineering studies and environmental surveys and address other technical issues, possibly delaying their stimulative effect.
You don't say?
Consider the Big Dig in the heart of Blue State America, Boston. This 3.5 mile freeway tunnel was conceived in the 1970s, officially proposed in 1982, got federal funding in 1987, and the first dirt was turned in 1991. By the end of 2003 it was more or less usable and by the end of 2004, it was reportedly 95% finished. Then, it started leaking.
It supposedly cost about $14 or $15 billion (assuming it's done, which it probably isn't), up from an initial estimate of $4 billion in today's dollars.
Now, here's an interesting number: at its peak, the Big Dig employed about 5,000 construction workers. That's a lot of construction workers relative to most big projects. But it's a tiny number compared to Obama's 2.5 million number. So, Obama is proposing, in effect, to have 500 Big Digs going full blast in 24 months.
Even assuming away the lead time issue, just notice from the Big Dig that infrastructure is a very, very expensive way to create jobs. This isn't 1935. Public works workers need more than just shovels. The capital requirements for infrastructure jobs are enormous.
The next thing the media are going to notice about infrastructure projects is that they and the rest of Obama's base don't actually want jobs operating, say, a jackhammer. If a journalist gets laid off by his newspaper, is he going to want Obama to give him a jackhammer job? Of course not. He's going to want Obama to get him a job where he sits at a desk with a computer and a phone in an air-conditioned office.
In fact, Obama's people don't want anybody operating a noisy, smelly jackhammer anywhere near them. It's not that they're against infrastructure per se. Indeed, they would like infrastructure to have been built, but Obama People are going to oppose via lawsuits the actual building of infrastructure anywhere close to them, with its attendant racket, odors, and traffic jams. Not in my back yard!
In contrast to infrastructure jobs, Obama will eventually realize, makework office jobs are relatively cheap and easy to create. To employ people to administer programs aimed at, say, enhancing outcomes among our troubled youths, you don't need an environmental impact statement. You don't need to buy a bulldozer for a new worker, just a computer, a desk, and a chair. (Eventually, you'll need guys with jackhammers to come build another office building for all the new staffers, but you can squeeze them in for awhile.) And every bureaucracy already has lots of existing plans on file to hire more staffers to help them do whatever it is they do.
And Obama's kind of people like office jobs administering social work programs a lot more than they like jackhammer jobs. So, it's a win-win proposition!
Therefore, expect to hear the term "human infrastructure" a lot this winter as the Obama Administration starts to realize that actual infrastructure projects aren't going to make much of a dent in the unemployment rate before the 2010 elections, but hiring a ton of people to staff, say, innovative programs to foster excellence in public schools are an easy way to provide jobs for the boys (and girls).