Monday, May 31, 2010

April set a record!

This post provides an update to Dismal Science.

April set a record you probably didn't hear about. You likely saw news that last month was the warmest April on record, as measured by average global surface temperature and by ocean surface temperature. January-April 2010 also set a new average temperature record for the 4-month period. Records date back to 1880. The Little Ice Age ended in 1850.

The news you didn't hear is that a new April record was set for year-over-year increase in carbon dioxide (CO2). Atmospheric CO2 in April 2009 was 389.46 parts per million (ppm) and was 392.39 ppm in April 2010, for a year-over-year April increase of 2.93 ppm. Data obtained from the Mauna Loa Observatory and is published by NOAA here. The data series begins with March 1958.

Measuring the monthly change in CO2 across a rolling 12-month window is relevant because CO2 experiences seasonal fluctuations. It rises in the (Northern hemisphere) spring and summer and falls during the winter. April 2010 was the 14th highest monthly increase in CO2 in the entire data series. CO2 has almost continuously increased on a year-over-year basis. There have been only eight out of 613 months since March 1959 in which CO2 levels declined. The last monthly decline occurred in September 1974.


The following chart plots minimum and maximum annual changes in CO2 occurring in April, from 1960 to 2010, measuring minimum and maximum values on a rolling 12-month basis. The color area is the spread between minimum and maximum increase. Long plateaus indicate periods in which no new records were being set. Choppy areas indicate shorter time intervals between new maximum or minimum values. The white line is 10-year moving average.


 Click chart to view full-size

Twenty-three of the top-30 monthly CO2 increases (in all months) have occurred in the past 12 years. "Top-30" equates to top-5%. The prior new monthly record was set in March 2009. Monthly annual increase records for June, July, August, September, October, November and December were all set in 1998. Prior to 1998, the other seven monthly records in the top-30 are found only in 1988 and 1973. TheRaven will be monitoring NOAA data to report new monthly records as they occur.

Since the worst global economic crisis in over 75 years didn't put a dent in CO2 growth, TheRaven expects that global economic recovery coupled with relentless population growth will trigger a few new CO2 growth records.

Density of Votes

This post follows-up on the last one (Density of Earnings) with just one chart. The President's vote share in each of the 67 counties originally analyzed by Ron Pitingolo are juxtaposed with Rob's college degree density metric (degree holders per square mile). See last post for complete explanation of analysis. Results indicate correlation between higher concentrations of educated people and Obama vote shares greater than 50%. The president won in 91% of these counties.
Click image to view full-size

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Density of Earnings

Richard Florida wrote The Creative Class, founded a similarly-named consulting firm and writes a column for theAtlantic.com. Rob Pitingolo is a recent college grad who analyzed the geographic density of bachelor's and graduate degree holders in 52 major cities. Florida recently featured Rob's analysis in a piece titled The Density of Smart People.

Rob's file was made available for download from theAtlantic.com. TheRaven modified Rob's work by adding BLS occupational pay data. The modified file (which was returned to Rob and Richard) demonstrates various degrees of correlation between the geographic concentration of degree holders and higher earnings for almost all occupations that require higher education, and also for many that do not.

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UPDATE: you can download the Excel file used to produce all charts in this post. The file is stored at Docstoc, download it for free here. Zero Excel skills are required. The file is operated only with a mouse. Excel2007 or Excel2010 is required.
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This post looks at ten occupations - five that require higher education and five that do not. Each series is presented in order of most-to-least correlation between degree density and occupation earnings. The BLS tracks 800 occupations, so the 10 presentations in this post are illustrative but not representative. The modified analysis allows user selection of a specific point on the BLS pay range. All presentations here use mean pay data.

Click any image to see it full-size.

A. Higher education required - 1. Chemistry Teachers, post-secondary
A. Higher education required - 2. IT Managers
A. Higher education required - 3. Graphic Designers
A. Higher education required - 4. Civil Engineers
A. Higher education required - 5. Primary Care Physicians
B. Higher education not required - 1. Electricians

B. Higher education not required - 2. Plumbers
B. Higher education not required - 3. Real Estate Agents
B. Higher education not required - 4. Fire Fighters
B. Higher education not required - 5. Letter Carriers
After testing dozens of occupations across their pay range, very few were noted to show minimal or inverse correlation with degree density. Higher concentrations of educated people seem to benefit everyone.

Not qualified to lead

A certified radiologic technologist is an important healthcare occupation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 212,490 CRTs employed nationwide in 2009. Median earnings in 2009 were $43,539 with the 75pct point on the occupation's national pay scale averaging $53,137. You may have met a few CRTs; they are employed mostly by hospitals and imaging centers. Preparatory education programs have trended towards bachelor's degrees in recent years but many CRTs have Associates degrees or non-degree certification, such as the Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer.


This makes Ms. Brewer the only Governor who lacks a college degree. CRT (and similar) training programs develop valuable technical skills (and Ms. Brewer may have been the best CRT in the history of medical imaging) but the critical thinking skills needed for effective political leadership are born only in rigorous degree programs offered by accredited institutions.


Ms. Brewer recently signed into law anti-immigration legislation that humiliated intelligent Arizonans and embarrassed the United States. She broadly fits the white-hate demographic - 62 years old, lacking higher education attainment. Is it any wonder that she was so easily manipulated by right-wing extremists to legalize racial profiling? The law was authored by Russell Pearce, a former sheriff's deputy with links to hate groups.


Pearce's checkered past includes an accusation of domestic violence and later dismissal from a state government post. Pearce attributed half of Arizona's homicides to illegal immigrants to prod public fear into support of his execrable law. Since law enforcement crime statistics do not include perpetrator immigration status, it's obvious the Pearce was lying through his teeth. Pearce's hatred of brown people extends to babies. Given his druthers, the criminalization of babies will scare most undocumented expectant mothers away from prenatal care. By voting in a bill written by Pearce, Arizona's political leadership has embraced baby cruelty as state policy. Needless to say, Pearce is also uneducated. Is it any wonder he pals around with Nazis like JT Ready?


Pearce claimed ignorance of Ready's Nazism after above photo was made public. Ready's unabashed racial invective has drawn attention from the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the SPLC, Ready marched with neo-Nazi's in 2007 (above). This led Republican leaders to demand his ouster as Maricopa County GOP precinct committeeman. Ready's own final solution to immigration called for land mines along the border. Considering that Pearce has 35 years experience in law enforcement, his feigned ignorance of Ready's Neo-Nazism is ridiculous.

The SPLC reports that Ready has also maintained racist views in an online profile:

"Sporting his trademark star-spangled necktie, Jason "J.T." Ready is familiar to Phoenix, Ariz., residents, law enforcement officers and journalists as a City Council gadfly and oft-quoted member of the anti-immigration Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

Online, though, Ready is better known to the nearly 2,000 registered users of New Saxon, a newly popular white-supremacist social networking website, as "Viking Son." His self-created New Saxon profile displays photographs of Ready wearing a kilt, donning a bulletproof vest, and scouring the desert for "illegals" through a pair of binoculars. Ready lists his "turn-ons" as "a woman who loves our Race, Kultur, Heritage, History and Future," identifies the racist fantasy novel The Turner Diaries as his favorite book, and describes himself as a big fan of neo-Nazi teen pop duo Prussian Blue."


The SPLC provides additional background on Ready in profiles of 20 racist/extremists. Ready's includes this motto: "The Purity of the Aryan Race is the most precious resource Nature has to offer All of Humankind." The New Saxon website is an active tool of the National Socialist Movement (NSM). It's intentions remain undisguised.

The Columbia, Missouri Police Department prepared an insightful briefing on NSM before a "protest rally" at the University of Missouri. This excerpted page explains why NSM adherents make frequent reference to "88".

This post has only scratched the surface of a hate network beneath Arizona's new law. Ms. Brewer may or may not be an overt racist but her lack of education has enabled willful ignorance of legislative ties to groups that worship Hitler. Arizona's immigration law is founded on un-American principles. Her actions make it plainly obvious that Ms. Brewer is not qualified to lead.

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UPDATE Aug, 5, 2010: Utah gets a clue. Click here for an insightful analysis by The Economist.

What could be worse than a black President?

If your name is Glenn Beck, the answer is "black children in the white house".

Beck surpassed the low expectations of even his harshest critics by ridiculing Malia Obama in his national radio show. TheAtlantic provides an audio feed here and the following transcript, which can't provide the undisguised hate in Beck's mocking tone.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy? Daddy? Daddy, did you plug the hole yet? Daddy?
PAT GRAY (co-host): (imitating Obama) No I didn't, honey.
BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy, I know you're better than [unintelligible]
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Mm-hmm, big country.
BECK: (imitating Malia) And I was wondering if you've plugged that hole yet.
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Honey, not yet.
BECK: (imitating Malia) Why not, daddy? But daddy--
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Not time yet, honey. Hasn't done enough damage.
BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Not enough damage yet, honey.
BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah?
BECK: (imitating Malia) Why do you hate black people so much?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) I'm part white, honey.
BECK: (imitating Malia) What?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) What?
BECK: (imitating Malia) What'd you say?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Excuse me?
BECK: (laughing) This is such a ridiculous -- this is such a ridiculous thing that his daughter-- (imitating Malia) Daddy?
GRAY: It's so stupid.
BECK: How old is his daughter? Like, thirteen?
GRAY: Well, one of them's, I think, thirteen, one's eleven, or something.
BECK: "Did you plug the hole yet, daddy?" Is that's their -- that's the level of their education, that they're coming to -- they're coming to daddy and saying 'Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?' " Plug the hole!
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yes, I was doing some deep-sea diving yesterday, and--
BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I was doing--
BECK: (imitating Malia) Why--
GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah, honey, I'm--
BECK (imitating Malia) Why, why, why, why, do you still let the polar bears die? Daddy, why do you still let Sarah Palin destroy the environment? Why are -- Daddy, why don't you just put her in some sort of a camp?

Beck is running out of ideas on how to keep his name front & center. He made headlines several months ago by declaring that the President hates white people. Now the President hates black people, because he's "part white". Painting the President as the Conspirator-in-Chief could only appeal to the white, uneducated population that abounds in the gulf states. The demographic aiming of "not enough damage yet" is unmistakable.

This skit is a recoded Jim Crow taunt. It crosses all known boundaries on decency. There's recent evidence that Beck may finally be wearing out his welcome, which would explain why this former morning zoo clown would stoop to a new low. Andy Warhol's dictum on publicity is true, but shock wears thin.

Attacking an 11 year old girl could mark the beginning of the end for this risible fool.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Send flowers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes occupation pay and employment data in May of each year. The data is "as-of" May of the preceding year, since the BLS needs a year to vet data, which covers pay range and employment for 800 occupations in 400 metro areas and 291 industries. Occupations are defined by the BLS while industries are defined using the North America Industry Classification System (NAICS). This post covers changes in employment by industry from 2005 to 2009.

TheRaven has summarized occupation-by-industry data into broadly defined industry groups. Groupings attempt to vertically align industries according to basic economic themes. To be clear, the data is authoritative and covers the entire U.S. workforce, except for farming; domestic help and freelancers. Bearing in mind that industries overlap and that no grouping system is perfect, this post uses summarized BLS data to throw light on a few aspects of the US job market not found in typical reportage.  

Click any chart to see it full-size.

Reported: bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler, loss of Big-3 jobs.
Missed: the Big-3 workforce is a very small piece of total auto industry employment. Due to Big-3 outsourcing and inroads by Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Hyundai, et al, component manufacturers employ the bulk of the auto manufacturing workforce and they took the brunt of layoffs. Big-3 employees got the ink but lesser-known, lower-paid people felt the pain.

Confused by the chart? 

Left side - employment by industry, by year.
Center - color codes (chart legend)

  Important: color code sequence matches left & right, reading from top to bottom.

Right side - percentage distribution of employment, by industry, by year.

Reported: individual retailers struggled during the recession, retail layoffs, Las Vegas implosion.
Missed:
1) Florists have fared worse than the gambling industry, with a (25%) employment drop vs. (23%) in gambling.
2) "General merchandise stores" employment is up 29% over 2005, with 2009 gaining 3%.

Reported: oil prices, gas prices, "pain at the pump", "drill baby, drill", coal mine disasters, West Virginia's eternal dependence on coal, rising atmospheric carbon, climate change, oil spills.

Missed: employment in core industries of the carbon-based economy has been slowly falling, even as oil & gas exploration ramped up, and these industries account for less than 2% of the U.S. workforce.

Reported: "bailouts", tea bagger rage at the Federal government, flourishing conspiracy theories and extremist groups, "bloated Federal bureaucracy", slow dispersal of stimulus money.

Missed:
1) State & local governments employ four-times more people than the Federal government.
2) 87% of new government jobs created by the 2009 hiring surge were State & local.
3) all government jobs in 2009 accounted for only a slightly larger share of the U.S. workforce as compared to 2005.

Reported: anything branded "Apple", every Intel press release, lawsuits, video game releases, all "smart" objects, including the stupid ones.

Missed:
1) U.S. electronic manufacturing in long-term decline.
2) Digital economy jobs are up almost 10% over 2005, even after a 2% dip in 2009.
3) Systems design is flourishing.

Reported: newspaper financial trouble, Leno vs. Conan, Lost, 24.

Missed:
1) Old-media industries are in an across-the-board, long-term decline (it's not just newspapers).
2) Industry group share of U.S. workforce fell from 2.2% to 1.9%.
3) Internet-driven creative destruction is hitting in-force (aided by journalist incompetence).

Reported: organic vs. non-organic, Michael Pollan, franchise restaurant financial trouble, farming efficiencies have reduced farm employment to a tiny fraction of the U.S. workforce.

Missed:
1) Industry employment ratios from 3-4 generations ago have reversed. Where once a vast number of farmers produced food that moved through thinly-staffed distribution, a comparatively tiny farming workforce now plugs into a vast distribution network.
2) Where 3-4 generations ago very few people ate out, America now has a huge, sophisticated set of restaurant industries that have significantly displaced meals at home.
3) Almost one-in-eight U.S. workers is connected to food and this industry grouping shows a 3.8% net gain over 2005 employment, after shedding 177,980 jobs in 2009.

Reported: so-called Obama-care, so-called town-hall meetings, health-care share of GDP, hospitals feeling effects of uninsured population

Missed:
1) Hospitals & outpatient centers account for more than one-third of health care employment.
2) While hospital employment grew 7% between 2005 and 2009, ambulatory/outpatient industries grew a (combined) 18%.
3) Home care had the fastest employment growth, increasing by one-quarter between 2005 and 2009.

Reported: collapsing real estate markets, over-building, death of the suburbs, Case-Schiller, home buyer credits, foreclosures, short sales, home builder financial issues, mass layoffs.

Missed:
1) Similar to the auto industry, collapse of home building rippled through many supplier industries.
2) One-in-eight jobs related to home construction was lost with most of the decline in 2009.
3) This industry group dropped from 8.0% to 6.9% of the U.S. workforce.

Reported: "off-shoring", jobs lost to overseas competition, "no job safe".

Missed:
1) Domestic out-sourcing industries are an immense group, accounting for 1-in-9 U.S. jobs.
2) In 2009, this industry group gave up almost all the 1+ million jobs it gained over 2005-2008.
3) Employment services were crushed, losing 1 million jobs between 2007 and 2009.

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A subsequent post may look at more winners & losers among individual industries and occupations. This was the introductory, top-level view.

(All analysis by TheRaven)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is Scott Gottlieb lying?

The other day TheRaven was flying along and blew through a 15mph school zone at 35 miles an hour.

If we stop here, without looking at all the facts, you'd have typical Faux "news". A sliver of fact plucked from a complete picture and served up completely out of context, with every intent to deceive. TheRaven wonders how the irony of Rupert Murdoch turning a profit from the Tass business model is so overlooked.

Schools aren't in session where TheRaven lives. The Raven went flying on a Sunday, there wasn't a kid in sight and the posted speed limit for non-school hours is.....35 miles per hour. The complete picture is much different than the selected fact....blew through a 15mph school zone at 35 miles an hour...and the initial presentation sought to influence your opinion by suggesting irresponsible action ("blew through"). This simple example illustrates how the right-wing lies: one or two facts are used out of context to subvert understanding of government programs, laws and market forces. From anti-government lunatics to sophisticated lobbyists, regardless of subject and irrespective of rhetoric, the playbook doesn't vary.

Scott Gottlieb, a physician/fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal which is reproduced here, with commentary from TheRaven interspersed with Mr. Gottlieb's case study in disinformation.

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No, You Can't Keep Your Health Plan

Insurers and doctors are already consolidating their businesses in the wake of ObamaCare's passage.

By Scott Gottlieb

President Obama guaranteed Americans that after health reform became law they could keep their insurance plans and their doctors. It's clear that this promise cannot be kept. Insurers and physicians are already reshaping their businesses as a result of Mr. Obama's plan.

TheRaven: deception at the outset. Gottlieb says that insurers and physicians are "reshaping their businesses" because of  "Mr. Obama's plan". The unstated presumption here is that said plan has taken away all other options from insurers and physicians leaving them only with "reshaping" that is somehow detrimental to patients. 
 
The health-reform law caps how much insurers can spend on expenses and take for profits. Starting next year, health plans will have a regulated "floor" on their medical-loss ratios, which is the amount of revenue they spend on medical claims. Insurers can only spend 20% of their premiums on running their plans if they offer policies directly to consumers or to small employers. The spending cap is 15% for policies sold to large employers.

TheRaven: there is nothing inherently wrong with requiring medical insurers to spend 80% of their premium intake on patients. There's also no reason why medical insurers can't turn a reasonable profit with 15%-20% of premium intake consigned to administrative overheads and profit. Insurers can deploy technology improvements to lower labor costs, reduce management layers, shrink executive bonuses and perks, relocate back-office operations to lower cost areas and stop wasting resources persecuting patients with, for example, automatic fraud reviews for patients diagnosed with cancer. There are plenty of high-volume, low-margin industries (grocery stores, mining, agricultural commodities) and each one has a few standout companies that earn above-average returns for their shareholders. These companies have common traits, such as competent management teams and an aversion to needless overheads, like fancy corporate headquarters. The law doesn't limit profitability, it limits the share of premium intake to be split between overhead expenses and profit at 20%. The rest is up to the insurer.

This regulation is going to have its biggest impact on insurance sold directly to consumers—what's referred to as the "individual market." These policies cost more to market. They also have higher medical costs, owing partly to selection by less healthy consumers. Finally, individual policies have high start-up costs. If insurers cannot spend more of their revenue getting plans on track, fewer new policies will be offered.

TheRaven: regarding patients with more complicated medical histories, Gottlieb omits a few considerations: 1) the cost of such patients will be spread over a larger insured population; 2) U.S. economic growth has been impinged by decades of falling workforce mobility, which has been caused in part by the increasing cost and unavailability of reasonable medical coverage. He's looking only at the cost side of the ledger. Increased availability of coverage will drive economic growth, which in turn will create more business for health insurers.

Why would policies sold over the Internet with a one-hour follow-up telephone interview have "high start-up costs"? The customer invests their own time filling out forms online and is then directed to a local lab for specimen collection. The insurance company basically waits for an inflow of digital information it doesn't have to pay for. The only real cost is that one-hour interview which, including all overheads, might cost $100-$200. Fairly small change to bring in policies with annual premiums of several thousand dollars.

This will hit Wellpoint, one of the biggest players in the individual market, particularly hard. The insurance company already has a strained relationship with the White House: Earlier this month Mr. Obama accused Wellpoint of systemically denying coverage to breast cancer patients, though the facts don't bear that out.
Restrictions on how insurers can spend money are compounded by simultaneous constraints on how they can manage their costs. Beginning in 2014, a new federal agency will standardize insurance benefits, placing minimum actuarial values on medical policies. There are also mandates forcing insurers to cover a lot of expensive primary-care services in full. At the same time, insurers are being blocked from raising premiums—for now by political jawboning, but the threat of legislative restrictions looms.

TheRaven: a doctor defending an insurance company wants us to believe that the President issued his opinion on Wellpoint without DHS first doing some due diligence? He then conflates "minimum actuarial values" with insurer's ability to control costs, which suggests that all medical cases are created equal. The old DRG system has more than 500 codes and there are approximately 9,000 ICD-9 codes, hardly a uniform picture. "Standardized insurance benefits" will lower aggregate costs, for example, by lowering insurer's legal expenses to defend their claims denials. "Expensive primary care services?" Exactly what is expensive about primary care, compared to specialties like radiology and cardiology? Gottlieb doesn't mention the cost reduction benefits of expanded primary care, for example, nutritional counseling for diabetics that reduces the incidence of expensive surgery.

One of the few remaining ways to manage expenses is to reduce the actual cost of the products. In health care, this means pushing providers to accept lower fees and reduce their use of costly services like radiology or other diagnostic testing. To implement this strategy, companies need to be able to exert more control over doctors. So insurers are trying to buy up medical clinics and doctor practices. Where they can't own providers outright, they'll maintain smaller "networks" of physicians that they will contract with so they can manage doctors more closely. That means even fewer choices for beneficiaries. Insurers hope that owning providers will enable health policies to offset the cost of the new regulations.

TheRaven:  Gottlieb doesn't mention the billions of dollars wasted each year on duplicated testing and he also fails to mention risk to patients from excessive use of medical imaging. Insurers can realize cost savings by cracking down on cowboy physicians who don't coordinate care on co-morbid patients.

Gottlieb argues that insurers will give up revenue for sake of control? Why would a for-profit corporation ever want to give up revenue, especially when the 80% payout rule will motivate insurers to find economies of scale? He refutes himself by mentioning insurers are trying to vertically integrate.  Vertical integration is typically motivated by potential economies of scale.

Doctors, meanwhile, are selling their practices to local hospitals. In 2005, doctors owned more than two-thirds of all medical practices. By next year, more than 60% of physicians will be salaried employees. About a third of those will be working for hospitals, according to the American Medical Association. A review of the open job searches held by one of the country's largest physician-recruiting firms shows that nearly 50% are for jobs in hospitals, up from about 25% five years ago.

Last month, a hospital I'm affiliated with outside of Manhattan sent a note to its physicians announcing a new subsidiary it's forming to buy up local medical practices. Nearby physicians are lining up to sell—and not just primary-care doctors, but highly paid specialists like orthopedic surgeons and neurologists. Similar developments are unfolding nationwide.

TheRaven: Gottlieb is saying here is that ObamaCare is causing market consolidation towards the care delivery model proven by Kaiser Permenente and the Mayo Clinic. These organizations deliver the same quality care as market leaders like UCLA at half the cost. When doctors work for the hospital, cowboy medicine is replaced by integrated care. Tests aren't needlessly repeated, costs are dramatically lowered and human health care isn't run as a physician annuity. Gottlieb would apparently prefer the model reported by Atul Gawande, in which a poor Texas town racked up the highest per-capita Medicare spending in the U.S. because each physician ran his own show.

Consolidated practices and salaried doctors will leave fewer options for patients and longer waiting times for routine appointments. Like the insurers, physicians are responding to the economic burdens of the president's plan in one of the few ways they're permitted to.

For physicians, the strains include higher operating costs. The Obama health plan puts expensive new mandates on doctors, such as a requirement to purchase IT systems and keep more records. Overhead costs already consume more than 60% of the revenue generated by an average medical practice, according to a 2007 survey by the Medical Group Management Association. At the same time, reimbursement under Medicare is falling. Some specialists, such as radiologists and cardiologists, will see their Medicare payments fall by more than 10% next year. Then there's the fact that medical malpractice premiums have risen by 10%-20% annually for specialists like surgeons, particularly in states that haven't passed liability reform.

The bottom line: Defensive business arrangements designed to blunt ObamaCare's economic impacts will mean less patient choice.

TheRaven: there is no evidence that Kaiser or Mayo patients experience longer waiting times. How does more efficient care delivery translate to higher operating costs? Is Gottlieb really complaining about the IT investment needed to provide integrated care? Physicians should benefit from lower malpractice insurance premiums and surrounded by hospital infrastructure, better use of their time. The traditional group practice doesn't scale. Gottlieb doesn't mention that U.S. physicians are better paid than in any other developed nation and that, thanks to the President's legislation,  they will remain well-compensated, as hospital employees.

Dr. Gottlieb, a former official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a practicing internist. He's partner to a firm that invests in health-care companies.

TheRaven: Gottlieb is a contemptible shill  for insurance companies and old-school physician entitlement.


UPDATE 1: A New York Times piece reports results of a study indicating that reductions in medicare fees paid to doctors didn't reduce patient access to healthcare, as was previously feared. Such reductions had exactly the opposite effect. To maintain incomes, doctors treated more patients. Such response is precisely what we'd expect in a rational economic system and runs counter to Gottlieb's "thesis".

UPDATE 2: A LA Times article reports that Aetna is the 2nd of California's four big health insurer to withdraw a proposed double-digit rate hike because it had made "math errors". The other large health insurer suffering from an arithmetic deficit is Blue Cross Blue Shield. "This was a simple human error," said spokeswoman Anjanette Coplin, who did not elaborate. "As soon as we uncovered this mistake, we informed the California Department of Insurance."....."There were multiple errors … in the way [Aetna] annualized premiums and in the compounding of the rate increase," said state Insurance Department spokesman Darrel Ng. Perhaps the health insurance industry will blame their computational challenge on healthcare reform. People like Mr. Gottlieb are certainly willing to make that case.

Revisiting the AK-47, part II

The prior post explained why the AK-47 has approximately four-times the destructive power of standard-issue police firearms. The destructive force of a firearm is the kinetic energy (measured in foot-pounds) it delivers to a target. Kinetic energy is a product of the weight and velocity of bullets expelled by the weapon.

This post provides a coda, by illustrating the destructive power of the AK-47 with a look at the only handgun on the planet that packs equal punch. Smith & Wesson has developed a .50 caliber revolver, purportedly for the big-game hand-gunner market. Three new cartridges have been developed for this 5-shot weapon. This picture shows that the powerful .357 Magnum round (left) looks puny by comparison to the most powerful of the new .50 cal rounds (right).

Click image to see full-size
You might recall that the .44 magnum round was made famous by Clint Eastwood. Note the "muzzle energy" ratings beneath each round (above). The .50 cal S&W delivers 2,600 ft-lb kinetic energy, slightly more destructive power than is produced by an AK-47 firing 150 grain bullets. So how big is the weapon that fires the new monster bullet? More than big enough to make Dirty Harry want a new gun:

Click image to see full-size

The only handgun on the planet that equals the AK-47's power is simply huge. Don't be mislead by the "assault rifle" tag. The AK-47 is a device for delivering a level of destructive force that no private citizen needs to possess. It isn't a hunting weapon and other types of firearms are more appropriate for personal defense, e.g., shotguns.

So-called militias, anti-government extremists and violent hate groups love the AK for its power and low cost. Eastern European AK's can be purchased new for as little as $600, about the same cost as a top-name handgun from manufacturers like Glock or Beretta. That's very little money considering the AK-47 packs four-times the punch of the typical handgun and provides the asymmetric firepower that recently killed two police officers.

The 43rd President wrongly allowed the assault weapons ban to lapse. TheRaven expects the 44th President to push comprehensive gun ownership reform in his second term. Expect a firestorm of rhetoric and threats that will make the tea baggers look like a church social. Watch for the lies, don't be confused between the right to bear arms and the non-right to pack more firepower than the police. The President does not intend to take away legitimate hunting and personal defense weapons, but he understands that reform is overdue.

The AK-47 and its kind have got to go.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Revisiting the AK-47

Two police officers make a routine traffic stop. They're both experienced officers. Moments later, they're both dead, murdered by an anti-government lunatic named Jerry Kane. This picture of the murdered officers was taken during an large drug bust that occurred before their tragic end.

Click image to see full-size

Jerry Kane was driving a white minivan registered to the House of Prayer, a "church" associated with white racist/extremists (TheRaven detests use of "supremacist" to describe pond scum). You can find an audio clip of Jerry interviewed on an Internet call-in show here. This clip is highly recommended, because it reveals much about Kane's state of mind. The first 8 minutes are devoted to Kane raging about two days of incarceration after he failed to produce required documentation for a routine traffic stop. His language is textbook extremism. A comic-book interpretation of law, no understanding of due process and consistent characterization of government, courts and law enforcement as "evil". He refers to the traffic stop as a "nazi checkpoint". The show moves on to Kane's stock and trade - purported advice to beleaguered homeowners.

The House of Prayer is located at 143 West Main Street, New Vienna, OH, in one of the store-fronts along the left-side of this picture. (Doesn't look much like Kabul, does it?)

Click image to see full-size

The murdered police officers are Sgt. Brandon Paudert (top picture, left) and Officer Bill Evans (right). They were 39 and 38 years old, respectively. The shootout occurred in West Memphis, Arkansas, on route 40. Kane and his son escaped but were cornered 90 minutes later in a nearby Walmart parking lot. They were both killed in a second shoot-out, in which two more officers were injured, one critically. An "unknown wildlife officer with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission", who was part of the manhunt, is credited for possibly saving the lives of both injured officers, here.

A New York Times article states that Kane has "a long police record" and notes that an expert on financial scams who has testified before Congress believes that Kane was perpetrating financial scams. The two-hour call-in show (which TheRaven listened to in entirety) supports this claim. An official of the Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that Kane's debt-avoidance scams are commonly used by racist/extremists to fund their operations. He also notes recent, sudden growth in the number of known racist/extremist groups. Kane's website can be found here and a series of his lectures begins here.

How could Jerry Kane, a white racist/extremist financial scammer with "a long police record", accompanied by a 16-year old boy, murder two experienced police officers during a routine traffic stop? Compared with the officer's side-arms, he had vastly superior fire-power. Jerry Kane had one or more AK-47's.

Why are semi-automatic rifles like the AK-47 more lethal than police-issue side arms?

There are two primary reasons:

1) The standard AK-47 magazine holds 30 cartridges vs. 15-17 for typical police side-arms (roughly twice as many)

2) Rifle cartridges pack orders-of-magnitude more explosive force than pistol cartridges. How this extra explosive force translates into destructive power is explained further on.

This picture of shows various types of pistol ammunition and one rifle cartridge (right side).

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The most common pistol ammo is 9 millimeter (9mm) and one of the most powerful is .357 Magnum. Both designations refer to the weapon's bore, i..e, ".357" means the bore is about one-third of an inch across. Note the size difference between the 9mm and .357 cartridges. Now compare both to the .223 round on the right. The .223 is similar to ammunition used by the AK-47, which is shown further on.

The projectile hurled by the cartridge's explosive charge is the actual "bullet". Bullets are measured by weight, in grains. The 9mm bullet above is a relatively light, 115 grain target round. The destructive power of a firearm is a function of the weight and velocity of its bullets. Bullet velocity is measured in feet-per-second (fps). Note the weights (GR) and velocities (f.p.s.) in this illustration of pistol ammunition.
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Pistol bullets generally range from 115 up to 200 grains (for .45 caliber) and average roughly 150 grains. A standard-issue 9mm hollow-point is exactly 147 grains. Pistol bullets generally travel at 900-1,200 feet-per-second. The next illustration provides comparable bullet weight & velocity information for several types of AK-47 ammunition. The illustration was obtained from a web site devoted to the AK-47.

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Note that AK-47 bullet weights are comparable to typical pistol ammunition but bullet velocity (2,365-2,800 fps) is more than twice the average for pistols. Similar weight bullets with more than 2x velocity translates to 4x the destructive power, measured by bullet kinetic energy, as shown in this table (obtained here):

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The call-in interview with Kane is two hours long. With the exception of one female caller, who reveals her education through vocabulary, it's a tour through the less-advantaged mindset that accords credibility to people like Jerry Kane. His grade-school metaphors, occasional biblical invocations and banal exhortations do not add up to genuine financial advice.

Kane repackages well-worn racist/extremist notions of anti-government resistance, for example, urging people to file police reports on recorders of deeds for "identity theft". He makes frequent reference to deeds of trust and power of attorney and refers to money as "FRN" (Federal Reserve Notes). His real message is that individuals win only if they "turn the tables" on their oppressors with false and outrageous claims. He urges several callers to bill banks for their personal time (in one case, a child welfare agency) and divines sinister purpose in double-entry bookkeeping. (TheRaven confesses surprise that racist/extremist rhetoric now encompasses double-entry bookkeeping). His argument for billing personal time is "...a lot of them (banks) will pay it if its just a tiny bit". Kane's limited use of language could only impress a high-school dropout.

The AK-47 web site has a top-10 list here. How can one weapon have a top-10 list? Because the AK-47 has been manufactured all over the world. American gun fanciers (the site sponsor is a Tucson gun shop) voted the Polish variant #1, with 1,029 votes, followed by models manufactured in Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and Hungary. It is both a bitter irony and a testament to the congenital ignorance of racist/extremists that they choose to express their notions of freedom with Soviet tools of oppression, which were made available to them through globalization and the triumph of democracy over Stalinism.

Two American police officers are dead because a textbook anti-government lunatic had access to greater firepower. Had he been armed only with a hand gun, odds are the tables would have been turned. There are lessons to be drawn from this tragedy:

1. Anti-gun advocates - all guns are not equal. Stop damning all guns and start picking your shots. Turn the tables on the gun nuts by advocating gun ownership under stringent new, national rules. Reveal the AK-47 as a symbol of anti-American hate and, if you want to help your country, learn some counter-intuitive PR skills.

2. New national rules - TheRaven outlined a seven point national program for legitimate gun ownership in an earlier post. Time to add the 8th requirement: no members of anti-government organizations should be allowed to keep or bear arms, based on the premise of the 2nd amendment.(They can vociferously exercise their 1st amendment rights, we'll keep the guns).

3. Not-for-profits associated with hate groups should be investigated - using a church as cover for racist/extremist activities begs for investigation pursuant to tax-status revocation, back-tax assessment and associated property forfeiture. If RICO plays here, let RICO run.

4. Upgrade police weaponry - New York City police officers carrying assault rifles have became a fairly common sight after 9/11. Highway patrol officers are, on a day-to-day basis, in greater danger. Let officers carry advanced weapons on traffic stops, especially in dangerous areas.

TheRaven salutes Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Destiny

The Euro has been in the news lately and media attention has, as usual, focused on one factor in a multivariate situation. Greek sovereign debt is an issue but the Greek economy is so small that if it vanished tomorrow, Europe would forget, in macro-economic terms, by this weekend. The media uses European sovereign debt to explain the Euro crisis.

Hand-wringing now extends to Spain and Portugal. If sovereign debt itself were the core problem, Japan would have imploded decades ago. High sovereign debt is generally a self-solving problem so long as national economies continue on a reasonable growth trajectory (e.g., Japan, to-date). Therefore, the real issue is investor expectations regarding Europe's future growth.

Why are investors concerned?

Because demographics is destiny.
 
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UPDATE: You can download the tool used to prepare charts in this post. The tool is stored on Docstoc, download it here. Zero Excel skills are needed. The tool is operated only with a mouse. Use it with Excel2007 or Excel2010. Do not attempt use with Excel2003. There's also a brief, illustrated walkthrough, a PDF document which can be downloaded here.
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Using historic and projected population data from the UN, we begin with a look at world population trends between 1950 and 2050.

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The UN data covers 196 countries. Between now and 2050, the UN Population Division projects that:

* Average life expectancy will increase 10%, from 69 to 76 years
* Global population will increase one-third, from 7.0 to 9.5 billion people
* Median age will increase one-third, from 29 to 39 years
* Fertility will fall 20%, 2.5 to 2.0 births per woman
* The ratio of persons aged 15-64 years old to total population, the broadly-defined productive population ratio, will fall from 64% to 61%.

Except for exacerbation of climate change caused by a one-third increase in human population and continued, out-sized growth in the global middle-class, this global picture is fairly benign. It should be noted that increasing life expectancy, not birth rate, now drives population growth. Current macro-economic concerns are driven by how the global picture breaks down between regions and countries.

Asia, North America and Latin America do not materially deviate from global averages. However, comparison between Africa and Europe helps to define Europe's emerging demographic crisis. Europe and Africa have been headed in opposite demographic directions for decades. We begin with Africa:

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 Africa forecast:

* Average life expectancy will increase 21%, from 56 to 68 years
* Population will double, from 1.0 to 2.0 billion people (in only two generations!)
* Median age will increase 45%, from 20 to 29 years
* Fertility will fall by half, from  4.7 to 2.4 births per woman
* The productive population ratio will leap from 56% to 65%.

Developed economies have enjoyed productive population ratios that cluster around 65% since 1950. Japan had the highest ratio in 1970 (69%) and peaked 20 years later at 70%. Japan's productive population ratio is now 64%. The U.S. is a model of consistency, compared to other nations. Our ratio remains in a fairly tight  61% to 67% range over 1950-2050.

History suggests that the productive population ratio dividing line between growing vs. stagnant economies is about 60%. The Africa forecast suggests that with establishment of genuine governance and rule of law, Africa's improving demographics could finally propel it out of poverty.

We now look at Europe:

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Europe forecast:

* Average life expectancy will increase 8%, from 76 to 82 years
* Population remains stuck at 760 million
* Median age will increase 18%, from 40 to 47 years
* Fertility will rise, from  1.5 to 1.8 births per woman
* The productive population ratio will drop from 66% to 53%.


In 1950, Europe accounted for 20% of global population while Africa comprised 8%. By 2050, these positions will be reversed. Europe's fertility has been below replacement rate since 1980 and is forecast to remain below replacement rate up to 2050. Europe's current life expectancy exceeds Africa's forecast improvement, 40 years hence, by 10%.

Europe faces an epic demographic crisis. Its productive population ratio is forecast to fall one-fifth over the next 40 years. With the exception of the UK, European countries lack immigration policies rooted in demographic reality. By retaining the Pound instead of adopting the Euro the UK effectively monetized its (comparatively) progressive immigration policy. Brilliant!

Let's look at where the European demographic forecast is most adverse, the 12 countries in UN's definition of "Southern Europe":

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Southern Europe forecast:

* Average life expectancy will increase 5%, from 80 to 84 years
* Population will slightly increase, to 170 million
* Median age will increase 20%, from 41 to 49 years
* Fertility will rise, from  1.4 to 1.8 births per woman
* The productive population ratio will plummet, from 64% to 49% (a 23% decline in ratio)

Compared European averages, Southern Europe is already older, living longer, with lower birth rate and proportionately less productive population. The forecast calls for these demographic differences to get worse. Southern Europe includes Greece, Portugal and Spain. The region also includes Italy, whose demographic crisis has sparked fertility incentives from a few local governments. Southern Europe's productive population ratio is forecast to fall by almost one-quarter.

Why will a steep drop in productive population ratio kill growth in developed nations? Won't technological advances improve productivity in the remaining workforce? While the answer to the 2nd question is "most likely" the answer to the first is "because you must also consider life expectancy". The short answer to the first question is "because taxes will rise".

The flip-side of Southern Europe's 23% fall in productive population ratio is that the unproductive population ratio will jump 42%. Compare this to Africa, where the unproductive population ratio will decline by 20%.  In a macroeconomic context, demographics is truly a two-edged sword. European governments, particularly in Southern Europe, will raise taxes in future to support an exploding old-age population. An average life expectancy of 84 translates to a minimum of 20 unproductive years for each healthy person.

By missing the bigger issue the media has also missed the most likely next big debt crisis. The only developed country in worse demographic shape than Europe is the 2nd largest economy on the planet. Japan's productive population ratio is forecast to fall to 51% by 2050 as its already-stellar life expectancy climbs to 87 years. Deflation already casts a pall over expectations for the Japanese economy.

This analysis also explains why a seeming turnaround in attitude regarding the dollar is really no surprise. The U.S. will get older, its productive population ratio will fall and taxes will rise but the real issue is the relative magnitude of these trends. Total U.S. population will increase one-third over the next 40 years and the productive population ratio will remain above 60%. It turns out that being a nation of immigrants is both a moral cause and a saving grace.

(All analysis by TheRaven).

Paper tigers

Republican members of the house Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report yesterday titled The SEC: Designed for Failure. Bearing in mind the current political climate, TheRaven still hears the ring of truth. However, while the Minority Committee members wrote a fairly comprehensive document, they missed the importance of a key finding.

The report covers typical dysfunctional organization issues, such as siloed departments and  bureaucratic warfare, seasoned by a plethora of lawyers with little knowledge of securities markets. The SEC has an unusual problem: its analysts are unionized. The report expresses incredulity that no SEC staff have been fired in the aftermath of the Madoff case.

The problem that cuts across all others is technology. We begin with a section copied directly from the report, beginning on page 11. Footnotes have been stripped out and TheRaven's emphasis has been added but the text is otherwise verbetim

 First, the Commission has thus far failed to incorporate technology into its own review of securities disclosures. The Commission’s Division of Corporation Finance (CF) employs hundreds of attorneys and accountants  to read and check public companies’ registration statements, prospectuses, proxy materials, periodic reports, and other filings. A large portion of this work consists of simple calculations. For example, a CF accountant might check to make sure that no item labeled “Miscellaneous” in a company’s financial statements represents more than 10% of the total of its category, or calculate simple financial ratios using numbers contained in the statements. CF accountants also usually compare numbers from the current period with numbers from previous periods to check for unusual changes.

These tasks are performed manually, using printouts, pencils, and calculators.  The private sector has for many years used software that automatically calculates important ratios, flags significant year-on-year changes, and checks the mathematics of financial statements. CF does not, which wastes untold amounts of highly-educated attorneys’ and accountants’ review time. In fact, CF officials have actively resisted internal suggestions that some manual calculations and checks could be automated to save reviewer time for the tasks that require more skill.

Another common review task is to check whether various disclosure elements are present or not. For example, CF’s reviewers regularly check to make sure that a company has included the required CEO and CFO certifications with its quarterly and annual reports on Forms 10-Q and 10-K, in the proper format. These disclosure elements are not
tracked in any centralized system. Instead, CF’s reviewers use Microsoft Word templates and create documents with typed X’s indicating the presence or absence of such elements in a company’s filings. This makes it impossible for CF to respond quickly when a company has omitted a required disclosure element. Instead, CF reviewers compile long lists of deficiencies in a company’s filings and send comprehensive comment letters to the company requesting changes.

After negotiations, the company might make an amended filing. CF’s internal policy for comments on annual reports, at least as of 2008, was to “send a comment letter to a firm prior to the firm’s next fiscal year-end.” In other words, it might take eight months for CF to even contact a company about a deficient annual report, and longer for that company to file an amended report.

Second, the Commission employs no automatic, electronic screening software to check filings for indicia of fraud or errors. Outside analysts, academics, and accounting associations have developed lists of risk factors and ratios that are correlated with accounting misstatements. But the Commission has not incorporated this knowledge into any comprehensive risk-monitoring software. Instead, CF relies on the eyes of its reviewers to find errors, and the Commission’s Division of Enforcement relies on tips,
complaints, news stories, and referrals to find fraud. The Commission has long promised to develop the ability to perform industry-wide quantitative forensic analysis. It has failed to do that, and academia has instead taken the lead in uncovering fraud through number-crunching.

The Commission maintains no central electronic database of companies’ financial information, other than EDGAR’s electronic repository of text-based disclosure documents. Commission staff use Google Finance, Yahoo! Finance, and commercially available resources to perform or check their analyses.

Because it cannot perform quantitative analysis, the Commission has no means of prioritizing the thousands of tips and complaints it receives. If the Commission had a robust database of the financial information filed by its registrants, it could automatically prioritize tips relating to registrants fitting a risk profile. But no such database has ever been constructed. In September 2009, the Commission created the Division of Market Risk, which it tasked with, among other things, “strategic and long-term analysis” and “conducting research and analysis in furtherance and support of the functions of the Commission.” The new Division’s accomplishments remain unclear. As of April 24, 2010, its website redirected to a September 2009 press release announcing the appointment of its first director. Meanwhile, the Division of Enforcement announced a new Office of Market Intelligence, which, judging from published news reports, may be working on the sort of “proactive analytics” that have hitherto been missing. But fullscale analysis of all the data received from the Commission’s regulated entities is probably still years in the future.

Third, the Commission’s information technology resources are fragmented and unconnected. For one example, the agency lacks a universal internal search function. Commission staff have no automatic means of finding all of the electronic records that relate to a particular registrant – a corporation, a mutual fund, an investment adviser, or another entity. Information is scattered throughout dozens of databases; to find all the information the Commission might have about a particular company, they all must be searched.

Even worse, there is no consistent naming or numbering convention for regulated entities – an essential element of any enterprise-wide approach to data management. The Commission’s Web-accessible, public database of EDGAR filings is similarly limited. For instance, there is no means of searching within a single company’s filings. Investors and Commission staff who use EDGAR are faced with a “stack of electronic documents” whose component parts cannot be separately searched. For another example, the Commission has no agency-wide data management policy or plan, and no Chief Data Officer. Most large organizations that deal with large amounts of electronic information have senior officers and separate departments dedicated to ensuring data quality; the Commission has neither. As a result, its data compilations are redundant and corruptible.

Picking up the report again on page 28...

...the Commission has been unable to systematically update its disclosure rules for
an electronic information age. The rules do not contemplate electronic disclosure
formats. Frequently, they require paper-based methods for presenting information, such as attachments, incorporation by reference, and footnotes, that are difficult to translate into an all-electronic system. For another example, the cover pages of Forms 10-K, 10-Q, and others include checkboxes. The checkboxes indicate whether the issuer is current on its reporting obligations, whether it has posted interactive data files on its website, and whether it is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. Astonishingly, the checkboxes are not linked to any
electronic database. EDGAR has no means of limiting searches based on issuers’
responses to the checkboxes. 

And...

...the disclosure rules have become so complex that they can only be understood by specialized lawyers who work for the Commission and private law firms and investment banks. Some members of this elite group circulate back and forth between the Commission and the firms. Maintaining the complexity of the system is in their personal financial interest.

The report's five recommendations are aimed at "Congress should pass more laws" and "Mary Shapiro should do her job". Not terribly surprising. The disappointment is, obviously, that this minority report let the technology issues slip through its fingers. An agency-wide filings database and automated review process would push the SEC towards competence, in advance of other reforms. TheRaven hasn't performed a calculation with paper and pencil since 1984. Getting appropriate tools in the hands of SEC analysts would enable, empower and remind agency staff that they live in the 21st century.

Systemic risk created by SEC incompetence is inadequately addressed. The focus is on fraud risk. Investor security is important, however, the real peril is that SEC bungling creates market inefficiencies that weaken America's position in global capital markets. In comparison,  Madoff is barely a headline.

Good governance

The Daily Beast has rated Tennessee the most corrupt state in the union, but Nashville has a current example of good governance, reported here. Mayor Karl Dean and his staff are planning an expansion of a heretofore small buyout program for homes in flood-prone areas. While exact details regarding the scope and operation of  program aren't known, the speed of Nashville's response to the obvious - climate change has increased the severity of floods and reduced the interval between major events - stands in sharp contrast to New Orleans dysfunctional government.

New Orleans has done nothing as areas below sea level have been reclaimed by former residents. This non-response to understandable but misguided human emotions only guarantees future disaster. The highest natural elevation in New Orleans is a mere 12 feet above sea level. New Orleans will not survive the full brunt of climate change and its lower elevations will surely suffer well before the rest of the city is lost.

The article mentions that Nashville's buyout program is voluntary. A perfectly fine approach for homeowners but TheRaven urges a tougher stance on landlords, who may not respond to voluntary incentives with equal alacrity. TheRaven notes that government has two forms of eminent domain at its disposal. The public form creates headlines and lawsuits while stealthy use of rigorous codes enforcement gets results.

With Birmingham mired in scandal and debt, New Orleans sinking and Atlanta drowning in traffic, Nashville is showing another way it can distinguish itself from the Other South. Nashville's biggest long-term problem is crime. If, in addition to forward-thinking on climate change, Nashville solves its crime issues, it will emerge as the south's destination city.

UPDATE: The Nashville Scene reported on the effect urban planning decisions had on the flood in this July 8th article. Apart from local urban planning history, which suggests that Nashville-area builders lived in a "property-rights era" until 1991, the piece makes a telling point about modern safeguards and moral hazard. Only one of Nashville's historic homes sustained meaningful flood damage. Before the era of flood insurance, FEMA and dam systems, folks made better site location decisions. Their potential cost of failure with regards to property investment and floods was absolute.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pathetic

TheRaven has suffered Microsoft's blundering product efforts for many years. TheRaven suffered the foibles of Excel2003 to the point where crashing four times per day was routine. Only a day north of 10 software failures became worthy of complaint. TheRaven complained often.

There is a special place in hell for monopolists like Bill Gates. Why do you think he's devoted his post-Microsoft existence to mega-charity? The man purveyed crap for decades but he certainly knows how to cut a deal. TheRaven surely had late-night company the world over, cursing Gates, in frantic efforts to recover weeks of toil before the Big Whatever. Microsoft products were designed to fail when needed most. Kind of like Roger Smith's General motors, but worse.

By some miracle, market forces penetrated Micropoly, diluted the Koolaid and now clear signs of - gasp! - competence have sprung forth. Office2007 is vastly better than its predecessor and so feature rich that most technology journalists can't get their arms around it. Most importantly, it rarely crashes.

This introduction provides context for our multiple choice question. You needed to know that TheRaven has a long and bitter history with Micropoly, before we bash technology journalists and Google .

The question is: what is the most pathetic aspect of the productivity software market? There are three possible answers:

1. Technology journalists (so-called) who wonder why Microsoft maintains 94% market share.

2. Technology journalists who reveal a total lack of hands-on experience when (for example) reviewing Office2010. (Making a big deal out of the addition of SparkLines to Excel2010, when almost any chart type can be miniaturized in Excel2007, just one example).

3. Google docs.

Let's explore that third choice. Google, every media fool's darling, has completely failed to gain traction in the  productivity suite market. Google's share of the business segment is perhaps 1%. Reasons why are in black and white - in Google's announcement of new Goggle Spreadsheets features. Screen-shots below were taken two hours ago. (You can enlarge any image by clicking it).

Google's first big new feature is the formula edit line. Say what? The formula edit line is such a well-established spreadsheet technology that TheRaven can't remember how far back it goes, but, to the beginning of Windows is a good bet.

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Google's next big new feature is autofill, which seems to have been around forever in legitimate spreadsheet software. TheRaven guesses that autofill has been an Excel feature for at least 10 years.

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Hyperlinks embedded in Excel files - used to jump between sections of a large file - are another ancient feature that is new to Google. Between the lines, this reveals another reason why Google Spreadsheets are crap: so small that internal hyperlinking wasn't previously considered as an essential feature.

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Here's another basic Excel feature that's new to Google - oops, not for anyone who uses Firefox or Explorer. These folks, the majority of all Internet users, will have to wait a bit longer for formula highlighting, a feature that highlights referenced cells when a formula is edited. Useful? More like essential.

Note that the Google rep is "excited" to (almost) introduce this new feature.


What's next?

Google's breathless discovery of movable type?

Features used at a subconscious level by people who rely on spreadsheet technology are only now showing up in Google Docs. Picking between dumb journalists and crap software is a toss-up.

This much is certain: no journalistic praise of Google Docs should ever be taken at face value.