Weekly Roundup 29: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

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Must Read Feature: Consilience – How to Understand Everything Via Alfin- Our society would be much better off, if it focused more on the development of this type of integration of knowledge, and less on the current dysfunctional hyper-specialised, disconnected hodge-podge of politicised education (cum indoctrination). Our educational and knowledge institutions are becoming fortresses in inbred dogma, competing for power and influence with other similarly walled fortresses.

1. Video: Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood – Via Youtube – CCFC members all over the country are organizing local screenings of Consuming Kids. A screening is the perfect way to raise awarenss about the commercialization of childhood

2. Video: Human Rights On and Off the Internet: Social Networking – Via Fora.Tv – Recent innovations in science and technology have provided human rights advocates, journalists, and scientists with new tools to expose war crimes and other serious violations of human rights and to disseminate this information in real time throughout the world. The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley is pleased to showcase these recent developments and push new frontiers of applied research.

3. Special Report: Rx For Casualties of Consumerism – Via BigThink – We’ve evolved, Tierney says, into creatures who have replaced the quest for happiness with the quest to impress others with the things we have amassed. See my should bag; it speaks volumes about me. Listen to my ring tone; it does too. And so on and so on. But, from an evolutionary standpoint, no one really cares about what we buy—at least other people’s stuff doesn’t stay in our memories for very long. How many of us can remember what a co-worker was wearing yesterday, Tierney prompts.

4. Why We Believe In The Unbelievable – Via Neuronarrative – Few topics in psychology are gaining more momentum than the origin of religious beliefs. Questions of whether we’re born with neural apparatus that predisposes us to belief, or whether we learn to becomes believers, or some combination of both, are on the minds of researchers from all quarters.  Bruce Hood, experimental psychologist at Bristol University, is a groundbreaker among the curious. In his new book, SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, Hood argues that we are each born with an innate “SuperSense” rooted in our capacity for intuitive reasoning. Drawing on recent research and historical examples, Hood convincingly makes a case that supernatural belief arises spontaneously well before cultural influences assert themselves.

5. Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Brokers in the Mutual Fund Industry – Via Oxford Journals – Many investors purchase mutual funds through intermediated channels, paying brokers or financial advisors for fund selection and advice. This article attempts to quantify the benefits that investors enjoy in exchange for the costs of these services. We study broker-sold and direct-sold funds from 1996 to 2004, and fail to find that brokers deliver substantial tangible benefits. Relative to direct-sold funds, broker-sold funds deliver lower risk-adjusted returns, even before subtracting distribution costs. These results hold across fund objectives, with the exception of foreign equity funds. Further, broker-sold funds exhibit no more skill at aggregate-level asset allocation than do funds sold through the direct channel. Our results are consistent with two hypotheses: that brokers deliver substantial intangible benefits that we do not observe and that there are material conflicts of interest between brokers and their clients.

6. Visualization: US/EU Unemployment Converging Via Chart Porn – “From the early 1990s through the peak of the last business cycle, relatively low U.S. unemployment rates seemed to make the United States a model for the rest of the world’s economies. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other international organizations all praised the U.S. unemployment performance and urged the rest of the world’s rich countries to emulate the “flexibility” of the U.S. model.  However, this report shows that in the current economic crisis, the U.S. unemployment rate ranks 4th to last among the major OECD countries.

7. Video: Eye in the Sky: GIS, Satellite Imagery, and Mapping – Via Fora.Tv – Recent innovations in science and technology have provided human rights advocates, journalists, and scientists with new tools to expose war crimes and other serious violations of human rights and to disseminate this information in real time throughout the world.

8. Europe’s largest onshore wind farm open and ready to expand – Via Guardian – Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, which is already powerful enough to meet Glasgow’s electricity needs, is to expand by more than a third as part of a major green energy initiative by Scottish ministers. The first minister Alex Salmond announced that the 322MW Whitelee wind farm south of Glasgow had been given permission to increase its capacity to 452MW, as he officially switched on the wind farm this morning. The disclosure came as plans for an even larger scheme, to build a vast community-owned 150 turbine, 540MW scheme on Shetland, were lodged with the Scottish government.

9. Research Paper: Slapped in the Face by the Invisible Hand: Banking and the Panic of 2007 Via SSRN – The ‘shadow banking system’ at the heart of the current credit crisis is, in fact, a real banking system – and is vulnerable to a banking panic. Indeed, the events starting in August 2007 are a banking panic. A banking panic is a systemic event because the banking system cannot honor its obligations and is insolvent. Unlike the historical banking panics of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the current banking panic is a wholesale panic, not a retail panic. In the earlier episodes, depositors ran to their banks and demanded cash in exchange for their checking accounts. Unable to meet those demands, the banking system became insolvent. The current panic involved financial firms ‘running’ on other financial firms by not renewing sale and repurchase agreements (repo) or increasing the repo margin (‘haircut’), forcing massive deleveraging, and resulting in the banking system being insolvent. The earlier episodes have many features in common with the current crisis, and examination of history can help understand the current situation and guide thoughts about reform of bank regulation. New regulation can facilitate the functioning of the shadow banking system, making it less vulnerable to panic.

10. Podcast: Understanding Cooperation through Behavioural Economics ViaUniMedLab –  Dr Nikos Nikiforakis’ main research interests lie in the field of behavioral, experimental and public economics. In particular, he is interested in understanding antisocial and prosocial behavior, social norms, social comparisons and selection in experiments.

11. New Book: The Economics of Attention – Via UChicago Press – If economics is about the allocation of resources, then what is the most precious resource in our new information economy? Certainly not information, for we are drowning in it. No, what we are short of is the attention to make sense of that information.

12. The Paradox of Decline in Female Happiness Via NBER  & Geary Behavior Center -By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.

13. Wall St. Pay Overhaul Is Coming, Geithner Says – Via Deal Book – While they are standing around the barbecue this weekend, Wall Streeters can think about how Washington is busy cooking up new pay guidelines for the financial industry. In fact, they are just about done, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who told Bloomberg Televison that the proposed overhaul should be announced “within weeks.” In a portion of the interview made available Friday on Bloomberg’s Web site, Mr. Geithner said to expect a “very, very substantial change.”

14. Distinguish between transactional and revolving credit – Via Interfluidity – We won’t get very far in the debate about credit in the US economy if we fail to distinguish between transactional and revolving credit. These are two are fundamentally different products, and much ill has come from conflation of the two. All of the good things Kevin attributes to widespread credit access are benefits of transactional credit. Because credit cards have often bundled transactional and revolving credit together, it is easy to attribute these good things to revolving credit. That’s a mistake. Transactional credit is essential, and might even be publicly provided. Revolving credit is a double-edged sword.

15. Are good CEOs dull? – Via Socializing Finance  – In praise of dullness, he writes that: “…people in the literary, academic and media worlds rarely understand business. It is nearly impossible to think of a novel that accurately portrays business success. That’s because the virtues that writers tend to admire — those involving self-expression and self-exploration — are not the ones that lead to corporate excellence.”

16. Research Paper: Did Corporate Governance ‘Fail’ During the 2008 Stock Market Meltdown? The Case of the S&P 500 – Via SSRN – In 2008, share prices on U.S. stock markets fell further than they had during any one year since the 1930s. Does this mean corporate governance “failed”? This paper argues “no”, based on a study of a sample of companies at “ground zero” of the stock market meltdown, namely the 37 firms removed from the iconic S&P 500 index during 2008. The study, based primarily on searches of the Factiva news database, reveals that institutional shareholders were largely mute as share prices fell and that boardroom practices and executive pay policies at various financial firms were problematic. On the other hand, there apparently were no Enron-style frauds, there was little criticism of the corporate governance of companies that were not under severe financial stress and directors of troubled firms were far from passive, as they orchestrated CEO turnover at a rate far exceeding the norm in public companies. The fact that corporate governance functioned tolerably well in companies removed from the S&P 500 implies that the case is not yet made out for fundamental reform of current arrangements.

17. Bernanke: On the Inherent Unpredictability of Life – Via Naked Capitalism  – In planning our own individual lives, we all have a strong psychological need to believe that we can control, or at least anticipate, much of what will happen to us. But the social and physical environments in which we live, and indeed, we ourselves, are complex systems, if you will, subject to diverse and unforeseen influences. Scientists and mathematicians have discussed the so-called butterfly effect, which holds that, in a sufficiently complex system, a small cause–the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil–might conceivably have a disproportionately large effect–a typhoon in the Pacific.

18. The “Wall Street Walk” and Shareholder Activism: Exit as a Form of Voice – Via Oxford Journals -We examine whether a large shareholder can alleviate conflicts of interest between managers and shareholders through the credible threat of exit on the basis of private information. In our model, the threat of exit often reduces agency costs, but additional private information need not enhance the effectiveness of the mechanism. Moreover, the threat of exit can produce quite different effects depending on whether the agency problem involves desirable or undesirable actions from shareholders’ perspective. Our results are consistent with empirical findings on the interaction between managers and minority large shareholders and have further empirical implications.

19. Foreclosures and Modifications for Beginners – Via Baseline Scenario – On last week’s This American Life, Chris Arnold of NPR did a good segment on loan servicers and why they do or do not modify loans for delinquent borrowers (starting around the 10-minute mark). There isn’t a lot that avid readers won’t know already; the central message is that it would be better for everyone involved – including lenders and investors – if more loans were modified. It also doesn’t address the legal issues created by collateralized debt obligations where the tranches have different priorities.

20. Data.gov is Live – Get Your Data While it’s Hot – Via Flowing Data – The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Although the initial launch of Data.gov provides a limited portion of the rich variety of Federal datasets presently available, we invite you to actively participate in shaping the future of Data.gov by suggesting additional datasets and site enhancements to provide seamless access and use of your Federal data. Visit today with us, but come back often. With your help, Data.gov will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

21. Video: Sam Wang on Happiness and the Brain – Via BigThink

22. Video: Sam Wang on the Twenty-First Century Brain – Via Big Think – Sam Wang says Google is a tradeoff between rapid knowledge and knowledge retention.

23. Virtual School Gaining Ground – Via Alfin – Around the US, virtual online schools are allowing students much broader choices of curricula, providing the possiblity of “personalised” education for self-starting, ambitious students.

24. Visualization: A Closer Look At The Global Financial Crisis Via Johnstone @ Goodmagazine

25. “Do Schools Make Inequality Worse?” – Via Economists View -Do schools make inequality worse?, by Lane Kenworthy: “Far from leaning against economic inequality, U.S. schools make it worse.” This sentiment, from a recent Clive Crook op-ed, expresses a view that’s commonplace on both the left and the right, and among both proponents and opponents of school reform. It’s wrong. Americans do leave the schooling system more unequal in cognitive and noncognitive skills than when they enter it. Yet that inequality is less — probably much less — than it would be in the absence of schools. Schools don’t increase inequality; they just don’t do enough to overcome the inequality produced throughout childhood by differences in families, neighborhoods, peers, and other influences.

26. U.S. Household Deleveraging and Future Consumption Growth – Via FRBSF – U.S. household leverage, as measured by the ratio of debt to personal disposable income, increased modestly from 55% in 1960 to 65% by the mid-1980s. Then, over the next two decades, leverage proceeded to more than double, reaching an all-time high of 133% in 2007. That dramatic rise in debt was accompanied by a steady decline in the personal saving rate. The combination of higher debt and lower saving enabled personal consumption expenditures to grow faster than disposable income, providing a significant boost to U.S. economic growth over the period.

27. The Case for Working With Your Hands – Via NYT  – “Deadliest Catch” depicts commercial crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. Another, “Dirty Jobs,” shows all kinds of grueling work; one episode featured a guy who inseminates turkeys for a living. The weird fascination of these shows must lie partly in the fact that such confrontations with material reality have become exotically unfamiliar. Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive. “Dilbert,” “The Office” and similar portrayals of cubicle life attest to the dark absurdism with which many Americans have come to view their white-collar jobs.

28. What Is Random Walk – Via Data visualization – Daniel investigates randomness in various topics. Ten sheets explain the phenomena of randomness in mathematics and physics – four focus on all-day randomness and the quality of pseudo random number generators. The thesis consist of a plethora of different visualization approaches but always stays focused on a high visual aesthetic.

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

24. May 2003 by Miguel Barbosa
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