Weekly Roundup 39: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

If you enjoy reading these weekly roundups I recommend signing up for the free weekly wisdom newsletter via our  homepage (click here).

-Miguel Barbosa
Founder Of Simoleon Sense

Special Feature: Does microlending really help the poor? Via BBC & Finance Professor -The theory is that those businesses enable individuals to earn more money, and so strengthen the whole economy. The aim is to lift large numbers of people out of poverty. One of the chief founders of the movement is Nobel-Prize winner Mohammad Yunus, who created Grameen Bank in Bangladesh which lends money to many low-income workers, especially women. He told Lesley Curwen that it really does raise people’s incomes. But recently serious questions have begun to emerge about this sort of lending and whether people really do benefit.

Special Feature: Creating Sustainable Microfinance: A Panel Discussion – Via Acumen Fund – While Mohammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering microfinance work in Bangladesh just three years ago, the popularity of providing the poor with collateral-free loans and other financial services to support their businesses is at an all-time high.  New microfinance models seek to make lending even more direct. Yet as the practice of microfinance has begun to mature and expand, so too have concerns over how to implement it most effectively. What are the implications when a nonprofit organization offers microfinance to an impoverished community but does not provide basic health or social services? Can a single microfinance model work on different continents? How might nonprofits, lenders and governments ensure that micro-loans lead to lasting change not just for the borrowers, but for their entire families and communities?

Special Feature: Microfinance and commitment contracts – Via Voxeu- Dean Karlan of Yale University talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his research programme on microfinance, which uses experimental methodologies to examine what kinds of products work and why. They also discuss his work on ‘commitment contracts’, which people can use to try to modify their own behaviour. The interview was recorded at the American Economic Association meetings in San Francisco in January 2009.

Special Feature: Radio Show – The Science of Decision-Making Via Science Friday -Paper or plastic? Steak or salmon? Stay or go? Every day, we make thousands of decisions, most minor, some major. But how does your brain make the choice? In this hour, we’ll take a look at the science of decision making. Can your genes influence split second decisions? And how do your emotions influence the way you decide? Teachers, find more information about using Science Friday as a classroom resource in the Kids’ Connection.

Special Feature: Where Science Has Failed- The Wonders Of Wrong Science – Via Discovery

Feature: Partial List of Online University Lecture Sites – Via AlFin Blog – Al Fin blog will soon be returning to its original purpose: providing access to the tools and information needed to survive to the next level. The central tool is one’s self — one’s body and mind. Self development and self education are crucial. Never has higher level education been more economical or available than now.

Feature: Why You Can’t Trust Your Health InsurerPrivate insurance companies dump very sick claimants based on stupid technicalities. That’s reason enough to support health reform. Via Slate – Rescission (also known as “post-claims underwriting”) is the process whereby health insurers avoid paying out benefits to treat cancer and other serious illnesses by seeking and often finding chickenshit errors in the policyholder’s paperwork that can justify canceling the policy. In one job evaluation, the health insurer WellPoint actually scored a director of group underwriting on a scale of 1 to 5 based on the dollar amount she had managed to deny through rescission. (The director had saved the company nearly $10 million, earning a score of 3. WellPoint’s president, Brian A. Sassi, insists this is not routine company practice.) Rescission’s victims tend typically to be less-educated people who are more likely to make an error in filling out their insurance forms and lack the means to challenge a rescission in court—a path in which success is, at any rate, not guaranteed, because under state law the practice is perfectly legal if done within the allowable time frame (typically up to two years after a policy is issued).

Feature Video: One Of The Most Important Pyschologists, Elizabeth Loftus: What’s the Matter with Memory? – Via Fora.Tv – Elizabeth Loftus, psychologist and distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine, discusses the prevalence of false memories. She describes her own experiments in creating false memories, and explains how this impacts fields ranging from law to dieting.

Feature Infographic: How Different Groups Spend Their DayVia NYT – The American Time Use Survey asks thousands of American residents to recall every minute of a day. Here is how people over age 15 spent their time in 2008

Feature: Bank of International Settlements An assessment of financial sector rescue programmes – Via BIS – We analyse the wide array of rescue programmes adopted in several countries, following Lehman Brothers’ default in September 2008, in order to support banks and other financial institutions. We first provide an overview of the programmes, comparing their characteristics, magnitudes and participation rates across countries. We then consider the effects of the programmes on banks’ risk and valuation, looking at the behaviour of CDS premia and stock prices. We then proceed to analyse the issuance of government guaranteed bonds by banks, examining their impact on banks’ funding and highlighting undesired effects and distortions. Finally, we briefly review the recent evolution of bank lending to the private sector. We draw policy implications, in particular as regards the way of mitigating the distortions implied by such programmes and the need for an exit strategy.

Feature: Your brain in drive What happens when an older driver takes the wheel — and what we all can learn from it– Via Boston Globe – For all the indignities that the elderly suffer, they aren’t typically accused of being a menace to society. Until, that is, they get behind the wheel of a car. Here in Massachusetts, a spate of high-profile accidents involving older drivers – a 92-year-old man who killed his wife by backing over her in a parking lot, an 88-year-old woman who allegedly hit and killed a 4-year-old girl in a crosswalk in Stoughton last month, a 93-year-old man who mistook the gas pedal for the brake and drove through the entrance of a Danvers Wal-Mart – have triggered calls on Beacon Hill for measures that would take older drivers off the roads as their abilities decline. Within families, it has heightened anxieties about whether it may finally be time to take the car keys away from elderly parents or grandparents.

1. Musicophilia: Six Questions for Oliver Sacks Via Harpers – Columbia University Professor Oliver Sacks is probably the country’s best known neurologist. But his greatest talent may be his ability to make the complexities of neurological disorders understandable to laymen while portraying the afflictions of his patients in a compelling and compassionate way. A regular contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, Sacks is best known for Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars. His latest book, has just appeared as a Vintage paperback. I put six questions to Dr. Sacks about his remarkable study of music and the human brain.

2. A Case of Insider Trading in Spain (in Spanish) – Via SSRN – This paper analyzes the incredible mistakes written by a court in Spain in a case of insider trading.

3. Infographic: Six Things That Could Bring The Economy Down the Tubes Via Credit Loan – Some analysts say that the worst is over and the end of the recession is in sight, while others are predicting that we haven’t seen the half of it. The following infographic shows a few things that could realistically still go wrong, postponing the return to the economy’s previous state for a little while longer.

4. Infographic- Is China Squeezing Out Other Exporters? – Via Economic Pic – Michael Pettis (via RGE Monitor) has an interesting piece titled ‘Squeezing Out the Exporters”. Michael makes the case that Europe and the U.S. will likely take a tougher stance on imports from China because of the perception that China is subsidizing their exports. However, the data he lists to support that view seems highly misleading.

5. 20 Things You Didn’t Know About…Eclipses – Via Discovery – The longest total solar eclipse of the century occurred on July 22 over India, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. It peaked over the Pacific Ocean, but even there the darkness lasted a mere 6 minutes and 29 seconds…. and much more.

6. Supercharged on Supercapacitors – Via ForbesWolfe – Lux’s report is divided as well. Its first section explains the basic technologies enabling supercapacitors, and what properties make these devices attractive. The second half explores opportunities in each of the market’s sectors, including their potential size and growth, and how individual companies are poised to capitalize. Incumbent supercapacitor players will find the report offers comparative analysis of future growth opportunities for each sub-segment, while companies arriving late to the game will learn what technologies offer appealing entry points to the market. Prospective investors will also find insights into which individual companies are best positioned to compete in their respective sectors.

7. Does organizational sociology do a better job than austrian economics? – Via OrgTheory – Capitalist economies depend on cycles of creativity and destruction. Markets settle into rigid patterns, then creative individuals see something that others don’t. They organize to gather resources so they can take risks. If successful, the entrepreneurs topple incumbent industries by drawing away customers with innovative products and services. It’s a cool idea. It’s likely Schumpeter’s enduring legacy in the wider intellectual world. But there’s a few problems with Austrianism’s focus on entrepreneurs. What’s so special about the Austrian account? Does it add anything to what a standard search theory already has? Why should we accord any special role to entrepreneurs other than being first in line?

8. Back to the Good Times on Wall Street – Via Harvard Law School –  New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released yesterday a report on compensation and income at nine major banks during 2003-2009. An assessment of these figures raises serious concerns from the perspective of both investors and taxpayers. The Cuomo report focuses on nine large financial institutions that received substantial TARP support from the government. Below we focus on the compensation decisions these firms made during the first half of 2009. Assuming that these decisions are a sign of things to come, the firms’ post-crisis pay policies appear to be, in the aggregate, even more lucrative to the firms’ employees than precrisis policies.

9. America’s Exhausted Paradigm: Macroeconomic Causes of the Financial Crisis and Great Recession – Via New America Foundation – This report traces the roots of the current financial crisis to a faulty U.S. macroeconomic paradigm. One flaw in this paradigm was the neo-liberal growth model adopted after 1980 that relied on debt and asset price inflation to drive demand. A second flaw was the model of U.S. engagement with the global economy that created a triple economic hemorrhage of spending on imports, manufacturing job losses, and off-shoring of investment. Deregulation and financial excess are important parts of the story, but they are not the ultimate cause of the crisis. Instead, they facilitated the housing bubble and are actually part of the neo-liberal model, their function being to fuel demand growth based on debt and asset price inflation. The old post-World War II growth model based on rising middle-class incomes has been dismantled, while the new neo-liberal growth model has imploded. The United States needs a new economic paradigm and a new growth model, but as yet this challenge has received little attention from policymakers or economists.

10. U.S. Corporate Governance Today: A Reshaping of Capitalism – Via Harvard Law – One way to sum up the “big picture” of corporate governance in the U.S. today is as follows: We are in the midst of a true revolution in our private enterprise economic system, much of which is being driven in the name of “corporate governance” by multiple parties with an ever-expanding agenda This may sound like one of those deliberately extreme statements sometimes designed to stimulate debate—but I offer it simply as a description of where things are. In fact:  The roster of participants in the U.S. corporate governance arena today is extraordinarily large and diverse, the collective agenda of these participants is very broad, and the level of dedication of these various participants to achieving their agendas is quite high.  The common purpose or effect of their efforts is to redesign in significant ways the publicly traded business corporation, a central instrument of U.S. capitalism. This redesign involves sources of capital, the role of risk-taking, the fundamental purpose of business corporations and the role of directors.

11. ‘Revolving Door’ Between Endowments and Investment Firms – Via Inside Higher Education – When the University of Colorado’s endowment manager left to join a private investment firm, he took the university’s entire portfolio with him to the new firm, without a competing bid, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper describes the move involving Christopher Bittman as unusual also because most institutions do not outsource all of their assets, but cites the situation as evidence of deepening ties between university endowments and private money managers. Colorado officials told the Journal that they were saving money on the fees they would normally have had to pay for a topflight investment adviser and that they did not seek other bids because “we felt we were looking at unique circumstances because of our comfort level with Chris Bittman.”

12. Surprises from General Relativity: “Swimming” in Spacetime – Via Scientific American – The possibility of “swimming” and “gliding” in curved, empty space shows that even after nine decades, Einstein’s theory of general relativity continues to amaze.

13. Video Law & Neuroscience – Via Situationist – : LBNstudio: “The degree to which brain scans will be admissible in court remains unclear, but experts already are pointing to precedent-setting cases and warning that neuroscience could alter the law, creating new methods and new visual evidence to determine criminal intent and criminal responsibility. Scott Drake talks with Stanford law Professor Hank Greely.”

14. Delving into the Psychology of Belief and Superstition – Via NeuroNarrative – A great deal of recent research is focused on identifying the psychological and neurological underpinnings of belief and superstition.  In the first video below, Bruce Hood, experimental psychologist at Bristol University and author of SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, answers questions concerning how people become superstitious and what motivates their ongoing beliefs.  In the second video, Ken Livingston, professor of psychology at Vassar College, discusses recent research on the neurological infrastructure of spiritual experiences.

15. Imaginary Friends Television programs can fend off loneliness – Via Scientific American –  Stomach growling, but have no time for a meal? A snack will do. Drowsy and unable to concentrate? A short nap can be reviving when a good night’s rest is unavailable. But what should you do when you are alone and feeling lonely?New psychological research suggests that loneliness can be alleviated by simply turning on your favorite TV show. In the same way that a snack can satiate hunger in lieu of a meal, it seems that watching favorite TV shows can provide the experience of belonging without a true interpersonal interaction.

16. Netflix Competitors Learn the Power of Teamwork – Via NYT – A contest set up by Netflix, which offered a $1 million prize to anyone who could significantly improve its movie recommendation system, ended on Sunday with two teams in a virtual dead heat, and no winner to be declared until September.

17. Governance Matters VIII: Aggregate and Individual Governance Indicators, 1996-2008 Via SSRN -This paper reports on the 2009 update of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) research project, covering 212 countries and territories and measuring six dimensions of governance between 1996 and 2008: Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption. These aggregate indicators are based on hundreds of specific and disaggregated individual variables measuring various dimensions of governance, taken from 35 data sources provided by 33 different organizations. The data reflect the views on governance of public sector, private sector and NGO experts, as well as thousands of citizen and firm survey respondents worldwide. We also explicitly report the margins of error accompanying each country estimate. These reflect the inherent difficulties in measuring governance using any kind of data. We find that even after taking margins of error into account, the WGI permit meaningful cross-country comparisons as well as monitoring progress over time.

18. Video: Censoring You: The Limits of What You See and Hear Via Fora.Tv – If you google “Tianamen Square” in China, no results pop up. Stateside, the FCC doesn’t want you to hear George Carlin saying certain words on the radio or see Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunctions, whereas violent movies and video games have been generally tolerated. How does limiting access to information shape you? And, who’s watching the watchers? The Commonwealth Club’s uncensored panel discusses who decides what we hear, if they can be trusted, and what we can do about it.

19. Video: Food Security and Climate Change Via Fora. Tv – Scientists calculate that temperatures will keep rising for the next 50 years, no matter how drastically we cut greenhouse gas emissions. Open Society Fellow Mark Hertsgaard and Sara Scherr, founder of Ecoagriculture Partners, discuss the implications of this somber reality for food production and global hunger. The panelists assess the severity of the problem, which is worsened by widespread soil erosion and dwindling rainfall in crop-growing regions. They also identify cause for hope. New farming techniques can boost crop yields while enabling plants to store carbon.

20. Who owns the Arctic Circle? Via Sun Sentinel – The United States and other countries are fighting over who can claim the Arctic Circle, including oil and fishing rights. Billions may be at stake. Researchers at Durham University in the UK developed a map last year that shows the major claims and disputes. You can see a simplified version in Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel, as well as a map of potential oil fields. The United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will meet August 10, 2009 to decide who owns the those chilly northern reaches, including the North Pole.

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

02. August 2003 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Weekly Roundups | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *